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Tuesday, 21 October 2008 17:28

Farm Dogs - Food Water and Shelter

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Food Water and Shelter

Farm dogs are usually very intelligent animals and willing workers. They learn quickly, they can think for themselves, they are very active and they are easily bored. When they are well cared for they are sleek and glossy, bright and happy, and an invaluable asset on the farm. But they need proper attention. If they don’t get it, they’ll be thin, smelly or nervous. Sadly there are too many farm dogs in this category.

If they’re thin, it is probably because they don’t get enough to eat, or maybe they’re not given a balanced diet. If they are nervous or depressed, it might be because they don’t get enough attention or they may be badly treated by their owner. A kind word and a friendly pat mean a lot to any dog, and sometimes outside dogs are denied even that reward for their loyalty. If they’re smelly, it’s usually because they are kept in dirty smelly kennels!

Quite often, the lifestyle farmer’s dog is being given a retirement home - it might have been a good farm dog that is beyond retirement age and which can still work well given less demanding work. A common problem in this situation is that the lifestyle farmer may not have the skills required to help the dog transfer its loyalties to him or her, and he or she may not have the experience to manage the dog properly or to persuade it to work for him or her, even if the dog has already been trained. It is really important to take time to get to know the dog, to build up a relationship based on trust, and learn from the previous owner what verbal commands and visual signals the dog is accustomed to. If starting from scratch with a pup, get advice from an expert - someone who has dogs that look sleek and healthy and which work willingly and well. Invariable, it will be well worth the effort.

Here are some helpful tips to make the most of your partnership with your farm dog:

Feeding

Working dogs should not be underweight. A dog is underweight if its ribs can be felt easily, with minimal fat covering and its waist is easily seen when viewed from above. In the thinnest dogs their bones and all bony prominences are prominent and there is no fat cover and muscle mass is lost.

If dogs are underweight, they are probably not getting enough to eat, or they may not be getting enough energy in their diet for the amount of work they do, or they may not be getting a properly balanced diet. If the quantity and quality are right, the problem may be chronic disease, in which case a trip to the vet is warranted.

Some farm dogs are fed only cull sheep meat, and they are usually too thin as a result, and they may even develop vitamin deficiencies. Lean meat alone is not sufficient, because fat and carbohydrate are vital in a balanced diet. An all-meat diet does not contain enough energy for working dogs and it lacks essential vitamins and minerals. If meat is frozen, it is important to feed the juices as well as the meat when it’s thawed, because the juices contain some of the necessary B vitamins.

In the wild, dogs eat the fat and intestinal contents of their prey and this helps balance the protein in the carcase muscle. The easiest way to provide a balanced diet is to offer good quality commercial dog food. Some dog biscuits provide a complete and balanced diet, others must be mixed with meat or biscuits. Follow the feeding instructions on the tin or packet or dog roll, and be sure you give enough for the size of your dog.

Active dogs will need relatively more than more sedate dogs of the same type, and all dogs need extra rations in cold weather.

Most dogs love a bone, but avoid cooked bones and never give dogs chicken, chop or fish bones. The only safe bones are brisket and big raw beef shank bones which cannot splinter into sharp spikes.

It’s common to feed table scraps to dogs, but beware of toothpicks and corn cobs - they can be fatal. The scavenging habits of dogs can get them into trouble too - especially if they swallow ear tags or intraruminal capsules, or objects that get stuck in the intestine like golf balls or nylon pantyhose.

Remember that it is important never to feed your dog raw sheep or goat meat. This ensures that it won’t become infected with the tapeworm that causes sheep measles in sheep. Sheep and goat meat and offal must be deep-frozen for 7 days or more or thoroughly cooked before being fed.

Water 

A bowl of fresh water must always be available, as dogs have a much greater requirement for water than most people think, especially in hot weather and especially if the dog is working or getting a lot of exercise. Ready access to water is also particularly important if your dog is fed dry food.

The water container should be heavy enough so that it can’t be knocked over. A bucket with a brick in it is a good option. The water has to be clean of course. Sometimes the water may look clean, but a dog forced to urinate in its run may accidentally have sprayed into its water, which it will then of course be reluctant to drink.

Hot dogs
In hot weather, dogs lose heat by panting so that saliva evaporates from their tongue. They don’t sweat. To lose heat they must have plenty of fresh water to drink to replace the fluid lost by panting. If dogs are prevented from panting, for example by a muzzle, and if they can’t drink when they are hot, they suffer heat stress.

Dogs must have access to water and shade in hot weather, and remember that metal sleeping boxes can be like ovens on a sunny day.

If a dog should be overcome by heat exhaustion, for example if it’s been working hard on a hot day with no access water, lower its body temperature immediately by putting it into the shade and applying cool water all over the body. Let it drink small amounts of cool water and get it to a veterinarian quickly. This could save the dog’s life.

Kennel

Don’t let anyone tell you farm dogs are smelly. If they are, it’s the owner’s fault. It is probably being kept in dirty smelly kennel! If the kennel is clean and dry with bedding that is changed regularly, and if it is allowed toilet opportunities away from its kennel several times a day, it will not be smelly.

And if its kennel is comfortable the dog is far less likely to become stiff and sore as a result of arthritis and it won’t develop pressure sores over its elbows.

Suitable accommodation for the outside dog means a properly constructed sleeping box of suitable size facing away from the prevailing wind. Kennels can consist of a sleeping box with an enclosed run attached, or just a sleeping box to which the dog is tied by a rope or chain.

It is difficult to give hard and fast rules regarding what is acceptable and what isn’t - so much depends on common sense - factors like how much opportunity the dog has to exercise away from the kennel area and how much supervision it has. In general though, a generous sized sleeping box with spacious enclosed run attached is best because it is more comfortable and there is less opportunity for things to go wrong, bearing in mind that every dog appreciates comfort, space and a varied and interesting environment, just as we do.

The sleeping box must be both waterproof and windproof with a wooden floor raised from the ground and a comfortable bed. In winter, the sleeping box can be lined with leaves of hay or straw, and these can be replaced often to make sure the dog doesn’t get smelly. They can be dusted with flea powder too from time to time, and another advantage is that hay is a great natural deodorant!

A working dog deserves a comfortable rest place after a day’s work, but too often kennels are poorly insulated, wet and cold. Never make your dog sleep on bare concrete for any length of time, even in summer. It will get pressure sores and calluses on bony points like the elbow.

Dr Marjorie Orr, lifestyle farmer and veterinarian (retired)

Dr Marjorie Orr - veterinarian and lifestyle farmer. Dr Orr is a recognised authority on animal welfare in New Zealand and has served on several government committees, especially those concerned with writing codes of welfare for sheep and dogs. Her service to animal health and welfare has also been recognised by awards from the NZ Veterinary Association and MAF. She is also a strong SPCA supporter.

Website: www.lifestyleblock.co.nz/images/imgDrMarjorieOrr.jpg