JORDAN, Minn. — The North Country Cheviots at Sheepy Corner Farm live the pastoral life; but actually pull double duty at the Jordan, Minn. farm. “Our sheep are dual purpose in that we train dogs, ours and students, and we raise them as meat lambs,” Susane Hoffman said.
Susane and her husband raise North Country Cheviots along with a few hair sheep crosses. The dogs they raise and train are Border collies, which are well known for their herding abilities.
Although a well-trained dog can work with any sheep breed, North Country Cheviots thrive on grass forage and make for an excellent dog-training flock, according to Susane.
“Cheviots satisfy my need to have sheep that will not get so dog broke that they get combative; or so numb to the dogs that all they do is follow the handler around regardless of what the dog does or doesn’t do.” Susane said. “The Cheviots are also clever and, especially as yearlings, provide enough of a challenge to allow a dog to grow in their training and understanding of how to handle sheep.”
There a few breeds which don’t work well for training purposes. “The breeds of sheep that are more difficult for training purposes are those that don’t flock well or that are combative or are excessively flighty,” she said. “Suffolks can be quite difficult — especially for an inexperienced dog; and Shetlands and Finns are two others that I wouldn’t recommend using for starting and training dogs on.”
Susane says that she likes to work her experienced trained dogs with Suffolks just to keep them on their toes, however.
Having sheep that are dog broke, but not too dog broke, is important at Sheepy Corners. The sheep, along with the grazing paddocks, are the instructional aids in Susane’s classroom.
“I currently have about 20 regular students and a few that I fit in when I have an opening in my schedule,” Susane said. “I teach two and a half days a week as long as the weather and ground allow it.”
Susane’s students, and their dogs, are taking advantage of an opportunity to learn from an experienced dog handler. Susane has had multiple wins and placements in the Open class in United States Border Collie Handlers Association trials and occasionally serves as a judge for American Kennel Club herding trials.
“The Open Class for United States Border Collie Handlers Association trials is the gold standard for herding competition in this country,” she said.
Susane’s training sessions involve teaching both the dog and its owner. “For someone with a new dog that is new to working stock, I will start the dog until it has the basics down and is fairly well under control,” she said. “There are times when a new dog is quite nervous about the situation and in those instances I have the owner come into the training paddock with me to give their dog a bit more confidence. Typically, once the dog’s instincts kick in, the owner can step out and watch from outside the fence.”
“We also spend time talking about basic dog behavior and what things the owner should be working on at home,” she continued. “For owners that don’t have their own livestock, that centers on obedience and building a partnership. If the owner works the dog in other sports we talk about things that may conflict with behaviors you want to encourage in a herding dog. For owners that have stock, we talk about what they should and should not do at home.”
Not all dogs, even if they are a Border collie, are going to make reliable herding dogs. That is true even if the dog took first place at the local county fair.
“When it comes to working dogs, there is only one way to determine what the dog actually is, rather than what it appears to be,” Susane said. “There is no other way to consistently produce good working dogs than to continually test that working ability and then only breed those dogs that are solid workers. Conformation showing only measures what the dog looks like with no way of measuring the herding qualities that actually matter.”
Once you’ve got a good herding dog and created a productive and rewarding relationship with it, you need to be sure it’s healthy and well cared for. Susane has spent years studying dogs’ dietary needs and various rations. She, in particular, recommends avoiding low quality dry kibble. One of the advantages of dry dog food is that it’s convenient for humans. But, if you're serious about dog care, your dog deserves better.
“In the early 2000s I switched all the dogs to a totally raw diet,” Susane said. “I was guided by two books: “Switching to Raw” by Susan K. Johnson and Monica Segal’s “The K9 Kitchen: The Truth Behind the Hype.”
Last year she switched to a hybrid diet of mixed raw poultry, fruit, vegetables, and a high quality kibble called NutriSource. The dogs get the NutriSource topped with lightly boiled ground beef for their evening meal. Susane also uses a sled dog food called Blue Titan.
“When feeding kibble you get what you pay for,” she says. “If it’s cheap to buy, its quality is questionable. Read the ingredient label. Ingredients are listed by either weight or volume so the ingredient that’s listed first will be the important part.”
In addition to training herding dogs, Sheepy Corner sells whole and half lambs which are 95 percent grass-fed. They also occasionally sell breeding stock and are happy to take an order for a fleece. Fleeces from North Country Cheviots are excellent for hand spinning.
The Sheepy Corner website is sheepycorner.com and their phone number is (612) 710-3281.