Some years ago, we farmed deer on our property in South East Queensland. We started catching the local feral Red Deer but due to their better adaption to the sub-tropics and tropics we sourced a herd of Rusa Deer.
Good dogs can handle these species of deer and it is wonderful to watch a clever dog adjust to the flight zone of livestock very different to sheep and cattle. Rusa can be very aggressive, approaching, rapidly, with stamping front feet and then breaking unpredictably, usually, leading part of the herd away with speed and determination. Useful dogs must have courage, cover and the ability to pat that flight zone bubble with skill and accuracy.
On one occasion we got a call about 150 Rusa Deer which had escaped the confines of the high fences and made their way down the valley some 14 Kms (8.5 miles) and were enjoying a pasture of irrigated rye grass. This was not good news to the owner of the farm as he needed the feed for his young stud Charolais bulls. It was suggested by many neighbours that the only solution involved rifles, sharp knives and plenty of volunteers.
Knowing my dogs I reckoned we had a chance of mustering the herd back to their paddock but it would take skillful dogs and some luck. I released Riana Glide, Falcon Jazi and Karrawarra Ruby Tuesday from their kennels, gave them a short warm-up run and jumped them up into the Traxter XL.
When we got to the pasture the deer were in two mobs. I sent Ruby anticlockwise, fast and wide, to prevent the mob closest to the heavily wooded creek from moving into cover. Glide cast to the left and carefully lifted the second group so all of the deer moved together. Some of the females, (hinds) were lactating with fawns at foot and so challenged the dogs with their typical aggressive rush. This is a test for strength or weakness and as such is critical for how the rest of the day is going to proceed. One hind launched a four footed, striking attack towards Glide but he easily avoided her and then cleverly covered her break as she used the bout as an excuse to draw a part of the mob further down the valley.
We now had them facing up the valley, ATV behind as a command centre, Ruby covering the right side from about 2 to 4 o’clock and Glide on the left in the opposing position. Jazi was still on the bike, resting as we had a long way to go.
After about a kilometre with the deer trotting along attempting to duck into every wooded creek, every paddock of long grass and using every cattle fence as an excuse to change direction the dogs stepped up and solved each hurdle. Ruby, however, needed to be constantly checked from over-heading so I whistled her up on the bike and replaced her with Jazi.
The next 13 kms was deer and dog poetry as Glide and Jazi dexterously covered, forced, blocked and generally guided that finely balanced mob of 150 Rusa up the valley and back to their paddock.
All three of these dogs are excellent, true heading dogs, all three have above average abilities for reading flight zones of livestock and yet on this exercise Ruby’s innate heading desire was over-riding her common sense. I believe that for the 50 years that the late Arthur Hazlett has been breeding his style of working dog he has selected for this ability so his dogs know when to head and when to drove along with livestock.
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It is interesting to observe the genetic differences in our dogs as it helps us to understand where they have come from and, lets hope, where they are going.