Taking on the Aussies

At Hakatere Station, Taylor Bird and his dogs are used to plenty of elevation work with sheep and...
At Hakatere Station, Taylor Bird and his dogs are used to plenty of elevation work with sheep and cattle. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Hakatere Station shepherd Taylor Bird and his team of huntaways and heading dogs is the lone Kiwi going up against Australians in the first Cobber Challenge Relay event.

Taylor (19), of Mount Somers, and his dog team will vie for the title against 11 others representing every state in Australia.

In Taylor’s dog team, all play a role during a typical working day at the high country station.

Kate, a 3-year-old huntaway is the mover in the team, while Bruno, also a 3-year-old huntaway, goes the extra mile.

Taylor said Kate was a yard dog, as well as doing some paddock work.

"The heavy hitter in the team, she has a lot of punch and can move anything.

"Bruno can go anywhere and do anything. He’s a real natural who was easy to train. He’s the main mustering dog, and the one that gets me out of sticky situations most of the time."

Tom, a heading dog, is 2 years old and described as "a hard-running heading dog".

"Tom has always had a passion for work. There’s nothing else he wants to be doing; he’ll fall over before he stops working."

And finally Moss, the senior member of the dog team, a 9-year-old heading dog.

"No matter where you run Moss, you have full confidence that he'll bring the stock to you," Taylor said.

At Hakatere Station, Taylor and the dogs are used to plenty of elevation work with sheep and cattle.

"We run 12,000 ewes, 800 cattle and an Angus bull stud at Hakatere Station, up in the mountains in the centre of New Zealand's South Island. I’ve been working here for a year with five staff," Taylor said.

He started the dog team at his last job.

"These are my four running dogs. I have another four young dogs that are doing a bit of work. All my dogs come to work with me every day; they’re basically with me 24/7.

"The huntaway are the noise makers, and as their name suggests, they push stock away; whereas the heading dogs, they bring stock to you."

In previous years, the Cobber Challenge has showcased the efforts of individual working dogs, but this year’s challenge celebrates the teamwork that goes into running a farm; Hakatere Station stock manager Cam Clayton and his heading dog Pine competed last year.

The 12 working dog teams in the inaugural Cobber Challenge Relay format recognise farmers often work dogs in teams, or pick certain dogs to do different tasks, like mustering mobs of cattle or pushing sheep through yards.

Now in its seventh year, the 2022 Cobber Challenge Relay runs from August 22 to September 11.

Competitors like Taylor have nominated teams of two, three or four dogs and each day during the three-week competition, one of the nominated dogs will wear a GPS collar, to track how far, fast and for how long they work.

The results will be combined to crown the winning team.

The data is uploaded daily to the Cobber Challenge website so fans can follow along with their favourite working dog teams.

Cobber’s marketing manager Kellie Savage said there were many amazing nominations this year and those selected spanned from Bodallin in Western Australia to Mount Somers in New Zealand, almost 5000km.

"These teams showcase different types of farms and different breeds of dogs. But one thing all the teams share is a special relationships between our entrants and their dogs."

The relay format would give people a better sense of how farmers really worked with their dogs, Kellie said.

"When they’re out on the land, it’s a team effort."

The dogs will be scored based on distance, speed and duration of work per day with points accumulated based on daily activity to determine the winner of the Cobber Challenge Relay trophy.

People can follow the performance of their favourite working dog team at cobberchallenge.com.au and on the Cobber Dog Facebook page.