Farmer Matthew Crane has relied on working dogs to move stock his whole life.
And now that he is running a duck farm, not much has changed.
“If you’re trying to move [ducks] without a dog it’s actually quite difficult, ’cause they will go in every single different direction they can,” Mr Crane said.
“[So] it just made sense to have a duck dog here.”
And ever since an outgoing young kelpie called Tildy – or Matilda, if she’s in strife — moved onto the property, she has taken to the role like a duck to … well, water.
The duties of a duck dog
Mr Crane runs about 3,000 free-range ducks on his farm near Launceston, and the birds need to be checked first thing every day.
“We … have a walk around all the flocks, and [Tildy] can pretty soon see if there’s anything wrong with any of the ducks,” he explained.
“If they don’t get away from her in a hurry, we know there’s something that needs looking at.”
Tildy also moves the ducks between paddocks, which assists the farm’s two-legged staff.
“It takes a bit of the stress and the pressure out of people’s work if the dog’s there to help them with that,” Mr Crane said.
“[And] from the product-quality point of view and an animal-welfare point of view, that process being easier and less stressful is better for the ducks and better for the end consumer as well.”
How to herd ducks
Tildy acquired her duck-herding skills through training, in a process similar to the training of sheep dogs.
“Dogs have the instinct to herd things, ducks have the instinct to stay in a flock like sheep do, so it’s basically the same skillset as any working dog,” Mr Crane said.
“It’s easy to train a young puppy on something like a duck because [ducks] aren’t very fast … and they’re reasonably compliant with what we want them to do.
“[Also, ducks] don’t take very much force like a sheep would, so we don’t need to teach her to bark or anything like that.”
Mr Crane said it was very important that Tildy understood that she was not allowed to hurt the ducks.
“So from a very young age, we take her in with the ducklings and get her used to the fact that they’re part of the family.”
With responsibility comes pats
Mr Crane said that as most meat ducks in Australia live on factory farms that have no need for dogs, Tildy’s role was a relatively rare one.
“[But] I know there are other pasture duck farms around [Australia] that have kelpies or border collies to do the work,” he said.
“It does make sense … it’s certainly much easier with a dog.”