Cooper, riding shotgun with Dani Darke.

RIP Cooper – the dog who made me a farmer

King Country farmer Dani Darke laments the passing of chief Huntaway, the dog who brought her in from the rural cold.

Last month started off in a sad way. One morning my mainstay Huntaway, Cooper, wasn’t eagerly waiting to be let out of his kennel, instead he had died overnight from a probable twisted bowel. This was gutting for me – I had lost a best mate, but I realised it was more than that, as I ruminated over him not being around anymore.

Dani Darke.

Bear with me as I try to explain.

When Anthony and I moved on to the farm 10 years ago and tried to get to grips with a new career there were times when I definitely felt like a spare wheel. Especially after having a baby – it was hard to figure out where I fitted into this whole farming gig.

Although I had studied Ag at Massey and been a rural banker, I was embarrassed to own up to the fact I was from Wellington, and I was not very confident about the whole thing. Soon enough though I was lucky to be given some decent young pups and had the help of dog trial legend Gary Murphy to train them.

Me plus a dog equalled fitting in and having a role to play. Me without a dog equalled lots of frustration, sore legs and a feeling that I would be better off somewhere else.

With the help of Coop and my heading dog Flo, it wasn’t long before I could do any of the mustering jobs the blokes could do.

I remember in the early days surprising Anthony’s dad that I had mustered in ewes and lambs out of a difficult paddock at docking without leaving a single lamb behind. Slowly I stopped hiding the fact I grew up in a city, because I was confident that I could be useful on the farm.

This got me thinking that dogs are pretty incredible, really, in that they allow us to be better versions of ourselves.

Me plus a dog equalled fitting in and having a role to play. Me without a dog equalled lots of frustration, sore legs and a feeling that I would be better off somewhere else.

Of course, people with sight difficulties and autistic children have long known different ways that dogs can add to our lives, and it was a shame that it took me losing my mate to really understand it. After Coop died I realised it was actually he who turned me into a proper farmer, and gave me the confidence to get stuck in.

Each of the dogs gets an extra pat now, to acknowledge the part they have played in who I am now, and what I can get done on the farm. Number two huntaway Libby is on a steep learning curve to fill the gap, but we are getting the job done, albeit with a bit more yelling and a bit more exercise on my behalf.

This week I was involved in a lunch put on by the Agri-Womens Development Trust along with ANZ. It was about collaboration between rural and urbanites and involved several AWDT Alumni and several influential urban women (such as the founder of Eco-Store Melanie Rands and the founder of Abe’s Bagels Megan Sargent).

Conversations were around what’s important to both urban and rural perspectives – in particular how we manage consumer expectations and production realities around the supply of healthy and sustainable food. Some pretty awesome discussions were had and some great ideas floated. Watch this space for the initiatives that come out of it.

The farm has had an exciting month as we continue to spend our tree harvest money. Our cattle yards are all but finished and the roof is on our covered sheep yards. The bulls are either all sold or locked down into cell systems and the ewes are on their winter round. Here’s hoping for a relatively easy one.