Dogs of huge value on farms

A researcher has confirmed that working dogs make a huge contribution to farms.

"We don't know what it is in New Zealand, but in Australia, over a farm dog's life, it has been put at $40,000," said the director of the Working Dog Centre at Massey University, Dr Naomi Cogger.

She said she thought working dogs would be worth more in New Zealand.

Cogger said there were perhaps 200,000 working dogs on farms in New Zealand.

"But although they're iconic, we haven't got a good understanding of their needs."

She said students had researched almost 4000 sheepdogs used for trials and on-farm. The trialists had about six dogs per farm, and the average on-farm dog team was four.

She said veterinarians only saw a few farm dogs with trauma-induced muscular and skeletal problems such as broken bones.

"But on-farm about three-quarters of the problems are not trauma but metabolic. The most common complaint was that dogs were underweight, there were a lot of skin problems and there were a large number of dogs with arthritis."

Cogger said the larger picture was that health problems on-farm were different to what was seen in vet practice.

She said one in five farmers was worried about dog weights.

"We know farmers were concerned. They were asking the students who gathered the information 'what should I feeding my dogs and how often should I be feeding them?' So there was a lot of interest."

Cogger said the under-feeding line was a hard one to draw.

"A lot of people will look at farm dogs and say gee they're skinny. They are a lot thinner than pet dogs. But when you look at athletes [people], they are also a lot skinnier than the average population. And these dogs are elite athletes and elite endurance athletes."

She said that probably helped prevent some injuries to joints and organs, because the dogs did not carry a lot of weight.

She said she expected some answers in three to five years about where to draw the line regarding a dog's weight, as there is a big study in Southland with Vetlife.

"We're going to get regular condition scores.

"Five-hundred dogs are enrolled and vets will see them twice a year. What we'll find out is the relationship between condition and injuries, conditions and longevity."