Puppy Tales

If you’ve ever stopped by Farmstead Creamery spring through fall and been greeted by our personable English Shepherd named Lena, you’ve met a special piece of the heart of the farm. This has been a landmark month for Lena, as she gave birth to her first (and because she’s now 7 ½ years old, probably only) litter of puppies! Sweet, colorful, and cuddly, the eight little ones are thriving and growing quickly under Lena’s meticulous care.

Considered the classic American farm dog, the English Shepherd as a breed have all the qualities that you could want in a working dog—intelligence, work ethic, strong herding skills, and striking good looks—all combined with a special kindness for members of their “family” (both human and animal) that make them excellent companions on the farm. They are quick to learn routines and will work independently with very little training. More than just a specialty herding breed, they are also innately good guardians of property and livestock and hunters of game or vermin that might be invading the territory (like mice in the grain, rabbits in the hay, etc.).

Over the years, Lena matured from watching Kara work stock to being able to help to intuitively knowing what should happen when. Her vocabulary quickly grew from the usual “sit, stay, come” to more complex ideas like “get in” (which is abbreviated to “up” when being invited to enter the farm truck) “get out” (when her presence in the barn is too much pressure on the stock and she needs to cool down) “get ‘em” (make the stock move or up the pressure) and even barking on command. Lena instinctively knows that the cry “Help!” means leave everything (even the squirrel) and come immediately to help. And when I holler out “Call Lena!” she will notice what direction I’m aiming my call to (Kara at the barn, Mom at the house) and head off in a hurry to see why she may be needed there.

Less anxious than Border Collies, English Shepherds know when a task is complete and are keen on keeping order—holding livestock safely away from an open or broken gate, herding escaped livestock back into their rightful place, and bringing attention to problems. On our diversified farm, Lena has been able to adapt her technique to gently nudge meat chickens back into the chicken tractors as we move them along in the summertime as well as bark and prance lively at a mischief-driven ewe seeking escape, nipping at heels.

Raising a canine heir to the farm as well as keeping her particular line in the English Shepherd genetic pool accessible for other working farms were key motivators in finding a stud for her (“Boss” from the upper peninsula of Michigan). Lena has always had a devote love for any baby animal on the farm—piglets, lambs, even chicks—and now she has been truly in her element caring for her own brood of eight little fuzzy squirmers. Kara has also been in supreme delight with the litter—assisting the birth and carefully socializing and naming each one.

Actually, I would say that Kara has puppy fever, and she’s sharing her love for these beautiful animals, the special breed, and the adorableness of the little ones on a new blog called Puppy Tales, which can be found on our website at www.northstarhomestead.net/blog2/.  There she’s posted pictures, the history of English Shepherds, Lena’s story and heritage (as well as Boss’), and more.  You can even get to know each of the pups by name and watch them grow over the coming weeks!


On any sustainably-minded farm, interconnecting livestock links are important.  The pigs eat kitchen and garden scraps and help to revitalize garden areas.  Chickens scratch up the sheep and cow manure, reducing parasites and also fertilize the pasture with their nutrient rich manure.  The sheep mow the pasture, offering meat, wool, and milk.  Nothing ever does one thing or offers one output from one input like a factory model.  So too, the other working animals like our guard donkeys and sheep dog have their part to play.  Lena rotates from a farm manager position (checking everything out to make certain all is in order) to varmint control (get those voles out of the garden) to herder (time for those animals to go this way) to “dogbell” (someone is coming down the lane folks!).


Extremely loyal to their family, English Shepherds are also known for their bravery against adversaries.  Just this week, a story was shared with me about one of these dogs on a family farm.  The 80-year-old grandmother had gone out to the pasture to pick mushrooms.  At the same time, the farm’s bull had broken through the fence and was determined to attack and likely kill her.  The family’s 10-year-old English Shepherd planted itself between the woman and the bull and did not give up the struggle for the next several hours until the grandmother could escape unharmed.  The brave dog died the next day from its efforts.


I can’t think of a more loving, dedicated, and focused working companion for the complexities, nuances, and even dangers of a diversified farm.  Over the years, Lena’s friendship and antics have lighted many a day, and we know that love will continue through her children as well.  It is our great hope that these puppies will be able to find placement on farms that are also interested in keeping this tradition of working dogs alive and well.


Know a farm that needs a quality English Shepherd?  You can learn more about the specifics of this breed as well as our puppy policy and questionnaire form on the Puppy Tales blog.  Maybe you can help us spread the word and keep a piece of the homesteading heritage alive for the next tail-wagging generation.  Or maybe you’d just like to brighten your day with some insanely cute puppy pictures.  Either way, we encourage you to check out the blog and we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.