Dogs can play all sorts of roles on a small homestead, from herding sheep to guarding goats to controlling vermin to hunting game for the table.
You may be curious to know what dog breeds our readers have gravitated to during their research. Here’s the answer.
10. Border Collie
The classic sheepdog can be a handful, but for those prepared to feed his sharp mind and his insatiable drive to work the Border Collie has no peers. Impeccable timing and a positive approach to training are necessary to bring out the best in the Border Collie. That said, patience and consistency will reward the trainer with a versatile working dog that can control sheep flocks of any size with amazing precision and very little force.
9. Bouvier des Flandres
It’s encouraging to see interest in the Bouvier among homesteaders, because this hardworking dog’s abilities are rarely tapped into today. He is usually a pet or show dog in modern American society, but he can be incredibly valuable on a small farm! The Bouvier is not only a superb guardian of home, family, and livestock, but he can herd anything from cattle to chickens. He is also a very sturdy draft dog and obedient to a fault when raised by a confident trainer.
8. Irish Setter
The world of the Irish Setter can be rather confusing, as there are so many different bloodlines adapted to different purposes. But the good news is that this means there is probably a version of the Irish Setter just right for you. Take your choice from the intensely competitive field type, the casual old-fashioned hunting type, the stylish but smart dual-purpose type, or the laid-back show type, also an excellent pet.
7. Anatolian Shepherd
The Anatolian Shepherd is a very popular choice of livestock guardian today, and little wonder. He’s smart, sturdy, and low-maintenance—a no-fuss dog born to protect. While sheep are the traditional charges of the Anatolian Shepherd, he can and will protect anything that is his, including children, chickens, goats, horses, and cattle.
6. Labrador Retriever
The lovable Lab is a versatile companion, able to either nap on the couch or spend the day hunting with the same good-natured enthusiasm. A country lifestyle is the perfect setting for this breed, particularly if children and water are also involved. He can be quite at home with other animals, and he makes an excellent watchdog to boot.
5. Old English Sheepdog
Although not the best choice for a large farm or ranch, the fluffy Old English Sheepdog can do double duty as a companion and farmhand on a smaller hobby farm thanks to his great versatility. He can herd, retrieve, bark at approaching strangers, and pull a cart with the best of them. An extra bonus? He has the luxurious coat to make unique craft yarns for the ambitious spinner.
4. German Shepherd Dog
The working German Shepherd is a rare combination between guardian and herding dog. His unique gift is called furrowing, which means to pace along an unfenced boundary line to keep livestock in and drive predators out. Keep in mind that there are numerous German Shepherd bloodlines, some better suited for show and others for police and military work. The type with the furrowing instinct traces back to working dogs from West Germany.
3. Jack Russell Terrier
This smart, fiesty little dog can be nearly as effective at vermin control as a cat and is far superior as an alarm system. Long associated with upper-class horse stables of the East Coast, the Jack Russell is nevertheless not too proud to rid the working farm of anything from rats to badgers (and he’s still a horse lover). Also popular are his close relatives—the square-built Parson Russell Terrier commonly kept as a companion and the low-slung Russell Terrier bred for hunting vermin in Australia.
2. Australian Shepherd
Developed in America to handle the vast sheep flocks of the West, the Australian Shepherd is still a popular choice on many working sheep and cattle ranches. But keep in mind that the working Aussie is a high-octane dog with a keen mind, a vigorous protective instinct, and an insatiable desire to herd. Hobby farmers may prefer the more laid-back demeanor of the rarer dual-purpose bloodlines.
1. English Shepherd
And the favorite dog among our readers is…drum roll…the English Shepherd! A close cousin of the Australian Shepherd, the English Shepherd branched off to meet the needs of smaller frontier farmers in the Midwest. Little wonder, then, that the recent revival in small-scale sustainable agriculture has resulted in a revival in popularity for the English Shepherd. He is a triple-purpose working dog with the ability to herd all types of livestock, guard either the home or the pasture, and track and tree a wide variety of game. Puppies can be hard to find, but dedicated breeders are scattered across the country.
Looking for the right herding dog for your farm? This excellent book discusses the varied working styles of both popular and rare breeds. Read our full review.