Califonia Bountiful

Constant companion

March/April 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Duck-hunting, walnut-loving Jade earns farm dog award

Jade, a Labrador retriever, joins Lee Swall and his daughter, Lindsey, during rounds on the family farm. Photo: © 2021 Christian Parley

They greet us with wagging tails, even if we've only been gone a half hour. They share our happy moments and comfort us when we're sad. Dogs show fierce loyalty, love and companionship to their owners. This is especially true of a farm dog.

Big or little, short-haired or a ball of fur, a farm dog can herd sheep, corral cattle, protect chickens and greet visitors. They are a warm presence by a farmer's side, whether it's riding shotgun in a truck, checking crops at sunrise or harvest at night.

Jade is one of those dogs. The 4-year-old black Labrador retriever works hard and plays hard on her family's 380-acre walnut farm in Tulare County, earning her the Grand Prize in the California Farm Bureau's first Farm Dog Contest. Lindsey Swall, a 20-year-old agriculture student at California State University, Fresno, won the $1,000 prize for her photos and essay on Jade.

"A dog is supposed to be man's best friend, but she truly is our entire family's best friend," wrote Swall, a sixth-generation farmer. "She has a confident, selfless and gentle personality that is contagious and makes us better people."

Jade, shown retrieving a duck decoy, won the California Farm Bureau's first Farm Dog Contest. Photo: © 2021 Christian Parley

Hunting hound

Jade joined the family four years ago as a pup and was immediately trained with hand signals to retrieve ducks on family hunting trips.

"Even early mornings and cold water don't stop Jade from doing what she loves," Swall said. "She is patient and quiet until it is her time to retrieve, but is ready to perform at a moment's notice."

Swall said Jade stays by her side when she checks the garden every morning and rides with her on the ATV when she runs errands on the farm. The dog is also a faithful companion to Swall's father, Lee, as he does his farm chores.

"She loves going to town, driving along, sticking her head out the window or going out to the field, checking on field operations," he said. "We'll get out and she'll run around, and she loves to carry walnuts around. She loves to eat them, primarily."

Jade is known for her love of walnuts and often has two or three in her mouth at once. Photo: © 2021 Christian Parley

Eating the profits

Jade is so fond of the family crop, she sometimes stuffs several walnuts in her mouth at once, chewing on them like a bone until she gets to the tasty treat inside.

In fact, Lee Swall said Jade is a bit "rotund" from eating so many walnuts, and sometimes so stuffed on them she doesn't want to eat dinner. One of her favorite things to do is go to the farm's walnut dehydrator at night during harvest to feast on leftover nuts.

"Her favorite activity is to walk around and glean walnuts. And it's not uncommon for her to have two or even three walnuts in her mouth. Just walking around, smelling, looking for walnuts," he said, laughing.

Lee and Lindsey Swall, with Jade in their walnut orchard, say they appreciate the emotional support the dog provides. Photo: © 2021 Christian Parley

Unconditional loyalty

Lindsey Swall talked about the emotional support Jade and other dogs give farmers.

"Farmers work hard to provide for others, and their job is never ending. Farming can be taxing both mentally and physically, so it takes a strong dog to support us in what we do," she said. "Mental health is a topic often neglected on the farm, which is why it is important to highlight the work that dogs do to support farmers."

Swall and her family—which also includes mother Serena and sisters Kelsey and Amy—live in the same house her great-grandfather built on the family's land in Tulare more than 80 years ago. When the workday is done, Jade curls up inside on her mat and cuddles with the family's two cats, Cheddar and Gouda.

"During our day-to-day, Jade is a familiar face that reminds us that we do what we love. She runs to meet us everywhere we go on the farm and is always by our side," Swall said.

Her father agreed.

"(She's) somebody to be along with you, even when you're by yourself, working on equipment or going to town and back for parts or in the office," he said. "They're always glad to see you. The tail's always wagging."

Judy Farah

Farm dogs take the spotlight

The California Farm Bureau launched its first Farm Dog Contest to recognize the dogs that work alongside the state's farmers and ranchers. Open to Farm Bureau members, with support from Nationwide, the contest asked entrants to submit photos and a brief story about their dog. The Grand Prize winner earned $1,000, with First Place receiving $500, Second Place $250 and Third Place $100. A common thread wove throughout the stories: California farm dogs are dedicated to their duties and provide unconditional companionship to their owners. 

First Place
Hondo, Australian shepherd
Brett Perry, Colusa County

Hondo with Wyatt Perry on the family rice farm. Photo by Taylor Perry

Hondo, 5, is named after the 1953 Western film starring John Wayne. Owner Brett Perry described Hondo as a fun, energetic dog that enjoys going to work on his family's rice farm in Maxwell, accompanying Perry as he's checking rice boxes and drip lines in the orchards, hauling hay, fixing machinery and working cattle.

Perry said Hondo, who has his own Instagram account, keeps life entertaining with his quirks.

"One of these quirks is his odd choice of seating. You can find Hondo sitting on the fuel pump in the back of a pickup or sitting on your thigh in the side-by-side. He always has to have his butt propped up on something," he said.

"Having him around while working makes the long days go by faster and eases the tensions when equipment breaks down and things don't go right," Perry said, adding Hondo is so eager to help, he sometimes sleeps in the bed of the truck at night. "Work feels less like work when Hondo is around."

Jim Davies and Tip at the family ranchette. Photo by Cathey Cort

Second Place
Tip, McNab shepherd
Jim Davies, El Dorado County

Tip came to the Davies family eight years ago after the animal lost interest in his intended role as a cattle dog. Davies and his wife, Linda, adopted Tip and he quickly adjusted to the family's historic ranchette in Camino, which features a bed and breakfast and a stone cellar dating back to the Gold Rush.

"Tip works alongside me during the week, maintaining the never-ending maintenance of the additional main lodge and buildings, a meadow and natural landscaping, working on antique equipment, along with harvesting table grapes and apple, pear, walnut and even Christmas trees," Davies said.

He described Tip as "the fastest thing on four legs," eager to chase pine cones or oak limbs tossed to him by guests on the ranch. Tip also likes to "windshield hunt" for deer, squirrels, turkeys and rabbits as he rides in the truck between Davies and his wife.

"Tip is a one-of-a-kind, lovable critter, originally fired from his job as 'working dog,' but an indispensable ranch dog around here," Davies said.

Brugge digging for gophers with Ron Dewey. Photo by Judy Paulson Dewey

Third Place
Brugge, Groenendael Belgian sheepdog
Judy Paulson Dewey, Santa Barbara County

Brugge is a working partner on the 40-acre Dewlson Family Farm, where lemons, coffee and tea grow in the rolling hills outside Santa Maria. Owner Judy Paulson Dewey called Brugge an expert at locating gophers and other rodents that threaten the trees and plants. The 42-pounder also helps protect the chickens and geese, by warding off predators such as coyotes and bobcats.

Dewey described Brugge as a highly intelligent dog that can anticipate the family's needs, such as guiding Dewey to her boots one day after she told her husband she couldn't find them. Brugge has been taught to dance, but learned on her own to open doors.

"She has enriched our lives, improved our farm operations and become a protector of our granddaughter, our livestock and our property," Dewey said. "Although she is an extremely serious working dog, always insisting on being at our side, she has such a sweetness about her. She is our companion, partner and protector."

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