Farm and Ranch 
Economics
and the Stockdog

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How much will a stockdog save my operation?

According to Beef magazine (Oct 2006) "The average price for a full-time cowhand managing at least 250 cows is $22,000, plus $4,000 in taxes and benefits....Compare that with a one-time price of $2,500 to $3,500 for a started dog or $7,000 to $10,000 for a fully trained dog.  Add another $500 for a permanent dog kennel and a dog crate for your pickup -- all one-time costs -- and you're still way ahead with a dog.  Annual keeping costs can be whatever you make them, but in reality, $500 should more than cover a year's worth of top-quality dog food, wormers and vaccinations....Figuring a good dog will live and be productive for eight years, the average annual cost to keep the dog would only be about $1,800 if you started with the $10,000 dog.  Round it up to $2,000 and you've still spent about 8% of the price of a full-time cowboy."

Full-time cowboy = $26,000 + $5000 horse = $31,000
Part-time (20 hours/week) cowboy = $13,000 + $5000 horse = $18,000
Fully Trained Stockdog = $10,000

How does the work of stockdogs compare to a hired hand?

Hired hands can put in fences and mend buildings and a dog can't.  Hired hands only work during their normal work hours and need days off.

Stockdogs are happy to work any day (even holidays), any time (including in the middle of the night), and in any conditions (including ice, pouring rain and snow).  They don't need a horse to keep up with the livestock and they are faster than any man on foot and most men on horseback.  One dog ($10,000) can replace three hired hands ($66,000) on horseback ($15,000 for horses).

Is buying a puppy more economical than buying a fully trained dog?

You will likely end up paying about the same either way, unless you can train your dog yourself.  Most dogs are not considered fully trained until they are about four years old but we'll go with a three year old dog.  Puppies typically cost about $500 at weaning and then add two years of training (you don't start professional training until they are about a year old) at $450.  A fully trained dog typically costs $10,000.

Puppy ($500) + 3 Years Training ($450 x 24 months) = $15,800
Fully Trained Dog = $10,000

There are some problems with deciding on a fully trained dog.  Fully trained dogs may have less work life left depending on their age.  Trainers keep their best dogs.  So, fully trained dogs are difficult to find if they are good unless they are very old and in that case they would not be good for tough livestock. 

There are problems with deciding on a puppy or started dog also.  Puppies are a gamble as to whether they will grow up to be good stockdogs and the training they receive can make or break them.  Started dogs may get to a specific point in their training and not be able to advance.  For example, a dog started on cattle may get one good kick or scare from a cow and refuse to work cattle anymore. 

Both venues have pros and cons.  Most people go with a puppy or started dog simply because of the initial purchase prices.

What will it cost to learn how to handle a stockdog?

The handler will have to learn how to handle his dog.  This can be done through a combination of lessons, clinics, and/or working with a knowledgeable trainer.  Learning to handle a stockdog takes time and practice.  A good dog can help.  A bad dog can lead to frustration.  98% of dogs that are already the "family pet" will not be suitable for working.  Be prepared to have a second dog.  Lessons range from $45/hr to $100/hr.  Clinics are typically $30/day for general monthly clinics to $250/day for specialty clinics.  Expect at least a year before you have a good grip on how to handle your dog.  A note of caution:  Don't try to work a dog (even a fully trained dog) without knowing what you are doing.  Good dogs can get killed or ruined by ignorant handlers.

What are the differences in the economics of cowdog vs. goatdogs vs. sheepdogs?

Sheepdogs can work sheep or poultry.  Goatdogs can work sheep, poultry and goats and possibly already broke cattle.  Cowdogs can work sheep, poultry, goats and any kind of cattle.  Therefore, sheepdogs are typically less expensive than cowdogs by several thousand dollars.  Interestingly enough, goatdogs typically cost about the same as sheepdogs (likely due to the fact that the larger herding competitions do not use goats).  The best advice is to get the kind of dog that suits the type of livestock you will be working most.  If you have some of everything, get a cowdog or be prepared to give your dog a hand with difficult livesotck.