How a Kelpie saved our Christmas
Copyright Julie Williams
Many years ago, I’d say about 1970, my family had a big farm. On that
farm we raised all sorts of animals- cows, sheep, goats, chickens,
ducks, you name it, at one time we had it. We got our eggs from the
chickens, meat from the cows, milk from the goats and cows, and my mom
spun sweaters from the wool we got from our sheep. We had a tv that
got one channel. We would play hide and seek in the barn, go on walks
in the woods, and sometimes stay up late telling ghost stories. Yep,
life for us kids was good then.
Mom would make us breakfast every morning before school- we always had
eggs and toast and cereal- this was the BEST breakfast, and we loved
it. Dad would always eat after he fed the animals, he always said
“animals get fed first, we eat after they are fed”. He got up real
early to feed the animals and clean their pens. He also milked the
cows and goats. Mom collected the eggs, and washed them, weighed them,
and put some in containers to sell, and kept some aside for us. When
we finished breakfast we high tailed it to school. We walked to the
bus stop, which really was a mile away. School was boring; we always
longed to get home and play our games. When we got home from school,
we had chores to do. Us kids had to feed the animals, which I loved. I
always loved taking care of animals. One time dad caught me walking on
the goat’s hay, and asked me if I would like him to walk on my food? I
said no, and never did that again. The goats were my favorite- they
all knew just when to come out of the pen to get milked, and they were
really cute babies. We had French Alpines. My brothers and sisters
and I had a ball playing with the babies. We even had big rocks
brought in so the goats could climb on them.
My parents always had dogs. I loved dogs since I could remember. I
used to play with them, teach them tricks, feed them, brush them. I
guess my love for them started when I grew up on that farm. Dad never
saw the need for a herding dog- like one of them Border Collies- he
didn’t understand why you would need one when a bucket of feed could
get the work done just as fast. Well, in time we all learned.
Round about September, my parents and me were in town, we had just left
church, and dad was talking with a friend named Mr. Wilkerson. Mr.
Wilkerson had a farm not far away from us, and he had dogs. He had a
kind of dog I only saw once at his place, but I always remembered it.
It had big ears, and a short coat and was red and brown. Dog’s name
was Coot. Coot was what Mr. Wilkerson called a workin’ dog. Mr.
Wilkerson used Coot to bring in the cattle and sheep at night. I
remember my dad smiling when he heard this, and telling me he thought
it was “interesting” with a little snicker. On that day after church
though, Mr. Wilkerson asked my dad to come by after church and see his
dog work the cattle and sheep. My dad checked with mom, and off we
went on our adventure. Gosh it was fun. We even got to have lunch
there! Well, when it was time to see Coot work, Mr. Wilkerson showed
my dad where the cows were. These were beef cattle- Herefords, and
some Angus. All Mr. Wilkerson had to say to Coot was “Coot, bring
‘em”. We watched, my dad with a smile, thinking I guess that this was
going to end up bad. Well, Coot ran out, and brought those cows down
at a steady clip, and once they got to Mr. Wilkerson, Mr. Wilkerson
offered to show dad how Coot could single one off that needed foot
trimming. Mr. Wilkerson said “Coot, that one” and pointed at one of
the cows. Coot came up smooth as day and cut that cow off, and held
him off. Dad wasn’t smiling anymore. Dad asked to see Coot work the
sheep. Coot did a real nice job with the sheep too. Dad liked that he
could get the sheep and cows in without having to go out in the field,
and the dog was a willing partner. This got dad to thinking. When we
were ready to leave, my dad told Mr Wilkerson to let him know if he
might sell that dog to him.
Some weeks later, we saw Mr Wilkerson out in town again, and he told my
dad that he knew of a Kelpie not far from our place. This was a
purebred Kelpie who had experience on cattle and sheep. Dad and mom
talked a long time, and much to my delight, they decided to take a look
at this dog. We all went out to the farm. Out came this little red
and brown female Kelpie. She was small with ears way to big for her
body, and moved quick, real quick. Dad was not impressed- didn’t
believe she had the size to do the work. We kids begged that we be
allowed to try her- she had what Mr. Wilkerson called “good breeding”
and had already been working stock. Dad decided to buy her, on one
condition- she worked as well as Coot.
When we got her home, we had to name her- she came with the name “Amy”,
but we thought she should have a more fitting name. We decided to name
her Risk- my dad liked the name because that is what she was, and I
like the name because we could call her Risky, which rhymed with Nifty.
I thought she was really nifty. The first few days at our place dad
was the only one to spend time with her- Mr. Wilkerson told him that he
should get to know her, and so-call “bond” with her. So, dad took her
with him on chores, and tied her up, while he worked. She always laid
there calm as can be, and always watching dad’s every move. When the
day finally came to try Risk out on the sheep, it was a cold, rainy
day, and dad decided today was as good as any to try the dog, because
maybe he could stay dry, and let the dog do the work. So, dad brought
Risk to the pasture. He said “Go get ‘em Risk”. Risk looked up to
him, quizzically, and sat down. Dad repeated “Go get ‘em Risk”. Risk
stayed there, glued to my dad’s side. Dad started to lose his temper.
I said “Dad, maybe she doesn’t know what you mean” Dad replied “ she
should know what I want anyway. Dad called the guy he bought Risk from
and asked what commands he used with the dog. “Weeeelll, let’s see”
the guy said. When I want her to fetch the sheep I tell her “Sheep”,
when I want her to get the cattle, I tell her “Cows”. When I need her
to find whatever is in the field I just say “Go” “Okay, sounds easy
enough” dad said, and hung up the phone. Dad went back out with Risk.
Dad said “Sheep!” Risk shot out into the pasture, going real wide,
and met up with the sheep. These sheep had never been worked with a
dog before, so they got real upset. As one sheep tried to bolt off,
she brought it back to the flock. As another sheep tried to butt her,
she darted out of the way, and stood her ground. Soon, all the sheep
were together and calmly coming toward my dad. I will never forget
dad’s face that day. It was a mix of utter astonishment, and pride. I
think I may have even seen a tear in his eye.
Over the next few weeks dad and Risky as he called her did everything
together. Risky was always there, ready to help, even with the bull.
When dad went off the farm without Risky, she stayed on her rug in the
barn, waiting for his return.
Soon the holidays were coming, and we had lots to do. Every winter we
sold off a few head of cattle to pay winter feed bills, and I think,
though mom never admitted it, to try and get some Christmas presents
for us kids. Everything was going as planned, and Risky and dad had
separated off a few cows to go to market. These were our best Angus.
Angus meat dad told us was the best, and people paid the most for it.
We had four to go that year. Dad was guaranteed a good price when the
butcher came and took a look at them. Three days before the butcher
was coming to pick up the cows, we went out in the morning, and the
fence of the pen was down. The cows had some how either spooked, or
just wanted out. They were gone. Dad was beside himself. We had no
other Angus cows to sell (the others were pregnant, and we needed those
calves, and we couldn’t sell our prize bull). All of us kids went
looking. We saw tracks, but no cows. Dad looked all over and even
told Risky “Cows”, and she went all over the pastures looking. After
a full day of looking dad said “Kids, I think those cows are gone, and
maybe dead by now, I am not sure we can afford much of a Christmas this
year” To us kids that was a big blow- every Christmas we look forward
to opening few small presents, eating lots of food, and dad and mom
being so proud of their kids and their farm. It seemed this year, we
wouldn’t have that.
We all went to bed that night very very sad. The next morning it was
raining very hard, and dad went to the butcher and told him what
happened. The butcher told him he still had a couple of days, and that
maybe they are hiding somewhere close. We went home and looked, still
The last day before the butcher was going to come it was snowing- HARD.
You could barely see ten feet in front of your face, and it was very
cold. All the animals were huddling together, and their breath was
small puffs of tiny icicles. Dad wasn’t able to get a hold of the
butcher to tell him not to come. That night, dad went down to the barn
with Risky and stood in front of the cows that we still had. He then
walked past them and said one last “Cows, Risky”. Risky looked up at
him with the same look she did when he first worked her, and said
“bring em”. Dad was about to give up hope, but then thought to do one
more thing. He said “Risky, GO COWS”. Risky jumped up, and ran out
into the pasture. Dad waited, and waited. Finally an hour went by and
no Risky. He came in the house, and told us that now Risky was gone
too. I remember being so upset. How could he do that- send her out in
such bad weather. She could freeze. Dad sat at the kitchen table that
night, looking out the window at the barn for any sign of Risky or the
cows. Finally, I guess, he went to bed. The next morning can only be
described as surreal. We all got up and did our chores, and washed up
for breakfast. Dad was still in bed. Mom was at the kitchen sink
looking out the window as she washed up eggs and got our breakfast
ready, when she saw it. A COW. Yes, a COW walking by the window.
Mom screamed- which I remember clearly, because she never yelled or
screamed. She yelled for me to get dad, which I did, even though I
wanted to see what was happening. I ran in the bedroom and told dad to
get up- a cow was walking by the kitchen. Dad told me I must be
kidding. I told him no- go and look. He got dressed, and walked into
the kitchen. Mom pointed to the cows, and dad told us kids to stay put
as he hurried outside.
Dad threw open the door, and there they were, all four cows. They were
standing under the big maple tree next to our bench in the front yard.
Dad couldn’t believe his eyes. He thought they were gone forever.
“But”, he said, “Where is Risky?” Quickly, looked around and no dog.
But why would they stay near the house? Why not head for the pasture
where they know there will be hay? Then he thought he saw it- just a
small tinge of red hair. There was Risky- laying to the other side of
the big tree, keeping those cows to where she knew dad would be. Dad
wanted to rush out to praise her, but he wanted to make sure that these
cattle wouldn’t get away. He walked down to the barn, and opened the
door to the inside corral, and told Risky “Cows”. Risky moved those
cows into the barn, dad closed the door, fed the cattle, called Risky
over to him, tears in his eyes, and told her that SHE was his Christmas
miracle. Later that day the butcher came over to pick up the cows,
and dad told him what had happened. The butcher said, “somehow, I knew
with that little Kelpie of yours, if anyone could find them, she would”.
To this day, every time I see a Kelpie, I thank God for creating such a
wonderful dog, and for letting me share my life with so noble a creature.
Based loosely on a true story.