2017 Prairie Farmer Farm Dog Contest winner
WINNER: Dustin and Missy Cothern’s Rosamond farm is home to Prairie Farmer’s 2017 Favorite Farm Dog, Colby. Colby is a 4-year-old Australian shepherd.

Prairie Farmer’s Favorite Farm Dogs

It was neck and neck this year in Prairie Farmer's annual farm dog competition, but the winners are clear: Meet Colby, Shelby, Sammi Grace and more.

Dustin Cothern is sure about one thing in this life: his dog.

“They say you only get one good dog in life, and I believe it. That’s Colby for us,” says the Rosamond farmer, who along with wife, Missy, entered Colby in Prairie Farmer’s 2017 Favorite Farm Dog Contest.

Colby won first place this year for his ability to herd cattle as easily as he snuggles poults — a calm and gentle soul who’s eager to please and quick to obey. He’s a 4-year-old Australian shepherd who sports handkerchiefs for both work and dress.

The Favorite Farm Dog Contest began back in 2000, and ever since, editors and judges here at Prairie Farmer have weighed the qualifications and debated the merits of talented working dogs, terrific companion animals and guardians of the farm. We examine photos and read essays, reminded again and again that a good farm dog is truly a farm family’s best friend.

And the winners of the 2017 Favorite Farm Dog Contest? Meet Colby, Shelby and Sammi Grace, plus Ruby, Stella and Willie.

In first place, Colby spends his days making the rounds of a diverse livestock operation with owners Dustin and Missy, and they receive a $100 prize, a family farm photo shoot with Colby, and a 16-by-20-inch modern metal wall art with Colby’s picture. At press time, Colby was busy helping build fence.

Second place goes to Shelby, a 1-year-old Australian shepherd who’s rapidly earned her place showing cattle with Halee, Morgan and Taylor Hendel on their Avon cattle operation. Their mom, Robyn, wrote Shelby’s essay and took her photo. Shelby wins $75 for her efforts.

Sammi Grace takes home third place for her owners, Tim and Delreen Lenz. A stray who arrived at their Strasburg home six years ago, Sammi Grace is of unknown age and breed origins. But she spends her days in the tractor cab and may have graced the IL Corn Instagram feed in the past — a natural model, for sure. She wins $50 for her work on their Strasburg farm.

Honorable mentions go to entries from Sheridan Hank and Ruby, Aledo; Stephen Ashwood and Stella, Macomb; and Emily Aderman and Willie, Farina. To read abou them, check back here tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who shared photos and stories of their incredible farm dogs — and keep your cameras handy for next year's contest!

1st Place: Colby
Circle C Ranch is where Colby, a 4-year-old Australian shepherd, calls home. Colby works hard for us on our small, self-sufficient farm where we raise Texas longhorn cattle, Hereford hogs, chickens, turkeys, geese, goats and a few horses. He’ll leap up onto a 6-by-6-foot hay bale, the flatbed of the pickup truck, the four-wheeler to check fence, climb onto the tractor to scoop manure in the cow lot, load up into his truck to check his heifers or run errands.

Naturally, he helps us work cattle and can even jump in and move hogs on occasion. His most unique quality is his nurturing character. When we have baby chicks, he’ll sit and watch the chicks nonstop until you make him go outside and do chores or go to bed. And when you say the words, “Go to bed,” he gets up and goes to bed.

Last spring we had poults in the garage, and on two occasions, Colby plucked a poult out of its tank and just sat with it on the garage floor, never harming it, just sitting with it. He shows the same concern for baby pigs and watches them as they huddle up under a heat lamp, getting as close to them as possible. Never have we seen such concern and care for babies, but also aggression and precision with the adult hogs and cattle.

Once Colby is done doing chores with his dad in the morning, he makes the rounds with his mom and takes care of the chickens and turkeys, and mingles with the poultry, checking on them and their surroundings.

Colby deserves the 2017 Favorite Farm Dog title because he truly encompasses a broad range of people skills and animal skills to help us on our very diverse farming operation.

Dustin and Missy Cothern, Rosamond


WORKER: Colby spends time with the family’s longhorn cattle. According to his owner, Dustin Cothern, “Never have we seen such concern and care for babies, but also aggression and precision with the adult hogs and cattle.”

2nd Place: Shelby
For more than two years, we had thought about getting a puppy. With our girls at the age that they can handle responsibility, we thought it was time to start looking. Our girls have never had a puppy. We had decided we wanted a stock dog that would be able to help on the farm, as well as a family dog. Finally at this time last year, we were alerted that Australian puppies had been born, and there was one female. We made contact with the breeder, and let them know we were interested.

The breeder did their best to soften my heart, as they even brought the puppy to visit me at work. I was hooked and couldn't wait to break the excitement to our girls. It was time to bring our pup home, and they were in love since the moment they saw her.

Shelby hasn't left our side. As we started the summer cattle show season, Shelby was right there with us. Sleeping at Junior Nationals and playing with anyone who stopped to pet her. She learned to love to help walk cattle to tie-outs or load the trailer. Also, she became queen bee as she rode in the front seat of the truck from show to show. Shelby is never far from anyone as they head out to do chores, walk show calves or just toss the ball around. She has become our joy. Seeing her curled up with someone sleeping or fetching a ball for hours on end to doing her best working cattle (as she is just learning), she is loved. She is our companion, our love, our friend.

Robyn Hendel, Avon


BELOVED: Who wouldn’t love this little face? Shelby, a 1-year-old Australian shepherd, quickly earned a spot in the hearts of three little girls, says mom Robyn Hendel.

3rd Place: Sammi Grace
Hi. My name is Sammi Grace Lenz. I live on a farm with Tim and Delreen Lenz east of Strasburg. We have beef cows, a small feedlot and a contract hog barn. We grow corn, soybeans and wheat. I came to live with the Lenzes six years ago. I didn’t have a home or family who wanted me. I stopped at the Lenz farm to steal cat food from the barn cats because I was starving. I heard Tim (Dad) ask, “Is that a dog? I don’t know what that is.” I must have looked really bad. He fed me about a week before he introduced me to Delreen (Mom). They both gave me a big hug, and I knew that was the best day of my life. I think it was a pretty good day for them, too.

I may not look like a typical farm dog, but I take pride in making sure that everyone and everything is safe and where it’s supposed to be. I always bark when the cows or calves get out, and I once got in a fight with two coyotes when they got too close to the barns. Good thing for them, Dad showed up.

In addition to the day-to-day things I help with on the farm, I also help with landowner relationships and farmer-consumer relations through the cute pictures that Mom takes of me helping Dad. Mom and Dad’s Christmas card always has pictures of me riding in combines, tractors, sprayers and trucks. Several of our landowners now always ask, “How’s Sammi?” and send pictures of their dogs.

The best and most important job I do is to bring Mom and Dad joy. Farm dogs have a lot of responsibilities, but bringing farmers happiness is the best.

Tim and Delreen Lenz, Strasburg


ROCK STAR: Sammi Grace may spend her days in the tractor with Tim Lenz, but she’s also an experienced model, appearing in the IL Corn Instagram feed.
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