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Man’s Best Friend Leads to Lifetime Career in Heart of Kansas

By Heather Poore

When entering the Twin Creek Farm driveway, it is hard not to feel welcome. Jerry and Sharon Rowe open their home to dogs and people alike for weeks on end. The Twin Creek Farm plays host to one of the premier loose-eyed dog training camps in the Nation and quite possibly the world. But you would not guess that from talking to them.

Sharon and Jerry Rowe
Sharon and Jerry Rowe at their Twin Creek farm.
The Rowe’s journey with the Australian Shepherd breed and herding began in 1962 north of Denver, Colorado. They began looking for a puppy for their young daughter, a shepherd puppy particularly. After searching, they found a black Australian Shepherd.    

“It was a working dog,” Jerry recalled with a laugh. “First it tore up 70 rose bushes, then re-landscaped the yard and went into the demolition business next.”  Sharon took action by enrolling the dog in obedience classes through the Jefferson County 4-H program. Here, Sharon met another person that had an Australian Shepherd. With the Rowe’s female and their new friend’s male dog, Jerry said they were in business.

“We decided that these were working dogs, so why weren’t we working them?” Jerry said. Along with the Colorado Collie Club and formed loose-eyed dog herding club, the Stock Dog Fanciers of Colorado. At this time there were only trials for Boarder Collies. Loose-eyed dogs, which has over 40 breeds including Australian Shepherds, Corgies, and Shelties to name a few, could not compete.  So borrowing from what they had seen in the Boarder Collie trials and knowing what the loose-eyed dogs could do they formed their own trials.

Dog herding sheep.
Dog herding sheep.
“Boarder Collies are gathering dogs and loose-eyed dogs are droving dogs,” Jerry said of the difference in the trials. In 1970 the first trial, held at the Rowe farm in Broomfield, Colorado, was a competition to see which dog could gather cattle up out of a five-acre field, push the herd through the corral, up the chute and into a truck the fastest.

Bob Carrillo, a dairy farmer from California and a member of the Australian Shepherd Club of America, heard about the trials. After witnessing the success of the trial, he thought it might be a good idea to use trials as filler at State Fairs between rodeo acts. The Rowe’s set to work condensing the 5-acre field trial to trials that could be done in an arena. “It caught on big time, things just went crazy,” Jerry said of the success.

Jerry and Sharon competed and trained their own dogs using trial and error as their guide. “Good dogs make good trainers,” Jerry said with a smile, mentioning that they might have lost a few sheep down the road and over fences. “I had a real good Australian Shepherd named Rowe’s Commanche Warrior.”  Commanche and Jerry won the High Combined Aussie, a national award, in 1973 and again in 1974 and 1975. The result was a traveling trophy, called the Commanche Award.  

In addition to setting up trials, training and giving lessons in Colorado, the Rowe’s were busy helping write the standards (confirmation and looks) for the Australian Shepherd breed and the herding program for loose-eyed dogs.

“[Australian Shepherds] were just a farm dog when we got involved. If they were blue and had a glass eye they could be registered with the National Stock Dog Registry in Butler, Indiana,” Sharon said. The Rowe’s, along with others, organized viewing committees in hopes of standardizing the breed. 

Fast-forward a few years to the late 90’s. While driving to visit their son, Terry, in Stockton, Kansas, Jerry and Sharon happened upon a farm sale bill. “I saw the place and it was exactly what I had been looking for all of my life,” Jerry said. They made the trek back to Kansas the next week and bought the place.

Ten years later, the old machine shed serves a 3-room motel with personal accents like the “Old Settlers” room that boasts pictures of some pioneering families and handmade quilts on the beds. The old dairy barn has been converted into a clubhouse complete with full kitchen and bathroom.  Red brick from Highway 281 paves the floor, in the middle of the main room a bar covers what use to be the feed bunk. “Instead of jack hammering the thing out, we just built the bar around it,” Jerry said.  A chalkboard from the old Twin Creek schoolhouse serves a new classroom of eager students wanting to train their dogs in the art of herding.

Students arrive on Sunday evening with dogs in tow. Monday through Friday, students train first in the classroom at 8:00 a.m. and then move into the working arena with their dog and a few sheep by mid-morning. Two basic commands taught are “Way to me” which is counter clock-wise and “Come Bye” which is clockwise. Friday ends with a chuck wagon dinner with live local entertainment.

“The biggest challenge is the handlers,” Jerry said. “Sheep know how to run and dogs know how to chase.” He explained that dogs have a natural instinct, so it up to the handler to teach the dog to move stock with their mind first and then chase. Jerry calls this the “prey drive” or the threat to the animal. Once handlers learn how to turn the “prey drive” on (command: “Watch them”) and turn it off (command: “That’ll do”) they are on the road to being competitive.

Jerry watching a dog at work.
Jerry watching a dog at work.

“A lot of people are doctors, lawyers, scientists,” Sharon said of their clients. Cell phones don’t work well in this part of the country, so it can be quite an adjustment for people who have never been around livestock or the quiet mornings where wildlife can be spotted just a stones throw away.  “We like to stress that people need to enjoy each other,” she continued. Students come from all over the United States including Alaska, Canada and even Sweden.

“This is a family effort,” Jerry said.  Terry Rowe and his wife, Sherri, and their two boys, Jeremiah and Zechariah, help with cleaning rooms, mowing and cooking. Sherri is also solely responsible for the advertising and Twin Creek designed apparel. 

Future plans include continuing the popular camps and maybe conducting a wool festival that would involve spinners, vets, cooking classes and of course dog demonstrations. “There are several things we are mulling over but haven’t decided on anything yet,” Jerry said.

Jerry and Sharon have traveled throughout the United States and Canada judging and participating in trials and other events the last 40 years. Yet they feel most comfortable right here in Osborne, working with people and training dogs. Full-filling a life-long dream of bringing people and dogs together.

For more information on Twin Creek, please visit http://www.geocities.com/twincreekfarm2003/twincreek.html

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Last Updated September 28, 2006
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