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Ace: The best farm dog in Illinois

Slideshow: Drumroll, please! Meet Ace, Rocko and Skye, the winners of our 2021 Favorite Farm Dog contest.

Leanne Thomas freely admits that she and husband Paul thought their son, Cole, was crazy a couple years ago when he announced he’d found an Aussie pup several states away.

“That was until we met Ace!” she says.

Cole Thomas and his girlfriend, Kiley Carroll, chose Ace from a batch of photos online, from a breeder in Nebraska. Then, Kiley made the trip West and brought him home.

It’s the sort of story that could have had peril written all over it — except that Ace turned out to be an exceptional addition to their Aledo, Ill., farm. Bright eyes, eager to please, smart, calm around cattle and a quick learner. An easy companion.

Just like at home, Ace rose to the top of the heap here at Prairie Farmer, earning top prize in our 2021 Favorite Farm Dog contest. Ace won based on a combination of online voting and staff selection, thanks to his farm utility, companionship and photo. Leanne submitted Ace’s entry on behalf of Cole and Kiley, who operate a seedstock cattle herd together and care for Ace.

Cole says he’d considered sending Ace to herding school, but he was such a quick learner, he didn’t need to. Already, he’s a master gate watcher and follows commands like “come by” and “away.” They’re working on left and right now, thanks to YouTube videos to help train the trainer.

“He’s gotten good at cues with mean mama cows, too,” Cole says. “He’s pretty good about having a way out, too, anywhere he goes.”

Ace is also good at keeping cows off of him when he’s handling calves. “Honestly, with that dog, it’s just instinct,” Cole says.

Ace garners high marks in companionship, too, riding along in anything with wheels — tractor, truck, skid steer, motorcycle and more. Cole says the sprayer’s his favorite, thanks to more floor space and lower air vents. It’s a sweet spot on a summer day.

That’s a good dog

The annual Prairie Farmer Favorite Farm Dog Contest began in 2000 and ever since, judges have weighed the merits of talented working dogs, companion animals and guardians of the farm from across Illinois. Every year, we’re reminded that a good farm dog is truly a farm family’s best friend.

For Ace’s first-place win, Cole and Kiley receive a $100 prize, a family farm photo shoot, and wall art featuring Ace.

Second place goes to Rocko, a 5-year-old English bulldog, who we fell in love with. Rocko rides herd over the farm with Rob Wiebenga, Fenton, Ill., who receives a $75 prize.

Skye earns third place for her owner, Susan Menke, Carman, who wins a $50 prize.

Thanks to everyone who shared photos and stories of their incredible farm dogs. Keep your cameras handy for next year’s contest!

2nd place: Rocko

When most people think of a farm dog, they think of a lab, a collie, maybe even a German shepherd. But let me introduce you to my dad’s right-hand man: Rocko the bulldog farm dog!  

My dad, Rob Wiebenga, inherited Rocko a few years ago, and he’s become his farm sidekick. Rocko is with him as he picks the crops in the long days of harvest. He rides shotgun in the semi.

And even on bitterly cold days, Rocko trots alongside my dad, ready to take on the day. Rocko has what it takes to be a dedicated farmer: hard work, an immense amount of grit, and the never-ending love of a hard day’s work. Together, Rocko and my dad make the perfect farming team.

Submitted by Lauryn Wiebenga,
Fenton, Ill.

3rd place: Skye

One day, someone brought a lost dog into the veterinary clinic where I work as a vet technician. They found her hiding behind a dumpster, scared and covered in motor oil. My husband and I had been looking for a border collie, and she was marked like one and needed a home, so we took in her in. Skye became my constant companion and got me through some trying times.

My dad and I had farmed and worked together for years, but as he got older, he developed dementia and wasn’t able to be in the fields with me anymore. It was hard to do it by myself, but I realized I wasn’t alone; I had Skye. She was always willing to jump into any tractor, combine or truck with me and ride along, no matter how long or late we worked. My dad passed away in October and again, she got me through. I thank God every day that I took in this little stray puppy.

Submitted by Susan Menke,
Carman, Ill.


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