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Ryan Ackers was inspired to work with animals from the start, but it took a strong
connection with man’s best friend to make the switch from the world of business
to the fields of Winchelsea, where he is responsible for overseeing the rearing and
shepherding of sheep and cattle as a livestock manager. Also an experienced bull
handler and passionate dog trainer, today Ryan is happiest doing what he feels he
was meant to do all along.

Ryan Ackers was inspired to work with animals from the start, but it took a strong connection with man’s best friend to make the switch from the world of business to the fields of Winchelsea, where he is responsible for overseeing the rearing and shepherding of sheep and cattle as a livestock manager. Also an experienced bull handler and passionate dog trainer, today Ryan is happiest doing what he feels he was meant to do all along.

What was your journey to becoming a livestock manager?
It was my mum’s side of the family that worked on the land
and had a way with animals – my grandmother especially. She
was a big influence. But I knew I wanted to travel and see the
world while I was young before taking on the responsibilities
of raising and handling animals. At first, I followed my dad’s
footsteps and got into business operations. After doing that for
a while, Jenna, my partner and I took a break from the city and
worked on her brother’s farm in Beechworth. I found jobs on
other properties and it kind of went on from there.


Was it a big shift from a career in business to working with
animals?

I always wanted to be a vet but couldn’t get support to do
that full-time because I was earning too much in my job. So,
I switched to Agriculture. The plan was to scrape my way up
as a farmhand, but I got lucky enough to be put straight into a
manager’s role at a dairy farm. I had a very good Ag-Science
teacher with a lot of experience and could bounce ideas off her,
which helped a lot.

What was your journey to becoming a livestock manager?
It was my mum’s side of the family that worked on the land and had a way with animals – my grandmother especially. She was a big influence. But I knew I wanted to travel and see the world while I was young before taking on the responsibilities of raising and handling animals. At first, I followed my dad’s footsteps and got into business operations. After doing that for a while, Jenna, my partner and I took a break from the city and worked on her brother’s farm in Beechworth. I found jobs on other properties and it kind of went on from there.


Was it a big shift from a career in business to working with animals?
I always wanted to be a vet but couldn’t get support to do that full-time because I was earning too much in my job. So, I switched to Agriculture. The plan was to scrape my way up as a farmhand, but I got lucky enough to be put straight into a manager’s role at a dairy farm. I had a very good Ag-Science
teacher with a lot of experience and could bounce ideas off her, which helped a lot.

What kind of qualities and attributes are
required on the job?

Resilience and compassion are what you need
most, for the dogs and the animals you’re raising.
Agriculture is tough, with long hours, but you’ve
got to suck it in and not take it out on them. If an
animal’s going the wrong way, 99 percent of the
time there’s a reason. Something’s going on; they
may be injured. It’s your job to work that out and
not blame the individual or get frustrated. My
uncle’s a very good stockman and he’s helped me
see the big picture and approach it holistically.


You seem to have a strong bond with the working
dogs. How did you gather your team?
It started with a tiny pup. As I moved around,
managing bigger properties, I found I needed
more help. At another dairy farm near Yea, it
was such hilly country you couldn’t even get a
motorbike up there, so you’d be moving stock on
foot with the dogs. I’ve got seven collies now
– all of them different. I’ve gathered a lot of
information about which pedigrees, bloodlines
and traits to get the best out of the dogs and what
type suits me better. With my newest pup, I had
a fair idea what she was going to be like before
I got her. Now I have a little system, with a bit of
science behind it, to gauge what works or not on
the journey.


Can you tell us how you use a whistle to
communicate with the dogs?

The dogs watch your hand movements to start
with when they’re little. Then, once they’ve
learned an action – back, stop, and so on – you
can put a command over it with your voice or the
whistle. I’m 6”3, so it can be pretty intimidating
to the dogs if I raise my voice getting a stubborn
animal into the yards. A New Zealand trainer told
me just to use the whistle because it takes the
emotion out of the command. Mine’s brass and
from the UK. The shepherds there have used
these forever.

What kind of qualities and attributes are required on the job?
Resilience and compassion are what you need most, for the dogs and the animals you’re raising. Agriculture is tough, with long hours, but you’ve got to suck it in and not take it out on them. If an animal’s going the wrong way, 99 percent of the time there’s a reason. Something’s going on; they may be injured. It’s your job to work that out and not blame the individual or get frustrated. My uncle’s a very good stockman and he’s helped me see the big picture and approach it holistically.


You seem to have a strong bond with the working dogs. How did you gather your team?
It started with a tiny pup. As I moved around, managing bigger properties, I found I needed more help. At another dairy farm near Yea, it was such hilly country you couldn’t even get a motorbike up there, so you’d be moving stock on foot with the dogs. I’ve got seven collies now – all of them different. I’ve gathered a lot of information about which pedigrees, bloodlines and traits to get the best out of the dogs and what type suits me better. With my newest pup, I had a fair idea what she was going to be like before I got her. Now I have a little system, with a bit of science behind it, to gauge what works or not on the journey.


Can you tell us how you use a whistle to communicate with the dogs?
The dogs watch your hand movements to start with when they’re little. Then, once they’ve learned an action – back, stop, and so on – you can put a command over it with your voice or the whistle. I’m 6”3, so it can be pretty intimidating to the dogs if I raise my voice getting a stubborn animal into the
yards. A New Zealand trainer told me just to use the whistle because it takes the emotion out of the command. Mine’s brass and from the UK. The shepherds there have used these forever.

After work hours, what sort of relationship do you
have with them?

They’re part of the family; I couldn’t do the job
without them. A lot of people think they’re just work
dogs and leave them locked up. But that gets them
so wound up in the head they can’t relax. I’ve found
that if you don’t let them release off work, you never
get the best out of them. I may be out in the sheep
yards for 15 hours with a half-hour lunch break. The
dogs are working all that time as well, so you’ve got
to look after them. When we’re home, they’re out of
the kennels running around. The one who’s semiretired,
you’ll never see her without a ball in her mouth.


What other passions do you put your energy into?

I’ve always played a fair bit of sport quite
competitively, like touch football and water polo. I
was running lots too. Getting up at 4am for a run,
then I’d work a long day and go out for another run
after dinner. But with just a skeleton sleep schedule,
it wasn’t really viable. Outside of work, I really love
the dogs and just started dog-trialling. I was talked
into it the first time, then had another go and just got
better at it. Now I’ve won a few. I enjoy training dogs,
not just my own but other people’s too. It keeps you
motivated; keeps you out there. I’ve always got to be
doing something.

After work hours, what sort of relationship do you have with them?
They’re part of the family; I couldn’t do the job without them. A lot of people think they’re just work dogs and leave them locked up. But that gets them so wound up in the head they can’t relax. I’ve found that if you don’t let them release off work, you never get the best out of them. I may be out in the sheep yards for 15 hours with a half-hour lunch break. The dogs are working all that time as well, so you’ve got to look after them. When we’re home, they’re out of the kennels running around. The one who’s semi-retired, you’ll never see her without a ball in her mouth.


What other passions do you put your energy into?
I’ve always played a fair bit of sport quite competitively, like touch football and water polo. I was running lots too. Getting up at 4am for a run, then I’d work a long day and go out for another run after dinner. But with just a skeleton sleep schedule, it wasn’t really viable. Outside of work, I really love the dogs and just started dog-trialling. I was talked into it the first time, then had another go and just got better at it. Now I’ve won a few. I enjoy training dogs, not just my own but other people’s too. It keeps you motivated; keeps you out there. I’ve always got to be doing something.

Ryan gets our full appreciation for allowing us to follow him around on
the job – through dusty paddocks and muddy moments. From weighing
animals, to checking feed and water tanks, it’s all in a day’s duty for
Ryan and his trusty Endura boots. Made for a solid workout, they
constantly take him that extra country mile.

Ryan gets our full appreciation for allowing us to follow him around on the job – through dusty paddocks and muddy moments. From weighing animals, to checking feed and water tanks, it’s all in a day’s duty for Ryan and his trusty Endura boots. Made for a solid workout, they constantly take him that extra country mile.

Continue reading

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February 9, 2024

Leader of the Pack

Leader of the Pack

Ryan Ackers was inspired to work with animals from the start, but it took a strong connection with man’s best friend to make the switch from the world of business to the fields of Winchelsea, where he is responsible for overseeing the rearing and shepherding of sheep and cattle as a livestock manager. Also an experienced bull handler and passionate dog trainer, today Ryan is happiest doing what he feels he was meant to do all along.

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