Best Friends on Farms: Meet Rayne, an AFBF Farm Dog of the Year Finalist - Illinois Farm Bureau Partners Best Friends on Farms: Meet Rayne, an AFBF Farm Dog of the Year Finalist - Illinois Farm Bureau Partners

Best Friends on Farms: Meet Rayne, an AFBF Farm Dog of the Year Finalist

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Sensing, herding, alerting and protecting represent many attributes of an outstanding farm dog. In the case of Rayne, a 6-year-old border collie owned by Farm Bureau members Julie and Terry Willis of Belvidere, preventing probably comes to mind first when they think of their dog.

“Well, Rayne is really the boss. She helps us every day,” says Julie Willis. “As soon as we open the door, she’s out there ahead of us. She pretty much can predict which way we go or which direction she thinks we should go.”

Rayne has been selected as one of the top 10 finalists in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Farm Dog of the Year contest. The organization features Rayne and other dogs on its Facebook page as part of an opportunity for users to vote for a “People’s Choice Pup.”

Julie Willis believes Rayne, a six-year old border collie, serves as an integral part of her family’s farm.

Julie Willis believes Rayne, a 6-year-old border collie, serves as an integral part of her family’s farm. The Willis family raises soybeans, field corn, broom corn, hay and cattle on their northern Illinois homestead. Photo by Mike Orso.

The Willis family farms in Boone County, growing soybeans, corn and hay, with 44 “belties,” or Belted Galloway cows and calves, and two herd bulls. It’s the two bulls that Rayne keeps a particular eye on, as an injured paw led to a serious wound two years ago.

“The two bulls were standing there nicely waiting to go into the pasture, and then all of a sudden crashed heads,” says Willis. “She thought they were close enough to me because they were spinning around, and she jumped in. Lo and behold, there was a big yipe and she went rolling.”

One of the 1,500-pound bull’s hooves stomped Rayne’s front right paw, slicing it open. Willis doused the wound with cold water and rushed the dog to their veterinarian. The border collie spent two weeks under the care of the local vet, but her condition worsened.

“She had to go for a week in Madison, Wisconsin, the infection got so bad,” says Willis. “They didn’t know if she’d even be able to keep her leg.”

Rayne helps round up the Willis family’s herd of “Oreo-cookie cows” or Belted Galloways, a breed of cattle imported from Scotland long ago into the United States. Julie Willis says the cattle have a “high tenderness gene” and produce extra flavorful meat

Rayne helps round up the Willis family’s herd of “Oreo-cookie cows” or Belted Galloways, a breed of cattle imported from Scotland long ago to the United States. Willis says the cattle have a “high tenderness gene” and produce extra flavorful meat. Photo by Jim Polus.

The dog ended up losing part of her paw, but doctors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Veterinary Hospital turned Rayne’s infection around. After a week there, the dog returned to the northern Illinois farm with a hefty cast on the paw and leg. Rayne eventually resumed her full schedule of watching, sensing, herding and alerting, which didn’t surprise Rayne’s trainer, Lori Swanson.

“They have to have a little bit of fearless quality in them,” says Swanson. “Rayne jumped in when Julie was being threatened by the bulls with no thought for her own safety at all. She was there to help when she needed to.”

See more: Farm Dog has a Doggone Good Life

Swanson believes Rayne represents “a natural” when it comes to having the instinct and work ethic to serve in many capacities. In addition to her farm work, Rayne has trained with Willis and Swanson to compete in scent competitions and also serve as a therapy dog.

“She was a natural for a therapy dog just because of her overall demeanor – she’s so quiet and gentle,” says Swanson. “For nose work, she’s also a natural because she’s got her nose everywhere, and I suspect that’s one of the reasons she makes such a good farm dog.”

Rayne, center, helps Julie Willis, right, and Lori Swanson herd the Willis family’s Belted Galloway cattle from one pasture to the next on a rainy fall day near Belvidere. (Photo: Mike Orso)

Rayne, center, helps Willis, right, and Lori Swanson herd the Willis family’s Belted Galloway cattle from one pasture to the next on a rainy fall day near Belvidere. Photo by Mike Orso.

Rayne is the second border collie that has been part of the Willis family, obtained as a puppy after the first dog passed away.

“I think the role of dogs, and the role of this dog, is to be there,” says Willis. “We all know farming is challenging at the best of times, and at the worst of times, when they are right there, you don’t need words. You need fur.”

To learn more about Rayne and see the other nine AFBF Farm Dog of the Year finalists, and to participate in the “People’s Choice Pup” component of the contest, go to this section of the organization’s Facebook page.

Hear more from farmer Julie Willis and trainer Lori Swanson about Rayne’s adventures on the northern Illinois farm where she plays an integral role in this episode of the Partners podcast.

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