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North Dakotan's farm is going to the dogs
A grain and livestock operation is common in farming country. A grain and dog breeding operation isn't, especially in North Dakota.
But then McVille, N.Dak., farmer Jeff Knudson really likes dogs. As he puts it, "You have to like dogs to get involved with a kennel operation."
Running a kennel has a lot in common with a dairy farm, explains Knudson. "You're caring for the dogs day in and day out, seven days a week. You can't let dogs go like animals in the pasture. There's constant cleaning and veterinary care."
Knudson, who grows mostly durum and barley on his farm, says his dog breeding business is a sideline. He takes care of the dogs in the winter and his wife Lynette takes care of them in the summer when he's busy in the fields.
The kennel operation came into being six years ago. "We were looking for some purebred dogs just for pets at that time. I saw an ad in a farm paper - another kennel was selling some dogs. I visited it and ended up buying. That's how it started."
Knudson recalls being leery of getting into the dog breeding business at first. "Finally, I became convinced that there was a market for pups in pet stores."
He quickly found out that being convinced there's a market is one thing; getting your share is another. "We made a lot of phone calls when we first had puppies to find anyone who would give us a shot at the market. It wasn't easy."
There were other lessons to be learned, chiefly about diseases. "There are many diseases that affect dogs and a lot of them are significant only in breeding kennels. Veterinarians haven't had much to do with these diseases, but you learn them in a hurry," says Knudson.
Knudson found the market for pups to be highly competitive. "More dogs are being raised so a breeder has to concentrate on quality. People want better dogs. If you've got decent pups, that's the main thing. If you can get your foot in the door and keep sending pet stores quality pups, then there's a good market for them."
Knudson has his foot in the door. He now sells 95% of his pups to big city pet stores, dealing mostly with a couple of large pet store chains. "There isn't much of a market out in this area. We sell a few out the door, but very few."
Knudson's kennel operation is relatively small. "We usually have 25 to 30 breeding dogs. A lot of kennels have 400 to 500 breeders - full-time guys with lots of help.
There's more to Knudson's dog kennels than his preference for dogs. "The pet market isn't tied to the farm economy," says Knudson. "It's not a market that fluctuates like grain or cattle or hogs. That sure helps."
Story and photos reprinted with permission from Harvest States Journal, St. Paul, Minn.

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1989 - Volume #13, Issue #3