Winners of the 2021 Cobber Challenge, Ben Jeffery and his Kelpie Skyblue Jack.
The Cobber Challenge is a celebration of the unsung heroes of farms across the country – working dogs. From humble beginnings in 2016, the Cobber Challenge has become a world-wide phenomenon, with people around the globe enthralled in the celebration.
But what makes the Cobber Challenge so successful? How does it engage farming and metropolitan audiences alike?
The idea for the Cobber Challenge came from two simple questions: How can we show how much dogs do on our farms? And, how can we celebrate the connection between farmers and their dogs?
We struck gold with the idea to fit dogs with a GPS collar to track how hard they work over a three-week period.
Each year, in late winter and early spring, the collars track how far, fast and for how long 12 dogs work. Every day of the competition, data is uploaded to the Cobber Challenge website where fans can follow the performance of each dog. Each days’ data is added together and by the end of the challenge we have a new Cobber Champion.
While the data is awesome – showing that each dog does the work of at least a few human workers – it is the stories shared by the dogs’ handlers that capture our audience’s imaginations. The connection between people and their dogs; that’s what the Cobber Challenge truly celebrates.
This connection is what spurs impressive media and social media coverage of the competition.
A great example of that connection is seen in last year’s winning team, kelpie Skyblue Jack and owner Ben Jeffery, from Victoria. In all the photos and videos of Jack, while working, playing and resting, you can see his love for his owner. And in Ben’s words? “I’m in awe of my dog,” he said when they were announced the winners.
“I love my dogs; I couldn’t do my job without them. And I knew with Jack, that I cracked a great bloodline so it’s been awesome to put him to the test and capture just how hard he works,” Ben said. With Ben’s boss unable to get back to Western Victoria because of COVID border closures, Ben, Skyblue Jack and his kennel mates had to step up to get the stock work done.
These circumstances gave Skyblue Jack a leg up in the competition and saw him clock a Cobber Challenge record of 1012.6 kilometres over the three-week period.
Northern NSW station hand Glenda Rogan and her Kelpie-cross Buddy won the Cobber Challenge in 2020.
“The Cobber Challenge gave me a better insight into how much our dogs do each day,” Glenda said.
To keep the campaign fresh and reach new audiences, we have themes for each year’s competition. For example, last year we extended the competition to New Zealand farmers too. Three Kiwi farmer-dog teams competed against nine Australians in the first trans-Tasman Cobber Challenge.
This year, we are thrilled to introduce the first Cobber Challenge Relay. Farmers will compete with teams of two or three dogs. Each day they will nominate one of their dogs to wear the GPS collar for that day. This approach recognises that dogs have different strengths – some excel at paddock work, others shine in the yards. This year it will be the hardest working team that will be crowned winners.
Cobber Working Dog food fuels these dogs during the Cobber Challenge, as it does for thousands of dogs around the country every day.
This year’s 12 competing teams will be announced on 25 July, with the 2022 Cobber Challenge Relay running from 22 August to 11 September.