Notre chenil a ouvert ses portes à l’été 2008, après quelques semaines de chantier, ou nous avons profité du peu de temps dont nous disposions pour travailler la terre avant les premiers gels. Nous avions alors déjà quelques chiens, vivant en cage près de la maison.
La plupart des personnes qui viennent pour la première fois pensent qu’ils seront incapables de retenir les noms de tous nos chiens. La vérité c’est qu’ils sont tous différents, avec pour chacun une personnalité unique. Certains sont petits (Samu, Petteri), d’autres grands et puissants (Ponde, Lassi), certains joueurs (Monty, Pepe, Princess), d’autres calmes et discrets (Tinnu, Hamppu) ou encore très dynamique (Much, Pinky, Timon, et presque tous les jeunes chiens). Cela peut sembler surprenant mais il est en fait très facile de tous les reconnaitre.
La plupart de nos chiens sont des huskies d’Alaska, mais nous avons également quelques sibériens. La plupart des gens pensent d’abord au sibérien ou au malamute quand ils pensent aux huskies, notamment car c’est la race que l’on retrouve dans les films de Disney!
Where did the dogs come from?
Chocolate et Sausage (deux frères), furent les premiers, suivis de près par Cloud et Princess (frères et sœurs également). Tous les quatre, les trois sœurs Trouble, Grumpy et Pinky, et les frères et sœurs de Cloud et Princess; Bono et Madonna, nous viennent d’une ferme près de Luosto.
Viennent ensuite Bernie et Much (frères), Monty et Liz qui nous été donnés par un ami allemand, Dominik, qui a pratiqué la course de chiens pendant quelques années en Suède. Lizzie est maintenant trop âgée pour courir et nous tient compagnie a la maison, mais Much et Monty sont de bons élément (Bernie est un peu paresseux).
La majorité de nos premiers chiens (44) provient de la ferme de Juha Pekka, a Ivalo, dans l’est de la Laponie, qui réduisait la taille de son chenil à 350 chiens. Ce sont des chiens de travail au sens strict, et beaucoup d’entre eux sont encore peu habitués aux caresses. Un peu timides, ils reculent quand on les approche et nous travaillons dur pour les rendre plus sociables, et à leur faire apprécier le contact humain, afin qu’ils ne s’effraient pas lorsqu’ils rencontrent des inconnus. Ce travail est difficile, d’autant plus si le chien est déjà âgé, mais ceux qui nous rendent visite chaque année ont pu noter d’énormes progrès au sein de la meute.
In the autumn of 2008, three of our female dogs, Sanna, Madonna and Princess, gave birth to 20 puppies in our house (7 in the bedroom, 6 in the office and 7 in the gear room). Some of our sweetest dogs came from this time, like Suka, Arrow and Cherry (from Princess). Some of our best future leaders also came from these litters, like Diva and Bruiser (from Sanna), and some of our most solid wheel dogs like Yoda and Malik (from Madonna).
Nous avons enfin adopte 12 chiens chez Torben, un fermier allemand qui, parce qu’il rentrait au pays avec ses chiens, devait réduire la taille de sa meute rapidement.
Some of these were experienced runners, but six were incredibly shy (and aggressive) pups of c. 8 months, (the Meggy, Merlin 2, Muller etc litter from Bandit) when they arrived and needed lots of extra attention. After two years of work and some castrations, they are all finally running.
Hulda, one of the most difficult dogs on our farm came from here and she continues to challenge us when near other females.
In the autumn of 2009, Matsku gave birth to the five ‘planet’ pups – so called since they are named after planets (Mars, Mercury Mick, Pluto, Venus and Saturn). Learn more about Matsku and Jopa's pups, here.
In 2010, Trouble gave birth to 7 pups whose names all begin with ‘T’ (Tundra, Taiga, Terror, etc). Learn more about Trouble and Monty's pups, here.
At the start of 2011 we had a surprise litter from Grumpy – Trouble’s sister. The ‘vet check’ had been written in the wrong column on our medical charts and we hadn’t taken her to the vet for an ultrasound at the appropriate time. When they started to come, we were crossing our fingers that there would only be one or two – but of course there were 9 in the litter! Learn more about Grumpy and Tengri's pups, here.
During our time running Valimaa farm for Santa Safaris/Transun UK (in addition to our own farm), we kept breeding at a minimum on their farm (since we had inherited so many pregnant dogs from a zero control breeding programme). Nevertheless, there were still two 'litters' during this time. One came from a dog recuperating at our farm who we believed was far too old to have pups (she had already been on the retirement list for a year!) The lucky mom, Maija, was put back into harness the following year but she is finally fully retired in Switzerland with the Frei's now and her pups are, a little unfortunately, split between the two farms. Learn more about Darja's pup, here and Majia and Hamppu's pups, here.
The Detective pups came to us in 2012, (learn more here), initially they came from Pasi Heinonen's farm as a foster litter since he had had a large number of litters that year and we didn't want to breed. In the end we only took Starsky. Pasi was kind enough to gift him to us for the help with the pups and even though we had intended to ask to buy two, we didn't feel we could then ask for the second, so Lacey, Magnum, Marple, Bergerac and Sherlock returned to Pasi's farm.
That turned out to be providential since we ended up 'rescuing' the 'A' pups later on in the winter of 2012-13 from a relatively local family that had a house-full of fostered kids and didn't need the extra mouths to feed and care for too. Learn more here. We were glad that we hadn't effectively had two new litters that year.
The 'litter of the gods' came to us as foster pups from Aki Holk's farm (indirectly from Lance Mackey's farm), in autumn 2013. Learn more here).
Starsky, the 2012 detective pup that remained behind with us, was so good (despite the fact that his lack of hair is maybe a slight issue in the far north) that in the summer of 2014 we went back to the farm he had come from and bought Hippi, pregnant with a known combination sire.
Very shortly afterwards, Sanna one of our good females, mated accidentally with Starsky when in the house for an injury and Pasi thought the combination such a good one that he decided to let fate decide what materialised, (ie pups or not), knowing that many of our first dogs would be entering retirement by the time that the pups (if there were any) would come of age. Learn more about Hippi's pups, here, and Sanna's second litter of pups, with Starsky, here.
The 'Fluffies' (Hyper Pouchons) and Super Monsters, care of Gilles Elkaim & Camp-Arktika in 2014. Gilles, a french musher with a base in Eastern Finland, had been planning an expedition in the far north and therefore needed to 'downsize' his group of dogs. He was keen that the dogs would move in litter groups to new homes and we took 2 litters - one of Taimyrs, an ancient Siberian breed which are pretty rare, worldwide (he is one of the few recognized breeders and is trying hard to save the race from extinction) and one litter which was a Laika Nenet / Taimyr mix.
Laïka Nenets (Nenets Herding Laika) were originally a reindeer herd shepherd used by the Nenet people (a Samoyed group) from the European Russian Arctic and Western Siberia. Although not a sleddog by tradition, they fit the work perfectly because of their endurance, resistance to cold and intelligence. They tend to bark more than most sleddogs and the smaller ones are 25-35kg. The father of the fluffies was Gilles' lead dog, Pouchok, for 4 years during arctic journeys that covered over 7000 kilometers!
Taimyr dogs (Taymyrskaya ezdovaye) were traditionally bred by the Nganasans People (Samoyed group) from the Taimyr region of Siberia for their exceptional sleddog capabilities and thick fur prized in clothing manufacturing. These were the types of dogs that Amundsen used in his North-West passage and which Marco Polo referenced as being "as big as donkeys".
This is a photo of Eden, one of the Nenet Laika / Taimyr mixes.
Tous les autres sont nés au chenil, et nous sommes très fiers d’avoir élevé des chiens stables, heureux et amicaux, recherchant les caresses et doués pour la course. Les premiers mois de développement des chiots sont les plus critiques, et maintenant que nous pouvons observer le comportement des adultes que nous avons élevés, nous sommes heureux de constater que nous sommes sur la bonne voie.
How do we ensure that we breed when we and not the dogs, choose?
To be to choose when the dogs breed (and not have it chosen for us) is about prevention.
As a basic tenet, males and females live apart in separate areas of the farm, with most males living in the running circle area and females in pairs in cages. We identify female dogs (and castrated males) by their red collars (as opposed to males who wear any other coloured collar), in order to avoid cases of 'mistaken identity,' where a dog could be placed in the wrong living area by accident. (Pilgrim and Arrow, for instance, might otherwise be mistaken for each other, as might be brother and sister, Sanna and Samu).
We also need to know exactly how fertile our females are at any time. Three times a week each female is carefully checked for heat. This check is conducted by the Medical Overseer, i.e. someone that is familiar with the dogs and their bodies. The information is recorded in our heat chart, which uses different colours for the different stages of the cycle. Thus we can easily calculate how fertile a dog is at anytime. Most dogs are in heat for 3-4 weeks and as an extra precaution, we mark the 5th week as a safety week. Over time, allows us to build up a complete picture of their heat cycles so that we can both predict when a dog is due to come into heat and track to see if anything anomylous is happening which might indicate an underlying health issue.
We also use this information in several practical day-by-day ways. First we print 2 copies of the heat chart each week and they are placed in key areas around the farm, so that all guides can reference it. (All guides are thoroughly trained to read a heat chart, even if they are not the medical overseer).
Next we have red wooden signs to hook underneath the dog's name sign on their cage. This is an effective way for guides to know immediately to be extra vigilant with that particular dog. When moving the females they can be careful where they are walked and they can be careful about which dogs are placed outside their cages.
The heat data we collect is also added to our weekly 'feeding chart,' which we refer to, for example, for guidance when we need to move dogs between different cages or areas of the farm. We would not want, for example, a female in heat to be placed in a cage near to the area that the sleigh teams are made since the male dogs will be at best distracted and at worst, they may wonder across to say hello.
Finally, and most importantly in the winter season, the information is updated 3 times a week in the document used to decide which dogs will run on what teams and for what safaris. As a general rule, with only one or two exceptions, we never run mixed sex teams, so as to reduce the risk of accidental pregnancies. But some girl teams may be on the same safari as the boy teams, so we need to know which females are in heat in case we need to move some dogs around to balance speeds between the teams. Aside from the increased risk of pregnancy, the males can behave in a more aggresive manner if they are in close proximity to a female on heat so we run the female / 'heat teams' at the rear so that the males don't get distracted by their scent in front. (It also means that when we come back into the farm through the front gate, the female teams are immediately positioned so as to be able to quickly put them back away in their cages - again minimising the chance of them having unwanted attention from the boys.
On the farm our dog's collars are also colour coded. Females and castrated male have red collars, while uncastrated males have a different colour collar. In this way, if a new guide is not positive on the name of each dog, at least they can be sure not to put an un-castrated male in a cage with a female.
An example of our heat cycle record-keeping can be seen below.