That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Johanna N Johansson, a sheep farmer, sheepdog trainer and vet student in this week’s Women in Ag series.
”My name is Johanna N Johansson, and I am 29-years-old. I was born and raised in the south of Sweden on a farm, where my parents run a business with horses for showjumping.
Horses have always been a natural part of my life since I grew up with stables outside my doorstep.
Spending time with my father in the stable is one of my earliest memories. But gradually, I found a bigger interest in dogs, and when I was 18, I spent all my spare time training my dog.
In agricultural college in 2012, I was offered a 15-week internship, which I spent on different farms with my dog in Sweden and Denmark with sheep.
I had plenty of farm experience but no knowledge of sheep or sheepdogs, so I am very thankful for the people who took me in and shared their knowledge.
For me, it was the beginning, and they gave me the best start you can imagine. From there on, my interest in sheepdogs grew daily, and I took every chance I could to learn more.
I bought five sheep of my own, and I knocked on every door in the neighbourhood with sheep to offer my help.
Also, I wrote emails to the top handlers in Europe asking for work. I was lucky that people gave me the chance to prove myself useful to them, and I worked hard.
Between 2013-2017, I worked in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England and Wales, learning from the very best.
It was hard work, but I learned a lot and made many friends and lifelong memories.
Today, I have four dogs, and my main dog, Ever on Ztill, has claimed the Swedish championship silverware twice and has been on the Swedish team for six years in a row.
It is safe to say that I have my mentors to thank for this, and I am very proud of my progress as a sheepdog trainer.
My most recent trials were the Nordic Championship and the Continental, which took place in August.
That is why I spend my entire summer in the UK, visiting my old workplaces and friends to get my dogs some experience and get them fit for this autumn.
Biggest achievements to date:
- Swedish champion 2018 & 2021;
- Swedish team member 2016 – 2022;
- Qualified for the world trial 2017 + 2020;
- Swedish Young handler champion 2015 – 2017;
- Reserve European young handler champion 2014.
Sheep farmer and vet student
Home in Sweden, I am now a part-time sheep farmer since I spend most of my time in vet school.
With less than six months left before becoming a fully qualified vet, I am looking forward to spending more time training my dogs and building up a good training facility for them.
For me, veterinary medicine is fascinating, and it has always been something I have been interested in learning.
Growing up with animals, you will meet a vet at one point or another and those times were always the highlight for me as a kid. I found it super exciting.
In Sweden, we only have one vet school in Uppsala, so I was very pleased when I got accepted.
To combine vet school with trialling my dogs at the highest level has not been easy, though, and many said I would have to choose between school and the trials.
But I refused, and my dogs are the ones that motivate me the most, so in some weird way, we made it work.
And I know that I would not have endured five-and-a-half years in school if I could not do what I love the most in my spare time. That was now five years ago, and I just finished my tenth term with one term to go.
In less than six months, I will be a qualified vet, which is quite incredible if I am being honest.
My plan is to work with both small and large animals to start with to get a good base of knowledge and to get some confidence in myself.
Finding a good practice where I can get support as a newly qualified vet is very important to me.
But I always want to keep training my dogs, giving them plenty of practical experiences and trying to prepare them for the big events every year.
Usually, I keep three or four at a time, and my goal is to always have two dogs for the big trials.
The good ones are difficult to find, so you always need to have some young ones at home trying to find the ones that have what it takes for the top.
Usually, I start training my youngsters at 8-months-old, but it can take a long time before you see if they are good enough.
At 2-years-old, you usually have a fair idea of what you got, but first, at 3-years-old, you can call them fully trained.
And after that, they need plenty of experience. I aim to always give my dogs time to develop at their own pace, rather than selling them too soon and then thinking: what if?
It is not so uncommon that you see a dog 12 months later, and it is a completely different dog because it has now matured and had time and experience, so that is my number one piece of advice.
Do not rush, as every dog is different, and the skill as a trainer is to make the best out of every dog.
My advice for people who wants to learn is to find a good mentor and to have an open mind. Things take time, and it requires your time and effort to be a good trainer.
Watch and learn by the best; work hard and find good training opportunities for you and your dogs.
And do not be afraid of trying new things. To have someone’s footsteps to follow is great, but at some point, you will have to find your own way.
What I love most about working with sheepdogs is when you take them for real practical work, and you do not have to say a word to them.
It is when you have come to a certain point in your training that you can give the dog responsibility and the trust to work independently.
I love when the dog knows what to do and how to do it and when the dogs are in their right element and do what they were bred for. For me, that is fascinating, and it still gets me every time I see it.
The biggest challenge I have faced is expectations from myself. Being an underdog is great, and every step to success feels amazing.
For me, the great success came quite suddenly and sooner than I expected it to. And once I reached that success, I started to expect it, putting lots of pressure on myself to perform every time.
This was not just at trials but also in training, which at one point, took away the joy of it all for me.
Working with my dogs is a great pleasure, and now I do not take anything for granted, and I enjoy every second with my dogs.They give their all to me, and I will do the same for them.
In the future, I dream about having my own vet practice at home on my farm, where I can build up a practice I am proud of.
I wish to combine that with training my dogs in my spare time and also offer help and opportunities to others that are in the same position as I was in ten years ago.
Also, I hope to have a good facility for training, and hopefully, I can organise a couple of trials every year.
I feel proud when I think back on what I have done with my dogs and for myself over the last ten years.
I have done so many things, worked hard, travelled a lot and given myself every chance I would have wished for.
Moreover, I took five years off between college and vet school, and those five years have been the base for my success and who I am as a person today.
And once again, I would like to say thank you to everybody who has helped me on my way – you know who you are!”
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