Have you considered for a moment how you reward the most loyal member of your farming team?

He or she has four legs and is secured or caged up outside, often with minimal shelter, given one main meal a day of the easiest, cheapest feed available with limited access to trough and stream water. That may be a harsh summation but there lays a truth in perhaps the level of care given to these ever faithful workers.

The nutrition of farm working dogs could improve nationally and research work at Massey University Working Dog Centre will help farmers in this area. Dogs under heavy work need two to three times the energy of household pets.

Grant Guilford a veterinary authority on companion animal nutrition identified some common errors made by farmers in the nutrition of their dogs and the subsequent impact on performance or problems.

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The feeding of unbalanced diets, for example, with insufficient energy and a low ratio of protein can lead to poor stamina/performance, and weight loss.

To achieve a high-energy density the diet must be high in fat (ideally over 20 per cent in dry matter) and greater than 18 per cent protein. The feeding of all meat or 'home-kill' diets is deficient or marginal in many vitamins and minerals. Without bones meat is deficient in calcium.

Adding bones directly is playing a dangerous game for intestinal disasters, for example, bone fragments causing intestinal perforation, obstruction, constipation or colitis. Large bones that don't break up are good for teeth health.

Supplements of vitamins and minerals are best given to all meat diets or preferably flip it around and ensure no more than 30 per cent of the total diet can be meat.

Economically it is best to feed a dry diet rather than cans or dog rolls. Basically you are paying for water. Dry foods contain three to four times the nutrient densities required over wet foods. Stick to international brands of manufacturer that certify a feed is AFFCO-tested via a feeding trial of their product. It should be alongside the nutrient label.

Other nutrition-related diseases seen in working dogs include poor healing skin, bone weakness-resulting in susceptibility to fractures, joint problems causing lameness and poor immune function-leading to vulnerability to infections.

Recent research at Massey University has shown a low-carbohydrate, high protein diet appears to offer advantages to working dogs. Better nutrient digestibility, slower release of glucose into the bloodstream (low glycaemic index is better for stamina) and reduced intestinal fermentation of carbohydrate — in fact a predatory diet high in protein and fat!

The key is to feed this diet in small amounts (at least twice daily) and before exercise by at least an hour to minimise the likelihood of bloat.

The intelligence and learning of dogs has demonstrably improved through adequate nutrition in Marlborough studies as well.

Fuelling your faithful servant in that sense will have a huge payback benefit that could ultimately replace you.