The intent of this discussion is to explain the first 18 months of a greyhound's farm life for those that might be interested. This discussion is a prelude for later topics. It is presented from the greyhound farmer's viewpoint.
We help the female greyhound whelp new puppies in a 5' x 6' whelping box in our food mixing room. The greyhound mother is free to come and go. The room is heated and air conditioned. The puppies remain in the whelping box until they can climb over the 12" high sideboards, usually at about 4-5 weeks. The whelping box has inside bumper rails so the female cannot crush the puppies against the sides. We change the rugs twice per day and wipe down the box with a mild bleach solution. Puppies cannot see or hear until they are about 2 to 3 weeks old. What amazes us is the fact that freshly born puppies, just after they are cleaned, can turn, struggle, crawl straight for, and latch onto their mother's faucet without any assistance. How do they sense where to go? Anyway, we start the puppies' vaccination and worming program at 2 weeks. The puppies are old enough to start rousting each other just before they are moved.
At about 4-5 weeks the mother and puppies are moved to an enclosure over a similar type 6' x 6' whelping box. This enclosure is in a 8' x 8' stall with a dog door to a 8' x 30' fenced run. The run is chain link fenced and has an added 1/2" x 1/2" wire mesh fabric on the side next to a greyhound in the adjacent run. (Some adjacent greyhound females will kill puppies - the wire mesh prevents cross contact.) The puppies remain in this area until they are about 3 months old. Again, the enclosure is cleaned twice per day and wiped down with a mild bleach solution. The mother usually starts weaning her puppies at about 5 weeks. At this time the puppies are introduced to real food. We first serve a pan of milk with a little baby cereal. Within a short period of time we add a little crumbled or blended dry meal in the milk. As time passes we introduce finely diced red meat and tripe to the mix. To walk and carry a pan of food to these puppies requires one to be an expert at the "puppy shuffle".
By 6-7 weeks the puppies are fully weaned and eating on their own. It is really fun to watch puppies play with each other; they run and bounce, stumble, fall, wrestle, growl, bark, play, bite each other, turn their head to one side, pert up their ears, listen to new sounds, fall in the feed pan, bite each other's tails, shake rags, etc. It is from this area the puppies are exposed to the big, wide world. It is amusing to watch when they first venture to the outside. They will tippy-toe out the dog door, stretch their necks way out, sniff and listen, then real fast they will turn and run back inside. One of our most pleasurable moments is sitting down inside the enclosure when the puppies are 4-5 weeks old and just letting them climb all over us. One will be chewing on your shoelace, one will be shaking your pants-leg, one will be biting your hand, one will climb over your legs, one will climb on your stomach, and one will climb all the way to your face and bite your nose, ear, or pull your hair. This is when we first start speculating on what type dogs they will be - what traits they will have and how they will run. We personally believe that many of their personality traits originate from this period.
During this time period the mother is weaning the puppies. Some female greyhounds make excellent mothers; they clean after the pups, play with the pups, let the pups bite and chew on them, and generally enjoy motherhood. Other female greyhounds are true to their label - pure bitches. They will not only snap at the pups (which is a necessary learning process), but will also bite them, step and lay on them, and avoid them. We have to separate some females from their pups before they are completely weaned; we let the mother back in for short periods while she is drying up. Other females we allow to stay with their litter for about 1-1/2 months. Heather (house pet supreme) is 10 years old, but she wants to help with every new litter. We did have one female who allowed Heather to lay with her puppies and help (highly unusual). It is about this time we start naming the pups and calling them by name.
At 2 to 4 months the pups are moved to a 20' x 300' long run with several igloo type dog houses; they remain together as a litter. We put a puppy collar on them at this time. They start jogging, playing, digging holes, tossing old bleach bottles, playing hide and seek, pulling tug of war with towels and toys, and interacting with each other. We feed these young pups twice per day, early morning and late evening. They are untamed hellions at times. When we enter to feed, they come running full speed. They jump on us, they playfully bite us, they rip clothes, they smear mud all over us, they upset the water bucket, they carry straw out of the doghouses, they bust our lips, and they try to crowd out the entrance gate - we love it all! But also during this period they start establishing a hierarchy of dominance and developing personality traits. Some become more aggressive. Some seem to get along better with one littermate than the others. Some start getting picked on. Some start becoming a little afraid. Most are just happy, carefree pups.
At 5 to 6 months we start separating the pups into pairs and putting them into individual chain link fenced long runs that are 30' x 300'. Only 2 dogs per run - no more, no less. Great decisions are made on which two to pair up; after all, these two will be together for the next 7-9 months. Usually we pair a female and male together, but not always. We continue to feed twice per day. During the 7-9 months in the long run, the greyhound pups continue to develop. One will become dominant over the other. They usually reach full body weight at about 10-11 months old. They love to run the fenceline against the pair in the adjacent runs - up and down the fenceline, time after time.
They always have an old bleach bottle (rinsed out first) to play with. They dig "big" holes. We have several long runs and sometimes all the dogs up and down the runs will "roo", or sing and howl, together. What amazes us is they all stop singing at once, on the same beat (they must have a song leader that signals when to stop). The long runs have thick grass in the center that is mowed short each week. Of course the grass is worn out where they run the fenceline. The doghouses are custom built and larger than the igloo type doghouses. One of their favorite games is to chase each other around the doghouse; they also like to play hide and seek around the doghouse. In the summertime they have a kiddy-type swimming pool full of water. Some will lay down in the pool with only their head showing. In the winter the doghouses are kept full of straw. During this period in the long runs they are taught a few manners. We start bumping their nose to prevent them from jumping all over us. We start giving verbal commands. We lead-break them. We spend time petting them. We spend extra time with the shy ones or the ones that are a little touchy. We introduce them to a muzzle. We work them with a squawker (a fur hide with a noise maker inside) tied off a pole. Also during this period we occasionally take them to the training track. We let them play and start chasing the squawker lure around the racetrack at a very slow pace.
At 12 to 14 months we move the greyhounds inside an 18' x 36' kennel room to simulate the lifestyle at a racetrack. The litter is back together again, but with two or three other litter groups. Each greyhound is housed in a wire crate that is 33" wide, 43" deep, and 32" high. The wire crates are stacked one row above the other. Females are taught to jump into the upper crates. A greyhound's crate is its kingdom; it is their retreat to safety and security. They want inside their crate. The greyhounds sleep on shredded computer paper that contains no staples or other objects. (We tried shredded newspaper but the ink stained their coats.) Each greyhound has its name taped above the crate door and on its muzzle, the muzzles hang from snaps on the crate doors. The kennel room is air conditioned. A radio plays around the clock (it is always tuned to country music - some breeders swear that greyhounds run better when the radio is tuned to country music). The greyhounds are fed once per day at about 9AM, and they get a dry milk bone in the evening (if one is more than 10 minutes off schedule they will start barking and howling for you to hurry up). The greyhounds sleep in several different positions; some sleep stretched out, some sleep curled up, some sleep in the back of the crate, some sleep in the front of the crate, some sleep upside down with all fours pointed up, some sleep with their heads buried under the shredded paper (it's funny to see a greyhound raise its head from under shredded paper - looks like they have a bridal veil with the paper hanging off their head and nose).
The greyhounds are "turned-out" four times per day for 45-60 minutes per turn-out. We have two turn-out pens. Each pen is 30' x 30'. The greyhounds are muzzled as they are turned-out. During turn-out, we fluff or change the paper in the crates, clean as necessary, and sweep the floor. If only one person is working turn-out, they constantly listen for any disturbance from the dogs. If two people are working turn-out, one person stays in the pen with the dogs. Life in the turn-out pen can be boring at times, or it can be extremely active. We must scoop the poop, change the water buckets, observe the dogs, and keep order. We pay particular attention to the condition of a dog's stool; the stool will usually tell us whether the food is proper, whether a dog is sick, whether a dog has worms, or just generally whether something is wrong.
Keeping order can be a challenge. Imagine 20-30 dogs together in close proximity of each other. Personalities of the greyhounds can vary to extremes. [We intend to post a future discussion on life in the turnout pen.] After turn-out its "rush-the-door-time" to get back into their crates. Here they come - heaven forbids one stand near the door. They come back running, prancing, wagging their tails, barking, and running around the kennel room. Most will head straight for their crate door and wag their tails to get back into their crates (if they get confused in all the excitement, the smarter ones simply read the names above the crate doors to find where they belong - seriously though, the dogs know where to go - the names are for the benefit of the humans). Some females have to playfully run around the kennel room a time or two before jumping up into their crates. Then they turn and look for you to pet them before shutting the crate door; of course they get their head and ears rubbed.
The greyhounds are loaded into a dog trailer and hauled to the training track once per week from the time they are 12 to 14 months old. They are taken to the training track twice per week from the time they are 14 months to when they leave for the racetrack. When we back the dog trailer into place they get real excited to go to the training track; they bark, bite at the crate door, paw, wag their tails, and almost jerk one's arm out of place to get to the dog trailer - talk about happy and excited dogs! They gradually develop into racers (a few do not). At about 15-16 months we see most of them really pick up speed and endurance.
At 18 months of age the day comes when the greyhounds must go to the racetrack. We take pictures of each greyhound, we talk to them, we give them a hug and kiss, and then we load them onto the dog hauler's truck; it is not a happy time. We send a note to the kennel trainer at the racetrack telling him about anything of importance for each dog. Several greyhounds we never see again. We do all we can for them at the farm. We only pray they end up not seriously hurt and with good homes.
We enjoy hearing from adoptive owners. If requested, we provide all the information we can to any owner of our former greyhounds.
"On the Farm" By Shawnie and Sam Burdette, photo
rendering by Dan Schmidt of photo by Praveen Mutalik