As I stood in a 8ft hole of full of frozen dog shit I questioned my decision to work on a husky farm.
I can image to some people the idea of over 250 huskies isn't there idea of a good time, but for me I had the best 3 weeks. As part of my IWG course we have to complete some work experience. I came across Husky & co and thankfully they were more than happy to accommodate me so I packed all my winter gear and convoyed the 880km north to Lapland.
Lapland during December time, as you can imagine is bloody crazy. Everywhere you see Brits waddling around with every layer imaginable on. It reminds me of Sanka in Cool Runnings when he first arrives in Canada. It was the polar night part of the winter when the sun doesn't rise so most of the day was pretty dark - but its not so bad. On clear days you get these beautiful few hours of pinky blue skies - they are just the best.
Incase you're still wondering how I ended up in the pit of dog shit...
Well it was my first day, it was pretty busy and Janne, the farm manager asked me to go grab the snowmobile with the sled on the back and empty it in the big hole at the back of the farm. Finns are pretty direct, no small talk, no nonsense. Inside I had about quite a few questions but hey I'd work it out - no worries. So I found the shit loaded sled, and after getting over what I assumed would be the hardest part of my day - manually starting the temperamental snowmobile. I found the hole, so proceeded to unhitch the sled and tip the contents into it....turns out frozen shit is quite heavy. I was mid squat with my face closer than I'd like to the iced turds as I realised that It was going to take a massive drive of power to tip the sled over. And with it being a farm full of Finnish guys the last thing I was going to do on my first day was ask for help...
So as I pushed up with all the power I had, both the sled of shite and I went flying into it's intended place... Hoping that no one had seen me I dusted (well it wasn't dust) myself down and sheepishly clambered out, dragging the shitty sled behind me. Not the best start.
A typical day on the farm
6am - Feeding time for all 250 dogs. The dogs get a mixture of meat and dry food mixed with warm water.
7-9am - Prepare teams - depending on how many sleds are needed we build the teams ready for the first safaris at 10am. There are two main starting lines where we build up the teams, first just attatching them to the lines or the sled. They will either have 5/6 dogs depending on how many guests will be on the sled - sometimes a solo sled only needs 4 dogs. Later on the harnesses get distributed according to size and for most of them you can put them on right away. There are a handful of dogs who chew them off so we leave them off until the last minute before leaving.
10am - First groups arrive, they get suited and booted - those nice big overalls that scream the word 'tourist' but when you're on the back of the sled/snowmobile with the wind blowing then warmth is much more important than appearance. Then they get a safety briefing about what to do and how to drive the sleds properly.
By this point the dogs are normally pretty excited. They know the drill pretty well so as soon as harnesses go on and the back tug lines get attached they know they'll be running soon so the barking gets pretty loud.
10.45pm - Then once everyone arrives at the starting lines they get distributed out to their sleds. This part is normally quite chaotic, the noise from the dogs makes it quite hard to communicate and the first few times I ran around like a lunatic. Always remember that 'slow is smooth, smooth is fast'.
So depending on whether I'm joining the safari or just helping them set off the starting jobs are normally the following:
- Make sure all the dogs are clipped in properly to the line, they are attached by both the collar and the back of their harness. (These can sometimes break as the dogs get pretty excited and start really pulling which can snap the line) but you just redo the knot or fix it somehow.
- Once the first snowmobile goes you release the first team, first by unclipping the leaders which releases the dogs then you untie the rope attached to the sled to set them off. Most of the time the dogs run straight for where they should go...
- And repeat....going through each team checking everything is good before releasing them onto the track.
- Then sigh and relax :)
If I join on of the safaris then its slightly different. When the teams are set up they are then divided into sub teams. Each guide will take 4-6 teams depending on the split and be in charge of them for the safari. The last sled in each sub team wears a high vis jacket so you can easily see where your group ends. Jobs when you're guiding the safari are:
- Blocking off different routes/ junctions so the dogs stay on track
- Making sure the dogs are as equal as possible, so you don't have one team much faster than another - if you do then swap some dogs around to make it more even. This is something I found hard having only been on the farm for a few weeks but the guides all knew the dogs very well and could tell who was working extra hard or being a bit lazy that day.
- The dogs know the track really well so you're not on the snowmobile to guide the dogs, your just there to watch and make sure everything is running smoothly. You sometimes have to give directions to the sled teams to slow down or stop.
- It's also nice sometimes to just be out of the way, and let the guests enjoy the ride through the nature without the sound/smell of the snowmobile so often we'd try to ride either to the side in the forrest or quite far away so they get a better experience.
In december time Husky & co just do the one route, but once the christmas rush is over they do a longer safari which includes lunch in a kota. Then once the safari is over then its all hands of deck again to help the teams park up, letting the guests get off the sleds and to thank the dogs (the guides will tell them the names of all the team - They're lucky is I know maybe one/two and thats usually only if they are the dogs with English names rather than Finnish)
Then we take the harnesses quickly off the chewers, and release the tug lines so the dogs have some freedom. The guests then get taken to the Kota on the farm which has a nice big fire in it and hot juice to warm them up. The lead guide goes with them and tells them all about the farm and the dogs.
This repeats a couple of times a day, depending how busy it is. But even on the days where we had lots going on the team all worked really well together and helped out so it ran pretty smoothly. During any quiet periods there are always jobs to be done. With 250 dogs shit pick can be a big task but everyone does bits during the day so normally its not so bad. Its also much easier when its colder and it freezes - it also smells a lot less!
All in all it was a great few weeks with Husky & co, a great bunch who were a good laugh to work with. Check them out here: http://www.huskyco.f