Story by Lori Mai
Not everyone is lucky enough to find two great loves in the same day, but in October 2006, Vickie Close did just that. The first was her prized, award-winning border collie, Gale, who became the inspiration for her business, Farm Diggity. The second was her future husband, Norman, from whom she purchased Gale.
Vickie, a farm girl with a rodeo background from Coeur d’Alene, had recently discovered a passion for the sport of herding and was in search of a border collie with a particular line of breeding that she could train for sheepherding trial competitions.
Her quest led to southern Alberta, Canada, and Norman’s business – called Handhills Border Collies, after the area in which he lived.
Originally from a farm in Lancashire, England, Norman grew up with border collies, which are a highly-intelligent British breed of herding dog. Although his pets weren’t exceptionally trained, he was always interested in the breed and wanted to take that interest to the next level.
A number of years after Norman moved to Canada, he acquired his first dog, Joe and devoted his time to training - eventually turning Joe into a Canadian national champion and his hobby into a reputable business.
“I got lucky with my first one,” he says. “He was something special. So that kind of got me going.”
Over the next decade, Norman became a renowned breeder and trainer of American Border Collie Association (ABCA) dogs. With his vast experience, he also judged competitions and taught clinics. Vickie, in turn, was a newbie with a million questions. After she bought Gale from Norman, she went home and continued to stay in touch.
“I was a fiend, I was a fanatic,” Vickie says. “I bought like four books and was reading them all at the same time, and anybody that would talk dogs to me, I would say, ‘please talk to me about dogs’…I was ridiculous. I ate it, breathed it, and you know, he was nice and we talked often. He was a wealth of knowledge.”
The two became friends, and Norman even judged Vickie’s first field trial. Then, “things changed,” and the rest, they say, “is history.”
Norman and Vickie wed on January 5, 2008, and Norman moved his dogs, his business, and himself to Vickie’s property near Coeur d’Alene.
At the time, Vickie was an artist and commercial photographer, but in September 2008, her big accounts went bankrupt during the stock market crash. She switched gears and became a dental assistant. While she loved the job and coworkers, there were “missing pieces,” so she started to think what she could do next.
Meanwhile, Vickie continued to train and compete in sheepdog trials. One day, close to a competition, Gale snuck out to play ball and tore the pads off of her feet. A dog musher friend provided an ointment originally formulated in the 1940s to toughen military troops. Within days, Gale’s feet were healed, and she was able to compete.
“It was hard to find, so I went and made my own recipe from the ingredients, rebranded it as ‘Tuff N Up,’ took out the blue dye, put Gale’s photo on the front of the bottle and started selling it,” Vickie says.
Soon, an idea floated to her about a store she wanted to name “Farm Doggy,” where she could sell Tuff N Up and other farm- and dog-related products. In keeping with her art background, she also wanted to sell artwork and promote other artists.
Vickie was so excited about Farm Doggy, that she immediately went to register for a website under that name and was thrilled to find it available. However, in the confirmation e-mail, the name was listed as “Farn Doggy,” with an “n” instead of an “m.”
“I was like, you got it wrong, I didn’t buy Farn Doggy, did I?” she wondered. “So, I go and look, and oh my gosh, I bought Farn Doggy!” So, she commenced to thinking of a new name.
“I was trying to get it clear in my head what this business is, what it looks like, and what a good name would be, and I was getting delirious. One night I was in bed, tired, and trying to mull it over, and I said, ‘this is Farm Diggity.’”
She loved the name Farm Diggity and the business was born, both online and in a cute white trailer with a red door where she keeps her inventory. She chose the slogan, “It’s a good life,” to reflect her joyful attitude.
Farm Diggity’s first product was Tuff N Up, which is now popular worldwide. She wanted to carry a variety of “things that work” for her farm-and dog-related customers, such as an extensive line of colorful biothane dog leashes, collars, and unique tie-outs that can’t be chewed. She also sells whistles necessary for commands - hand-forged from a design she and Norman created on the back of a piece of cardboard.
Some items, like crooks used in guiding sheep, are both practical and beautiful – hand painted or made with sheep horns.
Vickie also sells “gift-y” things that she finds at the annual gift market in Las Vegas, handcrafted pieces created by artisans, or her own work. She gathers anything that suits her fancy - from handknit mittens to Turkish lamps, from scarves and jewelry to home d cor and apparel items. Vickie ships every order with candy and a handwritten note.
“I always think Farm Diggity is like a community,” she says. “Very few of this stuff is me coming up with something ingenious. A lot of people and friends will send me stuff or ideas to try out or help make. It’s us - we’re all Farm Diggity…like when somebody goes and helps somebody else…that’s Farm Diggity.”
Two winters ago, Norman and Vickie sold their home and acreage in Coeur d’Alene, packed up their possessions, the Farm Diggity trailer, 35 sheep, 15 border collies, and moved near Viola to be near Vickie’s parents, Les and Susie Schorzman, who are now in their eighties.
They were sad to leave but love being available to spend valuable time with Les and Susie while continuing to enjoy their fun lifestyle training border collies, competing in sheepherding trials, managing their businesses and being with each other.
“That’s Farm Diggity,” Vickie says. “It’s a good life, baby!”