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    Greyhound Racing OFF TO THE RACES
    Posted byadmin on Saturday, December 01 @ 09:56:43 EST
    Contributed by admin

    GARDEN CITY - Neatly nestled amongst the patchwork of green grain fields east of Garden City, small red buildings with white roofs stand out like cornstalks in a bean field. Long fenced runways stretch from each building sporting closely cropped grass. The buildings are part of former farmer Alan Hill's answer to alternative farming. What makes his story different is what he produces. Instead of wine, prairie plantings or bobwhite quail, he raises "45 mph couch potatoes." For the past 24 years, Hill has been raising racing greyhound dogs second only to a cheetah as the fastest accelerating land mammal.

     One glance at Hill's operation leaves no doubt that this is a far cry from a puppy mill. Hill, 49, and his neighbors, Caitlin Knutson, 16, and her brother Brady Knutson, 18, spend several hours each day taking care of the 80 or so dogs on the farm. Greyhounds are sighthounds - they hunt by sight rather than smell. The sleek canines love to run, but they are not high-energy dogs. They enjoy human companionship and can often be found napping on their backs with all four feet in the air - a trait called *****roaching. Greyhounds can stay healthy with just a 20-minute walk each day. To keep his dogs in top shape, Hill lets them run in 300-foot runs and feeds them a mixture of 75 percent ground beef and 25 percent dog food. "They are wonderful and very friendly animals," he said as he opened the gate to one of the runs and was warmly greeted by nine streamlined puppies with wagging tails. "We whelp them here and raise them to about 12 months. The more human contact they have, the better they perform." When the puppies reach 1 year old, Hill either sells them or sends them off to be trained. Both males and females make good racing dogs, he said. The dogs will race when they are around 18 months. He stressed that no live prey animals are ever used in the training or the racing. "We have four main bloodlines we work with, and each is completely different," he said. "It's worked out really well for us. We only breed to the top 10 sires in the United States. All breeding is surgical implants, which produces about a 95-percent success rate." He typically sells the entire litter - usually seven to nine pups - to one person. The price of a pup, depending on its breeding, will run from $2,000 to $5,000. "We have both Iowa investors and out-of-state investors," he said. "I would prefer Iowa investors to keep as much of the money in the state as we can. That's our ultimate goal. There's an Iowa breeders bonus for every time a dog raised in Iowa wins in Iowa." Hill said a recent impact statement found greyhounds are a $23-million-a-year business in Iowa. The number of greyhound farms in the state has grown from 40 in 2001 to 70 this year. "In fact, at a recent Iowa greyhound meeting a guy from out of state said our Iowa dogs are so good now that they compare to horses from Kentucky," he said. "Because of the money we get we have really, really good greyhounds. These Iowa dogs will compete anywhere in the world race-wise." He stressed that not only does Iowa have good dogs; they also have good racing facilities. "Council Bluffs is the ultimate goal for our dogs to race, there and Dubuque. Bluffs is a major, major track," he said. "It's in the top three in the U.S. competitive-wise. And Dubuque is in the top 10. So we have two major tracks in Iowa." The dogs usually are raced for two to three years and then retired and typically put up for adoption. Although this retirement has sometimes been the source of controversy, Hill said the stories of inhuman treatment are probably from the past and have often been greatly exaggerated. "We have great adoption agencies here in Iowa and across the United States," Hill said. "We breeders donate money to it. We help with the cost a lot. I've received letters from people who have adopted our dogs thanking me for raising the dogs. They just love them so much." Hill recommends raising greyhounds. "It's ideal for someone who has an acreage and whose wife wants to stay home with the kids," he said. "She could raise a litter or two and make enough money to stay home and not have to go to work every day. To get into the business all you need is one dog. My son moved back from Minnesota, and they just do one litter a year. Not really very much work. Not even an hour or two a day. The more the kids play with them, the better they are." Another way to get into the business is to lease a female greyhound. "I have 20 females," Hill said. "I will lease one for free to someone, and when they have a litter, I will want two pups back when they are six months old. They can sell the remaining pups for half interest and recoup enough money to take care of their stud fee and dog food. The person who buys them at that age will raise them the rest of the way, pay all the training fees and other expenses."

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