Sonstebys trade milking cows for training dogs
By Sandy Bond
Honor and obey aren’t always part of today’s modern wedding vows, but to Robin and Craig Sonsteby they are part of their everyday vocabulary as they continue breeding and training some of the top upland hunting dogs in the country.
Robin and Craig changed priorities in their lives: a life of milking cows for raising hunting dogs and Bobwhite quail. They traded the Land of 10,000 Lakes for The Rushmore State.
Three years ago, Robin and Craig were ambling down country roads after a real estate transaction to purchase property in Eureka didn’t materialize. Instead, they discovered the country home belonging to Carol and Oscar Fiedler Jr., four miles southwest of Java. With two farmhouses in close proximity, multiple outbuildings, and 20 acres or so, it was just right.
Shortly after making the decision to move from Annandale, Minn., a small town of 3,000 people, their daughter Miranda and her children Raynor, 6, Waylan, 4, and Hayden, 2, moved into the second home which once belonged to Oscar’s folks.
The daughter of Doris and Eddie Kaskinen, Robin and her three sisters and one brother grew up in the little township of French Lakes, Minn., where their dad was employed in road construction helping to build Highways 494 and 694. She graduated from Golden Valley Lutheran Academy and with a passion for all animals great and small, Robin set her long-tem goal to become a veterinarian. The son of Everett and Duwan Sonsteby, Craig grew up on a dairy operation and graduated from Monticello High School. Robin and Craig met through 4-H at the Wright County Fair, they said, and love blossomed while Craig was attending the University of Minnesota branch at Waseca School of Agriculture. They married in 1977, and entered into a farming partnership with Craig’s folks and their own. They raised four children, Miranda, Christian, David, and Julie. Later the family operated a “flat barn” dairy operation, milking 120 Holstein cattle.
But during all this time, they have been avid hunters and dog enthusiasts.
Many fine trophies enhance their comfy farmhouse, from toothy Northerns to Whitetail deer, and many species of upland birds.
In addition, there are many proudly earned prizes from hunt testing and showing their dogs.
“There is hardly anything more beautiful than a dog on point, including honoring. When game is detected, well trained dogs who are hunting with others honor the first dog on point, not crowding the first dog, but rather lining up behind him, not encroaching on his space.
“For the hunting or dog aficionado, it’s an awesome sight to behold,” Craig continued.
“We feel in our choice to breed Vizslas and the original red and white Irish setters, we are helping to preserve breeds which were nearly extinct,” Robin said.
Golden-rust in color with soulful amber eyes, and the smallest of the pointing and retrieving breeds, Vizsla were used by royalty in Hungary as far back as the 10th century. Only about a dozen dogs were in existence following the closing of World War II, Robin said. Returning servicemen helped bolster the appreciation of the versatility of the breed following the war.
Founded in the 17th century in Ireland, the popularity of the red Irish setter nearly displaced its red and white cousin, Robin said, and only recently the American Kennel Club has recognized the red and white variety.
One of the family’s favorite prints is of a red and white that dates to the early 20th century.
Their Vizsla Roy, 10, an International Show Champion and AKC hunting champ is the grandsire to many of their Vizslas. Razi, 13, was the foundation to the bloodlines they have now. Rocky, a red and white Irish setter was one of the first AKC Champions of his breed and also the only Irish Red and White Setter to have three master hunt test passes.
“Rocky will be the first AKC Master Hunter of his breed,” Robin said. “He has an incredible future ahead of him as Master Hunter with three passes out of the prerequisite six.”
“We raise three to four litters of Vizslas and setters a year,” Robin said. “We have pups all over the U.S. and several out of the country. We also have some pups that are showing AKC Field Training and AKC Hunting Testing and doing very well. We do dog training for hunting. “
“Many of our dogs have titles and we spend a good part of our day and lives caring for them,” Craig said. “Our dogs are one of the big reasons we moved here. We love the hunting, the space and the people.”
Robin also does some dog grooming. The farm is also home to a burgeoning flock of Bobwhite quail, which they sell to hunting dog trainers or use for training themselves.
Somewhat less common in the Dakotas than states like Texas or Nebraska, Craig said, Bobwhite quail will thrive in South Dakota under normal conditions; however, they cannot tolerate extreme weather conditions as well as some game birds can.
Fancy cochin and langshan chickens, with their blue and green eggs, provide interest to their morning poached eggs. Modern incubators are housed in the basement, but an antique oak incubator serves as a nifty end table in the living room.
Roger, a very territorial Spanish Boar buck goat, keeps one eye on his flock of 37 does and another on any and all interlopers. It’s always a good idea to keep both eyes peeled for Roger, Robin said.
Once an accomplished rider who used to ride “like her hair was on fire,” as a grandmother Robin is content to have Betsy, an elderly Shetland for the 10 grandchildren.