Tuesday, May 06, 2008
We had a big job to do this past weekend which ended up taking the better part of three days. The sheep were in constant jailbreak mode and something had to be done. From the photo above, I can hardly blame them. The supplemental hay just wasn't doing it for them. It's spring, and they demand green grass. The Farmer hitched up his trailer and started to attempt to move all 200 sheep complete with many little lambs to a neighbor's field that is large and full of plenty of grass for the sheep to eat.
His first attempt, with Nessie's help was quite successful - the sheep didn't realize what was happening and about 25 hopped on the trailer. He was hoping the rest would continue partcipating in the project but they were on to him. The next batch numbered about ten and he became frustrated. I could tell he needed help.
Off Phoebe and I went to see if we could help. Phoebe is our Border Collie who really doesn't want to be a sheep dog. She decided long ago that her calling was as my companion and chicken herder - she has never wanted much to do with sheep. We got her when Julia was almost a year old and the breeder chose her for us because she wanted a pup that would be good with a small child. Things were busy back then and we had Paisley, our first Border Collie who was full of natural talent and lived to herd sheep. With dogs, there is always a pecking order and Phoebe naturally became subservient to Paisley. Our life was quite crazy back then, crazier than now and The Farmer never got to properly training Phoebe - it was always just easier to take Paisley out and get the job done lickety-split.
After Paisley died, we knew we had to find a new dog that would really help with the sheep. We got Ness hoping that she would have talent - but she was just a pup. Miraculously, with Paisley gone, Phoebe started taking interest in the sheep and the sheep started to notice her. They started moving for her and she started to enjoy it a bit. It was clear that she was much happier to work when I was around - she feels more confident, I think.
Nessie is now almost three years old. She's got more power and enthusiasm for working sheep than Phoebe but together they have become a little team. When they go to a field together, the sheep definitely begin to move. Their working style is different - Nessie works in closer with Phoebe staying back. They both will lay down on command and things get done quickly. They seem to be more efficient when they are both working together. They're very far from being much of a talented team (like the dogs of Dave Kennard - read about his fabulous dog Mist here) but they sure are helping us out moving lots of sheep around.
Several trips with a trailer full of sheep were needed to get the flock onto their new pasture. As you can see, there wasn't much to eat on the old pasture. Here the sheep are coming over the rise with the dogs behind them.
Each load was between fifteen to twenty-five sheep. When they got to the new pasture, they hopped on out and start eating, as if nothing happened.
Over the course of three days, we had almost all of them moved. This is always tricky because nursing lambs get separated from their mamas no matter how hard you try. By Sunday, there was about fifty sheep left to go. The ones that were left were the most stubborn and wild including The Jumper. ("The Jumper" can jump any fence, no matter how high and she is constantly where she shouldn't be. She makes good lambs so we keep her around and try to put up with her quirkiness.) We knew it would be a challenge. The Farmer set up the fences to form a funnel so that we could crowd them all closer to the trailer. Lucky for us, David and Debbie, Mark's brother and sister-in-law, were around and they helped the three of us and the two dogs capture the last hold-outs. We must have been a funny site - 4 adults, 2 dogs and a child circling the band of rogue, wet and bedraggled sheep.
They're all much happier now - eating lots of fresh green grass.
Phoebe and Ness were definitely the stars of the weekend. It would be impossible to move this many sheep without a good dog or two around.
We've had a lot of dogs in our lives, between The Farmer and I, including four Border Collies. Every one is completely different with their own personality traits and habits. We have loved them all for their quirkiness and constant devotion. If you are new to my blog and you love dogs, you may enjoy an essay about Paisley here.