Herding


FirstLambs

Notwithstanding the twelve unplanned lambs born in January and February, here are the official first lambs of the officially planned lambing season! A couple of white and brown ewelambs. Lambs should really start arriving in earnest today, and this ewe was due tomorrow. So, these twin girls got a jumpstart on a sunny Thursday. I didn’t see them born, just found them clean and fed on a midday check, my favorite kind.

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MaggieSometimes when I need to do a simple chore with one sheep, I’ll just take my crook down with me when I feed, and try to snag the single sheep with the crook while she’s eating. At those times, I prefer not to bring Maggie with me, as her presence anywhere on the property will make the sheep bunch up in anticipation of being moved. So if I want them to otherwise relax and eat, or spread out so I can look at them, she is not helpful to have around.

But often once I get down there and try to catch the wanted sheep, I can’t. You have one shot with a crook to get them, and once they know you’re after them, they are on guard and you don’t get a second chance. So that’s when I call up to the house on my cell phone, and ask Kirk to send Maggie down.

The first couple of times I did this, she was a little confused about the scenario. Usually we all go for walks together: the two humans and the two dogs. Kirk sending her out solo made her spin in front of the porch with a questioning look, until she heard me call her, then she’d shoot down to the field to assist. She can get from the house to the field in about 2.2 seconds if she knows there is sheep duty! She blasts down there, full throttle, squeezing under gates and sprinting in a frenzy to go right to work.

It didn’t take her long to figure out the pattern. From the window, she can see me in the field with the sheep. And I think she can see me struggle with the crook and not catch a sheep. She knows I need her help. And she is ready for the phone call.

So nowadays, Kirk says, when his phone rings in this instance, she perks up and goes to the door and looks back at him with expectation. She says, it’s for me, open the door. Open-mouthed smileClever border collie!

lambweaning Thursday night I separated some of the lambs that need to be weaned. I’m actually not going to wean most of the lambs. It seems that convention is to always wean all lambs at around 60 or 90 days, and that’s what most people do, and what most books recommend. I think the reasons people do this can be several:

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Maggie1

Friday was a very rainy, windy, cold and stormy day. And it was a day that mandatorily held moving the sheep to the far pasture. They had run out of grass in the last section of the RCG field. I was hoping to finish lambing in the RCG field, because it’s less of a walk for me from the house. And I almost reached the goal, with #33 lambing in the morning, at least all of the concerning lambers were done. The Jacob sheep was the only one left, and I didn’t figure she’d have any complications this time.

So, I spent three hours breaking camp, for the sheep, that is.

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dogabuseA sneaky person posted this, and another similar homemade sign, out by our pasture this week. My favorite part is the one about the bed. 🙂 Seriously, it is a double-edged sword living on a well traveled road, with our pasture visible to passers-by. On one hand, we can sell as much lamb as we could ever produce, and we’ve made a lot of new friends.

On the other hand, we get a lot of interruptions from people stopping by to ask questions about the sheep, or to let us know there is a dog in our field! :-0 This can get annoying, but I try to be polite to these well-meaning folks, since they might want to buy lamb from us.

We are blessed to live in a region where there are many well-off, well-educated city folks who make it a priority to purchase meat and produce from local farms and natural or organic sources. And they are willing and able to pay top dollar. The flip side is, these people don’t always realize how farms work, even good farms, and they can stir up trouble for farmers.

The anonymous signs raise an interesting question- is the life of a livestock guardian dog abusive? Is being out in the rain and snow with no shelter detrimental to our dog’s well-being? Well, to be fair, there are meager shelters in our pasture, so she’s not quite shelter-less (but I’ll tell ya: she’s never going to get a bed!) She doesn’t choose to use the shelters, however, she seems happy to be near her sheep, and indifferent to the weather, gleefully rolling about in the mud and getting filthy.

She is a Maremma, after all, this breed has been developed for centuries to do this very job. They are equipped with a double coat, which keeps them quite warm and dry at the skin (even when they appear drenched on the exterior). They are generally a very lazy dog, Bronte sleeps most of the day, and entertains herself by digging holes and wandering about the rest of the time. She is not terribly interested in people or other dogs, other than to try to shoo them away from her territory. She enjoys hassling the llama. She likes her homemade dinners I bring ever day. When I leave the pasture, she doesn’t pine after me like a regular dog would. She seems, well, pretty happy, in her own, simple world.

And, for the record, actually she is wild- I have a hard time catching her without mechanical means or food bribery! Really, these LGDs are just not like a regular domestic pet breed of dog.

I, myself, have reflected on this subject of her welfare, because part of me considers an LGD’s life to be pathetic, compared to my perception of what a competition dog’s life can be. But, is that perception accurate? Our Border Collies live in the house and have a dog door that accesses a small potty area outside. So their environment is pretty constrained, unless we take them out for walks or to work sheep. And that’s better than most working Border Collies, who live in 8×10 kennels except at times when they are at work.

Our dogs can sleep on the couch and on the bed. Sleep is a common theme amongst all dogs, so no matter where they live, they usually snooze much of the day. Just as often as I see our dogs asleep on the couch, I see them asleep on the wood floor, or out in the dirt in the rain. So they don’t seem to care that much about bedding, or about rain. I think because we are bare-skinned and wimpy about rain, we assume animals are as well. But actually, animals stay pretty comfortable in most weather, if they are equipped with an outdoor coat and proper nutrition.

The Border Collies get to work sheep, and they are very enthusiastic about that. But, it’s not all fun- it’s hard work, they get yelled at when they make a mistake, they get hurt, and I often require them to do jobs that they don’t prefer. I flatter myself to think they enjoy my company in the house, but would they trade that for 24/7 freedom in a pasture? I don’t know.

I have a friend who owns a Chihuahua, and that poor dog is always being  stepped on, scooped up, manhandled, and carted around. He often looks irritated and shys away from people. Who knows, maybe if he could trade his life in a jeweled handbag for a boring life in a rainy pasture, he would.

So, I guess, to manage public perception, we’ll put a dog house down in the pasture, even though Bronte will probably not use it. It’s important to me that people who drive by perceive that our animals are well-cared-for, whatever their definition of that may be. I could live without the belligerent, anonymous handmade signs. But, we do think these are funny. We’ve taken to calling the dog “No Bed Bronte,” because definitely, I am not getting her a mattress!

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