We had an extremely busy couple of weeks around here. I am not even sure I can put my finger on what made us so busy…. The new locksmith store? The kids? Planing the trip to Israel? I guess a little bit of everything. We reached the weekend with our tongues out, ready to be together and relax.
I was also looking forward to the sheep herding class I signed up for a few weeks ago. I know nothing about sheep or sheep herding. I didn’t even know if I want sheep, but when I saw the class offered, I thought a trip to the country and a visit to a local farm will be just what I’ll need for a little me-time.
Well, now I want sheep and herding dogs!
I had so much fun and was amazed at what I learned. I thought we will be going for a walk in the field, gathering sheep and moving them from here to there, learning “their” language. But I was wrong.
Here is what I’ve learned:
These are St. Croix and Katahdin hair sheep. They are a heritage breed raised for their meat and not wool. They do very well in NC and this is why Samantha, the owner of Bull City Farm chose them. The rams will be sold for meat at about 10 months and the ewes will be bred around 13 months. They are 100% grass fed with a bit of alfalfa and hay to supplement during the winter months.
This beautiful donkey is their protector. She lives with the sheep and will attack predators by kicking them with her front hooves (lamas will do the same). She is also very loud. It is very important to make sure the donkey is vaccinated against rabies since they may come in contact with raccoon, wolves or other wild animals.
The sheep can share the pasture with other animals on the farm as long as they have a different worm load. For example, they can share the field with cows or lamas, but they can’t share the field with goats.
Now, lets introduce the players…
The sheep were doing their thing down the field when we got there. They were pretty far from us. You would think they’ll be the stars of the show, after all, we are talking about sheep herding here…
Well, think again! These two beautiful Border Collie dogs took center stage. My God those dogs are amazing. Wait until you see them work.
And here is the Collie’s handler. The dog is so well trained. They are so excited about their job that they can barely contain themselves, but one word from the handler and they are down on the ground, waiting for the next command.
Of course the handler can talk to the dog, but when the Collie is 700ft down the field with the sheep it’s hard to communicate by word of mouth. This is when this special whistle comes in. The handler will blow it in different ways, every kind of whistle will give the Collie a different command, for example, go left or right, fast or slow, or stop.
And this is how it works….
The dog lies on the ground and waits for the command.
Once the command is given by the handler, the dog will run toward the sheep. But instead of just running straight to them, the Collie will make a big out run from the side and sneak on the sheep from the direction he wants them to go away from. This is the instinct of the dog and not something you can teach.
The handler watches the heads of the sheep in order to know where they are heading, this way he or she chooses the next command they are going to give to the dog.
The Collie always stays a few feet behind the sheep.
The sheep move as a flock which makes it easier to move them about.
Here they demonstrated how the Collie can separate the flock. The dog walks behind them and once the handler gives the command he runs between them.
It is hard to keep them apart though… They wanted to get back together right away.
I took this picture to show how far away the handler is from the sheep. I was amazed at how the dog listened and responded to the whistle from such a far distance.
Here they are heading towards the trailer.
The handler does not do anything but communicating with the dog.
The sheep stopped by the gate. The Collie is not pressuring them. It was beautiful to see how the dog communicates with the sheep. The Collie doesn’t bark or bite and the sheep are not at all stressed.
A few seconds later they headed into the trailer, nice and easy, and the dog took his place on the ground again.
I have to say they made it look extremely easy, but I am sure it’s not. Just blowing this wired whistle is probably hard. I had so much fun today. Watching the handler, the dog and the sheep communicate was a unique experience and I learned another art of farming that I knew nothing about.
In addition, my to-have and to-learn lists just got longer… Maybe one day I’ll be able to practice this myself.
Do you have any experience with sheep herding? What do you think about this? Did you know this is how it’s done?
Have a great week!