by Michelle Durkin
I live in a semi-rural area of south central Indiana, where small hobby farms and livestock operations are mixed into the ever-pressing onslaught of vinyl tract homes. Our local county 4-H Fair has many a competitor that keeps pigs, sheep, goats and steers on friends' farms because they don't have the opportunity to live out in the country. Since so many places are small by most standards, there is not often a need for a dog to do a lot of moving or changing pastures. I'm finding that a lot of places don't have a dog that can help when they absolutely need it. Every once in a while someone will call my friend Lynne or I, and say they need help with moving or loading livestock. In the past several months I have moved cows up to the barn for treatment, loaded sheep on a trailer for a family that was moving, and loaded sheep into a pickup for transportation to another farm.
Lynne works for a rural veterinarian and is one of those people who makes friends easily and doesn't know a stranger. It is amazing how many people will say “hey, aren't you the sheep lady who lives on Stones Crossing Road?” . Everyone at the vet clinic knows her and her and her little black Aussie, Hank (Birch Hollow Suthern Investmnt STDds).
Late last Saturday afternoon, one of the clients of the vet clinic called Lynne asking for help in moving some of her sheep from one pasture to another one. Lynne called me and we were off on another adventure. The farm was about 16 acres in size and the lady raised show lambs and had a flock of about twenty-five large Hampshire ewes complete with unfriendly ram that needed to be moved from the barn field through another pasture, across a creek and into a summer pasture. They were extremely large-framed sheep. They looked like small ponies to me, who is used to hair sheep!
The lady who called has probably fifty to sixty sheep on the place and no dog to move them anywhere . . . and they aren't used to dogs . . . and they won't come to people . . . ! The flock that needed to be moved was in a pasture that is probably seven or so acres of hills and rocks and several patches of mud. Lynne and Hank got them out of the barn and kept them off the fence, which is up on a hill, with another pasture of sheep on the other side, so they wanted to stay there. They needed to go down a hill that was about a thirty degree slope, then move down the pasture to the far gate. The sheep took a vote and it was a “NO”. My Dusty (Blueboniffs Red Dirt Road STDcds) had to keep them moving down the pasture away from the barn and eventually through the gate. A group of about five tried to break back to the barn but didn't get very far (one ‘git around' and he was on it).
They then ran back up the hill toward the other sheep and Hank moved them slowly back toward Dusty, who was covering the barn side of the field, giving them a chance to see the open pasture down the hill. After moving down the hill, they still wouldn't move on their own down the pasture, but instead lined up like a football team on the line of scrimmage facing Dusty and the beloved barn. I thought “OK, how is he going to handle this? They aren't flocking!” They were lined up in a string about fifty feet wide and he just started working them one by one, and when one would break he would cover and then the other end of the line would break and he would cover, and it took about thirty seconds of covering and they decided the grass was greener in the other pasture.
They took off toward the open gate, which the lady was patiently waiting next to. Dusty walked up to cover, but I laid him down. At the last minute they started to veer off and I was trying to think what to do about that. (Hmm, probably should have let him walk on, huh?) Good thing he thinks faster than me! Instead of going forward to turn them--they were about two hundred feet in front of us--he whipped around at a dead run and ran away from them to get up and around to the top of the hill where he knew they were headed. They heard him coming and decided to go on through the gate.
He started coming down the hill to cover the gate opening and I looked up at him just in time to see him do a SPECTACULAR cartwheel and roll. Apparently he had stepped in a sink of some type where there was a lot of mud and his footing came out from underneath him. He didn't seem to notice and came up looking for sheep much to my relief. The sheep had gone through the gate, across the creek and into the pasture that was their destination. They had had enough!
Afterwards we asked the lady how she ever moved them without a dog. She kind of smiled and said “we do a lot of running”.
Trialing and training are great fun. But there is something very special and fulfilling to me to see my dog do real pasture work and do so well at thinking on his feet and getting the job done. It is so cool to see those things come out in a dog that you can't put in –the ones that have to be there to begin with.
When our little group of people started herding with our aussies eight or so years ago, there were not many working lines in Indiana. Now, it is nice to see almost every working line represented in dogs owned by people we know around our area. And it is so fun to watch every one of them!