Thursday, November 12, 2009

Katie's Day Out

Photo by Glen Larson

Katie is a sheep dog. She used to live on a farm with our friend Glen, a shepherd. When Glen retired and moved away from the farm, Katie moved with him, but she hasn’t forgotten the joy of herding sheep.

Glen and Katie came on Monday to help us coat our sheep. The coats keep their fleeces clean. With no veggies in them, they spin up into really lovely yarn or make beautiful felt. The quality of our fleeces means that I can sell the wool for a higher price, making it worth the effort involved in coating the sheep.

Herding sheep was obviously worth the effort for Katie. She was pleased to get into the barnyard. Her tail was up, her eyes were bright. She looked to Glen for commands. He gestured and spoke. “Walk up.” Every movement Glen made and every word he said was calm. It looked like Katie read his mind.

On the farm, Katie had trained her sheep to do what she wanted them to when she wanted them to do it. Our sheep were not trained. The first to notice Katie was Christmas. Instead of moving away from Katie, Christmas approached her. In fact, Christmas walked right up to Katie and touched noses.

In Katie’s mind, this was not proper sheep behavior. She looked at Christmas, darted forward. Christmas ignored her. Glen gestured. Katie began moving the sheep around the barn. Sammy, a wether who had belonged to Glen, obviously remembered the procedure and moved easily to the front of the flock. When our sheep paused, Katie darted up to the rearmost ewes and nipped at their wool. They began moving again.

Apple Blossom lagged behind the flock, intent on the salt feeder. “Katie,” Glen said, pointing back toward the dallying sheep. Katie left the others to circle around Apple Blossom and drive her back into the flock.

Most sheep run when a dog approaches. For most sheep, Katie’s technique worked. But when Christmas wandered back to see us, away from the rest of the flock (which she frequently does), Katie had a much harder time intimidating her. Christmas wanted to be friends; Katie was all business.

At the top of the hill, just before the descent into the barn, all the sheep stopped and milled around again, almost daring Katie to react. Christmas moseyed up to Katie a third time, sniffing, open to a little nose touch. But Katie was fed up with these untrained, insubordinate sheep. She darted around Christmas, nipped at a flank or two and the sheep moved away from her, down the hill and in the barn door.

Dave, Glen and I followed the animals into the barn, closed the door and penned them. Fifty five sheep inside a fence; a dog outside. “That’ll do,” Glen said, releasing her from responsibility. But Katie lay panting, alert, ears pricked, watching the sheep intently. She knew that her job was to keep the sheep, even these unruly sheep, under control and she was on the job.

1 comment:

  1. You could sell tickets to an event like this, Joanie!

    Jo in DL