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Fatherhood, second time around, for Ezra

Ezra confounds us - yet again!

October’s a busy month for us; DVD sales start to pick up for Christmas, there’s a clutch of family birthdays and, often, a litter of puppies.

We like our puppies to get out and about as young as possible, so even October is a bit late in the year for comfort, but somehow October seems to be Puppy Month.

Black and white femail collie with a half-white face and a blue eye
Pearl, one of the early sheepdogs who taught us so much (mostly that we weren't as clever as we thought)

We’ve had some memorable October puppies, too. It was an October 31st when Pearl produced her first litter.

Andy and my daughter, Olivia, had taken a dog (Smudge) to catch the ship that was to take it to Ascension Island (it’s between Aruba and Australia, according to my franking machine anyway). My son, Greg and I arrived home to find that Pearl’s puppies had arrived early, and one had died.

Greg went to find something special for Pearl’s tea, while I tidied up the maternity unit. As I picked up the presumed-dead puppy I can only say it “creaked”, so I employed Greg as puppy reviver and kept my fingers crossed.

Luckily, an icy cold, apparently lifeless puppy soaked in amniotic fluid is JUST the type of thing a 12-year old wants to tuck underneath his school uniform. The puppy survived and was named, inevitably given the date, Pumpkin. Pumpkin later became Cap, and went on to become a valuable flock dog in the north of England.

Big, rough coated black border collie
Typical Ezra expression, "What's the problem?"

Greg's revived other puppies since then of course, but you never forget your first time, do you?

October 31st was also the birth date of another memorable litter, Kay’s with Ezra. It was Ezra’s first attempt at fatherhood, and for some time it was his only attempt.

Biologically it’s the sire’s input (shall we call it?) that dictates the sex of the puppy, and I know it won’t have been deliberate, but Ezra’s litter of 8 produced 8 dogs. Every single one of them, resolutely male. I don’t know what are the odds of that, and perhaps I should have appreciated it for its rarity, but I assured Ezra I’d never forgive him: I had several excellent working homes waiting for a female from the litter.

Ezra’s stud dog career was put on hold for the foreseeable future.

Two black and white border collie litter mates.
No-one, but NO-ONE, plays quite like your litter brother! Reef and Josh getting to grips on the lawn.

We kept three of the Kay/Ezra Hallowe’en puppies. Individually Remus, Reggie and Ronnie were lovely dogs (still are, we still have Remus here) but together they formed a formidable gang that was always on the lookout for trouble.

However, they became very good sheepdogs: focused, strong and determined, but companionable and keen to please.

Several of the litter, Mac, Josh, Reef and Piper, went to skilled and experienced agility homes, and we’ve heard nothing but good news of their progress as they rise quickly through the agility ranks (which are a bit of a mystery to us).

All of these handlers had specifically asked for males, so Ezra’s Gang of Eight wasn’t such a disaster after all.

Black and white border collie lying down and waiting to play
Meg's a lovely character; easy to work and our ace retriever

I began to forgive Ezra, especially as he’s such a wonderful quirky, but affectionate, character.

When it was time to decide whether we’d breed from Meg, enough water had passed under the bridge for me to have completely softened towards Ezra and his paternity possibilities.

Plus, we were getting a steady flow of enquiries from agility handlers who’d seen his first litter in action and were interested in one for themselves. As everyone except us seemed to want a male this was ideal if, Heaven forfend, Ezra really didn’t produce females, and that didn’t seem likely.

Meg and Ezra’s litter was due on October 29th. They actually arrived on Sunday, the 26th (my birthday, and I was happy enough to have the event over-shadowed) but they received only a quick look over on Sunday and were otherwise left in peace.

Young sheepdog
The lovely Dash, a puppy from Meg's first litter and a promising little sheepdog

On Monday I weighed everyone, looked for dew claws (none, thank goodness - I hate that scrunchy snipping feeling) and made a note of the males and females. I gave the count to Andy.

He quizzed me over whether I was wearing my glasses and, if so, which ones? I admitted it sounded unlikely, so was happy to let him do the inspecting on Tuesday, when I went to weigh the puppies again.

Even by peering extra hard, and wearing his glasses (the right ones) Andy couldn’t get the result to differ from mine.

Big black sheepdog on a winter's day
Ezra, looking pensive. As well he might...

So…

Ezra produced 8 bitch puppies in a litter of 8. Andy’s delighted of course, but Ezra, I swear, I’ll NEVER forgive you.

New litter of black and white border collie sheep dog puppies
If they were magpies, the poem says "Eight's a wish". I'll be careful what I wish for in future.

Still, it means we have lots to choose from for our new project. We're aiming to follow at least one, probably two, of Meg's puppies from Day One through to its first sheepdog trial, filming its progress and training.

The plan is that the puppies will feature largely in the blog, and eventually become a DVD of their own.

We've been so busy with tutorials this year that we haven't spent as much time as usual filming the dogs when they're not working, so we'll be getting plenty of puppy and pack footage along the way too. Let's hope we have some dry and mild days while these October puppies are growing up.

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A small flock of sheep turns to face the sheepdogs

Gathering sheep in glorious October sun!

Kay and Carew both put in a good performance at Dean Farm

After the sheep gather was delayed by two days of really wet weather, we were rewarded with bright sunshine at Dean Farm today.

Herding dogs Carew and Kay drive the ewes towards the railway bridge
Carew and Kay driving the flock of sheep towards the farm. (Click to enlarge).

Kay and Carew worked very well together. In this picture they're driving a flock of ewes towards the railway bridge on the drive to the farm. I was especially pleased with Kay because she's been under-performing recently and I was getting concerned that she might not be well. I needn't have worried. Kay brought the weaned lambs into the buildings by herself, and later helped Carew to gather two flocks of ewes.

The sheep are trying to escape through an open door into the barn
"This way girls". Some of the sheep find their way into the buildings. (Click to enlarge).

This is what you get when you don't pay full attention to your work! I was busy taking photographs of the various breeds of sheep in the flock, when I realised that some of them were escaping into the barn through a door that's supposed to be securely shut.11

It's possible for the sheep to escape back to their field through these buildings, so I was glad when Carew quickly brought them back!

Two sheep staring at Carew in the buildings at Dean Farm
"Ils ne passerine pas" Carew defiantly stares back as two sheep gaze at her. (Click to enlarge).

Carew excels at working close to sheep. They've learned to respect her. Here two ewes are looking at her but not in an aggressive way. When we first started gathering at Dean Farm, the sheep were a real threat to Carew. In fact one ewe sneakily head-butted her from behind today when I called Carew out of the pen. Fortunately it was a glancing blow and no harm was done. The ewe wouldn't have attempted it if Carew had been facing her!

The ewes keep their distance as Carew and Kay keep watch over them in the handling pen
United we stand! Carew and Kay in the handling pen. (Click to enlarge).

I was particularly pleased to see Carew and Kay working well together in the handling pens. I noticed Kay was keen to stay as close as she could to Carew (just in case) but it was a big improvement on her work a few weeks ago, when she was reluctant to face the sheep at close quarters if they were stubborn. It's possible that she was attacked by a sheep at some stage, but if she was, I didn't see it.

With the lambs and the main flock dealt with, our final task was to find the thirty-five ewes that we had to separate from some cattle at the beginning of September.

A small flock of sheep turns to face the sheepdogs
The sheep turned to face Kay and Carew when they reached a gate which was closed. (Click to enlarge).

The ewes appear to be accomplished escape artists and are proving difficult to keep in one field. When Carew had to bring them back to the farm from the cattle field they were very stubborn, so today I was pleased to have Kay on hand to help Carew out.

The two dogs handled the task with ease, so I took the opportunity to improve their work as a brace. If you want to work two dogs together it's best to train them on different commands. Unfortunately, Kay and Carew work on very similar commands, except that Carew's work is more refined so I can control her to some extent without Kay understanding what I mean.

In the absence of definitive commands though, if I want to be sure each dog knows which one I'm referring to, I find it's best to say the dog's name and then the command - such as "Kay, Lie down, Carew, Come-bye". It works quite well, but unfortunately Kay works far more quickly than Carew, so I seem to be forever saying: "Kay Lie down, Carew Get-up". We're improving though.

a small flock of sheep walking in front of two sheepdogs
The sheep soon turned around when Kay and Carew began to walk up! (Click to enlarge).

The picture above (and the featured image at the top of the page) shows the thirty-five ewes turning defiantly towards the dogs when they found the gate they were being driven to was closed.

As you'll see from the picture beneath it, they soon turned away when I gave the dogs the "Walk up" command. I think they're both lovely pictures, showing Kay (left) and Carew working together well.

Border collie sheepdog training