Between a Flock and a Barred-Place!

"LOOK BACK" at our favourite posts! (No 1 - 23 Feb 2014)

They say sheep spend their entire lives thinking of ways to die - this one gets full marks for ingenuity!

a sheep which has become trapped between a fence and a hedge

When Gill and I were putting the dogs away after their run this morning, we heard a sheep calling. It sounded as though she was unusually close (normally the sheep give the dogs a wide berth) so I glanced out through the hedge, but there was no sign of any sheep, so I assumed she'd gone back to the others at the far corner of the field.

A few moments later however, we heard another call from precisely the same direction, so I went out into the field to investigate and was amazed to see the poor woolly creature very firmly trapped between the bars of an old iron fence and the hedge. It looks as though the bars of the fence go right through her, but they are only squeezing her hard.

Rear view of the trapped sheep, showing how she found her way between fence and hedge

In its search for fresh food, the sheep had pushed herself between the hedge and the fence, and because bars of the iron fence are so rigid, she was unable to reverse back out again.

Fortunately, these young Welsh Mules are not very heavy, because she was stuck so fast, the only way I could get her out without assistance was to lift her vertically over the fence. She wasn't in the least bit grateful and struggled like mad, but I insisted on checking her over before I released her. There was no sign of physical harm done so I released her and I wouldn't have thought it possible but as she wandered back to the flock she looked decidedly embarrassed!

The sheep was physically unharmed and recovered fully from her ordeal but I wonder how long the poor girl had been there - it could have been all night! First posted 23 Feb 2014

Bronwen’s baptism of fire

As we announce our latest sheepdog training tutorial, Bronwen faces a stiff challenge in the shearing pens

Yesterday, we released our latest sheepdog training tutorial, Bronwen and Scylla, Part 6. As the title suggests, this is the sixth instalment in our fascinating series of videos comparing the training of litter sisters Bronwen and Scylla.

Herding sheepdog tutorial comparing the training of litter sisters, Bronwen and Scylla
While Scylla's still untrustworthy around sheep, Bronwen's quickly becoming our "go to" sheepdog for everyday work

The inevitable time lag between a training session being filmed and then appearing in the Tutorials Library means you won't see any video of Bronwen gathering sheep at Dean Farm for some weeks, but in real time, while Scylla's still untrustworthy around sheep (but improving) her sister's fast becoming our "go to" sheepdog for everyday work.

Little Kay, who's been a gallant little worker for us ever since she earned herself a starring role on our sheepdog training DVD First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training isn't quite as gallant as she was when she was younger.

She's still a great little sheepdog, but unless she's close to me, these days she doesn't want to take any risks, especially with aggressive sheep, and who can blame her? Kay's still feeding a litter of puppies!

The Jacob ewe prances in anger alongside its lamb while Kay follows on behind
The Jacob ewe pranced furiously off in the wrong direction but eventually, Kay was able to turn her back towards her missing lamb

When we gathered sheep for shearing at Dean Farm yesterday, a Jacob sheep and her two lambs managed to separate themselves from the rest of the mob so I sent Kay to bring them back.

Unfortunately, as Kay approached, one of the lambs struggled through a wire fence and ran away. This dramatically increased the frustration of the mother who showed her anger by stamping and threatening to charge at Kay, before running off, taking the remaining lamb with her, but in the opposite direction to the missing lamb. Kay set off in pursuit and eventually managed to turn the little ewe back towards her lamb.

Herding sheepdog Kay turning away from the Jacob ewe and its lambs
Once Kay had the ewe reunited with her lambs, the Jacob mum placed herself in front of them and threatened poor Kay, who meekly turned away

The Jacob mum eventually spotted her errant lamb and ran to it, firmly placing herself between her babies and Kay. It was not a challenge that Kay felt able to take on, so to ease the situation, I walked right up to the sheep while Kay walked close behind me.

Meanwhile, the rest of the flock had grown bored with the novelty grazing they'd been enjoying on either side of the farm drive and were walking back over the railway bridge, into their field. Their timing was perfect because the Jacob ewe spotted them and hastily took her family to join them.

Herding sheepdog Kay looks back at Andy. The dog looking back at the handler is usually a sign of the dog's lack of confidence in its work
When the dog looks back at the handler it's a sign that the dog's confidence (or enthusiasm) is low

The flock was heading the wrong way though, so I sent Kay to push the sheep back over the bridge and down the farm drive but she was very reluctant and frequently looked back at me. This is unlike the Kay that I'm used to, and although I'd like to think it's because she's still feeding her pups and feeling protective towards them I suspect it's a much longer term sign of Kay's increasing age.

We eventually brought the sheep to the farm buildings, and I put Kay back in the 4x4 because I thought Bronwen would be better for pushing the sheep into the handling pen. The youngster was over-enthusiastic and aggressive though, and quickly found herself back in the car! Having been given a second chance, Kay did a surprisingly good job by skirting around the sheep and not stopping long enough for a sheep to focus on her, let alone threaten her.

A sheep stamps its foot as a warning to Kay - and she keeps her distance from it
Sheep know when a dog lacks confidence. This ewe is stamping its foot as a threat to Kay

Once the sheep were inside the sorting pen, the next job was to push them through a narrow "race" which has a gate system at the end of it, allowing the operator to direct some of the sheep one way, and the rest somewhere else. In our case, the sheep for shearing were to be kept in a pen ready for the shearers, and all the lambs would be sent back to the field

Sheep in a handling yard
These sheep will be send along a race with a gate system at the end to help sort lambs from ewes

Kay, however, was anything but enthusiastic about the task. She refused to approach the sheep unless I did too. I decided to see how Bronwen would cope. She had been over-aggressive in the yard, but I hoped that inside the pen I would be close enough to control her.

Bronwen was cautiously confident and the sheep usually showed respect for her
After some initial confusion, Bronwen took her work in the yard very seriously and I was proud of her
Sheep recognise a dog which can look after itself, and will treat that dog with great respect. A good reason to preserve the dog's confidence

Initially, Bronwen was confused by the prospect of being "trapped" in such close proximity to the sheep, and she even barked at them a few times, but remarkably quickly, she took the work seriously and proved that she's more than a match for the more aggressive ewes in the flock.

On several occasions, a ewe threatened to attack Bronwen, and her immediate reaction was to bite it on the nose! Not one of the ewes came back for more once she'd given them "the treatment", and they'll remember it next time she's in the yard, too.

It's worth remembering to put some sort of command on the dog defending itself by nipping the sheep in this way, so that the dog will know that it's allowed to use force when it needs to. We have a chapter called "Sometimes nice is not enough" which deals with this topic in our Online Sheepdog Training Tutorial Videos.

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