Working sheepdog Carew has hidden talents

It was Carew's turn to astonish me during this morning's gather

I didn't intend to write a blog about this morning's sheep gather, but such extraordinary things happened that I felt I must. If you've read some of the recent blogs about our dogs at work, you'll know that I regularly help our landlord with gathering his sheep and drafting out lambs ready for market.

Kay gathering sheep in one of the fields
Kay gathering the first bunch of ewes and lambs

Because of her vastly greater experience I've used Kay for most of the work to date, using Carew as a backup. In fact, last week, Carew didn't get to work at all. Today was different though. We started earlier than ever (5:30 am) as I needed to get back home to "do the dogs" because Gill was collecting her daughter-in-law from Heathrow airport.

Sheepdog Kay waits as the sheep move down the drive
Kay pauses on the railway bridge as the sheep head for the yard

A welcome spin-off of this was that the early start meant we'd avoid the worst of the day's heat (the UK is "enjoying" a heat-wave at the moment) making work easier for all concerned.

The first gather is very easy as, if you drive around the perimeter of the fields, the sheep will just head towards the farm. Until the sheep reached the railway bridge both dogs stayed in the car because there was no need for them, and I was in something of a hurry. Once the sheep had bunched up by the bridge I just let out Kay to push them across it, and then she trotted along behind them to push them into the yard and then into the sorting pens.

Kay prepares for work in the sheep sorting pens
Kay knows how aggressive protective ewes can be

Kay worked hard in the pens. The sheep were very lively - particularly the ewes that had lambs. Some were really aggressive towards her in an effort to protect their lambs. While this is quite understandable I try to avoid direct confrontation between dog and sheep as much as possible. I make sure I'm close by and ready to intervene quickly if necessary. In this way the dog's confidence will build quickly and the sheep will sense the dog's confidence and (usually) be more cooperative.

When the work was completed Kay had a well-earned drink of water before we collected Carew from the vehicle and set off on foot to gather the second (much larger) bunch.

Some of the second bunch had escaped into an old orchard where the cattle are grazed but, despite Kay and Carew's reluctance to work cattle, we were able to extract the errant sheep and move them back towards the main flock.

Sheepdogs Kay and Carew moving a stubborn ewe and lamb
Carew's "battering ram" is behind her - and the ewe and lamb are in retreat. (Click to enlarge)

At this point Kay was challenged by a ewe which refused to move, and which was seriously threatening to attack her. I quickly sent Carew to help and she charged at the ewe, but the sheep was having none of it. I quickly approached the scene to help both dogs, and to preserve their confidence.

I needn't have worried. To my astonishment, Carew snatched up a long thin branch that was lying on the ground and, holding it horizontally in her mouth, used it like a bulldozer. She charged at the ewe who instantly turned tail and fled!

She clearly charged at the sheep with the branch in her mouth like a weapon!
Carew guiding a ewe and her lamb towards a gateway
Carew guides the defeated ewe and her lamb towards the gate

I should point out that Carew regularly picks up a short stick when she's working under pressure. I've thought for some time that she seems more confident with something in her mouth in these situations, but this was a branch - approximately six or seven feet (2mtrs) long!

I have to confess I had a camera in my hand at the time, but the combination of my amazement and the agonising shutter delay of the camera meant I missed the actual moment.

You'll see from the picture (above) that the branch is back on the ground (left of the pic) and the ewe and lamb have turned in submission and are leaving quietly.

Working sheepdog Carew with a stout stick in her mouth
Many would condemn us for allowing Carew to hold a stick in her mouth when she's working. We see no problem as long as it doesn't harm her work

After several long outruns and a few "look backs" (both Kay and Carew have difficulty gathering the entire flock in each field because the grass is so long they can't see them) it was clear that the heat was getting to Kay. She was reluctant to do any outruns and lying down at every opportunity, so I kept her close to me and only worked her on easy tasks. Carew, however, was in her element.

She stood absolutely no nonsense from the sheep and pushed the entire flock through the gate, down the drive, and into the yard. Around three hundred sheep meant the sorting pens were full to capacity, and many of the sheep were reluctant to go in, but Carew worked with a passion I've not seen in her before. She was instantly bringing back potential escapees and pushing hard, yet remained fully controllable. I was so proud of her!

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