I had a challenging training session this evening. When I arrived at the farm, no one was there. I know my way around so just got started on training. The first thing I did was get some of the weather and young rams and put them in the round pen. Last time out I didn’t use the round pen and just trained the young dogs in the 3 acre field, and Hannah in the big field. But the dogs haven’t had any exercise for 4 days now (I worked another stretch of 12 hour days – ugh!!!) so I figured I should at least have Kestrel burn off some energy where I can control it before putting her in the larger space.
While organizing the rams, who I have to move through the West barn (there are two barns on this farm), I heard a loud moooooo. It took me a second for it to register among the other barn noises, but suddenly my brain registered that there was a cow in the barn who had obviously come in through the sheep pasture. There aren’t supposed to be cows in the sheep pasture or barn. Hmmm….
I put the rams in the round pen and got Hannah to round up some ewes to put in the training field. That in itself ended up being a bigger challenge than expected. The sheep were all out in the back pasture, so I walked Hannah to the gate and had her hold it while I figured out how the cow got in. I found the spot pretty quickly – a cattle panel had come loose and the cow had pushed it aside and joined the sheep. The cow was in fact in the small training field (very nice grass there) at this point, and I needed to get him (actually it was a steer) out of there before training.
I found some wire and reattached the cattle panel over the gap in the fence. Then I sent Hannah to gather the big flock. I didn’t want to bring them up to the barn just yet, but wanted to separate 20-30 off in the pasture and bring only a small group up to the East barn and into the holding pens. Working the whole flock is a lot of pressure on the dog and I wanted to do some other things with Hannah tonight. Of course, that just didn’t happen!
I tried to get Hannah to drive the sheep further away from the gate before we startead moving them around, but she wouldn’t walk into them with the llama at the front and facing her. So I sent Hannah to the right and she started to gather the sheep. However, as I expected, the started to make a line for the gate, with the llama in the lead. I figured that would be fine; I’d call her through a gap and hold some back. The first group would head to the west barnyard and we would drive the second group to the east barnyard and pop them into pens.
Hannah refused her flank. I called and called and tried to get her to come in and stop the stampeding sheep, but no luck. She kept turning back and ignoring my commands. I was furious – for a minute. Then I realized that I was sending her through a fifty foot wide, four foot high patch of thistles. She actually kept trying and turning back. Those thistles are very painful – I’ve stepped into them myself, even with boots and pants on. No wonder she was refusing to go that way. I felt bad and apologized to her.
However, we now had 180 sheep crammed into a small barnyard with a llama guarding the gate. Great.
I walked Hannah around the barn and we came back into the field through a side gate. I was hoping the pressure would push the llama to the side, and it kind of worked. The llama is not challenging Hannah like she used to, which is making things easier. However, I am still a little leery of that animal and didn’t want to push her without an escape route (for her, and for me). I stood near the gate we entered and sent Hannah into the barnyard. I couldn’t see her but I sent her around and sure enough, the sheep moved in the right direction and out came the whole flock nice as could be. I was very pleased to say the least!
We separated off around twenty and brought them over to the holding area. I sorted them into two groups and put them in pens. He has an amazing system of multple pens that all open into a shoot that runs the sheep into a holding pen outside the barn, which in turn opens into the training area. You can have up to 7 groups of sheep waiting to work. I then had to pull a tiny lamb out, and then get her mother out as well. Then we were ready to go.
Except for the cow in the training field.
I took Hannah into the field and sent her around the cow. She came up short, pretended the cow wasn’t there and looked at me as if to say “no sheep here!” Then she came back. I sent her again, and she refused to go.
Unimpressed we left the field to go get a leash. I was going to walk her around and up behind the cow and hope it would move down the field and out the gate I had propped open into its own pasture. Where was Ross when you needed him? I had left him home tonight, for once, as he was enjoying a nice bone when we left. I decided to bring Mira too, hoping her alarm barking might come in handy.
Once in the pasture, I decided to send the dogs off leash once again to see if perhaps the two of them could move the cow. They both took the flank, looking for sheep. Hannah once again stopped when she saw the cow, and started sniffing around and pretending to look for sheep. Mira went around behind the cow, saw him, and alarm barked at him as I expected she would. The cow ignored both dogs. Great, talk about a couple of useless farm dogs!!
I called them back, but thought I’d give it one more try as I didn’t feel like walking up the field and back down again to move the cow. After all, why have dogs at all if you have to do all the work? Hannah just plain didn’t go this time, but Mira listened and did a nice little outrun. This time she came up behind the cow looking like she meant business. I was intrigued. The cow was worried and actually started to move.
Once the cow started moving, Mira actually started working him. Hannah even started in on the game as well, although kept her distance. Soon the cow was parallel with me in a nice trot. I walked across and got in behind and watched in awe as Mira drove the cow the rest of the field, through two sets of gates and into the cow pasture.
Who’d of thought Mira would be the one to do the job?! Certainly not me. I would have put my money on Kess first, but Mira got the job done. Good girl!
Mira actually worked extremely well the last time we were out and is starting to take inside flanks very consistently and do short drives. She’s still not very good at gathering, but her driving skills are looking to be very promising. I’ve said it before, and am now convinced, that driving is going to be her thing.
I put Hannah away and let Mira finish the chores and bring sheep out of the pen for training. I worked her in the pen for a bit as she still dives in and pulls wool and splits them up when working close. She definitely lacks confidence when close to stock, but working her in a small pen seems to be helping a lot. I have to be careful so I don’t get run over (the pen is maybe 15×15 with six sheep, me and Mira all crammed in and moving around). Mira is now fairly consistently scooping them out of corners and moving them around, taking my stops and changing direction. I’m pleased with her progress – we’ve come a long way just in the past month!
Next I trained Kess. What a rocket she is becoming. I was ready to throttle her tonight, in fact. She worked very well in the round pen, taking my lie downs quite consistently. But out in the field she is a speeding bullet. She ran the sheep past me and over me and past me and over me. I couldn’t get her off them and back enough to have them settle to save my life. Kess can take a lot of pressure from me and pop right back up like I was nothing more than a fly buzzing around her. I actually had my lung whip and was using it left an right, cracking it in the air or slapping it in the grass around and in front of her. She’d lie down, but one move or word from me and up she’d pop and be back at it. Unlike my other two, who’d turn into puddles if I put that kind of pressure on them, this dog hardly pays any attention to my corrections.
I don’t like having to put that kind of pressure on a dog, and I also don’t like getting that cross. I started to lose my temper because I really don’t like being run over by sheep. I have a bad back and a sore knee, and when I get hit by a racing ewe it really hurts. I got hit several times tonight. I am not used to sheep that will actually run into you as the Scotties I used to train on (Scottish Blackface) would make a wide circle around me if they got pushed passed. They didn’t like humans any more than they liked dogs. These new sheep, however, don’t think twice about running right into you and at one point I got actually knocked right over. I chased Kess down the field after that, cracking my whip and trying to make an impression on her that she is to listen to me. She was better then, but she sure is keen and sure doesn’t mind being yelled at. Brat.
I don’t like yelling so my strategy was mostly to just let her run until she was tired, and then start working once that happened. She ran and ran and ran and ran. So did the sheep. So did I. I don’t know how long I was out there but we ran out of light before she ran out of steam.
I finally got a consistent stop on her and decided to call it a night. The second I called her off, she came without hesitation. She’d clearly had enough and as soon as we were off the field she flopped on the ground, breathing very hard. Next time I am going to make sure I run her hard before we get there and hopefully that will help. I’ll chalk tonight up to her not having had any exercise in four days. Kess is an above average energy border collie and working her that wound up is not ideal.
As we had no light left, poor Hannah didn’t get to work. I had her put the sheep out to pasture and we called it a night.