Sheep hiding amongst cattle can be difficult to separate!
There was a new challenge in store for the dogs yesterday, when we gathered sheep at Dean Farm.
The regular gather and drafting of lambs went off without incident. I gave Carew a left-hand outrun, which meant she needed to find a gap in a fence and go off to the sheep at the far end of the second field, but it was no problem for her, and as she brought the main mob, Kay was more than happy to go to the right and collect a few stragglers.
While Carew was pushing the sheep through the race, John mentioned that Kay was outside the building and would probably like to help - but if that had been the case, I wouldn't have needed to invite her! Kay was clearly happy to sit in the sun and let Carew deal with the stressful part of the operation.
Once the lambs were graded, ear tagged and loaded into the trailer, John told me that a group of sheep had managed to get into three fields grazed by young cattle. They'd proved impossible to bring out again because, as soon as anyone approached them, the sheep would take refuge amongst the cattle's legs.
He wondered whether the dogs and I could help.
Of course, it was just the sort of challenge I love so I set off to look for the errant sheep. I soon spotted a group of thirteen sheep in a field on their own. I decided to use Kay for these, because I wanted to save Carew's energy.
Kay absolutely refuses to have anything to do with cattle, so Carew would be doing most of the work if the rest of the sheep (there were thirty-five missing altogether) were indeed mingling with the cattle.
I sent Kay off and she gathered the somewhat startled sheep - they clearly hadn't been expecting to be disturbed by a dog. Once they'd recovered from the shock they were tricky customers indeed, weaving every way they could to escape from Kay, but I'm pleased to say she handled them like the expert she is.
Within a few minutes, the sheep were safely locked in the yard.
I wanted to put them safely away so that at least we had a partial result, in case they were the only ones we managed to gather. Unfortunately there was no other yard or pen available, so I knew I would have to open the yard gate again if we managed to bring in the remaining sheep.
I set off once more, and finally saw the sheep I was looking for at the far end of a field - with about thirty young cattle spread out across the middle of the field.
I studied the situation and quickly tried to formulate a plan. I guessed Carew wouldn't be too happy working alone amongst so many cattle and at such a distance, but it was obvious that if I walked up the field with her the inquisitive cattle would gather round us immediately.
Clearly, I wouldn't be able to move fast enough for the two of us to rush the sheep away from the cattle but, on her own, Carew might be able to do it.
There was a gap between the cattle and the hedge on my right-hand side; if Carew would use it for her outrun, she might gather the sheep quickly and drive them a long way to the left, skirting around the cattle. It was certainly worth a try.
I sent Carew in the "Away" direction, but as she approached the gap between the cattle and the hedge she wasn't keen to go through it, and came back towards me. I kept trying, and after three abortive attempts she darted through the gap and carried on outrunning until she reached the sheep. Unfortunately, instead of taking the sheep away from the cattle she brought them towards me - heading straight for the cattle!
Poor Carew! Imagine pushing twenty-two sheep along and suddenly finding an even greater number of cattle running towards you, bucking, jumping and snorting excitedly as only young cattle can. The sheep scattered and Carew ran off. I tried calling her, stopping her, flanking her, all to no avail - she was running around the perimeter of the field and not listening to a word, until I put on the silly voice I often use when I call her at home.
I called her nickname, "Rudi", and whistled "That'll do" and Carew responded - running towards me with her head and ears down as though she knew she was in awful trouble. She wasn't of course, but my confidence that we could separate these sheep from the cattle had suffered a blow.
I realised I would have to help Carew out. This was going to be an encounter at close quarters with the cattle already very attentive indeed. At this point though, the cattle seemed more interested in Carew, and the sheep began to wander back towards the far end of the field - they had separated again!
I sent Carew off again, and as she ran towards the sheep I realised that the best way to do this was to surprise the cattle. When she arrived behind the sheep I gave Carew every sound I've been using recently to speed her up.
It worked! The sheep were galloping towards the cattle with Carew pushing them hard from behind. As they approached, the cattle scattered and all but one of the sheep rushed through the gap. Just one awkward, opportunist sheep saw its chance and rushed back to the cattle.
Chaos ensued; there were cattle and sheep everywhere. Poor Carew didn't know what to make of the situation at all so I called her to me, and told her to walk-up on some cattle. She was magnificent. Several more of the cattle came to see what the fuss was about and, when I commanded her, Carew rushed at them. They turned and ran!
I sent Carew to gather the sheep together and we hurried them towards the field gate. Unfortunately it was tied up with lots of string, so we weren't able to nip the sheep through as I'd hoped. Before I knew it, the cattle were amongst us again. Sheep were everywhere, but mostly beneath any cattle that were tall enough for a sheep to stand under.
Once again, Carew charged, and the cattle ran away. At this point I honestly began to think that she was enjoying it! She gathered the sheep again, and after fumbling for some time with the knots, I finally cut the string on the gate and the sheep were through. I quickly closed the gate and tied it securely again, to keep the cattle firmly in their field.
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As I tied the gate I glanced occasionally at Carew, but she needed no guidance from me. She had taken the sheep well away from the gate and held them in a group until I was ready.
I can't pretend that the rest was easy. These were stubborn sheep and Carew struggled to get them through the last little field (particularly past the pond) but eventually, when they heard the other sheep, they trotted into the yard quite happily. I counted the reunited sheep and sure enough there were thirty-five. I knew John would be really pleased when he got back from market.
Once again, Carew had triumphed. Firstly, she did a fairly long outrun and quickly brought her sheep up the field (something I have been encouraging her to do for several weeks now) and, most importantly, she rose to the huge occasion when it came to shedding out some stubborn sheep from a quantity of inquisitive, clumsy young cattle. I'm very proud of her.