Not to be outdone by Kay's improved performance yesterday, Bronwen took charge of today's gather and was outstanding
Until now I've left the bulk of sheep gathering to Kay because Bronwen had a habit of cutting in and bringing only part of the flock at a time. She'd go back for more if commanded, but it was a tedious business, so I usually chose the easy option and sent Kay if there was any distance involved.
This is not ideal though. The only way the younger dog will learn is with practical guidance. Bronwen needed to do some real gathering, and today was the ideal opportunity. We needed to get the flock in at Dean Farm to sort out some store lambs and breeding ewes which will be going to market tomorrow.
Because the sheep were not leaving straight after they'd been sorted, there wasn't the usual market day deadline, so I took the opportunity to use Bronwen for the bulk of the gather. She didn't put a paw wrong, and the sheep were heading over the railway bridge and down the drive in no time, so I decided to go a stage further with increasing Bronwen's responsibilities.
Recently, I've left the 4x4 in the field and walked behind the two dogs as they brought the sheep down the drive because I felt I couldn't trust Bronwen not to plough into the back of the sheep and grip one or more of them. From inside the car, I feared I might have little control of her.
It saves a lot of time and walking if I have the car with me though, and Bronwen was working so nicely that I decided to at least give her a chance. I climbed into the car and gave the two dogs the command to push the flock down the drive. Bronwen went on a little way ahead of Kay but you'd think she'd been doing flock work all her life. She calmly weaved from one side of the drive to the other, making sure the slower sheep kept moving, but not pushing them any harder than was necessary.
Once we reached the yard, the pair turned the sheep into the handling area quicker than I think I've ever seen them go in. I was delighted, but the best was still to come.
As anyone who's put sheep through a race will know, one or two will always somehow manage to get jammed-up or even turn around and start going back the way they came, thus blocking everything up. When this happens, some means is required to sort the situation out and it usually results in the person operating the sorting gate leaving their post to reorganise the sheep.
Unfortunately, depending on the position of the sorting gate when the operator leaves their place, this can result in the wrong sheep going into the wrong pen, or if the gate closes off the race to avoid this, the flow of sheep is interrupted and more jamming up can occur. It's better if the operator can stay at the gate and keep everything moving.
With John at the sorting gate, I've often wanted to go and help him to keep the race flowing smoothly, but the ewes can be so aggressive, I've always needed to stay at the back of the pen with the dog to increase its confidence. Not so with Bronwen it seems.
Today, I told Kay and Bronwen to stay in place while I climbed over the gate and went to unblock the race. I kept repeating the "stay there" command, but I really didn't need to. Bronwen immediately realised what was required and patiently but firmly kept all the sheep close up to the entrance of the race.
I was so proud of her. She wasn't aggressive, and the sheep respected her. As you can see from the picture at the top of this page, Kay took the opportunity to have a lie down at the very back of the pen, and left all the work to Bronwen. This is what Kay does when we use her to keep the sheep together for a trainee dog or puppy. She'll lie under a tree until she's required but she's watching all the time and if the sheep split up, she'll gather them back together again. Then she'll go and lie under the tree again! I'm sure she would have helped if she'd been needed.