Sometimes I Really Miss Carew!

Sheepdog Carew standing on a tree stump - looking wonderful!

Since Carew left here, Kay's hearing has deteriorated badly, and occasionally we're stuck for a skilled dog

It's hard to believe that it's nearly two years since Carew left here and to be honest, there have been a few occasions when I've wished she was still here. One such occasion was only a week or so ago.

Our landlord John needed to move some very lively sheep from a field where one of the boundaries was a steep-sided brook with a dense wood on the other side. John warned me that the sheep were likely to "take fright" and disappear into the depths of the wood when they saw the dog, so I was keen to make sure they didn't.

sheepdog bringing about fifteen sheep towards the camera
Quietly in control as always! Carew brings a small bunch of sheep

Since Carew left here, my natural first choice for any difficult work like this has been Kay, but Kay's hearing has deteriorated so much recently that she works purely on instinct. I can only give her commands when she's very close. I've had limited success with hand signals, but of course, they depend on the dog looking towards you, and when Kay's concentrating hard, she's not looking at me, she's looking at the sheep!

Once Kay's more than thirty metres away from me, I can shout for all I'm worth but she can't hear me, so for this tricky work, I decided to take the young Odo with me instead. Poor Odo has been 'sold' twice, but he was returned to us on both occasions. The first time was when his owner couldn't get him to jump into the car (can you believe it?). We actually used Odo to make a training tutorial about it, to show others what to do if they get the same problem. The second time he came back to us was (I think) because the farmer's other dogs didn't like him. Either way, I was happy to buy Odo back. We're very fond of him, and he has great potential, but he lacks experience of "proper" farm work.

Sheepdog Kay awaits her next command
Kay would have been my first choice but I no longer have any control over her when she's more than a few yards away

We've got other dog's coming along nicely of course. Another of Kay's daughters, Maddie, shows great promise. She has a lovely pace, stops well (most of the time) and she's got plenty of confidence to push stubborn sheep. For this job though, I thought Maddie's lack of experience and her somewhat over-enthusiastic approach might be a problem. The same goes for Pippin, Mew and Jago. All are showing great potential, but lacking experience.

Much as my instinct was telling me Kay would be the safer choice, I felt I couldn't risk using her because although she has a fabulous outrun (just what was needed on this occasion) if things went even slightly wrong, I'd have no control over her at all. If Kay knows where you want the sheep to be, such as when she's working at home, she's unbeatable, but on new ground, she sometimes misunderstands what I want and I struggle to direct her.

Photo of Maddie lying in the grass looking very confident and pleased with life!
Maddie will be a natural first choice when she's a little more experienced

It also occurred to me that if Kay went chasing off into that wood and couldn't hear me, it could literally take hours to find her again!

My next choice would have been Jet, but she was heavily "in season" at the time and sometimes hormones can affect the work of female sheepdogs. If Jet's anything like her mother Kay (when Kay was younger) this could adversely affect her work.

These sheep needed a gentle, controlled touch. Carew would have been "in her element" with them, but she's not here.

Next choice was Odo, but it was risky because he'd only been back here for a few days, and he'd never worked in this field before, or with these particular sheep. What's more, I had only worked Odo for a very few minutes since he came back to us. It was a gamble, but I decided to go for it because Odo had been such a good worker before he left here.

It was a bad decision. Odo hadn't had time to re-settle with us.

Odo controlling sheep near some trees
Odo's sheep control is excellent.

When we reached the field, the sheep were in the worst possible place, right next to the brook at the bottom of the field. Odo has a pretty good outrun, so I guessed that would go reasonably well, but I wasn't sure I could stop him at that distance. If you can't stop the dog at the end of it's outrun, you should shorten the outrun to a suitable distance and if the dog stops well, gradually increase the distance. The closer you are to the dog, the more control you have over it - but that's when the dog's in training. This was farm work, and it was skilled farm work which Odo wasn't ready for. Although I could have walked down the field to get closer before I sent him off, the sheep were already looking uneasy. Our approach might provoke them to pop over the brook and into the wood.

Jet's a smooth coated prick-eared border collie sheepdog
With hindsight, I should have used Jet after all. I'm sure she'd have been fine!

I decided to trust Odo's outrun, and sure enough, he went out beautifully wide, but he was excited and clearly going too fast. Because the sheep were tight against the boundary, once he reached the brook on his outrun, he had to follow it. This meant he was coming straight at the sheep, and worse, I couldn't slow him down. He brought most of the sheep away from the brook and into the field well, but on occasions like this, most is not good enough. Two of the sheep dived over the brook and into the wood, and thick with undergrowth as it was, I couldn't get Odo to go in after them. Sadly, John and I made the decision to abandon the task and let the sheep settle for a few days.

I'll use Jet next time. She's got a good outrun, and I'm pretty certain she'd have gathered all of those sheep cleanly. I worked her the next day and her hormones weren't affecting her work at all. Poor Odo did his best but he was too excited. He went too fast, and too straight. He needs more work so that when he goes out it's not such a novelty.

Scary Place 2 (The Sequel)

Herding Sheepdog Kay shows her great courage as she calmly and confidently removes some sheep from a very dark confined space

Kay shows her daughter Jet how to get sheep out of a Spooky Black Hole!
Watch the VIDEO below!

There was quite a stong response on social media when we posted a picture of a rather nervous looking Jet outside a dark hovel which was full of sheep.

Jet was contemplating the task of going into the hovel to remove the sheep. It's not a pleasant task for a trainee herding dog because the dog knows it will be trapped inside the building and if the sheep attack it, there's no escape.

Usually, the trainee dog's response is to attack the sheep closest to the entrance. In the ensuing chaos, most of the sheep will usually come out of the building, but often, the task has to be repeated to remove the remaining animals. Obviously, this is not good practice. At the least, it stresses the sheep and makes any further handling or movement of them all the more difficult.

In this video, Jet's mother, Kay demonstrates just how the job should be done, by quietly and confidently going round between the sheep and the wall. The sheep come out quietly with the minimum of stress.

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Jet Joins the Dean Farm Set!

Trainee sheep and cattle herding dog Jet, calmly holding a dozen sheep in the corner of a yard

Jet's right on the ball with her first gather at Dean Farm

With her mother Kay being out of action because she's “in season” at the moment (Kay's one of those females who's work is sometimes affected by her seasons) it seemed like a good time to let young Jet try her paw at some 'proper' sheep gathering today. We thought it would be a good idea to video the operation because it was Jet's very first attempt at real farm work, but things didn't work out that way. Luckily, I got the photo (above) with my 'phone.

Kay sitting down on a large log with her daughter Jet standing over her
Kay (left) with her daughter Jet on a wet day in June this year.

Our first job was to gather sheep from three fields away, and I know from experience that these sheep are experts at finding shady corners and overgrown hedges to hide amongst. It would be madness to expect a trainee sheepdog to gather these fields cleanly, and it's important that every sheep is brought in for checking over and medication or treatment where required.

We decided to drive to the far end of the furthest field in the 4x4, and then Gill would drive the car back while Jet and I brought the sheep in. It worked very well.

At first, Jet was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of sheep - the most she's ever seen before was thirty five, and there must have been two hundred altogether, but she quickly settled down, and I was impressed at her mature approach to the work. She flanked reasonably well, and although she's reluctant to actually stop, I could slow her down enough to keep her well back off the sheep.

Most of the sheep flocked together well, but sure enough, as we approached the gate into the field by the yard, I noticed a ewe and her lamb lying down in the corner. I cautiously sent Jet off to bring them,hoping she wouldn't give them a hard time, but I needn't have worried. She went just far enough to make them get up and move towards the flock, and then she just followed on behind them nicely.

Border collie sheepdogs under a tree. One of the dogs is looking up at a chair suspended from the trunk of the tree
"Who in their right mind would put a chair up a tree?" Trainee sheepdog Jet's curious about the chair hung on a tree trunk to prevent the sheep damaging it.

Even better was to come. Two big lambs had got themselves deep under a hedgerow - quite a scary place for a novice dog to go, but Jet didn't think twice about it, she went into the hedge when I asked her to, and once again, followed the pair along under the tunnel-like hedge until they reached the gate and the rest of the flock.

Getting the sheep into the yard proved quite a task. They really didn't want to go in, and half would run in one direction, while the remainder of the flock went the opposite way, but Jet coped really well, flanking wide and stopping very nearly where I asked her to!

Things had gone so well, I decided to see how Jet would cope with being in a yard crammed full with sheep - or rather, Jet decided. She just followed them in as though it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I was so proud of her.

The final job was pushing the sheep through the race, and Jet quickly adapted to this as well. A remarkable debut for “little Jet”. We had Scylla with us as a backup dog, and of course, Jet had done the bulk of the work, so Scylla had the consolation of taking the sheep back to the field. Two very happy dogs!

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All Safely Gathered in

Photo of Kay (lying down on the left) and Carew (standing) keeping an eye on the sheep they have just put into some buildings

Memories of Kay and Carew at Dean Farm on this day four years ago!

Regular readers will know that we often gather sheep for our landlord John, at Dean Farm. This is a typical picture of Kay (left) and Carew keeping an eye on the sheep which they've just put safely into a building.

Sheepdog Kay gathering a small flock of ewes and lambs on a sunny day.
Kay gathering a small flock of sheep on a sunny day at Dean Farm

Our regular readers will also know that Carew now works on a dairy sheep farm in the south of England. Kay's still with us, and working well, but at ten years of age, despite being desperately keen to work, we fear her hearing isn't what it was. This means we have to send Kay off and hope she knows what we want her to do because once she's more than about forty yards from me, she doesn't respond to commands!

Fortunately, Kay usually knows what to do, but it can be very funny to watch her when she gets it wrong. Putting the sheep in completely the wrong paddock is one of the common ones!

We have other dogs of course, but it's surprising how often we need Kay's big outrun, especially if there are a lot of sheep scattered over a wide area. The youngsters will have their work cut out to gather a large flock better than Kay.

“They’re Behind You”!

Photo of herding sheepdog Mo looking towards the camera. Behind her are two lambs.

Little Mo doesn't realise the lambs are behind her!

Photo of Andy with Carew and Kay gathering sheep on a hill

Two years ago today we were helping Ian and Ruth Morris to gather sheep at Middle Hill Farm in Shropshire when I saw Mo looking very pleased with herself and not realising that two lambs were standing immediately behind her.

As it happened, it didn't matter at all that the lambs were outside the pen, because of course, they didn't need shearing but it's generally good practise to get all the sheep in, rather than let the dog think it's OK to leave a few behind.

Bronwen – arguably our best sheepdog ever!

Close up of Bronwen concentrating very hard on some sheep

At Dean Farm today, Bronwen worked supremely well

Knowing she can be somewhat "trigger happy" when it comes disciplining an errant sheep, I really didn't expect Bronwen to be a serious contender for being our best herding sheepdog ever, but her recent performances have been superb.

Close up of Bronwen looking straight at the camera with ears pricked - looking very alert!
Not just a pretty face! You'd think butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but Bronwen can certainly look after herself in a tight spot.

She still needs watching in a stressful situation, but Bronwen really excelled at Dean Farm this morning. Normally I take both Bronwen and Kay with me, because Kay's outrun is excellent while Bronwen has the power to move stubborn ewes and lambs. Recently though, Kay's age seems to be catching up with her. I suspect her hearing's not as good as it was, and despite her initial excitement when she realises she's going to work sheep, she doesn't have the stamina she once had.

Today in the pouring rain, I decided to take Bronwen with me and leave Kay at home. My only worry was that Bronwen had never worked alongside a vehicle before. When you're inside a vehicle, shouting commands to a dog, some dogs will take advantage and ignore the commands. Knowing how headstrong Bronwen can be, I half expected her to do this, but it was worth a try.

My doubts were completely unfounded. Bronwen worked outside the 4x4 as though she'd been doing it all her life. In fact, she worked so efficiently that we had the flock down at the farm buildings before John was quite ready for them. There was nowhere for them to go, so most of the sheep carried on into a small paddock, while the rest made a dash back up the drive towards the field.

Close up of Kay lying next to a tree.
Kay's as enthusiastic as ever when it comes to work, but her age is catching up with her.

Picture a farm drive completely filled with about a hundred sheep running at top speed back towards their field. A good dog will (somehow) scrabble past the sheep, get ahead of them, and turn them back.

Carew would do it, but Kay never would. It takes a lot of determination, and a lot of courage to do it.

I didn't even have to send Bronwen. She saw the sheep running away, and took it upon herself to bring them back. I watched in awe as she scrabbled past them dashed out into the middle of the drive ahead of them, and calmly brought them back.

By this time, the gate into the handling yard was open, and the whole flock went in. From there, it was a straight forward job of running the ewes and lambs through the sorting race, loading the lambs for market, and then taking the remainder of the flock back to their field.

Bronwen certainly rose to the occasion. I was proud of her.

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Carew Shows How to Pen Sheep!

Carew shows how to pen some reluctant sheep

We came across this short clip from a couple of years ago, and thought we'd share it with you. Notice that the task is much more difficult because Carew's pushing the sheep into the pen on her own.

Penning sheep is far easier for the dog if the handler stands closer to the pen (or even inside it) because the dog's natural instinct is to bring the sheep to the handler. In this case, not only is Carew pushing the sheep away from the handler, they're reluctant to go into the pen.

It's no problem for a confident and experienced dog like Carew though. Notice how calmly she works.

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Bronwen excels under pressure at Dean Farm

Close up of a very wet and muddy sheepdog, Bronwen

Working with sheep today was wet and extremely muddy, but Kay and Bronwen got the work done in style

We had a very busy day gathering sheep today. First, we moved a bunch of ewes along the lane to a new field, where they joined another flock and put them through the race for ultrasound scanning (to see how many lambs they're expecting).

Several ewes are facing Bronwen and staring at her, but she's simply lying on the ground, almost daring them to make a move

Kay did the road work and the gathering in the field, because she's so skilled, but I decided to use young Bronwen to put the ewes through the sorting race. It was a good decision too. Kay won't face an aggressive sheep, but Bronwen seems to love it. As you can see from the picture, with several ewes trying to "stare her down" she simply lay down quite relaxed and looked back at them.

Bronwen's excellent in these situations. In the past she's been a bit to quick to attack the sheep for no reason, but she's far better now and will only attack if a ewe tries to attack her first.

Bronwen standing in the corner of the yard with several ewes facing her, very close, but she's not intimidated by them.

Once at Dean Farm, there seemed to be liquid mud everywhere. One of the railway bridges on the farm is under repair, and the contractors are making a terrible mess. After Kay had gathered the first bunch of sheep, I put her back in the 4x4 to conserve her energy and once again, used Bronwen to push the sheep through the race for scanning.

Bronwen was simply superb, quietly weaving back and forth behind the sheep to keep them up to the sorting race. The picture above has two powerful messages. First, I can trust Bronwen to bring the sheep up through the race by herself now. This leaves me free to help at the sorting or scanning end of the race with little tasks like making sure the sheep are moving steadily along the race and not getting jammed up.

Close up of a sheep's face. This ewe was very strong-willed

The picture also demonstrates Bronwen's courage. The sheep are mothers-to-be and they don't like having dogs around, let alone being moved around by a dog. Make no mistake, the ewes in the picture are threatening Bronwen. They mean business, but once again she's simply staring back at them with her head up. I do like a dog which works with its head up, because that's a confident dog. People love to see dogs with their head right down near the ground when they work sheep, and I agree, it looks stylish, but in my opinion a dog which works that way is nervous...

After this bunch of sheep were scanned, I used Bronwen to return them to their field, and then used her to gather the next bunch. It didn't go as well as it would have if Kay had done it, but Bronwen's not going to learn to gather sheep well while she's sitting in the back of the car. She got the job done reasonably well, and I'm sure she'll to better next time.

Close up of a ewe in the sorting race, sporting an attractive hairstyle

When the sheep were going through the sorting race, I spotted this one with a distinctive "hair do". John always buys lots of different types of sheep, and I love the variety. The sheep in the picture above this one, is distinctive because she was a remarkably strong-willed and physically tough ewe. You can see by her face that she's got determination and she proved it today, but Bronwen was tougher!

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