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!

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.

Carew Shows How to Pen Sheep!

Carew shows how to pen some reluctant sheep

[jwplayer mediaid="17794"]

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.

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!

Does your dog cast out too wide around stock?

Preparing a working sheep and cattle dog for an outrun

A dog which works too far off the sheep or cattle will lose control of them

Although officially Part 7 of our Bronwen and Scylla comparison, this tutorial concentrates on a problem that's Bronwen's very own. While Scylla has been inclined to be too tight on her sheep, Bronwen's flanks are often pointlessly wide. Worse, Bronwen can lose contact with her sheep and, once they've escaped her, the entire session is held up while they're brought back together again - and not always with style.

Arguably it's a less common problem than a dog who's too tight on the sheep, but it's no less disruptive or frustrating!

With time and experience, most dogs seem to realise for themselves that they're wasting time and energy by going out so far, but what can you do in the meantime? And can you correct a dog that's too far away from you?

In our latest herding sheepdog training tutorial, you can watch Andy working with Bronwen when this fault was at its worst.

Bronwen Rises to Kay’s Challenge

Herding Sheepdogs Bronwen and Kay behind the sheep in the handling yard

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.

A confident herding sheepdog pushing sheep along a handling race.
Bronwen calmly guided the entire flock of ewes and lambs through the race.

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.