Remus has earned his place in our trials team at last!
For some time now I've been looking for a good dog to replace Kay in sheepdog trials. Now that she's getting older, Kay seems to be finding the finesse of sheepdog trials a little tiresome. If the outrun's quite long, by the time she reaches the shed and pen sections of the trial these days, it's obvious she's really tired.
I'm tempted to try Jody or Dave, but Jody's nervous of strangers so she's likely to be alarmed at the top of a trials field when she suddenly encounters the "letters-out" - and although Dave's work is exceptionally good, he's just a tad "laid-back" for my taste. He'll really suit a beginner because he gives you a little more time to think, but I'd like a bit more "zip". Dave would make a superb farm dog.
Being home bred, Remus has been an obvious candidate for some time. He has plenty of power and speed, but he's been hard to stop. His parents Ezra and Kay have both been hard to stop too - and I couldn't get his grandmother Mel to actually stand still near sheep until she was four years old!
Just recently though, Remus has really improved. He's driving quite well, and the stop has improved. The stop's by no means perfect, but when I worked him yesterday afternoon Remus impressed me very much. He was stopping well, flanking beautifully and driving confidently - in fact he reminded me very much of Mel when she was younger.
Today we were gathering sheep for our landlord, John Richards at Dean Farm, so I used the opportunity to take Remus along. He's never done any real flock work, but I know he's very good at pushing sheep up in a pen so this was his big chance to make an impression.
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When I arrived, the sheep were scattered far and wide across no fewer than eight fields, so we started at the very far end in a small field where around a dozen sheep were reasonably close together. I sent Remus off and he went out well, but only brought half the sheep so I sent him back for the others; he brought them all with no problem.
Next we had a fairly large field to gather. I sent Remus "Come-bye" - not his best side - and he did a splendid job of gathering the main body of the flock, but I noticed a ewe and lambs under a dark hedge at the very far end. I walked some way towards them and then sent Remus off and, once more, he brought them with no problem at all.
I had Kay with me as a backup, in case Remus was struggling, but so far she hadn't been out of the 4x4. This would change later but, for now, Remus was coping very well. He brought the small flock into the yard by a different route to the one the sheep are used to, so a certain amount of manoeuvring was inevitable, and his worst fault (bringing the bunch of sheep nearest to him rather than the whole flock) was certainly in evidence at times, but he responded well to my "Look-back" commands, and certainly improved each time.
Remus had worked well under fairly difficult conditions, but for the second stage of the gather I thought Kay would be better suited. The sheep have a habit of splitting and heading off in opposite directions, so the dog needs to be quick to keep them together - something at which Kay excels.
Indeed, Kay was in fine form. John's brother-in-law Colin (a recently retired sheep farmer from South Australia) was with us and, to be honest, I was really proud of Kay. Working off the whistle while I drove along in the 4x4, she was in her element. A lame ewe with two lambs was hanging back, so I got Kay to bring the flock back to her, and then she nursed them all along at the lame sheep's pace. That's the sort of thing a good sheepdog should be able to do.
With all the sheep in the main yard, I used Remus to push them into a smaller area so that they could be put through the sorting race later on. He was nothing short of excellent - and I noticed the sheep showed him great respect. They can often be fairly awkward when they're being pushed into a building, but not one of them seemed to even consider challenging him today.
Today's gathering experience has further convinced me that Remus is the right choice for my next trials dog. Of course, I have one or two others here in reserve, but I'm absolutely sure he has what it takes.
How fitting that Kay's replacement in our trials team should be her son - and of course, Remus is Carew's nephew! He has a long way to go before he'll be ready to run in a sheepdog trial, but we'll keep you informed about Remus' progress along the way.