Carew's strength of character has improved drastically with flock work
As the run of unusually hot weather continues in the UK, I'm grateful (and I'm sure the dogs are too) that we can do the bulk of our training and flock work in the early morning.
This morning was no exception. At five-thirty Carew, Kay and I were in the car once again, following John's pickup and stock trailer to Dean Farm where we gather and sort the lambs for market.
Fortunately, each time we do this operation it seems to go better. Previously we've had some difficulty because the dogs didn't know the fields, and they couldn't see the sheep because the grass is too long, but this time they seemed to know just what to do - both dogs outrunning really wide and noticeably checking areas where sheep were hiding on previous gathers.
As always, the first bunch was no problem. The appearance of the two vehicles was their signal to make their way to the railway bridge, from where Kay simply drove them down the drive to the farmyard. There was a brief delay when about twenty of them found a gap in the fence and took a detour around the buildings, but Kay quickly had them back in hand and the flock went into the sorting pens soon after.
I was delighted to find that John had already tagged the lambs in this bunch, so all we had to do was sort them out and load them onto the trailer. Once the lambs were drafted out of the first bunch, we set off in pursuit of the main flock. For this second gather I'd already decided on some new tactics to prevent the sheep from dodging between the six fields they were grazing. I took both dogs with me in the car, because my inability to move quickly from one place to another had been something of a handicap on previous occasions.
The new tactics worked out better than I'd expected. Instead of gathering all the sheep into one central field, from where they tried to escape to all corners, I drove the dogs to the farthest field before evicting them from the car. Together we worked our way from one field to the other, driving the rapidly growing mob before us as we went. Of course, the old Peugeot 406 estate I use for the dogs (and as a substitute tractor at times) would be useless in winter, so I fully appreciate the benefits of quad bikes for shepherding.
The most serious incident involved around fifty sheep that decided to mosey off towards the first field, but Carew spotted them before I did and sped off to retrieve them without delay. In the few weeks that we've been gathering, penning and sorting sheep for John, Carew's work has improved immeasurably. The sheep rarely face her now, simply because they sense her confidence. If one does turn towards her she'll simply dodge away, but quickly turn back, put her head down and walk up in such a way that the sheep retreat. She seems to positively enjoy the challenge.
When we first started to push the sheep up in the pens a few weeks ago, Kay had been my first choice because she doesn't mind using her teeth in a difficult situation. Carew's much more sensitive. Sensitive away from sheep doesn't mean sensitive at work though, and last week, when I gave Carew a chance, she was simply amazing. This week she proved that it had been no fluke. She applied just the right amount of pressure, where and when it was needed - and I was delighted to be able to get a picture of her, stick in mouth, holding the ewes and lambs at bay.
Thanks largely to Carew, the remaining work went without a hitch - a very satisfying morning!