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Friday, April 29 2016

I felt the stirring so many years ago when I tended goats browsing scrub brush the first time. It is an awakening inside the soul that reaches as far back as biblical times, people tending goats and sheep as they graze. It is a quiet time, filled only with the sounds of birds, crickets, the snatching of limbs, and the patient grinding of teeth. It is a time of reflection. It's a time to get right with God.

The Bible doesn't mention it, but King David would have had an easier time of things if he'd had a Border Collie when he was tending the flocks. They sure make my life easier. We have a central barnyard where the sheep and goats are loose most of the time, but we also have three leased pastures and our own larger pasture where we can graze animals. The hitch is that with the exception of the barnyard, none of these other pastures is fenced for sheep. All the pastures are wild. Think hundreds and hundreds of surrounding acres filled with heavy brush thick with predators, creepy crawlies, and the occasional steep drop-off into the creek. These acres also contain horses and cows who don't always mix well with small animals.

One cannot simply open the gate and turn sheep loose around here. They may or may not come home, and the zombies will eat anyone outside the barnyard after dark. But that's where all the grass is! Grass up to your knees! Browse so thick that only goats want to be in there! The only answer is to use the dogs. After all, that's what I pay them for. And they pay for themselves.

Mesa turned a year old this winter and she is already invaluable around the ranch. I haven't put a lot of training into her yet, I just use her around the farm, and she is ever so handy. She is quick to figure out what the goal is and make it happen. It's easy to micromanage a dog around the barnyard, but in deep brush, you just have to sit back and let them work. I can't see them most of the time. The rules of the game are simple:

Keep the sheep between the deep forest and the perimeter fence. When asked to gather them up, roll the sheep and goats into a ball, and roll your ball back to the barnyard.

This is peaceful, easy work unless the horses show up. When that happens the humans must snatch up bottle babies, who don't flock well with the herd, while the dogs gather everyone else up quickly and push them through the gate before galloping horses can trample young goats. The dogs and the herd are getting pretty good at these fire drills.

I am most impressed with Mesa. She has excellent distance. She gathers better than Lily, and drives better than Trace. Although we use all three dogs, Mesa seems to do the bulk of the work. Lily stays close to me as I sit on a bucket, and Trace sits on a 4-Wheeler with Other Half. Lily and Trace don't work much unless there is a problem. Mesa takes care of pretty much everything else.

I don't have to watch the sheep thick in the brush. I just watch Mesa. She watches the sheep. I'm fascinated by her commitment to task. She waits until a sheep strays too far,

and then she dispatches herself waaaaay around the animal,

pops up in the forest in front of them, and points them back to the flock. I don't tell her a thing. She has assigned herself this job.

This is the product of countless generations of breeding working dogs. It's not about registration papers. It's not about looks. It's about whether or not the dog can really do the job. I have great appreciation for the saying,

"The bullshit stops when the tailgate drops."

And it does. The proof is in the pudding. Does the dog really work? I watch this tiny little dog thread her way into the forest to return a sheep to the flock without any direction from me and I am thankful to the generations of ranchers who bred these dogs for a job.

I cannot do what I do without the Border Collies. Calling sheep with a bucket of grain isn't gonna cut it when they're standing in grass up to their elbows. The brush is too thick to tend them on horseback. You simply must use the Border Collies. And that is what they live for.

These photos are a perfect illustration of tending the flock. This Jacob wether has strayed past the invisible "no fly" barrier and the dogs have dispatched themselves. Mesa has popped up in the forest in front of him as Lily stalks in like a hired gun. 

No rush. No barking. No teeth. Just a promise. The wether has to make a decision. 

He chose wisely. 

This scene plays out over and over again without drama. The dogs allow us to graze the small livestock in the wilder areas. We can utilize terrain otherwise cut off to us. It isn't field-fenced, and so you still have to sit out there with them. I sit on a bucket and admire the scenery. Other Half sits with Trace and plays on Facebook. He can do that because the dogs work for him. And THAT is why we have Border Collies. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:01 am   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
Where are the LGD in all this????????? Just wondering
Posted by Liz [Vic. Aust;] on 04/29/2016 - 04:58 PM
While Briar is allowed out with us, the Anatolians are not since they aren't responsible enough. I can't watch everyone and Briar can take care of herself. She slips into the forest when she hears thundering hooves of horses.
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 04/29/2016 - 05:15 PM
So Briar is happy with the Boarders doing the job? Does she act as scout instead when out of home paddock?
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust) on 04/30/2016 - 08:00 PM
No, she pokes around a bit but then settles down in the shade. It's only an issue if the horses come galloping up. Then I have to worry about baby goats, Border Collies, and Briar.
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 04/30/2016 - 10:39 PM
It is good to read about the border collies again. I have missed hearing about them.
Posted by Elissa on 05/04/2016 - 10:31 PM
Thanks Elissa. The Border Collies are my favorite part of ranching too.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 05/10/2016 - 10:58 AM

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