Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fun demo, tough sheep

(Apologies to my readers--this is a long one as I try to catch up with everything that has gone on over the past week or so.)

There's a farm about five miles from here called Rising Meadow. It's a beautiful place, with two old, gorgeous farm houses (the one on the front page is actually where Ann and Ron's daughter and her family live) and lots of lovely pastures and barns. The farm belongs to Ann and Ron Fay, and they raise corriedales (including lovely moorits), dorsets, and Navajo churro sheep. Ann spins and sells yarn, fleeces, roving, pelts, and lamb, as well as registered breeding stock. They also have cattle and I don't know how many guard llamas (I've met just the two that stay with the ram flock).

Rising Meadow has a Farm Fest each September, and several years ago Ann and Ron asked my neighbors, Tony and Mary, to put on a sheepdog demo for the festival. Last year Tony and Mary asked me to join them. The festival features music by a Celtic band, Seamus Stout, of which Ann's son is a founding member; a number of crafter's booths featuring handmade products from knitted and woven items (and the needed supplies to make them), to goat's milk soaps, and pottery, and jewellery. And of course lots of good food, featuring lamb raised on the farm. We do demos twice during the day.

This past week we had three overcast and rainy days, with the sun finally peeking out on Friday. When I called Ann to ask what day would be most convenient for them for us to come by and drop off the pen and panels and set up the demo area, Ann told me they were way behind on getting ready because of the rain. The common refrain around here is "I won't complain about the rain; we've needed it desperately." So Ann told me that if we came Thursday, she and Ron would be less busy. But after talking with her some more it became clear that they could use help setting up since the weather had not been conducive to getting things done early. We decided we'd come out Friday, set our stuff up, and then help Ann and Ron get their tents up, get the seating arranged under the band tent, and so on. When the sun came out late Friday afternoon, it was like working in a sauna. But we got everything done, which I'm sure took quite a burden off of Ann and Ron. What we didn't get done was a chance to work the sheep and pick out our best candidates for the demo.

Saturday morning, Mary and I headed over early, hoping we might get a chance to work with the sheep some then, but Ron was still running around doing last-minute things, and the result was that we didn't even get the sheep up to the barn (it's not something anyone but Ron could do because of the guard llamas) until nearly 10, with our first demo at 11.

The sheep that we end up using for the demo are their yearling ram flock--a mixed group of corriedale, dorset, churros, and crossbreds. Tony and I had figured after last year that the corriedales seemed to work the best, and Ann told me the night before that the corriedale and corriedale crosses were the sheep with the red or yellow ear tags. So with the whole ram flock in the barn, seeing a dog for the first time, Tony and I (and Twist) started sorting off sheep. Because these sheep have never been worked by a dog, we decided that larger groups for the demo would be better, and sorted out three groups of six sheep each. The rest we ran into a little paddock beside the barn where they could eat or lay in the shade.

We still thought we might get to work the sheep a bit beforehand, but we were half an hour away from the first demo and it was already scorching, so we decided to just let them rest until it was time to go. Twist had been working them around the barn and paddock, so they had at least met a dog, and had been worked calmly, but had also learned that dogs have teeth and will use them. That was the best we could hope for at this point.

Normally the way we do a demo is to set up a typical trial course out in the field. We run one older, trained dog and then a young dog so that the spectators can see how much of the actual work we do is instinctual with the dog. We have an announcer (Mary) using Henry and Lou Ann's PA system, and she talks about the various dogs we work, about how they were developed as a breed and why, and about the diversity of looks in the working bred border collie (easy to do as the dogs we use look nothing alike!), and what practical applications the work we were demonstrating would have on a farm. We had called Laura that morning and she brought Nick along so that she could set sheep for the first demo. I thought it would be a good experience for both of them, and we also decided that it really works better to have three people working dogs so that one can do the set out while the other two do the demo part.

Anyway, Tony ran Maid, his 8-year-old open dog, in the first demo and I ran Lark, who is 2.5 and just moved up to open ranch in competition. Laura and Nick had to work hard to get the groups of sheep down to the bottom of the "next door" pasture and into the one where the demo was held. The rams didn't want to leave their buddies at the barn, so Nick had to do a lot of pushing to get them away from the barn area and down through the field. It was very hot on both dog and sheep (not to mention the human part of the equation!).

Remember that these sheep had never even seen a dog until the morning of the demo and suddenly they were being pushed here and there and made to do things that they didn't necessarily want to do. Being rams they had enough testosterone to make them willing to put up a fight, so it was a very good challenge for the dogs, all of whom are used to working with sheep that are at least used to being worked by dogs, even if some aren't as dog broke as others.

Tony and Maid got around the course (a right hand drive away, cross drive, and back to the pen, with a rock outcropping serving as the handler's post) pretty nicely. They had a bit of trouble at the pen, but Maid finally penned them to a nice round of applause.

The set of sheep that Laura brought out for Lark's turn had one that just didn't want to cooperate. With all the rain, we've of course had a worm explosion, so it's possible he just wasn't feeling well. He kept separating from the rest of the group and was standing up to both Laura and Nick. I finally yelled down the field to just let him go (and he drifted down to the bottom corner and stayed there) and we ran on the remaining five sheep. Lark had a nice outrun and lifted them cleanly and was bringing them up the hill to me, when another lamb decided he'd had enough and lay down. Instead of trying to get him up (given the heat) I just had Lark bring the remaining four on and we made our turn and headed for the drive away panels. At this point I could see the "left behind" lamb lifting his head, so I angled the group we were working over toward him and he got up and rejoined the group. I didn't decide until we made the drive away panels whether I would try to full course, but Lark was working them well, so we went ahead and did the cross drive, where I was slow to flank her and several of the group missed the panels. On the way back to the pen, the group got to the rock outcropping and stalled out. Lark was at a loss for how to move them because of the rocks, so I walked down (maybe 15 yards) and blocked them from going forward so that Lark could come up on the inside of the outcropping between rock and sheep and turn them. Once at the pen, there was a bit of a standoff, but we got them penned nicely. Sheep and dog were quite hot at this point, so I sent Lark out of the pasture for water and asked Laura to let Twist off her tie out so I could use her to take the sheep back to the bottom of the field to pick up the lamb who wouldn't work and bring them back up to the barn through the other field.

The lamb that was trouble for Laura and Nick also decided to challenge Twist, but a couple of good nose bites got him turned and moving up the field with the rest. They tried to get in the shade next to a fallen log, making the work tough for the dog, but with my help we got them out of the shade and back up to the barn.

I had noted the ear tags on the two troublemakers and we sorted those off and sent them into the paddock with the unused sheep. Tony noted that two of the sheep in the third group we had sorted were acting quite squirrely, so we sorted them back off too and then took the remaining four sheep from Lark's group and split them among the two groups for the afternoon demo so that we had seven sheep in each group.

Because Laura couldn't stay for the afternoon, Tony and I had to come up with a plan for switching dogs and sheep in the middle of the demo. I held sheep with Twist while he ran Blurr, and then went back to the barn while he was doing the course with Blurr and got the second set out and pushed them down to the shade in the pasture below the barn. As soon as Tony had penned, I pushed my set on down to the corner of that pasture where the gate was to take them to the demo pasture, then came back up and pulled out all my dogs, including the three Twist pups, and let them go meet the crowd while Mary talked about the different looks of the working dogs. Twist of course went trolling for food, and people had to snatch their plates up to save their lunches from the piglet! This entertained the crowd and gave Tony enough time to cool Blurr in the tub and then get Maid out to go set the sheep for my second run.

I decided to use Pip for the second demo because Phoebe has been so pushy and unwilling to pace or take a down (as evidenced by our two-minute full course nursery run--minus the time it took to pen--at Roy's trial) and I thought Pip might be more sensible on these unbroke sheep. Again I told Mary that depending on how things were going, I might just do one leg of the drive and come back to the pen. Pip did a nice outrun, lift, and fetch, and as with Blurr's run the drive away became something of a fight as the sheep split and tried to go uphill toward the barn and into the shade. Pip kept his cool and got the sheep back together (it took several tries) and then did a nice (if a bit wobbly--not surprising given the sheep) drive away, making the panels cleanly. Since things were going well and Pip didn't seem to be feeling so much pressure from the sheep as to risk blowing his top (remember, he's just two, and working sheep like this is a real challenge for a young, inexperienced dog), I continued on the cross drive, where Pip did a fine job keeping them on line and making the panels. He refused his right flank at the panels, pushing the sheep well past for a wide turn, but brought them smartly back to the pen after getting them back on line. The sheep were leaning heavily toward the barn area, and two actually broke for the gate. Pip gathered them back (after pulling a little wool) and then together we got them penned nicely). Again, these sheep had never been penned like that, so each pen was pretty much a standoff until the dog could convince them that there was nowhere else to go but the pen.

Once in the pen, the sheep didn't want to come out, so I sent Pip in (as I had done with Lark in the earlier demo) to get them out. Pip thought this was a fine time to use some alligator teeth on the leg of the sheep that had jammed itself in the corner and was preventing him from getting around to push them back out of the pen. That move was a real crowd pleaser! The sheep, however, figured that he was safe with his head jammed in the corner of the pen, but between the two of us, we were able to get them back out and back over to the barn.

This was a wonderful opportunity for the dogs to work sheep that had never seen a dog before. And given that they were rams (and that it was quite hot and humid), they were more inclined than the average "undogged" sheep to challenge a dog as well. Many folks would pay good money to have a chance to work dogs on sheep like this, because it's not something you see a lot of in this part of the country. Most of the farm flocks are well used to dogs and so present different challenges than you get from undogged sheep, which behave more like the range sheep used in trials out west. The downside is that of course undogged sheep make for a more ragged demo, simply by virtue of the fact that the dogs were having to break the sheep during the demo. Fortunately, the dogs all worked well and there was no real ugly work in front of an audience of folks who are not necessarily farm folks and wouldn't necessarily understand why a particular sheep might need to be bitten by a dog.

Next year, we will probably take our own sheep over just to make the demo work easier and to allow us to show some of the finer points of work that you can't show when you're also breaking sheep to work.

But it was still a lot of fun, and I met and talked to a bunch of really nice folks, who wanted to know more about border collies, raising sheep, and so on. I was able to steer one young couple to rescue, and talked to a couple of other folks about their dogs, which they wanted to start on sheep. The nicest couple I met was one that asked me if I had ever heard of "One Man and His Dog." They were from the UK (he is a retired veterinarian) and were joking about how only in theUK could such a program be shown in prime time! I told them that there were lots of folks here who would love something like that! (Rumor has it that there's a video of some of the demo, and if I can get my hands on it, I will post a link here.)

I did manage to refrain from spending too much money at the vendor booths, although Mary and I split the cost of a out-of-this-world coconut cake to bring home and serve up at one of the dinners we often have together. We might be eating it tonight, as Jimmy and Tony are cooking a deer roast on the grill and Mary has invited Henry over for dinner since Lou Ann and Mike have gone to Pennsylvania to check on Lou Ann's parents.

More Dog Work
This morning Mary came over early to work Roxy. We pulled the dog broke sheep up out of the unfenced pasture where they were grazing with the lambs and put them in the main pasture (I had caught Maia and tied her up and put the main flock in the round pen next to her earlier this morning) for Rox to work. Roxy has a lot of tension, and I told Mary just as I had told Darci (with Chris) that I thought it would help to take Roxy out and just let her hang out with Mary and the sheep (Mary can grade papers or do other chores) until Roxy gets a bit more blase about it all. I think just working to get the tension out (of both Roxy and Mary) will go a long way toward making big strides in their sheepwork.

By this time Tony had showed up with Blurr, and since she needs some close work, Tony worked her on the whole flock in the round pen (they must have been quite surprised, since they rarely get worked, especially in the summer), while Mary worked Ben in the pasture. I took Kat out and held sheep for Mary so she could work on Ben's stickiness at the top.

We let the sheep rest a bit and then Tony went to hold with Blurr so I could work on Phoebe's outrun. At Robin's she's been persistently coming in flat on top, and she has a strong inclination if I speak to her on the outrun to try to cross over. So I was working on two things: getting her to stay on the side I sent her from no matter what I said or did and getting her to go deeper behind the sheep at the top. And here's the catch of working your dogs only at home on your own sheep. Every outrun she did was lovely. Aside from the times I stopped her and redirected her just to work on the whole "I need to be able to speak to you without you trying to cross" thing she, according to Tony and Mary, had the absolute nicest outruns of any of the dogs we worked today. So this evening, I am going to take her with me when I go up to Tony and Mary's for dinner and when it gets close to dusk Tony is going to hold sheep again for me and we're going to see what she does on different sheep away from home. I expect she'll work through this issue well enough. When I first started running her in trials last fall in pro-novice, she always ran really tight on the first day and then would do a nice outrun the second day. She was worked through that without any particular help on my part, so I expect she'll do the same with the top of her outrun. But I do need to get her to where I can speak to her and redirect her without her trying to cross (Robin said it seems almost as if when I speak to her she automatically thinks she must be taking the wrong flank and so tries to go the other way--so it's about her reacting to what she thinks is a correction from me). She was actually much nicer on her lifts today as well, though still quite pushy on the fetch.

Upcoming Events
So this coming Saturday is the Ovines Against Ovarian Cancer, Whistle for a Cure novice sheepdog trial at Robin's. I am looking forward to what should be a really fun day. Tony and I will do most of the sheep setting. I am running Pip and Phoebe in nursery and Lark in ranch, and I had Robin put all their runs close together so I could just come down from the top once, run my dogs, and go back to setting sheep. Kate Caldwell is providing the food, so I plan to have plenty of cash because I've eaten Kate's cooking before and let me tell you, it's amazingly delicious. Laura and I are planning to go up Friday afternoon and help with the last-minute preparations. We'll spend the night at Robin's (which saves us an 80-mile drive the morning of) so we can go over bright and early and get things ready to go before the start of the trial.

This coming Sunday, we (Mary, Tony, and I, and maybe Jimmy) will be heading over to Henry and Lou Ann's for a day of making apple butter. I've never made homemade apple butter, and we'll be cooking it over a fire outside, so it should be really fun (not to mention that there will be a yummy outcome as well!).

I haven't gone to the Rural Hill SDT in several years, but have sent in my entry this year because it's back to being a three-day trial (which means less time off work for me), and Dean is offering the lower classes (except novice-novice) on Friday. If I wanted to spend the money and fry my dogs' brains, I could get three runs a piece for Pip and Phoebe on Friday (two nursery runs and one pro-novice run), but I opted to run them just in nursery. Even two runs on the full course might be a bit too much for a youngster, but I figure there's nothing to stop me from retiring a run if either seems to be overfaced by the second go round. Lark will be running in open ranch on Friday and Twist and Kat will run in open over the weekend. But before we get to Rural Hill the second weekend in November, we have the Fall Fiber Festival and Montpelier (home of James Madison) Sheepdog Trials the first weekend in October and Tom Forrester's Mount Pleasant SDT in Strasburg the first weekend in November. I am skipping Dave Clark's Lexington SDT and Edgeworth (for the first time since I've been running in open) to save money and so I can concentrate on trials where I can get mileage on the younger dogs. I will try to make the Edgeworth Winter Trial this year, since both young and open dogs can run there.

I always look forward to Montpelier, despite the fact that we might be limited to two dogs (in my case it will be Lark and Pip, with Phoebe as my third dog and Twist as my fourth if allowed) because of the fiber festival. There is a large number of vendors selling all sorts of wonderful stuff--it's one of those places where you just have to decide to hold on to your purse or you could really do some damage! It's also one of the few trials all year that has a large crowd of spectators (Rural Hill being the other), which adds to the fun and excitement.

It looks like I might also be helping with a demo at the Dixie Classic Fair in Winston-Salem the first week in October. Henry and Lou Ann, with a partner, usually help out at this one, but they will be at a sheep show for the first part of the week, so Tony will help out on Sunday night (I'll be coming back from Montpelier) and I'll rearrange my work schedule so I can go out Monday and Tuesday mornings to help out. They work sheep and ducks in this demo, so I'll plan to take Twist and Lark the duck dog. There's a cute little skit where we will put the ducks (brown ducks) into a "duck washing machine." After the wash is done, the ducks that come out are white (from the bleach). The washing machine has a separate compartment where the white ducks are hidden till after the wash is done. It's a real crowd pleaser and it should be loads of fun for me and Lark. Henry and Lou Ann will be back midweek and will be able to step in and finish out the week with their demo partner.

Sheep Notes
I seem to be having a very slight bout with coccidia among my lambs. Not enough to really get more than the occasional lamb down a bit, but when one of the hair lambs started acting a bit puny last week I suspected coccidia and took a fecal to the vet when I took Willow for her prolo therapy. There was coccidia present, so I have the sheep behind the barn on five days of Corid. The little sick fellow is a lot better and so far no one else has come down with diarrhea, so hopefully we're kicking it. The problem with the Corid is that it goes in their drinking water and of course we had rainy days last week and the sheep were getting plenty of moisture from the grass, so I was kind of glad for the past two hot and sunny days to encourage them to drink more of their treated water. I could have used the Corid as a drench, but it's easier to cover everyone back there if they can just "self-medicate" from the stock tank.

I still haven't sent my pelts off to Bucks County and all the dampness last week, plus the heavy rains we had before that (I will not complain about the rain--we've nearly caught up on last year's drought plus this year's, now being maybe just an inch+ down for the two-year period) got them damp again, so I will resalt one last time and then pack them up and ship them out. They were actually ready to go a month ago, but the folks at Bucks County were on vacation until late August and then the rains and dampness came. At any rate, I should have them back before Christmas, not that I'm going to want to part with them by giving them as Christmas gifts!

On the Feline Front
Chili Pepper is due for her dentistry this coming Tuesday. I took her with me last week when Willow went for her prolo therapy so we could draw blood and do a complete work up before subjecting a 15-year-old cat to anesthesia. The vet called Friday while we were setting up at the Fay's and left a message to call back Monday because there are some abnormalities in her bloodwork and we'll need to decide what to do about the dentistry. Now I have to wait all weekend to find out what's up. I've told them before to please call my cell phone and I think I need to make sure it's in my chart to always try my cell first. So I won't have anything to report on Chili until tomorrow.

And I think that pretty much catches us up here. Apologies for another really long entry, but I don't seem to find the time to post more often so that I can make shorter posts.


Robin French said...

My goodness, your fingertips should be sore from typing!

Apple butter, mmmmmmm.

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

Oh how I wish I could see you and those dogs work those sheep!!! I have always been fasinated with the way it works and you relate it so well in your typings. Dont worry about the long posts, you write so well it is enjoyable to read them when ever I get the chance :)

carson-crazies said...

I agree with Robin, apple butter, mmmmm.

My Stepmom said that she thoroughly enjoyed the demo - and as someone who has never seen sheepdogs REALLY work before she was thrilled with some of the more exciting stuff (she said it was far more memorable than it would have been had the sheep calmly and quietly cooperated). Thank you for including us! It was a good experience. Uh... next time I'll know to let naughty woolies like that one lamb just go do his own thing. ;)

What I saw of Lark and Maid looked really good, by the way!