The day was lovely, and the sun was bright, and so what does any sheep farmer want to do but go out and check the sheep and do maintenance? Well, OK. Not all of us, and certainly not as often as it needs to be done, but it was time, and the weather was accommodating. Our rams were due for their regulars.
This time through, we decided for whatever reason to not use the barn to corral and hold them. Don't ask me why... maybe it was just nice to be in the sun or maybe we were just hard-headed (likely!), and their position was convenient! My dog of choice was Benji this time. Many of his stories had happened in this exact same field and in this very spot. Somehow, it just felt like good old times come back to life again.
Benji and I share a special bond when it comes to work. When I open the gate and he knows that we are going to work, he will sing me his uniquely special happy song and dance a circle around my feet in anticipation. Then he settles right into my collected right-hand-dog. Down to business.
Just walking through the field beside me to keep me safe from suspicious rams is a delightful errand, but this time, I needed Benji for his incredible read and intuition on stock. And his reliable biddability. The wethers and rams were easily grouped together for John to check and do what needed doing. I stayed on the outside of the group with my dog. For awhile, you can count on just a presence of a dog being a distraction from trouble-making. This time through, that period was short. Apparently, the boys wanted to frolic in the sun that day also!
Benji is excellent at holding the sheep in a corner for us. Our needs were different for this chore though. Let me explain the complications: This was a very rounded and open ended field "corner" with a 20' section of trees before you get to an actual fence line. there were many easy routes of escape, and John needed the rams out in the open to be able to see and work. That is enough reason to have a very subtle and intuitive dog concerning pressure, but this time through, the rams were feeling rather frisky and like this sunny day was cause for play and celebration.... With my husband in the very center of the group! Yes - A barn would have been easier!
So picture my husband checking feet, giving supplements, etc. in the middle of rams wanting to mount whichever ram he's holding at the time, etc. Without scattering the group, Benji would have to manage to keep their undivided attention for John's safety. A difficult task indeed, and one that I had to manage to communicate. But Benji and I have learned to really work well together and understand so much about how each other moves and thinks - a true sign of what we want in our collies!
But this was to be a very delicate set of dance moves. Quite the challenge to our skill set. Of all our dogs here, Benji is most responsive to minuscule flock movements, individual animal behaviors, and my direction. The quiet calm before the brewing storm was easy. Benji set them in that open ended corner giving them lots of room to breath without giving them a reason to dash through the woods. We waited together while John started working through with the most difficult rams to start. The rams were a bit antsy, but Benji and I kept their attention by dancing carefully on our end to make sure they watched us instead of strategizing for other cantankerous activities.
Well, that all worked fine and dandy until John had completed work on the more difficult rams who were eager to bully anyone who was being held... and also putting John at risk. Benji was still not quite sure what was going on, as usually his job is just to hold these boys in place. I asked him to dance a series of up and back, lay and stand, a mix of eager and placid gestures in hopes of keeping the sheep confused... on their toes. In essence, bringing pressure forward not quite to the point of breaking up the group, and then moving back just enough for them to relax, but not enough to play shenanigans. Well, this certainly kept Benji and I on our toes! We watched everything so carefully calling on every skill of intuition that we could muster. He obeyed and then immediately was called off - pondering what we were doing and learning all at the same time. Benji danced away!
In the end no sheep was brutalized. John was able to complete his task safely. The big rams tried to break away, but Benji was able to put them back carefully without making the whole flock scatter in his gentle but decisive way. I think Benji really got the hang of "protect John and hold the sheep." I was drawing movements with my finger not even realizing what I was doing. Suddenly, I realized that Benji was following the drawings of my finger! He had figured out my chaotic directions and was working in synchrony! That is the wonder of Benji that we have here!!! I decided to stop drawing and told Benji it was up to him now. Bingo! He had it! No brusque or quick movements. He was the puppeteer, and the rams were his playthings! I stood back in awe.
Benji is not one for high praise for a job. It confuses him. Why praise a child for eating ice-cream? Benji's reward is working in the field with me. Still, I always thank him and talk to him. Whether or not he understands, he knows that I am pleased and that this is my way of telling him with a few special rubs and pats just where he likes them. Our job was done. Benji is as eager to call off for me as he is to work. "With Me" is probably his favorite command. And so he walked with me out of the peaceful pasture with the sun in all its glory.
This blog chronicles our very full life here on WoodSong Farm. We will share everything from dog to sheep stories, unique wooly works, to animal husbandry tips we pick up along the way. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what our extended farm family and wooly projects are like, and that we may somehow benefit everyone who reads about our journey.