Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dogs and Efficiency

I've realized in the last several weeks that I don't seem to be as overwhelmingly busy this summer as I usually am.  Part of it is the fact that we're not irrigating as much this year - that fact alone gives me several extra hours each day.  Part of it is the fact that we have great help (as in previous years, we have interns who help make the big project more manageable).  Part of it is that I'm not driving to Tahoe City for a farmer's market once a week.  Significantly, I'm also getting better at working with Taff and Mo, our border collies.

Our herding dogs make me more efficient in numerous ways.  When I'm moving sheep from one pasture to another, the dogs make quick work of the move.  When I need to load sheep in the trailer, the dogs make it a one person job.  Yesterday, I de-wormed and marked 200 ewes.  This involves giving each ewe a liquid de-wormer (for internal parasite control) orally.  I also put paint brands on each ewe to indicate ownership, and I put bells on about 10 percent of the sheep to help us locate them in brush paddocks.  With Taff's help, I was able to do the entire job in about 3-1/2 hours.
Taff and Mo waiting to work.

We've used dogs now for about 4 years.  I'm finally feeling like I'm understanding the dogs well enough to be a good working partner.  In years past, I would have needed more equipment (fencing, especially) and more help to accomplish the jobs listed in the previous paragraph.  For example, treating 200 ewes several years ago would have been an all-day task for 2-3 people.
Ernie and Emma

I'm finding that one of the things I enjoy most about my work is the opportunity to improve my relationship with my working partners - my dogs.  Our newest edition, Ernie, is just beginning his training with sheep.  I'm looking forward to his progress.  I'm also looking forward to a lifetime of learning how to work with my dogs!

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