Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Three Dog Day

While California's drought persists, today we were able to move our sheep back to the paddock we first grazed when we moved them back to Auburn on Valentine's Day.  This paddock has been rested since February 17 (48 days) - a longer recover period than we would expect this time of year.  Even with the rainfall we had in March and early April, the grass isn't growing like normal.  That said, the forage in this paddock looks pretty good - and the sheep agree!

Lambing is winding down - we have 10-15 ewes left to lamb, I think.  Most of the lambs are beginning to understand "the system" - that is, they're figuring out that they need to stay with the group when the border collies "ask" them to move.  Our move back to this first paddock involved moving the flock out of the old paddock and onto Blue Oak Ranch Road.  We had to walk about 150 yards down the road into the new paddock.

The sheep were ready to move - we'd probably left them in the old paddock for about 12 hours too long (primarily because I had to be out of town Saturday and part of Sunday) - so they were anxious to get to fresh feed.  Consequently, they were ready to run when we opened the fence!  Rosie, our livestock guardian dog, loves to explore when we move the flock - and the sheep love to follow her.  Thankfully, I had all three border collies (Taff, Mo and Ernie) - and my assistant shepherd, Emma!

Ernie is finally at a point where I can use him for specific jobs when we're doing a move like today's.  This means that I can trust him to make reasonably good decisions about where he needs to be, and he listens well enough to take direction (or to quit working when that's called for).  As the youngest dog in our bunch, he's easily the most energetic, too - which was a plus today as well!

When the sheep came out of the old paddock today, they followed Rosie up a neighbor's driveway.  I was able to send Ernie on a flank that required him to jump the fence - he got to the heads of the lead sheep and turned them back down towards the road.  As the main flock took off down the road, Ernie and Taff (with help from Emma) made sure the lambs followed their mothers.  Ernie (with a command from me) brought the sheep back into a bunch.  As we walked towards the new paddock, about half of the flock went past the opening I'd made in the fence.  I was able to call Ernie to me (through the sheep) and send him on a flank to turn the sheep that had gone too far.  The whole move took less than 10 minutes, thanks to the dogs!

Most jobs only require one dog, I find - but it's sure nice to have 3 reliable dogs when the work requires it! Since this was the warmest day of our spring so far, the boys were quite happy to have Emma cool them down with a garden hose when their work was done!  Later, as we went to retrieve more fence from the old paddock, they lolled in the water troughs.  As I write this, they're napping the shade.  Thanks, guys!

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