Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Since we've been in the sheep business, we've been blessed with some exceptional sheepdogs. Our first, Paige, was a retired sheepdog trial dog that our friend Ellen Skillings loaned to us for several months - she taught us what a good dog could accomplish in terms of work. Taff, my old buddy, came to us as a 4-year-old; he was an old soul who we referred to as the Buddha collie (because of his benevolent nature). One of our current dogs, Ernie, is a true character - he's proof that dogs have senses of humor. But our two finest sheepdogs (at least for the way we manage our flock) are Mo and Mae. And this last weekend, Mae gave birth to nine of the best looking puppies ever!

First, a bit about the parents. Mo, who actually belongs to our oldest daughter Lara, is easily the most athletic dog I've ever worked. When he was a pup, we'd take him and Taff for a run at one of our leased ranches. Taff was in his prime, physically, but Mo made him look slow. I remember Mo blowing by Taff running through the tall grass - and looking back at Taff while he expanded the distance between them! Later, as Mo began to work, he added judgement and intelligence to his physical abilities. Once, I sent him over a hill to gather a group of sheep that were out of sight. Soon, the sheep topped the hill and came towards me - but Mo was nowhere in sight. I started to get annoyed - I figured Mo was blowing me off. Just as I was preparing to call him back and scold him, he appeared at the crest of the hill, slowly driving a ewe with a new (and unexpected) lamb back to the rest of the sheep.

Mae, who's just two-and-a-half, is the most biddable dog I've ever worked. She can nearly match Mo in terms of judgement and athleticism; she's his superior in terms of drive and stamina. Mo will take a break to cool off when he's working; Mae would work until she dropped if I let her. A slight dog, she'll take on the most obstreperous ewe. There's a saying among shepherds - "Someday I hope to be the shepherd my dog deserves." Mae is that kind of dog - she's better than I am!

Mo is now 10 years old and slowing down. He's a fine-boned dog, and a life of physical work has taken its toll. He still loves to work, and I still use him when finesse is required; Ernie and Mae have taken on much of the hard work. Given the qualities of Mo and Mae, we decided that we wanted a puppy that would perpetuate their genetic potential. And so when Mae came into heat in April, we decided to let them reproduce.

Like any good sheepdog, Mae would rather work than procreate - and yet Mo was eventually successful. At shearing in mid-May, we noticed that Mae was growing wider and developing a mammary system. Looking back at the week before shearing, I realized that I'd noticed that Mae had become a bit more aggressive with the ewes who mistakenly challenged her.

Last Saturday morning, as we were getting ready to wean our lambs, Mae gave birth to 9 (9!) puppies. So far, everyone (pups and mom) are doing great - Mae is an attentive mother; the pups are vigorous (and hungry).

We'll keep one of these pups; he'll be Mo's successor. It'll be several years before we'll use him for real work; in the meantime, we'll hope he's as nice to be around as both of his parents. For now, we'll enjoy having puppies - 9 puppies! Once their eyes open and they begin to explore their world, I can only imagine what our backyard will be like! We'll keep you posted!

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