Dave stands in for Carew gathering sheep

Sheepdog Kay gathering a small flock of ewes and lambs on a sunny day.

Dave learns more than how to gather a flock

Late yesterday afternoon I had a call from our landlord, John, asking me to gather the sheep for him at Dean Farm today. He wanted to check over the entire flock as he suspected some had fly strike.

A lamb hangs back as the dog gathers the sheep can mean there's something wrong with the lamb
Dave brings the errant ewes and lambs out of the field but one of the lambs is already hanging back. (Click to enlarge).

Fly strike is dreaded by sheep farmers worldwide. When conditions are right, blowflies lay eggs on the sheep and the resultant larvae can eat the poor creature alive.

If caught in time the affected sheep will only feel some discomfort so the flock must be checked regularly and treated immediately if there are signs of attack.

Untreated animals can suffer an agonising death from fly strike.

At the moment I’m resting Carew’s foot ahead of this weekend’s Evesham Sheepdog Trial, so I decided to take Dave to do the work, and give him more experience of flock work, but took Kay along too as my standby expert, just in case Dave couldn’t cope.

A lamb which has got left behind when gathering sheep.
If a lamb gets left behind when you’re gathering sheep, it can often mean there’s something wrong with it. (Click to enlarge).

As things worked out both Kay and Dave struggled at times; I really missed Carew’s skill.

A quick check when we arrived suggested the sheep had spread themselves between five fields, so I started at the far right, sending Dave to gather a small number of ewes and lambs.

He was uncertain at first, but soon realised he was expected to gather all the sheep and not just the three that were closest to us!

As Dave brought them I noticed that a lamb was hanging back, suggesting there was something wrong with it. This was the first time that I missed Carew. She can immediately detect a poorly animal, and will bring the flock at whatever speed the invalid can manage.

Lamb with a mucky rear end
The damp, mucky back-end on a lamb during warm weather is a fairly sure sign of fly-strike. (Click to enlarge).

Dave, on the other hand, appeared to lose patience with the slow lamb and decided to leave it behind. I sent him back for the lamb, but he tried to hurry it along and that just made the lamb stand its ground. Dave was completely confused!

By this time the first group had gone through the gate into the next field so I sent Dave to bring them back, in the hope that the lamb would try to rejoin them. The sheep really didn’t want to come back through the gate though, and Dave was struggling. I called him back to me and together we quietly “walked” the lamb through the gate to join the other sheep.

Dave should begin to learn from experiences like this, and in time might be more patient with sick animals.

With the sheep reunited Dave began to make better progress, moving from field to field with an ever increasing number of sheep, but he found them a handful when they tried to run in opposite directions.

As he brought back the sheep on the left, the ones on the right were running full-tilt the other way, so I got Kay out of the car to help him. Using both dogs I was able to bunch the sheep up together and, realising they’d met their match, they trotted nicely through the gate onto the farm drive. I put Dave in the car for a rest while Kay guided the sheep down towards the farm.

Trainee sheepdog Dave is unsure how to cope with a sick lamb
Dave’s unsure what to do with the sick lamb. Notice they are looking at each other. (Click to enlarge).

At this point, I glanced back to check the fields we’d gathered and was disappointed to see a small group of lambs, and one or two ewes, which must have been hiding in the woodland at the far end of our first field.

I don’t think Dave had missed them; there are holes in the thick hedge, and I know the sheep sometimes sneak through and hide in the woodland. They will have noticed the other sheep had gone, and tried to follow them.

I took Kay and Dave back across the fields but, as we approached, the sheep began to run for a gap into the next field. Just in time I sent Kay off along the hedge on my right to cut the sheep off before they reached the gap. This was a classic example of why your dog must be able to outrun both ways.

If Kay had gone to the left, the sheep would have been able to escape. I didn’t send Dave because he’s slower than Kay, and less positive. If he’d hesitated, that would have allowed the clever sheep to evade him.

I’m sure John will eventually block all the holes in the hedges and fences but, to be honest, it’s excellent experience for the dogs. With crafty sheep who know lots of ways to dodge away from sheepdogs, it’s a real test – and we thoroughly enjoy it!



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