Ness shines on her sheep gathering debut

Despite her inexperience, Ness proved her worth on today’s sheep gather

A good sized flock awaits gathering early in the morning
The flock congregated in one field, giving Ness a great opportunity for an outrun

For this morning’s sheep gather, I finally decided to take Ness. I’ve intended to take her on the last two gathers, but changed my mind at the last minute because she’s inexperienced. This mindset is responsible for a great number of excellent sheepdogs never actually fulfilling their potential – it’s so easy to “play safe” and take the dogs you know are going to do the job faultlessly – but on this occasion, I decided to give her a chance.

We normally gather the bank field first. It’s not too big, probably about two hectares (five acres) and I decided it would be ideal for Ness’s flockwork debut. There were only a few sheep in the field, so I drove to the highest point from where I could see the whole bank, and I sent Ness “Away”. I know she’s not great at going away but she’s got to learn. Unsurprisingly, she cut in and brought about half the sheep back towards me, but I sent her back again and she gathered them all. Hopefully, she’ll have learned from that.

Sheepdog Ness brings the flock through the gateway
A little hurried, but Ness brings the whole flock through the gateway. Click the image to enlarge it and you should be able to see Ness behind the sheep!

The next part of the gather is more difficult. The fields are much larger, the grass is longer, and there are plenty of places for sheep to hide and miss the gather. John particularly wanted all the sheep today because we were planning to wean the lambs from the ewes, so Kay and Carew took care of this second stage.

Once the worst section was completed, I noticed the sheep were drifting into a nearby large field. With Ness in mind it was too good an opportunity to miss, so I put Carew and Kay back into the car and sent Ness off on a “Come-bye” outrun. She was magnificent – right around the whole flock. She was difficult to stop at first, but quickly settled down, holding the sheep together and driving like a professional. Ness is now for sale to a suitable home.

Sheepdog Kay finds a lamb stuck behind a water trough
Kay spotted a lamb which had become trapped behind a water trough

I had hoped that Ness would be able to push all the sheep out of the next field and onto the farm drive, but more than three hundred sheep is a lot for an inexperienced dog. Some of them were grasping every opportunity to escape this way and that, so once more I replaced Ness with Carew and Kay.

The two “regulars” quickly stamped their authority on the situation and, as the sheep poured through the gate onto the drive, I noticed that Kay’s attention was on a lamb which had become temporarily trapped behind a water trough. I called Kay up towards the lamb and, as she approached from in front of it, the youngster backed away and was free once more.

Sheepdogs Carew and Kay make sure the sheep can't come back into the field
Carew and Kay hold station as the sheep speed down the drive

Ever optimistic, the sheep had turned towards the railway bridge in a bid to reach the front field. Finding the gate closed, they then dashed back to the gate into the field they’d just come from, but Kay and Carew were already in place to stop any of them bolting through the gateway.

The flock then headed calmly down the drive to the farm. They were very reluctant to go into the sorting pens but, with Carew in charge, they didn’t have a choice. She really does excel at close work and the sorting was performed quickly without further incident.

Sadly there are not many lambs left, so I suspect our sheep gathering exploits will be limited from now on, especially as John intends to sell most if not all, of his ewes to free up grazing for the cattle. I will, of course, post blogs to keep you informed in the months to come. I’m sure there are at least two more gathers to come, over the next couple of weeks, but what will happen after that remains to be seen. John assures me he will be buying in more sheep in the longer term, so we’ll have to wait and see. Ness is now for sale to a suitable home.



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