Border collie and sheepdogs guard the sheep
Очередной выпуск моего авторского Блога.
The sheepdogs on our photographer friends' private farm act as watchmen: they guard the farm and keep watch over the flock of sheep...
Блог #68 | Life on a Farm: People and Dogs
“A loyal sheepdog’s companionship can provide
sanity to a hard-working shepherd”
Photographer and farmer documents the day-to-day
lives of her working border collies in words and pictures
A DOG’S LIFE
An excitedbark comes from the
kennels as thedogshear thedoor
slam and myboots scrape onthe
yard. They know theirday is
about tobegin– aday full of
Theybounce aroundtheir kennels
withexcitement as we get them out
for theirday’s work. Their life
wouldbe enviedby mostpetdogs.
Three border collies work at Croft Foot Farm,
our 364-hectare property in Cumbria. My
husband, Colin, does the bulk of the farm work,
using the collies mainly as sheepdogs. The four
of them make a formidable team in looking
after our 1,200breeding sheep.
At any one time, we tend to have a lead dog
who does the main bulk of work.
There will also often be a retired
dog who potters around the
yard and comes out on busy days. And a third
dog to mop up, possibly a young dog in training.
But we also have a fourth dog, Meg.
She’s mine, and has become
more of a ‘model’ dog.
I’m a photographer as well as a farmer, and host
Farm Photography Tours at Croft Foot.
Meg demonstrates shepherding
skills for my clients
and poses for portraits.
She also adores coming
on walks with our children.
Working dogs, of course, need to be taught.
A fully trained dog will start work at around
two years of age. Training sheepdogs is very
challenging.You can train a dog to think, or you
can train a dog to respond exactly to command.
If you focus solely on the latter, then once the
dog is out of sight it can’t think for itself.
Fell dogs, which assist in
gathering livestock across
the hills and commons, need to be able to think
for themselves much more than other farm dogs.
This is anability that comes from
experience, especially from gathering with
other dogs and learning the hefts (the
communal grazing areas on the fells).
We don’t think of the dogs as pets, as they are
part of the working team.When things go
well, we stroke them and give them rewards.
When things go less well, that oftencomesdown
Thedogmisunderstands what the shepherd wants
– itgets anidea inits headandrunswithit.
Ultimately, the sheepdog in its working role
is trained not to harm. A well-trained, keen
sheepdog can often be seen “giving the sheep
the eye”, even when not given a command.
It will watch, often intensively, the flock’s every
move, desperate to be called into action.
Despite the training, the dogs’ personalities
show through. These can vary hugely, just like
humans. Meg is very gentle and eager for
affection, so she is desperate to please.Billy,
our lead dog, is a dominant character, exerting
his authority when on the quad bike. I wouldn’t
trust him with children.
He hates any other dog comingintohis
territory and we have to be careful when we meet
other dog-walkers, as ourdogsdo not socialise
with other pet dogs.
This makes them a bit more reactive to others,
often displayed as aggression, particularly
in what the sheepdog sees as its own territory.
Border collies are known to be among the most
intelligent of dogs and adore using their brains.
They need to be both intellectually stimulated
and physically active.
On our farm, we train and channel their
natural hunting and herding instincts in
order to move flocks of sheep and herds of
cows, to isolate animals that may need
attention, and even to help catch those sheep
that may need assistance.
They can hold sheep in one place
and prevent animals going through
gates to allow the farmer through.
They also make great guard dogs for the
yard and farm.
Our small pack of border collies exist a bit
like dogs in the wild.
They sleep in outside kennels – by living in an
unheated environment, they can cope with
whatever weather Cumbria throws at them
– rain, wind and hail – while working
comfortably all day. They also have a pack
mentality: there are leaders and followers
and they all know their role.
As they jump up into the quad bike at the
beginning of the day, you can see the pure
unadulterated pleasure on their faces at the
anticipation of a day’s work. They know their
place, even on the bike.
At Croft Foot, most of our dogs work for
seven to 10years at high intensity.While the
maleshave abitmore stamina andfaceuptothe
cows better, we have generally had females, as
they tend to be a little less aggressive.
At the moment, though, we
have a mixed pack – which
is incredibly challenging when a female is in
heat.Wedon’twant any morepuppies andcan’t
have a dog out of action because it’s pregnant.
But sometimes, thetime is
right to breed a new generation.
Meg has had a couple
oflitters of pups. She
was a very attentive
mother, needing no assistance along the way.
Her last litter had 10pups, which she found very
tiring, so we decided not to
put her through another set.
Breeding collie pups came with a strong
sense of responsibility for me, in finding
suitable homes for the pups. Many farmers
understand the need for good breeding in
sheepdogs to maintain a good work ethic.
It is also essential to avoid
inbreeding, which can
produce badly behaved and unhealthy dogs.
Most of our pups went to farms to continue
the sheepdog role and we were delighted when
one even went to be trained
as a Mountain Rescue search dog.
One pup had the most beautiful markings,
so we kept it for ourselves. Unfortunately,
it didn’t respond to training and quickly it
became clear that a sheepdog’s life wasn’t
going to suit it.
We had to make the difficult decision
then to give the young dog up. We
contacted the local animal shelter, which had
some clients on a waiting list, and the dog
stayed with us until the new home was ready.
It’s never an easy decision when you need to let
a dog go.We’ve now heard that the dog is living
its best life with a retired couple who like
walking the mountains of the Lake District.
My husband Colin has lived with dogs for as
long as he can remember and has had collies
around him for more than 30years.
“I can’t imagine life without
them,” he says. “I have
probably had three exceptional dogs in that
time – those that really stand out for their
intelligence and commitment.”
Farming is frequently a socially isolated
occupation. The dogs make fantastic
companions, helping to prevent the loneliness
creeping in. Unbelievably loyal, they are keen to
please by working hard, responding instantly
to commands and pulling
their weight in the team.
A (hu)man’s best friend couldn’t be a
more accurate expression when describing
a loyal sheepdog, whose companionship can
provide sanity to the hard-working shepherd.
It’s hard to underestimate the bond – the dog
is there to work even if you’re having a bad day,
come rain or shine and they
are always happy to do so.
Working our upland sheep farm would be
nearly impossible without our dogs. They are
a permanent fixture here.We love our dogs to
have a purpose – a role, a mission – and this
brings them a high quality oflife.
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