I was going to call this piece “dogging”, because that’s what it’s about but I decided to approach things from a somewhat different angle.
Way back I remember somebody writing that they were walking in the countryside and could see in the distance somebody ploughing. As they walked along the path that ran beside the field they obviously fell into some romantic daydream about honest sons of the soil working in their own rural idyll, cut off from the pressures and hurly burly of the twentieth (as it was then) century.
Except that as they got to where the tractor was turning on the headland they could hear Radio 2 coming from the tractor radio. They suddenly realised just how pervasive and all embracing modern culture is.
It’s the same with the sign, ‘Tek care, Lambs ont road.’ Because of the need to have broadband to run a business, and the fact that coverage extends out even into some rural areas, Facebook and suchlike have penetrated even into the depths of rurality.
Facebook memes and pictures of cute cats are as likely to be familiar in hidden villages as they are in Central London.
Thus it might be literally impossible for a Cumbrian Sheep-farmer to write a sign which says “Lambs on the road, please take care.” At the very least a sense of ironic post modernism would drive him to use the more ‘traditional’ message.
This of course leads us to ask what the lambs are doing on the road in the first place. Well it boils down to two facts, lambs are small and they are inquisitive. So when they’re not hungry they’ll wander about poking their noses into things. This means they can unwittingly creep through gaps that aren’t really there. Suddenly they’re not in the field, they’re on the road, and mum isn’t in sight and they’re starting to feel peckish. At this point there’s a lot of frantic bleating as they try and work out where mum is and pick the shortest practical route to her.
Now it sometimes happens that people wander along and find a lamb asleep or in the wrong place, without its mother. I’ve known them pick the lamb up, carry it miles to the nearest farm and hand it to the farmer because they feel it obviously needs looking after. But unless the lamb is physically trapped, or ostentatiously injured, it almost certainly doesn’t. If you leave it there, at some point mum will wander over, or the lamb will feel peckish and wander back to mum. By moving it all that happens is that the lamb now smells of you. When you give it to the farmer it then starts smelling of him, and even if he can find the mother, the mother is going to be a bit suspicious of this strange smelling creature that he’s presenting her with.
That being said (for those of you who’re wondering when I’m going to start writing about dogging) there can be times when you do have to move ewes and lambs and the lambs can be a nightmare if they get themselves turned round and suddenly cannot find mum. At which point they’ll set off at speed in the direction they think mum ought to be.
From my experience yesterday a lamb can run at about 16mph. I cannot. However on the quad (which has a speedometer so I have a fair idea of the speed everything was moving at) I can keep up with the little beggar. That being said it has a turning circle a lot tighter than mine. But this is where your dog comes in. Sal, our Border Collie bitch seems to be able to run at 27mph, at least for a short while. She can do 16mph while looking back over her shoulder to see if I’m following. (To be fair she really shouldn’t. The time when she inadvertently ran into a middle aged and utterly respectable ewe was an embarrassment to both dog and sheep.) Her turning circle is also on a par with the lambs.
Hence as the lamb sets off for the further horizon, moving at least 16mph, both dog and I set off after it. And this is where the ‘dogging’ starts because Sal will dog the lamb, keeping up with it, trying to turn it back to me or at least trap it in a corner where I can finally catch it. It’s something of a battle of wits between the two animals as the lamb isn’t as afraid of the dog as you might think and will happily try and nip behind it or jump over it or generally out manoeuvre it. Still we finally caught the little beggar and with it under one arm we went to catch up with the rest of them, moved them all through the gate, put the lamb back with the flock and left them to it.