This time of year can be difficult for the diligent Border Collie. All these charming lambs scampering about might look delightful but they’ve got no respect. As old Jess would doubtless have said, if she could be bothered lowering herself to communicating verbally, “If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.”
From the working canine viewpoint lambs are a nightmare. They don’t know the rules; they are as likely to walk up to the dog to see what’s going on as they are to run away. Then when they do run away they do so apparently at random and at speed.
Added to this, when they’re still young, if the dog gets too close, Mum is going to march up and stamp her foot at you. It’s not the foot stamping that’s the problem; it’s the fact that she too is now moving in exactly the opposite direction to that intended, or not moving at all.
Once lambs get to a certain age Mum seems to relinquish her defensive role. Whether she reckons they’re big enough or fast enough to look after themselves I don’t know.
The other problem is that lambs play. One time we were fetching a mixed batch of ewes and lambs down a lane. One of the lambs (twenty kilos in weight so no longer winningly cute) kept running back the way the flock had come. Nel, who was a properly trained sheepdog, would run after it, turn it, and bring it back. The lamb did this three times, running poor Nel ragged. On the fourth attempt the lamb found old Jess standing in front of it. Jess merely snapped, her teeth meeting so close to the lamb’s nose that it must have felt the draught. The lamb stared at Jess, shrugged, turned round and trotted on with the rest. You got the feeling the lamb felt it wasn’t fun any more.
But let’s just run through today’s simple task ‘looking sheep.’ First I have to take some feed to the ewes and lambs in the field behind the farm. These are a mixture of the ewes who lambed last (so still need a bit of feed) plus ‘pet lambs’ who somehow misplaced their mother. Or perhaps their mother misplaced them. Either way they’ve been bottle reared and are now out on grass but are too small to play with the grown-ups. They also need something to make up for the fact that they’re not getting any milk from mum.
This is easily done, I walk into the field and they come across to see me and I just put the feed down in small piles. Sal, providing as she does, the canine oversight, has nothing to do and just wanders off to one side, nose to the ground, working out what happened last night.
Then I have to take slightly more feed to the rest of the sheep. This means I have to pass through those I’ve already fed. They’re still eating so aren’t interested. Except, that is, for two of the oldest ‘pet lambs’ who immediately abandon the others and follow me. They’ve worked out that if they look suitably pathetic then I’ll give them something out of the bag I’m carrying. These two are both ewe lambs and are being reared with the idea of them joining the flock and having lambs of their own. Because they’re hand-reared they’ll be a little more domesticated than the rest, which is a mixed blessing. Yes they’ll be easy to handle, but because they’ll follow when they should be driven and doubtless give cheek to the dog, they can also confuse the rest of the flock. Still I give them a little more feed and go into the next field.
At this point the others see me. So far things have been pretty decorous. I think the sheep in the smaller group have worked out that I’m leaving them plenty. In the big group they’re only getting a handful each. They’ve worked out that the last sheep to Jim isn’t going to get anything. So I’m making my way through a surging sea of sheep who frankly don’t care. They’re banging against me and ricocheting off each other. When you get a really large number of sheep being fed it’s not unusual for people to be knocked down. This tends to happen when a ewe moving at speed hits you on the back of the legs at knee height.
Still I keep my feet. Sal watches this from afar. She’s going wide, bimbling about out on one flank. Occasionally she’ll find a ewe or lamb who is either fast asleep and hasn’t noticed my arrival, or alternatively is feeling under the weather and doesn’t care. In the latter case you look them over and perhaps come back later with quad and trailer if they need catching and treating.
Then suddenly we have a problem. Sal wandered through a gate and across the bridge assuming I was going that way. But I’m not. So she has to get back through the gate to follow me. Unfortunately there’s a mob of ewes standing near the gate watching her suspiciously.
For Sal this presents a problem. A Border Collie has no problems slipping through the bars of the gate. It’s just that you don’t want to be squirming through them with a rabble of belligerent ewes present. Sal is in a similar position to the young lady in a short shirt, trying to exit the sports car with dignity under the eyes of the drinkers in the pub beer garden. I can see her pondering the situation. Eventually she abandons the idea, makes her way down to the next bridge and wiggles through that gate before catching up with me. Job done, home for the next job.
I don’t know whether you know, but a collection of similar stories appeared under the name ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’
Available as an ebook for a mere 99p.