Dulce et decorum est



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.


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23 thoughts on “Dulce et decorum est

  1. Liz Wright May 14, 2017 at 6:05 pm Reply

    Did I ask you for basc details or may I just buy you a camera and get that sent to you? I’ll send receipt so you know how much it was.

    • jwebster2 May 14, 2017 at 7:52 pm Reply

      seems sensible. Apparently someone told me that whatever else I get it needs ” 1/ a macro function and 2/ the ability to manually select the “white balance”. ”
      (Hopefully the manual will explain these to me 🙂 )

  2. […] Reblogged from Jim Webster: […]

    • jwebster2 May 15, 2017 at 6:14 pm Reply

      glad you liked the erudite sophistication 🙂

  3. roughseasinthemed May 15, 2017 at 6:18 pm Reply

    And sometimes I just sits.

    • jwebster2 May 15, 2017 at 6:27 pm Reply

      yep, if I find the right photo that might be the title of the sequel 🙂

      • roughseasinthemed May 15, 2017 at 6:39 pm

        Need man in flat hat from Yorkshire …

      • jwebster2 May 15, 2017 at 6:41 pm

        or perhaps a dog in flat cap, probably have to be a whippet though 😉

      • roughseasinthemed May 15, 2017 at 7:02 pm

        Aye. Whippets are good. Yorkies are good too I hear tell. I have podencos. Nasty little pieces of work they are, I tells ya.

      • jwebster2 May 15, 2017 at 7:20 pm

        Has to be said that given the nature of the anecdotes, it really demands a Border Collie. I’ll have to see if I can get Sal to wear a cap 😉

  4. Marilyn Armstrong May 15, 2017 at 10:18 pm Reply

    I never looked at it from the sheepdog’s point of view. I promise not to run around and aggravate my sheepdogs!

  5. patriciaruthsusan May 17, 2017 at 10:57 am Reply

    Good story and writing, Jim. I’ve never spent time around farm animals but could picture what was happening from your descriptive writing. A sheepdog owned by my parent’s neighbors once tried to herd my toddling son. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2017 at 11:27 am Reply

      Apparently this is relatively common. A friend of mine remembers their family had a Border Collie when he was a child, and when a bunch of them would go out to play, the dog would stay at home with Mum. But when tea was ready or the children were wanted, she’d just send the dog to fetch them. This the dog would do, even if it involved a two mile trip across town. All appropriate children would be gathered up and brought home 🙂

  6. patriciaruthsusan May 17, 2017 at 12:12 pm Reply

    The odd thing was the dog was a stray. She was going to have puppies when she was abandoned near those people’s home and her original owners must not have realized her value. They probably could have sold the puppies even though they weren’t full-blooded sheep dogs. That area in the U.S. state of Ohio wasn’t sheep country, though. The neighbors took her in, found homes for her puppies, and she was a lovely pet. If my dad had been younger he would have probably taken one of her puppies. He thought she was great. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm Reply

      we’ve had dogs who would work cattle and sheep. Old Jess could. With cattle the dog just needs to be a bit ‘firmer’. Don’t suppose many in the US work cattle with dogs

  7. patriciaruthsusan May 17, 2017 at 12:39 pm Reply

    I haven’t heard of it. 🙂

  8. patriciaruthsusan May 17, 2017 at 12:57 pm Reply

    That was great, Jim. Those dogs are so smart. Thanks for the film clip. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm Reply

      Ought to put a warning out, this blog is inadvertently educational 🙂

  9. patriciaruthsusan May 17, 2017 at 1:01 pm Reply

    🙂 🙂

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