You’ll see a lot about how to train dogs to work cattle, but actually you need to give nearly as much time to training the cattle to be worked by dogs. When you stop to think about it, One thousand kilos of bull shouldn’t really be all that bothered by ten kilos of dog.
That’s where the training comes in. A good dog will quietly do their job without a lot of fuss, gently chivvying the recalcitrant and just keeping things moving in the right direction.
We had a spell where we were dogless for a couple of years. Our dairy cattle rapidly realised this and celebrated this by ignoring me. The cow I was walking behind would walk forward; the others would stop and watch. Effectively unless I was going to bring each animal in individually, something was going to have to change.
So we acquired Boz. Boz was effectively third reserve on another farm because he was no good with sheep. So Boz’s owner was almost glad to be rid of him when he discovered I was looking for a dog. So in early middle age, Boz arrived.
He took to us immediately, the moment he discovered that he was ‘The’ dog. Not only that but his kennel (a disused cattle trailer) was strategically placed so that even when he was fastened up he could see what was happening all the time. Then the big moment came, we had to introduce him to the dairy herd. They were less impressed. Boz didn’t do the traditional run round the perimeter bringing them in, instead he just bimbled through them, stopping to sniff this one and in one case to cock his leg up against another. The cows took this badly, shaking their heads, lashing out with back feet and even half charging him. Boz ignored it completely. He didn’t apparently dodge, but the lashing hoof came nowhere near him. Once he’d passed through them and knew everybody was awake, he went to the far side of the herd and started moving them in the right direction.
It took him about a week to get them trained. He would walk into the field and it was if cows were saw him, muttered, “Good Grief, Boz is here, is that the time,” before looking at their watches and lumbering to their feet. No excitement, no fuss, just Boz quietly getting on with the job.
Sometimes the training has to be done more rapidly. We had a bunch of cattle escape onto our land from a neighbour’s farm. We gave them a couple of days to calm down and then Jess and I would get them out of the field and the neighbour and his team were waiting to move them along the road. The cattle, young, feckless, boundlessly fit and just aching for an excuse to run waited for us. Quietly Jess and I got them to the gate and then one of them turned to face back into the field. It started that slow practiced walk that can suddenly turn into a gallop. All the others were watching it with interest. It looked fun. Jess walked straight up to it and stood in front of it. This is unusual; dogs will normally go for the heels and turn the animal. To tackle it head on needs a dog for whom fear is something that happens to others. The heifer stopped and looked down at the dog, reaching out with its nose to sniff Jess. Jess snapped at the nose, her teeth clicking shut the thickness of a piece of tissue paper from it. The heifer stepped back, looked at Jess again, decided that it wasn’t going to be fun, and walked out of the gate onto the road. The others followed.
As Jess would say, “If you ain’t got respect, you got nothing.”
Oh yes, and talking about Jess
You might just fancy reading
As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”