It has to be said that Sal, for all her many excellent points, is not the dog that old Jess was. For those of you who know your Terry Pratchett, Jess worked on the Granny Weatherwax principle of, ‘If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.’ Thus I’d go so far as to say that every animal on the farm knew that Jess was in charge. Indeed I suspect that there’s another Granny Weatherwax quote that suited her. “She’d never mastered the talent for apologizing, but she appreciated it in other people.”
Sal on the other hand is a dog who is distinctly less dominant. In fact there are times when she seems noticeably nervous. She has no problem with sheep in the normal run of things. She has the sort of canine profile which every sheep recognises. Indeed judging from their attitude to her, she fits somewhere into the wolf category. So they treat her with a reserved respect.
When it comes to ewes with young lambs, all bets are off and the ewes regard her as a serious threat. Thus they treat her with a truculence that Sal seems to find somewhat hurtful. It’s one thing when the ewe stamps her foot at you and glares; when you are merely going about your business attempting to move sheep. But it’s a very low blow when you are just bimbling about minding your own business and a ewe comes thundering in from stage left with her head lowered.
Then there is the cattle problem. Sal was introduced to cattle after several years of working with sheep. She wasn’t actually called upon to work with cattle, it was winter and they were just in pens around the yard. So she would just go into the pens as part of her normal ‘making sure everything is as it should be’ patrols. The cattle would regard her with interest, I’ve seen her standing there with heifers clustered round her, sniffing her.
This is excellent for community relations, but it isn’t good for discipline. So on the occasions when Sal has been called upon to work with cattle, they often ignore her. Or alternatively they walk across to renew the acquaintanceship. Still provided she doesn’t get in the way they’re perfectly happy to walk quietly home and let her drift along behind them giving the impression that she’s in charge.
Except that the other day, one cow, wandering along at the back, suddenly looked up, saw Sal and for some reason this irritated her. So she put her head down and lumbered towards Sal who decided that discretion was the better part of valour and swiftly left. Had the shade of old Jess been watching at that point, she would be shaking her head in disbelief! In Jess’s day the cow wouldn’t even have considered that course of action. Strange cattle who didn’t know her were given a brisk lesson in courtesy.
But yesterday Sal met her first toddler. The toddler was utterly smitten with Sal, and Sal seemed entirely delighted by the toddler. The toddler wanted to play with Sal, and Sal seemed entirely happy to play with the toddler.
Now obviously I was a little nervous. Even when playing, a dog could give to the child a painful nip, even if it didn’t draw blood. Hence I was watching this like a hawk. The toddler would creep up behind Sal, shout boo, and run off shouting nerr nerr nerr nerr. Sal would dance after him, and overtake him. They played together happily for nearly an hour as mum, grandma and I walked round the estate. At one point the toddler was referring to Sal as ‘my dog’.
I wonder if it’s worth registering Sal as a child minder?
Then what do I know? Ask the dog…..
As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”