Monday, August 6, 2012

Sheep Drive!

So yesterday was definitely a "one for the book" kinda day.

RESDA was asked by the Sonoma County Fair, late Friday afternoon, to provide some sheepdogs and handlers to help escort a flock of sheep from downtown Santa Rosa to the fairgrounds, in a form of a "sheep drive" that would be a publicity event for Farmers' Day, Sunday, at the Fair. Their initial sheepdog handlers had fallen through for some reason and the Fair event organizers were down to the last minute to find someone to fill the spots. Last year, for the Fair's 75th Anniversary, they organized a cattle drive along the same route. This year, the Fair organizers were very excited about their "sheep drive" for the 76th year of the fair.

Oh my. At first we were very concerned about whether the dogs would be safe around vehicles including tractors, police cars, and just cars on the street. But when we heard the Fair's plan and it sounded like the dogs would be mostly for "show" we agreed to help. Handlers agreed that dogs would mostly remain on their leashes and that no one would "be a hero" under any circumstances.

Sunday morning seven RESDA handlers and dogs were vanned to Courthouse Square from the Fairgrounds, to meet our flock! There were tons of spectators about, and loads of photographers. Cameras and phones were snapping wildly! I was so glad that Coal is pretty friendly as folks were bending down to take his picture, and pet him, and admire him almost the minute we hopped out of the transport van. (That in itself was quite a feat as they sent a chrysler mini-van to pick us up and we crammed all seven dogs and handlers in, just like in a high-school prank!)

With the help of several show lambs on halter and lead, and a bale of hay on the back of the ATV leading the way, we set off down Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa. We had a plan to have a dog and handler on either side of the front, two on each side, and the other three following behind to trail from the rear.  Upon release and turning the corner onto Fourth, immediately the sheep bolted past us and pooled into a couple of storefronts, jumping past a boatload of spectators on the sidewalk. Oh my! So much for our plan! But once we pulled them out of the storefronts then the sheep seemed pretty happy to file along behind the ATV, grabbing for bites of hay and calling for their buddies along the way. It's a good thing none of the storefront doors were open. They might have had "Maude" and "Vanessa" stepping up for nail or hair appointments.

The parade route was, we were told, just over a mile, but on asphalt the whole way. I was very glad that it was an overcast day. About halfway along the sheep got very hot. In our position along side the front leaders, I could feel the heat pouring off the big Suffolk ewes (big enough to saddle, almost) who were the leaders - former show sheep all-  and very people-friendly. Apparently they don't go for brisk walks, often, and once they started to tire then herding them along got a bit simpler. That is, until the white-faced dorsets in the back of the group decided it was time for a coup. They were a little plucker than the big Suffolks and it took just a little convincing to keep them in line. Luckily there were almost more helpers than sheep. We had plenty of help from people with out dogs, and some FFA lambs on halters who were bringing up the rear, with mounted riders on horse back behind that. There really wasn't too much that the sheep could do wrong.  Coal figured out his (weird) job very quickly. I kept him one step ahead of the big Suffolks in the lead so that they could not get past the ATV leading them. If needed he would head them but then dropped back if they behaved. I just wonder what he thought of such a strange and hurried adventure with sheep! Making a moving sort of "fence" I held my crook out behind us so that between Coal, his long leash, and myself and my crook we covered probably 10 feet+ of space along side the sheep to keep them in line. It worked. Whew!

Ahead of us there was a merry brass band on a hayrack, playing songs like "76 Trombones" and the like. Maybe there were other songs with the number 76 in them but I was also too busy to notice, watching my sheep! The whole event was very old school. Behind the mounted riders there were antique tractors, a cowboy on stilts doing rope tricks, and more Fair directors and politicians riding and waving on hay racks. Just a small town Fair parade on a Sunday morning. Yeah!  It was nice to see, old school stuff when normally so much emphasis is placed in this area on the "upscale" and on the wine industry. Not that the wine industry is bad or anything but it was nice to see the emphasis placed on the other side of the local agriculture scene for just a while.

Today's Santa Rosa Press Democrat featured the photos on the front and back pages of the first section. There we were in full color! And RESDA got a nice comment in the news article. You can see and read it all, here:

Press Democrat link to sheep drive article

For just the photo gallery, click here;

Press Democrat photo gallery of sheep drive

Normally I do not pull other photographer's photos but giving credit where credit is due, I don't feel so badly. Anyway here are a few of the photos by PD photographer, Christopher Chung (who walked the whole parade route with us, snapping photos the entire way). He got some good shots.

If you can find Coal and me in four of these five photos, you are correct!
The next post will be about the RESDA trial at the Sonoma County Fair, which was held on Saturday, the day before the now-legendary sheep drive.

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