Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sheep Chores

All of our sheep are up to date now on their vaccinations and worming and foot trimming as of yesterday's all-hands-on-deck session. Kind of like a barn raising, in miniature. :) It is a bit of work to maintain even just a few sheep for dog training. We try to keep them healthy. When you (the handlers) are a bit older, you are pretty careful about getting hurt while doing these chores. None of us wants to get caught by a Scottie's horn or stepped on by a sheep on your bad foot. It took a couple of sessions, because we have sheep in two locations, but now everyone is done. Well, I take that back. One set of sheep still needs one round of the other kind of wormer, but that will not be too bad a chore (no shots, no hoof trimming).

And, the guardian dogs have to have heartworm preventive and flea/tick stuff too..just like the border collies.

I was listening to a conversation a while back, in which one successful trialler was saying how he just rotates sheep in and out. His main focus is on being competitive with his dog(s) in the trials.  It is one way to go, that way you have fresh sheep to work, and you avoid the upkeep of maintaining a healthy long-term flock. But on the other hand, as another person in the conversation pointed out, some handlers actually like sheep. :) They are a big part of the equation and they are the basis for the sheepdog/shepherding culture (for lack of a better word) that we enjoy. Two outlooks, two methods, both participants in the same activity.

My dogs are just happy that we have sheep!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Did You Get Started with Sheepdogs?

In a few conversations over the weekend with other handlers, this little blog topic floated up to the surface. But to be successful, it will require some participation.

I am wondering how other people got started with sheepdogs.  Are you fascinated with sheepdogs and the amazing ability to move sheep around a field or a course? Is it absolutely enthralling to wonder how they can balance sheep on the tip of their nose and drive them?

Here are some of the comments I have heard over the years, but I would love to list more and hear answers from others:

* I was at the Cow Palace with our daughter showing bulls and we saw the RESDA sheepdog trial there and were fascinated!

*I have driven by the Sonoma Wine Country trial every year and by golly, this year I decided to stop!

*I had been raising sheep for years and always went to Sonoma County Fair to watch the RESDA trial. A RESDA handler gave me a retired dog to help me load my lambs into the trailer and do odd chores.

* I wanted a border collie as my next dog; I had an aussie mix who resembled a border collie and the next time I wanted the real thing.

* I was doing agility (or obedience, or......) and wanted to try "herding" with my border collie, and I got hooked when I went to a sheepdog training clinic.

* We were on vacation in (name a state or country) and stopped by a local sheepdog trial just to watch for a few minutes, and we were interested enough to stay all day. We bought a dog on that trip.

* It was a natural progression from being involved with horses.

* I got a border collie as a companion, and wanted to try doing what it was bred for.

* We had some grass that needed eating down, so I got a few sheep to avoid mowing. Then I wanted my border collie to be able to move them when needed, so I called a trainer for a few lessons.

Let me know your story.........I am interested. :)

Monday, March 23, 2015


Here locally, we have three open trials in a row on subsequent weekends. This could be a good thing, or a not so good thing, depending on your perspective. Personally I was wishing that the three trials could be a bit more spread out. I only entered one of them, mainly feeling unprepared at the very early date this year when entries had to be sent in. Over the winter I'm really limited on how much I can train or even condition my dogs, so until we change the clocks I only work them on  the weekends and maybe squeezing in a very short practice during the week.

Last weekend we went to Zamora to watch the open trial, one day. It was tough going, even tougher than I could remember the four times that Coal and I ran. I was sort of glad I had not entered Coal. I didn't feel prepared enough to enter, when the entries opened, so I didn't. The sheep were fast and didn't mind turning on the speed if the dog took the tiniest wrong move, at least "wrong" in their opinion. It was fun to see everyone, though, and it was interesting being there in person for a few good runs (or good parts of runs) to see them. I like seeing runs where handlers demonstrate good stockmanship (or stockwomanship as the case may be).  I'm not sure this is a popular view but it is my view. On the drive home from Zamora we discussed what might have been done to better handle the course from this angle, and that. Even when the sheep are tough, we as handlers still need to try to run with straight lines and tight turns. It's a tall order, I know.

This weekend was Sonoma Wine Country. I had entered Coal in one Open class. We did OK, not stellar, but not terrible. I was happy with the outrun, lift, and fetch but our drive was not so good...we skimmed both panels without making them so our drive point deductions were massive. We timed out in the shedding ring, having got there with only about a minute to go. The sheep were very fit and healthy and moved more off of people than I might have expected. It was a beautiful weekend with some refreshing rain overnight which is sorely needed, but not enough to spoil the trial at all.  There were a lot of the very competitive open handlers in attendance at this trial (similar to Zamora) and as a result, there were some very nice runs and some high scores. There were also a lot of uncompleted runs and low scores or no scores so I did not feel so badly about Coal's and my (what I felt was a solid) attempt to attack the flat field course. At least we got the sheep around the course without losing them and I did try for those correct lines and tight turns even if we didn't quite accomplish them all the way around.

Next weekend is McCormack Ranch, which I didn't enter at all. Now I am feeling a bit regretful that I didn't enter Coal in that one. But I didn't enter so I have to live with that. Ahh well it's only a sheepdog trial and we are not that competitive anyway, but since Coal is now 8 1/2 years old I am wondering if I have waited too long to try to get to more Open trials. It's getting harder and harder to get into the trials, too. The waiting lists are sometimes long.

It's always interesting, listening to others' perspectives at the trials. Some of the topics include: working with the dog(s) that you have, vs. ( I suppose) buying new dogs to be more competitive. Another is, those who really enjoy and like sheep and being good shepherds, and in contrast, those who view the sheep (and maybe the dogs too, I am not totally sure) more as tools to a competitive end, a sport, more of a game than it is for me. None of these views are wrong.

Getting a score and looking good to the outside eye on the trial field is not always a barometer of one's success at attaining and working towards goals.  There are so many moving parts underneath the surface in this activity that may not be noticed or viewed. But yet they are all important, and for those working on conquering some more private speedbumps and twists/turns in the road, those little victories are something to cheer about.  All of this, I do know! And such is my rambling commentary on recent trials. :)