For the majority of the year we have three groups of sheep: rams, main flock and off sorted animals (culls, wethers, and/or dogging sheep). The off-sorted group probably don’t need a guardian dog but the dogs seem to think that they do.
A couple of the dogs will move around to the other groups and visit but it’s typically the same dog(s) staying with the same lot of sheep. Even though all of the dogs might not be set with the same group of sheep, they still work collectively to deter predators. The land is still crisscrossed and marked by dogs (several different dogs - giving any outsider the impression that a pack lives here), the dogs are vocal and they often travel in pairs. In the winter all the sheep on the place are within a short distance of each other for ease of winter feeding. If one dog sounds the alarm, all the others know it and listen. If the alarm is urgent the other dogs are at attention and looking. If high excitement ensues and there is movement after something other dogs may leave their group of sheep and join in. Once again it is the dogs deciding who needs helps and who is going. (I’m still wondering how they sort it out).
It might happen that one of the dogs encounters a coyote on it’s own, but this would be more likely when one of the dogs goes for a walk about away from the rest and happens to cross paths with one. If a dog goes off in pursuit of a predator, at least one other dog will know it and will join in. Zeus primarily works on his own, and sometimes he and his rams are well apart from the others. So if any of our guardians are going to face coyotes alone chances are it would be him. Zeus did have a partner, but we lost Willow a couple years ago and have not yet replaced her because the rams have been closer to home since then due to washed out fence lines.
There is always a dynamic chorus of events taking place, within the greater landscape around us and within the hub of our place and everywhere in between. Very seldom is something ever ‘just-this-way’ because it needs to be - and that is the beauty of working with nature.
|File photo, from the archives|