Flock Moves

Whenever I write a sentence about moving the flock here or there, I am struck with how effortless, undemanding and immediate it sounds in writing. It is not. 

There is gathering the group on pasture which often takes the most time given the terrain, all the places for sheep to go unseen, and the number of animals to find. Once gathered, movement in the desired direction needs to happen. Starting the movement of a group of several hundred animals takes considerable effort, especially if they have set to milling and decided they don’t wish to go your direction.

Passing through gates with a large group is another task all its own. The lead animals will get well ahead and if they are turning a corner after the gate, it will draw the rear animals along the inside of the fence line, before they’ve passed through the gate. Lambs are particularly notorious for doing this. I’ve learned through a lot of botched attempts that bringing stragglers that are on the wrong side of the fence-line and pursuing the flock, back to the gate is an exhausting, frustrating task for human and dog. Better to be sure they all get through the gate in the first place.

Fall Move to Night Pen
When we are moving the flock from any pasture to the shed at the yard, there are at least two gates to navigate, often three. Stock dogs can be a real help or a real hindrance in this situation depending on their work tendencies and mine.  When I started using stock dogs I think I lost my cool most often when trying to navigate gates.

Once we’ve gathered the flock, traveled the route home, and negotiated all gates, there is still the task of convincing a large group of animals to move into a building. With the first few hundred animals in, the building seems pretty crowded to the remaining couple hundred. The lead animals are now convinced they need to turn around and come back out. Once again I have learned the most about doing this by having it not work on numerous occasions. I don’t know how I would I do it without the help of dogs.

Then there are all sorts of adventures that seem to happen to me on a regular basis.

Like gathering the flock and beginning the move off only to hear a far away bleat from two yearlings coming out of the bush. The premise of taking the many to the few is not the most efficient choice when it involves turning a few hundred animals around to pick up two.

Or following a trail home only to discover the low spot where it runs along the brush is under water and the lead animals are turning around and going elsewhere.

Or letting your mind wander a little too long as you walk with sheep (very easy to do) and trust your dog to keep up the back end. Then landing back in the present moment to find out your dog starting focusing straight in front of him and pushing a little to hard, thus ewes are dropping back and a handful are now left behind and because they have company they are content to go off to graze elsewhere.

Or that the guard dogs decide it’s time to play and the ewes scatter to avoid the ruckus.

My learning curve has been an amazing one.

Depending on which pasture the sheep are at, it can take upwards of an hour to gather, walk them home and file them into the shed. Getting them back out to pasture will take twenty minutes or less. On days that we are processing the whole flock the stock dogs will have worked an hour before we even get started with moving sheep in pens and through the race.

Summer Move to New Pasture
If we are moving the flock along a route they do not know there is more work to keep them headed in the desired direction. Once we travel a route three times, the ewes will know it. When moving in the springtime, or moving across a paddock with fresh regrowth, the challenge is moving ewes who want to stop to eat new grass. When moving from paddock to paddock for pasture rotations the ewes quickly become familiar with the reason for moving and lead ewes will often start the move just with a call or two from us. The stock dogs collect the far sheep who didn’t get the message about the move.

When moving I seldom concern myself with the guard dogs. If they are around, which nine times out of ten, they are, they move with the flock. If they are not they will soon return to discover their flock is gone.  I usually note which dogs I see but am not able to keep up with them on the move. The dogs take side trips along the route but always manage to end up at our final destination.

2 comments:

  1. Great blog......I only have 60 so my job is a piece of cake.....would like more......but circumstances, $$, and my age are factors that make me want to be careful....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for your comment. I think 60 is a nice number. Enough work to be busy with but not overwhelmed. Circumstances and $$ drive/hinder our growth as well.

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