Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lessons for a Novice Farmhand

Things I learned yesterday:

1) There’s a place for a direct casting dog.

As a novice or hobby sheepdog handler, I think there’s a tendency to over-appreciate the wide working dog. Especially on the cast. It seems safer, calmer, gives us more thinking time. Less risk of Bad Things happening. And it looks very impressive when you’re just focussed on the dog sailing away over the horizon, rather than the livestock.

If our dog is running out fairly straight, there are a million and one methods of persuading them to go wider, from stopping and resending, to hurling clods of earth or pieces of poly pipe, to fanning the air with garden implements and chanting mantras (“Keep off! Keep off!). I can’t tell you which one I think works best, because I’m sure they are all effective, to different degrees depending on the handler and the dog. Personally, as a rank beginner, I’ve had a bit of success and a bit of failure with more than one method (except with Bill, who doesn’t do training). One thing I haven’t tried is training dogs to run fences- some people specifically train dogs to go out to the fence and run along inside it to find their sheep. This might work okay if you only ever work dogs in trials and at home in small paddocks, but I don’t think it would be very useful otherwise.

Yesterday’s “wish I had my video camera” moment:
red dam casting pic

Mob of sheep in the Red Dam paddock, starting to camp up on the right hand side of the paddock, at the bottom of the gully half way down. From the gate, about 300m up the fenceline above them, I sent out Bill and Queani. They both see the sheep before they’re sent. Queani runs out wiiide. She’s heading out to the left, parallel to the gully before she angles across it and heads up the hill, still running out. Bill goes straight down the paddock, slanting out only slightly until he hits the bottom of the gully, where he suddenly arcs out and around the mob. By the time Queani is coming close to 12 o’clock, the mob are started up the hill to the gate, and she has to cut in and chase after them.

At the gate in Red Dam
Mob at the gate of Red Dam paddock
Bill isn’t a great casting dog. Not even a good casting dog- he’s just adequate. He tends to focus too much on the sheep at hand and not think about the big picture, which can predispose to missing sheep. I probably should do some “look back” work with him. Queani is a great dog for mustering- she doesn’t run the fences, she’s just thinking big, and she’ll try to cover the whole paddock. But as she demonstrated yesterday, sometimes thinking big is really inefficient.

My ideal casting dog is Fred. Back when he wasn’t thirteen, deaf and pigheaded, he could reliably gather all sorts of tricky paddocks, over hills and into scrub without missing anything. I tried to video him once, but made the common novice parenting error of tying a young dog to the pram so I could operate the camera, and when I sent Fred the young dog tried to go too, taking the infant Farmboy with her. The quality of my subsequent filming was understandably poor. Anyway, you’ll just have to trust my description. Fred would start his cast not dissimilarly to Bill- fairly directly from handler’s feet- but he’d run out with his head up, looking and, I’m sure, smelling for sheep. If he suspected some outside the line of his cast, he’d kick out to include them, so his line would end up being something like an inverted pear, but with lots of little bumps. An inverted head of broccoli, perhaps.

Interestingly, Fred started life as a very straight casting dog, just like Bill. And apparently R’s approach to widening him out was… nothing. He worked him on the farm, and Fred figured it out.

I know I could teach Queani to come in on command, but I can’t be bothered, and of course many direct dogs are taught to move out, but Bill doesn’t do training. And with the two of them I have it basically covered.

2) I am far too feeble to lift an average merino ewe onto a quadbike.

feeble woman quad bike pic

And this is a necessary skill for any Novice Farmhand. I need to hit the weights.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is that a dead puppy on our verandah?


pup flat out

Good Lord, there are bodies everywhere!

dogs flat out

No, not Queani too!

queani flat out

Exercise- it can be fatal.