Shepherds' Crook Fall Farm Trial - 2023

By Rebecca Lawrence

*Photo credits to Rebecca Lawrence and Michelle Lawrence

The pen has closed on another successful fall trial at Shepherd’s Crook.

Have you ever wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes at a dog trial?  This year I had the opportunity to see how much work goes into preparing for a trial, starting months ahead of the actual trial date!  I found it such a fascinating learning experience that I wanted to share my newfound knowledge with my fellow handlers who have not had the opportunity to put on a trial.

Kevan and Viki start planning for the Shepherd’s Crook Trial many months ahead of time. In January, they finalize the date of the trial, after looking for possible conflicts with other trial dates and their own schedules. This year, as Kevan was a member of Team Canada at the ISDS World Sheepdog Trials in Ireland, the dates he would have to be away also had to be considered.  The selected dates play an important role in Kevan’s flock planning for when he puts rams in with the ewes for breeding and the time of weaning  the lambs, so that the ewes are healthy and fit to participate in the trial.  By having the date finalized in January, Viki can submit the trial for sanctioning to the USBCHA, OBCC and NEBCA at the start of February, so that the trial can be listed on their respective websites. This allows handlers to start planning our own calendars early in the year.   (Yes, they have already started to look at possible dates for 2024!)

Once the dates are selected, Viki then starts the process to locate a judge for the trial.  Kevan and Viki like to bring an imported judge from the UK; which means Viki gets to go through her Rolodex, Facebook friends list, and she may contact previous judges for suggestions on possible candidates.  This usually takes her between four to six weeks to locate, contact, and winnow through the list to find someone who would like to fly to Canada to judge three long days of dog trialing.

Then it is lambing time for them both, and the trial planning goes on pause!

July is a busy month as Viki reaches out to the judge to arrange flights and to see if the judge would like to come for just the trial dates or would they like to do some sightseeing while they visit Canada.  If the latter, then the cost for it is also part of the trial budget.  The entry form is posted with the opening and closing dates, the latter is usually three to four weeks before the trial date.  Kevan arranges for the tent crew (Taylor & Chris) for set-out pens.  Ribbons, port-a-potties, blankets for the overall winners in each class, novice prizes and tent crew costs are added to the expenses.  Kevan works on preparing his flock and fields in the months leading up to the trial to make sure everything will be ready, and in good shape for the trial.  Unlike other parts of Ontario, Shepherd’s Crook received plentiful amounts of rain this year, which led to a delay of the first cut of hay being in July.

In August, the rotational grazes are planned and begin to be implemented to shorten the pasture lengths in the trial fields to make for easier trialing.  Kevan also must plan future grazes for the trial duration, so that the sheep would be well fed during the trials;  as well as reserving grazes for the lambs/unfit ewes to use during the trial.  Viki contacts the caterer and provides them with the approximate number of meals that will be required; yet another budget item that she keeps track of on her trial spreadsheets.

In September, Kevan and Kim go into high gear getting the farm ready for the trial! (Last year Kim repainted the Open panels so that they would be nice and visible to the handler at the post.  This year, on the day Kevan and Kim left for the World Trial, they went through their gardens clearing them out for the autumn.  Kim likes to have a pretty welcome for the handlers as they arrive at Shepherd's Crook!  Scott and Chris Gretton did a second cut of the upper half of the Open field at the beginning of September, so that the pasture would be short enough for our dogs to find their sheep.)  In mid-September, it is time to wean the lambs so that the ewes have plenty of time to dry up and get fit for the trial.  Weekly fecal samples are collected, and analyzed, to make sure the sheep are healthy. The sheep also have weekly foot baths and hoof trims as needed to keep their feet in tip-top shape.   By the end of the month, Kevan and Viki are in constant communication, planning for the judge pickup, and reviewing the spreadsheets budgets.   Viki has a separate Shepherd’s Crook Trial bank account which allows her to keep an accurate account of income and expenditures for the trial.  Viki goes through all the entries and refunds for the trial, and reaches out to people on the wait list, so that she can prepare her first draft of the running order.  This is posted online so that handlers can review it and let her know if there are any changes to be made.

The final week before the trial is chock-full of final preparations!  Any ewe that is unfit to trial is moved from the main flock to the lamb flock by Kevan and his team.  The port-a-potties are delivered for Kevan to set up.  Viki notifies the caterer of the final number of meals required for the handlers dinner. She then calculates all expenses for the trial. Viki arranges for her final running orders, scribe sheets and score sheets to be printed. She goes to the bank to get the payout funds so she can prepare the envelopes once she arrives at Shepherd’s Crook.  The blankets, novice prizes, and ribbons are made ready to be distributed to the winners.  Kevan and Viki review the final running order to organize the set-out and scribe lists. Kevan and his team (which has been Sue Moore and me the past two years), spend several days setting up the grazes for the trialing ewes, and the weaned lamb flock, as well as the exhaust sheep.  The set-out pens and handling equipment are erected in both the Novice field and the Open field, and relevant farm gates are covered in tarps to discourage the trial ewes from the draws.  Water containers are moved on to both fields for the set out and exhaust dogs. On the day before the trial, the last of the set up is completed: port-a-potties, handlers tent, panels, post, pens, blinds, exhaust pools and the Open exhaust gate are put in place in preparation for the handlers' arrivals that afternoon.

Each morning during the trial, Kevan’s team is out at six o’clock in the morning moving the trial ewes to their relevant set out pens.  The lambs/unfit ewes are moved to their graze once the trial begins each day.  Before the end of the trial, the latter are brought back into the barn while the trial ewes are returned to their night graze after the trial day is completed.   Kevan still must do all his normal farm chores each day (for example: feeding guardian dogs, orphan lambs, farm upkeep, etc).  Along with running their dogs, both Kevan and Viki are kept busy throughout the trial handling all the issues that arise during it.  Kim is working hard behind the scenes feeding the judge, Kevan, Viki and the tent crew as well as being a gracious hostess to all the handlers. (As an aside, thank you so much Kim for the loan of your drover’s coat when I ran out of dry rain gear.  I guess three sets wasn’t enough!   And here I thought I was overpacking.)

When the last run is done, various handlers help the trial team to strike the Open field so that the trial ewes can have their graze back!

Post trial, Kevan makes sure the judge is seen safely off at the airport.  Viki must complete and submit the trial results and sanctioning fees to the USBCHA, and the trial results to the OBCC and to NEBCA.  Once it is complete, it is time for Kevan and Viki to start thinking and planning for next year’s trial!

For this year’s trial, the Open field was a challenging course, requiring the dogs to feel comfortable leaving one field and to go through an open gate on either side of the sending field and cross into another field and over a ditch (spring runoff) to fetch the sheep.  The packet of sheep had to be brought back across the ditch, through the fetch panels and through another gate in the middle of the fence before continuing with the normal post turn, drive, cross drive, shed and pen.   Shepherd’s Crook Trial has a second field for the Novice trials that is a relatively flat field that allows the novices to not lose sight of their dog and sheep during the whole run.

On Saturday, in the ‘nicest’ weather of the weekend, Team Canada represented! Tracy Hinton & Lad won the day, and Kevan Gretton & Bud came in reserve. I wonder if their recent experience with the Irish weather gave them a leg-up for the day? Ranch 1 was won by Marilyn Terpstra & Euchre, the reserve was Louise Hadley & Boone.  Nursery 1 was led by Mary Thompson & Rain, and the reserve was Marilyn Terpstra & Euchre.

On Sunday, the Novice Day’s weather was cold and miserably wet.  Novice-novice 1 and 2 was won by Rachel Duncan & Buck with Felicia Pinos & Cove as the reserve.   Pro-Novice 1 was led by Mary Thompson & Rain with Kelly Morrow & Ginny as reserve.   Pro-Novice 2 was won by Kathy Keats & Tess and reserve was Anne Wheatley & Rye .  Mary Ann Duffy & Bonnie won Ranch 2 with the reserve Kelly Morrow & Ginny.  In Nursery 2, Marilyn Terpstra & Euchre won with Mary Thompson & Rain as the reserve.

On Monday’s cold, wet, blustery, and even more miserable weather day, Tracy Hinton & Lad won again! Christine Koval & Nick were the reserve.

A huge thank you to our judge, Eamon “Curly” McAuley who had to sit through three days of some very wet and windy weather, and our set out crew of Taylor Van Schaik (who gave up the opportunity to trial her dog and instead spend three days never escaping the weather! Thank you “Housekeeping”!) and the always reliable Chris Gretton deserve lots of thanks! Thank you to Sue Moore, my cohort in early morning and late afternoon flock management at the trial (stupid lambs)! To all the handlers who volunteered for set out and scribing, a thank you as well!

My biggest thank you goes to Kevan & Kim Gretton and Viki Kidd for all their months of planning, hard work and hosting a trial that is always well enjoyed by our community of handlers! I sincerely appreciate the work you put into Shepherd’s Crook Trial each and every year.

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