By Stacey Rember
I have been asked to write about using dogs in a commercial sheep operation. I thought it would be an easy topic as it is what we do. I thought wrong, it's taken me 2 days of trying to put into words how we work together. Training is essential but the biggest part for me at least is the trust that we need to share. Trust that they will listen, trust that they will think on their own. Sometimes there is no flank command, no lie down, sometimes it's only their name and yet they understand perfectly.
So here goes….
Our first sheep arrived in the summer of 2005, 6 ewe lambs. We had an area that was difficult to mow and thought it would be fun for our 2 young daughters. Little did we know how much WE would enjoy them. We borrowed a ram from a neighbour and our sheep adventure began. Our flock grew and we presently have approximately 400 ewes.
We have a lot of sheep housed in 5 different barns. A confinement system for the most part with the mature ewes going out to pasture after weaning their lambs. Purebred and replacement ewe lambs stay in the main barn with access to paddocks. This year we lambed out 4 different groups (finished group #4 this morning!) with the first group starting mid-January. Management of the ewes is key as their due dates get closer and they need to be brought to the main barn where they will lamb.
Years ago, this was a nerve wracking experience and it would take us half the morning to set up netting, position every tractor, use every gate and piece of plywood that we could find to get the ewes from one barn to another. And then we started using a border collie….
Now our dogs are essential to the management of our sheep. They do everything from holding the dry ewes off of the hay feeders to gathering a large group out of the woods. And every job in between. Lambing, shearing, vaccinating, sorting etc etc. Sometimes you don’t actually need to use your dog but I’ve learned the hard way to never go to the barn without at least one!
And then there are the situations that happen because that’s what happens when you deal with sheep…..
- the 2 ewe lambs that are just small enough to squeeze between the bars and decide to go for a walk about
- the 3 ewes that duck under the trailer door and bolt for parts unknown each heading in a separate direction
- the ewes that escape after dark and scatter all over the farm
- the same 4 lambs that are ALWAYS in the aisle and honestly you’re just tired of catching them
I cannot imagine being without my dogs. They are my every day. My passion.