Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Overview

English Shepherds are/should be control freaks. They understand rules and want those rules followed. That is one of the things that makes it easier to work with them on your own stock and one of the things that often makes it frustrating to work them off your property and with strange stock.

English Shepherds are “loose eyed” dogs and thus work closer in to their stock than border collies. While some dogs will bark at particularly stubborn stock, if a dog is barking almost constantly it lacks confidence and you will have to be extra careful in starting that dog to build confidence.

The first thing I do when starting a young dog (and young isn’t age related but determined by experience) is develop a bond with the dog. This means I spend time with the dog in a variety of situations, teaching the dog to respect me and fostering its desire to be with me. I will take the dog with me doing chores. Depending upon the dog and the situation, this may mean the dog is dragging a line to ensure I can control its behavior. While I don’t directly focus on the dog, after all I am doing chores, I do make sure the dog isn’t getting into trouble and is staying close (how close is a personal choice.) When I have a dog that is sticking with me doing chores, coming back to check in frequently on off-leash walks and has rudimentary obedience skills as well as self-control I’ll evaluate whether or not the dog is mentally and physically mature enough to start working stock. This is also dependent upon my stock. I won’t work a young dog on ewes with young lambs.

If I’m going to work stock with a dog, I will wait to do serious obedience training until AFTER I have started working stock. While I want the dog responsive to me, I want the dog’s focus on stock. A dog who focuses on the handler is either going to be less effective in working stock or, worse case scenario, is going to get hurt by not paying attention to the stock. It is very important to remember that if you want a partner, you have to ensure the dog is capable of making decisions and not expecting you to make all the decisions for him/her. All the dogs I train are taught self-control early on so that the dog is making GOOD decisions on its own and so that I’m not constantly telling the dog to do or not to do something.

It is also critical that you set your dog up to be successful and not to fail. While corrections are, in my opinion, a necessary part of training, corrections rarely have a place in “teaching”. Until the dog understands what is required and knows how to avoid a correction, it isn’t fair to correct the dog. Once I move out of teaching and into training, I can set it up so the dog has to make the right decision under more challenging circumstances, but again I have to ensure the dog is prepared for the challenge and I’m not expecting something I can’t reasonably expect.

The age you start a dog is not critical as long as the dog is mentally and physically ready to start. What is critical is that you haven’t done things to “turn the dog off”. I’ve seen pups that were put on stock too young and a single bad experience was sufficient to turn the dog off working stock permanently. I’ve seen older dogs that had been discouraged as pups from interacting with livestock who wouldn’t work as they got older. I’ve also seen dogs bounce back from traumas that you would have thought sufficient to turn them off permanently — my first ES got kicked by a steer so hard it knocked him across a pen, gave him a concussion and broke a molar. He tried, unsuccessfully because of the concussion, to get up and continue working.

Working poultry (chicken, turkeys, ducks), sheep, cattle and goats is challenging in different ways and some dogs will excel on one type of stock and yet may not be a good worker on another type of stock. The dog might be ready to work poultry very early on and not be ready for sheep, goats or cattle until much later. So just because your pup or dog doesn’t seem interested in working one type of livestock or another, don’t be discouraged. It may need more time just accompanying you doing chores or you may want to try starting on a different type of livestock. While I do use my ES to handle my American Guinea Hogs, I don’t recommend starting an inexperienced dog on hogs and I personally will NEVER use a dog to work horses. There are several reasons for that but it can be boiled down to a safety issue for both the dog and rider.

NOTE: The above was originally written a few years ago, when I was raising Katahdin sheep for lamb and was pasture raising American Guinea Hogs. I have downsized the number of sheep I have and the hogs are now in various freezers.


Collared Peccaries (Javalina)

The tour guide came through. He apologized for not sending photos of the javelinas we encountered Saturday but said the grasses obscured the animals, so he sent these he took at an earlier time instead. Note the thin white collars on the adults.

Quibeyn Farm in 2018

A couple of years ago, in a discussion with a friend, I reminded her that most plans/dreams did not actually come to fruition. There are many reasons for this – sometimes it is because of events outside of a person’s control and sometimes it is just because it is easier to make plans than actually implement plans. My many years of professionally training dogs (or rather owners) has made me painfully aware of the fact that the majority of people want something until they realize it is going to take time and effort on their part.

I had plans when I bought the farm in 2007. In the past ten years most of those plans have failed. Was it because of external factors or that I lacked the commitment to follow through? I suspect it was probably a combination of both.

So I am approaching 2018 with a more realistic outlook. In 2017 I took a hard look at the farm and decided that I was no longer willing to continue raising sheep. While I enjoyed the sheep, I was never able to reach a point where the sheep were self-supporting and the monies spent on the sheep meant I didn’t have funds for other things that needed to be accomplished. I came to the same realization about the American Guinea Hogs. The hogs were extremely personable and I always enjoyed watching the hogs come running across the pasture when I called, but it was evident that pasture raising hogs, at least in my circumstance, was not ever going to be a viable venture. While I downsized the sheep and kept a few ewes, the hogs are gone.

Other major changes include a return to being self-employed as of 2018. My plans for the farm in 2018 will hinge greatly on the income I can generate in the first four months of the year. I have sufficient hay in the barn to keep livestock fed until the next cutting of hay in May. At that time I will have to determine how much hay I can afford to buy and therefore, the numbers of stock I can afford to feed through another winter.

Going into 2018 the only knowns are that the chicks I bought in August should start laying in February or March. The possibilities are that if the does I exposed to bucks were indeed bred, I can expect kidding season to begin in February; if the ewes were indeed bred in November, I can expect lambing season to begin in April; and if the preservation center I pre-ordered from does not suffer any poultry losses this winter, I can expect 25 Icelandic chicks to be delivered the end of May.

In a nutshell, my plans for 2018 are to not have any concrete plans and to see what the year brings.

Where the Wild Still Roam (or Swim or Fly)

About 25 miles south of me is the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Serious birders everywhere in the United States probably recognize the name. Merchants, hoteliers and restaurateurs all welcome The Festival of the Cranes every fall. I’m not a fan of crowds and generally avoid venues where large numbers of people congregate so in the ten years I’ve lived in the area I’ve been to the Festival of the Cranes exactly once.

My goal for the upcoming year is to learn something about geology, birding, botany and astronomy so today a friend and I decided to take a guided tour of the Refuge. I learned quite a bit of interesting information about the migratory birds who winter at the Refuge as well as how the Refuge is managed. We saw bald eagles (three), several different types of hawks, kestrels, snow geese, Canadian geese, Sandhill Cranes, a Heron, a variety of water fowl (wet butt ducks, dry butt ducks and grebes), a couple of Snipes (yes, there really are Snipes), a couple of Shrikes, literally hundreds of Rio Grande Wild Turkeys, the ubiquitous coyote (and roadrunner, of course), several mule deer and the high point of the day – a herd of javelina (collared peccaries).

The serious enthusiasts all had very expensive cameras with huge telephoto lenses. I had my cell phone.

If you look carefully you can see the snow geese coming up off the water. If one of the tour guides follows through on a promise to send a photo or two of the javelinas he took with his very fancy camera with huge telephoto lens, I’ll update the post with a picture or two.

There are a lot of hiking trails in and around the Refuge and I hope to be able to spend some time hiking there this winter.


Farm Dog 101: Raising a Useful Farm Dog

Several years ago when I was asked how I started my pups working stock I wrote up some notes. I was then asked to turn those notes into an article, which I did, but the individual who requested it had moved on and the article languished unpublished. In the interests of being able to put up regular blog posts in 2018, I am going to use the article as the basis of the Farm Dog 101 posts for the next few months. This should be timely as now that Tuck has been officially retired, my plans of having Fix ease into being my primary chore dog have been altered. Fix has been accompanying me on chores since the day he arrived on the farm. Although the dynamics on the farm have changed since I brought him home in late May, Fix has a good understanding of the day to day routine and is already proving himself useful as a chore dog. However, what he lacks is the training to move livestock with direction; i.e., he can already move escaped goats back to the correct pen, or hens to the chicken coop at night if needed, but he does it without being told and without me telling him “how” to accomplish the task. By early spring Fix will be my “go to” dog when I need help moving livestock. Since I had anticipated Tuck continuing to work for at least a couple more years, over the past summer and fall Fix’ training on stock had been less of a priority. That has now changed. Fix now needs to know the basics of moving up on stock, stopping when he needs to or is told to, and how to influence movement by using a “go-bye” or “away”.

(For those interested in learning more about introducing puppies to farm work, I highly recommend an article in the current English Shepherds at Work Handbook published by the English Shepherd Club, Thoughts on Training Your Pup for Practical Farm Work. Full disclaimer: the article was written by a friend who happens to be the breeder from whom I purchased Tuck and Fix.)

Check back January 1st for the first Installment of Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd. All I ask is that you understand that my farm is different from your farm and my dogs are not your dogs, so following the posts by rote is not necessarily going to get you the dog you need for your farm. It is also very important to keep in mind that working livestock is only one small job of a useful farm dog. My dogs work year round even though I only pasture livestock part of the year. However, if you know what you need on your farm (and this can change from season to season or even day to day) and understand your dog, the basic principles outlined in the upcoming blog posts should be useful in helping you train your dog to do the job needed on your farm. The second thing I ask is that you respect my copyright and do not reprint a blog posts or any part of a blog post in any forum without asking permission first.

Coming to a Close

It is hard to believe that 2017 is drawing to a close. I have been told that time speeds up as one ages and I can agree with that statement. 2017 has brought many changes to the farm and my personal life. Hopefully these changes will turn out to be good choices as 2018 progresses.

It is even harder to believe that the tiny pup I brought home in May turned nine months old today. Due to health issues, Tuck was retired from working this fall and Fix will assume his duties come spring when the livestock start getting moved back to pasture. In the meantime, Fix is enjoying being unemployed. . .

Yesterday late afternoon chore time


This morning with his new bone

Thinking Outside the Box

I was talking with Fix’ (and Tuck’s) breeder several days ago and mentioned that I had been watering the horse in the pasture the previous night and forgotten to turn off the water. When I went out the next morning, the water was still running but since it had dropped below freezing, there were several patches of ice on the ground. Luckily, because the water was running, it prevented the frost-free hydrant from freezing.  Replacing hydrants is an expensive proposition, not even considering the work involved. Since even leaving a hose attached to a hydrant can cause the hydrant to freeze, I started unhooking the hose after every use year round so it became a habit and I didn’t have to stop and think about it during the winter months. She mentioned that she and her husband had often forgotten to turn off the water when they moved onto their farm and told me how they fixed that problem.

I couldn’t find the type of bands she uses, but a trip to the dollar store a few days ago netted five, glow in the dark, hair bands for a dollar. When the water is turned on, the band goes on my wrist. If I am wearing the band, it is a reminder that I need to turn off the water. When the water is turned off, the band is put back onto the hydrant. According to my friend, she and her husband haven’t forgotten the water since they implemented this system about six years ago. So here’s hoping the solution works as well for me.

Odd Weather

The weather this fall was unusually warm. However, the cold weather has moved in with a vengeance this past week. The other morning it was in the teens when I got up and was still below freezing shortly after 9 am. I think the high  was only 43 degrees. I had scheduled a propane delivery for next week, mainly just to take advantage of the propane pricing I had locked in last year that will expire shortly; however, if this weather continues I may actually have need of the delivery.

The borrowed ram has returned home and I’m hoping that he bred at least one ewe while he was here. The hogs are now gone – it was apparent that they weren’t going to pay for themselves and I didn’t want to spend another winter having to carry water out to the pasture every day.


On Loan

I sold off almost all of my breeding ewes when I sold lambs this past spring. I kept one ewe which had earned a retirement with me (no. 86) and four ewes which I considered “cull” ewes; i.e., if I had continued breeding for lamb I would have not kept these four either because of bag issues or because of poor productivity. However, since I had the ewes, and my neighbor who breeds New Mexico Dahl sheep was willing to loan me a young ram for breeding, I decided to breed the ewes for spring lamb which I could butcher for myself. In the past, I could never afford to put lamb in my freezer as I needed to make as much as I could off selling lamb and the meat in my freezer was generally mutton (which is actually quite good.)

Here is the young ram. He has been here a little over a week and will be leaving in early December. Am hoping that he manages to breed at least one ewe.

Autumn Gold

The weather has not been predictable for the past few years and this year has been no exception. It has been warmer than usual and the fall colors are just now peaking. I have only seen and heard a couple of groups of migratory birds over head – a far cry from the November ten years ago when I moved here.