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.


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.


New Beginnings

Several friends of mine took care of the farm for two weeks recently so I could travel out-of-state to pick up my next farm dog. I spent those two weeks back east – a week in Vermont and a second week in Pennsylvania. The shades of green in both places were truly beautiful and very different from home. However, things (mostly weeds of course) greened up here while I was gone and while the green may not be as vibrant it is nonetheless a very welcome change from the winter browns.

Before I left I had given considerable thought to where I wanted – and needed – to be with the farm to achieve my original goal of the farm being self-supporting. While I was willing to pay for fencing, maintenance, etc. I wanted the livestock to be profitable enough that expenses for hay and other items directly related to maintaining the livestock were not coming out of my pocket. After several years raising lambs, I finally acknowledged that the lambs were simply not paying for themselves and that my pocketbook was being steadily drained; hence the decision to sell off the sheep. At the current time, it hasn’t been determined whether or not the hogs will pay for themselves once I start selling hogs, although I suspect that the hogs, too, will be a money drain. The chickens are seasonal producers but because I really like fresh eggs, I’ll maintain a small flock of chickens.

In recent years, the only livestock pulling their weight have been the Nigerian Dwarfs. I am also addicted to their milk, another reason to keep goats. As I had started drying off my does prior to leaving on vacation, and expected my does to be dry when I returned, I made arrangements to buy a doe in milk on my return. The difficulties in finding a buck with an excellent milk pedigree whose owner was willing to let me health test and lease him resulted in me deciding to purchase a buckling. After considering the matter I decided to buy two bucklings, from different breeders and with different pedigrees but both out of excellent milking lines.

A well-known Nigerian Breeder was retiring and selling all of her breeding stock so, in addition to the doe in milk, when the puppy and I traveled to Tulerosa to pick up the doe in milk, I ended up buying the last two available does . Both does have been exposed to bucks for fall kiddings.

At the present time the three new does are housed in quarantine, and the two bucklings are also in separate quarters, all awaiting health test results. More information and photographs of the new additions will be forthcoming.

I am currently contemplating different arrangements for new pens which will give me more flexibility in separating dry does from those in milk, weaned kids and so on.

The new puppy has been home for just over a week now and has settled in very nicely. He is accompanying me on chores twice a day and learning the routine. He has also finally managed to get one of the older dogs to play with him a little.

If I just keep bugging her, maybe she’ll play . ..

Chase Games

Slopping Hogs

I repositioned the trough in the pig pasture the other day and then secured (I thought) it to the ground. I set it up away from the fence but close enough that I could use a section of PVC pipe to deliver milk from outside the fence. It worked well in the first use . . . .


Accessible from either side and accommodates the five hogs without fighting.

Unfortunately, despite driving U-bolts through the feet and into the ground, it only took a short time for the hogs to turn it upside down. On to Plan B (once I think of Plan B.)

Hog Wild

I have a surplus of milk right now. The logical use of the excess is to feed the hogs but feeding in the small round feeding pans causes a lot of friction and fighting. I have been looking for a pig trough for several months and have visited several feed stores with no success. None of the on-line sources I have used for livestock supplies carried troughs and an internet search wasn’t productive either. Out of the blue a few weeks ago a farm/ranch catalog for a company I have never heard of before showed up in my mailbox. I flipped through it and lo and behold, discovered a steel pig trough that was affordable (even with the high shipping and handling charges that come with something heavy and oversized.) I ordered it and the trough was delivered this week. I’ll need to figure out a way to secure it, but in the meantime I poured some milk into the trough this morning. Now if I can just convince the hogs not to stand in it, it should work fine . . . .




I’ll move it further from the fence when I secure it so that the hogs can access both sides and then use a piece of PVC pipe or gutter to transfer the milk without having to enter the pasture.

Fall Bounty

A couple of weeks ago friends gave me the spent grains from home brewing for the hogs - yum!

A couple of weeks ago friends gave me the spent grains from home brewing for the hogs – yum!

I bought a $5 box of windfall apples for the hogs over the Labor Day weekend

I bought a $5 box of windfall apples for the hogs over the Labor Day weekend

I also bought a few boxes of windfall / bruised peaches (have to pit peaches first as the hogs will eat the pits and too much cynanide is not a good thing)

I also bought a few boxes of windfall / bruised peaches (have to pit peaches first as the hogs will eat the pits and too much cynanide is not a good thing)

Summer Fun

A co-worker gave me some watermelon for the hogs last week. I forgot to bring it home so the next day I asked if it could be put in the freezer until today. I stopped at the pasture on my way down the drive to deliver the treat.



Its all mine!



Where’s mine?

The smaller three (Bok Choy, Hoggle, Hamlet) are better at sharing

The smaller three (Bok Choy, Hoggle, Hamlet) are better at sharing

New Housing

Finally, the new shelter for the hogs is finished. The automatic waterer was moved so it is inside the shelter and the shelter was divided into two sections – with a hog nipple accessible from each side.


Another hog panel divides the area behind the shelter and each section is set up with a drip for a wallow. Once the pasture gets fenced in “spokes” I’ll be able to rotate hogs in different sections of the pasture and will have the ability to keep hogs separated if needed.

Bok Choy is the pig in front and Hoggle is the smaller hog. Here is a close up of Hoggle.


Heating Up

The temperatures have consistently hit the 80s over the past week or so. As hogs don’t sweat, they have to be provided with shade and a way to cool off – most commonly by coating themselves with mud. Setting up a wallow for the pastured hogs was simple enough. I spliced into the irrigation tubing that delivers a constant supply of water to the hog waterer and ran another piece of tubing off to the side where I installed a spot water emitter. All I had on hand was a 2 GPH (gallon per hour) emitter so I set that up and ordered a packet of 0.5 GPH emitters. That meant that I had to remember to turn off the water after a couple of hours or else flood out the wallow and the adjoining pen.

The 0.5 GPH emitters were delivered the other day and I went out to replace the 2 GPH. When I turned the water on and then went back to check to ensure it was working I was appalled to find that the 0.5 GPH dripped faster than the 2 GPH. So I am back to having to turn on the water for a few hours in the AM, then off, and then remember to turn it back on for a couple of hours in the PM again. (If you double-click on the photo you can actually see the water dripping.)

The wallow will be covered with a tarp for shade as soon as the permanent pen is built

The wallow will be covered with a tarp for shade as soon as the permanent pen is built

The two hogs still in a small pen within the working pen are another problem. Bok Choy has been unwell for the past couple of weeks. It started with her not eating or drinking but no other signs of illness. After syringing water down her to ensure she stayed hydrated, she started to eat and drink on her own again a couple of days later but then began to be uncoordinated. After reading a 400 plus page veterinary text on pigs, there really wasn’t anything that fit her signs so I opted for supportive care. While I toyed with the idea of giving her penicillin, since I wasn’t able to give her a vitamin B-12 injection (she might have been unsteady on her feet but she was still stronger than me when I tried to restrain her) I decided that twice a day shots just wasn’t going to be feasible. She has continued to eat and drink and would stagger up to the fence to say hello every morning and evening and I finally started to see improvement in how she was moving. So this morning, I opened up the hog pen and let Hoggle and Bok Choy have the run of the working pen while I cleaned out their pen. This afternoon I went out to make sure they still had water and after emptying their water trough in the middle of the working pen to clean it, I carried it back to their pen and refilled it with clean water. I looked back to see Hoggle and Bok Choy enjoying a new wallow so I added more water (and sprayed them down as well.)

If Bok Choy continues to improve, I’ll keep to my plans of relocating Hoggle and Bok Choy out to the pasture at the end of June.