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.

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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.

More Random Farm Photos

I built another cattle panel shelter last weekend. The first two were built with two people and the shelters went up quickly and easily. Unfortunately, I am not tall enough to be able to easily “walk” a panel so putting up a shelter for the sheep was not as easy or quick. However, I did manage it. I bought a tarp to cover it last Wednesday so after work on Thursday, I tarped the shelter.

The chicks will be nine weeks old tomorrow.

Buff Orpington front left; Red Star front right; Delaware behind Red Star; Barred Rock in back. The Bantams are a Japanese and Red Frizzles.  It is really easy to see the size difference between the Bantams and the full-size chickens.

As I noted in the last post, I was tired of cleaning out the chicken waterer every day so decided I would try using a hanging waterer with “nipples.” The one I bought worked well enough that I wanted another for the main chicken coop, but wasn’t willing to buy another one ($19.99 plus tax). I bought four nipples and then found two plastic buckets in my recycling. The smallest one is 1 gallon — too small for summer use but should be useful in the winter when I can’t leave water out overnight to freeze. The larger bucket is 3.5 gallons.

I put the smaller waterer together using a drill bit that was too small so I was pleasantly surprised when my attempts to enlarge the hole sufficiently didn’t result in a too large hole. I did buy the correct size drill bit before making the second waterer. The nipples came to just under 1.50 each and I used two nipples for each bucket (rather than the four nipples on the 5 gallon waterer I bought). I can add two more nipples to the 3.5 gallon waterer if needed in the future.

Almost Done

Over the past weekend I finished rebuilding the former sheep pen. Once a new shelter is erected, that pen will be ready for use. I marked off where the 8 foot alley gate needed to be set and ran a string to mark where the front of the two additional pens will lie. I couldn’t start building those pens until the other shelter was moved from the current goat pen to its new location as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around fencing. Monday evening after work a friend came over and we moved the shelter and brought over the two additional 8 foot gates which will be used for the two new pens.

Line showing where south and west fencing will be erected. This shelter was moved from former sheep pen

Tuesday evening after chores I strung the remaining lines to mark the two new pens and started setting T-posts and attaching cattle panel. The pens are about half done at this point.  I still need to dig holes to set posts for the gate in the alley and the pen gates before I can finish putting up the last cattle panels since those will need to be cut.  Other than installing the gates, I should be able to finish putting up the pens by the end of this coming weekend.

Second shelter moved from goat pen and east fence

Building the two new shelters for the doe pens shouldn’t take long so it looks like I may indeed make my goal of having the pens constructed and ready for use by the end of this month.

Back of second shelter and north fence creating alley way between pen and kidding jugs

A Working Dog No. 2

In the last post I mentioned that a dog with a herding title may not be able to actually work. There is a huge difference between taking direction in an arena where the handler is standing close by, and being able to work without direction to accomplish a task. In my experience, very few dogs which trial are capable of the latter. (And yes, I used to trial dogs many, many years ago.)

As an example of the difference, here is one of the many instances where Tuck has proven himself as a working dog.

Back in September of 2013 heavy rains caused flooding in my area (see post). The sheep had been in the east pasture when it started to rain and while Tuck and I had gone out after the rain let up, the depth of water and degree of mud made me decide to leave the sheep out for the night.

Tuck trying to get to the East Pasture

I received a phone call early the next morning from the post office saying that my order of chicks had arrived. I knew I was not going to be able to get off my property so I called a friend and asked her to pick up the chicks for me and once the frontage road had been cleared, I would meet her at the gate to pick up the chicks. So later that afternoon, after the county road crews had worked on both the frontage road and the county road I live on, she drove over to deliver the chicks. Tuck and I navigated around the cottonwood that had fallen in my drive and waded down the drive (which was still under water) to meet her at my gate.

Drive under water

Unbeknownst to me, the road crew had knocked down the corner post (a railroad tie) and the fence in the east pasture along the road was down. As my friend drove up she spooked the sheep that had made their way onto the road and the sheep took off south, around the bend and out of sight. My friend was upset and wanted to know what to do to get the sheep back. I simply told Tuck to bring me the sheep and he trotted off while I stood talking to my friend through the window of her vehicle. In relatively short order, the sheep appeared around the bend with Tuck behind them. He pushed them through the gate and down the drive where I knew the downed cottonwood would block them until I could wade back down the drive with the chicks.

A good working dog does not need to be micromanaged and given constant directions to get a job done. The dog simply needs to understand what the job is and then left to decide the best way to accomplish it.

A Working Dog

Every day since I returned with the new puppy, Tuck and I have moved the remaining sheep out to the east pasture. The east pasture is probably about five acres and was not used for a couple of years after a road crew took out a corner post and most of the fence along the road. I finally had the fence replaced last summer and was able to use it to graze sheep again but it is still very overgrown.

Yesterday morning Tuck and I moved the sheep as usual. Usually by evening the sheep are waiting at the gate to go back to their night pen. Last night, however, when Tuck and I went for the sheep, the sheep were no where to be seen.

Since I was wearing shorts I wasn’t enthused about traipsing through the pasture looking for sheep so I sent Tuck to find them. Given the terrain, I couldn’t see Tuck or the sheep so couldn’t give him directions other than just to tell him to find the sheep.

It took him awhile, but . . .

 

Unfortunately the phone camera isn’t a great way to take photos so I couldn’t get both Tuck and the sheep in the same shot.

While I think it is admirable that people want to do things with their dogs and are willing to spend the time and money to take lessons and trial their dogs, don’t ever believe anyone who has a herding instinct title or herding title when they tell you that their dog can work stock unless they can demonstrate that the dog can perform a task on its own without being given direction. If you need a true working dog look to a breeder who actually works their dog in a similar situation to yours, and not just one who has titles on their dog. These sheep are trotting – not running – and even so, if I hadn’t been yelling at Tuck to hurry up, he would have brought them up at a walk.

Over the past ten years Tuck has proven he is worth his weight in gold (most days) and I’m hoping his great-nephew will be as good, if not better, a worker.

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

Downsizing

After serious consideration of several factors, I made the decision this winter to downsize and have sold most of the breeding ewes along with the lambs. The remaining ewes will either be sold or eventually find their way into the freezer. I had already downsized the goats, putting the wethers in the freezer earlier this year, selling Nutmeg’s three doelings and most recently selling a doe in milk (Nougat) along with a dry goat (Thyme). Currently I only have three Nigerian Dwarf does. Although I had no plans to downsize my flock of chickens, the Mexican Grey Wolf which passed through the area took care of that for me.

Do you want that Super-Sized?

This morning when I went out to feed I found a single lamb, plaintively bleating and wandering among the ewes. Each ewe the lamb approached would smell it and either walk away or nudge it on. Across the working pen, a ewe who was cleaning off a lamb would periodically pick up her head and baaa but the lamb ignored her and kept moving on. As a quick glance showed the ewe had a second lamb on the ground I started searching among the ewes to see if I could find one that showed signs of a recent lambing. After no success, I decided to see if the errant lamb actually belonged to the only ewe who was showing any interest at all — the ewe with the twins. When I picked up the lamb and carried it to where the ewe and her two lambs were in the corner of the pen, the ewe sniffed the lamb. I put it down and the lamb promptly headed back towards the group of ewes near the gate. The ewe followed the lamb for a few steps but then looked back at the two lambs on the ground and turned back to them. Following a hunch, I picked up the two lambs and headed for the lambing jugs with the ewe following behind. I put the lambs in the jugs and then went looking for the third lamb. I put her in with the trio and then headed to the barn for hay. After feeding chickens, horses, goats, sheep and hogs I had a cup of coffee and then headed out again to check on, and weigh, the new lambs. On about the third check later in the morning, I found the third lamb (the largest, BTW) nursing so it appears this “order” was indeed super-sized and the ewe had triplets.

It is exhausting being lost (she started on her knees and gradually oozed into a down)

It is exhausting being lost (she started on her knees and gradually oozed into a down)

Lamb One (the errant lamb) is a female and weighed almost 8 lbs. She is white with a couple of dark brown spots – one at the base of her tail and one on her right side.

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Lamb Two is also a female and weighed about 6 lbs. She is white with brown on her neck and black on the right side of her face.

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Lamb Three is a male and also about 6 lbs. He is white with brown on his neck.

No room at the milk bar

No room at the milk bar