How can anyone write about the countryside without mentioning the…
You cannot shepherdwithout a good dog…This comment was made by the best shepherd that I have had the privilege to meet, although our first meeting was one which I still look back on with horror. The worst ever farming nightmare I had was when I woke up to a scene which words cannot really describe.
On checking my flock one morning, I was faced with devastation. Dead ewes, maimed lambs and others in a terrible state of shock – the remains of a fierce and vicious dog attack. Silence, couldn’t speak, and couldn’t think straight, so actually just wept. That was weak on my part and didn’t achieve anything, so, pulling myself together, I went in doors and called the necessary people to help clear the carnage.
Within hours I heard a knock at the back door and what faced me also looked horrific! A middle-aged, certainly grumpy, male, with bushy eyebrows like you’ve never seen. He stank of sheep and his sheepdog, which smelled even worse, stood looking silently evil and carried a necklace of clinkers around his neck more commonly known as sheep s**t! His name was Mush – that’s the dog. The male object was none other than the infamous Mr Froggatt, whose name and reputation came before him.
The conversation that ensued was quiet, informative, honest, but serious. The dogs had to be found and dealt with. Those couple of hours changed my life regarding shepherding and Richard became not only my mentor, but a wealth of valuable information, not just about sheep, but how to manage them and make life as easy as possible. The trouble was we’re both strong characters, full of our own opinions and slightly stubborn – a good recipe for regular differences of opinion. My first lesson came quickly!
“Janet, you cannot shepherd effectively without a dog.”
“Yes I can, I do well now without a dog.”
“Yes, you shake the bucket and they run towards you, that’s because they love the expensive, unnecessary food you are giving them. One day they will turn a blind eye and then you’re b******d! I’m telling you woman, you need a dog, and quick.”
The options were a trained dog – couldn’t afford it, and what was the fun in that, or… a pup, which, of course, would no real benefit for at least 8 – 12 months. It had to be the latter option and I’d have to keep shaking the bucket for a while longer.
Scanning the local papers, I soon came up trumps and I set off to see a litter of border collies – I thought all puppies were gorgeous. Not this litter – a mixed bag of ugly, timid, wormy looking pups. Poor things! I took pity and said I am sure I could sort it. Richard told me not to be so b****y stupid and told the owner, in no uncertain terms, that we were not purchasing!
The next litter – gorgeous, playful, beautiful coats and, yes, you could take the lot home. I’ve been brought up in a male world at home and at work and they are uncomplicated (well most are) and so a dog it had to be. I called him Jack – a strong tri-coloured, handsome dog. The next 12 to 18 months were great. I was learning – Jack was a great pupil and Richard a miserable, demanding, blinkin’ good teacher. No more bucket shaking.
After a very long, hot morning moving sheep, worming and general maintenance, Jack was knackered, long tongue hanging out and panting and soaking wet from a quick dive in the sheep trough. Richard declared “You need another dog.”
I quickly retorted “No I don’t, Jack is brilliant and so young.”
“He might be all those things, but one day some idiot driving too fast down the lane will run the bugger over, or worse still, you might, by accident… I know – I’ve done it.”
Kipper, number two dog, was big, bold, better bred, had style and class and, I suppose, I had improved as well. Jack and Kipper worked well together, but didn’t have quite the calm relationship I had hoped for. Two strong, entire males – hardly surprising.
Kipper was running so well that Richard persuaded me, against all odds, to enter a sheepdog nursery trial. I was convinced that I was not good enough, would make a fool of myself and the dog. The day arrived. Even on the journey there in Richard’s disgusting, minging, sheep-smelling truck (complete with the equally disgusting, sheep-smelling Mush!), I was trying my hardest to pull out. No chance!
My turn came, up to the post we went, shaking, worrying, what was I doing. I sent Kipper “away to me” (out to the right). He gathered the six sheep, brought them steadily to me in a relatively straight line, round the back of me and they set off on the first short drive, aiming for the two gates and the gap – a difficult thing for a dog, as they naturally want to bring sheep to you, not drive them away from you. So far so good. Through the gates – “come by Kip”… no response, “come by Kip”… no response. S**t. He drove on and on, not listening to me at all and ended up driving them into the little stream bordering the trials field. Total embarrassment as over the tannoy the judge said “I think you need to retire Mrs East”. Given sheep hate water, Kipper was clearly impressed – at home he struggles like mad to push them through water-logged gateways. When I eventually got to him and the sheep, he, bounded up to me, tail wagging furiously, so pleased with his efforts. He thought he’d won the day. I had to smile.
I was embarrassed, but, perhaps, not quite as much as the gentleman who ran after me. He sent his dog “away to me”, running beautifully, past the sheep, on and on – but the dog was soon totally out of sight amid gallant efforts at concise whistle commands which soon degraded into abusive verbal commands by his owner to stop his progress. The dog was found four miles down the road at the local pub! My trialling career started and ended on the same day (although my new bitch, Nell, only 2 years old is something very special…!)