It feels like a life time ago, yet I remember vividly, driving to my grandparents house, my red border collie, Snook riding shotgun. Together we drove south on I-5, seeing field after field after field of sheep from Salem to south of Grants Pass. I fantasized about pulling the van over, tossing Snook onto the green grass field, sending her on a huge outrun and gathering all the sheep. I would then call her off, somehow get her back over the electric fence, put her back into the van and quickly leave the scene of the crime. Hopefully no one would see me (like that would happen right there on I-5) and if they did, they would think I was supposed to be working those sheep. I never wanted to tempt fate or the sheep owner's shot gun...I kept driving and dreaming.
Today, I remembered those thoughts and feelings as I lived out my driving daydreams....I pulled up to a field along I-5, grabbed my Bella, jumped the two string hot fence and drove a flock of lambs to the northwest side of the field. The sun was shining, the field was not muddy but instead it was nice soft green grass, and the lambs moved off my dog that was so happy to be working right there beside me.
My day had started early with a field gather of a flock of heavy bred dorset ewes that were headed back to lamb on the grass fields off the coast. Recently, I'd come to the conclusion that, out of habit and the knowledge that I could get it done, I always grab Bella when the sheep boss calls. I vowed to myself to work the other dogs: Gyp could use experience and Dot could use time and miles. I started the day with Gyp, who did well but I could tell she was very confused working along side a new to her dog and two humans besides me.
I moved to the next field.....this time it was a big field gather of long lambs that were to be loaded and hauled to another field so the wheat could begin to grow. I grabbed Nell out of the truck, she who has not worked for quiet a long time and was very, very full of herself. Stopping has never been her strong point and today, on tall, wet wheat fronds, and quick moving lambs, she assured me she could not understand a single whistle!
After moving the lambs with Bella, I decided to leave her in the truck for the rest of the day. She is starting to come into heat and that could bother the boy dog who was my partner in crime's right hand. Our last task of the day was a big order....moving the last of the heavy bred Dorset ewes, putting them in a big pen overnight for an early morning haul to their coastal homeland. I grabbed Gyp thinking a second chance would be in order...see if I could get better understanding and partnership with the length of the drive being long and challenging. As Gyp and I headed out to gather the field, I glanced to my left and there was Bella, coming along for the work. She had squeezed herself out the window that I left open so she could have air and was very proud of herself for knowing we might need her help. What's a girl to do? I worked Gyp and Bella brace....
I've told my sheep boss friend many times: I LOVE THIS WORK! Even the impossible moments steeped in major frustration are amazing and I always leave with a feeling of accomplishment. Today was no different......it was fabulous until it wasn't and then once we crossed the impossible creek....it was fabulous again. I learn something new every time I go out, especially on days like today where every field has different challenges.
I've changed a lot over the years of working for the sheep boss. In years gone by, I would get to a field, the boss would bring me a four wheeler and I would never feel like I needed to use it. Most times I would end up sending my dogs onto miles of outrun and sometimes leave sheep behind as they like to hide in trees and ditches lining the fields. Now, even if I do big outruns, I always go back over the field on the four wheeler and check to make sure I have gotten all the sheep. Today, when I found the heavy bred ewe who had cast herself and could not be made right, or the mama that wanted to go with the flock but kept turning on the dogs which made my friend and I look carefully to find the hidden new born lamb in the tall wheat, I was glad for the lessons I'd learned. Lessons of patience and observation and reading sheep.....those are priceless and, for me, only earned through the work.
There are days when I get very frustrated with the work. I still try to wrap my head around how a flock of 200-300 sheep can be pushed over a creek or a hot wire fence for that matter. Those are the times when my Kiwi friend would tell me I need a Huntaway. I want to yell and hoot and holler and run at the sheep...sicking my dog on them or getting a big long hot shot. I want to make them want to go over that creek! Silently, stealthily, my friend sneaks in, snags a new born lamb, and ba's to the mama...luring her over the creek all the while pulling the rest of the flock over as the tide ebbing off the shore line. I stand in wonder.....and think about the idea of "get" and ease. I still have so much to learn. Yes, these are the days of my life.......
Sieze the day!
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