The Herding Dogs

Scotland  2015  8No discussion of sheep farming would be complete without a big nod to the dogs. A flock of 1100 sheep, living on hundreds of acres of hilly land, would be next to impossible to handle without herding dogs.  There comes a time when those sheep have to come in. The ewes are about to have babies. The sheep need to be sheared. The stray sheep from a neighboring farm need to get singled out, and sent home. Farming has its cycles. In and out is simple to write, but much more difficult to accomplish. Farmers who raise livestock need the herding dogs.  There are many different breeds of herding dogs, indigenous to many different countries, that make the work of rounding up and watching the livestock possible.  Though many of them, including my cardigan corgis, have been bred to herd, a lot of work is involved in training the dogs.

herding-dogs.jpgThe dogs at Easegill Head Farm are farm hands. The work that it took to train these dogs when they were pups is repaid 10 fold, when they grow up, and contribute. They help to make a business – a life’s work – viable.

working dogsTheir accommodations are farm style. Not especially luxurious. I have the feeling that even though they are not house dogs or pets, they are valued members of the family. They perform a service not possible any other way. Having seen Rob’s pictures, I have done some reading about these dogs.  They are trained to respond to various verbal commands – lots of them.  Up to 30, on this farm. They have incredible, virtually boundless energy. Nothing is right with the world for these dogs unless they are working.

border-collie-giving-the-eyThis border collie is staring down a group of sheep.  The dogs are very small, in comparison to the sheep.  And miniscule in comparison to a flock of sheep. Their ability to learn how to handle a crowd with a look is astonishing. I would not dream of challenging this dog, and neither do the sheep.

herding-dogs.jpgSome dogs work in groups.

454699-20140928_SheepDogTriOthers can manage a group all on their own.

herding-dog.jpgherding dog working

dog-and-his-flock.jpgOne dog managing a big flock

371903697Blue merle Australian shepard herding

willow-farm-sheep-dogs3Farm hands

Protector_of_the_sheepThis breed of dog is known as a Maremma.  They protect a flock from harm.  They work the night shift, making sure predators do not harm any member of a flock. This Maremma looks cool and calm, but I would guess he would go to the ropes defending his flock.

Cardigan_Corgi_Sept_1_2010_at_Elvies_-_pic_by_RobinVisitors to Detroit Garden Works are skeptical when I tell them that Cardigan Welsh corgis are herding dogs. How could a dog with such short legs keep up with goats, sheep and cattle?? Milo is actually lightening fast.  He can get down the driveway faster than a tennis ball I heave with all my might in a ball launcher. The short legs are a result of natural selection.  They nip at the feet of the animals they are herding. A cow that kicks after being nipped would clip a tall legged corgi in the head. I have explained this countless times.herding diagram
This hilarious drawing tells the tale.  Corgis have very short legs for good reason. They are small, and have short legs. They avoid trouble. This does not mean they do not excel as a herding dog.

Copper-moving-her-sheep1-3-29-14working cardigan corgi

p1280669x_lh1cardigan corgi working hard

farm dogs on flickrThe herding dogs have my respect. They make a certain kind of farming easier. They are a very important part of the agricultural landscape. A herding dog who can guide a flock to a specified location without alarming or upsetting them is a very valuable asset to a farmer, no matter whether they raise ducks, goats, sheep, or cattle. Good relationships between people and nature have existed for centuries, and take a lot of different forms. Every gardener has a relationship with nature.  Spoken, or unspoken.  The dogs pictured above make me think about how great gardening is not so much about the spoken language. It is about a bred in the bone need to work. A great love of nature.  And a pair of hands looking for work.

corgis-in-winter.jpgMy corgis are not taking the long winter so well. They like a working life.  This picture of them sparring-they are not happy with a lack of work. I get this.  Our hope is that spring is not far off.

 

Easegill Head Farm, Cumbria

Stay Lambing Live in CumbriaI suspect it is a rare person who looks for and finds a place to work while they are on a trip, but but nothing surprises me to find out what constitutes  a holiday for Rob. Easegill Head Farm in Cumbria belongs to a family that raises sheep.  They have a guest cottage available for anyone who would be interested  in staying, and participating, in the routine of the farm. This farm was featured in a very popular 5 part series filmed by the BBC in 2011, called Lambing Live.

birthday 2I had lots of questions to ask when I first saw his pictures.  What do the colored dots mean? The color on the backside of a ewe indicates which ram is responsible for her pregnancy.  How do they possibly keep track of this?  During mating season, each ram has an identifying color repeatedly applied to his chest. This is a farming version of kiss and tell. Color on the front of a ewe indicates how many babies she is carrying.  A pregnant ewe needs extra food.  A ewe with multiple lambs coming needs lots of extra food.  What is Rob doing with an orange bag? The sheep recognize a feed bag, and will follow anyone who is carrying one. His main job, separating the ewes with 1, 2, or 3 lambs on the way.

Swaledale sheepTheir prize sheep are known as Swaledale sheep.  They are found throughout the mountainous regions of England. They are one of three distinct breeds associated with sheep farming in the Lake District. They can be identified by their curling horns (both the males and females have them), their off white wool, and the white markings on their faces and around their eyes.

Scotland 2015  11As a breed, they are noted for their ability to thrive in exposed locations with inhospitable winters.  In general, they do not need to be raised indoors, but for lambing time. The ewes are exceptionally good Moms, and look after their lambs. A ewe who does not become pregnant will, on her own, go back to the original ram for a second mating.  Extraordinary, this.

Scotland 2015  8Their flock numbers around 1100 now.

Scotland 2015 9
The sheep farmers in the area all have the right to graze their sheep on what amounts to common land.  Each farmer takes responsibility for culling out the sheep that belong to a neighbor, so they can be returned to their rightful owner.

birthday 3Looks like this trip suited Rob.

Scotland 2015  10The landscape, the sheep, and the moody winter weather-this had to have been an unforgettable experience.

Scottish highlands 2

Scotland 2015  7

Scottish ponies

sheep in Cumbria 2015

sheep in Cumbria 2015  3

Scottish sheep 2015

trip to Scotland 2015

easegill-head-farm.jpgin case you would like to visit…

 

Scotland In February

snowdrops in Scotland  February 2015Rob likes to get away for a few weeks in the winter, before our garden season starts to stir.  His choices are always interesting. They never involve a warm or tropical place.  A decision to visit England’s lake district in Cumbria, Wales, and the Isle of Skye in Scotland sounded lovely-but in February? There were a few days while he was gone when Michigan was warmer than Scotland, but his photographs are proof positive that the natural landscape – even those in cold climates in February – have a presence that transcends the seasons. These snowdrops in bloom-in the woods in England’s Lake District. Rob’s visual chronicle of these natural landscapes, barely edited by the demands of agriculture and travel, have a haunting beauty I won’t soon forget.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Wales February 2015Along the Brecon-Monmouthshire Canal, in Wales

Wales February 2015  2These man made canals were used to move frieght, before the invention of the railroad.

Wales 2015  4Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal

Walescanal in Wales

wall in Scotland 2015in England’s lake district

Scotland 2015  4on the Isle of Skye

Scotland 2015  12the lake district

fence posts Wales 2015fence along a canal in Wales

Scotland 2015 5the Isle of Skye

Scotland 2015 3the lake district

birthdayHe looks to be perfectly happy and at home in Wales, don’t you think?

Breaking Out The Redheads

redhead socks 003We are having a run of astonishingly cold weather, as in -12 degrees this morning. Cold weather is fine by me, as long as I can keep my feet warm.  In weather like this, I roll out the redheads.  Basspro makes these socks (in the USA I might add) for people who are outdoors in winter for work or for sport. Should you be a ballet dancer, a librarian, or a Mom who watches a kid play hockey, I would still recommend these socks. Warm feet are good, no matter your job. They are expensive, considering that they are socks. Balance that with a lifetime guarantee. And the fact that they will keep your feet warm-even in below zero temperatures. I would not do without them. They work.

redhead socks 004I only have a few pair-that is all I need. I am not working outside now, but I have a pair of Corgis who want me with them when they go out. Can you hear me sighing?  Howard makes his trips out short-he is not so keen about this weather. But he refuses to be left behind.  I am sure Milo was a sheep herding dog in Cumbria in his previous life. He is happiest outdoors, working.  He has a long fur coat that keeps both water and cold at bay. When the temperature is 12 below zero, he is happy out there longer than I can stand. My best defense against walks in the snow with him-these socks.

redhead socks 005It doesn’t really matter whether I am wearing boots, or tennis shoes.  The insulation provided by these socks is what keeps my feet warm, and dry. Their insulating quality is easy to figure-they are 88% Merino wool.  Some say Merino wool is the finest wool on the planet. Like the sheepskin rug that Milo is curled up on under my desk, certain natural fibers have great insulating qualities.

merino-sheep.jpgThe Merino sheep is raised, and prized for its wool. The annual shearing varies, depending on the country and climate, but suffice it to say a Merino sheep has a wool coat most of the year. Insulation, no matter the source, can protect against heat just as it protects against the cold. If you are like me, wool can be scratchy and irritating.  But Merino wool is very fine textured, and soft. Merino wool socks-perfect for the winter.

merino-is-the-best-wool-in-the-world1Given that this wool comes from an animal that must be cared for every day of its life, good wool is expensive. The lambs get born. They get raised. The sheep graze, but they get counted every day. They get health care. They get extra feed during lambing season. They get sheared once a year.  There is a sheep farmer with a farm and a family behind anything you buy that is made from Merino wool. Chances are, the entire family participates in sheep farming. Any honest work, I support. But I buy the socks because they are of great quality. Wool is a great insulator-against the discomfort of a really cold winter day.

February snow and cold 009But let’s get back to these socks. For this picture, I flipped the top of the sock inside out. I was curious-why do these socks keep my feet so warm? The knit is regular and smooth on the outside.  The inside of the sock tells a different story. It looks dense and wooly – lofty.  As in lots of loft.  redhead socks 011The 88 percent Merino wool has a looped structure on the inside.  These loops hold their springy shape, no matter how many hours I wear these socks.  Those loops create an insulating layer.  The thick wool layer, endowed with a commensurate layer of air the temperature of my body, insulates me from the cold. Am I making a pitch for basspro redhead socks?  No. My idea is to address the idea of insulation, for a gardener.

winter-2008.jpgThough this picture was taken at the shop in 2008, it accurately describes our current snow cover. That thick layer of snow then, as now, insulates the plants against the devastating effects of severe cold and wind.  Just like a rocking pair of Basspro looped Merino wool socks insulates a foot against the cold ground, and the cold air. Plants in my zone subjected to incredibly cold temperatures without the insulation provided by snow will surely show damage come spring. Extended cold and wind will adversely affect marginally hardy plants. Every gardener in my zone learned all about this the hard way, this past spring.  But plants buried under a thick layer of looped ice crystals suspended in air keeps the daily vagaries of the weather at bay. Winter protection has everything to do with steady conditions. If a plant is buried in snow, the daily swings in temperature and wind are not much to worry about. A wild swing in conditions can be deadly. A landscape with no snow cover subjected to vicious cold and wind can sustain considerable damage. My boxwood need their wool socks right now. Happily, they have the socks they need to survive.  I am hoping this cold snap will snap out of it fast. A few days is no cause for alarm. This is a very long way of saying that I am not worried about the effect of this current bitter cold snap on my landscape and garden.  It is buried deep below nature’s alternate version of the gift of Marino wool-the snow cover.