Benson, the border collie, was hot in pursuit of a ewe, his canine hormones taking over. Border collies are bred, born and trained to herd sheep, following the commands of their owner. Unfortunately, on that day Benson decided to herd the sheep his own way; AWAY from the waiting stock trailer instead of into it. Nancy, the sheep owner, and I watched as Benson unhelpfully chased the sheep away toward the road, doing exactly the opposite of what was needed.
Earlier that morning, at 4 o'clock, I had put together a snack for the road, heated up a cup of decaf, and drove the heavy-duty pickup truck and 16-foot stock trailer to Nancy's house in Sanbornton, about 20 miles north of my farm, to pick up three sheep. The sheep were culls from Nancy's herd. She has a calm, friendly flock of sheep and these three delinquents did not fit in. I was picking them up on my way to North Haverhill, N.H., where they were to be processed into ground lamb. The processor wanted them at the plant at 7 a.m., hence the super-early departure.
We raise cattle and pigs, but not sheep. For one thing, sheep need excellent fencing, which we don't have. A pack of coyotes lives in the forest that abuts the farm, and sheep is their favorite dish. The cattle are equipped with horns and hooves to protect their young from attack, but sheep can only run to escape; a weak defense against a pack of hungry coyotes.
Rather than raise sheep as food-for-coyotes, instead we buy sheep from other local farmers who have better fencing, and on this day I arrived at Nancy's at 5 a.m. to load the three delinquent sheep. I backed the trailer up to the sheep's stall, and we set up metal stock panels between the stall and the trailer to form a chute. That's when Nancy left to get her dog Benson, who usually is an excellent herder.
When Benson was too afraid to go into the stall with the sheep, I should have known he would be no help today. We pushed Benson out of the pen and forgot about him. Using grain, Nancy lured the sheep into the trailer. Watching from the sidelines, Benson decided it was time to address his irrational fear of sheep. He leaped into the trailer, and before we could close the trailer door or count to three, he had chased out all three sheep.
Then the dog, with his canine instincts activated with me yelling uselessly at him to desist, chased the sheep around the yard. Once we got him under control and locked inside the house, we tried again to load the sheep.
What is the best way, sans defective herding dog, to capture sheep? With another sheep, of course! Again using grain, Nancy enlisted the help of one of her socially reliable sheep, which led the delinquents back into their stall, then into the trailer.
The tame ewe rejoined her flock, and the three delinquents traveled away with me. Even with the canine drama, we made it the processor by 7:30 – late, but not too late.
Livestock handling can be tricky, but I generally know what my cattle and hogs are thinking. Sheep don't seem all that complicated either. But I must admit, there's one border collie who's got me scratching my head.