When Your Dog Saves Your Bacon
There’s no question, at our farm, Jig is the power. When there’s a task that needs doing, and I suspect the stock might not cooperate, Jig is the one who gets the call. It’s a very handy on thing to have, especially on cattle.
It can sometimes be a bit much on sheep. Though, over the years, I’ve been able to convince Jig to tone it down a bit. Most times. Still, loading the chute is one of her favorite jobs because she might just have to use some of that push.
Last Saturday morning I suspected I would need a little of Jig’s touch. We were loading three sheep into the back of a pick-up, up a steeper ramp than they’re used to. Our plan consisted of running the sheep into the small side of the barn to a temporary chute and up into the truck. The small side of the barn makes a roughly 8′ x 16′ pen. The set-up worked pretty good, the only drawback being there’s no gate on the barn and the connecting alleyway is about 60′ long so it makes a good escape route if the sheep decide they’d rather not play the game. Unless, of course, you’ve got your right hand… er… paw guarding the exit.
Under normal circumstances my sheep don’t mind going into the barn but when they saw the ramp, a strange truck, and several people who were obviously up to no good, they opted to go elsewhere. Jig happily directed them back into the barn where I held a position at the bottom of the ramp, ready to assist any volunteers. It usually only takes one to convince the rest it’s the way to go. Getting a volunteer to even look at the ramp took a bit of coercing, however, because by that point Jig had her crack ears on. Nothing like having to use push to make a pushy dog happy. Unfortunately, the sheep know Jig very well and are quite familiar with the meaning behind her crack ears, hence they were more than a little concerned regarding her intentions and had no desire to take their eyes off her.
Can’t say I really blamed them. Jig knows the job, you see, and was clearly thinking, “You want the sheep up that ramp? Clear the way, I’ll put them up that ramp whether they want to go or not!”
I, on the other hand, was trying to maintain order and some semblance of calm. Though it’s usually fruitless, I reminded Jig, “Sometimes less is more. Give it a minute.”
Eventually I convinced her to hold her ground — which only means I kept repeating “Stay!” and “Don’t you do it!” through clenched teeth when other threats failed to get her to back the eff off. **oooohhhhmmmmm deep breath** I really can’t fault Jig. When she sees me tussling with a sheep she really just wants to help. She just doesn’t understand how to help a little vs full bore.
Finally one of the younger wethers decided the only way out was up the ramp. Just as I reached down a guiding hand to ensure he didn’t change his mind, out of the corner of my eye I saw the biggest wether spin around and make a desperate bid for the relative freedom of the alleyway. I had a split second to think, “Well, shit.” before a black blur launched into action and explained to the wether what a bad decision he’d just made. I didn’t get a good view, being I was intent on keeping the youngster headed up the ramp, but from the little I saw and some eye-witness accounts there were some aerial acrobatics combined with a few cutting horse maneuvers. Needless to say, said sheep did not make it even a foot out of the barn. In fact, the next thing I knew that big wether was begging to be allowed up the ramp and apologizing for the error of his ways.
Of course, the three of them got to the top of the ramp and balled up because… SCARY DARK HOLE THING WE DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS ANYWAY! I followed them up to give a push with Jig trying to get through my legs the whole time. She was a bit too cranked up by then to let her assist. After all, we wanted the sheep in the back of the truck, not the back seat.
In the end, we got them loaded in far less time and with far less labor involved than if we had tried without a dog. I love the fact working Aussies are thinking dogs. Oftentimes that gets taken out of them for the trial arena. Gotta say, I’m really thankful I never managed to do that to Jig and still have a dog who knows the job and how to get it done without waiting to be told what to do. Even if sometimes her enthusiasm gets the better of her.
And for those who don’t follow me on Social Media, here’s a clip of Jig gathering from the far field. Nothing but a Go Bye to send her. It never grows old.