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How long does a sheep dog work in a day

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I was just watching a funny Guiness commercial of a border collie herding a group of people lnto a pub in the middle of a field and for some reason it made me wonder how long a working collie actually works in a normal day. I know this must seem like a dumb question to most of you but as a city dweller I have no idea.

cheers

Bill

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I am also a city dweller but for dogs I have known it has had huge seasonal variation. Lambing is tough, and was when you would traditionally see any deficiencies in nutrition showing up. Similarly if anything has gone wrong.

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Dear Bill,

 

It also depends what they're used to I've seen dogs on western ranches sort sheep from 400 + pens from 8-noon at 85 degrees and then blind gather 400 more 2 miles away that pm. When I helped trail sheep into the Bitterroot, the dogs covered 25 miles, five thousand feet up and five thousand down. working 1000 ewes from 6am until 6pm.

 

On the other hand, a 30 minute double lift finals exhausts most of them.

 

 

Donald McCaig

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I only had a very small flock of 75 ewes and my dogs would work anywhere from 30 minutes to upwards of 3-4 hours if I was worming or giving shots. Some days they didn't work at all.

 

It really depends on the farmer/shepherd's situation. Some may work all day, but many don't work every day. In fact, some may have stretches where they don't work at all and other periods when they work every day.

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During fall roundup here in Iceland, all day long, that can be about ten to twelve hours. The people are mostly on horseback (more and more quads). In my neck of the woods the longest tours are two days in a row. We stay overnight in a cabin on the highland.

In the South of Iceland there are up to a week long "göngur".

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My dogs work as long as I do :) yes it varies with seasons. This morning at 530 bottle fed and checked everyone back to the house to have breakfast and await sunrise. We went back out at 8:30 I measured grain then we fed ewes in the barn and behind the barn with new lambs. Then the close to lambing group, next month group and the ewe lambs. Each of those requires the dog to hold the ewes off the gate while I dump in feed then call off. I had to check two different ewes bags so they cornered those girls for me, then I banded tails and put marking paint on new lambs so they kept those families together. Then I fed hay to 3 different pastures - the dogs either gathered and moved the flock or help them back from the gate then away from the bale feeder until I was done. Then it was fill water buckets/tanks stood with me there also just to keep everyone in line. Then I took a break to work my young dog so had an older one move sheep out of the pasture to leave me only a few. Finished that, put sheep back then sorted close up ewes to behind the barn since it may snow. then a ewe was lambing and not making progress with just back feet out so one of the dogs put her in a pen for me so I could pull that lamb...

At 4 I came in for a bite to eat so the dogs get a break also. When I move from my chair they will beat me to the door :)

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Thanks for all the replies. I didn't realize how much is expected. All I've seen is trials on TV so I thought it was all about moving the sheep from one field to another or a pen. Denice, your description really filled in a few blanks for me. All I can say is that I certainly live in a different world! I spend most of the day with Juno, but I am sure she would love it even more if she was working all the time. However, I think I might be too old for it.

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Everybody has their system, it can be lots of chutes and fence or it can be you and the dog. Fence building is slow and expensive - if I ever win the lotto I know right where the money can go. I use lots of electonet and the dogs. Without another person they are my extra set of hands and legs. What we can not do together usually does not get done. I have learned never to go to the pasture without at least one dog, not that they would let me anyway.

Meg is my Ace in the hole when lambing, she is steady and the ewe are not worried about her but boy oh boy can she move and turn on a dime. She has a slight lamb addiction but most of the time it is my favor. Some occasions she will ignore the ewe and work only the lambs with a belly army crawl move she perfected. I just remind her we need the momma also. Tonight she helped moved a ewe a lamb to the barn while I carried one of the twins then we went out and pushed all the older pairs up for the night. A silly lamb ducked under a gate and then could not get to his mom or the rest of the group and he was a fast bugger, not sure what I would have done without Meg to continue to head him to the gate I held open while he was frantically searching for a way through the square mesh fence. His plan was not going to work but Meg knew where he needed to go, plan b was to send her to bring some ewes back to help him navigate around the fence like he should have done the first time.

Basically if a sheep needs moved or touched - medicated, vaccinated, dewormed, lambs pulled, bag checked, ear tags put in, rams in or out of a pasture...or fed the dogs help me get it done. Yep LOTS more than simply moving them here to there.

 

What most people would see when sheep is sheep being gathered and driven is the tip of the iceburg but even that takes more skills than is apparent. You get a larger flock of sheep - say 75 - 300 - up it takes that dog knowing when and where to push - how hard - how fast - what distance to keep itself - if it needs to push from the very back or off to one side - when to push on the other side to keep everyone moving together - how to pace themselves - if the flock is stopped can they take a nap or need to stay watching or need to stand so sheep do not try to go back where they just came from... push to hard and tick of those ewes and some will turn and fight... How to navigate fences and open gates and obstacles and thick brush... What happens when a sheep sticks it head in the fence and can not come with everyone else, a really good dog does not leave that sheep.. ( my dogs tell me when they need me and cant take care of it alone) What about a lamb that gets separated from the flock or in the wrong pasture or is laying sleeping and does not hear the rest of the flock leave...Blu will stand by that lamb and wait for me or nudge it awake so it follows the others. Not sure I would believe it if I did not see it myself.

These dogs are Nothing short of AMAZING. What makes a Border Collie a Border Collie - I believe it is their ability to reason and think on their feet, they figure out way more than I could ever teach them.

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Echoing what Denice said- you only appreciate a dog when you try to do a dog's job.

 

As a teen I was called on to help move cattle. Four to six people, coordinating with our big human brains and use of language, would take a few hours to do a job. Fly would take fifteen minutes with less stress, less danger, and not break a sweat. She made it look simple. It was only when you tried to do it yourself that you realised how complicated it was.

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"...These dogs are Nothing short of AMAZING. What makes a Border Collie a Border Collie - I believe it is their ability to reason and think on their feet, they figure out way more than I could ever teach them."

 

Denise, those are some long, tough days. Thank you for those descriptions of your wonderful, hard-working and intuitve dogs! I love to hear such examples of problem-solving and teamwork! :)

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I have a couple of hundred sheep at peak times, but it is a low intensity system so my dogs are really only busy at marking, weaning and drafting and when there is a problem and I need to catch a lamb or sick sheep. Those days are intense but sporadic and I couldn't do it without the dogs, but I wouldn't say they are overworked lol.

 

My neighbours have a lot more sheep but they primarily use bikes, cars and quads to muster. Their dogs get a good work out when the sheep are in the yards but most of the time they spend their days riding around with the farmers or hanging out back at the sheds. I have seen quite a lot of portly sheep dogs around my area. The area is extensive and sheep management is relatively low. Grain growing is the main money spinner out here. Sheep are more an irritation for many.

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"...These dogs are Nothing short of AMAZING. What makes a Border Collie a Border Collie - I believe it is their ability to reason and think on their feet, they figure out way more than I could ever teach them."

 

Not only I have I enjoyed the descriptions but now I have an excuse for my mediocre training results. It is clear that Juno is smarter than me!!

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Wully

 

You make me laugh :) I have no delusion of grandeur. If I had my first working dog I bought trained would have nipped it in the bud. Lad had worked large flocks - thousand of sheep- pasture lambing in Canada and the Dakotas - before he came to me. He had this LOOK that said 'You really think that is what you want me to do? Better think again.' or when he was really discussed his look said "your kidding me right?" He wouldn't move if I asked for the wrong thing, when I asked for the right thing he did not hesitate.

 

When your dog tells you are wrong it makes you humble Fast. I knew I was improving when his look changed to " i think you might be getting it" If I gave him no commands because I simply did not know how or what to ask he never failed to take of it. I owe a lot to Lad for teaching me a ton about sheep and working sheep and Border Collies.

 

Lad taught me it is usually the human that does something to cause the problem, not the dog. Sure miss him

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I'm with Liz on this one, depends on the day and the season. Yesterday was rather busy. I started out early checking and worming my pregnant ewes, which required a dog to bring them up to a shelter (I don't have a handling system, so the dogs have always just held them in a corner or building or whatever we had handy) and hold them there while I checked, wormed, and marked. Then we went out in the pasture to catch the new mamas (the wool sheep really do tend to take their lambs off and resist moving with the rest of the flock and rather than set up a fight I just go to them) and check/worm them, which required Pip to hold the single ewe to me while I did what I needed to do. Then I got a call from the farm owner asking if I could bring the hair flock in, along with all the lambs, to check the ram, who needed worming. Again we had to gather moms and babies, get them into an enclosed shelter (carefully so as not to panic the ewes and cause them to trample the lambs), use the dogs (Pip and Lark) to hold them in place (that is, to push them into a smaller space within the larger space, again being careful not to put too much pressure to cause the ewes to panic and trample lambs, but enough to keep them from breaking past me) while I went through and found what needed to be treated and did that. In the process we noted a weak lamb, but with the dog pressure in the shelter we couldn't determine who was mom, so I let the flock back out and Pip, Lark and I held them in an area of the field (i.e., not in the back of the field where we got them from) until they relaxed enough for mom and twins to rejoin. Once I could determine who was mom, we sorted her off in the field (fun, especially with lambs involved, but certainly excellent work for a fully trained dog) and then brought her and her lambs into a small paddock in the barnyard where we could keep an eye on them (mom has only half an udder and was supposed to have been culled, but was missed last year). Lark held the pressure to keep her from bolting in the direction of a strong draw while Pip jollied her and her lambs along into the barnyard.

 

After that, I took a young dog to move sheep around in another pasture (moving the tunis ewes and their lambs so we could use the space for dog training) and putting the goats up so they could be used for the most junior trainee (Corbie). Note that in this case switching dogs wasn't because one dog couldn't keep going but rather because Birdie needs the practical work. I wouldn't overface her with the entire lamb/ewe flocks, but she could move the tunis in a smaller space (with my help because there's one very aggressive mom in that group). I then got Pip and moved the lamb flock over so we could use them for training the youngsters.

 

After we were done working youngsters, Birdie got to move the lambs back over to their pasture and put everything back where it belonged in the pasture/arena areas where we were working youngsters. There was a bit of a break (dinner), and then Pip and Lark got to hold sheep off feed bunks for the nightly feeding.

 

Today, we're not doing much, except we will move the sheep off the feed bunks at feeding time.

 

In April, we will have days of doing demos that can last from half a day to all day. The dogs have to perform well (i.e., not cause wrecks and make it all look effortless) and at one of those demos the sheep won't have seen any dogs since we dog broke them a year ago before that demo. The ewes and ram should remember being worked by dogs, but the lambs will have to learn.

 

Come May and the Bluegrass, Pip and Lark will split the 12-14+ hour days that are the set out on the novice field. Last year we averaged 120 runs per day. That's actually much harder mentally on the dogs than a day of gathering flocks, etc., because they have to be so careful/perfect with each run so that the competitors all have a fair and even set out. And we'll do it for four days, no matter the weather. The dogs are definitely tired by day four, but I am probably more worn out than they are.

 

Then there are days in the summer when there's really no work to do. The sheep are on pasture, we're not feeding, the lambs are growing, and we all get to relax.

 

What's so amazing to me about these dogs is that they can adjust to what we need from them when we need it.

 

J.

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Great posts, Denice (and Julie, too)--and I am so glad to hear you and Blu are still working together :)

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Laura,

The boy is slowing down, 13 this winter. He would very unhappy if he did not get to work. I do save the harder tougher jobs for the younger ones but sometimes I need his wisdom :) I think of Bill from time to time, I am sure he is pleased. Could not have a better partner than Blu is.

Hope all is well in CO

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From a very small farmer, 2 steer, 10 goats, 9 sheep, and chickens, I am really enjoying reading what people and dogs who work larger flocks have to do. All our dog chores take about 30 minutes most of the time, if that.

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Thanks again for the various descriptions. I think I will have to visit a sheep farm this summer if I can find one in the area.

Bill

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