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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 103............Spring 2000  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Shepherding with Shepherds


Livestock Herding Dogs

I have oft lauded our Kuvasz guardian dog and written of his inherent ability to keep predators at bay. Indeed, up until his arrival, I don’t know what this farm did without him (other than lose angora goats to lion predation on very many occasions.) Once he stepped onto the property and became sentinel of Singing Falls Ranch, the predation simply discontinued. It was a remarkable, nearly overnight change – and I will forever be a respecter of livestock protection dogs.splash dot!


Now, though, it is high time that I made mention of another breed of dog that can be found on this farm, the Australian Shepherd. The well known herding dog is also known as the "aussie." Stan and I have been avid fans of aussies for nigh on 20 years. In fact, I recall that when we were still "newlyweds" of sorts, I began to badger him to keep a dog around the place. My husband’s acquiescence finally came, but not without boundaries. Though we had no livestock at the time and it was just the two of us, he emphatically stated, "You can have a dog – but it must be an australian shepherd." He’d had previous encounters with that breed of dog and liked what he saw.splash dot!


That day I happened upon an ad in the newspaper and called hopefully. There she was waiting for us, the bundle of silver and blue, an energetic puppy with one eye brown and one eye blue. We took "Kukla" home at the tender age of five weeks.splash dot!


As time went on, our menagerie of animals and our continuing quest to follow the lifestyle of small farming augmented. Through the years, though the dogs have come and gone, some laid to rest after long, useful lives, the aussie has always remained an integral part of this small farm operation we now call Singing Falls Ranch.splash dot!


Training Your Herdng Dog

After arriving eight years ago in the lush verdant state of Oregon it was time to put out my "feelers" for the best australian shepherd working dog I could find. I called that phone number in the Applegate Valley with trepidation.splash dot!


"I am not interested in color or conformation as much as I am interested in finding a working dog!" By now we had 25 angora goats and quite a handful of sheep. All we had was the old female aussie advanced in years, and she just couldn’t handle the workload.splash dot!


"You’ve called the right place." the gentleman on the other end of the phone replied.splash dot!


"He" turned out to be Roy Sage of O’Sage Aussies. (Some of you may recognize the name, for Roy has in the past shown his working australian shepherds at the Black Sheep Gathering.) The next day Stan and I traveled to the lovely valley nestled near the quaint town of Jacksonville, Oregon. After watching the lovely Australian shepherd "Shine" work a fold of sheep (pure poetry in motion), I was convinced this is what working dogs were all about. Shine was merely the extension of her master’s mind and expertise. Hand signals and a shrill silver whistle guided her effortlessly, it seemed, to pen an unruly bunch of sheep in no time flat. I chose my pup out of Shine’s then-recent litter. "Caleb" came home with us that day.splash dot!


We took Roy’s "sage" advice and did not begin to train Caleb with stock until he was six months’ of age. By then he knew the "down" command well (Roy told us that was the FIRST command the dog should learn.) Through a series of progressive steps that Stan took our herding dog through using a very long lead, Caleb learned to fall into a "lay down" position the moment his master summoned him "down" (always accompanied by a hand movement, palm down). This command helps "organize" if things become a bit hectic in the field – if the sheep scatter, for instance, or the dog moves wrong.splash dot!


It amazed me then and still amazes me to watch our Caleb work sheep or goats. He is agile and quick to obey each command, but those eyes remain steady on my husband. He’s always waiting for the next signal after he completes a move, watching for yet another command.splash dot!


This is not meant to be a "primer", by any means. Training a herding dog is left best to the experts. A good herding dog is able to single out an animal from the herd, or gather the whole flock in one fell swoop, at the sole discretion of the trainer. There are many books available to novices who are interested in the prospect of training dogs. There are many breeds of herding dogs, of course, and it seems each person has their own reasons for selecting one breed over the next, but our choice has been and remains the stub-tailed, intelligent and winsome Australian shepherd.splash dot!


caleb the good dog

Mo and Zeb, two big bucks

Running Both Herding Dogs and Guardian Dogs Together

In the book LIVESTOCK PROTECTION DOGS (David Sims and Orysia Dawydiak), they warn against allowing your herding dog to run free alongside your livestock guardian dog (LGD). "One herding dog coupled with an LGD equals a pack of dogs." We have over time taught our herding dogs to "respect" our boundaries, the fence enclosures. The guardian dog spends nearly all his time with our livestock behind those fences. When it is time for us to utilize the herding dogs with our flocks, we make sure the LGD is penned. (Uzi, the lumbering white LGD actually does a pretty good job herding, but don’t tell him that. He’s not supposed to know how to herd!)splash dot!


We have learned through trial and error to never allow "herding" to go on in the presence of the LGD. The resultant chaos that ensues, with sheep and goats confused as to what they should be doing or where they should be going, is not conducive to good shepherding.splash dot!


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A Good Dog is a Priceless Treasure

I am sure that Caleb saved my life at least once, and most likely, twice. I give credit the first time when he was but seven or eight months of age. I was putting in a flower bed next to our small cottage. My hearing is impaired slightly, so I did not hear the warning rattle of the snake. I continued to work in a frenzy to make a suitable bed for my cosmos. Caleb, the little black and white pup, was immediately under the cottage, not far from me, barking at a stack of two by fours we kept under the house. It was a strange, high-pitched falsetto, different from anything I’d heard from him previously. The tale ends soon. My hoe only aggravated the slithering interloper who sought sanctuary under the boards. My elderly neighbor was summoned, as Stan happened to be away that day, and the old man shot the snake from ten paces.splash dot!


mo the mean buck

Mo and Zeb, two big bucks

The second time the aussie’s presence came in extremely handy occurred one fine autumnal day when the large angora buck named "Mo", a registered buck whose heritage was dubious and whose personality traits were even more so, took on a rage. You see, I had shut the gate behind his does and ol’ Mo, well, he wanted more than anything in life to be shut into that doe pen AMONGST the ladies. In his small mind I became the source of every woe that ever befell him in his past, present and future.splash dot!


Yes, it was breeding season, and yes again, I should have been more wary.splash dot!


Nevertheless, as they say, hindsight is a great teacher, and I was tutored well that day. Still quite oblivious to the hand the fates would deal me, I turned my back to the buck after locking the gate tight and began to walk away. Beginning my sojourn down the rocked road incline that leads to the green Powder River gate, I sauntered dreamily while watching clouds drift overhead in azure skies.splash dot!


It came without warning. I tell you of a truth, the mind knows nothing of fear, nothing of dread, nothing of the inner conflict of soul that can suddenly dart out from the shadows of nowhere until one experiences what I did in the next few milliseconds of time. For the rest of my lifetime, I suppose, I shall recall with vividness that moment, for in an instant my sublime world became havoc. The highly agitated angora buck with the horn spread of three feet was soon heading toward me at a swift gallop. I did not hear him. The surprise of his attack only added to my dilemma, for of a truth, I was "caught off guard."splash dot!


That goat’s mighty chiseled head hurled itself against my lower spine – actually the more padded area of my body, the buttocks. Had he merely "butted me a good one" and let it remain at that, I would have been sufficiently chastised I’m sure. But, what then ensued was beyond belief. I think it surprised him as much as it stupefied me, actually, but in order for the reader to understand the story in all of its bewildering truth, I shall continue unashamedly with each lurid detail as it occurred.splash dot!


Suddenly I was in mid-air – LIFTED UP – yes, LIFTED high by the horns until I found myself an unwitting passenger sitting ASTRIDE two wide horns. The galloping and angry beast continued his trek down that long road to the locked gate. I was shrieking, of course, and of course no one heard my desperate pleas to be given another chance at life. Feeling very alone in the world, it was only me and that evil monster of a goat whose forehead I was perched upon. My skirts were flying pell mell, covering Mo’s face so contorted by rage, so he could not see a thing. The frenzied creature had to negotiate that long country road by sheer "recollection" alone. Alas, as I held tight to those "handlebars" as though I were seated atop a roaring Harley-Davidson, my "motorcycle" soon stopped of its own accord. That’s where the buck made a quick unceremonious dumping of me onto the hard earth at the gate.splash dot!


I dared to look upwards. There was no doubt in my pitiful mind – the goat was about to ram my poor debilitated frame lying haphazardly upon the ground. I watched my whole life flash in front of my eyes in slow motion. Oh, what an embarrassing way to go, my thoughts rambled. How very amusing my obituary will read…splash dot!


But wait – wait! What is this I hear amidst the commotion? Ahhh, it is the trusted friend, Caleb, the black, white and copper Australian shepherd! Indeed, Caleb was at my side – barking a series of warnings and pushing the marauder backwards, ever backwards! With trembling I arose (my back aching, but otherwise in one full piece) – and while Caleb kept the wild eyed goat at bay, I regained all my bearings and fled homeward.splash dot!


I learned a lesson that day about "bucks in breeding season" and also learned a lot about having a good herding dog around at all times. Caleb had steak for dinner that eve, while my old neighbor, Ike, thought that the goat and I should enter ourselves into the local rodeo.splash dot!


Spring Pastures

I have been spending some time walking alongside the pasturing goats again this spring. There are five tiny kids thus far – new additions to the ranch. They caper alongside the herd, a capricious band of kindergartners who prefer to stay together and tease one another mercilessly. We have quite a few still pregnant does that will birth soon. Color, color, and more color – all exhibited on some of the nicest fleeces I have ever had a chance to spin.splash dot!


The early grasses carpet our meadows like lush velveteen just as in previous springs. The goats take their leisurely stroll up the mountain incline and eventually choose the heights of the mountain for their forage before heading back to their pen where the lush alfalfa has been prearranged in their feeders. After two hours (as though an alarm rings) they agree in unison to head back to the ranch. In single file the tendriled band is homeward bound. The walk seems leisurely at first but as soon as they break from the woods and enter the wide clearing, the cavorting begins in earnest. Finally, on a run (I can almost hear them laughing with glee), they speed past the Native American graveyard, over the knoll, and into their pens.splash dot!


As the season of spring opens her bounteous hand to this ranch and the scents of lavender, sage, mint, and honeysuckle only begin to awaken, accompanied by the squalls of newborn kids and doting mothers tenderly bleating a response to their young, I find myself refreshed by the sights and smells of the season. Winter’s fury past, it’s been another good year on the ranch.splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484