Sheep are fascinating creatures, although many people would call them stubborn and uncooperative. I admit however, they can be frustrating at times.
They actually learn very quickly though, as long as they are given a chance to think. Watching people shove them into trucks, through narrow races and into shearing sheds I only see the fear in their eyes.
In reality they are a frightened animal trying to escape the noise or pain. If they have been in that situation before and know something awful is about to happen it is no wonder they do not want to go. We were crutching a large mob of dry ewes (unmated ewes) recently and they had been in a lush paddock and were huge. To crutch them we yard them and push them through a race and up a short ramp to a ‘crutching cradle’ where they are flipped out one at a time and crutched by three men who stand at the side of the machine.
The sheep were wild and strong, wrestling them up the ramp was out of the question. The ramp was shiny and they would stop at the bottom. I learned by observing them that if I allowed them the time to put their heads down and sniff the ramp they would walk up without any trouble and without me having to force them. It was only a few seconds and we never got behind. If I tried to bustle them before they were ready they would panic and walk backward. One sheep walking backward can empty a whole race by backing all the way out again and then refusing to go at all. Occasionally one refused to go and had to be ‘assisted’ but mostly they ran up well.
Sometimes when they get to the mouth of a race a sheep will turn around and put it's rear end to the race. Instead of trying to turn that one around it is easier to push it away from the race and move up another one that is facing the right way. Once the sheep see the one in front moving they will turn and follow easier. So we need to think about how we do things.
I keep my trainer mobs in a yard during the day and at night let them around the house to graze as this saves everyone having to open and shut gates . They soon learn when I am going to let them out and after a couple of days would be waiting at the gate for me. Sometime I let them graze during the day leaving the laneway open thinking, if I watch them they won’t go down the road. However if I forget or the phone rings they seem to know and even if I had left them right on the other side of the house when I next checked they would be halfway down the lane and I would have to rush to get them back. I am sure they know when I am not watching.
They get to look on the handler as the leader and when you are training a young dog they will follow you if they trust you, and the dog can calmly bring them along behind you. If the dog is pushing too hard they will race past you, having decided you are not a very good leader. A dog that works naturally at a good distance from the sheep will have the sheep just behind you and not rushing past all the time. There is no need to constantly turn to look at the dog you know where he is by the position of the sheep. If they are constantly rushing past, you must work on slowing the dog down, which might take a while with some dogs.
Mobs of sheep have a leader that the others follow. Sometimes this can change within a short space of time. The aim when working mobs of sheep, no matter how large, is to get them following their leader calmly. If for some reason they are frightened, or the dog, (or handler) alarms them, a new leader may emerge from the flock and race off. Many farmers bring their sheep in at top speed with motorbikes, or dogs that run flat out and bark, causing the sheep to circle or race off in an effort to escape. Slowing things down and watching for the lead sheep can help stop this happening.
It really does pay to try and understand sheep a little, and how they think, it will make handling and moving them much easier.
Angel calmly moving the mob.