Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And, We're Off...in a Herd of Turkeys!

Yesterday, MM observed that the turkeys seemed hungrier than usual.  Wading through what they've been grazing on for the past week and a half, he noticed that the grasshopper population had been considerable diminished.  There weren't the clouds of flying things apparent as there had been.  The insects had either been consumed or sufficiently terrorized to have left.  So....it was time to herd turkeys.

This is such FUN!  It's a time to work with a Border Collie to do what Border Collies do best:  crowd control.  It's such a test of the dog's ability to listen to commands and react accordingly--or not!  I'm in seventh heaven on these work duties. 

Mostly, at this stage of a young dog's life (two and a half years of age), they've got it together and such was the case yesterday.  Commanding my girl to go left, go right, go back...and intuitively exchanging "conversation" was thrilling!  It's inspiring to watch and to work with a dog that simply corrals the stock at command, rather than chasing or attacking.  

Voice controls for Border Collies come from the "old" countries--Scotland, England, Wales...where sheepherding was the anchor for the economy and farmers learned to work with dogs to bring about a relationship that benefited both dog and master.  Whistles are also used, but while I've learned to use the whistle fairly predicably (well), I favor voice commands.  Here are a few:

"Way to me" means the dog is to go to the dog's right.
"Come bye" means the dog is to go to the dog's left.
"Down" means belly on the ground or at least stop.
"Go back" means reverse direction...the dog is to go directly (straight) back from where it is and wait for a command
"Keep out" means the dog needs to go wider in it's cast
A "cast" is like a windshield wiper...the dog starts on one side and sweeps the field, clearing it of all stock and weaves back and forth to sweep.  The dog can be "downed" any time during the cast if a complete gather is not wanted.  Increments of all of these commands come into play, along with an intuitive working balance between dog and master. 

That said, yesterday was a complete success!  The turkeys got a ton of grasshoppers.  The Border Collies got a ton of experience.  Both masters got a ton of fun...and a good time was had by all.  There's only one problem:  the turkeys are quick learners and they are ready to go again...well...more than ready:  they're flying out of their pen, heading for the south field, and bent on getting another load of grasshoppers in their craw!  Both masters have other chores to do first and the dogs, having been on stakeout all night last night in the apple orchard (on deer patrol) need a rest!

Note:  my pix of Cade working are a bit sub-par.  It's difficult to work with the dog, running, coaching, encouraging...and simultaneously mind a 300 mm lens (need a tripod, really).  But, thought I'd include them anyway to give you the idea of what "work" to Cade looks like.

Cade on approach.  In this case, she is driving--that is, pushing the stock away from her on command
In this case, she is moving onto the turkeys (on command) to "fetch"--as in bring the stock to me

You must be kidding!  These don't belong here!
  These aren't cows...

What the.....?  What are these things?



  1. Elora I secretly told my husband last night that keeping up with this week's volunteers was a bit like herding cats. I think that would compare to your turkeys so I could sure have used a Border Collie! blessings, marlene

  2. Elora -- Your Border Collie is amazing. Somehow, I get the feeling that the dog enjoys the work better than the masters. -- barbara

  3. I love watching Border Collies at work. My husband's company had a problem with geese and they "rented" a man with his collie. Being a wonderful company, they also purchased a few sheep so the collie could put them in the pen.

  4. Funny girl, Marlene. We'll keep it a secret! I'm pretty sure Cade would figure it out though! Thanks for visiting! Others reading this blog, if you love to see beautifully executed handcrafts, don't fail to stop by Marlene's blog:
    She has some gorgeous quilts! And she's so FAST! They are finished in an eyeblink!

    NCMW--How absolutely COOOOOL about "renting" a BC! And the sheep to boot ! What a guy! He knew where the BC's heart would be!! And yes, mine have been known to chase the geese (in the sky, mind you!) here in the farm. Smart little cookies, they are!

    Well... I think I'd call it a draw! My buttons were popping today with Cade's stellar performance! I think Cade and I are equally matched in terms of loving our work!

    Speaking of loving your work, what are you cooking up over there on Folkways Notebook, Barbara?? Can't wait to see! It's always fascinating!

    Thanks everyone for stopping by for a visit! I got the pickles finished. Yea!!

  5. Hi there, Elora. What a wonderful dog Cade is! I know he must be happy to have such an important job to do. When my children were very small, our Welsh Corgi was always trying to herd them---which was often a full-time job. :-)

    I loved those brightly-colored and beautiful squash in your last post. I think I'm going to have to order some of those seeds for our garden next year.

  6. By the way, you've probably written about them before, but I didn't know you had Belted Galloways. They had lots of them at a place called Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, NC, near where I used to live. I love those Oreo cows! :-)

  7. Beth,
    I would loved to have seen your Corgi herding kids! Most people don't associate Corgi's with herding behavior, but they were used much as were BC's. They are I believe considered as part of the group of "herders."

    As for Belted Galloways, we actually have what is called Dutch-Belted. These are the milk cows of that type. The Galloways are the beef animals. Our DB's are also called Lakenvelders. We now have just the two. The other five had been used by Tufts University for taking embryos and we were too stupid to realize when we bought them, that they would be lucky to breed. We were told they were all "bred" when they came, but nobody had actually checked. So, we wound up with four barren cows and one that had two calves and then would not breed. Sad, but true. So what you see are both heifers from the one Dutch Belted that did manage to produce 2 lovely heifers. We're milking one now, and we hope we'll have more!

    As for the squash, check out Seed Saver's Exchange. I know they'll have them.

    Thanks for stopping by!