Saturday, February 14, 2009

Herding Sheep

As I was driving down the highway, I noticed something out of the ordinary--hundreds of white objects moving on the hillside. As I got closer, I saw it was a herd of sheep. This is sheep country out here, and every winter sheepherders bring thousands of sheep. The sheep are good at using the snow for moisture (unlike cattle, which need water). Thus  the sheep can survive in remote places in the desert, far from water as long as there is some snow. 

This big white dog is a sheep dog (sometimes referred to as a livestock guardian dog). The most common types of sheep dog in this area are the Pyrenees or Akbash. They are strong and loyal, and they always stay with the sheep, protecting them from predators like coyotes. They also protect them from strange humans, so it's never a good idea to get out of your car near a big sheep dog--you're liable to get bitten because you're seen as a threat.

Here's the sheepherder on his horse at the back of the herd. With him are several border collies. They are extremely helpful moving the sheep, with their herding instinct kicking in. The border collies stay with the sheepherder, returning to his camp at night. They are loyal to him, doing what he says.

If you look closely at the sheep, you'll notice they aren't all white. A brown sheep is put in for every 25 or 50 sheep (depending on the herd). The brown sheep allow for the sheepherder to quickly count the herd by counting them and then multiplying by 25 or 50.

The sheep are moved every couple of days so they don't overgraze any one area. Often the sheep are ready to move on, making it a bit easier to move them. 

They graze on the way, their thick winter coats protecting them from the elements. They will be sheared in April by sheep shearers that come all the way from New Zealand and Australia. (I will try to have a post about that when they come.)

Being a sheepherder is a lonely, but relatively peaceful life. It definitely involves lots of fresh air and sunshine. Most of the sheepherding is done far from roads, requiring the old-style skills of managing a horse and dogs. I admire the sheepherders--I don't think I could do that job for even one day.

5 comments:

Old Hunter said...

The white dog looks like you could go up and pet it. Looks are deceiving!

Caroline said...

How clever using the brown sheep to keep track of how many sheep are in the flock! It’s ingenious, yet simple. I’ve never heard that before, and I feel like I’m in the know of a big secret.

We had some sheep for a few years. I loved it when we’d get twins. They are so cuddly and sweet…

viagra online said...

Great pictures, it is amazing how the dogs are trained since they are cubs to handle the herd.

xlpharmacy said...

This is something beautiful I'd like to live in a place like that, specially being the owner of one of those fields.

entryleveljobscam said...

Good post.

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