Blairstown Press Article - A Successful Day of Herding at Kergloff Farm in Knowlton
Schutzhund USA Article #1 - Trial Article - January/February 2012
Schutzhund USA Article #2 - Kessy vom Waldwinkel - Jack of All Trades (March/April 2012 Issue)
The Complete German Shepherd Dog Magazine - Grip Sheep, Bite Sleeve (September/October 2012 Issue)
The Complete German Shepherd Dog Magazine - The Young Tending Dog (January/February 3013 Issue)
Tending Sheep in an Orchard
Please visit our friends at Brook Hollow Winery & Orchard for great local wine and apples!
Five years ago I approached a neighboring orchard owner about moving my flock in and out of his orchard after picking season. To my surprise, he proved to be an extraordinarily kind and generous person, and I am indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Flitcroft for their yearly "windfalls." From conversations with shepherds from Europe, this practice is disappearing, for whatever reasons, so I have really appreciated engaging in this increasingly lost art form over the years.
My flock is extremely fond of grazing in the apple orchard, and the benefits are considerable. The fallen apples and the leaves on the low-lying branches, along with the almost constant presence of thick grass and swaths of clover, are a nutritional bonanza. When I begin the orchard grazing season, it coincides nicely with the "flushing" period, during which I am attempting to boost the dietary intake of my ewes for their upcoming breeding season.
From a sheepherding perspective, however, the orchard, particularly when the leaves are still clinging to the branches, represents quite a challenge. Just bringing 100-200 sheep into an area they are intensely interested in is difficult. At the moment the herding dog is placed in a stand at the corner of a graze the flock rushes in like shoppers during a holiday rush for store sales. It is imperative that the dog be sent immediately and speedily along the border in order to head off the stampede to the cross borders. Things can quickly devolve into chaos because the rush is accompanied by limited vision for the shepherd, the flock, and the tending dog. An enormous amount of independence is required from the dog, and the shepherd must have complete trust in his/her dog.
Once the flock settles, the dog has to patrol the borders with almost no guidance from the shepherd. It is simply not possible to see most of the time, worsened by the low canopy. Over the years I have gotten a bit better at listening to the dog's breathing to identify location, but if the wind is blowing the rustling leaves negate that advantage. It can also feel a bit claustrophobic.
Prey drive can be quite stimulated by working the orchard. Branches being bumped, leaves rustling on the branches and on the ground, sheep half or fully obscured by the trees, and sheep made slightly more skittish by a surprise appearance on the border all seem to increase the predator/prey tension. A dog who is more tolerant and less apt to grip on the border is certainly appreciated here.
The first video is a view from the outside with my Beauceron Elite patrolling. The second video is a view from the inside. The dog is a GSD Kessy, owned and handled by one of my advanced students, Meghan Rabon. Enjoy!