New Zealand - working farm tour
Posted 07 March 2006 - 10:40 AM
Sadly, the sheep industry in NZ is shrinking. Cattle are coming in as you make more money. But they are farming Merino for the wool and other breeds for meat.
My DH and I went on a tour of Walter Peak Highland Farm. It's a stop for many tourists if they take a cruise on a old steamer - but it is a real working farm - over 14,000 head of Merino up on the 5000 ft Walter peak moutain in the summer. 26 dogs work the mountain and bring them in during the winter. Ultrasounds are done on the mountain by 2 guys over a period of 2 days. And this is no hill - it's almost straight up - rocky, waterfalls, cliffs, harsh terrain. The Merino are much healthier because they are more active and thrive on the steep mountain side and rough terrain.
For meat - Corriedale will bring in $5 to $10 NZ. For wool - 1 high quality Merino pelt will bring in $50 to $500 NZ! Amazing.
They had a few NZ Border Collies (they were clear to point out that these were known as NZ Border Collies and NOT just Border Collies) around to demonstrate their mustering abilities. They also had a litter of 9 week old pups hanging out by a bull pen with a lamb hock tossed in for their dinner. We were handed a puppy and passed them all around. What a way to socialize the dogs!
The mustering demo was unlike anything I've ever known about. This was not a nice green pasture with a rolling hill here and there. This was miles of rocky terrian, with boulders, trees, cliffs, etc. REAL stuff. And this guy had a bitch that he was given about a year ago. This bitch was from a farm but the owners that got her didn't have sheep. She ended up being too much for them and at the age of 7, they handed her off to the farm in hopes the working sheep would do her good. Peter - shepherd on the farm - took 6 weeks to train her to his commands, then 3 more weeks to train her again on whistle.
For the demo, Peter stood near us and pointed to an area about 2 miles out. Where Peter stood - 3 pastures emptied - like a funnel. We could not see the sheep - just trees and boulders. The area was sloped up pretty steep and then dropped down behind some boulders. He sent her out on whistle. Told us what he was doing and then would whistle the command and she'd do it. Told her to go out on the right. She did. Told her to stop, she did, told her to go left, she did. Then we lost sight of her and even with binoculars, I couldn't see her. After about 5 minutes or so, we saw the first few sheep coming over. It was about a head of 30 and they split up around a huge boulder the size of a small house.
The patience this dog had with these sheep was so wonderful to see. She never lost her nerve, she never lost control. Even working such a huge and rough area - she brought both groups together and gathered them towards Peter. At anytime (and he did this often to show the control) he would whistle for her to stop. She did at the drop of a hat. When she finally got all the sheep into this funnel - she called her off completely. She just "turned off" and came right through all the sheep to Peter. I can't explain how this "turn off" looked, but there was a total difference in her and the sheep. She walked right in among the sheep and they let her. They didn't freak out or bolt - they seemed to know she was "off" as well as she did. It was amazing.
Peter let her get half way through the pack of sheep and then turned her on again - INSTANT change in her stance, eye, posture. It was so impressive. Peter explained how the dogs need to be able to control different types of sheep - she had a problem with a very stubborn ewe and he explained how they want a dog with some guts so that when needed, it can stand up to cheeky sheep. She did too - and the rest of the flock followed.
I was completely in love. This dog did this all on her own. And it wasn't an easy set up. No flat pasture with green grass. I know these dogs work harder than what I saw and I can't respect or honor that anymore than I am already. What I saw that day makes any obedience or agility dog look like a fool. Because what she did was so much more than running through a tunnel or picking up a piece of wood. It was instinct. And Peter kept reminding all of us that IT CAN'T BE TRAINED. It has to be there already.
I'm so thankful that I finally got to see real work being done. And the other dogs that were not working sat quietly but 100% focused on exactly what that do was doing. They never paced, the never whined or moved.
If I had the money and a way to make a living out there, I'd pack up and move out there just to have land and sheep to work. How silly that notion is, but that's the feeling both my husband and I have/had since we saw that dog work.
True working dogs are amazing - no matter the breed - and I wish everyone could see what I saw so that they could understand how the loss of these breeds will be devestating.
I'll try and post pictures when I can - still uploading them all from my camera.
Posted 07 March 2006 - 11:42 AM
Posted 07 March 2006 - 12:12 PM
Isn't it just the coolest thing when you finally get to see what "it" is that Border Collies do best. I had the same feeling of awe first time I went to the UK and saw a real hill shepherd working his dogs. Makes all the "games" we play with our dogs look like idiot work... Glad you had a good time - post some pictures if you get a chance..
Originally posted by BigD:
... What I saw that day makes any obedience or agility dog look like a fool. Because what she did was so much more than running through a tunnel or picking up a piece of wood. It was instinct...It has to be there already.
I'm so thankful that I finally got to see real work being done. ...True working dogs are amazing - no matter the breed - and I wish everyone could see what I saw so that they could understand how the loss of these breeds will be devestating.
Posted 08 March 2006 - 02:50 AM
He was very good with his dog. I would love to go some day and see the large operations!
One thing I was always taught about herding, is that it is either there, or it isn't, and all the training in the world may put shine on the work, but won't make the work levels better. There simply is no comparison to obedience or agility- they are games we play with our dogs (well, agility anyway), and dogs aren't born knowing what a contact is . I don't think that they look like fools compared to herding dogs, as the work/play is so different- one is taught, the other inborn, rather like a mothering instinct, and being able to sew
Posted 08 March 2006 - 10:12 AM
If you had a handler stand out in the middle of of a field and whistle to his dog that is out of sight a mile away then watch as that dog brings a flock of sheep back on it's own and compare that to the BEST run in agility you have ever seen - well...to me, I know which one looks foolish.
I too play in agility and rally obedience and have dinky titles on my dogs. But it's just play. And there is something foolish about play, right? I just wish those folks that think their Border Collie was bred to just run over a dog walk could see what the breed REALLY can do and really SHOULD do. No number of titles on a dog (herding, agility, obedience, etc) can compare to what those 26 dogs do on that monster mountain with 14,000 head of sheep. (And I don't think anyone on these boards will disagree - I'm refering to those folks out there that think the AKC herding title means something.)
I'll try to post pictures today...really!
Posted 08 March 2006 - 11:54 AM
I still don't think it is foolish The bond between my dogs and I when we play agilty is, well, something I hold very dear. My dogs don't herd, so that is our time, just us counting on eachother to hold up their end of the team. We recently had a run that was "on the rails", a jumpers run that was scary at some points, but we flew through like no tomorrow, and at the end, I had a dog who jumped into my arms, tail wagging, and well, it was a memorable run. That is what I think of when I think of agility- titles mean nothing, it is the bond created when we work together.
Herding, there just is no comparison. It is poetry in motion to see a dog born with the brains and tools to do the work. And do it despite horrible conditions and very little training. I have met some very very wise BC's, and to see them work truly is awe inspiring. Border Collies should be bred to herd, that is their charter in this world, but alas the very thing that makes them such wonderful working dogs, makes them superlative play dogs.
Now, about these dogs- when ya gonna import one???? And, sounds like you best import a few!
Posted 08 March 2006 - 04:13 PM
p.s. I think I know what you mean by "foolish". Do you mean that, compared to a real working BC, all the other stuff seems like child's play?
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