Farm dogs

Animals on farms come in all shapes and sizes and their qualities and deficiencies are often not evident in their developmental stages. Maybe it is a stunning bull calf who chooses a life of amorous wandering before he is even weaned. Perhaps it is an old cranky ewe that protects and hides her twin lambs for months before they are ”discovered”, unmarked, in the wrong paddock – in fact, three paddocks from where they are supposed to reside. Perhaps it is the foal that you have proudly watched and dreamed of being a world-beater from birth, that turns out to be a white-eyed, throwback, to that “bucking stock, old Joe used to run next door”. Perhaps it is the chooks and ducks, who are supposed to be your feathered friends, providing you with eggs and company, that as soon as your back is turned, acquire super powers, with wings to match, and invade your garden and veggie patch. Add to the mix some pretty “ordinary” goats I have known and a pair of porkers, whose infamous history doesn’t bear retelling.

That brings me to the dog, our newest addition……he is a red and tan kelpie, just over fourteen months old, and we thought long and hard about a name for him before settling on, “McIntosh”. A proud name, acknowledging a distant family heritage when used in full, but one that can be easily shortened to “Mac”. Then it becomes a more suitable title that can be used in fits of rage, can be quite readily condensed between unrepeatable swear words, and which, in its abbreviated form, would catch his attention when all other commands failed. To be honest, we all like McIntosh as a dog, its just he doesn’t quite engender a sense of unbridled optimism about reaching any sort of maturity, anytime soon. In fact, at one stage, we seriously thought the breeder’s description, “should work” meant he was an “item only, batteries not supplied”, sort of dog. How wrong we were!

Mac – notice how easy it is to switch to his shortened name – was certainly not a Lego dog, he didn’t need careful fitting together, he came as a fully automated package of energy, exuberance and excessive enthusiasm. Most pups go through a playful stage, not Mac. He went from a crawling bundle of cuteness, beguiling you with those puppy eyes, to a psychopathic, leap tall buildings in a single bound, sort of pooch, in a matter of weeks. No chewing boots, or jumping at clothes on the line, it was straight into herding the chooks, going into bat for the rooster getting flogged by the other rooster, chasing sheep, as that’s what sheep are bred for, and delighting in the fact that cows make funny noises when they hit electric fences with a dog hanging off a half-masted tail. Mac was maturing and the rest of us were flat out keeping up with him. The “sit” command became an urgent lesson, and supplies of throat lozenges were always in our pockets, when we took him out in the paddocks.

My earlier reference to sheep now fits into the latest episode in “The Life of Mac” (note – still the shortened nomenclature). One of the aforementioned twin progeny of the old cranky ewe, now that she had reached marketable age, had taken to wandering. No doubt a trait passed down effectively from her dam. Much to the consternation of the rams that she sidles past in the lane on a regular basis, and all the other stock who have an ingrained respect for electric fences, “ that blasted wombat” (as she is now referred to), seems to turn up anywhere. This week she set off for Yass…..left her well fenced domain (and her jealous companions), went through two horse paddocks, down the lane past the rams, negotiated the yards at the shed, jumped the ramp and headed for town. She was noticed on the way to the morning school bus, and in the interests of maintaining our property bio-security status, it was decided to retrieve her before she got into the neighbour’s place or out onto a public road.

Years of dealing with the challenges of complex stock movements, the experience of generations kicking in and being fully aware of the young ewe’s ability to, “just push on regardless”, I decided to go and get the rams, hunt them out to the road, allow them all to join up and bring them back quietly and easily. Perhaps my recent positive session working Mac with a large mob of sheep, clouded my judgement, but I let him come along for the ride. He was “soooo” excited to be on the back of the ute, supervising proceedings. Our quarry by this time, was happily grazing and the rams were showing more than a passing interest in joining her, so I opened the gate beside the ramp and ushered them out onto the long road.

From at least 200 metres, the young ewe raised her head and took off – an unexpected development that necessitated my rally driving skills being called on, after many years in retirement. At some unmentionable speed we got in front of her and blocked the road, only to have her squeeze past the ute with its frantically barking dog, and keep going. This manoeuvre was repeated three times, with the rams being left further behind and my blood pressure going off the Richter scale. What on earth could I do to salvage the situation?

I let the dog off the ute!!

What ensued was memorable to say the least, and yes, ring lock fencing, strained to the right tension, does make an excellent, horizontal, bungy arrangement when hit by a sheep at full speed. As in all good stories, the key element of the incident was repeated three times, with Mac really warming to the task at hand. Eventually he won the battle of minds and stubbornness and “worried” the miscreant into flopping quietly down on the ground beside the ute. He then promptly sat beside her panting, and to my amazement, not rushing or biting her in any way. With a shaky voice I whispered “sit”, at least a dozen times, thinking the spell would be broken and it would all go pear- shaped. The ewe got up after a couple of minutes, turned her head for home and trotted down the road to join the rams. McIntosh, (note elevation of title), followed at a distance, and despite me not having the throat lozenges handy, he returned to the ute at the second, loud, frantic command.

As I drove homewards behind the small, now totally compliant mob, I kept looking in the rear vision mirror at my dog on the back of the ute, and I saw a different animal there. I saw a young, inexperienced, over keen canine, who suddenly had grown in stature and who carried himself with a sense of pride, for having done a good job. Meanwhile, the rams, casually negotiated the open gate and continued towards the shearing shed, while the crossbred ewe decided to ignore the gate and jump the ramp. She completely mistimed her take off, miscalculated the distance, and in spectacular fashion, landed in the centre of the ramp, and was stuck fast.

McIntosh and I just sat there and laughed.

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