Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gibson to the Rescue!

It was already a busy farm day when I got Patty's message. I was just home from a trip into town to mail off some soap packages. Before that I had my farrier here trimming the horses' feet and spent an hour sectioning off my pasture for better rotational grazing/regrowth. I felt the farm part of the day was done and was planning on an afternoon of writing and design work. You know, the kind of gentle, quiet, work done hunched over a computer screen with a cold drink and music playing. But when I went to my computer to check my messages I read:

I need help. Bring Gibson - the lambs got through fence

I didn't think twice. I wrote back I was on my way and Gibson and I jumped into the truck and headed to Livingston Brook Farm.

I wasn't too worried. If there's one thing I am used to it is sheep escaping. Gibson, Friday, and I have helped return many a stray sheep to this farm. But most of the time it was animals that were born, lived, and knew my farm. It's a whole different story when the lambs are brand new to a place and have no idea about the lay of the land and no familiar shelter to call home. Patty picked up her three pasture lambs this morning. They escaped during the re-homing process. They were in a strange place and out of sight. This is scarier than sheep outside a fence. This is three animals that have no idea where they are, why they've been taken there, and suddenly loose and wild in the big wide world.

So you call in a sheepdog.

When we arrived at Patty's farm no cars were in their familiar places. The horses were restless. They snorted at Gibson and pranced alongside us as we jogged towards the far field. I saw Patty's truck out in the pasture - she had driven in the direction they had ran.

I called out and she seemed okay, but worried. She had a recording on her phone of the lambs' mothers call and was, I think, just happy that reinforcements had arrived to help. She explained she was unloading three very boisterous young Romney ram lambs out of the back of her capped pickup truck and they found the one spot in the fence to escape and made a dash for it. They took off into the woods, across a stream, and away from her property. She lost sight of them in the fray and now they'd been gone about half an hour. She didn't know where they'd gone off to.

We split up, her driving with a bucket of grain to neighbors' homes. Gibson and I took for the road and decided to walk along the long, winding, driveways of adjacent properties. This area of the county is real farm country. Where I live - on a mountain road - there are small pieces of yards and lawns cut into the forest - but this was a place where people mow with tractors and 30 acres is a driveway. I didn't know where Patty had gone but I took Gibson where I thought sheep would go - to grass on a high spot.

Gibson and I followed a long driveway for a while and then I decided to cut into the field, walking up a small crest of hill. Then, by luck or tactics, we both came across three lambs laying down in the middle of the grass in the sun. I was certain Patty didn't see them if she drove by. They looked like a pile of brown dirt, almost level with the ground in tall grass. What luck! They were here! All together!

I told Gibson to move forward and the sheep exploded up from the ground, taking off. Gibson made a wide circle around them and gave chase - keeping the trio of runaways inside the perimeter of his herding. It was a beautiful thing to watch. He ran with such focus and intention. It reminded me of the lessons we took together when he was a puppy. We had found the sheep. They were okay. We weren't even a mile away from the farm! We could get this to all work out!

Soon Patty's big black truck crested the hill. I waved and pointed to our prizes. She poked her head out of the window asked what was best to do next? My first thought was for Gibson to herd them into the garage up the hill towards the neighbor's home. But I could tell Gibson had the sheep under control. He had been a living fence for about five minutes now, weaving and chasing and keeping the lambs more and more trustful of me and less of him. As they got closer to me the idea of grabbing them made the most sense. We could scoop them up and carry them to her truck.

Moments later Patty came out to us with a few leashes in hand. Together - two women and a dog - we were able to catch all three ram lambs and carry them to her truck. It probably only took another ten minutes but felt like The Battle of Woolterfell.

To Patty's credit she caught the first one and then grabbed the second with the other hand! I nabbed the third. Mission accomplished! Gibson, who had been running, trotting, or sprinting non stop in the sun had his tongue out halfway to his chest. He needed to cool off, fast. He's a damn good dog but not used to this level of intense work

I called Gibson into the pickup, he was panting up a storm. He had not herded this hard in a year. On the way back to her farm I had her let us out at the edge of her property where the Livingston Brook winds through her pastures towards the Battenkill River. Gibson knew what to do. He slid his over-heated body into the stream near a culvert letting the water slowly float him towards some soft stones. He floated like Baloo the bear and drank as his black fur floated around him. It was the prettiest thing I'd seen in years. When he felt better walked out to be beside me.

This dog. A thousand tiny gods could not offer me eternal life in exchange for him. What a perfect beast. He was a true hero. He was there in a pinch, performed, and saved the day. If he wasn't with me we'd still be chasing those lambs.

We got the three runaways into their shed with shade, water, grain, hay and a scolding. Patty set up the fencing to a better system. We went into her kitchen to clink glasses of iced tea in celebration. We got the livestock back and home safe. They weren't lost, or in the road, or feeding a generation of very grateful coyotes. The shepherds managed to keep the flock. Honestly it was a shame it was too early to drink.

I am glad the sheep are back, but really it was all Gibson. A trained herding dog became the transportable fence we needed and did so without hurting the sheep or himself. He worked hard and I gave him two glazed donuts on the way home (his absolute favorite thing in the world).

And it felt wonderful to be helpful to Patty, and to be useful and there when she needed the help. That woman has rescued this farm so many times. I hope she always knows she can count on me to do the same. That's what friends and farmers are for.

And very good dogs.