Friday, June 21, 2013

With and Without A Dog

Maybe this is just me, or maybe it's the same for everyone, but lately I've been thinking a lot about how I view livestock with a dog, and without a dog. And I wonder which I like better.

To explain a bit more: For years I've raised animals without a stock dog to help me (and currently still raise animals this way, since Gyp can't really "help" for at least a year), and my method has always been the same: Earn the animals trust, make them realize that you're not a threat, that they usually get good things when they cooperate (i.e. food, a rub on their favorite spot), and learn the perks and quirks of each individual animal (except chickens. Hehe.). Moving the goats required knowing who was the herd queen so that I could start the group off my leading her away; but I also have to know which ones will need verbal encouragement, which ones I'll have to go back for, and which ones require some eye contact to get my point across. It's a very, very personal, close relationship that is absolutely mandatory if you want things to go as smoothly as possible.

Now let's swing over to using a dog. I find that with a dog around, I suddenly view my animals differently. They become a unit; one mass that gets treated and worked in the exact same manner. I no longer have to know personalities of each one; don't need to know that Trigun likes to go before Jupiter. It's now the dog's job to get everyone where they're supposed to be in a calm and efficient manner, and I no longer have to worry about sweet-talking any of the hoofstock into behaving. 

Without a dog, I view my herd like this: 11 goats, 15 sheep, 2 cows. The goat's names are Tamarack, Jupiter, Trigun, Summer, Lyric, Catherine, Rosemary, Shilling, and Sombrita, Ezekiel and then there's Sombrita's doeling (who doesn't have a name just yet). The cows are Ellie and Ruby Tuesday (I did not intentionally tack on that "Tuesday" part... It just - happened. *grin*) The sheep are Darcy, Brown Sheep, and then all the rest are numbered, save for the senior ewe who I randomly started calling Big Mama. Rosemary's the herd queen in the goat world, and tends to keep her distance from humans; Summer is last year's bottle brat who won't leave you alone. If you want Jupiter to move, tap her twice, right behind the shoulder blade and tell her to "head out". Sombrita will do anything for food. Shilling's shy and needs a lot of verbal as well as physical encouragement. Catherine's stubborn, but a fast learner.

With a dog, I now view my herd like this: 28 animals. All look healthy. The black and white spotted goat needs to be a bit more dog broke... Need to work on that this week. The dog and I moved them to a new paddock this morning and one goat tried to escape; got it back where it belongs though.

See the difference? We suddenly went from names and temperaments to impersonal terms of "it", "they", and "them", and viewing them as one single group.

Without a dog, I am completely dependent on using my own physical strength, my wits (what little I have.), and using the bridge of trust between me and my stock to get things accomplished. I find I have to keep my numbers small with this method, since I can't possibly give enough attention to each animal in a large setup to keep things running smoothly. It's exhausting.

With a dog, I now rely on him/her to help me get things done. If a cow/heifer decides it doesn't want me to lead it, then all I have to do is call the dog around and if necessary, have him give the cow a quick nip (usually the presence of a canine is enough to get a cow moving). Without the dog, I would have been attempting to lure the cow along with grain, which works only half the time. I can have larger numbers now, with a four-legged working partner around. Since I don't have to be paying so much attention to individuals, I can easily ramp up numbers to what the dog and I can physically handle. Yes, I've lost that personal feeling around the place, but I think that's okay... I want a working farm; not a petting zoo. In the end, I would rather have numbered animals, than named ones. It's easier for me, and these days I'm loving it that I can talk about the sheep by simply referring to their numbers (Out of the 13 new ones here, I get to keep #33 and #45!) rather than stressing about thinking up a name for them. It's already stressing me out that Sombrita's doeling doesn't have a name yet, and I have to think of something. My only exception would be the milk cow/s. Those ladies are allowed to have names of their own. :)

When all is said and done, I think I like my view on livestock when there is a dog around. I feel like it's much easier for me to focus on just one relationship with my dog, than trying to juggle a whole bunch with the hoofstock.

Which type of farm do you prefer? One with the personal relationships with all the animals? Or one that's more distanced and uses numbers instead of names? 


WarPony said...

I've been looking in to the idea of a stock dog, but I very much like the personal relationship with my goats so having the dog to help would not really change that all that much. I think I like the idea of a hybrid of the two, plus the relationship with the dog. I don't think there is anything at all wrong with "group with a dog" option rather than the "individuals without a dog" option.

I've never actually worked with a stock dog, but the more I hear about it the more I really like the idea.

Julie said...

I like a personal relationship with all of my animals. I like to know their unique and wonderful personalities, to build a relationship with them, to train them and to love them. :)