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You don't have a sheepdog?

"You don't have a sheepdog?!" Then the unsaid "well they can't be proper Shepherds".

My usual response to the inevitable "Why not" is a flippant explanation of my inability to instruct myself as to which way is left and which is right, let alone a dog in the distance, while at the same time translating the commands into sheepdog ("Come bye" means go clockwise and "Away to me" anticlockwise) or use a whistle. My long ago experiences of trying to move sheep on the North Downs as a teenager would usually end with a confused dog, traumatised sheep and a disheartened Shepherdess.

So how do we cope without? My answer would please our Public Health Minister who is calling on the nation to get active and get healthy. We walk. And there are a lot of hills round here! Rod pointed out yesterday that we both (he at just over the average age for a farmer at 60 and me not far behind) arrive at the top of hills in a far better state now than we did 15 years ago when we moved to the farm.

We have to check every spot where a lamb could be caught in the brambles or, as we have found too often lately, where sheep injured by dogs have gone to hide.

We have found over the years that our sheep trust us, which is a reflection of our not sending wolves, aka sheepdogs, to round them up on a daily basis. They will follow us when we need to move them from field to field and we can, with a bit of strategic positioning of hurdles, easily gather them.

Our Alligator mobile handling system has revolutionised this as the hurdles easily pull round the sheep.

More importantly they let us get close and the friendly ones come up to us, as if to say hello. This allows us to spot any problems quickly which has a very positive effect on their health and welfare.

We can also tell when they have been bothered by dogs as they are really spooky and don't let us get so close.

Of course our situation, with relatively small fields and a flock of hundreds, not thousands, is very different to others. On hill farms, where sheep have to be checked over hundreds of acres, dogs are essential. It is a personal choice, but one I think works for the health and well-being of both us and our sheep.

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