A Tale of Transhumance: Herding Sheep with Livestock Guardian Dogs
(Page 2 of 7)
We each have our own stories. This is mine, a season with the sheep.
The wind howled through part of our first night on the range, but when it calmed, I looked out from my warm sleeping bag to discover a bright waning moon lighting up the landscape. Coyotes were howling and yowling in the badlands and clay buttes to the southeast, and my livestock guardian dogs were returning the barrage of sound. I would find sleep difficult in silence, but the low, full-throated boom of a large dog is akin to rocking my cradle.
At dawn I rose to check the sheep, which were contentedly moving off their bedding ground, tasting the morning’s frosty morsels, and the livestock guardian dogs began to appear around camp. First Rena, the ambassador of all guardians, came in with enthusiasm, apparently pleased to learn that I had endured the night. Next came the young stud dog, our Russian comrade Rant, limping up from the hills below, stiff and sore, a battle-weary warrior. Luv’s Girl, the oldest and wisest, mother of Rena, trotted in hungry, arising from her bed amid the sheep. Each received fresh water and food along with my adoration. The dogs are tired this morning, and I can only hope that the coyotes are feeling the same way.
Jim called my cell phone (I have cell service only atop the highest hills of this remote rangeland), reporting that the weather would be blustery for the next two days, with a good probability of rain or snow on the third day. Since the morning was fairly calm, I decided after breakfast to take the sheep to the only water hole in the pasture, before the winds began again. The herd had been quenching its thirst on snowdrifts remaining in a few gullies and draws, and with the morning frost on their grazing range. Rena and Abe, my herding dog and constant companion, came along, helping me move the herd to water. The sheep are naturally wary about walking into tall brush and always pause on hills to scope out the scene below before proceeding. Rena took the lead, scouting out ahead of the herd as Abe and I directed from behind. In her position up front, Rena flushed a few sage grouse and chased off the ravens that swooped low overhead.
We arrived at the small impoundment only to find a layer of ice on the surface. While Rena and I got busy busting ice along the edge, the herd proceeded forward, not the slightest bit interested in our efforts. Apparently the morning frost provided all the moisture the animals needed, but at least they would know where to find water later on.
We hurried to catch up, as the sheep grazed atop a mound I had dubbed Coyote Rocks, where golden eagles, sly coyotes, and elusive desert cottontails live a secretive existence. Abe, Rena, and I spent the next hour climbing around, inspecting all the nooks, caves, nests, and dens. The multicolored lichen blanketing the rocks is abundant, as are the whitewash stains left by raptors on their most-frequented perches. The wind resumed its howling while we were thus engaged, with the sheep grazing away from us down below. We made it back to camp just as the clouds moved over us, casting the landscape in shadow, accompanied by gusting cold winds.
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