Amherst Island sheep farm
The workers at Topsy Farms very much include its dogs. They are members of the team who work to care for and protect our flock. At present we have one Border Collie and 8 Guardian dogs.
We’ve had several beloved collies over time. They utterly live to work the sheep. Unfortunately, they aren’t needed often enough. One consequence of not working regularly is their tendency to think they know rather better than the shepherd what is required. They are not, unfortunately, candidates for sheep-dog-trial-precision work. Belle is our present worker. This picture is my favorite of one of our former dogs, Sam, after a particularly pleasing sheep drive. He’s cooling his tummy in a mud puddle, and grinning.
We have tried a variety of breeds of guardian dogs, to protect the flock from coyotes and other predators. We’ve found the best breed for our circumstances are Akbash (Turkish), though we’ve had two Komondores (Hungarian) and several Maremmas (Italian) – one was half Great Pyrenees.
We want the dogs to be attached to the sheep more than people.
They must also be willing to be handled by the two-legged help. We want their instincts to be more defensive than aggressive, so that people cycling past the flock on the road are not threatened. They must be hardy and quite comfortable living outside year ’round with the sheep.
This picture of ‘Peter Guarding the Flock’ shows his skill in grouping his girls behind him in a tight bunch while he faces the intruder. (When they work in pairs, one will stay back with the flock while the other moves towards the threat, barking loudly.) The coyotes are getting larger, working more in packs, and becoming even more wily. Our dogs try to meet the challenge.
Here’s a photo of Trixie’s first litter of puppies bred on our farm. We’ve decided, cute as they are, to leave dog breeding and initial rearing work to others. One of these pups, Blackie, is still with the farm. Others have been purchased by sheep farmers elsewhere.
The final photo shows Christopher with several of the dogs, getting treats in the evening. The dogs are rarely grouped together in such numbers. We were experiencing severe coyote predation, and were moving the sheep to the barnyard every evening for protection.
The guardian dogs are always with the sheep; caring protective companions.
all photos by Don Tubb
During lambing at Topsy, we often have ewes who birth triplets-potential foster lambs. Some ewes who are in great shape and have lots of milk, are able to raise all three. This only works if the lambs are of similar size. If one is much bigger, or more frequently, much smaller, one must be taken away for the health of the others. Chris, our main shepherd, has been very successful in arranging adoptions with a ewe who only had a single lamb. Occasionally, a small hungry lamb has no acceptable mother. So, our son Kyle and I are back in the foster lamb business. One Mother’s Day present was sitting with a blatting baby curled up on my lap (butt end wrapped in an old blanket) learning to suck, then proceeding to do so, busily. I started at 5:30 am on a gorgeous spring morning, sitting outside, listening to the dawn chorus of birds and watching their busy mating rituals and (for the early birds) nest building and/or feeding squawkers. There is so much COLOUR right now. Our huge wild plum tree is a mass of white flowers, that are just starting to scatter its confetti-like petals when the breeze hits. We have a big wire dog cage set up on the front verandah for overnight warmth for the foster lambs, and put the babies outside in the daytime in a small pen with the front yard ewes and lambs nearby. The second day, a couple of three year olds and their moms came to visit the Wool Shed. Kyle gave them all bottle-feeding lessons, then they trailed after him, Pied Piper-like, as I visited with their moms in the Wool Shed. Grandson Nathan was leading the tour to visit the egg-laying hens, but stopped at the highest point of interest, a parked tractor, and announced “that is the Alice Chalmers 185 but we don’t climb in it as it has a tippy seat.” (He just turned three.) Day three, we have 5 healthy fosters.