I am selling my ranch, and as I’m not sure where I’ll land or when I’ll be settled, I must sell my cattle. This is a difficult thing to do, for over the past 4 years I have come to regard cows as honorable, spiritual beings. I will miss them.
And so will Wil. They have been instrumental as (Alice and I) have worked to rehabilitate this now 6 year old Bouvier to assume responsibilities of a working ranch dog. One of these skills is herding cattle!
Late yesterday morning we set up a loading zone and ushered Mab, a one year-old heifer, into the trailer. She went in quietly. I took her to East Wenatchee to her new home. Her new owners had prepared a 4-strand barbed wire fence that was about 150×150 feet. When I opened the door to the trailer, she hopped out, looked around, and started bawling. “Moooooo???” she called. “Moooooooooo!” – Where are my friends? Where is my family? Where am I? HELP!
I stayed for about 30 minutes hoping she would settle in. She did.
But when I left—her trailer in tow—she panicked. There went her ride, and she knew that without that trailer, she would never find her old friends. She raced around and around the pasture until she found a place she figured she could jump. She jumped, tore down part of the fence and headed down the road in pursuit of the trailer.
I’d been on the paved road for a few minutes when I got a frantic call. “The cow jumped over the fence!” said the breathless voice. “I’m turning around,” I said and found a suitable driveway to get the truck and trailer turned back.
Mab’s new owner and his friend cut her off. She headed west with them in pursuit. She turned south and went through two more barbed wire fences. When I arrived, I called them again. I was standing at the top of a hill that sported an amazing view of rolling sagebrush, pine coveys, the city of Wenatchee and even Mount Rainer. Somewhere between where I was standing and Mount Rainer were two men and a heifer.
“Go down the dirt road to the west. Then turn south. She’s still moving south and she won’t stop.”
“Where are you in relationship to Mab?” I asked.
“We’re behind her a couple hundred yards.”
“You’re pushing her south! You have to go way wide. Spread out and try to get ahead of her. As long as you’re following her, she will keep moving. You’re herding her south.”
With this information, Wil and I set off on foot to try to catch the trio. We were a good mile behind them with no chance of catching up. I’d had my appendix out exactly four weeks from that day. I don’t’ think the doc would have approved of me hiking out into the sage lands in search of a frightened little cow.
By the time Wil and I crawled under the barbed wire fence, the men had caught up with her at a steep cliff. Mab turned around and they herded her back toward the last fence she’d gone through.
Wil and I waited behind a sage bush at the top of one of a little hill. When he saw the cow, Wil set off toward her.
“Wil,” I said. “Come back.” He returned at a trot. “Steady now. We’re going to just stand here and watch.”
We watched Mab. She had spotted us. She mooed and I called out, “Mab! It’s okay, little Moo! I’m here.” “MOOOOOOOO,” replied Mab. But she did not move.
Reinforcements arrived in the form of a neighbor in a pick up truck with a border collie mix dog.
“Uh-oh,” I thought, “Wil’s going to lose it when he sees this dog.”
The man truck drove Mab back toward the fence. Wil and I walked way off to the east so that we could help position her to approach a weak section of the fence. Wil was responsive and calm as I urged him to “get up ahead,” “come by,” and turn “away to me.” When I asked him to stop, he did so and turned to watch me for his next instructions.
Mab slipped through the fence where I’d hoped she would.
Wil and I made our way to the fence and slipped through as well.
We followed the fenceline to the place where I’d tried to open a drop-gate—a gate made of wire and poles that are hooked to a fence in such a was that one is supposed to be able to open that portion of the fence. But someone had stapled the gate shut. I had left my rope here when Wil and I had come this way earlier. I retrieved my rope.
Wil and I waited to allow Mab to get a little space before we moved on. Meanwhile, the pickup truck man let his dog out. Wil and I were watching Mab when the dog, curious to say “hey” to Wil, sneaked up and sniffed Wil’s tail.
Wil has yet to hone that “intuitive sense” that most dogs have. He turned to find out what was tickling his rear end and saw the dog right there. He snarled and a second before he pounced, I called out, “WIL! We are working! Leave that dog alone and get over here and help your Chief!”
To my amazement, Wil aborted the attack and turned to me. He made one more threat to the dog. “Wil! We need to move the cow! Your Chief needs you to help do Big Work!” I reminded him. He left the dog and came to me. I’m pretty sure I herd him say something like “I’ll deal with you later, Spot.” (I think I heard a few explicatives thrown in for good measure.)
We worked our way to Mab, but the other men had gotten ahead of us and she ended up slipping through another barbed wire fence. The cattle dog went to work and that made Wil a bit nuts. I tied his collar to the rope I had been carrying and we began to do our Leadership Walk. That pretty much took us out of the herding game which is too bad because up to that point his performance had been flawless.
When Wil was finally tuned back into me, we set off for the paddock where we found Mab again confined and growing increasingly nervous. I put Wil in the truck and we worked to get Mab back into the trailer.
The cattle dog was often a liability in getting Mab into the trailer. I wondered if Wil could have done a better job. He might have, had that border collie cross not shown up on the scene. But the border collie cross shook him up. Still, for Wil to have passed up a fight and choose to listen to me in spite of the presence of a dog he did not know was pretty impressive.
I’d say we’ve made an amazing amount of progress. I’m not sure how we can advance our herding skills now that our cattle are sold and will going to their new home tomorrow. Maybe we’ll practice with the two heifers we have left until they too go to a new home.