Monday, October 29, 2007

Border Collies, Livestock and Cheesemakers

I headed to Walla Walla this weekend with the Madre to visit Uncle Dave and Aunt Gwyn. The impetus for this trip was a sheep dog trial at Fire Ridge Vineyard. You've heard of these before, it's where a bunch of border collie geeks, some of whom are actual farmers, and their dogs get together and compete at moving sheep around a course of obstacles. It's actually pretty fascinating (I am, after all, a border collie geek myself, although Burke and I were strictly spectators; I'm pretty sure neither of us has any herding potential). In this particular trial, which we checked out on Saturday afternoon, each dog, directed by its handler with a series of whistles and commands (at a considerable distance and often well out of sight lines) was to move a group of five sheep over a rise and through a set of gates:


The dog is the black speck to the left of the white blob (the sheep) just behind the gates. Once the sheep were through those gates, they were brought down to the bottom of the hill and up to the handler:


At this point the dog is required to "shed" the flock, which is to say separate it into two distinct groups, keeping both groups completely under its control before reuniting the flock. Then it's back to the bottom of the hill and through another set of gates on the other side of the course...


... before returning the sheep to the handler and into a pen. Here's a competitor watching the action:


What these dogs and their handlers are capable of is mind-boggling. A well trained and handled border collie can actually work a flock of as many as 300 sheep! We hung around long enough to watch six different teams compete (each team took about 12 minutes), and managed to get some vague idea of their successes and mistakes, a few of which were spectacularly comical.

On Sunday, we headed a half hour north to the Monteillet Fromagerie just outside of Dayton, for a cheese tasting. After years of wheat farming, Pierre-Louis and Joan Monteillet got their hands on some goats and sheep and began making farmstead cheese, which they now sell at Farmers' Markets, as well as to various shops and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. Here's Joan serving up the samples, along with a few shots of the grounds:










That last one is of Burke in a ground-sniffing session with Marti, the Monteillet's border collie. Burke got to meet quite a few of his kind this weekend. I think he may have had a better time than the rest of us combined.

3 comments:

Dr. Virago said...

Aw, so nice to see Burke looking happy! He really does relax around his own kind, doesn't he?

tommy said...

Yeah, he really digs being around other dogs, perhaps because he was on a farm with seven other border collies before I got hold of him...

Trisha said...

Where is the sheep hearding pig?