Thursday, December 13, 2018

Following Our Natural Inclinations Can Make Life Magical

I've been thinking of this picture and of hundreds more like it; ones that I hold only in my head.

It's a picture of a magical experience when everything comes together in its natural place and works like clockwork.

I was moving a flock of recently purchased replacement ewe lambs, and their newly assigned livestock guardian donkey, to Capa Sheep Company headquarters, where I lived for seven years with my dogs and my family.
Larry Dake with his sheepdogs Rosie and Checker, moving a newly purchased flock of replacement ewe lambs --- and their guard donkey --- down a country road near Balsam Lake, Wisconsin.

Working with our natural inclinations

Lambs have a natural tendency to flock around and follow the direction of their shepherd. They instinctively press together when in the presence of a predator or a herding dog.

The donkey lived with the sheep and considered herself a part of the flock. While donkeys may appear sleepy and sweet they are instinctively territorial and protective when stray dogs or coyotes are present. Not only can they kick with their back feet, but they can deliver deadly blows with their front feet! And they can bite.

The donkey in the picture was on a lead rope to prevent her from chasing off the sheepdogs and thereby creating a sheep-wreck.

Rosie, the red dog, was a natural "header." As the sheep moved along in the direction of the travel of the shepherd, her job was to bounce along in front of the flock holding them close.

She did this instinctively with little training, instruction, or commands. She functioned as the brakes, turning back any exuberant lambs who otherwise would run far ahead, or off to the side, tempted by the abundant forage in the yards and gardens of the lake homes we passed.

Checker, the black dog, was by nature best-friend to me, the shepherd. He was also a socialite, an ambassador ---- and a grand entertainer to anyone whom we should meet along the way! When not entertaining and befriending, he was a "heeler"  --- and he was superb at this --- going back and forth at the rear of the flock he gently encouraged any weary stragglers and fetched any lambs who lingered behind too long, grazing in the ditch banks.

While not always attentive to his herding, he had other redeeming qualities; like finding lost baby lambs in the tall grass.

I remember well a time he rescued a lamb from a pond.

He thrilled at leaping into the air to grab tree branches for the joy of it, and if a tree were leaning to one side he would occasionally run up its trunk to rare heights for a dog.

Moving sheep was a happy time

The timeless process of moving sheep happened by the harnessed natural instincts of all involved. Like the large living organism that we were, all of our parts worked together in symbiosis to get us collectively from one pasture to another.

When we left Capa Sheep Company we moved to a ranch in Montana where my dogs and I had the opportunity to move 800 pregnant ewes many miles, in much the same way, from their summer pastures to the lambing pens at headquarters. We bypassed many open gates that entered onto adjacent hayfields and pastures, and we met the occasional speeding dump truck on the hilly country roads after we left off crossing neighboring rangeland.

As we approached the crests of hills the dogs would hold the sheep back while I walked ahead to warn approaching motorists of our presence.

As I think of what's next in life, I like to think of where I might best fit in. When the sheep and the donkey and the dogs and the shepherd were all in their natural place there was very little "training" to do.

As we move farther and farther afield from our natural inclinations, life can become more and more difficult and complicated.

Lambs do best when on green pastures and fish when in water. While we human beings are far more adaptable than our animal friends, it's still good to consider our natural inclinations in the choices we make --- be it the food that we eat, the home that we live in, or the work that we do.

Larry Dake

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