By the middle of September life becomes a little quieter at Borough Farm. The summer Shows have finished, so attention turns first to the sheep. Preparation for ‘tupping’ ( joining the rams with the ewes) involves worming all of the sheep, treating them with a bolus containing key trace elements, selenium, cobalt and iodine. ( a bolus is a finger sized piece of metal that lodges in the sheeps stomach and dissolves over three months) The final job is to dock the ewes, removing the dirty wool around the sheeps back end.
With the sheep work up to date, I’ve had a chance to get to some sheepdog trials over the past few weeks, and I’m pleased to say that Zola and Fly have been performing well.
Sheepdog trials vary enormously in the difficulty of the task. The longer the ‘outrun’ (distance to the sheep) the more difficult it is to control the dog accurately. The sheep can be docile and compliant, or they can break and run, requiring the most experienced and controlled dogs to master them. The Bishopstone trial near Salisbury is run by goods friend of mine Rob & Anna on their downland farm, and the two trials that they run over the weekend are very testing.
On the Saturday the trial is over a long 700 yard outrun. With most of the best handlers in the south of England present, I knew that there was little room for mistakes if we were going to claim a place in the prize list. Zola ran early in the day, she’s now nearly five years old, but is still difficult to control. Her instinct is so strong that it takes over from her listening to my commands, consequently I’m constantly having to reinforce the whistles with shouts of ‘stop’ and ‘Zola’ when I fear that she’s not listening. However, this time I had her pretty much under control, and although we weren’t faultless, the run was good, and her score was made all of the better by penning the sheep without a loss of points, something that no-one else managed to do.. Although Fly also ran well later on, she didn’t manage to pen within the allotted time, so it was Zola who held the lead for most of the day, only being pushed into second place late in the day by Dick Roper and his dog ‘Will’. Dick was English National champion this year with his other dog ‘Spot’, so to lose by one point was a creditable attempt, but still left me determined to do better on the Sunday trial.
Sunday’s course was even more a of a challenge than Saturdays, a ‘Double fetch’ where the dogs have to leave one set of sheep in order to gather a second group before finishing the course. Again Zola ran early, and again although I had to work hard to keep her in control, she had a good run and took an early lead. As the day went on there was some great running, but none managed to topple her, until Dick Roper took his turn this time with ‘Spot’. They had a great run and I wasn’t surprised to see them take a 3 point lead over Zola. But I still had ‘Fly’ to run, and she’s been on good form lately, particularly on the more challenging courses. She didn’t let me down, and had a cracking good run, so as we approached the final obstacle I knew that if we had a ‘clean’ pen we’d be in for top spot.
It was a close run thing, but just as I thought that the sheep were going to turn into the pen, we had one break, which in turn allowed the other 9 to break in the opposite direction. It wasn’t a disaster, but it meant that there would be points lost, so when I eventually closed the gate a few seconds later the result was hanging in the balance.
The result was almost cruel, beaten again by Dick, and again by just one point! But it wasn’t really disappointing, both Fly and Zola had run really well, and finished the weekend with 2 second places and one third. So I was delighted, especially as Zola won the aggregate trophy of the two days, so I’m definitely putting it down as a successful weekend.