6010 Liberty Highway
Pendleton, SC 29670

(864) 209-1128

6010 Liberty Highway
Pendleton, SC 29670

(864) 209-1128

Curiosity versus Patience


Growing up as a farm kid, you had ample lessons in patience, any kid’s least favorite and least available virtue. Slowly though, the natural lessons of seasons and harvests, gestations and lambing grind away at youthful impatience to leave a grudging acceptance that good things have to be waited for (but that doesn’t mean we have to like it). I have often felt that battle between curiosity and patience but I love it even more when those virtues come together.

Working the sheep flocks was an early lesson for me in patience and one that taught over a much shorter interval than the excruciating wait for watermelons to ripen. Working a flock can mean a lot of different things depending on the season, the health of the flock, and the general objectives of the farm. This could mean administering an oral dose of de-wormers, injections of vaccines against hoof rot or Clostridium bacteria, or working the hooves themselves with hoof clippers. Thankfully, we have little wool to shear ourselves as we shift heavily to hair breeds like Katahdin, Dorper, and St. Croix.  Starting off, checking for parasites (worms) is a constant act of vigilance for sheep in the Southeast and is best done by having hands on each and every animal. My youthful impatience led me to the obvious choice to chase after these ewes and lambs, but four legs are faster than two at least 50 percent of the time. Slow and steady, working the corners, and using the crook became the critical change to the dash and grab method I tried at first. Patience, a good crook, and waiting for the sheep to come to me helped to keep them calm and healthy during a potentially stressful time. Additionally, I eat less dirt with this method!

My Australian Shepherd-Border Collie pup, Blue, is my constant companion during farm work. He is quick to load up in the truck, quick to walk fence lines, and quick to get fussed at to get out of the garden. I would love to have Blue help with the task at hand: bringing all the sheep from their comfortable grazing into the working pen, catching, working, and then running them back to graze. Unfortunately, Blue is still learning lessons of patience. He is incredibly curious about this strange collection of creatures that set his entire frame and mind to a buzz of instinct and genetic inheritance. He knows that deep in his bones, he should be curious and involved with these creatures that I spend so much time with.

He’s also absolutely terrible at doing this at the right time and place.

In Blue’s case, curiosity rules him and spurs him to immediate action, but without the training and patience to do so at the right point. So, during today’s work, there emerged a sequence of directions to Blue to help him find his place in this process:

“Lay!” A reluctant laydown near the gate to encourage ewes to stay away from the release spot.

“Lay!” Again, because he had to be closer to the ewe I had cast to work on hooves.

“Heel!” Bringing Blue back to my side as the ewe is finished with her pedicure and can now be run out of the pen

“Sit.” Sitting Blue right at the awkward spot by the troughs, where the sheep can try to get themselves stuck with ease,

“Heel.” Bringing Blue back to my side at the end to walk the flock back up the lane He excelled at this and waited at the gate to their paddock for us to lock them back in for grazing and a break from their shepherds.

The best moment, captured in a quick picture after cleaning the hoof clippers, was as Blue lay quietly as sheep surrounded him. Not a bark, not a jump, not a single motion as the ewes came into a perfect pouncing position. Instead, curiosity came in smoothly, and Blue licked a few hairy faces of the flock he desperately wanted to help. The flock stayed calm and settled into his presence, accepting him as part of a familiar process. Once again, patience and curiosity come together in a tenuous alliance.

Next up, the trainer (me) needs to be trained to be a better educator of my favorite four-legged companion. Blue is just such a good boy!