“Rrrrrrrr tay” I trilled, trying to copy the way that French shepherds rolled their r’s in a sort of high-pitched Spanish accent when they called their sheep. “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” The sheep stayed imobile at the edge of the field poised to bolt into the woods bordering it. “Rrrrrrrrrr tay” I called again in desperation as I headed towards them in a last ditch attempt to bring them back to the barn. The sheep barn was only a couple of hundred yards away, but for all the success I was having, it might as well have been a mile.
It had all started off well enough. My husband was going baling and had dropped me off at the top of the hill where the sheep were grazing. I had both sheepdogs with me and had made it all the way down to the field by the barn without incident. The sheep weren’t far behind me as I ran down the steep slope to the barn congratulating myself on my obvious talant as a shepherdess.
I opened the doors and moved quickly out of the way, knowing that there would be a crush once the sheep arrived. Except that this time there was no crush. In fact, as I realized after a few seconds, there were no sheep.
I legged it back up to the field in time to see our young border collie hurtling round the flock like an olympic runner on her tenth lap. The ewes, thoroughly confused, were now heading back up the way they’d come. “Elfie!” I yelled, forgetting the golden rule of shepherding, which is to stay calm under all circumstances. I ran towards her, cursing and waving my shepherd’s stick. The dog stopped running. The sheep didn’t. At the sight of me, they belted towards the pine trees. “Oh no” I groaned. If they went in there I would never get them out again.
“Pas de stress” I thought to myself, remebering the only piece of advice my husband had given me before I left. I walked up to the flock and was greeted by the back ends of 280 sheep. The first ewes started to wander under the trees. I called them again, gently this time, not wanting to startle them and afraid that all the “rrrrrr-ing” in the world wouldn’t bring them back out again if I did.
Then heads started to turn towards me, then bodies and then suddenly I was slipping and sliding down the slope trying to avoid being trampled as the whole flock shot down into the barn.
I closed the doors and leant against them. No wonder they’d waited so long before letting me loose on the sheep by myself I thought.