Chris’s Morning on the Farm: Dog and Sheep Stories

Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.

We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.

Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.

They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.

In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.

‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’

I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.

Three Sheep Dogs

But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.

Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.

Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.

Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.

The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.

Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.

So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.

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The farm in the front yard

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Chris has been busy gardening. He grew up on a farm, and he is the true-life evidence that you can’t take the farm out of the man. He loves it!

Our half-pug dog Shelby loves to help him. Wherever Chris has been digging, Shelby loves to dig too. And wherever something lush manages to grow (and is not too prickly), Shelby sits on it, as if to give her approval. We can’t get cross at her because she looks up at us with her big, brown eyes, wagging her tail as if to say, ‘Thank you so much! This is a lovely new throne for me!’

Gradually our small backyard has been divided into two domains: Shelby-friendly territory, and the garden. Currently there are all manner of fences, netting and even satay sticks protecting Chris’s precious garden from one small, aging, curious and territory-protecting Shelby. But somehow Shelby still manages to pick Chris’s peas.

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Shelby – photo by Bev. Eckermann

By wangling her half-pug half-snout into whatever angle the fencing allows, Shelby grips onto the nearest pea pod. If it’s a snow pea, she’ll eat it all. But if it is a snap pea, she grabs the whole thing, deposits it on the ground in front of her and shells it. Very occasionally she won’t be able to get the last of the peas that are left in the shell. But she is determined. So she takes the entire pod into her mouth, somehow manages to extract the peas, and spits out the rest. Perhaps she could qualify for Australia’s Got Talent.

I too love gardens. A couple of years ago, inspired by a ‘metre-square garden’ book, I prepared a metre-square in the front yard. I had visions of having a Vietnamese salad garden in my one-metre square. In my head I had it all planned, and off I went to the local garden shop to purchase my seedlings (and have a cup of tea and scones). Evidently I was gone long enough for Chris to see that I’d been digging, so he decided to help.

When I returned, instead of my perfect metre-square ready for picture-perfect planting, half the front yard had been turned into a ploughed field. To write down in words what I felt, in a way that would not embarrass my dear one, is too tricky. Let’s just say that one of our teenagers refused to have any of her friends over anymore. She was already ready to leave because of the possums that had taken up residence in our roof and wall cavities. Now she was disgusted that our front garden had been turned into a farmyard.

Thankfully, Chris and I had grown together long enough for everything to be okay. I could recognise that he had done what came naturally to him. His love language of ‘Acts of Service’ had kicked in and, combined with the gardening and physical activity, he’d had a great afternoon. He was justifiably proud of his efforts.

I, on the other hand, had to swallow the words that had crept to the front of my mouth. In the past I would have said something like, ‘What did you do that for? You always do what you want! Why didn’t you ask?’

A blessing of being married for a couple of decades is that through doing, getting it wrong, forgiving and then trying again, we’ve learnt that our marriage certificate is not a certificate of mind-reading. I hadn’t told Chris about what I had envisaged. How then could I expect that he: had any idea about the book I had bought, would ever think about planting a Vietnamese salad garden, or ever had heard of the concept of a metre-square garden? Fortunately, I had learnt (the hard way) the blessing of choosing to hold my tongue.

So, for a season or two, we had what looked like a farmyard in our front yard. Inside renovations and the eviction of our resident possums altered our daughter’s attitude, so she no longer felt the compulsion to leave. And life was a little too busy to worry about pumpkins replacing petunias. The farmyard survived, and so did our relationship.

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One day, I visited the home of some dear friends. In their front yard were garden beds of pretty flowers and lovely foliage. When I looked more closely, I saw that the foliage was in fact different types of lettuce and herbs. Tomatoes were beautifully staked and attractively presented. Their garden looked gorgeous, as well as being practical. I asked our friends if Chris could come to see their garden, and they were gracious enough to invite us over for pizza.

If a picture paints a thousand words, a garden speaks an entire book to a garden-loving husband. Given a way to combine his love of gardening with his love for his wife, he has now spent weeks redesigning, digging, composting, paving, pruning and planting our front yard, so that now it is both pretty and practical. Yesterday he and I together put in the last touch: spreading lovely mulch among the freshly planted pansies, petunias, cyclamens and gazillion bulbs that he had divided, sorted and replanted.

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In pride of place are his meticulously varnished garden stakes, proudly supporting his precious peas, which are pleasing to the eye and safe from the snout of our pea-plucking pug.

 

 

Originally published as:

‘Shelby, the pea-plucking pug’ in The Lutheran, July 2012, Vol46, No6, P214-215