Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Wandering Shepherd 2

Way back when, March 17, I started to speak of the nature of the work/life of the Wandering Shepherd in Germany.

I would like to add now to the little I have spoken of already. 

Tending is a difficult concept for most Australians, Americans and British (where I am happily lead to believe I have readers👍). It is a foreign concept to us. We just do not manage our stock this way. We might see elements of it at different times and places but as an established, historical sheep feeding system we just do not have it.

The only caveat I would put on this is that I am speaking now as a person of the Schwabische Alb. I have hardly been out of the Alb since I arrived(!) so I cannot talk about the effects different landscapes around Germany have on sheep and dog.

The Working Space

Well this is fascinating and of course very particular to the Alb. I cannot stress enough the impact of these mountains. And the skill required to navigate them while feeding sheep.
This "field" behind Hausen and just below the slopes we graze has three different allotments
Georg here is working in the the Magerkingen and Hausen areas. There are other shepherds about and I occasionally see them as I drive about. 
The areas Georg can graze are defined by agreements he has made with Magerkingen and Hausen. That is, he has chosen the public lands he wishes to graze, made a contract and has permanent access to these lands so long as the contract is in place. He has access to private lands but that tends to be on an ad hoc basis.

Just look at the variations of land use in this photo. The grass was cut for silage that day.

A very hot day and we needed to be near
the shade come mid afternoon

A vegetable patch and a crop!

A farmer will decide that he would like his land grazed and will contact Georg or perhaps some farmers have a standing agreement that Georg goes on to their land after the crop has been harvested. For me this is still confusing BUT as an example yesterday we were grazing close to the main highway here and a car pulled up, a man spoke to Georg. 

It turned out he asked Georg to graze a nearby plot of land. So Georg re arranged in his mind  the planned movement for the day and we diverted to a sloping piece of land near the road. At one stage Christmas trees had been grown on it I believe, but as an Australian I have to say I was surprised that such a piece of land would be used agriculturally.

The sheep were no problem with the road. Naturally I stood with Bear on a lead!

There is a wonderful creativity about the grazing that I had not expected. There can be no certain pattern. Not only because the shepherd is reliant on nature growing the grass to define the length of his stay, or the weather to dictate the areas that are better for grazing and housing the sheep but there is also the wildcard of access to parcels of land.

It is of little use to ask Georg where he will settle the sheep for the night too early in the day! He literally does not always know till mid afternoon. The local knowledge Georg has is superb. The location of the fields, their quality, the best access to them, the local farmers and their fields etc

For those of us involved in our Canine Associations' C Course we are used to a 4 sided Graze. And in the annual German National competition they always have a 4 sided Graze. But here I have not yet seen one. We go from one to three. There is always some bush/forest forming a border. 

(This is also why Georg has some goats. The locality  wants bushes grazed.) 

Of course the sheep will wander into these forests and the dog will need to go and bring them out.

The "borders" are a constant mixture of asphalt road, dirt road, tyre tracks, obvious crop/grass changes, very minor grass changes and where the shepherd decides for himself when he is managing the grazing pattern of the sheep. The dog has to understand the nature of his work, not just relate specifically to a marked line which he follows. This threw Bear at first, he had no experience outside of  well marked tracks but I am thrilled to say that he now understands the nature of his work and the variability of the "border". 

The sheep are in a long line along this hillside so we have bushes, clear space and then the forest as the "border" at the top. Earlier we had a "fenced" field. For horses! As they graze the sheep start to pressure the dog to come over the top so in this case it was a long line for the dog to monitor. Unfortunately I did not video Bear going into the forest.
Same line as the video, but earlier in the grazing

I believe the Alb grazing is very challenging to the dog. And it is always critical that the dog can hold his line and his nerve as there is always land next door the sheep cannot enter.

LOVE this photo. Yukon(the Enforcer), Dana(the Gracious Queen), Bear(the Hoon), Zora(the Young Gun), Eugen (a friend of Georg's) and just the ears of his dog(unknown, but seems very Polite).

Also, Georg does not let the sheep graze randomly. He keeps them reasonably well together so that they do not pick and choose at will to eat only the choicest bits! So he is never passive. He is always managing the sheep and the dogs. The sheep must never stray too far into the forest or he runs the risk of losing them. And he has had to watch for lambing sheep, sheep who need to have their feet looked at (they can pick up thorns) and any other concerns with the flock.

One thing that is clear as you spend long hours in variable backgrounds is that a large flock of sheep is always moving. Sheep move to graze and, I suspect, to find something with which to amuse themselves at your expense!!! So, if you are not watchful, you are only a few seconds from ovine disaster!! And do not forget the goats!!!

And because these plots of land are small the sheep are moved several times a day. Three, four, five is typical. Again, there is always something going on that needs to be managed. We work in a wonderfully attractive, quiet, peaceful landscape but if you are not watchful  things would quickly go pear shaped.

We put up some fencing for the road and I stood at its corner. This was taken as we were getting ready to leave. Hence the sheep in the background.

****I will be writing more about the Wandering Shepherd and will cover such topics as penning, moving the sheep about, looking after stock, young lambs, water, feet etc


  1. I have just caught up with your blog and I'm hooked Alexa. It is soooo interesting! Not to mention the great photos and videos! Pauline

  2. have you trimmed up alexa. looking good. and sheep access to water? and where sheep sleep at night? bear very impressive.john

  3. Hi Alexa Great read looks amazing. Bear and his friends look like they are enjoying themselves. Love the video you look great. Dora

  4. Alexa, fabulous scenery and equally fabulous blog. Very interesting to think that all that knowledge is in one persons head. All the dogs look as thought they are having a ball especially Bear (the hoon). Looking forward to the next chapter. Reg & Wendy

  5. Sounds very similar to the days we spent with Karl Fuller, over 20 years ago. The work is "foreign " to we Angliophiles. We do not have the intensity of agriculture and limited land in our land rich countries. Once our land becomes scarce, we fence it. However, it is an extremely efficient method to feed sheep.
    It is amazing that once the dogs understand the concept of the border, they can generalize it.

  6. I recognise that road sign! I came to the BLH when it was held in Märgerkingen!