Sunday, May 13, 2012

Week Seventeen: Sheepherding Competition at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, Chatham, New York

I’ve been a slacker when it comes to writing blog posts, but I haven’t slacked on doing free things.  A couple weeks ago, Mr. Free Albany and I headed down to Chatham to see the sheepherding competition hosted by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company.  It was amazing!
I love dogs.  My dog Jackson is a border collie mix, and I’ve always admired how smart and intelligent the breed is.  All of the dogs that I watched compete were border collies, although any kind of dog is allowed to participate in the sport.

The event lasted two days and nearly 70 dogs competed.  I was blown away by the athleticism and expertise each dog exhibited.
There was a commentator explaining the rules which definitely helped me better understand what was going on.  Here are the basics as I understood them:

The field where the competition was held was very large.  The dogs start at one end and the sheep they must herd are at the other.  The dogs have nine and a half minutes to complete the course.  At the start, the dogs sprint toward the sheep, making sure they come up behind them without being seen.  When they get close, they slow down and get the sheep’s attention.  They then start moving the sheep back toward the finishing pen.

I know I’ve said it already, but it was amazing to watch.  As the dogs brought the sheep back to the finish, the handler gave commands either through whistles or yells.  The dogs immediately responded, moving the sheep to where the handlers indicated.  

Once the sheep are brought back to the handler, they had to perform what they call splitting.  This is an attempt by both dog and handler to split the sheep into two parts.  Once the splitting was complete, the dog then had to herd the sheep back together.  The last maneuver was to get the sheep into the pen.  All this  in such a short period of time!
This is what splitting looks like
One of my favorite parts of the competition were what I called the “staff dogs.”  These dogs kept the sheep together before the competition began and sprinted onto the field after the nine and a half minutes were up.  I think they needed black t-shirts with Staff written in white letters across their backs.

If you can’t make one of the competitions, visiting the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company [] which is the largest sheep dairy farm in the U.S., is a great free thing to do.  The farm is open to visitors daily and there is a store where you can by their homemade cheese and yogurt made from sheep’s milk.  Mr. Free Albany and I stopped at the farm after the competition and I definitely recommend a visit.  The barns are pristine and the countryside beautiful.
The sheep are in!