Monday, June 17, 2019
Sheepdogs Have a Field Day as Crowds Savor Fair
A sheepdog from Camas, Wash., drives the sheep across the field in Quigley Canyon in a quest for points.
Monday, October 9, 2017


Was it the new fence?

Sheepdogs went on a tear this weekend, with six of them penning their sheep at the National Point Qualifying Sheepdog Trials on 50 acres in Quigley Canyon. That’s a big improvement over many of the previous years--last year no sheep were penned.

The Trailing of the Sheep’s sheepdog trials have long had a reputation for feisty sheep who wanted no part of a dog corralling them after a summer in the mountains. This year’s sheep, provided by Flat Top Sheep Rancher John Peavey, seemed no different, having plowed through a foot of snow coming through the Hyndman Creek area to reach the competition in a barley field east of Hailey.

Peruvian dancers treated crowds to a colorful display.

But this year’s sheep came up against pens that had been redesigned with horizontal slats that have a lot of space between them. And, it seemed, the sheep were more willing to go into it than the wire cages they had encountered in the past.

But new fence or not, they were not they still weren’t willing to roll over for the 65 dogs competing in the trials—even if it included some of the nation’s top dogs.

One dog, belonging to a handler from Camas, Washington, put the five sheep allotted him through the paces perfectly, herding them through a variety of gates only to come up empty handed at the pen.

He could get four in, but one baaaa-lked, and the others quickly scooted out of the pen. The border collie pressed again, driving four in. But, again, one baaaa-lked, and the others soon followed suit.

A handler crosses his fingers that his dog can pen the sheep.

He tried once more, coming to loggerjams with the sheep with a mind of its own. And—boom—he was out of time. So close, he sighed as his handler took him to a washtub of water where he sat for awhile to cool down.

Another dog, Jasmine, ran circles around the field, even coming back to the spectators. But she couldn't find the sheep.

The trials drew big crowds.  A pint-sized counter from Boise said he had counted 2,262 attendees between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday. And Friday and Sunday’s crowds were just as robust.

“They draw more spectators here than they do at the nationals,” observed one handler from California as he watched a young border collie lie down on the grass to keep the sheep he was working from becoming agitated.

Jane Ulrich showed a variety of quits—a few of which dated back to the 1890s—during Saturday’s Quilt Turning.

"And they have rogue sheep. I come to see how my dogs do against rogue sheep," observed a woman who uses eight sheepdogs to work her cattle and sheep at her home on the Alaskan Highway in British Columbia.

Saturday’s Sheep Folklife Fair drew large crowds, as well. They perused a myriad of woolen goods, watched sheep shearing demonstrations, admired quilts made by Wood River Valley residents and danced with the Basque Oinkari Dancers.

One of the vendors was Judith Heidel, whose life changed in 2003 when three dozen alpacas moved in with her family at their 20-acre organic grain and hay farm 25 miles west of Castleford.

All sported distinctive personalities. Venus liked to belly up to Heidel and her daughter Joan Heath for belly rubs. Kellogg liked to kiss them with his nose.  A couple of the alpacas alerted them to the presence of dogs and cats with a screech that Heidel said was downright scary at first. And another began chirping at anyone who walked by.

Jeffra Syms and her mother Judy Sparks picked up a couple of rawhide fly swatters at the dog trials in Quigley Canyon.

“That’s what alpacas do to attract females,” said Heidel.

Even more importantly, the alpacas gave Heidel a ready source of fiber, some of which she uses to knit baby hats and other products and some of which she farms out to a company in Texas to be turned into rugs.

“Alpacas are known for the softness of their fiber. It’s not as scratchy as sheep wool, which makes it great for things like saddle blankets,” said Heidel. “And I like how they’re easier to raise than cows. They’re between 100 and 150 pounds—small enough that I can handle them. They require very little food and water. We vaccinate them once a year, and they’re very family-friendly.”

Rupert Sheep Rancher Henry Etcheverry described how his father was 16 in 1929 when he came to America from the Basque country bordering Spain and France to herd sheep. He herded sheep for eight years, making $600 a year, and didn’t get paid until he quit. He cooked everything from stews to sheepherder bread, in Dutch ovens, making charcoal from timber he found on the mountainsides.

Chileans, Mexicans, Moroccans and Peruvians have herded sheep in Idaho, as well, with Tennesseans taking a turn during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. But it’s getting difficult to get enough herders to continue the sheepherding tradition.

Mexicans prefer working on farms because it allows them to play soccer on Sunday, and it’s becoming more difficult to get visas for workers. Today’s recruiters are even looking to Uruguay and Eastern Europe for herders.

“I’ve always said a sheepherder is an extension myself—that I want him to watch sheep like I would,” said Etcheverry. “And the Peruvians, who make up 95 percent of the herding force, are good guys who sacrifice a lot to do the work.”

Elkhorn resident Mary Glynn Wolford said she can understand the difficulty in attracting herders: “I’ve attended lots of these sheepherding lectures at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, and every one of the herders have said how absolutely lonely sheepherding is. It brings tears to your eyes.”


Lynn Johnson and Carley, Camas, WA.85 points.

Patrick Shannahan and Vanji, Caldwell, ID 84 points

Ann Mock with dog Ben, Plymouth, CA.

Laura Vishoot and Moss, Cottage Grove OR.

Loreli Judd and Sally, Coalville, OR.

Bryan White and Brae, Bend, OR.


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