Stock Reading Primer
Reading livestock is a complex combination of natural blessings, intuition and past experiences. There is no substitute for going out, moving and observing livestock to sharpen your "reading" skills. But, aside from practical practice, you can improve your skills by keeping a few facts in mind about livestock.
- Flight point for sheep, when they are just ready to turn from dog or person, is generally when half of the flock is facing towards man or dog and half the flock is facing away.
The most effective way to move stock in the open is to aim your movements at the animals shoulder. This point of shoulder concept is particularly applicable when working cattle. Novice handlers will often make the mistake of approaching an animal head on, when in actual fact approaching from behind the animal's shoulder is more effective.
Avoid excess yelling when moving stock. This isn't just for your dog's benefit, but also for the stock. Both sheep and cattle have a more aversive reaction to extreme noise and pitch than humans do and yelling can make an already difficult task near to impossible.
Agitation is persistant over time. That is to say, most times animals who handle badly will always handle badly, so you might consider culling a particular individual to make handling the whole herd or flock less stressful. Care should be taken however not to over select for disposition, as production may suffer. For instance, Russian researchers selected foxes for temperment. After several generations what developed was a fox that looked and acted like a Border Collie! Evaluation for intended culling based on personality should be made over several episodes, as any animal may have highly variable reactions-look for general trends, not one time events.
So called "difficult" sheep tend to move at the rear of the flock, so pushing may be counterproductive in some situations. Sit back and look, then try. Will those sheep move if you take pressure off of them and move in the direction you want them to go, rather than bouncing around trying to shoo them there? They might, so try it.
- Use your head and a liberal dose of common sense! You often hear about how a dog did a superb job completely a particular task without handler guidance. Well, sure they did, they were using their tremendous intellect, intuitive knowledge and their past experiences to figure out how to treat the situation. You be sure to do the same thing!