Spring is Sprung – with Sheep

If you’ve seen my recent blog post on the God-awful weather we’re suffering through here in mid Western Ontario, you’ll understand why this photo made me smile when it arrived in my inbox –

Springtime Sheep in Devon

Look closely – those shapes are sheeps.

Yup, a hillside full of sheep, all put into place thanks to farmer (and author) David Kennard, of Devon England. He managed with a little help from three of his sheep dogs. Little, of course, being an understatement.

The full story comes to us from the Daily Mail

Sheepdogs are trained to obey their master’s every word. So when farmer David Kennard decided one of those words would be “Spring”, his dogs did not hesitate.

They rounded up the flock on the hills of Mr Kennard’s north Devon farm and, with a little help from their master, created a picture that reminds us that, whatever the weather, this is officially the first weekend of Spring.

The scene did call for a careful scattering of feed to make the sheep form themselves in the shapes of the six letters.

Now, I don’t know a lot (read: anything) about sheep herding, but I know a small amount about livestock, and I know that all of the feed in the world can’t make sheep ( which are some of God’s stupidest creatures, in my limited experience with them) do anything as complex as stay in one place, let alone a place as proscribed as this.

I sort of think the emphasis on the feed takes away from the simply awe inspiring task that these dogs accomplished.

However, it was down to the team of Collies – who everyone knows border on the brilliant – to have the last word. They circled the 200-strong flock and kept them from wandering off-message.

Border on brilliant’? What’s with the modifier? Are we still operating on that fear of anthropomorphism that’s tinged so much of modern reporting? If a sheepdog can’t be safely classified as ‘brilliant’, I’d like to know what can be.

I spent 20 minutes yesterday mentally high five-ing myself because Delilah finally figured out what ‘stay’ means. Then I tripped over a chair. I think I can be safely classified as ‘bordering on sentient’.

Three of David’s five working dogs – Mist, Fern and Jake – were employed to help create the perfect lettering, which took three hours to achieve.

Said David yesterday: “I’m proud of my dogs. They couldn’t have done it without my spreading the feed across the hillside, of course – but I couldn’t have done it without them, either.”

But then David’s Border Collies are very much of the performing breed. They have appeared on DVDs and on TV in films made by the 41-year-old farmer.

He originally started making videos of his hard-working hands ten years ago to supplement earnings at his 400-acre farm near Woolacombe. He then wrote a top-ten best-selling book, A Shepherd’s Watch.

Woolacombe. Heh.

And also, oh look! A book about sheepherding, by someone who is… an actual sheepherder! Someone send a note to Jon Katz about this.

“It all started when I noticed people leaning over the walls of my fields to watch my sheepdogs at work,” David said. “I realised my dogs were my greatest asset and that if One Man and His Dog was so popular, I ought to give it a go.”

David placed his first video on local farmers’ market stalls – but it ended up selling 80,000 copies worldwide. His TV series, Mist: Sheepdog Tales, returns with a new series on Five next month (April 12), along with a newly-released DVD (April 14) of the entire first series.

As well as going above the call of duty to earn their keep, David’s dogs are very much part of the family, sharing kitchen space with his wife Debbie and their three children.

But when it came to getting sheep to put a spring in their step, they proved they could conjure up a bright spell, whatever the Easter weather.

Read the rest here, and browse some of David Kennard’s books and videos over on Amazon.