Ireland often has four seasons in one day. This year, it feels like we’ve had an extremely long winter, two weeks of spring, and now we’re into a tropical summer with this heatwave (over 30c yesterday and today)and drought. Farmers on dry land are running out of grass and feeding bales of silage to their livestock, we’re feeding a couple of bales a day to stretch our grass. During the cold weather, Sam wasn’t too keen on working. He’d come out of his kennel in the mornings, stand at the shed door looking out at the inevitable rain and cold that lasted for weeks on end, and walk briskly to the haybarn where he lay down on soft loose straw overseeing us as we walked around doing various jobs in the freezing cold. When the cows eventually got out to grass for a few hours each day, he seemed to carefully consider the merits or not of getting some exercise and then turn around as if to say to himself ‘sod the hardship’ as he went back to his straw bed. Like a pensioned farmer, he was choosing his jobs.
Sam isn’t appreciating the heat at the moment. He’s quite long-haired for a border collie so we gave him a clipping with the scissors the other day. Let’s just say he’s not quite ready for any photo opportunities at the moment but he’s been smiling since – from his vantage point in the shade.
He’s 11 years old this year and has been slowing down for the last three years. Indeed, we got Lou two years ago for that reason and only then, when comparing the antics of a pup to Sam, did we realise just how much he had aged. At first, the arrival of the pup gave him a renewed interest as he wasn’t going to be outdone but then he seemed to say to himself ‘sod it’ and decided to watch her work. Going for the cows was too ordinary and boring a task, leave that to the young and enthusiastic fools, he seemed to say.
He has two favourite jobs, well, running alongside the loader isn’t a job but no matter how lethargic he is, he will find the energy to do so. He also loves a challenge so jobs like loading cattle into a trailer (especially if they are bulls) are a particular favourite and he’s right in there. He will saunter along part of the way to bring in the cows, watch Lou running for side to side across the field keeping the cows moving, and then he comes along at the end to be patted as if he did all the work. One warm morning, the cows were lying on Lynup’s Hill, perfectly relaxed and in no mood to get up and come in to be milked. Lou hasn’t found her bark yet so the cows weren’t paying any attention to her as she ran from cow to cow trying to get them up. Sam sat down at the bottom of the hill watching even though Brian gave him commands to round them up. “Okay, go to bed then” said Brian which is a threat or punishment that usually serves to persuade Sam to do what he is told (somewhat like telling a child to go to bed early) and off he went – back to his kennel! Earlier this week, he ran alongside the loader as Lou and I drove it along the lane to the other farmyard at Kerr’s farm and when the loader stopped and he realised we were going to be herding cattle for a while, he turned tail and headed home.
At 11 years of age, he worked out recently how to get out of his kennel in the middle of the night and thought it was a good idea to come down to the back door and bark. The first time it happened, cows were calving so Brian was up anyway and put him back to ‘bed’. The next time we were hoping for a full night’s sleep and Brian was furious shouting at him out of the bedroom window. “You go down and put him to bed because if I go down I’ll wallop him’ said Brian. I knew he wouldn’t. “I’ll sleep through it if you stop shouting’, was my reply as I went back to sleep. When Brian went out at 6am, Sam was at the back door, joyful to see him with an ‘oooh, are we going to play?’ attitude.
Sam doesn’t pay any attention to commands now. He never paid me much attention, Brian was his master but now he doesn’t care what anyone says. If he thinks the calves have to be sent in a particular direction, he will lollop along ignoring the shouts and doing it all wrong. He’s like a retired farmer who knows his own mind and won’t be told anything. Recently, we had to bring 100 calves in from a field to be dosed. Sam headed off in a different direction and we let him go, thinking that he wouldn’t be much help anyway. Then he must have doubled back as when we got to the field, he had them all rounded up and at the right gate for getting them out (probably a fluke but we decided to put it down to his occasional flash of intelligence).
Back to the hot weather, Sam is spending a lot of time in the shade. Apparently, temperatures reached 32c today which is hitting records. The forecast is for more heat and very little rain so it will be interesting to see how it goes. Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle as it’s usually so green given that we get so many ‘grand soft days’ with rain falling. Are we complaining yet? Not here in that we’ve had to feed cows with bales during wet summer months on plenty of occasions. We’ve quite heavy soil so going out to try and find a bit of dry land and working out how to get them there without doing too much damage happens more often than we would like. We’re out in T-shirts and shorts, the cows have plenty of shade from the trees in the hedgerows, the wells are under a bit of pressure admittedly. Yes, we’d like a ‘grand soft day’ soon but farming could be a lot worse – well, it is for the farmers on dry land as their grass growth has stopped completely.
I have been asked occasionally if we are going to keep Sam or see if we can get him rehomed now that he is almost fully retired. Sam is one of the family, we will be devastated whenever he dies and hope it isn’t for a few years yet. Some border collies live to 16 or even 18 but he is the only surviving dog from his litter as it happens.
He is either going deaf or has very selective hearing, even to the extent of not moving out of the way for machinery. Perhaps he doesn’t hear it or perhaps he is thinking ‘this is my yard, you can move around me’. But hopefully he will continue to act ‘top dog’ for a few years yet. He still has his uses but even if he didn’t, he’s one of the family.
And if you would like to read more dog stories … and cow, and bull, and straw, and silage, do check out my new book. Till the Cows Come Home: Memories of an Irish farming childhood is available on Amazon, Book Depository and all good bookshops.