Friday, May 13, 2011
I’ve always suspected that we shepherds sometimes have too much time to think, and sometimes the result is often reflected in the activities that we undertake with our herds. Here on the western range, herders race their sheep wagons to claim the best camp sites on common grazing range when it opens in early December. In Wales, herders put LED lights on their sheep, so that Samsung could videotape the patterns the lights made as the herding dogs worked the herd.
In Turkey, it’s a competition that takes place at a major festival straddling a river. The herder must try to call his sheep to follow him as he jumps into the river, getting the herd to jump in behind him and cross with him. Any herd willing to do that is obviously devoted to and trusts its herder. While we were in Turkey last fall, we didn’t get to see the competition, but we did visit the river crossing where it occurs, and later found a video of the event. Winners of the competition included our friends, the Kayis family. Here's the video.
Brothers Ibrahim and Musa, and their father Hasan, run their family livestock outfit with about 400 sheep outside of Denizli, Turkey.
We walked through the fields with the herders of this family, inspecting their dogs and admiring their sheep. Some of the sheep came to investigate, obviously favored pets of the herders. But since most of Turkey remains unfenced, herders are with the sheep nearly constantly. Rather than pushing the sheep from place to place, as the sheep came close to the edge of the field, the herders called the sheep to turn and move away. Much of the movement of the herd was based on verbal commands - a logical extension of a close relationship between herder and herded.
We learned from our fellow shepherds that their livestock are treasured beasts, and colorful collars are beaded and placed on the necks of sheep to compliment their beauty. Some sheep are also shorn in a striped pattern, with the wool died to provide another striking pattern, again a show of beauty.
The family also raises massive livestock protection dogs. We watched a cell phone video of two of the dogs killing a 450-pound wild boar. Impressive animals.
Although wolves are treated as vermin in Turkey, this family of herders does not shoot at wolves. “If you have good dogs, the dogs will take care of the wolves,” Ibrahim told us. “If you trust your dogs, they can handle them.” They do place spiked anti-wolf iron collars on the dogs to help the dogs that actively battle wolves.
We learned much from our new friends and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.