16 July, 2011

Wessels' Dirt Blowing Trial - June 2011

We went back to Archer Farms in beautiful Dayton, Washington for the Dirt Blowing SDT again this year. Last year at Dirt Blowing was my first time to ever really see commercial range ewes. I learned a lot in a short period of time, getting around the course with no pen that year.

This year we got around the course in much better stead, still no pen either day. Guess I have some work to do.

Judge Karen Child lived in the big red combine for the weekend, having an eagle-eye view of everything going on on the course.

The view toward Dayton

The view away from town.

Rolling wheat fields cut to stubble.

We ran on a rolling field with several hills and blind spots. The photos don't fully capture the terrain, but I tried with some captions to see if you could get an idea. I figure the outrun was around 450 yards, but did not get a measurement. The crossdrive was quite long.

The set-out was done from trailers and went very smoothly especially when contrasted against last year which was a struggle. The sheep were not easy, but got better with every passing day. I ran on Friday and Saturday, and had to come home to go to work on Sunday. My understanding is Sunday saw the best runs of the weekend.

Click the photo for a larger view to see more detail.

The running was tough. Many runs never got past the lift, with sets of sheep taking off into the high wheat and being tracked down on ATVs. Mutton-busting and roping were required to retrieve a number of sheep, and ranch hands carrying a ewe on the ATV was a common sight on Friday and early Saturday.

The set out point was on top of the knoll, with the fetch coming down through a blind gully. Just when the dogs would get the sheep off the draw of the trailers, they would disappear into the blind gully, leaving us handlers at the post holding our collective breath. The sheep were quick to run and quick to split, but could be worked with decent distance and if the dogs did not shut them down by catching the eye too much.

Interestingly, turning the post was one of the more difficult points on the course. The sheep were reluctant to go between the pen, the combine and the handler on the first day, with several runs stalling out at that point.

Both days I sent Lucy left. On Friday, she lifted beautifully, coming between the trailers and feeling the draw nicely. Once they got to the gully they ran for the protection of the tall wheat. It took quite a bit of work to get them back on line, as Lucy was worried they were escaping and reluctant to give me a nice open flank to pick them back up. We turned the post neatly and made all the drive panels. A little bit of fussing to get the shed and timed out walking to the pen. We had a score in the 50's.

J. Helsley at the post running "Cole"

On Saturday, I was bound and determined to fix the fetch, and not work hard for a tight turn at the post after watching runs stall there. Lucy ran out nice and deep and came in at 12 o'clock this time, feeling the sheep a bit differently at the top. She lifted them beautifully and then re-lifted them after preventing a break-away.

She gave me a nice open flank at the top of the fetch, I think having learned a bit on Friday. We split them through the fetch gates and turned the post smoothly but wide to allow the sheep to stay away from me and keep moving instead of turning to stall or fight. The drive was comprised of lovely lines and we made all of our gates with a nice consistent pace. One wobble on the third leg caused by me overflanking Lucy because I wanted a nice tight turn. I let her get just a bit too much of their eye and we had to fix that line a bit.

Her shed was the thing that impressed me the most, I think. I knew we were good on time, so I let the sheep settle. We stirred them around a bit to see if they would string out toward the draw, which they did not. That being the case, I left the draw side unprotected and put a bit of pressure on, calling Lucy up quietly a few steps. The ewes shifted without splitting, I called Lucy into a very small gap (perhaps 12 inches). Smaller than was prudent, but I could tell from the look on her face that she was ready to come in quickly and so I called her in for a lovely shed and hold. It took my breath away to watch her zip in and hold the 2 I asked with such authority.

We tried to regather them in the ring but still had 2 sets and they didn't really want to group back up. I knew at that point I was nearly out of dog, and Lucy was a risk to grip. Temperatures were in the 80's with the air being still and heavy. Lucy tolerates heat well but I knew she was close to done with these ewes. We worked a bit at the pen but I was not motivated to get it, rather was protecting against gripping off after what I thought was a very nice run. We were successful in not gripping off, and did not get them into the pen probably because I was mostly out of dog. If I put her back off them they would not move, and if I called her up close they would split instead of moving so I just kept things quiet. We ended up with a 75 I think, which was a very good score for Saturday but was buried by the sweet runs on Sunday which saw some scores in the 90's.

J. Helsley's "Cole"

I must say in my very limited experience I think this is one of the best trials in the Northwest. It is well-run and the hospitality is top-notch. The sheep are a challenge and a ton of fun, and many top hands put on a great show for me to learn from. I was very proud of Lucy for her good work and think we have come a long way as a team since our attempt at Dirt Blowing last year.

Many thanks to Sue Wessels and her whole crew for such a great weekend.

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