Cyclists as Herders

Yesterday evening, my four year old nephew and I were talking about Border Collies and how they herd sheep.

“Why do the dogs hurt the sheep?” He asked.

Oh dear. I tried to explain the difference between “herd” and “hurt”, but I had the feeling he was more than a little confused. So I showed him a few minutes of this youtube video.


My little nephew was fascinated and before long, he and his younger brother were chasing their eighteen year old uncle around the dining room. Apparently, he was the closest thing to a sheep that they could find to herd.

But there is one thing that I neglected to tell my nephew about herding animals. And that is that cyclists are pretty awesome in their own right as animal herders.

This morning, as I was biking to work in the dark, I spotted two deer standing by the roadside. As I neared them, they stood silently, staring deeply into my headlight.  A vehicle came toward us from the opposite direction and I became a bit concerned: what if the deer decided to make a mad dash across the road and the car crashed into them?

I shouldn’t have worried. As I continued pedaling toward them, the deer suddenly realized-

“That is not a car!!”

And in a panic, they hightailed it for the woods.

It seems bizarre, but animals seem to trust speedy cars more than a person biking slowly by. I guess it is desensitization; they see car after car pass by day after day and they just get used to it. But around here, a cyclist is enough of a novelty to seem like an unknown danger.

So the fact that animals are afraid of me, combined with my slower, safer pace make me an ideal animal herder. I am so ideal that I think I will ask the Department of Transportation to give me a stipend for the role I play in keeping animals off the road.

After all, I have a great resume. I have herded sheep, cows, turkeys, mice, deer, snakes, turtles, rabbits, skunks and other animals to safety, away from the road.

Please realize, however, that I am still a novice. I can’t, for the life of me, direct dogs to get off the road. With a dog, I am the one who gets herded.

Naughty, Naughty Sheep

My local area boasts a number of small, family run farms. Many of these farms proudly display their name on a sign out front.  On the road I use to commute back and forth to work, there is a farm without such a sign. That is okay though, because in my mind, this farm has a name. Over my years of commuting, this farm has become known to me as Fence Fail Farm.

I am not completely sure what the situation is: either the farmers have no fencing skills or the animals are brilliant escape artists. Maybe it is a combination of both, I don’t know. But I know one thing for sure. On Fence Fail Farm, the animals escape their pens whenever they feel the need to do so. And apparently, they feel the need to do so most of the time.

This farm has become the backdrop for many interesting scenes in the past few years. There is often a ATV roaming around the barnyard, herding the livestock back into their assigned places. I have had the opportunity to route an entire herd of cows simply by saying, “Hi there!” (The stampeding cows then frightened a herd of wayward sheep, so really I killed two birds with one stone that day.) I was also able to bike alongside a cow that had chosen to clomp along the road.

This farm is exciting. Every day that I pass by, the chickens and donkeys and sheep and cows and dogs and pigs seem to be hanging out in different locations across the countryside. (Well, I haven’t seen the pigs in awhile, I think they are finally being contained successfully. In a freezer.)

Today was no exception. The sheep had chosen to graze right by the road.

“Guys, what are you doing?” I asked sternly.

Animals are great. They can graze peacefully by a roadside for hours while cars and trucks rush past, but let a single cyclist pass by and…

“Ahh! It’s a thing! We are going to DIE!!!”

These sheep, predictably, had this reaction when they saw me after turning to the sound of my voice. They scrambled back to the safety of their pen, beginning to leap over the sagging wire fence, one by one. It was a hilarious sight and I pulled out my camera to capture the moment. Alas, it was at the bottom of my pannier and by the time I had it out, the sheep were all back in their pen, looking at me, eyes filled with guilt.  DSC01657


This picture is actually from last week, but it is a better picture of this wild herd than I was able to get today.

As I took a few pictures, the sheepdog-a border collie, began to bark at me.

“Hey, I just did your job for you, you should be thankful!” I retorted.

He was not thankful or impressed and he continued barking at me until I left.

Well then. See if I ever herd his sheep for him again! DSC01661