The backroads of Sonoma County are often a call back to our agrarian past. Farm animals, cows, horses, sheep and surreal bulk chicken houses that litter the landscape. Every year there seems to be a few less farms and a few more dwelling units. This time of year new lambs come into the world. It is amazing that their natural cycle would put the new ones into our cold, wet winters. Yet here they are, a marker of the new year and the steady march to spring and the promise of summer. New lambs are so cute, most animal babies are, if you’ve never held a lamb put it on your bucket list. They seem feather-weight, they squirm and squiggle and ‘maaaa’ for the safety of mom. Their wool is impossibly soft, usually black or black and white, their ears and muzzle, silky soft.
Spring also brings the art of shepherding with sheep dogs to the fore. Although most western states have statewide clubs, sheep dog associations are everywhere. The Redwood Empire Sheep Dog Association (RESDA) was formed back in 1947, their mission statement is,
“The aim of this association is to provide each contestant with equal opportunity without prejudice, to present attractive entertainment to members and spectators, and to advance the concept of good sportsmanship and growth of the association.”
Most county fairs have sheep dog trials where shepherd and dog run a gaggle of sheep through a series of“gates,” each run is timed and carefully judged. Sometimes the sheep the team draws from a noisy pool are not the least bit cooperative. Some old ewes will turn and challenge the dog, sometimes they hop the fence and take off down the midway. In the end watching them work the sheep is riveting. If your dog is well behaved and quiet, they will allow dog visitors. The dogs are mostly border collies, bred to herd and love every minute of it.
Our local club has a Facebook presence: Search Redwood Empire Sheep Dog Association to find their most current updates. Typically, the “Trials” year begins in March so there is time to look over the idea. When you go, take a nice folding chair, some snacks or lunch, a hat and a camera. You must be quiet during the competition to give the shepherd and dog team a fair shake, their concentration to the task at hand is what it’s all about. One of the interesting things to see is the attention the dogs who are not in the arena have when there is a team working, they watch every move.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.