Vespers on a Soay sheep farm: sweet music to our ears

No predator dared to challenge Jacob

No predator dared to challenge Jacob

Our indispensable livestock guardian dogs are an endless source of delight and amazement, and never more so than in the late afternoon when they provide a brief recital that echoes across our Little Applegate River Valley. It is so lovely and so sweet we have dubbed it “Vespers.” Let me explain.

Khloe, both beautiful and fearsome guardian

Khloe, both beautiful and fearsome guardian

We have six Anatolian shepherd dogs of varying ages, genders, and sizes, ranging from about 95 pounds (dainty Khloe) up to about 150-165 pounds (Alfie and Baby Ben). At night the dogs protect our heritage Soay sheep from the ever-present coyotes and the occasional cougar or bear, all of which roam, and perhaps live, right across the river on BLM land or on our own upper pastures. During the day, the dogs can be found sleeping in either the sunniest parts of the winter pastures, or under cover of one of the sheep shelters during the heat of the summer.

Alfie and Maggie patrolling the pastures  before nightfall

Alfie and Maggie patrolling the pastures before nightfall

The dogs typically get up about an hour before dusk and start patrolling their assigned pastures, sniffing and marking in a primordial ritual to which we are not privy other than to watch them at work. On most late afternoons, the dogs also appear to be “checking in” with each other before they settle in for the night. They occasionally simply bark, but on most days they also howl, something they almost never do during the day, with one of them (at this point usually Alfie) starting the chorus and the others following suit more or less in harmony. On a particularly melodious day, it sounds a little like a pipe organ, both ethereal and highly resonant, and just a wee bit spooky. It’s not exactly magical, but it is a perfect way for the farm day to end and for everyone to settle down for the evening.

During the summer, we often can be found relaxing on our deck facing down to the pastures when Vespers begins at dusk. But in the fall and winter, it is not unusual for the dogs to tune up as we wrap up chores before the sun disappears. The other day I was lucky enough to have my cell phone with me and was lucky enough to capture the short performance. You will need to have the volume on your computer turned way up to hear Alfie way off in the background howl first, followed by Isaac shown in the video, then young Magdelene (“Maggie”), and finally a brief peek at Luke off to the right. I apologize for the fact that you will have to wait 51 seconds for the darned thing to load before it will play without hiccups, just enough time to fill your coffee cup a second time. Technology is not my strong suit.

May this day end as harmoniously for you and your flock.

For now …