Photo Gallery: Norfolk farm showcases majestic bond between sheepdog and handler
12:31 23 April 2014
© Archant Norfolk 2014
The bond Megan Jenkins has with her Border collie is a majestic sight combining control, respect and understanding.
The training of sheepdogs at Mayfields Farm is based around a traditional combination of verbal commands and whistles. Here are a few of their meanings:
Come-Bye: Move around or circle the sheep in a clockwise direction. The command can be shortened to “Come” for a short flank.
Away: Move around or circle the sheep in an anti-clockwise direction. The command can be shortened to “Way” for a short
Stay There: Self-explanatory – although the dog can be taught that a sharp command means the handler actually wants it to stop.
Lie Down: The “emergency brake” for sheep dogs, prompting them to instantly halt and take a low profile.
Walk Up: Requires the dog to move straight towards the sheep in a steady fashion without stressing them.
Steady: Slow down. Energetic Border Collies can move at quite a pace and sometimes need to be reined in.
Look Back: The dog must leave the sheep it is working with and turn around to look for a different part of the herd.
That’ll Do: Commonly used to tell the dog to stop what it is doing and return directly to the handler.
Stood in a Norfolk field, Nevaeh proves to her owner every day that she is her best and most loyal friend.
Obedient, skilful and energetic, the three-year-old sheepdog works the land at the Countryside Restoration Trust’s Norfolk smallholding because her closest companion compels her to.
The relationship between sheepdog and handler is like no other – and this woman and her Border collie are no different.
Miss Jenkins is the daughter of Sarah Jenkins, an experienced sheepdog handler, who is tenant farmer at Mayfields Farm in Themelthorpe, near Reepham.
Occupying 40 acres, it is a unique place: home to native breeds like large black gilt pigs and Norfolk horn sheep, as well as a Suffolk Punch horse and, at this time of year, umpteen lambs.
The farm’s main business is training sheepdogs, a timeless art which attracts dog handlers from all over the country to learn their trade.
“People are increasingly interested in machines and quad bikes, instead of sheep,” Miss Jenkins, 24, said.
“But training sheep dogs is an art form. People often underestimate what a sheep dog can do.”
She says her close relationship with Nevaeh is what gives her such command in the field, which is an asset to any working farm.
“All three of us are interlinked. It’s a great partnership between me, the dog and the sheep. The dog is hunting, but she is hunting for me, that’s why the relationship between dog and shepherdess is so unique.
“My dog is my best friend. I work with my dog, we go to the beach together, we have a fantastic partnership.
“They’re not just working dogs. If you are having a bad day, the dog is the one thing you can rely on – we work alongside each other in all we do.”
Her mother, Mrs Jenkins, 54, has twice represented England internationally at sheepdog trials and is the former chairman of the East Anglian Sheepdog Society.
She said: “A working sheepdog is an absolutely essential management tool in terms of managing livestock.
“There’s nothing which can replace the working dog. It’s the closest working partnership you will ever have. When it’s a good relationship it’s almost like some kind of telepathy. You are in sync with each other.”
Despite the qualities brought by its heritage breeds and traditional activities, the farm faces very modern challenges. An education centre due to open in the summer is one solution the Countryside Restoration Trust has found at Mayfields Farm to increase the knowledge and fondness of farm life.
The trust plans to build a centre for visitors and schoolchildren.
Mrs Jenkins added: “Education is so important, it’s the way forward for our children.”
The farm is holding an open day on April 26 from 11am until 3pm with food and craft stalls, guided tours and demonstrations.
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