Country mouse at a sheepdog trials

You can choose whatever tune you want, be it Coronation Street or Downton Abbey. That was according to the young man sitting next to us at the sheepdog trials on Sunday in the smooth-humped foothills of the South Downs.

They were just a ‘come by’ cry from the 13th-century Shepherd’s Church at Didling in West Sussex, where the altar cloth is a charming tapestry of sheep grazing. It’s become an annual event and competitors come from all over the country and even Switzerland.

Standing at a post, each shepherd was required to send his or her dog hundreds of yards towards the fresh packet of sheep and, using the dog, bring them through a series of gates before splitting two sheep from the flock (even those with merely a passing involvement with ovine capriciousness recognise how difficult this must be) and securing them in a pen.

Our new friend explained that shepherds use different calls for each dog so that they don’t become confused when working with others. He should know, as he’s recently become a freelance shepherd, possible because of the proliferation of hobby farmers and small flocks. Lambing, worming, field swapping, feet clipping; all these tasks require the efficient movement of jittery animals and now there’s a man with a distinctive whistle to help you do it.

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