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Posted 1/8/2014 6:40pm by Eugene Wyatt.

When I see her at the farm I always tell her that she's a "good dog" as I bend down to stroke her. Poem is an Australian Kelpie, a herding dog, who helps us move the sheep. She was born in New South Wales and I flew her into JFK as a pup 6 years ago. She loves to work and seems proud that she has a job (not many dogs are employed these days), but when we don't need her to move the sheep she leaves them alone. She is trustworthy and can be left to run free. Poem saves us many steps; using her, we need a person or two less to get the sheep where we want them for feeding, selection or treatment.

Poem stays in a house, the one she's standing on in the photo, in a kennel at the farm except when the temperature at night is in single digits, as it has been, then she comes home with me and warms herself by the fire snoozing on a sheepskin.  

Dogs are not free. They require time to train. As pups they make mistakes (Poem is my third Kelpie) and I lost my patience more times than I should have with her. Now as adults—we are suited—I have forgiven her and she has forgiven me. Poem is friendly and playful but can be protective too and bark at things she doesn't understand. She's, for the most part, a quiet dog and I like that. She is a good citizen, mindful and caring—I try to be as good as she is.

Tags: Poem
Posted 8/11/2013 8:27pm by Eugene Wyatt.


The Kelpie breed originated in Australia. Poem was whelped at the Avenpart Kelpie stud in NSW; I flew her to the farm in New York when she was 15 weeks old. Pictured, she is about one year old.

Kelpies herd more sheep than any other breed the world over. She is a big help here—fast, intelligent and earnest—while not working sheep she plays hide and seek with the barn cats; but when I head toward the flock with something to do, I call her and instantly she's at my side and all business. 

Tags: Kelpie, Poem
Posted 8/16/2010 8:45pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Poem eyes the grazing lambs from her down position.  She's a private dog.

Tags: Poem
Posted 4/28/2010 9:19pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Animals express power with the eye, in the look, in the sureness, in the assumption.  Here 25 lb. Poem faces down a 250 lb. ram who will turn tail and run from her eye; but if this sheep were a 125 lb. ewe with a newborn at her side, to protect her baby she would have charged Poem, who being no fool, would have danced back off.  "You win mama; you've got the eye."

Tags: Poem
Posted 1/12/2010 5:50pm by Catskill Merino.

Poem eyes two ram lambs and holds them close to me.  They break to their right and she breaks to her left to cover them, they stop and she stops,  they retreat toward me and she comes up on them slowly. Because the lambs watch the dog so intently, I could easily slip up behind one and catch it by grabbing its rear hock. 

This was a good session for Poem; she did well.  The lambs would have been long gone without her there.  A coming lesson is for her to cut a specific sheep from the flock, a limper for example, and to occupy it so I can grab a hock, sit it down, and examine its feet in an open fieldwhere the sheep graze—and not have to drive the whole flock to a yard near the barn—that could be a mile away on this property—just to catch a single sheep.

I've got myself a dog, when she can help me do that.

Tags: Poem
Posted 12/28/2009 9:00pm by Catskill Merino.

While making our twilight rounds, Poem and I came upon five lambs that had gotten over the 35" high Electronet fence.  Sheep don't stray, they were adjacent to their mates still in the yard.  The snow had melted and the grass was greener outside the fence.  But before getting them back in, I had to find where they'd gotten out.

Poem and I walked the perimeter of the yard;  the fence was up but for one stretch where it sagged.  The lambs must have jumped it there.  I moved the posts farther apart to tighten it. 

We crossed back over the fence and walked toward the loose lambs who were getting nervous as we advanced;  me, they know I'm no threat as they can run faster than I can, but speedy Poem can run circles around them and they know that too.

The lambs were in a blind alley between their yard and the wire paneled feeding area; it would be easy to get them back in.  About 25 feet away, I put my camera down and told Poem to stay.  She would hold them there until I was ready.  I circled behind the lambs to open the Electronet at the corner  where it met the panel while making sure the other lambs didn't get out.

As I backed away from the opening I told Poem, "Come up,"  

She slowly rose on her haunchs, lowered her head, drew the corners of her mouth down, curled her tail up and held it still. She  came up, moving straight at the lambs, eyeing them horribly, her front paw stepping forward in the air no faster than an inch a second.  So intent her movements were, so fixed her gaze was—I saw the will of a dog.  The lambs looked nervously around for a way out; they saw the  opening, ran through it and back into their yard. 

This is what I'd been waiting for from her: a slow advance—classic resolve—her rule, her authority, her control and with this unquestioning dominance she willed them to move rather than bullied them with her flashing teeth.  "Poem," I called her to me, I was smiling, I bent down and stroked her head, "Oh baby dog, you did such good dog..."  She licked my hand and quickly looked past me to the lambs.

Tags: Poem
Posted 11/30/2009 7:13pm by Catskill Merino.

Foolish me—trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's earand what a fine sow's ear my dog Poem is.  Not a go-to-town gal, she's a down-on-the-farm dog, a sheep herding Australian Kelpie.  Her predecessors in my life, Miss and Shade—mother and daughter—are gone now; they were Kelpies who lived in the house and went to the sheep with me.

Poem is different.  She is not a house dog (we tried; she would work Jet & Stripe, the house cats, hour after hour to the detriment of her training) she is not a companion animal in the traditional sense but we are becoming a team when working sheep.

She now stays in her kennel at the farm and seems happy there. When, twice-a-day, I come to take her to the sheep, she is happy to see me, as happy as I am to see her.  We need the distance, we need a  reason to meet, a reason to be together, we need the sheep.

When she and I were together all the time (this truly can breed contempt), I had to shout commands to her, over and over, as if she were deaf.  I tired of yelling.  I now speak quietly to her, "Go round, come behind, easy, down..."   In the clamor of moving sheep, her big ears listen for my voice, she attends, she minds me.

Poem you are my dog, but my dog your way—I'm learning—proof you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Posted 5/5/2009 9:54pm by Catskill Merino.

Poem loves to work: on command, she brings the sheep to me.


Weighing a mere 25 lb. she runs circles around these big rams.


She dominates with eye.

Poem is two and a half years old; she's my trusty sidekick and goes with me everywhere except to Union Square. Being a dog of the great outdoors—a country girl at heart—she doesn't appreciate the city.  

On the sheep she appears ferocious, off the sheep she is as gentle as a lamb and licks my stroking hand with her warm, pink tongue.   Poem is responsible: running free around the farm, she ignores the flock until I bid her otherwise.

Poem likes the sheep.  She would never hurt them, but she can be a bossy little bitch.  Sheep don't like the Poem. 

Tags: Poem, Staff
Posted 11/14/2008 9:33am by Catskill Merino.
Poem coming up
At 2 years of age Poem is really a help moving the sheep.  As I tell her, "You ain't no bum dog, you got yourself a job."
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Posted 9/19/2008 6:35pm by Catskill Merino.
Poem eyes the bucks across the pond 
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Posted 7/29/2008 7:10pm by Catskill Merino.
Poem in Queen Anne's Lace looking over her sheep
Tags: Poem
Posted 6/22/2008 7:43pm by Catskill Merino.
When I’m in New York at market, Poem spends the day in her kennel that faces the noisy pond.  Because she will be there all day Saturday with nothing to do but listen to the frogs croak, I try to work her before I go, and then again when I come home.  Friday I took her to the ram paddock with me; I wasn’t expecting much more than commanding and correcting her as is usual with a young dog.
But instead of running ahead and making me stamp my foot to get her attention, Poem surprised me by staying at my side as we approached the sheep.  I stepped over the fence, then she jumped over following me. “Sit,” I said and she did.  Rather than cast her around the flock of rams to the left, “Go round” or cast her around them to the right, “Go over,’ I let her choose her direction by simply telling her, “Go back.”  She went “round” to the left; but what amazed me is that she went wide around the flock (correctly staying off the sheep to not scare them) rather than coming in too close as she usually does.  
How did she do that?  For months now, I had wondered how I would teach her to stay off the sheep on the cast.  I called her back to me for another cast; she went wide again, perfectly.  Poem, we should quit winners. I called her back to me, bent down and stroked her; I told her she was “good dog,” but it wasn’t enough. Dogs love you by letting you know your love for them is not enough.
Sunday I took her back to the rams.  On the first cast, rather than going around the sheep—staying off and out wide—she came in to cut the flock in two and began running the small group of five bucks just for dog fun
Poem coming in
"O Poem," I sighed; then shook my head and loudly yelled, "come behind."  She came off the sheep and to my side; panting, she looked up at me with her wild brown eyes, then wagged her tail.  No, it’s never enough. 
Tags: Poem
Posted 1/27/2008 9:57pm by Catskill Merino.
After a cold, gray Saturday outside all day at market, I spend Sunday mornings inside listening for the faint church bells ringing a block away in the village square.  I like hearing the bells, they  join me to a community, that is probably better imagined than met, nevertheless they warm me.  That afternoon, the sun shone through the eyebrow windows of my study.  I wanted to get some air; it was a good day to take Poem to the sheep.
The rams were in a loose flock about 75 yards away from us when we entered the field. Poem and I have been working on direction. "Go round" means go around the sheep in a clockwise direction. "Go over" means go around the sheep in a counter-clockwise direction.
We walked toward the flock; when I stopped, Poem sat and looked intently at the sheep awaiting my command. "Go round," I cast her, wanting her to cover the 75 yards, stay to the left and circle the sheep clockwise; but she veered right to circle them counter-clockwise.
I was about to stop and correct her, when I realized that instinct told her to go right, to go between the sheep and the electric fence, to drive the flock away from the fence, and not drive them into it as following my command would have her do, when she circled them.  I had cast her in the wrong direction.  She was 20 yards from the sheep when I yelled, "Poem, go over," correcting myself.  Without  hesitation, Poem continued round the sheep counter-clockwise.   When she had the flock held between us as was proper, I called her off and to me. I stroked her head and said, "Good dog."

Good dogs make good masters. 
Posted 12/25/2007 9:29pm by Catskill Merino.

This afternoon Poem and I walked across the garlic field when we went to look at the sheep. As expected I broke through the ice crust with each footfall but surprisingly so did little 29 lb Poem, so fragile in places it was. I love to have fun with my dog and my dog loves to have fun with me--and it was Christmas day--we hipped and hopped breaking the ice like Brooklyn gangstas, like I was Biggy and she was Smalls. We were "goofin," as they said in Flatbush when Frank was king.

The exposed patches of ground, or really of sheep manure, were not frozen but stiff from the temperature that fell with the afternoon light. Where Poem and I broke through the ice crust, the manure underneath was soft, squishy and very plantable. The snow and ice crust functioned as a mulch, and mulch is what garlic grown in cold climates needs to keep it from heaving when the ground freezes. If we're lucky, the snow will mulch the garlic for us. Some days I have to smile.

Tomorrow Dominique and I will plan the planting; and through the snow, we will plunge stakes to string the rows. Maybe Thursday we can plant the garlic...there will still be snow on the ground...our hands will hurt from cold as our plans become tactile. Only a fool or a farmer could smile now.
Tags: Garlic, Poem, Snow
Posted 12/24/2007 8:01pm by Catskill Merino.
This morning Poem and I went to the field where I hope to plant garlic later this week if the warming trend continues. But there was still 6" of snow cover on the field; it slopes to the South which is good for early sun but the wind blows from the North on that ridge and it has drifted several inches of snow on top of what had fallen last week. Snow on the surrounding un-drifted fields had melted yesterday with the 50 degree temperature but Winter remains on the garlic field. I'm disappointed rather than worried; we must wait another day or two to plant...worry comes later.

Poem is doing well now that she's turned 13 months. Here she is in a "Down" position (not a "Sit" position, or a "Stop" position while standing) patiently waiting for me. Notice that the ewes behind Poem keep an eye on her; they must always know where a nearby dog is. Everything works and so will the garlic...

Tags: Garlic, Poem, Snow
Posted 11/19/2007 6:45pm by Catskill Merino.

Poem at DogDome

November 7, 2007

Poem works sheep under the tutelage of Dianne Bauman owner of the DogDome School in Wantage, N.J., about 25 minutes south of the farm. I was relieved to hear that Dianne thinks Poem has good herding potential, and that she should realize her promise when she gets older and through her puppyhood.

Tags: Poem
Posted 7/28/2007 8:26pm by Catskill Merino.

July 28, 2007

baa FINDING POEM Part 12

Friday, thirty-one hours after Poem was lost she was found, alive and well, where she was lost. Unknowingly I fenced her in with the rams; the orchard grass was waist high and it hid the rams too.

That afternoon Clara called and said that when she and the boys were up on the hill fixing fence they heard a dog barking in the grass by the ram paddock. But when she went down there, she heard nothing; nevertheless she thought she should mention it to me.

I was 80 miles away pulling into to the slaughterhouse in LaPlume Pennsylvania. I called Dominique and asked her to go to the farm and walk the ram paddock looking at every square foot of it. Dominique said she would call me from the farm after she’d searched.

The slaughterhouse was behind because the Fourth of July had fallen on Wednesday, their killing day. Mr. Darling said my sausage wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours. I hadn’t slept well and with a market day in the morning I thought I should find a quiet place off the road and close my eyes for an hour. I remembered a grassy parking area that gave onto a small field that was mowed like a golf course on the road into LaPlume. The small sign in the lot said the field was for flying radio controlled model airplanes “only.” The afternoon was dark, there was thunder and lightening. No one would be flying today, the little airport was mine.

I kicked off my boots, cracked the window, bunched up a red hoodie for a pillow and lay my head down on it. I closed my eyes and thought of what I’d done and what I could do from here. Yesterday and again this morning I went back to the ram paddock and called her but got no response. If she were in there with the rams they would have been spooky or she would have driven them through the fence by now—but they grazed peacefully—I fell asleep thinking of Poem’s cold wet nose.

My classic, old phone ring tone awakened me; it was Dominique, “I found Poem.” “Oh, what good news…” “Her leash was wound around two tufts of grass and she couldn’t move.” “So that’s why the rams were undisturbed.” “She was happy to see me, wagging her tail” “Great news, thanks; I should be at the farm in a couple of hours.”

I drove back to the slaughterhouse, picked up the lamb, took 81 South to Scranton then got on 84 East to New York. It was a new day. When I pulled into the farm I could see her in the kennel. She had been out in the overnight rain and she was as black and as sleek and as clean as a new Porsche.

Tags: Poem
Posted 7/21/2007 8:00pm by Catskill Merino.
July 21, 2007
baa FINDING POEM Part 11
I walked the quarter mile back to Poem’s kennel and unplugged the fence charger on the way. I leashed her and we went back to where the rams and cows were facing off. She seemed to know that this was work and not training; I was pleased. I tied Poem to a wooden fence post supporting the cow fence; then I finished a corner of the net enclosure that would contain the rams. Again for expediency, I left the distant side of the paddock unfenced, thinking the rams wouldn’t get that far. I would have time to fence it closed with them inside later. I opened the corner that I’d just made and angled the fence out into the cow paddock to make a ‘wall’ that would turn the rams into their paddock when driven toward it. I took Poem on her leash and we circled round behind the rams to drive them forward. She began to move the sheep by changing her position in relation to them, rather than running madly at them as she usually does. Was she learning, I don’t know; but I was impressed and I praised her when we so handily got the rams back into their paddock.

Now I had to reestablish the corner and close the fence. I tied poem up to another fence post, directly in the path of any ram who would try to go back to the green grass of the cows. But as I was gathering the fence, Poem broke free and ran through the rams. I called her, but she didn’t heed me. What she did do though was to turn the rams back to me and away from the unfenced part of the paddock. I was impressed—pissed—but impressed. I called her again but she sped out of site into the tall grass. Before the dog come the sheep. I had to finish the fence, then look for my errant dog.

Poem was nowhere to be found, I called and called. In the ensuing hours, I drove around the property line, I visited the neighbors alerting them and I went to the Goshen Humane Society. Poem hadn’t come home and the sun was setting. My spirits dimmed with the day. She had her leash still attached to her collar, a rope 20 feet in length trailing behind her. I feared that if she tried to go through the woods that surround the property, her leash would catch on a fallen branch; she, unable to move, would not come home and die a slow death tangled up in brush somewhere. But if that were the case, when she got hungry she would bark or so I hoped.

That night I opened the door to her kennel and put food in her dish in case she came back. Early the next day I went back to the farm hoping to find her, but no. Again I drove the property line stopping and shutting off the tractor off every 200 yards to listen for her. I heard nothing. With dread, I drove the roads around the farm looking for road kill. A dead deer ahead looked like a dog until I got close.

Poem had run off before but returned in an hour. Now she had been gone for 24 hours. Was she caught in the woods, or had she been hit by a car, or had she been shot by a neighbor as a stray dog?

Tags: Poem