April 21, 2010 – Who Says Cats Don’t Make Good Shepherds?

Over the ages, many scientists, using keen powers of observation and conjecture, have winnowed many complex animal relationships.  These breakthroughs often times explain how seemingly random events are part of a larger unexplained whole.  I had just one such experience this week.  Many people regard cats as having few skills in  herding cloven-footed herbivores.  Dogs occupy most of the herding space, mainly due to their brash and over-the-top nipping, barking and running after their chosen herd of ungulates.

Cats have a different, heretofore, unrecognized approach to herding.  Cats are waaay more laid back – in fact, they’d rather make you think they weren’t doing anything at all.  Our oldest farm cat, Toby, probably about 13 years old by now demonstrated this technique to me, only after our long relationship.  In this photo he positions himself in what looks like a warm, sunny location, but actually uses the adjoining cavern to amplify his voice when he makes subtle voice commands and head motions to move the sheep.

After an initial calling meow, Toby uses almost imperceptible head motions to visually track to the sheep the direction he wants them to travel.  Here the lead ewe begins to follow Toby’s command, alerting the young lambs to come this way.

As his head moves from left to right in this photo sequence, the herd gains speed.

Once the sheep are safely moved closer to the barn, Toby acts as though he had nothing to do with it, even though the sheep look directly at him, awaiting further direction!

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