great grass = great lamb

News and notes from John and Sukey Jamison of Jamison Farm, Latrobe PA

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who Would Be Calling?

Lambs at Pasture
Who would be calling at 9:30 PM on my cell phone? Sukey and I had just climbed into bed at about 9:00. We were off to a well-deserved sleep after a day of her working at the Meat Plant and me checking the sheep in our newly fenced pastures at the farm. I said, “Hello,” and then listened as a polite, enthusiastic, young voice went on about coming to the farm the next day for a photo shoot. I listened groggily until he said something about seeing the sheep when the “sun comes up.” When my first utterance in this previous one way conversation was, “That’s awful early,” my wife, previously catatonic, stirred, then muttered, “Now what?” before morphing back to being an inanimate lump in the bed.

One of our customers, “Meat and Potatoes” Restaurant in Pittsburgh had asked us to participate in a YouTube Video as part of a promotion Hyundai Motors was doing on tailgating at some name colleges across the country. Apparently, they were matching 13 national rivalries with top area chefs. In this case, it was Penn State, home at Happy Valley versus Ohio State; serious Big Ten Football. The designated chef would show off local products cooked his way for tailgating. The name of the show was, “Grill Iron” which was pretty cool. Chef Rick De Shantz was using our lamb from Latrobe to make Kielbasa and using pierogies from “Pierogies Plus” in McKees Rocks. Very Pittsburgh and very much about local ingredients.

So when one of your best customers asks you to be part of something that will be viewed by thousands, you sign up. Sukey and I bought tickets to Woodstock in 1969, but being seen as  ex hippies, senior statesmen rock star farmers was starting to seem like a lot of work. Not to worry. If a video crew from LA wanted to see our sheep as the sun was rising, that was fine by us. My concern was I had just moved the sheep to a fresh pasture in the back of the farm. While the sun still rises in the east there, it is blocked by a forest on the east side of the field.

At 5:30 am in the morning, I get up to get organized. I figure Sukey will take the video crew with all their paraphernalia in our Suburban to the back pasture where we have a group of about 200 ewes. I will lead the way in the UTV (utility terrain vehicle) opening gates into the maze of the newly finished divided pastures. I was deciding whether to use my male Border Collie Jim or my newly purchased female Lexi. Jim has been with me longer but he is a pretty strong dog who is better at driving, or pushing the sheep, than gathering them and bringing to me. Lexi can do a beautiful 200 yard outrun, running around one side the sheep, then bring them to me all in one bunch. It’s a beautiful sight, when it works. She and I are still getting used to working with each other, so sometimes we have a beautiful gather, sometimes we don’t. I finally decided to go with Jim, so I tied him to the UTV until the crew arrived.

At barely 6:30 am, just as I was thinking about what else I should worry about to get ready, a car drove up the lane. It was the video crew. After getting out of the car, the two introduced themselves as Gabriel and Ryan. We were talking in the dark, just trying to break the ice a little before we started finalizing a plan for the taping. I left to get something from the barn, when behind me, I heard Gabriel say, “Whoa!” just as I heard Jim growl. Jim’s not too good with male strangers, especially artsy types from L.A., apparently. I always figure people know a working dog is just that, a working dog. Some dogs can deal with the “nice doggie” when they aren’t working. In Gabriel’s defense, Jim is a pain in the neck. He’s not usually happy, but he can, at least, be bearable when he’s working sheep. He was up early, not knowing if he was going to work sheep or not. He was cranky. I decided to go with Lexi.

Lexi’s personality is totally different from Jim’s. Part Border collie, part Valley Girl, she is happy just being alive. Until it’s time to work, she just goes with the flow, reminding me of Muppet Janice from the Muppet’s Electric Mayhem Band, “Fer Sure”, “like whatever!” She’s fun to work because just when you think she’s running off to a Peace Rally, I’ll give her the “That’ll Do” (stop what you’re doing and come right back to me) command, and she’s at my feet in seconds. Lexi and I get in the UTV and take off for the first gate to be sure we’re in the sheep pasture before the sun is. We wait at the first gate for Sukey and the “videos guys.” After about a half hour, I call Sukey. She says cryptically, “Don’t worry, we’ll be right there.” In another five minutes, she shows up. We open three more gates to get back to the fields where I told them we should shoot.

It’s about 7:15 by now with the official sunrise being 7:41. It’s quickly getting lighter. We have two fields, one about 10 acres, the other about 7. The two pastures are connected by an alleyway about 200 yards long by 10 yards wide. My plan was to have Lexi gather the sheep in the larger bottom field as the sun was rising.

Gabriel looked at Ryan. I’m sure he was thinking, the first dog almost bit me, this one’s jumping around like a jumping bean, this is nuts. As I now know that Sukey’s delay getting in the Suburban was caused by the video guys looking for equipment, I’m thinking maybe they’re nuts. There was a questionable, if not, negative vibe in the air.

What the heck, I am thinking, I’ve been up since 5:30; we should just go for it. The sheep were scattered, about 200 yards away from me. I think Ryan, the camera man, may have heard me give Lexi the command, “away to me.”  Lexi, who had been standing still beside me, suddenly took off to the right like a bullet. She makes a beautiful counterclockwise gather, staying perfectly wide of the sheep so as not to bother them. I only say “Steady, steady” once to her to slow her down a little so she doesn’t split the 200 sheep into smaller groups. Within a minute, all the sheep are at our feet. A beautiful sight!

I think both Ryan and Gabriel were speechless until they finally realized what was happening. Then Sukey and I heard, “wow!”  “That’s amazing!” “I’ve never seen anything like that!” Ryan’s got a smile on his face a mile wide. Now he knew he had a gig. I’m happy because Lexi and I got the teamwork right for the first time since I got her a few months earlier. I’m also happy because I never tire of watching a civilian see a “good collie” for the first time, for real, not on TV, do what she was born to do.

The next two hours were pretty much non-stop. We did a bunch of gathers from one end of the field to the other while the sun was coming up. After that, Ryan would come up with some idea for a shoot, we’d talk about it, Gabriel would sell it, and Lexi and I would do it. We opened the gates on the alley way, and gathered from one field to another. After getting used to the sheep, Ryan stood in the alleyway, filming as the sheep came galloping through. He quickly picked up that sheep often jump when they enter a new field as they are excited about going to fresh pasture. He got some great shots. Sukey, Lexi, and I had a great time.

Pierogi and Grilled Kielbasa | The Grill Iron - Penn State

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