A few years ago, my wife and I needed assistance moving our homestead from the world of ideas to the material world. Neither of us grew up on a farm. Both of us had little homestead related hands-on experience. One could say that the first step had been taken years ago when my wife started researching this way of life. We had also gradually begun planning for our homestead, had written a family mission statement which included a homesteading way of life, had had children whose very natures demanded a farm life, and we had at last succeeded in moving to the country. Each of these actions got us moving in the direction of the homestead but we weren’t sure how to take the next concrete step. Shortly after moving to our own place in the country, one particular event put us past the point of no return and that was when our Border Collie, Lucy, came to live with us. She was our first farm animal. With each additional animal we became more and more like homesteaders but it all started with Lucy.
Lucy came to us through a homeschooling exercise. My wife and I were designing a homeschooling curriculum to supplement an ABC book we wrote for our children based upon our spiritual philosophy. The curriculum features lessons and activities that correspond to each letter of the alphabet. We worked on the letter D for over a month because we started doing a unit study on the dog. Dogs remind us of so many spiritual characteristics important to us such as devotion, love, loyalty, and service and there are many stories and books about special dogs that illustrate these qualities beautifully. The whole family enjoyed this study so much that we just couldn’t seem to move on. We would find another story or come up with a new exercise so that we didn’t move on to the letter E. As we studied the qualities of the dog, our hearts began opening to the idea of adding one to our family. My wife and I were starting a business at the time as well as beginning to homeschool our children while developing the aforementioned curriculum. We felt maxed out. With six children, four of them under six years old, we did not feel ready to take on something new. But the dog talk was reverberating all through the house and there was no stopping it.
So then we went to a local vegetarian festival where I had a booth promoting my now defunct counseling business. Early in the day, I walked around the venue. I noticed a set of booths for a group trying to save doomed dogs and cats who had a week before they would be put down. One happy looking dog that looked like a Border Collie caught my eye. I walked back to our booth and mentioned the dog to my wife who had just read something about Border Collies a few days before. Before I knew it, my children were excitedly taking turns walking around the festival with the dog. I knew that there was going to be no turning back then. We brought her home that very evening. In one of the mysteries of life, my counseling business and our homestead intersected that day. The homestead just took off after that with one animal after another coming to live with us, one skill after another being learned, barns being built and milk pouring in whereas the counseling business was shut out on all levels. It seems that nature gave a nod to one while stiff arming the other. Even though Leslie and I put more into the counseling business in terms of time and resources, the homestead grew and flourishes today whereas the counseling business is but a distant memory.
It was soon clear to us that Lucy possessed all of the qualities we had been studying about in dogs. Border Collies are working dogs first and foremost. They are highly intelligent and sensitive. They really, really want to please their owner or master. They are devoted and eager to please, hanging on their master’s every instruction. At the higher levels of master and dog, artistry is reached where the nonverbal communication is so precise that dog and owner become one. The Border Collie can anticipate what their master wants them to do sometimes even before the owner themselves has thought of it. Lucy was such a dog. Now I understand why dog owners shower their dogs with such gifts. My wife and I have been thinking about doing the same with Lucy. One of our children told us about a service that would allow us to make a painting of Lucy for our living room. Can you make Custom Pet Portraits On Canvas? I had no idea you could do such a thing until my children told me about it. I’d have to look into that for Lucy since she is worth it. It would make an excellent gift for the family. She would look beautiful on canvas.
Lucy has gentle, deep brown light-filled eyes which reflect the nature of her essence. She is extremely patient and gentle with the children and above all else she wants to serve the family. At first she would not even relieve herself on her own. We had to walk her into the woods on our property twice a day. Some Border Collies only relive themselves in the woods and not on the pasture unless the grass is really think and deep. Lucy was so intent on serving that she would just sit and wait at the back porch. If we didn’t walk her into the woods, she would not relieve herself but only wait for us.
Lucy had boundless energy and enthusiasm. After doing a little research, we quickly learned that Border Collies need to work. They are like gifted children who have an essential need to put their talents to use. If they don’t have a venue for their talents, they turn to mischief and can eventually develop antisocial type behaviors. It was obvious that Lucy had herding talents that needed to be expressed. As a thoroughbred needs to run, a herding dog needs to herd. It is a part of their genetic structure. As we had no livestock at the time, we taught her to catch a Frisbee. We tired out her out with this a few times a day but that was really not enough for her. I felt personally responsible to help Lucy develop her gifts and actualize the herding dog she was destined to become. That is one of the wonderful things about being a parent or pet owner or supervisor. You are responsible to create the conditions for your charges to become their best and that makes you change and grow. There were a lot of forces within our family unit pulling for a homestead and these forces began pulling the homesteader out of me, a change for the better.
A year or so after Lucy came to live with us, we began to acquire livestock. Each new animal added a different element and condition to our lives. Unfortunately, we were unable to train Lucy to herd properly. We did not know how to train her and we were juggling so many balls that we never had the time or the resources to either learn ourselves or bring her to somebody else to train her. More often than not, Lucy would do the opposite of what we wanted her to do when it came to herding. We tended to drive the animals from behind so Lucy would get in front of the animals and push them back towards us. This is not what we wanted her to do but we later learned how this made sense from her point of view. We also learned that Border Collies are so sensitive and eager to please that they can easily have their spirits broken by harsh words and treatment. That is why you’re not supposed to say “No!” to them. Instead you say, “That’ll do.” We tried to remember this and usually praised her for doing the slightest thing right. But there were times of frustration, of course and deep down Lucy must have known that she was just sort of “pretend herding”.
She is now about four years old. I was getting concerned that the window of opportunity for her to learn to be a proper herding dog was probably closing. She is such a valued member of our family and such a contributor to the joy of our homestead that I felt, to some extent, that we had failed her. We have been making videos of our homestead for months now. We had just completed the video series “A Day on Our Homestead”. The next series was scheduled to be a day in the life of our Border Collie. And in the magic that is a spirit’s need to actualize itself, Lucy had a major herding breakthrough a week before we shot her video. She suddenly just got it one day and ran out into the pasture and brought the cows to us to be milked and then took them back out to the pasture when milking was done. She has been doing it ever since as you will see on the videos. As soon as Lucy hears the rattling of milking pails she runs out into the pasture and brings Phoebe up to the gate to be milked. By the time we make it to the gate the two of them are standing there waiting for us. This has been wonderful for us and for Lucy.
We are still fine-tuning her skills but now Lucy is a genuine contributor to the work of the homestead and has become what she was meant to become – a herding dog. When we first got her, her temporary name was Blair. That was not her real name though. Almost immediately after bringing her home, the name Lucy came through. “Lucy” means light and that is what you see in her eyes and that is what you feel being around her. She lights up the area wherever she goes and people everywhere respond to her that way. We are lucky to have her. The videos are embedded below.