Duck! Here comes a dog that herds ducks
If it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck but is herded like a sheep, what sport are we watching?
That question may have occurred to the hundreds of spectators at the Motueka A&P Show who witnessed border collie Aled slinking low to the ground, his ears pinned back, as he split a group of six ducks into two groups by colour and then herded them into boxes.
Rai Valley sheep dog breeder Ken White has been performing his duck and dog show off and on since 1982, when it debuted at the Rai Valley A&P Show. Since then he and his wife Natalie have performed it about a hundred times around the country and in Australia.
Mr White, who has also represented New Zealand at the World Sheep Dog Trials several times, said he was inspired to create the show because "I wanted to take something farm to schools because a lot of townie kids don't understand what sheep or dogs do".
But he found young children could be scared of sheep and it was also easier to transport ducks.
He said he had seen some other duck and dog shows on YouTube but none where a dog split a flock into two groups by colour.
Mr White uses black American Kyuga ducks and white Pekingese ducks, which he keeps as domestic animals.
He has to refresh the flock periodically because the ducks can become too good at finding their way into grain-stocked duck boxes and is always on the look-out for more ducks.
The two biggest obstacles to a successful show are self-evident: unlike sheep, ducks can fly and they could also make a tasty lunch for a dog.
Mr White said some varieties of ducks are less likely to fly and it took a special dog to work with ducks.
"You want a dog with a kind eye and a kind touch."
Ducks were trickier to work with than sheep, he said.
"It's so fine a movement, it's so quick. The good dogs learn to watch their head. It's like working merinos; they're so quick. And the next thing is, they might start flying. You've got to take them quietly."
Aled, a four-year-old border collie, has been herding ducks for two years and also works with sheep.
Mr White is taking him to the World Sheep Dog Trials in Tain, Scotland, in September. It will cost him $10,000 just to ship Aled, and he said the vetting process and paperwork required added several thousand dollars to that, joking that the paperwork weighs as much as the dog.
Mr White's duck dreams don't end with herding.
He has plans to create a duck racing show, dressing ducks in hats and dresses with numbers, where fair-goers could bet on which duck would make it to the end of the race-course first.
- © Fairfax NZ News