Patagonia’s wildest and most desolate of areas are covered in their tracks.
The only species, including us humans, that is likely to outnumber them here are sheep.
Dogs are integral to the Patagonian way of life.
There is a mutual respect among the gaucho and dog, and gauchos are rarely seen without them since work, life, and even survival can depend on them. They communicate between whistles and short commands. Most gauchos use a team mixed of Greyhounds and Dogo Argentino to hunt wild animals such as guanaco (for eating) and puma trying to prey on their sheep herds. Breeds such as Border Collies, Great Pyrenees, Australian Kelpies, and English Shepherds like Darcie are used to herd and care for the sheep.
I loved watching the gauchos work with their dog packs to herd sheep. Even in the most powerful of winds, a slight whistle or spoken command could have the power to change the direction of several thousand sheep.
Our journey had brought myself, Darcie, and my two horses through The Estancia Numancia, located at the foot of the Andes close to the border of Chile. There we stayed nearly a week to give the horses a good rest while I spent my time working with both sheep and cows, trying to learn all I could about the campo life.
Our days there began well before sunrise. Pablo, the estancia (ranch) owner, and his daughter, Florencia, would spend their time showing me the ropes. Our first big task was to locate the Great Pyrenees pups located within the various sheep herds across the ranch and give them dog food. It waa much more difficult than one might think.
“At 45 days of age the puppies are separated from their mother and put with the sheep herd,” Florencia tells me. The pups then grow up to think that they’re actually a sheep and therefore will always stay within their herd, protecting them from pumas and other dangers. More wild and timid than the sheep, it took several of us to track them down and catch them.
The following day at 4 a.m., Pablo, Florencia, Marcelo the gaucho, and I were to move more than 2,000 sheep up a mountain to the mesa top where they’d be free to roam for the summer. We saddled our horses, and with 2 Kelpies and a Border Collie, headed for the hills. Tucked deep inside the herd were an older generation of Great Pyrenees that could only be spotted in the sea of white because of their greatness in size.
With our team, we moved the 2,000 sheep through thick woods, up the steep mountainside and over to the windblown mesa. I sat completely enthralled on my horse and watched the sheep dance around the circling dogs and the whistles that directed them. A true enchantment of the working dog in his element.