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Wayne Post
  • Shepherds spar in Rushville for 17th annual sheep herding trials

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  • RUSHVILLE — From Rochester to the Constitution State, fans flocked from all over the Northeast to visit the White Clover Sheep Farm in Rushville on Saturday and witness a unique activity.
    “Sheep herding can actually be pretty interesting,” Mike Schulde, of Connecticut, said. “It’s not just sheep eating grass.”
    Schulde and his family drove more than six hours to watch his niece, Kristin Siarkowicz, participate in the 17th annual sheep herding trials at White Clover. He said after years of seeing pictures of Siarkowicz’s triumphs — she has won the competition in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011 — he decided to take a drive to the Finger Lakes to experience the action firsthand.
    While it’s big in Germany — the native land for White Clover owner Ulf Kintzel — sheep herding trials also have a following in Ontario County. Kintzel estimated about 100 people visited his farm for the Oct. 12 event — a standard number during the trial’s 17-year history.
    For each run during the trial, a trainer and a German shepherd corral a group of about 300 sheep through different areas of the farm.
    Schulde explained it as a day’s worth of sheep activity condensed to about an hour. Where the sheep would normally spend a morning grazing in one area, they instead spend a short amount of time in that area during a trial run, he said. The entirety of a run lasts about an hour.
    “The sheep are actually not happy about it,” Schulde said. “They eat way less, and exercise more.”
    Sheep are herded to various grazing zones during a run, and the human-dog combination is graded on a 100-point scale. Points are deducted for mistakes. A score in the 90s is excellent. Anything 60 or above is a passing grade, said spectator Stacy Smith, of Rochester.
    “The dog acts as a living fence,” explained Kintzel of the dog’s duties.
    In two exhibition runs, Kintzel said he had scores of 92 and 92. The defending champion, Kathy DiStaso, of New Jersey, came into the day with the highest score for an American competitor, 95, which she achieved last year at White Clover. Her dog, Elexa, scored a 92 with her Saturday.
    Each year, the names of the winning dog and human are placed on a trophy — a prize that is, of course, adorned with sculptures of German shepherd dogs.
    DiStaso, Siarkowicz and other herders are equipped with a crook — a long cane with a hooked end, he said. It’s a tool that Little Bo Peep carries in most depictions of her; however, herding the sheep is no simple, nursery-rhyme task.
    It takes training with the dog to reach a high level of performance, Kintzel said. He added the White Clover sheep are surprisingly quick — a human would not be able to outrun them.
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