Sheep Dip with Raising the Baa

#1 Once upon a time - the Raising the Baa story

June 09, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Sheep Dip with Raising the Baa
#1 Once upon a time - the Raising the Baa story
Show Notes Transcript

How and why did Raising the Baa come about?  And what's it all about anyway?

Founder and Head Shepherd Chris Farnsworth in a coffee-shop conversation with associate trainer and Recognition Coach Paul Warriner.

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Paul Warriner - The Recognition Coach and Head Facilitator, Raising the Baa
Chris Farnsworth - Head Shepherd and Co-Founder, Raising the Baa

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 SheepDip podcast – Episode 1 transcript

Paul: Hi, my name is Paul Warriner, associate trainer with  Raising the Baa. And here I am at a local coffee shop, catching up with Chris Farnsworth, one of the founding directors of Raising the Baa. 

I just wanted to set the scene and, give an insight into what Raising the Baa is about.

We're going to go through a series of podcasts over the next few weeks. And give  some, real knowledge about sheep-herding, Chris, the business and business in general. So,  welcome Chris, welcome to the podcast.  So when did you first think about becoming a shepherd Chris and what, drew you to it? 

Chris: Well, I was born and bred in London and  -very rural- yes, the best part of Raynes Park and I always knew that I wanted to work outside or sort of, I'm a highly practical person. 

My dad used to tell me that money doesn't grow on trees.

And what I heard was actually that I had, he hadn't found a way to grow a money tree, so I planted some coins thinking that actually they will grow. If I gave them enough time and effort and nurtured them enough, they would grow into this fantastic money tree. Needless to say, my dad's advice was right, money didn't grow on a tree, but I wanted to make sure for myself, that it didn't.

Right. Needless to say, five years later, I dug up the money and thought, I'll spend it instead for some sweets. You know? That was, but I, I always was drawn to the outside and Mother Nature and everything else like that. So, yeah, sheep was just one of those animals that I could read very easily. You know, cows were great, but you might, you know, when I was introduced to sheep, I just thought, why do people think they're so difficult?  They 're  really easy.

Paul:  So when did you meet your  first sheep then  if you were brought up in Raynes Park? 

Chris: Well, we were lucky enough to see a programme called The Good Life with Felicity Kendall, and he really liked that idea. And so we actually moved from London into rural Hampshire and there we had a couple of acres. And  we decided to get pigs, sheep, bees... 

Paul: You went for the good life. 

Chris: We went for the good life. Mum was so funny because she said, I'm prepared to have anything in the kitchen as long as it's oven ready. Right. And so, so dad and myself always had to make sure it was oven ready when we presented it to mum.

Lambing was just one of those things where my dad couldn't understand shape, and I was going, what does this say? Simple look. You just look at them and you say, that one's ill. Why is that one ill? Or you'll say, well, because of this, that and the other, and he goes oh yeah. And so I just realized that I had an observational skill with the sheep in particular.

I mean, again, it's the same with the pigs and the cows and everything like that. He was just, 

Paul: So that led you to thinking, well, I might become a sheepherder. 

Chris: No, it wasn't that linear. I went to agricultural college study three years  and then I had an accident which broke my pelvis, which meant I couldn't further the career so I went traveling for three years, which was fantastic because I knew going down an agricultural or farming career, I'd need to focus on that. And I knew there's a big world out there. I just thought I'd like to go see it before I start on my career. And actually traveling around the world for three years with an agricultural view on things, not totally agricultural. I did things like, cotton picking, you know, things which I wouldn't do in the U K so it gave me an insight to how other people... Obviously I went to New Zealand, saw some sheep farming there, you know, saw how they did it in Australia, went over to Canada, went on the prairies there, you know, went to Israel, milked, you know, 400 cows there four times a day, and you sort of think 'oh wow, these are great things to see', but I knew it wasn't my chosen career and I got into shepherding because actually I could find it very easy, but also there's an opportunity to become a contract shepherd.

The contract shepherd is where you go around doing other people's sheep as well as your own. And from a business point of view, it was far easier. I wanted the kit, you know to run my sheep, but if I could get other people to hire it from me, and I do the work as well, and it was a cashflow thing, so I could go out, charge them for the job I did, and then come back to use it with my own sheep and do my own sheep as well.

Paul: Wow. So all that research, traveling the world and seeing how other people did it set you in motion and gave you good insights. 

Chris: I think the insights  instilled a curiosity in me to keep asking questions, you know, just because everybody else does it one way.  Is there another way to do things? 

Paul: Yeah. Okay. Now I should probably. well, perhaps you should tell people what Raising the Baa is all about 

Chris: yeah  

I'd like to say it was all my idea, and particularly  - we heard it here first - it was a throw-away idea. 

 I was talking to somebody in a pub and, they were setting up a charity  and that curiosity came out again.

And I was saying, Oh, so how'd you set up a charity? And you say he's doing this, that, or the other, you know, I said, well, it sounds like you've done everything. It's what's, what's stopping you going ahead. He says, well, I'm looking for team building event for these kids. And I said, well, you ought  to get them down on a farm, bring them around, loose a bit of energy, and then be able to sit them down and teach them something.

And he, he then asked the best question. Great idea, Chris, how'd you do that? And I'll say, oh my gosh, right, I haven't got a farm, all I've got is some sheep and, and I said, well, we'll just round the sheep up - it won't take five minutes - put them in a pen and do something.

There's always something to do with sheep. Either drenching them, worming them,  we can do something with them. And so I thought, oh well that's what we'll do.  Anyway, we got them out to the field. Just didn't  realise  it would take them two hours to get the sheep in the pen!

Paul: And that's a good time.

Chris: And that's a good time. As you well know Paul. 

Paul:  So how long have you trained to be a shepherd? 

Chris: Well, I mean, I've been a shepherd rather  a long time now. The grey hair is now coming. Well, I did a  two year diploma in agriculture, which is sort of like general , because I didn't know at that point I wanted to do sheep.

And then I did a particular two year sheep course, which went into the ins and outs of the way they work, how they work and why they work, all those sort of things. And where we should look at profit and loss, all of those 

Paul: That's kind of the business side. But in terms of herding sheep, how many hours do you think you've spent out there in the field actually herding sheep? 

Chris: Oh, I'd hate to think! I mean  what do you mean by herding? Do you actually mean moving the sheep from A to B or getting them in the pen? 

Paul: I guess so. Moving them or being in their company so that they're not running amok.

Chris:  I think you get quite proficient at it. I mean, it's like that 10,000 hours thing - I think at ten thousand hours, you then understand  what you don't know. 

Paul: Very good point. 

Chris: So actually before 10,000 hours, you sort of do it, but you don't understand it.

After 10,000 hours, you actually understand what you don't know. Because sheep have got this great skill. I don't know how they do it. When you first get sheep, they all behave themselves. You always have a good lambing. You always, everything seems to just go very nicely. And then next year you have one problem.

Next year you have another problem. Next year you have a third problem, and about after 10 years you've seen the 10 most popular problems, but  they then revert back to problem one because you've forgotten about problem one. So they always keep you on your toes. 

Paul: Bit like people then I guess. There's a honeymoon period when everybody's settling in and being really polite and, you know, keen.

Then all of a sudden something happens and maybe that's time. Maybe it's something in the environment. Maybe it's something in the workplace, which is what this particular business is about, is using the sheep herding as an example of what goes on in the workplace. I think that's the crux of it.

So. 10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell, I think that was, said something like that. So you're pretty skilled at this. What are  some of the early challenges you've faced in getting Raising the Baa going and, and converting that curiosity into what might seem a business application and then pulling that into the workplace.

What were some of the biggest challenges you were faced with, once you'd had this idea and you started running with it? 

Chris: Well, when we first started it, we only did it for charity  and so it was only with these teenagers, which  had some communication challenges. and it was really interesting.

We toyed with giving them more information, less information. We ended up doing lots of little different things, you know, only written instructions but we came to what we've got now because we understood that this is where people get the most benefit from. And so what happens is when they come out, they have to be able to review what information they saw, which is really what shepherding is  about.

You look at the animal, it's not going to go, "coo-ey I'm ill" or "I'm under stress", or "I'm not part of this flock" they very subtly hide everything.  And I guess, okay, like you say, it's like people, they hide their true feelings. You've got to be able to interpret those feelings, even though they might be running away from you, the sheep that is, and you know, they might be going at speed or anything like that.

You've got to still have that inquiring mind going, I wonder why they are doing this, the sheep. Why they are reacting this way. Behaving that way. So if you take a dog out, they will behave a particular way. If you don't take a dog out they behave a slightly different way. 

Paul: How long have you been using  a dog in shepherding?  Because that's quite a normal sight. One Man and His Dog, a TV show of years ago and now Countryfile seems to have certain things on it too. But did you always use a dog? And did you first start out with yourself and a crook? 

Chris: Well in the early days in Hampshire with my dad, we didn't have a dog.

In fact, that's a classic mistake. My dad used to stand at the gates and go "Right mum -and myself  -  run round - as if we were the dogs  - and drive the sheep in. And of course it's not until you actually let go of the gate and  help the people get the sheep in the pen, that the sheep will go in the pen because you're all resigned to get the sheep in the pen.

And I had no idea all these years later that working as a team was what I learned right at the very beginning. 

Paul: So that team thing with your mum and your dad made a big difference in the efficiency of the exercise of getting them into the pen. And I guess it seems strange to say, but the dog is just a business team.

Chris: He's your mate, he understands everything. You know, you can  grunt and groan at these dogs and they understand what you're feeling. And I think the thing about the dog is when you empower the dog to do the right thing, it will step up. Now we see one man, his dog, you blow the whistle and the dog just seems to stop immediately.

But that to me just means that the shepherd and the dog are working well together because he understands where the dog wants to sit down. That's the big thing. People can always excel in what they're doing when they are empowered to do it. 

Paul: It's amazing when you watch that, and I've seen you work as well ,when over that distance a whistle can mean so much. And I guess it's the training and the working together in partnership as a team that people don't really see the hours that have gone into... The dog. I said it's a business dog it's obviously a friend, it's a pet.'s all those other things, but it's a comrade and you're in that team together. 

How many hours does it take to  get a working dog up to speed? 

Chris: Well, that's a great question, and at the moment we've got a puppy, and I won't train it on the sheep until it is at least six months old. It's four months old at the moment. We're just doing basic training, which anybody would do with any dog. Stop, stay, sit. I mean I don't like  dogs jumping up not because I don't like getting dirty as  I'm in dirty clothes. But actually what I find is when I'm in nice clothes, I want it to stay on the floor so I don't get muddy and dirty so I don't like  it jumping up.

And that's what we do .Basic dog training. And the reason why we wait till it's six months old, not that it won't chase sheep at this early stage. At four months if you show her sheep, she naturally wants to go and chase them. So that's great news because you can't train a dog unless they want to chase sheep. So the important part is actually, just getting that basic stop on them.

So you just understand, when I say stop, I want you to stop. It doesn't have to be stop dead. So sometimes she stops at the moment standing up. Sometimes she sits down, sometimes she's lies down. 

Paul: How long would this process take normally, do you think,  to get a good working dog up to speed?

Chris: It takes about a year before you can confidently take 200 sheep down the road with you in the front and the dog at the back, and your knowing what the dog's going to do.

Paul: So once again, lots of hours. Consistent attention and training. It just doesn't happen overnight like any skill.

Chris: I mean, the real skill about training a dog is only asking what it wants to do. So in other words  you can only train a dog with positive reinforcement of what it's doing. 

Paul: So they want to chase the sheep though you can't force them to do that. So you're controlling their desire to do that. 

Chris: Yes. And only ever praise them. You cannot tell a dog off. It doesn't understand negativity. 

Paul: That's an interesting concept to take across into business. Working with people who want to do their job, wanting to do it well, and you can influence that as a leader, as a team manager, or as a supervisor  but also I guess that, that positive reinforcement is something that some people would say doesn't happen very much in the workplace. It usually tends to be a lot of negative reinforcement.

Chris: I feel a lot of people will do is to avoid negativity because we understand negativity, but actually there's not a positive state towards positivity.  So I think actually if we all trained dogs, we'd then understand about  getting positive reinforcement. We ignore anything the dog does badly and we need to set the dog up so it can do something well, especially at the end of ...and we only train a dog for about 10 minutes.

 If it hasn't gone very well in 9 minutes, we make sure it can do something well in the last 10 minutes. So that we always  end up on a high.

Paul:  That's interesting, that's positive reinforcement for sure. And I think there's some food for thought there in what people might take away from working with Raising the Baa back into the workplace.

So just coming to the end of this first episode so we've got some good insight about how you came to get into sheep-herding. Could you just tell us what you would say that Raising the Baa stands for and what its objectives are now? 

Chris: Well, the objective is to have some fun.  Fun is really important to learn - when you're having fun  we learn so much better. I believe that's  really important. But actually what you notice is how you do one thing is how you do a lot of things  in life. And so actually what Raisingthe Baa allows people to do is to be able to see how their team is reacting together. It's not really about getting the sheep in the pen, it's how well they communicate, how well they can review, whether there's trust....  All of those things which are really important when you've got a team working well together to get the sheep in the pen. Reviewing it is a key aspect, but you know, all the other skills are needed. 

Paul: So if we draw a close now to the first episode, there's going to be one following up on this one pretty soon, where we'll talk about sheep herding itself.

If you've enjoyed this conversation with Chris, here in the coffee shop, and, then listening to the next episode, which will be a bit about sheep herding, but if you want to find out more information about Rasing the Baa, what it does and how it does it, and some of the courses and programmes it runs, then just go along to the website and find out more. 

Chris:  You've got to say "baa" better than that. It's b-a-a "baa"

Paul: "Baa" for now and we'll see you shortly. Take care. Goodbye.