Herd of sheep
There are several dozens of animals in the Drents-Friese Wold, used to graze the natural terrain. The Drenthe heath sheep for instance, eats branches from the common heather plant and keeps them short. Grass and young trees are not safe from these sheep either. Shepherd Catrinus Homan leads his flock over the Doldersummerveld and Wapserveld heathland. He takes the sheep to the areas where they are most needed, e.g., areas with lots of grass. This gives other heath plants some space. Elsewhere, in the Aekingerzand for instance, sheep saunter within fences, without a shepherd. These animals find their own food.
On the go with shepherd Catrinus Homan
Catrinus Homan is shepherd of the flock grazing the Doldersummerveld and Wapserveld since 2002. It is not that easy to start a new herd. It is not just the housing that has to be organised; the sheep, dogs and shepherd have to be able to work as a team. Catrinus had intensive training sessions with the animals in the first winter months. Catrinus trains in the meadows behind the sheepfold along the Huenderweg in Doldersum. His two dogs are quietly taking their orders. “Look”, says Catrinus, “that black and white border collie is ten years old and an old hand at herding the flock”. The other dog, a longhaired grey animal, is a completely different breed. “It’s a real Dutch sheepdog, a dog species originating from this area. We were given this dog by the sheepdog association to reintroduce the breed to herding sheep. This animal is now four years old and eighty percent trained. I have another young dog, about two years old. This dog is being trained to make him suitable for the herd, too. This animal is a bit too jumpy yet to join us on a daily basis”. Sheep have to be trained too, to enable them to do their daily stroll with dogs and shepherd. Cartrinus: “These sheep used to be fenced. They are not used to a shepherd and dogs. I train them for an hour each day, to familiarise them with the dogs and me. The sheep are of the Schoonebeker breed. These are rather large sheep without horns, which have roamed the Doldersummerveld from old. Schoonebekers are rare animals. We are trying to preserve the breed in Drenthe. They are more demanding where food is concerned, so that we also use them to manage the grasslands along the Vledder Aa. There is plenty of juicy grass, there”.
Sheep help to manage the Drents-Friese Wold heathland, just like in the olden days. Until the middle of the last century, there were flocks of sheep grazing heathland all over Drenthe and neighbouring Friesland. The herds kept the heath short and vital. Sheep did not just provide meat and wool, but much-needed fertiliser to promote fertility in the fields. Once again, sheep, as well as some fenced cattle, take care that the heathland is vital, with lots of space for special plants and animals.