Updated: Feb 3
When the pups are five weeks old, I introduce them to "their" sheep - these sheep will stay with them until the pups are old enough to leave me. As the pups mature, I move them all around the ranch, and their sheep go with them into every new situation. This helps to encourage the natural nurturing tendency of the pups. I teach them to be comfortable with all sorts of livestock, but I never ask them to give up their sheep.
The first introduction to the sheep is done with the sheep safely on the other side of the fence. Even though these ewes are bottle-raised, experienced puppy mentors if they inadvertently step on a pup in those first critical days that's a problem - it's a fear memory that isn't helpful to the pup. These girls are eating alfalfa, which isn't their usual diet. I put the hay right up against the fence so that the pups can get close to the sheep. The alfalfa helps me out because the sheep are so thrilled at their score that they don't even raise their heads. It is very interesting to watch even very young pups be drawn to the sheep.
I let the pups get accustomed to being near the sheep across the fence for about a week usually, depending on the comfort level of the pups. These six-week-old pups now have the sheep living with them in the daytime and then put back across the fence at night. There is a little set-up with this: I open both ends of the field the sheep are in so that none of the pups can be cornered by the sheep or really lost. This is the first significant barrier challenge the pups have faced, so in addition to getting used to the sheep, they have to remember how to get home!
The barn is set up on blocks so that the pups can't be cornered in the barn. I don't feed the sheep hay while the pups are with them for the first week because of the likelihood that they would get stepped while they investigate the hay. I feed the sheep on the other side of the fence when I put them away for the night.
With the sheep spread out in the field grazing, the pups are likely to be stepped on at some point; that is valuable information for them. They need to learn to be cautious and body-wise around the sheep, but that isn't the same as being run over!
From six weeks of age and forward, the pups live with their sheep full-time. I have their barn set up so that the sheep can't get in it. This gives the pups a safe place to retreat if they feel they need to, it keeps the barn clean, and it is easier for me to feed the pups. Often though, the pups choose to sleep with the sheep rather than in their own barn. At this time of year, they do enjoy their heat lamp, though!
When the pups are seven weeks old, they are ready for their first transition to new ground, so sheep and all, the Sarika pups, moved to this field. The photo below shows the pups at eight weeks of age - they own those sheep!