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Farming with dogs teaches trust

Vashon Sheep Dog Classic Handler Profile

T Martino Yamamoto is a writer with nine books to her credit and is an accomplished artist but her self-description is head shepherd and chief cowgirl at Yam Lamb Sheep Company, an agricultural non-profit she runs with her husband, Pete Yamamoto on Vashon Island.

T grew up around sheep, cattle, dogs and horses in Northern California’s wild Siskiyou mountains with her family and grandparents.  In his youth, her grandfather was a subsistence hunter and farmer.  Without access to healthy animals, he wouldn’t eat. He raised tough cattle who foraged in the hills. The animals had to be tough because wormers and antibiotics weren’t available.   He found that parasites of sheep and cattle canceled each other out.  

As she grew up her interest wasn’t in sheep or dogs but horses. Her dream was to go to England to jump horses and race. She did that for a few years.  But then she moved to Vashon and began to raise sheep and cattle, remembering her grandfather’s ways.  She and her husband now have formed a agricultural non-profit, Yam Lamb Sheep Company, on an eight-acre forested property plus leased land of over 80 acres leased free of charge.

“Our mission is finding a balance between animals and modern humans.”

Her animals graze on grass and she’s taught sheep to forage in the woods.  And, like her grandfather, she rotates her stock to cut down on the parasite load.

Dogs are an essential part of the success of her operation every step of the way. All of her dogs also work cattle, a very different skill.

Asked how many dogs she has, T laughed and said “I have a lot of dogs!”

Each dog has its own personality. One of them, Sweep the Broom whined as a pup when the other dogs got to go out and work the sheep. When one of T’s old dogs was injured, Sweep started handling sheep by the time he was a year old, still a baby in border collie terms.

Several years ago, T was invited to come to one of the Vashon sheepdog trials.

T took Sweep to the open trials before he was ready. He raced up from the post and started to bring the sheep down at forty miles an hour. After that run, T took Sweep to a clinic with national champion handler and frequent judge Patrick Shanahan.  He stepped in to show T how he starts his pups.  

“Everyone is so generous. Nobody holds back secret tips, T said. ”

Even so, some dogs aren’t meant for competition.  One of her top workers, Taw, was bred in Australia to work with cattle. For her, all the farm work is a piece of cake and she can be totally trusted to gather sheep and cattle in the woods and bring them safely home.  “But ask her to shed two or three sheep in the open trial and she doesn’t see the point. She thinks it’s just stupid,” T said.

T summed up the difference between working on her farm and competing at the trials.

“Farming teaches trust.
Trailing teaches patience.”