The secret life of Lunsing Cazemier
A porter in sheep's clothing
His loves the mornings when the fog covers the Dwingelderveld like a thick blanket. He can’t see his own hand in front of his face, but every sound is enhanced. Hundreds of hooves beat the ground; a single bleat rings out across the field. ‘I love the sound of the sheep bell in the mist. It’s just so beautiful.’
Not all days look the same. Sometimes he wanders across the heath all day long, brimmed hat on his head staff in his hand, leading 320 Drentse sheep to graze. He likes to trek to the farthest corners of the four thousand hectare nature reserve where common cranes brood in the spring.He has a little three-legged stool to sit on and an e-reader to pass the time.
And when the sheep wander off, his two border collies, Hamish (7) and Beth (4) do all the work for him. All it takes is a few short commands – ‘Walk on! Left!’ – and the dogs bound away with just one goal in mind: to round up the errant sheep into an organised and compact herd for their boss, the shepherd.
Some days, the weather is a bitch. It will rain from early in the morning until late at night, and Cazemier tries to stay warm, wearing layer on top of layer, plodding across the boggy ground in his high rubber boots. ‘Those are the days when I get sick of it pretty fast. I’ll wonder what on earth I’m doing here.’
But Lunsing Cazemier (60) has always loved working with the sheep. ‘The peace around here is almost meditative. It’s a real respite’, he says.
Three times a month he works as assistant shepherd for the Ruinen herd, which grazes at the Dwingelderveld national park. It’s about as far removed from his day job as can be. Cazemier has worked as a porter at the UB for 28 years. He says people don’t realise how hard he truly works in that position. His work environment is never quiet, he gets asked endless questions, and he has to be prepared for anything.
There is basically nothing he doesn’t do. ‘Give out keys to rooms, fix malfunctions, receive guests, solve computer errors, and so on and so on’, he says. ‘Basically I do everything that doesn’t have to do with books.
His day often starts at six in the morning, with shifts lasting until a quarter past ten at night. At the UB, he has to deal with the constant buzz and questions from bewildered students. But here? ‘All I have to do is keep an eye on the sheep’, he says. That’s easier than herding students, but he won’t make the obvious comparison between that job and this one. ‘The communication department said I wasn’t allowed to.’
Cazemier spent years training Hamish and Beth at the same Odoorn club where Ruinen ‘head shepherd’ Michiel Poelenije trained his own dogs. When Poelenije needed an assistant shepherd, Cazemier applied. His dogs were ready, and he was very interested. He got it.
Today is a beautiful day. It may be the last before the bad weather comes. Fall vacation has just started, and the bike path that runs through the heath is busy. The herd has spread out too thin and a few sheep are approaching the path. Lunsing looks up. ‘Beth’, he calls. ‘Walk on!’
The black and white border collie with one blue eye and one brown scrambles from her lounging spot in the grass and dashes off. ‘Lie down!’, Cazemier shouts. The dog slows down, stops. At another ‘Walk on!’ she accelerates again. Herding and circling the sheep is something the dogs do themselves. It’s in their nature, although they do need some supervision. ‘Making her stop before she gets to the sheep allows her to calm down’, Cazemier explains. ‘It’s then easier to give her a new command.’
Beth’s buddy Hamish hasn’t waited for a command to take action. He’s not as subtle and one sheep runs off. The dog gives chase and bites at the sheep’s hind legs, causing the animal to run away faster. ‘He’s a bit rowdy’, says Cazemier lovingly. ‘But that’s okay. The sheep will come back to the herd on its own.’
It’s not the first time something like this has happened. The second time Cazemier was herding on the heath, with just Hamish, the dog managed to split the herd in two. One half stayed with their shepherd, but the other sheep drifted away. ‘Michiel found them wandering around’, he chuckles. ‘So he herded them back together. There was no harm done; they can’t go anywhere.’
The herd has attracted the attention of tourists. A man comes up to Cazemier. ‘So, those black sheep?’ he starts. ‘I heard that shepherds add a single black sheep to the herd to make the other sheep think it’s a dog so they’ll stay together. Is that true?’
Cazemier listens patiently. He knows how to talk to people – he’s got years of experience. It’s not true, he explains. The black sheep is just a black sheep, he smiles.
Last week he fielded questions about the rams that are part of the herd during this season. They were especially rough when they had just been introduced to the ewes. ‘People wanted to know what the rams were doing’, Cazemier laughs. ‘I didn’t have the heart to tell them…’
The sun is starting to go down, and he checks his watch. It’ll soon be time to return the sheep to their pen. The herd website says the animals return at five, and he needs to stick to that time or people will complain. ‘Beth! Hamish!’
Beth immediately gets to work. She runs around the sheep in a wide circle, cutting off their chance of escape. Klutz Hamish has decided to jump straight into the herd. ‘He can’t see it’, says Cazemier. ‘Beth knows what she’s doing at least.’
The herd moves back across the acrid land, to their pen. They avoid the pool of water whose level is much too low, but which Hamish would immediately dive into given the chance. ‘His fur is still matted from this morning.’ Parents and children are waiting with cameras and cell phones. They’re eager to cuddle the sheep.
But the animals won’t be going to their pen today, as it is being cleaned. Instead, Cazemier herds them to the field behind it. When the sheep realise where they’re going, they start to rush. They speed up, start kicking their legs, and when they reach the path towards the field, they start running.
But then Beth decides to cause a problem. The dog hasn’t noticed Cazemier near the field and is preventing the sheep from continuing by blocking their path. But once she realises where her boss is, she dashes off into the thicket to circle the herd.
Cazemier closes the fence. He has a short chat with some of the visitors that walked with him. He allows a kid to hold Hamish and help him get the dogs to the car, where they’re given some water. Afterwards, the dogs willingly jump into the boot. ‘They’re going to sleep all night’, says Cazemier.
The dogs don’t have anything planned for tomorrow, but Cazemier does. Today was his day off. Tomorrow he has to go back to the UB. His alarm is set for six in the morning.