From French Herding to Kulning

Sheepdog trials in France began over 100 years ago, and historically, these trials mimicked how dogs actually worked: They took anywhere from 50 to over 100 sheep out during the day and tended to the sheep as they munched on unfenced meadows or fields. Sometimes sheep were grazed in tight groups to effectively “mow” a field down one section at a time, and in that scenario, dogs had to keep the sheep from wandering onto an adjoining field and leveling a neighbor’s crops, as well. If the shepherd and his flocks lived in the mountains, sheep were permitted to scatter more since vegetation wouldn’t support intense grazing, and then dogs would have to round them up at a distance.  

This French practice of grazing in unenclosed areas, often abutting land planted with crops, lead to a herding style referred to as “boundary” or “tending,” and today, some people call it the “French Style” of herding. This is in contrast to the “fetching” style of herding that some dogs in the UK were called upon to do.

Scandinavian countries had herding breeds, of course, but sometimes people in Norway and parts of Sweden used “kulning” to call their sheep, goats, and/or cows down from high pastures. Kulning was used in lieu of dogs, and though it’s now regarded as a domestic Scandinavian music form, the tradition rooted in practical need dates back to the Middle Ages. Sadly, it’s at risk of disappearing, but it’s worth saving. As one source put it, “singers corral farm animals with hypnotic melodies, luring cows, goats, sheep and ducks towards them as if each note was charged with its own gravity.”

The video clip below posted by Jonna Jinton posted racked up more than eight million views:

Here’s another one:

The loud call uses head tones, and that makes it effective over long distances. As you heard, it’s an eerie, if not haunting tone,and if it seems sad to you, musicologists says it’s because kulokks often include typical half-tones and quarter-tones. If you saw the 2013 movie, Frozen, the singing may sound a bit familiar. That’s because there was traditional Norwegian kulning in the soundtrack as sung by vocalist Christine Hals.

We got a little far afield from dogs, so we end with a return to purebred dogs: a video of “Vilhelm,” a nine year old Saint Bernard practicing kulning with his mistress, Åsa Larsson. We think he’s got the hang of it:

You can read more about kulning here.

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