The path is already well worn, a cloud of dust rises as the approximately 350 sheep run out of the pen. For the past two days, the animals have been led through the course by new shepherds. “You have to be careful, the animals are pushing you, don’t let them get in front of you,” says Florian Hirsch with a Bavarian accent. Marie-Kathleen Tigges nods. She’s already in the tunnel. She drew the last starting number.

Ten shepherds and one shepherdess

The Federal Herding is the German championship for sheep herding. Eleven shepherds representing their federal states came to Dessau-Roßlau in Saxony-Anhalt at the weekend to show how they and their dogs harmonize. Or better said: Ten shepherds and one shepherdess: Marie-Kathleen Tigges.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to be laughed at by other shepherds at the competitions,” says the 30-year-old from Sauerland. Shepherds are quieter people anyway, so there’s just a “contact hum” that comes along. It’s more difficult with animals. “If you work in a profession that is very male-dominated, then it may happen that the sheep have never had to follow a woman. Sheep know the voice of their master.”

Tigges has already competed in the federal guard twice – so far with moderate success. “The main thing is not to finish last,” she says. “I want to prove it to myself too.” The honor was scheduled to take place on Sunday afternoon.

Hundreds of sheep and many tasks

A shepherd, two dogs and around 350 sheep. First they have to be taken out of the pen, then they walk along a well-trodden path across the wide meadow. Then graze in a small square, further along the path, over an improvised bridge, graze in a wide rectangle, back again, past a moving car. The commandos fly over the meadow, the dogs dart around the herd.

“It depends on the interaction between the shepherd, his dogs and the herd,” says Mario Wehlitz, chairman of the organizing association in Saxony-Anhalt. “You never know what it’s going to be like, so much can happen.”

At 16, Tigges began training as a shepherdess. At that time she still lived in Lower Saxony. “I chose sheep farming because it is the most natural form of animal husbandry,” she says. Plus the idea of ​​taking care of the landscape, of really doing something for nature. “Also: Shepherds exude an incredible sense of calm.” You have to be very at peace with yourself if you’re alone all the time. Not everyone can stand that, with themselves and their thoughts. Although she is not completely alone: ​​she has her two dogs Bruno and Pepsi with her.

At some point she wants to work full-time as a shepherdess. It’s her dream job, says Tigges and thinks of a sentence that her husband’s grandfather always said: “Once you have sheep shit on your feet, you can’t get rid of it.”