Marcel – Ferme NeElke

There is beauty in the bonding between man and dog. An unconditional connection that not only enriches our lives but also gives us a more profound sense of purpose. I’d like to believe that this is also why dogs have been integrated in our society so well, because while teaching them, we learn to understand ourselves even more. These highly intelligent and compassionate animals are still suffering from mistreatment today and often are seen as a problem to society. I wanted to photograph series where dogs can be both a solution to a human need and an indispensable family member at the same time.

This is the story of Marcel, a sheep herding border collie.

The owners Neel & Elke run a small farm with a broad diversity of animals. Most of the animals are living heritage animals. Due to the economic evolution of modern agriculture, some local old breeds of livestock and poultry have become very rare, and therefore given this label to maintain preservation. They run this farm with a strong focus on sustainability, conservation and education.

At two months of age, the dog trainer claimed that Marcel was too old to be trained and chances were slim for him to become an efficient herding dog. Although given very little hope, Marcel has proven himself to be a natural talent with very strong herding genes after all. To Marcel sheep herding is the most divine thing to do. He’s not motivated by certain rewards for the job, sheep herding is simply the reward itself. I remembered I could notice Marcel’s focus started to shift towards the sheep, almost begging to go outside for his morning herding routine.

The series was taken on two separate days, one in the morning and one at dusk.

As soon as we stepped through that idyllic wooden gate, I suddenly was surrounded with all kinds of animals, or rather: I entered a habitat full of animals. Horses, sheep, goats, donkeys, pigs, chickens,… all together as a family. Some waiting to be fed, others curious and even very enthusiastic, like Mia (a cow calf). When she ran towards Neel to greet him, she reminded me of a hopping giant puppy dog.

Neel made clear that Marcel wouldn’t be distracted by my presence, nor would I affect his performance. I could literally position myself within Marcel’s field of focus, but that also meant: his vigorous pace. I barely could catch up with him. As I am not much of a morning person, my brain was still waking up. Everything just went in full gear instantly. I really wasn’t prepared for this, but I was having too much fun to feel tired. He has this bursting energy that immediately transforms him into something “wilder”. I saw a creature in sync with nature, driven by instinct and sheer will. I don’t think I have ever felt such a rush while photographing animals. I instantly was awake and I enjoyed every second of it.

He radiates with a certain sense of pride and contentment. After “work” he jumped in a bath tub to cool down. As if he wasn’t visually “cool” enough to begin with, he generously provided me with charismatic shake sessions as a final gift. Being splashed upon, it almost seemed like a religious act of blessing, and as a photographer I truly was blessed!

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Marcel at dusk-001

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Marcel at dusk-071

If you would like to visit Ferme Neelke you can find more info here.

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