Monday, August 22, 2016

A Post of Answers

Love your questions and comments on the last post. Thank you for providing the chance to dig a little deeper into the story.  

Do the ewes typically hunt new dogs?  Well, it’s not unusual (many stock dogs who see a lot of stock have probably experienced it) but those ewes who go out of their way, without provocation, are few and far between.  The ewes notice a lot of things and a new dog is pretty obvious to them.  The ewes also have lambs at their side, so they are less tolerant right now.  The yearlings in the flock, and ewes without lambs, hardly care.  This is also a flock that lives year round at pasture.  They get bothered by predators and the like.  They have developed a few survival smarts and being aware of strangers in their midst is one of them.  

An adult dog would be more imposing just on size and the ewes think twice before making a charge.  In my experience many adult animals do not favour or coddle young that do not belong to them.  I realize there are exceptions and there are adults who faun over any young, but most adults in this group will be quick to deter strange youngsters, including any strange lamb.  

Crow is marked very differently.  I wonder if it isn’t his white blaze on a dark face that has the sheep taking more notice of him.  

He’s pretty sure of himself and a bit oblivious.  He’s a bit too courageous for his own good and he doesn’t get upset by much.  He’s already recovered and is smarter for it.  He has more energy than I expected and that doesn’t help settle sheep.  However his tolerance of things without getting upset about them will balance that out.  

Wren on the other hand, really wants to be liked and gets upset when things are stressful.  She is sensitive and I, and the other dogs, can easily give her concern with a light reprimand.  She doesn’t recover as quickly as Crow does either.  The ewes accept her better but she’s careful not to rock the boat.  She’s also a solid white, fluffy dog, and is more familiar to the ewes.  

The really interesting thing would be a way of determining how much of their personalities is nature and how much is nuture.   Crow was handled excessively, Wren hardly at all.  For the job description, Wren is my pick but Crow might surprise me yet.  He has something within that is intriguing.   

Yes, there are some dogs that do not make it as guardians.  While I have no data to make any claims I would suggest too much prey drive often weans a lot of dogs out of a job.  Not being assertive enough is the other.  If the dog is too demure about predators, they’ll get worn out in short order.  A dog that is hyperactive is also not a good thing.  These dogs are so much more than predator deterrents.  They are overseers of your flock.  They can keep stock calm, or make stock riled up.  They can tell you a lot about what is happening, such as where predator pressure is coming from, or location of a dead animal.  

I do have a deep sense of gratitude for this land and this life.  I love my dogs to pieces although I am aware that I hold them in a different light than most people get to.  I love that this flock is here because it provides such a fascinating foray into working dogs.  I’m incredulous that we held to a dream of raising sheep in this very natural, gorgeous and stark manner that nature is.  Along with all the good have been numerous uglies, some so tough for me to digest I haven’t been able to write about them yet.  But like nature the uglies are good in their own light and in their own time, and we are most fortunate that the good far, far outweighs them.  

From the files

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Dandy Relationship

Allen took this photo with his iPhone while out feeding the dogs in the morning.  Unless we have all the sheep flocked up and heading somewhere it’s pretty tough to catch them all in one photo.  There is a large portion hidden in the low spot and the flock stretches way back to that right hand peninsula on the wetland.  It would be a dandy cast to try with a stock dog.  

This large wetland (small lake) is pretty typical for the last three years but not normal for this area of the prairies overall.  We used to have a fence back there. This is just one of a few large wetlands on the place that have swallowed up a fence line; hence the reason we no longer rely on electric fencing.  When the water first began to rise a few years back we expected it would be short lived and we’d be back to drier conditions and having fences where we built them.  Didn’t happen, and while conditions will return to dry years, it will be some time before we have any hope of resurrecting old fence lines. 

With the loss of so many fences our rotational grazing came to a halt, but we have managed to keep sheep where needed, just on larger pastures than we planned for.  Mother N is really the one calling the shots and we continually adjust.  Although at times it gets tough to keep the perspective and view it as such, it is quite a dandy relationship. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

LGD Pups Pasture Visit

The guardian pups have had a few adventures since we last spoke of them.  These photos are from three weeks ago, not that long ago on the calendar but many happenings ago in the time between then and now.  Since then the pups have experienced a few day trips to pasture.   

Where ever there is a large group of sheep and hopefully an adult dog or two is where I’ll set the pups on the ground.  On this trip we stop near the water bus since sheep are passing by here and a couple of the adult dogs are nearby.   

Within a few moments the adults dogs arrive for their meal. The pups met Zeus early on when he made his rounds of the place and are excited to greet a familiar adult.  Wren is very eager to meet the adults, almost like she knows she needs them and thus works hard to win them over.  She is sorting out how to do so with each adult.  

Crow on the other hand is indifferent to the adults.  He wants to get to know them but it doesn’t matter too much if he can’t.  He is wise enough to respect them and gives them distance.  Wren is the pup always licking at the face of the others, Crow does no such thing. 

Lily is the least welcoming toward the pups and Wren tries hard to win her over every time out.  It hasn’t worked yet.  Lily feels the pups are nothing but nuisances.  Interestingly enough, Lily is the first adult the pups take to following around and she is beginning to soften toward them.

While everything is new to the pups, the sheep also take notice that there are new dogs around.  Some ewes are acting very suspicious of the newcomers, especially of Crow.  On one of our subsequent trips out he received a hard hit from a ewe who hunted him.  

Throughout all this I float around and take photos.  I don’t encourage or discourage the pups in any way, unless I must.  When all the greetings are through I play it neutral and sit at the Ranger to wait.  Having no incentive to hang with me the pups venture off.  I am encouraged to see them follow a trail of sheep.  

They have learned that the ranger brings us and hence brings food, which is still critically important to them at this age.   They do not venture so far as to lose sight of the Ranger.  I try leaving but the sound of the Ranger starting up, encourages them to come back.  When they do they are quick to lie down for a nap.  

All this new stuff and big spaces is tiring and soon we load up and head back home. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Holiday At Home

When visitors pack up and leave after spending a few days here there is always the sensation of floating somewhere between the peace of alone and the pinch of loneliness.  There is a good dose of gratitude in the mix as well, which speaks to the type of company you have been blessed to spend time with, and the enjoyment of the activity that brought them here in the first place.   

The scene on the evening before the trials

The herding trial on Saturday went off smoothy, with the sheep working well and the dogs stepping up as best they could.  The kelpies and I did well which is a lovely bonus.  I rarely get to do herding trials and discovered I enjoyed the ranch dog courses and the challenges presented.  

Following on the heels of the trial, the stock clinic flew right on by, and I can’t believe it’s already been several days since I last posted.  

The scene midway through the three day clinic
The set up we have for hosting these stock dog events is three outdoor arenas (small, medium and large) with exhaust and holding pens connecting all three.  It seems to work well for movement of sheep where needed, while providing appropriate pen size for dogs of varying skill levels (the small arena is just off the left of the photo). Since we had a number of sheep available to use we were able to do some work on small groups of 25 - 30 head for those who wanted to try it this year, and there were a few who did.  Gibson and I opted to try doing some shedding with the larger group. 

Dave and Trudy, and the last of the campers pulled out this morning.  Allen and I spent the day meandering about returning the yard and house to a vague normal again, only because we needed simple, easily doable things to keep ourselves occupied for a bit.  The sheep got a well deserved day of rest.  

I am so pleased with my stock dogs and the stretch in training Dave Viklund gave us.  It has been awhile since I have felt this invigorated about the dogs and training them.  If Dave or Trudy ever come to your area for a clinic, just go, it will be well worth it.   

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Moment With Ewe

Busy as we are with preparing for a herding clinic I made a point of sitting out on pasture with the sheep for half an hour this morning, just watching, relaxing, waiting for a sense of reconnection, and taking a few photos.    

The meadow brome seed heads are a popular choice right now.   

People will begin arriving tomorrow and setting up camp in the yard.  In the afternoon we’ll be setting up for a small and relaxed all breed herding trial taking place on Saturday.  From there we roll into three days of stock dogging with our good friends Dave and Trudy Viklund coaching us along.  The kelpies are ready to go, as always. 

The majority of the folks are returning, with just two newcomers who have not been here before.  Some have been joining us every year since we started nine years ago.  

If you don’t hear from me, you’ll know where I am and what I’m doing.  It will be a a great time of laughter and learning.  I do love these gatherings, hard work of hosting or not.