Monday, May 23, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Stock Dogs and Natural Talent

Both livestock guardian dogs and stock dogs, who are bred for working ability, are comprised of natural talent for their job.  To answer a recent question on the natural ability of stock dogs, here a few of my thoughts (no shortage of those when it comes to dogs). 

To boil it down to basics, stock dogs come with a relatively high degree of prey drive (desire to hunt), coupled with an instinct to make motion happen and to control motion.  Put a well bred stock dog pup in a pen with a few sheep and they will set about chasing sheep around - making motion happen.  Then at some point they’ll make an attempt to control that motion, for example, putting stock against a fence and holding them there.  How willing they are to make motion happen and the moves they use to attempt to control the motion tells a lot about the pup and what you have to work with.  

Many types of dogs (herding and non herding) will start motion, i.e. they will chase.  The instinct to control that motion is what makes stock dogs, stock dogs, and not hounds, terriers, or sporting dogs.  

The more skills a dog possesses for controlling motion the more natural he is.  He might be a tough dog to work with because he’s sure he knows what to do without you, but you won’t have to manually build up as many skills in his repertoire.  

So if they have natural talent, then why do we train them and how much training does it take?

The dogs understand to make livestock move and can do so far more readily than we can, so they have that part of the job done for us.   What the dogs do not know however, is how we want our livestock moved and where to move them to.   Training is teaching the dog when to go and when to stop, and teaching him directions so we can communicate where to, and how slow or fast we need to go.

How much training one puts into a stock dog is a matter of personal preference.  A dog with a stop command and a couple directions on him can be a useful aid around the ranch.  With a dog who is ready and receptive to training this can be had within a couple months of daily training time.    

The more training a dog receives, the more you are able to place a dog where needed in accordance to the livestock, the more useful he’s going to be.  If he only knows to stay behind livestock, the jobs he can help with will be limited.  If he only knows to go to the head and stop livestock the jobs he can help with will be limited.  The more tools you give him, the more you’ll use him because he’s so useful.  That takes time and a good deal of regular training.  

Many ranch dogs get the basic training and then the bulk of the training happens while they work on the ranch.  Provided there is regular work, in due time the dog is a seasoned right hand man.  

Some dogs also train up way easier and this will reflect the time and effort it takes.  Gibson was one of those, he just took to training.  BlackJack, the pup I have here now, will take considerable more effort to get to the same place of finesse and patience. 

The relationship one developes with a particular dog will influence the training time as well.  Many top trainers describe how important it is to like the dog you’re with.  

Sky, a cheeky and naturally talented young dog I had the pleasure of training with in MT

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pasture Lambing in High Gear

There are over 100 lambs on the ground.  I expect the pace will be pretty steady now and taper off in two or three weeks.  My pared down version of drift lambing is working - sort of.  I am able to keep the pregnant ewes ahead of the lambed group.  My oldest group of ewe lamb pairs now move readily.  In the middle group is the newest additions.  

I am catching lambs every day, and tagging female lambs with a management tag and marking male lambs with paint spray.  Then they’re released back to their anxious momma.  I try to work as efficiently and as quickly as possible because the longer I have a ewe's lambs the greater the chance she flees without them.  I keep all supplies in a backpack and work where I catch, so the lambs are not moved away and the ewe can see, hear and smell her lambs.   

In pasture lambing there is no pen or barn to assure that any ewe sticks around and takes her lambs.  She is free to abandon them if she choses or if she feels threatened.  You learn when and who to catch, and when and who not to.  It is one of the reasons I like pasture lambing - the ewes are truly tested for being good mothers.  

One of the tricky parts of pasture lambing, drift lambing or not, are the yearlings.  The yearlings don’t have the momma experience and thus are more prone to flee the scene when you catch their lambs.  

The best scenario for catching lambs is when the ewe and her lambs are off in their own area, which the majority of the sets will be.  Experienced ewes will move off to give birth as will ewes who do not flock tightly.   Yearlings and tight flocking ewes tend to lamb closer to one another.   The type of ewe can make a difference to how smoothly things go.  If I come across a batch of lambs in close proximity to each other, a decision must be made on catching them or coming back later when they might have drifted apart and I can be sure I’m catching the right sets.   

I took this photo of a yearling with her single lamb at the start of lambing but have not been out with the camera since - just too busy with keeping up.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

First One

This is the first lamb born, one of the pairs that was way down south, after the cold, wet weather.  This was on the move to the lambing pasture and we have stopped to let them rest.  It was almost a mile of travel and we did it three legs.  While the lambs rested I would go do other things like move the water bus, then come back and move a little further.  

And another one of the flock photos from the move the other day, there is a guardian dog in the group, but she is tough to spot.   See if you can.  I left this photo a little larger size to help out.  If you click on the photo you can view it larger size.  When going through the photos I noticed there is a guardian dog in almost every shot.  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Move To The Lambing Pasture

During the cold wet weather the ewes hung out at the far south pasture where there is ample shelter.  Even though this is the furthest from the lambing pasture we left them to stay here because it was the best place for them to be.  The first two lambs were born just as the wet weather was clearing, and were nestled into the coziest spots of a large grove of trees. 

When the weather cleared the flock moved out of that pasture on their own and yesterday  morning I moved them to the lambing pasture.  

In the first photo I have just moved the flock off of pasture and into this holding paddock.  From here we move across another paddock, into a long wide alleyway paddock and then arrive at the first paddock of the lambing pasture.  The ewes are full, some are lying down, so it's a good time to move into a new pasture.

We have exited the first paddock and come across the middle paddock and the ewes are exiting into the wide alleyway.  You can see from the shape of the flock and the lone ewe in front, they want to travel straight through, which is where they normally go.  Seeing that option is closed they want to come back toward the bottom of the photo (all the ewes on the far side are turning into the flock).  They need to head to the top of the photo.  So those ewes on the far side need to turn and lead, otherwise the flock will mill here.  I have placed Gibson on the ground.  He just needs to hold his position and be seen by the ewes.

There is a very different shape to the flock now.  That lone ewe is still there, wishfully thinking perhaps, but the others have decided.  This only took 15, 20 seconds. Gibson took about three steps.

From here I put Gibson back on the Ranger with me, the ewes know the way now, there is no need to push on them.  Here they are pouring into the lambing pasture, destination reached.

After moving the flock I return to begin the rather long task of moving up the new ewe and lamb pairs who are still way down south.  I bring them up to the alleyway paddock the ewes just travelled through, and keep them there so they don't mix with the flock.

This morning I did the first drift of the pregnant ewes ahead, leaving the ewes with lambs one paddock behind.  There are a dozen lambs on the ground now; today only a new set of twins so far.  I’ll gauge the next couple moves on how many new lambs there are.  When the pace of lambing kicks into high gear the moves will be everyday. 

p.s  I still have trouble with loss of quality with my photos when I upload to blogger.  It really shows in the larger flock photos which is so disappointing as they are very clear on my computer before uploading.