Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of A Year

Rams are out with the ewes. The subsequent lambing time is noted on the 2012 calendar.

We selected a small group of prime ewes and placed them with the three new maternal breed ram lambs to build our replacement ewe flock from. The main breeding group is with the cross bred rams for growing market lambs. Ewe lambs are separate from everyone else so that they don't get bred. Sheep and dogs are settled into the winter time routine. The two cows are bred, the two calves are growing well. The bull is content with his little group. Plans for new chicks to arrive in the spring are in place.

Writing it all down, it sounds like I know what I am doing and have it all under control. Yet ranching with nature in mind has taught me that more things are out of our control than are in it. And I am learning that this is precisely the way it should be.

Because being in control is not my purpose.

My purpose is to go with the flow of my instincts and desires, rather than struggle against them. And if I were one to make New Years Wishes they would be along these lines:

To listen to the nudges, respect the gut, and embrace the fear.

Then to act in a manner that will move me in the direction I desire, yet not be attached to the outcomes. 

To let life be deliciously out of control and appreciate the freedom that comes with it.

Happy New Year Everyone
 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Breeding Plans

The rams will go out with the ewes this week. After a month of ewes traipsing along the fence line the rams will welcome the open gate opportunity. :)

With pasture lambing in Saskatchewan there is a relatively small window of opportune time. I would love to lamb in early May, however, we have experienced two years of terrible weather at that time and have become gun shy. So once again we will aim for lambing to start during the last week of May.

While we don't want to lamb too early due to cold spring weather we also feel there is a point that is too late for breeding and the number of ewes who will catch with a lamb will decrease if we hold off too long.

The final consideration on lambing is somewhat trivial but is still taken into account. We host stock dog clinics in mid May and it certainly goes smoother if we are not into the full swing of lambing at the same time. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

One of My Favorite Things

Last week Jayde moved several hundred sheep so that we could sort ewe lambs out.

Tonight she moved two ewes back to the night pen. Breeding time is very close and every evening there are ewes lounging on the opposite side of the fence from the rams. Every evening Jayde pushes them off and back to the night pen before dark.

In between last week and tonight she has worked various numbers of sheep and sometimes cows too. Sometimes the work is simple, sometimes it is challenging.

This is what I love about dogs and ranch work.  It reminds me to admire my dogs for who they are rather than judging them for how good I think they should be.  It gives me encouragement that both them and I are very capable of good work. It reminds me that belittling their abilities or my own, under the guise that they are just ranch dogs and not trial dogs is completely fruitless. The dogs love to work and the label they work under is entirely unnoticed by them.  This is what it is all about.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Greetings


Merry Christmas to all the blog readers out there. 

As it is with all creatures, may your hearts be light and every moment full of presence and intention.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Begins

Today we appreciate the first day of winter. Our shortest day of the year has passed.

Although it means we’ll be heading into our coldest months of the year it also means our daylight hours will begin to lengthen again.

With each new day the sun will rise a moment earlier and set a moment later. The extension of daylight marks a great turning point for me. After watching the landscape die off and go into its dormant state, it marks the first step of moving back toward a living state.

In my mind spring suddenly seems not so far off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ewe Lambs

We seperated the ewe lambs from the flock yesterday. Among the group of them are two who were not yet weaned off of the ewe. These two raised a bit of a fuss, calling for moms. The rest were naturally weaned so the separation causes them little concern.

We have opted not to breed our ewe lambs except for a few particularly larger ones. The rams will be going out with the ewes soon thus the ewe lambs needed to be seperated.

We retained all our ewe lambs this year. We will let them grow up here and if we discover there are some that we do not like we can revisit that in the springtime and decide to sell then. Right now I am pretty pleased with our group.

Since the ewe lambs will not be bred they are the group of sheep that I use for stock dog training. So they do earn their keep, just in another manner. The dogs and I will lightly work this group over the winter. Next summer, at which time the lambs will be yearlings, they will be used in training clinics.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cats and Muskrats


Oliver thought he should check out the rodent crossing the yard. He moved in every so patiently and said rodent seemed oblivious to his approach, although I highly doubt that was the case.

I wonder if Oliver was feeling lucky to so easily sneak up on this catch of the day.


Woah!
Muskrats come by their mean streak honestly and this fellow was no exception. If you remember it was a muskrat that we thought was responsible for wounds to Oakleys face this fall.

Oliver changed his tune about having this rodent for lunch but what was remarkable was how the two interacted afterward. The muskrat knew he wasn't somebodies lunch and continued leisurely on his way. No concern about the cat who followed him everywhere.

And since he wasn't going to tackle this rodent, Oliver seemed to take on a curiosity about it. He followed the muskrat through the yard until it left.


 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Llamas

PJ
I don't post very often about PJ and Cheerio as I do tend to forget about mentioning them, such is the way they seamlessly blend in here.

PJ and Cheerio are llamas. PJ has been here for a long time, even before most of the guard dogs arrived on the scene. She seems to receive automatic acceptance from them. Cheerio, who arrived this summer, is still an outcast trying to figure out where he fits in. The pack doesn't want him to be with the flock.

Even though, in our larger open pastures, the guard dogs are more effective predator control animals, PJ and Cheerio do provide lookout duty. They are alert during the day and make all sorts of chirps and whinnies and the sheep learn to crowd around them.

PJ is always with the flock and on numerous occasions she has led the flock in or out of a paddock or the barn. Sometimes the sheep even wait for her, not going anywhere until they see what PJ does. Right now, she is always first one tucked out of the winter wind and bedded down in the night paddock.

Cheerio
The llamas use the threat of spitting very well. If feeling crowded by pushy ewe's PJ will drop her head, put her nose in a ewes face and 'ppfftt'.  She never seems to actually spit but it's highly effective in making sheep move away (works on dogs too and people).


We never set out to get llamas and both of these were free offers. We're not entirely sure why we have them but they do add a lovely character to the place.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Intuitive Masters

One thing I have learned through observing groups of dogs is that pack dynamics are never static, they are dynamic and constantly shifting.

The alpha will not be the alpha in all situations. Nor will they always be the alpha.

New dogs arriving while current dogs grow older guarantees constant adjustment on everyone's part.

Pups are always in limbo, not always secure in how or where they fit in.

There are some dogs who seek to rock the boat as much as possible and some who are so quiet as to hardly be noticed by the other members. 

Dogs you think will make a stand may surprise you by quietly turning away.

And dogs you think will never cause trouble stand up one day and cause a whole pot of it.

Dogs can be all these characters because dogs are masters at intuitively assimilating every situation. Within a pack they do it all the time. If we utilized even half of their ability (and we do have the same ability) it would change us. 

This is one remarkable element of dogs that I crave more of. It isn't only training them that pushes my envelope, but to absorb that intuitive ability they so eloquently display every time I watch them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winterizing

I spent some time today winterizing the Ranger.

This has nothing to do with new tires or a cab or even a windshield to help keep me warmer while riding. But it did include a crate in the back to make the dogs more comfortable.


The kennel is wrapped with a wool blanket inside. It's wrapped to keep the wind off the dog while riding. The dogs typically ride chained in the back but it's getting colder for them to ride that way. I can dress in many layers for riding - them, not so much.

Two kennels fit perfectly side by side but I needed room for other stuff and right now I only take one dog with me (the spare dog gets too cold waiting or maybe I just have wimpy dogs).

A few bags of old seed and a bag of livestock salt are packed on either side of the kennel. These are needed for weight since we use the Ranger to unroll bales. The salt is distributed as needed and replenished with another bag as needed.

Pins for the bale un-roller lie in the back or in the storage box along with Allens' homemade tool for cutting bale twines.

A pitchfork rides behind the seat. It is used to peel layers of hay on bales that prove difficult to roll out freely on their own.

And finally a short handled crook tucks in perfectly at the foot of the kennel. I always like to carry one when working dogs.

Cajun and I made an inaugural trip this afternoon and he isn't as happy riding in a kennel and not seeing where he's going, but once he was in and out a couple times to work sheep he figured it was okay to load up and ride in the crate.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Feeding On Pasture

It is easy to lose track of our goals for grass management in a climate where we don't see grass for five months of the year, but seeing livestock feeding outdoors, at a long swath of hay, and the resulting residue spread all around, reminds me of why we do it.

While bale grazing is a very workable solution to feeding without a tractor, which we relied on for several years, it does leave a thicker pile of residue. Rolling the hay feed out with our bale unroller allows for easier and cleaner access for the animals, more efficient cleanup and better distribution of residue. With more animals it is also easier for each one to gain good access to the feed.

I like how this looks.

There are a host of reasons that we are so fond of feeding in this manner.

Winter feeding out on pasture keeps the manure where it is needed. Throughout the winter, via the animals, we are spreading a blend of residue (future organic matter) and fertilizer which will be naturally incorporated into the soil during the following growing season.

We take the sheep to the feed rather than taking feed to the sheep. Because the animals travel back and forth for feed and water, we are exercising our animals rather than exercising equipment we'd have to go into debt to purchase in the first place.

The Ranger (our equipment) is still needed but we drive out and back once versus two or three trips each morning that we'd have to do if we were hauling feed to animals.

Although soil compaction is less of a concern during our winters, the Ranger causes far less compaction than heavy equipment loaded with a bale of feed would.

Unrolling the feed is far less labour intensive than forking with a pitch fork and rolling small cores out manually is, and the time spent feeding a large flock is almost cut in half.

Yet despite all these management benefits, the greatest benefit is the mere satisfaction I feel at being witness to the processes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wholesome Days


One of the many blessings of my country life with livestock on the prairies is that nine times out of ten I am outside in the morning to see the sunrise and again in the evening to see it set.

Not only do I witness this unhindered view Mother Nature presents on a regular basis but I partake of it amidst the earthly, natural sounds of each season. And thus my days are marked and tallied. 

On this winter morning the sunrise was enveloped in silence and stillness. No sounds, not even the birds, no wind. For a brief moment my breath and the breath of nature were in sync.

Somehow I feel more whole on these days.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seamless Connections

Doing chores with a dog is part and parcel of what we do here. Often there is no goal other than bringing sheep home and no one is watching. After awhile it starts to feel less than special. It's just what we do. Hence it's easy to get sloppy and let old habits slide into the working routine.  

Jayde was the dog on duty for the gather tonight and I've been trying to pay attention to setting her up better before I send her as she has been going pretty flat on her gathers lately. In our rolling hills pasture the dogs do need to go wide enough to see sheep they don't necessarily see when waiting on the ground beside me. If they have a good start chances are they'll do better at collecting the sheep. 

Sometimes the lay of the land and the ability to go with the flow also determine what happens. The field where the sheep are eating is turning out to be a great field to work in. 

Tonight a very long slough bed plus the cows drawing the sheep along, gave us an unforeseen opportunity to do a long cross-drive (something I never purposely train my dogs to do) with Jayde and I on opposite hillsides, the slough bed between us. It was glorious and it seemed to happen effortlessly - just a girl and her dog bringing home sheep.

I've stored the feeling in my memory and in my heart, for use the next time when all my planning and clinging to expectations get in the way of the seamless connection I know exists because I'm blessed to have working dogs at my side.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cows Rejoin the Flock

As the grazing becomes tougher, the hay feed becomes the easier feed. The ewes have caught on to the bale un-roller. Before we get the roller hooked up, and the twines cut on the first bale the ewes have arrived and are waiting for the feed to unroll.  Having the whole flock congregate where feed is being rolled out makes life easier for the guardian dogs.

The cows are once again back with the flock. They were pulled out late in the summer when the then new guardian dogs decided cows didn’t belong with sheep. The dogs kept the cows seperated all the time. We didn’t have the time to monitor the dogs so we sent the cows to be with the rams for the remainder of the season.  Here they were with Willow, who easily accepts every creature we put with her. So the cows had a chance to stay with a dog who didn't harass them.

Now, since we’re on pasture for more than an hour in the morning to roll out feed, we can keep an eye on the other five dogs and correct any unwanted behavior toward the cows. We can do the same when traveling back and forth and when everyone comes together again at night. After being corrected a few times Lady has decided it’s safer to pretend the cows don’t exist, although it hasn't changed her mind about liking them.  The other four dogs already seem to be more accepting and Whiskey and Diesel have been calmly investigating the cows up close. 

Just sheep for me.....thanks

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kelpie Tolerance


The border collies, Fynn and Jayde, will not tolerate this type of behavior from a young pup but Cajun tolerates all sorts of things from this little fellow.

He tolerates the innocently rude puppy behavior.

He shares his bones with the puppy (something he would not do with any other dog)...


he shares his sleeping space...


they play constantly, inside and outside.


It’s an unexpected, amazing quality for a dog who can be such an ass in a lot of other situations.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sheep Full Days

The last couple days were full of sheep; well more so than usual anyway.

Wednesday we were on the road. We traveled Southward to pick up a few new ram lambs and enjoyed a most wonderful visit with some fellow sheep, dog and critter loving people.  Dogs, ducks, rabbits, highland cows, miniature horses and pigs were among the assorted critters there.

Thursday we spent the morning sorting sheep in preparation to sell some ewes.  I employed the two border collies, Jayde and Fynn, for the mornings work of moving sheep around but left Cajun out of the festivities. He wasn’t too pleased with that arrangement but I’m being very selective about the work I give him right now.  Tonight he was back out with me on pasture doing some gathers.

Allen is putting a front end wall on our shearing shed/barn and has it about half finished. The remainder of the front end wall will be the same canvas material, custom cut to fit.


Sorting the sheep meant finding out how the animals moved in and out of the building with the new half-wall and door there. With several hundred animals it matters a good deal how the flow works. It caused no issues; the sheep filed in without too much trouble.


Our shed is a very long and narrow space but nonetheless with the front wall finished I’m looking forward to using the covered space this winter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kelpie Progress

I gave up training with Cajun awhile ago and almost gave up with him entirely such was my continuing frustration, but I have been letting him slip back into the routine work now and again. Real work suits us much better than training does.

For the last few days Cajun has accompanied me out on pasture in the evenings to gather the flock.

Last evening while out on pasture I sent him on a long gather, taking a chance that he might not be ready for the distance and knowing I’d have to give up what happened at the top. It was a nice set up because the easy and obvious route was down a hill and around a large slough, which helped him go wide enough. It took three tries to convince him to go however. The sheep are very hard to see in the brown grass and snow landscape and he’s used to them being much closer. So he didn’t see them before being sent. On the third send he committed and as he traveled back uphill, he spied the sheep, still a long distance away. He dipped out of my sight due to the landscape but reappeared falling in behind the group momentarily. My heart soared to see him do an outrun like that.

When the sheep came downhill and through a draw he felt he was losing them and flanked way too far over, coming around until he caught the eye of the lead sheep and stopped their movement. He’s a control freak that way. Trouble is, so am I, so we’ve always struggled over this. He and the sheep were still so far away from me so I felt my influence was very little. I told him to get back around and just like that, he did! From that point on he kept behind his sheep and brought them the whole way to me.

Such a seemingly simple piece of work that I know is not, especially from the point of struggle he and I are coming from. I was overjoyed to see it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hunter or Hunted?

Are you hunter or hunted?
You just never know if you cross one of our pastures unannounced.

Hunting season for deer is in full swing in our area. During the month of November it’s a common occurrence to step outside and hear rifle shots.

Today on my afternoon tour of the pasture perimeter I met two hunters traveling in a white truck along the opposite side of the fence line. We each stopped to chat, the fence line between us and right away I was fielding questions about the sheep and the guardian dogs.

Then the hunter in the passenger seat recounted this brief story.

Last year when hunting he left his truck to follow a wounded deer which had crossed a fence line. Climbing through the fence he continued to hunt for his deer when out of nowhere, this huge white dog rushes him from behind. And... the hunter says with heavy emphasis, “the dog came right up my backside and scared the shit right out of me.”

Inwardly I couldn’t help but proudly chuckle while quickly calculating which guardian dog it might have been.

“They’re pretty friendly though, hey?” he asked.

“Well....”

You just never know.

One Fall day a few years ago, I decided to walk the half mile out to pasture late one evening. I was mid paddock and dark was near but I had not seen sheep yet. I remember hearing a bleat and turning to travel in that direction. I had walked a short distance in the near dark when I felt the hairs on my neck rise. Right behind me, completely unseen and unheard, the guardian dogs rushed and I tasted a bitter moment of fear.

You just never know if you’re hunter or hunted. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New Tool For Feeding

Chore days on my own just became a little easier thanks to one rather remarkable individual.

Allen never ceases to amaze me with his understanding of the workings of anything mechanical or structural, coupled with the talents to build them. I have little understanding of how his mind sorts such things out but I’m grateful that I get to see his mind create and his hands go to work.

This week, among other building tasks, he decided to weld a simple round bale un-roller for use behind the Ranger.


We tried it out yesterday and after a little modification it was ready to go again today. While some forking will still be required this should cut the physical labour in half.  I'm very pleased with this!

Notice there are no sheep coming to eat the newly unrolled feed. That’s because they’ve gone off grazing, which most of them do as a first choice.

And then there are always some individuals who prefer to eat at their own bale, no matter how easy we make it for them otherwise.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Night Pen Set Up

We utilize different areas for night penning to prevent the sheep from overusing any one area. Even though they are only stationed for the night, the space can quickly become worn and messy. Sheep also like to bed in routine spots. So while the night pen might be ten acres or more in size, they will bed in one area repeatedly until we block that area off.

Today we set up a new night pen area. We set up a few rolls of electranet and put up two portable wind breaks as there is no natural shelter in this spot. We spread  some old hay bales for a layer of bedding. This will serve until the flock is onto bale grazing. At that time they’ll be in yet another area and make their own bedding as they go.

Our recent winter snap has turned around. The temperature changed over 20 degrees in a twenty four hour period and we are now enjoying temperatures just below zero. After near minus 30 temperatures this feels like short pants weather.

I think the ewes might agree.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

LGD Art

A couple days ago I couldn’t get a bale unrolled for the sheep. Today I forked and unrolled two of them. Funny what a little cold weather incentive will do.

The temperature was minus 31 celsius this morning.  A slight wind took us closer to minus forty with wind chill factor. I still moved the flock out to pasture but with the bitter cold decided to open up a bale. By the time I forked half of the first bale I was plenty warm. With half of the bale forked out I could manage to maneuver and roll the remainder along a well used sheep trail. Sheep began to line up along the bale trail for the easy feed.

I did a second bale, figured two bales was enough and walked home. Later in the day the sun shone bright and the wind left. The majority of the flock left the bales and were out grazing. 

Weather this cold is usually reserved for January and February. November and December are two months of progressively colder weather that allow us and the animals to adjust. Moving this quickly to such cold is a bit of a shock.

Indoors however, I adjusted pretty quickly; here’s my latest work in progress.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Old Man Winter

Just what have you got up your sleeve anyway?

We have received an early and very frigid blast of winter. The yard is snowed in, gates and doors are blocked by snow, the temperature dropped and the wind is fierce.

I was stymied about how to feed the sheep. 

The wind was still blowing and snow still falling. It was like a mini blizzard and it would be a trek through deep snow to get them out to pasture.

Our little tractor is a seasonal one; it’s hydraulics don’t work in the cold so using it to unroll a bale was not an option.

There are eight round bales on a hilltop in the paddock where the sheep bed down. If I could just get one of them started on the flat I might be able to unroll it downhill (I've done it before). 110 pounds against 1200 in deep, soft snow.  No luck, I need more of a hill to get started.  Forking enough hay loose to feed five hundred wasn’t sounding good either.

No choice then, out to pasture we must go. When it comes to situations like this I am indebted to stock dogs and I drop all cares about how perfect they work. Jayde and Cajun got the flock up and moving, into the wind no less. After that it only took a couple pushes to encourage them through deep spots and they took themselves out to pasture, knowing the route from previous days. I was worried about them getting enough feed with the snow depth but a check later in the day showed the majority of them digging and grazing. All our extra hay bales are stored in this pasture so several individuals took the opportunity to nibble on bales as well. They made a bit of a mess but it hardly seemed the day to be picky about that.

I rounded them up on the Ranger in the early evening and noted that they came in with full looking bellies. I felt a little more at ease, yet with this early snow and cold temperatures we might be facing a very challenging winter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stock Dogs and LGD's

Since we use stock dogs a great deal we need the guardian dogs to be aware of those dogs who will be working with us. When a new dog comes on the scene at our place we always make sure there are introductions with the guardian dogs.


The difference in age between these youngsters is only five months
The goal is for the dogs to become familiar with each other but not to hang out so much that they bond and play. Since our guardians are always on pasture and/or outside of the yard there is no common hang out area for regular interaction (which we like - otherwise we'd have to monitor dogs while they shared a yard). For there to be any greetings we have to take the stock dogs to the guardian dogs.


In the day to day routine when we take a stock dog out to gather the flock there is often a brief greeting between the herding dog and one or more of the guardian dogs before releasing the stock dogs. With this over, the guardians take up a place and prepare to come with the flock.

The only guardian dog who causes more of an interruption is our eldest female, Willow.  She is also the dog who was over socialized with dogs to begin with. She works alone a lot, and enjoys the stock dogs when she sees them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Feeding Dogs

I like feeding a raw diet to the dogs and I did so for years before I moved to the farm. Ironically it was after we transitioned from crop farming to livestock that I gave up feeding raw because it was too costly and too difficult to find a supply.

I’m able to supplement their diets with raw food and bones as we butcher animals for the dogs on occasion but butchering regularly for several guardian dogs is not something I can keep up with or want to be doing. If you have ever butchered a large animal, you know that it takes time. I just don’t wish to spend my time being a butcher and meat cutter. And affording commercial raw product is not an option right now.


This fall I came up with a plan. We sold cull ewes direct to a raw dog food company and took partial payment in raw meat product. Then there is an older cull cow over at the in-laws that belongs to Allen and I (I believe it’s our last remaining cow from days when we farmed with them).  That cow will be slaughtered tomorrow - for dog food - and I’m paying someone else to do the work.

So this week well over a thousand pounds of meat will be collected or on its way. This should do us for a few months and maybe by then I can wrangle up another plan.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Sharing

I was following fibre art links and came across the Esty site of unknown-to-me artist, Colin Richmond.

These sheep creations are remarkable.

Have a look:

Artist, Colin Richmond

He has made many animal sculptures but he notes sheep have been the most popular!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Days Work for Working LGD's

With Fall grazing the sheep spread out further to find enough to eat and when there are lots of sheep they disperse in smaller groups. This makes it more difficult for the guardian dogs to guard the front, back and all the side doors.

Coyotes are upping their attempts to steal lamb so we are patrolling the pasture in the mornings when the flock goes out, after lunch and again in the late afternoon.

On this morning, the flock have recently arrived on pasture. After feeding Willow and moving the rams I come along very shortly after on the Ranger, and do a patrol of the perimeter. I scare up a coyote in the North West corner. I patrol further and then I set up on a hilltop on the North end to watch the flock and see where they settle. I’ll make sure the flock is in a group before heading back in to warm up. It is cold and very windy.


Oakley has kept up with the front on the flock. He settles at the foot of a bale, tucked out of the wind.


Whiskey is also with the front of the flock and sets on a hilltop to scout. The property fence-line is a short distance off to the left. Lady is near Whiskey, and also tucked down at the foot of a bale.


A short time later Glory travels in with some more ewes coming to join the rest. Diesel is further back with a group of ewes who headed to a different corner of the pasture and are now making their way around a large wetland to join the main group.

I watch for awhile but know I won’t last too long in the wind. 

Oakley, who is the closest to me, alerts and takes off to the North. There is barking and commotion behind me. I stand up on the seat of the Ranger to see. Glory and Whiskey are in a full run. Both have cleared the fence and are moving across the neighbours stubble field.

Oakley, Lady and Diesel follow and carry on with barking. None of them leave the pasture though.

Lady and Diesel return and upon coming over the hill Lady spies me and charges. She soon recognizes it’s me but still acts suspicious. They return to the flock as does Oakley.  I don’t see Glory or Whiskey.

Eventually I move off and see to it that any trailing ewes catch up so all the sheep are at least in the same area of the pasture which will give the dogs a much better chance of guarding. I head in to warm up.

When I return in the afternoon I do so on foot and begin with a walk along the South side. Oakley is far off to the South, barking. Diesel approaches and walks with me.


Whiskey is again sitting on a hilltop near the center of the pasture, he doesn’t approach until later.

I travel all the way along the South side heading West and then turn North going along the West fence-line. I get to the North West corner and Glory is with a large group of sheep grazing out that area. The majority of the flock are still on the North side but across a large wetland which cuts through the North end.

Oakley, Diesel and Whiskey have joined me by this point and continue on to the main group of sheep. Lady doesn’t show herself and I guess she is with the main group again. I cut kitty corner across the paddock and move up any sheep who have wandered back toward the South end thus putting everyone together again.

Allen does another patrol in the evening before we bring the flock and all guard dogs to the night pen for much needed rest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Winter's Arrival

On the prairies we adjust to four pretty distinct seasons yet somehow the adjustment from Fall to Winter seems the most sudden to me. One day the Fall landscape is a mix dying green and dormant brown, the next it is winter white.

The first day of cold and snow always makes me sigh deeply at the aspect of having a job that requires working outside every day.  Followed shortly by a temporary sense of urgency. “What else needs to be brought in, drained out, packed up?”


This year the first snow came late, and on the edges of a strong wind. It snowed sideways most of the day.

The winter will now shape our routine. Within one day everything from getting dressed for the outdoors, to doing chores, to driving, becomes more laborious. How long the sheep will continue to graze will now depend on snowfall. We make adjustments so the sheep have access to open water. Extra duties like checking the water bowls are added to the daily queue. Over the course of the season the snow will alter my walking trails as areas blow in. When I can go for walks or work the stock dogs and for how long will soon depend on how cold it is.

Along with outdoor changes will come indoor changes as more time will soon be spent there. So while the days grow shorter and turn colder, time for afternoon tea, and curling up with good books and warm dogs is ahead of us.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Sharing

Needle felting is my recent creative outlet and challenge and in that vein I’d like to share the work of Linda and Margaret over at CloverLeaf Art and Fibre.

Discovering Linda’s needle art was one of my early inspirations about the possibilities with needle felting. I re-visit the blog often and hope someday I become half as intuitively talented.

Be sure to snoop around on their blog because Linda has created a few other works as equally as stunning as those three horses on the blog header. 

Like this stunning piece
Elephant Dreams

And this one
Spirits of the North Wind

And so many more.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Easy Moves

The flock has moved over to a West side pasture for daytime grazing. They walk out the back gate, travel about 50 feet across a lane, and they’re there.  So the AM move is much quicker.  The PM move is also quicker, with the main work being a gather on pasture and then the short trek home.

Since the daylight hours are shortening it’s nice to have quicker move times, thus giving the flock full advantage of a days grazing.

On the first morning going to the new paddock, Allen moved the flock. He called the sheep and along they came. On the second day, going on his assurance of how willing the flock would be to go out and how easy a move it was, I went alone (no herding dog) to do the same.

The flock came willingly up to the gate and the first twenty odd ewes came into the alleyway. Lady was in the lead. She stopped to look at me. I was standing to the left to block that route, giving full access straight ahead. The ewes stopped, waiting for Lady’s next move. I moved forward to squeeze the lead ewes ahead. Lady went back the way she came - back to the flock. The ewes turned around and followed Lady back through the gate. Sheep are suspicious creatures so re-convincing them that I really did want them to go out to pasture was more difficult. The guard dogs kept going to the gate, but no further. So the sheep didn’t go either.

Apparently I don’t have the same sheep whispering skills as Allen. It took me half an hour to get the flock to travel 50 feet in the right direction and thus out to pasture. It would have been quicker to walk up to the yard for a stock dog but I stubbornly decided I would get the sheep moved myself.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Unfavorable Tasks

We’re setting up two winter bale grazing areas this year. One area happens to be on a field that we cut and baled which means those bales did not need to be moved, so that saved some hauling. For the second area bales need to be hauled in.

We have use of a bale wagon that was co-purchased with a few farming neighbours and it was our turn with the bale wagon this past week.  Allen did most of the job and as of this morning, there were only a couple loads left to haul home. Since Allen had to leave for a few days of work and the next farmer is eager to use the wagon, it was up to me to bring in the last couple loads.

I’m comfortable with a lot of ranch chores but running such large equipment is not one of them. With the way we manage our farm, large equipment is seldom needed, so practice using it is sporadic. And I’m not like Allen, who innately understands the inner and outer workings of any piece of machinery he encounters, and instantly feels at home aboard them all. Luckily Allen had convinced me to come along with him last week and haul a load, so I had one lesson with the bale wagon.

This morning, feeling rather tentative, I climbed aboard the monstrosity of a tractor with it’s attached monstrosity of a bale wagon. I’m satisfied to say that with the exception of a few bales located too close to soughs for me to maneuver the beast of a tractor close enough to, I managed to get the last two loads hauled home.

In the afternoon I walked out to a pasture to take down some electranet, taking the dogs with me for the romp. Normally a simple enough task but not this go around. I have been working on this line of electranet for awhile. Last fall I had the bright idea to leave 1/4 of a mile worth of electranet up, thinking it would be needed in the same place again this summer. And it was BUT the pasture grasses, and particularly the milk vetch, grew up and into the netting so thick it’s a job and a half to even find the netting. I started removing the netting earlier in the fall, taking down one or two rolls at a time such was the slow progress and frustration. So forewarning to all who might be tempted to leave electranetting out for next year - don’t do it!

The job is a bit easier now since we have had several nights of freezing temperatures so all the green is gone from the grasses and the stems are brittle. I can pull on the netting and manage to lift it without breaking the strands. I got another two rolls rolled up this afternoon. Only about four more to go.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Off The Farm for A Day

Today was a day spent off the farm. Or at least we were off the farm in between AM and PM chores.

Allen headed off to have lunch with a long time friend and I headed to the city for some shopping. 

I lived and worked in the city for several years prior to returning to a farm life.  And after moving here I commuted to the city every weekday for the first five years.

Now the city is a chaotic and startling place to visit. It's great to go there once in awhile, it's almost a treat really,  but I've certainly lost touch with how to live there.

Being in the city for any length of time gives me great appreciation for country life.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Rare Life

Sometimes I fall into the trap of routine, where the days become ordinary and I glamorize how exciting everyone else's life is.

Ordinary is a rather dangerous place to exist in. I take for granted what I have and where I am. My eyes forget to see, my ears forget to hear and my mind forgets to be aware.   

Finding the remarkable amidst my everyday-ness is a mental task I still have to be reminded of. Blessedly I seem to receive such reminders precisely when they are most needed.

This week I have been reminded that I live in the middle of a prairie landscape, no neighbours in sight, only the occasional noise of human population, earth beneath my feet, a blanket of prairie sky above. I work with animals everyday, I work with people only occasionally.

With the partnership of a dog or two I walk over five hundred animals to grass a mile away and gather them and bring them home again every evening.

In today's urban sprawl and rushed society, this is not an ordinary life. It is a rare one.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

LGD Gratitude

I usually take the Ranger out to the pasture for the evening gather of the flock. Tonight I chose to walk the mile out. I’m in a very disjointed frame of mind and needed the long walk. I got it, since there was also all the walking done when gathering in the hilly terrain with the dogs and walking home again.

On the way out to pasture coyotes began to bark and sing. Instantly there was an uproar of barking from the guardian dogs. Flock and dogs were still out of sight but walking gave me the opportunity to listen to the conversation.  I tried to pick out individual vocals and their location but wasn’t quite sure. In very short order it sounded like all barks were coming from the same place. But there is a deep serious bark in there which I’m sure belongs to one of the pups.

On the way home with the flock the guardian dogs were all over the place. Having caught the trail of some trespasser they were nose to the ground and off to follow it. Lady shows up shortly and moves with the flock. Just as the flock passes through the last gate, Whiskey and Diesel come along, together as always and likely thinking of their stomachs since they get fed once we arrive at the night paddock. Oakley came up a short time later, heavily panting and now moving slower. Glory could still be heard far away in the neighboring paddock.

A lot of creatures move around in the fall and it is the time of year when the guardian dogs work hard. We’re thankful for them and full of gratitude that they’re here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Simple Accomplishments


My first ever attempt at drawing with wool. The proportions are not quite spot on, the details need help, the background not quite the right choice for the subject.

It makes me smile.

Several months ago I came across the fibre art form of needle felting. I felt as though I had stumbled across a long awaited art medium. I knew right away I would have to try it. It seemed that a better fit couldn’t be found. A nature loving sheep rancher and wanna be artist, drawing working dogs and sheep with the very natural fibre that wool sheep produce.

Instantly, I had all kinds of future art images dancing in my head.

And then I put them aside. Such as often happens with things that taste too new.

Yet I couldn’t leave it alone. I returned and took the first and most challenging leap.
Starting.

From there, I made a few attempts at something I knew nothing about. I struggled with having to  let go of details. I gave up part way.  I returned.

And this is the result. It makes me smile inside and out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nature's Calm

It was gloriously calm this morning during my AM walk with the dogs.

Everything so still, not even the feather light, paint brush leaves of a few stray foxtail plants in the ditch were moving. The far off cry of migrating geese, the occasional bark of a distant guardian dog, heard crystal clear. The crunch of our footsteps on the road punctuating the morning and announcing our passing, loud and clear, to all things listening.


The wind picked up not too long after and blew strong and heady all day. By evening though, the calm returned and the place settled into a beautiful stillness again. Like the wind brought back what it blew out.

Ironically it is the calm, not the storm, which causes me to feel a decided sense of smallness in this vast, dynamic place.

It seems extraordinary to me, how the dynamic, communal force of Mother Nature can be so still and in that very stillness be exceptionally dynamic.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Note On Cajun

So I have been putting Cajun back to work on a very casual basis and on a small group of sheep.

He is still very keen and the issues we were having before our crash and burn are still there. Funny that now I’m glad to see those issues. He still wants to sacrifice balance to get to the heads.  He is very reactive and explodes in tight or tense situations. We have fast or we have slow with maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Not much medium pace in between.

I try very hard to work the dog I have each day. It’s a regular challenge but in this case it seems to be an even bigger one as I try to leave what happened behind.

The flock has been moving back and forth from pasture to night pen for a couple weeks now. The move is routine, especially the morning walk out. So I decided to let Cajun do the walk out this morning. The bonus about the flock being bedded down together overnight is that, in the morning, they are often a nice loose group which makes for an easier gather. He accomplished this well and the flock, knowing the routine willingly filed out and we headed out to pasture.

During the walk out, Cajun checked in often, lifting his head or momentarily standing on his back feet, needing to know where I was. There is a lot of animals between him and I, and often he is out of sight of me. I guess he needed the reassurance. He came up pretty far on the side on occasion, always on the left, but took the cue to go back around well enough. He kept the back of the flock tucked up and took a long flank to stop the drift at a draw between two sloughs. That was lovely really.

Blessedly, we moved the flock smoothly without trouble, which is the experience I was intent on creating for him today.

The job was good for him, he felt it and I did too.

earlier photo courtesy of Cathy Bishop

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nomadic Moves

The daily moves with the flock have already become routine for the dogs, the sheep and me. It does mean we have a curfew since the days are planned in between taking the flock out to pasture in the AM and being around to bring them back in the PM. And we go rain or shine. The shiny days being much more pleasurable, of course.

It was only last year that we had to night pen the flock for the very first time ever and doing so was new and stressful for me and the dogs. I wondered how, if it went like that every time, I’d manage to do it every day.

This year the task of walking a large flock of sheep to grass and back home, and the routine-ness of it, causes it to feel very nomadic to me. I often enjoy it, even on the less than shiny days. Perhaps that’s because I have a couple good dogs who hung in there and who make it seem easy. The stock dogs and the routine move have created a very agreeable flock for moving.

While I enjoy the nomadic feeling of shepherdess leading her flock across a mile of prairie, in truth it is just as often one of these guys who does the real leading.
Lady in the lead as the flock spills from the night paddock
Often, if one of the guard dogs is in the lead and stops at a gateway, the entire flock stops and waits for the dogs decision to move or not. And just as often I have called a guard dog to lead the flock through a gateway or suspicious area.
Lucas in the lead (now a photo for memory)
Whiskey traveling with the flock
Whiskey is often right with the sheep during a move. Unlike Diesel, who is often scouting ahead or behind. Notice that in the above photo there is another dog on the top side of the flock.

The four adults out in front, suspicious and looking alert
Arriving at the paddock. PJ and Glory in the rear
The llama is often at the rear. She does not like to be crowed by short sheep who can almost fit underneath her belly.  The dogs occasionally stir up a fox or a raven along the trek and when we move into a new paddock they will take off to patrol further. If the flock has been on the paddock for a day or two the dogs meander around with less concern about patrolling, unless a fresh scent catches their attention.