Time Away

It seems to take an armies effort to leave the ranch for a length of time. Which is precisely why we so rarely leave it.

It isn't so much that we feel incapable of submersing ourselves into life and culture outside of the ranch but that it takes so much planning and favors from others to do so.

Arrangements need to be made for a capable someone to check on a few hundred sheep, four cows and three horses. Guardian dogs need at least a slice of attention from a human each day. And to be fed. Food, water and shelter need to be set for the cats. Three herding dogs need to be dog sat - in three different places because dumping the three of them on one individual is, well, just a bit much.

This is what I am thinking about as I relax in a hotel room, feeling gratitude for the opportunity yet missing dogs and ranch at the same time.

Spring Evenings

Oakley and Glory have established a routine of playing together each evening.

Watching  this lighter side of guardian dogs is uplifting since we tend to imagine their role being one of work and seriousness all the time.  I also never expect them to be as agile as they are.




After watching the dogs for a bit, I work my way around the pasture, nudging all the ewes together into a group.  As they gather together the flock moves off to a bedding spot for the night.



Taking a picture of a larger flock of sheep is a bit like taking a picture of mountains, canyons and gorges. The picture rarely does the scene justice.

Vaccinating

We vaccinated the animals in the main flock yesterday. Just a handful of ewe lambs, who are separated for stock dog clinics, and the rams left to do. We vaccinate with an eight way vaccine annually.

We also wormed those animals we felt needed to be wormed. We don't worm the whole flock as a routine measure. We only worm animals that we feel need to be done. We'll check again in the fall and do the same. We had to worm more than we normally do and the majority of those wormed were ewe lambs born last year. I'm deeply suspicious this higher number is due to wet conditions of late. Normally we only worm a handful of sheep each year.

It was another grand day for the stock dogs. Less so for the guard dogs who were without their sheep for the better part of the day. A long day for Allen and I but complete with deep satisfaction for a large job done well.

I used Cajun to bring the flock in and once again he gathered, moved and penned the entire flock as he did on shearing day. So it wasn't just a fluke - he's turning into a very capable dog.

We had a brief thunderstorm with a few minutes of hard rain. The sun is shining warm so the grass will start to come now.

Green Envy

The dogs and I took a walk through one of the main summer grazing pastures tonight. I am always anxious to see the land after the snow has left and to know if the grass is beginning to grow.

Nature creates on her own time however, and no amount of willful thinking from me will persuade her otherwise. There are just tiny slivers of green here and there amidst the dusty brown dead-fall of last years growth. Not near enough yet to fill a sheep belly.

Sigh. I grow more envious by the day, reading the blog posts of those who are into their spring grazing rotations and taking photos of livestock grazing green pastures.

Maybe I should move. To one of those places that can grow green grass almost year round. Then again, every area comes with it's downfalls. Perhaps I'll stick to my dry land prairies for awhile longer.

Speaking of dry land, one thing I noticed on my walk tonight was an unusual, wet, swampy smell. Perhaps a side affect of the previous wet year and now spring snow melt. I never noticed this smell in previous years. It is not a constant smell, just one you catch on the wind now and again.

The overfull wetlands are already forming algae (which I don't think is a good sign). Last night the frogs made their spring appearance and were singing in full force (which I think is a good sign). The Sandhill cranes have been here for about two weeks (a good sign  unless you are a crop farmer with last years crop still on the ground).

Rethinking Stock Dogs

Last weekend Cajun was my right hand dog and he worked for hours pushing sheep to the race. He worked into the dark of night with little direction from me since I couldn't see him much of the time.

This morning he pushed the flock back a distance and then lay down making sure no wily ewe encroached while I was rolling a bale and forking out feed. No fuss and I rarely say anything to him. We just work - together.

He also cut a single ewe from the flock this morning (one habit he loves to do any chance he gets). I went along with it this morning. He prevented her from returning to the flock which she tried very hard to do. As I drew nearer, placing more pressure on the ewe, he came in fast and grabbed the ewe by the neck throwing her off balance.  I jumped forward and caught her, hoping that by doing so I could turn this aspect of his work into a job as well (that and I thought he might do damage to her if I didn't get in there).  There wasn't a mark on the ewes neck. This was our first time catching a healthy, single ewe on pasture. I'm convinced we can refine this and if I think to bring my leg crook along we'd be able to catch ewes on pasture.

All of this is causing me to think about how I wish to work stock dogs. I've been taught the ways of training and finessing, getting pear shaped outruns, straight fetches, strong walk in's, and solid drives. Insisting on correctness. Commanding the dog every step of the way.

Now I have this dog. He doesn't have an instantaneous stop, he gathers nicely yet doesn't understand come by from away to me yet, he has always worked large numbers so he doesn't know about straight line fetches since he's always wearing back and forth. He's very physical and forceful in his work. He will come and bite when he feels the need.  He excels at jobs rather than at training.

I'm sad to say we'd flunk a three sheep border collie style trial course in a heartbeat yet I'm absolutely elated to have the right hand ranch dog I've wanted.

Actual Spring

The ewes began grazing on the native prairie, the flock has been shorn, the Canada geese have returned, the earth is soft beneath my feet and my dogs are finding winter old, spring soggy, very smelly stuff to roll in every day.

Spring is here.

Sheep Grazing Native Prairie


Bedding Down First Night After Shearing

On the flat prairie the snow is gone. In the hills the last remnants of snow are quickly disappearing too. Another wet spring is expected this year.  After last years record amounts of moisture, the water table is high and the spring run off water is flowing strong - in some cases, across roads. 

Wet years come with their own set of problems for grass and livestock. Problems that we are not accustomed to dealing with on the normally dry prairies.  Already there is a lot of local talk about the upcoming growing season.

We are blessed to be nestled in the hills. The wetland areas are overflowing, yet it never appears as though we are flooding anywhere. So far there always seems to be enough high ground.

Shearing

A crew of four shearers arrived late Friday afternoon and since we have more sheep than can be sheared during two days of teaching they sheared a couple hundred sheep that evening.  Cajun worked with me all evening keeping the flock pushed up to the entrance to the race so we could keep it full of sheep.  Allen and a few volunteers were hopping to keep up with the fleeces at the front end. I have no pictures from the evening - too busy.

There was lots of sheep moving over the next two days as we juggled groups of sheep to keep them dry and available for two days of shearing school. At the end of each day I was able to get in for a quick private lesson and try my hand at shearing. It is far more difficult than the experts make it look. There is a real knack to holding ewes properly so they don't struggle during shearing and very strong legs muscles are needed.


The last animal to be shorn was PJ, the llama. For a llama who rarely gets handled, she was very patient and stood well for us.


We wrapped up late Sunday afternoon and after putting all the sorted groups together and moving animals back to where they needed to be Allen, me and the dogs collapsed on the couch.

Pre Shearing

First morning of shearing and shearing shed is ready to go.

Rams are penned in seperate area first.


The flock is moved in with the help of one awesome kelpie.


Once all the sheep are in, the shearing floor is swept clean. We await the shearing crew who are due to arrive in a few hours at which time we'll set up the shearing race and four or five shearing stations.


Not all are happy with the arrangements though. Willow is placed in the dog run for the day and she is one miserable camper. She is very vocal about being seperated from her sheep. She is only looking quiet because I have approached.


Let Us Show You

Dogs are amazingly intuitive and I find it incredibly satisfying to be witness to what I know exist in myself as well - when I allow it to.  These are two separate stories, which occurred this past week and only a day apart from each other. 

======================


She was in front of me, a fair distance away. She walked steady and intently, head lowered in line with her shoulders, a purpose in her stride. A Border Collie on a mission. She wasn't in a rush but she was certainly going somewhere.

Further ahead and out of my sight over the hill, the flock was already settling in the night pen and I wanted them to remain there rather than be re-gathered by an all to willing Border Collie, who by routine, knew exactly where they were.

"Lie down."

Jayde kept walking forward.

"Jayde, lie down."

Nope, Jayde kept going.

"Hey you!" I spoke sharply and with annoyance. I began jogging up the hill to catch up before she went out of my sight.

As I crested the hill I saw the ewe. She was down. Jayde was already with her, standing and waiting. The ewe was one we had treated with antibiotics days earlier. She had been able to avoid us for some time afterward but now obviously needed our help again.

======================

Allen headed out for the AM routine of chores. The guard dogs were not in the night pen with flock. Cursing them lightly under his breath, he continued out to pasture to roll out bales for the day.

He spied the two dogs out on the pasture. He called to them to come for food. They did not. He made his way toward them. Called again. Both dogs acknowledged him but neither was coming for breakfast.

As he neared, the female began making her way around the far side of the brush.

Allen came around the opposite way and met both dogs. Nearby was a downed ewe. She had exhausted herself trying to get to her feet after laying down, feet uphill, in a shallow ground depression. She must have been there overnight and the two dogs realized we had left one behind. 

Allen got the ewe to her feet and after being upright for a few minutes she slowly walked off.

Wool Harvest Prep

This year we are host to sheep shearing school. Twelve participants will be here for two days to learn how to shear sheep. Since we have more sheep than will get sheared during two days of learning there will be an additional third day of regular shearing with a crew of four men. 

No, I'm not teaching. I'm one of the participants who wishes to learn the art. The teaching bit is being handled by two of our regular and very well experienced shearers.

This all takes place next weekend. We are keeping one eye on the weather and the other on all the tasks to have sorted out before shearing day:

  • Extend shearing floor to accommodate extra people
  • Set up panels for holding the entire flock and for funneling to the race
  • Set up extra pen to keep rams seperate from the ewes
  • Set up table for collecting fleeces
  • Gather brooms and baskets
  • Set up table for coffee/tea and snacks
  • Get in touch with caterer, confirm number of lunch meals
  • Have supper meals prearranged
  • Have house tidied into respectable manner (at the least, take care of the paperwork on the dining room table so we can eat there and have the spare room ready for a guest)
  • Arrange for extra hands to help for each day
  • Be ready to hustle to get the flock in if it decides to rain
  • Whisper to the stock dogs to be at their best, three days of work is coming up and we're counting on their help to keep the race full and sheep at the ready

Night Penning

We have been night penning the flock for close to six months now. The night pens are big enough, five acres and eight acres, and are adjoining paddocks so we have been able to rotate the pens used. Yet being unaccustomed to corralling livestock for any length of time, with spring thaw these areas are looking rather muddied to our eyes. I realize that compared to how corrals look by winters end at other places, these would be considered pretty darn clean but it still doesn't sit well with me.

So we've been leaving the flock outside of the night pens the last few nights. The ground is cleaner and on the hilltops it is drier. The sheep are not coming through wet and manure filled mud every night either.

To adjust to this new routine all we do is nudge the flock toward the West end of the paddock (closest  to the night pen) and make sure they are together as a group for the night. On occasion they come into night pen on their own and will be there come morning. More often, they settle on the dry hill slope, seemingly in agreement with our choice not to force them into the night pens right now. 

I am surprised at how simple it was to show them the spot a couple times and that they settled there so willingly.

The Flock Ventures Out

Alongside our winter pasture is a stretch of Native Prairie. The ewes were out on it this morning. As the snow melts they are venturing out in search of real grass.

I find it remarkable that given the opportunity to be on the land year round the animals show an inclination to migrate and find food sources.

While there is not any fresh, green, grass on the native prairie, there is obviously something that they are after. And while there is not enough food to sustain them there right now, there is obviously something worth picking at.

Another item of note is that given that our winter pasture is on millet stubble the ground is soft and very muddy during the spring thaw. In comparison this native prairie ground has a thick cover of dead grass and little mud.

The flock venturing onto prairie grass today doesn't end our winter feeding quite yet but it sure gives us a sign that we are very close. That alone is a lovely thing when raising livestock in our Saskatchewan climate.

Appearance of Spring

What a difference a week makes. Last week we were still all snow covered. This week we have been blessed with daytime temperatures reaching a few degrees above zero. Spring melting has begun.

The trail out to pasture is soft slushy snow that is hard to walk in and bits of earth are revealed on the South side.




Sheep Traveling Through Low Spot to Snow-Free Hilltop
The yard is still full of snow but patches of earth are appearing rather quickly.

Our driveway is reappearing.

Winter Sorels have been traded for Muck Boots.


Now we walk the dogs in snow deliberately in order to clean the mud off.


I spotted the first Canada Goose to arrive at our place.

It feels as though our world is waking up.

Mixing Mineral

I finally got another batch of sheep mineral mixed together. I no longer use purchased livestock mineral blends, preferring instead to blend my own.


I follow the mineral lick recipe laid out in Pat Coleby's book Natural Sheep Care with a little tweaking for our flock. I greatly appreciate this book and recommend it, especially if one is inclined toward raising livestock in a natural manner.

I use a kitchen scale to measure with and I usually use an old cement mixer to blend the minerals, however the mixer remains partially buried under snow because it got left out last fall. So I had to hand mix the minerals which I did right in the tub it's stored in.

While I worked this little critter poked his head out to investigate. Weasels are great mousers so we're happy to see this little fellow. We lost one of our two cats last fall and this fellow recently showed up. Nature will always fill a void.

Popular Posts