Guardian Pup Update 14 weeks

I've been separating Whiskey and Diesel. Each day one pup stays with Willow and sheep the other goes to another paddock to be on his own, also with a small band of sheep. The paddocks are separate and they cannot see one another. On the first day there was some serious crying and woo, woo, wooing, at this new turn of events. It looked like both were going to spend their time hugging their gates instead of being with sheep. Something I've been concerned about with raising two pups together. 

Quiet, unannounced visits to peak in on them later on, reveal Whiskey right amongst his small band of ewes and Diesel hanging out on the edge of his group and playing in nearby water. This gives me some encouragement that we're on track.

Whiskey is the bolder of the two pups. He'll try something first. His response to reprimand is to flop down and not move. Diesel is far more shy. He's immediately suspicious of anything new. His response to an uncomfortable situation is to move away from it.

Each evening, with the help of either Jayde or Cajun, I return sheep, both pups, and Willow to the small original puppy paddock for the night. This way everyone spends the night in a tight group. I have no sound rational for doing so, just a feeling that says it's a good idea at this stage. Being in a group at night is something I'd like to instill in the pups. I think I'll have to change up the night paddock though so that the particular place doesn't become the habit but being with the sheep does.

Larger paddocks are more difficult to make escape proof and Whiskey is testing my ability to puppy proof a paddock. On the first day alone he attempted escape a handful of times, trying to follow me out once I was out of sight. Each time he was harshly reprimanded. Later that evening Cajun and I came to collect sheep and move them up to the night paddock. Once there I realized Whiskey was not with us.  Cursing the little thing for wandering off, rather than following with the sheep I set off in search of him.

I backtracked, going to the paddock we just brought the ewes out of. There sitting in the open gateway was Whiskey. He would not come across that gate. Seems the early reprimands were still with him. I praised him, slipped a leash on his neck and called him across. Together we walked to the sheep.

When reunited each evening there is great celebration between the pups. I'm sure this reaction to each other will change with maturity but pups are raised one day at a time. This is where they're at for now. 

It's A Jungle Out Here

We moved the flock into a new paddock and the ewes literally disappeared into the grass.

Waist high grass is a welcome, can't complain, problem to have but losing your sheep in the grass does have a couple of drawbacks.

The electric fence is kind of useless with all the excess grass growing along the wires, and neither the herding dogs nor the guard dogs can see what's going on with the sheep.

I told Allen I was going to get a pair of working dogs and name them Nip and Tuck because that's the majority of the work the stock dogs do right now.

Working dogs in tall grass is highly challenging.  You send the dog and it disappears from sight. The dog has no idea where sheep are and you have no idea where the dog is. Often the ewes are taken by surprise as they can't see the dogs approach.  No grand outruns, no lengthy drives, and certainly no panel obstacles to even see. We walk or drive along in the Ranger and hop on and off to do little tucks in until we have a group established. 

My view of ewe with lamb; on a hilltop

Some pictures will help me explain what I'm rambling (but not complaining) about.

This is my view from afoot. 

Jayde's view of same ewe and lamb

This is Jayde's view, same place, just down in the grass. I have a renewed and remarkable admiration for the work the dogs do manage to do.

The guard dogs are not able to do their job very effectively in grass like this either. They have no open view of the area, even from the hilltops. If the dogs can't see the sheep, they can't see the predators either. Imagine watching for snakes in the grass coming unknown from any direction. That's kind of the situation they're in.

My view of a group
Dogs view of group. Arrows point to sheep barely visible

To help out the guard dogs out I set up more Electra-net to pare down the acres the sheep are on. I divided the 40 acre paddock into three paddocks.  Since the flock cannot spread out as far this at least gives Oakley and Glory a chance of noticing anything amiss around the flock, even if they don't see it coming beforehand.

I'd like to go out ahead of the flock, just prior to them moving to a new paddock, and clip the grass. Allen feels it's a bit of an oddity to cut grass so your sheep can graze. Indeed it is, but it's also an abnormal year so we have to manage it. We don't own the equipment to cut grass though and borrowing will be tough with haying right around the corner. 

Instead we will no longer move the flock ahead in the grass rotation but rather will move them back to already grazed pieces. These pieces have had time to recover, but won't be as tall. While the choice may not be the ultimate for the grass it will help our guard dogs to protect their flock and help us to manage them.

Clowning Around

Upon moving into a new paddock (and in between the rain) the ewes and cows discover a small pile of old hay  bales. Surprisingly they dig into them a little and even eat at them.

With all the rain the pastures are lush and contain a lot of water. This means the grass is less nutritionally dense. The ewes are possibly craving roughage and fiber.

While the ewes investigate the bales the lambs turn them into a playground.

Taking Shelter?

The calf is doing fine. He and momma have rejoined the flock. So have the twin lambs born the same day.

The saving grace is that the temperatures are staying above 10C.  

It's been our experience that lambs can handle cold and they can handle wet but they don't handle cold and wet at the same time.

The paddock the ewes are in has a great shelter belt of trees which provides great cover.

Yesterday it was raining and the wind was howling when I headed out to check the flock in the afternoon. I expected to find ewes sheltered in the trees.

Nope. The majority are out in the field; all facing the same direction, their back to the wind and rain. Lambs are sheltered in the tall grass.

Only a few make use of the trees.

I wonder if sheep possess some knowing that I don't, or some stupidity... I'd like to say I don't possess that but I've had my moments!

Sailing Away

There are earthworms floating down my driveway.

Saskatchewan is a dry, windy, northern prairie grass climate. So the days of rain we are receiving have us shaking our heads and asking "what the heck?"

I need some advice on how to manage livestock in wet climates!

There was a new calf on the ground this morning. He only got to enjoy being dry for a couple of hours before the rain set in.

There was also a new set of twin lambs. Thankfully only these two as new lambs in this weather don't fair too well.  We seem to be in a lull for lambing. Only a handful of newborns arrived in the last few days. 

During the afternoon the rain came down sideways accompanied as it was by high winds.

On the upside rainy days are perfect for cozying up inside without guilt over the thousands of things you're not doing outside. Rainy days for me are also creatively pungent days. Likely due to the lack of guilt which I normally feel when pursuing creativity instead of practicality.

I know, I know. It's counter productive to think that way but it still remains a struggle for me to indulge in creative time.

I'm not one to post a thousand cute lambs pictures but to end this soggy post here are few of the new faces that lighten up my days.

The Water Bus

The water bus is one of our methods of watering stock on pasture. It is feasible when we are moving a lot and necessary when the stock are set in a paddock without a wetland source to set up the first option; the solar powered water station.

The water bus is a school bus which has been converted into a portable water station. The seats have been removed and in place are two 250 gallon water tanks connected to one another by piping.

Hose leads from the water tanks to a bathtub trough that sits on the ground at the back of the bus. There is a float mounted on the tub so water is gravity refilled as the stock drink.

There is a Honda Water pump stored inside the bus. When we need to refill the tanks we pack up the bus, drive to a wetland or to our well at the yard, fill the tanks and drive back out to pasture and set up.

When empty the bathtub trough is easily maneuvered into and off the bus by one person making the water bus manageable by one.

We like our yellow bus and it has proven very useful. It always generates a comment from those who see it.

Treasures of Raising Sheep

We have reached that point in lambing that every producer loves to see. The majority of the lambs are active and growing well and watching them gives me great delight.

Each evening I come out to watch for a spell and am favored with a daily dose of laughter.

Just when the temperature begins to cool a tad the older lambs begin to race. They gather on a trail and they run and skip and spin. They have no apparent plan except to have a good time. 

Hhhmmm… no plan except to have a good time. We could use a good dose of that approach to life.

To watch the freedom of cavorting lambs is a contagious thing. It just makes my giggle and giggle and in a moment all is right with the world again.

 Even some of the ewes get swept up in all the fun.

Truly, this is one of the great treasures of raising sheep.

Guardian Pup Update 12 weeks

Whiskey and Diesel are showing small glimpses of the future work potential in them.
Whiskey (F) and Diesel (B)

More and more often they are moving to hang out with the small flock rather than staying at the gate where they last saw us. They are comfortable right in amongst the sheep. They lick the noses of the ewe lambs. They follow right along and even occasionally move out to the lead when I move the sheep with a herding dog. 

This past week we took them out to pasture to meet Oakley and Glory. Both adults are indifferent to the pups. They come to check them out but wish to be left alone.

I walk around with the pups for awhile just watching them and the flock. New pups in the group cause a stir and we draw some interested onlookers. This ewe lamb follows us around, very curiously alert to the puppies. She is one of the ewe lambs who met Whiskey and Diesel when they first arrived.

Once the pups move around a bit and sniff out where they are they begin to take notice of the lambs - something more their size and interesting in movement. This is one of the reasons I'm not in favour of putting the pups with lambs at this stage. I prefer to wait for maturity in both.

They don't have many opportunities to get close to the lambs though as ewes with lambs move away from us pretty quick. I'm on foot and have new dogs with me … they aren't taking any chances.

The pups are not old enough to stay on pasture so after our adventure we return to the smaller paddock, the smaller group of ewe lambs and to Willow.

Along For The Ride

The pure joy Jayde exudes at being along for the ride is a treat. She's full of anticipation of work yet the outcome of the work will never diminish her future joy of the ride and the expectation. Even if she did not get the chance to work this evening (which she did), she will come along for the next ride, full of joy and keenness once again.

She places no conditions on her love of life. She doesn't love it only when she gets to be an instinctual dog at work or only when life is good according to her.  She loves it because there is always the next opportunity of life being good, of work, of using her instinct, of being what she surely knows she is meant to be. 

Me. I love life based on a whole pile of conditions - like weather, successful lambing, good training sessions with my dogs, money, acknowledgement, my appearance, people being nice to me and on and on and on.

Perhaps dropping my own conditional love of life would hold me in better stead. I bet I'd be more instinctual. Probably more intuitive. More than likely a heck of a lot happier. And at ease because if conditions are not allowed to make or break my day, there would be more room for joy and anticipation.

This is why I love dogs.

Floating Right Along

Life is floating right along here. Even though we are lambing, the pace is not hectic. Truthfully, there is a hint of peacefulness to it. With the exception of the odd day, such as yesterday, there is ample time for other duties between checks on the flock.

It was time to move the sheep to the other quarter of the pasture which I seperated with Electranet a few days back. We're conscious of leaving enough grass behind for re-growth and wildlife. This is more than ample to leave behind but it's time to move. It's a sign that the grass is once again well ahead of us. We need more sheep!

We slipped out after lunch for a flock check and on the way home removed a section of electra-netting which will allow the ewes to move across to the new piece on their own as they discover it. Those with newer lambs will hang back and catch up within a day.

Moving to a new paddock involves moving the water bus and minerals and it means a survey of the new territory by the adult guard dogs.

The Water Bus on the Move to New Location

While the guard dogs are busy the herding dogs might argue that lambing time is too laid back for their liking since there isn't a lot of flock work we involve the dogs in during the height of lambing. Catching the occasional single animal that needs assistance, like Jayde got to help with yesterday, is really all the work with the main flock right now. During lambing the main goal is to keep ewes quiet and settled.

This doesn't mean the herding dogs sit on their laurels though. There are a group of ewe lambs who are used for lessons and who are moved around almost daily. This way I sort of stay on top of working my dogs regularly.  Tonight Jayde and I thoroughly enjoyed an evening of work prior to lessons with a couple others. Cajun is off work at the moment, recovering from an injury incurred while attempting to jump the four foot woven wire fence awhile back. And Fynn... Fynn is my half working dog.  He's content to grab a spot on the couch with me and to only work occasionally.

A Different Morning at the Office

One hiccup of pasture lambing is it can be a real #@$^%$ to catch a ewe who needs your help.

In the same morning we have a ewe who has prolapsed and another who is unable to birth a very large lamb.

It takes a long time and a lot of effort to catch both ewes.

We pull the lamb from the ewe who is unable to birth on her own. No wonder too - the thing is monstrous - and it's dead. Since we have the ewe caught and she has no live lamb, I milk her out. Then we let her be. She moves off and hangs her head, exhausted.

The other ewe has a uterine prolapse. We disinfect everything and put it all back in, just not nearly as easy as that sounds. I'm not up to writing out all the real details.  We did get caught unprepared, as when it came to stitching her up, we discovered our needle was not up to par. We had to run over to the in-laws to get a proper suturing needle. One stitch with suture tape was enough to hold everything in. She too was one exhausted animal. Exhausted enough that she forgot she did have a lamb.


Mornings Work at The Office

I decided the 80 acre pasture the ewes are on needed to be divided in half. They were spreading out too far for my liking. The ewes without lambs taking the lead and those with lambs staying behind. It's far easier on the guard dogs if the flock stays in closer quarters.

So I took ten rolls of potable netting with me when I headed out in the morning.

My track in the grass is made with the Ranger. I roughly estimate where half way across the pasture is (which I know from looking at air photos of the pasture) and then drive across in what I hope is a relatively straight line. Having a trail to follow prevents me from wandering all over setting up netting 'thinking' that I'm going in a straight line.  I've done that too often and I always end up having to put one or two extra rolls of netting up because I've wandered so far off line. When you're on foot and down in a hollow you lose sight of landmarks that help you know you are. Making a track pushes the grass down and makes it easier to set up the netting.

I tie the netting off on a perimeter fence post then begin unrolling and stepping the prongs into the ground. It's a lot of walking but it doesn't take long to put up electra-netting on decent pasture ground. Rocky ground or working in bush or shrub is horrid though.

I use a wetland area to my advantage by taking the netting into it rather than going around. With as much grass as is here the ewes will not volunteer to get their feet wet trying to go around the end of the netting. I wade into the water barefoot (I forgot to bring my muck boots; yes, the water is very cold) and use a corner tie and stake to keep this corner end of the netting taunt. 

I move the other side of the wetland and finish up, taking the netting up to the cross fence and tying it off there.

It takes me an hour and a quarter to set up roughly 1/4 mile (1320 feet) of netting. Blessedly by the time I am done the sheep and cattle who were on the wrong half have all moved over to the common side.

Link Sharing - Field Guide to Farmers

No matter how big or small your own farm may be, you'll appreciate Gene Logsdon's recent post over on his blog.

A Field Guide to Farmers

According to the guide I'd have to say we are Part-Time Farmers surrounded by a more than a few Ground Grabbers yet we seem to connect most often with the Hobby type.

It's very humorous. Check it out.

Grass grazed by sheep.

A Chance to Talk

Since beginning our farming journey we've had a lot to do with Ducks Unlimited Canada regarding conservation and wetlands. Our farming practices are respectful of land and wildlife and as such DU seems to like partnering with us and we've been able to take advantage of several of their incentive programs. One of the DU research stations is six miles from our place.

That's where I spent the afternoon; speaking about conservation and agriculture from a livestock producers perspective to a group of individuals participating in a field day.

Speaking to people who have genuine questions about what we do, why we do it and how, always recharges me. It snaps me out of the lull of regular life I often fall into. It reminds me of why I love what I do and where I live. Of how privileged I am to live in this fashion.

The people I spoke with had all sorts of backgrounds ranging from knowing very little about agriculture to being Ag research personnel.

Answering questions I long forgot I once didn't know the answer to either, always grounds me somehow. Answering more challenging questions displays how far I have come and have yet to go.

Admittedly, yesterday I was bemoaning the inconvenience of making time for a few hours of talking with strangers. Yet I enjoyed it and felt a great deal of satisfaction afterward.

The sharing of experience and thought is a gift and I'm full of gratitude for the opportunity to feel that today.

Sheep, Dogs and Thunderstorms

I came home from a trip to town. The sky was dark and I knew about impending rain. I put the few purchases away then looked out the window to see a wall of water heading our way.

Crap. The pups were out in an open paddock with Willow and the ewe lambs. They had no shelter there.

I donned the rain suit, called Jayde and ran out. Moments after stepping outside, thunder cracked and the rain began.

I opened the first gate and Jayde took off across the paddock rather than waiting inside the gate as is the practice here. I let her go; it was one of those times when function was going to override correctness. 

The sheep were out of sight but Jayde has worked in this paddock often; she knew where to look. In short order the small band of ewe lambs came barreling over the hill, Jayde pushing at a good clip behind them.

She was racing and would not slow up. The saving grace was that these are heavily dogged sheep.

The ewe lambs were at the gate in no time. I needed some calmness going through the gate in order for me to keep the pups out of the way of the sheep. Jayde didn't care about that agenda though.

She was completely unwilling to stand still or hold anything. We all piled through the gate in a jumble… except for one ewe which was split off with all the rushing around.

But Jayde had followed the main bunch through and was already well ahead turning the sheep around the corner to the shed. I called her back for the single. She worked in a frantic manner, seeming not to hear or understand. Thankfully the single seemed to know where to go and she made a quick exit and bolted for the corner where she saw her buddies disappear to.

Meanwhile Allen had returned from the pasture and was ahead to open the next gate. When I rounded the corner the sheep were in.

Jayde still would not settle and ran back and forth. Allen was soaked and headed to the house while I stayed to feed dogs. It was a testament to how upset Jayde was since she left me with the sheep and followed Allen. Something we can't get her to do on any calm weather day.

Pasture Lambing

The ewes have been busy the past few days and there are now about seventy lambs on the ground.

Lambing on pasture is a bit more hands off than barn lambing. The ewes have lots of space to lamb in so mis-mothering rarely occurs. The flip side to that is the ewes can evade us very easily. There is no catching ewes to help a lamb suck.  And if we approach to close or to rapidly we can push ewes away from their lambs.

We have to be careful where we drive with the Ranger lest we run over sleeping lambs in the grass, like this little guy.

Some ewes keep close tabs on their lambs while others are comfortable with drifting away to eat while lambs sleep. This little fellow woke up with my approach and instantly began bawling for mom.

The ewes often move away from the flock to lamb. This ewe is here with newborn twins. There isn't another ewe anywhere nearby.

Some ewes will give me an opportunity to take a photo but only allow me to get so close before adopting a protective stance.

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