Whew, What A Day

Whew yesterday was quite the day. I was too tired to write a post last night though. In fact I was so tired I left Jayde outside overnight.

We loaded panels on the trailer and headed to the pasture. We were moving sheep to the next paddock so we took advantage of the move by sorting off lambs and ewe lambs. We needed to check the docked tails and castrations on the lambs and the yearlings are needed for an upcoming sheep camp and trial.

It sounds like such an innocent job but it was four hours of sheep work. First collecting them off pasture. Then convincing them to move through the race and sorting them, then catching each lamb to check docked tails and castrations, and finally moving the sorted yearling ewe lambs home. In hindsight, now that the lambs are older, it might have been an easier task to walk the flock home and back again. It's a toss up.

Jayde and Cajun were responsible for holding the flock to us at the corner (bottom left area of the photo) as we did not have a pen large enough to hold several hundred sheep plus lambs. Maintaining a flow for the sort was difficult because we were using such a short race (again limited panels). The dogs worked very hard at containing lambs and only once did some of the group of ewes slip back on them. It was hot and it was very tiring work for them and they amazed me with their effort.

Once we were through with the lambs we still had to take the ewe lambs home. The dogs had to work hard again in order to pull the yearlings away from the flock and the fence line and start them on the mile walk home.  We were back at the yard with enough time to grab a bite before heading out to sort dogging sheep for lessons at five PM. Cajun and Jayde were exhausted so Fynn was my helper for the evening.


In this photo, all sheep are sorted (ewes in new paddock at top left) and we’re just catching the last lambs still in the pen with the yearlings. After I took the photo Cajun and Jayde were tied up in the shade to rest.

Tidbits

This is how I know the salt tub requires refilling. 


And the mineral tub is used either as a resting spot or as a jumping pad. 


Another common pasture sight is these little birds who ride on the sheep all the time but are difficult to get a picture of.

Guardian Pups 19 Weeks





 
They are nineteen weeks old and they’re leggy and lanky and they’re teething. They’re also developing some character. 
 
The other night the yipping of a four legged predator reached my ears through an open window. This was followed by Willow’s bark. And then a second bark and maybe a third, I wasn’t sure. But I was pleased to hear that at least one of the pups had joined the chorus.

Tonight there were a few people here to work stock dogs which is a weekly occurrence. The sheep we work are the yearling group which Willow and pups stay with. When we work sheep I set Willow and the pups in an adjacent paddock and leave them with a handful or more sheep. They still have sheep, they can see us work but can’t interfere and cannot visit the other dogs (it also prevents people from visiting the puppies overmuch). Tonight this situation did not seem to sit well with the pups and they tried to interfere through the fence a couple of times. Perhaps they are growing into their role as guardians. Or perhaps they’re just obnoxious about other dogs.

I have six bottle lambs which I have placed with the yearling ewe lamb group. Being bottle lambs they often end up separated from the ewe lambs. They just don’t know to flock. Whiskey and Diesel are often found with the separated lambs. They are being well behaved with the lambs so far.

They have not quite accepted the new llama though. I caught them chasing Cheerio the other day. When there is two of them they back one another up and take on more than they would if they were alone.

They caught a muskrat one day and it was Whiskey who stole away with the prize.

They are scrapping with each other quite a bit right now. And I really haven’t decided how I’m going to handle that. Run interference or let them settle their own disputes? I know I won’t be there for every occurrence in order to run interference. If I asked for advice on the matter I’d get a thousand and one differing opinions. So it’s still up in the air.

As soon as the flock makes their next pasture move we’ll begin taking the pups, one at a time, for day trips on pasture. This way they spend time apart again and they spend more time with the other adults. Currently the flock is grazing on a paddock that runs right along a grid road. I feel more comfortable waiting until the flock moves away from that road before placing pups there.

All in all I'm very pleased with them. I'm also well aware that we'll have our hands full with these two and we have a steep learning curve to travel yet, but I also believe it will be a rewarding experience with the possibility of two great guardians at the end of it all.



Wedding Dress of Wool

A friend shared this story link with me and I in turn am going to share it here.

It is a short article on a bride who wore a wedding dress of wool, harvested from the Lincoln Longwool sheep she raises.

The dress is gorgeous and I just want to reach through my computer screen and feel it. It looks so silky and soft at the same time. Perhaps a new bridal attire fashion trend coming on...

The grooms waistcoat is made from the same wool, beautifully felted. 

The shepherd’s crook didn’t escape my notice either. One day I'll have one of those.

But the real reason I like this story is that I think this story is a fabulous example of the beautiful results of following an inspiration. 

Here it is.

Sheep, Dogs and Ranch Work

So my moment with Cajun yesterday wasn’t just a fluke.

Cajun and I were back on pasture this morning and the wall of sheep approached once again as I made my way out of the gate. I let Cajun slip through the fence and he marched forward without waiting for any direction from me.

He did a couple flanks on his own plus a couple I asked him for.  A few short driving stretches and we edged the ewes back over the hill. We didn’t encounter the cows this morning so it ended there. It was another sweet moment of working this dog. We’re starting to gel.

One thing that amazes me about this dog that I don’t experience with Jayde, is his propensity to understand the job. Just show him a time or two and he’ll be ready for it the next time.

With morning chores complete and dogs exercised and worked, I headed off to a nearby sheep show and sale. Nearby meaning within the hour. 

I returned mid afternoon knowing that it was time to give the ewes what they wanted and move them to another paddock. This means I won’t have another wall of sheep to practice driving on again :(

I took Jayde and Cajun along for the move. Cajun was my pick for working a ewe with her lamb who were in an area they shouldn’t be. She gave us trouble when she headed into thick brush. We had a heck of a time fishing her out of there. Cajun kept blocking her escape thinking she was getting away every time. Once we did get her in the open again Cajun did some distance work to cut her off and bring her back to the flock. It wasn’t his best work but both of us were worked up at that point. And hey, the job got done.

Jayde was my pick for gathering the flock together and I let Cajun join her toward the end. When we had the flock headed to the right end of the paddock we pulled off and returned to the Ranger.

After that a couple calls by me was all I needed to persuade the ewes to follow the Ranger. I opened the gate and the dogs and I watched them pour through.


When I move the flock by calling there are always lambs that dilly dally and get left behind.  It took us about 15 minutes to get the flock moved and then another half hour to move the 20 odd remaining lambs.

Young lambs are hard to work. They tend to go every direction at once so it’s tough for the dogs to know who to cover first. It seemed like overkill but I let both Jayde and Cajun work this bunch of lambs. It was interesting to watch them sort it out. Both dogs showed some great work. Jayde tends to rely on speed a lot though and in the end it was Cajun who figured out how to handle the lambs by giving them some distance and showing a great deal of patience which is not usually like him.

Of course I have no pictures of the dogs at work. I missed a great shot of both dogs standing together in the bathtub water trough behind the water bus, after working those lambs. Camera was sitting on the Ranger. Nonetheless I can assure you it was a grand day of sheep, dogs and ranch work.

The Joy of Real Tasks With A Ranch Dog

Native Prairie Hillside
The flock is on a thirty acre paddock with rough terrain. In this paddock are areas of tame grass / alfalfa, native prairie and then hillsides of brush peppered with Canadian thistle.

 
Grass/Alfalfa Hillside
The ewes cleaned up the tame grass and alfalfa within 48 hours of moving in and have been wanting to move out for three days now. One thing about rotational grazing is that animals get used to moving and begin to decide themselves when it’s time. As such, a whole gaggle of them appear over the last hilltop every time I’m letting myself out of the gate.
Brush and Thistle Hill Top

This morning I let myself out the gate, closed it then unleashed Cajun from the back of the Ranger. I held the fence line wires apart for him to crawl between. We walked uphill toward the line of ewes. Cajun taking the left side and I the right. His ewes moved off while mine lingered. I called him toward me and then gave a flank. He swung out, moved behind me and to the other side. Right there.

Sweet. This is not in our repertoire yet. I took advantage of having a wall of sheep and tried this a couple more times. He picked it up well doing very short drives without going into a tight flank because he thought animals were escaping. 

I love doing real tasks with a dog - beats training any day.

The ewes moved off and we found ourselves facing the cows; in particular a momma cow with a calf. Cajun’s a forceful dog who’s all to willing to push a fight, especially on cows (I think he’s nervous of them).

Momma cow fixed us with a look that seemed to say ‘I’m a momma cow, don’t even think about it.’

Cajun stood facing her. I stood, watching. Cajun relaxed his stance and shifted his weight back rather than forward. He looked at the calf. He looked up at the cow. He looked away from the cow. The cow lifted her nose; looked at her calf; looked at Cajun.

Whatever mind game he was playing with her seemed to work. She turned and walked off with her calf. Cajun walked forward, following her. Beauty. Sweet ranch dog move number two.

Then Cajun quickened his pace, got within one stride of that cow and dove in, biting her on the hock. Her bellow was loud and furious.

Cajun just has to have the last word every time. 

New Guardian Dogs - Intro to Pasture Flock

Lucas and Lady have quickly settled in with a small band of ewe lambs. The next step is taking them out to the pasture which is where we really need them. Here they will meet the two other adult guardian dogs who they will work with, if all goes well.

It is evident that these two are well bonded to sheep which has made the integration to our place so much smoother. We're pretty sure the introduction to the pasture flock will be fine. However, a pasture situation is a lot different then a well fenced paddock near the yard and the success also depends on how Oakley and Glory accept the newcomers. Glory is not always so accepting.

We used the same approach we took earlier. We transported Lucas and Lady to pasture in crates. Once there we hooked them to a long lead and let them go where they liked. Lady sought the sheep right away however now there were so many she didn't know where to stop. Lucas seemed stuck and stood in one spot unless we encouraged him to walk.

When Oakley and Glory approached we remained neutral. We knew Glory was the one to watch. There was casual greeting and each dog went on his/her way. No one was interested in more. A half hour later we unhooked the leads on Lucas and Lady. Allen and I separated and each took watch of a dog. 




Both dogs traveled staying within the area of the sheep. Lucas was the first to find a shady spot next to resting sheep and lie down. Lady continued to travel. Numerous sheep were resting in the shade along a large bush area. Lady circled this and traveled around on the far side of it. Finally she came into the bush and into the group of ewes. She settled well toward the back.

We decided to leave the dogs on pasture rather than move them back and forth. We returned to check on them a few times that day. Everyone seemed very well settled and we decided to risk leaving them there for the night as well.

It was a great relief to enter the pasture the next morning and see four dogs were still there.

New Guardian Dogs - Intro to Sheep Con't

Lucas


While I won't claim to know what dogs are feeling it sure seems that Lucas and Lady are more content with sheep in the picture. And Willow and Lucas seem to enjoy each other's company.
Lucas (L) and Willow (R)

Lucas and Lady have begun to eat regularly, something they were not doing for the first few days here.

















After the first three days of visits to the ewe lambs while on lead we removed the leashes and sat on the hill to watch. It was mid morning and a hot day and the sheep were lying down. Lady made her way directly to them. She nuzzled several ewes, causing them to rise. Then she left the ewes and traveled the paddock. She returned to the ewes again and repeated the nuzzling. The ewes stood but weren't moving too far. Lady traveled a bit more and then settled down in tall grass near the ewes.

Lucas traveled the length of the paddock. I had my eye on him as I suspected he might be looking for a way out. The main flock was grazing in an adjacent paddock and both dogs had taken notice of way more sheep (and lambs) a short distance away. Sheep they couldn't get to.

Once during the time I stayed with them Lucas moved to a corner and began nosing at the bottom of the fence. I rushed toward him and gave him a sharp reprimand. He traveled some more and then gave up in the heat and settled in the shade next to the shearing shed. Willow moved over and laid with him. Whiskey and Diesel followed suit. Lady remained by the ewe lambs.

Lady

I left them alone, returning after lunch to check on them. Both dogs were still in the paddock. Lucas approached the gate when I entered. Lady was near the sheep. I left them for the afternoon, walking out to check on them a few more times. That night I removed them from the paddock and placed them in the dog run with the bottle lambs again.

The next day I took them out in the morning and stayed to watch for a short period. Each dog traveled a bit and then settled somewhere. I left to check the main flock in the next paddock.

While I was traveling about on the Ranger I repeatedly checked back to see what the dogs were doing. Lucas had moved down the fence line toward the corner, perhaps because he could see me out and about with the other sheep. He began to dig at the corner. I rushed over in the Ranger and the sight and sound of the vehicle barreling toward him and me growling fiercely gave him great concern (I'm on the outside of the fence and he's on the inside). He tucked tail and left the fence. He did not try digging again that day.

Each time I checked on them Lucas was in the shade, with Willow nearby. Once again Lady was next to the ewe lambs. That night I left them out in the paddock.

Lucas putting some time in with the sheep

New Guardian Dogs - Intro to Sheep

We introduced Lucas and Lady to the group of ewe lambs we are keeping separate for the purpose of training stock dogs and hosting clinics. This is the same group of ewe lambs that Willow and the two pups stay with so there was a lot of introductions.

We brought Lucas and Lady to the paddock on leash and because the dogs were still cautious of us and in new open surroundings (an eight acre paddock) we kept them on the leads. We headed in the direction of sheep but allowed the dogs to walk where they liked. We followed and kept the leashes loose. We wanted to lessen our influence on the happenings as much as possible.

Willow and the pups took notice of us first and came to inspect the newcomers. Willow is a very accepting dog and the pups are young enough that they still accept everybody so this went over without a hitch. Each dog did the introductory sniff of everybody else and all was good.

Lucas and Lady seemed more concerned about where they were. They wanted to move and when we came into sight of the ewe lambs Lady pulled forward. She went straight to the group and wormed her way right amongst them. The ewes moved off from the initial approach of this strange dog but only traveled a few feet and settled.

Then dogs and sheep began to inspect one another which was the most fascinating aspect of this morning meet and greet. A couple of the ewes were very thorough in their inspection of Lady. And she stood for it all.




I must make note that these sheep are very familiar with guard dogs and I am sure this is partly what allows such an introduction to occur. Sheep that are not familiar with guard dogs will not act in this fashion and a very different approach will be needed. 

Although very pleased with this initial intro, we weren't quite ready to leave the dogs unattended.  After some time with the sheep we walked both dogs back to the dog run. Over the next three days we took them to sheep twice daily and set the bottle lambs with them in the run overnight.

New Guardian Dogs - First Three Days

It's time to catch up with posting about the new additions or else I'll forget what I wanted to share with you.

Lucas
Lucas and Lucky Lady are Maremmas's. Lucas is four years old and Lady is fifteen months. They are a father, daughter pair. Over the past three weeks we have been overseeing their introduction to the place and the flock.

Upon their arrival, late one afternoon, we placed both dogs into the same chain link dog run (10' x 20'). We left them alone to de-stress from the trip. From where the dog run is, they could hear the activity in the yard but could not see the house.

For the next day and a half both Allen and I went in and out of the run several times, alternating between sitting and letting the dogs approach us and approaching the dogs ourselves. Since we are strangers, both dogs tried to evade us but the small run prevented them from leaving. Neither dog was interested in food, not even raw hamburger.

By the second day we were able to approach without them moving off but neither dog was relaxed about it yet.

We placed half a dozen bottle lambs into the run with them to gauge their reaction. Both dogs perked up and approached the lambs with great interest. Lady began to nuzzle them, licking faces and rear ends. That evening the dogs were curled up next to the lambs. Their demeanor changed and both dogs seemed to relax a tad now that they had sheep again. Any approach toward the run by the herding dogs was met with deep barking and a serious warning.

On the third morning we trained them to leash walk as neither dog has been walked on lead. We worked through their initial panic of the leash by ignoring it and walking. Within minutes we were able to walk with them. We kept the distance short and walked them directly to sheep. Once there we let them mingle with the ewes. We repeated this walk a handful of times in a couple days. Always making sure the walk from the pen took them to sheep. 

Their first encounter with a group of sheep was very promising and amazing to watch. I have numerous pictures and I'll put them together for next post.

Lady

Gratitude

This morning I decided to walk out to the pasture and take down electranetting in place of my regular morning walk. Jayde, Fynn and Cajun ran through the morning wet grass, enjoying the moment and the coolness of the morning.

By quarter past seven were we back at the house for breakfast.

Erecting or taking down electranet is an uncomplicated task so it provides a wonderful opportunity to let the mind wander while working. This morning I found myself contemplating if I appreciated this land and this life.

Do I? I like to think I do but truthfully it's not that often that I absorb gratitude on an internal level.

I know I like ranching when it goes well but I'm terribly frustrated when it doesn't. I feel at ease on the days that everything flows and nothing dies. But I feel a terrible dis-ease when anything goes astray from my expectations. And the times I feel disconnected from this land and this life, I know gratitude has been forgotten.

Blessedly, animals often realign my perspective or give it a new twist now and again and today was par for the course. Watching the dogs is partly what got me thinking this thought in the first place. And tonight I sat for a moment and watched the lambs on pasture. Nothing like lambs racing and leaping to make you feel good all over and let gratitude seep back into the soul again.


Additions

There are a few additions to catch you up on.

I have been keeping my eye out for working adult LGD's for some time and recently purchased a pair of adults. Working adults are few and far between since anyone who has good dogs hangs onto them tightly. These two were available because the owner sold the flock and the dogs were miserable without sheep. The dogs also needed to go together, which is just what I was looking for.

I have some great photos of Lucas and Lady Luck meeting sheep and will share them along with the introductions in another post.



The third addition arrived today. Cheerio was a give away llama who happens to like sheep. We thought why not - we have the room and PJ might appreciate the company of one of her own kind again.
Right now Cheerio is spending time near the yard with a group of ewe lambs, Willow and the pups. This presents an opportunity for the pups to get to know a llama.

Willow has experience with PJ so llamas are not new to her. She initially barks at the newcomer but settles very quickly once she checks Cheerio out a little more thoroughly. Her example helps the pups figure it out too.

Uncommon Farm Truck

Our Polaris Ranger utility vehicle is our farm truck. This unit has proven to be a very worthwhile purchase many times over.

It can carry three passengers, has cup holders, cubby holes for storage and the cargo box tips to dump your loads. It has two wheel drive and four wheel drive. It can tow things. It goes almost anywhere; Allen has tested its ability to navigate various terrain, including deep sloughs.

Best of all, the box fits two large dog kennels perfectly. We transport guard dogs this way. With the stock dogs, who ride with us daily, we prefer to leash them in the box rather than haul kennels in and out each time we need the box for other things.

Tonight the dog ties served in transporting this fellow to the yard to receive treatment for fly strike.

Back After a Clinic

Sorry for the lull in posts. I temporarily disappeared into a world of hosting stock dog clinics.

Each time a clinic approaches I tell myself that I will make time to write blog posts during the clinic. Alas, it just doesn't happen. I'm too immersed in keeping up with regular ranch duties, which exist regardless of clinics, and the sea of activity that is involved in hosting people and dogs for a few days. I appreciate and commend every person who has ever hosted an event at their place.

It was a fabulous clinic. With the exception of two dogs, all were Australian Kelpies. The clinician was Kevin Howell from New South Wales, Australia (hence the kelpies in attendance).

The kelpie is not a common breed here so it was a treat to spend three days with a group of kelpies and see the similarities in work style yet note the individual preferences of each dog.

The amazing part of this clinic was the potential in every dog, the work ethic shown by most of the dogs and the improvement of handlers by the third day. This was evident by the fact that on the second and third day we only used two groups of sheep since they were never overworked and rarely came out of a walk.

I have two Border Collies and a Kelpie. I've never thought of myself as a breed person, believing a good working dog is a good working dog but man I'm sure in awe of the Australian Kelpie. 




Vet Visit

Our local veterinarian came out today to vaccinate dogs. We felt it was simpler to have one vet come out than make three trips to take several dogs in, especially when some of them do not appreciate traveling.

We collected the guard dogs after lunch and set them into dog runs so they were available when the vet came. Willow and the pups are still nearby so they were simple to walk out to and treat.

Every dog on the place has been vaccinated for another year, with the exception of Glory. She has been off the last two days and sure enough, is running a fever. No vaccinations for her today, so we'll be making one trip in to the vet later.

Keeping guard dogs isn't a cheap option and I'm not looking forward to the bill from the vets. But the dogs are workable, flexible and effective. Caring for them is one of the costs of keeping them so we can keep a flock of sheep.

Sweetgrass - The Film

The film documentary Sweetgrass premieres on PBS tonight.

I'll miss it - I don't get PBS because I don't have cable or satellite TV.

I watched the trailer on the internet though. And would dearly love to be able to watch the film someday.


Watch the full episode. See more POV.


It's not too often that documentary films about sheep are created. It's not too often that sheep drives of this magnitude happen anymore. As I understand it, this is one of the reasons for the film in the first place. Sheep ranchers and sheep drives are a dying breed and this film captures the last sheep drive for a Montana ranching family.

But not only is the film about a last epic sheep drive but it would be worth watching for the sake of the dogs in it. Sounds like my dogs have it easy in comparison.

If you happen to watch Sweetgrass or get to see it soon, give me your thoughts on it. Meanwhile I'll be searching out a way to see it myself.

In promotion of Sweetgrass there is also a live chat with the filmmakers taking place tomorrow (July 6). Follow this link to check it out.

Sweetgrass Live Chat

I Never Imagined

"I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better."        GEORGE BIRD EVANS


When I was dreaming of returning to the farm my imagination never conjured up a life quite like this.

My imagination molded a farm life built up on fragments of what it knew already, which was controlled crop farming, a little bit about cattle and less about grass. All of my imagining was large scale. From there I studied natural and holistic farming methods and dreamed up some goals about how to make it all happen.

In those dream building days I did not imagine a life as revolved around sheep and dogs as it is.

Then again maybe it was my knowing that life would always deeply involve dogs that led me to a circumstance in which they are such an integral part.

It's a comforting thought. 

The second part that causes me to think far too hard about the how's and why's of things, is just how the dogs play a role.

This too, is far from anything I imagined living and working with dogs to be. My background is all about dogs as part of the family, clicker training, competition agility, and socializing your pup into an all round canine good citizen.

Only a small portion of that still exists for me in relation to dogs today.  The good and the ugly sides of stock dogs and livestock guardian dogs have molded my idea of canines in such a vast way.

Now I rely on stock dogs to help me farm. I count on them to make good decisions about the movement of stock - to teach me. I have been challenged to open my mind to different concepts of obedience and respect and to constantly hold my ego in check.

Now I sit upon hill tops and watch a group of livestock guardian dogs interact with each other and with sheep. They are not pets, they certainly are not the human idea of a canine good citizen, they do not hold any great depth of love for me like I imagine my house dogs do, they don't travel well, they may bite.

And they are utterly fascinating. While they are not wild dogs by any stretch, they are as close as I may get to experiencing true canine. A canine life less influenced by humans.

I could not have imagined living with dogs in this fashion earlier on - the concept was foreign to me then because then I lived with pets.  Now I work with dogs.

I didn't imagine my mind would be so altered by living with dogs in this fashion. The lumps and bumps, the successes and the tragedies, it is all a grand experience. And I didn't know it would run so deep, feel this good and be this whole.

This is why I love dogs.

Extra Mouths to Feed

This morning I set up electranet on the next quarter on land the sheep will be moving to. Cajun, Jayde and Fynn came with and enjoyed a morning of romping around in the tall grass and swimming in the sloughs while I messed with netting.


I expect the flock will move to this new piece in the next day or two. The lambs are now eating grass and it's a bit of a guessing game as we adjust to a few hundred more animals grazing.  Suddenly the paddocks don't hold them near as long. The extra mouths will help us manage the grass though, which is now well ahead of us.

When grass gets ahead of us it goes to seed.




These photos were taken as I was driving through the grass. The blur at the bottom edge of the second photo is not an out of focus picture. It is from the seed being knocked off against the front of the Ranger. The front of the Ranger becomes coated with the dust and the seat and my lap bear a layer of seed after every ride.

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