Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sheep Camp Ends

Photo Courtesy of Cathy Bishop
Photo Courtesy of Cathy Bishop
The issue with hosting great events is that they must end.

Sheep camp wrapped up on Monday night and was followed by herding trials on Tuesday. We have had people here with us since last Thursday. After breakfast with a few remaining guests the last person pulled out of the yard early this afternoon.

For the past week we relished the company of a superb group of supportive and grounded people. Several of whom left us with great food for thought and a lasting sense of gratitude.

This camp left a deep impression upon us about the possibility of individually diverse yet similarly like-minded people to come together.

Working dogs was the reason for sheep camp but camp morphed into being more than just about working dogs. It was remarkable to be a part of it and feel the shared energy.

We realize dog events do not always go like this. We wonder why it happened at our place.
Photo Courtesy of Cathy Bishop

After hosting an event the ranch feels empty for a day or two. This time it feels uneasy and unoccupied. After a week of glorious weather, it began to rain this afternoon and added to our sense of emptiness and exhaustion.






So we filled the day with things to do. We cleaned out the shop and returned it to its working ranch state. We sorted sheep and returned a set to pasture. We puttered about putting things away. We went to town. I walked dogs. And finally we rested for the evening.

But I have not been able to stop reflecting on the great shared moments of the last week. 

Photo Courtesy of Cathy Bishop

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sheep Camp in the Works

A few years ago an idea formed to have a sheep camp. But who would come to such a far out, rural location where the closest highway and populated area is 30 km away? What did we have to offer beyond a good number of sheep and space to work them in? Who would teach? How do we handle all the logistics of hosting a group of people?

We didn’t have those answers then but persisted anyway.

This is only our third year hosting sheep camp but in that short time frame a lot has come to fruition.

It’s a full house once again this year and there is a remarkable feeling of camaraderie and gratitude formed from a respectful commonality of the love of working dogs that I think can only happen when like minds are attracted together and end up meeting in one place.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Camp Prep

The last couple days have been busy with preparations for sheep camp.

Cleaning the shop so it may be used as a classroom and meal area. Cutting grass. Checking gates and fences. Moving panels, setting up extra pens. Finding panels for trial obstacles, organizing water for the dogs and sheep and cooking meals (ugh) ahead of time.

Camp prep also includes early morning work for the dogs on the sheep. Since the clinic last week I have a new found sense of progress with both Jayde and Cajun which is carrying me along nicely. It will be great to mesh this into four days of sheep camp.

Camp preparations occur amongst the regular ranch work. We have cut some extremely tall clover ahead of the grazing flock in order that we might find the sheep. And we’re cutting and baling the last hundred acres of hay.

Cajun did some tough work out on pasture when we discovered we left behind a ewe with her lamb during today's pasture move. He saw her when riding on the Ranger, however, when on the ground the grass made it difficult for him to maintain contact with her. He was working quite far from me and did get them turned and headed back where needed.

We had to get the ewe and lamb to travel around the tip of a large wetland. Once the ewe knew where the flock was she took off catch up, at which point Cajun was determined to catch her again. We had to try a couple of times as he is very hard to convince that he should let any animal go; one of the habits we are working on. 

Busy or not, at the end of the day I am deeply appreciative of a lifestyle that affords me the opportunity to use the dogs in this everyday manner and then to host sheep camp and enjoy the impressiveness of working dogs with other enthusiasts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Whole New Light

There is nothing like different places and different faces to help you see yourself and your dogs in a whole new light. 

I’m very, very glad I went to the stock dog clinic. Superb clinician, great company and a great time. (Clinician was Faansie Basson from South Africa). The dogs and I took the good, and the not so good, all in stride. Not an usual accomplishment for them but a pat on the back for me. I came home with a great sense of worth and a good dose of encouragement.


To put this in perspective a little bit; it has been, oh, I think about two or three years since I have ventured out to work stock elsewhere with my dogs.  It was only the second time with Cajun.

Being sheep ranchers and non-dog trialers I work the same flock of sheep on the same place, follow the same trails, go through the same gates, pack the same pens (you get the idea).

I was VERY nervous about traveling with my farm dogs and working someone else’s stock. 

I came home with several ideas and exercises to work on. I discovered I have a deeply ingrained habit of blocking sheep and where and how I was in my dogs way.  But more impressionable than that - I came away with a few deep realizations about myself.

My dogs and I are good. And my dogs and I can be much better. Both of us have the potential.

I’m very concerned about doing the correct thing at every moment yet correct is sometimes a very fuzzy ideal, especially if you're assuming someone else's expectations.  When correct is vague it is hard to mentally paint a vision of the task, thus it is difficult to portray your confidence to the dog. 

Being paranoid of mistakes is one of the greatest hindrances to progress that I have. I have to be willing to test the dog all the time and let the dog and myself make mistakes. It’s the only way I’ll know what we truly need to work on. This will pull me out of practicing the same old, same old things.

I miss people. I miss the social aspect of a good dog event. I miss learning.

It was an absolute pleasure to sit in the chair as a full participant rather than play role as hostess. Thank you Jamie for hosting. This clinic was like a vacation for me except I didn’t pack a camera so I have no pics to share.

But with this clinic under my belt I feel greatly encouraged heading into sheep camp next weekend.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Working Dog Growing Pains

We moved the sheep to a new paddock today. This was an easy move, as we were going just-next-door.

The flock is grazing on paddocks containing a lot of Cicer Milkvetch and clover. This has given them very loose stools so they are looking dirty which always bothers me even when I know the reason.

I’ve been working Cajun and Jayde daily trying to gain ground on our training. I am struggling with both, but especially with Jayde. This sends me into a tail spin of worrying if there is a point where  you can’t get back what you had.


I’m off to a stock dog clinic this week though, for some much needed help and support. My first away-clinic in a very long time. Actually, it has been a long time since I have travelled anywhere with my dogs. A very long time. I feel very novice all over again, about all aspects of this trip.

I’ll be back to regular posting again after the clinic. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about working dogs and I’m sure I’ll be presented with more food for thought via this clinic.

Much to share in the coming days.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stone Alteration

Tonight I went out for a walk in the rain to put off working sheep. I took a regular route; traveling the gravel road with my head down to keep out the rain, immersed in a ramble of unconscious thinking and very unaware.

Until a small, smooth pink stone caught my eye and slowly drew my attention to the array of color at my feet.

Slowly I was drawn into the present moment I was in.


Walking.

In the rain.

With dogs.

I noticed myself seeing for the first time the plentiful smooth, colored, wet stones. For the rest of the walk I noticed stones and collected particular ones that spoke to me.

The walk became a total immersion in the present where no time and no trouble exist. An extended moment of Being.

I believe it was Wayne Dyer who penned the line ‘change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.’

It is nature that continually displays and impresses upon me such life altering perceptions. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in alarming ways. But in every way it is why I love where and how I live. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Left Out

If you live with working dogs or any dog driven to do what they love to do, you grow to appreciate their anticipation and eagerness to work.

But when I’m working one dog that means I’m not working the other two. 

Allen snapped this picture moments after I left the house with Jayde.

Are they going to the sheep?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cows and Cheerio

After our long move with the flock we set them along a half mile stretch of driveway for a day, to graze the ditches.  This was only partially successful as elecratnet not powered by electricity does not hold cows, not even temporarily.

Two days ago I woke to this: 

She and her companions were supposed to be up along the driveway to the top right, with the sheep , grazing the ditches (that is the flock back there).

We made the cows return and later that evening sheep and cows were moved off the drive way and into a new paddock.



The cows have been out four more times since! They were walking through a short stretch of electranet surrounding a wetland area we never thought they'd bother to investigate being located where it was.

So first thing this morning (after regular chores that is) we added a couple hot wires around that wetland.

After that I spent a couple hours mowing a large paddock for the dogs and I. I was tired of the tall grass.  Plus we might use this paddock for some larger flock work at sheep camp.  It's a great paddock to work in, with lots of room to take a nice long walk about and a lovely hollow and hills on either end for short blind outruns.

Cheerio, the new llama, was added to the main flock when they passed through the yard. This way we didn’t have to trailer him out to pasture. He had a tough introduction. The guard dogs charged him. The cows initially thought he might be a threat to their calves and PJ has been less than interested. She’s a sheep-llama now. 

Everybody calmed down and no one seems to mind him much anymore but he still spends most of his time pacing along the fenceline as though seeking the way out. This morning was the first time I saw him moving around near sheep with PJ a short distance away. So that has me feeling hopeful that he’ll manage to integrate into our flock on his own time.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lambs One, Dogs and Human Zero

A group of lambs got the better of the dogs and I today.

We were moving the flock and at the exit from the pasture I had Fynn staying well back since the ewes wanted to move and were pouring through the gate on their own.

Several trailing lambs made a last second turn back at the gate rather than follow the others through. This put them on one side of the fence with the flock on the other. The flock was dispersing in the next paddock which drew the lambs even further down the fence line, away from the gate.

Try as we might we could not get those lambs through the gate. We’d get oh-so-close and then have one or two slip back on us. The lambs were certain the way to mom was back the direction they came, not the direction we needed them to go.

Fynn and Cajun (who had been released to help) regathered them repeatedly getting more tired by the moment while I grew more frustrated. It was a bit of a gong show really, probably made more so by the fact that there was two dogs.

We still had a lot of work ahead of us so I called it quits. Lambs do not act like ewes and they have little worry of the dogs. I’m beginning to really dislike working them.

So I was glad to leave them. ‘To hell with them’ was my exact thought at the time.

We caught up with the flock, regrouped the ewes and continued to move them along. This move was over half a mile and I chose Cajun to hang at the back of the flock with me, driving the flock toward the yard. The ewes had a familiar trail to follow which helped us a great deal. It was lovely and simple driving work for Cajun. He wore from side to side keeping animals tucked in and traveling.

We penned the flock in a paddock near the yard and Allen and I decided to go back for the lambs. We took a few portable panels and two extra large dog crates with us.

Back at the pasture we set up a small pen. Cajun took the initiative and left on an outrun to start gathering the renegade lambs. He astounded me with his outrun and his work, showing distance and incredible patience but almost too much so. He had the lambs well gathered but was reluctant to push, perhaps aware they would squirt at any moment. After too long of only creeping forward I sent Jayde. She provided adequate push and brought the lambs forward.

As the lambs approached the pen it was me at the rear, Jayde and Cajun covering the side and Allen near the top ready to swing the panel shut. Yep, it took four of us.

Nonetheless, the beauty of the moment was that Jayde and Cajun seemed to realize the goal and that caution was needed. Each dog inched forward as requested and held their spot.  Oh so slowly and almost picture perfect, we penned those pesky lambs. Once penned, we caught and loaded them into the dog crates and drove them to the flock.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Guardian Pups First Half Day on Pasture

With an empty and sunny afternoon in front of me I elected to take Whiskey and Diesel out to pasture.

I loaded them on the Ranger and away we went. I took the camera and my sketch book along.  For the first hour I followed the pups around on foot and with the camera. They travel in a loop and we end up back near the Ranger again.

The following is a photo summary from the afternoon.  Warning - lots of pictures and I can't figure out how to lay them side by side in Blogger, even when made a smaller size. 

One interesting occurrence was the reaction of the sheep to the pups. It was different than when they met the adults. The sheep move away from the pups, they become curious but keep their distance. I'm not sure if it's due to the fact that these are puppies or due to the fact that these two are fawn in color with dark faces which my flock has not encountered before.

Pups are dropped off at first group of sheep

Meeting Oakley (again)

Stopping to cool off in a slough

Whiskey follows a sheep trail

Meeting Lady (again)

Near second group of sheep

Crowd of curious onlookers

Discovering PJ, the llama

And realizing she's for real

Meeting Lucas (again)
 They did meet Glory, however those photos were too blurry.

Traveling with Oakley and the flock

Whiskey following the flock

Whiskey being followed

Diesel sits down to rest

They meet the cows (first time)

Contemplating the future job perhaps

I sketch while I wait and watch

Diesel comes over to see what's up

After we're back at the Ranger I take a seat to watch for awhile.  Whiskey saunters off toward the sheep and other dogs. Diesel hangs around the Ranger. Shortly after the last picture both pups fell sound asleep nearby.

I remained and did some drawing until close to supper time and then I drove away. Neither pup followed. I returned after supper, retrieved the pups and took them back home to spend the night with Willow and the yearlings.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Preparing for Sheep Camp Begins

We are hosting a four day day stock dog camp in late August and sheep preparations have begun.

I've been working the stock dogs early each morning, taking advantage of the cooler AM temperatures.  To date I have worked a group of yearling ewe lambs we seperated in late spring. We have worked our way through this group and they are now all well dogged and I'm through with putting my dogs on them. After awhile dogged sheep don't help you or your dog.

Now that we have a new group of yearlings nearby, the work is exciting again. The sheep are lighter and the dogs are enjoying that. We'll work our way through this group, training on them as a group at first, then pairing them down into smaller groups and working them in the pens etc. The goal is to have some medium dogged sheep for camp.

Other plans include organizing where the guardian pups will be placed while we use their sheep for four days. Then figuring out what to do with the bummer bottle lambs still hanging around. And the logistics of conducting large flock work during camp which would be a highlight. But for now, I'm going to enjoy working these light sheep.