Friday, September 30, 2011

Dog Day of Disaster

Cajun and Jayde and I brought the flock in from pasture in order to sort sale lambs. We brought the flock through the yard paddocks and filed them into the barn with relative ease for packing seven hundred animals into a barn. We even started them through the race for sorting with little trouble.


And then the day slowly dissolved from there.

We discovered a ram was in with the ewes. I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess what string of curses we conjured up at the sight of him in there. They were very silent, deadly ones. That ram is lucky he still has nuts.

Then we had one of our worst times working the flock yet. There were all sorts of not-right pieces that led to this conundrum of a day and my brain has been uselessly working overtime trying to sort them out. It was one of those days that makes one want to quit right now. I am even contemplating giving up with working dogs so I know it was a rough day.

The sheep were not willing to move up to the race at all. It was the same set up we used last week with pretty good success but this time proved how every time is a very different scenario to the animals.

Jade and Cajun were holding the back of the flock and seemed to be losing ground. I kept going back to encourage and help but this was just not going well. We were about 3/4 of the way through the sort when the remaining animals piled together, heads to the center. The dogs circled several times, not sure what to do. This encouraged the sheep to pile even tighter. We tried in vain to peel animals from the edge of the group and get them to go somewhere, anywhere.

Allen and I decided to pull panels together and make a tighter pen, holding the animals close to the race entrance. The dogs were inside the tight pen and this was my big mistake. That packed group of sheep didn’t have a lot of room to move but they had enough. They moved like a giant cotton ball, even going over top of the dogs. Cajun managed to stay up and out of the way but Jayde was caught underneath or maybe she went there voluntarily to avoid getting crushed against the panels, I’m not sure. She sure looked relieved when I ran around to rescue her.

In the next instant of insanity a few ewes broke and blasted down the race, Cajun in such hot, angry pursuit he got in between and was rolled in the race. It was ugly.

A smarter person may have pulled the dogs out at that point but I didn’t. Me and those two dogs kept trying and trying to make sheep move. I wished desperately to give those two dogs some success, but I couldn’t make it happen. The sheep won. 

Jayde kept on working, although tentatively but Cajun lost his confidence and push. His confidence was iffy previous to this so it was heartbreaking to seem him fall apart because I put him in a tough work situation. The dogs had been slowly losing the battle since we started and it culminated in a bad no-win situation. Jayde later proved she still had guts aplenty when we had to move ewes who were determined to stay on the fence line calling to their lambs. She made them all leave and march back out to pasture. But it seems it will be a long, uphill climb for young Cajun.

My imagination is grand and does not slow down to filter positive from negative imaginings. In one instant of an afternoon I had a traffic jam of never ending ill-fated thoughts scrambling around in my head.

What if this dog doesn’t have what it takes? Is my dog ruined?
I can’t let anybody know he can’t move his sheep; that he’s afraid to now.
Is it just a bad day and for this one time the sheep beat us?
I can’t get rid of Cajun, but I can’t keep a dog that won’t work, so what on earth will I do?
Have we gone overboard? Can I get his confidence back? How do I do that?
I totally misread this dog. I’ve put too much obedience over his instinct. Will his instinct come back?
He used to be so forceful I thought I might not handle him? How did I manage to squash that?
What happened? Where did it go wrong?

I desperately need to get my confidence and my working dog back.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

LGD's and Encounters with Critters

Oakley greeted us yesterday morning looking a little off-color. He was.



Judging from the grey filth in his coat and the scratches on his face we figure he tangled with a muskrat (a large slough rat that looks like a miniature beaver). We’re not sure who won, but the muskrat sure did get a few scratches in.


The muskrat is not a nice creature to encounter. They’re not really large but they’re fierce little rodents. The dogs do kill them and the pups have already found them out and done so.

The dogs encounter various critters on the job including skunks, muskrats, porcupine, badgers, ravens, crows, deer and coyote. They hunt for mice and vole regularly.

Even though we were thinking a muskrat was the culprit of Oakley’s minor wounds we went in search of all the other dogs just to make sure that it was not another dog fight. Every one else is clean and unscathed. Today Oakley is already looking cleaner and well recovered from his little incident, although I suspect he'll return to muskrat hunting with a personal vengeance.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Self Article

I was asked to write an article describing our operation for an agriculture publication that is not published where I live!

There is always a little thrill that comes with being asked to share what you do. And then comes the tricky part of being the doer and presenting what you do via the written word... in a manner that sounds appealing while trying not to come across as elitist.

Indeed, it’s a dicey thing to write about your own operation. It’s easier for me to share via blog posts because I’m sharing me. I can do so a bit of every day and thus build a story of who we are over time.

In an article summarizing your ranch or farm, your bias toward your method of farming will obviously shine through, as it should I suppose. I mean, that’s kind of why you’re being asked to share. Yet it’s tricky to write and not sound superior about it.

Natural, grass ranching works for us. But I do feel that the world is far too diverse for there to be only one way to do something.  Feeling the contrast of the various farming methods simply assures me of why this way works for me. Hhmm, I guess in turn, my article may just do the same for others.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last Event of the Season

Tomorrow I’m hosting a herding instinct test for a small group of people. It’s the last event for the season.

There were so many good moments packed into this summer of stock dogs and so many encouraging people.

I experienced a good number of revelations and great strides with my dogs this year and I want that to continue as long as it can. The continuation is often easier when it can be shared with others.

Because Allen works away, I spend half the time alone here on the ranch. That’s a lot of time to one’s self. Hosting events and having people come out for herding is a social element I’m dearly in need of in my life.

Without regular infusions of herding with other people continuing to work my own dogs eventually becomes a motivational struggle. I’ve given up making promises to myself that this time it will be different.

But I’m jumping the gun. There is still a whole fall season in front of me. Fall is often the perfect time for working dogs. The workload slows, the weather cools and a relaxed patience seems to weave it’s way back into the fabric of life on the ranch. It’s a good time to enjoy living and working dogs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ram Lambs

These two ram lambs remind me not to become too complacent with assuming all sheep are docile beings.

I watched these two jostle each other around on this small rock pile for about fifteen minutes. A couple other lambs joined them and then left. These two continued on.




Ouch!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Full Mornings Work

We brought the flock to the yard today so that we could weigh the lambs and find out what we have. With this information we can prepare for upcoming fall sales.

With our medium sized crossbred ewes our lambs are smaller than previous crossbred lambs we’ve run in the past. Our average weight was 85 pounds. We’re still happy with that for a June lambing and coming right off pasture.

Even though all we were doing was weighing lambs there was seven hundred animals to deal with so it took all morning.

Cajun helped collect pockets of animals on pasture, bringing them all together, and with pushing the flock in to the shearing shed. He did a couple really nice gathers, even despite the tall grass.

He did the first half of the mornings work keeping the flock collected and moving toward the race. It was a long morning though and I put Jayde in to join him about half way through. Jayde was certainly more than pleased and she benefits from having large flock work to do.

I was hoping to get Cajun working along the outside of the race, learning how to cause forward movement, but the way things were moving I didn’t have a lot of time to work with him up there. Nor did I have a lot of moments to take pictures. I did manage a couple short videos though.

There was some really great moments of stock work exhibited by the dogs and yet, crazily enough, I got hung up on the not so great ones. That is, until I sat down to write this post and I thought ‘wow, two dogs just helped us accomplish a very full mornings work on seven hundred animals.’ Working this many animals was a first for all of us.

Holding the last couple hundred animals

Monday, September 19, 2011

Natural Weaning

Natural weaning is taking place in the flock. All summer long the ewes and lambs are bleating back and forth and with a few hundred ewes plus their lambs it sounds pretty noisy. These days the animals are quieter. Usually the only ones bleating are lambs. Ewes are not answering back. There is far less sucking happening and if a lamb does get to an udder the ewe walks away.

I know there are reasons to wean lambs earlier than happens naturally but these reasons don’t hold enough weight with me. We are in no rush here. Our lambs gain weight at a good enough pace staying on mom and with good grass at their feet. In fact our pasture raised lambs surprise most people.

Beyond a certain time the ewe’s milk is not providing much feed value to the lamb but the ewe and lamb bond remains. Ewes teach their lambs a lot about living on pasture. We keep replacement ewe lambs and one factor that matters to us is that we have a flock, not just a group of sheep. Hierarchy among the members is also being established. These are important features that are not measurable like weight gain is. And I feel they are often overlooked in favour of weaning a lamb and feeding it concentrates with the hopes of it reaching market weight sooner.

We’re not on an accelerated lambing program either. We still have three months for ewes to recoup in condition prior to breeding. However, it doesn’t appear that many of our ewes need recouping. If anything they need some feed restriction!

If we weaned lambs we’d have to run two pasture groups. To some extent we’re lazy and we really like it if this flock works for us rather than us working for the flock. Keeping the mob together and utilizing those benefits also suits the purpose of grazing and land stewardship.

In summary, I guess I just don’t see the need to alter what nature’s got in place for us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Logo Impromptu Style

They're not the best photos but maybe this could be the start of a new logo design for Dog Tale Ranch.



I did not set these photos up. I did have my camera along on our walk though, so when Jayde dropped her toy of the day, hoping that I might throw it, I frantically pulled the camera out of its pouch. The toy had even landed that way. All I had to do was get the picture.

There was no need to hurry. Jayde was glued to the spot until I made a move for the toy and Fynn was rooted to his spot until Jayde made a move.

Cajun wasn't rooted anywhere. He was far less patient and the one shot I did miss was the one of him coming forward and snatching up the toy.  

And just like some of our real time on sheep, the moment was lost.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guardian Dog Update

It’s been awhile since I have posted about the guardian dog pack. My only excuse is that it takes some time to sit and write things out.

Food For Seven




 So where are we at?



 Well, still at seven dogs.




Diesel and Whiskey are six months old. They are about half the size of the adults or better. From the yard we occasionally hear them scrap as they sort out their puppy differences.

Knowing that I bring food twice a day they are usually the first two to greet me upon arrival. They are pushy when greeting and anticipating food so they have to show some patience before being fed.  We can feed all the dogs close together without issues, as they all know who controls the food. I’d like it to remain that way for the sake of pack stability and ease of feeding dogs on pasture.

Six Months
At Nine Weeks
As much as they like to meet us on pasture they never follow us out. Even if near an open gate they will respect that boundary. I’m very pleased with this.

They are often hanging out around the water bus so I think they have established that as a home base.

Observing for an hour out on pasture yesterday morning revealed that Glory is the instigator in chasing Cheerio, the llama, away from the sheep. The pups join in, however, on their own they don’t do the chasing. I’m positive this was the same case with the cows earlier. Glory is one serious guard dog and takes no intruders lightly.

The mighty Oak is often seen running with the pups and enjoying himself. Whiskey and Diesel seem to follow Oakley around a lot.

Oakley

Lady is as sweet and shy as always, although she now comes forward seeking a bit of attention on each visit. Glory watches her closely and seems to make sure Lady knows who is alpha female in the dog pack.

Lucas was the male dog who was injured in a pack fight which took place during sheep camp. He spent a few days in a dog run, healing up and then was placed in paddocks near the yard along with Willow. He was still with sheep but did not have a lot of territory to monitor or work to do. He subsequently hurt his hind leg trying to go over the fence and return to pasture.

He still favors that leg but otherwise is well along the path to full recovery. Yesterday I took him back out to pasture. He whined and pranced at the gate. He made his way from one end of 80 acres to the other. He met the other five dogs along the way. The greeting between him and Lady seemed particularly exciting for both of them.

Willow remains the outcast. She stays with the yearling ewe lambs that I have near the yard for dog training. We have not tried re-introducing her to the pasture pack since Glory ran her out in the winter.

Willow
My understanding of the substance of working dogs used to be limited to stock dogs but the spirit of these guardian dogs is something else. The working dog world is a fascinating one, full of endless learning.

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's All Good Until It Isn't

A short burst of cold moved in and resulted in our first hard frost. This definitely shortened our growing season this year. It was only in May that we had our last frost of the spring.

Our daylight hours are also shortening. I love the fall season although the shorter days always take me the longest time to get used to. Each evening I find myself barely finishing chores before it gets dark out. I refilled the water bus this evening and returned to the yard in the dark, yet it felt like I should have at least an hour left to work the dogs. Not so.

So I was glad I had worked the dogs earlier in the day, although it didn’t go so well. All of us ended up frustrated. I am often perplexed at how working dogs can go so smoothly and then just doesn’t. How making it too technical gets in the way of making it flow.

The frustration carried over into the evening when I enlisted Cajun’s help in attempting to catch a thin ewe.  Ewes on pasture are often more worried about us than they are the dogs. The ewe had her lamb with her, which is the only thing Cajun seemed to focus on. Each time I tried to get close enough to catch her, the ewe and lamb broke away.  Thin or not the ewe had enough energy to evade us. Cajun repeatedly covered them but finally lost patience and went for the lamb, gripped and cut her face.

Cajun and I seem to work like that, all smooth and lovely most of the time, and then it goes south, and when it does it’s usually ugly. Then I expend far too much energy incessantly pondering how many ways I mis-read the myriad of situations that happened out there. This gets me no-where but my mind insists on trying to solve it before next time. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In The Name of Progress

“Don’t it always seem to go
that we don’t know what we’ve got til it’s gone...”

...plow prairie land to put in a little more crop.

Yesterday I witnessed two things that made my heart sink just a little.

The last piece of native prairie on a neighboring quarter of land has been plowed under,

and several more miles away, but still too close to home, is a new potash mine shaft. 

I can comprehend that these things are done in the name of progress and I’ve benefited from a lot of progress in recent years, but I’m not sure I’ll ever understand these things.

I can’t ignore the heart sinking feeling every time I see that piece of native prairie ripped up. Never to return to that state.  Many native prairie grasses now lost and so many ecological alterations that will take place because of that one decision. 

And I just can’t get excited about another potash mine.

Perhaps there will come a day when we’ll be in a position to directly benefit from such practices and perhaps then I’ll sing a different tune, although I doubt it.  But regardless, today is not that day, so I lament the loss of native prairie land and the gain of a potash mine.


Monday, September 12, 2011

A Small Plan For Wool

Was set astray by a kelpie.

We have two cats and each year I vow the cats shall spend more time outside than in. Cleaning litter boxes for cats who have access to plenty of the great outdoors really irks me. 


To make kicking kitty outdoors each day easier on my conscious I dug out an old, well used two story kitty condo, lined it well with raw wool and set it on the deck next to the house. A felted, thick wool cozy would have worked better but the point is that as summer peels into fall, the cats will have a cozy hideout.









Less than twenty minutes later and thanks to Cajun, it looked like this.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Without Them This Life Wouldn't Be So Grand

Now and again I catch myself downplaying the work me and my dogs do, thinking it’s just farm work, nothing fancy here - and there honestly isn’t. I read the blogs of people who trial and often find myself making comparisons to the trialing world and well, we sure aren’t doing that.

Then for some unknown reason I take notice of regular days like today and my perspective shifts again. 

Today began early and with Cajun doing an outrun down the driveway to push a wayward ditch-grazing lamb back through the fence and with the flock where he belonged.

Shortly after this Cajun turned and pushed back a long line of ewes and lambs who followed the water bus in early anticipation of a move to new grass.

Late in the morning I asked for his help to collect and move a couple hundred ewes and lambs from their shady resting spot to make sure they joined the rest of the flock, now moving to a new paddock.

In the afternoon he got to hang out and be a dog.

In the evening he gathered four yearling ewe lambs from one side of the fence while Jayde (working on her own) gathered the rest of the group on the other side, to rejoin them together. Then we moved the complete group to a newly opened gate and out to pasture.

Today all the same old, ordinary pieces fell into place once again and the dogs worked seamlessly. Only this day, I realized that trial dog or no trial dog, without them, this lifestyle wouldn’t be so grand.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Surrounding Harvest

Harvest is in full swing all around us. There are swathers and combines almost every direction you look, more truck traffic on the roads and dust in the air.

I’m so glad I’m a grass farmer.

I do not miss crop farming at all, which feels odd to say since I grew up on a livestock forbidden, Saskatchewan grain farm, fully immersed in harvest, year after year. My parents land was too good to run cows on. As a teenager I did swathing, harrowing and trucking grain.

I keep expecting some nostalgic, childhood, grain farming memory to seep in and lure me back to my harvest roots. But it doesn’t happen.  And in a tiny way I feel like a traitor to my childhood.

Yet I watch the farming hustle around me and I am glad not to be a part of this aspect of Saskatchewan agriculture.

I have no doubt that I’m happier with sheep and dogs than I am with equipment and harvest rush.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Working Dog Yard

After sheep camp I pared down the group of yearling sheep I had at hand for dog training, taking the majority of them back out to pasture. I kept 20 light sheep for my own training purposes.

The other reason for paring down the group was the lack of grass in the paddocks that are most handy for training. It’s one drawback of keeping sheep in the area all summer. The grass can’t keep up to constant grazing.



Yesterday I moved the twenty sheep into the dog yard for a day of grazing (it’s a big dog yard). There are no paddocks in our yard so it’s the one and only time I have sheep right outside the house.



So I worked dogs in my back yard. Allen caught this picture of Jayde and I walking in after working on off balance flanks, something a smaller area lends itself well to. 


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Journey's After Taste

The past three weeks have been a fabulous personal journey with stock dogs.

A week before sheep camp and for the first time in a few years, I took in my first away clinic. Following this was hosting people and dogs for five days of camp and trials.  Immediately following sheep camp I was able to get away at the last minute, to another clinic in Alberta.

Doing so stretched me and my dogs in a way we needed to be stretched. It was fabulous and I had many affirmations about myself and my dogs, as well as great learning and growth.

The most admiring after taste of the journey were the people and dog pairs I came across and how each one fed a continuing recognition that I am where I am, and at every moment I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 
 
photo courtesy of Cathy Bishop
Dogs have brought me to this place and it is fabulous to exist here.

This is the reason I love dogs.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Stock Dog Momentum and LGD's

I’m continuing with the momentum of working dogs and heading off to another stock dog clinic that I was able to get into last minute. It’s been a dream-like month, with all this working stock dog stuff happening.

Out on pasture with the LGD’s though, there has been a couple of bobbles.

There was a serious fight and while we can speculate on what it may have been about, we’ll never know.

Lucas came out on the loosing end. After a trip to the vet’s he’s now up near the yard with Willow, recovering from a few deep puncture wounds. He’ll be just fine and he will return to the pack once he’s fully recovered. Glory has a slash on her ear.  Every one else is unscathed.

The second bobble is that Whiskey and Diesel have added to the packs dislike of the cows. This was a mistake on our part - 100%. The adult dogs were being very decent with the cows thus far, with the two recently acquired adults (Lady and Lucas) only occasionally barking at them (and being corrected for that).

We only have a handful of cattle and Whiskey and Diesel were not exposed to them early on. I had hopes that they would become accepting of the cows once on pasture since they are still quite young.

The opposite happened. They seem to have encouraged Lucas and Lady to further their dislike of cows and last week I saw the whole group of dogs charge the cows. And sure enough the cows began to show up on the wrong side of the fence.

For now, the cows have been moved out and are on the same pasture as the rams and the horses. When we have time to manage it we’ll try re-introductions and training a few dogs to respect bovines.