End of A Year

Rams are out with the ewes. The subsequent lambing time is noted on the 2012 calendar.

We selected a small group of prime ewes and placed them with the three new maternal breed ram lambs to build our replacement ewe flock from. The main breeding group is with the cross bred rams for growing market lambs. Ewe lambs are separate from everyone else so that they don't get bred. Sheep and dogs are settled into the winter time routine. The two cows are bred, the two calves are growing well. The bull is content with his little group. Plans for new chicks to arrive in the spring are in place.

Writing it all down, it sounds like I know what I am doing and have it all under control. Yet ranching with nature in mind has taught me that more things are out of our control than are in it. And I am learning that this is precisely the way it should be.

Because being in control is not my purpose.

My purpose is to go with the flow of my instincts and desires, rather than struggle against them. And if I were one to make New Years Wishes they would be along these lines:

To listen to the nudges, respect the gut, and embrace the fear.

Then to act in a manner that will move me in the direction I desire, yet not be attached to the outcomes. 

To let life be deliciously out of control and appreciate the freedom that comes with it.

Happy New Year Everyone

Breeding Plans

The rams will go out with the ewes this week. After a month of ewes traipsing along the fence line the rams will welcome the open gate opportunity. :)

With pasture lambing in Saskatchewan there is a relatively small window of opportune time. I would love to lamb in early May, however, we have experienced two years of terrible weather at that time and have become gun shy. So once again we will aim for lambing to start during the last week of May.

While we don't want to lamb too early due to cold spring weather we also feel there is a point that is too late for breeding and the number of ewes who will catch with a lamb will decrease if we hold off too long.

The final consideration on lambing is somewhat trivial but is still taken into account. We host stock dog clinics in mid May and it certainly goes smoother if we are not into the full swing of lambing at the same time. 

One of My Favorite Things

Last week Jayde moved several hundred sheep so that we could sort ewe lambs out.

Tonight she moved two ewes back to the night pen. Breeding time is very close and every evening there are ewes lounging on the opposite side of the fence from the rams. Every evening Jayde pushes them off and back to the night pen before dark.

In between last week and tonight she has worked various numbers of sheep and sometimes cows too. Sometimes the work is simple, sometimes it is challenging.

This is what I love about dogs and ranch work.  It reminds me to admire my dogs for who they are rather than judging them for how good I think they should be.  It gives me encouragement that both them and I are very capable of good work. It reminds me that belittling their abilities or my own, under the guise that they are just ranch dogs and not trial dogs is completely fruitless. The dogs love to work and the label they work under is entirely unnoticed by them.  This is what it is all about.

Christmas Greetings

Merry Christmas to all the blog readers out there. 

As it is with all creatures, may your hearts be light and every moment full of presence and intention.

Winter Begins

Today we appreciate the first day of winter. Our shortest day of the year has passed.

Although it means we’ll be heading into our coldest months of the year it also means our daylight hours will begin to lengthen again.

With each new day the sun will rise a moment earlier and set a moment later. The extension of daylight marks a great turning point for me. After watching the landscape die off and go into its dormant state, it marks the first step of moving back toward a living state.

In my mind spring suddenly seems not so far off.

Ewe Lambs

We seperated the ewe lambs from the flock yesterday. Among the group of them are two who were not yet weaned off of the ewe. These two raised a bit of a fuss, calling for moms. The rest were naturally weaned so the separation causes them little concern.

We have opted not to breed our ewe lambs except for a few particularly larger ones. The rams will be going out with the ewes soon thus the ewe lambs needed to be seperated.

We retained all our ewe lambs this year. We will let them grow up here and if we discover there are some that we do not like we can revisit that in the springtime and decide to sell then. Right now I am pretty pleased with our group.

Since the ewe lambs will not be bred they are the group of sheep that I use for stock dog training. So they do earn their keep, just in another manner. The dogs and I will lightly work this group over the winter. Next summer, at which time the lambs will be yearlings, they will be used in training clinics.

Cats and Muskrats

Oliver thought he should check out the rodent crossing the yard. He moved in every so patiently and said rodent seemed oblivious to his approach, although I highly doubt that was the case.

I wonder if Oliver was feeling lucky to so easily sneak up on this catch of the day.

Muskrats come by their mean streak honestly and this fellow was no exception. If you remember it was a muskrat that we thought was responsible for wounds to Oakleys face this fall.

Oliver changed his tune about having this rodent for lunch but what was remarkable was how the two interacted afterward. The muskrat knew he wasn't somebodies lunch and continued leisurely on his way. No concern about the cat who followed him everywhere.

And since he wasn't going to tackle this rodent, Oliver seemed to take on a curiosity about it. He followed the muskrat through the yard until it left.



I don't post very often about PJ and Cheerio as I do tend to forget about mentioning them, such is the way they seamlessly blend in here.

PJ and Cheerio are llamas. PJ has been here for a long time, even before most of the guard dogs arrived on the scene. She seems to receive automatic acceptance from them. Cheerio, who arrived this summer, is still an outcast trying to figure out where he fits in. The pack doesn't want him to be with the flock.

Even though, in our larger open pastures, the guard dogs are more effective predator control animals, PJ and Cheerio do provide lookout duty. They are alert during the day and make all sorts of chirps and whinnies and the sheep learn to crowd around them.

PJ is always with the flock and on numerous occasions she has led the flock in or out of a paddock or the barn. Sometimes the sheep even wait for her, not going anywhere until they see what PJ does. Right now, she is always first one tucked out of the winter wind and bedded down in the night paddock.

The llamas use the threat of spitting very well. If feeling crowded by pushy ewe's PJ will drop her head, put her nose in a ewes face and 'ppfftt'.  She never seems to actually spit but it's highly effective in making sheep move away (works on dogs too and people).

We never set out to get llamas and both of these were free offers. We're not entirely sure why we have them but they do add a lovely character to the place.

Intuitive Masters

One thing I have learned through observing groups of dogs is that pack dynamics are never static, they are dynamic and constantly shifting.

The alpha will not be the alpha in all situations. Nor will they always be the alpha.

New dogs arriving while current dogs grow older guarantees constant adjustment on everyone's part.

Pups are always in limbo, not always secure in how or where they fit in.

There are some dogs who seek to rock the boat as much as possible and some who are so quiet as to hardly be noticed by the other members. 

Dogs you think will make a stand may surprise you by quietly turning away.

And dogs you think will never cause trouble stand up one day and cause a whole pot of it.

Dogs can be all these characters because dogs are masters at intuitively assimilating every situation. Within a pack they do it all the time. If we utilized even half of their ability (and we do have the same ability) it would change us. 

This is one remarkable element of dogs that I crave more of. It isn't only training them that pushes my envelope, but to absorb that intuitive ability they so eloquently display every time I watch them.


I spent some time today winterizing the Ranger.

This has nothing to do with new tires or a cab or even a windshield to help keep me warmer while riding. But it did include a crate in the back to make the dogs more comfortable.

The kennel is wrapped with a wool blanket inside. It's wrapped to keep the wind off the dog while riding. The dogs typically ride chained in the back but it's getting colder for them to ride that way. I can dress in many layers for riding - them, not so much.

Two kennels fit perfectly side by side but I needed room for other stuff and right now I only take one dog with me (the spare dog gets too cold waiting or maybe I just have wimpy dogs).

A few bags of old seed and a bag of livestock salt are packed on either side of the kennel. These are needed for weight since we use the Ranger to unroll bales. The salt is distributed as needed and replenished with another bag as needed.

Pins for the bale un-roller lie in the back or in the storage box along with Allens' homemade tool for cutting bale twines.

A pitchfork rides behind the seat. It is used to peel layers of hay on bales that prove difficult to roll out freely on their own.

And finally a short handled crook tucks in perfectly at the foot of the kennel. I always like to carry one when working dogs.

Cajun and I made an inaugural trip this afternoon and he isn't as happy riding in a kennel and not seeing where he's going, but once he was in and out a couple times to work sheep he figured it was okay to load up and ride in the crate.

Winter Feeding On Pasture

It is easy to lose track of our goals for grass management in a climate where we don't see grass for five months of the year, but seeing livestock feeding outdoors, at a long swath of hay, and the resulting residue spread all around, reminds me of why we do it.

While bale grazing is a very workable solution to feeding without a tractor, which we relied on for several years, it does leave a thicker pile of residue. Rolling the hay feed out with our bale unroller allows for easier and cleaner access for the animals, more efficient cleanup and better distribution of residue. With more animals it is also easier for each one to gain good access to the feed.

I like how this looks.

There are a host of reasons that we are so fond of feeding in this manner.

Winter feeding out on pasture keeps the manure where it is needed. Throughout the winter, via the animals, we are spreading a blend of residue (future organic matter) and fertilizer which will be naturally incorporated into the soil during the following growing season.

We take the sheep to the feed rather than taking feed to the sheep. Because the animals travel back and forth for feed and water, we are exercising our animals rather than exercising equipment we'd have to go into debt to purchase in the first place.

The Ranger (our equipment) is still needed but we drive out and back once versus two or three trips each morning that we'd have to do if we were hauling feed to animals.

Although soil compaction is less of a concern during our winters, the Ranger causes far less compaction than heavy equipment loaded with a bale of feed would.

Unrolling the feed is far less labour intensive than forking with a pitch fork and rolling small cores out manually is, and the time spent feeding a large flock is almost cut in half.

Yet despite all these management benefits, the greatest benefit is the mere satisfaction I feel at being witness to the processes.

Wholesome Days

One of the many blessings of my country life with livestock on the prairies is that nine times out of ten I am outside in the morning to see the sunrise and again in the evening to see it set.

Not only do I witness this unhindered view Mother Nature presents on a regular basis but I partake of it amidst the earthly, natural sounds of each season. And thus my days are marked and tallied. 

On this winter morning the sunrise was enveloped in silence and stillness. No sounds, not even the birds, no wind. For a brief moment my breath and the breath of nature were in sync.

Somehow I feel more whole on these days.

Seamless Connections

Doing chores with a dog is part and parcel of what we do here. Often there is no goal other than bringing sheep home and no one is watching. After awhile it starts to feel less than special. It's just what we do. Hence it's easy to get sloppy and let old habits slide into the working routine.  

Jayde was the dog on duty for the gather tonight and I've been trying to pay attention to setting her up better before I send her as she has been going pretty flat on her gathers lately. In our rolling hills pasture the dogs do need to go wide enough to see sheep they don't necessarily see when waiting on the ground beside me. If they have a good start chances are they'll do better at collecting the sheep. 

Sometimes the lay of the land and the ability to go with the flow also determine what happens. The field where the sheep are eating is turning out to be a great field to work in. 

Tonight a very long slough bed plus the cows drawing the sheep along, gave us an unforeseen opportunity to do a long cross-drive (something I never purposely train my dogs to do) with Jayde and I on opposite hillsides, the slough bed between us. It was glorious and it seemed to happen effortlessly - just a girl and her dog bringing home sheep.

I've stored the feeling in my memory and in my heart, for use the next time when all my planning and clinging to expectations get in the way of the seamless connection I know exists because I'm blessed to have working dogs at my side.

Cows Rejoin the Flock

As the grazing becomes tougher, the hay feed becomes the easier feed. The ewes have caught on to the bale un-roller. Before we get the roller hooked up, and the twines cut on the first bale the ewes have arrived and are waiting for the feed to unroll.  Having the whole flock congregate where feed is being rolled out makes life easier for the guardian dogs.

The cows are once again back with the flock. They were pulled out late in the summer when the then new guardian dogs decided cows didn’t belong with sheep. The dogs kept the cows seperated all the time. We didn’t have the time to monitor the dogs so we sent the cows to be with the rams for the remainder of the season.  Here they were with Willow, who easily accepts every creature we put with her. So the cows had a chance to stay with a dog who didn't harass them.

Now, since we’re on pasture for more than an hour in the morning to roll out feed, we can keep an eye on the other five dogs and correct any unwanted behavior toward the cows. We can do the same when traveling back and forth and when everyone comes together again at night. After being corrected a few times Lady has decided it’s safer to pretend the cows don’t exist, although it hasn't changed her mind about liking them.  The other four dogs already seem to be more accepting and Whiskey and Diesel have been calmly investigating the cows up close. 

Just sheep for me.....thanks

Kelpie Tolerance

The border collies, Fynn and Jayde, will not tolerate this type of behavior from a young pup but Cajun tolerates all sorts of things from this little fellow.

He tolerates the innocently rude puppy behavior.

He shares his bones with the puppy (something he would not do with any other dog)...

he shares his sleeping space...

they play constantly, inside and outside.

It’s an unexpected, amazing quality for a dog who can be such an ass in a lot of other situations.

Sheep Full Days

The last couple days were full of sheep; well more so than usual anyway.

Wednesday we were on the road. We traveled Southward to pick up a few new ram lambs and enjoyed a most wonderful visit with some fellow sheep, dog and critter loving people.  Dogs, ducks, rabbits, highland cows, miniature horses and pigs were among the assorted critters there.

Thursday we spent the morning sorting sheep in preparation to sell some ewes.  I employed the two border collies, Jayde and Fynn, for the mornings work of moving sheep around but left Cajun out of the festivities. He wasn’t too pleased with that arrangement but I’m being very selective about the work I give him right now.  Tonight he was back out with me on pasture doing some gathers.

Allen is putting a front end wall on our shearing shed/barn and has it about half finished. The remainder of the front end wall will be the same canvas material, custom cut to fit.

Sorting the sheep meant finding out how the animals moved in and out of the building with the new half-wall and door there. With several hundred animals it matters a good deal how the flow works. It caused no issues; the sheep filed in without too much trouble.

Our shed is a very long and narrow space but nonetheless with the front wall finished I’m looking forward to using the covered space this winter.

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