A Little Piece of Winter Work

With the extended cold weather I was growing more and more nervous about the ewe flock on pasture having to rely on snow for water. We decided to leave gates open so they can come and go to the water bowl near the yard. They have to walk to get to it but that’s alright, the exercise is good for them.

For three of four days we will lead them to the water bowl and allow them to walk back to pasture on their own to show them they can come up for water and get back to feed. 

Allen and Cajun did the work yesterday, and today was my turn. The sun was shining and I managed a few good photos along the way, which is rare when I’m preoccupied with moving the flock with a dog.

Cajun has gathered and turned the mob my direction and we’re heading off.  Lady is in front, leading as she often is. The black blob on the right is Cajun heading to check the back and far side of the mob again.


Coming through the first gate. I have been trying to get a good Where’s Waldo photo for some time: This one is pretty decent. In this case it’s Oakley.


I’m usually walking at the front of the flock but have fallen to the back because I kept stopping to take photos.


The flock heads over the hill and to the water bowl. As they pick up speed and get further ahead Cajun heads to the front but gets called back. We leave the ewes here to drink and make their own way back when they're ready. Today it was soon after we walked away. 


Breeding Arrangements

Whew. The last few days have been full ones culminating with yesterdays sort. We don’t do a lot of rearrangement for breeding but with the larger number of sheep there is more than just putting the rams out, which after yesterday, is what I wish we did.

50 odd prime ewes were sorted from the main flock and all the ewes lambs were sorted from the main flock.

Once the ewe lambs were sorted we walked through and selected 25 of the larger lambs for breeding. We have not bred ewe lambs for several years but decided to try breeding some of our largest lambs and see how they handle lambing next summer.

The prime ewes were put together with the 25 ewe lambs.

This sorting created three flocks - the main flock, the prime ewes plus breeding ewe lambs, and the remaining ewe lambs not being bred.
While everyone was in for sorting we also caught and wormed the few thin ewes I was worried about.

Once we had the flock sorting figured out we began sorting the rams. Two of the purebred Clun Forest rams and a handful of ram lambs, were put with the prime ewes and breeding ewe lambs. We put these rams with this group because these rams are all a smaller frame size which is better for the ewe lambs plus I want to have the purebred Cluns in with the prime ewes to retain maternal qualities I like in the Cluns. 

Several mature crossbred adult rams and a few more ram lambs were let out with the main flock.

The main flock and their rams returned to pasture.

The ewe lambs not being bred were moved to a paddock near the yard where they will stay through breeding time. There is no ram with them.

The ewe lambs and prime ewes and their rams were set in the barn paddock with the horses and cows.

Once all the sorting was done we set about getting feed to the various groups. It was a very full day that started at light and ended at dark. Today we did the regular morning feeding and then headed to city for a change of pace and to pick up some very needed food supplies (aka groceries).

Back At It

We have begun the process of hauling hay bales out to the paddock where the main flock is. It is a real chore to get around with all the snow. We have a few more days of hauling to go but on the upside, we likely only have about three months of hay feeding ahead of us.


After a stretch of cold weather, subsequent shorter walks and then a few days of being on the back burner while we enjoyed visiting family and friends, the dogs were acting cabin fevered and needed an outlet for their energy. Today they got it.

Sheep breeding time is here so we have a couple days of sheep work.

This morning all the stock dogs enjoyed racing around in the shearing shed while we set up for sorting.

Later, Jayde brought the rams in and we sorted them; only to realize we have no means of keeping them seperate for the night because the flock is coming through and we don’t have enough paddocks with food and water access. We didn’t want to haul food and water so we put the rams back together and released them! We’ll sort them again after the ewes are done.

We are going to sort the main flock tomorrow so this evening we marched them home and let them settle in with the dogging sheep. Cajun and Gibson did the honours of moving the flock. We brought the sheep around and through the yard so that we could stay on packed trails rather than force them through deep snow to take the shorter route. With Cajun being fresh and Gibson being new to flock work, it was a little rough and raw but it was oh-so-fun to be moving the flock again.

Upon their arrival at the yard the ewes promptly sought out the water bowl and lined up for a drink. Interestingly so did the guardian dogs. I have been taking fresh water out for the dogs but they seldom drank. The guardian dogs don’t know about drinking out of pails I bring to the field, they know troughs and water bowls. 

Merry Chistmas

To All The World's Creatures Great and Small


A Very Merry Christmas to One and All

Winter Frustrations

Today is one of the rare days that I do not like my line of work.

I found a cast ram this evening (cast meaning he was over on his back). He was dead but his body still held a little warmth. Of course he was one of my adult keeper rams and not one of the ones culled. Cast animals are one of those situations that make you think, “if only I had come out about an hour earlier.”

In this case, I was out earlier because I had come out to walk dogs and then work BJ a little bit. During which, BJ split a ewe off, ran it over a hill and to the far side of a large slough where she held it trapped amongst the brush until I caught up. It was while her and I were bringing said single ewe back to the group that I spied the upside down ram in the next paddock.

While I was checking the dead ram out, I noticed a small bit of off white color almost completely out of sight behind a mound of hay. Come to think of it, Finch has been curled up in that very spot for the last day and a half. I walked out to investigate and yep, it was a dead lamb. Its head was downhill and the stomach contents were spilled but frozen there, untouched. There was no usual pulled wool, claw marks or chew marks to indicate the dog did anything but lay down with the animal after it died.

I have been frustratingly unsuccessful in my attempts to catch the three thin ewes out on pasture. While I was trying again tonight I discovered two ewe lambs who have been badly wool plucked and scratched. These are the classic signs that a dog has been harassing an animal. Zeus, the only youngster out with the pasture pack, is my immediate suspect, so he got a ride back to the yard with me tonight. He’s off pasture duty. I put him with Willow and the adult dogging sheep. Should he start harassing them he’ll find himself wearing a dangle object like the one Finch and Lupin are currently wearing to keep them on good behavior.  

Usually I grin and bear the weather for what it is but I think I’d bear this day a little better were it not so damn cold outside, with so much snow to hinder everything I do. It’s been a tough early winter for the animals and in general I’m worried about them.

Sigh, it feels like a week passed in this one day.

To remind myself that it’s not all glum I force myself to think about the upsides of my very rural life with sheep and the Winter season.

I was out working stock dogs today.
Even though there are two animals gone and five to be concerned about, there are several hundred who are doing okay.
The thin ewe in the barn is still with us.
Yes, there are two guardian dogs giving me great frustration but there are eight more doing a good job.
There is a wee Kelpie who is actually sharing my oversize chair as I type this. She is so warm and comforting. 
Yep it’s damn cold out and has been for the past month, but Winter means Christmas and there is something that deeply touched my heart this pre-Christmas weekend:

Out here in this rural nowhere, a neighbour stopped by and left a Christmas Card and a plate full of baking on the doorstep. Sooo unexpected and such a kind and thoughtful gesture that speaks Christmas through and through. We are blessed.

Hay Day

We have one ewe not doing well. Allen caught her tonight and we brought her to the barn. She’s thin and the first assumption with a thin animal is worms. She is one of seventeen ewes we wormed earlier. At that time we used an inject-able Ivomectin product to worm her.

We don’t seem to have much luck with the inject-able worming products. This time we wormed with a drench product instead. We also gave her a dose of antibiotic and settled her with feed and water for the night. She is eating and drinking so I’m hopeful that worms is all it is. There are a couple more ewes that are thin. I’ll have to see how my ewe catching skills are tomorrow.

Our old, little tractor refused to run today so we had to borrow a tractor to feed the handful of animals who are not swath grazing with the flock (rams, runty lambs, cows and horses).

The swath grazing is nearing an end and so we took advantage of having a larger tractor and fed the flock the first feed of hay tonight.

Allen spread the hay around the bush the ewes bed down at. The guardian dogs were the first to arrive and promptly nestled into the hay. Once the first ewes spotted what was happening, word spread rapidly and a steady stream of sheep filed in to check it out. There was no evening gather since everyone was already together investigating the new feed and sleeping accommodations. 

There is enough hay there to hold them for a few days. Meanwhile we have to figure out how we’re going to feed hay with all the early snow we have this year and being without a large tractor to get around. The Ranger won’t be able to roll bales out in the deep snow.  We’ll start next week with loading and hauling bales out to the pasture.

Appreciating What Stock Dogs Do

I needed to get up and stretch after putting in a few hours of artwork today. While I didn’t initially feel like doing so I made myself head out to work BJ and Gibson on a small group of sheep.

At just over a year of age BJ is starting to mature and is now showing a real keenness to work. Although she works so tight I lose her behind the sheep this little dog manages to make me laugh every time. I just can’t stay serious with her, and I love that she has shown me there is a humorous side to working stock dogs.

Tonight, with the weather being more bearable I took Cajun with me when I headed out to the flock. He shivered during the whole ride, due to cold or anticipation, I’m not sure; likely a bit of both. After taking care of the guardian dogs I moved up to send Cajun for a gather. He was riding on the seat beside me and was anxious to go. I stopped and unclipped his lead and let him fly from there. He launched across my lap and hit the ground running. He got onto a sheep trail in the snow and followed it up the hill. The laughter from BJ was still with me; I laughed at him too.

Laughter is transforming and I could use a little of that eagerness myself. I love what these dogs do for me.

A Sunday of Dogs

On Sundays, if it works out, people come out to work dogs together. This Sunday worked out.

With the cold weather the dogs and I haven’t done lot of sheep work and it was lovely to be out again with a dog. Cajun and I brought the lesson sheep in and as we sorted we did a little pen work. I’ve long avoided doing small pen work with Cajun but slowly I’ve been trying a little bit here and there. The lesson sheep were great sheep for us to try with and we were able to enjoy a successful time at pen work.  

I also enjoyed another type of highlight. Being trusted to start another persons dog. I enjoy starting dogs and today was definitely a highlight of doing so. I love the moment a very one sided dog realizes it can travel in a new direction. And the moment the body of an intense, insecure dog relaxes and he realizes he’s perfectly capable. To see a pup turn on and try what it may to move sheep and to see an adult dog settle into work mode. To see the shift in the dogs body and mind and to be a fluid part of that shift myself is so transfixing.

It reminds me that it is not necessarily about having the right dog, it is about doing right by the dog you have.


A Spot of Winter Sunshine

The weather for the past month has been unusually grey and foggy for our province. When the sun shone bright this morning my step was a little lighter as I headed out for the morning routine. I even thought to take the camera with me.

My route to work in the morning :) My vehicle is the Ranger. Yep, it’s a cold ride.


In the next photo I’ve just opened the gate to the paddock where the sheep are grazing. Per usual, there is not a sheep to be seen. Their regular bedding spot is close by and I suspect that’s where they are. They won’t be up yet.


I travel roughly 60-70 feet further into the paddock, just enough for me to see over the knoll on the right. There they are.


It’s alarming how more than five hundred sheep can go unseen in the rolling terrain. I’m in a vehicle; I imagine how much more tough it is for a stock dog to search out sheep in such terrain.
 
I feed dogs and then travel around the bush just to check that everyone is okay. I like this next photo. It’s taken from the right side of the bush on my return.


Ewes go well into the bush to bed down. Also notice the two curved rows of ewes on the left hand side. The ewes are bedded down on the swaths.

Frosty Days

We’ve certainly been dealing with a fair share of cold and grey weather for early winter. Temperatures are around -20 Celsius without much warming up happening during the day. If there is any wind we’re pushing the -25 to -30 range overnight.

I’m thankful the ewes are on the millet swaths as this is providing them plenty of good feed and the paddock they’re on has good shelter areas. The millet has provided a longer time of feeding than we thought it would so that is certainly a blessing through this cold. 

In the mornings it is common to see the head and shoulders of each guardian dog emerge from the midst of the flock as the dogs are bedding down tight with the sheep.  And by the end of our morning walk the Kelpies and Border Collies are all bearing a similar frosted look. 




A Full Snow Day

While the winter solstice has not yet arrived, the amount of snow here would suggest we are knee deep into the winter season.

Today was a full day of snow removal as we are preparing to sell lambs and need to get a truck and livestock trailer through the yard and up to the building to load tomorrow. This meant borrowing a tractor with a blade. Thankfully we have a generous neighbour to borrow from. It took a few hours to clear snow but I must admit having the trails plowed and not slugging through snow is a nice reprieve.

The market lambs were mixed in with the rams, horses, cows and lambs who will be staying here longer. So in the afternoon we sorted the market lambs out from everyone else. We moved all the animals that are staying, to another paddock, and set the market lambs in the holding pen at the back of the building.  We’ll be loading early in the morning so want the lambs nearby.

Then Allen left to return the tractor while I tore down the sorting race and reset panels for loading a trailer.

Finally, in the dark, we fed everyone a feed of fresh hay. Whew, we were both ready to head indoors.

To make a snow full day feel a little warmer, I’m glad to share that my new blog project is up. Take a look; if you’re interested in working dogs I think you’ll enjoy it.
This is a link to the first post, once you’re there use the archive link to see more.

New Project

You just never know when you can influence another persons direction.

An old friend unknowingly prodded me to go ahead with a project I’ve been recently working on but feeling too reserved to move forward with. So I’m swallowing my reservations (aka fear) and pressing on.

It has a blog format and it includes a portrayal of working dogs in a more thorough level than I occasionally share here. Oh, and there’s some artwork too.

I’ll share it with you soon.

Chance Work for Gibson

After escaping from the dog yard, Gibson found himself on the Ranger just as Allen and I were heading out for evening check of the flock. I was too lazy to walk him back to the yard so he came along for the ride.  At the most there would be a little tuck up of the ewes which might be a good experience for him.

The ewes moved Eastward last night, presumably moving with the wind in the nasty, late evening storm. Thus, today they were on the far side of the paddock and had made a new bedding spot there. Trouble was, one young ewe lamb had been left behind and was still at the original night spot, well apart from her flock. I thought about catching her and giving her a ride over on the Ranger but dismissed it right away.

Instead we trekked across the paddock to find the flock. It looked like Gibson was going to get more work than he or I bargained for him.

A large number of sheep were already bunched together, readying for the night. There were maybe a hundred others still spread out grazing. Without all the details, Gibson did the expert work of a young dog in a work situation that stretched him. He did a tight and fast gather of as many sheep as he felt he could or should bring. He started the flock on the move.

Not wanting to travel in the deep snow the ewes thin out along trails. A dog at the back is a long way away. Too far for Gibb. He came up along the side and it was a simple matter  for him to step in and cut a group of sheep off and work closer to me. I left him alone and let him bring what he had. At this stage he’ll learn more by believing he was successful at bringing this many sheep.

He and I marched our group of sheep along the trail all the way back to the wayward ewe lamb. When we approached, Gibson spotted the lamb and swung out to collect her and put her back where she belonged. I was pleased to see him think of that and witness how aware a good stock dog is.

We turned the group around and headed them to the main group, who were now just behind us with Allen bringing up the rear. I cheered for us and Gibson jumped all over me as we celebrated one of life’s finer moments.

He’ll always be escaping the yard now.

Sheep Collection to Share

I found this while browsing my bookmarks tonight and I don’t think I’ve ever passed it on. Well, if you ever need a fix of sheep images you need look no further than the collection compiled by Niki Sawyer.

The sheer number of images in the collection is remarkable. From old to new, abstract to photograph; it's a eclectic collection.

I’ve visited the sight a few times and have seen only a portion of the images there.

A few of my favorites are:

15 Sheep in the Snow on page 1
and Duncan on page 2
and my real favorite is Two Sheep on page 10
Then there is Kelpies With Sheep, also on page 10

Head on over and take a peek.

Musing on A Prairie Walk

I attended a large Christmas party last night, with a couple hundred other people. If you follow this blog or have been to this place you will have an idea of how sheltered we are and how solitary it is to live here.  Plunking myself into a room of two hundred people was surreal. I was jittery and lost.

This is why I sought a walk in the prairie hills this morning. 

I have been walking on the grid load for the last couple weeks because walking on the road where there are well made trails is easy. This morning I wanted to be out on the prairie. I headed South, hoping a well used pasture trail would make for relatively easy walking.

The dogs perked up at my first steps in the opposite from usual direction. I love how just a change in direction can give them such delight; expressing the way dogs live the state of gratitude. They flew through the gate and were over the first hill before I could close the thing.

The walk was long; all of us enjoying the old-new trail and bushes we’ve seen a thousand times before, but today give the impression that we’re crossing different land. With the snow the going got tough and to walk was a workout, just like walking in water is.

At the end of the leg South I made my way up a steep slope, onto a piece of Native prairie and headed to a familiar sitting stone. I sat, amazed at how a spot in the middle of the prairie can be such a meditative space even in the winter cold. Rejuvenating spaces do not always need to be green and warm. They can be where ever the mind finds the stillness and decides to harmonize with it; a feat this prairie woman is not able to accomplish in the midst of two hundred people.   

"I look to the hills from whence cometh salvation
I find strength in their quiet roll
When I feel myself troubled I look to those hills
And the quiet green quiets my soul"

Connie Kaldor
(Hymn from Pincher Creek)

Small Gems

Snow and wind and beef could sum up the last couple days. And this little gem.

The ewes did not venture too far and they didn’t have to, they have good shelter and plenty of food grazing on the millet swaths. The guardian dogs are settled in right with them and are also feeling extra well fed despite our latest order of dog food being forgotten on the supplier end. There won’t be another delivery van heading this way until mid January so I figured it would be a good time to clean out the two freezers of stockpiled trim and bones and organ meat which I normally supplement the dogs food with throughout the winter. No sooner had I started on the freezer supply when Allen’s dad stopped by. He has a few cull cows; would we like them for dog food?

Yes, indeed. Such a large supply of meat will be a great help toward feeding dogs. Additionally, Allen offered to do the butchering with his Dad, so I also got to skip out on doing that job this time around. When we take a cull cow for dog food we make use of almost the entire cow. I didn’t have enough freezer space but since it’s winter we’re able to store the meat in the shop where it will stay frozen. 

As for the kitten, Allen brought him home along with the truck load of cow meat.

Cull Ewes

We selected and sorted the cull ewes out from the main flock a couple weeks back (an-univiting-job). The culls were put together with the rams and market lambs. Today was sale day and we had to deliver the cull ewes to the collection point by noon. We did the quick sorting last evening and set the culls in a holding yard, then picked up the stock trailer we borrow when we do the hauling.

This morning all we had to do was load and deliver. Good thing to because loading was a beast of a chore this go round.  Our ewes are not familiar with loading onto trailers so it’s brand new to them each time. Plus, Allen and I were...., well, let’s just say we were not working well together this morning.

After the dogs and I moved the ewes up to the alleyway I put the dogs away. Sometimes it’s just better to put them aside so that they don’t receive the brunt of the frustrations going on between the stock handlers :) I’m not sure what Allen and I struggled with the most; each other, or loading reluctant ewes. Knowing how well animals read the energy of a situation I’m sure one negative energy rubbed off on the other. Sometimes it isn’t all sunshine and roses.

In the end, we were able to fit all but four ewes onto the trailer.

Culling sheep is both a physically and emotionally taxing job (without being frustrated with how it’s going). I read about how culling needs to be merciless but it’s distressing to be that dispassionate. Truth is there are always favorites in my flock and I have plenty of sentimental moments. Watching a couple young green-tag girls, Blackhock, and That-Ole’-Bag step off the trailer at the destination point, I felt plenty of emotion.

At home this evening, some sad news added to the mixed and heavy day. The famous stockman, Bud Williams has passed away. Bud is well known for his livestock handling techniques, but is also well renowned for his low key approach to using stock dogs.

Gibson's Debut

When we made the last move with the flock Gibson came along for a work debut.

Gibson is a young 15 month old Kelpie. He is related to Cajun and shows a lot of work similarities but does not have quite the same forceful gusto Cajun started out with. Gibson is  more thoughtful. 

I wanted to give Gibb the experience of larger flock work but know he isn’t capable of long, extended gathers. So Jayde did the gathering. She was really out of sorts however, and kept missing sheep. While the ewes are real tough to see in the brown and snow landscape I was pretty sure it wasn’t just that. It was a real mishmash of a gather but we stayed in good spirits and got it done.

While she and I were doing that, Allen was on the Ranger checking the far corners. Gibson rode with him. Along the way we met somewhere close to the middle, and when we had the entire flock in a mob with no outliers, I unleashed Gibb from the Ranger. I was half way along the side of the mob and sent him from there, around to the back of the group. No fancy flanks, just a cue to get around and bring me sheep, which he knows. As soon as he left I headed for the front of the mob again.

For a dog who hasn’t seen that many sheep, even half way around is a long way around. The dog keeps seeing more and more sheep and very quickly loses sight of the handler. It’s confusing for them. Gibb got part way around and then came back to where I sent him, looking for me, and/or for direction. When he saw I was indeed still present he went back to work on his own. Then he went waaaay around and beat me to the front of the flock who were just stretching out onto a trail. He got there just before me, and turned the lead animals back. I quietly sent him back the way he came. Jayde meanwhile is still bringing the mob along at the back.

We’re now on a trail and it’s only a short downhill stretch to the gate. Gibb works with Jayde at the back of the flock for spell and lickedy-split we’re there. The ewes stopped up at the gate since we were asking them to take a new route and pass under the fence wire. In this case, I didn’t want Gibb to keep working when the sheep weren’t willing to go. There’s a time and place for that set up and with so many sheep here, this wasn’t it, so I had him stand and we just waited for a bit. Once the flock started forward motion again I let him work again which allowed him success of moving the flock through the gate.

This little bit of work was great for Gibb. Just long enough for him to get a feel for a large group of sheep but not too long to wear him out, plus a main dog there providing the real push. Somedays I don’t feel I have a clue about what I’m doing with the dogs, and some days it all just works so slick. For Gibson’s sake I’m glad this was a day that it worked so slick.

The Plans Change - Onto Swath Grazing

Remember two blog posts ago; I wrote about winter grazing and how the plans might change.

We received more snow. This last snowfall was preceded by ice fog / rain. Fence posts, wires, gates etc are coated with a thick white ice. Then the temperature plummeted.

It is not the best conditions for winter grazing livestock. With the crusty ice layer and the added snow I worried that grazing on the grass pastures would require too much effort for the ewes for not enough gain. We decided to move the flock over to the millet swaths. It is easier to find a swath of grass and to follow the swath under the snow, than it is to find the dormant grass on a grazed pasture.

The paddock where the flock was grazing, and the millet pasture, meet at one corner. However, the move as I pictured it, was going to be a long one that required travel to the North half a mile, through the yard, then East around wetlands and bush to reach the next gate and then back South a quarter mile. The move as Allen pictured it, eliminated all the travel. His idea was to lift the fence wires at the corner where the paddocks meet and let the sheep cross there.

We filled the back of the Ranger with hay and forked a couple piles where we wanted the animals to cross under the wire.  Theoretically, once the sheep passed through the North-side gate located near the East corner all they had to do was turn East and pass under the wire. For the ewes, the familiar route is through the gate and an immediate turn to the West. We were hoping the hay would draw their attention to the East and encourage them to pass under the wire.

It worked like a charm! The dogs and I brought the flock to the gate. Allen moved ahead and parked the Ranger to block the familiar West turn route. The lead bunch passed through the gate and stopped there, immediately assessing the unfamiliarity of the situation. The dogs held the back of the flock.

Being ignorant and innocent about moving adventures, it was a ewe lamb who marched under the wires and headed for the little piles of hay. A few sheep followed and one discovered the first millet swath. The buzz about the new feed spread through the flock without delay. The entire flock poured through and our move was done. The longest part was the gather and walk to the corner.

This all took place in mid afternoon.  Three hours later we were back out for the evening check and I was surprised at how much ground the girls had uncovered. They are not having any trouble finding the feed here.




Graceful Reminders

The wind is cold and tingling on my face. The sound of the Ranger is loud in the cold air. Cajun is shivering, from cold or anticipation of work, I’m not sure. We crest a hill and see them.

Ewes and lambs are spread across the snow covered pasture, digging in search of the dried and dormant grass. I move to a better vantage point to send the dog and stop the Ranger.  I unclip the chain leash and Cajun flies off, landing gracefully as he always manages to do despite his hindbrain, almost frantic state. Or maybe he is just anxious to move as a result of the cold ride.

He stands up tall, front feet lifting. He is quivering.

I tell him he is crazy but see no sign of acknowledgment of the comment. Then again I’m out here on a cold winter evening, excited about sending a dog to work.

With a quiet word he is gone. He leaves on his cast and he searches as he goes. When he sights a pocket of sheep he casts wider to include them in his collection. Cajun does not gather sheep, he musters them and the single most graceful thing about Cajun is watching him glide over the prairie to do so. I feel my soul open a little every time I watch him and it reminds me of why I love this life.

Watchful Winter Grazing

As the winter progresses and we continue to graze the sheep on pasture without offering supplemental feed, I am keeping an observant eye on the condition of the ewes. They are having to travel and dig in the snow for grass, which I think is great for keeping them in shape. However, I don’t want to push them too far and have them drop in condition now. It is harder to bring their condition back up during the winter months. 

I moved the flock to a paddock South of the yard two days ago. When we arrived on pasture this morning the girls were up and already spread far and wide grazing. Normally they are just rising when we arrive. Feed wise, the paddocks of dormant grass are not holding them for long. So we moved them again, and they are now on a divided quarter section further South. The downfall of this program is that they crawl through fences much more readily; the lambs first and then the ewes follow.

We are going to move the flock through the last handful of paddocks to let them find what grass there is while the weather and production timeline allows. We will rotate them through the last four paddocks and by then I imagine it will be about time to put them onto the millet swaths. Here they will feed very well and it will be a good boost heading into breeding and the true start of winter. All this planning is dependent on weather. Another load of snow or a hard cold snap will change the plans.

We have a good cover of snow that is staying around so the animals are watering with snow. We take water to the dogs when we feed. They only drink occasionally but it isn’t very cold yet. When the real cold weather sets in the animals will drink more and by then all animals will have access to water at the water bowls near the yard. 

Jackpot Days



I love having a source of raw bones large enough to give to the guardian dogs. I feed these in the winter as the cold weather keeps the bones from ripening as would happen in the summer heat. 


Late in the fall I start feeding trim and offcuts and any scraps of meat and fat to help the dogs maintain condition since they are wintering outdoors.  I also grind over ripe fruit and vegetables, mix in a little kelp and feed this with some ground meat.  For me, a true jackpot will be the day I can feed a raw diet entirely.  Right now I cannot keep up to the volume required for numerous large dogs and cannot afford the cost of purchasing a raw food product.

On a smaller jackpot note. The Ranger is back after an extended absence for repairs. While it isn’t food and certainly wouldn’t win out over a raw bone, the Kelpies are all over it! In this photo are BJ and Gibson.


Back to Sheep Handling

With weaning, sorting market lambs and preparing to sell lambs we handle sheep the most in the fall and early winter.

After weaning and sorting lambs, the replacement ewe lambs returned to pasture to be with the ewe flock. The market lambs were set with the rams. Also with the rams are the odds and ends. Those animals we’re not selling as market lambs but not keeping for long term either. This includes real small lambs that need some extra time to grow, lambs with issues that we need to watch, a couple butcher animals, culls ewes and a few animals that we’ll butcher for dog food. We don’t ration feed and don’t worry about keeping each lot of sheep seperate. With everyone together in the same paddock this eases the task of feeding. The main flock is still grazing out on pasture but this flock is being held in a paddock closer at hand and thus being fed hay.

Today we brought this assorted lot inside and ran them through the race. With such an multifarious group of animals there were a few things to watch for and keep track of.

Each lamb was checked for condition and wormed if needed. If they received worming medication they had to be marked (we use paint marker) to allow for medication withdrawal times before selling. Lambs that were runty or had issues were marked to be kept. They’ll stay a little longer. All remaining lambs not marked was counted either as a heavy market lamb or a light one.

We marked the butcher animals.

We caught each ram and checked them over. I culled three of the adult rams, so those will be sold. We raised a dozen ram lambs this year, and we caught those as well; checking their condition and worming if necessary.

The cull ewes were sorted and handled last week so today they just passed through the handling gate.

After handling the ewe flock last week, this smaller flock made for a lighter and shorter workload. By mid afternoon, all these off-sorts were back together in the same paddock, enjoying their fill of hay.

Dog Toys Come Naturally

Walking in after chores tonight I noticed the Kelpies had a new toy.


It’s a skunk tail; a real skunk tail.

At first discovery of what it was I was a tad put off and scooped up the tail to discard it.  Then I thought, heck, I’d pay $12 bucks for a fake one from a pet store. Here is one naturally provided.

It’s just the tail, clean and no flesh attached. And I very quickly noted that it had very little scent to it. I left it for the dogs.

So how did they come across a skunks tail and where is the rest of it?

Thankfully, the Kelpies didn’t encounter the skunk the tail came from. A fox did.

About a week ago I noted the strong stink of skunk lingering around the Quonset. Around the corner, near the burning barrel there was telltale signs that a scuffle had taken place in the snow. There was washed out blood smears (which the Kelpies rolled in) but no carcass or pieces of it. There were tracks and drag marks up to the entrance of a foxes den, under the shop. 

We have a resident fox who has made her home base underneath our red shop. She comes and goes with the seasons and has even raised a litter here. She doesn’t bother us or the sheep although she drives the stock dogs nuts. Every day they make a ritual lap or two around the shop. She gets chased by them on occasion and I swear has turned this into a game.  The one thing she is a threat to, is the cats, but she is also a deft little rodent hunter herself, so I suppose it balances out. Besides, there are enough rodents here to feed her and two half-time hunting cats.

These photos were taken two years ago. It’s the pups of that year. I don’t know if todays fox is the same female or not but I like to think it is, and somehow I enjoy coexisting with her. We don’t feed her or make attempts to interact. We just observe her. She’s on her own, free to stay or to go.


They are watching sparrows on the roof corner

Stock Dog After-Buzz

Today we dug out from two days of snow. This morning the flock was nestled tight into a slough bottom, surrounded by snow deep enough they didn’t want to move out.  The market lambs and rams needed a couple of bales; a common and regular chore that took three times as long to complete. The old chore tractor gave us all sorts of trouble before we got it going, and the bales sunk into the soft snow rather than rolled. We had to dig out of waist high snow to get into the shearing shed which I started doing by shovel since it didn’t look like the tractor would be of help. This last task was not a regular chore nor done to house any sheep, but rather so that myself and few friends could work stock dogs this afternoon. The long morning of chores and snow moving was so worth it.

Before we knew it the morning was the afternoon and people were arriving. Half a dozen people came out and we nestled ourselves, our dogs and a few sheep indoors, escaping the wind and deep snow. It was an exceptional afternoon of working dogs.

Maybe it was the crisp air, fresh snow and bright sunlight after a stretch of several days of grey skies and blowing snow but each person seemed to be glad to be out doing something with their dog. There was a feeling of being present and in this together, and supporting and laughing.  Each of us seemed to be aware and intentional in working our dogs and the dogs responded ten fold. It isn’t always like this when working dogs, either alone or working with a group. But when it is like this, it feels a bit like magic and I feel the after-buzz for a long time. 

Taxing Winter Wind

Hanging around the house in the early morning darkness I could hear a fierce wind blowing it’s way about the corners of the house, like it was angry that our home was in its path. I grew apprehensive about going out for a walk and doing the chores.

But routine habit has a persuasive pull and when the time came I donned an extra layer of clothing and headed out, first for a walk and then for chores.

I had it in mind to move the flock today. I expected they would be doing some grazing on the South side of their paddock, as they were yesterday, which puts them closer to the gate in the South East corner giving me a small advantage.

When I arrived at the pasture there were no sheep on the South side nor were any headed that direction. The ewes were grazing on the North side, likely staying there because of the wind.

In the summer season sheep seem to prefer being in the wind - wind keeps the flies at bay. In the winter though, wind is extra challenging.  Some winds blow strong but are soft and some blow strong and are stern. This wind was of the strong and stern type; it was steely and unrelenting and it was cold.

The North end was a good place for the flock to be. There is shelter and they have a large bush and lowland area to bed down in each night. As long as they could get enough to eat it looked like they were staying. There was no must-happen reason for the girls to move so I decided I wasn’t going to force a move today.

In the evening the wind was strong as ever, and sure enough the girls were still on the North end of the paddock. They were already loosely gathered together, the bulk of them out of the wind and preparing to bed down. I imagine the wind made their day and the day of all creatures who dwell outdoors, a tough and taxing one. 

An Univiting Job With Highlights

Yesterday and today we tackled the one big and uninviting job of the year: selecting and sorting out cull sheep.

The first day started with gathering and bringing the flock to the yards. This was the highlight of the day. I let Cajun handle the job on his own. Typically, for moving the entire flock I use two dogs and Jayde often accompanies Cajun.

Cajun and I have our struggles learning to do this livestock work together and those struggles have eroded confidence and trust in each of us, which we are now rebuilding together. I needed to know that he could do such a large job and accept his way of doing it when he works so unlike what I am used to in Jayde.

Once we were in the yards, Jayde was on hand to provide extra push and get the flock headed into the alleyway and the back pens.

After that the bulk of the work was for Allen and I. Allen and Jayde handled the tough outside job of bringing sheep to the race. I handled the tough inside job of checking the feet, udder and condition of each animal and sorting those that were questionable.

First batch waiting in the alleyway
This was an all day job and with so many animals to sort through there is not time to re-think the criteria. You catch (we use a head gate), check feet, check udder, check condition, make a decision and sort. At the end of the day we had about seventy sheep in our cull pen. Not all of these were for sure culls, some were only in need of a little TLC before being sent on their way but that would have to wait until the next day.

Part way through the day when our front pen was full of non-cull sheep I brought Gibson out for his first taste of work on a larger group. Together we drove those sheep out to pasture so they could return to what sheep do so well - eating.  BJ and Fynn had a little bit of work on this day as well although BJ showed signs that she just isn’t ready for this much yet.

Another batch coming in
The highlight of large jobs like this and the reason I have sheep and continue to enjoy them, is all the dog work involved. I feel blessed to have enough work and to have good dogs to help with it. I am learning so, so much.

The second day Cajun and I brought the cull sheep back into the building and penned them. From here Allen and I could fill the race directly and once again catch each ewe in the head gate. This time we could take the time to tend to the animals as needed, tag and sort off the final culls. The trouble with the second day is the ewes are far more reluctant to enter the catch gate having been there once recently. This day was far shorter than the first and we are all glad to have this uninviting job finished.

Now onto selling.

Australian Kelpies - A Winter Passion

I’ve been overtaken with a pressing obsession - drawing Kelpies. Knowing it is best to follow a healthy obsession rather than deny it, Kelpies it is....

Cajun
 
Reference photo courtesy of Lynda Caughlin

Reference photo courtesy of Vicki Johnson
 Next is figuring out how to take good photos of black scratchboard art.

Seasonal Existence

As the daylight hours shift so to does my daily timeline on the farm. Unlike a year round 9-5 job the hours of this one change with the seasons. During the summer I am out to the flock around 7:30 AM and will have already fit in a long walk and breakfast before. Right now it is hardly light out at 7:30. There is something about cold weather that makes the dark less welcome, and the daylight so much more appealing, and so I wait until I have some light before I head out.

In the evening supper now waits until I come in from doing chores, which will be at dusk, where earlier I could eat a meal before going out. In the summer the evenings are extra hours to work or play outdoors. In the winter the evenings contain indoor activities.

It is a curious occurrence how this timeline shifts without any abrupt adjustment for any creature, including me. We all just shift based on daylight and darkness, following a rhythm we seldom depart from. It makes me feel connected to the whole natural world, not just in the manner I farm but in the way I exist on it. It has never felt like an existence of choosing either, but more like a rhythm of existence one is pulled into and can’t help but sway to.

Water Supply

The sun has melted much of the snow but with the hard freeze we have had it does not have enough warmth to thaw the frozen wetlands.

In a matter of a day we have gone from relying on snow as a supply of water for the ewes to having to haul it.

We pulled out the water bus thinking we could haul water with it and just fill troughs without using the float, which would freeze quickly since the daytime temperatures are staying right around freezing. Turns out that because we didn’t tip the tanks in the bus when we drained it (not thinking we would need it again so soon) there is just enough water in the bottom to have frozen and blocked the fill hose. Using the bus is not an option.

So we rounded up another portable water tank we have set in the back of a truck box trailer, thankfully with a hitch frame built onto it so it can be hauled. Since the wetlands are frozen at the surface we filled from the well at the yard. The shut off valve on the water tank had to be thawed out with a little heat from a propane torch but otherwise we were good to go.

We hauled the water to pasture and set up whatever we could find to use as troughs so as to allow numerous animals to get a drink while the water was still liquid. We have the usual bathtub trough, a large livestock trough, two pink, plastic barbie doll paddling pools, and an empty cattle mineral tub.

We lined the five troughs up and filled each with water. The ewes were nowhere in sight of this so to be sure they found it before the water froze, I took Jayde and Cajun out and we brought the flock to the water.  I was certain the ewes would welcome a drink.

Nope. Only a handful of ewes took a drink, and the guardian dogs. The rest hung around, expecting to be moved since we just rounded them up. We left them standing at the troughs, thinking they would drink once we left. They dispersed, and went back to grazing.

We waited an hour or two and returned to top off the troughs. It wasn’t necessary, they were as full as we left them, but now iced over. We broke and scooped off the ice then returned home to drain the remaining water from the tank before it froze, a process that had already started. 

This morning we broke the ice on the troughs again. The ewes had bedded down nearby and were just getting up for the day. Still no one showed interest in the water. 

The cows are also still out on pasture but instead of hauling water to them we walked them home to the water bowls. They welcomed the open water and each took a long drink.

End of Weaning

The lambs have been apart from the ewes for over two weeks. If there were any ewes who were still allowing lambs to suck they will have dried up by now. Weaning has been accomplished so it was due time to finish up with tagging the lambs and sorting them. We did that today which meant a near full day of sheep work.

The toughest part was getting the lambs over to the barn. Upon exiting the original paddock they made a beeline for a stack of new hay bales which I did not foresee them doing. Large groups of lambs are very heavy and tough to move for the dogs. They just don’t move off like ewes do, some of them even walk into the dog. When they do move forward they just as quickly duck back to where they came from. My dogs don’t excel at moving lambs but they sure try hard. It took a herculean effort by us and the stock dogs to stop those lambs from ringing the bales and from milling in front of them. Once that was accomplished things progressed smoothly. 

Allen and myself had done some of the tagging on previous days, so we only had about one third of them left to tag and then all of them to sort. This made a huge difference to our feeling of progress and we wrapped up by mid-late afternoon.

So the replacement ewe lambs are now sporting orange number tags for our own purposes of record keeping and the male lambs have RFID tags; a necessity for the purpose of selling. The lambs are sorted into their respective groups; the male lambs are with the rams and the ewe lambs were walked out to pasture and have rejoined the ewes.

I always feel such satisfaction with accomplishing these larger jobs and tonight I will relish in the feeling and relax deeply, most likely with my feet up on the couch and a couple good dogs next to me.

A Little Bit Lighter

Yesterday was a rather dreary day with cool temperatures, grey skies, and biting winds. I figured it was a good one to slip away for an afternoon and do something off the farm.  I headed to town to take in the local craft sale. I haven’t been to a craft sale in a long time.

Being a fan of sheep, a booth with knitted goods caught my fancy. The craftsperson was an elderly lady so full of enthusiasm for knitting (and talking) I was intrigued by her. Her table was piled high with knitted goods and she had just enough room amongst the stuff behind the table to make herself comfy.

“How often do you knit?” I asked, amazed at all the stuff.

“Oh, I knit all the time; almost everyday of the year”, she said. “I even have special glasses with a light on them so I can knit anywhere, at night or in the car. They really help me. I thought I could work with a headlight....”,

She did like to talk.

Her enthusiasm was contagious. I just had to buy from her and gladly opened my wallet to do so. As an added bonus, her craft supports the wool and fiber industry, so my purchase was a bit like supporting myself.

Today, there was no improvement in the weather but that didn’t deter the few dedicated folks who often gather here to work stock dogs on Sundays. Only this time we had the opportunity to work at a new place. It was cold, and the wind sure had sting to it, but I was happy to be working my dogs elsewhere. I was happy to be in good company while doing so. The afternoon wrapped up with a visit over mugs of hot chocolate served up by our generous hosts.

Reflecting about it on the drive home, I thought I could write it off as a simple weekend, without much to tell about. Yet it is the delight and gratification for unforeseen connections and seemingly plain occurrences that make the steps of my evening chores in the cold a little lighter and little warmer.

Short Moving Day

I knew I had to move animals today and since the cows were situated where I wanted to put the sheep, they had to move out first. The flock didn’t need to move because of grass but because they are preferring to eat the stockpiled fresh hay bales they can access where they are, and are making a mess.

It has been awhile since we moved the cows or the sheep. The last move with the flock was a short and simple one of just letting them across a cross fence. The last move with the cows was well before that.

There are only seven bovines here and in previous years they have grazed with the flock. Since adding adult guardian dogs to our pack we’ve had trouble convincing the dogs to let the cows stay among the sheep. The dogs won that battle for now and the cows now graze and rotate paddocks seperate from the sheep.

Since I have cows with calves still at their side, I went on my own to move them (no stock dogs). It took me a long half an hour.
On the way back through the yard, I picked up Cajun and Jayde and we headed out to gather and move the flock. The sheep had to move roughly the same distance as the seven cows did and there are a few hundred more of them. It took fifteen minutes. The dogs were fresh but so were the sheep. The ewes wanted to move and moved rapidly in the fresh cool air. They quickly spread across the new paddock, doing a fast migrating graze as they do whenever they arrive somewhere new.

It is staying below freezing here so there is no longer water access from the water bus. The more shallow wetlands are dry or are frozen. The larger ones still have open water and   there is snow on the ground so the animals are also able to eat that for water, which they do as they graze.

Guardian Dogs Gone Missing

Our little slice of the world prepared for winter season not a moment too soon. It snowed overnight, for the entire morning and the next day too. Our Fall landscape is now a snow white one.

The first major snowfall always causes me to feel like cozying up indoors but alas, there are animals to look after and that happens outdoors.

Yesterday AM as I headed out to feed guard dogs the wind was blowing and it was snowing. The ewes were not up yet, they were still bedded down in a shallow valley, backs to the wind. Four dogs emerged from their midst and I fed them breakfast. A second group of sheep were tucked around a bend, in the shelter of trees. I expected to find the other two guard dogs with them but they did not appear. On occasion Whiskey or Diesel will be away from the flock, but rarely both of them at the same time. Even so, I didn’t worry overmuch. They’d miss breakfast but they’d get fed at supper. Before leaving the pasture I did a sweep of it, wondering if they were sitting with a carcass. I found nothing.

The two weren’t around at supper either. Perplexed Allen and I did another sweep of the pasture. A coyote was moving off to the North, were they out that way? It was close to dark so we couldn’t search for long. As we left we saw Glory sprinting to the North West. We thought we heard barking, and the voice of more than one dog. Alright then, they were off after predators. We’d see them in the morning.

When they were still absent this morning I began to worry. Never have both been gone from the flock for three meals, not even for two. We took care of chores and Allen headed out on horseback to search. He went North and then West along a perimeter fence line. As he approached a large slough the horse alerted and tried to stop. Allen heard a yip. Sure enough, Whiskey and Diesel were bedded down in the tall slough grass. Allen said they looked confused and were initially afraid to approach or come out. But once reacquainted they gladly followed Allen and the horse and upon nearing the paddock where the flock is, they acted eager to get back in to rejoin.

They are in good condition; Diesel has a small penny sized wound on his face but nothing else. It is hard to imagine they got lost, living and traveling this area as they do. Did they become unwilling to return in the wind and snow? Did they encounter a predator they couldn’t handle? Have a fight of their own? Follow the scent of a female? Did the cows run them off? Did they get shot at?

It’s all a bit perplexing and maybe we’ll receive a clue about their adventure in the days to come. But for now I’m sure glad they’re back and I think they are too.

Prairie Walks


Canada geese have headed out on their Southern migration. Flies and other insects have disappeared. The grass long ceased growing and the leaves are rapidly falling off of the trees. Coyotes are pressuring the flock and I have seen the first sign of predator trouble.

Each morning bears a hint of frost and a layer of thin ice on the dogs outdoor water bowl. Each time I step outside the air is crisp and more fresh than it feels at any other time of the year. Our slice of the world is preparing for the winter season.

I have been walking across the pastures a lot lately. I walk in the early morning; the grass is quiet at that time, weighted by the nights touch of frost and just a bit soggy but not so much that it saturates the boots.

For whatever reason I seldom walk to the West so I have been heading that direction of late. The dogs and I rediscovered a long forgotten piece of Native Prairie and while I take in its Fall splendor, they attentively investigate it as dogs do in places they have not been to or long forgot about. Dogs have been providing me with too much to think about lately so I am happy to be in this prairie space and let my thoughts go with them.

Weaning and the Wind

Early last week we sorted off all the lambs from the ewes. The lambs are four months old and by this age the majority of the ewes have weaned their lambs, but of course, the mother and offspring connection is still strong.

Typically we sort market lambs and sell them right after sorting and we leave all the lambs we are keeping, with the ewes, to wean naturally. This is the first time in several years that we have weaned all the lambs and done so prior to selling. Once the lambs are weaned the majority of them will return to pasture, but for now they are in a paddock near the yard and eating hay.

The ewes were marched back out to an adjacent pasture, and about ten of them made their way back and took up pacing and baaing on the outside of the fence. We left them alone until the next day and then took them back to pasture. Two of the ewes came back again. We left them alone because they were doing no harm and I wanted to see how long they would take to break off from their lamb.

The group cacophony of baaing lasted two days and then everyone settled down. The two ewes took to grazing nearby and stayed, still hopeful they’d get their lambs back. They hung around for six days and finally made their way back to the flock on their own. This is what I love about not being rigid about the manner in which things occur. There is opportunity to watch small happenings unfold.

Since we have all the lambs sorted we’ll tackle the job of weighing, tagging replacement ewe lambs with our farm tags and tagging market lambs with the required RFID tags. With the growth of our flock Allen and I have taken to doing these larger processing chores in stages rather than all in one day. So on one day late last week we sorted the lambs and hauled some hay in for them.

This week high winds blew open a gate and a few hundred lambs came over to mingle with the dogging sheep and see if their feed was any better. Thursday we decided to start doing some tagging, and now sorting, since I needed dogging sheep for use this weekend.  We did a short half day of tagging and sorting, then I was off for a stock dog lesson with one of the best stockmen in our province... Oh how I needed and enjoyed that.

Since I took off and left Allen without stock dogs, I had some lambs to move back to the weaning paddock this morning but then a different opportunity presented itself. There was a decent sized group of untagged lambs near the barn so I decided to bring them in instead of taking them to rejoin the others. I had Jayde with me and young Gibson along to assist in his first larger chore.

Gibson was abuzz with excitement, I think both from working with another dog and working a group of lambs which were nothing like the sheep he has worked so far. Without going into stock dog details, it was a wonderful session of work for both dogs. Lickedy-split we had those lambs in the alleyway and moving into the bugle. I wasn’t going to put Gibson into a situation of trying to force lambs into a working race so I put him up and had Jayde help me get them started. Then I spent a couple hours on my own, tagging the group of sixty five lambs the dogs so expertly corralled for me.

Afterward Jayde and Fynn moved the lambs back and we did one final collection of the last renegades and finally had all lambs together in the same place again - ready for the next day.

LGD Rearrangement

With all the livestock guardian dogs here there has been constant canine rearrangement lately. Some of it planned, some of it not.

Glory has been uneasy lately, constantly talking to us, nuzzling and dancing about. A few times she has met me half way along my route out to the pasture. Odd.
Upon returning from the morning check and feed of dogs yesterday we were puzzled to see her making her way across the pasture, toward the yard. We caught up with her in the Quonset and she was upset. This time we had an obvious clue as to why.

The last few mornings there has been a volley of gunfire as water fowl hunters are all about. That morning there were hunters just East of the flock. Glory worries about thunder and apparently gunfire and bird hunting gunfire is several shots in quick succession and goes on longer.

We walked Glory up to a dog run in the yard and left her to settle and relax there for the day. A day off resting there wouldn’t affect her much and the bird hunters would move on. She happily returned to pasture in the evening.

The next development was with Atticus. I sorted out why he was waiting at the gate. It wasn’t because he was unsure about his job in the larger space per se but that he wasn’t being allowed to try doing it. Whiskey and Diesel were putting the run on him and chasing him off. I watched them do so and it was not running play gone out of hand, it was serious. I was puzzled and offended at their antics. They could do far worse to Atticus and in time I have no doubt they would. So Atticus came home again and was set with the dogging sheep.

But soon afterward I discover one of those ewes has been harassed and her wool has been pulled. So then Whiskey and Diesel had a reason for running him off.... What’s more amazing is that, looking back, they did not accept Atticus from the start. They knew something long before we were witness to it.

I am stymied by the amount of dog intuition I  miss.

So at the end of today it was Atticus who was put up in a dog run for a spell. Other than out with cows, which is a large space with only a few animals he can easily ignore, I am out of options for a place with livestock to put him.

LGD Pups - A Spark of Hope

Company was visiting so we drove out to pasture to see the flock and say hello to the seven LGD’s out there. Some of my frustration with the pups was eased when I watched Phoebe out there.

Atticus, a male pup I recently put out to pasture to prevent him access to lambs, met us at the gate. So far, he seems to be unsure about his job in the large space. He’ll go with the other dogs but then follows to the gate. I remember that Whiskey and Diesel did the same thing when they were first put out to pasture with the adult pack. 

We made our way to the water bus station first, with Atticus following us. Three adult dogs approached from one side of the pasture. We filled the water bus trough and visited the dogs for a spell. The remaining three dogs did not show up and since one of them is another pup I was curious to go and see where she might be. The flock was in two main groups across the pasture from each other. Since the first three adults came from one side we headed to the opposite bunch assuming the remaining dogs would be tending to that side.

Sure enough, they were. Whiskey was at about center and some further scanning of the horizon presented a black spot just sitting up. A moment later, Lady stood up nearby. Mom and daughter were on the far side of the group of ewes. It gave me a surge of hope to see them there. I’ve liked Phoebe from day one and it was terrific to see her following her moms lead, resting next to the ewes and staying there.

Lady does not visit strangers and so was unwilling to approach. Upon hearing the strange voices the ewes began to move off and Lady traveled with them. Phoebe made her way over to us, said hello and moved off again to lay beside Diesel. No fuss and no sustained interest in the company. When we left she went back to sheep with the other dogs. Atticus on the other hand, followed us to the gate again. Phoebe also has a calmer body language around the ewes, Atticus is more intense, less relaxed. His movement startles sheep.

Phoebe and Zeus were the two pups who, at an early age, were put on pasture with the adult pack, with ewes and young lambs, and they spent the most time there over the course of the summer. Zeus is set with the rams and bummer lambs right now to give him some solo time and he is behaving well there so far. These two pups are my two hopefuls.

Finch continues to get back in to the paddock with the older, weaned lambs. She is determined that she belongs there. She is there with Willow and is without any other pups.

Lupin is on her own with a handful of dogging sheep. She is the other pup who was racing lambs around so this way she has no lambs to do that with.

LGD Woes

When it comes to animals there are times that I really just want a clear answer. That I’m tired of guessing what might be going on. That I’m not sure my faith in them turning out alright will hold out.

I still have the five guardian pups and raising them is proving to be a challenge right now.

I was keeping the pups together with the rams. They can’t get into much trouble with rams and the pups are of a size that I’m comfortable with them being with rams. Things were going well.

When we seperated the ram lambs from the flock they went in with the rams too, plus I added six bottle raised lambs to the group for ease of care and feeding everybody in one place. Amongst those lambs are three bummers, that is, lambs that are not thriving at all and I have questioned if letting them live is a kind thing to do.

Well, three pups have started to harass these bummer lambs and when pups are together one problem can triple in a hurry.  

What I wonder about though, is if the dogs sense something odd with these lambs and if they are playing out what nature has in mind anyway. I have not seen the pups harass healthy lambs but then bummer lambs are easier to harass because they are easy to catch and give up readily. And, no doubt, the bummer lambs smell different enough to a dogs nose.

Yesterday we sorted all lambs from the ewes and have the lambs in a paddock near the yard. I tried moving three of the pups over there, curious to see if they bothered these healthy, robust lambs.  But that backfired, as there is a lamb in this group who as a youngster had a skin or immunity problem. He lost his ears and he is not re-growing a proper fleece but instead is continuing to go bald. So something is amiss with this little guy. Sure enough, the pups picked that lamb out and I caught them harassing him this morning.

So I sorted dogs out again and sent two pups out to pasture to be with the flock because there are no lambs there now. Two pups are with the dogging sheep (no lambs there either) and one pup is still with the rams and bummer lambs but this fellow is maintaining his good character for now.

It’s noteworthy that of the five pups, the three that are harassing lambs are the three that did not spend as much time on pasture with the flock of ewes with lambs when they were real young pups. The two that did spend time with ewes and lambs as youngsters are not the ones I catch harassing lambs. So what’s up with that?

Then there is the theory that pups should not be with lambs at all until of a mature working age and maybe there is merit to that.

One female pup spent the summer months with the yearling sheep I use for stock dogging. Included with this group at the time were the six bottle lambs. She is one of the pups harassing lambs, but she is also the one pup I cannot convince to stay anywhere away from the lambs. If I put her elsewhere she ends up back where ever the lambs are. I have witnessed her harass bummer lambs and corrected her, and I have watched her curl up next to them and sleep. And why is she so determined to be with them?  Which way is she leaning? Is she a good guardian in the making or is she not worth the trouble?

I really do need to sell these characters but yet how do I go about selling them when I feel doubt about who they are and what they might turn into. Do I offer them as farm dogs instead of guardian dogs? Do I wait and see what happens? Is everyone going to question their ability based on their color? Isn’t that what I’m doing?

Added to my whirlwind of thoughts on these rascally pups is the question of their makeup. I know Lady and Diesel mated (Maremma and Anatolian Shepherd). What I don’t know is if any other dog mated with Lady. These pups are black with white markings and while Anatolians can be black in color this little spur in their story has me perplexed and feeling doubtful. When they behave poorly it diminishes my faith that we’re all doing okay and it will work out.

Layered

The air is crisp at this time of year. The first few snow flakes have fallen but did not stay. I am already in the habit of dressing with an extra layer. The mornings are frozen ones or close to it and until my body adjusts, riding on the open Ranger the first few cold mornings of the season is a frigid experience. I usually get caught the first morning after a night frost, but on the second morning I’m dressed for it.

We have had our first overnight hard freezing which put a stop to any plant that was thinking it might venture to grow a little longer. My tiny garden plot is readied for next year, strewn with a layer of plant compost from this years growth.  Last week the water in the water bus station froze in the hoses and I had to break open holes in the ice on the wetlands so the ewes could have a drink. The next day the ice layer on the wetlands was gone by the afternoon and water was flowing again through the hoses on the water bus.  

The ewes have regrown a healthy, thick fleece. While it still has some growing to do before next shearing they are already well adjusted for Fall with their extra layer.  On these sheep the wool grows thick and tight, not in locks and I never seem to notice that it has regrown until it is back again.

This afternoon we set up portable panels for sorting lambs. We are going to sort all lambs (male and female) from the ewes, keep them seperate for a short time and thus wean them before sale. We are also gearing up for sorting out market lambs and cull ewes so we know what and who we have to sell. I have to say that selling is one of my least favorite parts of raising sheep.

Gratefulness

In many respects living a life immersed in land and animal has made giving thanks a very regular practice for me. But Nature works in profound ways and true enough I am discovering that gratitude has many depths.

My gratitude is still very much at the surface level. It is conditional and I know this because when the day is smooth and ‘successful’ it is easy to ponder all there is to feel good about. But when the day is rough, when sheep die, or stock dogs crumble, or I feel the sharp pang of being lonely, the last thing I’ll do is ponder what there is to be grateful for. Yet feeling gratitude for what lies within the struggle is what soothes and shapes me.

My gratitude started at the level of the very ordinary and obvious - most often, physically manifested objects. But the more I observe nature, work with dogs, watch sheep, and sit on hilltops, the deeper I delve into what I am grateful for and the more it turns out to be the non-physical. The way I think, the power of that thought, moments of following my intuition, the times of embracing my power, being creative, being soulful, BEING, ... and sharing it all.

Yes, there is soooo much to be grateful for and this deeper level of gratitude is a welcome one. The deeper I go the more endless it is.

Hangin' Out

We use the utility vehicle every day. It is our farm truck.  The stock dogs are very familiar with riding on it. Like a dog who likes car rides they are always ready to hop in and go for a ride. Except, unlike a car there is nothing to keep them out of it and it’s common to look over and see a tired Kelpie sleeping on the seat or in the box. Interestingly the Border Collies do not do this.


Cajun and LGD's

This is just after a flock move. I am busy setting up the water bus. Cajun is waiting nearby, sheep are grazing a short distance away. The two LGD’s are seven month old pups, Zeuss and Lupin. They have come up to see Cajun, who just wants to watch some sheep TV.  The photos tell the story.....






A Few September Morning Photos


September has been a month of warm, dry, calm weather; ideal for harvest time. The mornings are crisp with the warmth spilling into the day as soon as the sun is up. There are some spectacular places of rough, prairie beauty on the pasture where the flock is grazing. I am lucky to start my day in the midst of such a peaceful place.

There is a variety of food sources for the girls which provides a wider spectrum of nutrients. While it looks like dry grass and trees to us it is a smorgasbord to the ewes and lambs, the former who are recovering from raising a lamb and the latter who are growing rapidly.  When raising livestock naturally the fall season seems to be the easiest time. The weather is mild, the grass is more nutritious, the risk of bloat is long past, ewes have regained condition, lambs are robust. The animals look really good right now.

Grazing a hillside of native prairie.


Grazing along the edge of a slough bottom (now dried up). Note the perspective in the photo; I’m on a pretty high hilltop for the prairies.


Eating brush.


The front of the flock on the opposite side of the paddock. Bellies full and settling down to rest in an open area. By the time I came around here it was around 9:00 AM. A good sign that there is plenty of feed here.


The Difference of A Day and A Frame of Mind

After the unsuccessful flock move on Sunday, I headed out to try again Monday morning. I had to bring the flock across a paddock of young regrowth grass then through the paddocks near the yard where there is no grass, and out a third gate leading to the next pasture.  I suspected it might be a tough move and it was. I took three dogs with me and I went out on the Ranger, deciding I wasn’t adding a new horse to the mix on this move. What a difference a day and a frame of mind makes.

The gather went well and the sheep were eager to come off the grazed paddock. Then it was slow and steady progress across the re-growth as the sheep put their heads and tried to eat the whole way.  When we reached the gate leading into the paddock at the yard the ewes were not willing to come off the new found grass. The mob kept turning and traveling past the gate. The dogs and I had to stop and turn them back three times before they considered the gate was the way to go and by chance Lady helped out at that moment by leading them through. It was a long, tiring move and the stock dogs were now tired.

Once in the yard paddock it was pretty simple to turn them to right gate and let them pour through. Once there the older ewes knew where they going now and made a beeline for the pass way to the next pasture.

The stock dogs at the top to turn the flock back and head them to the proper gate

On our way again
The new pasture has lots of feed available for them but it’s a rough, rough pasture. It’s rough to physically travel on, and it is ungrazed and rough with tall dry grass, clover overgrowth and dry thistle. It also has a large piece of native prairie and numerous pockets of brush for shelter. It’s a gorgeous, wild piece of land. We’ve already spotted coyotes traveling through or perhaps moving out, since it is likely that they’ve been settled there up until now. Because the land is rough and overgrown the sheep are talking more to stay in contact with flock mates and lambs. It’s tough for guard dogs to keep track of sheep or see what’s coming. We have not started night penning but we are making sure the flock is tucked together before nightfall.

Knowing When To Fold 'Em

The flock move went amuck this morning, or rather I did and hence the move never happened. This was a longer move, I had a time limit and I was starting late. I had it in my head that the gather must be done on horseback (I’ll remind you that I’m new to horses and riding) plus I took two dogs (who are new to working with me on a horse) and I expected it to all work out seamlessly.

It did not go well. I rushed out on the horse, sent the dogs willy-nilly, and then lost my cool when one of them went into the flock instead of starting a gather. When I caught myself yelling at dogs and not offering support or solution, I called it done and headed home, suppressing my tears of frustration, a couple of forlorn dogs trotting along behind, several  hundred animals still where they were originally.

Why do I mention it here? I suppose in some way, to reaffirm to myself that I’m human to. But mostly to share that out of this came a small pearl of wisdom.    

I called it quits. That’s the nugget.

Sometimes the greatest thing you can do for everyone or every animal involved is just to call it quits.

You see, I have a small useless belief that calling it quits is firmly judged as being a quitter and is not allowed. And trust me, because of this belief I can continue on task, without ceasing, until every party involved is mentally exhausted and spiritually broken. It’s never pretty and I always feel awful for days afterward.

But I didn’t do that today. I said that’s enough of this, nobody is happy here. I walked away leaving several hundred animals where they were.

Knowing when to call it done and doing so is a sign of great improvement. It requires some self awareness, that allows mental clarity to seep in and speak up even when emotions are taking over.  Realizing what I’m doing is not working for the betterment of any party allows me to slide back into a place to work for the greater good of all.

On the ride home I felt the relief sink in. Yes, several hundred sheep were still where they were, ... and the sun still set and will still rise tomorrow...
I noticed another funny thing. I began to let it go much sooner than I can let go of all the ways I damage my dogs by pushing to get a task done. It was over.  I carried on with hosting a fun day in the afternoon (the reason for the time limit on the morning) and had a wonderful half day working dogs and helping people; realizing none of us ever know the days traumas and triumphs other people are carrying.

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