Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Host to Participant

Allen is a wonderful soul. He rearranged his week so that I could leave for a few days and participate in another stock dog camp taking place in the next province.

Cajun and Gibson are here with me, and together we are enjoying the opportunity to work sheep in a new place. I wish BJ were along for the trip as well but logistics kept her at home with Allen.

Cajun is doing well here and we are continuing the work on our driving skills. Gibson is doing lovely work for a young dog and it is a pleasure to see that good work hold steady in a new place with new nervous feelings.

As I work my dogs in new surroundings and among strangers I am experiencing a new feeling. I am appreciating who my dogs are on a deeper, intuitive level. I have been able to catch and cease comparing them and I to anyone else. I feel very free and I am positive my dogs do to.

We have one more day to go and I am sad to see the short trip coming to an end. Having just finished with our own sheep camp it is a pleasure to sit at another one and enjoy the moments as they unfold.

Monday, August 27, 2012

On The Other Side of Sheep Camp

Five days ago we watched the yard fill with campers and company, and in the succeeding days we fell into the busy and focused rhythm of sheep camp.  Today we watched campers and company pull out of the yard and head home.

The place is very quiet.

Feeling the emptiness of a place after hosting company is always the most difficult part, particularly when the company was gathered for a strong, common interest in a shared passion. It always causes me to reflect on what just took place. And this year it was pretty remarkable.

Sheep camp was a great success. It was probably the best camp yet. The synergy amongst the group of people was strong, the learning was deep, the laughter was loud and the  support was always flowing. Given that events are only as successful as the people who gather and positively participate, and given the strong, favorable feedback and impatient  desire for camp next year, the group of people at sheep camp were remarkable. I can affirm that they were indeed. I still feel the aftertaste of awe.

It is depressing to feel the coming-down afterward and settle back into the routine of regular chores. It was a struggle to be alone to move the flock tonight, and to sort working sheep to send back out to pasture. However, I am soothed in knowing that because we are here living this life, raising sheep, using dogs, and doing such small regular chores is why sheep camp exists and what gives it its particular flavour. 

I am so grateful to be a part of such a gathering, for ones like this one touch lives and set sparks. It certainly did just that for me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In The Midst of Sheep Camp

Our first day of sheep camp has wrapped up.

We started the morning with some intro’s and discussion and then went right to work. As hosts, the first morning allows us to work out the kinks and remember what we forgot to do. Then the day settles into its flow, people pitch in, and everyone grows a bit more comfortable.

It was a good first day. New working pens are great, sheep worked well, many successes with the dogs and many affirmative nods of the head, and ‘ah, now I get it’ moments. I had a blast working Gibb this morning; he’s just so fluid right now and Cajun and I did some nice driving work, something that has been an uphill struggle for us.

We planned a potluck supper and oh-my-gosh, what a spread of food! We’ll eat off the leftovers for the next three nights!

The evening wrapped up with a bit of socializing and then pretty quickly people began to fade as the adrenaline of the first day wore down and a belly full of food sunk in. Myself included. Time for some shut eye. We'll be up early to sort sheep for day two.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Here We Go - Onto Sheep Camp

Our annual sheep-camp stock dog event starts on Thursday.

It’s a four day event for all breeds of stock dogs, instructed by two fabulous instructors.

It's fun times, good food and good conversation.

It's struggles and triumphs. 

It's three sheep work and large flock work. 

It’s my yearly dose of playing host and socializing with friends and strangers who are gathered because of a deep fondness of working dogs, no matter what size or color.

It will be a grand time.

If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and join us for a bit.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Five dogs and Twenty One Chickens

It was a long moment of chaotic hilarity.

I walked out to give some fruit pieces to my small chicken flock, situated on the grass in an outdoor pen. Five stock dogs ran about as they often do when I’m out and about in the yard. The chicken waterer was empty so I retrieved it from inside the pen and let the pen door sit closed without latching it, after all I’d be right back with fresh water.  The dogs would have to pull the door outwards to open it, so no worries.

The hydrant was in front of the chicken coop, out of sight from the pen. I began filing the waterer and heard an awful chicken squawk. Rooster bothering a hen. Then another squawk, and another, then squawking to beat all heck. I ran back around the corner.

The pen door was swung inward; it takes a considerable pop to make it do so. There was a kelpie inside the pen with chickens, and two kelpies and two border collies running chickens around the outside of the pen. 

I uttered the first thing that came to mind. Well, okay the second thing.

Stand.

Four dogs should at least pause with that cue. The fifth doesn’t have a clue what it means yet. I don’t think any dog heard me.  BJ and Gibson were ganging up on the single remaining chicken in the pen. They pinned him, he hollered and fluttered and was released. They pinned him, he hollered and fluttered and was released, ... I stepped in and caught the chicken.

Back outside the pen I was trying to block dogs and trying to stop dogs. Calling names and uttering stand.

Jayde lay down. Cajun, who incredibly, was calmly working, trying to figure out just which chicken to gather and how he might put things back to order, stood still. Fynn, the normally timid BC who leaves if we raise our voice, was geared right up by all the backup help he had. He flew around the pen, chasing chickens. BJ was encouraged by this and was in hot pursuit but going the opposite direction. Gibson seemed to have found a new thrill and looked a tad overstimulated by it. Sheep and now chickens!

With three dogs still going, chickens scattered every direction, then would miraculously re-group, then be scattered again. They made it to the nearby tall grass and bush and a few disappeared.

Standing with one hand on my hip I wondered if now was the time to laugh. After lunch I had spent a hour and a half searching for and walking cows home through the neighbours crop field, without a single dog along. I was real grumpy about the cows being out and about being by myself and felt the dogs were better left out of it.  From cows and not a single dog, to five dogs and twenty one chickens. I laughed.

In a stroke of good luck, the birds headed right for the pen. All but three made it inside. Those three were run around the pen a few times. Each time around one chicken would make it into the pen.

With the last chicken in, the dogs headed to the bush, still on a chicken rush high. I noticed Cajun was already there. He had discovered a chicken playing dead in the grass and stood over it. Gibson wanted to make it move.  I walked to Cajun and picked up the chicken who promptly screamed. BJ leapt up and down like a Jack Russell Terrier.  I held out the chicken for BJ and Gibson to smell. They shoved noses into the feathers and were enthralled for a moment then both moved back, wearing an expectant look, like they figured I’d put the bird down and continue the fun. Nope.

The last two chickens were still hidden in the brush and were staying quiet. Previous, slightly less chaotic dog and chicken encounters taught me the quickest way to hunt up a chicken in the bush was to let it alone. As soon as the din dies down they emerge and go back to the flock. Much like sheep.

Sure enough, after supper there were two birds cozied up on the outside of the pen.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Evening of Stock Work

Early in the evening Jayde and I headed out to collect the yearling flock and bring them to the yard area. They were grazing on a weedy field of head high thistle and it proved extremely challenging to find sheep and keep them in sight in that mess. That field needs to be worked, however when you are without equipment, field work doesn’t always get done in a timely fashion. Add in all the rain and well, it just didn’t happen. The sheep do not graze thistle either.

I set the yearlings in a paddock and then headed out to move the ewe and lamb flock to be sure I got them moved before nightfall. They have grazed around the East side of our property, moved across the North top and are now traveling back toward the South. The paddock they have been moved to is one of the few without natural shelter on it.

BJ, who has been coming with me every evening, stayed put and Cajun came along for some mustering work. It’s different from gathering in that he doesn’t go all the way around and bring stock back to me. He flanks around an outlying group of sheep, moves them in, and then re-flanks toward the next group and so on, making his way around the top end of the paddock until we have the sheep roughly collected and moving in the direction we want them. Once we have them in a loose group we go ahead and open a place in the netting to let them cross. By then the lead ewes are waiting for the call to come on over.

While I was doing sheep work, Allen was off to collect and move the cows, who had made their way into the millet field.

I wanted to sort the yearling sheep tonight but by the time I was through moving the water station for the flock, dark caught up with. So that will be one of my jobs tomorrow, which I’m looking forward to. The next week will be spent getting ready for our annual sheep camp stock dog event and some of the sheep in the yearling flock will be needed.  I haven’t figured out yet where I’ll send the remaining yearlings tomorrow as after the struggle to bring them in off the thistle patch I sure don’t want to return them there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Natural Sheep Shelter

We are fortunate to have property with some brush on it, especially on the grassland prairies. We keep our sheep on pasture year round and make use of this natural shelter.

The quarter sections that we graze are cross fenced and most of the paddocks have some brush, although there are a few pieces that do not. When we plan our grazing for the year (including summer and winter grazing) we try to plan so the flock will be in a paddock with shelter at times when shelter may be highly needed, such as lambing or through the coldest part of winter.

Although the shelter is valuable and necessary, the flock doesn’t always take to it when we think they will. If there is a stiff breeze on a warm day they seem to prefer being on a hillside, catching the breeze. But in the calm heat and humidity of the last week the sheep are seeking shade by mid morning.

During earlier morning chores there are sheep spread across the paddock, taking in a morning feed. An hour later, there isn’t a sheep to be seen. Closer inspection finds them at rest in the brush. It is amazing how many sheep can disappear into a brush area of only modest size.

There are sheep well back into the bush which you cannot see in the photos


Sunday, August 12, 2012

BJ

BJ has been traveling out with me to check the flock. She’s also been putting my little flock of chickens away in the coop at night. I haven’t let her work sheep anymore yet, but I think we might make a start soon.

BJ has had a few rough experiences meeting strange dogs and when we travel out to the flock she acts worried around the guardian dogs. She needs exposure to them as much as to seeing the large group of sheep etc. All the stock dogs here need to learn to work sheep with guardian dogs present and sometimes coming to check them out. Yet seven large dogs milling about is a bit intimidating for BJ and indeed is for most dogs. But the guardian dogs are the best dogs for BJ to meet and greet with, and not just because they are the dogs she has to get used to.

The guardian dogs live as a pack of dogs on their own the majority of the time. They sort their own issues out, they establish the pecking order on their own. They argue, they play, they hunt and they guard together. They have far, far less interference and influence from us regarding dog-dog etiquette. They act like dogs and know to greet in a soft and natural fashion. This is what BJ needs to experience. I’m hopeful that if taken out often enough BJ will settle in, relax and forget about being worried around guardian dogs. 


Staying on the Ranger the first time


Friday, August 10, 2012

LGD Pups - Time To Sell

Last fall I had one intact female guardian dog and two intact males, all the other dogs are desexed. I decided I would allow a breeding on the females next heat and attempt to raise one litter of pups to a young adult age within the pack of current guardian dogs. Well, the breeding took place but things did not work out so clearly.

Lady (Maremma) came into heat two months ahead of schedule. The dog I witnessed breeding her was Diesel, an Anatolian Shepherd. Whiskey, also Anatolian, was the other intact male and I’m sure he mated with Lady as well. Yet four of the pups are black with white markings and spotted feet, the fifth pup is fawn with a black mask.

Phoebe, Female
I can't figure out who else might have mated with Lady. I can’t imagine a strange male made its way through the pack this female runs with, and we have not ever seen Lady away from the flock. The dogs on neighboring farms are female or of a breed we’re certain is not these pups. Anatolians can be black in color but it is so uncommon I am surprised to see black and white pups with spotted feet. Without DNA testing I can't guarantee the pups are crossed with an Anatolian yet I’m pretty sure they are and went ahead with raising them as LGD's.  

Atticus, Male
 As they mature I flip flop between believing what I see (pups working well) and wrestling with a prejudice against any guardian dogs that are not light in color. 

The pups are being raised with our adult pack of guardian dogs and with Willow who normally works solo, guarding the yearling flock. The pups started out with a small group of sheep in a smaller paddock and progressed to larger flock and larger spaces. They still need supervision and at times they need to come back to smaller paddocks. Three of these pups are showing soft body language around the sheep and proving to be very decent workers on a pasture situation with a large flock. The other two pups will be better suited to a smaller flock on a smaller farm or acreage where the stock are near to the yard.

Lupin, Female
Zeus, Male (with Whiskey and Diesel)
They have been with each other and/or with adult dogs so they will do well if they have another dog in the new place, although there is one female pup that I think will handle working solo just fine.

The pups are six months old now and it is time for them to leave, although I am finding it extremely difficult to put them up for sale. But it is time for them to move on.
Finch, Female (she has a mowhawk of hair on the back of her head making it look like her hackles are up)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sheep Handling Yards - Making Progress

We are making steady progress on our sheep yards and handling area; the last of the railroad posts are tamped, the bugle is started and another gate is hung.

We needed to check on our fly struck lambs again, which meant bringing the flock to the yard to corral them somewhere. Eager to try out our new working area we brought the ewes and lambs there. We don’t have the working race yet but we wanted to see how they would flow through the alleyway.

Until now the ewes entered a small pen at the front of the building and went directly into it. Now they enter the front pen and flow alongside the building, curving around to enter at the back, thus traveling back the direction they came from, thinking they are exiting again.

Front pen, alleyway on right starting at the building
When the front of the flock approached the front pen they balked right there and we thought we were hooped. Turns out there were three guardian dogs stopped, sniffing all the new scents of building material and dogs that have been back there with us lately.

Having guard dogs who always travel with them our sheep will often be lead by a guardian dog and follow them willingly. When a dog in the lead stops, so do the sheep and it can be difficult to convince the sheep to move a different direction from the dog. I got ahead of the flock and called the dogs further along at which point the sheep began to pour down the alleyway. It was a most pretty sight.

Alleyway
We were easily able to hold the entire flock in the alley way and small back holding pen. Then, because the alleyway is narrow enough, we could walk at the back of the group, catching the lambs we needed to as the group crowded forward, and letting others slip through on our side where they stayed put behind us. It worked pretty slick for not having a working race or small pen, and we were done in a couple hours. The next time the flock is in we should have the bugle finished and the working and draft race to test out.
End of alleyway, bugle on left (with gate closed), exit to two holding pens straight away
We only had one lamb in trouble from flies and a handful that we retreated to make sure they stayed well. A vast improvement on the number we had to catch and treat the first time. Enough proof for us that fly strike is best prevented altogether but if you do have it, best to get on it early.

After doing the lambs we walked the flock back to pasture and moved them to a new piece of grass. By then it was late afternoon.

The last couple weeks have been steady with building, working sheep, treating lambs and company.  After we were done with the lambs and moving sheep, we felt like getting away for a few hours.  We made an uncommon and spontaneous decision to drop everything for the day, fed the stock dogs early, put them up in their runs, and took off the for evening. We went to the city for a fancy supper and ended up staying for a movie.  It was heaven to switch gears and turn off for awhile.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Guardian Dogs and Pups

The guardian dogs are all doing well and seem to be enjoying a relatively relaxed summer so far.  During the day the dogs lay up somewhere cool or sit on a hillside, catching a breeze, and rest. Just recently, in the late evenings we are hearing increased coyote activity followed by a cacophony of barking as the dogs respond.


These next photos were taken a couple months ago. The adult dogs are meeting some pups we are raising amongst the pack. One of these pups will join their pack permanently. The other four pups will be sold.






Friday, August 3, 2012

Belonging

The stunning rainbow after last nights thunderstorm. There have been storms on a nightly basis for the last few nights. The days have been full of sunshine and the world looks like it might after a wash with rain. Refreshed, vibrant green and ready for the day.

This poem was shared by a reader after reading my little piece on alone or lonely. I asked her for permission to share it, as it suited so well and rings so true.

Belonging

Born into the world
But never belonging
Always alone
And ever a longing
For something far greater
Than ever can be
In a place between Void
And Eternity.

A place called Time

 by Peggy Hairston

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Alone or Lonely?

I recently shared this in the newsletter Crooked Fences. It quickly generated comments of understanding so here it is for you blog readers. 
 
So much of who rural people are is wrapped up in being naturally alone, yet we may struggle to avoid loneliness at the same time. I need one but I don't want to feel the other. I am comfortable alone, I am uncomfortable in the company of most people. 

Friends are incredulous that I can be happy by myself, in the middle of nowhere, no neighbours to see, no cell phone. That I have never sent a text message by phone or been under siege by a constant barrage of the same. That this isn't a holiday that will end next week, it is my way of life. Am I not lonely, they ask.

I wonder if they are confusing being alone with being lonely. If they do not understand the comfort of time alone or the difference between it and loneliness.

Yes, I get lonely but spending time alone is not what makes me lonely - time alone keeps me whole. Not inviting people into my rural life is what makes me lonely. Believing no one else would be interested in a sheep ranching way of life makes me lonely.

I am chewing on this topic because in the last month, people have been here more often than happens over the course of an entire year. People are here to learn about grass sheep ranching, to work dogs, to help build sheep pens, to bask in a brief slice of their own alone time in the country. I am amazed by it. I have not left the place for more than half a day, nor gone on any holiday, and yet this has been one of my most amazing summers; full of growth and self learning.

It has shed light on my people skills or lack thereof. I notice that clearly communicating with people is an effort and if you spend the majority of your time alone you lose this skill. With people gathering there has been teaching, sharing, ideas, risk, acceptance, encouragement and discouragement.

The inclusion of people is another way to share our gift of such a seemingly simple lifestyle on the farm. It is stretching me in many ways. I'm thinking that it is prepping me for the next part of the journey on this place.