Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

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.

Friday, October 26, 2012

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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

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.

Friday, October 19, 2012

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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

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.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

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.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

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.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

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.


Monday, October 1, 2012

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.....