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)

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