Rams and Such

Breeding season is upon us once again. I like to keep a few extra rams but since I sold some ewes, I really have an abundance of rams this year. I sorted through the rams this past week and sent the better ones out to the ewes for breeding. With the extra rams I’m hoping the ewes will be bred in a shorter period of time. The remaining rams, and a few runty ram lambs stayed put with the wethers, two bovines and the horses. 


(Photo taken Fall 2011)
So that’s the two animal groups right now - the ewe flock, and the left over rams and company. The winter climate here drives some of our management decisions. I didn’t sort any of the females this year, but elected to keep everyone together for ease of winter management.  The lambs that are still here are small (It’s tough to grow when it’s this cold out) so it’s very doubtful they will cycle and be bred. 


Otherwise, this past week was a busy one in more than the usual Merry Christmas way. There was a bit of a shake up here on the ranch; one that I am still reeling from. When I begin to make sense of it and am able to articulate it, I’ll share what happened.

All I Want For Christmas ...

All I want for Christmas is a cab for at least one of the farm vehicles. The farm vehicles include the Ranger and a 45 year old tractor, neither of which have a cab. They are both open-air vehicles. We dress in many layers when we head out for chores because of the cold plus the wind chill we’ll get even on the still days. Without a cab there is no option to sit in and warm up if we get cold. There is only mufflers to warm frozen hands on. Since the sheep remain out on pasture during the winter that’s where we’re doing the bulk of the chores. There is no option of slipping up to the house to warm up because it’s a lengthy walk or drive back there.


The ewes are wintering on a different paddock from last year and we let them chose their shelter and once again they placed themselves into the heart of slough bed ringed with trees. It’s a long and narrow space with hill slopes on three sides. It’s mouth faces North so the ewes have settled themselves well inside the shelter. They even have side door exits on this space.

Spreading some old hay for bedding (done with a pitch fork)
We’ll be sorting and sending rams out shortly and this deep cold during breeding season certainly has us concerned. Perhaps if this cold remains into January we’ll have to feed the flock in the shelter and give the rams whatever buffers we can against old man winter.

Incredibly the ewes still go off and paw in the snow for the last bits of frozen grass. My gosh they are resourceful creatures and I deeply admire that, perhaps because Allen and I are a bit resourceful ourselves. Nonetheless, I'm still going to hold out for having a vehicle with a cab one day.



Little Lady

 I took the camera out this week (on one of the warmer days, which is laughable as warm has not entered the scene here yet) in the hopes of catching some photos of sheep feeding or dogs or the birds that hang around both of them.  I wasn't disappointed. I love this photo, as do many, many others who have seen it on the Dog Tale Ranch Facebook page, where I first posted it.

Welcome Upgrades

Our winter chores are a little different every year.

A few years ago a pitch fork was my main feeding tool. Then the Ranger with a round bale roller attachment.


This year the tractor plays a significant role.

Allen has an incredible mind when it comes to the ins and outs of machinery and making alterations to it. So with the help of the manufacturing company Lakeland Group, we updated our little, old tractor. She now has new hydraulics, a new bale spike on the front, a three point hitch with mounted bale spike on the back.


Yep, we can move two bales at once. We’re moving up in the chore world. No more scooping a bale with the small front end loader.  Plus with some weight on the rear end we can now get around in winter rather than spin out while trying to climb every hill slope.

In addition, Allen’s dad passed along a more sturdy front end loader to help complete our upgrades. The loader was too large for his one small tractor and too small for his several giant tractors. For us and our small and very dated tractor, it is just right.


Staying Cozy

While walking the kelpies and border collies this morning I marvel at how the house dogs handle the cold as well as they do, continuously moving to stay warm. Then I can't help but marvel at how warm I have managed to be in this crazy cold. 

The dogs and I do have continuous movement in common but, unlike the dogs, I have on many layers and without ever being on a mission to do so I happen to be clothed in a few wooly goods. The layer right next to my skin is 100% merino wool body wear. My socks are made from 100% llama fiber. In my lined winter boots is an additional sheep skin insole I purchased just last week (love these).


On my hands are large, leather mitts lined with a pair of knitted wool mitts (a precious gift). Inside of these is a small bit of raw fleece. This raw wool was a tip from a lady who recently came to visit me and learn about the dogs. So now I have a bit of raw fleece in the mitt and in my thumb sleeve. I love having it there.


My hands are toasty and I can play with curling my fingers into the raw fleece when needed. I used raw fleece so I have the benefit a bit of lanolin there too, which is wonderful for dry fingertips. This bit of fleece also saves me wearing the finger area of my mitts out.

This cold is tough on animals and I do feel for the younger lambs as they don't seem to have the layer of fat and fleece that the ewes have, but I have little doubt that the wooly ewes are best equipped of all of us to handle it.



A Little Less Frozen

Today we are a little less frozen.The sun shone and the wind eased. The ewes moved beyond where they had to go to get feed, and started picking in the grass again. They moved freely, that is, without being hunched up. The guardian dogs stopped shivering and lay in the hay while the sheep ate. The stock dogs and I managed a two mile walk/run to burn off a great deal of excess energy. It is still good and cold but the temperature climbed to minus twenty something today and the fact that that felt warm tells you how frigid it has been here. Once again I have no photos from the day to share as with the cold I am already out of the habit of taking the camera with me. Allen snapped this photo of the stock dogs creating some excitement for themselves a couple days ago.


I am grateful for many small graces. First, no animals have died yet (a great possibility in such extreme cold). The water bowls have not frozen, and the tractor is running again. The old fuel furnace is still keeping this old farm house warm and deep cold outside means time inside for me once I’m done feeding and checking in on everyone.

There is no shortage of projects for me to consider this winter. It seems that as soon as I think of setting my pencil down and putting my feet up for a moment there is another idea to ponder.  Most recently it was suggested that the LGD presentation be made into a PDF document that would be available online. So I’ve started to do that. Today I also took the first steps on the journey of a much larger project that has been in the back of my mind for better than a year.  I have started working on a book :)


Tired, Satisfied and Cold

I spent the last couple days in the company of my good, good friend Liezel, while attending the annual SK Sheep Board symposium. Given that the weather was extremely cold I felt fortunate to be indoors for a couple days while Allen managed back here at home. Bless him.

The two days away were full and rewarding. I’m tired. I’m satisfied.

I’m the kind of tired that comes with stretching oneself and doing things that are new and exciting, like speaking to a group of people about your dogs and your way of life. I’m satisfied because the opportunity stretched me and challenged me in more than a few good ways. I was deeply nervous heading into this, yet when it was over, I realized I had enjoyed myself. Apparently that enjoyment came through as the feedback about the presentation was highly rewarding.

Today I got back to farm work and the day carried vibes of restless unease that I think only comes from taking care of animals in deep, deep, cold. Will they be okay? Did we forget anyone? How are the dogs faring? The left over lambs that are still here are probably feeling the cold the most. They’re small and it’s tougher for them to eat enough and stay warm. The flock has once again picked a beautifully sheltered spot and we opened up the building for the rams and horses to spend the night in.  Otherwise, we wait for the cold to break.


Outdoor, Indoor

Winter is very much divided into indoor and outdoor activities and when it’s this cold my aim is to be indoors a little more than outdoors.

Outdoors, it’s sheep as usual. Rams, horses, PJ the llama, one steer and one bull, are together in one paddock with Willow and Zeus watching over. A small group of dogging are right next door in the next door paddock. The main flock is still out picking at stock piled milk vetch with some older hay to supplement them. Oakley, Glory, Diesel, Whiskey, and Lady are watching over them. The sheep feeding schedule is such that I only need the tractor every third day right now.

The water bus, turned guardian dog abode, is a hit with three dogs. Oakley, Glory and Whiskey each use it. I never expected Lady would and nope, she doesn’t. She won’t even investigate it. Not sure why Diesel does not use it, maybe I just haven’t seen him or else it feels too confined if there is another dog in there and there usually is.

We took out a full sack of wool to use for bedding in the bus. I put three or four fleeces inside on top of a thick bed of straw. Then I shoved the canvas wool bag under the rear end of the bus to protect the remaining wool from weather. There is probably over a hundred pounds of wool in that sac and the bag was still pretty full so it took a bit of shoving and squeezing to make it fit. By the next morning the bag had been dragged back out, opened up and a dog bed made in it. Diesel sleeps on this wool pile. Glory, Oakley and Whiskey climb in the bus. Lady sleeps right with the sheep every night.

Indoors, I’ve finished up the couple of artwork commissions. Next week they are off to their new home where I hope the many, many hours put into them are appreciated. 

This is the next sketch on the board, one I feel very, very, excited to dive into. Some pieces grab me like that and I want to have all day, and several of them in a row to draw the picture start to finish.


I also do this presentation in three days time. Very excited and now that it’s close, a tad nervous too. I'll be on the road tomorrow and then taking in the two day symposium of the SK Sheep Board.



LGD's Attempt a Take Down

Last night, Gibson and I had a bit of a surprise from the guardian dogs when we headed out to move the sheep. Our escapade turned into an article for the November issue of the newsletter, Crooked Fences, which I happened to be sending out later that night.

Gibson and I went out on the Ranger. As we headed into the paddock I could see what I was sure was the tail end of the flock, drifting together for the night.

I still wanted to do a drive through the far side of the paddock and check though. Feeling pretty sure we would not run into any sheep I let Gibson off the Ranger to run out front (that dog loves to run). We passed through the open gate of the cross fence. Gibson hangs a hard right, puts his nose down and goes. He's trailing sheep, I'm sure of it. I'm pretty engrossed in watching him trail on the fly like that. He's way out in front now. The flock is a distance away, on my passenger side with several rolling hills in between.

I'm knocked out of my tracking stockdog stupor by the sight and sound of three large fur bearing missiles. The guardian dogs spotted Gibson. Except for the fact that they were barreling down on a good stock dog I happen to really, really like, I caught myself wishing I had my camera. Christ can those large dogs move.

In a moment of complacency about life on the ranch and dogs getting along, it slipped my mind that letting Gibb be out front running would be such a different scenario to the LGD's. Of course it would, that much is obvious now. Even though I was there on the Ranger, Gibb was alone out front - way out front. Gibb was not arriving at my side or on the vehicle with me. To the guardian dogs Gibb was a black and tan predator raising across the pasture where the sheep were.

It looked a little like this but the scene is winter white and the dogs far more intentional and serious.


So what did I do?

I drove fast, the Ranger and I bouncing over frozen ground. When I got near I gave a holler to Gibb, which pulled him up short a moment. I called him in. When I looked around next the guardian dogs were out of sight again. Gibson was oblivious about being the target. I continued on - only now with Gibb on the Ranger. We made our way to the flock and I let him on the ground to approach the sheep and drive the flock onward.

The guardians were there again. Four of them were at Gibson at the same time. Not menacingly, but definitely there with stern purpose. A few moments ago they were on an attack mission and although that ceased, the residual pulse of it was still present. Gibson shrank in size just from the energy of it.

Diesel still wished to make a point with him but I interrupted that. Gibb was nervous and a little unsure just what to do, admittedly I was too. So I gave everyone something else to do; we went to work. Without telling them to do anything my message was 'get back to the sheep everybody, that's what we're all here for.' Glory, Oakley and Whiskey moved up toward the flock. Lady was right with the sheep. Diesel stepped in behind me and Gibb, and it felt a bit like what I imagine it's like to have an armed guard follow you. I gave Gibson some back up support as we approached sheep.

Gibson is unharmed to work another day. I'm a wee bit wiser, and by gosh it was all such a sight to see and experience.

Unsophisticated Chores

Allen took out a woven wire gate with the tractor the other day (I always smirk when stuff like that happens to him because so often it is the other way around, although Allen doesn’t smirk when things go awry). The gate is between where we have been offering some hay to the ewes and the pasture of stockpiled forage they were grazing before it turned really cold. There was no rush to fix the gate. The ewes discovered the gate hole a day later and walked themselves out to graze again, which was great to see them do. The snow and cold have subsided so I guess they felt they could give grazing a go again.

I decided not to leave them on that side overnight though but instead send them back to where they had been feeding and bedding down. So I took Gibson out with me to help put them away. The ewes were already grouped up and just thinking about where to settle for the night. I asked for a long flank around a slough bed to tuck up a couple animals and Gibson did a lovely run of it, even taking a stop and walk up at that distance from me, to tuck those few up. Then back around he came, passing me on the opposite flank and coming up behind the mob. They were on a trail head and all we needed was to convince them to start moving. It was a relatively simple task but still with some effort required to start the mob. Once they were moving on the trail Gibson surprised me with doing a lovely drive behind the group and the flock headed right to the gate and curled in. Shucks I wish I had my camera. Pretty soon you’ll begin to wonder if I’m making these dogs up. It was one of those unsophisticated sheep, shepherd and stock dog scenario’s that makes this life so rewarding, even in the winter.

Fall photo of Gibbs

Outfitted LGD's

Deer hunting season has been in full swing here for a little while. I respect conscientious hunters and the desire to hunt for food, but I also know that not all hunters are that way. In Saskatchewan many, many farmers and even non-farmers consider coyotes as vermin and they are quick to shoot anything resembling one. The idea of being predator friendly is a dicey topic among many of them.

While hunters are supposed to be looking for deer... well, let's just say there are hunters are all over the country side right now.

I have LGD’s to help safeguard the sheep but also in an attempt to practice predator friendly ranching. I feel more secure that the white dogs will be okay, their white colour being their distinction. Whiskey and Diesel however, were outfitted with new bright orange collars. The LGD’s do not wear collars very often.  I hope these two keep these on for the time needed.  I call them their ‘we are not coyotes (or deer) collars.’ To me and you it is obvious they are neither a coyote or a deer. But folks on the trigger end of gun and feeling a little too zealous about shooting coyotes or bagging a deer don’t always take a long enough moment to look. 


Loaded and Sold

I brought the flock home last night. It was so brutally cold I didn’t even take a stock dog with me. With the flock near the yard the guardian dogs followed me around to the building, Diesel discovered a large canvas sack of loose wool tags, made a nest and bedded down. The thermometer was approaching minus thirty Celsius. I spoke too soon about the tractor - it did not work yesterday. So I had a bit of a long morning figuring out how to feed.

Today the temperature began to climb its way out of this cold snap but I was still thoroughly pleased to be working in a building. We spent the day sorting, tagging and then loading sheep. The sorting went well, the loading not so much. We were not able to set up a race (chute) leading to the trailer and it didn’t seem to matter what we tried, those sheep were unwilling to load. Maybe they didn’t want to be sold. I tried using the younger dogs, BJ and Gibson, but they couldn’t convince them to get onto a trailer either. Loading trailers is tough and they were not quite ready for that situation. The ewes had our number today.

In the morning, there will be a little more sorting of a smaller group and one more trailer load to go out, then a dozen ewes to get over to the neighbours yet. Then that’s it for selling ewes. We did not get a chance to put any lambs on the scale but I’ll think I’ll wait until next month now.

The bulk of the sheep are back out on pasture, and we took that bag of wool out there for the guardian dogs. My hard working stock dogs are all curled up in assorted spots around the house. I’ve got my feet up and a hot beverage nearby. I’ll be off to a warm bed shortly.


Hay and Rehearsal

I have not been out with the camera in awhile and today was not the day for it - it’s a tad chilly here at the moment. 

The ewes indicated they were done grazing by thoroughly nibbling on a small stack of hay bales located in the same paddock. To prevent them from making a real mess I moved the girls back a paddock where I don’t mind having hay residue accumulating. So they are now eating hay again which means daily feeding chores. This hay feeding is about a month earlier than usual so I’m really hoping we have an early Spring to shorten the length of time we have to feed for.

I have sold a small flock of ewes so in the next couple of days I’ll bring the flock home for some sorting. At the same time I’ll try to get a few of the left over lambs onto the weigh scale and see what weight they are at.

When I’m in the house I’m busy working on artwork, and tweaking and rehearsing my LGD presentation notes. In lieu of a photo, I wanted to share my intro slide here, however, due to an internet hang up, none of my photos will upload. So I'll have to settle for sharing the title.
 
Guardian Dogs, Management Practices and Coexisting with Predators

I am so excited for this opportunity; my nerves are twitching already. I won’t have trouble with the subject matter, I know it well. However I do live a bit like a hermit, so my verbal communication skills are underused. The animals simply don’t care if you jumble your words around a bit. So I’m treating this speaking opportunity as just that, a chance to speak - out loud - to an audience of people.  The subject matter is icing on the cake.

Winter Preparations

Allen has been a busy fellow the last little while. Thanks to him (and I do thank him, oh so much), our ancient, little, old, red and yellow tractor had some hydraulic upgrades and the front end loader will now work in cold temperatures. This just might be my salvation for feeding this winter.

The Quonset building has been tidied and the doors realigned so that they can actually close and keep the snow and wind out. So we have a protected indoor parking spot for larger vehicles in a place where they can get plugged in.

The Ranger has had a bit of an overhaul too, with still more work to go. That little (border collie) bus  has numerous miles on her; we use her everyday without fail so it’s no wonder she’s wearing out.

Allen also installed a garage door on the red shop which is nicely insulated and hence substantially warmer than outside is. The Ranger now has an indoor parking space which means I won’t be setting up boards, a tarp and a heat lamp underneath in order for it to start in the bitter cold of winter.

The water bus was given a new purpose this winter too. We can’t use it for water as everything would freeze solid. Instead, we took the back door off, removed the water pump, tub and hoses, filled the back space with a deep bed of straw and parked it where the flock is bedding down at night. It’s there for the guardian dogs to use. There is no way to plug the bus in and get it started again once it gets cold, but if we need to move it, we’ll tow it to the next spot until the snow prevents that. I’ll try to get some photos when it’s not so grey and frosty outside.

I finally found a new pair of insulated coveralls. You wouldn’t think these would be hard to find in Saskatchewan and they’re not, they’re kind of essential goods for us prairie farmers and ranchers, but I have trouble finding them in a small enough size.

So it sort of feels like we’re set. We’ve done a good deal of preparation; winter can arrive and we'll take what comes. Hay feed is still a concern but we’re well stocked for the time being and there are more animals due to leave soon.


Smooth Sailing

The sun stayed back behind winter grey clouds today but still let her strength be known by causing slight melting of the snow. This evening was a gorgeously calm, although heavily grey, evening to be out checking sheep. As I drove in the pasture looking over sheep I could barely make out in the dull greyness, I was struck by a sense of deep amazement and excitement and at first had no specific why for feeling this way.

Everything is going smoothly here, which at first glance does not seem that exciting. The ewes are still grazing and doing very well, and they're staying within the fences, the guardian dogs are where they are supposed to be, I’m making time to work the stock dogs, I have two nifty projects in the works to fill my winter in-house time with.

And that’s just it - the lack of drama - and the resulting peace and excitement that I feel. The peace from a deep appreciation for how life does go the majority of the time - it goes very well. The excitement from a realization, then a knowing and succinct acceptance that I have a hand in creating this life and my response to it.

I want to wrap up the feeling and save it.


And So It Goes

Remember my fence woes? Well, I still don’t have the fence working properly, however, I did manage the situation with the fence crawling ewes. I finally had enough of returning the wandering band of ewes to the flock and instead brought them home and placed them in one of the securely fenced paddocks by the yard.

It meant I had to feed them hay which annoyed me greatly, but this stopped the ewes from practicing the habit and gave me reprieve from the frustration. Meanwhile I pondered what to do with them (the two or three instigators in particular) and meanwhile other tasks jumped the queue.

Then I had it. I would trade out my current group of dogging sheep for those ewes I suspected were the ring leaders. If I could pick out the leaders and keep them contained the rest could return to the flock and would very likely stay put. Not long after that thought, a friend called looking for a half dozen sheep for training stock dogs. Aha, I could place a few more of these ewes with him and for sure weed out the leaders. He was happy to take them as the fence at his place is built like Fort Knox so he wasn’t concerned they would cause any trouble there, plus I gave him a really good deal. It was a great solution for both of us and for the sheep, and he took those ewes home last week.

This morning Cajun and I were sorting a group of those ewes out for myself so I could finally send the remainders back out to pasture and cease having to feed them hay. We put the group in the building which is divided into two halves by a half wall with a swing gate. There were a few ewes in particular that I was interested in dogging and then the others could be whomever. I was undecided on how many to keep though - ten or maybe fifteen, or twelve? I don’t want to be feeding hay to lot of extra mouths right now so the fewer I keep here the better and yet I want enough to rotate through because after this, if I want different sheep, I have to bring in and sort through the entire flock.

We gate sorted a rough group into the back pen. We sent a few back, I decided to trade, then a few extra slipped through and we started over with sorting a few back. Then I had ten, but decided I needed a couple more. I think we sorted five times and Cajun was beginning to wonder what was going on. I finally settled on twelve and we took the remainder of the ewes back out to pasture to join the flock. Aahh another task done and less hay to feed.

I came into the house for lunch and returned a phone message. A family is looking for some sheep to expand their daughters flock with. They only wanted a small number of sheep and realize it might not be worth the hassle for me to sort them out of the big flock,... but did I have twelve sheep that I would be willing to sell?

The Trying Task of Selling

A month ago we sorted cull ewes hoping they would sell soon after (Stock Dog Rush). However, those animals just left today. That’s the way it goes sometimes. You get animals sorted, tagged and ready to go and then you end up hanging onto them for awhile.

We were pretty stringent with culling this year due to winter feed concerns and having a large number of older animals as a result of building a flock for the past several years. There were enough animals to hire a truck to haul them and once again, this time due to snow, we were forced to set up a holding pen and short race and load out of the Quonset. (One of next summer’s projects will be building a holding pen and load out chute in a new location).

This weekend the cows and calves are also leaving; heading off to a new home. The bull and one steer will stay here with the horses for the time being.

There is also interest in our remaining light lambs as well as in some of the breeding ewes that I have advertised for sale. So we have a couple more times of hurry up and wait. I’m sticking with the decision to sell animals this year although every time it actually happens I experience a pang in my heart as they are loaded and I watch the truck and trailer disappear around the bend. I feel relief, I still feel it’s what I need to do but nonetheless selling animals is a trying task for me.


Snowy Transformation

On Sunday just past I was wearing my rain pants and coat. Yesterday - the arrival of snow changed that and transformed the place.


This photo was taken from a similar place as the one in the last post. The snow presents such a different landscape.


When snow arrives on the heels of rain it creates a few minor difficulties. Traction and getting around. Gates iced up. Twines on hay bales are frozen down making for a tough job of getting them off. While it’s a long shot for the month of November in Saskatchewan, I hope we warm up enough to see this melt off. Then the snow can come again.

I love these sheep, but upon the arrival of the first snow my thoughts go to the livestock guardian dogs. The woolies are - well, wooly - they’ll do fine. But I feel for the dogs. Do they ponder the tough season that lies ahead?


I find it easier to think that they do not. That they just take every day as it comes.

A Task of Elemental Basics

The main flock moved over to a pasture of milk vetch that was stockpiled for late grazing. A choice that is saving us in winter feed. The longer the ewes can graze this year the more relief I feel. It looks pretty brown and lifeless in this pasture but underneath is some green that ewes are cherishing right now.



On my tour around the pasture I was pleasantly surprised to see the wetlands are open again and that the ewes had visited there for a drink. As much as possible we use the water bus to provide water for the girls, however, at this time of the year, the valves and hoses freeze. So we rely on wetlands, snow (none here yet) or the heated water bowls at the yard. The girls are further away from the water bowl now so in their minds the wetlands are the easier choice.

I love this particular wetland on this pasture and when I drove around it this evening I stopped for a visit. At one spot I spied small rocks lying here and there.


I started to pick them and toss them toward the shore. In moments I had rocks in a loose arrangement at the shore.  I moved some of the larger rocks close to the edge, hoping they would be firm enough to be stepping stones to the water.

I worked in silence, no animals around me. I wrote in my head as I worked. There was nothing difficult about the task and placing stones has a way of soothing and building ones spirit at the same time.

There is an abundance of dry grass on hand, so after I was done with the rocks I ripped up handfuls of grass and laid it down, covering the muddy bank and providing a surface for the girls to walk on.

I was lost in time and space. Submerged in a trivial task, needing to do this spontaneous, soul stirring activity because of the elemental basics of it. Feeling the elemental essentials of what land and life are about all over again.

Stones and grass; using what I have; seeing that it is here to use. No need to go anywhere else for what I needed. A precious spot where land and water meet and everything at my fingertips. It was such a simpletons tasks and it fulfilled me immensely.

Unsure

I don’t think I’ve let a week slip by between blog posts since I first started this blog and felt so unsure about to what to write.

I took a break, partly because I’m at the point of being unsure again. I’m trying to decide where to go with this blog, including the option of ending it.

It serves as in incredible journal of this land and life, sheep and dog journey I have fallen deeply into. On the other I wonder what is the impact and value outside of myself. Is this the best use of me? Can I tell this story in another fashion? I could let this go and put time and energy into new projects and artwork. Or keep this and use it as a launchpad for those other projects. Or keep this and change it up somehow. Or stay the course because the course is familiar.

Yeah, no, I’m still not sure what to do with this.

Doing a blog is a creative venture and I always struggle to let creative ventures go, even knowing there are new and exciting ones on the horizon. I’m like that around the farm too. Well, until I figure it out, I will continue to take photos and share glimpses into this shepherd-ly life. Stay with me and stay tuned.


Side Projects

Amidst looking after sheep and trying to sell some, I am working on a small but incredible opportunity that I am apprehensively, elated about.

I am creating a presentation about livestock guardian dogs and coexisting with predators, which I present in a months time. I think the excitement I feel is self explanatory. 

The couple thousand photos of sheep and dogs I have taken are coming in handy. Tonight I pared down to 115 possible’s for the presentation. lol. It’s a start.


Sketching

Oh the images of artwork in my head; this life presents me with so many.  Some days it pains me to have them knocking around in there, and not be able to draw fast enough.







The Curiosity of Lambs


This lamb was playing curious George around feeding time. The sheep are far more familiar and comfortable with the livestock guardian dogs than they are with me. This little one had strong motive, or perhaps a case of the bliss of ignorance, to come so near while I stood there.

I was waiting for the dogs to set the boundaries and teach little lambie to keep a distance from the food bowl. She didn’t push it too far and while Whiskey curled a lip when she passed by his bowl, no one made a big fuss about this girl being near.


When the dogs were done and gone, she just had to investigate the bowls to be certain she was not missing out.



Grass Manna From Heaven

I moved the flock to a paddock they last grazed late in the summer. I had walked the dogs there the day before and was pleasantly surprised to see how much green grass was still there, especially among the thistle patches. The ewes have been eating some hay and whatever they could nibble on a cut hay field. I think the new (yet old) grass was like manna from heaven to them.

As we crossed into the new paddock the ewes spread out slowly and then began moving quicker, nibbling the grass in earnest. By this evening they were threading their way throughout he thistle patch. This will give us a few more days of grazing, at the least, which is welcome in a year when winter feed will be tight. After they graze here I think I’ll move them over to the paddocks they grazed during lambing. I wasn’t planning to come back to these at all but I may change my plan.

This flock move was handled by Jayde and Gibson. The distance and spread of the sheep got the better of young Gibson and his initial gather was tight, way too fast and brought him in through a group of sheep instead of staying out around them all. The situation stretched the young lad. 

To be gathered...
The rest of the move was nicely done. Jayde has not been to work for some time and seemed so satisfied to just do a long job of moving sheep. She’s hurting a little tonight though, as her old injury resurfaces.

Crossing a sparse, weedy paddock; no food here

Made it. I added this last photo because I like the feeling it invokes in me - the dogs, the sheep, the work, how it all represents this life.

Arrival



Not The Moments I Envisioned

When I imagine about being a rancher, downsizing and selling animals are not the moments I envision.

Today some folks came by to look the cows. As we stood talking and looking at bovines it flittered across my mind that I was very possibly wearing the same expression and sharing the same body demeanour I have witnessed in other folks selling their livestock to me. Speaking very factual, a bit nervous, composing myself while doing something that is fatiguing to do.

Selling some of the ewes from this lovely flock will be even more so, because it’s tough to part with something you have dedicated several years of living to.

A friend asked me if I felt it was a failure that I was selling ewes and I thought that was such an interesting question. No, it is not a failure because as soon as I made the decision about selling, I felt relief. For me the feeling of relief is always a good direction to go in. There are more than a few valid farmer reasons for downsizing, like winter feed concerns, how much one person can manage without equipment to do so, and future grazing needs, however, making a choice that feels right for where you are now, can never be a failing.


These are great sheep through and through - always allowed to eat, sleep and be natural. Seeing some of them leave will be very tough but the few hundred animals that will stay here will be manageable and the fewer numbers opens the door to other options. I’m shifting a dream to take a rabbit trail and make room for another. That’s not failure at all.


Choosing Thanks

So far this has been a month of decision making with some easy choices and some difficult, but most of the choices have been centered around parting with some of this flock.  I was all set to write a long post to relate everything and share the why's and the what for's but now that I'm parked at the computer I just want share some thanks instead, because even when choices are tough to make, we are still blessed to have the choices.

Things are feeling a little more settled here and it's remarkable how much thanks I feel for that alone.  We have started rolling hay out on the pasture for the main flock. The small band of sheep who like to slip the fences are now contained in a paddock near the yard.

Willow went missing four days ago. Allen found her today in the bottom of an old pit at the neighbours yard. That he happened to discover her there is amazing. We are so relieved to have her back home.

On this Thanksgiving weekend we are not harvesting - and I am very thankful for that every year.

I'm thankful that I have this land and this flock to make choices about, and I'm very okay with this being my daily scene.


Ag Experience for Them, Child Experience for Me

This week I am taking part in a new adventure. I headed to Ag Experience to volunteer at the sheep booth. Ag Experience is a three day event for Grade Four school children to experience agriculture. They experience all number of things, from a cookie auction, to canola crushing, to cow milking, to stock dog demonstrations, to getting their hands on some wool at the sheep station. It was fast paced (we had 11 minutes with each group of students), it was quite loud, it was slightly annoying, it was very entertaining. Like good dogs, the children who came with good leaders behaved the best. Those who didn’t …. well… they were the most energy draining.

Not much could complete with the stock dogs working the sheep (no, not me and not my dogs but a dear friend and his) but I was fascinated at how many children were attracted to the needle felting. They wanted to use the felting needles, they wanted to play with the coloured wool, they wanted to touch and to hold, they wanted to create something. They connected with wool because they connected with a picture, and then with an idea to make something. I hope it’s an experience at least a few of them will remember because the world needs more artists.

Stock Dog Rush

I had a funny and exhilarating moment this morning.

The flock was in a large paddock near the yard so we could sort cull ewes today. This morning I walked through and collected guardian dogs. I leashed each of them and walked them to nearby dog runs. I did not latch the gate behind me. I knew I wasn’t going far and was immediately returning.

No the sheep didn’t escape and yes, I did return very shortly - with three Kelpies, whom I did not bother to leash up and allowed to run ahead of me, since they’d all stop ahead at the gate. Yah, you can see where this is going can’t you.

All I caught sight of was the last Kelpie just before she disappeared over the hill and amongst a whole lot of sheep.

“Shit,” I exclaimed. 

“I think you left the gate open”, Allen nonchalantly commented as I ran past.

I ran down the trail and up the hill, hoping sheep would still be in the paddock. Just as I neared the top of the hill a whole lot of sheep crested it, barreling toward me. I ran back the way I came, now in front of a fast moving flock of several hundred animals. In a moment of quick thinking I decided to take advantage of the situation and just headed for the barn which is where I wanted the flock anyway. I just hoped the dogs had collected all of them.

The flock poured around the bend, into the barn paddock and down the alleyway (usually a very tough spot to move them into) in no time at all and not a word spoken. I had to catch my breath. I think the dogs were smiling. They seemed very invigorated by the event and admittedly so was I. I hooted and laughed. What a rush; what a treat to see them go to work like that. I think I’ll use three dogs more often.


Moving and Migration

Everything seems to be moving and shaking here. The Sandhill Cranes, the Geese, the ducks - they’re all on the move. Yesterday on our morning walk, we stirred up a coyote who crossed our path and fled, then paused on a hillside to check back and see if we were any threat. Apparently we were, he went on his way. I haven’t seen a coyote in many months.

The ewes are moving fast, they hardly seem to be grazing. I will check on them in the morning and before I make my way around the paddock they have traveled one end to the other or gone to a new paddock altogether. I’ve opened up the gates so they can travel at will between paddocks and get whatever greens might be left (there isn’t much). The guardian dogs have a spring in their step, like the cool air feels good to them or they know something is up.

This evening was crisp and already chilled with the pending night of below freezing temperatures. Cajun was cold with riding and then waiting on the Ranger while I tried to get some photos of Diesel and Whiskey who were having a great romp together. The setting sun was behind cloud cover so the lighting was not good, however some moments are worth getting regardless. 

They start on the ground. Look at those ewes racing past to catch up to the flock.



They move up to a bale.

Then back on the ground and they're off.


LGD's and Stock Dogs - Keeping The Peace

Following on the heels of the last post. These are some photos taken a couple weeks ago. Gibson is with me to check on sheep.  No particular reason that I have Gibson along. I just decided it was his turn tonight. I switch up who I take although most often it’s Cajun who rides with me right now because the ewes are wandering and Cajun is my right hand dog.

Some ewes are nearby and when I let Gibson off the Ranger his first thought is to work them... but,... not before pissing to announce he is here. Maybe it was his plot to distract the two big boys.



When I call him back the LGD’s are gathering around me, so they meet and greet each other. Gibbs stands for inspection. This is the type of interaction I like to let the LGD’s and stock dogs have. I want the dogs to be familiar with each other.





Gibb, thinking he might get one up on Oakley...



But then Glory comes along and steals Gibson's attention. They engage in some play bowing and a little frisky play.





This results in more inspection by Oakley and Diesel. The most worrisome LGD is Diesel, he’s sharp and he insists on knowing who is in his territory. I always watch out for Diesel and Whiskey when sending the stock dogs to gather the flock. I don’t want those two to be surprised by the stock dogs.


I love that there are ewes in the background, watching the show as they pass by. Right after this, Gibson leaves and begins to work sheep again.




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