Snow Melt Begins

We have had two days of full sunshine and snow melting. I think I could hear the chorus of a whole province of people singing with the birds on this Easter morning.

As is the way on a farm, the arrival of a season is measured by what is happening around the place.

The ewes have taken to sleeping on the hay covered hillside instead of in their bush shelter.
The ewe lambs are playing in the evenings.
The horses, although still hemmed in by deep snow, are wanting to run
Melt water is trickling and traveling under the snow.
The barn area is mucky already.
We have regained access through a gate or two.
The cats want outside.
The water hydrant froze up.
I can use the camera without mitts on and I had to shed a layer of clothing while doing chores this morning.
The daylight hours are noticeable longer and the sun stronger.
Friends are out and about to visit and my good friend Jill was out to work dogs with me today.
It freezes overnight so in the morning the snow is crunchy but by the afternoon the whole place begins to feel triumphantly soft and sloshy.

Glory tries to get my attention

A moment of sun bathing

Getting Around Again

This week we brought in the heavy artillery to dig ourselves out and get access to more feed for the sheep. A kindly neighbour allowed us to use this green beast for the day (we paid him in lamb meat). Thank heavens we had enough bales out on pasture to last through that last storm so we were able to just ride it out without worry about animals getting feed.

We underestimated the snow pack. Even this tractor couldn't push through the amount of dense, wind packed, snow. We had to use a second tractor with a front end loader (borrowed from another kindly neighbour) to scoop a tunnel through the snow which then allowed this huge beast to chisel it's way through by virtue of some fancy blade work by Allen. By the way, that's our little tractor at the left side. Look how tiny he is. While he runs like a top, his hydraulics and sometimes his steering won’t work when it is below freezing outside. 

Allen moved snow for several hours and we now have an open trail out to the girls on pasture, a trail to the remaining hay feed and we removed the snow bank on the West side of the shearing shed to prevent a flood there later.

Out on pasture the ewes are fairing just fine. The shelter they chose early in the winter is still easily accessible for them, a testament to the their smarts in selecting it. They have their single file trails packed down in the snow (such is the way they travel) and each day they travel a little further. They discovered the plowed trails shortly after Allen made them and they ventured back and forth while we hauled more bales out. Amazingly, a few of the more determined ewes are digging for and finding millet swaths.

I feel a certain freedom with the ability to get around once more. Like I have been freed from a trap. I can use the Ranger again and today was also the first day of melting! Spring just might be here.

As a quick side note: I have received more emails and a few apt and fitting notes that have shed a little more sunshine on my days. Bless you blog readers and friends, bless you. 


Bless you blog readers and friends.

Lona, your comment was kindly written with just the right dose of reality check. I thank you for taking the time to write it. I hope you don’t mind that I’m sharing a portion of it here.

“Is there not room for all types of farming?”

“Every family and every individual makes their own choices, as best they can, depending on their situation.”

“Two more things (and then I will quit). First, who says "they" don't struggle? I have seen the struggle of conventional faming, and it is no easier. Second, as for your comment about you not making a difference, do you think you are not making a difference to your sheep? Your dogs? Is that not enough?

Hugs to you. Live your life as best you can. If it is a sustainable way (and I am talking about more than just money here), others will be drawn to it. Don't waste your energy casting stones at the "other side", for as you say, they are people, too, with hopes and dreams and struggles like you.”

Readers, do go back and read Lona’s full comment after the last post. It is worth the moment it will take you to read it.

My friend Liezel, whom is as passionate about this way of life as I am, has written me a few emails on this topic. At the end of her latest email she included this note which gave me a needed boost.

“We only have control over ourselves and our actions. The best we can do is to do the best we can do for our animals. Give them the best life that we can. We do make a difference.”

She also invited me for a sit down visit and a home raised, home cooked meal. Bless you girl, I’ll take you up on that.

In the way of making a difference I do feel there is something more for me to do and the how will come to me in its own time and can not be rushed. For now, my mind feels refreshed, my spirit encouraged.

Still Pondering Pigs and Sheep

I am still thinking about the pig farmer interview (see last post) and also happened across an article featuring an intensive lambing operation that added more fuel to my fire. As I fed sheep this morning my mind was deeply immersed in its own conversation and I was feeling a build up of emotions - anger, lack, frustration, sadness. I was furiously forking hay, feeling the turmoil of my inability and seeming lack of power to make a difference. It was only when I felt the cold wetness of the tears freezing on my cheek did I realize I was crying.

Is the fact that my soul is tied up in what I do a deterrent? Do I need to harden myself to some facts? Is intensive farming the successful way to farm? Have I got it all wrong? I am less than the others because I don’t make farming to be all about money, efficiency and a carcass? It burns me to see that they make a living and I struggle.

How did farming become about raising animals in a fast food manner? How is it that these types of farms are the ones being repeatedly acknowledged and supported?

I know I am not alone in this rant but today I felt like it. I feel like I am the only one who sees that we are pulling the wool over our own eyes. We have created our own farm crisis so much so that we need new definitions for farmer and farming.

And yet on each side of the spectrum are people, real humans, life. We each believe in how we farm. My method does not fit their ideal of farming and theirs certainly doesn’t fit mine, and we won’t be reading each others blogs. So what good is my anger or frustration at what they do?

A Discussion of Pigs Relates to Sheep

Do you know if you're buying ethically raised lamb or pork etc. in your grocery store?

I was doing farm expenses on the computer while listening to the local CBC radio program which is how I happened on this discussion.

A Calgary Co-op Grocery Store is soon to decide whether or not to supply ethically raised eggs and pork in their store and stop supplying products from animals raised in conditions that are too confining. The radio interview was with an intensive hog farmer, probing for his thoughts of the pending decision.  You can listen to one version of the program at the CBC Radio site.

The program had my immediate attention and I set the numbers aside and opened up my text editor to write. I was a listener of the radio, but I was soon actively taking part in the discussion.

I usually save my deeper rants for my Crooked Fences Newsletter and it's getting late, so without tearing the interview apart and spewing it back out here, I'll stick to a couple key points for this blog post. Which, will be very hard to do.

There is a lot of grey area in defining more ethically raised, nonetheless, this would be a great step forward. While this move concerns only eggs and pork at this time, lamb is very commonly factory farmed so it sets the tone for other animal sectors as well. 

It is mentioned that raising pigs in the best manner possible is something farmers agree on one hundred percent.

No, no, no, I'm not raising pig but I will not be labeled into this category of intensive farmer and I'm sure all the farmers who are raising pigs outdoors in a natural manner would agree. The word farming is a misnomer today and it gets my dander up to be lumped into this just by way of a label. This is why I deliberately titled the website and blog ranching-with-sheep instead of farming-with-sheep. 

The hog farmer pressed that we raise these animals to eat them, they need to produce efficiently and this is a business. We can't take economics out of the picture nor put feelings in. This could be the same discussion that takes place at sheep seminars.

We have to move away from food, agriculture, and feeding people revolving solely around money. Money is the currency we exchange for goods, it should not be the determining factor in how humane or inhumane we raise an animal. Our consciousness should be doing that.

It is people who are raising livestock, killing them and eating them - all by choice. To insist we remove the feeling from farming is to insist we are not human.

Maybe it's time for a new business model and not just one that greatly inflates the price because a product is naturally raised. There can be a more wholesome, fair food system for both animal and human to afford.

Long Haul of Winter

We're bracing for more snow and wind and we have not dug out ourselves out from the storm just past. It remains that the only way to the flock is by foot or snowmobile. It will take us a day with a tractor to gain access to our hay feed next week, when we need to restock. Hay feed is running low and if Spring isn’t on its way soon we will be fishing to find feed elsewhere. With the deep snow the ewes are not traveling up to the water bowl very frequently.

While at the forefront of my mind is the various ways this long winter affects me and the flock, I'm also looking around and watching how it affects the ecosystem I am entwined with.

Deer are dying left, right, and center. The heavy snow has become a trap for them, hampering their ability to flee. They are traveling on the roads now since roads are the easiest path. They are having great difficulty finding feed in the deep snow and are at the end of a long, tough winter. Many does will absorb their fetus due to scarce feed and hunger so there will be a decline in population this next year.

The deer struggles are a boon to coyotes and other canine hunters when their smaller prey is much harder to come by. Our guardian dogs have fed off of at least six deer carcasses this winter. The rumor in our area is that coyotes are fighting their own silent battle this year - distemper. So are their numbers being kept in check right along with the deer numbers?

Any hibernating critters about to pop out of their dens are in for a rude awakening. Finding food will be challenging and it's going to take a while for all this snow to dissipate and show the buried earthly treasure beneath that we are all waiting to see and touch and smell once again.

In about two weeks time we should see out first crew of Canada Geese returning from their southerly migration. Will there be any water here for them or still frozen lakes and sloughs?

And the question on everyone’s mind, when will Spring tangibly arrive? How quickly will the snow melt and where will all the run off go?

A Sun and Snow Day

The winter storm blew itself out last night, the snow finally ceased today and the sun shone anew. One of my favorite things is bright sunlight on fresh snow.

One other blessing, Allen is here to get the snowmobile running. It’s clear and it’s cold out but I got to ride out to the sheep. After the last three days of walking, today was a cinch.

The fresh snow makes for nice snowmobiling and Allen is one of the few people pleased with it all.  After chores he did a little riding while I did a little picture taking.

This is for sure one of the best picture I have of Allen. There's pure enjoyment on that face. I wonder if I ever look like that when I'm working dogs?

The two young Kelpies are out to enjoy the snow as well.



An Unusual Ranching Life

Some days I experience scenarios that make me feel as though I am far removed from normal life.

A light March blizzard blew in day before yesterday and continued through the next morning. 

There was no hope of getting out to pasture in the Ranger. I tried yesterday and spent an hour shoveling and then backing out since there was no way I could continue forward (I was plowing snow with the front bumper). I have lost count of how many times I have gotten stuck this winter but it has been enough to squelch any of my remaining catholic childhood inhibitions about swearing.

The next great idea for transpiration, the snowmobile, was a flop. I can’t get the snow mobile to run - that’s excruciatingly frustrating - and I don’t have Allen here at the moment to make it run. It also turned colder, the tractor isn’t going to run until it warms up.

So for the next few days I am walking to my flock of sheep and feeding manually (more so than the usual means). With the long trek in deep snow I’m only going out once a day. I carry a pail with enough kibble for the guardian dogs and a pitchfork over my shoulder. Since I’m without the Ranger I’m also without the bale roller. This morning I donned a backpack to carry raw meaty bones for the guardian dogs. Since I won’t be out again in the evening I wanted them to have an extra treat.

The walk is laborious, knee deep snow, uneven surface beneath, sinking one step, hard packed the next. I don’t know of other large flock owners that are forced to feed this way. Maybe they have it all right and I have it all wrong. I don’t often think of Dog Tale Ranch as being that far removed from conventional farming. Then scenarios like this weekend happen and illustrate how wide the gap might be. Sigh. Only at Dog Tale Ranch.

Spring Impatience

I think the ewes, the livestock guardian dogs, the stock dogs, even the little kitten we picked up previous to Christmas, are all feeling a little teased and tired with this weather. We’ll get one or two sunny days and then we dip right back into cold, wind and more snow. Spring is having a tough time establishing a foothold on Old Man Winter’s turf.

Good Morning Whiskey
The sun has some heat again and I love that I notice and take delight in such a slight occurrence. When the sun is out I stop on my walks and sit still to feel it on my face. The sun and increased day light tickles me into activity and I make great plans for each day. Yet the place is still buried in snow and all too quickly my plans are waylaid. As a result I’m becoming impatient for Spring.

Good Morning Oakley 

So some of my days end up feeling a little bit like this.

Get up and at'em.

Make a good attempt to accomplish a few things outdoors.

Then realize there is little you can do but wait.

There and Here

A few of the Katahdin ewes at Burradoo Ranch.

I love Katahdin sheep. Before we settled on what type of sheep to raise I had a few Katahdins and they were fine ewes who were docile and hardy. They were good moms and while I worried about them having hair instead of wool, they managed pretty well in our cold winter. I’m kind of sad that I sold them and I think I’d like to get some more someday. I enjoy many sheep breeds and wish there were time and space to try a few different breeds.

While, unfortunately, the area of Montana I was in is extremely dry again and many area ranchers are already worried about what to feed this year, it was a treat to shed my heavy winter boots for a few days and walk around on the dirt.

Back here at Dog Tale it’s right back to the snow and cold. On the drive home I met at least twenty semi trucks heading South into Montana and hauling hay. While all the snow is a blessing for us, if I could figure a way to send snow to help alleviate the drought situation I’d do it.

Home Again

The first time I visited the Burradoo Ranch was in February of 2012. At that time I went to pick up a puppy and upon our return I wrote this:

"There are some people and places who, even though you have spent only a brief time with them, change you; leave you feeling more whole somehow. Bill and Janice Mytton and the Burradoo Kelpies are like that. Honest and fun people, beautiful place, great working dogs, and no dog trialing or dog breeding politics involved. I would return in a heartbeat."

So when Allen convinced me to go back and rearranged his world to make it possible for me to go, I went. That’s where I’ve been for the last week.

I wasn’t looking for a pup this go around, but instead I went just to get away for a few days. I took BJ with me and what a great few days she and I had. It was a marvelous and fulfilling time of visiting, laughing, riding horses, working Kelpies and just being elsewhere.

Swaggy catching a cat nap after working

A few Kelpies eager for more work (Vader, BJ and Matilda)

More Kelpies are waiting

Two young pups, Red Dog and Bug

Vader enjoys a roll, I think we all felt a bit like this...
Whenever I have an experience that nudges me in all the ways I need to be nudged there is a brief struggle to reintegrate back into my regular, every day life. I came home late last night so that struggle was felt today. Allen headed back to work and it was tough to be alone and trudging around in the snow again.


We're all eager for Spring this year. It feels as though all the creatures around here are a bit restless and that there is an extra spring in their step.

The guardian dogs are traveling and chasing deer, of which there is an abundance, and unfortunately, all the deep snow makes them easier prey for the coyotes and area dogs who hunt them. The neighbours dogs have been traveling about and have passed through. The stock dogs are more restless and require longer runs again, even with the added training we’re doing. The horses started chasing and chewing on the ewe lambs they were with. The ewe lambs are playing in the evenings. The ewes are traveling about because they can.

I feel the restlessness too, although the spring in my step has as much to do with an upcoming trip as it does the sunny weather. I’m taking off next week to visit some good friends and a few good kelpies.

I am very appreciative of the sun and how I can feel the warmth in its shine once again, a sure sign of the warmer days to come (our winter sun sheds no warmth).  I'm taking advantage of it and continuing to add to my growing collection of sheep and dog photos.

Chasing deer is hard work...

I'm just loving these flock shape photos

There is a guardian dog in this next photo of the flock. Can you spot him?

The ewe lambs make a playground on an old bale

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