All Things Going On At Once

Just over 80 lambs have been born so we are off to a good start with lambing. A couple afternoons / evenings of rain had us hopping around and a couple newborns have been in the house to warm up and then reunited with mom. The sunny breaks in between are making the difference between a disastrous weather lambing and a pretty good one.  There are four sets of triplets already which is unexpected for our ewes.

Amidst the bustle of lambing we are preparing for a stock dog clinic and small trial taking place this upcoming week. So it’s a little busy around here. I still make time for peaceful morning walks though, ...

...and working stock dogs (and sheep for the clinic) and even have a little time left over for this new adventure:

Since the last post about my desire to do needle felting again, a couple of exciting things have happened.

The natural dyes I ordered arrived.

The neighbours bought four Icelandic sheep, were looking for information for shearing them and phoned us. I immediately put in a request for the fleeces and was able to get all four. There is natural black, silver and moorit (brown). I know it’s finer wool and won’t felt as quickly as some other types but it’s going to be fun to explore and find uses for this lovely fibre.

And look at this:

It’s an old hand operated drum carder, plus a set of hand carders. A lady in town has been hanging onto these for me for a looong time. Funny thing is, when she told me she had this I understood that it was hand carders only. I was flabbergasted when I finally touched base with her to pick them up and it turned out to be a drum carder. What an amazing find, waiting for me all this time.  I’m so excited about getting started with turning some of my own fleeces into artwork.

Here We Go - Pasture Lambing

I was holding my breath when I went out to check the first new lambs in the morning. Would I find ewes and lambs or had I fed them to the lions (or in this case, the coyotes).

Well, Diesel stayed with the lambs, and Glory had come over to join him. So three dogs stayed ahead with the flock and two ended up watching over the lambs. Remarkable creatures. At times like these, these dogs are priceless to a sheep rancher. Many farmers groan at paying top dollar for working dogs (stock dogs or LGD’s) but in keeping these four lambs safe overnight Diesel has almost paid back his purchase price. In keeping the flock of ewes relatively safe from harm year round, they have paid us back a hundred fold.

Over twenty lambs are on the ground already. Since we caught up on all our tagging (link to post) the binoculars (to read tags from a distance) and my notebook, plus elastrator rings and the elastrator tool, are my main lambing tools.

I’m catching the lambs that I can find and castrating and docking tails when they are a couple days old. I can still catch them at two days old (one more day and they’re able to cut and dart out of reach). Earlier than two days is too young for the lamb and too disturbing to the pair, causing some ewes to abandon the lamb after I’m done with it. These animals are not in jugs, pens or corals so if they decide to leave a lamb, they leave it. Without reliance on pens to control the outcomes, you have to read your animals well.

I’m trying to make drift lambing work. I don’t have the land base that rangeland sheep ranchers have so I’m using portable fencing instead. I have six paddocks set up without having to move fencing. Four are smaller, two are larger. If I had more portable fencing I’d cut the larger ones in half as well.

I could create paddocks as I go but I’d rather spend less time on moving portable fencing, and check on ewes and lambs instead. So I’m going to leave the netting set up as I have it and make six paddocks work if I can. To do this means I will have to bring Diesel back to the pairs each night. If that works, it would be swell.

Sorry for the lack of photos - the camera is still out on the Ranger and I'm enjoying this moment off of my feet. I'll grab it next time out. Here is one from a year ago. The scene looks pretty much the same right now.

Missed By An Evening

Allen and I hemmed and hawed about moving the flock last night. It was going to be a longer move and we were trying to have a light work day since it was the long weekend holiday. We decided not to since I could take care of it the next day.

Well, this morning there were a couple of these newbies on the ground. 

They complicate the move a bit. Since they are new I don’t like to make them move. Mom and babe need time together without the stress of traveling someplace else. So they stayed put and I moved the rest of the flock out, which was easy enough even though it didn't go too smoothly.

The greater complication and risk is leaving these few behind. On this move the flock was skipping over a paddock and onto the next one, which meant a longer move and not a direct line of travel. This put the flock ahead and out of sight from the ewes who stayed behind which means when the moms do decide to move with their lambs they don’t have a direct line on where the flock went to.

By evening, the moms had not traveled far at all. You don’t get too far along when your sidekick is only hours old. I still wasn’t comfortable walking them as far as would be needed, so they were going to have to stay where they were for the night. To help alleviate the stress I felt about leaving them on their own, away from everyone else, I brought Diesel back to them. The guardian dogs are quite remarkable at keeping tabs on sheep in various locations but this morning all the dogs moved out with the flock and then took up snoozing for the day. I don’t think they realized these few were still back here. 

I was comforted to see Diesel’s soft approach to the ewes and then see him lie down. Even if he doesn’t stay put here at all times, I’m pretty sure he’ll be checking in on these ones overnight.

I didn’t push forward for a better photo so as not to disturb anyone. Dark is coming on.

Turning, Turning, Turning

Turning, turning, turning… the landscape continues to morph into the full glory of warm season colours.

The grass is wet with dew in the mornings and I appreciate the cool, wetness as I walk and the look of the dogs clean, wet feet.

There is an interesting change happening over here…

Previous to us seeding the land back to grass it was planted to annual crops each year. When cropped year after year, the riparian areas around wetlands diminish as the farmer seeds as close as he can to the waters edge. Trees and grass do not have a chance to establish themselves. If they do establish because of wet springs, they are often burnt out later in the year when the water dries down. Unless it is particularly deep and holds water every year, eventually the wetland is lost altogether.

This is the fifth season of being in grass for this quarter of land. Surrounding this pothole slough is a ring of cattails and now a shallow ring of willow trees is growing here again. I like knowing they are here and trying to grow. 

(Sorry, poor quality photo on this one)

Balance is still key, as willows and other species can also take over a prairie. But Mother Nature usually takes care of that in this way:

This is the third year of being under water for these trees. They died out last year, which is when this photo was taken. Sheep and I'm sure the wild ruminants as well, also love to graze tender, young tress leaves and can keep the spread of unwanted trees at bay.

All these changes take time and often won’t happen in one season or even two but only after a handful of seasons has passed. It’s tough for us time pressured humans to give nature or ourselves that much time and patience, or to trust that in the end every thing, every little thing, always works itself out as intended.

Contentment X Two

Since the first day of grazing on May 7, the ewes have grazed on five paddocks. Yesterday I moved them over to the sixth one. They wanted to go there two days ago. This morning was the first morning the ewes were settled and still lying down when I arrived on the scene. Until now they have been restless, up and grazing and spreading far and wide.

Tonight Allen and I went out just after supper and they were already all settled again. A good sign. They are finally getting a good feed from the grass. On this paddock there is a large piece of native prairie, a lot of brush and tame grasses. I think it is one of their favorite grazing pieces. It also happens to be my favorite because of the incredible hilltop view, and craggy scrub valley below. It’s a good place to contemplate the grandeur of life.

Right now the flock is at the furthest point from home. The next grazing moves will head the ewes toward the yard again. We should see some lambs next week and when that happens I hope to have the ewes grazing closer to home because it makes life a little easier for me. I would love to do some drift lambing this year but it doesn’t look like I’ll have the paddock capability. More fencing needs to happen first (one of this years summer plans).

Cajun and I celebrated a little milestone tonight. I turned the dogging sheep out to graze on an 80 acre paddock today and needed to bring them home tonight because there are no guardian dogs watching over this group. We did a gather and the group quickly passed me. So I used the opportunity to work on driving. The sheep had an idea of where they were going, we just needed to stay behind and keep them moving there. Far more easily said than done for him and I. Cajun and I have been attempting to do driving for over a year. I have been unable to convey what I’m after. Well, tonight it just worked! I love those moments - they give one just enough encouragement to keep trying.

Creative Interlude

The first Spring rain arrived night before last. I woke in the wee morning hours to the sound of wind and rain, heaved a sigh of thanks and went back to sleep for another hour. That day the world started to turn green.

We are in full swing with pseudo-grazing; the grass growth is still light and when you’re skeptical on how the grass will produce given the late, dry start, it’s challenging to know where to put the ewe flock next and how long to let them graze there. The water bus is in use again so hauling water has begun.  In between looking after sheep, fencing is in full swing - we are need of a major overhaul on some fence lines.

We have some trouble in the main flock. As we approach lambing some ewes are rapidly declining in health, so maybe a pregnancy toxemia type thing going on. My theory is the snow mold (molds can tie up vitamin and mineral absorption) combined with the lack of Spring and early fresh grass. I also stopped offering free choice kelp to cut down on the consumption (it’s still in their mineral mix). Maybe not the year to do that. Needless to say kelp is back on the menu.

After a morning of fencing and trying to sort out electrical flow to various paddocks, I was showing my frustration toward Jayde, whom I took along to help push ewes back through the fence they are crawling through. I needed to switch gears.  I needed a creative recess.

So in the afternoon, I took one (which is one of the highlights of this life). I did some online snooping for needle felting inspiration; I window shopped for supplies (it is still window shopping if you’re on a computer?) Then I went back outside and built myself a small skirting screen.

It still needs legs of some sort so it can lay flat and off of the ground. It’s small but it will do for starting and I think I’ll be dealing more with pieces than full fleeces.  Once I get a fleece skirted I can start washing. Last week I bought a few natural wool dyes and mordants and I’m expecting those supplies to arrive at the end of the week.

Feeling anticipation of this new art endeavor I began to sketch out the next felting project. This one is a large piece and I’m struggling to draw it up on a large scale. I have a felted piece of wool ready for this one and it helps to see it and imagine the outcome.

In the evening it was back to sheep work and feeding LGD's. Cajun, Gibson and I were back out to bring in the dogging sheep, then over to the pasture where the rams, wethers, cows and horses are hanging out, and finally to check the flock and tuck them up for the night.

Sans Spring Rain

Do you see the dust?

This whitish film sitting on the dry grass is snow mold. We have a lot of it this year which I guess is not surprising considering how long snow was on the ground this winter. It looks innocent enough but its causes a fair share of trouble for grazing animals. A good rain would help out right now. Spring rains do much more than bring May flowers. Rain washes the grass., it freshens the air.  It cleanse the surface of the earth of all its winter dust, like snow mold.

We have not received any Spring rains, in fact it seems that we have skipped Spring altogether and gone on to Summer.

Today was the first time I experienced fencing, plus 27 celsius (which is July, August temperatures for us, not May), hot wind and, in places where the fence passes through bush, snow at the base of the fence.

Another oddity: extreme fire warnings across the prairies so soon after the winter of heavy snow we just came through. We had our own scary fire here already which Allen and I managed to stamp out. A couple days ago 1000 acres of overgrown grassland about 12 miles away from here went up in flames. In between those two fires, another quarter section of land burnt up at a different location.

The air is dry and dusty everywhere. The ewes stir up a haze of dust while they graze. I’m anxious about where to graze next and how to plan this year of grazing sine the grass is so slow in starting.

I am eagerly anticipating the first rain of the season. We need it. I never would have guessed that after all that snow we’d be in need of rain already, but we are.

Cow Intermission

Can you see the little one nestled in the reeds? It took me a bit to find her, nestled in the reeds as she is. This spot is soft, and tucked out of the wind and very comfortable. I know this because I spent  time lying on my belly, in the reeds, right next to a fresh cow pie, to photograph her.

Mom came along in short order which made me a tad nervous. The other cows gathered around too but I figured as long as I lay still in the grass they weren't going to do me any harm. I kept a close eye on mom though.

She checks her calf over. 

She begins to lick...

and clean...

 she gets under the chin...

... and finishes up the other side.

There that's better. All done.

Stock Dog Notes - An Easy Gather

You know those purely unexpected, small moments when you get a rush of awe about where you now stand and how much that means you have accomplished. They’re grand, aren’t they.

Over the winter I did not work Jayde much at all. Partly because I really wanted to bring Cajun along by giving him as much work as possible and partly because Jayde seems to be permanently lame. She favours her front, right leg and every time after working I can tell she is sore. So winter was a rest from work for her but she’s still not fully sound.

Yet I can’t keep a working dog from working for forever. So she is getting little pieces of work again and I took her out with me the other night to tuck the ewes together.

Jayde used to be my go to dog, the one who did all the work because I had no other dog ready to do it. Watching Jayde work brought to light how much I’ve come to rely on Cajun. She is rusty from not working and tonight there were scenarios on the open pasture that she would have handled with ease in her prime but struggled to figure out now.

Our last task of the evening was to gather a band of ewes from the smaller East paddock, which the sheep cross to reach the water bowl. There was a whole lot of them grazing the new grass there. When we rode up to gather them, I spoke to Jayde, “Just a few acres to cover here, an easy gather for you girl.”

And that was my moment, just like that. Just a few acres, an easy gather…
My memory replayed… Jayde and I nervously working a couple dozen ewes for a clinic, me and Fynn bringing a hundred odd escaped ewes back across a fence line for the very first time. How panicky I was, how elated I felt when we got the job done. Me and Cajun, struggling, struggling, struggling for the better part of a year.

Now here I am telling my dog that gathering more sheep than I care to count on just a few acres is an easy feat for her and I. I love it when life does that. When you stumble upon a moment that drops all the miles traveled into your lap and lets you soak them up for a minute, filling you with such deep gratitude and awe you want to cry, laugh and pump your fist all at once.  It’s like the Universe is giving you a push, a much needed reminder of how much you really can accomplish... and you know what... the time it takes you doesn’t really matter once you accomplish it. 

Summer photo of Jayde from a couple years ago

A Grazing We Will Go

I traveled to the Southern most paddock yesterday morning, looking for signs of grass. There was just the scant hint of grass coming along. In the evening Allen and I traveled back out there to pick up a water trough that got left out over winter, and by golly I think the grass visibly grew in that time frame. That, or else it was the light of the setting sun making the little bits of new green stand out - or I’m just so desperate to see green grass that I’m making it happen. :-)

This morning when I saw the greenery along the trail, I decided to heck with a hay bale, today was the day to turn the sheep out for the first day of full grazing. They have been scrounging and nibbling for ten days or so, but this is the first day they’ve been able to get their lips on tender grass shoots with relative ease.

Can you see the tinge of green; it’s there. 

This is Nature’s under painting. A couple more days with the Sun’s brush and this canvas will be a rich mixture of  revived, fresh greens and fading, grizzled browns.

This is along the trail. It was the prime spot this morning. Not too long ago I was shoveling myself out of very deep snow along this very trail. 

Despite all that snow moisture, we only dealt with a normal amount of runoff, nothing extra, and the grass is slow to come on this year. Perhaps this is due to the rapid warm up we have had. We have skipped spring and jumped right to summer.

The first day of putting the sheep out always feels good. They are eager for greens and I like to watch them. I check and double check them to be sure they are okay and haven’t slipped through any unknown holes in the fence. The pasture they are on is across the yard from the house so I watched sheep with binoculars too.

Mother Nature's Focused Discipline

I love the focused discipline of Mother Nature. I see examples of it all the time, in living and in dying. 

No analyzing, no over thinking or under thinking, no feeling fear or uncertainly about doing what you are doing or meant to do. Not relying on another to act a certain way so that you may shine, but shining even though those around you might not be playing their part on cue.

These are a few of the distinctions of Nature and the natural side of ourselves that most of us find very difficult to tap into and sustain.

Take these Pussy Willows. There is still a foot of snow at their feet and they are growing anyway, regardless of the circumstances around them.

I hope I grow up to be like that.

Warming Up

The weather is turning warmer each day which is helping the ewes out. The last of our snow is disappearing rapidly now.  In the afternoon I can go outdoors dressed in a single layer of clothing instead of two or three.

The world out here looks dirty brown again. After being packed under snow for six months the prairie looks like it has a bad case of hat head. Being a grass based ranch it’s pretty tough for me to swallow that we are still feeding hay at the beginning of May. But Nature often makes such determinations for us and it is up to us to adapt and go with the flow, however we can. 

We got our leftover fleeces packed up and were able to haul the wool to the collection depot today. I saved quite a few fleeces and plan to clean and dye some of it for art projects. The rest of it I want to use as insulation in a couple outdoor dog houses (which I have to build yet). I’ll use the tags to mulch around hedges again.

I’m getting back into the routine of training the stock dogs and enjoying the company of people who come out to join me on occasion. The livestock guardian dogs are ceasing their winter travels and staying in closer proximity to the flock again.

All of us are enjoying the sun and the relaxed comfort of being outdoors when it is neither too cold, nor too hot, but is just right. 

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