Comingling Among The Working Dogs

Tonight, in procrastination of writing the Crooked Fences Newsletter, I responded to an email message about stock dogs working when there are livestock guardian dogs present.

How you manage your livestock (i.e. with herding dogs, with a feed bucket or by keeping them in corrals) should factor into the decision on an LGD.

They can successfully work together however, like all things dog, I do think it comes down to the individual dogs and the experiences / conditioning. I find that some LGD’s act more possessively of their stock than others just as some stock dogs work more aggressively that others.

I have had stock dogs and LGD’s from the get go. New dogs have been added in both packs both as pups and as adults. I do a few things to help us all get along (or at least make me feel better - wether or not they help the dogs, I’m not always sure). Stock dogs are with me almost daily on my trips to the flock even if not needed for sheep work. There may or may not be any mingling with the guardian dogs but the two see and scent each other all the time. This way the LGD’s also see the stock dog when it’s NOT working the sheep. New stock dogs, adults or pups, come out with me frequently for the purpose of introducing to the guardian dogs.

I move my sheep frequently, so the stock dogs are a regular occurrence for my LGD’s, as is moving with the flock. I’ve been privileged to watch some fascinating interactions with stock dogs and LGD’s; not all of which are pleasant by my view, but still equally fascinating.

If they are upset by the stock dog, the LGD’s at my place will interfere in different ways. Willow will interfere by running and physically getting in the way of the stock dog and she’ll be vocal about it. My white dogs rarely have issue with the stock dogs though. The Anatolians have had issues, however only to one dog in particular and there is reason for them to have issue with this particular dog. They have attacked him once and held him off another time. Friends dogs are another story, in that case we contain the Anatolians.

The LGD’s do not like to be surprised by the stock dogs.

When I get this flock into a holding pen I like to remove the LGDs, especially if there will be stock dogs working. The LGD’s don’t appreciate getting bumped around by sheep and can get grumpy.

For training stock dogs I have a group of sheep and typically no LGD is with that group. Untrained stock dogs who are just learning cause more upset for the LGD’s. 


There are different types of LGDs and different types of herding dogs. Respect what both working dogs are there for and the temperaments of each. Because I manage my flock with stock dogs I don’t seek out particularly hot headed LGD’s (the Anatolians are hot enough). How the herding dog works and/or how you allow it work also comes into play. 

If you care to, you can read a bit more about the topic here: Flock Guardian and the Herding Dog

I have a series of photos to share in a later post. For now I must get back to my newsletter.


Loaded

So, due to the rain, we set up and loaded lambs out of the Quonset. Cajun and Gibson were put to work once more to bring half the lambs through the yard for the first truck, which did get here and arrived in the morning.  Second truck came mid afternoon so we had plenty of time to bring the second half of the group around.

The day we weaned lambs last week, four ewes rushed back in through the gate while I was hurriedly trying to drive through with the Ranger. I let them be, I didn’t feel it was worth worrying about four ewes being with the lambs. In the end it was a good thing to have happened. Those four ewes were the leaders and sure helped with moving those lambs where we needed. It sure helped with penning into the Quonset to. Once we penned the lambs, we hand sorted the ewes out and took them back. In the future I think I’ll make a point of keeping a few ewes with any large group of lambs.

The rain stopped the night before and loading day was warm and sunny. The lambs loaded like a dream; filing down the alleyway and hopping onto the truck with relative ease. I’m not sure what did it - the way we were set up, the sunny day, having been moved down an alleyway three times in the past week, or something else completely.

The sale was today but I can’t pay attention to a sale when I know the animals are there. It bothers me to sell them, so I need to let them go and let it be. It feels rather hypocritical of me but that’s where I’m at with this end of raising livestock and I haven’t mentally sorted my way around it. 


Bedraggled All Around

I missed a post because my world was busy changing and I’m too exhausted with catching up to it.

 We decided to sell the light weight lambs as feeder lambs so it’s been a crazy week of more sheep sorting, weighing and tagging. We went from selling no lambs at the weekend sale to selling 250 plus lambs.

Tuesday was a dawn to well-beyond-dusk day of sheep work. Wednesday the dogs and I enjoyed a long morning walk in the rain which started overnight. Today, still in the rain, I sorted out all the animals who are staying home, leaving me with all the lambs who are tagged and ready to be loaded on a truck in the morning. Afterward I rearranged panels for loading.

Soggy lambs waiting in the holding pen
However, in the upside down fashion only mother nature can cause, our plans shifted again. The rain hasn’t stopped yet. In a day and a half we went from crispy dry to washing away in the mud. There is no way a truck and trailer will get up to the building to load lambs. They may not even get here on the now soggy grid roads.

 Just beginning to get muddy
If we can’t get the trailer to the lambs we’ll have to bring the lambs to the trailer and load out of the Quonset, situated in the yard, where driving is still possible. So we’re setting up all over again. We’ll be up early to move panels and create a large pen and load out chute. Then moving lambs through the yard and seeing if we can pen them in a building they’ve never been in before.

This is one week I’ll be glad to see the end of.

Weighing Disappointment

After sorting lambs from the ewes we sent the ewes out to a pasture that would allow them to be on the fence line where the lambs were held. We rolled out hay for the lambs but most of them were more concerned with finding and talking to mom. There was a great symphony of baaing; it was a loud evening and it continued into the next morning.


After letting the ewes and lambs out to their respective places I was a little concerned about the stock dogs getting the lambs off the fence and away from moms for weighing and tagging the next morning. There were a few adult ewes in with the lambs to help them move but a large group of lambs is difficult to move anytime, and these lambs will be trying very hard to get back to mom.

I’m proud to say that Cajun and Gibson got it done, with less hassle than I thought. Proving that I can never tell how moving sheep will go. It turned out to be easier to get the lambs away from that fence line that it was to convince them to move into the alleyway next to the building. They had to work hard to keep the group from turning back on them.

Once the group was in the alleyway the work was a little easier again. I put BJ in for a try at pushing lambs with Gibson as her backup since she has never worked in a situation like this before. BJ showed a lot of spunk and she split several lambs off by pushing too hard and too fast. That made for some exciting times for her and Gibson.

Aside from another day full of sheep work for the dogs and I, it was a long and disappointing day for Allen and I weighing and tagging. Disappointing because the lambs did not weigh up as expected.  We were planning on selling fat lambs at a sale this upcoming weekend but there were only about 100 that fit that criteria. The majority were five to fifteen pounds shy of target weight. The grass has dried up and is rapidly disappearing with the August and September heat and lack of rain. Winter feed is an issue and waiting for lambs to gain on hay alone is a long (and maybe even backward) process. So we have a few things to consider and a short time to consider them in.

Best Kelpies in The Country

I had a long evening last night looking for woolies in each of the various paddocks they’re getting to. I was aiming to bring the flock home in order to sort lambs from ewes this weekend. Cajun did some lovely outrun work to help me along. He worked pretty hard and when we got into the paddock of tall milk vetch I gave him a break and let him ride on the Ranger. When I had the flock loosely bunched I went home for Gibson and put both boys on the ground to help me bring the flock home. It had taken more time than I figured on to find and round up the ewes and dark was very near. I really needed the dogs to get this flock to the yard before we lost sight of them in the darkness. They did not disappoint.

This flock move was one of the first that did not involve Jayde working alongside Cajun. I’ve relied on Jayde for a long time but right now she is laid off with an injury. It was only Gibson’s second or third time working the flock and while he ended up in the midst of sheep a time or two he pulled it off and was a very capable partner to Cajun. Cajun pulled off some feats to turn and bring ewes and lambs out of thick brush that had me shaking my head in amazement. He and I may never get it together well enough to hit the trial fields but he’s a hell of ranch dog, that’s for sure.

This morning both boys and I were back at it. My hurry to beat the darkness did result in missing and leaving a small group of sheep behind. They showed up on the lawn first thing this morning and that’s how the day started. After that, it was off to bring the group to the building for sorting. 


I’m actually not sure which dog this is in the photo, Cajun or Gibson. The trail wraps around to the left of the bush, which is where the flock is headed. I’m up at the front of the mob, out of sight from the dogs. I’m trusting the dogs are at the back, still working sheep. Allen took the photo from a nearby hilltop.

The day didn’t stop there. Those two dogs worked for the next two hours, bringing sheep into holding pens and forcing them down the alleyway for sorting. Today I have the best Kelpies in the country. Lambs are sorted and ewes are back out on pasture while the lambs are being held here near the yard.  Tomorrow, we’ll bring lambs back in for weighing and ear tagging. It will be another long, sheep full day.


Animal Appreciation

Recently I received an email from an individual looking for help with a sick ewe. The lady had gone through great lengths to help her ewe live and there was little more that I could offer her (besides that, I’m just not an expert on sick sheep). Unfortunately that ewe died.

The lady emailed me again and commented that losing sheep might not be so tough if she didn’t get attached to them and give them treats and call them by name. That she needed to learn to raise them as livestock. Her comment struck a chord with me and I thought my reply and further musing worth sharing.

Sheep are compelling and amiable creatures. They’re smart, they’re inquisitive, they’re winsome and engaging. You know what I think, there is no need to view them differently if seeing them the way you do is what makes you smile inside. And you can still say you’re raising them as livestock in my books. There is no reason to fit a mold, is there? There is precious value in appreciating animals as animals. Maybe what the world needs is more people who view them as the creatures they are and not just as livestock.

I have favourite ewes in my flock, for sure. It hurts to lose them and any other animal. But I read emails and blogs of people with their precious small flocks, full of favourite ewes, and I wish for a bit more of that. There are liberties we take with small flocks that we may not take with large ones and vice-versa. I guess we all get to choose and the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Some days I look at this flock and think, wow, I’m so glad for this life. Some days I really just want a small flock of tidy sheep, that I can easily call by name.


Minerals On Offer

I meant to share this post back in the summer when I took the photos but I never did. Likely because I kept swapping it for anything that made it seem I live a more glamorous life than minerals, fences, and noticing what sheep are eating. I’m not sure I succeeded. 

Anyhow, I occasionally field questions about the mineral program I offer to the ewes, how I mix it and what I put it in. Well here I am in the pasture, refilling the tub.

My tubs of assorted goodies.
Vitamin A and D
Thiamine
The mineral mix - contains kelp, limestone, sulphur, copper sulphate
Kelp which I also pepper into the salt (not shown) which is offered seperate from the mineral.


The black mineral tub is a covered, three compartment cattle mineral tub. I put salt in two compartments and the mineral mix in the third. The salt will be refilled numerous times before they mineral mix is consumed.


The ewes have no trouble getting into the tub.


But this ewe doesn’t wait for me to finish before coming for a lick of salt.




Alive and Living

I’m slowly making ground on the fence line grass cutting. 1.5 miles done. It’s a job that I can only do for an hour or so at a time. By then the trimmer is out of gas and my shoulders are screaming and my neck is tight.

Today I spent some welcome time away from sheep and grass and fence lines. This morning I traveled to the city to pick up my wool art which has been on display since on dropped it off for a local exhibition art showcase, over month ago. I stayed for brunch with a friend before coming home to an afternoon of working dogs. I loaded everyone but Fynn on the Ranger and worked dogs until another friend showed up with her two dogs.

Maybe there was some carry over from the sheep work with Cajun a could evenings ago because we sure had a fine time. Cajun and I relaxed with one another, I let Gibson kick it up a notch, BJ had me laughing, and Jayde was her usual work-mode Border Collie self.

Allen took care of chores in the evening so I didn’t even have to do that when I was done. It felt like an unplanned day off. It felt like one of those days that you want all of your days to be. Those days that you know you’re alive and living.

p.s There’s a mesmerizing post over on Sheep Dog 365 tonight. Another incident that left me feeling more alive than I've felt in awhile.

Perfume of Time

Tonight was an unexpectedly full evening of dog work.

I only planned on using Cajun to bring home the dogging group. That was work enough if only because it was such a long walk, with heavy sheep, on a hot evening. I took him because I wanted a dog with a long outrun just so I had an easier time tonight. A dog I didn’t have to focus on as hard to get the job done, like I would have to with Gibbs or BJ right now.

We did that plus collecting some surprise wayward ewes - a couple groups of them - and taking them a half mile back to the flock. I was about to head off to feed guard dogs when we found our third group. A tiny little bunch with one extremely challenging and determined ewe. I'm proud to say everyone is back where they belong.

Photo Courtesy of Liezel Hattingh
I wish there was a way to bottle up the essence of partnership, skill, scope, bravado, and heart that Cajun and I experienced together tonight. Some way to condense it into the scent of time and presence so I can spritz myself with the good perfume during those times I get angry at him for not taking a stop or the proper flank. Like the scent of Grandma’s kitchen on Sunday morning after church, a spritz from this perfume would transport me to place of calm and joy that I long to be in every time I step out with my dogs. 

Cat Urbigkit - Blog Sharing

Cat Urbigkit’s life is very different and yet vaguely familiar to me, although I think I’ve got the easier row to hoe. I have spent numerous hours of the day watching over sheep when predator trouble was high, but I’ve yet to live and sleep with the flock. Nor do I deal with wolves.

Her recent article on this nature blog is a great read. An insightful and truthful account of how it goes sometimes, in the this ever evolving, natural life with sheep and dogs.


The Vast Night Sky

Night time is arriving earlier and there have been gloriously calm evenings of late. I head out earlier to accomplish the evening routine with the guardians and the flock before dark and it feels as though I’m putting the stock dogs up way too early.

I rarely think to take night time photos but then again I do prefer to be indoors when it’s dark out. With the strong moon this night, I was able to capture a night sky photo. Not bad for a point and shoot camera. Whether day or night, it’s an impressive sky out here, away from any town or city lights. 



Climbing Up

“Good instincts tell you what to do long before your head has it figured out.”

Unknown Source




Whipped

It was quite the day, I needed both of these. I hold up here pretty well for the most part, but occasionally I melt into a puddle of frustration and pure self pity. Maybe it was the heat. Nah, I know that wasn’t it.

It is a beautiful life here; some days it just gets the better of me. Nothing in particular went amiss. It was just a day that I felt tired of struggling and like tasks were too huge for me. I felt angry that I couldn’t do it anymore. I went out to the sheep in the morning and stared at them, half of them were on the wrong side of the fence. I surrendered and left them where they were. I don’t have to fix every thing in one day.

I headed out to whack grass on the fence line. It was the last thing I wanted to do but I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I freaked the dogs out with my morning tantrum so I didn’t want to be around them and they didn’t want to be around me.

It was already hot outside. I whipped grass until I ran the trimmer out of gas.  Sweat was dripping off my nose. God it felt good. I miss going to the gym and working out. I miss a lot of things that are no longer in my life due to where I live.

In my head I’ve been trying to sort out how to change things up for a long time.  Pondering the deeper questions of what my goal is, what to do first, where to go. Part of the anger is that I haven’t made any decisions and thus no prominent changes either. I’m playing small, and I know that does not serve me or the world.

It is a glorious life out here, but the challenge, as in any life, is to live it every day.

On The Fence

With the ewes slipping through fences, my rotational grazing is a moot point at the moment. Allen got part way around the fence line last week and discovered a wire down. Fixing that helped increase power to the wires but proved not to be the real trouble. I began my dreaded task of cutting grass along the fence line today. I got a full hour into the job and then ran out of gator line in the whipper snipper.

I have no idea how long this job will take but I imagine it will take awhile. I guess that’s okay; I have all month to work on it. As I do I can sort out what direction to go in with this flock. With the lambs at foot and grazing now, there are close to a thousand sheep here. A thousand animals eat their way through a paddock in a hurry. Only half this land is fenced so I need to decide to either do more perimeter fencing, which is not something I want to consider while I’m trying to solve fence trouble on the existing fence, or sell some animals. As with most big decisions there is many offshoots. Winter feed, cash flow for new fence, low sheep prices, and deciphering what it is I really want to see happen in the future. It might be a shaky month.

How In The Heck…

Sheep camp and the herding trials are all said and done. The silence here is immense and little difficult to feel.

The evening after the herding trials we opened a couple gates and allowed the dogging sheep to come and go between a few paddocks to get a good feed. Today I headed out with Cajun to round them up, do another sort and send the majority of them out to pasture to rest with the flock, keeping a couple dozen nearby to continue to work the dogs.

The girls were spread out to all four corners and some were lost in a thistle patch. But one ewe really caught me by surprise. Even with the open gates and no pressure from dogs she had to go over the fence instead of around.

She hooked one back leg in the top square of the woven wire fence. It twisted and caught her foot. I found her hung up by the hind leg, thankfully with her head and shoulders on the ground. Had she been suspended I’m sure I would have found her in a very different state.

The wire only twisted around her foot once so she was relatively easy to free. She stood and did the drunken sailor walk which ewes do after being so long tipped up on their side. Her foot was useless to her so I imagine the circulation had been cut off for some time. Cajun and I brought her in and she rested while I sorted. I watched her walk in the pen and when she thought about it, she could place the hoof square and place a little weight on it. But when she had to walk she was walking on the knuckle, like she couldn’t find her foot. I imagine it felt a little like when our own limbs fall asleep, although probably more painful, and hoped that was all it was. It wasn't broken so I decided not to splint it and let her out to pasture with the others.




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