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.


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.

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