Friday, February 28, 2014

Half as Cold

In my previous job I was a lab rat (formerly known as a technician) in a soil microbiology laboratory. I maintained a collection of bacterial cultures, stored in a -80 degree Celsius freezer. The bacterial cells were mixed with sterile mineral oil to buffer the cells and prevent them from exploding as they froze in such extreme cold. I had special gloves to handle the containers of bacterial cultures. When I didn’t wear them I’d get frozen white spots on my fingertips.

I headed out for a walk with the stock dogs this afternoon and in a fashion only the mind can manage, I was contemplating how we are heading into a weekend that will be half as cold as that freezer. Factor in our wind chill and we’re only a warm summer day from being as cold.

Since it was only -26 this afternoon though, and the tractor was willing to run, I spent a couple hours setting out enough hay bales for the sheep to get us through the next couple days of extreme cold. After a night with static temperatures close to minus forty the tractor might not run well enough tomorrow morning. Pitchforks always work, and with the bales where needed the animals will be fed. I’ll wear my gloves. :)


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Do You Ever Wonder Why It Is

It is brutally cold out again. It is the minus thirty kind of cold that makes feeding four hundred animals a significant accomplishment of the day.

Mother Nature can be a tough coach, and when you live amidst her presence in such a reliant fashion as farming is, she really digs the soul out of you. Each morning after I finish feeding I do a silent cheer and then whisper a thank you that all went well for another day and the animals are fed.

There is a sweet warmth in the sun now and this morning I sat for a moment to let it sink through my hundred layers, until I could ‘feel’ it on my skin.

Do you ever wonder why it is that you got to where you are?

I was considering how it is that in ten years of farming this is the first winter I have fed with, and thus am reliant on, a tractor. In today's farming era, that’s rather remarkable. A zillion choices in those ten years created the space I’m in now - created the why of why I'm here.


It’s certain that if I had started out with all the fancy equipment that supposedly makes life more efficient, I would not be in the same place of appreciation. Nor would I feel so secure in what can be accomplished when you flow with nature rather than against her. I guess in some way, I, and this place, are proof of it.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lady's Hidden Agenda

Sometimes I am taking photos of the flock, trying to capture a scene or a story happening amongst the ewes. When I'm focused on catching photos of sheep I'm not paying particular attention to the livestock guardian dogs, unless a neat photo opportunity presents itself.

Often I'm on the ground and the dogs pester me for a bit, sniffing the camera and thinking they might like to make off with a resting mitt that I've set aside in order to operate the camera. After a few minutes of being ignored they go on their way, snuffling through the sheep and finally making a resting spot in the hay. 


When I look back through photos later it gives me a great chuckle to notice Lady is in a photo I've taken of a group of sheep. I chuckle at how she is there and here I spent that time taking a photo and not 'seeing her.' Lady is not a visitor like the other dogs. She always keeps a safe distance away. She will allow occasional touching, but only ever so briefly. In each photo I find her in, she's looking like this; watchful, curious, a bit suspicious, close enough yet concealed at the same time.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Time to Try Again

When you add a dog to a group there will be adjustments for the pack. It is the same when dogs leave a group.  About ten days after the loss of Glory and Willow the first hiccups with the livestock guardian dogs arose.

Being without his partner, Zeus had to adjust to working solo for the first time in his young years. And the loss of Glory left three males and Lady in the main pack.

The livestock guardian dogs live with the sheep, away from the yard, and that means they are on their own time more than I am there to supervise their life. Yet the results of a dog fight can net you some clues about what might have happened. I’ve also developed a pretty good sixth sense when it comes to knowing something is amiss and then watching the dogs to see what it might be.

Knowing the dogs as I do, I know when they are out of sorts. The usual greeting isn’t so usual and yet there is nothing outlandish that makes it so. It’s just the way a dog approaches, or that one did and the other didn’t. Or the subtle tension in posture that wasn’t there the day before.

In this case it was obvious there had been a fight and Oak was on the rough end of it. A single fight is seldom reason to make more upheaval for the pack but it certainly means heads up. A second fight two days later and some serious posturing between the males indicated they were not over what they started. Oakley was once again on the rough end and I wasn’t willing to risk him to a third fight. I took Oakley out and moved him up to the building where he spent a few days recovering on a wool pile with a heat light above. I think he thought he was in heaven. He rested deeply. As Oak recovered he spent his days with Zeus  - and he’s still there.


He is fully recovered and Diesel and Whiskey have spent time with him again without incident. However, it’s not so much that I don’t wish to put Oak back with the big boys, it’s that I don’t wish to pull him away from Zeus, and not wanting Zeus to work alone is purely my issue. Zeus can handle the work and Zeus can handle being alone.

I’ll have to make adjustments again soon and for the security of the sheep I’m thinking that Oakley will need to return to be with the main group. That, and it’s time to think about another livestock guardian dog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brass Tacks


Brass Tacks

Not what we are
But who we are
And that which we will be
Not how we are
But why we are
And where it all will lead.

                                                     Erin Morash

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Bit Of Winter Amusement Is In The Cards

I have a secret curiosity about Tarot Cards, palm reading and the like but have never explored either. This surprise gift showed up in the mail, shortly after a winter visit from a very dear, far away friend, during which time, the topic of Tarot cards came up briefly and I confessed my curiosity.


They are Animal Wisdom Tarot cards along with a book to guide on their use and meaning (Dawn Brunke and Ola Liola). I’m endlessly curious about them and enjoy the beautiful artwork of the cards.

Nature is full of symbols, clues and signs, and because I believe in raising animals in a fashion that is linked to the natural that we are in and of, these cards stir up in me a long forgotten instinctual self. When I come across the cards of the animals I know from living on the prairie I am lured into knowing more about the symbolism. And when I see those animals that share this place with me for real, I try to recall their symbol, their message.

I definitely feel an affinity for a few of the cards, like the Ram and the Coyote. I love coyotes, which is a very uncommon phrase to hear uttered from a sheep rancher. (In fact I don’t dare utter it in a room full of sheep farmers, but I know you’ll accept it for what it is here).

“Unpredictable, clever, spontaneous, and discerning, Coyote dares us to be courageous. ... Coyote’s appearance signals enthusiasm, ingenuity, and novel perceptions. ... And yet the trickster reminds us that not all is as it seems.  Zero is empty as well as round and full. ... even by doing nothing at all, everything will be done.”

You have to appreciate the wisdom in that.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lady In Fog

Every time I’m going through my iPhoto library I stop to look at a series of photos I took on a rare, warm, and foggy morning in January.  While the fog has lifted and I'm close enough for this photo that it looks more overcast than foggy, I still feel the morning.

Lady
There is something moving about foggy photos for me. It’s like Mother Nature chose to shroud a moment in time and is allowing us a soft peak. And possibly not everyone will see it, but only those who are looking instead of passing the moment by in search of more sunshine. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The EveryDay-Ness of Life

In the midst of routine every so often there arises a sense of dull sameness and wonderment about what one is doing. Or maybe that’s just linked to the solitude out here.

While I sense those times that I am wandering and wondering, I seldom know I’m in that particular space until, there I am, doing something that makes me see it.

This afternoon, without knowing what I was planning to do with them, I pulled out some of my artwork that is not already hanging on the walls.


I set the pieces out randomly as I pulled them from the art cupboard.  I think there is a common struggle with anyone who works on a pursuit that has no obvious, immediate, tangible outcome to it. The struggle to conquer the thoughts of not ever being enough.

When I saw my artwork laid out, I was reminded of why I stay this course. Why I live on the prairie, far from company, raise sheep, and immerse myself into a life of dogs and draw in my spare time. Sometimes I get lost and I forget all the why’s and the reasons. I look outwardly for the magic bullet; stewing, asking, thinking too hard and not seeing that the magic bullet is right here in the every-day-ness of life.

These are the every day ness of my life out here.


I impressed myself, I felt encouraged to pick up the pencil and keep on keeping on. I also asked the hard question: where does it go from here? I didn’t find the answer, but that’s okay, sometimes you just have to see where you’ve been or what you’ve done to appreciate where you are going.




Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Winter Shift

It’s brutal cold again, and chores are - well they are feeling a bit like a chore at this point of a long winter.  The sun is shining brighter though and the daylight is increasing. It feels more like our regular winter than the last month of wind and greyness has.

I wonder if the ewes get tired of coming to the same place to bed down. I only fed a single bale today and the girls ventured further afield in search of other nibbles under the snow. When I went out in the evening and saw them ‘grazing’ in the winter landscape and glinting evening sun, the scene unlocked a small, winter frozen, particle inside of me. I love it when I feel those affects of this place upon me. The dogs, both stock and guardians, are restless. I’m feeling a bit that way myself.  We’re all constricted by the cold and icy snow surface, walks just aren’t long and free moving enough.

I lost a ewe this past week and while moving her body noticed her fleece was brighter and with less lanolin than others. So I sheared some of it and made another attempt at washing wool for felting projects. I have had less than stellar results in the past but was hopeful for this try.


I have been playing around with tweaking the blog and with artwork and writing. I want to be a little more free with writing and shift this content in a slightly different direction. It’s just taking me some courage to do so.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tractor Feeding

One of the pitfalls of feeding with a tractor. Once familiar with it and what it brings the sheep crowd around it and the smaller animals crowd right underneath it and it is very easy to run them over. I suppose one of the blessings of not having a cab on the tractor is that I can see around the tires. This view would be blocked were there a cab on here. 


The wool on the animals is also a disadvantage when they get too close to rubber tires as it clings rather than slips.

This crowding really slows down the feeding time as all you can do is inch along to avoid crushing someone (and yes, it’s happened). It’s also too dicey to use a stock dog in this situation and since I’m out on pasture leaving the dog to watch the gate isn’t the answer either. Think I will start closing the gate behind me, thus keeping the animals in the night pen area while I go out and feed. Then I can let them wander out after me - they'll use their noses to find the way to the feed.