On The Easel - Maybe

This is a sketch I did a little while ago and haven’t taken any further. It’s a large piece and large pieces feel a little more daunting to start on. I think I’ll add a couple more dogs in before I start the good version. Being of a large size it’s sketched out on a large piece of manilla sketch paper. The photo picked up a glare from my light (I don't have it sketched that way).

There is a lot of sheep detail, so it's going to take a while. I won't start the good version until I'm ready to run with it so to speak. The finished piece will be done in colour pencil.

I’m off bright and early tomorrow morning for a weekend visit with a good friend and then picking up pups.  Allen will have the weekend to himself - well, sort of - he’ll have all the dogs. :)  I'll catch up again at the start of next week.

Sorting and Setting up for LGD Pups

Looking forward to seeing this pile of sleeping beauties. I will be heading out in a few days time to pick up our couple new prospects for guardian duty. You can see more photos back at this blog post.

Photo Courtesy of Ian Paul
 It is time to get set up.

The last time I did this was three years ago for Whisk and Diesel so I have some remembering to do.

Well first thing is to make sure I have some sheep to set with the pups. I fed the flock this morning and let them have a few hours of eating before heading out after lunch to bring them in for sorting. I went out via the barn paddock so I could open necessary gates.

Lo and behold the girls were just coming up for water - at the barn paddock. This was a lucky break as they were much closer to where I wanted them. I just needed to scoop behind them and close the gate out to pasture. Done.

I had the sheep at the yard and I didn’t even have a stock dog out yet. In a moment of shining optimism I thought I might be able to walk the ewes right into the building myself. I soon abandoned the idea and walked to the house for Jayde and Gibb. The stock work has been pretty light for the last few months so they were definitely feeling up to the task.

In the barn, I left the ewes in a group and just walked through catching the animals I wanted. I figured I still had enough lighter lambs from the 2013 lambing that I could use (and could catch). I was after wether lambs and wanted about 20 animals but it turned out I didn’t have 20 light wethers so I took some light ewe lambs as well.

My second lucky break happened as the ewes were filing in and I spied an orange tag ewe trying to lamb and looking like she might need a hand. Here she was right where I needed her. I tucked her into a make shift pen, pulled the little gaffer and left them settle there for the afternoon.

Over the next couple of days I'll be moving sheep panels, blocking gates and escape holes that pups might slip through. I’ll set up a cozy nest box for them in or near the building and generally make ready for two hooligans who will consume my days for the next little while.

Sheep on the Move

A couple more winter photos because I’m sure this snow is going to be gone soon.

The ewes are following the tractor tire tracks up the hill. Judging from their very round forms, especially the ewe in the middle near the bottom, they’re getting ample to eat.

Taking the path of least resistance as they move over to their chosen bedding area for the evening.

I love how sheep travel in the snow. When you have a hilltop vantage point it’s like watching a large wooly snake move across the hills sides.

Off the Easel

The first day of Spring and lest we forget about it so soon, Mother Nature plunged us back into winter. I’m sure she means well, although I was just getting comfortable about not needing the heavy winter coveralls. 

Yesterday the ewes went off to graze; I have no idea what they were managing to pick at. Today they hunkered down and stayed near the hay. I am no longer bringing them to the night area but letting them settle and bed out on pasture. They seem to appreciate this new arrangement.

If Mother Nature was shelling out a few more cold days I figured I’d put them to good use. I worked on our farm finances.

Yah, I know, who am I kidding, ... that wasn’t the good use part.  Finishing this piece was.

Waiting to Go
Pencil drawing on tan paper
9 x 12" size

Deer Tracks

This is along our route to Saskatoon, our closest city. This is our country road in the winter time. It snowed in the afternoon and Allen took the photos on his way home in the evening. The vehicle tracks are obvious and all those extra tracks running parallel - are deer tracks. It looks like the tracks could have been made by a passing sheep flock. I see tracks like this in the pastures in level places where the sheep can spread out to travel. In deep snow or difficult terrain, sheep travel single file and I imagine deer do to. I love how the deer take the easy and use the roads in late winter, when the snow in the ditches and the fields is deep and uneven.

In this next photo the deer are in the distance, although hard to see. In late winter they travel in large groups so it’s common to see many of them.

I Found LGD Pups

I found some LGD pups, or rather they found me because I never even starting looking for one. Dogs finding me seems to be a common occurrence and there is a feeling of ease and flow, and of rightness to the whole process, if you can call it a process.  What cinches it is the common ground feeling with the persons on the other end. So I guess you could say I get more of my dogs by way of feel than I do by way of research. Interestingly I farm that way too.

These pups were brought to my attention by a reader of Crooked Fences, who lives in Manitoba, the next province to the East. And it just-so-happens that I’m traveling that way to visit a friend. And it just-so-happens that Ian lives right along the route there. No kidding. There’s the ease and flow thing again.

More importantly than all the logistics so easily falling into place, I like this litter. A large, healthy litter of nine pups and Ian prefers to keep pups until at least eight weeks of age. I appreciate that (and his feed bill in doing so) because there is so much interaction and learning between the pups that would be lost were the pups kicked out of the nest at a younger age. Interaction like this sets a sturdy stage for pups who will be working and living in pack situations as mine do. Those pups will have learned a few things about behaviour in the pack, including how to keep the peace, that receiving a correction from mom or a litter mate is not the end of the world, and, even as pups, they’ll learn some fighting moves. Having learned even rudimentary skills in puppy play fights will help them when they face predators.

There are still a few of these pups available! I’ll be heading on my road trip at the end of the month. If you also find yourself considering a LGD pup, and you happen to live somewhere in the vicinity of central Saskatchewan I’d be happy to pay the ease and flow forward, and transport an extra pup or two back this way.

All photos in this post are courtesy of Ian.

On The Easel

I live the perfect life in that there is always time in the farm schedule, especially in the winter, for this pursuit:

Kelpie, color pencil on tan paper
This piece will take numerous hours to finish up but I'm working steady on it so that I may finish before the warm weather takes me outside for steady farm work.

All for Naught

Aarrgghh, That’s my rant on sheep today - the little buggers.

All the sorting we did turned out to be for naught. The very next day those 20 odd, orange tag ewes expected to lamb, walked over a snowbank and rejoined the flock.

They’ll stay there now.

There was one ewe though who was cycling (so obviously not going to lamb anytime soon). She stayed put and kept the rams with her. So amazingly a nice natural sort of the rams occurred. Nature's display of order amidst the chaos that we sometimes feel.

First Lamb

Out of a surprise necessity, sheep work began today.

A lamb was born and died this morning. The lamb was born to a first time replacement ewe. We only discovered the lamb because Diesel was eating it for breakfast (I'll spare you any photos). I insisted D give the lamb up, something the LGD’s do not do very willingly.

This little lamb never got her feet (I can tell by the membrane on the sole of the foot). I ruled out Diesel interfering with the birth since he’s been through two lambing seasons and never done so. He’s innocent until proven guilty there. So I’m going with this theory instead: the lamb was born dead, or died shortly after birth due to an inattentive mom. Diesel was cleaning up what was left behind.

If you’re thinking it, you’re right, we don’t lamb until May. I’m as surprised as you, however, unlike you, I had a heads up - which I forgot all about. Due to an error I made in the Fall, a group of dogging sheep were let in with the rams and spent a day there before being noticed.

So even knowing of the oops, I was still totally unprepared for this lamb today. A look back into the flock record book, shows the breeding date, and yep - it meant lambs in March (and how did it get to be the tenth of March already? I think I’ve been buried in artwork too long). The whole scenario has me feeling out of touch with this flock and with this calendar year. I feel a bit like I’ve shirked some diligent duty of a good shepherd. I feel, in a word, awkward.

Bless his big heart, Allen helped me sort out the 20 odd, might by due to lamb soon, ewes, and set them in the barn paddock. This way they can be outside during the day but I can tuck them indoors at night. Since we were sorting animals, we pulled the rams out as well. And so it is, that with the first lamb of the year on the ground, breeding is officially over for this season :-)

They Know

They know of Spring’s approach.

The first drips of icicle water fell from the rooftops today. It was one of these immeasurable, sunny, prairie days that gives us real hope that Spring will indeed arrive once again; that while March can deal us some swift winter weather yet, we’re happy knowing we made it through the longest part of another Northern prairie winter.

The ewes felt it too.

For the first night in a long, cold winter they were still out on a hay covered hilltop when I came out in the evening. I thought to leave them where they were but still feel some necessity to have the sheep and livestock guardian dogs in the night area overnight.

I walked out to feed the dogs and while handing out raw meat to them, the ewes began to file toward home. Then led by an adventurous ewe, the back end of the group took a right turn and headed to another hilltop. I walked that way to steer them back. This time they took a left. I steered them straight again. They did not want to go home tonight.

Once in the night paddock the girls might travel to check the mineral tub or maybe to get a drink but then begin to settle for the night. Tonight though, a stream of animals began to race up and down, kicking their heels and leaping up, just like lambs do on a warm summer evening. Although this was possibly even funnier to see than lambs. Another group of animals milled up and down on a huge pile of snow.

In the main group it was like watching popcorn pop as a single ewe would leap in the air, and then another, and another, as though each were popped by the energy of the other. I felt a bit like popping myself, and walked back to the yard with an extra spring in my step and laughter still on my face.

Canine to Canine

This photo was taken in the Fall. 

Whiskey is watching Diesel in the distance but not moving out to join his brother. He’s not moving away from this spot.

I remember this evening because I made a point to stop and take photos to try and show the story.  When I approached from the top side of the photo, that lamb (there on the right side) was hidden.  I noticed it because I noticed Whiskey, who was curled up nearby. I left the lamb there and continued with my check of the flock. Whiskey is still here when I return, and I think to take the photo. 

Livestock guardian dogs have the deserved reputation of predator control, however they do so much more that is equally important. The dogs and how they act are indicators of what is happening in the flock. They do this.

You might get a sense from the photo that there is some particular bond between a dog and his charges. Yet I don’t think Whiskey acts out of any sort of bond to this lamb or any other. Rather I think this comes down to a more primal need to lay claim to a resource that is much more primal to dogs. Food. While the dogs do not touch the lambs or dead ewes, they still guard a chache so no one else can touch it either. The dogs are very effective guardians because the dogs understand the behaviour of the wild canines they deter.

Stock Doggin Good Times

After an almost three month hiatus from working stock dogs I plunged back into it today. Oh, it was fun to be back at it. BJ, Gibson and Jayde wholeheartedly agree. 

When you do an awful lot of something of real importance to you, you fluctuate through high times and low times. I felt that low point with the stock dogs late in 2013. With December being as cold as it was, I didn’t do much beyond the flock work that had to get done. Then I made the choice to completely leave stock dog work alone for January and February.  Being as they are (and certainly were) the coldest months of our year on the prairies I thought this would be a good choice. It was better than good, it was a very sound choice for the dogs and I.

Months off from a routine is enough to nip that routine in the bud, so it did take some effort to move myself out of the art studio, dress up, head outdoors and bring sheep in. The ground surface is a bit of a nightmare, hard packed in some spots, knee deep in others and icy in between. So I worked in the small indoor space I have, with a very fresh and lovingly light group of ram lambs and wethers (light refers to their movement away from dogs and humans, not their weight. Sheep who are worked often become dulled to the presence of dogs and people and are less concerned about fleeing. They are referred to as heavy. Light sheep flee like deer).

It was good to feel the rhythm of dogs and sheep again and feel the joy for it come back to life.

Creative Spurts

I am in state of being without guilt as I plug away at some artwork, losing myself in the motion of drawing or felting; popping my head out now and again to see what Allen is up to, and when the dogs have had enough of lying around and insist on going outdoors for some fresh air activity.

I was making great strides on this piece of needle felting but was forced to halt tonight when I ran out of blue colored wool. 

You don't see any blue because in this photo I've only just started the project. This is another large piece with ample prairie sky in it, hence the need for a lot of blue wool - more than I had on hand. 

When I do artwork I have a habit of switching projects, so can have a few projects on the go. In this case I dropped the needle felting and finished up a pencil drawing I left sitting on the easel, waiting for the tweak it needed that I couldn’t see at the time. I adore this piece even with the one small flaw added by a wee Kelpie who drooled on it! It's pretty obvious on the original, but can you really blame her?!

Wood Chuck
p.s I am so glad I put hay out ahead of this cold spell. With Allen's help through the weekend, the morning chores were very simply accomplished. 

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