Re-Post Interrupted

In this rural location the wind interrupts our internet connection and the last two days have been terribly windy, resulting in no internet access since yesterday morning til late this afternoon.  I did intend to post on schedule but could not.

Since we have arrived at New Year's once again, I thought re-posting this seemed fitting.  I first shared it in my Crooked Fences Newsletter.  (If you're in to this blog you'll enjoy the newsletter as well).

Here's the post:
"This is the time of year when I can almost forget I have sheep.  I mean aside from doing morning and evening chores every day there is little else taking place that involves the flock.  During Spring, Summer and Fall my days are regularly consumed with being outside, attempting to accomplish the never ending volley of tasks that crop up on a farm.  But the winter presents a chunk of time without hurry.  Time to cozy up, be at peace with dark winter evenings and make some dreams for next year.

The land is frozen and a tad barren looking.  A recent warmer day has created an icy shine across the landscape.  The monochrome grey-blue skies and grey-white snow, is occasionally interrupted by patches of long dead, orange-brown grass.  There is a unpretentious beauty about the place.  Even at this time of the year, land and livestock are intrinsically linked and I am glad I have planted myself at their intersection.

I am grateful to stand on a piece of land and know it breathes a life of its own.  I have a sense there is a meaning behind the madness and perhaps I am directing its course more than I think because I know now that being out of control is also being perfectly in control.

I witness how land and animal belong to the real nature of each other and I am satisfied to know that I can go with that flow, adding my own colorful nature to the mix.  This is what it means to exist amidst land and animal.  It is an accomplished place to be.  It is a compelling place to dream. "

Christmas Calm

I was hoping to post some brilliant writing tonight and I waited all day for it to happen, but after a couple days of Christmas affairs it just isn’t happening.

My Christmas holidays used to be as complicated as everyone else’s still seem to be but these last few years the holidays have been immensely calm.   All the time spent in the company of sheep and dogs offers me a great sense of serenity that is finally able to percolate into other aspects of life.  The last few days were full of expected company, expected roles, plus unexpected conversations and unexpected understanding.  It was a good few days.  

We started feeding hay to the sheep on a daily basis on Christmas day.  They don’t head out to graze as often and I expect they’ll stop doing so completely very soon and since they have taken to crossing fences again lately that will be okay with me.  The guardian dogs are all faring well although Lady still looks unkempt.  For a month or so I have been adding raw meat, trim and scraps to their diet.  I recently discovered the wonders of my crock pot for making meat/bone broths and hot mashes of rice, oats and scraps.  The dogs have been gobbling it up. 

We did not travel for Christmas and did not step outside of our usual routine so it’s really been life per usual with extra visiting thrown into the mix.  Allen has a long seven day stretch of work now and I’ll spend the time taking care of animals, finishing up the chocolates and continuing with artwork. Not a bad way to wrap up a year.  Not bad at all.

Monochrome Beauty

The winter solstice has just passed, rolling us gently into the winter season.  It’s truly a winter wonderland out here this week, not in the manner of fresh snow but in a gorgeous display of whites nonetheless.  It’s like Mother Nature has gone monochrome, and in only the way Mother N can do it, she has created an incredibly natural show of it.

It’s not likely I’ll match her real life display on my camera lens, but here’s my best effort with the little know-how I have of this new camera. 

It’s morning and the rising sun casts a pink glow over this little patch of our back forty.  The stock dogs are milling to and fro, wondering why I've delayed the ritual walk, but some moments you just have to stand still for.  (Click on the photos to see them larger size). 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Soulful Purpose to Everyone.

Contented Completion

All our sheep sorting is done and yesterday Cajun and I walked the rams out to the pasture, completing the job.  I let Cajun move the rams part way and settled them there, knowing they would find the ewes without trouble.  I called Cajun back and turned to watch the guardian dogs. Well off in the distance one dog had sounded the alert.  It was Lily and Oakley who ventured forward to investigate the rams, sniffing them in greeting, letting them pass and then walking with them. 

Cajun and I went home, walking in the lovely, peaceful grey morning.  I feel content that this task is done before Christmas this year.  I hope the weather gods are with me come the start of lambing mid May.

Every outdoor surface is heavy with the crystals of winter fog that has been lingering for a few days.  I’ve been wondering why the ewes are not making regular trips up for water but I suppose they’re taking in some moisture with every mouthful.

I rolled out hay feed this morning and the ewes traveled to the feed.  But before I was done chores they left the hay and headed back out to graze.  It’s remarkable that they’re still grazing this late in the year.  The milk vetch is proving to be a worthwhile stock piled forage.

I’ve been putting my pedal bike to good use this year.  Lately I’ve taken to going further along the grid road than usual, riding, in the company of the dogs, until I reach our outlying piece of hay land. This property is not adjacent to any of the others.  It’s not fenced and we’ve never grazed the sheep here and I’ve never explored it on foot.  I ride my bike on the road until I’m abreast of this piece, then leave the bike and go for a walk across the pasture.  The snow cover is minimal and only of issue in the hollows now, and I revel in the simple ability to travel on the pasture and feel frozen, grassy, earth beneath my feet in the winter time.  I feel the thrill of walking in the midst of land that has been here all along but yet I’m just discovering now.  The stock dogs are enthused and thrilled to be exploring new spaces and it’s energizing just watching them. 

We enjoy a long time there each day and afterward, my bike ride, and their run home, are a little less vigorous in a very contented, satisfied and soul filling way. 

Gone For A Winter Stroll

It might have been better to have left well enough alone.  It might have been better to let the ewes decide when they were done feeding on the milk vetch.

Instead we led the ewes off the milk vetch pasture and into the millet field, hoping they would pick at the remaining millet while the snow cover is light and they can find it.
We led them there with a bale of hay, spread out the feed and parked the ewes right on top of it. We didn’t think they’d leave the hay feed or the millet field.

That evening I was in the midst of a rare, once in lifetime, baking spree so Allen graciously headed out to do the rounds.  Allen enjoys the sheep when all is well but not so much otherwise.  The ewes were nowhere near where we fed them that morning and the simple evening check suddenly expanded into much more.  The ewes, with their dutiful guardian dog companions, had to be collected from a mile further to the West, and they weren’t looking to settle and bed down any time soon. Allen brought them toward home, heading for a back gate, and instead the ewes turned a corner into the North West pasture, still moving in earnest. With the arrival of darkness he finally left them on a hillside and hoped for the best.

They were still there this morning - and we left them in the North West pasture to graze today and probably tomorrow too. Tomorrow night they’ll be brought in to bed in the small paddock near the building. Thursday morning we sort groups for breeding.  From there, maybe we’ll send them back to the milk vetch pasture. 

The New June Bug

We purchased our first side by side vehicle, six years and 20,000 km’s ago. At the time I thought we were paying for an extravagant toy.  The first day home with the new black and silver Polaris Ranger we invited the three border collies to check it out and instantly dubbed it the Border Collie bus.

From that day onward each stock dog has come to understand that ‘get on the bus’ means we’re very possibly going to the sheep, but at the least, we’re going for an adventure.  The extravagant toy turned to out to be an essential vehicle for life on a grass based sheep ranch.

The Ranger is strictly a farm vehicle, only driven around our land. It’s our main farm vehicle and we use it year round. We use it rather than the truck. We’ve driven it through deep water, deep snow, deep mud, rough terrain and regular trails.

All the dogs, livestock guardians included, have ridden on the bus at one time or another.  It carries pups back and forth to pasture, and sick and injured dogs home to the yard; it hauls all manner of material in it’s ample box space, and has towed a few things too. 

Several ewes have been for a ride in the back and more than several lambs have ridden on the seat beside us or on our lap.  During one winter it was our feed vehicle, and we fitted it with a bale roller for unrolling round bales.  It became so commonplace it even made its way into some of my artwork.

We’ve done 20,000 km’s of pasture-touring and checking-sheep on this unit and it’s now time to retire the Border Collie bus.  It is parked in the shop for a much needed overhaul of parts and a little TLC.  It runs fine and will serve someone well in its retirement years yet, but given how much we rely on this vehicle and how many miles we pile on, we elected to purchase a new one. 

Unlike Allen, I don’t get that excited by vehicles, but my appreciation of the Ranger runs deep. What I do get excited about, and what I respect and admire and feel hopeful about, is that someone out there had an idea and a passion to make such a vehicle, and saw the idea through, and now I’m one of many recipients of that idea and passion.  How nifty is that.

This one was nicknamed June Bug before we left the dealership. A bit of a new look, a new color and a newer model, but otherwise a very familiar face to us. ‘Get-on-the-bus’ will continue to be a well used phrase around here.

Ram Power, the Other Half of The Flock

After a night of fog, daylight brought strong sunlight, resulting in a glorious display of winter whites.  I headed out with the camera planning for some snowy tree photos only to be completely distracted by the rams when I arrived there to say hello and check in on the group.

I put heavy emphasis on my ewe flock being the animals I desire to see me through this style of management. The dams are important but the other half of a flock is the sire of the offspring. For my purposes I’m seeking some of the same things in my rams that I do in my ewes.  Nice conformation, nice feet, nice size and they can’t be crazy wild.  I like an animal that looks like it will do just fine walking miles on the pasture and eating the good grass there.  I don’t just shop for a carcass when I look for rams and I don’t produce them with that in mind either.

This is one of my two pure-blood Clun Forest rams.  I love his head, his face and his tidy, tidy, black feet.  The body between the head and feet measures up pretty nicely too.

This is one of my crossbred commercial rams, born and raised here, on grass and with no grain.  I love that I’m getting some nice bone in the legs and keeping those tidy feet.

These animals do well on pasture because they have good feet and strong legs to carry them.  This fellow has a nice head, not to wide across the brow which means lambs with proportionate heads instead of large ones that are tough for ewes to birth.

Up close - the tidy ears and dark face of a commercial Clun Forest cross ram.

Then there is this fellow.  Jethro has come through his first summer and fall with us and enters winter in good shape.  He stands taller and is thicker than my stockier Cluns and Clun crosses.

He has a sweet expression and although he is a quiet and very unassuming fellow it has nothing to do with that sweet smile he permanently wears.  Jethro has one drawback, he has long toes.  They’re not overgrown like those I’ve noticed on a few of our ewes with Targhee influence (I'm noticing more and more there is a correlation between fine wool breeds and iffy feet) but I’ll be watching them closely and will see what results I get in my replacement ewe lambs next year.

The S Word

Nestled as I am in this corner of a prairie life it’s easy to see agriculture through my own rose coloured glasses. I am quite content with the view.  I am quite content with my perspective and my passion that agriculture be about land and animals, not about production units and factories.

So it comes as a shock to me that during meeting consultations with various agriculture stakeholders and reps from our provincial ministry of agriculture, that using the S-word is akin to speaking way out of line. What is the S-word?  Sustainable.

It comes as a shock to me that in a room of agriculture ‘specialists’, for lack of a better word, it seemed I was the only one to consider the notion that we might be sustainable, or consider the environment as we move forward in planning.

It also came as a shock, although a very different and satisfying kind of shock, that regardless of how small I felt in that room full of ‘specialist’s yesterday, this time I spoke up. And when the feedlot fellow next to me looked as though he might like to jab me with his dessert fork because I used the S-word, I didn’t shy away.  

What I haven’t figured out is where to put the energy and over running frustration when I leave the meeting. Or what to do with the plethora of thoughts that are filling my head for a full day afterward.

This afternoon I worked the stock dogs, which definitely pulled my head out of the political cloud for awhile. Tonight I fed the guardian dogs, gave Oakley a long scratch on the chest and watched the sheep meander in from grazing and settle themselves for a winter night. Tomorrow I’m at another meeting, but expect this one to be rather easy going. After that I shall be planted at home for awhile, with time and space to sort and shift this brewing energy.

Relief Is...

Relief: successfully feeding the livestock in windy -30 Celsius weather.

There is some nasty, windy, cold weather here and I’m offering the sheep some hay bales each day to get them through. Since we switched from leaving bales on the pasture to taking bales out to the sheep each day, it’s interesting how extreme cold now shifts my perspective for the day. Rather than a barrage of things to do, the focus is on getting animals fed.  If I do that I will have done enough. What remains of the day is minor and is wide open.

I also tend to approach cold days in increments, one step at a time.
I put on an extra layer of clothing, adding on the layers of outer clothes until I’m ready to go.

Next, the tractor just needs to run, it doesn’t matter that there is no cab and it will be cold. If the tractor starts and the hydraulics work we’re off to a good start.

Retrieve a bale from the stack and thoughtfully pick my route out to pasture. If I don’t get stuck the day will go much smoother. Assure myself that if I do get stuck, there’s always a shovel, the animals will still get fed, just a little later than hoped.

Once I get bales out to the pasture I breath a sigh of relief. Then I know the sheep will be fed, even if not where I intended to feed them, there is now food available to them.

Preferably get the bales to a sheltered spot, again if I get stuck, there is always the shovel and shoveling snow warms one up in a hurry.

Successfully unroll a couple bale. Assure myself if I don’t get the bales unrolled, there’s always a pitch fork to move hay around so four hundred plus animals have access to eat or to let them bale graze.

Failing all the above, curse and cry, then call Allen for advice and/or the neighbour for help.

On the days that Allen is home my perspective is different again. I automatically feel a sense of relief that comes from having a fix-anything-farmer-man at hand, and knowing there are two of us to accomplish the days feeding.

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