Wrinkles Along the Way

Today was set aside for finishing my online Crooked Fences newsletter.

I had no places to be, no conference calls, and felt a bit ahead of schedule on a presentation I’m doing next weekend.  So today I could devote to the newsletter.

There is always an underlying wrinkle in planning anything when you live a life with a plenitude of animals.

The flaw in my plan for today - today Lily and Diesel were pelted with porcupine quills.  Lily trotted straight up to me this morning and I thought she was being rather mission like.  I hadn’t yet noticed the left side of her face.  Poor dear, she had a mittful.  I sighed and I swore under my breath.  I tried to have a closer look but she thrashed her head around.  I let her be, decided to go ahead and feed the sheep and then take her home with me. 

I set to feeding hay and then noticed Diesel.  Double swearing.  I fed the first bale so that the milling sheep had somewhere out of the way to be and then took another look at D-man.  He didn’t look so bad off, I could probably help him.  With that thought barely out of my head, I reached into my pocket for the slip lead.  He was already on to me and made a beeline away from me.  I let him be, went back to feeding and then tried again.  I slipped the lead around his head and unfolded the needle nose pliers from the multipurpose tool I keep on my person.  I was wearing ear plugs for riding the tractor so I felt the growl in his throat before I heard it.  I needed to hear his growls to know what he meant to do.  They were vocalizations of stress and of confusion.  He didn’t want to bite me but it didn’t mean he wouldn’t.

He was not compliant in the least and at one point we had a heart to heart, in which I rather harshly explained that he was darn lucky to still be on this place such is the turmoil he has caused to numerous dogs, so he’d better sit tight and let me help him because fighting me was putting another nail in the coffin, so to speak.  It didn’t work.  I took a deeper breath and released it long and slow.  I had to be calm to help him but damn it, he had recently fought with Gibson and with Oakley, on separate occasions, and I was so frustrated with him. 

I looped the extra length of leash around his muzzle to hold it closed because I knew he picked up my frustration and with that there is no trust.  I had not taken the necessary time for trust to happen.  I only had a few quills to go.  I let him know I meant no harm but that I simply had to help him.  That didn’t really work either and we fought for a spell, him trying to get away, me refusing to let him go.  Then he gave up, and I eased up, and I was able to continue. 

I finished feeding the second hay bale, and looked around to find Lily.  She was washing her face against the hard crusted snow, pawing and then washing.  She came willingly but full of shyness.  I slipped the lead over her head and once again unfolded the pliers.  She was much more compliant, and allowed me to pull several quills before thrashing to say that was enough.  They were jam packed in her muzzle and with one pinch and yank with the pliers I was getting five or six quills.  I gave her and I breather and did T-touches on her face.  I lifted her lip on the good side of her muzzle and saw the quills inside.  I wasn’t going to be able to help her with those. 

I let her go and went home to call the vet.  This meant a stressful, first time road trip for her.  We got in for an appointment late that morning and were back home shortly after lunch.  Lily was dazed and sluggish under the influence of sedatives and compounded stress.  She was more alert tonight but she didn’t want me near her.  While D-man got over it, she won’t for awhile yet.   

[The newsletter - I dove into it this afternoon, it's almost done and will fly off into cyber space early tomorrow morning]. 

A Gem Un-Named

Each year we have yearlings in the flock with unique face marking, I’m guessing it’s the black faced Clun Forest influence in our ewes.  We see black faces, white with black faces, brockle faces, white faces with black ears. 

This year we have this gem.  She is easy to spot within the flock.  She has a black belly and a beautiful black rear end, and the black stripe running down her chest to her belly make it look as though she’s wearing a fleece coat.  She looks like she’s a bit of a fashion diva.

I look for her often.  She’s a spry youngster and she’s very aloof.  Her mom is a light footed black faced Clun ewe that never lets us get close to her lambs.  That suspicious trait rubbed off on this girl and I seldom get close to her.  She seems to have spidy senses that tell her I’m near and off she goes. 

I took her photo this summer because I didn’t think her black coloring would stay with her.   http://ranching-with-sheep.blogspot.ca/2014/10/stay-or-go.html  I need to give her a name but the right one has not come to me yet.  

I don’t know what to make of her markings but I’m pleased she is a member of our flock. 

Rocks and Rain in January

On our walk the other day the stock dogs and I detoured off the road and headed across the neighbouring crop field.  Just a walk that day, so I was on foot and happened across a nice grey, flat stone.  I stooped to pick it up and paused there, holding the solid, cool wonder of it in my hand for a moment.  The dogs raced back to see what I had found.  They took a sniff, seemed to shrug their shoulders and carried on.  They hold no questions about such things.  Me on the other hand, I was in awe (and a little concerned) that it is January on the Northern Prairie - and it’s above zero degrees Celsius and I’m finding stones and taking them home with me.

The field we were in is a flax stubble field and the stubble of flax plants is thin.  There is no straw cover because the straw left over after harvest is harrowed into rows or piles and then burned in the early winter.  This leaves behind strips of naked, blackened earth, which warms up quickly if the sun can reach it.  The continual cropping practices means the earth has no protection here.  This field was barren going into winter and will be barren coming out of winter. 

The recent warm weather and full sunlight are making quick work of the snow cover, and fields like this, with little cover, are the first to become exposed and begin drying out.  It’s really rather dismal and doomsday looking.  I think the land owners could use a few sheep to help turn it around. 

The wonder of the weather didn’t stop there.  Yesterday it rained.  The sheep and I hardly know what to do with rain in January.  They went wandering, looking for food that wasn’t hay.  Today was very windy but stunningly gorgeous, with full sun and above zero temperatures.  A beautiful evening to try for some photos - except that the camera battery died.

The ice on the wetlands is already melting

Soaking up the rare warmth from a January sun

Ewe Talk

I shared these on Facebook a short time ago, but I'm no longer on Facebook so I feel the need to share them again.   Besides I'm in need of a short post tonight because it's late and I get up real early, and these photos need little help from me.

There were taken in the morning, as the ewes are rising.  There is a great amount of posturing and communication between ewes as they rise and decide upon their day.  It is one of my favorite things to sit and watch them.

Sheep On a January Sunrise

I’m quite fond of these few photos and how the morning light highlights and almost outlines the the ewes.  It seems so apt to me that the sun would touch the ewes like that, in its own way of greeting these genial creatures.  
January mornings are cold and yet these scenes have a touch of warmth in them.  The routine here right now is very - well - routine.  It is supremely peaceful in its own right, exemplified by the rare warm weather we are experiencing. 

When life is routine it is easy for it to become mundane or unremarkable and it takes awareness and habit to see it otherwise and be grateful for it.   Taking photos and viewing them later always grants me a new perspective on the place and the animals.

Glorious Beast of an LGD

He is an exceptional and glorious beast.  He is a formidable character, as imposing as he looks in some photos.  At work, he is all business, he wants the whole job.  At rest, he relishes a good belly rub and loves to be scratched on the sweet spot of the chest.  Visitors are often attracted to the white guardian dogs and will welcome their attentions, but more than a few have hesitated around Diesel, asking about him before touching.

I sat to take some photos and he approached to visit. The sun was warm and perfect.

We chatted for a spell and he rested there with me.

He grew curious when I lay down on my belly but endured my opportunistic photo shoot for the short term.   When he had enough he got up and left, which is so true to his character.

Snippets and Land Travel

I haven’t gone far at all and yet five days have gone by since I last posted.  Our internet service has been very spotty, working one day and not the next, and not working when I decide I have the time to post.  Life in the rural prairie.

It was brutally cold and then it warmed up significantly. The ewes are moving about, swath grazing in earnest now.  The guardian dogs have uncurled from their nests in the hay and are active again.  The stock dogs and I have stretched our legs in earnest as well, traveling once again to that far off piece of pasture, and doing training on the sheep.

I have little recollection of how I decided the dogs and I needed to bike and hike out there; previously it always seemed like too much extra effort to go the extra distance.  I'll go another day, I kept saying.  Now I’m glad we go.

I love this piece of land, the hills are perfect, the bush is just right, it has native prairie and lots of wetlands.  Most of all, somehow it feels like it is a back-woods-private-place, and once we have crested the first hill walking in from the roadside, it feels like we are somewhere pristine and on our own.  It still feels new and exploratory, and somehow my mind soothes and settles itself out while I walk around there. 

It is tough to describe what land really means when you’re in love with it, and you rely on it.  We rely on land to deliver food, water, sustenance and shelter to the sheep, and I rely on these prairie spaces for my Self, each and every day too.  I rely on it to provide a place where my soul can re-center.  Because these prairie spaces do this for me I have deep respect for the land, and thus, it matters how and what we do here.  Our agricultural practices matter. 

This is not a rainforest, or a coral reef, or a hundred mile long river bed.  This is another one of the same things though.  It is equal in its prairie way, and it matters that there are places like this remaining in the world. 

Prairie wool

Feeding Animals

In the cold season feeding animals about sums up what we do; getting animals fed comes first and our days revolve around getting that done adequately.  Here’s a peak at how it goes here at Dog Tale Ranch.

When Allen is home, he and I go out together, when he’s away at work, then I am doing the routine, slightly modified. We are well bundled to keep warm because we will be outdoors for awhile plus, while our drive to work is short, there is no cab to keep us warm or protected.

This is our tractor as this is only the second year we have used it for feeding, in years prior to this we fed very differently.  We can take two bales, one on the front spike and one on the back.

We head out at first light, start the tractor and let it run to warm up. I head up to the storage shop to begin filling dog food dishes.  If it’s really cold the hydraulics on the tractor usually need longer time to warm up.

We climb aboard on the tractor, taking dog food dishes with us.  Old, small tractors like ours are not outfitted for passengers but we have figured out where a passenger rides best.  We can take two round hay bales at one time and two bales is what we need to feed the main flock each morning.  We travel to the bale stack, collect two bales and head out to the pasture where the flock resides, a distance of ¼ to ½ mile, depending on where the sheep are at.

We decide where to feed the ewes each morning depending mostly on the wind.  When the weather is average and decent we can feed on the hillsides, in the open.  When it’s cold or too windy we feed out of the wind where ever the ewes will be most sheltered.   Often they have chosen a bedding spot and we’ll feed in this area several times to ensure they have bedding there.

We cut the bale twines and pull them off, probably the most miserable part of the job, especially if there is icy coating on the bales from early winter rains.  You can which way a round bale will unroll by looking at it’s end and determining which direction it was baled in.  Unrolling a round bale in the wrong direction creates an awful lot more work. 

By this time the sheep will have risen and come over to investigate and we’re working around a lot of wooly bodies.   They know the routine as well as we and they’re eager to eat.   We unroll the bale on the ground, using the tractor to get it started and finishing the core of it by hand, rolling it out in front of us.   If needed, we have a pitch fork to peel back the layers of hay and spread feed if it sloughs off in piles that are too thick.   While unrolling we’ll be surrounded by sheep as they loose any reservations about being close to us when hay feed is being served.   Yet I’ve only been stepped on a hand full of times in ten years.

Before we leave the field we feed the guardian dogs, who by now have also risen from their warm nests in the hay to come and eat.   There is no order to feeding the dogs but we do ask they show manners, meaning they aren’t allowed to be pushy around food.  When it’s cold I offer extra food stuffs in the way of meat, scraps, canned dog food, hot mash etc.  whatever I have on hand.  We stick around to see that they eat and that one dog doesn’t run another one off.

Once the critters on pasture are taken care of we head back to the yard and if needed we pick up a third and forth bale for the groups of sheep around back of the yard.  These are small groups so they only require a bale every fourth or fifth day.  We check in on them and feed the guardian dogs there. I offer a small amount of whole oats to my four bummer lambs.   On the way in and out we take a look at the two water bowls to be sure they’re still open.

Before heading outside to start this routine I’ve already fed the six stock dogs at the house.   Unless needed they stay up at the house while we do chores.   When the outdoor feeding is done, I collect these dogs and go for a walk.   I usually go for walks before starting the farm day, but in the heart of winter, I switch my walks to after the feeding is done.  That way I’m not walking in the dark and in my mind it’s a tad warmer when the sun is up.

In the evening we do a repeat minus the hay feeding.  I’ll take the stock dogs out for a second walk while it’s still light out, unless I’ve taken them out during the day for sheep work.  When we return we fill dog dishes and ride back out to pasture on the Ranger to feed the guardian dogs a second time.   Going back out also assures us the sheep are bedding down and sheltered for the night.   We return to the yard and head out back to the dogs and sheep located there.  At dark we’re back in the house where we’ll feed ourselves and the stock dogs again before settling in for the winter evening.

Downright Frigid

Extreme cold unsettles me, I fret a lot about the animals and feel like I can’t do enough but yet I don’t know what else to do; I’m unsettled because suddenly things seem way out of my control.  It makes me feel guilty for crawling into a warm bed at night, and for having the stock dogs in the house but not the guardians.

I was outside for an hour and and half this morning which was enough time to see me through feeding the main flock. Then I had to come back indoors and thaw out my feet before going back out to take a bale out for the sheep around back.  

I was equally anxious and nervous when I headed out for the evening check.   I felt great relief to stand where I fed the ewes this morning and where they’ll bed for the night and only feel the slightest of wind.  It didn’t feel so cold right there, right then.  They are in a good spot.  They are bunched up very tight tonight. So tight that I couldn’t be sure all the sheep were there; it just didn’t look like there was enough animals in that group.  PJ, the llama, was right in their midst.  In cold weather she always settles herself in the middle of the flock.  Smart girl.

We have another cold day tomorrow and then hopefully some relief. After this minus twenty will feel balmy.

On the Easel - Wool Art in Progress

This is one of the pieces of artwork I’m in the midst of.  Right now it’s hanging on a curtain rod across the front of the closet in my art room. It’s a large piece and this is the only way I can get a good look at it.  

I’m in love with this one.  I’m even in love with the photo of it and that’s a rare thing.  Part of why I like it so much is that about half way through it was really looking poor. 

I see sheep and dogs on a daily basis and I take plenty of photos in the hopes of sharing a story about them.  Some scenes that I capture in photographs I know instantly I’ll paint them with wool rather than draw them in pencil.  There is something very raw and real about re-creating particular scenes with wool.

So when this particular piece looked hopeless part way through I recalled how I felt about it when I decided it had to be needle felted with wool, and I pressed on.  And on, and on.  Finally I hung it up, and the simple realness of it nearly took my breath away.  I wasn’t expecting it to look so warm and tangible.  It's even more so that way in real life.

Watcher in the Wool
It’s still hanging up and I have a few areas that I have to adjust, plus I have to decide on how to finish the edges and how it will hang.  Then it will be offered up for sale.  It measures about 2.5 feet wide by 4 feet tall.  It’s 100% wool, needle felted by hand onto a canvas of re-purposed 100% wool material.  The base layer of wool I put down first is from my own ewes.  The rest is purchased wool. 
It's one of a kind.

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