Monday, June 29, 2015

Solo Photo

It's all ears up around here!  Her worry lines are precious and fitting of her character.




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Do They Know About It?

I almost forgot that I wanted to share these photos before lambing season was well and gone.  It’s a bit of a touchy topic to write about so it took me some time and edits to do so.

I see a side of sheep that is not often, nor properly, presented to the public.  I believe sharing these snippets is part of telling our agricultural story.  The picture on the billboards of the girl holding the cute white lamb is just a fraction of the story and a rose-coloured-glasses version at that.  

Lily drew my attention to this ewe and lamb when I saw the ewe chase her off.  Lily tried to retaliate and rushed the ewe but I intervened.   


This ewes lamb is dead, he died a natural death at birth or just shortly after.  Her too large teat on one side of the udder might be why.  While my practical brain tells me I need to pick up the dead body, my innate brain tells me that this ewe needs to be ready to leave the body first.

In this case the practical brain won out and I picked up the lamb.  The ewe became frantic, running around and hollering, even circling the Ranger, where the body was placed.  Didn’t she understand the lamb was dead?  Lily seemed to know that it was and wanted the prize.  I couldn’t drive away from the ewe.  I returned the body to the same spot and watched her.  She immediately returns to the body and sniffs it.


She tries to leave and calls the lamb to follow.  She does this numerous times and always comes back to the body.  She paces.  Her baa gets weaker and weaker.  I get tired of watching and consider taking the lamb away again.   Instead, I leave it there with her and decide to come back later. 



Within this natural style of farming I can do what I feel is within my means to respect the ewe and her sense of loss.  By doing so I honour my own relationship with the abundant life that is still going on all around me, and my relationship with the loss of life too.  This is one of many scenarios that cause me to love this natural style of farming, and why I think these parts of the story need to be told as much as the glossy ones do. 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kelpie Pups

I took Cajun along to check the flock tonight.  The girls were split into two groups well apart from each other, so Cajun and I went to work moving one group of ewes and lambs to the next.  His work was beautiful and fluid and sure, and about the only thing I was needed for was to drive and shut the gate.

Cajun is at his best when he and I are out doing a job, I seldom see this style of work in him when I take him to the training sheep.  He is six years old and irreplaceable.  I wonder where in the world those six years went and think a lot about the new pups and what their future holds. 






Thursday, June 18, 2015

Foxy

I have been watching these foxes for a couple weeks, checking to see if the kits are outside of the den when I pass by and hoping to get a photo.  Their home base is situated in the midst of the pasture where the sheep are grazing now.  The other day Allen and I watched through the binoculars as the pups played.  We wondered when the guardian dogs would spot them but they did not on that day.

During lambing we found three dead lambs that were partially eaten and wonder if it was the foxes.  Fox are not large animals and I imagine it is only very young lambs they are able to catch.  They would have trouble carrying any larger lamb away.   I also imagine any lamb they caught was likely an ill-thrift one to begin with, not a spry, fit one. 

Whiskey spied the fox a couple nights ago and we watched from a distance as he put the run on them.  The kits disappeared into the den, and the adults high tailed it across the pasture.  We know the guardian dogs are capable of killing the fox and while Allen is on side with the dogs, I feel torn about it.  Even though they may have stolen a lamb or two I don’t feel a threat from the foxes and this natural situation is one of many that are taking place on the pasture.  At the end of the day, somehow I am comforted by the knowledge that wildlife is here, in coexistence, or at least semi- coexistence, with ourselves. 

I will not deter the guardian dogs from doing their rightful and expected duty but each time I pass by I hope the foxes are there and that I get another glimpse of them.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Not Your Mother

The ewe knowing who her lamb is, is half the battle, the lambs also need to know who mom is and that takes some learning and experience, and sometimes some hard knocks.

This ewe has a little thief hanging around trying to suckle.  She knows which lambs are hers and the little white one in front is not one of them.


When a foreign lamb tries to suck the ewe will kick a hind leg and whirl around, which puts the lamb out of reach of the udder and / or knocks them over.  If the lambs persist the ewe takes a new approach.   They knock them with their head, letting the lamb know it has got the wrong mother.  This is how the lambs learn who they belong to. 

When lambs are young, the ewes keep them close by, but once the lambs are a few days old, the lambs will nap and the ewe will graze a short distance away.  When the lamb gets up they will often go to the first ewe they see.  It is by doing this, and getting rejected, that they learn who mom is and to call for her.  When ewe and lamb are in proximity again they smell one another. 

This ewe is ornery and making her point.  She has pushed the foreign lamb off a few times now.  This time she knocks the lamb right off his feet, sending him air born.  The lamb is lucky she didn’t follow through with a head grind into the dirt maneuver.


Ewes are not always docile, even when it comes to lambs.  I've had ewes hit me like that when I wanted to get close to their lambs, and it certainly makes their point known.  During lambing Allen had one ewe knock him and paw at him while he had her lambs caught.

The guardian dogs learn some lessons the hard way too.  The ewes will knock the guardian dogs around if they feel they are encroaching and that very thing happened to young Lily this lambing season.  I had just caught a pair of twins and was preoccupied and without the camera, but I looked up in time to watch the ewe knock and stomp Lily repeatedly.  Lily rolled herself onto her back with all four feet over her belly area, and that still didn’t stop the ewe who knocked her again while she was down.   Lily cried, got up and ran.  One of the hard knocks of life around a ewe flock lambing on pasture.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Succulent Satisfaction

Today Allen and I did a talk and tour for a group of staff and supporters of Ducks Unlimited Canada.  We have done these several times in the past and we always enjoy them for the highlights they bring to our day, and to our purpose of being here. 

Save for a couple patches of Native Prairie this place was once rather barren looking cropland from end to end, with not a fence post in sight.   There were drained wetlands and few numbers of waterfowl.  When we decided to return it to grass we were able to utilize DU programs and funding to help do so.  We are fond of DU for the help they have given and they are fond of our commitment to the land.  Doing a tour for DU sponsors to showcase this is win win for both of us. 


There was not time to tour the entire place or see the sheep and dogs although there was a great amount of interest in those things.  We did lunch and a brief talk at the yard and then toured across some pasture land to see a large restored wetland which had been ditched and drained by the previous land owner and then plugged and restored via a DU program.  Standing in the pasture and looking around at what the land is today, with a group of people as enthusiastic to see the change as we are, was a priceless feeling.  

Equally priceless were the conversations and comments offered to Allen and I.  We have heard the feedback on numerous occasions but it never grows old because it is the type of feedback that encourages and solidifies why you exist, and that where you are at in your journey is just where you need to be.  The day was not about us but it did reflect all the things that have been done here and every now and then it’s critical to stop and celebrate the steps we have taken.







Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hanging Out With BJ's Trio

The lambs are arriving in a trickle now, only five newborns yesterday and none the day before.  I am immersed in the quiet lull after lambing and finding it tough to get going on the next big project which is fencing.  The days are slipping through my fingers in a relaxed and peaceful way.  These hooligans certainly take up more time now and they swallow up my reserved-for-me morning time, ... plus each spare moment of the afternoon and evening.


They are six weeks old today.  BJ no longer stays with them but comes and goes and feeds about once a day.  The rest is now on me.  BJ deals with the pups with such finesse and each time I try to replicate a correction, or settle a puppy I wonder how in the world she does it. 




The pups mingle with the other dogs, who are not terribly interested in them at all.  The other dogs tolerate the puppies with the disinterest and exactness you might expect them to.  Nobody gushes over them and there are obvious boundaries which the puppies learned real fast and seldom test out.  Meanwhile I’m still flailing away at teaching them not chew on my hands or grab my pant legs.


I handle them frequently, and with almost every interaction am trying to instill the idea of relax and settle as a default behaviour.  I am asking them to settle and relax when gently restrained, and the other rule I have set for them is they must settle and relax before they come out of the run and before they get to eat.  Prim, the little cream colored female is the shy one,  the cream male, Speed, is the calmest and the black and tan pup is the wild, independent one.  On suggestion from a friend I am trying a little experiment with hand feeding them to influence behaviour. 

They show brief moments of stalking behaviour and running out in front to stop each other or myself.   I managed to get one photo of Black Jack the other day and while the angle isn’t great you can see the lowered head and shoulders and purposeful manner of his baby walk. 


They are a treat and a handful at the same time, and it will tear me up something fierce to part with them. 



Saturday, June 6, 2015

Variety is The Spice

It is said that variety is the spice of life.  As we come to the tail end of lambing season I have a bit more time to enjoy the camera and get some photos.  Once again we have a pretty neat array of lambs although I missed getting photos of the creamy, red/brown faced lambs.  There are only a few of those and I don't always spot them. 






  
 
 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Lily and The Lambs

On an evening check of the ewes I stop to watch some lambs who are racing about.  They run up a hill slope and fly back down again, kicking their heels up and leaping about, oblivious to me or anyone else watching them.   The best thing about their antics is how they can go from running flat out, to an abrupt stop, and then they gawk around in innocent wonder at where they are. 

Tonight one little gaffer stops abruptly at young Lily’s feet.  They stare at each other momentarily, each locked in a gaze of curiosity about the creature they have suddenly found themselves next to.


The lamb is full of energy from racing.  She makes a little leap sideways and the tension bubble bursts.  Lily is caught in her game. 


For the first couple seconds it takes to snap these photos I just watch through the lens but Lily’s playful response goes overboard and she attempts to knock the lamb to prevent it from getting away, and makes a grab for it.


Camera aside now, I let out a sharp verbal correction and watch her.  It is all that is needed to stop Lily from continuing.  She walks away from the lambs.

With the lamb races interrupted and the photo session done I move off in search of more lambs.  Lily follows me and a moment later has another encounter with a single lamb.


She sniffs noses with the lamb and moves off toward a set of twins laying nearby.  She comes right up to this pair and inspects them, acting like an angel this time and reminding me of Willow.


Granted these babes are at rest and there is no racing lambs to entice her into excitement but we’ll take our goods where we get them.


A moment later Lily walks away from the lambs and camera aside once more I make sure she knows I’m very happy with this behaviour. 

This could not have been set up any better.  An opportunity to correct Lily for being too excited, and following that, a moment to praise her for being appropriately curious and mindful.  Catching moments as they occur is kind of how training of livestock guardian dogs evolves for me.  But you can’t catch such moments if you are not prepared to stop a time or two and watch.