Oakley's Taxi

Sometimes Oakley climbs on the Ranger to inspect things.  Then he doesn’t wish to climb off and it’s a bit of a struggle to convince him too.

Allen discovered that if you take him for a short ride, he’s happy to get out at the next stop.  We’re like a taxi, used to catch him up to the sheep, lol.




Well Received!

This is the piece of artwork I couldn’t show in an earlier post because it was a gift on its way to the recipient who might have seen it here before it arrived, and which I had forgotten to take a photo of before it left, so had nothing to share anyway.

Well Annabel of Double A Ranch received her gift today (the link takes you to her Facebook page). She also checked back to this blog and sent me a photo of the piece!


Here’s the story behind it. Remember that trip I took to Montana this past March - during that trip I went to visit Annabel at her ranch and took photos of her sheep and dogs. Then Annabel sent me home with a trunk full of wool.

Well this piece is her livestock guardian dog Kit. It is 100% wool, needle felted with the wool Annabel gifted me; the wool from the Targhee and Romney sheep Annabel raises and Kit watches over. Even the colored bits were pulled from the stash Annabel gifted me. A gift in return for her gift.

I’m pleased to report this was a real surprise to Annabel and she loves it. She plans to frame it and hang it. Appreciation of the art, the best compliment an artist can ask for.

Re-entry

Reunited with my collection of photos, and sheep, and dogs once again :-)  There was no trouble with the sheep or dogs while I was away.  Allen stayed home so there was no worry that things would not be handled well yet I still feel relief when all goes smoothly for him.


It was a blustery and cold day today but it did not deter the ewes from traveling.  Two edges of the milk vetch pasture they are grazing on do not have the new perimeter fence yet, so the ewes slip through the strands of the existing wire fence.  I was hopeful the fresh snow and wind would deter them but not one bit.  They like to graze the volunteer canola plants on the neighboring crop fields.  While I wished to hunker down indoors, the ewes, and the stock dogs who needed exercise, made sure I was out and about in the cold.

With The Sun Shining

I'm away at meetings so am blogging on the road and searching through older, previously posted  photos I can access.  Allen tells me it has snowed again at home but where I am, a couple provinces over, is free of snow and not so cold.

I admire this early winter photo for the sense of warmth in it, and when I think of home I always think of it with the sun shining.



Flashback

Looking through blogger photo albums I came across this older photograph.  Did you know this photo was edited and used for a book cover?


For some bizarre reason that feels more impressive upon stumbling across the photo now, than it did at the time.   The book is a romance novel that revolves around a lady and her LGD's who arrive at an Idaho ranch to help protect some sheep.

The book is The Other Side of Hurt by Judith Schiller.   It is only available as an ebook right now and can be found on Amazon and I think on Smashwords.  It's a good and solid story and a fast read, and the dogs are key to the story.

The author and I connected during the writing of the book and still stay in touch due to our shared connection of the dogs and writing.


Evening Gather of Sheep

A typical scene on an evening gather for night penning (photo taken last week).  We have traveled the prairie land behind us to check for any wayward animals, meanwhile the ewes begin to head in. 


There was a break in the cold weather this weekend and I spent the time working on a couple outdoor projects I'd really like to accomplish soon.  The first is building new shelters for the livestock guardian dogs.  I have three of them done and material cut for the fourth.  I managed to make these with material on hand - including wool for lining.  I’ll take a couple photos in the near future and share what I did.

The second was removing wire along a stretch of fence in the area where we are going to winter the flock this year.  The fence line runs right along the south side of a long, and generous, L-curved, bush which will shelter the ewes well this winter, especially if they can tuck right into it on that South side - which they can if we remove the wire.  We want to remove that stretch of fence next year and re-route it anyway.  Removing wire turned out to be one hell of a job though.  I thought I’d be at it for a couple hours but it took most of the day and I’ve still got two wires to go.  Rolling up high tensile wire is the pits.  That wire has amazing strength and memory of its curl. 

The stock dogs hung out with me all day while I tackled the fence job.  They’re all sound asleep now - it’s a quiet evening of contentment here.


White Dog Duo

Lily has annoyed and charmed Oakley into playing with her.  Fancy that these two are the only two white dogs on the place right now - our white dog duo.  Nice to see the dogs playing, a sign that they're well rested and not over taxed with working. 

(Photos taken a couple days before snow arrived). 





Coming Off The Easel

A couple pieces have come off the easel recently.  Recall this piece from a week ago - it was giving me trouble at the start...


... here’s what it turned out to be.


I’m not sure on the background, I had it in mind to do something to it but now I kind of like the bright blue so long as the background is minimal, like I have it cropped in this photo.  On the original the canvas is a larger size and the blue is too much.  

The other completed piece is another needle felted one although I can’t share it with you just yet as it’s a gift for someone and I also forgot to take a photo before it left.  When it’s received I’ll ask for a photo!  It is a good piece, one I really wish I had a photo of.  I also touched up the Kelpie sketch and sent it off to the lady who took the reference photo.  A productive week.

We received a blast of winter weather a couple days ago, and our landscape has been transformed into a winter white one.  I’ve officially settled into the studio again - just when I have to leave it.  I’m traveling for meetings next week.  I plan to do a post or two while I’m away, but we’ll see what I manage to figure out while on the road.

The Stock Dog Story

The comments about seeing a Border Collie photo got me thinking how I've never shared the  early story of the stock dogs.  I do have a Border Collie, in fact I have two and a half Border Collies.   The Border Collie in the post Let's Just Sit For A Moment, and the Just Watching And Waiting post, is Jayde.  Jayde was the go-to dog for several years and is mentioned often early in the blog.  She and Cajun have tackled many jobs with me.  She is ten years old now, although it is not her age that slows her down, it is swollen joints.  She is semi-retired from stock work, meaning occasionally I give her short jobs to do but don’t ask her to work long days or do long gathers.  She joins us in all the other activities though, surrounded by Kelpies and all. 

The other Border Collie, Fynn, is fully retired to the couch, he is thirteen years old but is in better shape than Jayde as he did not work nearly as hard as she has in her life.   When we moved here eleven years ago, five dogs made the move with us.  Fynn was the youngest dog of that pack. 

The next oldest dog in that pack was a Border Collie cross we adopted from an animal shelter - that dog, Chance, was the reason we bought our first five sheep.  At the time this place was a crop farm one end to the other.  That dog and those five sheep ended up being the leverage for a lot of changes here (hence the name Dog Tale Ranch).  I started teaching Chance and Fynn on the sheep, or trying to.  Chance loved it, Fynn enjoyed it as long as no one got upset and stressed him out.  The moment things looked dicey though, he’d leave you high and dry to move sheep yourself. 

Fynn is now the oldest dog of my current pack, and out of that original pack of five, he is the last dog  who is still with us today.  Jayde arrived a couple years after we moved here, when we were changing over from crop farming to raising sheep.  I wised up and bought a trained, started dog to show me the ropes of sheep work.  Cajun (a Kelpie) came along about three years later.

Oh, and the half border collie - that’s Coyote Mic, she is a Border Collie / Kelpie cross who looks like a Kelpie.

While I have leaned in the direction of the Kelpie in recent years, the door remains open for the right Border Collie.  I love both breeds and I love that I have experienced both types of dogs and amongst them, dogs with such different working styles. 


Naturally Anchored


It's a long standing challenge to capture in words what the working dogs equate to, how they have, and continue to, alter our lives.  I am not the farmer who got into sheep and later realized stock dogs were an asset  and livestock guardian dogs were a necessity to keep a sheep ranch on the prairies afloat.  I am a dog enthusiast who molded a way of ranching around my love of dogs.  

The dogs were first and in many aspects they still are.  This life of sheep and dogs relies heavily on instinct, - the stock dogs, the guardian dogs, the sheep and my own.  When our instincts are aligned and heading toward the same purpose, it is heaven on earth. 

This life is like no other, it is rich in flavours, incredibly challenging, deeply maddening, insightful, surreal, lonely, fruitful, peaceful... And always, at days beginning and at days end, there are the sheep and the dogs to anchor us.  


Somber Lily



Young Lily in a rare, somber moment.  I've seen her look serious and intent, but seldom see her looking as wise and somber as she does here.  Most often I see her bounding around, enticing the other dogs to play, expressive and investigative, and usually in motion. 


... and then there's life with BlackJack

Photo taken Oct. 22 (gosh it was still so green out)

He’s a very oral, mouthy pup and now that he is in the house more often, any sit down time is full of interruptions.  He explores the world with his mouth.  You pet him, he mouths your hand.  If he sees something move, he attempts a grab for it.  Items he has carried off include garbage cans, boots (he can do a pair at a time), books, bathroom loofa and scrub puff, shampoo bottles, honey pails, small bag of flour (he picked that up by the fold), entire shopping bags of craft items, shop tools, tin cans, blocks of wood, ...  I keep wondering if he might be part Labrador Retriever. 

I’m thanking my lucky stars the weather is still decent enough the dogs can stay outside during the day and I can provide them with plenty of exercise so by the time they come into the house for the night, they’re all pretty low key. 

His ears stood erect for a brief spell and now they both flop.  Allen keeps saying I have another Cajun on my hands in looks and in attitude, but the two dogs feel quite different to me.   Or maybe it’s that the last half a dozen years with Kelpies has netted me some tricks of the trade with these guys and so this time around feels much smoother.   

First Skiff

The first snow fall has occurred and it’s time to move the butter. 

This farm house is an old girl, built with loose insulation that has now settled at the bottom of each wall.  On windy days we can feel slight breezes around the electrical plug in’s and such.  The butter dish normally sits on a kitchen shelf, on an exterior wall.  When it begins to freeze outside, the butter in the dish is hard, like butter straight from the fridge.  So it’s our thing every winter - moving the butter dish to the top of the fridge - one of the signs of the impending season of cold. 

It’s also time to bring home the hay which is the outdoor job we’re tackling at the moment.  The ewes moved themselves into the milk vetch pasture and I decided they could stay there to graze now.  We’re still night penning but in a different paddock now, one they can access from where they are grazing.  As winter presses in on us, we’ll start bedding them down nearby where there is thick brush shelter yet they can still access the paddock and the water bowls.  So often in this climate what pasture the animals get put on when, depends on the weather as much as any other factor.

Allen took this photo with the phone this morning.  Oakley waiting for the ewes to rise and head out.


Black and White For A Change

My current favorite sheep photos.  The three photos go together so well, setting the tone of this morning encounter between two ewes.  Just looking at them makes me love my sheep.  I think I might need to make prints of these ones...








The Right Dog for The Fog

The day started in fog and ended the same way, dense and heavy.  Fog is such seemingly innocent weather and I’m taken aback when I find myself feeling unnerved by it.


Tonight for doing the evening gather I want a particular dog along, I want my go-to-dog, Cajun. I also take BJ along with, mainly so she could do the task of gathering the rams and putting them away before we bring in the ewes. This job is a perfect one for her, although tonight she has to scan hard into the fog to see the sheep she is being sent for. A long, wide downhill outrun and up the slope on the far side to gather. The rams are always near the back fence line and every night they beeline to a corner where there are always a few ewes sweet talking on the other side of the fence. BJ handles this situation with aplomb. The rams boogie up the hill toward me, now having been convinced that with the dog here there is no alternative but to head to their night pen.

Out on pasture it is a different story. With the fog we can not see to the next hill over. As we drive through valleys and check hidden corners searching for sheep I am mentally noting landscape markers, such is the thickness of the fog. There’s that old bale pile, just passed the ewes favourite bush, okay I’m right where we parked the bus this summer, home is that way...

Perhaps fog unnerves the sheep too, or perhaps they thought they might be unfound and left out for the night, because for numerous nights in a row they have been directly south of the night pen area, very handy to bring in. But tonight they are further away.

I unclip the dogs from the Ranger, letting both of them go at once. Cajun cuts straight away to the left and crests a sharp embankment, disappearing over the hill into a parcel of native prairie. A moment later PJ shows up out of the fog, moving quickly with Cajun too hot on her heels. He does not like the llama, nor treat her so fairly, but he always collects her. BJ has also headed left but works tighter than Cajun and instantly has the ewes near her moving. I let her collect the back end of the flock and then turn to find Cajun who is still scanning the native prairie.

The ewes are quick to flock together, we leave them be for the moment and drive further to search a far corner for stragglers. I lose Cajun and BJ, ahead of me in the fog.  Finding no one, we catch up to the ewes and trot our flock home.

On The Easel - Felting Ewe

This piece has altered it's course already.  When artwork does that it either takes a new and novel direction right away or it leaves me in a lurch about what to do next.  This time it left me in a lurch.  I have an idea in my mind of what I'm after but once this girl was sketched out onto the wool canvas, that original idea didn't fit with this piece.  After floundering with it for a week I've decided to not force it and push on, letting it be what it will.   


Little Gifts From Fresh Fleeces

A neat little gift from the maker behind Fresh Fleeces arrived in the mail last week.  Avril Manderson gifted me one of her handmade sheep pendants so that I might have first hand account of what the product was about.  She was hopeful that I would spread a good word about the jewellery too. 

I am always appreciative of handmade crafts and small enterprises and when Fresh Fleeces was first brought to my attention it didn’t take me long to decide it was worth sharing a link or two and making mention of it in the Crooked Fences newsletter.   The little pendant is tinier than what I thought from the website photos but it is a treat and the coiled wire gives a very realistic appeal to the piece.  It’s tiny and classy.  The packaging is well done too and is a bit of a treat itself.


This craft is well done and the Irish company is keeping things fresh with the addition of different breeds of sheep and other animals to their jewellery lineup (and there has even been some discussion about certain large white dogs...).

My poor lighting photos do not do the piece justice so be sure to check out the Fresh Fleeces website (click the image link below).  
 
http://www.freshfleeces.com/


Morning Alert

Oakley and the ewes are just rising.  Something caught his attention on this morning.  It was Lily who happened to be trotting on alert as well because, escape artist, Coyote Mic has entered the paddock.



Canine Sing Along

As the overnight temperatures dip below freezing the stock dogs are allowed to pour into the house for the evening.  Last thing before bed time I step outside with the puppy so he can go pee.

The night time air is crisp and the ground cold and damp from days of drizzling weather.  It is a black, black night, stars shrouded by cloud. 

As BlackJack investigates for a prime spot, coyotes begin to yip; they are to the North. This is immediately followed by a guardian dog bark.  This chorus continues and then a second group of coyotes set off yipping in the far East.

A deep, lone, and long howl joined in the wild melody. This voice comes from South of the yard where the flock is night penned.  One of the guardian dogs from the main pack then.

I stand in the dark and unconsciously lift my face upward as though I might catch the sound better.  I want to know which guardian is answering but can not tell by the howl.

It is a penetrating and chilling mix of invitingly wild and mournfully domestic canine song.   I want it to continue and to stop at the same time.  I momentarily forget the pup who is out in the dark with me.  The dog howling ceases but there is still a bit of a coyote sing along going on in the distance.  I collect the pup and we make our way back inside, our cozy world slightly altered and enhanced in a wild way.

(This post was first written a few years ago for another blog, later deleted.  I resurrected it because it's like deja vu now when I'm stepping out with BlackJack). 

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