Back to The Easel

A recent artwork request I started last week of a West Highland White Terrier.

The reference photos are not of great quality so I had to use some internet photos to gauge where I was at while still trying to capture the personal character of this particular fellow.  That’s tough and I don’t think I’ll try to pull this off again.  I’m almost through with this one so will hopefully have something to show again soon.

While that one sits on the easel for pondering, I started laying out a felting project.  There is no single reference photo for this one, so I’m putting the idea and the photos together.  I have a working title already though which is a good sign.  Sunrise Guardians

planning the layout

picking colors

Solo Photo - Winter Bird

It's not sheep or dog related but I wanted to share this photo as a solo photo today.

It was a surprise photo in that, in the midst of all the other shots I took this morning, I wasn't aware I had taken this one.  It's one of my favorites from the bunch.

These were taken just outside the house.  I sat on a five gallon pail watching birds come to the bird feeder until my fingers got cold.  It's very much like watching sheep but much, much harder to catch a bird in stillness.

Two Too Many

We are preparing to sell some cull ewes so there was a little bit of sheep work to bring the small group in and tag them (in Canada, all sheep leaving the premise must be tagged with a specific type of ear tag). 

BJ and I headed out to tackle the job.  The stock dogs have had several weeks off from stock work so BJ and I were a little rusty in footwork and teamwork.  Me more so than her.  We had to gather the group and move them a short distance to the building but we got off route three times with her deciding which flanks to do regardless of direction from me. 

When I was through with sorting and tagging, I brought the puppy BlackJack out and introduced him to a small group of wethers that were left over.  BlackJack has a bull in a china shop kind of personality and his work style is similar.  He’s going to be an interesting dog to train up.  I expect he’ll be ready for training right around springtime when the weather turns. 

The stock dogs live in anticipation of heading toward the training area and they watch eagerly when I head that way with one of them.  I swear that those dogs who didn’t get to work were very put out, making me conclude that I have about two dogs too many.  It’s the wrong point in life to think of this but when else would I think about it if not at the point of too many.  Fortunately I’m lousy about selling dogs, so I guess we’ll all make do and share the work.

LGD's - A Matter of Territory

Having been watching these dogs for over a decade now, I am more convinced that how they operate has as much, or maybe even more, to do with territory as it does with a bond to sheep (or other livestock). 

Sheep producers go to good lengths to bond these dogs to livestock, which is necessary as the bonding to livestock process ensures the dogs include the livestock in their parcel of things to be defended.  What is also happening though is an establishment of territory and this is largely overlooked in discussions about lgd’s and their hiccups.  So what if we take a longer look at this notion of territory and how deep it runs.

Wolf and coyote research shows these wild canines have large territory ranges and within this range, a more centralized hub that they will defend.  Based on observations with our own dogs I would say this is the case for them as well.  That nucleus (or hub) also moves around throughout the year. 

For guardian dogs on small farming parcels this nucleus might be the entire place and every creature in it, and hence, might not move at all.  On larger land parcels it will look quite different.  Right now, three of our guardian dogs have a nucleus around the main flock and where the ewes venture to graze.   Zeus has a nucleus that is basically the entire barn yard paddock and the rams.  Diesel has another that surrounds his lot of off-sorted sheep.  Together all the dogs have a greater area covered and because these dogs know each other, they can come and go from each others hub and maybe even join them. 

But here is where it gets interesting.  If I could convince our livestock guardians to come for a walk with me and the stock dogs, I am quite positive it would be a successful walk with a large pack of dogs being accepting of the situation they find themselves in.  However, when the guardian dogs happen to travel through our yard, the Kelpies make it well known they are trespassing.  The first thing the Kelpies tend to the next time out in the open yard, is investigating every urine stain the guardian dogs left behind.  The yard is the nucleus of the stock dogs.  The guardian dogs are never raised at the yard proper, therefore they never establish it as a nucleus themselves.  (Or maybe they do and they just placate the wild Kelpies)!

When it comes to predators, coyotes can trespass through the greater territory range (especially large ranges), but not within the nucleus of the territory.   If seen, the guardians are going to be hot on their heels. 

The environment the dog is raised in will have a great impact on this territory establishment.  The territory range in large land spaces, is more loosely defined than in suburban farming communities.  The fence lines are typically less defined and less tight as well.   There will be seasonal changes to the boundaries (i.e. snow cover that erases physical fences).  On places where the livestock are well removed from the yard there is less direct dog and human interaction and potentially less of a social connection to the humans living in the house.  Whether the dog is raised in a pack or alone will also influence this territory establishment and social connection to another species.

While I have no collection of data to prove so I also think that producers on large tracts of land also seek out a different type of dog.  They often seek an intent dog that will run predators off the place, and it is often found favourable if the dog doesn’t stop until the job is done, so long as the dog returns (aye there’s the rub). These dogs are serious about their job, but job now means keeping their turf clear of unwanted canines, not just bonding to and mingling well with sheep.

It’s a bit of a matter of splitting hairs and yet it sheds a different light on how these dogs work and why guardian dogs can be so successful and so aggravating at the same time.  I would venture to guess the number one issue with guardian dogs is finding one that will stay with the flock 24-7, but to me it is no surprise that the majority of them don’t.

[File photo]

Update on The LGD Wanderers

I just emerged from the art room and realized I missed a few days of blogging.  I kind of like it when that happens, - the getting lost in the art room for a stretch of time, not the missed posts. 

Guardian dog update:  The drag object we placed on Lily and Diesel is a piece of wooden fence post about two feet long with a length of chain attached at each end, creating a triangle with the log.  The chain is long enough that when attached to the dogs collar the log will rest on the ground so the dog isn’t carrying the weight of the drag, although it is not heavy.  The idea is to give them something to take along which will discourage travel of great length.  It does not prevent them from walking, but it makes traveling afar and jumping fences more cumbersome. 

That drag barely slowed Lily down and the day before yesterday she was spotted near the neighbours gut pile.  I went in search of her but she was already on her way somewhere else.  I was also hoping I might catch a glimpse of the coyotes that are hanging out there as well, but no canines were in the area that afternoon. 

Lily upped the ante, so I made a new drag object.  A small vehicle tire without the rim, so just a rubber tire ring, attached on a six foot chain.  It is heavier, and since I despise having drags on the dogs at all, I struck a deal.  Lily didn’t voice an opinion, but then again Lily doesn’t understand the potential consequence of crisscrossing the neighbours fields either.  I only attach the tire drag to her collar during the day since that’s when she travels.  When I feed dogs again in the evening I remove the drag and give her a break from it.  She can move about freely and do night duty.  Daytime she rests - at home with the flock.   I’ll be satisfied if this works, but I’m not happy about it at all. 

Diesel already lost his first drag and I replaced his with a longer length of chain only, no object on the end.  He has come through the yard on occasion, on the hunt for cats, but he did not join Lily on her recent foray, so the chain is all that might be needed for him. 

It's not a one size fits all deal but rather trying to find a solution with each dog.  To copy a phrase from stock dog trainer Dave Viklund, it takes as little as possible, as much as necessary. 

Coming Off The Easel

On My Way, a companion piece to Scanning Horizons.

I was well into the first piece when the idea arose to pair it with a second piece.  The two winter scenes were so similar and the two dogs are full brothers so it felt fitting to do the second piece and attempt to capture a similar vibe in both.  Whenever ideas like this come along, I feel like I can’t draw fast enough.

This is the pair of drawings, sitting in the portfolio sleeves.  I received a request for prints.  If anyone else is interested in a print of either one or both, I can add more copies to the order.  The prints will be made locally (that is, the city nearest to me).  It will be a few days before I get to the city to place the order etc. 

The Wanderers

When we headed out to the main flock this morning the first thing we did was scan for Lily.  Allen spied her before I did, and when he shouted over the tractor to announce she was back, relief surged and all was suddenly right in my world once more.  When Lily approached I knelt down, gave her a hug, and sat with her for a moment, feeling utterly lucky and absolutely grateful she was here again.   

If Lily was home chances were good Diesel was also back with his group of wethers and cull ewes.  We checked there right after chores with the main flock were complete and he was there.    

We are on 1600 acres of land, which you think would be big enough to keep a dog content but coyotes, and temptations we cannot compete with, draw them out.  Staying in one area and watching sheep eat hay is obviously not enough right now.

I toyed with the idea of pulling Lily off duty and putting her up in a kennel, and see if Diesel would stay if Lily didn’t invite him along, and next, have the two take turns staying in the kennel.  What we opted to do instead was place a drag object on both of them.  We dislike the drag objects very much, but have a responsibility to try to keep dogs home.  I’m certain that if I poured through the archives of my journals and blog posts I would discover mention of putting drag objects on some guardian dog or another at this time every year.

The drag barely slowed Lily down.  This evening I followed her tracks all the way across a quarter section of land before returning and finding her with Diesel.  Nonetheless, both dogs are home and I will rest well tonight. 

Picking Winter Greens

We never tire of seeing the sheep graze in the winter time.  It’s not likely these girls are getting a belly full from their pickings but they are getting some greens that are obviously to their favor.

The land is frozen deep yet I always feel a sense that what the animals take directly from the land is best for them.  This winter grazing is only possible if there is enough of a stand of grass left over for the ewes to discover under the snow.

The ewes directly in front are eating the hay that has been rolled out for them.  So the girls gone grazing have chosen their frozen greens over hay feed.   Judging from their rotund shapes they are getting on well with their diet program. 

The ewes are faring well thus far although we did have one death last week that we can’t explain.  On the other hand the guardian dogs are giving us a good deal of distress.   Lily and Diesel went wandering yesterday and have not returned.  Today's search for the dogs revealed a lot of tracks crisscrossing the countryside but no known current whereabouts.

At Attention

A few of the stock dogs hang out with me while I am in the art room puttering away.  The other day I was taking new photos of some artwork.  I took a  break for a moment and noticed Coyote Mic sitting at attention.  The low afternoon sun from the South window was providing a nice play of light.

Mic has some obsessive tendencies, and in this case she spied a reflection of light bouncing off the camera and shining on the wall. 

Stepping Out and Back Again

I stepped away from home and computer for a few days to attend meetings and our provincial, sheep agency symposium.  No matter what weekend we book for this event it seems to land on the coldest days of the year, which is also when I feel the most nervous about not being home to help Allen with sheep and dogs.

Being away, even for just a couple days highlights just how familiarized with the farm routine I have become and how I rely on that routine with animals  to feel comfortable.  Stepping away from it and into a crowd of people, even a small one, has me feeling out of my element.

I had the generous opportunity to display a few pieces of felted artwork at the sheep meeting and am grateful for the exposure.  The recent Opposites Attract piece garnered a good deal of attention and sold readily which, of course, made my weekend.  

Over the next few days thoughts from the meetings and speaker presentations will be percolating as I go about the routine of the place.  This will make for some good articles in future Crooked Fences newsletters.  One writing format or another I promise to share more, for now though, I’m going to curl up with a Kelpie or two and relax back into home and routine.

Porridge for The LGD's

When the colder weather of the winter approaches we beef up the dogs dry food with meat  and homemade mix as much as possible and on occasion use canned dog food.  It's a combination of keeping things as affordable and as healthy as we can. 

The homemade mix usually starts out with chicken or ham-bone broth, then I add pureed vegetables, any suitable food left overs from the fridge, liver or other organ meat (chunks or pureed), some oats, rice or chickpeas or lentils, and kelp and alfalfa powder for minerals and vitamins.  It's usually a pretty a big hit with the dogs, even the fussy ones, provided there is enough broth and meat component.

It's always well below freezing here during the heart of the winter.  I try to make the mix the consistency of thick soup or even canned dog food.  We add a couple large scoops to the dry food and this way it doesn't freeze so quickly when we're dishing it out.  The last dog fed has some frozen wet food to eat but they seem fine with that and still lick the bowls beyond clean.  Sled dog owners feed a wet soup dog food as well although I am sure their ration is far more thought out than mine.

Ranger inspection by Lily and Oakley - Is there More?

Snow Diggers

On sunny days some of the ewes still wander off in search of edibles under the snow.  They will balk at traveling through a fresh snow bank but they are quite adept and determined about digging into the snow for what they want.  I get a kick out of watching them. 

Solo Photo

Bright White

Wool Art - Opposites Attract

I was aiming for something different and I think I got that.
These are two separate pieces, but each is meant to compliment the other - to be a set.  I’m in love with the combination of these two.

On their own the white on black one still grabs me and takes me in, but the black on white one only looks complete when it is paired with the other.  Cover one up and see what you think.  They are each about 10 x 12 inches in size and can be purchased together or seperate.  Contact me if you're interested.  (Since each needle felting is an original they are all sold directly through me).  I'll post this, with pricing, on the art web site shortly. 

It only took a few mornings for this piece to come together.  The background was the most work and took a full morning.  Felting the ewes didn’t take that long and then finishing and adjusting was another morning.  I was working on this project in between the recent drawing and getting the new art website sorted out.  Still work to be done but the recent artwork is up on the site now.  I did not realize it until I put the collection of artwork together but there are quite a few pieces that are already gifted or sold.  It's perplexing how I miss that and don't celebrate it.  It's time to.

Where The Sheep Sleep

This is our route to where the sheep are.  I have just made a left turn at a break in the trees.  I have my zoom lens so the distance is deceiving, it’s longer in real life.  In the far distance you get an idea of all the bush on this piece of pasture and why we like it so much.  Some of our summer grazing pastures are open prairie spaces, pastures like this one are prime winter feeding areas.

I travel along that trail and make a U-turn to come to the opposite side (the South facing side) where the sheep will bed down.  This spot is open to the South but with a nice hill slope that direction and a steep hill to the West.  If an ugly wind blows in from the South, we roll out feed right along the trail and the sheep still have protection. 

This spot offers shelter from North and West winter winds.  The bush tapers off at this close end and there is a small embankment which provides a surprising amount of protection for sheep who bed down on the lower ground.  On the North side is the trail (first photo) and then a row of shelter belt trees for added wind protection.  

The dog houses are situated here, where the sheep like to bed down, and the bedding material inside of them is well packed and lacking sheep poop, indicating use by dogs and not by sheep.  The mineral tub is here and the water bowl is a short walk up the hill to the West and across a small paddock.

That’s not bare ground in the photo, it is a bedding pack on top of the snow.  If it turns really cold or after we have a fresh dump of snow, as we did yesterday, we put more old hay down to serve as bedding.  We feed a combination of old hay and new, and feed away from the bedding area, on clean ground.    

The next photo was taken in the early winter, the sheep had started bedding in the tall grass, along the curve of the bush and I had just moved the dog houses out here.  The bush is long and deep, continuing well beyond the photo.  There is a small meadow in the interior and the rams like to hang out there in the summer time. 

Each year we have a new winter shelter area depending on where the flock will be situated.  This is to prevent over use of an area since there will be a good amount of residue built up here by Spring which the grass may struggle to grow through.  That residue will, in due time, become top soil.

Off The Easel and Undone

This one is sitting on the sidelines and I look at it as I pass by, searching to see if there is anything more to do.  So far I’m good with it.

Sometimes the more simple compositions leave me lost for the right title.  If something comes to mind when you glance at it, please do tell, I'd love a suggestion or two.  The companion piece is now on the drawing table but recent photos are still on the camera. 

When my eyes tire of the drawing detail I move over to my felting workbench and needle away there.  The art room remains a happy mess, with color pencils strewn all over one table and needles and wool strewn about the other table.   Surprisingly, I am beginning to enjoy it that way. 

I had a beast of a time getting through chores this morning due to a hiccup up with the three point hitch on the tractor, and sure enough Allen was away at work today.  I only have a few things that make me feel useless and equipment breaking is at the top of that short list.  So I’m extra grateful I chose to farm with this man, who came home and spent five hours fixing the thing so I can feed again tomorrow. 

There wasn’t much I could do to assist so while he did that, I crept back into the art room and forgot about the frustration of it all for a spell. 


Good news, artistically speaking

The Watcher in the Wool wall tapestry has sold.  I am elated and surprised.  I'm new at this, I always feel surprise when a piece sells, I think (and hope) I always will.  It is a gift to create and when it finds a way to be passed on, it's a grateful surprise. 

The needle felted wall hanging was wrapped up last night and I headed to town this morning to place it in the mail.  It is on the way to Eastern Canada.  

The other bit of news to share is that I have been slowly putting together a tidy website for my artwork to serve as a means to put all the work in one spot, and to finally be able to direct people somewhere when they ask.  The Dog Tale Studio website is in the works and only partially completed (the new pieces are not even up yet), and admittedly I am hesitantly forcing myself through this because it would be more comfortable to stay the quiet wanna-be artistic rancher in the art room.  

Artistically speaking, it's been a good week of stretching oneself. 

Time to Get Up

Dude, it’s past noon, it’s about time you got up.  The flock is going to fire you.

Things to do, people to see, and I think the Magpies are back, and the horses are encroaching again.

 Come on!  I’m ready to roll, are you getting up or not?

 Oh for pete’s sake, have it your way, I’m outta here.  Don't stay up so late next time.

Hello New Year

Hello New Year.  Welcome to our place. I hope you find it to your liking and stay awhile!

I hope each one of you landed in the new year with grace and prosperity, and if you make resolutions for each new year, may you have all the courage to lift off and see them through.

Thanks to all of you who follow this blog (and any others),  you are appreciated, you are the reason I return to write each post.  Cheers!

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