Slipping Fences, Just Like That

Folks who don’t live with large breed livestock guardian dogs are skeptical when those of us who do live with them, describe how little a hole they can get through.  

My dogs tend to jump the fence.  Many dogs go under. This fellow goes through.  He has a large sized gap to slip through on this gate, yet I am amazed to see how much he twists sideways while he jumps.  It took no effort and just the blink of an eye and he was through the fence.  His partner was the go under type.

Back where we belong. 

Ewe Curious

At each place I visit there are curious ewes who take a long look and sniff to figure out who I am. 

Back at the ranch the Katahdins come off the creek bed and follow me in for evening corn.  

I wasn’t able to hook up with two other places I was hoping to visit this week so I spent the days hiking, working stock dogs with the neighbour, and getting through some photos.  I’m certainly going through a learning curve with the big camera and new photo editor. While many photos were deleted, there are some great gems and I have a few in mind for future artwork.  

I hope you won’t mind but you’ll likely see a lot of dog photos in the next short while. 

Third Visit With LGD's

The countryside is gorgeous and vast, even with mountains on the fringe.  There are two livestock guardian dogs here. The dogs approach when the owner shows up to drop me off with the sheep, however there is no warm and wiggly greeting.  Both dogs return to the sheep and I am left to catch up on foot.  

In this first photo there is a dog on the left, just in front of the third/forth ewe (click on the photo to view larger size).

Both of these dogs are female and are starting to show their age.  The rancher feels it’s about time for the addition of another dog or a pup. 

The long coated one is deeply suspicious of the camera and me, and remains with the sheep.  I never did get a close up face shot of her.   

Her partner just wanted to rest and wasn’t too concerned provided I didn’t encroach to closely.  She seemed tired. 

I gently followed the flock up and down the small valley they are gazing in hoping to get a near shot of the long haired dog, before calling it a day and heading back to the yard.   Once again the sheep are Targhee ewes, raised for their wool which is still a valued product in this area of the USA.  

On The Easel LGD Sketch

At this point in my stay I really miss the dog pack at home. I miss the familiarity of my own guardian dogs and their greetings.  I don’t really miss doing feeding chores for several hundred sheep.  The time it takes to do chores is about the same, although the chores here revolve around the dogs, and it only takes a few moments to do the sheep chores. 

At home I have time in the morning to be in the art room.  With the time difference there is less morning time before daylight arrives and I head outdoors, but I am still squeezing in some sketches. 

With all the focus on guardian dogs and meeting them… here is one of the recent pieces.


Second Visit with LGD's

A few shared contacts resulted in visits to two more places today.  This time within an hour of where I’m staying and a bit closer to the mountains (toward Red Lodge).  A wonderful way to spend a sunny and, finally, a less windy day. 

Isn't this just a precious puppy face!?    

I was going to blog all these photos in some semblance of order but decided to bounce around a bit just because there are so many photos it would take me a month to blog through one visit.  

Four dogs with this flock at the first stop and the setting feels rugged and remote.  Remote and yet there is traffic passing by and neighbours stopping in (only one road through here so all traffic passes by).  The near landscape looks velvety soft with short golden prairie grass.  The foothills and the mountains give a contrasting dark ruggedness.  Ranches are located immediately off the road.  Livestock guardian dogs here have been killed by mountain lions and vehicle traffic.   

This flock is only at the yard for three months of the year, otherwise the Targhee ewes are grazing in the hills and the dogs stay out with them, never coming to the yard. The flock comes in just prior to shearing and stays until after lambing.  As soon as the lambs are big enough they return to the grazing pastures.  The dogs are okay with people but can not be petted or caught easily - except for the puppy, he had no reservations about visiting with me.  The adults gave me serious looks, sideways glances and warning barks but all settled soon enough and parked themselves with the sheep. 

Encounter With LGD's

Update:  Apologies for the recent low quality photos; different photo editor on the laptop than the home computer.  I'll repost photos as soon as I figure out how to solve the trouble.   

I hooked up with Annabel of Double A Ranch and she was my guide for a prearranged visit to her friends large flock.  

[The connection to Annabel started last year when I paid her a visit and she gifted me a trunk full of wool.  You may recall the needle felted portrait titled Montana Golden Girl - that is Annabel’s guardian dog Kit].

The reason for my visit to this large flock was to get some photographs of livestock guardian dogs who did not know me.  

The sheep are resting when we arrive.  They are a group of Targhee ewes and my first observation is how they have flocked close together to rest.  I stay outside of the fence as I try to locate where the dogs are.  I notice three on the far side of the flock, there are four dogs total.  They receive attention from the herdsman so we know they are not wild, but we are still strangers showing up unannounced (but with permission).  I think one dog has noticed either Annabel or myself but we are far enough way and no alarm is given. 

I move inside the fence and settle as close as I think I can get without disturbing the ewes.  Each dog is laying down again and I happen to be upwind from them (not planned).  Annabel is a little further back, watching and taking her own photos.  It’s a very windy day so I have trouble keeping the camera steady.  I move over a bit, one dog wakes and takes notice.  

Suddenly an alarm bark is sounded and the dogs are on their feet.  I see the three dogs spotted earlier but did not see where the fourth one came from.  The next few moments happen quick and dogs are running; try as I might I can’t keep them in the lens view and get focused with the camera.  

I’m kneeling down, have my hood up against the wind and a large black camera in front of my face.  I look very suspicious to the dogs who are rushing toward me, all bark.  I lay the camera on the ground.  The dogs have already arrived, I stay kneeled, look down and let them approach.  

Their barks turn into whines and they offer a very talkative and wiggly greeting.  They don’t spend much time with me before trotting off to inspect Annabel.  Greetings with the humans finished a few minutes later, they return to their flock and their sleep.

We stay for awhile just watching and walking around a bit and the dogs visit us a couple more times and they interact with the sheep.  It was a great afternoon with some fabulous moments with the dogs.  I’ll share more photos in subsequent posts, I’ve hardly had time to process them all.  

Gone to The Dogs

Taking the first group of dogs for an early morning run.  Kelpies, a Border Collie, and a Labrador Retriever.  I never seem to get all of them in one photo, the younger dogs tear off in the lead and the older dogs bring up the rear.  

I have two favourite dogs here.  An old timer named Becker who slips off to the sheep pen when we return from our run, (and I can never refuse to work him just a bit when I go to retrieve him),  and a younger fellow named Drover who is staying at the house with me.    

There are minor chores for a small flock of sheep and chickens, there are horses and mules to check on, one ancient mule who needs special attention, and cats to feed, but the majority of chores and time, is with the dogs. 

Out for a second run in the evening.  I've already walked my dogs morning and evening, and there is another handful of dogs in the next group who exercise separate.  Sun shining warm, wind still blowing. 

Even though this run is done with a quad, I walk more here than I walk at home, which is kinda saying something. 

Solo Photo

The wind has been relentless the last three days, but regardless, BlackJack is having a good time stretching his legs across the golden Montana landscape.  He stops here to study the heifers in the near distance.  

Coyote Calls

There is a substantial, tall, and pointed hill sitting on its lonesome just west of the ranch house.  Each trip here I have walked up it to enjoy the view.  

The other morning I had just returned to the house after chores and was standing in the garage when I heard a familiar yip in the distance.  The bark of a coyote - somewhere near the base of the hill.  

Turns out there was four of them, playing on the hillside.  I rushed the two kelpies into the house, dashed about for the camera and scrambled to unpack it and focus.  By then the coyotes were in a full race and I only caught two of them in blurry photos before they were gone around the hillside.  For a moment I regretted the camera because I missed the photo, plus in my rush to capture it, I missed the moment to watch these wild canines play.

I decided there was no better time to walk out there and make the trek up the hill and see where they’d gone.  They were nowhere to be seen and so quick was the encounter that as I scanned the landscape I wondered if I had imagined them.  Then I wondered if they were nearby watching me, looking for them.  Lastly I made a mental note to count the sheep when they came in for the evening.

So no coyote photos but here is the view from the hilltop.  It is a fair but short hike up, and standing at the top, one has a 360 degree view of the countryside.   

Solo Photo - Montana Views

One view from the lower deck of the ranch house, a beautiful spot to spend some downtime with a couple kelpies.

Montana Greetings

The drive to Burradoo Ranch was very long and favourably uneventful.  The arrival here was heightened by unusually warm weather and I am delighted to be able to shed my heavy winter parka and walk dogs in my hiking boots.  My hosts and I worked dogs yesterday afternoon in the warm sun and light wind.  I am assured this weather will not last and that the cold and snow will return to Montana before the winter is out.  

I brought Cajun, Mic and BlackJack along with me, although there is no shortage of stock dogs here.  BlackJack is the type of puppy who goes with the flow and he is having a grand time.  Mic is sticking close to me but enjoying herself and Cajun is worrying.

We are as settled as we can be, being away from our own home and routine.  I was here last year and being familiar with the place and all the dogs helps.  It is a change of pace and there are more dog chores here than sheep chores.  

For the next couple of days I’ll just hang out and practice the routine here until I’m comfortable with it and what needs to be done.  In between the dogs and I will explore a little bit and take in the Montana scenery.  

LGD's Making Adjusments

Following on the heels of the last post, two of our guardians, Diesel and Zeus had to make some adjustments.  We sold the group of cull ewes this week so Diesel’s group of sheep disappeared on him.  Allen walked Diesel over to the barn paddock to leave him with Zeus while I took a stock dog to collect the ewes and move them to the livestock trailer for loading.  Before we rounded the first corner Diesel had joined us and followed the sheep right to the trailer.  After we loaded he made his way back to join Zeus and his group of sheep, so Zeus has a partner again.  These two will probably stay together until we sort dogging sheep and rams from the main flock.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days packing and getting ready for a trip.  I’m heading off to Montana, USA.  I’ll be ranch sitting while I’m there plus I’ve given myself a small goal for the trip and hope that it pans out.  Friends have made a few connections to ranchers with flocks of sheep and guardian dogs so I hope to spend some time among them watching and photographing.   With luck I’ll have some photos of dogs other than my own and some good reference photos for future artwork.

Livestock Guardian Dogs - The Unit Working As A Whole

We like to have as many of the guardian dogs with the main flock as we can, however the pack is always dynamic and this shifts for various reasons, such as what is happening on the ranch (breeding, lambing, maintenance mode), and how many dogs are here and if they are getting along.  We have learned to trust that the dogs have a good reason for moving about, and often we don’t know what the reason is. 

For the majority of the year we have three groups of sheep: rams, main flock and off sorted animals (culls, wethers, and/or dogging sheep).  The off-sorted group probably don’t need a guardian dog but the dogs seem to think that they do. 

A couple of the dogs will move around to the other groups and visit but it’s typically the same dog(s) staying with the same lot of sheep.  Even though all of the dogs might not be set with the same group of sheep, they still work collectively to deter predators.  The land is still crisscrossed and marked by dogs (several different dogs - giving any outsider the impression that a pack lives here), the dogs are vocal and they often travel in pairs.  In the winter all the sheep on the place are within a short distance of each other for ease of winter feeding.  If one dog sounds the alarm, all the others know it and listen.  If the alarm is urgent the other dogs are at attention and looking.  If high excitement ensues and there is movement after something other dogs may leave their group of sheep and join in.  Once again it is the dogs deciding who needs helps and who is going.  (I’m still wondering how they sort it out).

It might happen that one of the dogs encounters a coyote on it’s own, but this would be more likely when one of the dogs goes for a walk about away from the rest and happens to cross paths with one.  If a dog goes off in pursuit of a predator, at least one other dog will know it and will join in.  Zeus primarily works on his own, and sometimes he and his rams are well apart from the others.  So if any of our guardians are going to face coyotes alone chances are it would be him.  Zeus did have a partner, but we lost Willow a couple years ago and have not yet replaced her because the rams have been closer to home since then due to washed out fence lines.

There is always a dynamic chorus of events taking place, within the greater landscape around us and within the hub of our place and everywhere in between.  Very seldom is something ever ‘just-this-way’ because it needs to be - and that is the beauty of working with nature.

File photo, from the archives

Dog Frosted

The frosted dog days of winter, they're cold but not frigid, maybe a bit grey, but calm and serene.  Coyote Mic, ... she wears the frosted look so well.

It appears as though I've caught her fashion expression in this next photo.

An earlier file photo of Jayde wearing the same frosted look. 

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