Sunday, March 27, 2016

Between The Seasons

This morning the Kelpies and I took a long walk across a piece of pasture we don’t normally travel.  The snow on the open pastures has rapidly disappeared just over the last couple days.  The ground is still frozen and the mornings are crisp with the overnight freezing that still occurs.  

When I scan the broader landscape it appears brown and monochrome, but at my feet is a nice covering of last years residue with some color still left in it.  The soil surface is well protected and the residue will help hold in any springtime moisture we receive.  


The ewes seem quite content when they bed down for the evening, as do the livestock guardian dogs.  I think we are all are feeling the contentedness of sitting between the seasons and feeling the sun warm us back up.  




Friday, March 25, 2016

Topped Up

Before we left for Montana we topped up the mineral and salt tubs and decided that during the couple weeks that both Allen and I were away the ewes would be fine without it, which they were.  

The first days back out to the flock I spied a few ewes sniffing around the mineral tub - looking for the salt that wasn’t there.  I forgot to load the Ranger with bags of salt and mineral before heading out, so promised them I’d bring it the next day.  Our ewes are terribly fond of salt - too fond of it really.  I’ve been caught and knocked about in swarms of pushy ewes, while trying to fill the mineral tub; much like one gets knocked about by ewes who know all too well what a grain bucket is. 

It wasn’t due to any amount of forethought on my part but I happened to have Coyote Mic along for a ride the next day.  As soon as the ewes spied me unloading bags from the Ranger, their heads came up and a young replacement ewe decided to venture forth.  I put Coyote Mic on the ground.  Coyote Mic knows to get around sheep, and to fetch sheep, and she knows about driving sheep.  She does all with a good amount of speed (my friend calls her a momentum dog).  What she doesn’t know is to hold steady on pressure and patiently work.  With this little task in front of us now seemed like as good a time as any to try it out.  


She handled it beautifully, showing no inclination to circle the sheep but all the prowess and stability to stand/walk up and keep them off me and the mineral tubs.  Once I praised her for turning them back the first time, I could feel her sense of understanding.  I did my job while she did hers, and when finished she called off willingly and hopped back onto the Ranger.  I was delighted in our shared experience.  This is the beauty and the benefit of finding yourself in the midst of such little tasks and how they can present the perfect setup for the dog to succeed - or to fail.  I think the success happened for no other reason than because I was not trying to train as is often the case when I head to the training sheep and try to set scenarios up.  This is not saying training with a stock dog is a wrong thing to do - I feel quite the opposite actually.  I’ve had these little micro moments present themselves during training as well, and if I go with them, the same connected results can happen.  But ‘trying to train’ a task is the mindset kicker. 



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Roadside Flock

A photo taken from the roadside.  This is just a portion of the large flock that is grazing on the property.  

I was familiar with the location and the flock since I helped at the shearing day for this flock last year.  This year I was away in Oregon and Allen joined the shearing day.  He came away with some flock handling equipment ideas to implement here at our place.  



Monday, March 21, 2016

Home And Back in The Art Room Again

Leaving from the Burradoo Ranch
We arrived home a few days ago, to snow.  Today a small winter squall is happening as I type, so we get a brief taste of winter before the season moves on for good.  Yesterday a pair of Canada Geese landed in the pasture east of the house. Did they stop in Montana along the way, I wondered.  I smiled and said hello.  Seeing geese at the end of winter is like a sign of persistence and endurance, theirs for travel away from and back again, and ours for setting roots and getting through. 

Visiting with my own flock and guardian dogs, I feel a deep appreciation of who they are and how good we have it.  The dogs greeted me, the ewes are fat, and we’ve cut back the amount of hay feed.  They are traveling to the milk vetch pasture to graze before eating the hay anyway.  Perhaps snacking on old milk vetch is why they are in such plump condition or maybe they just look that way after seeing so many range sheep.    

I was eager to land in the art room again and it was the first room to be tidied and re-sorted.  Five weeks is a long time to be out of routine though and I couldn’t settle long enough to accomplish much more than tidying up.  So many ripe ideas are floating around in my head and yet I am stuck.  The sun rises much earlier already so the long dark mornings are no longer so and it makes me feel as though I am without enough time.   

This morning I put myself to the task of making something, anything, without worry of how it turns out, but just to let the hands do.  I feel a need to set into work some pieces of the extraordinary moments in the company of sheep and guardians.

This is how it looked this morning and the second photo is how I left off with it this evening.  


I actually like the way it looked with just the dog in the grey wool and might return to do something similar in the future.  I pushed this one further though and have just placed some loose fibres on top to see how it looks with the addition of wisps of color to mimic the Montana winds.  I’ll take another look in the morning, for now I’m satisfied just to have a piece in progress again.   




Saturday, March 19, 2016

Last Montana Visit With LGD's

Upon returning from Oregon to Montana I had one day to fit in a visit to a sheep and cattle ranch, on recommendation from the neighbours.  This place was an hour away and Allen was willing to get our stuff and the dogs packed and ready to head for home while I went photographing. 

The visit did not disappoint.  There were sheep (many, many sheep), goats, cattle and 12 or 15 guardian dogs; the rancher couldn’t peg the number down for sure.  The sheep and lambing sheds were located about a mile from the house, on an original homestead and in an area ripe with trees.   


The rancher was busy checking the days newborns when I arrived.  After a quick hello I was left to photograph and then make my leave when I was through.  I passed three dogs on the trail to the lambing sheds and spied another three in the paddocks with the large bands of sheep.  I decided to start there. 


I was pretty sure I wouldn’t find all twelve dogs but I’d stay as long as I could and get some.  Once again none of the dogs were interested in approaching for pets.  The rancher indicated most were handled regularly and only one or two were untouchable.  


These dogs were calm as could be, almost aloof and uncaring really, or else they were just plain tuckered out.  No one even uttered a bark.  They face some serious predators, including large cats and wolves.  


My truck was inspected once I moved away from it.  Each time I turned a new direction there was a dog nearby and while I took photos it started to feel as though the dogs were watching me, rather than the other way around.    


This Spanish Mastiff cross lay patiently while I photographed him and when the band of ewes moved off and I followed them, he follows me and investigates the truck along the way.  


When I stop he approaches to arms length and visits a spell and then moves off to mark territory and travel to the ewes.  The ewes are Targhee's with a few oddities in the mix, such as a Lincoln Longwool. 


This white dog is one of the elusive dogs and the moment I approach for a closer photo she flees along the fence line.  While I get some photos with the big lens, I respect her choice, not everyone likes to visit.  I call her a she just because. 


This visit netted just shy of two hundred photos, after deletions.  As you can imagine it's pretty difficult to select a few for one blog post.  I hope these few do this visit some justice at least, and I'll keep sharing in the future. 



Friday, March 18, 2016

Let's Catch Up

The last few days have been a blend and a blur of travel and visits, and being without either the electronics, or online access.  While in Oregon I stayed with Dave and Trudy Viklund who are the instructors who come to our place each year for stock dog clinics.  It is the rainy season in this area of Oregon and everything is soggy or dripping.  There are so many colors of green here, it is a striking contrast to the brown rangeland of Montana and the winter white prairie land of home. 


The sheep are a mixed group of Clun Forest, Katahdin, Dorper and a couple Border Cheviots thrown into the mix.  The Cluns were my favourite but I was smitten by the neat and tidy look of this little Border Cheviot ewe (another first visit with a breed I do not see in our area).   


The two guardian dogs work separately for the most part.  One fellow stays in a more secure pen with the rams and the ducks and other dog moves around with the small flock.  


These are the first dogs on the trip that were pleased to have my attention and the female seemed to be posing for me.  This girl started out as a pet and is now transitioning into protector of this tidy flock of forty sheep.  It seems to be the perfect life for her.



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Travels

I am enroute back to Montana from a short trip that took me away from the ranch for a couple days.  This trip was to NW Oregon to visit with good friends and see more sheep and guardian dogs.   A short drive from there landed me and my good friend Dave at the ocean and we enjoyed a great afternoon taking photos and letting his Kelpies explore the beach.

Photos are still on the camera and I am looking forward to seeing them when I get back to Montana. Allen and I head for home soon after my return which has me thinking of how remarkable a time this has been and where a little project to photograph sheep and dogs has taken me.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Montana Flock

In this area of Montana you can face any one direction and have a different landscape in each direction.  We have traveled short, ten minute drives from the ranch and seen entirely different countryside, with canyons and prairie plateaus you would not guess are there.  

From the view in this photo you would not know there are five mountain ranges in the area.  This is the first flock I visited and there are four guardian dogs nearby, although you cannot pick them out in the photo. 


The original photo is over exposed and I attempted to salvage it by turning it into a sepia photo so I could hang onto the scene and the memory.  The photo is best when viewed large scale, however still worth sharing. 




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On The Easel - Sketch

I managed to fit in another rough done pencil drawing.  With the sights and experiences while visiting sheep flocks and guardian dogs and the growing collection of reference photographs, I have more than a few ideas for needle felting and I'm itching to get to it.



Sunday, March 6, 2016

Just A Short Sunday Drive

On a couple trips around the local area countryside we pass a couple guardian dogs with a flock of sheep who keep grabbing my attention.  After an epic hike yesterday, Allen and I were content to take it easy today, so I challenged myself to stop in at the farm and ask if I could take some photos.  I pull into the farmyard and the first thing to grab my attention is the peacock on the lawn, and the emu in the nearby paddock.  

The lady I meet at the house is agreeable to some photos and we enjoy a chat about the sheep and dogs.  I explain that the flock of sheep caught my attention because some are coloured.  


Such curly locks on her hind legs
The rancher explains that they are Merino crossed with Karakul and with Navajo Churro sheep.  My first encounter with all three breeds.  The reason for such an unusual cross of fine wool with coarse is that it produces a fibre that is fantastic for felting.  My interest is piqued further; this is turning into an interesting Sunday stop.    

A few moments later in the conversation, pieces of previous trips to Montana begin to fall into place and it comes to light that I’m with the original owner of The Muddy Lamb.  The Muddy Lamb closed its doors this year for various reasons, but it was a fine little shop of handmade pottery, yarn, and felting products.  It was a unique little gem of a store for both pottery and fibre enthusiasts and is missed by the locals and traveling through folks like me. 

Not only did this little Sunday drive net such a neat connection but the photo opps were terrific too, birds included. 



Brown body, black face, white top





Friday, March 4, 2016

Slipping Fences Puppy Encore


This fellow is investigative and busy, a familiar sight to all who have lived with puppies.  Lambing is taking place and as the rancher and I talk, he goes between the paddock with the ewes, and the barn where there are new lambs in the jug pens.  It takes him half a minute to figure out how to get through the rungs on the gate, but he persists until he gets it, which is often the nature of livestock guardian dogs. 




The adult dogs are all resting in the paddock with the ewes.  I suppose they have seen enough lambs to know what’s up, but for a young pup, curiosity is abundant. 


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shearing Day Visit

While I could not arrive in time for the start of shearing day at Double A Ranch this past weekend, I was able to take part in the last half.  I automatically felt like I should be moving sheep, handling wool or sweeping floors but there were many extra hands around to help and so I was encouraged to visit and take photographs.  It was a very pleasant change and position to be in. 

Targhee ewes watching the proceedings while waiting in the wings.  


I love this pair of ewes, looking as though they might be conversing on the happenings.   

The wool is highly valued and every shorn fleece lands on the skirting table first.  This is one of the gorgeous, natural brown Romney fleeces available for sale (just contact Double A Ranch on Facebook if interested).  I love using the Romney fibre for needle felting. 


The Montana Golden Girl, Kit, is not fond of crowds and catches a nap around back of the building where all is quiet.


At the end of the day Romney and Targhee ewes fill up on hay in the warm sunshine.  The hay at the top always seems to be the choice feed!