School Bus Water Station

The school bus you see on the pasture is one of our watering stations.  We purchased it from a vehicle salvage yard; it runs well. We removed the back seats, took off the back door and fitted it with two tall cylindrical water tanks.  There is a water pump inside, and the necessary hoses for filling (not shown in the photos).  

The trough is an old bathtub fitted with a simple float so it refills as the ewes drink.  The tub slides into the rear of the bus for easy moving of the entire station.  

When it is necessary to fill the bus we drive it to a wetland, toss out a long, heavy duty fill hose (not shown) fitted with a screen and a weight so it stays submerged in the water.  The screen is a filter.  Then hook up the water pump and the second hose to the tank and fill.  Once full, drive where needed and set up the tub and connect to the float hose on the trough (tub).  

The water bus also seconds as a water truck, as we can take water to another tank or location and pump water from the bus.  That’s how I fill the second watering station I set up on the lambing pasture.   This station is similar but instead of a bus it’s an old truck box. 

This water station is not as conveniently portable because you need a second vehicle to haul it.  By using the water bus to fill it you don't have to haul it until you wish to move it somewhere else.  I set this one up just for lambing, and in this particular paddock, because there is only one other source of water here.  The wetland is on one side of the paddock and this watering station on the opposite side.  This way ewes with young lambs do not have to travel as far for a drink.  

Since the water stations are portable we can set them in a new spot with each fill.  They are a congregation spot and the ground gets pretty chewed up with everyone coming and going for water.  By moving over to a new spot we minimize traffic damage on the grass and prevent a muddy soup hole from developing.  

We have an abundance of wetlands in this area which the ewes can also drink from.  We use the water bus because we prefer that the ewes drink from a trough.  Most ewes also prefer to do so, although some will go to the natural wetlands if they have to walk too far to the water station.  

By the way, if you decide to try out a bus for this purpose you have to know the weight the vehicle can carry to know how much water you can haul.  

Life's Little Riches

Pregnant ewes lie about like beached wales and Lily gives me moment that reminds me of how rich this life is.  

Another full day of lambing is behind us. 

Mid Way for Lambing

Dark clouds, rain, and wind interspersed with a few hours of warm sunshine.  It’s the best way for rain to happen during lambing.  Yesterday evening, when the sun shone once again, the whole place was such a brilliant green it was a show stopper.  I didn’t have a lot of time for pictures but I took the camera along anyway.  

We’re near the half way point.  I am tired, a good and satisfied tired; I imagine many ewes are tired.  The lambing pasture is now at the point I call lambing chaos.  Ewes and lambs are moving everywhere, ewes are calling to playful lambs, lambs are calling for missing mommas, ewes are murmuring to babes just born… 

Not as many new lambs this morning so a bit of a lull.  At one point Oakley wandered over to inspect the proceedings with twin lambs I had just caught.  Processing complete, I released lambs back to the ewe, and still on my knees, I stopped for a moment to talk to the mighty Oak.  He stretched out on his side hoping for a belly rub.  I gave him a pat and then lay down with him, my head on his chest.  I watched the sky and soaked in the sound of baahing ewes all around us.  I wanted to nap right there, but Oakley wasn't content with that idea and didn't stay still for long. 

Stock Dogs and Natural Talent

Both livestock guardian dogs and stock dogs, who are bred for working ability, are comprised of natural talent for their job.  To answer a recent question on the natural ability of stock dogs, here a few of my thoughts (no shortage of those when it comes to dogs). 

To boil it down to basics, stock dogs come with a relatively high degree of prey drive (desire to hunt), coupled with an instinct to make motion happen and to control motion.  Put a well bred stock dog pup in a pen with a few sheep and they will set about chasing sheep around - making motion happen.  Then at some point they’ll make an attempt to control that motion, for example, putting stock against a fence and holding them there.  How willing they are to make motion happen and the moves they use to attempt to control the motion tells a lot about the pup and what you have to work with.  

Many types of dogs (herding and non herding) will start motion, i.e. they will chase.  The instinct to control that motion is what makes stock dogs, stock dogs, and not hounds, terriers, or sporting dogs.  

The more skills a dog possesses for controlling motion the more natural he is.  He might be a tough dog to work with because he’s sure he knows what to do without you, but you won’t have to manually build up as many skills in his repertoire.  

So if they have natural talent, then why do we train them and how much training does it take?

The dogs understand to make livestock move and can do so far more readily than we can, so they have that part of the job done for us.   What the dogs do not know however, is how we want our livestock moved and where to move them to.   Training is teaching the dog when to go and when to stop, and teaching him directions so we can communicate where to, and how slow or fast we need to go.

How much training one puts into a stock dog is a matter of personal preference.  A dog with a stop command and a couple directions on him can be a useful aid around the ranch.  With a dog who is ready and receptive to training this can be had within a couple months of daily training time.    

The more training a dog receives, the more you are able to place a dog where needed in accordance to the livestock, the more useful he’s going to be.  If he only knows to stay behind livestock, the jobs he can help with will be limited.  If he only knows to go to the head and stop livestock the jobs he can help with will be limited.  The more tools you give him, the more you’ll use him because he’s so useful.  That takes time and a good deal of regular training.  

Many ranch dogs get the basic training and then the bulk of the training happens while they work on the ranch.  Provided there is regular work, in due time the dog is a seasoned right hand man.  

Some dogs also train up way easier and this will reflect the time and effort it takes.  Gibson was one of those, he just took to training.  BlackJack, the pup I have here now, will take considerable more effort to get to the same place of finesse and patience. 

The relationship one developes with a particular dog will influence the training time as well.  Many top trainers describe how important it is to like the dog you’re with.  

Sky, a cheeky and naturally talented young dog I had the pleasure of training with in MT

Pasture Lambing in High Gear

There are over 100 lambs on the ground.  I expect the pace will be pretty steady now and taper off in two or three weeks.  My pared down version of drift lambing is working - sort of.  I am able to keep the pregnant ewes ahead of the lambed group.  My oldest group of ewe lamb pairs now move readily.  In the middle group is the newest additions.  

I am catching lambs every day, and tagging female lambs with a management tag and marking male lambs with paint spray.  Then they’re released back to their anxious momma.  I try to work as efficiently and as quickly as possible because the longer I have a ewe's lambs the greater the chance she flees without them.  I keep all supplies in a backpack and work where I catch, so the lambs are not moved away and the ewe can see, hear and smell her lambs.   

In pasture lambing there is no pen or barn to assure that any ewe sticks around and takes her lambs.  She is free to abandon them if she choses or if she feels threatened.  You learn when and who to catch, and when and who not to.  It is one of the reasons I like pasture lambing - the ewes are truly tested for being good mothers.  

One of the tricky parts of pasture lambing, drift lambing or not, are the yearlings.  The yearlings don’t have the momma experience and thus are more prone to flee the scene when you catch their lambs.  

The best scenario for catching lambs is when the ewe and her lambs are off in their own area, which the majority of the sets will be.  Experienced ewes will move off to give birth as will ewes who do not flock tightly.   Yearlings and tight flocking ewes tend to lamb closer to one another.   The type of ewe can make a difference to how smoothly things go.  If I come across a batch of lambs in close proximity to each other, a decision must be made on catching them or coming back later when they might have drifted apart and I can be sure I’m catching the right sets.   

I took this photo of a yearling with her single lamb at the start of lambing but have not been out with the camera since - just too busy with keeping up.  

First One

This is the first lamb born, one of the pairs that was way down south, after the cold, wet weather.  This was on the move to the lambing pasture and we have stopped to let them rest.  It was almost a mile of travel and we did it three legs.  While the lambs rested I would go do other things like move the water bus, then come back and move a little further.  

And another one of the flock photos from the move the other day, there is a guardian dog in the group, but she is tough to spot.   See if you can.  I left this photo a little larger size to help out.  If you click on the photo you can view it larger size.  When going through the photos I noticed there is a guardian dog in almost every shot.  

Move To The Lambing Pasture

During the cold wet weather the ewes hung out at the far south pasture where there is ample shelter.  Even though this is the furthest from the lambing pasture we left them to stay here because it was the best place for them to be.  The first two lambs were born just as the wet weather was clearing, and were nestled into the coziest spots of a large grove of trees. 

When the weather cleared the flock moved out of that pasture on their own and yesterday  morning I moved them to the lambing pasture.  

In the first photo I have just moved the flock off of pasture and into this holding paddock.  From here we move across another paddock, into a long wide alleyway paddock and then arrive at the first paddock of the lambing pasture.  The ewes are full, some are lying down, so it's a good time to move into a new pasture.

We have exited the first paddock and come across the middle paddock and the ewes are exiting into the wide alleyway.  You can see from the shape of the flock and the lone ewe in front, they want to travel straight through, which is where they normally go.  Seeing that option is closed they want to come back toward the bottom of the photo (all the ewes on the far side are turning into the flock).  They need to head to the top of the photo.  So those ewes on the far side need to turn and lead, otherwise the flock will mill here.  I have placed Gibson on the ground.  He just needs to hold his position and be seen by the ewes.

There is a very different shape to the flock now.  That lone ewe is still there, wishfully thinking perhaps, but the others have decided.  This only took 15, 20 seconds. Gibson took about three steps.

From here I put Gibson back on the Ranger with me, the ewes know the way now, there is no need to push on them.  Here they are pouring into the lambing pasture, destination reached.

After moving the flock I return to begin the rather long task of moving up the new ewe and lamb pairs who are still way down south.  I bring them up to the alleyway paddock the ewes just travelled through, and keep them there so they don't mix with the flock.

This morning I did the first drift of the pregnant ewes ahead, leaving the ewes with lambs one paddock behind.  There are a dozen lambs on the ground now; today only a new set of twins so far.  I’ll gauge the next couple moves on how many new lambs there are.  When the pace of lambing kicks into high gear the moves will be everyday. 

p.s  I still have trouble with loss of quality with my photos when I upload to blogger.  It really shows in the larger flock photos which is so disappointing as they are very clear on my computer before uploading. 

On The Easel - Felting Project

After a day of cold, wind and rain yesterday, Mother N decided to dip the temps even lower today and add some snow.  This type of weather during lambing makes your heart sink.  While snow is highly unusual at this time of the year, it is the risk of lambing on pasture in a northern climate.  Thank goodness we are not into the thick of lambing yet.  

Over the last couple days I have been ping ponging between pouting about the weather, feeling relieve we don’t have a pile of lambs on the ground and working in the art room.  

I went back to working on this piece, which I started a over month ago.  The original thought for this one was for it to be a scene of three pieces.  Upon nearing completion of the two individual dogs and laying the pieces on the table with the incomplete third piece, the overall look isn’t jiving.  [Having the pieces crammed together so they fit on the table doesn't help, but gives the idea].  

It will be a little different when the piece of the sheep is finished and more matched with the others, yet I don’t think that is the reason for it not jiving.  I like the pair of dogs quite a bit, and the scene with the resting sheep is making a decent scene on its own.  So I think my one piece idea has become two.  

Nothing To Do But Graze

Each Spring when the ewes begin to travel the land they are flighty.  They have to get used to us approaching with the Ranger and driving around them all over again.

Each time out to check the flock we try not to stir them up in case there is someone near the group with a new lamb or two.  I'll often drive to a spot where I can overlook on a group without getting to close and then use binoculars to check closer.  Then I'll drive to another spot and check there.

I'm guessing there is about 150 - 175 sheep in this group, meaning there is another few hundred to check in on.  Now imagine checking for lambs in the group and needing to find, and get close to, all the newbies.

Welcome to pasture lambing.

Lambing, Almost Set

Before we lost chunks of our fences to water overflow, I was able to try drift lambing.  It became my favourite means of pasture lambing and I’d like to get back to it.  With drift lambing you rotate various groups of animals through a succession of paddocks.  That's a very simplified version of it anyway. 

This year we decided to dedicate a quarter section of land as a lambing pasture and within that, set up for drift lambing with portable fencing.   We completed the perimeter fence necessary to divide the piece from the rest of the grazing land, and over the last two days I have been putting up electranetting to subdivide and create paddocks.  

I don’t have enough netting to make the number of paddocks I was hoping for.  One of the drawbacks of large pieces of land - it takes miles of fencing material.  I have four paddocks which I think I can make work.  Once I have a bunch of ewes with older lambs I will have to exit them from the lambing pasture rather than keep them there for the duration of lambing.  I was hoping to keep everyone on the same piece of land as my main concern with sending pairs out is that the guardian dogs will have a tough time keeping track of them and the lambing pasture.  

The next thing to ready is water stations and then I think I’m set.  I have my backpack of lambing supplies ready to go although I am still waiting on ear tags to arrive.  Some of the ewes are bagging up so I hope to see lambs in the upcoming week.  

A Good Deal To Think About

Allen and I have been been fencing the last two days, putting up a mile of woven wire to section off a  lambing pasture.  The recent comments and emails gave me much to think about while we worked in the hot, sunny weather.  I want to say thanks to each of you for sharing.  I addressed some of the comments individually in the comments section. 

There are many factors and past experiences that are behind the larger decisions any of us make in life.  Putting the entire weight of this decision to one factor is not the whole picture.  It would take pages to give voice to all the factors and past experiences that lead each of us to similar ethically tough choices.  

Mainly I feel confused and curious as to why this dog landed here for a mere 48 hours.  It all feels so abrupt. 

I am now more than a decade into this working ranch life, where all around me life comes and goes.  I find myself wondering if I am more callous or more caring because of it? - I am not sure I know.  I just know I have a huge respect for death and a huge gratitude for life.  

Lambing time is just around the corner; a time on the ranch that will be chalk full of both.

Heartbreaking Turnaround

On her first, and as it turned out, only full day here, Miss No Name had a quiet day resting in a dog run at the yard and watching me come and go.  She was content to do so.  When visiting with her throughout the day I would handle her, chat with her, and clean her small wounds, but more of a worry was that rear leg.  The previous owner indicated the dog just recently came up lame on that leg but she didn’t know why.  When massaging each leg to compare, I discovered an old injury, now closed over, and what felt like a pocket of infection under the skin, right around the hock joint; and this was on the good leg.  The hidden infection became my biggest worry and I wondered that a trip to the vet might be needed.  

I was sitting in the grass with her that evening, and just spending time with her before ending the day.  She heaved a big sigh, and rolled onto her side placing her head in my lap.  We sat still for a spell and I enjoyed the peaceful weight of her large head on my leg. 

Monday morning I called the veterinarian and we headed in right after lunch.  The result of the vet check up was heartbreaking.  The vet concurred that the flesh wounds were minor, and they were indicative of cuts rather than an altercation with another dog.  They still needed to be tended to, one needed a couple stitches.  Since they would have her sedated to that do that I elected to have x-rays done and see what was going on with the hind legs.  

Well, she was a mess.  When I stated I bought a broken dog, I didn’t realize how close to the truth I landed.  Bad elbow dysplasia, bad hip dysplasia, knee caps not where they should be, and a long ago fractured pelvis.  Her front end was weak, and her hind end was weak, out of alignment and lacking support.   

We were very likely looking at a life of some amount of constant discomfort, but to what degree we don’t know.  There is a good chance this dog has been living with some amount of pain from the get go and knew no different.  To ask this dog to work as I am expecting her too was no longer an option. To ask her to continue to live with a life of pain was the choice in front of me.   

I stayed with her through the euthanasia, sitting on the floor, and this time feeling the comforting weight of her body, stretched and leaning against my leg.  She is gone. 

Dog Gone It Anyway

Well I bought a dog but I think I may have more of a project than I bargained for.  We are having a rough beginning. 

At her home she was at the back of the property, right with the sheep which is where she usually hung out.  A good sign at first glance, yet taking into account the setup and the dynamics with the other resident dogs, I think territory was at play as much or more than a dog wanting to stay with sheep.  She and her partner dog were staying out back because three other dogs were staying up front.   

She has been handled frequently and came when called.  During our first meeting she wanted little to do with me, which is fine by me.  She definitely had reservations about being collared and leashed, and loaded in my truck.  But after a few minutes of pacing about and checking the windows for escape possibilities, she settled down and traveled without making a peep.  

Upon our arrival at my place she now wanted to stick with me.  The tides changed and I am now the only source of familiarity for her (or maybe it was the beef and cheddar we shared on the trip home).   I had a smooth time of introductions to Zeus and Diesel and while she wanted to follow me rather than be with sheep, she made no attempts to escape when I left the paddock.  She is not interested in staying with the sheep yet and even ran them off.  Given that she is stressed and has two dogs nearby that she doesn’t know, this is understandable but a bit of a worry.  She is familiar with sheep, which is key, but she doesn’t know my sheep and she doesn’t yet feel any responsibility to them. 

Throughout the evening, I made several trips out to check on her and each time she was lying on the hilltop near the gate where I exited.  It seemed a good place to leave her to settle and destress.  The other two were not bothering her at all.  At dark, I thought to bring her out and to a dog run for the night but decided to let her be.  I was mostly concerned that she might run away but this concern was alleviated so I made the call to leave her, but that was a mistake. 

The first hiccup with her is that she has a recently injured hind leg and we’re not sure what’s going on there (yes, I bought a broken dog).  The second hiccup was that she had an altercation with the two boys sometime overnight and received a bite injury.  Not what the new girl needed, and in obvious hindsight a poor choice on my part in leaving her there so soon. 

I moved her to a dog run for today, tended to her wound, gave her some pain medication and she slept most of the day.  She was a sweetheart with letting me check her over and I am amazed at how quickly she has shown trust in me.  So far, she’s got good temperament going for her.  

So physically we need to let her heal the injury and that rear leg, and then mentally we need to get her bonded to the sheep.  She is apparently a great dog with lambs so hopefully we accomplish this by lambing time. 

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