Out With 2016

Sheep are bedded, dogs are fed and settled, we have an easy evening in front of us. The last 2016 issue of the Crooked Fences Newsletter is finished and sent.  A fresh piece of artwork is on the table, a book project is in the works.  Life is good, which is a rewarding way for a year to come to a close.  Allen and I will greet the new year in a quiet and routine manner.

Whenever and however you came across this blog, thank you for tagging along and making the last year of blogging worth the while.  I appreciate your interest and support and wish you and your critters all the best in the new year.

Christmas Computer Hiatus Turns Into Felting

Hello again readers, Merry Christmas everyone.  I hope the Christmas holidays treated everyone safely and merrily.

Throughout the holidays our routine here does not change much. We do not travel away for Christmas, but have family close enough for a day visit and return to home again. It turned cold and we had livestock water-bowl trouble throughout the weekend, culminating in a break that required a fix on Christmas morning. I wonder if Mother N ever has a good chuckle over mans fascination with calendar events and trying to stick to the plans.

You will have noticed I took a hiatus from the computer for a week. It was not a preplanned move but it unfolded that way and since it felt kinda good not being at the computer for a spell I rolled with it.

I unpacked some wool and started a felting project. It was a very rusty start but by weeks end I had two and half projects done. It got me thinking how it is that I have not shared artwork in awhile. I still rise early each morning and do some writing or drawing but the felting needles have been idle for a little while.

I sketched this one out several months ago and decided to dive into it. The piece is 20 inches by 30 inches, entirely needle felted.  It is 100% wool with fibre from Targhee sheep, Romney sheep, Corriedale sheep, and crossbred sheep (breeds unknown).

The dog is an Anatolian shepherd I know well, and the reference photo is an old one of not great quality, taken in the dead of winter.  I worked from a black and white copy of the photo, just using that for contrast areas.  I altered the sheep and the background as I laid wool down, changing the scene to a sunrise/sunset scene.  Looking at it now, I still need to add more to the border edges.  The title at this stage is 'Golden Boy' but titles are always subject to change :-)
My plan for hanging it is to wrap it around a foam core board or hard board and mount it that way (like a canvas wrap picture).  Then again, if the piece sells; it is far simpler to fold it and mail it than to mail it mounted on a hard board.  It is quite a lovely piece to see hanging, it pleases me greatly. Hope you enjoy seeing a glimpse of it here.  

Wren Without Crow

It is very seldom that we sell a dog but I have been through the loss of several, and while the two are not on the same level, there is a single occurrence that hits home every time a dog I know and love leaves the place.

You expect the absence to be felt, you know that dog won’t greet you, you won’t hear the familiar bark, or have to deal with that familiar irksome issue you had going on.  But I never expect the feeling to be as acute as it is when I’m filling feed dishes and there’s one less to fill.  That always hits me, even when I know the dog has gone to a good place.

Wren talking to Lily

Crow left last week.  He went to a place where there is various livestock, but his main purpose is being the farm ambassador and yard guardian.  The folks were looking for a dog that was comfortable with people and visitors which Crow definitely is.  There is another farm dog there to keep company, some sheep and a sheep guardian dog too.  Fingers and toes are crossed that he’s found his role in life.  We received word from the new owners yesterday and as Crow becomes more comfortable in the new surroundings they are feeling he is a good fit for them and their place.

Tex (front), Lily (rear) and Wren

Meanwhile, we still have our work cut out for us with Wren.  She splits her time between visiting the yard (hoping for the kelpies to come out), staying with Zeus, and visiting the main flock.  I think we’ll have to resort to some measure to keep her where needed but the cold weather deters me from doing anything just yet.  I’d much rather focus on making sure the dogs and sheep are all well sheltered and bedded down.  I started to make it uncomfortable for her when she shows up at the yard in the daytime - so smart little character that she is, now she only comes to the yard after dark.  She is tolerated by the other guardian dogs wherever she lands, and she is beginning to follow their lead.  She does like Tex a lot and Zeus too. Tex seems to like her back but Zeus kind of ignores her.  She lays down with the sheep frequently, she just doesn’t stay put for long, but what eight month old puppy does?

Wintertime Working Sheep Day

Today was a very full day of sheep work. Cajun and Coyote Mic got the job of bringing the flock off pasture and moving the ewes up to the barn paddock and packing the alleyway. After a spell of no stock work they relished in the work today. I think Coyote Mic ramped it up a notch although her speed could very well have been on account of trying to stay warm in the cold. Because it’s still cold out, once we had the flock where needed, I put the dogs up as having them wait on us in between stints of work was going to be very cold.

Earlier in the fall I agreed to sell some young breeding animals. Today we sorted those individuals as well as any cull ewes, meaning we had to do a quick check of each animal. The breeding animals will be loaded up in a couple days time and headed to a new place. We’ll keep the cull ewes separate from the flock for now since it’s time for breeding the ewe flock. To that end, we also sorted the rams from the wethers (which are my dogging sheep). This was the easiest sort because as soon as we had a group of ewes in the holding pen the rams gathered on the outside. A slight opening of a panel and the rams slipped right in, while the wethers stood in contemplation of whether or not the ewes were really more interesting than the new hay feed put out for them.

It was a full day in the cold, but it went smoothly, and with the sorting done, breeding is underway.

The main pack of guardian dogs headed right back out with the flock, well aware that rams had joined the group. Meanwhile Zeus makes a small adjustment with his rams leaving and a new group of females joining the group of wethers.

In closing, one more of the photos from the other night with the guardian dogs, (also shared on Facebook).

Cold Fingers And All

We had a slight warming of the outdoor temperature, and the wind that was keeping us so frigid subsided yesterday evening. While it was still plenty cold enough I tempted taking the camera out with me. I wasn't able to take photos for long before my fingers got too cold and daylight diminished. I was lucky to get a few.

The temperatures throughout this cold spell have been in the deep -20 celsius range during the daytime. With the brisk winds we were feeling wind chills of -35 or so. The ewes still desire to travel and graze and then return to the hay feed and then travel again. While the coyotes are a greater threat when they travel, I’m glad to see the ewes out and about.  They will stay in good physical shape and how keen they are to travel and eat is a behaviour we’d miss altogether if they were held indoors throughout the winter.

These are two runty lambs in this next photo; we can tell by their look and their fleece (and their obvious small size) that they’re not quite up to par with the rest of the animals in the flock.  

I wasn’t expecting to see photos with such soft backdrop colors given the cold and that if feels anything but soft out there. I’ll take what I get though :-)

This is Tex and Wren making their way back after having a lookout from a hilltop.

Lastly, this photo is one where I played with black and white effects.  Loading/editing photos takes a lot of time so I don’t often play with filters or effects.   Typically you get what I take with the camera. As I take better photos though I find I’m more tempted to play with them.  It's a lot like artwork.

Coyote and Cold

We’re in the midst of ugly, ugly cold. The ewes venture out to graze, make a round and head back to the shelter of the bush and the feed and bedding rolled out there.

The coyotes are thick in number and causing trouble. We’re seeing them more often now as they follow the flock. They too are seeking food in this deep cold weather. The ewes are restless and acting suspicious, fleeing at the slightest cause. The guardian dogs are on the watch but occasionally get drawn out to attend trouble elsewhere and the coyotes take advantage. The more the ewes stay put near the feed, the safer everyone is.

I miss being out with the camera but am thankful to have a large collection of photos to share from.

A Pack of Guardian Dogs

A pack of guardian dogs is a remarkable unit to observe and learn from. They really are unique in that they are comfortable and familiar with us, and while we influence them to a degree, they do not take directions for how to organize their pack solely from us. The guardians do most of their work on their own, without us knowing what they’re up to. We are graced with glimpses of their lives by watching them.

Keeping peace relies on keeping a balanced pack. We play a role in that by (hopefully) choosing pups/dogs that are calm and well tempered, and that we think will cooperate and be a fit for the current dogs. After that we set some boundaries with each dog in terms of manners and feeding.

The other key to maintaining peace is the amount of work in front of these dogs. These are not dogs living in a household, waiting for 45 min of daily exercise. They are at work each day, they have ample things to direct their mind and energy to, other than picking fights.

That said, a key thing to understand is that everything within nature is always evolving and unfolding, and with dog packs this is evermore true. The peace and order is not stagnant, nor guaranteed. You can have peace for months, maybe even years, and then arrive to pasture to find an injured dog. Then you look for clues to find out if it was an in house fight or a predator fight.

When they do have their upsets, a scuffle between the dogs settles quickly, a low key fight results in minor injuries, a major fight results in major injuries, often sustained on the legs and the hind quarters. I’ve witnessed the dogs handle countless scuffles with aplomb and deftness. I could never improve on that and do not try.

Yes, our dogs are comfortable with us. They come up to greet us, appreciate a gentle touch, a scratch in a favourite spot or a belly rub, and each one can be handled. This is not the case with all lgd’s. Many shepherds still prefer their dogs be wary of humans and have little contact with them. We’ve had a couple of those dogs in the past.

As a general rule well bred guardian dogs are not aggressive by nature, quite the opposite, they would much rather give peace a chance.  It takes more energy to fight than it does to get along.  This part of their makeup is why we use them.  Allen and I do not want dogs that are aggressive to the point they go after every thing, including pack-mates, we're wanting the dogs to be present with the flock, and be smart and assertive enough to tell predators it’s wiser to go elsewhere.

At Play

I have not bothered to tote the big camera in this cold.  I took these photos on a couple different mornings just prior to the chill weather that has settled upon us.  Lily is a playful dog and is the one most often at the centre of playful activity.

Lily and Tex, Wren in the background (Crow is nearby, investigating empty food bowls - his number two priority; number one is eating).

Tex takes notice of me and the camera.

Lily after a rock or a stick, I'm not sure which. She goes on to have a lovely, long, roll and wash her face on the snow/ice surface.

Tex and Oakley having a peaceful exchange. I just love these two boys.


The first blast of winter cold descended today. The wind was strong this morning and just as strong tonight with the added colder temperatures to really make it sting. It’s time to dig out the heavy duty winter clothes.  I didn't take the camera with me today.

Mid - late afternoon the ewes decided to move over and graze on the lee side of some brush; they were feeling this first sting of winter wind as well. I decided to leave them out tonight rather than move them to the night paddock as there is less shelter there.

We are not feeding hay to the flock yet, so the winter chores are pretty low key. The rams and the dogging sheep only need an occasional bale set out for them.

With the flock in the winter pasture, it’s a shorter trip back and forth from the yard. Much to my dismay Wren and Crow are showing up here each day. The short trip to Nova Scotia gave me some distance from Crow for a few days, some time to be sure. When I returned from Nova Scotia I began advertising that Crow is for sale, and the pups recent activity confirms it for me yet doesn’t make it one iota easier.  Still, it’s time to respect the dog he is, rather than continue to bend him to be the dog we need. He will be an awesome multipurpose yard and livestock dog for someone else.

Morning Dog, Evening Dog

We sent the flock eastward into the stockpiled winter pasture. With decent weather this should be suitable grazing until January.

Until this point the ewes have traveled westward from the night pen so getting them to travel the opposite route for the first time required some assistance.  I let baby BlackJack have the chance. We had a perfect set up for sending from a hilltop and out around the fat end of an apostrophe shaped wetland that was between us and the flock.  He barely knows to outrun, let alone go any distance but the lay of land could make it happen naturally. He was fixated on the sheep he could see and taking a shortcut in the wrong direction to get there. Once shown where to travel instead, he was off, the land forcing a correct path. I quickly backtracked, to be sure of meeting him near the flock.

After the outrun, he made a mess of things by pushing too hard and splitting his group around himself but that’s all right for now. We regrouped and the next time I sent him around, he did a sweep of the whole group, getting to the far side of everybody before changing direction again. Small steps.

He doesn’t calm the stock like some dogs do and the ewes were moving quickly to get away from the whirling devil. Once we got the flock strung out and going I had to get control of him because he just wanted to dive in for whoever he could cut off. One step forward, one step back. He can only do so much work before hindbrain gets the better of him and this was plenty. Someone watching from that hilltop might have thought it was a gong show but giving him the opportunity of the job and to make his mistakes was rewarding for both of us. We got our sheep headed where needed.

When the ewes are grazing the east field it is the only time I can see sheep from the yard, and then only from the high points in the yard, and only when they’re on certain knolls.  I stepped out front door, zoomed my lens way out and got this picture. They’re ¼ mile away or further.

For bringing the sheep off the pasture in the evening I took the reliable fellow, Gibson. He’s become such an easy dog to have along and hardly a word is spoken between us on routine chores like this. I put him on the ground while I drove along in the Ranger. The ewes were already headed in and the only time he was really needed was for the last stretch up a hill and through the narrow pass leading to the night paddock.

Judging from the very full bellies of these girls I think they’re finding plenty to eat on this winter pasture.  Holy, some of them really went to town on this first day, lol.  As we head into winter I’m pleased with how the majority of them look; their fleece is tight, their eyes are bright, they’re traveling well, as they must.

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