Grateful for Green

With some luck and good management the pastures ahead of the sheep are lush and plentiful.  When they move into a new pasture one can’t help feeling satisfied that everything looks as it should.  That only lasts for a couple days though and then the evidence of a thousand mouths eating that grass begins to show.  The flock is now at it highest point for grass intake, with the lambs no longer getting much milk from the ewes and eating grass like no ones business and the ewes eating to keep up with raising growing lambs. 

This photo is from the morning after two inches of much needed rain, the ewes are still wet and the grass is that fresh, newly watered green.  The ewes have just arrived in this pasture.  I like to hang around and soak in the scene when we make a pasture move with the ewes, as it keeps me feeling grateful that we still have grass and averts the back of the mind niggling that at any time the conditions could change.  We have been abundantly wet for the last six or seven years so this dryer year feels abnormal.  We are watching in amazement as the wetlands shrink back at a rapid pace and drowned and dead trees are sticking out of dry earth rather than water.  This has been a year of change and I'm not sure yet what adjustment needs to be made. 

Sheep on The Trail

Somedays they make me laugh out loud.  They have realized the gate to another pasture is open.

I knew I wanted to do a pasture move soon and upon seeing there happened to be a group of watchful ewes in the proper corner one fortuitous morning when I happened to be without stock dogs, I opened the gates and called to the girls in a come and get it voice.  Word traveled quickly and what followed was a half hour procession of sheep, everyone following the trail out.  

Kelpies Willing and Waiting

If there is any indication that there might be a chance of me heading out on the Ranger and taking dogs along, there’ll be a Kelpie, or two or three, waiting on the bus.  These two have already deciphered that they’re coming with me this time.  I do appreciate that they are so willing, it gives me motivation to be the same. 

Flock Work, A Rare Video

Okay, I don't do this very often and it’s taken some doing but I managed to upload a few videos I took while moving the flock last week.  They're phone videos and my phone is a few years old so the quality is pretty low key. 

The first video is to give an idea of the area we’re in and what the Kelpie dogs do on a regular basis.  We’re about to start the gather of the flock; you can see a few sheep off on the right side. I want the dogs to go over the hills in search of more.   I have two dogs with me and am on foot.  Allen has two dogs with him and he is on the Ranger.  This is the send of the first dog, Cajun.  A moment later I send the second dog, BJ (her video isn't uploaded yet).  BJ works tighter and together she and I will begin moving sheep nearest us. Cajun is on his own, I trust him to search for and find sheep. 

A short time later we have the flock loosely bunched.  I’ve met up with Allen and Cajun is now with him.  BJ and I are still working and Coyote Mic has just been put on the ground.  This next video isn’t about the stock dog work but watch how Mic skirts the six guardian dogs she encounters.  Just a few minutes prior to this BJ met the guardian dogs as we approached the gathered flock.  Her approach to keeping the peace was to go soft for a few moments while passing the guardians and then go back to work (that video hasn't uploaded yet either).  Mic just gets around them as quick as she can, giving the guardians little time to worry about her.  BJ is on the far right moving up that wing, Mic starts out in the centre to pick up that ewe and lamb, then she'll work the left wing. Things are moving quite quickly right now, a little too quickly actually. 

Coyote Mic and BJ are still at work, I've caught up and the ewes have just discovered the gate is open for them and have picked up speed on their own account.  BJ and Mic are keeping everyone up at the rear. Listen to this one with your sound on, moving a large flock of ewes and lambs is a noisy affair.  It's unlikely the stock dogs will hear a command, they might hear a whistle. 

This move was about ¾ of a mile to the yard where we penned the flock for the night.  That video also not uploaded yet.

Solo Photo(s)

While watching the ewes graze yesterday morning.  Meadow brome seed heads and thistle plants are the fan favourites right now.  

She's in mid bite with a mouthful of seed, watching me watching her

She was snatching them up so quickly I was lucky to catch her

I wonder if it takes a bit to harden their lips to thistle each season

The Fibre Show, On The Other Side

So I came through the weekend of the fibre showcase feeling stretched as expected but also feeling pleasantly surprised and very encouraged.  

At first light it would seem that a sheep show and fibre showcase go hand in hand but that is not the case here.  It's only a small number of sheep producers in our province who have any care for the fibre their animals produce. Due to the low cost paid to the producer for wool, wool has taken on a perception of being a necessary cost of production that is never recovered, especially by large flock owners.  So around here, if you want to know about wool you talk with a fibre enthusiast. 

In this vein it was a pleasure to visit with the dozen other fibre lovers who came out to be part of the event by way of demonstrations and selling fibre wares.  We had weaving, spinning (wheel and drop spindle), knitting, felting (wet and dry), locker rug hooking, yarns, rovings…. It was a group of good and earthly people, with everyone encouraging each other’s success with that underlying knowledge that your success heightens theirs and vice versa.   

Sold (I needed half a dozen more of this popular piece) 
In terms of sales I did very well, hence being pleasantly surprised, but the other occurrence that startled me in an unexpected way was the response and feedback to the felting work whether people were purchasing or not.  Photographs are the only way I have of sharing my work online but seeing them for real seemed to draw people in.  People were curious and amazed; even the men were stopping by to have a look. 

I owe huge thanks to the ladies who took a chance and came out to be a part of this tidy showcase of fibre (I'm not sure they want their names published so I'll leave it there; they know who they are).  Collectively we did a fantastic job of displaying and promoting fibre, and of respecting each others work while we did so.  And I can’t forget my other ladies, who produce the fibre and set me on this path to begin with.

Taken last evening while bringing the flock home for this morning's job of sorting a couple ram lambs out.  There are at least a couple guardian dogs in there somewhere and Coyote Mic and BJ are the two kelpies in the rear.

BlackJack Rides Along

Ranch work is solitary so it frequently appeals to me to have a dog along.  Some days there isn’t much that we do in terms of working sheep but on those days we’re company for each other nonetheless.  More often though there are little bits and pieces to fill an evening with and these little bits and pieces that happen daily make life with these dogs that much richer.  

Take yesterday evening.  I took BlackJack along and first we stopped by the orphan lambs and did some training on them.  He’s definitely a lamb hunter but what I’ve been able to teach him while working lambs has been worth it.  

Afterward I always give BlackJack a squirt from the milk bottle (I’m only feeding milk to one of the orphan lambs so am using a bottle and not a milk pail).  

From there we drove out to pasture.  We did a short stretch of driving on ewes and lambs (the dog working the livestock at the rear; driving them forward). Everywhere you look there are ewes and lambs so the opportunity is all set up for us and it need only be a few moments at a time when a dog is learning. 

Next we made our way to the water bus. It needed to be refilled which meant pailing out the water in the tub trough first.  My other dog, Coyote Mic, taught BlackJack the joy of chasing water spray.  He chased water, I laughed at his craziness.  

Where I go, he goes, so after that he came along for another ride to refill the bus and then scouted for sheep while I hooked the trough and float back up again.  A sweet and comfortable evening; one woman, one dog. No fan fare, no one else to know about it.  Nothing else in the way, all worries momentarily forgotten because of the enjoyment of time, and place, and tasks done with a dog.

Fibre Stretches Me Out of My Comfort Zone

This upcoming weekend I head to a fibre show about an hour away.  It is a small fibre show just in its second year but we’ve picked up a few more artisans between the first year and this one.  I expect to meet up with a dozen fibre artisans and look forward to the shared ideas. 

Sometimes I catch myself feeling very torn, on one hand feeling that fibre and artwork have little to offer except that I like to do them so I do, but always as a secondary hobby.   On the other hand feeling like the art and the subject are an essential ingredient that adds perspective and without them I would lose my way, and so maybe they should have a front and centre role.  

I flip flop like this all the time but somehow continue to create either way, trying to find my way and all the while feeling very shy and tentative.  Going to a face-to-face, public fibre show will stretch my comfort zone.  This is one of the pieces I’ll pack up and take with me to display.  

Young Innocence
8 x 10 needle felted wool. Gallery wrapped over a canvas frame and ready to hang.

Kelpie String

When I walked past this dog for the first time, I did a double take because she looked so much like my dog Cajun.  For a split second my mind had to sort out the dog and the place.  That was back in March on my first 2017 trip to Montana.  Since then I’ve snooped into her history and sure enough there is a very probable connection.  

Her son, the red and tan dog below, bears the same self-important, slightly conceited look that both his mother and Cajun wear. His attitude seems to match it to a tee.

Kelpie Ike is a retired from work and hangs out at the ranch house throughout the day and Jill is the up and comer at 11 months of age. Jill and my dog BlackJack share some same dogs in their pedigree as well.

Ike waiting for company to join him on the porch


Over at the Burradoo ranch things were a little more chaotic with three new youngsters to catch up with.  All these characters are under a year of age and it took some doing to catch any still photos of them. 

This fellow came over from Australia 

Given how smoking hot it was we didn't put any dogs on livestock and I wasn't hanging around long enough to wait for cooler days. I thoroughly appreciate the connections to others who use their dogs for work and enjoy keeping tabs on these working dogs and hearing/seeing what skill sets they have. Dogs that are above average and beyond are getting tougher to find.  While there is zero plans to add more dogs to our pack anytime soon one can still do some legwork (i.e. dream) for the day when we’ll need to.  

Rested and Returned

I had a sufficiently restful time in Montana, not hurrying and not needing to be anywhere specific but choosing to visit the Miller ranch and then the Burradoo ranch; places, people and Kelpie dogs I know and love.  In between the two ranches I traveled the Lamar Valley and the Road to the Sun, going across the Bear Tooth pass. I did not take any of my dogs with me on this trip but had a good idea that I would find myself in the company of dogs nonetheless.  

Upon having a morning to myself on one of my first days at the Miller ranch, I collected Tanner (the fellow in the above photo) and went hiking up a long open draw in the hills.  While up there I took photos and I sat still, doing little else but pondering, Tanner content to lie nearby and watch for antelope and gophers.  Spread out in front of us is the thousands of acres that make up this ranch where this kelpie dog lives and works.  

The cattle have been moved to the lower grazing pastures at the base of the distant dark hills

How striking that the connection to this place and these people is the result of a dog.  And that I am welcomed with such openness and mutual understanding born out of a shared, soul-deep respect for animal and land that I can collect said dog as though he were my own, go for a hike across their land and feel so at ease with it all. 

I’ve long believed people have purposes but now I think places have a purpose as well and the land won’t settle until the people it needs show up to help serve its purpose.  When you visit places where the people and the place are aligned in their collective purpose you know you are in the midst of a special wonder. It tightens your breath a tad to be there among it all, and it strikes you in your heart to have to leave it behind.  No matter the duration, I think if a vacation does that, it is a vacation well spent. 

Elk resting and grazing near the ranch yard

One of several deer and fawns spotted along the way, reminding me so much of sheep

Last Minute Trip

Sorry to have dropped off from the blog.  I headed to the southwest corner of SK to visit with a friend  who was doing a clinic.  From there I decided to keep going south and do another trip into Montana.  I'm writing this from the porch of a ranch guest house after an incredible morning hiking in the hills with a resident kelpie dog, Tanner.  If I do nothing else in life but explore grassland hills with a dog or two it will have been a good life.  I am at home with these two beings.

There is a curious gopher nearby, whistling away at my presence in his space. Hayfields in the foreground with timber covered hills beyond - the hills explored this morning.  The only computer I have is my iPad as I don't wish to spend much time on the computer while I'm here.  Sharing photos from the camera will have to wait and future posts may be sporadic. We will catch up soon, until then I will be exploring and visiting where ever it strikes my fancy to go.

A Photo of Conversation

I took this photo on a calm evening during lambing.  I was playing with settings on the camera and and while it's a bit of an odd backdrop, it works, and I like the conversation that is happening, which I didn't know I captured.

BlackJack Works on Lambs

I have fifteen bummer lambs (have no momma ewe) that are on a milk pail.  At the conclusion of lambing I wanted to start working my young stock dog again and I began with taking him with me for chores, which included checking the bummer lambs and refilling the milk pails.  

I started letting BlackJack work the lambs and to my delight discovered there are some things you can teach a dog with ease when using lambs, provided the dog will work lambs.  Lambs are very erratic in their reactions so they won’t suit all situations or dogs or what you might be trying to teach.  BlackJack started out being overly fixated and excitable on the lambs and I won’t know till later if I’ve cemented that fixation or caused lambs to become just another sheep in his mind, which is the outcome I’m hoping for.  

With the daily work/training on the lambs he has definitely become much more calm among them.  He comes into the pen smooth and calm, I can circle him both directions and call him to come through the lambs (the start of learning to split a group of sheep on cue - easy to do on lambs btw, hard to do on adult sheep).  This is all done within a small 20 foot irregular shaped space, not a big pen or field because if we can’t get calm, cool headedness in close proximity we won’t have it in a larger space either (large spaces just fool you into thinking you have it because the you can put distance between sheep and dog). So far, so good.  We’ll go back to working adult sheep soon but this interlude with the lambs has been quite rewarding for both of us.

My fab five: left to right - Cajun, BlackJack and Coyote Mic in front, BJ and Gibson in the rear.  Missing is Fynn, I believe the old timer was still in the house. 

Before The Storm

I’m just leaving our yard, driving the curve around a wetland and this is the view through the break in the trees.  The air is still and the place is very calm.  The white specs in the distance are sheep; ewes grazing away without concern about the skies. It is seven pm, plenty of daylight left although you wouldn't think so. 

By the time I get out to the flock and greet the first three guardian dogs the wind is whipping, and rain is on the way.

When I return I have Oakley with me.  Upset as he was about the storm, he climbed aboard the Ranger and wasn't about to get off.  I just let him be and parked both under cover in the Quonset.

Reflections of Ewe

Following on the heels of the post about water and this land... 

On this particular evening the still water tells how calm it is.  Funny thing, I did not see much in the way of photos when I made my way past this spot.  Just some sheep drinking.  I took a few photos and carried on.  When importing photos from the camera later on this tiny batch of reflection photos were my favourite and made me wish I had spent more time there.  

We do pump water from the wetlands to our portable water bus which lets the sheep drink from a trough.  Still, if the water station is too far from where the sheep are grazing that day, some ewes will go down to the shore of wetlands for a drink. 

Water and Such

In response to the question about the water the dogs are playing in in the last post here's more than you probably wanted to know :-)  Our property is rolling hills, bush, pothole sloughs and wetlands; there is no river or creek.  The above photo is one of the two wetlands next to our yard.

The dogs play in the sloughs and wetlands, some of which are quite large.  Just fyi, sloughs are temporary collection points, they tend to be shallow and by late summer/early fall will have dried up.  Wetlands are more substantial bodies of water that hold water year round.  The riparian area (grasses/shrubs/trees) around each one will be different. 

If you examine the next photo you can see five wetlands in the spread of ¾ mile.  This is where the sheep are grazing now and funny thing: this is a file photo from a year ago but Cajun and I just moved sheep to the far side of this very pasture this afternoon.  It's like we did a repeat of this photo. 

Approximately 185 acres of our property is water.  That’s more than one quarter section worth of water.  Amazing for dry-land prairie and that’s the beauty of it too.  
Part of the reason Allen and I pay a lot of attention to how the grass is doing, is because the grass is the natural filter for the wetlands. If this land was cropland you would see substantial affect on the wetland health, we know because when we bought this place it was cropland from one end to the other. We converted it back to grassland. 

The water being in lowland areas coupled with low annual precipitation means the hilltops lack it. The nature of this land is hilltops with desert like conditions, slopes with mid range conditions, and lush valleys - all on a mini scale in each pasture.  It makes rotational grazing challenging. 

Given that there are numerous wetlands there is an abundance of marsh loving songbirds here as well as waterfowl.  This area has one of the highest populations of migrating waterfowl in Canada. 

Of course the numerous wetlands allow for an easier time of watering livestock. We pump water from the wetland to our portable water bus which lets the sheep drink from a trough.  Still, if the water station is too far from where the sheep are grazing that day, the ewes will go down to the shore of wetlands for a drink. 

Granted I am severely biased but this is a beautiful piece of grazing property, albeit a tad in the middle of no where.

White Dog Water Play

To date we haven’t had a guardian dog that likes the water as much as Wren does. While other dogs will wade in and get their feet wet, Wren enjoys getting wet and catching the water as it ripples past her.  

Birdie will follow Wren but prefers being closer to shore. Tex hardly ever gets in the water.  These photos really couldn’t be separated because they tell such a playful story, so you get all of them in one blog post.  This is Wren, Birdie and Tex during a hot morning.  

We place a great deal of altruistic notions onto guardian dogs and to some degree rightly so.  Yet these moments say a lot about the nature of guardian dogs.  How they're dogs, first and foremost; dogs living a very free, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous life, but also a very joyful and purpose-full one, which is a gorgeous example of living and something we can all hope for. 

Wren and Birdie
Wren being oh so tolerant of Birdie towing with her tail
Backlash from Wren
Wren and Birdie again

Tex comes onto the scene

Tex and Wren

Racing off, Tex (on shore) and Wren

Lily Update

I appreciate the comments on the photo of myself and the large-dog crew. It really is a rare photo because a) I'm in it and b) so are all seven lgd's - having all seven dogs in one place does not happen very often.  We were in a bit of rush to get the photo before one or more dogs wandered off. 

Lily is doing quite well.  She has a slight hitch/limp in her step but if you didn't know to watch her for it you would probably miss it.  Changing direction and doing turns off her hindquarters is when the leg fails her.  She has to think about jumping fences now whereas before she jumped without hesitation, all in one motion.  I'd rather she never jumped them at all but she is an athletic and determined dog. 

She has reasserted herself as matriarch of the pasture once more so Tex is showing up with the dogging sheep more and more often now because she pushes him out.  I expect Lily and Wren will have some disagreements as Wren matures although it may be that Wren is enough of a softie that she'll avoid that at all costs.  Wren is not a confident pup.  Birdie seems to have won Lily over though but Birdie is still such a pup that she isn't really on Lily's radar yet. 

Tour Time Once Again

We do a tour tomorrow for international beef and sheep conference attendees.  Attendees are individuals from different countries and the focus of their conference is cost of production, so that will be the starting point of discussion.  The group will visit our place (low input, grass based) and also visit an intensive sheep operation (high input, no grass base).  I have a few notes prepared but otherwise we have done enough tours now that I know to expect, and accept, that tours are always a bit of a surprise in some fashion and you can never be sure where the conversation will go.  Often, at some point or another, the conversation steers toward dogs because we can’t do a tour here without someone taking notice of one dog or another.   

We will take the group to a pasture hilltop overlooking where the flock is and begin discussion there.  When a group of people show up on pasture I’m pretty sure the guardian dogs will make their presence known and perhaps take over for us :-). 

Speaking of guardian dogs, here’s the other rare photo that I chickened out showing you on the last post - a picture of myself with all seven guardian dogs in the photo as well.  Shy as I am about photos I handed Allen the camera and insisted he take one. The white building photo bombing in the background is our one and only sheep building/shearing shed.  It’s a long way away but the camera makes it look near. 

It Takes a Bit of Time

It takes a bit of time to move the flock right now given that there are young lambs at foot. Gibson is the Kelpie dog in the left forefront of this photo and he’s really only needed for encouragement for the ewes but doesn’t need to push much.  The ewes go willingly, eager to move their lambs away from the dog.  He does the occasional flank, going from the left to right side and back again to keep the family groups caught up but otherwise not rushing the ewes.  Gibson is understanding of the job (which is one of the reasons I appreciate kelpies) and I’m just coming along with the camera at this point.  The sheep are traveling to a gate in the valley spot at the top right and then traveling up the long hill.  That white spot on the long hill slope is a guardian dog, waiting/watching as ewes pour into the new pasture. A little ways to travel and no rush is peaceful. 

Lambing is near finished; it’s just a trickle of new lambs arriving now.  As lambing duties dissipate Allen and I turn our attention to a major project that we’ll likely do only this one time since we have no plans to leave this place.  We begin the build of our house.  Some jobs are contracted out, such as the timber frame portion, but otherwise Allen is looking forward to doing a great deal of the build. 

I have little idea of what to expect, other than obvious busyness and decision making.  So far we’ve been through a rash of delays and are feeling eager to get underway.  It occurs to me now that the one thing that will continue on as usual and help keep us level headed and on track despite the upheaval and plentitude of home building is the habits and routine of the sheep and dogs which is why we're here to begin with.

A rare photo with all seven guardians! 

Popular Posts