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! 

Kelpie Time

With lambing slowing down, I'm beginning to squeeze in some training time with the Kelpies again.  They're more than ready for it.  Today I worked three of them together - BJ, BlackJack and Gibson.  No fancy stuff, just letting them get around sheep and then getting a lie down on all three dogs with a whistle cue.  It was a fun adventure and given that it was hot and muggy out we didn't work too long. 

I'd like to work my way up to working all five kelpies at once.  Provided I can stop them it should all be good.  :-)  It's a difficult thing to do at the onset because each individual dog is paying attention to the other dogs and none want to stop if the others are still in motion.  We were not so smooth today and I think I worried the dogs a bit as they tried to sort it out but we're all game to try again.

p.s  I posted a video of lambs racing around onto Facebook.  It will make you smile, do check it out if you're into Facebook.  I tried loading it here on blogger but it wasn't happening.  You'll find the video on my page, link is in the sidebar.

Solo Photo Sunset Ewe

Sunset Ewe
I witness similiar scenes each evening.  It is a gorgeous way to end one's work day.

Trouble is Afoot

We have come through the thick of lambing in good order, and the remainder of ewes left to lamb will be at a trickle now.  I lost one ewe to a prolapse and have 14 lambs on the milk pail at the moment. 

All six guardian dogs are with the flock and Zeus travels back and forth between his group of sheep and the main group.  While I’d like to believe this is due to some altruistic feeling on their part it is far more likely due to the plentitude of afterbirth that is present in the thick of lambing.  

With so many lambs successfully on the ground it’s frustrating to come up against a problem so soon, but we have.  I am finding injured and dead lambs who are partially eaten.  When ever kills take place there is a myriad of suspicions that pop up and while the injuries on the lambs most likely indicate a bird or a fox, the guardian dogs are also suspect and under watch.  

Given that we have young pups we automatically take into account that lambs became too tempting and the youngsters could be up to no good.  Wren is thirteen months and Birdie is six months.  Last summer when Wren was a wee pup, she and Crow were set with orphan bottle lambs (no ewes present) and they learned they could play with lambs.  That experience convinced me never to raise another pup with orphan lambs.  All my previous pups were raised with adult sheep.   

With all the time I’ve spent on pasture during lambing I’ve been able to keep an eye on the youngsters.  They play together frequently which is good as it leaves little energy for other mischief. 

I’ve gotten in a couple good corrections at the start of rough housing with lambs.  Birdie got the message loud and clear, Wren not so much.  The ewes also correct the young dogs for hanging out too close to lambs, by way of a charge and head butting and both dogs got that message loud and clear and are aware of that consequence.  They make a wide skirt around any ewe who stomps her feet or dips her head. 

There is also abundant good behaviour being displayed by the young dogs and nothing to indicate predatory intention.  I’ve watched them decide not to bother lambs who are running pel-mel and instead go off to play with each other.  I’ve watch Birdie get caught up in a wave of sprinting lambs and just lay down until they passed. I’ve watched Wren approach unattended sleeping lambs, give a sniff and then carry on.  So while I’m suspicious I’m also doubtful that the pups are responsible, or if they are it will be a matter we can tend to. 

The other dog under suspicion as of yesterday is Zeus because the kills coincided with the start of his tours of the lambing pasture and Zeus and a past dog, Diesel, spent considerable time together before we discovered Diesel was a lamb killer. It’s all too easy for one dog to show another how hunting is done and we wonder if this is the case with Zeus.  

So, Birdie gets the benefit of the doubt for now but Wren and Zeus get tied up when we are not around to supervise.  We’re hoping by process of elimination we can determine if one or both are involved.  It’s a bitter irony to be wishing another lamb kill or injury happens so you can rule out your dog had anything to do with it but that’s exactly the position I’m in.  

Pasture Lambing Chaos

After a thoroughly busy two weeks or so, the arrival of new lambs has slowed and today presented only a handful of new babes.  It took more time to travel the pasture looking for new lambs today than it did to catch and process them. 

With an abundance of lambs on the ground we have entered the phase of pasture lambing chaos.  Ewes with older lambs deposit them in one place and leave to graze.  When I drive around the pasture it appears that there are numerous lambs without ewes and how they ever find each other again amongst the throng is amazing.  Come evening small packs of older lambs are racing along trails and hills.  Ewes and lambs are bleating from every direction and munis the odd ewe who has lost her lambs, most of them keep order among this chaos. There are yearling ewes with the flock and often times they get caught up in the energy of the lambs and join in the play.  

The tides shift at this point in lambing as well.  The early half is all about the work and just keeping up each day but now there is opportunity to stop for a spell and watch the chaos of an evening play itself out.  

The other creatures to get caught up in the action are the young guardian dogs.  Being out on pasture for long lengths of time is a good thing as I can keep my eye on Wren and Birdie.  It is Wren I am most suspicious of and I’ll share the why of that plus catch you up with the dogs in the next post. 

Visitor Interlude

Perhaps because I am a person who walks the prairie and sits on stones and ponders the way of things, I am also a person who is always asking “is this the way forward, am I on a purposeful track?”  Well, every once in a while there comes a day that duly shouts the answer. 

I made a trip to town to pick up felting artwork that was in the local art gallery for a showing during May.  Conversations lead to the possibility of a solo show at a later date, and an ask for a display a few pieces of my felting at a gallery and gift shop at the nearby resort town.  As a sideline, because that’s how visits go, it also netted a conversation on pros and cons of self publishing a book.  

Feeling very intrigued I hastened my way home and along the drive passed a silver car, which, unbeknownst to me, contained visitors who were headed to our place.  A phone call to check on directions revealed that we had just passed each other.  Nancy, Ruth and Mavis were making the trip out to the ranch to look at  fleeces.  The visit was fast but oh so fruitful as we conversed with one another over sheep's wool and deepened our appreciation of fibre, artwork, land and the places we live.  To my sheer delight, Nancy loves to work with natural dyes - there is future collaborations there for sure.
The ladies were soon on their way, with two fleeces and a piece of felted artwork in hand, and after a change of clothes I was back out on pasture, looking over green hills littered with ewes and this years lambs. It is so curious to me that woven throughout the entire day was the thread of every piece and person being connected, and I marvelled at how good it (I) felt.  So my creative path shall continue because this day duly screamed that creativity is one of the pieces that make up this whole of a life. It may just be that creating artwork and sharing written words is a piece of far more importance than I’ve admitted if only because it’s a tad scary to keep up with oneself when the self finally admits to a purpose it cannot deny.   

The Days Saving Grace

It was our turn for cold and wet weather and from the start of the morning yesterday I was sure we were in for a dreary day of lambing all around.  Rain showers during lambing are not much to be concerned about, but colder temperatures and wind, along with rain that doesn’t let up, is trouble. 

Disturbing new lambs in cool, wet weather isn’t necessary so I elected to leave them alone even though it puts me behind with tagging and ringing.  One can always catch lambs at a later date, even if you have to change your process to do so, but new lambs have only a limited time to get a belly full of warm milk and settled next to mom for warmth.  As I traveled the pasture I could see ewes and lambs had done just that, minus one lamb who had not.  Much better to leave them alone then. 

The days saving grace was the rain was light, the temps stayed above zero and we had a few hours of sunshine reprieve mid afternoon.  Just what young lambs born into this day needed.  I took this next photo because the sunshine was so wonderful and needed, I did not pay any attention to the church in the background as it’s a couple miles away as the crow flies, more than three miles by trail and road.  I did not even see the church while taking photos so it was a surprise to see the church in the photo on the computer - the days saving grace indeed.  

Two lambs were brought in to the milk pail, and two died.  It feels like we got through by the skin of our teeth but skin of our teeth or no it’s a welcome and satisfying feeling.  The wind remains with us, however, this evening was a golden one, full of brilliant sunshine and running lambs. 

Weighing the Odds

I’m still here, there are lambs popping up all over, and with fitting in another half mile of fencing work and looking after a handful of bottle lambs the days have been very full. 

The grass is slow growing this Spring so the ewes are eating faster than the previous grazed piece of lambing pasture recovers.  Moving them forward off the lambing pasture means they get better grass while the other paddock rests.

The next paddock forward is a full quarter section in size with an old but useless cross fence dividing it.  Allen decided we should get the next half mile of new fencing up so the ewes would still be on a smaller parcel of land for the sake of lambing, and there is no deterring Allen once he decides on a project for the day. (This way the flock is on a very manageable 80 acres rather then 160).  In hindsight perhaps Allen knew something without knowing he knew it, because windy, wet weather has also arrived and this next piece of pasture has a long stretch of bush to shelter in. 

I opened the gate yesterday and left it for the ewes to find on their own and follow the greener grass to the next piece, which they did about mid afternoon. Plenty of ewes with newer lambs hung back meaning the flock is spread out for 24 hours or so, increasing the predator risk and work for the guardian dogs.  I still didn’t think it was worth pushing them to travel too soon, as they have access to shelter as well if needed.  That’s kinda of how it feels a lot of the time during pasture lambing, you’re always weighing the odds of weather and predator and deciding which to take a chance with that day.  Hopefully you come out on the winning side.

Ode to Pasture Lambing Needle Felted

If you recall from a couple posts back I was working on a piece of felting.  Even though lambing time is busy I still steal time in the early hours of the morning for artwork and journaling; it’s just less time than can be had during winter.  Given that I don’t know what the day will bring out on pasture this morning spell is fast becoming my favourite part of the day (provided I don’t get sucked into face booking). 

Ode to Pasture Lambing

I wanted to do this piece as a sentiment for all those who pasture lamb (they’re aren’t many of us who do in our province as intensive operations and jug lambing become the norm). 

It’s roughly 10 x 12 inches. I like that you see what it is but are drawn in to looking further and your eye travels the piece to take it in.  It's showing a tad darker here than it is for real. I'll be sharing more progress photos on Facebook - but that will have to wait for tomorrow.  Sleep is needed. 

Triplet Quandary

The first set of triplets arrived a few days ago. Triplets are a bit of a quandary when pasture lambing as we feel the excitement of seeing triplets and yet we know the odds and what triplets mean.  We don’t get many sets, usually just a few each year; this isn’t a prolific flock and we don’t manage for it to be so. 

If there is another ewe lambing I’ll risk stealing a triplet and pawning it off but I have to be sure the second ewe only has a single and that she has lambed recently enough the two babes are equally fresh to her so that she can be convinced both are hers. 

This early in lambing the odds are slim, and indeed when these three were born there was no alternative.  I left all three with the ewe.  I came across them today and they’re doing alright.  There is always one lamb that is smaller and that’s the case here but mom is great with knowing she has three lambs and keeping them near and keeping them fed.  A small success thus far and that's what we build on.

Lambing Outtakes

At just a couple days old they can sure get around.  Amazing little gaffers really.  I don't think I ever do lambing time justice in the blog; there is so much to share but the days are so full it all runs together by the evening and my mind struggles to sort it out after a long day out doors.

When pasture lambing you learn pretty quick when to catch lambs and when to leave well enough alone and try later.  Too young and you'll put mom off the lambs, too old and you'll be sprinting to catch and scare half the flock.  You want a nice, calm catch and you want mom to know where her lambs are.  Today was a full day of new lambs.  A few ewes snorted and pressed my arms/hands while I held their lambs which sounds kind enough knowing they want their lambs, but momma ewes aren't being sweet about it, so I'm wary of them.  

I thought I could take my iPod shuffle and listen to music while I checked lambs but that only lasted one try.  Turns out I rely a good deal on listening to the ewes while I work, their sounds tell me where they are and what they might be up to and how panicked they're getting.  I am surprised by how much I rely on and know about the sounds of sheep.  I suppose it's a habit born of experience but never given thought to.  It's a skill I'm pleased to have honed.

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