Back to Routine

The past weekend was full of friendship and dogs as we hosted a stock dog clinic with two fabulous and down to earth instructors, Dave and Trudy Viklund.

I thoroughly enjoy when a group of people gather for the camaraderie and satisfaction of working dogs. It's like a brief holiday from routine life except I didn't go anywhere. And I relish in learning and in those moments of inspiration and connection when understanding occurs. Dogs do to. It's wonderful to see.

Today is quiet and back to routine. Lambing is starting in earnest now with ten or so new lambs each day. The weather is iffy though, with rain and lower temperatures. Nonetheless, this year is a vast improvement from last.

There is less work for the stock dogs right now but more for the guardian dogs. Pasture moves are made in the evenings and rather than gather the flock with the stock dogs, we open the gate, give a call and let the ewes come as they will. Those with new lambs will stay back and usually catch up the next day when they are willing to move with their lambs. When everyone is across we'll close the gate. 

We make a handful of trips to the pasture each day to check on the flock and note new lambs. For the next month we'll be pretty tied to home. One blessing of pasture lambing though is that we still get to sleep through the night!

With Willow's Help

Willow is a five year old LGD. She is very much a mom type dog. This year she is missing out on lambing since Glory, the other female, won't allow Willow to be near the flock.

So Willow is currently staying with a group of ewe lambs and we hope to enlist her help with raising the pups.

Yesterday the pups met Willow and spent the day with her and the ewe lambs, in a larger paddock. Willow seemed pleased to have the company of little ones.

Since I am the one that feeds them and walks them around the pups are quite bonded to me yet. They are only ten weeks old so this is too be expected.

They followed me and hung near the gate when I left the paddock and even though Willow walks away to return to the sheep, the pups aren't quite convinced and they curled up by the gate to wait. 

In the evening I moved the pups, five sheep and Willow to the small puppy paddock where they spent the night together.

This morning I walked everyone out to the larger paddock again and let them be.

On my return from checking the main flock I tried to sneak by unannounced to see what was up. The pups came running from where Willow was - with the sheep.  A very good sign.

Writing About Loss

We lost three ewes to bloat, a loss compounded by the loss of the lambs they were carrying as well. In an average precipitation year we rarely deal with bloat issues on the alfalfa, but this year is another wet anomaly. It's another learning curve.

I always hesitate to write about the loss of animals. I'm afraid that by writing about it I somehow encourage the aura of loss to stick with us. I'm afraid of being judged by others for poor management. I'm afraid to admit and accept that animals die. Besides, my plan for writing a blog included sunsets and success stories but not the tough issues of death and loss.   

Yet if I don't write about it I feel like a cheat. Like I'm denying readers, and myself, the real deal and the lesson. This is ranching. This is what is, and despite our best intentions loss is what we sometimes face. 

The loss however, is not necessarily the most difficult thing to deal with.

It's dealing with the sense of failure and frustration and the great cycle of why, what if and worry that inevitably starts to spin in ones mind. Then the greatest work becomes trying to answer the why's, solve the what if's and sooth the worries while keeping the faith that tomorrow will be a better day.

Guardian Pup Update

They've only been here for a few days; not quite one week yet. So far they eat and sleep a lot. No names yet but I'm open to suggestions. Both are males.

Some interactions happening with the sheep and last night they slept outside of their house area.

Already when they first hear the dogs or I approach they rush over in a tumble, frantically puppy barking a warning the whole way. They settle as soon as they see it's me. They don't settle so quickly if I hang back and they only see the other dogs.

It's a terribly difficult thing not to plop them in my lap and gush over them, take them along for walks or let them play with the other dogs. I do regularly handle them, touching ears, tail and feet and just holding them up so they know what that is about. This is all done in very calm, quiet, no fuss, no excitement manner.

I've been teaching them not to come through the gate-way just by giving them a fast but light two finger poke in the chest and a verbal shsstt sound when they step across.

Next week we'll start leash walking and transporting them to the pasture in a crate so they become accustomed to both.  At some point in their adult lives they will need to be tied or crated. I prefer that they don't panic when that has to happen.

They're a fine pair of dogs and having to have such restraint with them increases my desire for a stock dog pup, a pup I can gush over and partner with.

Most Useful Tools

This is one of our most used tools during pasture season. It is a handheld unit that allows us to read the voltage and to turn off the electric fence from wherever we happen to be along the fence-line.

Previous to this gadget we had to remember to turn off the fence at the power source in the yard before we went out. Always a lot of cursing when one forgot to do so and either a) had to risk the getting zapped or b) go all the way back and turn the fence off.

The voltage traveling along the fence-line is low again. We had the same trouble last year and have attributed this power drain to the fact that there are several sections of fence-line that are now sitting in water.

This morning a half a dozen ewes braved pushing through the cross fence to graze the newer greens on the other side. A sure sign the power on the fence is too low. To my eye there is still plenty of green where they are but the sheep know when it's time to move. I put pressure to the fence crawling thugs and made them go back the way they came out. Then I heeded their wisdom, called the flock and opened the gate to a new paddock. Our fifth move of the spring season.  

New Guardians To Be

It's going to be hard to keep our hands off these little tykes.

These two arrived Tuesday evening. The next morning we puppy proofed a small area out of sight from the yard, where they will spend the next few months bonding with a handful of ewe lambs.

The pups have a safe pen to escape to, sleep in and eat in without fending off curious and pushy ewe lambs. They can come out and mingle with the sheep as they feel comfortable.

The one downfall of this set up is that it happens to be a dry lot area. So the few ewe lambs in here have to make do with eating hay. They are not content with this arrangement. I'll switch the group of five ewe lambs quite frequently so the pups are always meeting new sheep and any group of five won't go long without getting some green grass.

Each day we will take the pups out to the pasture to meet Oakley and Glory, two of the adult dogs guarding the flock. This way they won't be strangers when it comes time for the little ones to join in on pasture.

Otherwise, right now it is all about feeding, watering and supervising the pups. We don't want to over-handle them or spend too much time with them. When they mature they will be working out on pasture so at this early stage it is important they bond to sheep, not to us or the yard.

Moving and Sorting

Yesterday we spent the better part of the day in the car, driving to pick up two new pups who are destined for guardian work here at Dog Tale Ranch. More on them in the next post.

After supper we hauled portable panels and the sort gate to the pasture. I wished to sort off 20 odd ewe lambs for use in an upcoming stock dog clinic and for the new LGD pups. It was time for a flock move to the next pasture so we used this to our advantage. We set up in the center of four adjoining square paddocks, where four gates meet. It worked.

The ewes anticipated the move and were waiting for us. What they didn't anticipate was the sort gate set up but they wanted the new grass and were very cooperative about passing through it. A little black and white dog at the rear helped to convince them.

As the ewes poured through, the first 20 odd ewe lambs were cut out to the paddock on the bottom of the photo and the rest of the flock to the top paddock, kiddy corner from the other.

This was far easier for the very pregnant ewes as the alternative was to dog the entire flock more than half a mile home, sort them there and dog them back. This way, the only ones making the trip were the small group of young and non-pregnant ewe lambs. I enlisted Cajun for the trek back home with the ewe lambs. 

Moving a small group of young animals a fair distance was great work for him. He had to do some fancy footwork to keep them away from the draw of the entire flock. And again at the next gate which is in a low spot that is holding water right now. After that he had to keep collecting them as they bolted past me repeatedly once we got onto the familiar trail heading to the yard.

Lambing Begins With Loss

We were not expecting lambs for another ten days or so but Mother Nature is not as fixated on calendars are we are.

Last night Jayde and I were out on pasture, tucking in the edges of the flock, making sure the ewes were gathered in a loose group before dark. After a day of clinic hosting I was tired and was pleased this was a routine and simple evening, made so by a great dog along to help.

We loaded back up in the Ranger and turned to leave when I noticed two ewes on a hill top a distance from the flock. We approached to push them toward the flock. They moved off a few paces but zipped back to where they were. We cut them off, drew closer and pushed them back to the flock again.

As the ewes turned away I noticed one had a rather messy back end and at the same time heard a faint bleat of a very new lamb nearby. My heart sank.

I had just pushed mom off her babe.

Lambing on pasture is quite another thing from lambing in a barn. You cannot get too close to the ewes, they have all the room in the world to leave. You do not have the management control you can exert with pens and lambing jugs. 

For the next half I hour I tried to set things back in time. To get the ewe back to her lamb or the lamb to the ewe. During this I discovered the second newborn lying in the grass.

Damn, damn, and damn again. Why had I not paid more attention to what  the ewe was telling me?

Dark came on and my hope dissipated with the daylight. The best I could do is set the lambs near the flock, who was now moving off due to my interference, and hope mom took notice.

This morning one ewe was with the lambs but both of them were dead.

Function and Correctness

Hosting a one day beginner herding clinic brought to light a post that has been stewing in my mind since Laura shared a comment about function and correctness following the post Rethinking Stock Dogs.

Dogs that possess instinct and interest for working livestock have a very clear idea of what their function is right from start. And they hardly waiver from it until we insist on instating our ideas of 'correct' upon them.

A dog working livestock is also a thing of great intuition, beauty and grace. There is an inner knowing there that we recognize, whether we're stock dog savvy or not.

On the human side of the equation, I wonder how our world would shift if we approached it from an avenue of function rather than one of being correct; being right or wrong.

The reality most people exist in, is ripe with obsession about correctness. This leads us to harboring a great fear about making a  mistake. And so in turn we have become people who think too hard and worry too easy.

There is no right or wrong in the natural world, so there is no correct. The natural world revolves around function. A function every creature knows without obsession over figuring it out.

If we direct our energy to what we believe our function is (substitute purpose if you like) and live it, we would appear as a working stock dog does. A creature in their element; intuitive, captivating, graceful, powerful, focused, accepted and very satisfied with life.

Imagine a world of people living like that.

Spring Pace Quickens

The prairies are still looking rather brown. The grass is here but is slow coming in and the trees have not leafed out yet. There has been no seeding action on the neighboring cropland. May has been cool and the night time temps still approach freezing.

Nonetheless, as spring comes into full swing, the pace has picked up a notch on the ranch.

We moved the flock just over half mile south to the first paddock in our spring grazing rotation. Coming across the first half mile the ewes were quick to spread out and start eating the tender young grass that was there. The dogs had to work hard to keep the flock together and going where needed. There is no way to tell the dogs how long any move is and this being the first longer move of the year Jayde overworked herself well before we were done. The distance was not long but keeping over four hundred ewes, who are eager to spread out and graze, together is a lot of work. On top of that she always does far more work then she needs to.

It's hard for me to get great pictures of the move since I can't really stop moving to take them.

Spring time fencing has begun. In order to move the sheep to the south pasture we needed to add a fourth wire to the cross fence and repair two broken wires on another side.

I've agreed to do some herding lessons this year so that has begun as well. Not too many though since we are very rurally located and it is a commitment for most people to make the drive out.

Two new guardian pups are set to arrive next week so we are planning for their beginnings as flock guardians here at Dog Tale Ranch.

Off the ranch I entered a small local art show, which equated to several evenings of drawing to finish up a couple of pieces.

It's spring - life is good.

Double Takes

What is it about pairs of things, matching or complimentary sets, and symmetry? We seem to notice when we spy these elements in nature.  Pairs and symmetry seem to speak to a natural order within the world. We're drawn to that order. 

Both Allen and I have been toting the camera around this past week. I was browsing the photos and I was attracted to these doggie double takes.

Mouse Hunt

A lot of mice make their winter homes in the bales set on pasture. When the snow melts it becomes easier for the dogs to scout them out.

This is three stock dogs hunting a mouse. Skip this post if you're fond of mice. I'm fond of them as long as they are outdoors but not so fond that I interrupt the dogs from naturally hunting an occasional mouse.

Jayde and Fynn search and flush them out. Cajun shows little interest in sticking his head into the hay.

He's the cherry picker, the guy who waits for the ball to come to him. Or in this case the mouse. And it does.

Cajun also isn't interested in killing mice. He's interested in investigating them up close and personal. Only to discover they can bite, or at least, tickle his nose. A moment after this photo he snatched and flung little mousie aside.

Just what Jayde was waiting for. She too likes to investigate very closely and here she has the mouse in her mouth.  She's cat-like and uses her feet to bat and roll the mouse and causes the mouse to make a run for it.

Fynn has been circling the other two dogs since the mouse was flushed out. Fynn is quick as lightening and when the mouse runs from Jayde, he makes a quick dart and grab for the little rodent.

Unlike Jayde and Cajun, Fynn isn't into playing games for too long. He's the real mouse killer and once he has his jaws on the prize, be it mouse, tug toy, stick, ball, sock…. the game is over, no one gets the prize back.

He proudly carried the dead mouse for a long while before finally dropping it somewhere on the pasture in order to investigate the next thing more interesting than hanging onto a soggy mouse.

Seasonal Routines

The morning routine is far simpler right now. No more rolling and forking bales. The sheep are grazing on a quarter section that is cross fenced in half.

We do a drive around check of the flock on the night side of the pasture (where we move and set the flock for the night) and then open the gate to the day pasture. Regardless of where they are, the ewes will find their way there on their own. Show them once or twice and sheep have a remarkable ability for finding the open gate.

The cows who graze on the same pasture as the sheep have yet to make it over to the daytime side of the pasture. Although in their defense I think this has more to do with the guardian dogs insisting the cows maintain a generous distance from the flock.

We come out around 8 AM and our arrival used to get the sheep up.  Now they have already been up and had a feed by the time we arrive and the majority of them are lying down and chewing cud.

The ewes have adjusted to the increased daylight hours but the llama, maybe not so much.

Dog Work

We changed up our night penning routine for this night grouping routine (for lack of a better description). We make sure all animals are together and let them settle in a common spot for the night.  We check on the guard dogs and feed them nearby.

These photos are of Jayde and I walking the pasture in the evening, looking for sheep and gathering them together to move into the adjacent pasture area for the night. Allen has gone off in the Ranger to check the opposite side of the pasture which is about 80 acres in size.

The dogs are allowed to go out in front of me. We're both looking for sheep after all. And yes, because of the hills sometimes they go out of sight and off on a gather without me sending them. It's part and parcel of the job here.

Jayde looks around for sheep
There are a few sheep just off on the right hand side of the picture who blend into the landscape well.

In the next photo we have come up on the edge of a large group. As Jayde approaches the flock begins to move off quickly. If I needed the flock to come back toward me I would send her to gather. Tonight this group is traveling where we need them to go and will meet up with a group coming along with Allen from the opposite side, so we fall in behind - for a brief period. Jayde, being a gathering junkie, breaks a few moments after this picture was taken and collects the group right near the gate.

A few moments later I catch up and circle Jayde around the group so that they pass through the gate. Allen's group is joining them. Then we hang back to let the flock settle.

The ewes choose to move down into a hollow next to the trees. It's just before dark and they will likely bed down in this area.

With the job done for tonight we make our way back to the yard.

Hints of Green and Grazing

Returning home takes far less effort than leaving it.

We have been back for a couple days and have quickly if not a little groggily fallen back into the rhythm and step of the ranch we drove away from a few days ago.

The guardian dogs adjusted quickly to a person coming by tractor for a few days and the pair of them rushed me when I approached the flock again on foot as I like to. A few hello's and they ceased their charge at the familiarity of my voice. They don't miss much, those two.

I've been toting my camera around the last couple days and have a couple pictures of the land as it comes out of its winter hibernation and says hello to spring.

This is what land looks like after months of accumulating snow pack and temperatures that hold steady at minus 20 centigrade or colder. Note the ample ground cover in this area.

While the sun can do a quick job of melting the snow on the surface it takes a stretch of warm weather to thaw out the earth which has been frozen well below the surface for a few months. This is the hold up to any surge of grass growth in early spring - heat of the soil.

A glance across the pasture makes you wonder what's there to eat. Yet this is the pasture the sheep are grazing and when you walk through it you see evidence of green they are seeking.

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