Kelpie Progress

I gave up training with Cajun awhile ago and almost gave up with him entirely such was my continuing frustration, but I have been letting him slip back into the routine work now and again. Real work suits us much better than training does.

For the last few days Cajun has accompanied me out on pasture in the evenings to gather the flock.

Last evening while out on pasture I sent him on a long gather, taking a chance that he might not be ready for the distance and knowing I’d have to give up what happened at the top. It was a nice set up because the easy and obvious route was down a hill and around a large slough, which helped him go wide enough. It took three tries to convince him to go however. The sheep are very hard to see in the brown grass and snow landscape and he’s used to them being much closer. So he didn’t see them before being sent. On the third send he committed and as he traveled back uphill, he spied the sheep, still a long distance away. He dipped out of my sight due to the landscape but reappeared falling in behind the group momentarily. My heart soared to see him do an outrun like that.

When the sheep came downhill and through a draw he felt he was losing them and flanked way too far over, coming around until he caught the eye of the lead sheep and stopped their movement. He’s a control freak that way. Trouble is, so am I, so we’ve always struggled over this. He and the sheep were still so far away from me so I felt my influence was very little. I told him to get back around and just like that, he did! From that point on he kept behind his sheep and brought them the whole way to me.

Such a seemingly simple piece of work that I know is not, especially from the point of struggle he and I are coming from. I was overjoyed to see it.

Hunter or Hunted?

Are you hunter or hunted?
You just never know if you cross one of our pastures unannounced.

Hunting season for deer is in full swing in our area. During the month of November it’s a common occurrence to step outside and hear rifle shots.

Today on my afternoon tour of the pasture perimeter I met two hunters traveling in a white truck along the opposite side of the fence line. We each stopped to chat, the fence line between us and right away I was fielding questions about the sheep and the guardian dogs.

Then the hunter in the passenger seat recounted this brief story.

Last year when hunting he left his truck to follow a wounded deer which had crossed a fence line. Climbing through the fence he continued to hunt for his deer when out of nowhere, this huge white dog rushes him from behind. And... the hunter says with heavy emphasis, “the dog came right up my backside and scared the shit right out of me.”

Inwardly I couldn’t help but proudly chuckle while quickly calculating which guardian dog it might have been.

“They’re pretty friendly though, hey?” he asked.


You just never know.

One Fall day a few years ago, I decided to walk the half mile out to pasture late one evening. I was mid paddock and dark was near but I had not seen sheep yet. I remember hearing a bleat and turning to travel in that direction. I had walked a short distance in the near dark when I felt the hairs on my neck rise. Right behind me, completely unseen and unheard, the guardian dogs rushed and I tasted a bitter moment of fear.

You just never know if you’re hunter or hunted. 

New Tool For Feeding

Chore days on my own just became a little easier thanks to one rather remarkable individual.

Allen never ceases to amaze me with his understanding of the workings of anything mechanical or structural, coupled with the talents to build them. I have little understanding of how his mind sorts such things out but I’m grateful that I get to see his mind create and his hands go to work.

This week, among other building tasks, he decided to weld a simple round bale un-roller for use behind the Ranger.

We tried it out yesterday and after a little modification it was ready to go again today. While some forking will still be required this should cut the physical labour in half.  I'm very pleased with this!

Notice there are no sheep coming to eat the newly unrolled feed. That’s because they’ve gone off grazing, which most of them do as a first choice.

And then there are always some individuals who prefer to eat at their own bale, no matter how easy we make it for them otherwise.

Night Pen Set Up

We utilize different areas for night penning to prevent the sheep from overusing any one area. Even though they are only stationed for the night, the space can quickly become worn and messy. Sheep also like to bed in routine spots. So while the night pen might be ten acres or more in size, they will bed in one area repeatedly until we block that area off.

Today we set up a new night pen area. We set up a few rolls of electranet and put up two portable wind breaks as there is no natural shelter in this spot. We spread  some old hay bales for a layer of bedding. This will serve until the flock is onto bale grazing. At that time they’ll be in yet another area and make their own bedding as they go.

Our recent winter snap has turned around. The temperature changed over 20 degrees in a twenty four hour period and we are now enjoying temperatures just below zero. After near minus 30 temperatures this feels like short pants weather.

I think the ewes might agree.


A couple days ago I couldn’t get a bale unrolled for the sheep. Today I forked and unrolled two of them. Funny what a little cold weather incentive will do.

The temperature was minus 31 celsius this morning.  A slight wind took us closer to minus forty with wind chill factor. I still moved the flock out to pasture but with the bitter cold decided to open up a bale. By the time I forked half of the first bale I was plenty warm. With half of the bale forked out I could manage to maneuver and roll the remainder along a well used sheep trail. Sheep began to line up along the bale trail for the easy feed.

I did a second bale, figured two bales was enough and walked home. Later in the day the sun shone bright and the wind left. The majority of the flock left the bales and were out grazing. 

Weather this cold is usually reserved for January and February. November and December are two months of progressively colder weather that allow us and the animals to adjust. Moving this quickly to such cold is a bit of a shock.

Indoors however, I adjusted pretty quickly; here’s my latest work in progress.

Old Man Winter

Just what have you got up your sleeve anyway?

We have received an early and very frigid blast of winter. The yard is snowed in, gates and doors are blocked by snow, the temperature dropped and the wind is fierce.

I was stymied about how to feed the sheep. 

The wind was still blowing and snow still falling. It was like a mini blizzard and it would be a trek through deep snow to get them out to pasture.

Our little tractor is a seasonal one; it’s hydraulics don’t work in the cold so using it to unroll a bale was not an option.

There are eight round bales on a hilltop in the paddock where the sheep bed down. If I could just get one of them started on the flat I might be able to unroll it downhill (I've done it before). 110 pounds against 1200 in deep, soft snow.  No luck, I need more of a hill to get started.  Forking enough hay loose to feed five hundred wasn’t sounding good either.

No choice then, out to pasture we must go. When it comes to situations like this I am indebted to stock dogs and I drop all cares about how perfect they work. Jayde and Cajun got the flock up and moving, into the wind no less. After that it only took a couple pushes to encourage them through deep spots and they took themselves out to pasture, knowing the route from previous days. I was worried about them getting enough feed with the snow depth but a check later in the day showed the majority of them digging and grazing. All our extra hay bales are stored in this pasture so several individuals took the opportunity to nibble on bales as well. They made a bit of a mess but it hardly seemed the day to be picky about that.

I rounded them up on the Ranger in the early evening and noted that they came in with full looking bellies. I felt a little more at ease, yet with this early snow and cold temperatures we might be facing a very challenging winter.

Stock Dogs and LGD's

Since we use stock dogs a great deal we need the guardian dogs to be aware of those dogs who will be working with us. When a new dog comes on the scene at our place we always make sure there are introductions with the guardian dogs.

The difference in age between these youngsters is only five months
The goal is for the dogs to become familiar with each other but not to hang out so much that they bond and play. Since our guardians are always on pasture and/or outside of the yard there is no common hang out area for regular interaction (which we like - otherwise we'd have to monitor dogs while they shared a yard). For there to be any greetings we have to take the stock dogs to the guardian dogs.

In the day to day routine when we take a stock dog out to gather the flock there is often a brief greeting between the herding dog and one or more of the guardian dogs before releasing the stock dogs. With this over, the guardians take up a place and prepare to come with the flock.

The only guardian dog who causes more of an interruption is our eldest female, Willow.  She is also the dog who was over socialized with dogs to begin with. She works alone a lot, and enjoys the stock dogs when she sees them.

Feeding Dogs

I like feeding a raw diet to the dogs and I did so for years before I moved to the farm. Ironically it was after we transitioned from crop farming to livestock that I gave up feeding raw because it was too costly and too difficult to find a supply.

I’m able to supplement their diets with raw food and bones as we butcher animals for the dogs on occasion but butchering regularly for several guardian dogs is not something I can keep up with or want to be doing. If you have ever butchered a large animal, you know that it takes time. I just don’t wish to spend my time being a butcher and meat cutter. And affording commercial raw product is not an option right now.

This fall I came up with a plan. We sold cull ewes direct to a raw dog food company and took partial payment in raw meat product. Then there is an older cull cow over at the in-laws that belongs to Allen and I (I believe it’s our last remaining cow from days when we farmed with them).  That cow will be slaughtered tomorrow - for dog food - and I’m paying someone else to do the work.

So this week well over a thousand pounds of meat will be collected or on its way. This should do us for a few months and maybe by then I can wrangle up another plan.

Sunday Sharing

I was following fibre art links and came across the Esty site of unknown-to-me artist, Colin Richmond.

These sheep creations are remarkable.

Have a look:

Artist, Colin Richmond

He has made many animal sculptures but he notes sheep have been the most popular!

Days Work for Working LGD's

With Fall grazing the sheep spread out further to find enough to eat and when there are lots of sheep they disperse in smaller groups. This makes it more difficult for the guardian dogs to guard the front, back and all the side doors.

Coyotes are upping their attempts to steal lamb so we are patrolling the pasture in the mornings when the flock goes out, after lunch and again in the late afternoon.

On this morning, the flock have recently arrived on pasture. After feeding Willow and moving the rams I come along very shortly after on the Ranger, and do a patrol of the perimeter. I scare up a coyote in the North West corner. I patrol further and then I set up on a hilltop on the North end to watch the flock and see where they settle. I’ll make sure the flock is in a group before heading back in to warm up. It is cold and very windy.

Oakley has kept up with the front on the flock. He settles at the foot of a bale, tucked out of the wind.

Whiskey is also with the front of the flock and sets on a hilltop to scout. The property fence-line is a short distance off to the left. Lady is near Whiskey, and also tucked down at the foot of a bale.

A short time later Glory travels in with some more ewes coming to join the rest. Diesel is further back with a group of ewes who headed to a different corner of the pasture and are now making their way around a large wetland to join the main group.

I watch for awhile but know I won’t last too long in the wind. 

Oakley, who is the closest to me, alerts and takes off to the North. There is barking and commotion behind me. I stand up on the seat of the Ranger to see. Glory and Whiskey are in a full run. Both have cleared the fence and are moving across the neighbours stubble field.

Oakley, Lady and Diesel follow and carry on with barking. None of them leave the pasture though.

Lady and Diesel return and upon coming over the hill Lady spies me and charges. She soon recognizes it’s me but still acts suspicious. They return to the flock as does Oakley.  I don’t see Glory or Whiskey.

Eventually I move off and see to it that any trailing ewes catch up so all the sheep are at least in the same area of the pasture which will give the dogs a much better chance of guarding. I head in to warm up.

When I return in the afternoon I do so on foot and begin with a walk along the South side. Oakley is far off to the South, barking. Diesel approaches and walks with me.

Whiskey is again sitting on a hilltop near the center of the pasture, he doesn’t approach until later.

I travel all the way along the South side heading West and then turn North going along the West fence-line. I get to the North West corner and Glory is with a large group of sheep grazing out that area. The majority of the flock are still on the North side but across a large wetland which cuts through the North end.

Oakley, Diesel and Whiskey have joined me by this point and continue on to the main group of sheep. Lady doesn’t show herself and I guess she is with the main group again. I cut kitty corner across the paddock and move up any sheep who have wandered back toward the South end thus putting everyone together again.

Allen does another patrol in the evening before we bring the flock and all guard dogs to the night pen for much needed rest.

Winter's Arrival

On the prairies we adjust to four pretty distinct seasons yet somehow the adjustment from Fall to Winter seems the most sudden to me. One day the Fall landscape is a mix dying green and dormant brown, the next it is winter white.

The first day of cold and snow always makes me sigh deeply at the aspect of having a job that requires working outside every day.  Followed shortly by a temporary sense of urgency. “What else needs to be brought in, drained out, packed up?”

This year the first snow came late, and on the edges of a strong wind. It snowed sideways most of the day.

The winter will now shape our routine. Within one day everything from getting dressed for the outdoors, to doing chores, to driving, becomes more laborious. How long the sheep will continue to graze will now depend on snowfall. We make adjustments so the sheep have access to open water. Extra duties like checking the water bowls are added to the daily queue. Over the course of the season the snow will alter my walking trails as areas blow in. When I can go for walks or work the stock dogs and for how long will soon depend on how cold it is.

Along with outdoor changes will come indoor changes as more time will soon be spent there. So while the days grow shorter and turn colder, time for afternoon tea, and curling up with good books and warm dogs is ahead of us.

Sunday Sharing

Needle felting is my recent creative outlet and challenge and in that vein I’d like to share the work of Linda and Margaret over at CloverLeaf Art and Fibre.

Discovering Linda’s needle art was one of my early inspirations about the possibilities with needle felting. I re-visit the blog often and hope someday I become half as intuitively talented.

Be sure to snoop around on their blog because Linda has created a few other works as equally as stunning as those three horses on the blog header. 

Like this stunning piece
Elephant Dreams

And this one
Spirits of the North Wind

And so many more.

Easy Moves

The flock has moved over to a West side pasture for daytime grazing. They walk out the back gate, travel about 50 feet across a lane, and they’re there.  So the AM move is much quicker.  The PM move is also quicker, with the main work being a gather on pasture and then the short trek home.

Since the daylight hours are shortening it’s nice to have quicker move times, thus giving the flock full advantage of a days grazing.

On the first morning going to the new paddock, Allen moved the flock. He called the sheep and along they came. On the second day, going on his assurance of how willing the flock would be to go out and how easy a move it was, I went alone (no herding dog) to do the same.

The flock came willingly up to the gate and the first twenty odd ewes came into the alleyway. Lady was in the lead. She stopped to look at me. I was standing to the left to block that route, giving full access straight ahead. The ewes stopped, waiting for Lady’s next move. I moved forward to squeeze the lead ewes ahead. Lady went back the way she came - back to the flock. The ewes turned around and followed Lady back through the gate. Sheep are suspicious creatures so re-convincing them that I really did want them to go out to pasture was more difficult. The guard dogs kept going to the gate, but no further. So the sheep didn’t go either.

Apparently I don’t have the same sheep whispering skills as Allen. It took me half an hour to get the flock to travel 50 feet in the right direction and thus out to pasture. It would have been quicker to walk up to the yard for a stock dog but I stubbornly decided I would get the sheep moved myself.

Unfavorable Tasks

We’re setting up two winter bale grazing areas this year. One area happens to be on a field that we cut and baled which means those bales did not need to be moved, so that saved some hauling. For the second area bales need to be hauled in.

We have use of a bale wagon that was co-purchased with a few farming neighbours and it was our turn with the bale wagon this past week.  Allen did most of the job and as of this morning, there were only a couple loads left to haul home. Since Allen had to leave for a few days of work and the next farmer is eager to use the wagon, it was up to me to bring in the last couple loads.

I’m comfortable with a lot of ranch chores but running such large equipment is not one of them. With the way we manage our farm, large equipment is seldom needed, so practice using it is sporadic. And I’m not like Allen, who innately understands the inner and outer workings of any piece of machinery he encounters, and instantly feels at home aboard them all. Luckily Allen had convinced me to come along with him last week and haul a load, so I had one lesson with the bale wagon.

This morning, feeling rather tentative, I climbed aboard the monstrosity of a tractor with it’s attached monstrosity of a bale wagon. I’m satisfied to say that with the exception of a few bales located too close to soughs for me to maneuver the beast of a tractor close enough to, I managed to get the last two loads hauled home.

In the afternoon I walked out to a pasture to take down some electranet, taking the dogs with me for the romp. Normally a simple enough task but not this go around. I have been working on this line of electranet for awhile. Last fall I had the bright idea to leave 1/4 of a mile worth of electranet up, thinking it would be needed in the same place again this summer. And it was BUT the pasture grasses, and particularly the milk vetch, grew up and into the netting so thick it’s a job and a half to even find the netting. I started removing the netting earlier in the fall, taking down one or two rolls at a time such was the slow progress and frustration. So forewarning to all who might be tempted to leave electranetting out for next year - don’t do it!

The job is a bit easier now since we have had several nights of freezing temperatures so all the green is gone from the grasses and the stems are brittle. I can pull on the netting and manage to lift it without breaking the strands. I got another two rolls rolled up this afternoon. Only about four more to go.

Off The Farm for A Day

Today was a day spent off the farm. Or at least we were off the farm in between AM and PM chores.

Allen headed off to have lunch with a long time friend and I headed to the city for some shopping. 

I lived and worked in the city for several years prior to returning to a farm life.  And after moving here I commuted to the city every weekday for the first five years.

Now the city is a chaotic and startling place to visit. It's great to go there once in awhile, it's almost a treat really,  but I've certainly lost touch with how to live there.

Being in the city for any length of time gives me great appreciation for country life.

Popular Posts