Soulful Flock Move

Last night was gorgeously calm and heavy with humidity. I headed out to move the flock and took Fynn and Cajun with me. The ewes and lambs were spread out to all four corners and assorted peninsula's of a larger paddock intersected by three large wetlands. No one was overly eager to move in the humidity. Gathering the flock was going to take time.

I drove to the far side and we all unloaded from the Ranger. Cajun and Fynn shooting ahead and to the side to push up the first pocket of ewes.

Right from those first few steps is was an evening of purpose without hurry. One lady, two stock dogs, a lot of sheep to move. An evening of no time, an evening of quiet, an evening of patience, an evening immersed in the present.

If I could box up the evening and give it to you I would do so because I believe our lives and our society would be richer if each of us had a purpose, a desire, that spoke to our soul and drew us inward like this. If you don't already have it, seek it.

A Regular Life

Between dealing with fly struck lambs and building sheep handling pens there isn’t too much exhilaration in my life. It seems like everyone else is at the lake, a dog trial or on holidays, three things I don’t get to do, so I’m feeling jealous and like I could use some sort of boost or change.

A current, regular and beautiful part to my day is working stock dogs early in the morning. I’m foregoing my morning walks to work when it’s cool, plus we can start fresh. That is, the dogs are fresh as am I. It’s lovely to work then and we can take a shorter walk afterward.

I’m concentrating on Cajun and Gibb right now. Jayde and BJ are on the back burner. I use Jayde to set up the sheep so she still works but I’m not doing a lot of focused training with her.  I had BJ out for a spell this morning and was very pleased with how much more turned on she was. I’ll put her back up for awhile and give her another go in about a months time. In the meanwhile I’ll have her watch dogs work.

Cajun is working only singles or doubles right now to bring back some speed and cover after a lot of steady, driving work. Gibb has his directions pretty much sorted out and is working a little bit on walk up. Depending on how I think he is doing I’ll set up a situation where he has to use some force or push. Mostly it’s still basic light work on quiet sheep with him.

I’m also doing some leash work with a group of five guardian dog cross puppies. I have yet to introduce them here and to do an update on the adults. For the sake of this short post though, it’s time for these pups to be sold and they are not trained to a leash yet. Training them to a leash has been  very challenging and interesting work.

So my days contain a lot of dog and sheep work, which is precisely what this place is about. To that end, I guess I do have quite the life after all.

Bottle Lambs

Every year we end up with a handful of bottle lambs and every year I curse them.

When lambing wraps up we are still left with the task of taking care of lambs for a few more weeks. They need to be fed at least a few times a day, so we can’t go too far. Just when I’m looking forward to the freedom to leave if I like I’m still tied to the place because of a few bottle babies. They don’t grow well and don’t thrive, at least mine don’t, but then I’m not putting top care into them either. This years bottle lambs are weaned off of milk now but when weaned off of milk they go downhill a bit before picking up again. So I’m left wondering if it was worth it.

Then there is this little problem. Bottle lambs lose their sheepiness. They don’t act like sheep. They do not know to flock. They do not care about dogs. I’m sure they’d walk right into a coyote’s mouth. This little fellow is a case in point.

This is Baby Bunting. A bottle lamb from 2011. He is stationed with the rams who were in the barn paddock until we started building there and removed part of the perimeter fence temporarily. Then the ram group was moved out to a large piece of pasture. When in the barn paddock Baby was secure and because the area was smaller, he was always nearby the rams. Once in a larger area, he wandered off on his own. He slipped through the fence and we found him 1/2 mile South on another paddock. All on his own, not a real care in the world. Perfect coyote pickings.

So we retrieved him and set him with the yearling ewes that I use for dog training. Here he makes a nuisance of himself because he won’t come along with the other sheep. And I don’t want him to when I get sheep for lessons. But it can confuse the heck out of the stock dogs as they don’t believe he should be left behind. Yet he doesn't respond like any other sheep.

Baby Bunting is sweet and quite the character but still a pain to keep as will this years lambs be. If we keep this up we’ll soon have a small flock of bottle raised sheep to sell. 

People Power Part II

Day two of the work bee was equally as gainful as day one. Once again it was a remarkable day due to the gathering of a great group of people.

Railroad ties were tamped and the front pen is nearly complete. This took place on day one.

Railroad ties at the back are tamped in and a few along the alleyway as well.

A long section of field fence was taken down and moved to it’s new location ready to be reset.

And some overgrowing bush was cut back where needed. I am amazed and in awe of the great people who came out here to 'enjoy' a day of work at the ranch. Once again I extend a huge thank you.

Today Allen and I traded the hard work of building for the hard work of catching lambs. We spontaneously decided the flock needed to come to the yard this evening so we could catch and treat some fly struck lambs. The flies have been relentless this year, I suppose due to the hot, humid weather. Add in a few bad tail docks and it’s a recipe for a great mess.

We started in the early evening and Cajun worked with me to start the flock on the move home. He is working very well and settled into picking up pockets of sheep with me which I felt was easier than sending him on a long gather in grass so tall and thick he can’t see sheep. On several occasions we nearly stepped on lambs they were so well hidden in the grass.  It was hot and the sheep were very sluggish, especially once they flocked up. When Allen caught up with us, he dropped off Jayde and Fynn and together the three dogs kept the flock walking toward home and helped pen them up in the working area.

We thought we only had a handful of lambs to catch but upon closer inspection we have a few more cases starting than we want to see. So glad to have brought them in now rather than later though. Fly strike is nasty and takes no time at all to become severe. We got half way through the flock before dark so we’ll finish off in the morning and send everyone back to pasture.

People Power

Last week I sent out an email inviting a few friends to join in a work bee at the ranch, to help with building our sheep handling area. The added incentive being working our stock dogs in the evening. And they came.

So today I got to watch the power of a few people joining together for a common task, unfold. It was remarkable. I am beyond blessed to have such people in my life. We accomplished a heck of a lot in one day. THANK YOU to each one of you!

I don’t have photos because by the time we were done with working dogs and I finished up with the evening routine of chores which involved a flock move, it was too dark to go back and take any.

But tomorrow is day two!... and some more people are coming.  I’ll take my camera out. 

So for now, just a short post as I need a hot bath and good sleep to recoup for tomorrow.

Sheep Handling - Building Begins

We started thinking on it a couple years ago, roughed it out on paper last fall and revisited, revised and refined it all, during this past month. I didn’t put half this much planning into our wedding.

This past week we got to work and are now well underway in the building of some forcing yards, alleyway, bugle, and races to help us manage the flock on treatment days.

We have to build mostly with what we have on hand to keep costs to a minimum.

Day 1
The paper plan was transferred to the ground. Everything was measured out, so we know where to drill post holes, where and how gates will fit, and make sure we're good on the layout of the bugle design and how animals will flow. It's not an extensive design, but it took half a day to do this. It was worth it to 'see' how it will work before building. In the photo this is the alleyway running along the length of the building, the bugle curls around the back of the building and inside.

Day 2
We are using railroad ties for posts since we have them (they were bought for another project and never used). We rented the equipment to auger post holes since pounding railroad ties with a post pounder doesn't work too well.

I had the enviable job of shoveling wet soil away from the holes so it didn't fall back in, refilling the hole. This next photo is after the post holes are dug.

Day 3
Railroad ties were moved to the site, lifted into place by Allen in all the tight spots and with a tractor otherwise.  This was a full day of work - in some hot July heat.

Along the alleyway

Entrance to start of the bugle forcing race
Day 4
That was today. We brought a couple bucket loads of gravel over and began tamping posts (lining up and leveling the posts, then adding gravel and packing it around the post). We began with the key posts - the ones where the gates will hang. Then started on the line posts. This is a slow, heavy labour job. More slow than usual in the heavy, humid, heat. It will likely take us the most time to do this stage. I'll share more as we progress.

Dreaming Out Loud

(Dreaming out loud was a phrase shared by a reader not too long ago. I recently re-read the comment when searching for an older post. The phrase hit home just as much as it did the first time I read it.  Thank you). 

Dreaming in my head is easy and there is no end to the dreams stashed there.

But it is an intimidating feeling to speak a dream out loud. The moment I speak a dream out loud I feel compelled to make that dream real, which is precisely why we need to dream out loud. I get that.

Yet, as soon as I put words to a dream it loses some of the dream quality it had while stirring in my head. While in my head it was all attainable, once out of my head my confidence wanes and I feel the intimidation of the opinion of others and question if I have the conviction to keep shaping the dream into reality. 

The focus switches to the how to’s and where for’s. I have to explain what it looks like and how it will work and in so doing begin trying to force it into being. This is not unlike the industrial approach to agriculture of forcing land and animal to over produce and profit.

My impatient side causes me to feel antsy sitting with dreams in my lap but I grasp that they must unfold as they need to. So I want to take a different route; I want to go with the flow and enjoy the unfolding of the dreams.

Developing the stock dogs beyond basic skills, writing and the community farm are my three main dreams right now. They each mesh into one another and all are equally at the forefront of my life right now. They are each vying for attention and most days I can’t seem to sort one from the other.

They sit, as newly spoken dreams seem to do, on the verge of slinking back into the recesses of my mind or dipping into reality.  

Farming Vision Revisited

It was a cool rainy morning and because I could, I switched my routine around, heading out for chores first and then taking time for a longer walk with the dogs, trekking across the rain soaked open pasture land. There were many things roaming through my mind and I could not create any lengthy stillness there. At the forefront was how two people could have all this land and what more purposeful things could be accomplished with it.

There is interest in the idea I first presented here. In light of that, this is the next post on the community farming vision.

Some of you are in awe, some of you are excited, some of you wish you lived nearby. Most of you wish to hear more about it. You have been asking just what it is I have in mind.

Truthfully I am hesitant to put into words what the physical vision looks like or spell out what I think should happen because my wish is to present an opportunity for people to follow their own passions, build their own dream and collectively form what happens.

On the other hand perhaps some ideas need to be shared to allow the dream to touch the ground for a moment and draw people further into it. So here I go.

Multiple people may be involved, each free to pursue individual passions (market gardening, raising livestock, grass management, shepherding, fruit growing, organizing/hosting farm and food events, perma culture, working with dogs, operating a wool mill....). While there will be some guidelines, there is no boss telling you how to operate.

We are a group of individuals connected by land and the desire to sustainably produce a wholesome product or service and share that with others. What we each do serves the whole, making the each's that much stronger. Farm enterprises serve each other in a myriad of ways as has been demonstrated by many other farms, old and new. We are a community created agriculture which in turn becomes community supported.

People might come and go on a daily or weekly basis. Work is not restricted to one enterprise but people may work wherever they feel drawn to. We help each other thus ensuring we can all continue. Multiple people are involved in processing days. We regularly connect as a community and share set backs, offer solutions, and revel in our individuality and in working together.

No one is hired or paid to farm here (not yet anyway) . As much as possible exchanges are barter and trade. Land is provided on a barter and trade arrangement wherever possible (as a simple example: in exchange for land, a market garden enterprise offers enough produce/goods to feed Allen and myself throughout the year. The enterprise must cover its own cost of production as any viable enterprise must. This is a cost that can be kept at a minimum when operated in this collective fashion.

Here are a few ideas of what might take place. Some of them offered by others, some of them my own desires

    •    Market garden
    •    Pastured poultry
    •    Permaculture/edible landscaping
    •    Fruit trees
    •    Herb garden
    •    Heritage seed production
    •    Raising livestock (pasture model)
    •    Wool mill
    •    Mobile butcher shop (when not busy here it serves the surrounding community)
    •    Canine resort
    •    Lodge and Learning Center (multiple uses: accommodations, meeting place, seminars, teaching courses, retreats, c reating and crafting, dog clinics)

We serve the community of people here in honor of each other, we serve the greater community around us with our locally produced products and our example of just how much we can change the face of farming and food production.

Once again, if you are interested or know someone who needs to know about this, tell them I am looking for them.

Paper Planning

With the hot weather the dogs are taking it easy - more so than they like. The morning walks are a little shorter.  We do some training on sheep either early in the morning or late in the evening when it is cooler out but cannot work for long. The livestock guardian dogs are either in the shade or in the sloughs cooling off.

We moved more portable fencing this morning and made another move with the flock. Later on in the day we completed two small fencing projects. In between during the mid day heat, we were inside planning our handling yards for around the shearing shed. We started planning this last year and have been planning in earnest for the last couple of days.

To date we have managed our flock with very little infrastructure. Just a shearing shed in the corner of a large paddock. No yards or holding pens etc. We use portable sheep panels as needed but only have so many of those so are limited in what we can do. Plus they are portable, not permanent, which is very versatile but limits large flock handling.  Seems a bit crazy really to have managed this long without sheep yards. As our flock grows this will need to change.

We have some designs and building details to follow based on some Australian sheep yard designs, which has made planning a lot easier. Cost is an issue, so we have to be able to build mostly with what we have on hand, factoring in that we’ll have to rent equipment for the heavy duty work such as pounding in railroad ties (heavy duty posts). We are hoping to start building soon.

I enjoy the paper planning but most of all, the anticipation of how much more efficiently we’ll be able to handle this growing flock and the various uses pens and alleyways present when training dogs.

Heating Up

When did four days go by! It's like I zoned out, blinked, and realized a few days had passed.  

We are enjoying some hot July heat.

The sheep aren’t moving very far or very fast. By 8 AM they are resting in the shade. They come out for a brief afternoon graze (maybe, depending on the heat) but otherwise do their eating late in the evening and early in the morning.

We have been moving the flock often, almost daily. The moves are short as they are only going to the next small acre paddock. The ewes know what it is all about and move themselves. All that is required is catching up some lambs and moving the water station.

Yesterday we moved them onto a larger piece which should feed them for three days. This gave me a days reprieve from setting up portable fencing. The lambs are now doing a lot of grazing as well and it is a bit remarkable to discover how much grass the flock is suddenly consuming.

Aside from fencing jobs, looking after sheep and guard dogs and feeding a few bottle lambs I have been working stock dogs and I have been immersed in sorting out a personal journey of sorts with them.

A Day of Dogs and Horses

Lambing finished, processing of lambs complete and ewes set up for a days grazing, I went on a short day trip. I took Cajun and Gibson along for company.

I traveled a few hours South to visit Liezel at her place, aptly named Pilgrim Farms. Liezel and I met last fall, when she was looking to purchase sheep, and our shared philosophy on land and animal furnished an immediate and meaningful connection between us.

I enjoyed an afternoon seeing Liezel's place, visiting assorted animals, talking about land and life, working the dogs on sheep and goats and best of all having a riding lesson. Liezel is a horsewoman, she knows horses better than I know dogs, so when she offered to get me up on her horse for a lesson I took her up on it.

There is a peculiar and challenging thrill of learning something completely new. It has been awhile since I have felt that. I was re-understanding what it is like for the people I see who are learning to work stock dogs for the first time. How brand new every detail is. The awkwardness of my inept and exaggerated body language with an animal of subtlety. Like working dogs, working horses is an intuitive play of pressure and release, intention and respect, molding and finessing.

The day presented a taste of a new venture for me and I am encouraged to pursue the dream of riding a horse in these grassy hills to check on a flock of sheep. A simple dream of sweet simplicity.

Thank you for that Liezel.

A Full Day of Dogs and Sheep

Whew what a day!

Last evening we made a long move to bring the flock to a temporary netting paddock near the yard. This way they were closer at hand for today. Starting early this morning right after regular morning chores, Cajun, Jayde and Fynn were hard at work helping to move the flock from there up to the shearing shed (a very difficult feat as it turned out).  Then Allen and I spent the morning catching lambs and docking tails and ringing (castrating) all later born lambs not yet done.

Afterward we let the flock return to the temporary paddock, regroup and graze again. Processing lambs causes great disturbance and stress as the ewes and lambs become seperated for a time and of course the lambs are stressed from the whole procedure.

While they were settling and grazing we went out to the original pasture to collect netting and bring the water bus back.  We took Gibb and BJ along to explore while we did fencing. Electranet loaded, we headed to a new pasture the flock will be moving to and set up a new 4-5 acre grazing cell. This pasture contains lots of meadow brome grass and cicer milkvetch but only a little bit of alfalfa. The grass is thick and high and maturing quickly. Keeping the flock in a smaller area aids the ewes in keeping track of lambs who can easily disappear in the grass. The flock will also graze better and trample the grass down while they do so.

The horses had to be moved so the flock could pass through to the new piece of grass. Then Cajun and I were off to gather the flock again and bring them through the yard and into the new pasture. It was a great job for him alone, as the ewes were familiar with the route but there were still a lot of work to keep the lambs up.

Right after that, Jayde and I sorted some yearling sheep and it was time for a quick stock dog lesson and to work Gibb for a bit, since he and BJ were not involved in any of the work today.

The evening wrapped up with regular chores and feeding guard dogs.

By far the hardest work of the day was getting that flock moved into the shearing shed. Both us and the dogs had to work very hard and persistently to convince ewes and lambs to move indoors. Of course the flock gets stirred up while this is going on and then ewes try to come back out for their lambs. It was incredibly windy today as well and I’m sure that affected the stocks willingness to go inside the building.

It was a great and satisfyingly exhausting day of dogs and sheep. Although I notice the dogs all still have some energy left while I am fading very quickly.

A Bit of Training Without Training

We are moving the flock daily right now (see last post), so I take advantage of the situation to involve the dogs. Here is an example of how a morning plays out and results in some training without training for young Gibb.

I take Cajun and Gibb with me. It is another opportunity for Gibb to ride on the Ranger, something I need my dogs to be comfortable with (and they usually are by the second trip out to sheep).

Gibb is left tied on the Ranger while Cajun and I move ewes and lambs. Gibb learns about being tied while other work is taking place. He learns not to panic or carry on barking when he is left on his own.

After moving sheep to the next paddock Cajun and I return to the Ranger and I let Gibb off. The flock is in sight but a short distance away. I begin taking down electrantting, letting the two dogs run about as they will. I keep my eye on Gibb and don’t let him run off to the sheep (the first few minutes off the Ranger are when the most attempts are made). It helps that Cajun is hanging around and showing little interest in the flock. Gibb figures this out and busies himself with sniffing, cooling off in the nearby slough and following Cajun. I’m not asking them to come, sit or lie down and wait. Just hang out nearby doing what you wish, and don’t take off to work sheep.

The electranet down I head up to the water bus and prepare to move it. We’re now closer to the flock and again I keep my eye on Gibb. He tries once to go to the flock. I call him back.  I load the water trough and mineral, and start the bus. The dogs hop in and we drive over to the flock. Gibb learns to ride in a different vehicle - it also takes him to sheep.

I drive the bus to a choice hilltop and park it. We are now in the midst of the flock. Ewes and lambs are milling nearby while I unload the tub trough, hookup the float and set mineral tubs down. The dogs wait in the bus. The window is fully open so they could jump out if they felt inclined. Cajun is patient, he knows the routine. Gibb learns to wait again.

I have to leave the water bus where it is, so now me and the dogs have to walk out of the flock. Being in the midst of sheep, this would be too much self control to ask of Gibb at his young age, so I slip a leash on him. I did not do this control work three years ago when Cajun was a young dog and even though I implemented it later on, he still has an inclination to bolt forward in anticipation of work every time I release him off the leash or a vehicle.

For Gibb this is a first lesson about being in the midst of a lot of sheep but not working them. He seems excited but contained, maybe a little nervous too. We walk through the sheep and out of the paddock. On the way we pass close to a ewe with her lamb at foot. She stands strong and does not move off, and Gibb pops forward and woofs at her, his tail flipping high, showing his insecurity with this new situation and specific encounter. The ewes jumps back but doesn’t go far. I cant help but chuckle at Gibb. I talk softly to him and we keep making our way along.

With the flock move complete the dogs are loaded back on the Ranger and I drive to the next area to set up a paddock. The dogs are let off to explore as they will while I set up netting. Gibb learns to avoid electranet or jump over it. Neither dog has forgotten sheep as the flock can be seen and heard. But neither one shows any obsessive desire to run off and work them like Jayde would certainly be trying to do. Some fencing complete, we load back up and go home for lunch.

This is the type of training without training that makes the most miles.  A morning like this is almost as valuable to a future chore dog as one spent working a few training sheep. But of course without livestock it is hard to implement a similar situation. When doing this with a young dog the first few times it can be very disrupting to getting work done. One has to be willing to drop what you’re doing to look after the dog or get him back etc. I take the dogs with me more often when Allen is not here so that I can work with the dogs without concern about Allens patience wearing thin as I do so.

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