Newbies and Spring Start Ups

Two of the cows have birthed their calf. Both are bull calves. When calves are little they are ignorantly fearless - one reason they need a mom to look after them. This little guy has been busy nuzzling rams and had no concern whats so ever about walking right up to me. Mom on the other hand, was a bit concerned.

The weather is cold again and the ewes are stressed. In the evenings they are motoring around with heads down like they are trying to consume as much feed as possible before the nightfall sets in. They are not quick to settle.

The sheep are doing a lot of grazing now; finding old bits of last years grass on the native prairie and still eating on the millet swaths. We leave a center gate open so they can come up for water, this open gate allows them access to the north side of the paddock where the native prairie is. They have access to a full quarter of land right now and are traveling around a lot.

Cajun is back in the saddle with me, coming out for the evening checks and to tuck everyone together or at least in the same corner of the pasture. Spring and Fall are the times when the flock really spreads out so I use the dogs almost every day. It’s wonderful to have him back out there with me and see him travel across the (almost) bare ground again.

Working the stock dogs has started back up in earnest. I have a group of dogging sheep sorted and with some snow shoveling I was able to get the gate leading into one of the training paddocks open. The only snow left is around the edges, the rest of the paddock is clear and it was such a treat to be in an open space, free of snow, that I took Gibbs for a spin right away.

Spring Sorted

The month of April is a tough month if you’re a sheep at Dog Tale Ranch. First there was shearing (and cold weather), then vaccinating, tagging and sorting. And this year we selected more culls in April. For the readers who like hearing about flock management this is what our last few days of sheep marathon was all about.

We vaccinate the ewes after shearing (before lambing) as it is easier to needle without being hindered by a full fleece. By the way, I’m up in the air about whole flock vaccinations but I’ll save that explanation for another post. We went ahead with doing so this year because I wasn’t quite brave enough not to.

On the first day of the sheep marathon we vaccinated the ewe lambs. The ewe lambs were all tagged last year so we didn’t need to tag anyone but we did do some sorting. I need a group of ewe lambs to use for stock dog training and an upcoming clinic and trial in May. If you recall, back during breeding time I allowed the largest of the ewe lambs a chance to be bred but now want to make sure none these girls are in the dogging group. This meant reading tag numbers and then checking with our breeding list.

The next day we began vaccinating the main flock of ewes. We also tackled a tagging project that was long overdue. When we bought our last, large group of sheep, the only tag they wore was a small, pink, metal, CSIP tag, required at that time when selling an animal. Since we rarely have our sheep anywhere to catch them, which you need to do in order to read these tags, these type of tags are less useful to us. So this year we put a plastic, number tag in any ewe who didn’t already have one.

Since we had every ewe in the catch chute to vaccinate and perhaps tag, we also did any treatment that was necessary. We wormed a few and we treated a few with runny noses. As well, the rams were still in with this group and needed to be sorted out. So the checklist for the day was: vaccinate, check for a tag, apply new tag if needed, treat if needed, sort it out if it was a ram.

We were close to done at supper time but just had to call it a day instead of push through. Allen recently had shoulder surgery so one arm is still in a sling. He still manages to do a lot of work but in this case it was me doing all the hand work and I was getting pretty tired, slow and frustrated.

On the last day we finished up the remaining ewes, which made for an easy day compared to the two previous.

Our groups of sheep are now comprised of:
The main flock - ewes, and bred ewe lambs, and some non bred ewe lambs (free loaders :-)). They are out on pasture, along with the horses who happened to slip through the gate when we opened it for five minutes.
The dogging group - some ewe lambs (not bred) and a dozen cull ewes. They are in a large paddock near the yard.
The boys - rams and the wethers still growing up. They are in the barn paddock along with PJ llama and the cows.

I feel pretty good about what we were able to accomplish. We’ve done what we can to ensure healthy animals and better management for another year of raising sheep on grass. That feels very satisfying. Now we just wait for the grass to come.

Needling Along, A Dual Sheep Marathon

The sheep marathon began yesterday when we vaccinated the ewe lambs and did some sorting of that group. Today we got through about three quarters of the main flock (vaccinating and tagging) before admitting we were done for the day. Tomorrow we’ll finish up with the remaining ewes, which should feel like a breeze after today’s long stretch.

But what I want to share with you today is the project I’ve been working on in the morning and evening hours before and after vaccinating and sorting way too many sheep, and the string of nudges that led me to it. (I love those nudges).

Last year I tried drawing with wool (needle felting). I did one piece and then went back to drawing and scratchboard work. Yet the idea of art with wool nagged at me and just recently I was beginning to feel a strong pull to try again.

Then I came across a photograph I had printed out as a reference for a drawing and instantly knew it was the one to try doing with wool. Then Margaret of Cloverleaf Art and Fibre Blog left a comment on this blog. Margaret writes about her flock of Shetland sheep and shares the gorgeous and intuitive fibre artwork of her friend Linda. I really enjoy Margaret’s blog and I’m always checking in there in my free moments.

When reading the Cloverleaf blog I stumbled on an older post about dying wool and all the beautiful colors to play with. This got me thinking of the possibilities.

Then we sheared our flock this past week and I was staring at all this wool... wondering. 

So here it is. (Note: It's made from wool I had on hand. I did not manage to get my own wool cleaned, carded and dyed already :-) ).

I’m so pleased with how it turned out and that I got such a bright picture of it. The setting sun was pouring through the little West facing art room window, just waiting for me to take a picture in the midst of its brightness.

Just Out For A Walk

It’s been a couple easy days here, just feeding sheep, walking dogs and a trip to the town and then to the city for tags and vaccines. Tomorrow I start vaccinating sheep, a long task that I think I’ll do over the course of three days.

I took this photo at the start of last evenings walk. It’s rare that I get a non posed photo with all five stock dogs in it.

Front: Jayde, Fynn  Back: BJ, Gibbs, Cajun

In the next photo there is a long tree belt just off the road on the left side, and running parallel to the fence. Just after we crested the rise at the top of the photo Gibson stopped and stood alert, watching to the left.

There was a dog on the other side of the trees. I stood still and for that moment he was watching me, watching him. We were close enough to the barn paddock that I thought it was Zeus. I was looking into the setting sun so couldn’t see details and only had that moment to look before Cajun attempted a charge. At the sound of my correction to him, the other dog fled. The flight clued me in, it was not a domestic dog in flight, it was a wild one. A coyote then.

Day After Shearing

Back up one night, the evening after shearing:

The flock headed back out to pasture, the ewe lambs were released back to their paddock.

The guardian dogs were collected and walked out to their respective groups of sheep. Whiskey, Diesel, Willow and Zeus were the four dogs we kenneled for the day and their first order of business upon release was a looonng pee. 

The funniest dog moment was with Zeus. It’s his first experience with shorn sheep. His youthful, Kingly demeanor as he trotted back into his domain turned into an expression of “what the hell?” He stopped in his tracks, his head lowered and his hackles went up. For a moment he wasn’t sure if he should approach or retreat. The ewes lambs of course didn’t know anything was any different and went about their usual business. Zeus slowly made his way closer and once he realized these unusual looking creatures were his sheep he slid into a dance of puppy relief and happiness. It was delightfully funny and gave us a long laugh.

The wool bags were moved indoors for storage. We are unable to ship it right now because of too much snow at the collection depot.

There is a backlog of fleeces still on the wagon bed because we ran out of wool bags. The extra wool packer is stored here though, so Allen and I will bag up the remaining wool once we get our hands on some wool bags. I’m also keeping a portion of this year’s wool (I have some plans in mind for it).

The flock spent the night back in their shelter spot, huddled close together as they adjusted to the feeling of nakedness in some cold April weather.

On the day after shearing, aside from the task of feeding several hundred animals and some tidying up, we did very little and guiltlessly put our feet up. Seeing all that wool gave me incentive to start a new art project, so that’s what I did.

In the evening it started to snow, so the ewes were back in their shelter and I put the ewe lambs into the shearing shed for the night. Cajun did a lovely job for me and made it very easy. Penelope Jane seemed particularly pleased with this decision. I don’t think she likes to feel cold in any way.

One Basket Full of Penelope Jane Fleece

Sheep Shearing Work Bee

Well I just had one of the easiest shearing days in a long time. That’s because I skipped out for the afternoon portion so that I could attend an industry board meeting…which was only possible for me to do because of the gracious help of many extra hands. 

The morning started at 5:30, shearers arrived at 8:00 and shortly after we were off and running. There was only a few of us at the start so it was hectic trying to keep up to the shearers but soon more help began to trickle in, and kept on trickling in, even in the afternoon.

I wasn’t really planning to leave until the moment I left, because it didn’t really seem proper to do so. Yet I did want to be part of the other engagement because some important things were happening there too and I had a chance to influence them. Allen encouraged me to go regardless of what it looked like to others, and Lorrie (the head shearer) agreed with him. When all the help arrived, I realized it might be possible for me to go. (I’m glad I did).

I pushed hard to return soon enough that I could still be of help at the end of the day. On the drive home, I passed a few people leaving and when I got here the job was done, the wool bags stacked and stored, the building tidied, even the dishes were done. How fantastic is that! It’s incredible.  A BIG, heartfelt, shout out to everyone who came to be a part of the day with us. Thank you a thousand times over.

Sheep shearing days, processing days, harvest crews, … all of these collective, work-bee occurrences must be similar to the what I imagine barn raising events of days gone by were like. An fine example of the generosity of humans and strongly unifying in many mysterious ways.

p.s. I have no photos of the day. It was just too busy. The set up was similar to last year so if you want to see something, you can take a look at the Shearing Details and Wool Harvest post. Just picture a yard still full of snow in the last photo.

Day Before Sheep Shearing

I’m adding an off-schedule blog post tonight since we have a full day of shearing tomorrow and I might be a little short on words by tomorrow night. If not, then you’ll get an extra post which I figure is better than a lack of one.

We had a busy day doing the day before preparations.

Shearing floor is ready and swept clean, sheep panels are up, sheep race is built.
Ewes and rams are around back, packed into the shearing shed.
Ewe lambs are in the Quonset down here in the yard.
The two ewes that probably would not survive the stress of shearing are tucked out of the way with the cows and horses.
The four cull ewes who have lambs are in their own pen. They’ll be first in line tomorrow, so they can be moved out of the way and get back to feed asap.
We have a plan for moving the groups of animals through without mixing them together before or after shearing.

Extra tables and chairs are set up; lunch and supper and all the ancillary items that go with feeding a group of people are set (I think...).

Half of the shearing crew was here this evening to hang shearing machines and set up shearing stations. Planning for an 8AM start and going until we’re done.

The porta potty is set up at the shearing shed. The flatbed wagon (used to hold the backlog of fleeces) has been wheeled inside, the wool packers are parked outside.

Willow and Zeus (who look after the ewe lambs) are in a dog run up near the house so that we could keep the peace while Glory is nearby with her flock. They are now protesting this set up. Zeus is shredding the kennel blanket and Willow is howling. Diesel and Whiskey will be penned tomorrow morning, so that the stock dogs who will be here to help with stock work can work safely. Oakley, Glory and Lady will stay out for the day.

It’s snowing tonight. Sigh.

The night before shearing is one of the nights you hope that, come morning, all your sheep will still be where you put them.

Willow is quite now, I think I shall go off to bed.

Stretching Into Spring

I love seeing the obvious signs of spring, I love ranching in the hills, and I love the way the earth and the animals have a hand in all of it.

Morning Ice Craft (I'm excited that we are seeing patches of brown earth again).

Over the last week, the ewes have been stretching their legs during the day and feeding their impulse to travel and eat. Yesterday as I unrolled a bale of hay, a line of sheep formed and walked away, drawing each next ewe by some invisible compulsion that sheep seem to possess.

This morning the ewes were nowhere near the hay bales at all. They were already heading East across the pasture, seeking food elsewhere.

So what are the eating, if not hay? Now that the snow is disappearing they are returning to the millet swaths.

I am very grateful that we changed plans and decided to leave the ewes on this paddock and winter feed them here. Especially since the winter was early, heavy and long. The ewes were not able to clean up the swaths in the early winter and it is very fortunate for us that they have the swaths to pick at now.

Meanwhile, back at the barn paddock, the ewe lambs, the cows and Penelope Jane (the llama) do not have the freedom of choice to go elsewhere to eat (they will soon though). Nevertheless, for a barn paddock in the Springtime, this one is serving well. On my tired days, I curse walking up it, but otherwise I sure appreciate the huge hill in this paddock. While we go through our Spring melt, there are areas of muck the animals have to cross, but otherwise they enjoy a dry, residue covered hillside. 

LGD's - Guardian Action

L to R: Whiskey, Lady, Diesel, Glory, Oakley
 It’s rare that we get to watch the guardian dogs in action because seldom does it occur that wildlife (except for birds) is in the vicinity at the same time we are with the flock. This morning was one of those rare times, and it was a grey, cloudy morning so I didn’t take my camera out with me. The above photo is from the day before.

The five guardian dogs of the main pack were hanging around the flock. I had just finished rolling out a bale and I was collecting twines when one dog alerted with a short, sharp bark, like a question. Then another bark.

A few more yips, followed by a couple deep barks as the two Anatolians alerted (as did I). Then four dogs were up and trotting, tails high, emitting excited yips and squeaks as they picked up speed and excitement. They were just like the stock dogs when they’re trying to catch a rabbit and are oh, so close.

Four dogs fanned out and crested the first hill. They spread further apart, their yips fading as they ran. They went into a hollow and each took a path through or around the brush at the bottom, crossing the fence line still buried in snow. There I lost sight of them.

Oakley remained with the flock. I wasn’t surprised that Oakley hung back (often one dog does), I was more surprised that Lady went. I have never seen this dog away from the sheep. I was curious how long she would be gone for.

Oakley sat straight and tall, fully alert. He kept barking with small, quick barks, like he was either encouraging or asking what’s happening.

I could see Diesel heading up the next hillside but nothing else. To my eyes and ears there was nothing alarming on the horizon, nothing else moving.

A few minutes later Lady returned. She trotted right into and through the flock, making her rounds. Oakley was quiet now, but remained sitting, watching.

Out on the horizon, about a quarter mile away, three shapes traveled the hilltop, starting and stopping, heads down sniffing, turning back and going forward again. Soon they disappeared. There wasn’t any telling how long the dogs would be gone for and I didn’t wish to hang around that long on pasture this morning. There was no immediate threat and I trusted the dogs would look after things, ... that they already had.

Picking up the Pace - Sheep Shearing Prep

We are adjusting to a busy pace as we prepare for our annual wool harvest which takes place next Friday, the 19th.

The shearing course we were asked to host was cancelled which means our shearing now takes place on one day instead of over three days.
Six shearers are coming and we start early in the morning.

This year there is snow removal and melting runoff to take care of. It is not the first year we have had snow around shearing time, but it is the first year we’ve had enough snow still left from winter that we have to shovel and plow to access gates and open trails up to the shearing shed.

There is tagging cull ewes and recording the tag numbers of my dogging sheep, which we did today. I’m embarrassed to say how many years I opted to spray mark these animals only to have the mark disappear with the fleece when it gets removed, lol. This year the culls got red tags which will make them easy to sort out again later and I wrote down the tag numbers of the ewe lambs I want back for dog training (I didn’t want them wearing permanent red tags).

There is meal planning and baking, and setting up extra tables and finding chairs.

There is phone calls and emails and pleas for help. We need at least half a dozen people to keep up to the crew of shearers and a couple more to work the flock and keep the race full. 

The first wool packer was dropped off last night. The second packer will arrive on Thursday night with the shearing crew. 

The porta potty has been dug out of the Quonset and is waiting to be hauled around the shearing shed.

The shearing shed has been tidied and the start of the race is set up.

There is planning of when to pre-sort the flock and where to stash all the animals the night before. If it rains or snows we’ll need to change plans in a hurry so we can keep everyone dry. We cleaned out the Quonset so we can use it to house animals.

I’ll need to dig out the spare dog runs so I have a place to set guardian dogs for the day.

I’m happy to be getting ready for shearing. Yes, it will be a full day, and there are still items I haven’t figured out how to manage yet. But shearing also marks the start of another year of sheep ranching. It marks the start of a year with sheep on grass (and I can almost smell it); it represents Spring and all the activities that follow in that season.

Sheep Trails

I admire the single-minded focus of the ewes as they travel; going single file in the winter snow. Never losing track of where they are going yet meandering all the way there.

They follow the flow, traveling straight where the easiest route is straight, curving when they need to curve. Never insisting the path be other than it is. Rarely seeming to be in any particular hurry to get there or be done.

LGD and Stock Dog Notes - Less is More

In the situation the guardian dogs at Dog Tale Ranch are working in (away from house and yard) they are far less influenced by myself or Allen than our stock dogs are. Their pack structure is uninterrupted by my ideals of what it should be. Which is probably a healthy thing. They are free to hunt wildlife and do so often. They are free to fight each other and do so seldomly. In many dog packs living with humans it is the other way around.

This morning Whiskey and Diesel each bore the signs of having been in a fight. Some blood spray and matting on each dog, no obvious, major wounds. Whiskey’s ear might have been the source of the blood but even that was hard to tell. There isn’t much indication of whether they are fighting each other, or coyotes, or the neighbours dog, or a deer carcass. Funny thing is, I just let them alone. If the dogs in the house get into fights, I’m all over figuring out why.

The LGD’s are not trained to come, sit, lie down or walk at heel. None of the LGD’s jump up or get overly excited when we or strangers visit. They get a little pushy for attention and if they think you’re not up to the role of leader, they’ll guard their food. When we slip a leash on them, there is an initial hesitancy at its unfamiliar feel, and then they fall into a walk at our side. Leashes are not exciting to them and they don’t bother to pull. On the other hand, the leash manners of the stock dogs is kind of embarrassing to admit. They seldom see leashes either, yet still get excited when they do.

Many people assume pity for the LGD’s because their life is not one of cozy couches and chew toys. Yet watching the LGD’s makes me wonder about how my stock dogs live and have me considering some changes there. The LGD’s have also given me reason to change a few things in my approach to all dogs. For one, I don’t greet people’s dogs and wish dearly that people would not greet mine. Most human greetings toward dogs are incredibly wimpy, overdone and unnecessary.

My father in law (who was here last night for a visit) never greet dogs initially and I've never seen him do so like dog people and dog trainers do. The reaction of the dogs to him is night and day different to when dog people or dog trainers visit.

There are many other aspects of these two canine worlds that I could compare. Another one: if the LGD’s are worried about something, they leave, whereas each stock dog has their own way of worrying which may not involve leaving at all.

Less is really more in the world of dogs. The real splendor of dog training is doing less while being more in the eyes of the dog.

Weekend of Sheep

As odd as it sounds coming from someone who raises sheep, I enjoyed a very sheep full weekend.

Saturday afternoon, with the help of Cajun and Fynn,  I brought the flock home from pasture. One thing about long, tough winters is that the weaker members your flock show up, making it a good time to do a second cull. We have a dozen or so ewes that are struggling. I was undecided on keeping them and giving them extra care or culling them asap, but either way I needed to sort them out from the group.

Since I needed to take a look at the girls and find the ones that were struggling, I put all the sheep into the building, then moved smaller groups of them at a time into a smaller pen where I could walk through and catch by hand and sort into a side pen. I’m working on my own as Allen is unable to help right now so this worked pretty good for me. 

By the end of the afternoon I had them sorted out and felt pretty good about myself. The culls were in a pen and all the other ewes were now spread out in the adjacent paddock. I took Gibson out to gather and start the flock moving back out to pasture. He handled the job very well and I was very pleased (working the whole flock is a lot of sheep for this young dog).

There ended up being 18 cull ewes and by supper time I decided I was going to treat them. I’ll hang onto them until their health turns around and then sell them as culls, or keep them for stock dog training if I think they’re up to it.

After supper I headed back out to the building and did the treating (16 of the 18 just needed a dose of wormer I believe, two others some antibiotic for an abscess). They’ll stay with the ewe lamb group for now and I’ll bring them in again in 10-14 days.

Today a few friends came out to do some sheep handling and join me in working dogs. This time I put the whole group of ewe lambs in the building and we started out doing some sheep handling and sorting without dogs. Then we moved into some dog work. I worked my little BJ and it felt like I was just going in circles with her and not teaching her much. She does not like motion to cease and I’m having trouble getting her to understand stop. I’d like to get a stop without creating an issue, but I think I’ve already created one. That point aside, I had a great time working with her, I always do. I like this little girl.

After working dogs we wrapped up the afternoon with a small potluck supper and a visit. It was a great time and a successful weekend all around.

Start and Stop

Trying my hand a 'catching' a drop

Our warmer spell was interrupted by a day of wind and snow today which made for a good day to finish up our income, expenses and livestock flow sheets for tax purposes. It was a good inside job for Allen who is on very light work duty for the next six weeks while he heals from shoulder surgery.  I popped in now and again but it’s really safer if one of us focuses on that task rather than both of us at the same time :)

First touch of the morning sun

I have a sheep handling fun day coming up on Sunday so I did a little bit of preparation for that. Basically it will be an afternoon for people who have not been around sheep to get acquainted with them. We’ll do some sheep moving and sorting without dogs while discussing the basics of what we ask our dogs to do and why it matters. (I have a secret underlying motive as well: hopefully I can recruit some of them to come back for shearing which is coming up quickly and which I really need help with. 


Working Dog Art

Many mornings before the sun is up I spend some time in a cozy room upstairs, either writing or drawing. If time allows I’m back up there in the evening.

I have several pieces of artwork finished (and numerous bits of writing I’m not sure what to make of) and I have a small project I want to get a head start on before the summer is upon us and ranch work keeps me busy outdoors. I made a semi-start on it awhile back when I uploaded a new blog. However, I’m not putting the time into the upkeep of that blog so decided to shut it down, and create a page on this blog to share the artwork. It’s enough for me to concentrate on one blog, and I’d like the effort to be put into this one.

The artwork is one thing I never really had a plan for. I just like the creative process of drawing and capturing details of the two subjects I have a deep affinity for: working dogs and sheep. Mostly I draw Kelpies and LGD’s, and lately sheep.

The small project was to start a page for the artwork in order to share it with a wider audience because it feels wasted sitting unseen on my easel upstairs. Click the Artwork tab at the top. I plan to continue drawing and writing throughout the summer this year so I’ll be adding more pieces as I do.

Click on over and have a look. Of course, I’d love to hear what you think.

Easter Surprise

Would you believe it - we had an Easter lamb!

She (and a twin who didn’t survive) was born sometime early Sunday morning. Of course I was not expecting any lambs and when I heard the little murmur of a lamb and the return gurgle of the ewe I was momentarily puzzled. I looked at the lamb but didn’t “see” it for the first few seconds. It was very funny really.

She was born to one of four cull ewes that were never sold because at the time of selling we couldn’t fit the last four on the trailer. I decided they could hang around and I would use them for training stock dogs and sell them the next time. I wasn’t concerned if they got mixed in with the rams which they obviously did at one point!
Ewe and lamb are doing fine and I’m penning the other three ewes at night in case they should lamb too. One looks like she will soon but I can’t see an obvious full udder on the other two and haven’t caught them to check.  Oh how we are laughing at ourselves now.

We’re able to use our own little tractor again and we moved more snow and did more shoveling around the shearing shed to prevent a flood there. All around the building is clear now and we can now get through all of our barn paddock gates. The first step in getting ready for shearing is complete.

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