Healthy Dose of Hot Weather and People

The last two days offered up a good, healthy dose of hot weather and people! Allen and I enjoyed a large family BBQ on Saturday and this afternoon / evening was spent working dogs with several friends. Good times!

It was a great weekend and welcome reprieve from the regular sheep routine and the last frustration filled days. The pace has settled again and with the exception of some late lambing ewes, lambing is complete. The flock has been one unit since I put everyone together when the heavy rain started and it’s considerably tougher to stay on top of catching the last few new lambs.  I’m not going to worry overmuch about them though and if I can’t manage to catch them in the next day or two I’ll just leave them alone. It just isn’t worth bringing everyone home to catch a few lambs.

After a couples weeks of attempting to control the flock on lush grass I gave in (up) on the last move. The next paddock looked like it had more grass than alfalfa so I said forget the Electranet, and let the flock have access to the entire paddock. No one bloated. It’s a large paddock so the ewes will be there for a few days now. I’m going to welcome the change of pace and since tomorrow is Canada Day, perhaps I’ll sit easy for a day.  I hope you can do the same.

Happy Canada Day everyone!

Everyone wants to hang out at the popular spot

A Few Frustrations

For the most part life here is rather exceptional and simple, but occasionally it is far less so. This week has been the rancher’s version of a very bad day at the office!

I tend to absorb the bad and the ugly of ranch life pretty well and carry on knowing there is always plenty more good going on than bad. Even on the rare occasion when there is not, there is still always a bright side to be had. But sometimes I can’t absorb anymore good, or bad, without first cracking open to let some frustration out. I also think it’s essential to share the flip side of the coin of life, for without the dark we cannot appreciate the light.

I lost two more ewes to bloat and in a week of doing nothing but moving electronet to control that issue a yearling ewe lamb got tangled in the stuff and strangled. A little lamb faded and died and I found it’s lifeless body on pasture last evening. This morning I cut the throat of an old ewe, who finally laid down to die. I’m not in the midst of a tragedy by any stretch, but it does feel as though I’ve carried out one too many dead sheep.

On the dog front, Cajun injured his hind leg. Gibson decided tonight was a good night to pick a fight with Fynn.

All of this is experienced alone. Not alone as in farming is a rural life, but alone as in there is no one to help pick up dead sheep, or fix a busted gate, or to make supper with, or even talk to at mealtime. Except over the phone, and until Allen gets home at the end of the week, there is no person to help shift the immediate frustration, to share the lows or relay the highs. 

While it’s beginning to sound like it, this isn’t meant to be a depressing post. Actually it’s a bit the opposite. You see, if I can write it out and share it then I’m not so alone in experiencing it. And because I am alone during the experience it’s even more necessary to write it out.

I do get that there is always a bright side, I really do. I get that there will be a message for me when I’m ready to absorb it. But meanwhile, when the crap piles a little high now and again, I have to allow myself to feel the low side. To know I’m human and that’s enough. To not PollyAnn it, but to accept it and by doing that, change it.

Stock Dog Ying and Yang

If you have followed this blog for any length of time it is not news that I am deeply fond of stock dogs. After all, one lankly stock dog was the reason we converted a crop farm into a grass farm and started raising sheep.

It is easy to write that you love a thing but it is far deeper task to aptly describe why or how deeply.

Photo by Cathy Bishop
There are all the usual reasons for liking a good stock dog - they make your day to day work simpler. They save you miles. There are tasks that a single person would not accomplish with out the help of a stock dog. They are necessary company for a lifestyle that entails great amounts of time spent alone. They laugh with you and at you. They are free in spirit.

They can also be frustrating and easy to misunderstand. Their built in work ethic make young stock dogs a challenge to live with. They can make your life more difficult on occasion, such as this morning, when Cajun put a ewe and her lamb into a slough - twice. After proudly using him to sort sheep at the clinic I attended this past weekend, I was not expecting action like this from him and this morning’s fiasco stung a little deeply. Yet writing about it now makes me love him a little more too.

And that’s it.

That way of liking and disliking, of easy and hard, the Ying and the Yang. The switch from exasperation to appreciation and the place in between, is why I love these dogs. Because they are not easy and they don’t come with a manual (thank goodness) and no matter how many clinics one goes to I’ll never have them all figured out because figuring them out isn’t the purpose.

Stock Doggin'

Amidst all the sheep work I still manage to get away now and then; a feat not possible without Allen's help.

This weekend I am basking in the sun at a stock dog clinic. Well, I'm hoping for sun, but I'll be basking even if it rains!

Enjoy the weekend everyone. I will catch you up when I get home again.


It’s another soggy evening for Cajun and I.

Soggy is the word of the day. Or, as the driving rain hits the window beside me, soaked might be more apt. What’s happening on the prairies? This is the fourth year of abnormal spring / summer rainfall.

The rain is really putting a damper on my planned grazing moves, not to mention keeping the ewes on their feet rather then belly up from bloat.

Yesterday afternoon (we did have one sunny afternoon) I strung up a line of Electranet to divide the next paddock in half.

With all this rain and more on it’s way, it looks like I’ll be repeating another line tomorrow in order to create an even smaller grazing strip. With the moisture, the bloat risk is very high so we’ve decided to crowd the whole group on small parcels of grass. This means a lot of frequent moves until this all settles down.

Eventful Few Days

Since last post it has been a bit eventful around here. We received the forecast day of rain, actually we received three days of rain accompanied by ugly winds. The power line that runs behind the house came down last night, torching a tree or two. A testament to the small prairie squall that was taking place out here.  This time I have a concrete reason for skipping a regular blog post - we were without power until well after bed time.

As noted earlier the ewes were parked on a paddock with ample shelter before the rain arrived, which the majority of them made use of. There wasn’t much to do for them during a day of rain but check in to see if there were any newborns. Thankfully there was not. The newborn arrived during the next day of rain - and it died.

I also lost one weak lamb, who probably would not have made it even were it warm and sunny. And I lost two ewes to bloat with moving onto the new piece of grass. In the sometimes rapid fashion of nature, the grass has reached its prime growing stage and in the course of two days we have adjusted from managing for lambing to managing for grass (namely bloat). We have lots of alfalfa in our grass mix so bloat is a yearly concern at this time of rapid grass growth.

I planned for the ewes to be on the paddock for two days, at which point the rain was suppose to let up and give us a day of sunshine to dry things up a bit. Didn’t happen. By the third morning we were thoroughly soaked and it was still raining. It didn’t look like we were going to get a moment of sunshine before moving the flock to the next paddock.

When you have lush grass with bloat causing legumes, one of the things to avoid is moving the ewes to a new paddock right after a rain. Since the rain was still falling that wasn’t going to be an option. You also want to keep the ewes moving and eating the new growth rather than graze on and off of it.  I did not want to delay a move any longer and I wanted to make sure we moved the ewes when they were good and full - so after their morning graze. I wanted the majority of the ewes to make the move, thus putting more animals on the new grass at the same time, thereby maximizing the stock density there.

At mid morning this morning Cajun and I headed out to move the girls across to a new paddock. I must say this morning of sheep work in the rain and wind was a highlight of three rainy days. Cajun worked so well on the ewes and lambs, keeping well off the sheep and showing incredible patience and power that simply said, 'you and your lambs need to move now'. He is sure stepping up this year and becoming more than what I imagined a good stock dog to be. I think I am beginning to love this dog a little too much!

After the moves I was pretty nervous about bloating ewes so we headed back out within an hour to make sure all the ewes were still on their feet. This time we had some human company with us. While the rain resulted in the cancellation of Sunday herding lessons, it did not deter visitors from making the trip to the ranch to spend an afternoon with us. Tristen, Cole and young daughter Claire, were treated(?) to a full, wet and windy pasture and sheep tour. It was another highlight in three days of rain. I always get so much from sharing our place with others. Any discussion with fellow sheep producers about what each of us do and why always presents me with deeper introspection. Confirming some reasons for why we do what we do but challenging others and possibly inciting needed change.

Lastly, the third highlight of a few days of rain was some time for creating.

Project in Progress
First few tries at washing and carding!

Adjusting For Rain

We are expecting a day of rain and wind to roll in tonight or tomorrow with forecast of up to an inch of rainfall. I wanted to make sure I had the ewes and lambs on a paddock with ample shelter available to them. I didn’t want them arriving to that paddock too soon and then getting restless to go again just when the rain was coming on. So I delayed two previous moves by a day, (thus pushing the grazing on those pieces of grass), so that I could end up with the flock where I wanted them should we get a day or two of rain this weekend. A day of rain on young lambs can be costly.

I opened the gate to the next paddock, moved the water bus and left the ewes with lambs to find the new paddock on their own. The front runners were about five minutes behind the water bus! I didn’t force a move but left the gate open for the remaining ewes to come along as they would. If they didn’t move, the paddock they are on is chalk full of bush for shelter and the open gate gives the ewes who did move up, the option to go back.

The drift flock (group yet to lamb) was on a paddock with little shelter. To continue the forward paddock moves with them would place them on another piece with zero shelter. So I sacrificed my drift lambing and let the front group mix with the ewes and lambs. The one thing in my favour on that decision is the bulk of lambing is over. If I have to finish up lambing with everyone together so be it. I can always start drifting the flock again when we move after the rain.

I am so grateful for this moderately rugged piece of prairie that affords me the natural shelter I need to do this. There are no building shelters out here. The only building is a mile away and would not house all the ewes with their lambs.

Tonight the evening sky was broody and the wind strong. I felt nervous heading out to the flock. I chalked it up to the sky and thoughts of managing with impending rain. The ewes hardly seemed concerned and as it turned out, there was no rain this evening.

I’ve done what I can to provide what they need in case of heavy rain. Here’s hoping these girls will move into the trees when the need arises.

LGD's At Lambing

Our guardian dogs are very familiar with moving with the flock because we move the ewes often for regular grazing purposes. With drift lambing however, we’re always leaving ewes with lambs behind. To help the dogs figure out what was going on we took a couple dogs back after the first couple of drift moves.

Diesel getting a ride to the back group
Diesel, and either Glory, or Whiskey, were the dogs we choose to take back. Glory covers ground and will move around. So once we showed her where sheep were, we were sure she’d travel between the groups. Diesel and Whiskey also travel but not once there are lambs on the ground. When the lambs start to arrive these two park themselves close by. My theory is that they are really staying put to get the afterbirths.

After showing them a couple times the dogs sorted it out themselves. Interestingly, it’s not always the same dog who is at the back but there will always be at least one of them there. Just how they figure out who is going where I have no idea. As we progress through lambing more often than not it is Oakley at the back, sometimes Diesel (he switches between front and back) and sometimes Glory (she is all places). Whiskey is often with the front group. Lady on the other hand, never leaves the front group.

We rely heavily on this group of dogs and drift lambing would not be possible without them.

Birth On The Prairies

This is the natural season for birth on the prairies. On the way to town yesterday we spotted a deer and her little fawn. Ducks are nesting in the grass and we’ve been watching these little feathered friends and sneaking a peek at their nests as we travel back and forth to pasture.

KillDeer Plover
Allen happened to come along right when this little dragon was hatching. It’s not very often that we happen to catch moments like this one. Such big feet for a little bird!!

Nest and hatchling of KillDeer Plover
With the busy pace of lambing it's easy to get caught up in worries and go about with my head down and miss all of this. But one thing that Allen and a life on the prairie have taught me, is that it's good practice to lift your head up, take a look around and breathe deeply. It's amazing what you'll see when you do.

The Pace of Lambing

It continues to be a busy pace with lambing which is kind of what we like to see. We are just beyond the half way mark of number of ewes to lamb so the drift flock is now slightly smaller than the lambed group.

There are usual and not so usual situations playing themselves out almost daily. I thought this one was pretty remarkable. A ewe walked away from her twin lambs (this happens occasionally). Those two lambs had all the vigor one can ask for and were up on their feet and moving, trying in vain to convince mom to keep them. The ewe knocked them to the ground and walked away - repeatedly. She wasn’t the mothering type and in some distant way I can understand that, although this does little to lessen the frustration when watching it play out. Those two lambs eventually bumped into another ewe who had recently lambed. Not knowing the difference they nuzzled up to her. She knocked them around too - they didn’t belong to her, she already had her set of twins, still wet from birthing. The lambs persisted and I guess the new ewe was eventually convinced that she might have birthed more lambs than she thought.  She’s now trying to raise four lambs. These daily little miracles and tragedies are the essence of a time like lambing.

I’m pretty determined to keep up with tail docking and castrating as we go along. I’m pushing the limits a little bit and catching younger and younger lambs all the time rather than wait until they are a day or two old. The more I do this, the easier it gets. This morning I was catching lambs prior to heading off to the city for a meeting. Since I was going to be gone for the day I wanted to get as many done as I could. I caught a set of twins who still had a hint of moistness in their fleece and a faint birth scent still lingered with them. I worried they might be a little too young to handle. The ewe got pretty frantic while I worked but had no issue with knowing those lambs were hers and taking them back after I laid my scent all over them.

Drift Lambing

We’re trying our hand at drift lambing this year.

We start with everyone in one paddock and take advantage of the ewes inclination to stay in the area where she birthed for a certain amount of time. When lambing starts the ewes who have not lambed are drifted forward. The ewes who have lambed remain where they are. This is accomplished just by walking through the flock; the ewes without lambs move off readily and the ewes with new lambs stay put or soon drop behind as they travel.

Now we have two groups, the drift group and the group with lambs. We repeat the drift in a day or two, depending on how many lambs are birthed or the grass situation. The drift group moves on to the next paddock, the newest lambs and their moms remain (middle paddock), the oldest lambs and their moms are still one paddock behind where they were dropped out on the first move. This creates a front, middle and back group which will be maintained throughout the rest of lambing. The front, drift group continues to move forward, we’re always creating a new middle group, and as the back group (ewes with the oldest lambs) begins to migrate, they join with the previous middle group.

Drift Group - Ewes who have not yet lambed
At the start of lambing the drift group is the largest, the lambed group the smallest. As we progress through lambing the drift group becomes smaller and the lambed group grows.

We’re also using this pasture lambing method to try to keep up with castrating and docking tails. When the front group is drifted out, we have any ewes with new lambs remaining behind in one paddock. So now we know we have to catch X number of lambs in this paddock which is much easier to do without having several hundred ewes in there at the same time, or having ewes with older lambs that we’ve already done mixing things up. It also means that the only animals we’re disturbing are the ones we need to catch instead of the whole group as would be the case if we were set lambing (keeping everyone together for the duration of lambing). Catching the lambs is also far easier because they are only 24 to 48 hours old. For the most part the ewes hang around bellering while we have their lambs and are immediately reunited when we release the them. 

So far this is working well. The one glitch was self created when we hosted the stock dog clinic and trials this past week. We had to switch to a few days of set lambing (the ewes remained in one spot during the clinic and trial as we couldn’t manage the flock moves at that time). On Saturday evening, when we could catch up again we had numerous ewes with lambs who were now ready and able to move with the drift group because the window of time that holds a ewe to her birthing area had passed.

I managed that next flock move only letting three older lambs slip by (which I have since managed to catch). There was now a large drop group of over a hundred lambs to catch up on for castrating and docking tails and they were old enough to keep out of reach on pasture. To catch up while lambs were still under a week old, we brought this group to a yard area and caught them there. This created far more upset for ewes and lambs than when we catch on pasture. When it was all said and done, this group joined the back group and we were caught up for one day.

Drop Group - Ewes With Lambs
Meanwhile another 70 odd lambs were birthed. So today was another drift move and a full day of catching those 70, one and two day old lambs, on pasture. I’m about done in for the night, I tell yah but tonight was quiet, with only four new lambs, so maybe I’ll have a bit of a reprieve tomorrow.

Still Here

I’m still here.

Last week ended up being so busy there was little energy left over for blogging. Company arrived on Monday night. Tuesday was a day to work dogs and the evening start of a two day clinic. Following the clinic was two days of stock dog trials. The yard cleared out yesterday afternoon.

We’re in the midst of lambing, so today was a long day to catch up on a flock move and castrating and docking tails on lambs that we couldn’t keep up with during five days of hosting.

It was a great week of company, food, laughter and several special moments which I’ll catch you up on in future posts. For now we’re back to the regular course of ranch life once more. I miss the people already.

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