Rams and Such

Breeding season is upon us once again. I like to keep a few extra rams but since I sold some ewes, I really have an abundance of rams this year. I sorted through the rams this past week and sent the better ones out to the ewes for breeding. With the extra rams I’m hoping the ewes will be bred in a shorter period of time. The remaining rams, and a few runty ram lambs stayed put with the wethers, two bovines and the horses. 

(Photo taken Fall 2011)
So that’s the two animal groups right now - the ewe flock, and the left over rams and company. The winter climate here drives some of our management decisions. I didn’t sort any of the females this year, but elected to keep everyone together for ease of winter management.  The lambs that are still here are small (It’s tough to grow when it’s this cold out) so it’s very doubtful they will cycle and be bred. 

Otherwise, this past week was a busy one in more than the usual Merry Christmas way. There was a bit of a shake up here on the ranch; one that I am still reeling from. When I begin to make sense of it and am able to articulate it, I’ll share what happened.

All I Want For Christmas ...

All I want for Christmas is a cab for at least one of the farm vehicles. The farm vehicles include the Ranger and a 45 year old tractor, neither of which have a cab. They are both open-air vehicles. We dress in many layers when we head out for chores because of the cold plus the wind chill we’ll get even on the still days. Without a cab there is no option to sit in and warm up if we get cold. There is only mufflers to warm frozen hands on. Since the sheep remain out on pasture during the winter that’s where we’re doing the bulk of the chores. There is no option of slipping up to the house to warm up because it’s a lengthy walk or drive back there.

The ewes are wintering on a different paddock from last year and we let them chose their shelter and once again they placed themselves into the heart of slough bed ringed with trees. It’s a long and narrow space with hill slopes on three sides. It’s mouth faces North so the ewes have settled themselves well inside the shelter. They even have side door exits on this space.

Spreading some old hay for bedding (done with a pitch fork)
We’ll be sorting and sending rams out shortly and this deep cold during breeding season certainly has us concerned. Perhaps if this cold remains into January we’ll have to feed the flock in the shelter and give the rams whatever buffers we can against old man winter.

Incredibly the ewes still go off and paw in the snow for the last bits of frozen grass. My gosh they are resourceful creatures and I deeply admire that, perhaps because Allen and I are a bit resourceful ourselves. Nonetheless, I'm still going to hold out for having a vehicle with a cab one day.

Little Lady

 I took the camera out this week (on one of the warmer days, which is laughable as warm has not entered the scene here yet) in the hopes of catching some photos of sheep feeding or dogs or the birds that hang around both of them.  I wasn't disappointed. I love this photo, as do many, many others who have seen it on the Dog Tale Ranch Facebook page, where I first posted it.

Welcome Upgrades

Our winter chores are a little different every year.

A few years ago a pitch fork was my main feeding tool. Then the Ranger with a round bale roller attachment.

This year the tractor plays a significant role.

Allen has an incredible mind when it comes to the ins and outs of machinery and making alterations to it. So with the help of the manufacturing company Lakeland Group, we updated our little, old tractor. She now has new hydraulics, a new bale spike on the front, a three point hitch with mounted bale spike on the back.

Yep, we can move two bales at once. We’re moving up in the chore world. No more scooping a bale with the small front end loader.  Plus with some weight on the rear end we can now get around in winter rather than spin out while trying to climb every hill slope.

In addition, Allen’s dad passed along a more sturdy front end loader to help complete our upgrades. The loader was too large for his one small tractor and too small for his several giant tractors. For us and our small and very dated tractor, it is just right.

Staying Cozy

While walking the kelpies and border collies this morning I marvel at how the house dogs handle the cold as well as they do, continuously moving to stay warm. Then I can't help but marvel at how warm I have managed to be in this crazy cold. 

The dogs and I do have continuous movement in common but, unlike the dogs, I have on many layers and without ever being on a mission to do so I happen to be clothed in a few wooly goods. The layer right next to my skin is 100% merino wool body wear. My socks are made from 100% llama fiber. In my lined winter boots is an additional sheep skin insole I purchased just last week (love these).

On my hands are large, leather mitts lined with a pair of knitted wool mitts (a precious gift). Inside of these is a small bit of raw fleece. This raw wool was a tip from a lady who recently came to visit me and learn about the dogs. So now I have a bit of raw fleece in the mitt and in my thumb sleeve. I love having it there.

My hands are toasty and I can play with curling my fingers into the raw fleece when needed. I used raw fleece so I have the benefit a bit of lanolin there too, which is wonderful for dry fingertips. This bit of fleece also saves me wearing the finger area of my mitts out.

This cold is tough on animals and I do feel for the younger lambs as they don't seem to have the layer of fat and fleece that the ewes have, but I have little doubt that the wooly ewes are best equipped of all of us to handle it.

A Little Less Frozen

Today we are a little less frozen.The sun shone and the wind eased. The ewes moved beyond where they had to go to get feed, and started picking in the grass again. They moved freely, that is, without being hunched up. The guardian dogs stopped shivering and lay in the hay while the sheep ate. The stock dogs and I managed a two mile walk/run to burn off a great deal of excess energy. It is still good and cold but the temperature climbed to minus twenty something today and the fact that that felt warm tells you how frigid it has been here. Once again I have no photos from the day to share as with the cold I am already out of the habit of taking the camera with me. Allen snapped this photo of the stock dogs creating some excitement for themselves a couple days ago.

I am grateful for many small graces. First, no animals have died yet (a great possibility in such extreme cold). The water bowls have not frozen, and the tractor is running again. The old fuel furnace is still keeping this old farm house warm and deep cold outside means time inside for me once I’m done feeding and checking in on everyone.

There is no shortage of projects for me to consider this winter. It seems that as soon as I think of setting my pencil down and putting my feet up for a moment there is another idea to ponder.  Most recently it was suggested that the LGD presentation be made into a PDF document that would be available online. So I’ve started to do that. Today I also took the first steps on the journey of a much larger project that has been in the back of my mind for better than a year.  I have started working on a book :)

Tired, Satisfied and Cold

I spent the last couple days in the company of my good, good friend Liezel, while attending the annual SK Sheep Board symposium. Given that the weather was extremely cold I felt fortunate to be indoors for a couple days while Allen managed back here at home. Bless him.

The two days away were full and rewarding. I’m tired. I’m satisfied.

I’m the kind of tired that comes with stretching oneself and doing things that are new and exciting, like speaking to a group of people about your dogs and your way of life. I’m satisfied because the opportunity stretched me and challenged me in more than a few good ways. I was deeply nervous heading into this, yet when it was over, I realized I had enjoyed myself. Apparently that enjoyment came through as the feedback about the presentation was highly rewarding.

Today I got back to farm work and the day carried vibes of restless unease that I think only comes from taking care of animals in deep, deep, cold. Will they be okay? Did we forget anyone? How are the dogs faring? The left over lambs that are still here are probably feeling the cold the most. They’re small and it’s tougher for them to eat enough and stay warm. The flock has once again picked a beautifully sheltered spot and we opened up the building for the rams and horses to spend the night in.  Otherwise, we wait for the cold to break.

Outdoor, Indoor

Winter is very much divided into indoor and outdoor activities and when it’s this cold my aim is to be indoors a little more than outdoors.

Outdoors, it’s sheep as usual. Rams, horses, PJ the llama, one steer and one bull, are together in one paddock with Willow and Zeus watching over. A small group of dogging are right next door in the next door paddock. The main flock is still out picking at stock piled milk vetch with some older hay to supplement them. Oakley, Glory, Diesel, Whiskey, and Lady are watching over them. The sheep feeding schedule is such that I only need the tractor every third day right now.

The water bus, turned guardian dog abode, is a hit with three dogs. Oakley, Glory and Whiskey each use it. I never expected Lady would and nope, she doesn’t. She won’t even investigate it. Not sure why Diesel does not use it, maybe I just haven’t seen him or else it feels too confined if there is another dog in there and there usually is.

We took out a full sack of wool to use for bedding in the bus. I put three or four fleeces inside on top of a thick bed of straw. Then I shoved the canvas wool bag under the rear end of the bus to protect the remaining wool from weather. There is probably over a hundred pounds of wool in that sac and the bag was still pretty full so it took a bit of shoving and squeezing to make it fit. By the next morning the bag had been dragged back out, opened up and a dog bed made in it. Diesel sleeps on this wool pile. Glory, Oakley and Whiskey climb in the bus. Lady sleeps right with the sheep every night.

Indoors, I’ve finished up the couple of artwork commissions. Next week they are off to their new home where I hope the many, many hours put into them are appreciated. 

This is the next sketch on the board, one I feel very, very, excited to dive into. Some pieces grab me like that and I want to have all day, and several of them in a row to draw the picture start to finish.

I also do this presentation in three days time. Very excited and now that it’s close, a tad nervous too. I'll be on the road tomorrow and then taking in the two day symposium of the SK Sheep Board.

LGD's Attempt a Take Down

Last night, Gibson and I had a bit of a surprise from the guardian dogs when we headed out to move the sheep. Our escapade turned into an article for the November issue of the newsletter, Crooked Fences, which I happened to be sending out later that night.

Gibson and I went out on the Ranger. As we headed into the paddock I could see what I was sure was the tail end of the flock, drifting together for the night.

I still wanted to do a drive through the far side of the paddock and check though. Feeling pretty sure we would not run into any sheep I let Gibson off the Ranger to run out front (that dog loves to run). We passed through the open gate of the cross fence. Gibson hangs a hard right, puts his nose down and goes. He's trailing sheep, I'm sure of it. I'm pretty engrossed in watching him trail on the fly like that. He's way out in front now. The flock is a distance away, on my passenger side with several rolling hills in between.

I'm knocked out of my tracking stockdog stupor by the sight and sound of three large fur bearing missiles. The guardian dogs spotted Gibson. Except for the fact that they were barreling down on a good stock dog I happen to really, really like, I caught myself wishing I had my camera. Christ can those large dogs move.

In a moment of complacency about life on the ranch and dogs getting along, it slipped my mind that letting Gibb be out front running would be such a different scenario to the LGD's. Of course it would, that much is obvious now. Even though I was there on the Ranger, Gibb was alone out front - way out front. Gibb was not arriving at my side or on the vehicle with me. To the guardian dogs Gibb was a black and tan predator raising across the pasture where the sheep were.

It looked a little like this but the scene is winter white and the dogs far more intentional and serious.

So what did I do?

I drove fast, the Ranger and I bouncing over frozen ground. When I got near I gave a holler to Gibb, which pulled him up short a moment. I called him in. When I looked around next the guardian dogs were out of sight again. Gibson was oblivious about being the target. I continued on - only now with Gibb on the Ranger. We made our way to the flock and I let him on the ground to approach the sheep and drive the flock onward.

The guardians were there again. Four of them were at Gibson at the same time. Not menacingly, but definitely there with stern purpose. A few moments ago they were on an attack mission and although that ceased, the residual pulse of it was still present. Gibson shrank in size just from the energy of it.

Diesel still wished to make a point with him but I interrupted that. Gibb was nervous and a little unsure just what to do, admittedly I was too. So I gave everyone something else to do; we went to work. Without telling them to do anything my message was 'get back to the sheep everybody, that's what we're all here for.' Glory, Oakley and Whiskey moved up toward the flock. Lady was right with the sheep. Diesel stepped in behind me and Gibb, and it felt a bit like what I imagine it's like to have an armed guard follow you. I gave Gibson some back up support as we approached sheep.

Gibson is unharmed to work another day. I'm a wee bit wiser, and by gosh it was all such a sight to see and experience.

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