Tucking Up Sheep

Gibson and I in the evening, moving a group of sheep up to the rest of the flock.  We are out a little earlier than usual and feel the gorgeous evening sun as we walk and work.  The sheep are wise to the routine so it's not a job that takes a long time.  

I am busy working on the Crooked Fences newsletter, then I'll be back with more news on the guardians and stock dogs - and some updates on the artwork front as well.

Great Company And Good Times Come and Gone

Lily comes running to greet me this morning, well that's what I want to think she's doing.  Truth be told, it is more likely that she is running to get her breakfast.  Either way the sight gives me a welcome feeling this morning.  The lambs left yesterday and our company, plus a few dogs, pulled out this morning so the place feels quiet and still.

We had a full week of visiting, touring, working dogs, laughing, eating, fencing and some sheep work.  To avoid the emptiness that wanted to bubble up to the surface today, I busied myself with moving sheep panels, walking dogs, taking photos and making a trip to town to purchase a couple old dogs books I put on hold at a antique and relics shop.  That hit the spot.

I knew I needed to write but could not sit still long enough today, and even now, late into the evening you can probably tell by this writing that I am making a concentrated effort.  I'm ready to put my feet up and sleep now though, and overlook that I feel the honest ache that happens after great company and good times have come and gone. 

Company Tours

Taken while touring the countryside with our company.

Sandhill Cranes lifting off

Visiting the sheep flock and the livestock guardian dogs, duck hunting, touring the countryside and working Kelpies about sums up the last few days with our guests.  Bill and Janice are the folks I stayed with while in Montana so it is such a treat to have them here for a visit.  The talk about dogs has been almost non-stop.

With their willing and eager extra hands on deck, toady we tackled another half mile of perimeter fencing.  Tomorrow we put the stock dogs and ourselves to work loading lambs and then perhaps we'll enjoy another evening hunt with Hondo the Labrador.

Fresh Twigs and Good Company

Satisfaction is a fresh twig to sink your teeth into when you’re teething,... and having good company to spend a few days with. 

We have a week full of company so computer time is purposefully sparse.  There are a few more Kelpies here and a Labrador Retriever who is along for one of his inaugural hunts of waterfowl.   So far the hunts are in the wee hours of the morning and I stay back to take care of dogs and sheep (I'm not a hunter).   We might get in some time for an evening hunt in which case I’ll join the team and take some photographs.  There is something highly rewarding about seeing dogs utilize instinct and perform in the line of work that suits their very purpose.  Maybe it’s so rewarding because there is some recognition of how rewarding it is for us when we discover and pursue one of our purposes. 

The visiting Kelpies have been put to work moving the rams and the dogging sheep.  Jayde and BJ helped me with moving lambs to another paddock where they can get a bit more grass.  Once the lambs leave and the paddock becomes available we will begin night penning the flock again.  For now we continue to tuck the sheep up each evening and Gibson is the dog I take to pasture for some experience doing this.  It only took a few evenings of showing up with a dog before the ewes started to flock merely upon our arrival.  

Sunset Sheep

Predator pressure is increasing and we're tucking the sheep together each evening.  These girls are on the fringes of the spread out flock and are a couple hilltops away from me.  Such a soft prairie scene with a titch of irony to it given the implications if they stray off on their own. 

New Meaning to Dog Days of Summer

Ironically I have not taken the stock dogs out for any training since sheep camp but instead we gathered the flock, moved close to nine hundred animals home, worked in holding pens full of sheep, worked alleyways, moved rams, and gathered lambs.  A few days full of sheep work as we prepare for selling lambs and select replacement ewe lambs to stay here.  Except for 13 year old Fynn, all the adult stock dogs were part of the work this week.   Even the old girl, Jayde came out for a bit of work.  I do not press Jayde into doing a lot of work anymore; at ten years old she has sore joints from a lifetime of work.  I discovered that she and BJ are a good pair of dogs working together though. 

When there is so much of this type of work in one short period I get to really see where the dogs shine.  It’s a beautiful feeling made more so since it follows on the heels of a training camp.  This summer has been so full of dogs and many times I have been overwhelmed.   Opportunities like herding camp and weeks of ranch work like this one, return a sense of purpose.  I almost wish we had this much sheep work for the dogs every week, okay, maybe just every month - that was a lot of sheep work.

(I did not take any photos but when looking to see if I had any file photos to share I see Allen took one with the phone).

Working into the evening

BlackJack is sprawled across my lap, falling asleep and beginning to snore as I type.  He barely fits in my lap anymore.  It is a great comfort to feel the solid weight of him.  This dog full summer will wind down and before I know it my pack will be down to just a few good working dogs again.  I don’t want to let the beauty of this experience get lost in the tribulation. 

The dog days of summer continue next week when friends from Montana arrive for an extended visit to do some duck hunting (Labrador Retriever in tow) and to work some Kelpies. 

p.s.  I finished the livestock guardian dog article in good time.  I’ll make a point of sharing the articles here as blog posts sometime.

Trio Of Siblings

I'm offering a solo photo tonight because at midday I received a reminder email about a livestock guardian dog article I agreed to write as part of a series.  I agreed to this a few months ago and suddenly the article is due tomorrow.  I completely forgot.  So I will be writing notes tonight in an attempt to have something finished for end of the day tomorrow. 

I was taking a few rushed photos of the pups this past week.  This one was in the lot of photos.  It cracked me up with laughter.

Herding Camp Completion

It’s a bit surprising herding camp has come and gone already, four plain days would never have gone by that quickly. This was one of our better camps, it just had plenty of good vibes all around.

Allen and I are feeling the kind of tired that comes after hosting a four day event; which is about half way to exhausted. There is much to say but coherent thoughts and writing are not flowing all that smoothly right now. So I will opt out of saying too much and share a handful of photos of some of the dogs.

Satisfying Stretch

I mentioned that herding camp stretches me. 

When you have someone here who sees a dozen more things going on with you and your dog than you do, or can add a piece that eluded you altogether, it’s a bit of a journey of self discovery.  Working with dogs is a more of a feel than a protocol, and some interesting things unfold as I feel my way through how the new (or forgotten) pieces work for me and for the dog in front of me.  I grasp for the pieces I am comfortable with so that I can feel like I’m still on solid ground, while I untangle the new or relearned pieces and fit them into my training.  Feeling stretched is probably the best way to describe it and it always gives rise to the next steps on the journey.

To offer a some less philosophical nuts and bolts - I worked a two year old kelpie who arrived, a bit unexpectedly, earlier this summer, for some training.  Wanting badly to do what he thinks should be done, this guy leans on me pretty hard to have it his way.  He’s been a handful and he’s been quite rewarding.   Then I worked Gibson today and was encouraged to hear I’m on the right track of rebuilding speed and assurance. 

My gang of stock dogs are pretty excited with all the strangeness and the change up in routine (namely the lack of freedom and exercise they are used to having each day).  My pack has grown by four this year and I notice the difference in the dynamics of that and staying on top of good and poor behaviour with every dog while there is so much going on all around them.

We've been through two days - a full clinic right there.  For day three we'll work dogs in the morning and then give dog, handlers and sheep a break while we watch video of our sessions with input from Dave and Trudy as to what's happening.  Day four were back to a full day of dog work. 

Pre Herding Camp

Desks and art supplies in the studio room have been tucked aside in order to turn the space into a spare room for our much anticipated house guests, Dave and Trudy Viklund, the clinicians for herding camp.   The first few people have arrived and set up camping trailers in the yard.  For the next few days our dogs freedom is restricted to the large exercise yard.  The Trio are busy barking at each strange dog that passes by and keeping me busy with shushing them. 

With the Trio underfoot, chasing brooms, stealing containers, herding cats, and getting into all other sorts of such nonsense, the preparations for sheep camp were a bit more hilarious and time consuming than usual.  The shop has been tidied, the porta potty is set up, the yard trimmed, and the sheep readied (that part started way back in the Spring and was helped out by the dedicated people who showed up each weekend to work dogs).

Our herding camp is more like an urban camp than a rural stock dog clinic where only certain dog breeds are allowed to attend.  It still seems nifty to me that we see the various breeds of dogs that we do - I mean who knew that in this way-out-here location, this is what sheep camp would become.  There will be Shetland Sheepdogs, Bearded Collies, Border Collies, Kelpies, and Australian shepherds at this years camp.  Time spent in the company of good people with such varied herding dogs is always eye opening.  Herding camp stretches me, in a good way, every year.

I’ll try my best to be out and about with the camera.  I’ve only shared glimpses of sheep camp in the past out of respect for everyone’s privacy online.   And with hosting I’m usually running around just keeping things together and flowing.  But it would be great practice with the camera so I will see what I can come up with.

What's a herding camp?  Can I go?

Hanging Out With Rams

Since Zeus stays with the rams we see them each day.  I seldom sit with them though.  On this morning I was waiting for Zeus to eat his breakfast.

One Small Step - One Big Piece

This is going back a ways but the last I recall I shared progress on this piece way back in February.  It remained on the drawing table for a long, long time before I decided it needed to go elsewhere and made a few more touch ups to it.  It is not quite how I envisioned it but maybe that’s because there has been so much time between the start and the finish.  I do like how soft the overall scene is.  I like the snow.  I particularly like how it takes a moment to notice the third guardian dog amongst the sheep.

The Gathering Place, color pencil, 15" x 30"
This week, in a moment of pure spontaneity I entered this one plus two other pieces into a color pencil art contest, online. 

Normally I excuse and busy myself out of this and all sorts of similar things related to sharing my artwork.  When the email notice about last day to enter this contest, showed in my inbox, I felt a strong internal push that said 'just do it, why not'.  Contest and competition results were not part of the reasoning.   Rather, the voice insisted that I enter just to make myself enter a contest.  Just to follow through and act upon a tiny wishful thought I engaged in when I saw the email.  So I got the artwork out, I took a good photograph or two (or three or four), created a file according to the rules, cropped and resized and uploaded, paid the entry fee, and there it was - I had entered the contest.

Several days later it still feels good that I took that small step; like I claimed a small and hugely significant piece of my creativity for myself. 

The Kelpie Trio Splashing Around

When they’re hanging out with me the pups and adults enjoy the freedoms of the yard and exploring it.

I’ve been watching the pups with great curiosity lately.  Until now Prim has been the ruler of the Trio’s roost, keeping her two brothers in line with a mere look and fiercely chastising the boys if they crossed her line.  But lately BlackJack is trying some moves.

The other day he sat on the outside of an open door of a dog run while Tanner anxiously paced back and forth on the inside, barking, wanting to come out but not being able to because BlackJack was impeding him.  BlackJack was calm and cool as a cucumber while he kept his brother imprisoned. 

It used to be that Prim could tell the boys to give up any toy or chew they has that she wanted.  BlackJack has called quits on that, now he lays calmly with a chew and gives a very intent look that sends the other pups away.  

Our routine will be interrupted for a few days next week with the onset of sheep camp.  Something we are looking forward to but the pups won’t know what came over the place.  With all the strangeness that will come next week, their world will definitely be rocked.

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