Quiet Pleasure

We are tackling a couple new building projects so things are busy around the yard, but still there is a quiet pleasure had in the regular routine of collecting sheep at night and letting sheep out to pasture each morning.

Mic is getting the little bit of work in the morning and either BJ or Gibson accompanies me for the evening gather.  Occasionally Cajun and Jayde slip in for a turn as well so there is a bit of work for all.  BlackJack is spending his time growing up and growing into mischief.  Surprisingly I still have regular visitors arriving to work stock dogs, so there is sorting work and training time for my dogs too.  The extended warmer fall weather is certainly assisting with that.  

The guardian dogs are less tired and on the rare occasions they let me see, I get to watch Lily and Whiskey at play in the mornings.  I’ve been out with the camera, just for the sake of practicing with the thing and even though I end up deleting most of them, the photos are accumulating rapidly.  

Sunset Sheep Encore

On The Easel - Kelpie Sketch

Recently sketched out, although I have not gone further with this one yet.  I think the nose is a bit long. 

It’s peculiar how some photos will jump to the top of my tall pile of pictures to draw or needle felt.  I have a stack of photos and ideas that will see me through the next two winters.  Then this one comes along and I just need to sketch it. 

This is the dog I had here for training this summer.  The photo was taken on the way to his new home, by the wonderful couple who were giving him a ride there.  Colleen was texting me updates and photos during the trip and said, yes, for sure, when I asked if I could have this one to draw.  I think of this dog often and the pangs of him not being here were still fresh when this photo came along and perhaps that’s why I felt the need to sketch it.  

The Wild Woolies

I was taking these photos facing the bright, evening sunlight, hoping for an affect that I didn't get.  The photos are overexposed, but just before trashing them I decided to play with them on the computer.  Allen happened to walk by and took a look at this one while I was editing it.  He commented that it looked like that ewe was up on a stage, like the girls were at a rock concert.  The wild woolies.  Gave me a laugh to think of that.  I left the photo this way and saved it.

What We Need To Know

A few stock dogging friends were game to take advantage of the great Fall weather and so this weekend was full of working stock dogs.   

When I started using / training stock dogs I could do little but compare my dogs to others to gauge how we were doing; a hugely counterproductive practice but one that was almost necessary.  When you don’t have a standard of your own for how things should be, and little confidence to establish one, you look to what others are doing to get yourself started.  You try to keep up to something they are and you are not.  Eventually that doesn’t work for you anymore, you adjust and you find your own way. 

Being blessed with this life of sheep and dogs, and having opportunities to work with various dogs has provided a very different feeling about what I want in a working dog and what a dog represents to me, to my life.  When I go back to comparing to someone else, this gets muddied.

Not every dog will be the superstar, but every dog will teach us exactly what we need to know.  This is true whether the dog is our own or another persons and only in our hands for the moment.  

AM Trek Out to Graze

Heading out to graze; being led by PJ, the llama.

The guardian dogs fall into the procession too. 

With the dogs and sheep all in one place, the morning routine is a fairly simple one.  We feed the guardian dogs and open the gate to let the ewes head to pasture.  The only work is peeling some of the ewes away from the fence line that is shared with the ram paddock, to make sure they leave with the rest of the flock (much to the rams dismay).  Every evening the stock dogs work to bring the sheep in, gathering any out lying animals and then driving the flock to the night pen. 

A Chance To Rest

Coming off pasture, heading toward the night pen

The guardian dogs are tired so we are night penning the flock again, meaning we are now bringing them to a small paddock near the yard each night.  Diesel is still returning to sit with the dogging sheep and with him being there it means the other three are left with the flock.  The night penning is as much for the dogs as it is for the sheep; it gives all a chance to rest in one place. 

Gibson is getting good practice doing long casts in the hilly terrain to gather the girls in the evening.  Cajun had all this work as a young dog and now it’s a skill I hope Gibson will pick up.  Letting the dogs work this far and freely on pasture has been something I have not done a lot of the last two summers, due to Diesel.  While we really need Diesel in the field right now, the one small bonus of him not being there, is I can allow the stock dogs to gather without as much worry of confrontation. 

It took three nights of gathering and penning them and the night next the ewes were already heading in their own.  I’m pretty sure they would not actually put themselves in for the night but they start making their way toward that area late in the evening. 

Fitting Artwork In

The day before sheep camp three packages arrived in the mail - new art pencils and a handful of books to inspire me to keep moving forward, striving for the artistic person I know I am but still feel afraid to meet.  I got knocked off track through the month of September but life is realigning again and I’m back in the art studio briefly before I give it up as a spare room for guests once more. 

Fitting art and writing into any lifestyle that is largely dictated by physical standards of work, indeed by the physical work itself, is a continual mind game for me.  The culture of this agriculturally entrenched area dictates that if you work hard you’re automatically a good person; that working hard IS who and how you should be.  Art or craft is not viewed as work though, so it is intimidating to strike out on a artistic path that can hardly be measured by physical work.  On the flip side though, I think I keep using this as an excuse.  I keep doing art, a bit here a bit there, but don't let it take hold and seldom speak of it to the people around me.  

Then this stuff happens.  We went to town the other day and I was wearing a wool vest that I had needled felted a design onto.  Three strangers stopped me on the street to touch and oogle over the vest.  'Do you sell these???'

Yesterday a few newcomers came out wishing to give their dogs a try at herding.  We worked dogs for a couple hours with some nice successes (a long haired shepherd, a sheltie and a border collie), then headed to the house to visit the Kelpie’s, the pup in particular, and sit down for tea.  The company noticed the needle felting work hanging on the walls and a shared love of fibre and felting led to an exciting conversation and sharing of more artwork from the studio.  'Do you do any art shows???'

I am still taken aback at the response to the felting work.  For me, the drawing and felting I do represents a common life lived, and is simply scenes of what I know.  For them - it is stunning and simply amazing.

It is these unplanned moments the universe throws at me that get me back on course - where to I’m just not sure yet, but so long as I keep picking up the pencils and the felting needles I feel like I’m on track to somewhere pretty good.

Pasture Seclusion

There is something about the landscape of particular pastures that makes me enjoy some more than others.  You can be in any one place in this pasture and not see the rest of it.  It is this huge space and yet all parts of it feel secluded.  With all the trees, hills and corners you can’t see to, this pasture is the dickens to find sheep in, yet  I love it when the sheep are grazing here.  This space always makes me want to slow down and take it in, and on this particular morning I stood in a light rain to capture a  few photos.  

Kibble Thief

Last year we raised four bottle lambs and the little runts are still with us, currently residing with the rams.  This summer Rosie discovered the dry kibble dog food and as soon as we show up in the paddock, she shows up.  She has become very obnoxious about getting the dog food. 

Zeus is far too polite to win this battle.

Zeus is a v-e-r-y slow eater which might be how the lambs discovered his food.  We now stand guard until Zeus is finished (if we have time :-) )or feed Zeus in the alleyway, which Rosie can not access.  Zeus can slip out the between the gate rails as needed.

LGD Article One - Long

This is the first of four LGD articles I made mention of a couple weeks back.  I am writing these for our local sheep agency who wishes to encourage and educate about these dogs. 

"Upon our arrival home I set the pair of pups into a dog run, knowing that after such a long drive they will appreciate stretching their legs and sniffing about to learn where they are, without any extra fuss from me.

A few hours later I walk them around to where some sheep are.  There is a wonderfully short lived period of puppy-hood where the little creatures willingly follow you as the two rascals are doing now.

At the barn paddock I remove the door from an extra large size dog crate and set the crate indoors with the open mouth facing a narrow opening into the building.  Inside, surrounding the crate is a small portable exercise pen.  The pups can come and go as they please, and inside the building they can either pop into the crate to sleep or hang out in the exercise area. 

This will provide shelter but not allow the pups to run amuck in the building.  This set up won't last too long as the pups will outgrow it soon enough but it provides a den for pups to go until they're firmly settled. 

At the front of the building is a 50 foot pen that opens to a larger 15 acre paddock.  Each night I will move the sheep up to the pen so the pups and sheep sleep in close proximity. 

There are half a dozen schooling sheep for stock dog training here.  These girls have the upper hand being they are at home and relaxed and familiar with dogs. 

I walk around the paddock, letting the pups follow as they will.  With any new pup or dog I always stay long enough to witness the first encounters with the sheep and see that everyone is relatively settled. 

Having sheep who are familiar with guardian dogs gives these pups a leg up.  The yearling sheep approach gingerly but are very curious.

The dark pup keeps a wide enough berth around the sheep and I notice that the sheep greet the tan fellow first.  The tan pup is worried and he lowers his head and makes himself smaller.  He doesn't flee though, and the sheep get their first sniff of the newcomers.  The little tan pup has just earned one notch in my books.

For the next several months the pups will stay here, in the barn paddock.  This paddock is a short distance from the yard but with the hill and bush terrain it is completely out of sight and fenced off from the yard.  Since these pups will work with a flock that is very seldom situated near a yard they will grow up out of sight from us and the yard, right from the start.  There are various ways to start livestock guardian pups, what is important when starting a pup, is creating an environment that will closely resemble his life's work. 

While the pups will be away from the yard and out of sight, they won't be left completely on their own.  Over the next several months they will be handled and supervised and an adult dog will move in with them.

The downside of a set up with the pups out of sight is that constant supervision is not possible.  I am not able to watch sheep or dogs from my kitchen window.  This means I have to dedicate time to spend with the pups and to sit out back and watch.

It is late evening now and with their bellies full the pups have tucked themselves into the dog crate to sleep.

I arrive early the next morning to feed the pups.  I will feed again at noon and at night.  I spend time with them at each feeding and occasionally, in between, I make a point of sneaking up to spend some time watching unnoticed, before they know I am there.

When I am in the paddock with them the pups follow me everywhere.  Some days we walk around the paddock, some days we walk near and through the sheep.  Some days I come and go quickly.  The main point is that the pups remain with the sheep when I leave and my input with them is minimal but enough to develop a relationship and understanding of each other.

I don't talk a lot or make a big fuss over the pups.  I don't encourage them to follow but I don't correct puppies for being puppies either.  Everything is very matter of fact and if they wish to follow me at this stage then I'll lead them to sheep.  The one thing they are not allowed to do is follow me out of the paddock.

The other thing I do regularly is handle the pups.  I pick up their feet and hold them.  I gently tug on their ears and tail.  I look into their ears, examine their eyes.  I hold the mouth and look at teeth.  As long as the pups are of size to pick up I will pick them up.  The goal is to pick them up matter of factly, hold them briefly until they settle and set them down again, but not to coddle them.  This gets them used to being lifted into vehicles and carried, if need be, when injured.   Most injuries to the dogs are going to occur on the head/shoulders and the hind end.  Having a dog used to being touched in these areas will help when tending to later injuries. 

Pups at this young age are strongly influenced.  Following is very natural to them, but if I gush and fuss over the pups at this stage it will encourage them to seek out my attention and that's another matter.  If I stay very matter of fact and even boring they'll soon move on to more interesting things in their world. 

I decide to hold off on leash training because I don't wish to encourage any further bonding to me via training them to follow on lead.  Although more difficult to do later on, leash training will wait.

All of this handling and observation will continue over the next several months.  This isn't much time spent with pups in the grand scheme of things.  It does not take long and it shouldn't.  I am not there for hours handling pups but rather each time I go out I run my hands over the pups, gently pulling an ear, picking up a foot, lifting the lip on the muzzle.  It is pretty quick and that's it, I'm done, the pups can go on their way.

Since I can easily fall into the trap of gushing over puppies, I say little with my voice and a lot with my body. Pups get bored easily and if there is no interaction from you for a length of time they quickly move off to do other things.  This is the exact time to slip out of the paddock unnoticed."

Ewe Disagreement

I started the ewes on an unplanned morning move, heading for a northward paddock.   No stock dog with me (the unplanned part) and the move is very casual.  Trailing at the back of group these two ewes decide now is the time to settle some disagreement.  I have no clue what started this showdown.  It went on for several minutes, one head thumping knock after another, and numerous photos.  To end it I stepped forward and sent the two on their way.  Even then they were head butting each other in the rear end.

(apologies for the blurry action shots - convinces me I need to learn how to use this camera to its potential).  

Guardian Dog Catch Up

Oakley, Whiskey, Diesel and Lily are situated with main flock and Zeus remains with the rams and ram lambs.  The group of stock dog training sheep don’t really need a guardian dog with them, they reside close enough to the ram paddock that Zeus can oversee both groups. 

Since he was an adolescent, Diesel has called the shots on the pack and on various occasions has made life miserable for different dogs.  For a long time he refused to let specific dogs in to work and we had little recourse to take with him. 

This summer while trying to get Lily to stay out on pasture we placed a drag object on Diesel so he could not do so much harm to her and push her out.  We started to notice small changes in the attitude of the dogs and it seemed that the other dogs knew Diesel couldn’t fight or push them out anymore.  Drag objects on the dogs are never a permanent solution and can cause their own damage, so after a length of time we started taking the drag off during the day but putting it on a night when the action between the dogs often becomes heated due to the action of wildlife around them.  Next we took the drag off altogether.  We seemed to have some success, Lily and the other males were left alone and could stay with the main flock. 

Shortly after all this sorted out Lily came into heat and paired up with Whiskey.  That was the first time Diesel showed up near home, parking himself with the dogging sheep.  Once Lily’s heat cycle was over we returned him to pasture.   He returned once or twice and we took him back.

When we sorted the lambs and kept them separate from the ewes Diesel parked himself with the lambs.  We thought he was choosing to set himself with his band of lambs and let him be.  In hindsight I think we misread that.  Once the lambs left we returned Diesel to pasture but he kept showing up near the yard, parking himself with the dogging sheep again.  We are returning him to the flock each time and observing that Lily puts herself between him and the sheep and won’t let him enter the flock.  Amazingly, Diesel walks away and goes to the yard where he knows there are sheep he can watch over without hassle.  We never thought Diesel would be the one to be kicked out, and by young Lily no less.  Those females have a lot of say in a pack.  We are having success with returning Diesel and correcting Lily when she tries to push him out.  She seems to be understanding that he’s allowed to be there.   Diesel will stay for many days in a row now.  What we can’t control or observe is the night time action that still sometimes causes the dogs to butt heads with each other.

Stock Dog Catch Up

It’s a wet and heavily foggy day today, giving a hushed and soft vibe to the entire place.  We were out all morning but I’ve returned to the indoors to sit quietly for a spell and catch up.  With the last issue of the newsletter there have been a few email questions about the dogs which I will reply to and also share the answers to here.

L to R: Tanner, Prim, BlackJack

At the start of summer I took in a young Kelpie for training.  This was not a planned deal but a dropped-in-my-lap kind of one that I choose to help out with.  In hindsight it was one of those, I wanted to say no but said yes, kind of things.  This young kelpie is a lot of dog who needs a lot of time and attention and he was the dog that became one too many in my pack for me to feel good about.  I put a lot of time into this young guy though and the trio of pups sat on the back burner more than I wanted them too.  I was stretching pretty hard to stay on top of all these dogs and over the summer this sliver of irritation worked its way into my enjoyment of them.  I was looking forward to when it would all wind down.

Well, that happened in one fell swoop last week when our company pulled out.  I was not expecting it because it was not in the plans when Bill and Janice arrived.  As we visited and talked dogs though, it all fell together.  

Bill and Janice have a vested interest in BJ’s trio of pups because BJ is from their kennel and she was bred to a dog they keep, named Drover.  Bill and Janice also have a lot of contacts in the working dog world and so they are on board to find suitable working homes for the pups.  Since it is quite difficult to fly dogs/pups out of a northern, smaller centre airport such as Saskatoon, we decided it would be best if they take two pups with them back to Montana and send them on to their eventual new homes from there.  So Prim and Tanner are now in Montana at the Burradoo Ranch, both are for sale, seeking their eventual new homes. 

Bill also made a few phone calls and found a working home for the young kelpie I was training.  So all in all, when they headed for home, three dogs from here went with them; bringing me back to my tidy pack plus BlackJack, whom I elected to keep.  There was no easy choices during any of it, and I still feel an honest ache.  The one I miss the most is little Prim, namely on account of her being such a sensitive and reactive pup, so I wonder how she’s getting on.  I get updates on them and I’ll know where they go and if need be they are always welcome back here.  

We have done well to find the best outcomes we can and I feel satisfied with that, and I can't deny that I feel a sense of relief and the dogs here feel it too.  While it tugs at my heartstrings, in the end it's all good.

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