Out With 2016

Sheep are bedded, dogs are fed and settled, we have an easy evening in front of us. The last 2016 issue of the Crooked Fences Newsletter is finished and sent.  A fresh piece of artwork is on the table, a book project is in the works.  Life is good, which is a rewarding way for a year to come to a close.  Allen and I will greet the new year in a quiet and routine manner.

Whenever and however you came across this blog, thank you for tagging along and making the last year of blogging worth the while.  I appreciate your interest and support and wish you and your critters all the best in the new year.

Christmas Computer Hiatus Turns Into Felting

Hello again readers, Merry Christmas everyone.  I hope the Christmas holidays treated everyone safely and merrily.

Throughout the holidays our routine here does not change much. We do not travel away for Christmas, but have family close enough for a day visit and return to home again. It turned cold and we had livestock water-bowl trouble throughout the weekend, culminating in a break that required a fix on Christmas morning. I wonder if Mother N ever has a good chuckle over mans fascination with calendar events and trying to stick to the plans.

You will have noticed I took a hiatus from the computer for a week. It was not a preplanned move but it unfolded that way and since it felt kinda good not being at the computer for a spell I rolled with it.

I unpacked some wool and started a felting project. It was a very rusty start but by weeks end I had two and half projects done. It got me thinking how it is that I have not shared artwork in awhile. I still rise early each morning and do some writing or drawing but the felting needles have been idle for a little while.

I sketched this one out several months ago and decided to dive into it. The piece is 20 inches by 30 inches, entirely needle felted.  It is 100% wool with fibre from Targhee sheep, Romney sheep, Corriedale sheep, and crossbred sheep (breeds unknown).

The dog is an Anatolian shepherd I know well, and the reference photo is an old one of not great quality, taken in the dead of winter.  I worked from a black and white copy of the photo, just using that for contrast areas.  I altered the sheep and the background as I laid wool down, changing the scene to a sunrise/sunset scene.  Looking at it now, I still need to add more to the border edges.  The title at this stage is 'Golden Boy' but titles are always subject to change :-)
My plan for hanging it is to wrap it around a foam core board or hard board and mount it that way (like a canvas wrap picture).  Then again, if the piece sells; it is far simpler to fold it and mail it than to mail it mounted on a hard board.  It is quite a lovely piece to see hanging, it pleases me greatly. Hope you enjoy seeing a glimpse of it here.  

Wren Without Crow

It is very seldom that we sell a dog but I have been through the loss of several, and while the two are not on the same level, there is a single occurrence that hits home every time a dog I know and love leaves the place.

You expect the absence to be felt, you know that dog won’t greet you, you won’t hear the familiar bark, or have to deal with that familiar irksome issue you had going on.  But I never expect the feeling to be as acute as it is when I’m filling feed dishes and there’s one less to fill.  That always hits me, even when I know the dog has gone to a good place.

Wren talking to Lily

Crow left last week.  He went to a place where there is various livestock, but his main purpose is being the farm ambassador and yard guardian.  The folks were looking for a dog that was comfortable with people and visitors which Crow definitely is.  There is another farm dog there to keep company, some sheep and a sheep guardian dog too.  Fingers and toes are crossed that he’s found his role in life.  We received word from the new owners yesterday and as Crow becomes more comfortable in the new surroundings they are feeling he is a good fit for them and their place.

Tex (front), Lily (rear) and Wren

Meanwhile, we still have our work cut out for us with Wren.  She splits her time between visiting the yard (hoping for the kelpies to come out), staying with Zeus, and visiting the main flock.  I think we’ll have to resort to some measure to keep her where needed but the cold weather deters me from doing anything just yet.  I’d much rather focus on making sure the dogs and sheep are all well sheltered and bedded down.  I started to make it uncomfortable for her when she shows up at the yard in the daytime - so smart little character that she is, now she only comes to the yard after dark.  She is tolerated by the other guardian dogs wherever she lands, and she is beginning to follow their lead.  She does like Tex a lot and Zeus too. Tex seems to like her back but Zeus kind of ignores her.  She lays down with the sheep frequently, she just doesn’t stay put for long, but what eight month old puppy does?

Wintertime Working Sheep Day

Today was a very full day of sheep work. Cajun and Coyote Mic got the job of bringing the flock off pasture and moving the ewes up to the barn paddock and packing the alleyway. After a spell of no stock work they relished in the work today. I think Coyote Mic ramped it up a notch although her speed could very well have been on account of trying to stay warm in the cold. Because it’s still cold out, once we had the flock where needed, I put the dogs up as having them wait on us in between stints of work was going to be very cold.

Earlier in the fall I agreed to sell some young breeding animals. Today we sorted those individuals as well as any cull ewes, meaning we had to do a quick check of each animal. The breeding animals will be loaded up in a couple days time and headed to a new place. We’ll keep the cull ewes separate from the flock for now since it’s time for breeding the ewe flock. To that end, we also sorted the rams from the wethers (which are my dogging sheep). This was the easiest sort because as soon as we had a group of ewes in the holding pen the rams gathered on the outside. A slight opening of a panel and the rams slipped right in, while the wethers stood in contemplation of whether or not the ewes were really more interesting than the new hay feed put out for them.

It was a full day in the cold, but it went smoothly, and with the sorting done, breeding is underway.

The main pack of guardian dogs headed right back out with the flock, well aware that rams had joined the group. Meanwhile Zeus makes a small adjustment with his rams leaving and a new group of females joining the group of wethers.

In closing, one more of the photos from the other night with the guardian dogs, (also shared on Facebook).

Cold Fingers And All

We had a slight warming of the outdoor temperature, and the wind that was keeping us so frigid subsided yesterday evening. While it was still plenty cold enough I tempted taking the camera out with me. I wasn't able to take photos for long before my fingers got too cold and daylight diminished. I was lucky to get a few.

The temperatures throughout this cold spell have been in the deep -20 celsius range during the daytime. With the brisk winds we were feeling wind chills of -35 or so. The ewes still desire to travel and graze and then return to the hay feed and then travel again. While the coyotes are a greater threat when they travel, I’m glad to see the ewes out and about.  They will stay in good physical shape and how keen they are to travel and eat is a behaviour we’d miss altogether if they were held indoors throughout the winter.

These are two runty lambs in this next photo; we can tell by their look and their fleece (and their obvious small size) that they’re not quite up to par with the rest of the animals in the flock.  

I wasn’t expecting to see photos with such soft backdrop colors given the cold and that if feels anything but soft out there. I’ll take what I get though :-)

This is Tex and Wren making their way back after having a lookout from a hilltop.

Lastly, this photo is one where I played with black and white effects.  Loading/editing photos takes a lot of time so I don’t often play with filters or effects.   Typically you get what I take with the camera. As I take better photos though I find I’m more tempted to play with them.  It's a lot like artwork.

Coyote and Cold

We’re in the midst of ugly, ugly cold. The ewes venture out to graze, make a round and head back to the shelter of the bush and the feed and bedding rolled out there.

The coyotes are thick in number and causing trouble. We’re seeing them more often now as they follow the flock. They too are seeking food in this deep cold weather. The ewes are restless and acting suspicious, fleeing at the slightest cause. The guardian dogs are on the watch but occasionally get drawn out to attend trouble elsewhere and the coyotes take advantage. The more the ewes stay put near the feed, the safer everyone is.

I miss being out with the camera but am thankful to have a large collection of photos to share from.

A Pack of Guardian Dogs

A pack of guardian dogs is a remarkable unit to observe and learn from. They really are unique in that they are comfortable and familiar with us, and while we influence them to a degree, they do not take directions for how to organize their pack solely from us. The guardians do most of their work on their own, without us knowing what they’re up to. We are graced with glimpses of their lives by watching them.

Keeping peace relies on keeping a balanced pack. We play a role in that by (hopefully) choosing pups/dogs that are calm and well tempered, and that we think will cooperate and be a fit for the current dogs. After that we set some boundaries with each dog in terms of manners and feeding.

The other key to maintaining peace is the amount of work in front of these dogs. These are not dogs living in a household, waiting for 45 min of daily exercise. They are at work each day, they have ample things to direct their mind and energy to, other than picking fights.

That said, a key thing to understand is that everything within nature is always evolving and unfolding, and with dog packs this is evermore true. The peace and order is not stagnant, nor guaranteed. You can have peace for months, maybe even years, and then arrive to pasture to find an injured dog. Then you look for clues to find out if it was an in house fight or a predator fight.

When they do have their upsets, a scuffle between the dogs settles quickly, a low key fight results in minor injuries, a major fight results in major injuries, often sustained on the legs and the hind quarters. I’ve witnessed the dogs handle countless scuffles with aplomb and deftness. I could never improve on that and do not try.

Yes, our dogs are comfortable with us. They come up to greet us, appreciate a gentle touch, a scratch in a favourite spot or a belly rub, and each one can be handled. This is not the case with all lgd’s. Many shepherds still prefer their dogs be wary of humans and have little contact with them. We’ve had a couple of those dogs in the past.

As a general rule well bred guardian dogs are not aggressive by nature, quite the opposite, they would much rather give peace a chance.  It takes more energy to fight than it does to get along.  This part of their makeup is why we use them.  Allen and I do not want dogs that are aggressive to the point they go after every thing, including pack-mates, we're wanting the dogs to be present with the flock, and be smart and assertive enough to tell predators it’s wiser to go elsewhere.

At Play

I have not bothered to tote the big camera in this cold.  I took these photos on a couple different mornings just prior to the chill weather that has settled upon us.  Lily is a playful dog and is the one most often at the centre of playful activity.

Lily and Tex, Wren in the background (Crow is nearby, investigating empty food bowls - his number two priority; number one is eating).

Tex takes notice of me and the camera.

Lily after a rock or a stick, I'm not sure which. She goes on to have a lovely, long, roll and wash her face on the snow/ice surface.

Tex and Oakley having a peaceful exchange. I just love these two boys.


The first blast of winter cold descended today. The wind was strong this morning and just as strong tonight with the added colder temperatures to really make it sting. It’s time to dig out the heavy duty winter clothes.  I didn't take the camera with me today.

Mid - late afternoon the ewes decided to move over and graze on the lee side of some brush; they were feeling this first sting of winter wind as well. I decided to leave them out tonight rather than move them to the night paddock as there is less shelter there.

We are not feeding hay to the flock yet, so the winter chores are pretty low key. The rams and the dogging sheep only need an occasional bale set out for them.

With the flock in the winter pasture, it’s a shorter trip back and forth from the yard. Much to my dismay Wren and Crow are showing up here each day. The short trip to Nova Scotia gave me some distance from Crow for a few days, some time to be sure. When I returned from Nova Scotia I began advertising that Crow is for sale, and the pups recent activity confirms it for me yet doesn’t make it one iota easier.  Still, it’s time to respect the dog he is, rather than continue to bend him to be the dog we need. He will be an awesome multipurpose yard and livestock dog for someone else.

Morning Dog, Evening Dog

We sent the flock eastward into the stockpiled winter pasture. With decent weather this should be suitable grazing until January.

Until this point the ewes have traveled westward from the night pen so getting them to travel the opposite route for the first time required some assistance.  I let baby BlackJack have the chance. We had a perfect set up for sending from a hilltop and out around the fat end of an apostrophe shaped wetland that was between us and the flock.  He barely knows to outrun, let alone go any distance but the lay of land could make it happen naturally. He was fixated on the sheep he could see and taking a shortcut in the wrong direction to get there. Once shown where to travel instead, he was off, the land forcing a correct path. I quickly backtracked, to be sure of meeting him near the flock.

After the outrun, he made a mess of things by pushing too hard and splitting his group around himself but that’s all right for now. We regrouped and the next time I sent him around, he did a sweep of the whole group, getting to the far side of everybody before changing direction again. Small steps.

He doesn’t calm the stock like some dogs do and the ewes were moving quickly to get away from the whirling devil. Once we got the flock strung out and going I had to get control of him because he just wanted to dive in for whoever he could cut off. One step forward, one step back. He can only do so much work before hindbrain gets the better of him and this was plenty. Someone watching from that hilltop might have thought it was a gong show but giving him the opportunity of the job and to make his mistakes was rewarding for both of us. We got our sheep headed where needed.

When the ewes are grazing the east field it is the only time I can see sheep from the yard, and then only from the high points in the yard, and only when they’re on certain knolls.  I stepped out front door, zoomed my lens way out and got this picture. They’re ¼ mile away or further.

For bringing the sheep off the pasture in the evening I took the reliable fellow, Gibson. He’s become such an easy dog to have along and hardly a word is spoken between us on routine chores like this. I put him on the ground while I drove along in the Ranger. The ewes were already headed in and the only time he was really needed was for the last stretch up a hill and through the narrow pass leading to the night paddock.

Judging from the very full bellies of these girls I think they’re finding plenty to eat on this winter pasture.  Holy, some of them really went to town on this first day, lol.  As we head into winter I’m pleased with how the majority of them look; their fleece is tight, their eyes are bright, they’re traveling well, as they must.

Nova Scotia Flock Visit

I gave myself a small mission for the trip to Nova Scotia - to visit with a flock of sheep and their guardians as I have done in Montana and here at home in my own province. Having that small goal helped me get through the meeting portion of the trip.

Before leaving from home I touched base with a stranger known to me as Nova Scotia Shepherd, whom I follow on twitter. Would they mind a visitor who wanted to take some photographs? As it turns out, this person follows me through my Crooked Fences Newsletter and this blog, and were happy to meet up. We both have a similar approach to raising sheep on grass, and a deep appreciation of guardian dogs.

In hindsight it was a good plan to make the connection since many sheep flocks in Nova Scotia are reared indoors so you don’t see many sheep just driving around. While I toured only a small piece of the province, I saw just one other group of sheep in a front yard paddock.

When I arrived the sun peaked out in an otherwise very rainy day, and I was greeted with a volley of barking which quickly tapered off as we walked out to watch the flock.  There is a large flock here and seven dogs.  The dogs were alert and watchful as one would expect.  I was observed the whole duration of my visit by one dog or another, and was occasionally followed, although none of the dogs sought any direct attention from me.  They went about their business and I went about taking photos and visiting with Matt and Tasha, my gracious hosts.  

Once the dogs determined I was not an immediate threat, peace resumed.  After an hour long visit I continued on my way.  Not a bad way to spend a spot of one's afternoon I thought.

Side Trip

The colors of Nova Scotia are gorgeous even though this is not the prime time to see the province in all its spendour. The grass is still several shades of green, the soil is red, the shores are yellow and orange and brown, I was not expecting so many trees and such a forested feel, and there is no straight road to be had. 

I was in Halifax for sheep industry meetings, necessary although not really exciting. After the meetings I rented a car and headed to the Northern shore of Nova Scotia. The only concrete plan of the day was to meet up with Nova Scotia Shepherds, Matt and Tasha and visit their flock and their dogs (a connection made via Twitter).  Otherwise, I spent the day traveling at my leisure and stopping where I wished, to take photos.

I landed in Truro that night and the following morning headed westward, taking the trail along the southern shore of Cobequid Bay and the Minas Basin, travelling around to Wolfville and area (with a name like wolfville, I had to head there).  At noon I headed back to Halifax to catch the plane headed toward home.  All the pieces fell into place, plane rides, taxis, meetings, rental cars, driving and navigating, and hotel rooms. Away and home again.

For each place I visit there is a photo that takes me to a specific moment and place and causes me to think, yes that is what it was like.  Oddly enough, this next photo is that photo.  Upon good advice, I stopped at a very old general store and before getting back into the rental car, I stood on the side of the highway and watched these lovely white birds while absorbing where I was and what I was doing.  My guess is they are doves of some type (?)

I arrived home late last night. The experience of my walk was heightened this morning; the pace, the company of dogs, the prairie chill. The small pack is momentarily different before the familiarity of home and place settles into me, and the dogs and I are one and the same, connected again. Going away from home and returning lends to that feeling in spades.

Somehow We Adjust

Three days of being indoors and in meetings; slipping out for a short walk to the Halifax harbour to get fresh air and perspective.  Such a change of setting and of being.  The steady stream of people and meetings takes a lot of adjustment for this prairie introvert.  No meetings today though.  Today I might see some sheep and dogs and catch a few sights and sounds of this beautiful province of Nova Scotia.

Cold and Coyotes

The days are colder, no snow on the ground but the natural waters are frozen now. I brought the flock home last night so the animals could access open water at the water bowls.  No one seemed to notice, no one ran to the water bowls in thirst as I thought they might.  I surmised they are getting enough water from the heavily frosted grasses, or else they have opened a water hole I do not know about.

The coyotes are closer now.  Just this morning we saw one not far from the gate to the pasture. Tex and the pups met us at the gate, oblivious to the wild wanderer travelling a couple hilltops over.

Out further, at the flock, Lily and Whiskey came in from afar, heavily panting.  Oakley was still out and did not come up for breakfast. In these moments I feel like an outsider to this pack.  What is their story this morning?  What took place overnight?  Often we go without knowing.

For the next few days Allen will oversee the dogs and the flock and keep a lookout.  I'm heading to the eastern coast of Canada for a few days of meetings.  With luck I will have a short time to see some sheep and guardian dogs - I've packed the camera.

I will attempt to keep in touch but only have my phone along so there may be a short lull in the next few days (at the moment it won't let me share any photos and I have to catch a flight soon).  I'll also try instagram and Facebook.

The Canine Crew Part II

Photos and brief information of the individual dogs can be seen on the two newly updated pages, Livestock Guardian Dogs, and Stock Dogs (you can reach these pages anytime via the top navigation bar).

I chuckled at the exclamation of thirteen being a lot of dogs because I used to do the same.  Before the ranch I gave strange looks and judgment to people who had more than five dogs (I had five dogs back then so five was okay).  Now, a dozen dogs is part of my life and I know several others who have a dozen or more, and we can’t imagine not having the dogs to help fulfill the roles we’re in.

Here's a little slice about living with a lot of dogs and why we do.

With the livestock guardian dogs the terrain, the work situation, the type of predators, as well as the dogs themselves, determine how many dogs are present - not necessarily the number of sheep.  We have a lot sheep (relatively speaking), we also have hilly terrain, large spaces and bush and wetland.  If it were flat land and smaller acres we could do with less dogs.  We do not have large predators but we have numerous coyote in this area who know this terrain as well or better, than the dogs do.

Since it takes about two years for these dogs to mature into their roles and become reliable, sometimes pups are around before they’re really needed (which is our case right now).  Sometimes you get caught needing more dogs and you don’t have them.  Dogs get injured, dogs get old, young dogs can’t handle some of the tasks, one dog doing all the work, wears that one dog out faster.  It’s a fluctuating dynamic you’re always adjusting to.

As for stock dogs, I could make do with three or four, so long as two or more were able to work together.  One of the six stock dogs here is 14 years old and retired.  The next is over half way there.   I have four middle aged/young dogs. Enough to keep busy with for sure.

The cost for keeping this many dogs is in the thousands of dollars each year.  The cost of the guardian dogs is a ranch expense the sheep flock has to cover.  The stock dogs are a cost we swallow personally through any extra income we can generate.  We have a separate bank account set aside for dog veterinary expenses since large dogs are not cheap to vet.  The dogs receive veterinarian care when needed however it’s likely we are more conservative on this than most pet-dog households.  We do not take dogs to the vet at the drop of a hat, especially the livestock guardians.  Unless it’s an emergency or a problem we can’t help with, they get cared for at home.

We feed dry food and suitable household leftovers, yogurt etc.  We pick up meat trimmings and raw bones from the butcher in town.  In the cold winter months I make a porridge to add to the food.  I shared a blog post about that last winter.

When you have a string of dogs you have dogs at various stages in life.  In this case we have dogs who live a working, not always cozy, life.  Stuff happens.  This means we face the death of dogs, both planned and unexpectedly, on a more frequent basis.

It is a lot of dogs.  No doubt.  And certainly, my deep affinity for dogs encourages me to have them.  One can not face a life with dogs as rich and deep as this without a deep affinity for them, because living with them is both joy and trial enough, but to pull yourself through the emotional hell of losing dogs time and again, requires something akin to deep, deep devotion or beyond.

The Canine Crew

We have a bakers dozen of dogs here, six stock dogs and seven livestock guardian dogs. I will create two stand alone pages for this blog in the very near future and share individual photos and breed info of each dog there.

For now this gives an idea of who the canine crew are.  The photo of the stock dogs was taken this summer while Tanner was here for training, he has since gone back home.  From left to right: Tanner, Coyote Mic, Fynn, BJ, Gibson, BlackJack, Cajun.  Fynn is 14 years old, Cajun is half way to that and the rest are younger.

The stock dogs live with me. We do a few miles of walking/running every day, they have regular stock work and they come and go from my house. They are spoiled, they sleep on the couch. They stay in outdoor runs/exercise yards when I can’t have them with me or need to go to town for groceries and the mail.  These dogs are my work partners and my companions in a life that is largely lived in solitude.  We know each other well.

The livestock guardian dogs are another world of dogs. They are canine through and through and so feel the same on many levels, yet without the continual influence of human interaction, they are their own unit, and they function as such. I often feel secondary to that pack, a bit of an outsider.  I spend quite a bit of time watching these guys.

One of our male dogs stays situated with the rams and comes and goes from the main group only on occasion.  I have yet to capture a photo of all seven dogs, but I did manage one of six of them together at breakfast, albeit with all their heads down.

From left to right: Tex, Whiskey, Lily (background), Crow (foreground), Wren (lying) and Oakley.  Oakley is the eldest at 7.5 years.  Wren and Crow are the babies.

A summer photo during one of Zeus' visit to the pasture.  This is Lily and Zeus. 

In the twelve years of being here, we’ve had two litters of pups. One litter of livestock guardians a few years back, and more recently, BJ’s litter of three Kelpies.  Zeus is one of those pups, as is BlackJack, Tanner is another.  A select few of our dogs are intact.  Finding good dogs requires some searching.  With decreasing agriculture acres, there is less need of working dogs, and with that there is less people devoted to, and knowledgeable of, what traits make a good work dog, be it stock or guardian.

Son Of A Bee

Well, my miracle for the ram did not happen. I found him - I found him out at pasture with the ewe flock. Son of a bee.

On the flip side, however, I did enjoy the purpose and the miracle of stock dogs in solving this dilemma.

The rams outweigh me by two and half to three times, even if I were able to catch him, I had no hope of holding onto him or lifting him onto the ranger. I opted for walking him home with a group of fifty-sixty animals that I cut off and parted from the flock. That was enough animals to make the group feel secure enough to be moved away from the flock with reasonable, but not impossible, effort. Tex (livestock guardian dog) also happened to be with this group and once we got onto the well worn sheep trail, he got out in the lead, heading the right direction, and the group willingly followed. We made the long track home. These dogs do much more than deter predators. 

Once at home where we had some pens to work with, BJ and I sorted from one pen to another, cutting the ram out and leaving him in the building; a secure place to leave a single I thought. It wasn’t even noon and I had my problem solved; with luck we’ll only have a few early lambs.

BJ and I returned the ewes to pasture, picked up Cajun back at the yard, and headed out to bring home the rest of the rams. Using Cajun for this job, I put the group of rams in a paddock immediately behind the building, where they will stay.  All that was left to do was let Mr Singleton out the back exit to rejoin his mates. No dog was needed for this and indeed would only add undue pressure. 

Ah, but it ain’t over till it’s over. I made a rookie mistake of sorting him without having a group ready to put him with first, thinking it would be okay since the building is secure. He fled past me and right out the side of the building, leaping through an opening from a removed panel to allow for air flow in the building. The opening is crisscrossed with the tie ropes of the canvas building cover and he had to leap the bottom section of wall to do it. But he did, he crashed through, busted the tie ropes, raced over the hill and promptly joined the dogging sheep. That son of a bee.

Another round-up of sheep and a successful sort for the second time (thank you Cajun). By now the ram has had it with us, and we’ve had it with him. I’m just about to bring his mates to him when he finally exits the back of the building. Should he make another escape - I think we’ll come up with another plan for where Mr Singleton goes.

p.s  I did see the comment asking about the dogs and sharing photos to catch new readers up to date. That’s coming up.

There's One Thing

With raising livestock there is one thing that can ruin a good day, almost more than finding a dead animal can.

I headed out early for chores tonight because I wanted to see what Tex and Lily were up to when they weren’t expecting me. We suspect Lily is keeping Tex on the outskirts of the flock and she may be the one responsible for a recent minor wound on his back end. There is definitely a lack of warm, fuzzies between those two, however they do nothing that I can do anything about and that’s what makes this type of situation so very difficult to solve. Everyone is polite when things are calm and normal. Shit happens when there is excitement and that’s usually not when the shepherd is there watching. After observing dogs for awhile I fed everyone and headed over to check Zeus and the rams.

I’ve gotten into the habit of counting the rams, particularly when they are situated out at pasture, even if they are no where close to the ewes and you think there is no incentive to leave, it's good to check they're all there.  One, two, three…six… nine, ten … wait, wait, wait, where is eleven? I counted them again and again. There was no evidence of any escape, no lose wire, no open gate.

My day was pretty good until this point.  It was about fifteen minutes to full darkness, I did a quick search but otherwise, nothing to do about it tonight except seethe and curse, which I’ve done plenty of.   Tonight I'm going to pray ram eleven is, by some miracle, in the ram pasture come morning.

A Moment With BJ

Beautiful fall weather has arrived and we are enjoying it.  I moved the flock southward even though most of the tame forages on this pasture are grazed. I’m hoping the ewes find their way to the parcel of native prairie although the sheep don’t favour the slender grasses as much. With the flock headed south, I put the rams to the north, with seperation between the two groups.

BJ and Cajun were along for evening chores tonight. Our first stop was with Wren and Crow who are with the dogging sheep. Wren is showing some lameness and while Allen and I were checking her over BJ slipped off to fetch the sheep who were well across the paddock. She hasn’t worked for a couple weeks and was determined to go, disregarding my call to come back. BJ holds the soft spot of my heart and I let her be, knowing she’d bring those sheep right to my feet and she did just that. She was efficient about it and hence it was a short and dandy stint of work. It made me smile. Nothing too serious about it; watching a dog who knows full well what the purpose is and is geared up to do it. Moments like these are some of the best with these dogs.

Status Quo Until Then

I had a couple days of quiet and calm, of not working any dogs, or moving the flock (although that streak ended this morning); just doing morning and evening chores and taking extra long walks. There was time to take a couple of the Kelpies to the vet for planned procedures we put off earlier. That meant some driving time which always nets time to think.  I’m also attempting to organize a whole lot of photographs. The task feels like a bit of a waste of time, however, the more I use that camera the more necessary it gets to organize the thousands of photos that are a result of it.

walking with kelpies
Another photo from the files
Throughout the calm there is a good deal percolating through my mind much of which is centered on this thread we’re unraveling. The blessing is that Allen and I are in a good position to make some choices and not feel forced. Meanwhile we’ll keep status quo until we know what we want to do otherwise.

Part of what I seek is finding creative ways to make a difference beyond our individual back forty here. To do that will take creative insight and effort and there is plenty of that bottled up inside of me. Perhaps not knowing how to let it out is what is eating at me.

Solo Photo - Kelpie Pose

Borrowing one from the files since I spent a good chunk of time sending out the latest Crooked Fences newsletter today and my writing energy is drained for the day.

A Deep Thread

This thread runs deep and wide, and the comments shed light on a few different aspects of the dilemma of selling market lambs. I think this requires a deeper solution than on farm slaughter and butcher though. There has to be a complete re-think on our food system and on our own demands to have whatever food we want whenever we want it.

Here's another spin on it.  There are great swaths of grassland and rangeland in Canada and in the USA that support vast herds of livestock and wild ungulates. While there is raging debate over the correct land use, which is another topic altogether, I do believe the health of those grassy ecosystems depends on those animals being there. In those large places and such rural places like ours, on farm slaughter, butcher and marketing from the farm gate, is not a viable option without reams of capital dollars and hired labour to make it so.  Likewise, the folks who know and respect the land, and excel at land stewardship and keeping native and domestic ecosystems in partnership and intact, are the very folks we need to keep there in order preserve what we have. These folks will never excel in the role of managing slaughter, butcher and sale of product. So then more people are needed. 

Every time my thoughts come full circle; maybe there is no way around the system put in place to try to conquer this very predicament, but yet the system in place is wearing very thin.

So all the pondering leads me here - could I sell the flock? If so, then what ??? - that is Allen’s big question for me. What in the world would you do if you sold the sheep? Truth is I probably couldn’t sell them all because what about the dogs?  How in the world to part with them?!  But selling some sheep might be an option, or maybe focusing on breeding stock or wool, as some of you do.  I could rent out the land I don’t need.  Perhaps there is a way to lend a leg up to someone else who would not have trouble with the aspects of selling lambs or calves or pigs…

Loading Out Lambs and Loaded Thoughts

It’s been a wet month with early snow followed by days of rain and cloud cover. The snow is gone but we’re still plenty wet, making it troublesome for large trucks to get around. Once again we penned lambs in the Quonset building in the yard and loaded the livestock transport trailer from there.

I used to think I was the only softy that struggled to sell lambs but with writing this blog and the newsletter I’ve connected with several woman who have the same struggle. It hurts, we hate doing it, and there is little consolation for it. As each year passes the difficulty, for me, is growing into something deeper than having to let lambs go. It’s the idea of participating in a skewed food system that takes animals across the country and back unnecessarily, and still falls far short of feeding the people. It’s the frustration of not yet having an alternative or knowing how to make a difference. Each year of selling lambs returns me to pondering how to keep a flock of sheep, not produce lambs, yet somehow make a decent income.

While the market lambs are gone there are still plenty of lambs at home. I have more undersized lambs than usual this year, they will stay put for the winter and probably be sold as old crop lambs in the next year. I kept replacement ewe lambs back as well, and about half of those will stay and the other half have been sold as breeding stock. There is more flock work this week as I sort some of those replacements for the first individual to pick up.

With all the flock work there has been plenty of work for the Kelpies but little training time, which means the youngster, BlackJack hasn’t seen too much action on sheep.  He’s maturing into a cool dog with a sense of humour and I’m not too concerned that his training will wait a little longer.  Winter is coming and we'll have empty days to fill with some training time.

[p.s since moving into the shop the internet connection has been very sporadic, we have it for several days and then we’re without it for a few.]

Solo Photo

A truck has been lined up and tomorrow we load out lambs. The Kelpies had a good workout tonight bringing them home to ready for loading. We are relieved the lambs are finally moving out yet always feel torn about this part of raising livestock.

Fox in The Foxtail

I appreciate the thoughts on Crow. I’ve never been able to make such choices lightly. His voice in the night keeps me awake trying to convince myself I can sell him. It's obvious he is a pup with a huge heart, and I am struck by his steadfast, persistent personality.  I also know what he could mean to another person who had a job perfectly suited to who he is.

Meanwhile, I want to share these fox photos before they get lost in the way-back-then file. They were taken in late September on a calm evening, while checking the flock.

There are foxes around every year and I love to see them. This year they have a den in the hay bale stack. There is a continual fox and hound story going on here as the guardian dogs and the Kelpies are forever in pursuit of the foxes. The Kelpies and fox cross paths frequently on our daily romps and more than once the fox has passed right in front of me on a dead run away from five, yipping Kelpies.

I was not the only one immersed in watching this fellow on this evening; the lambs were too.  There is so much time that we are not seeing what is going on outside, it is remarkable to step into a moment of time and place and watch wild animals, and to watch animals watch each other.

The sheep are not usually alarmed by foxes and they pass near the flock without causing much stir unless a guardian dog spies them.  On the very rare occasion the guardian dogs manage to catch one. When they do, the fox loses. 

I’ll post a short string of these fox photos on my Facebook page over the next few days.

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