A Graze With Sheep and Goats

A few photos from an evening visit with Stuart and the band of sheep and goats who are grazing a community pasture (public land) with a leafy spurge problem.  
The animals are shepherded by day and night penned at night.  Approximately 1600 animals, mainly goats.  Three stock dogs and three guardian dogs. 

Upon my arrival at the gate, this girl comes forward to find out who I am.

I appreciated the opportunity to partake in an evening of shepherding and take photos.  The group never stopped moving, Stuart explained this was mainly on account of the goats who are far less inclined to lay down when there is eating to be done.  One of guardians dog was pretty elusive, staying in the bunch and not caring to be seen or photographed.  I do manage to get near her toward the end of the evening, although she never approaches, just stays near her herd. 

The young seven month, on the other hand, had no reservations about inspecting me and the camera very thoroughly, on several occasions.  

Gosh this job would be so much extra work without the help of a few good stock dogs. The border collie is a trained dog, becoming well versed in large flock work.  The Kelpie is a young up and comer, recently arrived on the scene. 

At home, I drive out to a pasture, check on my animals and if all things are well, continue on with other projects for the day.  Rinse and repeat in the evening, making adjustments as we go.  It’s busy and it’s full and there are unexpected events that derail plans all the time. Stuart is out with this group all day, grazing and shepherding them, rain or shine, wind or dust and bugs, tired or rested.  Alone with his dogs - each day, all day.  There are no secure perimeter fences to contain the animals, no knowing where they will be if you leave them for awhile.  

The visit and the scene on this evening is certainly a peaceful one, yet the reality felt out here, is that peace takes effort and wears thin after weeks of your own company, facing whatever successes and frustrations the day brings.  

At the visits end; Stuart is night penning the group, another day well done.  Yes, it is a lot of animals.  The blur is dust hanging in the air on a calm evening.

Back to Balance

The mature meadow brome grass cloaks the greenery underneath and gives a deceiving perception of the state of the pasture.  The ewes, and especially the lambs, are hidden in this landscape of thigh high grass, moving as they do with their heads down amidst the lower green canopy.  They are beginning to eat the grassy seed heads.  The lambs are growing well, as was confirmed by our Australian visitors who suggested we could butcher a few of the eldest ones already.  

The kelpies and I brought the flock home yesterday and did a thorough check on who was who.  We are missing a ram, but alas, he is not with the flock so I can only assume something more dire happened to him and I haven’t discovered what yet. 

This evenings scene was precisely the scene I needed to sit and soak in after a hectic ten days or so of steady busyness and other people's agendas.  Too much of that throws me off balance.  I’m not back to myself yet, and there is some residual goings on still to be tended to.  Thank goodness that state is not my regular pace of life.  I much prefer a calmer balance and having moments to sit still in a pasture of space and fullness, even if it is not quiet (members of our flock are constantly calling to each other).  I really don’t know how people get on without such places.  If I ever have to leave this one I will strive to find another wherever I land.  It is, for me, a matter of sanity.  

I took Crow and Wren in for their second vet visit and set of vaccinations this morning, which caused them enough stress for one day.  Allen has tended to them more than I have over the last couple weeks; I miss knowing what the little gaffers are up to. Something you and I will both have to catch up on. 

On Friday I’m heading off for an evening visit with a large flock of sheep and goats and guardian dogs.  I will take my camera along to catch some photos, most of which will likely be of the dogs.  

Touring and Talking

We did manage to arrange a sheep and pasture tour for a group of Australian visitors last evening.  We had a gorgeous prairie evening for it which was amazing given that throughout the day it poured buckets of rain at our place (our old farmhouse started to leak).  I took a few photos of the tour group, however, sadly did not take any at the sheep show.  We drove our guests out to one of our native prairie pastures, which is also high ground and a gorgeous place to have a look around at the landscape in this area.  

Allen and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with these fun and genuine individuals who, collectively, had such a depth of knowledge and experience of rangelands and sheep.  It was a great exchange of stories and laughter.  

Today it was back to the sheep show and small fibre show, making for a full weekend of sheep, dogs, and fibre, and way more talking than I am used to doing.  I realized that I talk very softly, perhaps a habit born out of talking to animals all the time.  I think tomorrow will be a day off so I may just chill out and work my stock dogs a bit, maybe tackle the next issue of the Crooked Fences newsletter or do a bit artwork.  

[These are two photos from my archives]

Wool Art, Familiar Tails

Today was another day of the international rangeland congress; tomorrow I'm off to help set up for our provincial sheep and fibre show, happening this weekend.  After that I shall return to the regularly scheduled program of ranch life, sheep and dogs.

One neat thing about the congress - there are a few Australian delegates there who are looking for a place they can visit and see sheep and grass.  Someone passed my name around; we're trying to organize a tour here on Saturday.  Such a lovely connection for Allen and I, given we have the obvious sheep side of things to share but also the Australian Kelpies.

I did use a day away from conferencing to get stuff together for the fibre portion of our small provincial show.  I'll be doing some needle felting while there, and think I'll enter a fleece or two for judging.  I put a few hours into this piece hoping to have it complete for the show, and while I did manage to finish the scene I won't get the edges done and have it ready to hang.  I'll show it anyway.  I couldn't decide to go with Familiar Trails or Familiar Tails but Facebook friends decided on Tails.

The picture is showing a tad darker than it is for real.  I think I'll gallery wrap it on a canvas so it will be without a frame.  The felted area is 12 x 28 inches.

Let's Take A Sidestep

I have a small involvement within the local sheep industry, which I don’t normally share news about on this blog.  But it is through this involvement that I landed at the 2016 International Rangeland Congress this week (I happen to be the one who lives closest to the 2016 host city, Saskatoon) and where I experienced one of those rare, gifted moments of discovering one of your passions directly overlaps another, causing that feeling of synergy and knowing that really gets your heart beating. 

The Rangeland Congress brings together all manner of individuals, from around the globe, who have a stake in rangeland survival and health.  As many large conferences tend to be, this one is chalk full of science, programs and data, which can only hold our attention for so long.  

Then ecologist and author, Don Gayton took the floor and used story to tell what many were trying to get to the heart of through fact and science.  

Somehow he managed to capture and to tell, just with his words, no photos, no data presentation, of the pristine strength, resilience and soulful necessity of grass and rangeland - for all of us, no matter if we are urban or rural, or what we do.  And how it will be story, as much or more than science, that will drive it home to the ranchers, and convey it to the public and society at large.  Don had the attention of everyone in the room and he ignited a bit of a spark, and a great conversation.  For me it re-ignited a sense of optimism that sharing stories of what I call the everyday-ness of this sheep full, grass based ranching life isn’t a lost cause.  And maybe, just maybe there is potential for a longer story yet to be told.

Tame Grass Pasture

On Breeding Dogs

You know how you can go for years without doing a particular thing that you think of maybe doing one day, then at some point you look back and realize all those years of not doing it was exactly what you needed to shape your goal and reason for doing it.  That has kind of been my process around breeding dogs.  

My life has been chalk full of dogs.  Throughout the three decades this life with dogs spans across, I have tread through various facets of dogdom with various dogs of all types.  Devoted pet owner, agility, high level competition, and agility judging. Teaching classes, fostering dogs and litters of puppies, attending seminars, clinics, workshops, co-founding a dog rescue organization and now this very full life with working guardian dogs and stock dogs.  This journey has trailed me through the pet/sport dog world and the working dog world, and the vast array of the ideas and ideals surrounding dogs in each of those worlds.  

The one aspect I avoided getting too familiar with is breeding dogs and I am glad it went that way.  Today it is very likely I let what I know get in the way of doing, but I have honed some high ideals surrounding dogs and breeding them. 

Because of the dedication and time it entails I still don’t know if I will breed dogs in the future but I am considering it with the livestock guardian dogs.  Lily is intact and the two pups will be left intact until there is reason to desex them.  I am very interested to see how the pups develop and if one was good enough, then to consider a litter.  

Livestock guardian dogs have also diverged into two distinct types and I now have a sense of what type I would breed for and knowing that puts a definite purpose behind breeding them.    

Solo Photo On The Move

The Kelpies and I have been doing a lot sheep work the last few days.  In this instance we are moving the ewes and lambs to the South pasture - heading toward all those trees in the distance.  Gibson and Coyote Mic are along for the work and are just outside the foreground of the photo.  

Tonight we brought the flock home, and tomorrow we will sort off any ewes without lambs.  These ewes will be used for an upcoming sheep herding camp.

The Pups With Visitors

The reason for the sporadic posts of late is lack of internet connection.  We are into a process of elimination to find out why, meanwhile getting online is suddenly much more complex than opening the computer and signing in. I’m doing my best but suspect it will continue to be sporadic for a spell.  We are very rural so getting help takes a bit of doing.  On one hand, this scenario is a limitation of rural ranch life, on the other hand, a reminder of the pure solitude that can be had in these places.  And connected or not, I keep writing posts in my journal. 

It’s been raining for hours and hours and we are thoroughly soaked.  This rain was preceded by a couple weeks of regular thunderstorms with hard rains, so more rain isn’t really needed just now.  Some areas of the province are flooding but we are in good shape yet.  The sheep are wet, the dogs are wet, this old house is wet, and it feels like every where and every thing is dripping.  The lgd pups are a mucky mess, trotting through puddles and then sleeping on the dirt floor of the building.   

They had some visitors a few days back.  Wren hung back, not willing to venture forward to meet and greet, and when she did approach she was aloof but inquisitive.  She never offered a greeting but kept her distance and sniffed to find out more.

Crow promptly came forward, with lambs at his heels, and he found out who was who among the newcomers.  He stayed near the fence, grovelling for a bit, and then found a spot of shade next to the building and went to sleep.    

When the visitors ventured into the paddock and lead the lambs down the alleyway, Wren trotted a distance behind the lambs almost like she was concerned where they were going.  When they headed into the building she readily followed.  Here she laid down at their feet and stayed with them, almost willing them to stay put and not go back out those strange humans.  It was lovely to see.  Crow remained in his shady spot.  Content to sleep since it was a hot afternoon.  

They are growing up faster than I can tell their stories.

Stormy Summer Days With A Sketch

We are receiving regular thunderstorms with heavy bursts of rain, followed by brilliant bursts of sunshine and heat.  The grass is maturing way ahead of the ewes.  It is crazy thick and tall in many areas.  Haying was just getting underway and will be delayed.  The heavily over-grazed lambing pasture is certainly recovering well though. 

This photo was taken on the milk vetch pasture while searching for ewes in the evening.  

I do not know the species name of this little character but not knowing formal names never prevents me from appreciating the presence of the assorted living things hanging around this place.  These birds frequent the pastures where the sheep are, and they flirt around from ewe to ewe, riding along on their backs.  They do the same around cows.    

It’s crazy busy here this year, with a few extra things on our plate this summer, yet nonetheless I’m back into a bit of an art and writing routine once more.  There is a local sheep and fibre show coming up so I’m pushing to get a new piece or two finished up in time.  I sketched this one out the other day and it looks like a strong possibility for becoming a felted piece (if it looks familiar - it is a repeat scene scaled up. I first drew it a long time ago). 

Coming and Going

Our internet connection is spotty at best lately, perhaps due to seasonal thunderstorms passing overhead nearly everyday.  Yesterday internet disappeared altogether and this morning I connected via my cell phone. 

I am really limiting the attention I foster on these two birds.  It’s barely working, such is their desire to meet and greet me.  Any attention toward Wren is geared to teaching her about boundaries; not to paw my leg for attention, or bat the food dish just as I’m about to set it down, nor guard it afterward.  Crow doesn’t need any extra attention at all, he’s plenty secure about people regardless.    

A little of each pups influence has rubbed off on the other.  With Crow’s influence, Wren is now more excited when greeting me.  With Wren’s influence Crow is okay heading off to other business when I leave. 

I have started to teach them ‘go to your sheep' to send them back toward the lambs.  This will come in handy when we transition to pasture work and there is no small paddock fence nearby to keep them where needed.  And later on, when they start wandering I have a cue to use to help make a point. 

One stage we’re going through right now is over eager greeting when I arrive to check on them.  All the adult dogs greet us on the pasture, and that's okay, however, there is greeting in a neutral fashion and then there is the greeting that all puppies do.  That puppy greeting will slowly fade, especially if we don’t foster it right now.  With two pups though, especially one who has associated with people from an infant, it is doubly hard to neutralize. 

There is puppy behavior that is just that - puppy behaviour, I don’t worry over much about it at this stage but it is important not to foster it.  Fostering excited greetings and interactions does nothing to help the pup in any way down the road.  I don’t want to teach excitement, these dogs will see plenty of it in their working lives, without having learned it from me.  But if we instill in them to go calm rather than excited, then I think they’ll be a wiser and more confident working dog for it.  

See you over at Facebook - once I get back online regularly :-0

Sheep Full Days

There is a lot going on here, and the days are plump full and then some, all in a nice, steady way.  It was our Canada day long weekend this past weekend; Allen and I went fencing.  We are slowly sub dividing larger pieces of grazing pastures.  Since losing our cross fencing to high waters, the ewes have freely traveled the grazing lands and have a circuit they typically like to make.  The new fence line now interrupts a main thoroughfare on their circuit.  

After completing the fence I spent a morning looking for ewes and lambs in waist high grass and moving them to the newly divided two quarters.  It’s been awhile since I’ve lost my cool while working sheep but this was a frustrating, long morning of sheep work to be truthful.  Probably enough said there. 

When I checked again later, the ewes were wandering the new fence line, perplexed that they could not take the familiar path to everywhere else and graze the grass out there.  By evening, they settled for grazing a gorgeous patch of brome grass, vetch and alfalfa, which is just what they would graze everywhere else; silly things.

With that job complete, we’re pulling back on fencing for a short spell and working on finishing a shop building, which will become a temporary house for us in the near future, plus readying for sheep herding camp which is arriving all too quickly.   Weekly get togethers with friends to work stock dogs is ongoing and much appreciated.  We worked dogs long into the evening last night and I think we are all eager for the learning and social euphoria for dog enthusiasts that herding camp tends to be.  

One more quick update for this post - I’ve joined Facebook.  I’m just getting started over there but I’m set up for followers if you’d like to tag along for regular photos and more.

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