New Nightly Task

I started night penning the flock the other night and will continue to do so for awhile.  I think the ewes are being bothered, plus it’s a good opportunity for the guardian pups to spend the night with the flock while somewhere near home.  It also means some good stock dog work every night.  

In for the night

Doing an hour long activity with the sheep and stock dogs brings back the work and feel of the place.  We have been on a roller coaster of busy this last month.  I’ve been here the whole time yet it feels like I’ve lost touch with the place.  I know the sheep are still grazing where they’re supposed to be because I check them twice each day but otherwise…?

I always gripe about the extra work of night penning until I do it the first time and then I remember how much I actually enjoy it.  The evening with the dogs and the sheep, walking, occasionally running, them home.  The hard work of convincing the ewes to go into the night paddock the first few nights.  The ease of knowing where they, and the guardian dogs, are in the morning and watching the flock head out to graze.  

Which way to go; noticing the rams are that way

Pouring out

Pasture Visit Encore

There are several good signs with the pups and a few hiccups.

Heading out, Wren has the front seat
Because the flock is in a large space and can disperse, heading out in the morning at a time when we have the best chance of a good set up helps.  If the flock is still bedded no one seems disturbed by the pups arrival.  The adult dogs are stationary and the pups seem to feel more comfortable staying in that situation.     

If the flock is already dispersing to head out to graze, the pups are not as easily convinced to stay with the flock or follow along.  The adult dogs will move with the sheep, quickly dropping a puppy off.  As the pups move along to keep up the ewes readily move away from them and so the pups can find themselves suddenly alone.  

The ‘go to you sheep’ effort is paying off when I leave them, yet I can tell that sometimes the picture is much more clear to the pups than at other times, depending on what is happening. 

In the beginning they did not stay for long lengths of time before I opted to take them home again. The other day they spent a few hours out there after I left and when I went back to check they were right amongst the ewes.  That gave me hope which gets me through the hiccups like this morning when the ewes were already on the move.  I watched the pups for a bit and decided not to leave them at pasture at all.   I fed them there and then took them back to their little group of sheep.  

Eating with the adults
It is debatable if all the back and forth is a good move with pups or not.  It does help solidify that any particular place is not what they are there to protect, but wherever they are set with sheep is where they are to stay.  However it does promote traveling back and forth with us, and returning to the same paddock at night.  I do feel that with age and maturity the pups will grow out of coming back to the barn paddock.  With all the dogs to date, that has been our experience, but it does take time, patience and some good set ups on occasion.  

There was something that twigged at me recently as I watched Wren and Crow.  I think Wren would transition easily to the pasture flock, and she would shadow the adults.  It is Crow who is pulling her away.  Wren showed me this, this morning when she trotted off to catch up to some sheep while Crow circled the Ranger, climbed onto the floorboard and curled up for a nap.  My temptation is to separate them but have not tried it yet.  I would like for the right situation to present itself again so I can slip away unnoticed, taking Crow with me.  I suspect he will have a hard time being without Wren.  

A Post of Answers

Love your questions and comments on the last post. Thank you for providing the chance to dig a little deeper into the story.  

Do the ewes typically hunt new dogs?  Well, it’s not unusual (many stock dogs who see a lot of stock have probably experienced it) but those ewes who go out of their way, without provocation, are few and far between.  The ewes notice a lot of things and a new dog is pretty obvious to them.  The ewes also have lambs at their side, so they are less tolerant right now.  The yearlings in the flock, and ewes without lambs, hardly care.  This is also a flock that lives year round at pasture.  They get bothered by predators and the like.  They have developed a few survival smarts and being aware of strangers in their midst is one of them.  

An adult dog would be more imposing just on size and the ewes think twice before making a charge.  In my experience many adult animals do not favour or coddle young that do not belong to them.  I realize there are exceptions and there are adults who faun over any young, but most adults in this group will be quick to deter strange youngsters, including any strange lamb.  

Crow is marked very differently.  I wonder if it isn’t his white blaze on a dark face that has the sheep taking more notice of him.  

He’s pretty sure of himself and a bit oblivious.  He’s a bit too courageous for his own good and he doesn’t get upset by much.  He’s already recovered and is smarter for it.  He has more energy than I expected and that doesn’t help settle sheep.  However his tolerance of things without getting upset about them will balance that out.  

Wren on the other hand, really wants to be liked and gets upset when things are stressful.  She is sensitive and I, and the other dogs, can easily give her concern with a light reprimand.  She doesn’t recover as quickly as Crow does either.  The ewes accept her better but she’s careful not to rock the boat.  She’s also a solid white, fluffy dog, and is more familiar to the ewes.  

The really interesting thing would be a way of determining how much of their personalities is nature and how much is nuture.   Crow was handled excessively, Wren hardly at all.  For the job description, Wren is my pick but Crow might surprise me yet.  He has something within that is intriguing.   

Yes, there are some dogs that do not make it as guardians.  While I have no data to make any claims I would suggest too much prey drive often weans a lot of dogs out of a job.  Not being assertive enough is the other.  If the dog is too demure about predators, they’ll get worn out in short order.  A dog that is hyperactive is also not a good thing.  These dogs are so much more than predator deterrents.  They are overseers of your flock.  They can keep stock calm, or make stock riled up.  They can tell you a lot about what is happening, such as where predator pressure is coming from, or location of a dead animal.  

I do have a deep sense of gratitude for this land and this life.  I love my dogs to pieces although I am aware that I hold them in a different light than most people get to.  I love that this flock is here because it provides such a fascinating foray into working dogs.  I’m incredulous that we held to a dream of raising sheep in this very natural, gorgeous and stark manner that nature is.  Along with all the good have been numerous uglies, some so tough for me to digest I haven’t been able to write about them yet.  But like nature the uglies are good in their own light and in their own time, and we are most fortunate that the good far, far outweighs them.  

From the files

A Dandy Relationship

Allen took this photo with his iPhone while out feeding the dogs in the morning.  Unless we have all the sheep flocked up and heading somewhere it’s pretty tough to catch them all in one photo.  There is a large portion hidden in the low spot and the flock stretches way back to that right hand peninsula on the wetland.  It would be a dandy cast to try with a stock dog.  

This large wetland (small lake) is pretty typical for the last three years but not normal for this area of the prairies overall.  We used to have a fence back there. This is just one of a few large wetlands on the place that have swallowed up a fence line; hence the reason we no longer rely on electric fencing.  When the water first began to rise a few years back we expected it would be short lived and we’d be back to drier conditions and having fences where we built them.  Didn’t happen, and while conditions will return to dry years, it will be some time before we have any hope of resurrecting old fence lines. 

With the loss of so many fences our rotational grazing came to a halt, but we have managed to keep sheep where needed, just on larger pastures than we planned for.  Mother N is really the one calling the shots and we continually adjust.  Although at times it gets tough to keep the perspective and view it as such, it is quite a dandy relationship. 

LGD Pups Pasture Visit

The guardian pups have had a few adventures since we last spoke of them.  These photos are from three weeks ago, not that long ago on the calendar but many happenings ago in the time between then and now.  Since then the pups have experienced a few day trips to pasture.   

Where ever there is a large group of sheep and hopefully an adult dog or two is where I’ll set the pups on the ground.  On this trip we stop near the water bus since sheep are passing by here and a couple of the adult dogs are nearby.   

Within a few moments the adults dogs arrive for their meal. The pups met Zeus early on when he made his rounds of the place and are excited to greet a familiar adult.  Wren is very eager to meet the adults, almost like she knows she needs them and thus works hard to win them over.  She is sorting out how to do so with each adult.  

Crow on the other hand is indifferent to the adults.  He wants to get to know them but it doesn’t matter too much if he can’t.  He is wise enough to respect them and gives them distance.  Wren is the pup always licking at the face of the others, Crow does no such thing. 

Lily is the least welcoming toward the pups and Wren tries hard to win her over every time out.  It hasn’t worked yet.  Lily feels the pups are nothing but nuisances.  Interestingly enough, Lily is the first adult the pups take to following around and she is beginning to soften toward them.

While everything is new to the pups, the sheep also take notice that there are new dogs around.  Some ewes are acting very suspicious of the newcomers, especially of Crow.  On one of our subsequent trips out he received a hard hit from a ewe who hunted him.  

Throughout all this I float around and take photos.  I don’t encourage or discourage the pups in any way, unless I must.  When all the greetings are through I play it neutral and sit at the Ranger to wait.  Having no incentive to hang with me the pups venture off.  I am encouraged to see them follow a trail of sheep.  

They have learned that the ranger brings us and hence brings food, which is still critically important to them at this age.   They do not venture so far as to lose sight of the Ranger.  I try leaving but the sound of the Ranger starting up, encourages them to come back.  When they do they are quick to lie down for a nap.  

All this new stuff and big spaces is tiring and soon we load up and head back home. 

Holiday At Home

When visitors pack up and leave after spending a few days here there is always the sensation of floating somewhere between the peace of alone and the pinch of loneliness.  There is a good dose of gratitude in the mix as well, which speaks to the type of company you have been blessed to spend time with, and the enjoyment of the activity that brought them here in the first place.   

The scene on the evening before the trials

The herding trial on Saturday went off smoothy, with the sheep working well and the dogs stepping up as best they could.  The kelpies and I did well which is a lovely bonus.  I rarely get to do herding trials and discovered I enjoyed the ranch dog courses and the challenges presented.  

Following on the heels of the trial, the stock clinic flew right on by, and I can’t believe it’s already been several days since I last posted.  

The scene midway through the three day clinic
The set up we have for hosting these stock dog events is three outdoor arenas (small, medium and large) with exhaust and holding pens connecting all three.  It seems to work well for movement of sheep where needed, while providing appropriate pen size for dogs of varying skill levels (the small arena is just off the left of the photo). Since we had a number of sheep available to use we were able to do some work on small groups of 25 - 30 head for those who wanted to try it this year, and there were a few who did.  Gibson and I opted to try doing some shedding with the larger group. 

Dave and Trudy, and the last of the campers pulled out this morning.  Allen and I spent the day meandering about returning the yard and house to a vague normal again, only because we needed simple, easily doable things to keep ourselves occupied for a bit.  The sheep got a well deserved day of rest.  

I am so pleased with my stock dogs and the stretch in training Dave Viklund gave us.  It has been awhile since I have felt this invigorated about the dogs and training them.  If Dave or Trudy ever come to your area for a clinic, just go, it will be well worth it.   

Moment With Ewe

Busy as we are with preparing for a herding clinic I made a point of sitting out on pasture with the sheep for half an hour this morning, just watching, relaxing, waiting for a sense of reconnection, and taking a few photos.    

The meadow brome seed heads are a popular choice right now.   

People will begin arriving tomorrow and setting up camp in the yard.  In the afternoon we’ll be setting up for a small and relaxed all breed herding trial taking place on Saturday.  From there we roll into three days of stock dogging with our good friends Dave and Trudy Viklund coaching us along.  The kelpies are ready to go, as always. 

The majority of the folks are returning, with just two newcomers who have not been here before.  Some have been joining us every year since we started nine years ago.  

If you don’t hear from me, you’ll know where I am and what I’m doing.  It will be a a great time of laughter and learning.  I do love these gatherings, hard work of hosting or not.  

Temporarily Losing Track

When I create art or write regularly a feeling of clarity emerges, a knowing that the reason I enjoy living this life has almost as much to do with sharing it as it does with living it.  

Yet there are times when it feels boring, or, as is the case right now, it feels like there is so much to share and I’ll never be able to fit it all in.  There are so many pieces, parts and connections, and as bizarre as it sounds, I lose track of where to start.  

There is a lot going here this summer, more so than usual on account of the fact that we’re moving.  Not off the ranch - heavens no, not yet.  But we’re moving out of our farm house and into a new shop building.  At the moment half our belongings are ‘out there’ and half are still in the house, which is lending to a feeling of not knowing what’s next or what to make happen next. 

The day to day of the ranch is happening by rote routine and because I have a dog here for training and our annual herding clinic is coming up, I’m working stock dogs every day.  But I have not been in the art room on a consistent basis and so feel that arm of creativity losing ground.  I want it back.  

I have several new photos on the camera but it is ‘out there’ and I don’t know where the camera to computer cord is at the moment so I’m going with an older photo from the files because I know you’ll understand and that you enjoy them regardless.  Bless you for that, because a critical part of sharing is having someone to share with. 

Solo Photo(s)

Because these two photos go together.

Crow putting his head into it.

Me being down on the ground on the opposite side of the gate isn't helping.  I love his look here.

A Kelpie Return

The ewes attempted a break out tonight, going through a short stretch of netting we have up to block a pasture alleyway.  Cajun and I promptly put them back to the 320 acres of grass they have free access to.  Cajun was pleased to be out to work ewes and lambs.  The young pup I kept from BJ’s litter of three is much like him in many ways.  Like Cajun, BlackJack is also a difficult dog to start, and I suspect BlackJack will also need jobs, not just training, in order to have a sense of purpose in what he is being asked to do.  

Remember this pup - the full brother to BlackJack.  

He is back at our place for the summer to have some training on sheep.  It is a treat to see him again and to be training him.  Unlike BlackJack, Tanner is a smooth and easy dog to start on sheep.  Same litter but very different dogs.  He’s progressing nicely and it will be tough to let him go again.  

We have also received good reports on the female pup, Prim, who was shy and sensitive as a pup.  She has gotten over her shyness and the folks are very pleased with her and her work.  

Since Tanner is here for a limited time of training, he is getting the bulk of time in that regard.  I've put BlackJack up for the time being because I started to get way too far into the trap of comparing one pup to the other, and losing sight of working the individual dog I walked out to train with.  The other stock dogs get a bit of sheep time, sorting sheep for Tanner, random tasks with the flock, and helping me dog a group of sheep for our upcoming herding camp the end of next week. 

LGD Zeus

Zeus is the dog who stays with the rams, who are now grazing in the lambing pasture.  Recently he has taken a fancy to visiting the main flock and the other three dogs on a frequent basis.  With a bit more fencing completed, the flock do not travel quite as far so it is not difficult for him to travel back and forth.  

In previous years we tried to get Zeus to join the main pack but had no luck, he would immediately return to his group of rams.  I am going on a hunch that the reason he feels he can do so now is because Diesel isn’t around to push him out (D-man is one of the dogs we lost this past year).  

Lily and Oakley really don’t seem to mind him, but he gets a regular inspection from Whiskey each time out.  I appreciate that Zeus is crossing paddocks and helping out and it lifts my heart to see a small pack forming again, even if one member is still at visitor status.   

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