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.

The Two Birds

I am feeling torn about my two little birds, Wren and Crow. Both pups are showing guarding behaviour now, so the notion of what they are here for is definitely there. That’s good. Both are comfortable around sheep - another plus, however, Crow does not have a bond to the sheep. He will wander through and lie down next to sheep, but he could just as easily be without them (and the other dogs), and that makes all the difference.

The difficulty is watching Wren who knows to be with sheep but is pulled to following Crow. Wren likes sheep and her bond to them and his lack is very notable. Wren also cares to be with the other dogs; she is insecure and needs the backup that sheep and dogs give her. I’m not sure raising Crow as a singleton would have changed how he is, but it would have been better to have raised Wren without a pup like Crow.

They are expert at slipping through fences, although Wren dislikes it, she persists in order to follow Crow who has no trouble with it all. Little sweet Wren is easily put off if I’m not careful when I try to make a point with Crow and send him back to the sheep.

photo taken one month ago
The crux of Crow is that he is dearly devoted to doing what he thinks he should, and being where he thinks he should be, without sway. He would be a gorgeous and very purposeful dog on a small holding where the animals are situated around the yard or corrals, and the people.

I’m in serious contemplation of selling Crow. Allen thinks we should give him the winter and see what happens, before we decide.

It seems fairly certain he won’t make a flock dog who stays out with the flock on pasture. He’s largely driven by his stomach which leads him everywhere else. He is incredibly scent hound like, fiercely stubborn with a lovely laid back, hound like, personality and a deep booming bark.

He has taken a deep fondness for showing up at the yard and spending his nights here which is my main irritation. He has become the hound on the front porch step and come morning he knows to be back with the sheep before I get out there.

What makes the idea to sell him a tough one is that he is a good guardian dog and is patrolling and doing his small puppy part already. And perhaps his heart is big enough he feels he can cover sheep and us too. A very endearing quality, and yet the yard is not where I need him and the bigger risk is that he influences Wren.

On Tex and Pups

The snow is melting slowly and grass is showing but more rain is expected.  The sun has made brief appearances, offering brilliant breaks from the grey.

I moved the ewes over to join the lambs last week, so we're all one big happy flock again. I'm trying to keep all guardian dogs, minus Zeus who won't leave his rams, with that flock. Arrangements are being made for the sale of lambs so we'll be sorting them out again soon enough, but predator pressure on the lamb flock dictated we get everybody together with maximum dog power.

For a long time we have heard coyotes but seen few. Lately we are seeing them criss-crossing the countryside. The pressure comes and goes and we have had several easy years. As we head into winter I do not regret buying more guardian dogs and feel deeply pleased we were able to add an adult.

Tex is doing well. After some time of staying in one place and letting things settle with the other dogs I moved him out to be with the lamb flock (when the lambs were still in a separate pasture). Soon Whiskey joined him on his own initiative, perhaps recognizing that is where the predators were, and Lily was coming and going between the main flock and being near the rams and Zeus. Oakley remained with the ewes, Zeus with the rams.

Now the ewes and lambs are joined again and four of the adults dogs are stationed together. So far so good and perhaps the increase in workload is keeping everyone on common ground and too busy to cause trouble with each other.

And the pups, oh I’ve got a small book worth to tell on those two...  We’ve had headaches and highlights.  These two are really making me question the choice to raise them together.  I'll write more in way of explanation and fill you in soon. 

Solo Photo - Artwork

Thought I would share the finished piece.  I love all the color in the hair.  Looking at it now it needs more contrast and depth, especially on the muzzle, right around the nose.  Still no title and my feelings toward the piece are that it is very, very decent, however, not a great piece really.  That's fine, it feels good to be attempting artwork again and once I'm back at it day in and day out the improvement will come as will the creative ideas.

color pencil
11 x 14

Good Weather or Poor

Good weather or poor, remaining indoors is not an option when one has livestock, and while one can pass their time in the coziness of indoors, the conditions outside will be what they will be for as long as Mother N needs it to be so.  We are into our seventh day of heavy, grey cloud, and the fifth day of snow or rain.   The whole place is a mucky, snowy mess. We just all want to feel dry again.

Looking out the window the morning did not appear to be much different from the last six mornings of grey and snow. Still, I heeded a small nudge to take the camera along during my morning walk. It did not disappoint. It was a noble, calm, flat grey morning with snow quietly falling. It felt as though we momentarily stepped into the monochrome world of photographer Ansel Adams. I was compelled to find something to photograph.

Snow cover and open water are contrasting features here on the Canadian prairie.

About an hour later, I was trudging out to feed guardian dogs. While there was no orb of sun to be  seen in the sky, it was shedding what light it could through the grey cover. The guardian dogs were beautifully poised and so colourful against the monochrome scene, no matter where they were situated on the snowy landscape.

Happy Thanksgiving indeed, good weather or poor. 

Down Time Equals Art Time

We are hovering right around the zero mark, making for a very slow melt of the foot or more of snow that fell in the area. There are still spots that are impassable. There is some damage to trees but only minimal, they are beginning to right themselves again as the weight on their leaf covered branches lessens.

The ewes and lambs are venturing forth in search of edible greens once again.  The dogs are moving around again and either Whiskey or Tex killed a badger caught in the pasture with the lambs. The rams and dogging sheep were offered hay because they are in smaller paddocks with limited greens to find underneath the snow.

This dump of snow is early, wet and unexpected in many ways besides the struggle of dealing with it in every day existence. The crop harvest was in full swing in surrounding fields, our hay has yet to be brought home, we still have growing lambs at pasture, and we hoped to do some fencing yet plus prepare a site for a house build next year.

We typically see first snowfall right before Halloween, and by then the ground is well on the way to freezing. Then the first snow settles on an already frozen surface and we can continue with regular work well enough until the real cold hits.   That is how we hope to start our winter season because then we’re not dealing with ice underneath the snow for the next five months.

This wet snow is a good amount of moisture already in place for next year.  Our fingers are crossed in hope that we’ll have a warm spell and see it melt.  Meanwhile I took full advantage of a half day of down time to be indoors and begin this dearly missed activity once again.

Progress throughout the day... since it's been awhile I found myself flitting here and there rather than working one area and then moving on.  I have a few more layers, the eye and the detail in the fur to finish before it's anywhere near done, but I am starting to relax back into the process.  The dog is a Maremma I knew well, now deceased.  No title for it yet and photo color is a bit darker than real.

Hammered by Snow

Three days of wet snow and it hasn’t let up yet. I walked out to find the sheep this morning, a backpack on my back containing a supply of dog food for the guardian dogs. These long stretches of precipitation are becoming the new normal in this area of the prairie. I’m not sure we’re adjusting to it though. Five days ago we were out working stock dogs in 15+ degree temperature and sunshine.

Last night Bill and I barely managed to get around on the pasture with the Ranger to find the lambs and the ewes. I took BJ and Gibson along to tuck up lambs because we found a kill the previous night. Sure enough, in typical lamb fashion, they were split into three groups. Trying to walk them all home in the blowing snow and slick surface was a long shot, so I opted for moving them into shelter and making sure guardian dogs were there.

As long as the stock dogs don’t make things worse, this type of harsh weather is when it doesn’t matter to me how correctly they work, they just need to make sheep, or in this case, lambs, move.  In the wind and driving snow it took some effort for BJ and Gibson to steer the lambs and get them going.  After tucking up the lambs we headed a mile southward to locate the ewe flock. The ewes had already taken care of themselves and were tucked up into shelter on a piece of grassy native prairie.

This morning I didn’t bother to try with the Ranger, knowing I’d need to shovel to get through gates and low spots. Going on foot seemed to be an easier, although longer way to go about it. The lambs were still tucked in the long curve of the tree shelter, with Tex and Whiskey right amongst them. The ewes dropped themselves right into the thick of these woodlands and were staying put while the wind continued to blow and drive snow nearly sideways. 

It was a great spot for good photographs and I longed for the camera, but not for slogging along for two miles in the snow with the extra heavy weight on my back. I took these few photos with an older iPhone, which I jammed into my pocket in case a call came in from Allen who was on the road, leading Bill and Janice on an alternate route to the highway and heading them home.  

Linchpin Dogs

We are enjoying a fun time with friends Bill and Janice from Burradoo Ranch, going on early morning and late afternoon duck hunts with Janice’s Labrador, and working a few of the Kelpies in the afternoon. With the exception of todays rain and snow the weather has been very agreeable for us.

Tanner’s people were here late last week to spend a couple days learning what Tanner had learned during his summer here at Dog Tale Ranch. They headed out a few days ago meaning Tanner has returned to Montana to continue his working life there. I miss the sweet fellow dearly but having company here helps with that, as does knowing that Tanner is in a good home with great people who admire him even more than I do.

Tanner working lambs
It is marvellous how the dogs have been a linchpin in this life and continue to be so. They have been the cause of many tangents, the reason for many decisions, and the connection to many fabulous people in my life. Not to mention how essential they are to ranching with the intention of keeping a prairie ecosystem thriving.

I often think of changing the somewhat whimsical Dog Tale Ranch name for something a little more formidable and ranch-like. Then I think again how this place is built upon the stories of dogs and how it continues to create more stories, and I change my mind. Perhaps there is a perfect name for us but for now the tales of the sheep and the working dogs, where they lead us and who they connect us to, is what it seems to be about.

Company, Kelpies and Hondo

Another quick post as we are in the midst of a few days of great company, great kelpies to work and a chance to take in the scenes of another working dog - Hondo, the Labrador.  

The morning duck hunt was enveloped in heavy fog making photos against the water a real challenge to get.  Any chance to watch a dog do purposeful work is an opportunity I don't like to miss.  Loved watching this boy use his instincts as well.

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