Maybe I should not have mentioned the water bowls in the last post. One of them froze up on Boxing Day. But lets not let that be the focus of this post. Life will always have its frozen water bowls but the general sentiment that life is good, and full of good things is one I’m allowing to prevail. That’s a nice sentiment to be cultivating as we head into a new year. 

We were working on the new house today. Putting 4 x 8 foot sheets of osb down in the loft area, this osb is the start of the floor in the loft. Building a house is a lot of grunt work but throughout the process there have been different pieces of it that make either one of us excited again and help us to soldier on. Seeing progress on the floor upstairs is one of those pieces for me. 

The loft area has an east facing shed dormer and this cozy space will be turned into a creative den for me. There is no staircase to the loft built yet so the way up is still by ladder but now there is a subfloor so I can sit and take in the tremendous view of the prairie land and let gratitude sink in.

As we worked on the floor I glanced down at this scene and was captivated by its warmth and somehow zen-full nature. I interrupted Allen to ask for his phone (I seldom have mine on me) and grabbed a photo. These are right up there among my favorite photo memories of this house build. 

Look how big his shadow is :-) 
Before now it hadn't occurred to either of us how well the Kelpies match the house. 

Merry Christmas Wish

Just stopping by to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Allen and I have already enjoyed visiting with one side of our extended family. Sharing meals, catching up with each other's lives, playing games and several moments of laughing until we cried. We have more visiting tomorrow and the following day. 

The weather turned nasty cold, the sheep are hunkered down now, not traveling at all. The guardian dogs are settling with their chosen groups of sheep. Livestock water bowls are still working (this one is always a bonus when deep cold hits). The Kelpies and I still head out for our walks albeit shorter ones on account of cold temperatures. 

I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas and that you always have a loyal someone watching over you. 

A Do Over

Hhphmm, I’m not too fond of sheep or guardian dogs at the moment. This morning me and Allen re-sorted one of the big groups we sorted on the weekend because some lambs crawled through a hole in a section of old page wire and rejoined. A hole that was stretched open by the guardian dogs. 

The Kelpies were pleased with more sheep work but I was less so. I did give BlackJack a go on the group of cull ewes and lambs as we needed them moved out of the way to bring the other group in. That group is close to two hundred strong so a big group for his inexperience. A little rough around the edges since we haven’t trained in the latter half of this year but he handled it and got everyone where needed. 

I put BJ and Cajun in for the rest of the work moving and holding animals along the alleyway. This time it was a much quicker sort since we didn’t need to check everyone, just run them down the raceway and draw out the ten or so lambs. 

Wait, it gets better though. While doing this Allen spied a ram lamb that we didn’t know was in there! Where did he come from?! Obviously I missed this fellow completely at lambing time or maybe we had a castrator ring malfunction. But then he slipped through the cracks again at sale time and then again at last sorting! 

There are occasional incidences that make one feel less than competent about managing one’s job. Yeah. This is one of those. 

After the morning of unexpected flock work it was a wool washing and felting kinda afternoon.  The only raw fleece from our flock that I have at the moment is a yearling fleece from 2016. Not a prime fleece but it needs to be used or tossed and I’m eager to felt with it. I am amazed at how it washes up, already a big difference after the first soak.

(I do know it's better to store wool in breathable cloth or boxes, this one was stored that way. It's been in the bag since I took it to the fibre event this summer and haven't looked at it until now).

After playing with wool I feel a little kinder toward sheep once again. Now that the day is all said and done and that lamb has been duly noted, I can almost chuckle about it; good grief what a lucky lamb.  

Duly Sorted

We had a full weekend of sheep work, checking each ewe for bad udders, foot trouble or anything else amiss, recording their tag numbers and then sorting them into a breeding group or the cull group. BJ and Coyote Mic did the bulk of the work moving groups of sheep.  

This year I put Jethro, the Corriedale ram, on his own with my five Corriedale ewes plus a group of crossbred ewes I thought would be a good match for him. It will be the last year I use Jethro unless I bring in new Corriedale ewes.  

I bought two more Clun Forest rams earlier this winter and put all seven Clun rams with the remaining breeding ewes. All the purebred Clun rams come from Loch Lomond Livestock Ltd.  I appreciate that these rams are raised on grass and not pushed for fast weight gain with grain. And we are very pleased with the previous rams purchased from there.  Brooke, one of the owner/operators also writes a blog on their operation. 

I decided not to breed replacement ewe lambs this year so they were sorted out and set with the cull ewes for now. We will likely sell those cull ewes in the new year.

After all the sorting we landed with four groups of sheep where previously we had  two groups. The guardian dogs have not yet sorted out where to be. Even some of the ewes seem perplexed at the new arrangements. The two groups held seperate from the pasture flock are sure they should be let out to rejoin the ewes there.  

With all the sorting done we resume our usual routine here of feeding sheep and dogs and can think of putting our feet up for a spell to take in Christmas. 

Ewe Moves

There is a lot of this going on between the ewes, especially when they rise in the am. While the majority of the ewes busy themselves with eating there will be tidy groups and pairs here and there, sparring with each other.  They seem to get it all out of their system in the morning or else they wear it off during the day because by evening peace reigns again. 

For the last week small bunches of ewes have been travelling around back to where the rams are and hanging out there. They are going quite a distance to get there, as it’s not a small field. Each evening I need a stock dog to move them off the fence and back to the flock. Tonight as part of our walk I decided the five Kelpies and I could make our way around back. By now I figured just us showing up should send the ewes on their way. 

It did, the ewes spied us coming over a hill and moved off well ahead of us. Because they have to travel a ways we followed to make sure they completed the journey. The ewes are staying well out in front so there was no work to be had, we were just on a walk to double check. 

The dogs crested a rise along the trail ahead of me when BlackJack spotted movement in the distance. He was off, full speed ahead, down into the draw and out of sight. By the time I figured out where he disappeared to he was committed. He did one hell of an outrun to get there and got around the small group. But he’s way far away from me and we have no communication between us at long distances yet. BlackJack’s flaw is that he doesn’t feel his stock and comes in fast and eager, especially when off on his own like he is now. He isn't doing a lot of good work and the rushing in causes the sheep to split up. He’s fine with that though as he loves to work a single, which is what he tried tonight. Between the ewes panicking about getting away from him and getting back to the flock, and me closing the distance between us and recalling him, he lost the sheep and came in; happy as a clam. I let him have his day. Gosh the distance he traveled for that outrun ... , and we haven’t done any distance work yet. 

Afterward I took BJ and Cajun with me to gather and move the flock for real, bringing the ewes home to the barn paddock. All I caught was one very fuzzy phone photo taken while still out on the pasture. I was too busy enjoying Cajun’s enjoyment of being out for a job. It’s been awhile for him. BJ loves to work with another dog so she was right in step with him and loving it too. 

We parked the ewes behind the barn for the night. All in all a refreshing evening of dogs and sheep and simple work, just me and my Kelpies. Tomorrow is a full day of sorting the ewe flock for breeding time. 

Count on Sheep To Lighten The Mood

Been watching sheep again and because the weather is warm enough for using a camera....I manage a few photos. 

It's morning and just about every sheep in the flock has risen and come to investigate the hay feed newly rolled out for them. These three laggers though are having words with each other. They jostle a bit, swinging their heads and knocking each other around. Mostly they have some sort of eye to eye competition - until one ewe tries a different tactic.

The last photo comes as a surprise and I think you'll get a laugh out of it like I did. It's much better with the sequence of photos going into it which is how I saw it the first time as the photos imported onto the computer. It was a surprise photo and I couldn't help but burst out laughing. Gotta love these woolies. Enjoy. 

It's Our Turn For Now

With only a light snow covering it is still possible to ride my pedal bike along the only road that leads out of our yard. I did so yesterday after morning chores, taking the kelpies along of course and riding for a mile and half before parking the bike in the ditch and moving into the pasture on foot for further walking. 

Lately I find myself stopping during a walk to just stand in awe and gratitude of the prairie all around me. To travel a mile and still be home is in itself incredible. There are no sheep out this way so we will not encounter any while we walk about. If we did it would come as a huge surprise. The ground is uneven with frozen mole hills and icy packs of snow caught in the taller grasses. 

The pasture we arrived at is not fenced for grazing and this year it was left to sit idle given that the hay it produced was looking weak this summer. This piece of land has been cut to often for hay and needs to be grazed and fertilized by livestock for a turn. Meanwhile the grazing land we do use needs a reprieve from grazing. 

I realize that Allen and myself will never keep up to it all and sometimes I get caught in thinking that someone else would do better in being stewards of this land. Well maybe that’s so, but it is our turn here for now and we’ve worked diligently to get to where we are so we’ll go on trying. And I’ll continue to pause and feel gratitude for what it is and how it has shaped us thus far. 

How Far Would They Graze

More photos of the flock moving out, in this case heading out in the morning to begin grazing.  

The gate at the entrance to this narrow pass remains open so the ewes can come and go however they do not volunteer to enter this pass on their own. I have been moving them up every few days to remind them the water bowl is available here and by now I am sure they know that it is. Now that we are feeding hay they are settling and bedding down just over the rise and the trip to the water bowl is not far at all but with snow on the ground again I doubt they will brave the pass and come for water. 

Even though we are regularly feeding hay now the ewes are still traveling during the day. Today they traversed the whole east quarter section and then moved southward to the weedy patch before returning to the hay that is rolled out on the ground for them.

It causes me to wonder how much or how little domestication has toyed with their instinct to migrate. Have they merely developed the habit of traveling this ground since the loss of our cross fencing? Or, if we dropped our perimeter fences, would this flock show any inclination to head south as the grasses here waned? 

I really don’t want to find out how far south they might go but it is a marvel how much they travel the land that is available to them. The weather makes a difference too. On cold days they stick around the hay feed but on warmer days they put on the miles, and we haven’t received enough snow to hamper their travels yet.

Time to Feed

We'll begin feeding hay to the ewes now. With the lack of snow cover the girls have been wandering far and wide recently but I think feed wise it’s just the pickings left now; unless they graze the native prairie. But they do not go there to eat and I feel compelled to pay attention to their choice even though I wish it different. 

Heading in for the night

I’m always uncertain about the best way to graze this land through winter or if it is okay to graze it at all? Yet in the same breath I feel no inclination to restrict the ewes as seeing them continue to move and seek food feels to instinctual. Besides following this feeling it’s going to be a while before we can catch up on fencing and restrict their grazing to a plan as we did in the past so I have to accept that this is what we can manage for now. 

This next picture is a morning photo taken when approaching the flock. The ewes are so settled at this time of the year, any other time they would be up and moving off at my approach.  

The day before this I had spread hay feed nearby to gauge how interested the ewes were in feed. They grazed for the day and came to nibble the hay in the evening. Then the ewes chose to bed here on the naked hill slope rather than their usual sheltered bedding ground. A sign that the night was calm. And see how they sleep apart from each other; this particular night was also not that cold, at least not for wool covered sheep.

p.s. Thank you to the reader who asked for another way to follow this blog; I’ve added a subscription option at the sidebar. 

Prairie Pace

The kelpies and I headed out for a walk this afternoon, a little earlier than usual.  I stepped out for a few days this week to help a family member who is going through a rough deal so the dogs were eager to be off on a run and I was eager for the solace I almost always find when I walk across a piece of prairie land. 

A couple weeks ago I was wondering about the amount of snow and if it would soon be hindering the ewes ability to get enough feed during cold weather.  

This week warmer weather set the snow back and made it possible to physically walk across the pastures with relative ease again.  All to soon the snowfall will once again limit us to walking along the road which is a welcome and private walk but with a different feel than being amidst the expansive prairie.

Exploring the prairie in the company of canines worked its magic as it often does. I packed my camera and caught a few more photos to add to an impromptu collection I’ve nicknamed Prairie Signatures. Yet to see where it leads. 

While I was out Allen kindly did the evening check of the flock and guardians, which lead us into an unplanned, quite evening with little to do, which was about perfect for bringing this day to a close and life back into its routine prairie pace. 

The Two Birds, An Update on LGD's

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated on the two youngest livestock guardian dogs, Wren and Birdie.  While backing up photos yesterday I came across a few (thousand) of the dogs and ear marked a few for comparison of then and now. 

Wren is one year and seven months old. She is still soft, shy and easily spooked. Her early days here were spent with a second pup named Crow. Crow was not bonded to sheep and had a fondness for people. He taught Wren how to hang out around the yard and she still does this, mostly during the night when she travels through. During the day she disappears back to the sheep. She’s fond of sheep but lacks in commitment, perhaps due to Crow's early influence but no way to know. Food trumps everything in Wren’s word and if she misses a meal, alarm bells go off. She barks non stop when she believes there is a threat.

Puppy Wren

Young Wren 

Birdie has just turned a year old. She is small for an LGD but is serious and gutsy enough to back herself up. She puts the run on Wren now and even has top dog Lily towing the line. The only other dog to make Lily tow the line was Diesel (now passed) and Lily eventually turned the tide there. Birdie is very oriented to the flock, where the sheep are, there is Birdie. She could take or leave food and plenty of times she leaves it. She’s pushy and there is little that spooks her. 

Puppy Birdie

Young Birdie
Birdie and Wren are complete opposites, temperament wise, and work wise it shows. Wren is certainly easier to have in a pack of dogs though and she keeps livestock calmer. Birdie may cause more grief for the pack and her intense temperament stirs the ewes rather than calms them. I'm hopeful this intensity lessens with maturity; familiarity between her and the ewes is already helping. The two photos of each is an interesting comparison. I can see the temperament already stamped on them in their puppy photos, but I’ve already formed strong opinions of who they are since I see them each day.

Wren and Birdie (pup), the early days
Every pup has different experiences during its upbringing so there is no way to make things equal but I'm sure growing more and more curious about breeding influence and the possibility of selecting dogs who show that tight bond to their livestock.

Grassland Presentation Pieces

The presentation slot was twenty minutes, fifteen minutes to actually present, the other five taken up by speaker intro before and time for questions afterward. 
Fifteen minutes is long enough time for one person to talk, but just fifteen minutes to tell what you do and include why it matters means condensing a magnitude of thoughts and reasons.  

This was not a producer conference although producers were more than welcome to attend. It was a research and policy conference. It was about grass and forage. I was asked to present a virtual farm tour. Basically I was the break between all the scientific and ag business presentations. I did not realize this going in to the conference. I did not (as all the experts tell you to do) try to peg down who I was speaking to.  For some reason, when I prepared my presentation, I felt a strong compulsion just to tell what I felt and leave numbers and data out of it. I went with this. I don’t think anybody expected that, even me.  The title of the presentation: This Land and Livestock Life.

I’m going to skip over sharing the first half of the presentation here on the blog.  That first half gave a summary of our place, that we transitioned crop land back to grass and a snapshot of how we operate. While it was beautifully told through the lens of a story and great photographs (with several hours of practice behind it) I think you blog readers have a good grasp of my position on ranch life and how we operate here.

While the latter half could not have been told without the first to lead up to it, the latter half is, in my opinion, what really grabbed most people.  A volley of beautiful photographs and the quiet and sincere manner in which it was told certainly helped.

Let's start in midstream right here:

“Forage has become king here and there is an unpretentious beauty about the place. Land and livestock are linked and I am glad I have parked myself at their intersection. I have time to take a walk every day in the company of my dogs, cutting across the prairie in any direction I like. I walk in sun, rain, wind and snow. In heat and in cold. Sometimes I come across favourite sitting stones and sit for a spell, pondering the life I lead.  All the walking and pondering results in my soul being pretty tied up in this land and livestock life. 

It is quite an easy matter to share the beauty of a place through rose coloured though and to gloss over the reasons why ranchers do what they do.  But it occurs to me that our values and reasons need to hold true not only while we are looking through rose coloured glasses but more importantly they must hold true when the rose coloured glasses fall off. 

When it all goes to shit and you can’t think through the frustration of your day. When you have a wreck and you can’t project yourself to the end of a day let alone see to the end of a year.

Your reasons must hold you up and when these are purely about numbers and production and the almighty dollar I know I lose hope real fast.

So it matters a great deal that there are intangibles we cannot get our hands on. That grassland places like ours and people who earnestly ranch on them with Mother Nature in mind are still here. It matters that we grasp and explore the link between land and animal, sink our teeth into the natural connections and risk rearranging the pieces of our thinking to something a little different. 

Nowadays, when more than ever agriculture operates on numbers and facts it is increasingly important that we keep the stories and unexplainable reasons front and center. 

The agriculture industry has never before been in such a rush to grow a crop or raise an animal as we are today. We have never before been so reliant on numbers to guide us, so much so that we forego trusting our own observations of habitat and animal. Why are we in such a rush when our food and price distribution system is heavily flawed and the waste of food in first world countries is so extreme? Why do we have more focus on the quality of a carcass than we do on coexistence with the natural resources we need to raise it?

We have created a mass production game, even in the name of high, unsustainable work loads and debt loads. And yet, all in the same breath farmers and ranchers proudly take ownership of the we-feed-the-world pedestal. 

The title of this years conference is next generation forage cropping systems; profit above, wealth below. You wish to recognize the economic and environmental role forage and grasslands play in this land and livestock life. So what happens if we set aside our rush to raise an animal and produce a crop and set aside our reliance on numbers for just a moment. What if we examine not only what the land and animal give to us but what we offer in return. What is our real potential in this agriculture life? What is the true wealth below and what is the true wealth in ourselves and how much of each might we be shredding to get at the profit? 

If we wish to improve our environmental practices in agriculture what about making this a two way street again.  What about putting coexistence at the forefront of every decision we make lest we get to far down this road of taking the animal out of nature and the human out of humanity. There is nothing like keeping a flock of sheep on coyote rich prairie to teach the art of coexisting with a species that has different ideas than you do about what success is. 

Grassland is the vehicle for this to happen.  I have a small vision in which land and animal and rancher are respected for the link to humanity they are rather than viewed solely through the lens of yield per acre and dollar per production unit. Instead of pushing for maximum production we are letting production be what occurs when we look after animal and land. I operate my place in this way and it works well. We do not have to sacrifice land and animal to have ample production. There is a point where we can say we produce well, we produce enough and enough is all we need. 

Author Don Gayton spoke at the 2016 rangeland conference and he suggested the way to bridge the gap that exists between the folks who do the research and the rancher who lives the life and the public who make it all messy, is through telling stories.

So this few minutes is me telling our story. Telling it in the hope that Don just might be on to something. The people on the land need to start being the linchpin for change rather than have change implemented upon us. And those who are being that change already need opportunities to tell our story. So to that end, thank you once again for gifting me with your presence and providing the chance to keep our simple story going.“

The end
[p.s. That thank you extends to all you readers of this blog who are following this story. It only continues because you are here].

Back Down to Earth

Back at home and the first line of business is collecting the Kelpies and going for a walk.  I have to wonder how much the affairs of agriculture might shift if farmers and ranchers just walked on the their land on a frequent and regular basis.  

The conference presentation and subsequent feedback has been an experience and a half. My presentation was pretty rock solid and delivered well enough.  I wish you readers could have heard it as presented because I think you would have liked it. I stretched myself with giving voice to some challenging thoughts about agriculture that I wrestle with and was shocked by the deep reaction and feedback afterward. I still have no name or description for what got stirred up but something did. 

In the evening following the presentation I had the wonderful opportunity to dine and converse with some very deep thinkers and movers in agriculture.  There was no small talk here, it was deep, it was probing, it hurt my head, it was fascinating, it went on for a few hours. Interestingly I got warned about naysayers and sure enough those comments showed up today.  Gosh I wish I knew where to go with this, but I just don’t.  What I know is sheep and land, and how much the bigger picture of land with animal, with nature, matters for me.  

Naysayers aside, because that’s precisely where they need to go, I am floating in a stupor of gratitude over the experience, which has given another notch of confirmation that I’m living true in this ranch life.  I’m a bit lost in my thoughts and feelings but coming down to earth with each visit to the flock.  I'll stay in touch :-) and consider a way to share the presentation online.  

Speaking of Land and Sheep

I am at the Cdn forage and grassland conference.  I am typing on my phone and it's an old phone.  Tomorrow I give a farm tour presentation. Twenty minutes to share photos and talk of land and sheep and of course I squeezed dogs in there to.  Some of the photographs could probably stand on their own but I added a few words. A few snippets  are included below but beware this does not flow well without hearing the full presentation. 

I am nervously excited.  I am glad I have good photos. 
We have a strong focus and a deep respect for animals and land, beginning to understand how instrinsically linked animals and land are. Forage has become king here and there is an unpretentious beauty about the place.  It matters that there are these and other intangibles we cannot get our hands on. 

The Ag industry has never before been in such a rush to grow a crop or raise an animal. We have never before been so reliant on numbers to guide us, so much so that we forego our own observation of habitat and animal.

If we wish to improve our environmental practices in agriculture what about making this a two way street again; putting coexistence at the forefront of every choice we make lest we get too far down this path of taking the animal out of nature and human out of humanity. ... 

Find The Flow and Go With It

Zeus and I are sharing a moment of watching the same thing. 

There is a beautiful simplicity to sheep trailing off.  I have taken similar photos many times over in different spots, in different seasons, and I never tire of watching them go or catching photos of them as they leave.  Part of why I try for such photos is to hold onto the connection that started when they were passing nearby which I know will sever once they get so far away.  At that point there is always the briefest moment of loneliness and I think that too is captured in scenes of people or animals walking away.  

Someone once told me they were advised that it wasn’t correct to photograph or draw animals from the rear or moving away; that viewers want to see the eyes.  I think that whoever dispensed that advice to begin with never spent time watching animals leave or maybe couldn’t accept that brief moment of loneliness. 

The ewes seem to go precisely where they need to go but it seldom feels like they planned to go there. Not every animal follows the other when they head out for the day.  More often small groups of ewes branch out on finger trails. Yet each group is taking the path of least resistance, flowing and curving with the land knowing that the most natural way to travel through the day is to find the flow and go with it.

House Options

I moved the dog houses out for the livestock guardian dogs.  It felt a bit early but turned out it wasn’t early at all.  With the recent dump of snow, plus cold winds, the dogs are already making use of them.  

I always feel a desire to make things comfortable for the dogs even though they will make their own choices about where to shelter and sleep.  This way they have options and my knot of worry will ease. 

And our house … it is coming along well enough.  There are couple of roof panel pieces to put in right at the peak and then it’s completely closed in.  We’ll wrap it in house wrap and that’s where the exterior will remain until spring.  Meanwhile we’ll turn our attention to the interior.  The in floor heat was turned on tonight to test out the system.  I’m thinking ahead to felted wool rugs, a little bit of artwork and favourite photographs to be made into prints (and maybe to be made into a book too). 

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