Reflection Encore

Since I’m thinking of reflection photos ….

I was hanging around this wetland waiting/hoping for photo opportunities of a particular bird and/or the muskrats who are pretty active right now.  Wren and Tex pestered me for a bit when I first sat down and then wandered off.  They showed up on the opposite bank some time later.  

I was back at this wetland yesterday morning, waiting for muskrats once again.  As the prairie land dries and the water level shrinks, wide earth banks are ringing each wetland.  It will take the grasses some time to catch up and fill in.  

A Photo Published

Another happy occurrence.  Very pleased to have this photo shared on the cover of Sheep Canada Magazine.  I'm slowly spreading my wings.

Does the photo look familiar? You may remember a couple of the other photos taken at the same moment and shared on this blog here: Reflections of Ewe.  This is the second photo of mine that Sheep Canada published on the cover.  The first photo of the flock of ewes coming toward the camera appeared in the winter 2016 issue.

Maybe the feeling wanes after awhile but I hope not.  It's very satisfying to pick up a magazine and see your photograph on the cover, doubly so when the subject is what you have wrapped your life around.

A Surprise Letter

A completely unexpected letter arrived in the mail today.  

It came from the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers, the company we send our wool to for marketing (minus what I keep for felting :-) 

We are recipients of the Certificate of Merit Award for excellence in commercial wool production in Canada. This is for the 2016 wool harvest as the 2017 Canadian wool clip is still being graded.  I think sixteen merit awards are handed out each year.  

I am grinning.  This simple act of recognition is a big compliment to this flock and to the helpers who pitch in each year on shearing day so that we may skirt and properly prepare the wool for shipping. I extend this award to each of them. 

We are going through the preparations for selling lambs and deciding on next years flock and changes needed.  That means we’re looking at things we don’t like in our flock and management of the land and sheep.  Receiving this gesture of recognition shifts that focus to all that is good.  It is very timely.  I am proud of this award. 

Bringing Them Home

Bringing them across the pasture.

Turning them in the yards to head to the barn paddock where they’ll stay overnight.  There are two kelpies just outside the photo, bottom left.  I’m about to send them along the fence line while I head off to the right to lead the ewes along a narrow trail between trees and toward the next paddock.  For the stock dogs going along the fence there is a lot of sheep pressure to work through given the length of it and the number of sheep. With a few head of sheep the sheep quickly peel off a fence and the dog gets relief of pressure (the sheep move away) but in this case the sheep cannot move away quickly given the close proximity of their neighbour.  It’s a lot of pressure for a dog to handle. 

Between large flock work and three sheep work the basic principles of work are the same, which is why we can do well starting dogs on a few head of sheep.  Yet because of these common and tough scenarios throughout moving a large flock that you can never practice for on small groups, the two working scenarios are vastly different for the dogs.  Many dogs who shine on three sheep struggle working large flocks until they gain the same experience that dogs who work large flocks have. And vice versa, dogs who work large flocks all the time have adjustments to make for precision when only working a few head.  Neither one better or worse, both in their element.  

This third photo is only a few moments after the second.  Can you see the two guardian dogs? Wren is pretty easy to spot moving against the grain as she is, Zeus is a little harder to find but he’s right near Wren.  Look closely.  Flat lighting as it is, I love this photo. 

It was a lovely evening of bringing the flock home. This morning we rose and the dogs and I headed out to move the sheep into the handling area and Allen and I commenced with a full day of weighing lambs. Kelpies are good and tired as are we.  

Pulled Off Course

I was pulled away from home for a few days this week to attend industry meetings.  I came home in the wee hours of the morning this morning.  After a couple gruelling days of tension filled meetings with difficult road blocks to overcome I feel drained.  

The morning check of the flock was a blur but by evening I was feeling more secure in the knowledge that I’m back where I belong and it’s all good.  

If I gained anything through this process it is reaffirmation that my purpose is here and if I’m looking for something deeper and more challenging perhaps that can be found within avenues and offshoots from this place, such as, writing, photography and artwork, and not in meeting rooms with tyrants.

I will say I held myself in good, calm stead throughout the chaos and likely balanced some of the tension - no doubt on account of the fact that I live, breathe and reflect on scenes like the one below on a regular basis.

A connection to the land is good for the soul and sometimes it's good to more souls than your own. 

Sheep on a Hazy Day

It is dry this year, the grass is dwindling and the wetlands are shrinking rapidly.  This flock is accustomed to moving regularly for grass and so the ewes are constantly looking to go elsewhere these days.

There is smoke and harvest dust in the air the last couple days.  Smoke is from northern forest fires in the province which  are not nearly as dire as the fires burning in British Columbia and in Montana.  Harvest dust is from all around us as neighbours are in the midst of taking crop off.  Each year that I listen to the buzz of harvest around us I grow more and more sure our decision to return this land back to grass was very good for us.

Sunset Sheep, Sunrise House

Still here. So much has happened with the house build this past week but regardless of the goings on, each day begins and ends with a check of the sheep and a visit with the guardian dogs. 

Day to day it feels rather like a dull routine that needs to be gotten out of the way, but once out in this prairie space there are constant reminders that bring my head up and stir my soul.  As this house build happens there is an unfolding of feelings and an unreal realization of all the choices and actions that have led to this creation.  I keep wanting to write that we are lucky but that isn't it - this does not boil down to luck.  This land, this flock and now this home, is built on years of life choices and all the other roads not taken.  This home on the prairie is becoming an extension of us and our view on land and life. As we partake in the building of it the totality of the connection between earth, plant, animal (domestic and wild), and human potential is taking hold.  I hope that we do this house and home justice.

This photo is from yesterday morning as the eastern sunrise catches the house. The house is covered with a tarp in the centre and on the backside where we have put up ceiling boards. This is to prevent rain/water stain on the new ceiling boards until the roof panels go up. The timbers will be fine to repel rain water. There is a branch at the peak on the left hand side.  After the raising of a timber frame, there is a tradition whereby the homeowner places a branch at the peak and thanks the forest for the timbers.

A Peak at Our House Build

 Timber bents being assembled on the slab foundation in preparation for raising later this week.  

A single progress photo negates the incredible amount of work that has taken place thus far - earth moving, pouring footings and frost walls, hauling and packing earth and gravel base, laying tubing and rebar, the concrete slab, the grinding/polishing, the staining … 

Our approach to this house is similar to our approach to this place.  Natural and organic; a home that lets the outside in and hopefully portrays our willingness to co-exist with our surroundings rather than overtake them.  Nothing grandiose but instead aiming for beauty through simplicity. 

The Interruption

You will have noticed the lapse in regular blog posts.  That is due to our house build.  The general process has been a whole lot of hurry up and wait and yet somehow things are coming together.  We are getting into a very busy phase now and are close to the timber raising (post and beam, timber frame house).  Almost everything else (fencing, hauling hay, fixing - always things to fix on a ranch, and computer time) is put to the side for the time being. 

Even the flock is on the back burner right now and yet it is the flock that grounds us in regular routine.  We get out to do the morning and again for the evening check but hardly give them thought in between.  It’s a good thing they’re grazing and are pretty self sufficient right now.  It will be time for another pasture move in a day or two but that is a pretty simple affair with kelpies to help as needed. 

The one thing I don’t put to the side is my daily walk on the prairie with my dogs.  That walk is essential to a good day :-) And when there is a lull I spend a few extra minutes on the pasture, sometimes with the camera but sometimes not. 

The old timer, 14 years and 11 months

Grateful for Green

With some luck and good management the pastures ahead of the sheep are lush and plentiful.  When they move into a new pasture one can’t help feeling satisfied that everything looks as it should.  That only lasts for a couple days though and then the evidence of a thousand mouths eating that grass begins to show.  The flock is now at it highest point for grass intake, with the lambs no longer getting much milk from the ewes and eating grass like no ones business and the ewes eating to keep up with raising growing lambs. 

This photo is from the morning after two inches of much needed rain, the ewes are still wet and the grass is that fresh, newly watered green.  The ewes have just arrived in this pasture.  I like to hang around and soak in the scene when we make a pasture move with the ewes, as it keeps me feeling grateful that we still have grass and averts the back of the mind niggling that at any time the conditions could change.  We have been abundantly wet for the last six or seven years so this dryer year feels abnormal.  We are watching in amazement as the wetlands shrink back at a rapid pace and drowned and dead trees are sticking out of dry earth rather than water.  This has been a year of change and I'm not sure yet what adjustment needs to be made. 

Sheep on The Trail

Somedays they make me laugh out loud.  They have realized the gate to another pasture is open.

I knew I wanted to do a pasture move soon and upon seeing there happened to be a group of watchful ewes in the proper corner one fortuitous morning when I happened to be without stock dogs, I opened the gates and called to the girls in a come and get it voice.  Word traveled quickly and what followed was a half hour procession of sheep, everyone following the trail out.  

Kelpies Willing and Waiting

If there is any indication that there might be a chance of me heading out on the Ranger and taking dogs along, there’ll be a Kelpie, or two or three, waiting on the bus.  These two have already deciphered that they’re coming with me this time.  I do appreciate that they are so willing, it gives me motivation to be the same. 

Flock Work, A Rare Video

Okay, I don't do this very often and it’s taken some doing but I managed to upload a few videos I took while moving the flock last week.  They're phone videos and my phone is a few years old so the quality is pretty low key. 

The first video is to give an idea of the area we’re in and what the Kelpie dogs do on a regular basis.  We’re about to start the gather of the flock; you can see a few sheep off on the right side. I want the dogs to go over the hills in search of more.   I have two dogs with me and am on foot.  Allen has two dogs with him and he is on the Ranger.  This is the send of the first dog, Cajun.  A moment later I send the second dog, BJ (her video isn't uploaded yet).  BJ works tighter and together she and I will begin moving sheep nearest us. Cajun is on his own, I trust him to search for and find sheep. 

A short time later we have the flock loosely bunched.  I’ve met up with Allen and Cajun is now with him.  BJ and I are still working and Coyote Mic has just been put on the ground.  This next video isn’t about the stock dog work but watch how Mic skirts the six guardian dogs she encounters.  Just a few minutes prior to this BJ met the guardian dogs as we approached the gathered flock.  Her approach to keeping the peace was to go soft for a few moments while passing the guardians and then go back to work (that video hasn't uploaded yet either).  Mic just gets around them as quick as she can, giving the guardians little time to worry about her.  BJ is on the far right moving up that wing, Mic starts out in the centre to pick up that ewe and lamb, then she'll work the left wing. Things are moving quite quickly right now, a little too quickly actually. 

Coyote Mic and BJ are still at work, I've caught up and the ewes have just discovered the gate is open for them and have picked up speed on their own account.  BJ and Mic are keeping everyone up at the rear. Listen to this one with your sound on, moving a large flock of ewes and lambs is a noisy affair.  It's unlikely the stock dogs will hear a command, they might hear a whistle. 

This move was about ¾ of a mile to the yard where we penned the flock for the night.  That video also not uploaded yet.

Solo Photo(s)

While watching the ewes graze yesterday morning.  Meadow brome seed heads and thistle plants are the fan favourites right now.  

She's in mid bite with a mouthful of seed, watching me watching her

She was snatching them up so quickly I was lucky to catch her

I wonder if it takes a bit to harden their lips to thistle each season

The Fibre Show, On The Other Side

So I came through the weekend of the fibre showcase feeling stretched as expected but also feeling pleasantly surprised and very encouraged.  

At first light it would seem that a sheep show and fibre showcase go hand in hand but that is not the case here.  It's only a small number of sheep producers in our province who have any care for the fibre their animals produce. Due to the low cost paid to the producer for wool, wool has taken on a perception of being a necessary cost of production that is never recovered, especially by large flock owners.  So around here, if you want to know about wool you talk with a fibre enthusiast. 

In this vein it was a pleasure to visit with the dozen other fibre lovers who came out to be part of the event by way of demonstrations and selling fibre wares.  We had weaving, spinning (wheel and drop spindle), knitting, felting (wet and dry), locker rug hooking, yarns, rovings…. It was a group of good and earthly people, with everyone encouraging each other’s success with that underlying knowledge that your success heightens theirs and vice versa.   

Sold (I needed half a dozen more of this popular piece) 
In terms of sales I did very well, hence being pleasantly surprised, but the other occurrence that startled me in an unexpected way was the response and feedback to the felting work whether people were purchasing or not.  Photographs are the only way I have of sharing my work online but seeing them for real seemed to draw people in.  People were curious and amazed; even the men were stopping by to have a look. 

I owe huge thanks to the ladies who took a chance and came out to be a part of this tidy showcase of fibre (I'm not sure they want their names published so I'll leave it there; they know who they are).  Collectively we did a fantastic job of displaying and promoting fibre, and of respecting each others work while we did so.  And I can’t forget my other ladies, who produce the fibre and set me on this path to begin with.

Taken last evening while bringing the flock home for this morning's job of sorting a couple ram lambs out.  There are at least a couple guardian dogs in there somewhere and Coyote Mic and BJ are the two kelpies in the rear.

BlackJack Rides Along

Ranch work is solitary so it frequently appeals to me to have a dog along.  Some days there isn’t much that we do in terms of working sheep but on those days we’re company for each other nonetheless.  More often though there are little bits and pieces to fill an evening with and these little bits and pieces that happen daily make life with these dogs that much richer.  

Take yesterday evening.  I took BlackJack along and first we stopped by the orphan lambs and did some training on them.  He’s definitely a lamb hunter but what I’ve been able to teach him while working lambs has been worth it.  

Afterward I always give BlackJack a squirt from the milk bottle (I’m only feeding milk to one of the orphan lambs so am using a bottle and not a milk pail).  

From there we drove out to pasture.  We did a short stretch of driving on ewes and lambs (the dog working the livestock at the rear; driving them forward). Everywhere you look there are ewes and lambs so the opportunity is all set up for us and it need only be a few moments at a time when a dog is learning. 

Next we made our way to the water bus. It needed to be refilled which meant pailing out the water in the tub trough first.  My other dog, Coyote Mic, taught BlackJack the joy of chasing water spray.  He chased water, I laughed at his craziness.  

Where I go, he goes, so after that he came along for another ride to refill the bus and then scouted for sheep while I hooked the trough and float back up again.  A sweet and comfortable evening; one woman, one dog. No fan fare, no one else to know about it.  Nothing else in the way, all worries momentarily forgotten because of the enjoyment of time, and place, and tasks done with a dog.

Fibre Stretches Me Out of My Comfort Zone

This upcoming weekend I head to a fibre show about an hour away.  It is a small fibre show just in its second year but we’ve picked up a few more artisans between the first year and this one.  I expect to meet up with a dozen fibre artisans and look forward to the shared ideas. 

Sometimes I catch myself feeling very torn, on one hand feeling that fibre and artwork have little to offer except that I like to do them so I do, but always as a secondary hobby.   On the other hand feeling like the art and the subject are an essential ingredient that adds perspective and without them I would lose my way, and so maybe they should have a front and centre role.  

I flip flop like this all the time but somehow continue to create either way, trying to find my way and all the while feeling very shy and tentative.  Going to a face-to-face, public fibre show will stretch my comfort zone.  This is one of the pieces I’ll pack up and take with me to display.  

Young Innocence
8 x 10 needle felted wool. Gallery wrapped over a canvas frame and ready to hang.

Kelpie String

When I walked past this dog for the first time, I did a double take because she looked so much like my dog Cajun.  For a split second my mind had to sort out the dog and the place.  That was back in March on my first 2017 trip to Montana.  Since then I’ve snooped into her history and sure enough there is a very probable connection.  

Her son, the red and tan dog below, bears the same self-important, slightly conceited look that both his mother and Cajun wear. His attitude seems to match it to a tee.

Kelpie Ike is a retired from work and hangs out at the ranch house throughout the day and Jill is the up and comer at 11 months of age. Jill and my dog BlackJack share some same dogs in their pedigree as well.

Ike waiting for company to join him on the porch


Over at the Burradoo ranch things were a little more chaotic with three new youngsters to catch up with.  All these characters are under a year of age and it took some doing to catch any still photos of them. 

This fellow came over from Australia 

Given how smoking hot it was we didn't put any dogs on livestock and I wasn't hanging around long enough to wait for cooler days. I thoroughly appreciate the connections to others who use their dogs for work and enjoy keeping tabs on these working dogs and hearing/seeing what skill sets they have. Dogs that are above average and beyond are getting tougher to find.  While there is zero plans to add more dogs to our pack anytime soon one can still do some legwork (i.e. dream) for the day when we’ll need to.  

Rested and Returned

I had a sufficiently restful time in Montana, not hurrying and not needing to be anywhere specific but choosing to visit the Miller ranch and then the Burradoo ranch; places, people and Kelpie dogs I know and love.  In between the two ranches I traveled the Lamar Valley and the Road to the Sun, going across the Bear Tooth pass. I did not take any of my dogs with me on this trip but had a good idea that I would find myself in the company of dogs nonetheless.  

Upon having a morning to myself on one of my first days at the Miller ranch, I collected Tanner (the fellow in the above photo) and went hiking up a long open draw in the hills.  While up there I took photos and I sat still, doing little else but pondering, Tanner content to lie nearby and watch for antelope and gophers.  Spread out in front of us is the thousands of acres that make up this ranch where this kelpie dog lives and works.  

The cattle have been moved to the lower grazing pastures at the base of the distant dark hills

How striking that the connection to this place and these people is the result of a dog.  And that I am welcomed with such openness and mutual understanding born out of a shared, soul-deep respect for animal and land that I can collect said dog as though he were my own, go for a hike across their land and feel so at ease with it all. 

I’ve long believed people have purposes but now I think places have a purpose as well and the land won’t settle until the people it needs show up to help serve its purpose.  When you visit places where the people and the place are aligned in their collective purpose you know you are in the midst of a special wonder. It tightens your breath a tad to be there among it all, and it strikes you in your heart to have to leave it behind.  No matter the duration, I think if a vacation does that, it is a vacation well spent. 

Elk resting and grazing near the ranch yard

One of several deer and fawns spotted along the way, reminding me so much of sheep

Last Minute Trip

Sorry to have dropped off from the blog.  I headed to the southwest corner of SK to visit with a friend  who was doing a clinic.  From there I decided to keep going south and do another trip into Montana.  I'm writing this from the porch of a ranch guest house after an incredible morning hiking in the hills with a resident kelpie dog, Tanner.  If I do nothing else in life but explore grassland hills with a dog or two it will have been a good life.  I am at home with these two beings.

There is a curious gopher nearby, whistling away at my presence in his space. Hayfields in the foreground with timber covered hills beyond - the hills explored this morning.  The only computer I have is my iPad as I don't wish to spend much time on the computer while I'm here.  Sharing photos from the camera will have to wait and future posts may be sporadic. We will catch up soon, until then I will be exploring and visiting where ever it strikes my fancy to go.

A Photo of Conversation

I took this photo on a calm evening during lambing.  I was playing with settings on the camera and and while it's a bit of an odd backdrop, it works, and I like the conversation that is happening, which I didn't know I captured.

BlackJack Works on Lambs

I have fifteen bummer lambs (have no momma ewe) that are on a milk pail.  At the conclusion of lambing I wanted to start working my young stock dog again and I began with taking him with me for chores, which included checking the bummer lambs and refilling the milk pails.  

I started letting BlackJack work the lambs and to my delight discovered there are some things you can teach a dog with ease when using lambs, provided the dog will work lambs.  Lambs are very erratic in their reactions so they won’t suit all situations or dogs or what you might be trying to teach.  BlackJack started out being overly fixated and excitable on the lambs and I won’t know till later if I’ve cemented that fixation or caused lambs to become just another sheep in his mind, which is the outcome I’m hoping for.  

With the daily work/training on the lambs he has definitely become much more calm among them.  He comes into the pen smooth and calm, I can circle him both directions and call him to come through the lambs (the start of learning to split a group of sheep on cue - easy to do on lambs btw, hard to do on adult sheep).  This is all done within a small 20 foot irregular shaped space, not a big pen or field because if we can’t get calm, cool headedness in close proximity we won’t have it in a larger space either (large spaces just fool you into thinking you have it because the you can put distance between sheep and dog). So far, so good.  We’ll go back to working adult sheep soon but this interlude with the lambs has been quite rewarding for both of us.

My fab five: left to right - Cajun, BlackJack and Coyote Mic in front, BJ and Gibson in the rear.  Missing is Fynn, I believe the old timer was still in the house. 

Before The Storm

I’m just leaving our yard, driving the curve around a wetland and this is the view through the break in the trees.  The air is still and the place is very calm.  The white specs in the distance are sheep; ewes grazing away without concern about the skies. It is seven pm, plenty of daylight left although you wouldn't think so. 

By the time I get out to the flock and greet the first three guardian dogs the wind is whipping, and rain is on the way.

When I return I have Oakley with me.  Upset as he was about the storm, he climbed aboard the Ranger and wasn't about to get off.  I just let him be and parked both under cover in the Quonset.

Reflections of Ewe

Following on the heels of the post about water and this land... 

On this particular evening the still water tells how calm it is.  Funny thing, I did not see much in the way of photos when I made my way past this spot.  Just some sheep drinking.  I took a few photos and carried on.  When importing photos from the camera later on this tiny batch of reflection photos were my favourite and made me wish I had spent more time there.  

We do pump water from the wetlands to our portable water bus which lets the sheep drink from a trough.  Still, if the water station is too far from where the sheep are grazing that day, some ewes will go down to the shore of wetlands for a drink. 

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