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). 

LGDs Lead The Way

The hardest part for this post was picking which photos to share.

The ewes were moved over to the stockpiled pasture a couple days ago and we decided to start bringing them home overnight, mainly to allow them access to the water bowl, secondly to accustom them to gathering up at night once again.  The stockpiled pasture is large and without fence on two sides so we feel more secure  bringing the group home at night. 

This photo series is the first morning of turning them out to pasture.  They must pass through a narrow, treed alleyway.  You may recognize it because it’s one of my favourite places to take flock photos as the ewes funnel through. 

I thought I was taking photos of sheep and what landed on the camera is a short but very interesting series of the guardian dogs.  It’s very common that the first ones to travel out into a new place are the guardian dogs. Lily and Whiskey in this case, sniffing at first; note the lead ewe on the left, also sniffing and the others watching. 

Comfortable with going forth now the dogs lead and sheep begin to flow.  Once the dogs move the ewes have trust in the decision and overtake the lead. 

This photo was the real surprise - look who’s coming up on the right.  Birdie - charging her way out as is her custom.  Birdie moves like this all the time, around the flock, through the flock, to the flock, away from the flock. 

She’s an example of a guardian dog whose actions do little to keep the stock calm.  The ewes have lived with the little white frenzy for close to year now are certainly used to her ways and know just to move out of her way and go back to what they were doing. 

The bright side of Birdie is that when she acts serious about a potential threat, the ewes take heed, and sometimes it is Birdie’s charging that gets them rounded up in a hurry.  How in the world they detect the difference is beyond me. 

A few moments later the ewes are filtering out into the winter pasture. There is lots of green feed here, I expect they will be content for awhile. 

All From Watching Sheep Rise

The weather is cooling, we have had our first snow.  Winter is on my mind; on an internal level winter always represents an inward turn for me and I am ready for that, on the outside I must move the ewes to a new pasture soon.  Making room in life to live for ones Self, and the routine of things to be done, I’m often back and forth between the two worlds.  

During the long daylight days of summer the ewes are up and gone grazing by the time I arrive on pasture in the morning (and I do arrive early).  At this time of the year the ewes are still bedded down when I arrive so while I wait for guardian dogs to eat I watch sheep rise.  I witness ewes in morning greetings. 

In doing so I recognize a melding of both worlds.  I feel the immensely satisfying spot in my soul as the routine of this life turns into a life built upon, and for, my Self and who I know that to be.  And it doesn’t matter which one came first.  

I think now that this is how it happens; how you get closer to living Your life.  It doesn’t happen in grand hurrahs and winnings, but rather in gestures, hunches and small moments of watching the world around you and finding something there to bring your soul home. 

Life Revolves Around Home And Land

Our life revolves around the house build as we push to get it closed in before winter. Every thing else in life feels somewhat distant right now, and it’s easy for both Allen and myself to lose track of what day it is. 

Knowing there is a full day of house build ahead I don’t take as much leisure time as usual when I visit the flock in the morning and the evening visits are being squeezed in just before dark, with just enough light to tuck the ewes up. 

I’m back from my quick road trip, and a good deal of progress was made on the house while I was away even though rain caused a day of delay. Today we finished cutting and laying sip panels on the east side roof.  I tell you, I know more about the ins and outs of building a timber and sip home then I ever planned on knowing. Home building isn’t my gig and is not something I plan on taking up but this is our home and there is certain feeling of awesome to have such an in depth part of building it.  

Me up on the roof this afternoon.  I'm doing some prep work before the last roof panel is lifted and layed in place.  Every component of a home build takes more time that you think so we know we have a little ways to go in that regard but still we are oh so close to getting this baby closed in. 

About ten days ago I think.  The timber framers were back to finish off the porch timbers.  Kelpies on supervision duties. The porch is up and the porch ceiling boards were put in place while I was away. 

As more and more of the exterior is filled in the feel of the interior becomes more apparent and causes one to think about plans for the inside - (no I have no plans figured out yet).  I'm leaning to woolen goods of course, from rugs and whatever else I can felt, to artwork and mounted photographs.  I have a whole winter to think it through.   

Solo Photo Sunset Silhouette

A quick solo photo before I head off for a short trip to collect our certificate of merit for commercial wool production. 

I am looking forward to being in the company of wool folk, which also means a bit of a break from house building.  We have been working so steady the last month; the progress will continue while I step out. 

Let Us All Be Dog Wise

Dear readers, exciting things are happening. The first of which arrived this week - hand delivered to myself by Judith, the author.  A lovely gesture given it’s over an hour for her to get here and another back home again. 

Dog Wise, What We Learn From Dogs is a compilation of stories, well told through interviews with local, ordinary dog people who live and work with dogs. Each chapter touches on a different facet of dogdom - show dogs, detection dogs, therapy, police, herding, guardian, sled dogs… and what life lessons the individuals glean from their way of life with dogs. I’m pleased to have played a role in the books making by way of being a part of a couple chapters and utterly fascinated to have been asked to contribute a handful of pictures to the photographic edition. 

I view this as a proud start for myself, and a good start to future projects. Knowing Judith has been working on this book project for a long time and seeing her complete it re-ignites the candle flame of a wish to see a book of my own making take shape in the foreseeable future. 

The print edition of Dog Wise is available on Amazon now and the photographic edition will be available soon.  The photographic edition is soft cover and printed on regular, not glossy, paper - just so you know what to expect should you wish to purchase.  Either one or both editions of the book will make lovely Christmas gifts for any dog person in your life. 

Here's a snippet of what is in the guardian dog and herding dog chapters.

“Between the tearing of my eyes and the acres of rolling pasture I can hardly see the sheep, let alone the dogs. Then in the distance a huge, coyote-coloured dog appears.  A bear-shaped dog emerges from the terrain. One by one the guardian dogs materialize from the flock.”
“Arlette thought the guardian dogs had taught here more about the nature of dogs than any other breed. A lot of what she learned came from simply observing the dogs carry out their genetic purpose.  “It’s a rare thing to watch a dog live and act out its purpose,” she said. 
"Meanwhile, Rex and Jared were in silent communication.  Jared occasionally tossed out a word or a low volume whistle. "There," "walk up," and "enough." ... .. I quickly worked out two basic sheep laws: 'don't be last' and don't be first.' Breaking either rule resulted in instant sheep chaos -- which is where Rex came in."  
“In the dog’s world Arlette believes, the concept of right or wrong never occurs to the dog.  The dog hears the command, and knows what it means, but there’s something else out there that needs to be attended to.  In the dog’s mind, that’s not wrong.  “That’s a hard lesson to learn for people who think obedience is important,” she admitted. 

I’m going to attend the book launch at the end of October.  Although I am a voracious reader I have never been to a book launch before.  Exciting times.

Out To Graze

With the arrival of the fall season the flock has settled. There is less calling between ewes and the few remaining lambs. The sheep are often still lying down when I arrive in the morning and I watch them rise and head out for the days graze.  With increased predator pressure in the fall the ewes stay a bit closer together. 

Today they stuck close enough to each other that when a few ewes slipped the fence the entire flock left the pasture on a walkabout.  To our surprise the entire flock was wandering around the neighbours canola stubble this evening. 

As soon as we rounded them up and headed them back in the direction of the pasture the ewes showed us just where they had slipped the fence.  They found a spot where the wire was high due to a fence post that lifted out of the mud at the edge of a wetland.

Solo Photo - Getting Serious

A photo from summer time.  Birdie and Wren at the beginning of a disagreement.  Birdie not quite of age and assertiveness to make it last but all that has changed now.  

Being A Foot Soldier

Whenever I talk of moving the flock while on foot and then not always knowing where stock dogs are when you’re on foot our friend Bill never fails to remark that I need to start working my dogs from horseback.  I was tempted to follow that line of thought at one time and thats the reason we have two pasture ornament horses.  

But I know this now, I’m a foot soldier; I’m not into horses.  Well, I’m not into trying to fit horses into this already full life. I have plenty enough to love about what I do and I do like being on foot when I’m with the dogs and the sheep.  There is something very amicable and earthy about moving a large group of animals across this prairie landscape while on foot.  Losing the flock and dogs as they or I pass over a hill and meeting up again, every thing still in order. It is trustful, chaotic beauty at its finest.  And occasionally it's just plain chaos but those times make it the two-fold story that it is. 

By working on foot I’ve grown accustomed to checking with the flock to make an educated guess as to where the dogs might be.  BlackJack had a few turns at flock work this summer and it’s still up for debate whether he’s ready for this or not.  In this photo he’s working with Gibson (I like to work the youngsters with experienced dogs).  I happen to be at the front of the flock at this point; sometimes we're all at the rear, sometimes I'm in the lead; the dogs learn to work both scenarios.

I can tell where Gibson is by the shape of the flock.  See the smooth arc of ewes at the top, about centre and to the right.  Gibson is holding and wearing in that area.  BlackJack on the other hand is coming into the bunch up at the top, on the left hand side.  See the small spot where the ewes are all uneven up there.  If you biggify and look closely there is a black Kelpie head there.  

The Nature of LGD's Makes It So

A well liked photo on Facebook yesterday, perhaps because of the common expressions from each of the dogs which gives a certain solemn mood.

The dogs were not set up for the photo, in case you’re wondering.  I just finished with feeding them and was taking a look around seeing where the flock was at and deciding whether to stay and take photos or head in.  I looked this way and there’s these three sitting on the hillside, all contemporary looking.  I got a series of photos of them, each one with it’s own mood and story.  

That they remained there while I took photos was a big bonus.  At one point Tex shifts around and Lily gets up and I'm thinking the moment is over.  But Lily just moves over and sits again.  To fun and at the same time a bit bizarre that three dogs sitting strikes me as something to be photographed.  It's the nature of LGD's that makes it so. 

A Visit With Dogs

At the end of September I traveled a couple hours westward to help a friend do some sorting of a large band of goats and sheep in preparation for the trip home at the completion of a summer grazing project. 

I visited with Stuart last year during the graze and was keen to see his dogs again even if everyone was at the yards rather than out on the grassland grazing. There wasn’t much opportunity to get photos of the large group of sheep and goats given that we were busy with sorting but I did nab a chance to get a few photos of dogs when we were done. 

This is a large band of animals and there are five guardians and three stock dogs (also using both Kelpies and Border Collies).  

Being very polite and mildly social, this girl investigated, paced between me and the pen and then lay down here.  A second white-breed lgd is sound asleep off to the left. 

This boy bears a strong resemblance to our past dog Diesel.  He is a Kangal and is tied up for the night to assure he is around come loading time at first light.  A second Kangal dog is also tied. 

A crossbred LGD wearing a spike collar for added protection against injury.

Being so accustomed to black and tan Kelpies I'm taken aback to see a red one even when expecting it.  Met this girl last year as a pup. The two other stockdogs were tied up near the camp headquarters. 

Different place, different circumstance, different way of operation and yet so many things the same by way of the dogs alone.  There are many nuances of connection in this world - I'm thankful dogs and sheep are a main one for me. 

Fall Flock Photos

Just as I’m writing of how dry it is, Mother N decided to unleash a whole seasons worth of rain in one day.  The ewes have been rain washed and damn near spun out to dry in the wind that brought the rain.  They are unperturbed by it all though and grazing as usual.  The guardian dogs, however, looked a little mopey about the days events.  I think Oakley expected me to bring him home this evening. 

It was too ugly to take photos so you get shots from the day before. I love the colors at this time of year; not just on the trees but across the grassy landscape.  The grasses are turning a different hue as well and the wetlands look just lovely as the tall cattails begin to turn orange and give way to light coloured foxtail which meets the still green tinted grasses. 

A lingering fog, erases edges and contrast and creates a softness to the crisp morning, even in the foxtail which is anything but soft. I always wonder why the ewes bother to travel across it.  

Foxtail is one plant I cannot find a way to appreciate. There are huge spreads of it in each place where the water around the wetlands receded. On this day it matches the soft, foggy, fall scene and the Anatolian Shepherd who is also passing through.

The feeling of amazed abundance that was present when I took these photos still lingers in them.

Water Dogs

Through the summer the kelpies and the guardian dogs take to the water readily to cool off but sure can’t beat Hondo the Labrador Retriever for desire and swimming ability.  

With the cooler weather of the fall season our dogs have less attraction to the water so it will likely be next year before I find myself lulling around a wetland again, watching dogs and catching grasses through the camera lens.  Our wetlands changed quickly this year with the dry conditions and it's only the larger wetlands that hold any water now.  The pasture grasses are still holding on and providing feed for the ewes but we can definitely note the difference. The upcoming ranch year will be a year of adjustment.

View From A Prairie Wetland

One of the gifts from friends who are visiting is that they pull you into scenes you may not have otherwise found yourself in. 

Life seldom feels rushed or busy given that I take plenty of opportunity to sit on the prairie and unwind, and really, a pasture based flock is quite minimal to look after.  This past week, however, was a new level of busy, which thankfully, is not our normal pace of living. 

Sorting, tagging and loading lambs, house building frenzy, company, conference calls, female dogs in heat, hunting ducks - it all happened over the last four days and continues. I have barely given thought to the computer, let alone had time to sit down to upload photographs and type something coherent. 

Market lambs of appropriate weight were loaded out last week. The numerous other things going on at least kept my mind off the uncomfortable sadness that accompanies the selling of livestock which I have a very hard time with. 

With the concrete work and the timber frame up, the remaining work on the house build is now up to Allen and I.  We’re putting up wall panels and framing in windows and doors (we’re using SIP panels if you want to look it up).

The company connects with the hunting ducks.  Bill and Janice are visiting with a few kelpies and Hondo the Labrador Retriever.  We have greeted a few sunrises while sitting in the high grass of a wetland awaiting the waterfowl.  

Throw in conference calls, the extra juggling of dogs when females come into heat, plus people out to work stock dogs to tidy up any free bits of time and there you have it - a week gone by in a snap. It’s probably a good thing one never anticipates what busy weeks will really amount to. 

With doing this post I realized the one occurrence I don't have updated photos of is the house build.  I'll rectify that. 

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