Snow Flake

Somebody sure likes it when it snows.

Coyote Mic is a wee bit of an obsessive dog. It’s the one thing that sets her apart from the Kelpies (Mic is half Kelpie, half Border Collie). Out of the Kelpies I’ve had, and others that I've looked after, none have displayed any deep obsessive qualities like this although BlackJack probably comes closest.  Mic is a also sweet, sweet dog who likes to cuddle and is a stellar little worker too.

BlackJack and I had a good go on the dogging sheep tonight. I wanted to do some tight pen work with him but of course we needed to pen our sheep first. Rather than get one of the other dogs to do that I thought we’d give it a go and if we made it great, if not, no big deal. We’re putting about 30 sheep into 16 x 8 foot corner pen. It was a great little bit of work for us and great use of the opportunity.

I did discover however that Tex (guardian dog) cannot be with the sheep while we work (normally he’s with the flock so is not an issue).  Tex became increasingly upset with Jack working and I had to intervene to keep Tex from pouncing on the stockdog.  Jack could feel the pressure from Tex too, and he started to get concerned he was in trouble with the big white dog nearby.  Tex is a suspicious dog and I’m not sure how far to trust him yet.  I'll have to find an alternative place for Tex when I want to work the dogging sheep.

Working Art and Kelpies

Ride Along
16 x 20 inches
color pencil on paper
(yes, it's for sale)

This piece has been in the works for about a month. You can see one of the early progress photos of it here, Commonplace and Connected.  I didn’t work on it straight, but did a couple other pieces, like the felting one shared a few days ago, while I picked away at it.  I’m glad I persisted and saw it through.  I’m very pleased with it and also very glad to put it on the shelf and move on to the next piece. 

Spring will be here soon and with that comes the increase in outdoor work which equates to less indoor time for artwork.  I threw myself into artwork this winter, putting aside all notion of frivolity that often plagues me when it comes to spending time doing art.  Throwing myself into artwork has been very rewarding for me and in a way I feel refuelled for this life I live with sheep and dogs.

The days are stretching longer and with Springs approach I feel a push to create as much as I can before winter heads out. With the increase in daylight and warmer temperatures the Kelpies are riding along for chores, meaning the scene above will quickly become a daily occurrence again.  I’ve also started working the stock dogs again, concentrating mostly on BlackJack and keeping things light and simple for both our sakes.  It's a good life.

Solo Photo - LGDs

The A Team (for now)
Whiskey, Lily, Oakley

:-)    Solo photo plus one, because it falls on the heels of the last post.  Lily and Whiskey

LGD's and How It Shall Be

This is whiskey looking relaxed but alert to something in the distance, perhaps he’s watching Lily who is just over my shoulder.

He is five years old and has become a very diligent and steady guardian dog. He are Lily are partners, something I think she decided on rather than he, but he’s more than willing to oblige. He’s an assertive dog and won’t let fences stop him if he’s in pursuit, and yet he’s a great pack member. If all Anatolians were made like this we might have a few more of them.

Lily on the other hand, has been putting enough pressure on Tex and Wren that they no longer stay with the main flock but visit while we’re there and then return to sit with Zeus and his group. I’m not sure how to solve that issue or if I need to right now. The dogs cover territory no matter which group of sheep they sit with. It just feels a tad ridiculous to have three dogs with such a small group of sheep, but dogs don’t worry about such things so perhaps I can take a hint from that for now. Until I come up with a way to convince Lily that other dogs are allowed in this is how it shall be.

Winter Grass

Grass is so much more than food for the sheep and it is not very often that I get to photograph grass in February (without shovelling snow).

Photo one is on tame pasture, I pulled back the residue cover to see more of the greenery I caught a glimpse of while walking.

Photo two is thatch on a native prairie hilltop. When I raise the thatch (third photo) there is greenery beneath here as well. While this thatch is getting too thick, it is very important this year. It is the only covering the soil has when the snow disappears but otherwise the world is still frozen.

In contrast the next photo is a well worn, well eaten hilltop on the tame pasture. The ewes travel through here all the time so this strip takes a hit year after year. There is light residue cover but no thatch to pull back and there is no green here. Spots like this will suffer when it turns cold again and hence for this upcoming grazing season.

Residue cover, thatch and snow are buffers for the soil and help moderate the temperature of the earth in our extreme cold. If the soil is laid bare by too much grazing or otherwise, and then there is a winter with no snow to protect it, the soil temperature is colder and the soil will freeze to a deeper level thus effecting life within the soil, diminishing the soils ability to support plant growth come spring.

One spot with too much cover, another with moderate cover and a third with minimal cover - all based on animal grazing.

I’m writing all that to say - grazing matters. It must occur but overdoing it nets as much trouble as not doing it all. Yet the rancher has no way to know what the weather of the next season will be so grazing is as much a case of reacting to what the year brings as it is planning. It is as much hope as it is knowing. This is why, after years of trial and error it still feels to me like we don’t have a clue about what we’re doing. Just when we think we do Mother N throws us a curve ball. But I like to think that perhaps that’s as it should be and that this is the wonder of grass.

Wool Art; Sunrise Over The Seasons

I started this one a couple weeks back and shared its beginnings on Facebook. That was all I shared because this piece was destined for someone who did not know that it was on its way and I did not want them seeing it beforehand.

That someone operates a grain and cattle farm near us and a long, long time ago she asked for a piece of wool art - whatever I came up with would be fine. So I pondered (aka procrastinated), took into account their livelihood, snuck a photo of their house on an evening visit one night, and came up with this (it morphed a couple times during the process):

A bit of a different subject and plenty of detail in this one as I attempted to capture the four seasons of a grain and cattle farm life, and could not let it go without including the family’s Norwegian Elkhound. I have to say, after doing sheep for so long, I did struggle to get the cows to look like cows.

16 x 20 inches and I used a wee bit of silk/wool blend on the water bodies and some yarn to get the effects of field work in the spring and fall. The flowers in front of the house are done with wool neps (think of those tiny little balls that develop on a wool sweater - that occurs during wool processing too and the ‘neps’ are dyed and sold).

I delivered the piece last weekend; it was very well received and appreciated; I think it almost resulted in some tears.

A couple close up photos of the detail ...

At 16 x 20 inches this overall piece is a decent size, so this fellow is tiny. The fact that he even resembles an elkhound is icing on the cake.  He was the last detail I added to the piece and was the crowning moment for me!

Lots of Reasons

Valentine's.  Allen and I avoid the consumerism surrounding holidays and celebratory events, a valuable side affect of a ranch life I think, but we take note that there’s a lot to love, and a lot of reasons to be loved, in this life.  The world needs that more than ever.  Here are a few photos from the archives; no particular order.  Enjoy and Happy Valentine's Day.

Winter Day Reminder

We brought the flock in today to sort off a few wether lambs who will be killed and butchered later this week. These are 2016 born lambs that we kept here for this reason. Selling at the farm gate is not something we do frequently but we keep half a dozen lambs each year for ourselves and a few acquaintances who ask us for lamb. 

I enlisted the help of Coyote Mic and Gibson to bring the flock in. Two dogs because I expected some trouble with bringing the flock through a narrow, tree lined and snow filled pass between pasture and the first paddock. The ewes balked at pushing through the deep snow and the dogs had to hold the back of the group for several minutes before we convinced sheep to move.

After that it was an easy go across the paddock through another gate, then around the bend toward the building. Getting the entire flock into the building took a bit work again but was managed very well.

It has been a couple months since the dogs and I have moved the flock (or any sheep) and afterward I marvelled at how smooth a job we did with the dogs taking directions and stops readily, as keen as they were.

It felt like the conversation I recently had with a long time friend after being out of touch with each other for awhile. When we touched base again we picked up right where we left off and the conversation was just what we needed.

There are periods of time when I obsess over my dogs not being well trained. To help explain a bit, my comparison models are friends who do extensive training with their dogs for competing on the trial field; I start to feel like I must keep up. When the dogs pull off smooth work like this I feel faith that we’re doing just fine. It’s a good reminder.

Commonplace and Connected

It’s pleasing to hear that others are aware of the nutritional wisdom of livestock, I think it is something that has gone amiss in recent agriculture trends.

There are so many facets to keeping livestock; watching what they do, guessing and juggling and guessing again until a piece fits. It is like working on a puzzle with new pieces constantly being added.

Cajun joined me on my trek out to the flock last evening. He was so pleased to be along for the ride, and he was cold, lol. When we visited the cull group of sheep I let him work for a few moments, tucking the sheep into the building and then bringing them back out again. All too soon we’ll have another winter behind us and be back into the routine of working together daily.

Meanwhile, this is a current work in progress. The dog is Coyote Mic. I enjoy both drawing felting and will switch between the two regularly. When drawing I can sink into the tedium of trying to attain detail. With felting I can let that go to some degree - I’ll always be attracted to detail to some extent.

There is something uniquely and soulfully satisfying about being a creative person and using that as a means to share glimpses of a rich life connected to land and animal. Taking notice of the nutritional wisdom of a ewe nibbling a weed during evening chores and later that night drawing a scene of a working dog that is so commonplace to you, and feeling in your bones how utterly connected all of it is.

Nutritional Wisdom

The ewes are eating hay full time, no longer venturing to graze, a decision I’m sure was encouraged by recent snowfall and cold weather. Their fleeces are thick and full at this time of the year, with another two months of growth to go yet before shearing.

We leave a pasture gate open so the ewes have access to a heated water bowl. From where they’re feeding they have to walk maybe a quarter mile to get to water. They only come up for water once every few days and eat snow in between.

They’re also nibbling on a particular weed, an Absinth plant, which is known for it’s strong odour and for it’s anti-parasitic properties (natural wormer). It’s also noted as being poisonous if consumed in great quantities.

One reason I get excited over the sheep nibbling this plant is because I made a change in their mineral program. This winter I dropped my usual mineral regime to see how a new natural mineral salt product would go over. That was months ago.  Just recently I was mentioning to Allen that I thought the fleece quality is off this year, that it’s just not as bright and uniform as it usually is and I think we need to go back to the mineral plan.  Now I see the ewes nibbling on Absinth.

But there is one other factor to consider - because nothing is ever so straight and narrow when it comes to sheep.  We also notice that our feed quality this winter is not great as the hay received so much rain during haying.  The ewes are preferring to eat last years hay to this years.

Reasons aside, I’ve witnessed the sheep displaying nutritional wisdom too often to discount it. I have no doubt they know what they need, and if it’s available to them in their environment they’ll consume it at the right time. We completely miss their selection and their timing when sticking to regimented treatment schedules and when we get obsessed about weeds and kill them, forgetting they have purpose.

[Side note: We don’t give regular worming treatment to this flock. We only worm select individuals as needed. We quit regular worming treatments back in 2007 when we put the sheep onto Pat Coleby’s mineral program.  That, along with several other management practices contributed to this choice.]

A Few Faces of The Flock

Colder weather has returned and the ewes have remained settled on the hay feed through the day, electing not to travel the last couple days. 

Since the ewes are staying at the hay feed during the day they are well settled when I arrive again in the evening as opposed to just returning from their daytime travels. I enjoyed a couple short spurts with the camera on a couple evenings this past week to catch some photos of them.

Sheep have a way with expressions, especially when lying at ease, and even with their backs to you. 

The beady eyed Cluns are some of my favourites and are challenging to get good photos of their black faces, so I'm always trying to take photos which gets them more suspicious.  

This next girl appears to be full and does not bother rising with me nearby but was still snacking where she lay.  

These were taken on different evenings in very different light. The camera lenses have a metal body so they get cold quick and are also cold on the hands. The larger lens works for about half hour before  the focus mechanism slows too much due to the cold.

Solo Photo - Jethro

Just One of The Flock

Jethro, one of my favourite rams, both for his docile temperament and his good looks.  Judging from the flat spot of wool on his head, he's been rubbing on the fence posts and/or doing a bit of battle with the other boys.

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