Family Photos

Just kicking around with the kelpies.  The old guy, Fynn (Border Collie) still manages to get into the game a bit too.

Zen Sheep Move

Moving the flock to a different pasture.  There is hay feed awaiting them just over the hill.  As it turned out they hardly touched it.  The desire to move and nibble their way around a new space was too strong to be swayed by hay feed or deterred by a light skiff of snow.  They found their way to a native prairie hillside and have been grazing there for the last two days.

BJ is the kelpie moving the flock with me on this morning.  In the first photo there is a guardian pup on the upper left side.  Two more dogs are over the hill.  Oakley is in the rear.  I'm not sure where the other two are at the moment of the photo.  This is the finish of the morning chores and it was sooo peaceful; one of those times of feeling connected to dogs and sheep and time and place.  

Walk With Kelpies

The Kelpies help with keeping the mood light as we deal with naked sheep, wet snow and colder temperatures, all the while worrying about Lily.  She is indoors with us and has adjusted well enough that she now sleeps rather than stress and cry.  We visit the veterinarian tomorrow to see how the wound is healing and if we can begin to salvage what is left of the muscle and tissue in that leg.

An Injury Forces Lily Off Duty

All the sheep on the place are still being held adjacent to the yard on account of some cold weather after shearing.  We’ll send them out to pasture tomorrow, meanwhile we have been feeding hay to them here. 

Yesterday morning I drove through the main gate, parked adjacent to the first paddock and hopped off the tractor, lifting four of the seven bowls of dog food from their holding place.  Usually four white dogs meet me here.  This morning only Tex, Wren and Birdie, the new pup, came up for breakfast.  I fed them and climbed back on the tractor to head over and feed the main flock.  I’d come back to this paddock afterward and feed Zeus who seldom approached when the other dogs were around and whom I was sure was sound asleep on the far, south side of the hill.  Lily was the missing white dog but maybe she was in the next paddock this morning.

Oakley and Whiskey approached while I fed hay.  They were looking for breakfast but still no sign of Lily yet.  Hay feeding finished I returned to the starting paddock and left the tractor.  I headed over on foot to check where Zeus was.  As I crested the hill he raised his front end and took a long and deep stretch, looking to be in no rush to rise from his slumber. I dropped a dish near him and saw that Lily was further down, resting in the piled hay.  Lily always investigates our approach even if she doesn’t want our affections.  I made my way to her, wondering what was up. Still she did not rise.

When injuries occur to guardian dogs one is often making best guesses as to what the hell happened. Most often you didn’t see a thing; you go out to check your dogs and discover one is injured.  That’s as much as you know.  A quick investigation of Lily showed that one hind leg was badly injured.

It only took a moment to conclude that we needed the help of a veterinarian and as it turned out that’s where we spent the rest of the day.  Lily tangled with something that ripped a significant mass of muscle, two layers deep, from the back side of her hind leg.  As a result from the rip, the remaining muscle is pulled apart from the skin all the way from the top of her leg to her toes.  Nerves behind the muscle are exposed but not torn, however they aren’t responding either.  She may or may not regain full use of her leg.  The major vein in her leg was not touched. It is too risky to close the wound at this stage.  It’s packed with gel and gauze which is held in place with shoe laces and stitch loops (picture a ladies corset).   Our best summation is that Lily met up with a beaver which we’re seeing more of this year.

So Lily is definitely off duty for awhile, although each time she gets outside the house she leans toward the pasture where she thinks she should be.  She doesn’t have much energy at this point but if I drop the lead she begins a slow three legged hop to the gate.

Unshorn and Shorn

Two different photos, obviously taken on different days but kinda cool to see them side by side.

Needle Felted Artwork, Bearded Collie

The handful of Bearded Collies I know, I know through herding and the reference photo for this artwork was provided by a friend who has been to our herding clinics almost every year we’ve hosted them.  This is her dog, Drift.

Months ago, when I first asked her about the photo I planned on drawing the scene.  When I came back to the photo more recently I changed my mind and decided to attempt doing it with wool.

I worked on this piece in every spare moment I had this weekend.  I was wary of it when I started but once the first layer was in place I sensed what it could be and had to see if that was the case or not.

The piece is made with a variety of wools including Shetland, Corriedale, Romney, Border Leicester and a bit of yarn I don’t know the make up of.
No title. Approximately 12 x 16 inches.  Needle felted.

Shearing Extras

The first group of sheep shorn are the rams, this way when they are done they can be moved out of the way, remaining separate from the ewes.  Doing the largest sheep at the start of the day also means the shearers don’t have to tackle that at the end of the day when they’re at the lowest energy point.  On account of having ewes with lambs this year they were also a separate group and were shorn following the rams.  Lambs were caught and moved to a pen and ewes were able to rejoin with them after shearing. Then the family units were moved out of the way.  After that we started on the main flock.

Since it was sunny out and we parked the ewes outdoors in the alleyway, the ewes were moved around the bugle and into the single file raceway.  One person and dog looked after this task. There is another person or two along the raceway to keep the flow of sheep going up to the shearing floor.  Sheep are masters at backing up when they reach every suspicious spot along the way, even stepping over anti-backup bars.  Gates along the way and butterfly doors seem to be the best at preventing them from backing up.

Most of the extra help is utilized around the shearing floor.  As soon as a fleece is shorn from an animal it is picked up off the floor, out of the way of the shearer who is moving to get the next sheep. The fleece is tossed onto the skirting table where it undergoes a quick skirting.  The tags (any wool containing manure) are tossed aside, the belly wool and wool from the neck area (often the most contaminated part of a fleece) are bagged together.  The remainder of the fleece is rolled and placed in the maw of the wool packer.  Throughout this process, the shearing floor is regularly swept to clear it of bits of wool.  We are set up for six shearing stations and with six shearers shearing at once there is a constant flow of fleeces coming off the floor.  There isn’t time to be choosy about skirting, you skirt quickly and clear the table for the next fleece.

The shearers are a hired crew, all from within our province, two of them are women.  The two visiting shearers were from New Zealand.

Throughout a day of shearing I’m pretty much in all places at different times, moving sheep, picking fleeces, skirting, packing, and then tending to coffee, lunch and supper details.  It really is a whirlwind of a day but made so much the smoother by the helping hands.  The day goes by fast and at the end we’re all ready to put our feet up.

As for the guardian dogs, they follow the sheep when the flock comes in, however, they make themselves scarce once the action begins.  Oakley always comes by to see what’s going on but then finds a place to sleep for the day.  Lily, Zeus and Wren are not interested in visitors and were hardly seen throughout the day.  I placed Tex, Whiskey and our new pup (I have to catch you up on that addition) in a dog run for the day for safer keeping.  Whiskey and Tex both like to be right in with the sheep and the pup is often underfoot.

The night before shearing day; Whiskey sitting with ewes 

And Then We Were Done

With the majority of the prep work done, one of the last tasks on the evening before shearing day is bringing the sheep in.  Whether or not we place the sheep indoors the night before is weather dependent and so that they have empty bellies prior to shearing.  The mommas and lambs have already been moved indoors.  Then we brought in the flock.  The stock dog is in the upper right hand area of the photo; just coming around the group.

In the next photo she's working them across a wet spot.  The ewes try to spread and go wide, rather then through the water and the dog has to work the wings and keep the group together.  You can see her checking her sheep.

Working them into the building.  Starting the flow is fairly easy.  As the building fills and the lead sheep realize there is no exit, getting the second half of the flock indoors is significantly harder work. The dogs stay on task covering the back of the flock.

We chose to risk leaving the rams outdoors and bring them up at first light in the morning.  It did not rain so we were safe.  The next morning, as soon as the rams were penned, separate from the ewes, the ewes were moved outside to the alleyway, where they had more room and fresh air.  It's never a good thing to keep large groups of animals indoors for long, since the weather was in our favour we were able to let them wait outside.

From this side of the day, the best way to describe shearing is a whirlwind of activity.  This year we were ever so fortunate to see the place abuzz people who came out to help.  There were eight shearers here but only room for six to set up so they were able to spell each other off.  We usually have five shearers.  This was a planned strategy since they had a couple visiting shearers along and another large flock to tackle the next day.  The helpers were kept busy keeping a constant flow of sheep to the shearing floor, collecting wool, skirting fleeces and packing wool sacs.

The forecasted rain showers stayed away and it was a very smooth day on account of all the helping hands.  It was one of those hard work days spent in good company which, at the end of it all, leaves you feeling like all is right with the world again.  Shearing should be like that everywhere and always.

The night was cool with some frost but today the ewes had a warm day to adjust to their newly naked selves.

Pre Shearing Preparations

We’re almost ready to roll for shearing on Tuesday.  The preparations have disrupted the usual peaceful pace and hence kind of sets us up for the upcoming busy season.

One of the bigger jobs to ready for shearing is sorting the sheep.  I started the sort while walking the flock home by dropping the ewes with lambs out of the bunch as the flock travelled, much like one would drift ewes during lambing.  Only two sets got through with the main flock and were sorted later.  Once the flock was moved ahead and corralled we returned to bring the ewes with lambs up and set them in an adjacent paddock.

With the lambs out of the way, BJ and Coyote Mic were pulled off the couch for the job of moving the flock the next day, which they were absolutely thrilled with.  With me and the dogs working the sheep in the alleyway and keeping them flowing, Allen ran the sort gate.  We sorted the rams from the ewes, and lighter weight, old-crop lambs (born 2016) were sorted into a second group.  A handful of butcher wethers were sorted and set with the rams as well as the dogging wethers.  This places all the males together. Cull ewes were placed with the old crop lambs - none of these animals will be shorn since they will be sold.  At the end of sorting we’re left with four groups, the males, the ewes, the not to be shorn, and the mommas (pre-sorted).

We have all groups within reasonable vicinity of the yard.  Possibility of rain is in the forecast so this way we’re ready to move everyone to an indoor space if needed.  With all the sheep nearby all the guardian dogs are also here and each figuring out their turf and who can go where.

With the sheep sorting done, we get the shearing floor ready, make adjustments to the raceway to join the shearers unit, bring in a flat bed wagon to hold the backlog of fleeces that inevitably occurs, find panels for a skirting table, collect brooms and baskets and so on.  Away from the shearing building there is help to line up, a house to tidy and food to prepare.  All while keeping our eye on the sky in case rain shows up and we have to move sheep in an instant.  I’ll have a full day again tomorrow and then Tuesday we roll.

Shearing is when the shepherd gets a look at the ewes and finds out for sure how they’re doing after a long winter.  I’m a bit apprehensive this year because while the ewes look good, they don’t look to be in tip top shape.  It’s just something in the way they look; one gets a feeling about such things when you’re so familiar with a flock.

There have been no new lambs for a few days now, so our early lambing has wrapped up.  Also, Tuesday will be full day, so I beg your pardon in advance - I may not get a blog post up on the same day.

It's Just Not Ideal to Lamb Now

… and the lambing continues.  We are really hoping this will wrap up in time for shearing which happens next Tuesday.

When disruptions from the usual way of operating happen it always highlights one’s choices for operating the way you do, or sometimes, if your mind is open to it, can suggest an alternative.

There are a few reasons why this is not an ideal time for lambing for us and why we would not switch any time soon.

The ewes do not have grass feed at their feet as they do when pasture lambing in May.  Those ewes who birth must move to where the hay feed is to eat, and this is where every body else is congregated as well. So lambs mix up with ewes who are not their mamma.  They always seem to manage to get themselves sorted out but it's not what the ewe prefers.

When lambing a little bit later the ewes have some time grazing on fresh and highly nutritious grass prior to lambing.  With lambing at this time of the year they do not have that.

The flock is traveling continually in search of greens they know are about to sprout. Lambs just a couple days old, must follow.

Weather is a huge factor with pasture lambing no matter what month.  Right now though our nights are still below freezing.  The lambs manage well so long as mom is attentive and they get up to suck. If we get a rain at this time of the year, it is a cold rain and that does no one any good.  So while we’re hoping for good spring rain for the sake of grass, we’re also hoping for it to not happen for another week for the sake of lambs.

It's really not a major deal to have a few lambs now, it's just not ideal.  We are taking it all in stride, a fact that speaks to our comfort with raising sheep.

The guardian dogs are well aware there are little ones about and I can count on Whiskey to indicate where the newest lambs are; he’s always settled nearby.

Artwork Among Lambs

So there are a few more lambs on the ground, nineteen of them so far, born to twelve ewes.  While not my ideal time to lamb, all is going well and the weather is decent for them.  Everyone remains out on pasture.  The ram was only out for a day so allowing for the variation in individual ewe gestation periods we should be able to breathe easier by the end of the week.

Meanwhile I thought I’d share the results of the in-progress artwork I took to Montana with me. Progress photos were first shared here Shearing and Scratching.  Since I often get asked after I post, yes, both are for sale.  Just touch base with me if interested.

The Shed's and The Dead's
9 x 12 inches, scratchboard

Getting to Know Ewe
8 x 12 inches, ink on claybord

April Fool

It is April Fool's Day but I didn’t get the joke I needed.

Allen and I headed out for chores together tonight and while guardian dogs ate he took note of a ewe off on her own and not traveling with the others. We headed over to check her out and, be damned, she had a set of twin lambs at her feet. Wait, … please let this be a joke, isn’t it April Fool's Day?

No joke, but we’re not totally shocked either.  Let me take you back to this post: Son of A Bee, it’s a favourite one.  You’ll want to click the link and read it now. 

So alright then, that is when the lambs happened, but we’re eternal optimists and so we were hoping by dumb luck they didn’t happen.  No luck.

We moved mom and the twins within proximity of the flock so the guardian dogs could keep tabs on all.  By the time we did that another single lamb was born to a different ewe.  Looks like that son of a bee was busy enough that day.   

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