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. 

Water and Such

In response to the question about the water the dogs are playing in in the last post here's more than you probably wanted to know :-)  Our property is rolling hills, bush, pothole sloughs and wetlands; there is no river or creek.  The above photo is one of the two wetlands next to our yard.

The dogs play in the sloughs and wetlands, some of which are quite large.  Just fyi, sloughs are temporary collection points, they tend to be shallow and by late summer/early fall will have dried up.  Wetlands are more substantial bodies of water that hold water year round.  The riparian area (grasses/shrubs/trees) around each one will be different. 

If you examine the next photo you can see five wetlands in the spread of ¾ mile.  This is where the sheep are grazing now and funny thing: this is a file photo from a year ago but Cajun and I just moved sheep to the far side of this very pasture this afternoon.  It's like we did a repeat of this photo. 

Approximately 185 acres of our property is water.  That’s more than one quarter section worth of water.  Amazing for dry-land prairie and that’s the beauty of it too.  
Part of the reason Allen and I pay a lot of attention to how the grass is doing, is because the grass is the natural filter for the wetlands. If this land was cropland you would see substantial affect on the wetland health, we know because when we bought this place it was cropland from one end to the other. We converted it back to grassland. 

The water being in lowland areas coupled with low annual precipitation means the hilltops lack it. The nature of this land is hilltops with desert like conditions, slopes with mid range conditions, and lush valleys - all on a mini scale in each pasture.  It makes rotational grazing challenging. 

Given that there are numerous wetlands there is an abundance of marsh loving songbirds here as well as waterfowl.  This area has one of the highest populations of migrating waterfowl in Canada. 

Of course the numerous wetlands allow for an easier time of watering livestock. We pump water from the wetland 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, the ewes will go down to the shore of wetlands for a drink. 

Granted I am severely biased but this is a beautiful piece of grazing property, albeit a tad in the middle of no where.

White Dog Water Play

To date we haven’t had a guardian dog that likes the water as much as Wren does. While other dogs will wade in and get their feet wet, Wren enjoys getting wet and catching the water as it ripples past her.  

Birdie will follow Wren but prefers being closer to shore. Tex hardly ever gets in the water.  These photos really couldn’t be separated because they tell such a playful story, so you get all of them in one blog post.  This is Wren, Birdie and Tex during a hot morning.  

We place a great deal of altruistic notions onto guardian dogs and to some degree rightly so.  Yet these moments say a lot about the nature of guardian dogs.  How they're dogs, first and foremost; dogs living a very free, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous life, but also a very joyful and purpose-full one, which is a gorgeous example of living and something we can all hope for. 

Wren and Birdie
Wren being oh so tolerant of Birdie towing with her tail
Backlash from Wren
Wren and Birdie again

Tex comes onto the scene

Tex and Wren

Racing off, Tex (on shore) and Wren

Lily Update

I appreciate the comments on the photo of myself and the large-dog crew. It really is a rare photo because a) I'm in it and b) so are all seven lgd's - having all seven dogs in one place does not happen very often.  We were in a bit of rush to get the photo before one or more dogs wandered off. 

Lily is doing quite well.  She has a slight hitch/limp in her step but if you didn't know to watch her for it you would probably miss it.  Changing direction and doing turns off her hindquarters is when the leg fails her.  She has to think about jumping fences now whereas before she jumped without hesitation, all in one motion.  I'd rather she never jumped them at all but she is an athletic and determined dog. 

She has reasserted herself as matriarch of the pasture once more so Tex is showing up with the dogging sheep more and more often now because she pushes him out.  I expect Lily and Wren will have some disagreements as Wren matures although it may be that Wren is enough of a softie that she'll avoid that at all costs.  Wren is not a confident pup.  Birdie seems to have won Lily over though but Birdie is still such a pup that she isn't really on Lily's radar yet. 

Tour Time Once Again

We do a tour tomorrow for international beef and sheep conference attendees.  Attendees are individuals from different countries and the focus of their conference is cost of production, so that will be the starting point of discussion.  The group will visit our place (low input, grass based) and also visit an intensive sheep operation (high input, no grass base).  I have a few notes prepared but otherwise we have done enough tours now that I know to expect, and accept, that tours are always a bit of a surprise in some fashion and you can never be sure where the conversation will go.  Often, at some point or another, the conversation steers toward dogs because we can’t do a tour here without someone taking notice of one dog or another.   

We will take the group to a pasture hilltop overlooking where the flock is and begin discussion there.  When a group of people show up on pasture I’m pretty sure the guardian dogs will make their presence known and perhaps take over for us :-). 

Speaking of guardian dogs, here’s the other rare photo that I chickened out showing you on the last post - a picture of myself with all seven guardian dogs in the photo as well.  Shy as I am about photos I handed Allen the camera and insisted he take one. The white building photo bombing in the background is our one and only sheep building/shearing shed.  It’s a long way away but the camera makes it look near. 

It Takes a Bit of Time

It takes a bit of time to move the flock right now given that there are young lambs at foot. Gibson is the Kelpie dog in the left forefront of this photo and he’s really only needed for encouragement for the ewes but doesn’t need to push much.  The ewes go willingly, eager to move their lambs away from the dog.  He does the occasional flank, going from the left to right side and back again to keep the family groups caught up but otherwise not rushing the ewes.  Gibson is understanding of the job (which is one of the reasons I appreciate kelpies) and I’m just coming along with the camera at this point.  The sheep are traveling to a gate in the valley spot at the top right and then traveling up the long hill.  That white spot on the long hill slope is a guardian dog, waiting/watching as ewes pour into the new pasture. A little ways to travel and no rush is peaceful. 

Lambing is near finished; it’s just a trickle of new lambs arriving now.  As lambing duties dissipate Allen and I turn our attention to a major project that we’ll likely do only this one time since we have no plans to leave this place.  We begin the build of our house.  Some jobs are contracted out, such as the timber frame portion, but otherwise Allen is looking forward to doing a great deal of the build. 

I have little idea of what to expect, other than obvious busyness and decision making.  So far we’ve been through a rash of delays and are feeling eager to get underway.  It occurs to me now that the one thing that will continue on as usual and help keep us level headed and on track despite the upheaval and plentitude of home building is the habits and routine of the sheep and dogs which is why we're here to begin with.

A rare photo with all seven guardians! 

Kelpie Time

With lambing slowing down, I'm beginning to squeeze in some training time with the Kelpies again.  They're more than ready for it.  Today I worked three of them together - BJ, BlackJack and Gibson.  No fancy stuff, just letting them get around sheep and then getting a lie down on all three dogs with a whistle cue.  It was a fun adventure and given that it was hot and muggy out we didn't work too long. 

I'd like to work my way up to working all five kelpies at once.  Provided I can stop them it should all be good.  :-)  It's a difficult thing to do at the onset because each individual dog is paying attention to the other dogs and none want to stop if the others are still in motion.  We were not so smooth today and I think I worried the dogs a bit as they tried to sort it out but we're all game to try again.

p.s  I posted a video of lambs racing around onto Facebook.  It will make you smile, do check it out if you're into Facebook.  I tried loading it here on blogger but it wasn't happening.  You'll find the video on my page, link is in the sidebar.

Solo Photo Sunset Ewe

Sunset Ewe
I witness similiar scenes each evening.  It is a gorgeous way to end one's work day.

Trouble is Afoot

We have come through the thick of lambing in good order, and the remainder of ewes left to lamb will be at a trickle now.  I lost one ewe to a prolapse and have 14 lambs on the milk pail at the moment. 

All six guardian dogs are with the flock and Zeus travels back and forth between his group of sheep and the main group.  While I’d like to believe this is due to some altruistic feeling on their part it is far more likely due to the plentitude of afterbirth that is present in the thick of lambing.  

With so many lambs successfully on the ground it’s frustrating to come up against a problem so soon, but we have.  I am finding injured and dead lambs who are partially eaten.  When ever kills take place there is a myriad of suspicions that pop up and while the injuries on the lambs most likely indicate a bird or a fox, the guardian dogs are also suspect and under watch.  

Given that we have young pups we automatically take into account that lambs became too tempting and the youngsters could be up to no good.  Wren is thirteen months and Birdie is six months.  Last summer when Wren was a wee pup, she and Crow were set with orphan bottle lambs (no ewes present) and they learned they could play with lambs.  That experience convinced me never to raise another pup with orphan lambs.  All my previous pups were raised with adult sheep.   

With all the time I’ve spent on pasture during lambing I’ve been able to keep an eye on the youngsters.  They play together frequently which is good as it leaves little energy for other mischief. 

I’ve gotten in a couple good corrections at the start of rough housing with lambs.  Birdie got the message loud and clear, Wren not so much.  The ewes also correct the young dogs for hanging out too close to lambs, by way of a charge and head butting and both dogs got that message loud and clear and are aware of that consequence.  They make a wide skirt around any ewe who stomps her feet or dips her head. 

There is also abundant good behaviour being displayed by the young dogs and nothing to indicate predatory intention.  I’ve watched them decide not to bother lambs who are running pel-mel and instead go off to play with each other.  I’ve watch Birdie get caught up in a wave of sprinting lambs and just lay down until they passed. I’ve watched Wren approach unattended sleeping lambs, give a sniff and then carry on.  So while I’m suspicious I’m also doubtful that the pups are responsible, or if they are it will be a matter we can tend to. 

The other dog under suspicion as of yesterday is Zeus because the kills coincided with the start of his tours of the lambing pasture and Zeus and a past dog, Diesel, spent considerable time together before we discovered Diesel was a lamb killer. It’s all too easy for one dog to show another how hunting is done and we wonder if this is the case with Zeus.  

So, Birdie gets the benefit of the doubt for now but Wren and Zeus get tied up when we are not around to supervise.  We’re hoping by process of elimination we can determine if one or both are involved.  It’s a bitter irony to be wishing another lamb kill or injury happens so you can rule out your dog had anything to do with it but that’s exactly the position I’m in.  

Pasture Lambing Chaos

After a thoroughly busy two weeks or so, the arrival of new lambs has slowed and today presented only a handful of new babes.  It took more time to travel the pasture looking for new lambs today than it did to catch and process them. 

With an abundance of lambs on the ground we have entered the phase of pasture lambing chaos.  Ewes with older lambs deposit them in one place and leave to graze.  When I drive around the pasture it appears that there are numerous lambs without ewes and how they ever find each other again amongst the throng is amazing.  Come evening small packs of older lambs are racing along trails and hills.  Ewes and lambs are bleating from every direction and munis the odd ewe who has lost her lambs, most of them keep order among this chaos. There are yearling ewes with the flock and often times they get caught up in the energy of the lambs and join in the play.  

The tides shift at this point in lambing as well.  The early half is all about the work and just keeping up each day but now there is opportunity to stop for a spell and watch the chaos of an evening play itself out.  

The other creatures to get caught up in the action are the young guardian dogs.  Being out on pasture for long lengths of time is a good thing as I can keep my eye on Wren and Birdie.  It is Wren I am most suspicious of and I’ll share the why of that plus catch you up with the dogs in the next post. 

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