Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend at Dr. Ben's NC State Sheepdog Trial

This past weekend was one of ups and downs as far as my dogs went. Twist is on extended crate rest, so I had just Kat to run in open at Dr. Ben's, and I nearly didn't enter either open dog, since I don't plan to make the trip to the National Finals in Sturgis and so have been concentrating my time (and entry money) on the younger dogs.

Friday evening started at 5 with the nursery class. I imagine many of us were surprised to see that the young dogs were going to have to negotiate the full open outrun. At Dr. Ben's the outrun isn't overly long, just 323 yards (according to Dr. Ben), but it's tricky because the field is terraced and dogs lose sight of their sheep as they go from a lower terrace to a higher one. The drive was a bit shorter than the one for open, but still rather long. Lark was definitely in over her head, but we gave it a good try anyway. Lark required two redirects to get her to the top, and then at the last moment, when I thought she could surely see her sheep, she crossed over on the terrace just below them. That's the trickiness of those terraces--what we can see standing at the post and what the dogs can see as they move from one terrace to the next are quite different! Anyway, she got behind her sheep and brought them fairly nicely down the fetch, well at least until I flanked her to the left to try and correct the line. She flanked nicely, but as she turned out on her flank, the sheep dropped to the next terrace and she lost them, flanking ever wider on the terrace she was on, head swinging looking for he sheep, which in her mind had simply disappeared. Fortunately, the sheep weren't running and actually waited downslope until I could call Lark in. Once her head popped over the terrace and she could see her sheep again, all was well.

The drive away was rough and offline, with the sheep leaning hard to their left. We missed the drive away panels on the outside and then I had to flank Lark carefully to avoid a pull through. We made it past the panels and then Lark, clearly in young, inexperienced dog mode, started trying to fetch them back to me. After some work I got her to flank back around to their heads and push them back up to the crossdrive line, but at that point it was clear to me that her mind was fairly blown and I retired rather than try to push on and perhaps do more damage than good.... At least we were in good company as half the nursery dogs retired. Of the 16 or so who ran, I recall just one really nice outrun, and that was Robin French's Moss, who went out beautifully and landed deep, only to have one sheep bolt back toward the set out while he was determined to bring the three in front of him on down the field, necessitating a retirement.

Saturday dawned cool and cloudy. I hadn't slept well the night before, perhaps because the wind had been blowing pretty hard all night, making life pretty noisy inside the "Taj Majal" tent I camp in at trials. I ran pretty early with Kat, the 12th run of the morning. The runs started right after the handlers' meeting at 6:30. The course was a left-hand drive, with a split in the shedding ring, and then the pen. Dr. Ben's hair sheep usually do not get on well with Kat--she tends to unsettle them with the speed of her flanks and general pushiness, and of course that always comes back to bite us by the time we get to the shedding ring. But on Saturday Kat was in good form--she went out nicely and stayed pretty quiet and off her sheep. We had a really nice fetch and drive, but as everyone knows, that's never our downfall--that usually happens in the shedding ring. Kat is not a good shedding dog. That's how I was able to get her for a reasonable price. And overcoming training issues created by someone else is never easy. And I confess that I really haven't put much effort into fixing Kat's shed, at least not more than a workaround that requires some very specific things to come together in the shedding ring (for example, I always try to set up the shed so that she's coming through on a come bye flank since that is the way she's most comfortable coming through). So we make it into the ring with plenty of time to spare. There's both good and bad sides to that. If the shed isn't going to happen, having plenty of time seems like an eternity. But of course, having plenty of time also means not having to rush and being able to set things up for the best chance of succeeding. Because Kat had been so kind to her sheep around the course, they were willing to settle in the ring (we were lucky there, because there were plenty of sets that wouldn't settle in the ring no matter what). Then I realized I was right on the edge of the ring, so I got Kat up and moved as back toward the middle. I was trying to be careful because the sheep were being cooperative and I didn't want to upset them, but at the same time, if you shed on the edge and the sheep go out of the ring before the dog has taken control of the shed sheep, then many judges won't call it. Anyway, after a minute or two I had the sheep lined out in the direction that would allow me to call Kat through on the come bye flank and I did, and she did! (That's never a given!) We quickly regathered the sheep in the ring and went to the pen, where the sheep appeared to want to march straight in. Even so, after seeing more than a few of the runs before me have a single sheep who would bolt around the pen to the right at the last second, I flanked Kat around to hold that side, and we got our pen nicely. Our final score, a 91! That score held in first for a good part of the day, until Alasdair ran Star and ended up with a score of 91 as well. Those two scores held, but there were plenty of good dogs to go, including Alasdair's second dog Nap, so a run off wasn't a given, but by the last run (60 or so dogs) we were still tied and a run off was in order.

I lost the toss and Alasdair elected to go second, so off I went to the post with Kat for our second run of the day. I was inordinately nervous, literally shaking, which is kind of silly given that the worst I could do at that point was second place. Kat again did a gorgeous outrun and brought the sheep quietly down the field. It went downhill from there as I allowed my nerves to take hold and the drive was pretty rough. I was told later that we lost a total of 20 points from the entire run, with a few off the fetch and everything else off the drive. It wasn't that we were ever way off line or anything--we were just ragged throughout--not a pretty picture. Then of course we had the old shedding "bugaboo" to contend with. What were the chances that I'd get two good sheds out of Kat in one day? This set of sheep was less cooperative than the first set, and I had one who kept wanting to turn around and pop off the back. Although I tried, it soon became obvious I wasn't going to be able to set up our "perfect shed." That one sheep on the back turned and became the front sheep, and then her buddies also turned and the slightest gap started to open between the front two and the last two. It's all happening rather quickly but I remember thinking that this wasn't the way I had the best chance of getting Kat to come through (an away flank onto the heads of the back two sheep) but that if I didn't try I was going to be hit for a missed opportunity and I had already given up a lot of points on the drive, so I was just going to have to call her and hope she came. And she did! Very nicely, in fact. I'm always a little surprised when she comes through so well, and this time was no different. Fortunately she did the job, Amanda called the shed, and we were able to go to the pen. We penned pretty easily and the run was over. I stood in the exhaust and watched Alasdair run Star. By the time he made it around the drive, it was clear he had the thing won. And so I ended up second. But I was still pretty proud of Miss Kat-rat.

Sunday ended up being quite warm by midday. I ran around noon. The course had been changed to a right hand drive, followed by the pen, and then a single. The sheep were more reluctant to make the drive away, and there were many wobbly lines there. Then the sheep would go through the panels and start to run up the hill, necessitating a big, fast, sweeping flank to catch them before they got too far off line. Then, invariably, they would string out at a run across the field, opening a huge gap between themselves and the dog and making it quite difficult to guide them properly through the crossdrive panels. Low misses were most common as the sheep would appear to be on line and then drop down at the last second. Usually the dog was on the high side holding the line and was way out of position to save it when the sheep dropped.

Over and over again it seemed that handlers would lay down beautiful runs only to have one sheep that absolutely wasn't going to pen. A number of runs timed out at the pen without even getting a chance to go for the single. (Likewise on Saturday a lot of handlers found themselves in the shedding ring with a single who kept popping away from the other three--when we were trying for a split--while the three other sheep were clinging like burrs to one another, and again the clock caught many).

Kat was again being the "good Kat" not pushing too hard and the run started out fairly well. Our sheep ran on the cross drive but I felt I had them under control, although a little high. Sure enough, when I realized that I had them too high (it was a tough line to see and you had to aim for the center of the top panel to be on line), Kat was way out of position on the bottom side for me to get her around to hit the panel. We ended up with a miss to the high side and a fairly wide turn, but then got them back on line for the last leg to the pen. I had one ewe who wanted to be funny about going in, but we did manage to prevent her from starting the "circle of death" and got them penned. And then the shedding ring. I could not get the sheep to settle, and Kat, who hasn't been worked much this spring, was running out of steam. The sheep kept bolting for the exhaust and Kat had to flank the long way around to catch them (I was doing my best to stop them, but they were outrunning me too and were so determined that me waving my stick in the face of the lead ewe didn't even faze her). Three times they escaped the ring toward the exhaust. By then she was getting tired (and it was hot!) and we were eating up time trying to get them back in the ring. Finally, they're back in the ring with just seconds to go. I small hole starts to open up on the last sheep (and they're lined out in the best direction for Kat) and I wanted to give it another second for a little more space before calling her when time was called. You know, it was one of those classic moments, Amanda calls "time up" just as the three sheep at the front step off and the back sheep hesitates just enough and the perfect hole opens...too late. (Of course, with three times out of the ring, even if we had managed a last-second shed, there weren't many points left to be had.) We ended up with a 72, out of the placings.

The scores were for the most part lower than on Saturday, but a couple of people put down some really nice runs. Ken Arrendale and Belle scored a 95 and took first place, followed by Robin French and Zac with a 91. The rest of the top 12 ranged down to the low 80s.

Sadly, I ended up in 5th overall, with just three going back for the double lift: Alasdair with both Star and Nap, and Ken with Belle. Watching a double lift is always a treat, and Alasdair just has a way of making the whole run look poetic. He ended up winning with Star and in second with Nap.

Monday promised to be a gorgeous day, with cool, sunny weather. Lark and I were up first for nursery. The set out had been moved down one terrace to give the young dogs a better chance of getting out to their sheep. Lark started out a little tight but by the time she had crossed the second terrace she had kicked out nicely and it looked like she was on track to do a nice outrun. But then she hit the last terrace, saw her sheep and headed straight for them from the side. I stopped her and gave a redirect and she kicked back out and around (certainly an improvement over Friday's cross over) and started her fetch. I gave her a few redirects at the beginning but then decided to shut up and let her work. She did an excellent job of correcting the line herself all the way down, which is something I really like in a dog. Our drive away was pretty wobbly, but we made the panel (and a really wide turn) and our cross drive was as wobbly as the drive away. Lark stuck a couple of times, not wanting to get up when asked. I think this is just a confidence issue as this was a longer drive than she'd ever done. We missed the cross drive panels high (thanks to the sticking), had another wide turn and took a little while to get the sheep back on line to the pen. She worked the pen beautifully. We had the misfortune of getting one of those sheep who wasn't inclined to pen, and I was slow to flank Lark to catch her when she first bolted. The sheep circled the pen and I sent Lark on a wide flank. She positively flew around, well out, and caught them on the heads before they had a chance to start the endless circling thing that had been the bane of so many over the weekend. On our second attempt we had a successful pen. Our score was quite low, but I was still happy with Lark's work. I think she had a few brilliant moments and I can see where we need more work. (Amanda is tough on where the dog lands on its outrun and likes straight lines and tight turns, so we were sunk in that deparment, but some of the natural stuff Lark did on the fetch and at the pen was absolutely lovely.)

Then came the pro-novice class. I ran second with Lark and I have to say that I found the P/N course to be way harder than the nursery course. The sheep wanted to run, they were heavy to the set out and the exhaust, both of which were on the same side of the field, and they were just plain tired and cranky. Because it was a shorter course, there was less time to correct things if anything went wrong. The drive away was the same as the drive away for ranch and nursery, with a turn back into the field (and toward the draw) before heading to the pen. We missed the fetch, made the drive panel (not in any sort of pretty manner) and then had a race to catch them after the turn. All in all, it was pretty ugly, except for the pen, and our score reflected that. Afterward, I thought she would have had a better go in ranch, but she's young and has trialed just a few times and I didn't want to make an irrevocable decision to move her up. That's why I decided to run her in nursery at this trial and the last one we went to. Just trying to decide if she's ready to move up without overfacing her. I still haven't decided but will probably wait till the fall to do so.

I also ran Pip in P/N. He actually did a fairly decent outrun, though he slowed a bit as he neared the set out person. He then refused to flank far enough around to their heads to bring them back online on the fetch. He's at a stage where I have to lie him down before asking for a flank or he won't flank at all. But when he'd lie down, the sheep just used the opportunity to take off for the exhaust, so it was something of a Catch-22. I let him stay on his feet mostly and just accepted the way offline fetch. By the time he turned them just at the exhaust area the set up was ripe for a grip (something Pip is quite happy to do), but he kept his cool and brought the sheep on to me. We made the turn and got out to the drive panels with a very zig zaggy line, but he was happy to do that big flank and catch them for the return leg so that our turn was better than expected. He did a great job at the pen, holding the one who didn't want to go in, squaring off on his flanks and getting up slowly when asked. Again, while the bulk of the run wasn't pretty, there were some nice things too.

Laura had entered Nick in N/N but then decided to move him up to P/N once she got to the trial on Sunday. They were the last run of the day. Laura elected to not take a stick out on the field with her as Nick can be a bit sensitive about it. Nick did a gorgeous outrun and lift. The fetch was a little wobbly, but once Laura realized Nick was doing the job well and decided to leave him alone to work, he brought them smartly (he's very much like his mama there and will probably be able to easily do silent gathers). Their drive was also a bit wobbly, but they made the panel, had a decent turn, and a good line back to the pen. Laura had a set of sheep with one who knew she could take advantage and had obviously learned she could circle the pen. Three would go in and the fourth would turn at the last second and scoot up the side of the pen. Laura might have been able to save it had she proactively flanked Nick away while the ewe still appeared to be looking at the pen instead of waiting till she started to move, but that's one of those things that comes with experience. In the end, they were unable to get their pen, but Nick was obedient and careful and did all the right things for Laura. I know she had to be proud, given that this was just their second trial together and their first P/N run ever. To add icing on the cake, Amanda came out of the judge's box to tell Laura how nice her dog was!

So it was a pretty good weekend overall. I didn't have great expectations for my youngsters, but they had their bright moments and they certainly weren't alone in the problems they had. Kat gave me several great runs. Twist was just unhappy and bored. I talked with Bill and Betty Reed about finding a dog similarly bred to Kat (apparently not likely, given that most of Bill's dogs from those lines are dead, and many went to farmers who didn't breed, so the line just wasn't carried on, except in a very few dogs). Several folks put their heads together, though, and we came up with a plan, as there is at least one dog out there who is distantly related to Kat through the full brother of the dog Bill considered his best dog ever, who was Kat's grandsire. Kat's not getting any younger, and her next heat will basically be my last chance to get a pup out of her. But now I have a group of friends working with me to help me make it happen, so we'll see.

Now I have to gear up to head out to Florida for work this weekend. I had hoped to go to Steve Godfrey's novice trial to get the youngsters out again, and Tony might actually take Pip and run him for the fun of it, while I schmooze with our top clients in sunny Florida (bleh). Laura will be farmsitting, so at least I can go with the knowledge that all my critters will be in good hands!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I tend toward solitariness--it's just my nature to enjoy being alone. My friends generally are surprised when I announce that I am an introvert, because I can be outgoing and friendly (years of work in a field that required schmoozing with advertisers and the like can train a girl to do stuff like that, even if she doesn't like it!), but the fact is that being sociable and outgoing really does wear me out and I avooid it when I can. Consequently, I'm not one of those people who collects scads of friends. Sure, I know a lot of people, but if pressed, I don't think I'd call all those folks my friends. Why am I even going on about this? Well, this past Monday was "Girls' Night Out," a periodic gathering of a few close friends in which we go someplace where there's good food and just catch up on stuff. We all see each other or talk to one another on a regular basis, but not generally as a group, so GNO is our chance to all get together in one place and celebrate our friendship. At this particular dinner, we got caught up in a conversation about a situation that didn't involve any of us directly but with which we all had some sort of peripheral involvement--and each person adding her perspective to the story provided for a couple of hours of entertaining conversation. It wasn't a typical GNO, when we catch up on everything that's happening in each others' lives. I realized this later when talking with another friend and sometime GNO participant who couldn't make our most recent gathering. She was asking me questions about the important things going on in everyone else's lives--the kinds of things we usually talk about--and for each question she asked, I had one inadequate answer: "I don't know. We didn't talk about that." See, we got so caught up in the funny story we were all sharing that everything else just sort of fell by the wayside. In one way that's kind of unfortunate, because it's nice to be able to catch up in person. But we had fun, even talking about other stuff, so that counts for something too.

The next day, the usual round of e-mails went out saying "I had a great time," "It was good to see everyone," and so on. But then one friend made a statement that really hit home. She said that when she got together with the rest of us, she often got caught up in the "conversation of the moment" and forgot to say what she really wanted to say, which was something very important to her and that was how much she valued our friendship.

"I feel like I take our ability to be together for granted when I'm here. If we never meet again for some reason, you are all very special to me, and our time together is one of the most important things in my life."

I don't think we say such things often enough and I thank her for bringing it up. We often take friends for granted, especially those few close ones who know us well, and I think it's beautiful when someone is able to actually say how much friendship means to her. The next time you get together with your friends, think about that, and if you haven't told them recently how much they mean to you, maybe you should. It could make their day. I know the above comment made mine....

Morbid Curiosity

Okay, this blog is supposed to be about life here at Willow's Rest because I created this thing as a means for my family and distant friends to keep up with me, but sometimes a girl's just gotta talk about other stuff. So how about some discourse on morbid curiosity? Morbid curiosity compels us to view things that are repugnant (mildly or violently so) or simply to look at things that give us no real pleasure, except in some sort of perverse way. I'm referring to the latter when I use the term morbid curiosity. For example, there are a few websites that I read on occasion because I can't help myself. I am perversely curious about the goings-on in these people's lives. In some cases, it's because I know the person and know that there's a clear disconnect between reality and what appears on their pages (which is what provides the comedy in following their stories), but in other cases, it's simply because some people persist in exposing--for all the world to see--the trainwrecks they've made of their lives and I just happened to have stumbled across the site while looking for something else. Fortunately, I don't have lots of spare time, so I can't spend all day vicariously participating in the soap operas of other peoples' lives, but when I do read these sites, I have to wonder why people would want to put such personal information out there for anyone to see? Do they think that the Internet makes them completely anonymous? Is it like making a prank phone call before the advent of caller ID (you can get away with it because the person on the other end of the line had no idea who you were)? Whatever the reasons, I wonder if they realize what great entertainment they are providing for the morbidly curious....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I separated the lambs from the ewes last night (all except the three youngest lambs), hence the title of this post. I found that the harp guitar CD my sister Jean sent me, playing on low volume, was enough to help drown out the wailing last night and let me sleep. The paddocks are right behind the house, so there's no way to get away from the upset at any rate. It shouldn't be too long before the lambs settle down and get used to just hanging with one another. What I find amusing is that for the past three or four weeks, if a lamb lost its mama out in the field, it could be screaming bloody murder and mom would just ignore it. But I guess total absence does make the heart grow fonder. They'll need to be separated a couple of weeks, and then the ewe and wether lambs can go back in the main pasture, and the ram lambs will become Josias' new little friends. If he's too rough on them, they can still be separated as they are now. (Josias and Fido got moved down to the bottom alleyway to give the lambs the larger area as well as a barn stall so that their creep feed won't get wet if it rains.)

That's What Friends Are For!
I got back home this past Saturday afternoon after an overnight marathon of a run up to Strasburg, VA, and back. Laura had said she and Chuck would try to come by and help me trim feet and they did, bless them! We got nearly 30 ewes done in no time, and even had time to work a few dogs in the round pen, on the whole flock of ewes with lambs, and later with just five or six of the yearlings and open ewes. I did a lot of the chore work with Pip (except for holding the sheep for us in the round pen, which was Nick's job, since I didn't think we needed Pip--the dog who doesn't want to lie down--pushing sheep over top of us repeatedly while we tried to trim hooves; Nick did a great job), and he's stepping up to the plate nicely. I figured a little diversion would be good for him considering that he's spent a lot of time in his crate over the past several weeks while Phoebe, Lark, and Kat were all in heat. Since Twist is on crate rest and leash walking, it's a good time to give all the youngsters turns, although when I need to do something quickly with the whole flock, like sorting out lambs last night, I just grab Kat and get it done.

I ran out of time over the weekend and didn't get a chance to set up the chute and foot bath, but hope to get that completed this coming weekend. Then we can start working sheep through the chute, which should be great for the young dogs. I also need to take notes on all the lambs in prep for sending in their registrations. That ought to be loads of fun, since I have to record the fur characteristics and other detailed information on each of the karakul lambs that I want to register.

A Camping We Will Go
I thought (hoped?) that my days of camping at sheepdog trials were behind me, but apparently not. I sold the antique Shasta camper about a year ago. I loved that little camper, but it cut my gas mileage in half, and with gas prices rising back then it became clear that I could spend the money on a hotel that I'd save not pulling a camper. The Shasta now has a new life as a photographer's studio.

So although I haven't trialed much lately, when I have, I've either stayed in a hotel or slept in the van. Sleeping in the van isn't a bad thing, really, but it's not something you really want to do for several days in a row. So for Memorial Day weekend when I go to Ben Ousley's trial, I will be pulling out the old trusty "Taj Majal" tent. It's a wonderful tent for camping--I just don't enjoy set up and tear down. And the poor thing has been used to the point of near death. Of the four doors in the tent, only one still has a working zipper. Sveral of the fiberglass poles are splintered. But maybe it will make it through one more season, because despite selling the camper, rising gas prices have made it virtually impossible to afford the gas to and from the trial and also get a hotel room. The dogs will enjoy being able to stretch out instead of having to sleep in crates, though, and Dr. Ben's is a pretty place, so as long as the Heavens don't open on us, all should be fine.

An Opportunity
Raven, littermate to Pip, Phoebe, and Nick, is coming back for a visit and should be here within the week. I will be starting her on sheep for her owner and over the next several months hope to have her at least to where she can do the necessary chore work to help her owner take care of her small sheep operation. I am looking forward to working with Raven since it will be cool to see how she's similar to and how she differs from her littermates. She reminds me a lot of one of Twist's littermates, the one who was something of a "throwback," who looked nothing like her siblings. I got to see Pepper at a trial recently and she doesn't work like Twist either. I do see Twist in Nick, Pip, and Phoebe, more so in the boys than the girls, so it will be interesting to see where Raven falls in the spectrum. I plan to videotape most of our training sessions for her owner, and will post them here if I can.

More on Books
A month or so ago, I listed some books I was reading. I've nearly gotten through them all, and I have to say that hands-down, Don McCaig's Rhett Butler's People was the best of the lot. As I read, I wondered whether having part of the story (Gone With the Wind) already written made Don's job more difficult or easier, but in either case, it was definitely an enjoyable read and I would recommend it to anyone who loved GWTW or likes fictional works of the Civil War era. I also read Free For All, which was a series of anecdotes about the encounters the author has had as an assistant librarian in suburban Los Angeles. It was a good read, but somehow I expected, I don't know, more. I worked as a branch head librarian for a time in rural northeastern North Carolina, so I could relate to what the author experienced, and maybe that's why I had higher expectations. Surely a library in L.A. would be more exciting than one in a tiny town in the North Carolina hinterland.... I am still reading the fourth book of that group, Life Class. I am enjoying it, although the inside flap material I quoted in an earlier post was a bit misleading I think. Still Pat Barker is a good writer. I admit, though, that I did put this book down in order to read Steve Berry's The Alexandria Link. Sometimes you just need a little mind candy, and this one was another page-turner like the previous book of his I read, The Templar Legacy. These are the sorts of books you pick up in the airport or while at work events to help pass the time while traveling or in the hotel room (face it, there's next to nothing worth watching on TV). The biggest problem I have with such books is that I find it difficult to put them down, so I end up reading long past my bedtime or when I should be doing something more productive. But if you're looking for a fun diversion while sitting in an airport or on a plane, check out Berry's books. If you like thrillers based in some historical religious fact, you'll probably like them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Showing sheep

As I mentioned earlier, Mary Luper and I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this past weekend, where we showed my two yearling karakul ewes. It was definitely an experience! First I should note that I hadn't planned on showing sheep--conformation shows just aren't my thing. Those of you who know me know how I feel about the way conformation showing seems to relentlessly change conformation, and generally not for the better! But this is where having a very rare breed comes in. There's not as much pressure to change the breed to meet some artificial show standard. So when the woman I got my ram and a couple of ewes from asked if I had anything to bring to the show, I decided to go ahead and enter.

The first hurdle was the sheep themselves. I did the shearing myself last fall, which means that I sheared only those sheep who really needed it. Six-month-old lambs didn't fall into that category, so the youngsters remained unshorn. That wouldn't be a big deal--unless you intend to show them in the spring!

So when I pulled Cinnamon and Peppercorn out of the pasture so we could spruce them up, the first thing I noted was their badly cotted and felted wool. This was absolutely not good for a show sheep, but since karakuls are shown in fleece, I couldn't very well have the shearer clean them up. So we had to do what we could with the mess in front of us. If you've ever dealt with felted wool, you know you can't just comb it out, though Mary tried valiantly with Cinnamon. Armed with a comb and a bottle of Show Sheen she spent hours trying to comb out Cinnamon's fleece. But it really was pretty hopeless. Given that was the case, I made much less effort with Pepper. My contact had said we could try to cut out some of the felted areas, and I started to do this around Pepper's neck until I realized all I was really doing was making her look more and more like a vulture, with a little skinny naked neck rising up out of a poofy, cotted fleece. Oh well, live and learn.

We rushed to get the shearing done Thursday (Tom was shearing my sheep till nearly 7 that evening, after having already stopped at two farms before mine). When it was time to do the "show sheep" Tom asked what needed to be done. I consulted the e-mail I had received from the breeder and said "Shear the bellies and crutch them, and that's it." He kept asking questions (having shown Corriedales back when his daughters were small) and all I could answer was that I'd know better next year after seeing what the sheep looked like at the show this year.

Tom finished up Tony and Mary's sheep late morning on Friday. I didn't go help catch and flip because I had to load the sheepmobile and make sure all the livestock and pets had food, water, etc. We were supposed to be checked in at the festival before 6 p.m., and it's a six-hour drive there, so we were cutting it close.

Jimmy got back from assisting with the sheep shearing and helped me get Cinnamon and Pepper in the van. (In case you're wondering how to carry sheep in your van, I took a hog panel, bent it in a C shape and after laying a heavy duty tarp down, pushed it into the van. Jimmy and Tony had bent the ends of the panel to fold in and form a gate at the back. I then took clips and clipped the tarp up on the sides of the hog panel to prevent any splashing of pee. We then placed a rubber mat on the tarp, covered it with pine shavings, and then covered the shavings with straw. Voila! Sheep transport.) Even with the hog panel pen, we had plenty of room in my midsize van for a bale of hay, feed and grooming supplies (ha!ha!) for the sheep, our overnight bags, and a cooler. The sheepmobile was ready to roll!

We ended up being a few minutes late arriving at the fairgrounds, but we had called ahead to explain and the folks were very nice once we finally found where we needed to check in. We got the girls unloaded and in their pens (where I foolishly lifted some flakes of straw over the backs of my sheep--you can imagine what the result was! I'm sure Mary was considering shooting me at that point.) and then wandered around looking at the vendors setting up while we waited for the show committee to post the show times. Finally we found out that we'd be showing Saturday morning, third in line after the black romneys and the blue-faced leicesters. Rather than stay there that evening trying to do the last-minute prettying of our sheep, Mary and I decided that since we are both "morning larks" we would just get up early and get back to the grounds in the morning to do the needed (and, face it, pretty much hopeless) sprucing.

The next morning I thought I'd have to pry the comb out of Mary's fingers. Again, I just did the minimum with Pepper, knowing I couldn't change much in the short time we had and the judge would likely mark us down for the condition of the fleeces. Being pragmatic, I just reminded myself that this was an unplanned show and I was doing it in support of the other karakul breeders so that the breeder numbers would be high enough to enable them to keep having a separate karakul show at this festival. It would be a learning experience.

As we stood around outside the arena awaiting our turn, a number of spectators stopped and asked about our sheep. Most folks aren't old enough to remember "Persian lamb," but those who did were fascinated that the sheep they saw in front of them are what produced that lovely black fur of yesteryear. People wanted to touch the sheep, which was just setting poor Mary's teeth on edge as they mussed Cinnamon's fleece, requiring Mary to keep smoothing it back down.

Now we were clueless about what we needed to do in the show ring. And our sheep had had halters on for the first time that Wednesday, so even leading them around was a bit dicey. In fact, Cinnamon would really lead only if she could follow Pepper, which was pretty funny considering that out in the field Pepper is the nutcase and Cinnamon is the sane one. Fortunately, the breeder of one of the oldest karakul flocks in this country, Letty Klein, came to our rescue. She even came into the ring during the pairs class to help us set our sheep up properly! She was so kind and informative, answering all of our newbie questions and giving advice on how to keep the fleeces in better show condition in the future (blanketing is a big no!, but apparently if you just pull the sheep out and hose them off occasionally, the hosing removes dirt, and it's dirt that causes cotting). Obviously, everyone pointed out that I should have shorn my ewe lambs in the fall. Now I know. But as I said, I had no plans to show, and shearing was painfully slow, so they just didn't get done.

Anyway, we got in the show ring, and despite our nasty fleeces, we still managed to place in the middle of the pack. Even had the fleeces been pristine, we likely wouldn't have done a whole lot better because this particular judge consistently picked the larger sheep, all other things being equal (hmmm...I wonder if that could be why breeds are getting larger and LARGER?). The good news is we had a blast! We've decided to go back next year and do it right. And we plan to go through the lamb crop this year and pick out some to show at SAFF (Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival) in October. I doubt I'll ever become a "show jockey"--it just doesn't appeal to me that much, but I can see myself going to Maryland in the spring for the karakul show (and because there are oodles of wonderful vendors) and to SAFF in the fall for the chance to take classes in some of the crafts I enjoy (last year I took Letty's and Ann Brown's class in braided rugs from roving; this year I plan to take a class in "painting" with needle felting) and sell some fleeces and maybe pelts if we have any then. And if you're going anyway, you may as well drag a few sheep along too! Although this fall I'll probably have more sheep than will fit in the sheepmobile, which means I'll have to pull a trailer.

So that was our sheep show experience. We met some really nice folks, and some not so nice folks (I guess showing is the same everywhere, no matter what species you're working with). We got to see breeds of sheep we might not easily get to see otherwise, certainly not all in one place. I absolutely fell in love with the "UK style" blue-faced leicesters. We marveled at Columbias the size of large ponies. Played with lovely Lincoln Longwool (nothing makes a more beautiful pelt in my opinion, well, except maybe a Cotswold) and Border Leicester fleeces. Waxed nostalgic over the Scottish blackface (especially since there were three nosey ones in the pen next to ours). Marveled at the wrinkles on the Merinos. Admired the "dreads" on the Cotswolds. Luxuriated in the fleeces of the Romneys. Saw sheep being bathed in bay rum, sheep being blocked by the light of headlamps and freestanding halogen worklights, sheep being primped and preened to within an inch of their lives.

And the vendors! Ah, if you're a handspinner or a knitter, you'd have been in paradise. Even people like me, who neither spin nor knit, but do other crafts instead, could find loads of things to lust over. If I had money, I'd be dangerous at such a festival. As it is, I managed to keep myself to just a small hooked rug project and a beautiful cast stone plaque of a willow tree that is destined to become part of a farm sign for future shows and festivals. I got Laura a lovely mug with a border collie hand-painted in delft blue as a thank you for looking after Pip (with three bitches in heat, it seemed wise to send him away) and Twist (who is on strict leash walking and crate rest, which wasn't likely to happen at my house while I was gone). I stayed away from all the hand-knit sweaters, though I saw many I would have loved to have had. I even got practical and bought a foot bath for the sheep. We also had a chance to chat with a friend of mine from Pennsylvania who raises old-style tunis sheep. She brought us pictures of some of her ram lambs, and we will be getting our next ram from her later this summer.

It was a long weekend, but a fun one, and I'm looking forward to going back next year.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Time Sure Does Fly

Okay, although it may seem as if I've dropped off the face of Earth, I haven't really. I've just been very busy with one thing after another. Probably one of the last times I posted I mentioned getting ready to go to a cattle trial. Well, we did that. The calves were smaller than usual, maybe around 500 pounds, because Roy and Debbie had to sell off much of their older stock due to hay and grain prices. Although I didn't have any real successful runs (well, that depends on how you define success), we all had a great time. I ran Twist just once, because of her intermittent lameness, and threw Pip out there in her place for the other three runs. I give Pip credit for improving with each run, but he's really not anywhere near ready for a full open course (having to that point never gotten all the way around a pro-novice course), let alone given the fact that he's seen cattle just once. Lark performed admirably. She really seemed to enjoy working the calves. She had no problems hitting noses (something she's not very inclined to do with sheep) when the calves tried to run over her to get to the barn. She showed me that she could handle a full open course, even while working stock with which she was largely unfamiliar. Phoebe even got a turn at the end of the trial, although for her it was more about reverting back to her alligator youth than showing what she could do on an open course. Still it was a great weekend and I got to see a bunch of folks I haven't seen in ages. I haven't been to a trial since early December, so it was nice to see old friends and catch up.

A week later, Tony Luper and I headed out to Elizabeth City, NC, for the Dixie Meadows Sheepdog Trial at Carol Calhoun's farm. This is where I started out with my first dogs, and where Twist had her start too. So it was sort of like going home. I've gotten used to the rolling hills in this part of the state, and you sort of forget the flatness in the east--with fields crossed by drainage ditches to help water run off. People who haven't seen agricultural practices in that part of the state often wonder about the ditches, but it makes more sense if you remember that a lot of that area used to be the Great Dismal Swamp. The water table lies very close to the surface. Any rain and water is pooling above ground. That's not the best situation for plants like cotton, tobacco, and peanuts, so all the fields are crossed by drainage ditches. It's what gives the countryside some variation (since otherwise it's just plain flat).

Anyway, we stayed with my former housemate Jake, who lives about 3 miles from the trial field. I had just entered my young dogs, largely because with gas and grocery prices going up I don't have as much money to spare for the fun pursuits like trialing, and since I have no plans to go to the National Finals in Sturgis, it seemed to make more sense to put mileage on the youngsters. Carol had contacted me, though, to see if I'd set sheep for the classes in which I wasn't entered and in exchange she'd give me the entries for my open dogs. So I ended up running Phoebe, Pip, and Lark in pro-novice, Lark in nursery, and Twist and Kat in open, though I was still wavering over Twist because of the lameness problem.

It turned out to be a great trial weekend for us (well, excepting Phoebe). Pip refused to lie down on the fetch the first day, but we still made it around the course. On Sunday he had a great run--I mean he was listening for once! We made it around the course very nicely (and this is a vast change from the dog who usually would last be seen heading over the hill latched on to the backside of a sheep....) and in fact tied for 4th place with a score of 70 (out of 80 possible). I should also add that Pip started out his first trials being a bit concerned about the set out person and so he would slow down and become hesitant as he went around behind his sheep. If any "action" was going on up there, it just made things worse. So Tony was setting the sheep with Blurr and when Pip got there and tried to lift the sheep and bring them down, Blurr decided she wasn't letting them go. In the past this would have confused Pip mightily and the rest of the run would have been a disaster after his mind was blown by the situation at the top. In fact, the judge offered me a re-run, but I saw that Pip was handling the situation with equanimity and decided to continue on.

The other two 70s were Pam Gardner with Rom and me with Lark and the final breakdown was Rom in 4th, Lark in 5th, and Pip in 6th. I couldn't have been prouder of the big lug!

Then there was Phoebe. Oh Phoebe! None of my other bitches has ever given me a problem when in heat, so I'm not used to having to deal with issues at that time. Phoebe, however, is one of those bitches that has issues when she's in heat. Her outrun, lift, and fetch were fine, but apparently hormones somehow made driving impossible. So impossible that any attempt made to drive the sheep toward the panel got her so confused that she spun around, tried to come back to me at the post, and just in general acted like a complete moron. It's a good thing my ego isn't all wrapped up in how well my dogs do on the trial field, because her Saturday run was one for the record books, and not in a good way. I just had to give up and retire her and have a good laugh at our expense. On Sunday she looked a lot better and I got my hopes up. We even made the drive most of the way to the drive panels before her "hormone effect" kicked in and she whirled around and started to bring the sheep back to me. I actually got her and the sheep turned back around for a second attempt at the panels, and she pulled the same stunt. Deciding to cut my losses after that second attempt, I headed for the pen. But wait, Phoebe wasn't done! It wasn't possible to bring the sheep toward me at the pen ( a most basic fetch). Instead she was going to let them go way off line to somewhere back behind the pen. When I insisted that she come around to their heads to turn them, she decided that diving in was the better option. The sheep scatterd and bolted toward the exhaust, with Phoebe in hot pursuit (shades of Pip in a previous life!). At that point all I could do was stop her and call her off the field, once again shamed by my hormonal adolescent....

Things went well for Lark both days. She was pushier than normal, which made for less perfect lines, but she still managed to place 2nd on Sat. and 5th on Sunday. Better than that, she won both rounds of the nursery class. Since nursery is generally the open course without a shed (i.e., the open ranch course), I'm getting the feedback I need to make the decision about whether to move her up to ranch rather than leaving her in P/N a little while longer. She's been to only maybe five or six trials, so I don't want to rush things, but I also want to keep her moving on a steady track toward open.

Then came open. It wasn't a large class, but there were some good competitors there. In the first go, Twist wasn't quite on her game (a result of the lameness issue I think), which set the tone for the entire course. We made it around the drive, but then had to put the sheep through a chute and then to the pen before bringing them back out to take a single. As I was trying to set the sheep up to go through the chute in a nice line, Twist decided we were shedding and came flying through on the last sheep (well, at least she was doing it right!), but unfortunately that action boogered the sheep pretty badly and it took us a while to get things back together with the sheep settled enough to go through the chute (some of that was time spent getting Twist to get around on her flanks--the slowness no doubt due to discomfort). Anyway, we did eventually get them through the chute and got to the pen and penned them, but ran out of time before we had a chance to do the shed and so didn't place.

Kat, on the other hand, was a little superstar, with a gorgeous run all the way around (after two re-runs for problems with the set out, the third go was definitely a charm!). I don't consider Kat my best dog, and she's not a good shedding dog at all. In fact, I can probably lay the blame for any lack of competitiveness we have squarely on Kat's weak shed. But I can't blame her entirely, since I haven't spent any time trying to fix it either. So I was pretty lucky that my three sheep didn't want to clump together after we got them back out of the pen. Kat's quickness does tend to unsettle sheep, and as a result they often cling together, which makes shedding a much tougher job, especially for a dog who doesn't shed well in the first place. So I had one sheep that kept popping off the back and turning to go back toward the set out. But in order to get full points for the shed, I had to call Kat in on the sheep's head and not on its butt as it was turning away. So I spent some time working the sheep around trying to get that one sheep to stay facing in the right direction so I could call Kat through properly (all the time thinking it probably wasn't going to happen anyway). I finally got things settled and just so, and called her through, and lo and behold! she came right through! We won the class with a score of 102, having lost just 8 points on the entire run.

On Sunday, the competition was stiff. Kat put down another great run but lost enough points to leave it wide open at the top. Tony and Ben had run before us and had a winning run going until the pressure got to great in the shedding ring and Ben was DQed for a grip. Then the second-place team from Saturday, Richard Brewer and Floss, went to the post and laid down an awesome run. It was definitely the better run over Kat's, but I had to wait to see how much better because the scores weren't posted right away. At stake was the overall championship for the weekend (determined by combining the scores from both days). I had beaten Dick by just six points on Saturday and after seeing his run on Sunday, I knew it would be close. In the meantime, I had been debating running Twist or just letting her rest (the lameness thing) but in the end decided to run her. We had a much nicer go until the shedding ring. We were a little short on time because Twist had walked the sheep around the drive and so I wasn't careful setting up the shed. When I called her in, she turned on the WRONG SHEEP! This is something she never does! With less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock, we had no time to regather and try again, so that was it. We still had a good enough score for 6th. Finally Dick's score was posted and he had won the class. But he had beat me by just four points, so the overall championship went to Kat--by just two points!

So it was a great weekend for everyone--if you just ignore Phoebe's, um, accomplishments!

Last week, I took Twist to the vet on Wednesday (that's a whole 'nother saga) and Tom came down and Thursday and stayed through Friday to shear Paige's, Joy's, my and Tony and Mary's flocks. And Mary and I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, where we showed my two karakul yearling ewes. But since this has already gotten long, I'll post more on that later....

Did I say we've been busy around here?