Sunday, June 29, 2008

Working Dogs and Getting Hay

Yesterday was a really fun day. I went to a friend's place to work sheep, along with several other folks, and despite the heat we had a really good time. I worked only the young dogs (well, there's enough of them after all!). I didn't spend a lot of time on any of them, largely because it was hot and we were using a commercial wool flock so didn't want to wear them out in the heat. I mainly did outruns with Lark and Phoebe. I'm letting Lark work with minimal commands--it's nice to watch her bring sheep down the field and correct the line herself with no word from me. It may not be the most perfect line (millimeter tolerance, as some would say), but it's straight enough to get a good fetch score, and I like a dog who can do a silent gather. Phoebe had a sheep that wanted to go hang on the pen with the lambs in it at the back of the pasture. I sent Phoebe to get it, and she kept thinking my flank command meant she had to find a way into the pen, but she figured it out.

Later we pulled out the ewe flock for one of the younger dogs. I decided to work Pip on them. Pip has been looking like he's not enjoying himself while working. At the get-together at Becca's place, he appeared to be lacking confidence on the drive. Even Robin, who was setting sheep for us, noticed it. So I spent a few days thinking about the situation and it (finally) occurred to me that maybe I had been screwing down on him too tight, trying to get good lines instead of just letting him drive. I put that theory to the test by taking him out into the side pasture with the hair sheep and just letting him push them wherever--not aiming for anything or trying to correct any lines. His attitude improved immediately. On the larger group yesterday, he still showed better confidence and happiness when I just let him push on without trying to pick a line and then stick to it unwaveringly. He's not yet two years old, and I'm really not in a rush, and not planning on doing much in the way of trialing this fall, given the gas prices, so I've decided to slow down with all three youngsters. I have two open dogs, so there's no rush to get the youngsters to that level and so I'm going to just slow down--"take time" so to speak.

At the end, we put the ewes back in a smaller paddock so Robin and Laura could work their six-month-old pups, and I pulled Raven out for a spin. This is the second time she's worked sheep off the place (the first time being at Robin's and so on sheep she was familiar with) and I was really pleased with her. She pulled the sheep off the fence without attempting to grip, flanked well in both directions, didn't think much of stopping when asked and was a bit too pushy on the fetches, but generally I was very pleased with her. I've been letting her do some chores at home as well; for example, putting the hair sheep back in their paddock at night after they've been out grazing in the yard. The sheep know the drill, which is nice, because they will head to the paddock gate and Raven can fall in behind and do a bit of "driving." (It's not really driving in the sense that she's pushing the sheep, because they're going in a direction they want to go, but it's a very easy, stress-free way to get her comfortable with the idea of being behind the sheep and moving them away from the human). I started Lark driving using a similar situation and it worked great.

And of course any get together wouldn't have been complete without a chance to sit under a shade tree and enjoy some good conversation and great food. Laura gets props for being the Domestic Goddess and making all sorts of yummy food! I also picked up another large Vari-kennel from Robin, so now I won't have to haul Pip's crate in and out of the house whenever I go somewhere and he won't have to be crammed into an intermediate.

This morning, Jimmy and I went and got 19 round bales of timothy/fescue mix. Wow, that was a chunk of change, but at least I have some hay in the barn. Tony came over with his tractor and forks and we rearranged the hay that was still in there and added in the new. He's lined up some hay from another neighbor, so we'll probably be moving that next Saturday. I think I went through close to 25 bales last year, and that was with starting to feed hay in August or September. We're already feeding hay this year, and since we basically had no rain in May or June, the pastures are pretty much beyond recovery. I hope that we get enough rain for folks to get a second cutting, but I'm not counting on that and am trying to get as much hay as I can afford to buy into storage now.

I will be going through my animal list as I will need to send at least half the sheep off this place. Tony and Mary are going to take two of my tunis ewe lambs, and my former neighbor Joy wants one or two of my two- to three-year-olds, as well as several of my tunis wethers to pasture over the summer and then butcher and sell to their CSA customers next spring. I plan to butcher a couple for the dogs (need a bigger freezer first) and Mary and I are going to make a big push for the ethnic market July 4th celebrations this coming week, and then whatever else needs to go will have to go to the livestock market. I really hate to do that with a breed that's as rare as the karakul, but there's no way to avoid it now. And with the flooding in the midwest, I imagine grain prices will be astronomical this fall, which means I need to start stockpiling corn now so I'll have something to feed whatever sheep I have left during late gestation and lactation. I'm glad a lambed early this year--at least there was grass for the young lambs up through weaning.... One advantage to the hair sheep is that they seem to stay fat on air. My wool sheep don't look bad, but they don't keep as easily as the hair sheep do. But I just don't particularly like hair sheep. I'll keep a few around, but will hang on to the tunis and karakuls until I can't hang on any longer!

When Joy called today to talk about the tunis, we also talked about going peach and cherry picking in the next week or so. Because I don't have enough to do. But I figure I can just get them in the freezer and then pull the frozen fruit out later when I have more time to make preserves and the like. I will also need to start frequenting the farmers' markets, since our garden is slowly going the way of the pastures. With no way to water at the back of the property, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and she's not being terribly merciful of late. (And to be honest, even if we could water from the well, I'd be reluctant to do so because in times of low rainfall I think it's irresponsible to take water from whatever aquifer our well taps into.) If I want to put food by so as not to have to deal with grocery store food, the Farmers' Markets is my alternative to our garden. And who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky and get some rain and I'll still be able to get my own home-grown goodies too!


Anonymous said...

I am sad for the state of affairs that you folks are in. Having to feed hay so early, and having to cull heavily. :( Wish you could get some of the rain we have been having.

Debbie P said...

What you said about letting Raven do chores and gathering the sheep really spoke to me. I've been doing that with my younger ones (including little boy Blue!) and it seems to have helped their confidence, even though the sheep would have moved even without the dog behind them. It was good to read that you do the same and I'm probably not imagining that it's helping.

Julie said...

It always seems that while some folks are literally drowning, others are begging for water. I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and she mentioned that her in laws were convinced that if we'd only drill for more oil all would be well. I noted that I've often been asked why I don't water the flowerbeds and yard during drought since I have a well and that my standard reply is that while the water supply underneath our property may *seem* endless, it most surely is not (same with oil, hmmm?) and that it didn't make sense to me not to choose to conserve what we can't be sure will be there forever....

I'm glad I was able to validate what you've figured out intuitively! Chores are such a great way to help them learn.