A lot has gone on in the past week or so, but with deadlines at work (getting the magazine to the designer plus other writing deadlines) I haven't had time to update my blog. So where to begin?
We've actually gotten a little rain, probably less than 2 inches in the past couple of weeks, but better than nothing. I made the decision to sell off some sheep, but ended up taking just half of what I had planned to the sale barn last Friday because we have some ethnic buyers who want one large sheep a week, and by hanging on to them for these buyers I can probably make a little more than what I'd make at the sale barn. It's hard parting with breeding ewes, especially of a rare breed, but at least I have plenty of ewe lambs to take their place.
Last Saturday, I drove up to Robin's, where a group of us got together to celebrate another friend's 50th birthday. I took the dogs with me, but I had already worked them that morning and decided not to work them at Robin's just because I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked. The food and the company were awesome, though, so it was worth the trip, especially since there were folks there that I don't get to see very often.
On Sunday, I got up early and worked all the youngsters. Pip, Phoebe, and Lark are all working very nicely and all of them are getting the idea of shedding. I've made it a bit more difficult for them by working with a small group of sheep (six of them), but they seem to be up for the challenge. I've been able to lengthen Raven's outruns a bit, and I've been putting names to what we're doing (away to me and go bye) and she's picking it up pretty fast. Darci came up around 10 to deliver my Rhode Island Red chicks (eight pullets) and work dogs. I got the chicks settled and we worked dogs, went to the pet supply place, came back and shaved Farleigh (I say we, but Darci did the grooming), who looks so much better now that he's back to his lavender shaved self, and then worked dogs again. On Saturday, Tony, Mary, and Jimmy had gone fishing and caught some really nice hybrid bass, so dinner was at Tony's: fresh caught fried fish, potato salad (made by me and Weight Watchers friendly), Tony's world famous biscuits, and a bunch of other goodies. Laura came down for dinner, as did Henry K. and his nephew Mike. In short, it was pretty much like another little party--must've been the weekend for that! I should add that Tony caught a near-record-size hybrid, which will someday be gracing his den in stuffed form....
Last week, all the dogs got a break from work. Not because I really wanted to, but paid work just got in the way. That and I spent Tuesday in Sanford because I took Pip to a clinic there to have him neutered. He now looks like Franken-pup, er, -Pip, because the vet had to make four incisions in his search for the missing parts. It turns out that his testicles were basically in a position to drop, but just never had. At least one was hidden behind some muscle. At any rate, he's now a "nobody," and he doesn't seem any the worse for wear. The vet even commented on what a sweet boy he is. Of course he's going stir crazy at the moment because he isn't allowed to do much, but by the middle of next week when he gets his stitches out he'll be back in the swing of things.
Friday morning early was "take sheep to auction" day. I had sorted off 10 ewes and put them in the round pen with hay and water Thursday evening so that I could get them loaded early in the morning. The auction starts early on Friday, so the stockyard usually allows people to bring stock in the day before, but I wanted to keep their stress to a minimum and so opted to get up early and take them down on Friday.
Jimmy came home Thursday evening after helping two guys load a wether at Mary and Tony's place and told me that they needed a sheep a week for the forseeable future. He suggested I sort off the largest sheep I was planning to take to market and save them for these individual buyers, so five sheep got a short reprieve, and I ended up just keeping five back to haul out on Friday.
There was one ewe, Lacey, who is rather young and I had some second thoughts about taking her (well, at least until I remember what a PIA she was during lambing, not only being overly protective from the dogs but mainly because when I was feeding the ewes with lambs I had to separate her out every morning, which was a lot of trouble, because she was very bad about butting the other ewes away from the feed). Still, I was feeling guilty about all of them, but it's a sad reality that when you don't have enough pasture, something has to go. I simply can't afford to essentially dry lot a big flock of sheep. So we backed the trailer up to the gate so that we could use the gate on one side of the ramp, with Jimmy doing the blocking on the open side. I got a wild hair and decided to use Phoebe for the task of trailer loading. I was on the side with the gate, but there was still maybe a three foot opening there because the gate is just a 4-foot gate. Darn if Lacey didn't come flying out of the pen and bowl me over trying to go through that opening. I grabbed her and hit the dirt, but I hung on! Any thoughts I had of sparing her went right out the window. The trailer is a utility trailer and has one of those diamond mesh gate/ramps. Her little performance left me with a gash on my left shin and on my right ankle, as well as a huge bruise on my hip. I had to ice my ankle last night it was so badly swollen. Darn sheep (and no, I used much more colorful language at the time, I'm sure).
Phoebe was a little too pushy and didn't take her flanks as nicely as she should, but we still got the trailer loaded in fairly short order and off I went to market. And the youngsters do have to learn to do basic chores sometime!
And that brings us up to this morning. I got up at 6 so I could take advantage of the cool weather and worked Lark, Phoebe, and Raven (with some help from JellyBean who likes to get in the way--the sheep's reaction to him is pretty hilarious, so it is kind of fun when he comes out to join us). I just did random fetching and driving with Lark and Phoebe (mainly just driving the sheep all over the field, no particular destination in mind, just going in straight lines with a few turns here and there). Then we did more shedding practice. Today instead of just calling them through and turning them on the sheep I wanted, we did some "crossing the bows" exercises. Neither dog is slow to come through, but this exercise really helps to speed them up. When the hole has opened and you call the dog through, you cross over to the side the dog was on while giving the dog a hard flank so that it ends up on the side you were on. Wanting to go to balance helps to speed them on through, and it's just a fun exercise for them to do. We also did a lot of pushing the shed sheep away and then bringing them back toward the other group and as soon as they got close enough to want to dash and close up the gap, then I'd flank the dog around hard between the two groups to hold them off. This is exciting stuff for a youngster and I think both Lark and Phoebe really enjoyed their work this morning.
I again worked Raven on her outruns and flanks. I have managed to double the length of her outrun on both sides, and she seldom slices, though she still backslides on occasion. She still wants to wear behind the sheep on her fetch instead of moderating her pace, so we're working on that. I think a few days off was good for her, and now I'll ramp up the intensity a bit and see if we can't make a bit more progress. When we were done, I let her fetch the sheep to me all the way back around the field and to the driveway and back to their paddock, where she got a tiny drive in putting them through the gate. Normally I would have left them out to graze in the unfenced field, but there was so much dew on the grass I didn't want to cause bloat issues by letting them tank up too much.
Then came our real project of the day. I set up the foot baths in the chute, took a cattle panel to hook to one end of the chute to work like a crush pen, and then added a gate to the other end so I could hold the sheep in and worm them as well as run them through the foot bath. We have worked the sheep through the chute on a number of occasions, so they do know about going through. I took Phoebe and did a dry run with the empty foot bath in place, and it worked well. Once I had everything set up, I got Twist out to do the real work. She's great at working in tight spaces (the crush pen) and doing her job without supervision from me, since I was going to be at the other end of the chute drenching, checking color, and marking sheep. I needed plenty of push because the sheep weren't as inclined to go through the now-full footbath, and by some unfortunate luck, I had a bunch of lambs at the head of the line, which meant no leader to take them on through.
I discovered that sheep can jump a rather lengthy foot bath (two Premier baths, end-to-end, so about 8 feet long), even though they showed no inclination to jump it when empty! So on several occasions, I had to turn a ewe back in the chute to make sure she got all feet in the bath. Overall, the system worked pretty well. There are a couple of things I'd do differently next time, but Twist and I got the job done. At the end, all I had left was five lambs in the chute, and Twist standing behind them in the foot bath. I looked back at the crush pen and thought we had left a lamb behind, lying down. It turns out it was JellyBean, who just can't help himself when it comes to sheep work--a cat's just gotta be in the middle of it.
And speaking of being in the middle of it, Phoebe and Raven got into a tussle the other evening (Raven stalks Phoebe, which understandably pisses Phoebe off). Out of nowhere comes JellyBean the enforcer--claws out and ready to join the fray, or in his mind, to put an end to it. Which he did. He stayed puffed up for a bit afterward, and even went after Phoebe again, although she wasn't the one who started the fight. I guess JellyBean figured she needed his brand of punishment anyway....
The youngest lambs are a bit thinner than I'd like, so I think I'm going to move the hair sheep from the paddock behind the barn (where I've been keeping them for convenience's sake) and out into the pasture with the main flock and then move the young lambs back behind the barn so I can keep a closer eye on them and feed them some. They are old enough to be weaned anyway (I was just going to let the ewes wean them in their own time), and this will take pressure off their mothers and give them a little boost.
And it will give the youngsters a practical reason the be shedding sheep as we'll now have to shed off the hair sheep each morning before we work them. I think practical work makes the dog, so it's about time I actually quit being lazy by keeping the training sheep separate and let the youngsters do the separating before our morning training sessions.
By the time we got everything done, it was mid-morning. I have an OEG hen who had started hatching chicks the day before yesterday and I left her on her nest for 48 hours to give everything that was going to hatch the time to do so. I went and checked on her this morning, and she had abandoned the nest and taken her three little black chicks to another part of the hen house, so I gathered them up and put them in the dog crate that is my "transition pen" between hatching and when they go in the little "chick tractors" out in the yard (which usually occurs about the time they have wing and tail feathers coming in). I thought about just putting them straight into one of the chick pens, but on the off chance that we really do get rain early in the week I figured it was better to stay with my tried-and-true schedule.
I let the RIR chicks out of their "chick tractor" on Thursday. It's amazing how much more food and water full-size chicks consume (and the bigger mess they make). So they are now free ranging during the day and just being closed up at night. Last night between 8:30 and 9 they still hadn't "gone to bed" (I think the lack of a mother hen means that they don't quite do things "by the book"), so I took Lark and rounded them up and closed them up for the night.
When it cools down enough this evening, I guess I'll go sort off those lambs and do the big sheep switch. I guess that catches us up on life here at Willow's Rest.
I am currently reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I've picked it up many times in the book store, but never got around to buying it. The other day while running errands with Mary, I checked in at the library, but there was nothing new of interest, so in Sanford on Tuesday I picked up this book. It's already been made into a movie, which is supposed to be quite dark, but I have to say that the book is one of those that just sucks you right in. The book I just finished is Never Cry Wolf, an old classic of environmental writing by Farley Mowat. It was published back in 1963 (so in nearly as old as I am!), but still relevant today, with the reintroduction of wolves into their native territories here in the U.S. If you can look past the anthropomorphism, there's a lot of good stuff. Also on the current read list is City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), another nonfiction work, this time set in Venice after the burning of the Fenice Opera House. The book is set around the trial of the arsonists, and is full of colorful characters reminsicent of those in Midnight. I think anyone who enjoyed the first book and who has an interest in Italy will find this second book a fascinating read. I'm going a bit slowly on this one, since I'm reading two books at once, which I sometimes do when I've got both fiction and nonfiction books to read.