Friday, August 29, 2008

Splish, Splash!

Rain, we finally had some glorious rain, thanks to Tropical Storm Fay. It started out Monday as just a tease--I could sit here at my computer and see raindrops hitting the back deck and hear it on the tin roof of the chicken house, but it was so light a rain that when I went out to feed Maia on Tuesday morning the ground was dry beneath the bowl I had put out for her Monday night, and the rain gauge measured less than a quarter of an inch. I was beginning to fear that the "big rain" from Fay was going to be a bust here in central North Carolina. As Tuesday afternoon rolled around, though, we got some periods of harder rain, so that by bed time the guage measured an inch and a half or so. Now, that's more like it!

Wednesday dawned (well, as much as a day can dawn when it's cloudy and raining) and it was pouring! I had to go to traffic court all the way up in Yanceyville in Caswell County (that speeding ticked from the weekend of the NC BC Boards picnic) and I was worried about making it on time because news reports were that streams were flooding back roads.

I went out to feed and the barn looked like the set from "A River Runs Through It." No kidding. Whoever situated this barn on the downhill side of a hill with no drainage measures must not have been thinking. When it rains, the water runs through. When it pours, the water pours through. On my way out the drive, I checked the rain guage. Five inches! Woohoo!

I'll not go into the details of my day at court. Suffice to say that it's one big moneymaking scheme--show up and your ticket will automatically be reduced. Sit there all day for your 15 seconds of pleading guilty to a lesser speed, give us your money, and thank you, have a nice day. I will say that they had something like 357 cases scheduled, and public parking spaces for maybe 25 cars. Nothing like having to park a quarter mile or more away and hike to the courthouse in the pouring rain (there was just no way not to be soaked).

Anyway, while I was whiling away my time in the courtroom and getting a lot of reading (The Worst Hard Time) done, folks down my way were braving tornado sightings, school lockdowns, and roads closed due to flooding. I had to take the long way home down 85 since the back roads I normally take were closed.

That means I missed the worst of the flooding here as well. Jimmy said that at one point the sheep were up to their knees in water standing in the bottom of the pasture near their round bale. The spring/creek that runs through the bottom there (at the bottom of a 6-foot-deep gully) was overflowing. The road we take to the back of the property was overflowing, and the culvert Lark likes to jump under was a raging torrent that even she wouldn't brave.

Hello, sheep? There's plenty of high ground you could move to.

Lark actually did make her jump once, but the water was rushing so hard that I think it scared her because while she would stand there looking at the water coming out of the culvert (the same water she likes to snatch at as she jumps into the pool below) she refused to make a second jump.

Here you can see how much water is rushing out, but just an hour earlier when Jimmy shot some video, the culvert was completely full and the water came up over the edge that Lark is standing on, so it has already receded significantly in this photo.

The final tally? Seven inches! I'm sure it came down at such a rate that most of it ran off, but some moisture must have gotten to our pastures, and at least the creeks, ponds, and aquifers will have benefited from the run off. I think we were down a total of 12 inches between this year and last, so at least we've made up part of that. And the good news is that I didn't really complain at all, even with 40 muddy paws to deal with. I had promised I wouldn't bitch and moan if we just got some much-needed rain, and since Mother Nature came through with the rain, I held up my end of the bargain too.

Phoebe does have a nickname or two. Since she was little, she's been known as the "rabid possum" because, well, she's a bit snarky and when she's wet she does look like a possum. She's also known as "pigpen," and you can see why from the photos below.

Here she's continuing her excavation work by Lark's swimming hole, trying to expand it. Excavation is so much more fun when there's also muddy water in the hole!

If anything that was planted in the fall garden plots remains after all that rain, Phoebe is doing her best to remove it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

An Exceptional Weekend at the Breezy Hill SDT

Let's just start by saying that it was a successful weekend from an extended dog family viewpoint (Twist, Twist/Sonny pups, and close relatives). Sonny is Roy Johnson's open cattle dog (he also works sheep, but Roy doesn't trial on sheep often) who won the USBCHA National Cattle Finals in 2007 and placed in the top 10 at the finals this past year. I'm sorry I don't have any photos to share, but Becca came up on Saturday and took some video, so when she gets the videos posted on YouTube, I'll put a link here.

First I'll explain the course to give you an idea what it's like. If you're standing out the post, the exhaust is behind you and to your right in an old barn. Off to the right in front of the barn area are two ponds. At the far corner of the field, also to the handler's right is the set out area. The field is set up for a left hand drive. Normally the sheep aren't too bad to fetch up the field (that is, if they didn't bolt to the set out at the lift), but once you turn the post to make the left-hand drive, the sheep lean really hard to the right (in the direction of the draw to the set out), so that you're forced to keep your dog way over to the right as well to try to make the drive panels. As soon as the sheep hit those panels, whether they make or miss, they generally high tail it for the set out. In the meantime, the dog, who was all the way over on their right, has to do a huge, fast flank to the left (so as not to cross the course) to catch the sheep and get them back online for the cross drive. The sheep will lull you into thinking they're on line on the cross drive (when they're not running 90 miles an hour, which happens often enough, and it's near impossible to hit drive panels with running sheep) and often will jog to the left or right at the last second, causing a miss high or low. It's crucial that the dog once again do a fast left flank because once the sheep make or miss those panels, their inclination is to bolt across the ditch that runs behind them and then swing around onto the other side of the ponds. On bad runs, it's not unusual for sheep to go in the pond. They can be gotten back across the dam between the two ponds, but it's not for the faint of heart and takes a steady dog, so the usual result when the sheep end up over there is a retire for the handler-dog team. So coming up the side of the field on the handler's side of the pond from the cross drive panels, the sheep have to be brought through a chute--if they pass the plane that passes through the exit of the chute, you've missed the obstacle and have to move on to the pen. There's not much space between the chute and the edges of the ponds, and of course there's a very strong draw at that point to the barn up above the ponds where the exhaust is. What this means is that if the sheep try to run hard for the exhaust, the dog doesn't have much room (because of the ponds) to get out and around to stop them before they pass the chute completely. The pen is the last thing to be done on the open ranch course. For open, since we were running four sheep, the handler-dog team also had to do a split, taking the last two sheep on the head. Penning Roy's sheep is famously difficult, and this weekend was no exception. Given the penning problems that were the downfall of many teams, there weren't many opportunities to attempt a shed in the open class.

My first dog to run for the weekend was Larky, who made her debut in the open ranch class on the big field. Her outrun, lift, and fetch were very nice on both days, and the drive away went pretty well too. One wrong flank (I gave the correct flank; Lark took the wrong one) on Roy's sheep on the drive away on the open field can be fatal, and on Sunday it cost us the win, but Larky did a great job of catching runaway sheep on the crossdrive, getting them back under control, and successfully negotiating the chute and the pen (and anyone who knows Roy's sheep knows that pens are not easy to come by). In fact Lark's speed and ability to stop on a dime at the pen on Sunday were thrilling, and it was thanks to her quick responses that we were able to successfully pen at all. I think there were only four scores Sunday out of 12 or 13 dogs, if that gives you any idea about how pissy the sheep had become by then (the open dogs didn't fare much better, with lots of retires). We ended up placing second both days, and our combined score for the weekend clinched the open ranch championship. Way to go "Needle Nose"!

I chose not to run Pip and Phoebe in pro-novice on the small field. I think they would have handled it fine, but I don't have unlimited funds for trial entries and so decided my entry money would be better spent stretching them out on the big field in the nursery class. It wasn't an official USBCHA-sanctioned nursery class because we didn't have the requisite minimun entry of five dogs, but Roy and Debbie were kind enough to go ahead and let us run the class so we could get mileage on a bigger course and tougher sheep for the youngsters. According to USBCHA rules, you can run a young dog in nursery and any other class, so what running in nursery allowed me to do was get my youngsters on the ranch course without having to commit to moving them up to ranch (that is, they can still run one level down from ranch, at the pro-novice level, which really is more appropriate for them right now). The nursery field consisted of the three littermates Phoebe, Pip, and Nick, all of whom turned two on July 14 and so are eligible to run nursery for the 2008-2009 trial season.

On Saturday, Pip ran first. He did a lovely outrun, but the sheep were being held on grain and they had their heads buried and were facing away from him when he came up for the lift. They didn't notice he was there until he was right on top of them, at which point they exploded and raced for the set out at a dead run. He couldn't catch them before they made it back to the set out, and the chaos that ensued there (with extra dogs and sheep running here and there) left him a little rattled. I ran down the field to help him and we got the sheep off the setout and I had him drive them back up the field to the exhaust, so we were at least able to turn it into a positive experience.

Laura and Nick ran second and he had a beautiful outrun, lift, and fetch. The drive was a bit rough (not Nick's fault--the sheep were just tough to get around the course in general), and I don't think they made any of their drive panels (but they didn't lose their sheep either), and they got their pen nicely for a final score of 71 and the win.

Phoebe ran last and also had a nice outrun, lift, and fetch. She was ignoring my lie downs and steady commands, but kept things under control nicely so that it wasn't a disaster that she wasn't being very obedient at that points. We actually hit the drive away panels, but the sheep got way offline when I asked her for that hard, fast swing to the left to catch the sheep and get them back online for the cross drive. She also worked well at the pen, and our score of 68 left us in second place.

Sunday's nursery runs presented a kind of reversal of fortunes for the pups. Phoebe ran first, and her outrun started out nicely, but she came in flat on top and pushed the sheep off sideways toward the set out , which could have been a fatal mistake as the sheep would certainly use any excuse to bolt back to the set out anyway. Fortunately, she then flanked quickly and covered nicely, caught them before they got too far, and managed to get them back on line for the fetch. It went downhill from there because Miss Pheebs was like a runaway freight train--probably because of all the excitement she had caused at the lift. Lie down or even slow down had become some sort of foreign language to her (and this from the dog who used to turn completely sideways off sheep if asked to stop--my how time and maturity can change things!). Even so, I was able to keep it under control (barely) to get the drive away, and she even took that hard flank to catch them on the escape and make the turn for the cross drive. At that point, she was pushing the heck out of them and ignoring me completely. We missed the cross drive panels low (in other words, toward the pond), at which point, one of the sheep split off (absolutely the result of Phoebe's extreme pushiness and complete lack of pace (feel my sheep? what's that?) and went up on the edge of the pond. At that point I decided to cut my losses and leave the post and make an impression on Miss Freight Train before se sent one or more sheep swimming. In retrospect I probably should have left the post and insisted she listen long before that, instead of attempting to handle through it, but in the end it was okay. I did let her drive the sheep up toward the exhaust after we had retired, but darn if the little dear didn't push as hard or harder then as she did around the course. It's clear what we need to work on with ol' Phoebe Jeebies Short Pants....

Laura said she was going to send Nick right or his Sunday nursery go to see if that would help cover the draw to the set out. Sending right actually makes sense on this field (because of the draw), but few handlers ever do it, largely I think because of a ditch that runs along that side of the field and the fact that the set out is pretty prominent on that side at the end of the field and a wide or deep running dog could get caught up there if it noticed the sheep in the set out pens before seeing the sheep on the field. At the last moment decided to send him left as she had done the day before. Nick also ran out nice but also came in flat (like Phoebe) and pushed the sheep off toward the set out. Unfortunately, they outran him back there, and Laura left the post to run down the field and go help him out. When she got there, he scooped the sheep off the set out very nicely and they wore them back up the field. Afterward the judge told her she had done the exact right thing to make sure that he maintained his confidence.

Then came Pip. I thought about sending him right, but was concerned with all that went on at the set out yesterday that he might be drawn there, but then figured that I had intended for these runs to be basically training runs anyway, and so why not try it. The worst that could happen was a wreck like Saturday's, with me running down the field to try and salvage something out of it. I certainly didn't have to worry about him stumbling over the ditch by runnign wide (it's in their genetics to do so, since their mother Twist is quite a wide runner), because he ran pretty tight most of the way out, finally kicking out and around about 3/4 of the way down the field. He had a nice easy lift and brought them fairly on line. At least he was taking my flanks to get them back online, which in the past he has refused to do. Still, I'd like to see him bring them straight to me naturally--I know he should have it in him (maybe it's just hiding), because his mom is very capable of silent gathers, and his sis Phoebe and cousin Lark also seem to have inherited that nice natural ability. We made the drive away, with Pip holding the pressure to the right quite nicely. We even made the panels, and he took that nice hard flank and caught them before they got too far offline on the cross drive. There's something about the pressure there just before the cross drive panels, though, as all my young dogs hesitated on their flanks there, with the result being a missed panel every time. We got our pen fairly easily, for a final score of 74. So he managed to redeem himself after Saturday's fiasco.

So it seems that the nursery runs from one day to the next were about reversals of fortune. But I think all the youngsters learned something, and I think both Laura and I saw where holes exist and need working on. I was quite pleased with all three of my youngsters for getting out there on the big field with the tough sheep and pretty much holding their own. That doesn't mean we won't have disastrous runs in the future, but especially in Pip's case, the runs this weekend were a tremendous improvement. In our two or three outings last fall in pro-novice, practically every run ended with Pip latched on to a sheep, riding it into the sunset. Maturity has done him some good, and even with all the pressure these youngsters faced on that field and those sheep, he kept his head and worked well. Phoebe, despite the freight train behavior, also pleased me. Given how off her game she was for the eight weeks after her heat in April, I was nearly ready to give up on her. But again she showed me that she can do the job an do it well, if we can just get past that little "I can't hear you" thing.... And as for Lark, her issue is taking wrong flanks, and although she's gotten better, it's where we still need to improve. But she worked well, showed she could do a pretty decent silent gather and hold her own against sheep that wanted to run and were very tough to pen. She's just two and a half, but I think she'll be able to take on an open course before long.

In the open class on Saturday, Twist and I placed 4th with a score of 83 (out of 110). The course was the same 8 minutes we had for the ranch class, but we had to negotiate the chute, get our pen, and then bring the sheep back out and get a split, taking the last two sheep on the heads. If Roy's sheep are famous for being hard to pen, they are equally famous for being hard to shed. Twist had a really nice run on Saturday, but we ate up a ton of time at the pen (the pen became the make-or-break obstacle as some individual sheep just weren't going in there no matter what, meaning the team never had a chance for a shed). Twist and I had a very difficult-to-pen group that managed to break past us on several occasions, which doesn't bode well for a succesful pen, because once the sheep manage to beat you the first time, they will try harder the next time. After much difficulty, we finally got them in, and I had about 6 inches to go getting the gate shut when time was called, so I didn't get my pen points. To be honest I was pleased with Twist anyway. She hasn't trialed or worked much since April because of an intermittent hind leg lameness problem and so I was sure being out of shape and it being somewhat hot that she'd give out with all the circling at the pen, but she hung in there, which confirmed to me that the issues we were having this past spring were probably because she was in pain.

Kat ran toward the end of the class. She is also rusty as she's been worked less than Twist (I've been spending my time with the youngsters when I could, given the summer heat and humidity), and it showed. Nothing was real bad about the run, but it was just a bit raggedy. She's on a different set of whistles than everyone else, and so some of the raggedyness can be attributed to my own timing as I had to think about the whistles as well. That's my own fault for not working her more. She's fast and a bit pushy and tends to unsettle her sheep, and it cost us at places like the chute, pen, and shed. Still she managed a score of 80 for 6th place.

On Sunday, Kat had a better run, and although we missed the chute, we managed to pen fairly quickly, and had nearly two minutes going into the shedding ring. Kat is not a great shedding dog, so I have to be able to set things up well for us to be successful at the shed. Unfortunately on Sunday, I couldn't get her in close enough to the sheep to attempt a shed--if I moved her up at all, the sheep would fold around me, and I just couldn't get them to give me any space (that is, they were clinging to me) so that I could try to get them lined out and try to call Kat through. Even so, we ended up in 4th for the day.

Twist's run on Sunday was something to behold. It's the kind of run I used to have pretty regularly with her, where I could just "sit back" and give the occasional flank whistle and let her do the rest and do it beautifully. She had a lovely silent gather, and I didn't have to say anything to her until after she had made the fetch panels. I was so busy admiring the work that I didn't notice as quickly as a should that they were drifiting just a bit and so I was slow to ask her over to put them back on line. We lost two points on the fetch. Her drive was dead on. She held the pressure on the drive away, making the necessary small adjustments without having to give too much ground to the sheep, which set her up nicely to make a pretty tight turn to the cross drive, where she held a nice straight line. The sheep did the usual "wiggle" as they got close to the panel, but Twist read them well and kept them in the middle. Then I stepped in and very nearly messed things up by flanking her just a hiar too soon for the turn back toward the chute. Quick thinking on my part and an equally quick reaction and flank back to the right on Twist's part prevented a pull through and produced the tightest turn you could get, the sheep just skimming down the back side of the panel. We negotiated the chute with the smallest of hesitiations from the sheep and then managed a pen with little effort. Things were just flowing out there. Twist is a great shedding dog and I knew if I gave her half a chance she'd manage it. We went into the shedding ring with 1:45 left on the clock and got our shed within 20 seconds or so. Our final score was 107 out of 110 (the remaining point we lost came off the drive) for the win. The next nearest score was Twist's dam Quest, with an 88 for second place. They had one individualist at the pen who gave them quite a hard time, with the result that although they finally managed to pen, they ran out of time before getting a chance to shed. (I did say this was a family affair, didn't I?)

Twist's combined scores from her two open runs gave her to overall championship for open. The reserve champion went to Tom Forrester's Pete, who placed second on Saturday with a really nice run, but who were caught on Sunday by sheep that absolutely would not pen, with the result that they ended up in 5th for the day. Pete is Twist's half brother (they share a sire, Bud) and is Lark's grandsire on her dam's side.

So I have to say it was a great weekend for me and my dogs (and some of their relatives). To top that off, Laura and her Twist pup Nick had a stellar weekend in pro-novice. This was Laura's third trial with Nick and her second in pro-novice and they won the class on Saturday and tied for first on Sunday, but lost the run off to place second. Their combined overall score had them overall pro-novice champions for the weekend. I've already described their nursery runs. Laura and Nick remind me very much of me and Twist when we were starting out. They're a great match and should go far.

In trial results for friends and other doggy relatives, Mary Luper ran her young dog Roxy in N/N. They retired on Saturday, but placed 6th (with a completed run) on Sunday. Mary also ran Ben in P/N both days. They timed out at the pen on Saturday and didn't have a placing run, but on Sunday she placed 6th.

Tony Luper and Blurr were third in ranch on Saturday and retired on Sunday. Tony and his open dog Maid had a really nice run on Saturday to score an 87 and place third. Maid was unlucky enough to get one of those non-penning sets of sheep on Sunday, and they ended up timing out without penning. Maid also ripped a paw pad completely off while trying to pen.

Lark's mother Scout placed in the pro-novice class on Sunday, as did her littermate brother Blue. I don't remember exactly who got what, but I think they were 4th and 5th. Lark's sire Dutch ran in the ranch class. He had some tough sheep both days, but gave a good go even so.

As I was sitting here writing up this trial report with the window open to catch the night breeze, I heard Maia and the neighbor's LGD both start barking. Then I heard a series of yips and "screams" (for lack of a better description). It happened twice and I went to get Jimmy to have him listen. By the time we got outside, Maia had gone silent, as had whatever was making that noise. I came back in and started typing again, and again Maia started barking and I could hear the yipping/squealing. I jumped up again to call Jimmy and he said it sounded like young coyotes to him. He drove back to the back of the property, but didn't see anything. One of my Rhode Island Reds went missing this past weekend, and Jimmy said he'd seen a large hawk around, but there aren't even any feathers lying around (in my experience, hawk attacks on chickens generally result in the loss of feathers that can then be found at the site of the attack). Of course. there's been a black lab coming down the driveway the past couple of days as well, and the RIRs range out in both the fenced and unfenced pastures, so really anything could have gotten her.

Reading Corner
A couple of weeks ago I finished the book Gossip of the Starlings by North Carolina author Nina di Gramont. I had gone to the library to pay an overdue fine and saw this book in among the new books and thought it might be interesting. When I got it home and started reading it, something about it seemed familiar, and then it dawned on me that I had heard about the book on NPR's "The State of Things," probably a month or so earlier when I was in the van on my way to Mary's house to let her dogs out for her. I enjoyed the book, although the priveleged teenage lifestyle it depicted was completely foreign to my own experience. I had to wonder if the author wrote from experience, but since I didn't hear the whole of the discussion with her on NPR, I don't know.

For a major change of pace, I am now reading The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. This is the story of the events that led up to the dust bowl and of the people who lived through it. So far it's a pretty fascinating read, and as you read you can't help but wonder how no one could see what was happening and move to prevent it. The fact was that any number of folks did predict that tearing up the prairie would ultimately cause a disaster, but no one was listening, and when the depression hit, it was too late to try to undo the damage. I'm just about halfway through the book, and the author's method of telling the stories of individuals and their families (including their backgrounds--Russian imigrants of German descent, Jews, Irish--and their reasons for settling there) is absolutely spellbinding. There's a lot to be learned from this story, and I hope that some are paying attention.

In other book news, I really, really needed a calendar that I could fit in my purse and keep track of all that's going on this fall (usually my steel-trap mind suffices, but when it gets busy I get worried Ill forget something). So where did I go to find a calendar that would finish out this year and include next year? You guessed it, the book store! There's a reason I try to stay away from such places. I am a book addict. There, I said it. Given the rising cost of everything, I have made a real effort to use my local library a lot more and avoid book stores for the inevitability of my buying books if I enter one. So I went and got myself a $10 calendar and spent nearly ten times that much on books. At least I had restraint, getting a number of them from the "publisher's overstock discount table," but then further compounding my mistake of even walking in the door, I happened by the staff favorites and new in hard cover sections and, um, snagged just a few more (well, in my defense, they were 20 percent off!). So on my reading list for the next few months are the following books:
  • Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex, about the life of Leonardo da Vinci during his years at the court in Milan
  • The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, about our relationship with to the cosmos
  • The Judgment of Paris by Ross King, about "the revolutionary decade that gave the world Impressionism"
  • The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick, which is the story of Vermeer and the painter who forged his works, nearly succeeding in his plan to sell them to NaziHermann Goering as real Vermeers
  • John Adams, by David McCullough
  • Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg, which looks at the unforseen ecological consequences that have resulted from the eradication of predators.

And then my sister Jean also sent me a few books when she kindly sent me more of her homemade folks, so I also have to add to my reading list:

  • The Family that Couldn't Sleep by D.T. Max--this is another one I heard about some time ago on NPR and thought would be an interesting read. It's a look at mysteries of prions, centered around a Venetian family who have suffered from a progressive insomnia that eventually kills family members and has done so for more than 200 years.
  • Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, which tells the real story behind the voyage of the Mayflower
  • Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt, which attempts to tell the story of the making of William Shakespeare. I actually own this book and started it a couple of years ago, but couldn't get into it at the time. I may try again as sometimes a book I'm slow to start at one time sucks me right in at another.

I already have a stack of books from Jean I'm working through, including the one I'm reading right now, so I really didn't need to go out and buy more, but I think that's the nature of the avid reader. Sometimes one just can't help oneself. At least it's a relatively harmless addiction....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dogs and Sheep--A Pictorial

Over the past week or so, I have taken a number of pictures of the critters, just playing around. Here are some that I liked the best. First, the dogs.

I love this photo of Farleigh partly in shadow.

And here's a series of Pip sitting in Jimmy's recliner trying to telepathically tell me to stop taking pictures and finish fixing his breakfast. Maybe I should call these "a face only a mother could love."

At some point, Raven joined Pip on the chair.

Another of Raven in a different chair (if you're getting the idea that we don't stop the dogs from getting on the furniture, you're right!).

And Pip looking a bit forlorn on the day bed because I told him to lie down as I was trying to take his picture (since he wanted to hop off and come over to me). Notice in Phoebe's silhouette that you can see the tip of her tongue hanging out of her mouth. That's Lark snoozing in the background. His expression here is a carbon copy of his grandsire Bud.

I love a smooth-coated, prick-eared border collie. So what happened here? How could Phoebe have been my pick of Twist's litter? And, yes, she's on my bed in this photo. You're probably wondering if the dogs' feet ever touch the floor? (They do. I promise.)

This picture is special because Phoebe is wearing her best "I am most brilliant" look. That look is, of course, enhanced by letting one's tongue stick out of one's mouth--for greater intelligent effect.

Ah ha! A smooth-coated, prick-eared dog (man what ears!) has been spotted. Too bad she thinks the long lens on the camera is something to be avoided on pain of death.

Scooting to the top of the bed to perhaps hide one's head under the pillow won't help.

And now for some sheep. I took these with a point-and-shoot digital, so the quality isn't as great. My neighbor the alpaca farmer had come by and dropped off some alfalfa hay, which I had thrown over the fence to the flock before taking these photos. Why was my neighbor giving away alfalfa hay? Well it seems that the protein in alfalfa makes alpacas grown thicker strands of fleece (what do you call alpaca fiber while it's still on the hoof?). Anyway, the fineness of an animal fiber is directly related to its softness, so the last thing an alpaca raiser wants to do is make his alpacas grow fatter (and hence less soft) fibers. My sheep, on the other hand--at least the karakuls--already possess what is known as a "carpet wool," meaning that its coarseness is suited not for wearing against the skin (unless felted) but is great for making rugs and carpets. So if the alfalfa makes them grow a coarser fiber, no one cares!

Peppercorn (front) and Cinnamon (back) are the two yearling ewes that Mary and I showed at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this spring. Their fleeces look about a million times better here than they did at the show. I'm surprised that Pepper is still as black as she is. Usually the only true black fleece you'll get from a karakul is it's lamb fleece, but it looks like Pepper might give me a second black fleece, since I don't yet see any signs of silvering.

Karakul ewes and lambs. Here you can see the typical silvering of the older sheep and how they start out black. That's Maia in the foreground.

Karakuls and a tunis. Note the typical fat tail on the sheep on the left. Note the lushness of my pasture. Not! Darn drought.

Here's a shot with mostly tunis, although I do recognize Lolita's (a karakul) backside on the far right.

A tunis ewe. This is Rosie, Old Girl's daughter. Despite the sad state of my pasture, she doesn't appear to be starving.

Butt shot. It makes me think of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls." Gee, did I just date myself or what?

A trio of karakuls. Remember the "skeletor" lambs? Here's one of them. The lighter colored ewe lamb is one I hope to show at SAFF (Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival) in Asheville in October. They don't have a karakul show, so we'll be showing in the natural-colored, long wool category.

And of course no photo series of the flock would be complete without Maia, their guardian. Her splendid grey coloring is the result of lying in the ash pile left over after we burned a bunch of brush and tree limbs. Both Maia and the sheep like to lie on the ash pile. I wonder if there's not something in the ashes that keeps flying insect pests at bay? (Um, she's also matted, but I'm working on that, when she lets me.)

What Dogs Do on the Dog Days of Summer

We had a rainy day yesterday (although it was drizzly all day, we got maybe an eight of an inch in the rain gauge) and temperatures have been pretty comfortable today. But early last week and late the week before, the temperatures were in the mid-to-upper 90s and I actually had the air conditioner running. I got some photos of how the dogs spend their time while I'm working at the computer.

(L-R) Raven (our Alaskan visitor), Lark, and Pip making good use of the daybed.

Jill on "her" couch.

Willow, not liking having her picture taken.

Farleigh in all his shaved glory, for once not sleeping in a crate, which is his usual choice of resting spot.

Kat, snoozing under the antique drop-front desk, which also happens to be a spot where an air conditioning vent is. (Excuse the glowing eyes--she's really not demonic.)

Twist's preferred sleeping spot is under a bed, either the daybed or the bed in my bedroom. Her nickname is Twist the Troll because she becomes rather troll-like toward everyone else when she's ensconced under a bed.

The daybed sees a lot of rotation throughout the day. Here Phoebe (left) and Lark (right) are sharing the space. (I have to fight for a spot if I want to watch a DVD, since it's also the preferred place from which to see the TV.)

And then there's the old man Boy, who takes "brain freeze" to a whole new height. He prefers to lie with his head on the air conditioning vent (although in this photo he's got his head hooked around a table leg--doesn't look very comfy to me, but whatever). I guess that makes him the "cool headed" dog of the pack.

And since I joke about Farleigh being a new breed of dog called the Liberty Lavender Dog, here are some pictures we took after his most recent shave, about a month ago now. If you remember the pictures from the first shave, you'll note that I've finally managed to put some weight on him (or maybe he's just stopped running quite so much). You can see his nice lion's tail too.

And this photo shows the contrast between his actual color in full coat (the orangey red around his head) vs. the lavender color he becomes when shaved. Thanks to Darci for doing another awesome grooming job on Snarley Farleigh (and trust me, it's an apt nickname).

Oops! I almost forgot these. When I take the dogs walking on the "back 40" we go past a creek that stems from an underground spring. A culvert carries the water under the road/path, and where the water runs/drips out of the culvert a pool has formed that generally has water in it even during the driest times. Willow likes to jump in and pull at tree roots (well, border collies are known to invent their own fun!) and Larky has gotten into the habit of standing at the top of one side of the pool and waiting for me to say "Go, Larky, Go!" at which "command" she leaps into the pool below, snapping at the water, if any, coming out of the end of the culvert. She then races back around to do it all again a la a kid running around to a diving board and diving off repeatedly.

Lark poised for the "dive."

Willow looking up from her tree root, just to give perspective on Lark's jumping-off point.

And after I get tired of the "Go, Larky, Go" game (which generally happens very quickly), we head on up the path to continue our walk. Okay, they're mostly looking back at me, but we're really headed up the path.

Twist, Princess Troll, says "Hi!" (or "Bye!").

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"What's New, Pussycat?"

I’m still playing catch-up here on the blog, so for some of you readers this may be old news. Elvis, one of a pair of 15-year-old cats I have that were born in a groundhog hole on my parent’s farm, hasn’t looked well lately. I couldn’t smell the telltale signs of kidney failure on him, and given that he’s had what appear to be what I would call sinus infections in a human, and seemed to be drinking excessive amounts of water, I made an appointment with the vet. I suspected that his teeth were at the root of his problems, but figured at his age a complete blood panel would be advisable anyway.

Of course the first thing the vet does is a physical exam. As she’s listening to his heart, I quipped, “You better not find a heart murmur!” Well, wouldn’t you know that she heard something akin to a murmur. Given his heart rate, age, and thinness she thought it very well could be a racing heart due to hyperthyroidism, which the bloodwork would show us. She also agreed that his teeth could use a cleaning.

So we took blood from him and sent it off and I got the results the early last week. He’s actually amazingly healthy for a fellow his age, with everything within normal limits. His glucose was on the high end of normal, which could have just been the result of the stress of the vet visit, and his T4 was also high normal, but not indicative of hyperthyroidism, though he’ll need to be rechecked in a few months.

So that left his teeth, and I scheduled a dentistry for last Wednesday. The question of the day was how does a strictly indoor cat end up with a broken tooth? Yep, Elvis had a broken molar, part of which was in really bad shape and so was removed, while the “good” part was left behind. He had another tooth that required pulling too.

So Elvis now has some pearly whites and I’m a good bit poorer. He’s on antibiotics, too, which you can bet he just adores taking. I’m hoping he’ll put a bit of weight back on now that his teeth must feel better, but then again he might just be a bit thin due to old age. I had to keep him crated for quite some time after we got home Wednesday afternoon as I didn’t think trying to jump up on stuff when you’re staggering drunk was a good idea….

When I take Willow and Twist in for their prolo therapy (gah! no wonder I'm broke!) tomorrow, I'll make an appointment for Chili Pepper (Elvis' littermate sister) to get her teeth cleaned in September (hey, it's dental health month, which means 20 percent of all dental work--I'll take whatever help I can get!).

Both Elvis and Chili are very difficult to get pictures of, so here's the best I could do.

Meet Elvis:

Chili Pepper has found a new place to hide and I had to go looking for her to get this picture. She's in the linen closet in the master bathroom. Just so you know how often I go in there, see that blanket with the circus animals on it that she's on? I was wondering where I had put that because it's very special to me (ha! so special I forgot what I did with it) as it was given to me by one of my aunts when I was a child. That blanket is probably close to 40 years old!

And on the cat tree in the office.

JellyBean likes to get involved whenever I work sheep. Jean took these photos, more like silouhettes really, when I was working dogs for her while she visited (see how far behind I am? She's been home for two weeks I think). The sheep are funny about JellyBean. If he comes into the pasture, they all have to go right up to him and stick their noses on him (the "Holsteins" anyway). The lambs think he's very scary.

JellyBean still has occasions when he likes to stalk the Rhode Island Red chicks from the porch, although they are far bigger than any of the other chickens. I sometimes wonder if he figures since they don't have a protective hen with them they are fair game (not that he ever actually goes beyond harmless stalking to my knowledge). Here he is out in the yard with the OEG bantams.

Why is this hen on alert? Because JellyBean is rubbing up against my legs while I try to get a photo of her and her pretty little singleton chick who's just a few weeks old (you can just see the chick in front of the hen--it blends into the straw and dirt thanks to its coloring).

The Bean thinks he's the bees knees (and to think he was a throwaway who as a kitten used to try to follow me down the street when I jogged by his house, till I finally took pity and told his "owner" to bring him to me)....

It's odd, but after years of resigning myself to the fact that fate seemed intent on me having six cats at all times, I'm now down to three. And for the first time since Dandelion had to be put down because of cancer sleep last spring, I am without a tortoiseshell cat. Given my ever-mounting vet bills, though, I am content to keep the number of cats at three, for now anyway.