Friday, October 24, 2008

History Lesson

Those of you who know me personally know that I'm an avid reader. No matter how busy or chaotic my life is, I always make time for reading. Right now, I'm reading The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick (HarperCollins, 2008). This is the story of a forger, Han Van Meegeren, who used the turmoil of WWII and the greed of Hermann Goering to perpetuate a fraud: forging Vermeer and tricking not only the Nazis, but also the world.

While at the Lexington Sheepdog Trial this past weekend, I came across the following passage in the book. Okay, I'll admit that this was new information to me--I like history, but it was never my focus in school. So as I was reading this footnote, I couldn't help but think how apropos it is for political issues today.

"It was in a conversation with Gilbert* in Goering's jail cell, on the night of April 18, 1946, that Goering offered what became a famous observation of mass psychology: 'Why, of course the people don't want war,' he said. 'Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.'

Gilbert remarked that in a democracy the people have a say in the decision to go to war. 'Oh, that is all well and good,' Goering replied, 'but voice, or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for their lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.' "

*G. M. Gilbert was an Army captain and psychologist who interviewed Nazis at Nuremberg in an attempt to understand their motivation. seems that our political leaders really have learned from history--just not necessarily the lessons we might have liked them to learn.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Turtle Trek

Okay, my armchair naturalists, rather than post a reply to your comments, I thought I'd just post another entry to the blog. Just for you, I grabbed the camera and went back to the spot where our intrepid turtles were last spotted, but alas, they were no longer there. I suppose if you're a turtle and you beat feet, you can go pretty far in a couple of hours. Not being one to give up easily, I circled around through the woods on both sides of the path and even crossed the little meadow (in a zig zag pattern, natch) to see if they had made it across to the other woods. I saw neither hide nor hair of my pair of turtles. Not to disappoint anyone with a lack of photos, I decided to show you this mushroom (heck, I don't know if it's truly a mushroom or some other form of fungus) that catches my eye every time the dogs and I go walking. If you're wondering why it catches my eye, just remember that I live for food, and everytime I see these, I think of apple slices lying on the woodland floor. Red Delicious, anyone?

While I was busy taking pictures of the above, I saw this interesting piece of bark, so had to get a picture of it too. It looks like it has scales. In fact it looks like the tree version of a stalk of asparagus. It's on the right in this photo, which also includes a couple of my "apple mushrooms."

But back to my turtle troubles. Since you ladies have your minds in the gutter, er, bedroom, I decided to look up some information on box turtles, aka Terrapene carolina carolina. How cool is it that scientific name? The extent of my knowledge of box turtles is that if you save them from sure destruction on the highway, you shouldn't toss them in the floorboard and release them elsewhere, but instead should just help them across the road in whichever direction they were originally headed. Anyway, the Eastern box turtle is the state reptile of North Carolina. They generally stay within something like a 5-12-acre territory their entire lives, which can be as long as 30 or 40 years in the wild (with some believed to have survived as long as 100 years--wow!), if they don't get run over by a car or bush hog or some other awful thing like that. Older turtles generally have much more muted colors, so I may have been looking at an oldster and a youngster. And the answer to the question you have all been waiting for with bated breath: yes, turtles might mate in the fall, although eggs are usually laid in early summer. Here's information on turtle courtship (from this website:

Box turtles reach maturity at 4 or 5 years old. In spring, after coming out from hibernation, the turtles begin their courtship and mating rituals.
  • Mating takes place after a complicated series of courtship steps.

  • Before laying her eggs, the female digs a shallow nest in loose soil. She lays three to eight eggs into the nest, then fills it with leaf litter. Females may lay several clutches of eggs per year.

  • Eggs are incubated for 75 to 90 days, depending on the weather.

  • Hatchlings are tiny and grayish-colored, and stay out of sight as much as possible to avoid predators.

I read on another site, that if the baby turtles hatch late in the season that they will often overwinter in the nest and come out in the spring.

So maybe these two were getting all romantic (definitely a May-December romance if you can judge by shell color) or maybe they just happened to be traveling in the same direction. We'll never know. And that's your turtle teaching for the day. (Did you notice how I managed all sorts of alliteration with turtle?)

Now, since I went to the trouble of going turtle hunting, I took Willow along with me, but she declined to go past the creek, where she happily worked on "her" tree root while I did my exploration. I leave you with a picture of Willow (I even used the flash, but I guess it's just too dark in the woods for a decent photo). Notice that she is putting weight on her bad leg--the joys of NSAIDs:

Turtle Train

So I just took the dogs for a walk prior to going to lunch (which means driving to Pet Supplies Plus for pet supplies) and as we took our little path through a patch of pines what do I see but a turtle train. Okay so if two box turtles in a line constitutes a train. But seeing two together did give me a chance for observation, despite the fact that they snapped their shells shut as soon as all the dogs came a'sniffin'. I never see turtles in groups, not even in the good old days when they'd come out of the woodwork, so to speak, after a good rainand all seem to be trying to cross the roads I traveled.

As many turtles as I've moved out of the road, you'd think I'd have noticed that apparently no two are alike. Is that true? It certainly was of the two turtles in the train in the woods. The back turtle had a slightly boxier shell and much brighter colors--an orange only slightly more muted than the NCDOT work vehicles. The pattern on its shell really made me think of heiroglyphics. The turtle in front was much more muted, the color being more tan and in a pattern that brought to mind nothing so much as tie dye. A tie-dyed box turtle, how cool is that?

I wish I had taken my camera with me, but you know, as fast as turtles move, I'm sure they wouldn't be there if I walked back up to the back of the property with camera in hand. LOL!

Making a Plan

So I've decided that I've been entirely too lazy lately, at least when it comes to working dogs. Since shifting sheep all around, the dog-broke hair sheep are out in the main pasture and therefore less accessible, and the karakul ewes who are behind the barn are a bit too much for an inexperienced dog (heck, the last time we tried to work them with fully trained dogs, it was ugly). Since I'm using the youngsters (and trained dogs) to push them in and out of the paddock to graze, they are getting more used to being worked, but they're always going to be runners I think.

Anyway, with work being so busy recently and a bunch of outside activities taking my time, the training of the pups has suffered, and it shows when we go to trials. I think some of the issue is that often I look at them all and think "I'll never get it all done," and I end up not doing any of it. So I've decided on a strategy of just breaking the work into smaller chunks (brilliant, huh?). After all, it's not as if I can't just walk right out the door and work sheep for five or ten minutes. Monday night, I had taken Phoebe out to bring the karakuls back to their paddock after their evening graze, and since we were right there anyway, I decided to go out in the main pasture and work the whole flock. Whose dog is this? She was stopping when asked (and anyone who's seen her lately would know what a turnaround that is!), taking her flanks correctly most of the time, and keeping the flock together nicely (no easy task) while both fetching and driving. After working the whole flock for a bit, I we split off a smaller group (this flock is good for shedding practice), pushed the main group away, and then worked the smaller group around the field. I don't have panels or anything, so we just aim for trees and the like to make sure we are capable of keeping a straight line when driving. It was nearly dark when we were done, so she's the only one who got worked.

In the mornings, I usually go out before I feed the dogs and feed the chickens (throw scratch to them and check feed and water levels in the chick pen) and the sheep behind the barn. Because I need to get to my paid work, I usually just then go back in and feed dog and go to work. But I decided that I can afford 15 minutes in the morning to work one dog. So I dragged Pip out to the main pasture. The last few times I worked Pip on the main flock, he seemed to forget how to fetch to me and would let the sheep go way off to the side and just seemed generally confused--circling around them instead of bringing them to me, and so on. Yesterday morning, he was a real star. It's like his brain just turned back on and he worked the flock very nicely. He was also more consistent with his flanks and just more positive all around. As with Phoebe, after working the whole flock for a while, we split 6 or 7 sheep off, pushed them out to the top of the pasture, then pushed the main flock over toward the round pen, and then did some outruns and driving. By this time, perhaps 20 minutes had passed and so I called it a day.

Last evening was Lark's and Raven's turn. I again started with Lark on the whole flock, doing much the same as I had done with Pip and Phoebe. We did a little more shedding practice, and I did a lot of encouraging Lark to stay on her feet. I think she could use a whole lot more work with the large group because she has to constantly wear behind to tuck in the sides that are always wanting to break off (especially the hair sheep). Again, I ended by breaking off smaller group and doing some more precision driving. When I was ready to stop, I sent Lark to push the main flock even further away, since I was planning to leave the smaller group about midway down the field for Raven and didn't want them to run back and join the main group while I went to get her. So I stood in the middle of the field and directed Lark to drive the main flock into the round pen. She was a bit confused at first, wanting to go to their heads, but then she figured out I wanted them through the gate into the round pen and she pushed them right in. That was pretty nice work considering she had to do it all herself, with a draw back to the pasture and another draw past the round pen to the ewes behind the barn, and me standing a good 100 yards away.

Raven seems to have finally clicked a bit on driving. I started by having her outrun uphill and pushing the limit of distance with her and she wanted to cut cut in, but she took my stops and redirects nicely. I still don't have her driving any great distance, but she's approaching the work a lot more positively, and is now willing to move ahead of me and push into the sheep without such a strong desire to flank around to their heads or clinging to me afraid to push forward. I worked a lot on inside flanks as well, and although it's quite uncomfortable for her (not surprisingly given her level of training), she really was getting it without me having to do much in the way of repositioning myself to encourage the proper flank. We ended our session with a few more uphill outruns, which were much improved, and called it a night.

I had given Kat a brief work earlier getting the ewes from behind the barn (which is still tricky since unlike the hair sheep, they don't seem to learn the routine), and Twist was standing at the gate looking forlorn, so I stood about halfway down the fenceline from the gate and sent her around to the round pen and in to scoop the main flock out. I had her bring them out and push them toward the round bale, which is against the draw to the sheep already out in the field. Once we got the main flock to the round bale, I gave her a look back and had her go get the smaller group. As the smaller group got quite close to the main group, I flanked her around fast to prevent them from joining and pushed them a short way away and then flanked her again to push them back to the main flock. This took maybe five minutes. We gathered up JellyBean, who can't help himself and must join us in the field whenever dogs are being worked, and were done for the evening.

I think if I can keep this sort of schedule up, where all the youngsters get worked over the space of two days, divided into morning and evening sessions, I will get more done with them and feel less overwhelmed. And it will be interesting to see if stepping up our training sessions from the more laissez-faire attitude of the recent past won't pay off on the trial field. Or not.

Other Farm News
Yesterday I let the Sebright-looking hen and her eight chicks out of their little chicken tractor. I do this by raising one end of the pen up on bricks so they can squeeze under. She kept them close to the pen for some time, but then started venturing a little farther afield. There's nothing cuter than a group of little chicks learning to scratch and hunt from their mom.

The hen sitting on eggs in the hay stall is still there. I hope she doesn't hatch chicks while I'm away this weekend at a trial or they will be at nature's mercy till I get back.

Maia is still doing great and has gotten a lot better about not interfering when I go out to work my dogs on the flock. She'll run along with the flock at first, but shortly takes herself off to the side and just lies there and watches us work. That's a nice development because it makes it much easier to work the flock (when Maia is wandering through them, they split all over the place, which makes much more work for whatever dog is trying to control them at the time).

I think the invasion of the fire ants is complete. I don't know how we got from no fire ants to fire ants everywhere (well, I suspect they came in with the hay everyone imported in desperation from the coast last year), but I officially tripped over a mound last night out in the sheep pasture. Oh boy.

Previcox didn't help Boy's lameness at all, so we've switched to Metacam to see if that helps. On the other hand, the Previcox seems to help Willow tremendously and she's actually even using the bad leg more. I had been beginning to think that carrying that leg had just become habit, so I'm glad to see her using it more.

Elvis and Chili are hanging in there pretty much status quo. Chili really likes the Drinkwell fountain and I do think it has helped to increase her water consumption, which is a good thing.

Raven has finally gone back out of heat, which means no more dog juggling. Even though I no longer have any intact males, I just don't want males tying with females, period.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Demos, friends, and beautiful days

Once again I've fallen behind on my updates here, and this time it was my publication deadline at work and some demos during the evenings last week. I had a deadline of Friday to get all the articles, images, and graphics for the next issue of the magazine to our designer. I made the deadline, but it kept me pretty busy last week. This week I have dedicated several days to work on an opus for one of our consultants. The topic is certainly interesting--the environment and being a good steward, but he left a lot of the research and writing to me (hmmm, how to get inside someone else's head to say what they want to say with only the barest of guidance?). So that's been work.

Montepelier SDT, Oct. 4-5
My weekend at the Montpelier SDT was pretty decent. I worked on some issues the youngsters have, placed a few times in various classes, and didn't place in open on Saturday because of my own errors, but managed a 6th place on Sunday without getting a shed. We were 10 points below the leading score, and of course a shed is worth 10 points. Still I was very happy with the way Twist worked, and as I said, the mistakes on Saturday were all my own. Phoebe did not have her listening ears on, so we worked on making her stop and waiting until I gave her a flank before she got up and moving again. On Sunday, our fetch was overshadowed by an overflight of a pair of fighter jets. So for a brief time, Phoebe really did have an "I can't hear you" excuse. As we left the field, Tommy Wilson commented that all we needed to really add to our run was a train to go by (which they do routinely, but somehow we missed that little pleasure). Pip was hesitant on Saturday but still placed third and ran much better on Sunday. He ended up reserve champion overall in pro-novice, though that was in part due to Laura and Nick moving out of that class on Sunday. Lark's ranch run on Saturday was agonizingly slow, but we made it around the course to place third (there were just six scores out of 15 runs). I retired her on Sunday when she kept going to the sheep's heads and stopping them on the crossdrive, while refusing to flank back around on the away side to push them forward. At the time I was puzzled and wondering if I had moved her up too soon and had just gotten her in over her head, but later on the drive home I got to thinking about the runs that day and a number of them ended with the sheep racing to the set out, so I think that Lark was just really feeling the pressure back to the set out and didn't want to lose her sheep, no matter what. Looking back, I remember Twist doing the exact same thing at the same trial and on the same sheep, so I figure it's not something I need to lose sleep over (as in some big hole in Lark or her training).

Oh, and I managed not to spend any money, although the Mayan blankets were quite tempting.

Dixie Classic Fair Stockdog Demo
The Dixie Classic Fair in Winston-Salem opened on the 5th. Henry and Lou Ann normally help out with the stockdog demo there, but they were going to be in Georgia showing sheep, so they asked Tony and I if we'd fill in. Tony took the Sunday night demo because I was still en route from Montpelier. I did Monday through Wednesday. Monday was school kids' day and the noise level was deafening! Twist is my steadiest dog in small spaces and the arena we were in was pretty darn small. I traded demo work with Joyce, who also announced, and used Twist for the sheep work while Joyce used her 11-year-old Ben for the ducks. The sheep were Suffolk crosses, and we did basic work, showing how a dog balances to the handler, whistles, putting the sheep through a chute, and even over a jump (a crowd pleaser). Because we used different sheep each day, there was no predicting what would happen. At one demo, one sheep tried to bolt and jumped over Twist as Twist jumped up to stop her. Actions like that make me cringe, but the spectators enjoyed it. Then there was the time I forgot to shut both ends of the chute and the sheep went running back in and Twist had to push them out backwards. Each day, I took a different youngster along as well. It was good for them to get out in a situation with lots of noise and activity and they ended up being great ambassadors for the breed. The funniest part of talking to the kids was that we were in the arena in the cattle barn, and the early part of the week was the dairy cattle show. One little boy was talking to me and watching as people walked cows in and out of the barn for bathing. As one cow with a very full udder walked by I asked the little boy if he drank milk. He said yes. I then pointed to the cow and said, "Did you know that's where milk comes from?" His response: "Ewwwwww!" Someone later told me I'd probably turned the poor kid off milk forever. Did I mention I also told him that eggs come from chickens? Tee hee.

The duck part of the demo was pretty funny. The ducks are pulled out into the arena in a trailer being pulled by a remote control jeep. Let's just say I am not the greatest at operating a remote control vehicle, so every demo had its share of "crashes" into obstacles. In my defense, the pione shavings in the arena were deep, which only added to the unresponsiveness of the controls. Laura came out Tuesday night and was laughing her ass off at my attempts to drive the jeep, so at the last show as the jeep needed to be moved out of the arena and back into the holding area, I handed her the controls--and felt immense satisfaction when she struggled too! Anyway, the duck demo includes putting them up and over a Z-shaped ramp, through an agility tunnel, surpentining around some cones, and then up and over a teeter totter. Ben followed the ducks over the ramp and through the tunnel--it was so cute to see him come to the end of the tunnel and peek around it at the ducks! We did not use the world-famous duck washing machine, which was disappointing, but the crowds seemed to enjoy the demo anyway. I won't talk about the funnel cakes....

Doing the demo was a great experience for both me and Twist (I'm not much of a showman), and I'd certainly doing it again. But driving to Winston-Salem made for some late nights (and missed TV--ha!ha!). Laura tried to take some photos the night she was there, but the darkness inside the building made it nearly impossible to get decent photos with that little camera, so I don't have any good pictures to share.

Poultry at the Fair: Bah, Humbug!
On my first day at the fair, once we were done with the demos, I searched out the poutry barn. I don't even know why I do this to myself. I looked at the OEG bantams, which although mostly pretty, were probably twice the size of mine. Then I saw the Sebrights and my jaw just dropped. Those birds were easily as big as the leghorns on exhibit nearby. Sebrights are one of the true bantam breeds, which means they have no large breed counterpart. Now I'd venture to say that folks are turning Sebrights into a large breed, and that's truly depressing. What is it about showing livestock (of any sort) that causes "breeders" to produce ever-larger animals? The small size of a bantam chicken is as essnetial to its nature as wool is to a wool sheep. What is the point of large (extremely large) bantam chickens? I guess I'll have to be glad that my bantams are broody and prolific, because I'm beginning to realize that the only way I'll be able to find bantams of the size I like--they size they should be--is to breed them myself.

Indian Summer Weekend
This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous--Indian summer gorgeous--and I drove up to Becca's place to work dogs on Becca's commercial wool sheep. We had two groups--one in a smaller field and one out in the big field. I also worked Lark on the ducks, and once again spent time with both Pip and Phoebe getting them to stop and wait for the next command instead of just flinging themselves into another flank the second they heard a stop command. I worked more on Raven's driving, and held sheep with Twist in the larger field for a lady who was preparing her (working-bred) dog for the BCSA nationals. I also worked Kat in the bigger field, which was interesting because she pretty much blended in with the red tops of the tall grass, which made her difficult for the sheep to see as well. Before heading home, we took a jaunt to the pond, where a bunch o' dogs, mostly border collies, but a few others as well, had a great swim. A nice way to end a nice day.

Sunday I took it easy, went grocery shopping in the morning and wormed sheep in the evening. How exciting is that? Now I have to get ready for the Lexington SDT, which starts with nursery on Friday. Pip and Phoebe are entered in nursery, not because I think they're ready necessarily, but hopefully it will be a good experience for them.

And not to be left out from the rest of "the girls" I managed to watch most of the first season of Sex and the City. I don't know if I have the patience to watch all of the seasons, but I might manage it. I need to talk to Laura about my perceptions, because I think they are quite different from hers!

Oh, and I have another hen brooding eggs in the stall where I keep the square bales of hay. And where the two sheep pelts are still sitting, waiting to have the salt shaken off so they can be sent to Bucks County for tanning. I need to get on the stick on that one....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Running, Always Running

Well, it's been a while since I've managed to update this blog, and a lot has happened, but since I'm taking a bit of time while I install a service pack on my desktop computer, I'll give a quick review of the past week.

Last weekend was devoted to making more apple butter (yum) and a demo at my neighbor's alpaca farm on Saturday. I dragged Laura and Mary along. It's been raining enough lately (I never thought I'd say that) that I was afraid of trying to load sheep on the trailer for fear of getting stuck, so I took my steady hair sheep and Twist and walked them down the side of the road to the neighbor's farm, with Mary and Laura following in the van with flashers on to warn oncoming traffic. We made it in one piece. Laura and Mary did a nice job working their dogs for the demo while I talked. I then briefly worked Twist, Kat, and Lark to demonstrate different working styles and looks of the dogs themselves. At the end, I sent Laura and Nick into the wilderness to take the sheep back home through the back of the Snider's property and onto our property. It took Mary and me a while to get away thanks to folks asking questions, so when we got back home we expected to find Laura waiting for us, but no Laura.

So I started walking down through the pasture to the back gate. Then I saw Laura and my first thought was "What is she doing in the big pasture?" Then it dawned on me that she was actually behind the big pasture. I walked up the back road and around the fence from the other side as Laura worked her way around from her side and we met up in the woods in the middle. Fortunately there was a nice wide path going up through the woods that led us back out to the back road and down to the back gate so we could put the sheep back up. I felt bad that I had managed to get Laura lost wandering around back in the woods, but she proved her mettle as a shepherdess by keeping it all together and getting the sheep safely home.

Apple butter making started a bit later on Saturday than the previous Saturday because according to the National Weather Service, the rain we'd been having would clear out by Saturday afternoon. Not! Just about the time we were bottling the apple butter, the heavens opened. Thank goodness for Easy Up-type tents, and a fast working bottling crew!

Sunday was a pretty restful day, although I did go out and worm the entire flock on Sunday evening. I used Twist for the group behind the barn but then got Pip to help me with the main flock. His job was to bring the flock up and put them through the chute. The chute isn't long enough to hold the whole flock, so Pip had to push the sheep forward as needed and then just stay at the back of the chute and prevent the part of the flock that wouldn't fit from taking off for the hills while I wormed what was in the chute. He did have to do a couple of regathers before he gained a full understanding of the job, but once he figured out what I wanted, he did it very nicely. I think he's going to be a great chore dog just like his mom.

This week has largely been devoted to getting work done for TBM. I finally took my two remaining Tunis ewes down to Tony and Mary's on Wednesday so they could be bred. I then came home and moved the hair sheep and lambs from behind the barn back into the main pasture. I then gathered the entire flock and sorted off 11 of my best karakul ewes and moved them to the area behind the barn for breeding. I put my little red ram lamb in with them. Not only was he dwarfed by the adult ewes, but he also seemed a bit overwhelmed. I've been assured that a 5+-month-old ram can do the necessary job, but I have my doubts? I guess we'll see in another 5 months. I had to sell off so many sheep this year thanks to the early drought and lingering aftereffects of last year's drought, so I won't really mind if they don't all get bred. As long as I have a few lambs this spring, I'll be fine.

Unfortunately, the new flock behind the barn is not very amenable to staying in the unfenced pasture to graze, since they really wanted to go back to their buddies in the main pasture (via the road out front), so I am going to have to feed them since I can't work in my office and constantly check to make sure they haven't gone off on an adventure somewhere. So I'll need to bring in some hay and feed for them to make sure they have plenty of appropriate nutrition. I need to buy some electronet, but it will have to wait until my next bonus, I think.

Last night, Laura and Tony came over to work dogs in preparation for the trial this weekend. We thought we'd give the dogs the extra challenge of the karakuls behind the barn, but let's just say the challenge was greater than anyone needed, so after working them with several dogs, we put them back and pulled out a couple of hair sheep and several lambs. They were still plenty light and challenging but not nearly as crazy as the all-karakul group we started with. We ended up working some of the youngsters in the dark. I love fall, but the early darkness makes it a bit harder to fit all the chores and work we want to get done in the evenings.

Today, I'm trying to wrap up work stuff so I can head out to Montpelier tomorrow. The trial itself isn't the greatest draw, since the sheep are usually not the greatest to work, but the fiber festival is loads of fun and I plan to do as much window shopping as I can!

Next week I'll be helping with the demos at the Dixie Classic Fair. Henry and Lou Ann normally help out there, but they'll be off at a sheep show, so Tony and I have divided between us the days they'll be gone so that there will be adequate help there.

And my download is done! I'll try to have an update, along with pictures, after the trial this weekend.