Wednesday, October 15, 2008

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.

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