I went to my sister Renee's house for Thanksgiving. All her kids were home, along with Aaron's wife, Emily, and Jordan's finacee, Emily. Yep, that makes for some confusion, but it's the fun kind. I haven't seen Jesse in ages, and she's gotten quite tall--model tall. She's turned into a beautiful young woman at 13. There was enough food to feed Coxey's Army, but we managed to put a pretty good dent in it. Jordan and Emily had to leave fairly early to go to one of her relatives' house for dinner (we ate in the middle of the day) and were planning to head to Emily's family home in Georgia the next day. Later in the afternoon, we played Taboo, which was pretty fun, especially since the my team, the "Curmudgeons" (Renee and Aaron were my teammates, playing against Jesse, Sam, and Emily). I headed back home in late afternoon in time to get chores done before dark and although I was invited to Jimmy's mom's house for another Thanksgiving dinner, instead decided to take it easy and stay home.
Weekends aren't complete unless I can get some good dog working in. We discovered the last time Robin was down here that the lamb flock (a group of about 19 or so) actually work really well. Usually lambs tend to be difficult to work because they are leaderless without an adult sheep and so just behave rather squirrely. So when we first worked them, I had Robin get out one of her experienced open dogs Jet, but it turned out that they worked beautifully. That gives us something in addition to the hair sheep--a little lighter and a little more difficult, without being nigh on impossible like the main ewe flock. Laura came over around 10 a.m. and between the two of us (I had started early and had already worked Twist, Kat--the maniac, and Pip before Laura got there), we got eight dogs worked before lunch. I was still working on driving--pushing straight from behind in a positive manner--with all my youngsters. With Kat, the work was on driving too, only the problem was the opposite--trying to get her to give me a little pace and not push the sheep at breakneck speed.
Last night Laura, who was farmsitting for Mary and Tony, had her BF and me over for dinner. She had made Becca's lamb and apple stew and corn muffins, and on request I brought over the candied yams I'd made for Thanksgiving. It was an excellent repast, and we topped off the evening by watching Alasdair MacRae's shedding clinic video. Laura has been working to learn to shed with Nick and is getting some good instruction from Robin, with practical dog help from Spottie. So we watched the video and got inspired. Laura noted how good the sheep were for shedding practice, and I told her that I thought we could replicate that in my flock by combining the hair sheep and the wool lambs. None of them are bad about running, and I figured the hair sheep would make good leaders to help line the whole group out and take a few lambs with them at a normal pace to enable good-sized holes to open up for us to call the youngsters through so we could work on the basic mechanics of shedding with them.
So this morning I pulled Twist out and sorted sheep, putting the ewe flock in the alleyway paddock, the lambs in the round pen, and the hair sheep out at the far end of the pasture next to the lone pine tree. This was fun work for Twist because the main flock was at the hay bale, so we gathered everyone into the round pen and then gate sorted the ewes back out. We then took them to the alley. The hair sheep and their four buddy karakul lambs were back in the woods across the ditch, so I sent Twist into the woods from the barn end of the field and she pushed them back out to where they could cross over and then brought them back down the field to me. I shed off the four lambs, but then realized that I had the hair sheep between me and the alleyway where I wanted to put the lambs, so I had Twist push the lambs up to the corner by the round pen, then take the hair sheep and push them around the corner back toward the woods, and then go gather the lambs back up and bring them to the gate at the alleyway. The hair sheep were within sight, and so presented a strong draw for the lambs, but Twist is good on the pressure for stuff like that and kept the lambs from joining the hair sheep and we got them put back in the alley.
I worked Lark for a bit on her driving and then got the lambs out of the round pen to practice what we had learned from the video last night. The whole group was good for this, as I had hoped. Lark has a hard time with the shed because she has a lot of eye and really wants to keep the two groups together, but I got her coming through pretty good. I hadn't planned to work Kat as she was a bit gimpy from overdoing it the day before, but the flock was working so well for this exercise and Kat's big weak spot is shedding, so I got her out and started calling her through. Her biggest problem is that she'll hesitate when you call on her, but today she was doing an excellent job. I shed of six or seven lambs and then had Kat push them out to the pine tree where they could work as a draw for the other sheep. I then took the rest of the sheep and put them back together, and did another shed so that I had three groups. I had Kat push the group she had control of toward the sheep under the pine and then flanked her around at the last second to prevent them from joining up. We did the same exercise coming back the other way as Kat's group tried to rejoin the group we had shed them from. I then regrouped the sheep and did several more sheds with her, concentrating on calling her through to my left hand on an away flank, since that is both of our weak spots. (I tend to prefer to call a dog through to my right hand, which means the dog is coming through on a left flank, and since I recognize that I tend to do that, I'm making a real effort to work both sides so that my dogs don't become one-sided on the shed. Kat had issues shedding when I got her, and I had the most success with a "quick and dirty" fix that had me always calling her through on a come bye flank, but of course that makes my job harder in the shedding ring as I was always having to set up the shed so that I could call her through in that direction, so that's why I decided to make sure we were also coming through on the side that was uncomfortable for both of us). I did the same sorts of drills with Pip and Phoebe. I was sure Phoebe was going to be bad about stopping and wanting to take the flank she thought I might want (or that she wanted) instead of waiting to hear what I had to say about the matter, but she was surprisingly good today and took to the shedding very nicely. Pip had a grand time, although he did get a bit overenthusiastic once or twice.
Laura stopped by and worked Nick and Spottie. Nick was less obstreperous than he had been the day before (I think some of his wildness and disobedience had to do with raging hormones as Spottie is in heat and also partly the result of working Tony and Mary's sheep, which are bad about wanting to run and so tend to "gee" a dog up). He did some really nice sheds with Laura. Spottie was looking pretty darn awesome too. When Laura was done working Spottie, I had her shed off the hair sheep and a few of the lambs and put everything else back in the round pen, so I could work Raven on a smaller number of sheep.
Raven's driving is coming along pretty good. She was pushing out in front of me about 30 yards and was taking her downs and inside flanks nicely. But when I had her bring the sheep back the other way and they got close to me, then Raven started to get confused and resistant to the inside flanks. It's like the pressure of me being close was more than she wanted to deal with and so the sheep did some curling around me while I tried to get her sorted out. Once I got her a little ways away and pushing again, then she was better with the flanks too. So we ended our session by having her push the sheep through the chute a few times as doing so required her to take her flanks with me close by, and when she did it right, she got the reward of getting to push the sheep through. She was clearly enjoying herself, especially once she figured out that when the sheep were in the chute she wasn't supposed to flank around on the outside to their heads but was supposed to follow/push them through. She had so much fun on the pushing part that the last time through, she pushed right under one of the lambs in her enthusiasm to get those sheep on through!
So this evening when I went out to feed, I decided to put my experimental nest boxes up. I wanted to try something like milk crates hanging on the wall (the nest boxes in the chicken house are bantam-sized and won't do for the Dominques and Rhode Island Reds). The only thing I could find at WalMart were small plastic laundry baskets, about hen sized. So I nailed those on the wall near the perches in the ram's stall. I don't know how sturdy they'll be, but if the chickens show interest in using them, I'll eventually replace them with something sturdier like milk crates. Once I had gotten the baskets nailed up, I walked through the barn gate to get some laft over hay out of the ewe paddock to use as nest material. As I turned from latching the gate, I heard a rush of wings behind me. My first thought was that I had disturbed a chicken when I came through the gate, but then a Cooper's hawk flew practically right over my shoulder and alit on a tree down by the creek. I don't need to worry about my big chickens, but something got one of the roosters a few days ago (no terrible loss there, but still) and I suspect this Cooper's might be the culprit. I figured he was out of the chance for dinner tonight though, because I had a bit more to do out there and the chickens were busy getting themselves to their roosts (speeded along by Lark) so I figured he wouldn't chance an attack with me and the dogs right there.
Injured Ewe Update (and Meet Freckles)
And speaking of the ewe paddock, the ewe who injured herself by running into a gate seems pretty much back to normal. If she gets panicky, she'll act spastic, but considering I was worried she'd never walk again, I have to say that I'm very pleased with her recovery. She first stood up about five days after I started her on dexamethasone, but it was very wobbly and she wasn't terribly coordinated in the front. By the time I finished the dex (another five days), she was spending more time on her feet than not, though still not as coordinated as I'd like. Last weekend, when we all went up to Robin's, Darci brought me a katahdin cross ewe lamb who is probably bred. I had been keeping a wether in with the injured ewe and I left him in there a few days longer, but Darci had been feeding her sheep quite a bit, and given that the ewe lamb is likely pregnant, I didn't want to drop off on her feed and risk ketosis, but I also didn't need little Mr. Wether to become so fat he couldn't move, so he got booted back out to the main flock. Frackles, as Darci called her, will keep #97 company for the next month or so. According to Darci, Freckles should lamb in the next four to six weeks. By then I'm hoping she will have bonded well enough with #97 and will remember the wether lamb so that when she goes out with the flock she can be worked with the hair sheep and stick with them. #97 is looking good enough that I think she'll be able to be worked again in the future, though I may keep her just for field work and not use her in the round pen. So Freckles was really meant to be a replacement for #97 in case she didn't recover. But all looks well now. Dr. Redding said that spinal cord injuries can take 3-6 months to heal completely (back when I was talking to him about how long I should wait and treat before deciding to cull her if necessary). If I'm lucky, Freckles will give me a ram lamb (who will be at least half St. Croix) that I can then use on the rest of my hair sheep in the spring or next fall.
And I think that catches things up here for now.