The first thing I'd like to report from this weekend at Broken Back Ranch in Cowpens, SC, is that it was damn cold. I live in the south because I hate being cold (okay, so that's not the entire reason--I was born and raised in Virginia--but it would take a heckuva lot to get me to move north because I don't like being cold). So of course it was frigid this weekend. Two pairs of socks, multiple layers underneath the bib overalls, plus a heavy jacket, scarf, wool hat, and thinsulate gloves cold. I'd never last north of the Mason-Dixon line. A burn barrel would have been nice. A personal portable heater would have been awesome too. Instead we kept moving around to try to stay warm, stuck those chemical hand warmers in our socks, and drank hot drinks (thanks to the Boy Scout concession, at least on Saturday).
As for the trial itself, this was my first opportunity to run my dogs on Steve Godfrey's lovely field. The outrun was just over 400 yards for the open class, and the field was pretty straightforward, except for a swale into which dogs sent right would disappear on the outrun and of course dogs and sheep would disappear on the fetch (oh, and the former pond on the left side, ringed by trees, which is now a muck bog with two 18-foot deep spring heads--off course, naturally, and a danger to both sheep and dogs). I don't know how long the total drive was, but the cross drive was immense. And there were no real features on the field by which to judge the cross drive line, so you just had to get into your zen moment and feel that line. To save time with short daylight and 50 dogs, the fetch ended with a turn around a round bale about 150 yards from the handler's post. Right-hand drive on Saturday with a pen and then a split, and left-hand drive on Sunday with a Maltese cross in place of the pen and shed. The nursery course was a bit shorter--I had heard a 200 yard outrun, but it might have been a bit longer, since I don't think there was a hundred yards between the two handler's posts and it was difficult to judge the set out point, but it didn't appear to be 100 yards from the open set out (but I'll admit that distances can be decieving and I'm no great judge of such things). The drive was definitely shorter.
And then there were the sheep. Oh, the sheep. Such heartbreakers they were. They were texel ewes and lambs (I don't know if the rams were run, but I'd guess not). Reacting to strong draws known only to them around the field (well, we all recognized the draws to the set out and the exhaust, but apparently there were other, less obvious, draws as well). Turning on a dime if the dog overflanked by so much as a hair. Stopping to stare at dogs that went to their heads to stop them on their flights to the various draws and then testing the dog by refusing to move unless the dog was willing to walk steadily in to their faces. They were happy to run, but in close work wanted to hang onto the handler and had no compunctions about walking right over top of the human, which made penning and shedding interesting to say the least. But we all like a good challenge, don't we?
So despite the cold and some really surprising behavior out of normally steady, solid dogs, it was a great trial. I had mixed success with my dogs. Pip ran well in the first nursery run, placing third with a 73 (tie for third broken on the outwork) out of 18 dogs to get his second qualification, although his problem with not wanting to push straight from behind and instead flank to the heads--which of course stops the sheep and causes them to turn on him--resurfaced. This problem rears its head at trials, so now I have to figure out how to work on it at home, where it doesn't happen. I've discussed it with Robin and she gave me some ideas to try, so we'll see what I can do. His second run was much shakier than the first, with the stopping and starting issue looming even larger. His outwork is lovely, and his pen work is pretty good too, so we just need to figure out the driving issue. The work starts this weekend, if not sooner.
Phoebe, the dear freight train, was her usual self in the first run. She nearly crossed over on the outrun, but took a beautiful stop and redirect (huh? she actually stopped when I asked her to? there's a first!), but it pretty much went downhill from there, as she was much too pushy, wasn't listening to my flanks and in general just being a butthead. We did make it around the course, but our score of 44 was one of the lowest, not counting the retires and DQs. Ah, Phoebe, what to do with you? Her second outrun was much better, as seems to be a habit with her (run tight the first go--though not usually to the point of crossing over--and then do a nice outrun the second go round). Then she completely surprised me by taking most of the lie downs I gave her (maybe not lying down, but at least stopping or slowing down), showed a little pace when asked (okay, so "asked" may be too gentle of a term, but whatever, at least she was acting more sensible than normal), and not choosing to take her own flanks instead of the ones I was giving her. We had a really nice drive and cross drive, but at the turn back to the pen, the sheep started heading for the exhaust and Phoebe needed to take a hard away flank to stop them. Only she wanted to take the shortest route--the one that would cross her course--and go come bye. After several stops and repeated requests for that away flank, she finally gave up and did it my way. The result was a pretty wide turn at the cross drive panels, but other than that, the run was really nice and I think we ended up with a score in the low 80s (81 maybe) for a third place and her first nursery qualification (she was also tied for third and won based on her outwork). I wish I could believe she's turned a corner, but the next trial will tell I suppose. Still I was very happy with her for finally listening and doing so well on a tough nursery course.
Then there was open. Kat was the first dog I ran on Saturday. True to form she was very pushy, and oddly she didn't stop at the top any of the three times I asked her to! Usually if I get on her a bit I can get her to notch it down and pace a bit better, and we actually didn't have too bad of a run, at least until we got to the shedding ring, the shed being our usual bugaboo. As I noted, these sheep really wanted to cling to the handler and weren't concerned if you stomped at them or swung a stick in their faces or anything like that. We got to the shedding ring with a little more than 4 minutes left (of a 10 minute course), and despite my best efforts, with two failed shed attempts, the clock finally ran out, leaving us with a score of 76. This has been Kat's usual story. We have a decent run up to the shed, and if it's at all difficult we don't manage it and the lost 10 points are just enough to keep us out of the placings. This day was no exception.
Twist has been on Lixotinic on the theory that perhaps her lack of spark at trials lately is the result of borderline anemia (she has a normal red blood cell count, but it's as low as it can be and still be considered normal). Lixotinic contains iron and B vitimins and the idea is that by supplementing her we should be able to help her body produce more of the oxygen-carrying red blood cells that she needs, especially when peak performance is required. I am happy to report that her performance level was much improved this weekend. You can't make a judgement based on just one data point, but I'd say the difference in performance level was definitely noticeable.
Christine Henry had already run with Bess and scored a 97, which was going to be hard to beat. But Twist laid down a beautiful run--my cross drive zen was working and we lost just a couple of points on the drive. The sheep were a bit difficult at the pen, which cost us a point or two, and her split was lovely. I was able to call her through a small hole and even though she was well back off the sheep, trying to keep them from folding around me, she came through like lightning and held her group off nicely. We ended up with a 92 and third place. Most amazing of all was the fact that when we had completed our run, we still had nearly two minutes left on the clock. Twist is generally not a superfast dog, and combined with her very wide outrunning style, we generally get to the last element, pen or shed, with little time remaining and so require quick and precise action at that point. Having nearly two minutes left is just unheard of, especially on courses with big outruns. And I can't help but wonder if the supplement is helping.
Sunday's runs were nothing to brag about. Twist, like many other dogs, was slow to get over to the left on the fetch and put the sheep back online. Our turn around the hay bale was nice (where a lot of dogs had trouble, and consequently, really wide turns) as was our drive away. I actually had a good line going on the cross drive, but somehow at the end the sheep started to drift down as they had on every other run and I was slow on the uptake and couldn't flank Twist around fast enough to save it, so we missed the panels low. At the cross, we had one sheep that insisted on clinging to me even as the others entered the cross. I had to flank Twist behind me to try to push the one off, which of course left the other side of the cross uncovered by anyone and the sheep took the opportunity to exit the wrong leg of the cross. On the third try we finally got them all through, but by then I was getting exasperated and my exasperation was clearly being expressed in my voice. Twist is seven and I've been trialling her since she was a year old. I know how she reacts to aggravation in my voice--she gets slower and wider. And that's exactly what happened as we tried to get the sheep lined up for the second leg of the cross. The slower and wider she got, the more exasperated I got and you can guess the end result: we timed out without ever getting that second leg. I was annoyed with her at the time because she's generally very good at such obstacles, but on reflection, all I probably would have needed to do was switch from voice to whistle and I might have saved it. So really I have no one but myself to blame for our run on Sunday. We ended up with a score of 70, which left us in 16th place.
Kat ran dead last on Sunday, and boy was that a run worth waiting for! Not. She got behind them nicely, but wouldn't really take the come bye flank hard enough to get them back online. We finally did get them back at the fetch panels (just past, I should note) and I thought "Okay, we're set up to make a decent turn and we'll just try to recover from here." But Kat apparently had other plans. The sheep had been really heavy to the exhaust all day, with the result that many had really huge turns, like almost to the handler's feet and then back out to the drive panels as dog after dog failed to get around quickly on that left flank to turn the sheep back on line. Kat, taking a page out of Phoebe's book, decided that a right flank was really what needed doing, and she blew off multiple left flank whistles. Finally I yelled at her to lie down. All this time, the sheep are casually strolling toward the exhaust. It's not as if they didn't give Kat plenty of time to catch them if only she would have picked her brain back up, put it in place, and taken a left flank. So after I finally got her to lie down, with the sheep clearly in front of her downfield, she decided to take a left flank after all, back up the field. I'll admit that at that point I had actually yelled "Come bye!" but really I don't think "come bye" sounds much like "look back" and she doesn't have a look back whistle, so it's not as if she could have confused things there. But for whatever reason, she was determined that despite four sheep being maybe 50 yards in front of her and clearly the focus of all our attention up to that point, she was going back up the field for more sheep. At that point I realized she had me beat and we retired. I think she knew I wanted to choke her, but those "death to the dog" moments pass fairly quickly and we're all good now. But, really, did I wait all day in the cold for that?
And what was going on at home while I was having such fun in South Carolina? Well the Cooper's hawk was having a hey day. I had always thought that my larger chickens were relatively safe given their size. But apparently one of the Dominiques was not lucky, as Jimmy found what was left of her out in the yard on Friday. On Saturday he heard a commotion and saw one of the OEG roosters rushing the chick pen and then running back, only to rush again. When he looked out, there was the hawk, mantling his wings over one of my hens that looks like a Sebright. If you've got to kill my chickens, could you please at least take the friggin' roosters? Anyway, Jimmy was able to chase him off and save the hen. I noticed she's got one eye shut this morning, but that seems to be the worst of the damage. It looks like I'm going to have to confine chickens for a couple of weeks until the hawk gives up and goes elsewhere looking for an easy meal.
On to Cattle
So we got one day of practice on cattle a week ago and we're heading up to Roy Johnson's cattle trial on Saturday. I entered only the young dogs, so it should be interesting. Lark truly seems to enjoy working cattle. Pip and Phoebe like it too, but they seem to like it more from the standpoint of "Wheee! Hocks to bite; tails to grab," which isn't always conducive to good stockwork (or to the dog remaining intact). I want to see if Pip has the same problem on cattle that he does on sheep, and if it's apparent in our first go on cattle then I may pull him from his second run and put Twist in instead (I didn't enter Twist because I wanted to see how she performed this weekend). Of course it might all be academic as last time we really worked on just bringing all the cattle up the field, so driving them was not even a consideration. Maybe with seven months of maturity under their figurative belts, they'll manage to do a little better this time!