Monday, June 30, 2008

Decisions Made

I have been worrying over Willow and the recent decisions I've made regarding her care. I've felt somewhat pushed into the cruciate surgery (I tend toward conservativeness for treating such problems), when in fact the whole issue with her heart seems a more pressing matter. I finally called my alternative vet today, only to find that there was a three-month wait for an appointment. It's been getting more difficult to get in to see Regina as more and more people discover how wonderful she is (and to think she moved to a small rural community in Virginia so that she could have a more quiet practice than the big New York practice she came from). Regina offers holistic and alternative therapies, as well as physical therapy for dogs. I have seen a number of dogs she's worked with--dogs who were declared not likely to ever walk again, and yet there they were, walking. She worked with me and Jill after her hip dislocation, when my regular vet told me I'd have a better chance of winning the lottery than having Jill's hip stay in place (given that she has bad hips to begin with), and a partial cruciate tear that likely occurred during the accident that caused the dislocation but was overlooked because of the hip. Through a regimen developed by Regina, we were able to work Jill's hip to keep the good muscling intact (it's what was holding her hips in place after all) without putting undue strain on her knees. Within 6 months, I had a dog who was capable of running an open trial course again. She also worked wonders with my old dog Boy. Is it any wonder I trust her so much?

So when I found out I wouldn't be able to see her anytime soon, I was a bit saddened and upset. But her receptionist said she'd have Regina call me, and just a little while ago, she did. I was able to discuss all that's going on with Willow and get some good advice on how to proceed. The biggest thing that has been nagging me is Willow's heart. She has a grade 4 murmur and some heart enlargement, for which she was put on an ACE inhibitor and furosemide, a diuretic. What concerns me most is that the Enalapril can have a deleterious effect on the kidneys, something the regular vet didn't warn me about. He made no mention of rechecking kidney function after starting the Enalapril (she had baseline bloodwork back in January before surgery to remove a mast cell tumor), which apparently is fairly standard. One of potential side effects of Enalapril is inappetance, and Willow is already exhibiting that. And yet, here I am facing ACL surgery, which is quite expensive. I was wondering which problem I should be focusing on, and it didn't seem that the ACL was it, especially given that she is retired from working.

Regina is also conservative when it comes to surgery for ACL tears. She feels that if the dog is putting weight on the leg, there's not a need to rush into surgery. That said, she thinks I should restrict Willow's extreme activities, not only to prevent any further damage to her stifle, but also because bursts of extreme activity cause a sharp increase in blood pressure, which isn't a good thing for a heart that's already compromised. (Hmmm...something else the regular vet didn't mention--maybe I just didn't ask enough questions that day.)

So she suggested that I wouldn't be making a huge mistake to hold off on the ACL surgery and instead use the money to see a cardiac specialist in order to determine just how compromised her heart function is (and perhaps exactly what the problem is as well). Once we know that, then we can better form a course of action that will help increase her longevity without (hopefully) also creating potential problems elsewhere (e.g., kidney damage).

In the meantime, I will buy an above-ground swimming pool and put both Willow and Jill on a swimming regimen. It will help Jill to maintain muscling in her hips, which is important now that she's pretty much fully retired at age 12, and it will give Willow a low-impact, heart-friendly means of exercise (she'll be swimming assisted so as not to stress her too much). I started Willow on prolo therapy and will continue with that, although I'll cancel the surgery for now. I will also be adjusting Willow's diet to take into account both her heart and kidney function. If we can do all that, perhaps we'll get to September and our visit to Regina in better shape than where we are right now, or at least in no worse shape! It feels good to have made a decision I feel more comfortable with.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Working Dogs and Getting Hay

Yesterday was a really fun day. I went to a friend's place to work sheep, along with several other folks, and despite the heat we had a really good time. I worked only the young dogs (well, there's enough of them after all!). I didn't spend a lot of time on any of them, largely because it was hot and we were using a commercial wool flock so didn't want to wear them out in the heat. I mainly did outruns with Lark and Phoebe. I'm letting Lark work with minimal commands--it's nice to watch her bring sheep down the field and correct the line herself with no word from me. It may not be the most perfect line (millimeter tolerance, as some would say), but it's straight enough to get a good fetch score, and I like a dog who can do a silent gather. Phoebe had a sheep that wanted to go hang on the pen with the lambs in it at the back of the pasture. I sent Phoebe to get it, and she kept thinking my flank command meant she had to find a way into the pen, but she figured it out.

Later we pulled out the ewe flock for one of the younger dogs. I decided to work Pip on them. Pip has been looking like he's not enjoying himself while working. At the get-together at Becca's place, he appeared to be lacking confidence on the drive. Even Robin, who was setting sheep for us, noticed it. So I spent a few days thinking about the situation and it (finally) occurred to me that maybe I had been screwing down on him too tight, trying to get good lines instead of just letting him drive. I put that theory to the test by taking him out into the side pasture with the hair sheep and just letting him push them wherever--not aiming for anything or trying to correct any lines. His attitude improved immediately. On the larger group yesterday, he still showed better confidence and happiness when I just let him push on without trying to pick a line and then stick to it unwaveringly. He's not yet two years old, and I'm really not in a rush, and not planning on doing much in the way of trialing this fall, given the gas prices, so I've decided to slow down with all three youngsters. I have two open dogs, so there's no rush to get the youngsters to that level and so I'm going to just slow down--"take time" so to speak.

At the end, we put the ewes back in a smaller paddock so Robin and Laura could work their six-month-old pups, and I pulled Raven out for a spin. This is the second time she's worked sheep off the place (the first time being at Robin's and so on sheep she was familiar with) and I was really pleased with her. She pulled the sheep off the fence without attempting to grip, flanked well in both directions, didn't think much of stopping when asked and was a bit too pushy on the fetches, but generally I was very pleased with her. I've been letting her do some chores at home as well; for example, putting the hair sheep back in their paddock at night after they've been out grazing in the yard. The sheep know the drill, which is nice, because they will head to the paddock gate and Raven can fall in behind and do a bit of "driving." (It's not really driving in the sense that she's pushing the sheep, because they're going in a direction they want to go, but it's a very easy, stress-free way to get her comfortable with the idea of being behind the sheep and moving them away from the human). I started Lark driving using a similar situation and it worked great.

And of course any get together wouldn't have been complete without a chance to sit under a shade tree and enjoy some good conversation and great food. Laura gets props for being the Domestic Goddess and making all sorts of yummy food! I also picked up another large Vari-kennel from Robin, so now I won't have to haul Pip's crate in and out of the house whenever I go somewhere and he won't have to be crammed into an intermediate.

Hay!
This morning, Jimmy and I went and got 19 round bales of timothy/fescue mix. Wow, that was a chunk of change, but at least I have some hay in the barn. Tony came over with his tractor and forks and we rearranged the hay that was still in there and added in the new. He's lined up some hay from another neighbor, so we'll probably be moving that next Saturday. I think I went through close to 25 bales last year, and that was with starting to feed hay in August or September. We're already feeding hay this year, and since we basically had no rain in May or June, the pastures are pretty much beyond recovery. I hope that we get enough rain for folks to get a second cutting, but I'm not counting on that and am trying to get as much hay as I can afford to buy into storage now.

I will be going through my animal list as I will need to send at least half the sheep off this place. Tony and Mary are going to take two of my tunis ewe lambs, and my former neighbor Joy wants one or two of my two- to three-year-olds, as well as several of my tunis wethers to pasture over the summer and then butcher and sell to their CSA customers next spring. I plan to butcher a couple for the dogs (need a bigger freezer first) and Mary and I are going to make a big push for the ethnic market July 4th celebrations this coming week, and then whatever else needs to go will have to go to the livestock market. I really hate to do that with a breed that's as rare as the karakul, but there's no way to avoid it now. And with the flooding in the midwest, I imagine grain prices will be astronomical this fall, which means I need to start stockpiling corn now so I'll have something to feed whatever sheep I have left during late gestation and lactation. I'm glad a lambed early this year--at least there was grass for the young lambs up through weaning.... One advantage to the hair sheep is that they seem to stay fat on air. My wool sheep don't look bad, but they don't keep as easily as the hair sheep do. But I just don't particularly like hair sheep. I'll keep a few around, but will hang on to the tunis and karakuls until I can't hang on any longer!

When Joy called today to talk about the tunis, we also talked about going peach and cherry picking in the next week or so. Because I don't have enough to do. But I figure I can just get them in the freezer and then pull the frozen fruit out later when I have more time to make preserves and the like. I will also need to start frequenting the farmers' markets, since our garden is slowly going the way of the pastures. With no way to water at the back of the property, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and she's not being terribly merciful of late. (And to be honest, even if we could water from the well, I'd be reluctant to do so because in times of low rainfall I think it's irresponsible to take water from whatever aquifer our well taps into.) If I want to put food by so as not to have to deal with grocery store food, the Farmers' Markets is my alternative to our garden. And who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky and get some rain and I'll still be able to get my own home-grown goodies too!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Larky the Duck Dog and Other Notes

Larky loves poultry. I went outside Sunday morning to hang clothes on the line to find Lark "babysitting" a hen with her chicks, all of whom were trying valiantly to take a dust bath despite their audience.






Saturday was the BC Boards picnic at Becca's place. This year we also had a bunch of non-border collie folk from a couple of other forums that Becca is also a member of. It was fun to meet new people and new dogs. The food was delicious per usual, and those of us who wanted to work our dogs had the opportunity to work either ducks or sheep.

Given Lark's love of chickens (she will work them here at the farm), I figured she'd be a natural on ducks, and she was. Here's a video Laura took:



And since we were playing around, I decided to give Pip a whirl. It seems that Pip thinks working ducks is beneath him. The speech bubble above his head reads "A sensible dog doesn't work ducks, he eats them!" This video is in three parts, and if you watch closely, you will see a couple of occasions where Pip is spitting feathers. Disclaimer: No ducks were hurt in the recording of this video....









And just to show that Pip isn't a completely useless working dog, here's a video of him working Becca's sheep. We had just pulled this set of sheep out of the main flock, and in doing so, separated them from their unweaned lambs, so they very much wanted to go back toward the gate and to their pasture, which is to their left on the drive. They were leaning really hard on Pip, but he managed to drive them away anyway. They hadn't been penned before either, so this video is a little lesson of sorts in how to pen uncooperative sheep with an inexperienced dog. (That's Robin French with her good open dog Spottie setting sheep for us.)



Training Notes and Vids
We also got some videos of Phoebe and Raven at home. A note on Phoebe: Ever since she came into heat (her second) in mid-April she has completely regressed with respect to stockwork. As a result, I had moved her back to a smaller area on easier sheep, thinking that perhaps her "crisis of confidence" was the result of having been overfaced, or pushed too far, too fast. After discussing the issue with others, I'm now inclined to think that it was completely hormone related. In the past week or so, roughly eight weeks after coming into heat, she seems to have her brain back and be working as well as she was before coming into heat. If this continues to be a problem on every heat cycle, then I'll probably end up spaying her.

Anyway, I also wanted to get video of Phoebe working in a similar situation as Raven so that Raven's owner could compare their working styles. So here's Phoebe working the dog-broke sheep in the paddock last Saturday morning.



Laura came by last Friday evening to try her six-month-old pup Linc in the round pen. You can see the video of his work session on her blog (see the list of favorites on the left). I had Laura tape Raven for me as well. I wish I had video of our first few training sessions so y'all could see the tremendous strides she's made, but unfortunately I didn't have anyone to tape for me, and it's pretty impossible to tape and train a youngster at the same time (at least not without a real camcorder and tripod). Here's Raven in the round pen.



Saturday morning Darci came by to work a couple of dogs and ride with me up to Becca's. I got her to tape Raven in the paddock (she also took the video of Phoebe above). The work isn't perfect by any means, but you can see that she's showing less tension, is flanking reasonably well in both directions (except that she sometimes still blows in to the right), and seems to be enjoying herself. Note: The sheep that crashed into the fence did so because Raven sliced her flank and pushed him too hard. Since this was a lamb, his reaction was quite exaggerated, hence running into the fence. Had it been one of the ewes that Raven had buzzed like that, she likely would have reacted less violently.



We worked Darci's young dog Stella in the round pen on Saturday morning, and she's coming along very nicely. Then I took Darci's Chris in to work her. Chris has a real problem with working sheep in tight spaces, and so her reaction is to try to pull sheep down. Darci has gotten to the point where she doesn't like to take Chris off her own place to work for fear of the damage she could do to someone else's sheep. That's why I took her in the round pen. I figured if I let her damage my sheep, then I had no one but myself to blame. Now this is where well dog-broke sheep (Robin's "magic sheep," whom I refer to as "the Holsteins" because of their markings) truly prove their value. I had Chris going around between the sheep and the fence in a calm and controlled manner. I think she grabbed at the sheep just once in our entire work session. The first thing I did was get her attention when we walked into the pen. It was clear her mind was just churning, and I wanted her to remember that I was there and pay attention to me. Getting into her head right at the start made a big difference. What she does is get tense and then goes into a reactive nonthinking prey mode--and it's all the result of feeling uncomfortable in close proximity to the sheep. All I did was get her to engage her brain before she got into the reactive mode. I also asked her to lie down at the moment when she would normally speed up and try to shoot through the space between the sheep and the fence (with the sheep up against the fence). By getting her to lie down, I was getting her to think and helping her to see that she could be close to sheep and up against a fence and nothing bad would happen. I sure wish we had taken videos of her working--the change from this time to the last time she was here (when I had to use Blu-kote liberally on my sheep) was amazing.

Other Stuff
In other notes, and somewhat related to my "When it rains...," entry, I got a speeding ticket on the way to Becca's. It was simply my inattention, heading downhill and talking to Darci instead of keeping an eye on the speedometer, that got me caught. Now there's another bill I have to pay, although I'm considering going ahead to court and seeing if I can get it reduced and keep it off my license, thereby saving my insurance. The irony of the whole thing is that I tend to be a bit of a lead foot, but lately I've been very conscientious about driving slower to try to conserve fuel. Maybe I should have tried to tell the state trooper that I was practicing hypermiling and was just trying to get my speed up going down that hill so I could make it up the next one with fuel usage. I'm sure he would have bought that excuse!

I also will be getting a few Rhode Island Red pullet chicks in the next couple of weeks. I love my Old English Game bantams, but it will be nice to have regular-sized eggs, and I've always had a soft spot for RIRs since one of our pet chickens when we were children was an RIR aptly named Curious.

We're drier than ever here. The few storms that have come this way have split and gone either north or south of us. The pasture we seeded is dying, and I'm feeding the flock hay already. I think I need to relocate my farm to someplace that gets a little bit more rain. Karakuls originated in the arid steppes of central Asia, and they did amazingly well during last year's drought, but I had really hoped we'd have some decent pasture for them this year. If it keeps up, I won't have any choice but to ship some sheep out of here.

And although this post is already too long, I wanted to report that I swam Twist at Becca's and then used her to sort sheep (despite the fact that she's not supposed to be working--our help was needed) and she had to do some major "cutting horse" moves to keep the set of sheep we had separated off from rejoining the rest of the flock. She hasn't shown any signs of lameness since all the activity on Saturday, so here's hoping that she's all healed up and will soon be back in fine working form!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When It Rains...

Yes, it pours. And unfortunately I'm not talking the wet stuff that comes out of the sky and which we desperately need, but rather veterinary issues.

The good news is that I took Twist to Robin's on Saturday and swam her for a while in the pond. She came out sound and was sound later after being tied out and left in her crate for some time. So the combination of prolo therapy and "lock down" must be working (personally I think probably the strict crate rest was the greatest benefit, but who knows for sure?). Yesterday morning I had to use her to get the rams and wether into the stall so I could catch the wether and take him to the butcher on my way to our next vet appointment (both in Siler City so trying to save gas by doing two errands at once). Twist is really the only dog I trust to handle the ram--you just don't want to risk your health training youngsters on mature rams after all. Anyway, one of the ram lambs bolted and Twist ended up doing "airs above the ground" to get him turned back. I thought right then that if anything wasn't well on the way to being healed, we'd certainly know it after those acrobatics. She then went into a crate where she spent the good part of an hour while I delivered the wether and drove to the vet. When I got her out of the crate, she was sound. Yay!

Dr. Redding still wants her kept very quiet for a week after each therapy session (we have one or two more), with slow build up to activity in the couple of weeks before the next session. The bad news is that he said he didn't think he'd realease her for work and trialing till fall. Okay, I can live with that as I have youngsters to train and run. At least I managed to get two of the three pounds she'd gained back off, even while on strict crate rest. She probably thinks she's turning into a green bean though.

Then it was Willow's turn. She had been marginally better after our last visit and while on Previcox, but once the meds were stopped, she was as lame as ever. I let her off crate rest at the same time as Twist because I couldn't see that nearly three weeks of strict rest had made any difference. We sedated her and X-rayed that leg and Dr. Redding checked her for drawer signs and sure enough it seems she's got a torn cruciate ligament. He also suspects that the lateral ligaments are damaged as well. Ugh.

On top of that, when Willow had the mast cell tumor removed from her groin area in January, the operating vet talked to me about a heart murmur she's developed (in relation to the anesthesia protocols she elected to use). When I first took her to Dr. Redding for her lameness, one of the questions I asked him was whether this type of tumor ever traveled to the bone. His answer was that it doesn't usually happen; instead such tumors, if they reappear, usually show up in the lungs. So, back to the heart murmur, which is a 4 on a 6-point scale. The problem with a heart murmur is that it's the result of valves that don't close completely--the murmur is the sound of blood leaking backward from those valves. The result of this leakage is that the heart has to work harder to pump blood in the proper direction, and since the heart is a muscle, the extra work causes muscle (heart) enlargement.

So Dr. Redding wanted to X-ray Willow's chest to see what shape her heart is in. It is a bit enlarged in the upper half and is actually beginning to impinge on her esophagus a little bit (if it continues to enlarge, it will eventually also put pressure on her trachea, which will cause her to start coughing). The good news is that we've caught it pretty early and there is no fluid in her lungs. The other bit of good news is that her lungs also appear to be free of anything that looks suspiciously like cancer.

So we've decided to put Willow on heart medicine (Enalapril) now because there is good evidence that starting treatment early in the course of the "disease" can greatly extend her life expectancy. Sigh. I really don't like giving my dogs a bunch of medicines, but I don't want to jeopardize her health either, so for now, I'm doing as instructed. As soon as we get past the ACL surgery, then I'll plan to consult with Regina and see if there are any alternative approaches we can take to heart health.

What Willow has going for her in all this is her relatively small size (36 lbs) and extreme athleticism. She's always been quite healthy--generally vet visits have been the result of self-induced injuries, since her style has always been wide open, to say the least.

We started the prolo therapy on her yesterday and scheduled the cruciate surgery for mid-July (to give me time for my bonus from work to come in--so that it can promptly go to pay for surgery), which is when her next prolo injection will also be given. There is no real choice to take a conservative route (like I did with Jill's partial tear) because the damage to the ligaments is painful and will result in major arthritic changes in the joint. I want to get a consult with Regina after the surgery and see if we can't work up a physical therapy protocol that will give her the best chance of regaining full use of her leg.

Willow just turned 11 on June 7, so she's not really an old dog. I think she's just always been really hard on herself (how many dogs do you know that have broken metatarsals while making quick turns chasing a ball?) and now it's catching up with her....

Training Notes
On an somewhat unrelated note, Raven continues to make good progress. She's letting go of a lot of her tension and is approaching her work with a more level head. She's still a bit tense and tight going to the right, but she can do short outruns on that side, and compared to when she got her just a month ago and refused to go to the right at all (as in lying down and refusing to move), she's making great strides. The dog broke hair sheep I bought from Robin are perfect for her. Although my tunis ewes were working okay in the round pen, their propensity for running made it difficult to let Raven do any sort of fetching. She felt and worked all the time as if she were going to lose her sheep. Get sensible sheep and we were able to skip the round pen altogether and start working in the paddock instead. I think she'd actually be fine with these sheep out in the main pasture, and we'll move there soon enough, but right now I want her to learn to relax working sheep in a closer quarters, so we're staying in a smaller area.

I've also been working Phoebe on these sheep and this morning for the first time since she went in heat back in April I felt like I might just have my old dog back. I don't how long it takes for the hormonal changes to subside, but I have to say that for the past six weeks or more Phoebe has been something of a moron on stock. That's why I backed way up and put her back on the easier sheep in a smaller area. It never hurts to go back to the basics when you're having problems. Going back to something that should be easy for her has helped her regain lost confidence. When we were finished with our session this morning, she was eager to go work the main flock. We didn't--no sense in tempting the fates of regression!

I worked Pip on the full flock this morning. I alternate days with him and Lark on the main flock because it's hard on the sheep (they aren't used to being worked a lot), especially those with younger lambs. The main flock is really more like three or four smaller flocks that don't really want to work as one unit, so the dog has to work hard to keep them together. And then of course the mothers of the younger unweaned lambs are still a bit feisty in protective mode. So I've basically been working both Lark and Pip in silent mode, letting them figure out how to cover, when the push, and when to back off. I've been doing "walkabouts" with Lark because all the pushing sheep off feed bunks that she's done for the past many months (thanks to the drought) had gotten her thinking that her job in life was to come around to my feet and push sheep away. By just letting her wear sheep to me around the pasture, she's having to come most of the way around toward me at times to contain the sheep, but instead of continuing to me and starting to push, she's realizing she needs to go back and cover the back and other side as we go. I haven't been giving her any direction beyond an occasional little correction (Ah, ah!) if she appears to want to go all the way to the heads. Doing this very basic work should help free her up more and hopefully help with her boring tendencies (bore straight into the sheep and keep pushing the ones directly in front of you while those off to the sides just peel away). Well, and remind her that fetching is part of her job too. Some of the issues I've seen with her you wouldn't see working just a few sheep (she can do a lovely silent fetch at a trial on three or four sheep), so it's nice to have a larger flock that brings out some of these issues so they can be worked on.

I canceled out of the VBCA summer trial and have decided against going to Don McCaig's trial as well. For the former I can't justify the expense when I have to pay $1,000 or more for Willow's surgery, and for the latter, it's a long way to go (gas $$) to run just one open dog, and maybe a youngster on Monday. Instead I'll aim for Roy's trial at the end of August (Twist may still not be cleared to run by then) as it's close and so won't cost me an arm and a leg in gas and lodging.

And I guess that's about it for now here at Willow's Rest.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hazy Days

The past three days have been quite hazy, but not for the typical summer weather reason. No, instead the wind is apparently blowing from the east and so we're getting the smoke from wildfires in the eastern part of the state. If anyone doubts the cause, they need only step outside and try to breathe--the smell is pretty bad. I haven't worked dogs the past three mornings because I can't imagine the smoke is healthy for any living thing to breathe, and while the outdoor animals don't have much choice in the matter, I don't think it makes sense to stress them just now and make them breathe in even more of the "tainted" air as they'd do when being exercised. The National Weather Service says that the "code red" air quality (meaning everyone should avoid prolonged outdoor activity) conditions should abate by tomorrow when winds come in to blow the smoke away. It's kind of like the days when I used to work in Washington, DC. I was a jogger then, and I used to jog in the mornings before work sometimes. Some of my co-workers (and many other folks) would jog on their lunch hours. I couldn't help but wonder how much the health benefits to be gained from exercising were offset by the fact that those folks were jogging in the summer (tourist season, with the attendant traffic increase) heat in downtown DC. Imagine all the exhaust fumes they breathed in as they ran. How could filling your lungs with that poison (and at a greater rate than normal) be healthy? That's why I kept my runs to early morning or at the indoor track--I couldn't see choking myself on exhaust fumes in the name of better health....

Tomorrow will be Raven's first trip off the place to try working sheep somewhere else. Fortunately the sheep where we're going are well dog broke, so I hope we'll be able to set her up for success. I'll be bringing some of those sheep home as well, so we'll be able to continue making progress here with sheep that are more appropriate than those of my main flock.

In preparation, I pushed the last seven ewes and their lambs (the youngest are four weeks old now) out into the big pasture with the rest of the flock this morning. That ought to make for a sorting nightmare whenever I want to work part of the main flock, but it will make all other management issues easier (like not having to feed hay to anything but the rams). And with the entire flock in one location, I can set up the foot bath and get them all treated. They've had plenty of practice going through the chute, so the new challenge will be getting them to step into the foot bath (it's too long for them to jump, so it'll require some serious pushing from the dogs)....

We're supposed to be getting some guinea hens, but I need to move the spare 10 x 10 dog kennel down into the alley paddock to be their temporary 24/7 home and future night time roosting area. Our neighbor is giving us some young adult birds. I joke with him that he can just keep giving them to us every time they go home! The plan is to keep them penned for a while and then let out one at a time, so that the others will be the "lure" to keep the outside bird(s) from heading back to the home farm. I know a few people who have made this work (common wisdom is that guineas won't stay if you don't raise them from keets). If the project fails, then I'll just get keets from my neighbor instead, but it would be nice to be able to make the young adults work because they are less management-intensive than the keets and can start on tick and fly control right away. By penning them in the bottom paddock, I'm hoping they'll go back to that pen to perch at night. The distance between that pen and where my bantams stay ought to help cut down on the guineas picking on the bantams (while they're all roaming, they bantams can get out of the way, but I don't want to house them all together to avoid bullying of the smaller birds by the bigger birds). I also would like to find some Rhode Island Reds to keep for their eggs. The OEG bantam eggs are great, but you do have to compensate for thier much smaller size.

Crate rest seems to be working for Twist. I haven't noticed any lame steps lately, and she doesn't get up three-legged like she had been. I'm taking her along tomorrow so I can swim her in the pond. I'll be interested to see if she comes up lame again after that non-weight-bearing exercise. She's had something like three weeks of modified crate rest (basically no work, but allowed on leash walks) followed by two and a half weeks of full crate rest. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rest has done the trick. Otherwise, the mystery lameness will remain a mystery and she's in for an even longer crate rest "sentence."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mean-spiritedness

I’ve been thinking about this behavior in people lately. What is it that makes people mean-spirited? Why do some people take pleasure in others’ pain or misfortune? I imagine that taking private pleasure in another’s misfortunes or mistakes is somewhat hard-wired in us—one of those things we all do at times, but which most of us have the grace to at least not be proud of. But what makes a person comment on such situations in a manner that’s derisive of the person or situation upon which the comments are being made? And why does the person making the comments generally tend to do so in a venue where the person or people being derided don’t have a voice (that is, in a venue where the people being attacked can’t defend themselves)? What purpose does this kind of behavior serve? I assume it makes the one partaking of it feel better about him- or herself, but don’t these people also see how such behavior just reflects back on themselves? Don’t they understand that by taking that “holier than thou” stance—especially when the situation is something with which they have no direct experience and thus have no real knowledge on which to base their judgments—they’re also making themselves look ridiculous (and mean-spirited, which they are)?

Consider the somewhat typical behavior exhibited on a dog-related e-mail list I receive. The people there routinely state things like “My dog could certainly do that,” even though nothing they’ve ever conveyed to the rest of us of their actual real-life experience could come close to making their statements believable. Often these sorts of people will say something along the lines of “I don’t see why John Q. did that or couldn’t do that. My dog could do that.” Of course people making the claim that their dog “could do that” will never actually come close to “doing that” with their dog, so it’s difficult to see what truth they’re basing their statements on. Certainly you rarely hear such comments from the folks who have been there and done that. Nope. You hear those types of comments only from the people who have never been there and done that and probably have no hope of ever being there and doing that. At least on the e-mail list someone is likely to point out the hogwash for what it is. And the author of the comments can then defend them or not. But what if those same comments were made in a venue where no one could call the author on them? What purpose, then, do those types of comments serve? Is it some sort of self-stroking of the ego? Is it to make the author feel better about his or her own failures (or perhaps lack of initiative)? I think it’s really just a poorly-veiled attempt to elevate oneself by tearing down others. It’s a coward’s tactic. And it’s really sad….

Monday, June 9, 2008

Mint tea, anyone?

With prices of everything rising ever higher, I've given up some of my indulgences, namely prepared, prepackaged junk food (you know, all those little 100-calorie packs and the like) and sodas. I generally drink just one soft drink a day, so it's not like it was a huge expense, but seeing as how I was drinking diet caffeine-free, I'm really not giving up a lot more than artificial color and flavor (though I do love the taste of diet Coke!). Instead I decided to just make iced tea (decaf of course), which is probably better for me and certainly cheaper to prepare.

So I've been drinking boatloads of iced tea lately. I figure that at least I'm getting plenty of liquids. Yesterday I was lamenting the fact that my tea just didn't have the flavor kick that a diet Coke has when it dawned on me that I have all these boxes of flavored herb teas that I generally drink only in the cooler months. So I pulled out a box of one of the mint teas I have and made myself a gallon of mint tea. It's quite refreshing and has just that little taste kick that makes it better than plain old iced tea. I'll have to try one of the fruit teas next.

On another note, I talked to Joy today, and she told me she and several others have plans to go cherry picking next Monday somewhere near Mt. Airy. I think I'll take a day off work and go with them. I never did get around to picking strawberries this year, but if I can get cherries, and then peaches and blueberries, I can still make jams and freeze some berries to eat in my yogurt over the winter. Yum!

I'm hoping fervently that the local weatherman is right and we'll see the temperatures ease off by midweek. The extreme heat coupled with a lack of rain is not doing the planted pasture any good either. Of course we're probably all watching the weather and wondering if we're in for a repeat of the exceptional drought conditions of last year. I hope not, because if so, I'll have no choice but to sell off livestock.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Are the Dog Days of Summer Here Already?

Apparently a record has been broken at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, where temperatures reached 100 today. Normal temperatures for this time of year are in the mid-80s. I wish we could get back there!

Yesterday ended on as busy a note as it started. Kay had told me that her neighbor was planning to cut hay and I could get it out of the field for $1/bale. When I called him Friday, he had cut it, was going to ted it yesterday, and bale it today, and my plan was to go up early this morning and get it out of the field as soon as he baled it.

So yesterday afternoon, just as I stretched out on the day bed for a nap the phone rang and it was Kay telling me that Warren had baled the hay. I really wanted a nap, so I told Kay I'd think about what I wanted to do and get back to her. Well, it really made sense to just go ahead and get the hay, and it would free up Sunday to do so. So I hooked the van to the trailer and loaded a few of the dogs in case we had time to do a little dog work while at Kay's as well.

I don't know why (well, part of the reason was the detours on 29 north due to road construction), but it took me nearly three hours to get to Kay's. I looked at the temperature guage on the van when I arrived and saw that it was still in the mid-90s so figured we wouldn't be working dogs.

Once Kay got her long pants on we drove over to Warren and Trudy's place to find that Warren had already stacked the bales at maybe six collection points, which made loading it out of the field a snap! We then went inside for some of Trudy's homemade lemonade--yum! It also turns out that the temperature had dropped down to the mid-80s and Kay really wanted me to see Caleb (a littermate to Pip and Phoebe) work her calves. The calves were out in the main pasture with the sheep, so I sent Lark for them just to give her a chance to do a long outrun and work the calves.

The pasture needs mowing, and the grass was so tall that once I sent Lark I couldn't really see her except for the rippling grass as she passed through. I got her focused on the calves, and she brought them up pretty nicely and put them in Kay's riding ring (which is also the place she uses for working young dogs, and we had already used Kat to move the sheep out of the ring). Caleb really does look like he enjoys working cattle, much more so than sheep. I think he's just slow to mature, but hopefully working stock he really likes will help him to come along. After Caleb was worked, I pulled Pip out and worked the calves with him. Pip likes to do the stealth hock biting thing, but did a pretty good job with them. I then got Phoebe out to put the sheep we'd moved out of the ring back in, but they had gone out of sight down into the woods and Kay decided to just leave them there. I let Phoebe work the calves for a few minutes, but she was being rather silly, so we didn't do much.

By this time, it was almost 9 o'clock, and I still had to grab a bite to eat, get gas, and get home. I stopped at the Italian place in Charlotte Courthouse and got something portable I could eat on the road, filled up with gas, and was off. I took back roads all the way to Halifax and had planned to continue on back roads to Danville, but in Halifax I decided I could make better time if I just dropped down to South Boston and caught 58 W there to Danville. The trip home wasn't as long as the trip there, but it was after midnight when I pulled in the driveway. Needless to say, I did not unload the hay then.

This morning, Tony "the biscuit master" made biscuits, so after feeding dogs and sheep (I was awake at 6, despite not getting to bed till after 1 a.m. and had planned to not work dogs in the morning so I could sleep in), Jimmy and I went to have breakfast with Tony, Mary, Henry, and LouAnn. While we were talking after breakfast, Henry and LouAnn mentioned that they'd like some guinea hens for tick control. Well, it so happens that our neighbors with the alpacas also have lots of guinea hens, so we called to see if they had keets available. We loaned Henry and LouAnn one of the little chick pens we use out in the yard for little biddies and went up to see Charles and get the keets. So there went the cool morning, and I still hadn't unloaded hay!

Back at the house, I took Pip down to move the ewes with lambs from out behind the barn and into the lower paddock so I could leave the gate open while I carried bales of hay into the barn. One of the ewes is a bit rank with dogs, and she charged Pip several times. I don't want her to learn she can do that to dogs, and of course Pip is a happy alligator, so we've been discouraging inappropriate gripping, and it was obvious he wasn't quite sure this was an appropriate time to defend himslf, so the third time I grabbed her and was going to encourage Pip to hit her. Unfortunately he got that bright idea about the same time I grabbed her, and he caught my hand with his teeth. Nothing serious, but ouch! At any rate, it was enough to get the message across to the ewe to stop being a butthead.

By the time I unloaded the hay it was after noon. I wanted to put a round bale out in the main pasture as well, just to help take some of the pressure off the grass, especially since we haven't had rain in over a week. Jimmy was working on bee hives, but when he got to a stopping point, we took the trailer and went over to the chicken barn for a round bale. The lock has apparently rusted to the point where we couldn't get it unlocked, and in fact couldn't get the key back out. But the lock is just on a cable, so we climbed under, opened the wire gate behind the cable, and rolled that darn bale half the length of a chicken house, out under the cable, and up onto the trailer. I think that bale had nothing but flat sides, so rolling it wasn't too easy, but we got it done.

We set the bale down in the lower part of the pasture in the shade to encourage the sheep to eat it (since they prefer grass at this time of year). Of course just as we were leaving the pasture, all the sheep decided they needed a drink of water, and the stock tank is next to the gate. When Jimmy opened the gate, a ewe and her lamb decided to exit the pasture, so I pulled Kat out of the van (we always have a dog when setting up round bales just to keep the sheep off us while we're doing it) and the sheep decided that perhaps the pasture was where they really wanted to be after all. Unfortunately, to get out of the pasture we had to move the sheep away from the water. So once we had the van and trailer out, I dumped the stock tank, and filled it with fresh water, and sent Kat to bring the flock back up so they could drink, which they did. I also set the giant kiddy pool in the pasture and filled it with water for Maia. While I was doing that, she came up and took a dip in the stock tank. Aaargh! So much for fresh, clean water for the sheep. I hope she'll figure out to use the kiddy pool--it's a good size for a big maremma.

Finally I was done and came inside and had a shower. I even finally got a nap! I refuse to go back outside until the sun starts to go down. I know the dogs would like another walk, but it's just too freakin' hot to do that right now. They can wait for dusk too.

I'm hoping tonight I can watch a movie (Juno) and get to bed early. This was definitely not a relaxing weekend, but I did get a lot of good stuff done, and none of us has dropped from heat exhaustion, so that's a good thing! I still need to tarp the round bale, but I didn't have the wherewithal to do that this afternoon. If a storm appears to be coming, I'll run down there and do it (of course we put it in the shade, so it's in the very bottom/back of the pasture). We need rain soon or the baby plants that just sprouted in the various garden plots are going to shrivel up and die. There's no water on the back of the property, so we really have to count on Mother Nature to do our watering for us back there. It would suck to have everything we planted (and it's a lot!) die from lack of water. I think the Bermuda high that's got us so hot right now is supposed to be pushed out by a cold front later this week. It can't happen soon enough, and I hope it brings plenty of rain when it comes....

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Scorching Saturday

It's acutally only in the mid-80s at the moment, but we're supposed to have our third (or fourth?) day in a row with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s. Whew! I finally broke down and turned on the air conditioning, mainly because on Thursday I had to go into the office and that means the dogs have to stay crated, and I knew they would suffer in plastic boxes in the house when the temps started pushing 90 and above. I actually prefer not to air condition because it keeps us acclimated for the work we have to do outside, but something you've just got to bow to peer pressure (i.e., the housemate). So I compromise. The thermostat is set at 82 and will probably go a little higher as summer goes on. I refuse to have a $300 electric bill and I can't stand being cold anyway, so it works for me!

I didn't even take Jill or Boy on our second walk to the "back 40" yesterday afternoon. You can just see how the heat wears on the oldsters when we're out on our walks/romps. They love to go, but when it's in the upper 90s, they're better off staying inside. I don't need dogs collapsing from heat exhaustion just for the sake of a walk. At least we have a couple of creeks they can take a dip in, but the wooded area leading up to the one behind the neighbor's horse pasture is pretty much poison ivy heaven (as I discovered the other evening, and after which I got home and promptly hopped in the shower with a bar of castille soap--happy to say I've had no breakout from that adventure and the dogs did enjoy their swim), so if I want to take them there, I need to be sure I have long pants on, and I don't know if I can stand it. So they may just have to make do with our own little creek, which has a few deep holes for splashing in.

I got up early this morning and sorted sheep so I could work Raven in the round pen and work the rest of the youngsters on the rest of the flock (minus the few problem sheep, which I sorted into the ram lot after pushing the rams out into the unfenced pasture to graze).

Raven actually did some tiny outruns to the right. Woohoo! And for some reason the sheep were being a little more cooperative today and we managed to get some fetching in too. Raven makes clear advancements every day--it's just amazing to watch.

I worked Pip out in the big field on the bulk of the flock. He's driving a lot better and his enthusiasm is up a couple of notches since I've been working on trying to make things fun for him (not all work and training). After working Pip, I took Phoebe into the lamb lot and we pushed the lambs up into the stall and shut them in, and then I had Phoebe going around them to the right and left, basically doing packed pen work, although the stall wasn't completely packed (the lambs will cram themselves together anyway, so the purpose of the exercise--to get her comfortable working in very close quarters with sheep--was still possible). While I had the lambs up, I checked everyone again and gave some Red-Glo to the couple who looked like they might be showing the first signs of anemia. I went ahead and dewormed those several lambs again, just to be on the safe side. I used Phoebe to help me feed the ewes behind the barn and the lambs when we were done working in the stall.

Then Raven got her second turn in the round pen. I tried actually going across the pen and sending her to the right, but she wasn't quite ready for that. If I shortened the distance about halfway, she'd go. That's progress! I did some wearing around and worked on stopping her, immediately letting her flank to the right or the left after stopping as her reward for stopping. She seems to be really enjoying her work now.

Last, I took Lark out in the big pasture and did a bit of driving with her. Then, because she's been doing some things like flanking all the way around to my feet when I ask for a flank (I think this is because I've used her a lot to push sheep away from feed bunks, so she's got it in her mind that she's supposed to come around to me and push sheep away, even when we're doing other tasks, like sorting specific sheep into the round pen), I just did a "walkabout" all around the pasture with her. The purpose of that exercise is just to let her balance sheep to me without saying anything to her. A couple of times as she was flanking to contain the sheep to me (there's one tunis ewe with a lamb that constantly wants to break off by herself) she came all the way around in front of me, but a simple verbal "ah, ah!" got her attention and she corrected herself. I think it would help to do a lot more of this, so that's what we'll be doing in the near future.

Then, since I had gotten the Cydectin out for those several lambs, I decided to go ahead and worm the entire flock. So I had Lark put the group I was working in the pasture into the foot bath chute (sans foot bath) and proceeded to dose everyone. I don't usually do this, since I find that using the FAMACHA method of checking for signs of anemia and then worming just the affected sheep has worked well for me, but I also recognize that FAMACHA is mainly concerned with barberpole worm and so doesn't really tell me the "state of the union," so to speak with respect to other intestinal parasites. And since my Cydectin is expiring, I thought I'd go on and do everyone to use it up.

So I wormed the sheep in the chute and then used Lark to push them back out. Interestingly, we've pushed sheep through that chute a lot to get them used to going through in preparation for foot bath treatments. But apparently once you close the ends off to contain the sheep, they decide that the end is permanently closed, even if you go in and push a few sheep out. So Larky had her work cut out for her, working from the back end, while the sheep in the front refused to budge. She did finally get them moving and on out of the chute, and she and I called it a day.

But I still had to take care of the three sheep in the round pen, and the sheep I'd pushed into the ram lot. Lark's brain was a bit fried by this point, so I pulled Pip out and let him hold the sheep to me in the round pen while I wormed them--not an easy task since there's no corner to hold them and so he had to cover the full arc on his side while I grabbed and dosed. Once we were done with them, we dosed the older tunis ewes, the karakul and her twins, and the several other sheep I'd pushed into the ram lot. Once we pushed them back out in the main pasture, I took Pip into the lamb lot and we pushed them all back in the stall, and I sorted all the ewes and wethers at the gate while Pip held them to me. Once I'd gotten everyone out of the stall but the three ram lambs, we pushed the rest of the lambs down through their lot, through the alley lot where Josias and Fido have been residing during weaning, and back into the main pasture. I had Pip go ahead and drive them all the way down to the woods where the rest of the flock was resting in the shade. Then I took him and gathered Josias and Fido back out of the unfenced field and back into the alley paddock. I opened the gate between that and the lamb paddock and then on my way out, let the three ram lambs out of the stall. So now Josias, Fido, and the ram lambs are all together. So far Josias is basically ignoring the lambs. I'm guessing they're still too young and small for him to feel he needs to assert any dominance over them.

The next thing on the agenda will be to take Fido to Chaudry for butchering, which I hope to do next week. That will supply our lamb for a good part of the year. And now that Josias has other sheep to keep him company, Fido can fulfill his destiny.

And I got all this done by 9:15 this morning!

Now I can hide from the heat and relax. The first thing I need to do is take a shower--handling all those sheep makes for a definite lack of cleanliness. Then I'll feed all the dogs (have to wait for the ones who worked this morning to have plenty of cool down time). Too bad I don't have a Netflix movie handy to watch. Although it feels like "wasting time" to just hang around the house and relax, you really can't do a whole lot in weather like this--not if you don't want to risk your health anyway.... (I do need to go find Maia a kiddie pool, and I also need to go to Pet Supplies Plus and pick up dog and cat food, so that may be a project for this afternoon--if I don't decide to take a nap instead!)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Multiplying Toads and Training Progress

It seems every time I dump the stock tank in the main pasture (every couple of days), there's a new toad under there. I started with just one, and am now up to four--three larger ones, two of which are grey and one red, and a smaller grey one. I don't find them under any of the other tanks--just the one in the big pasture. They all vacate the area whenever I dump the tank, but as soon as it's back in place, they must go right back under (they can get under because the pasture slopes and so I have a board under one end to level it, making a perfect hidey hole for critters of the amphibian set). The last time I dumped the tank I later found one of the toads basking in the dog's kiddie pool. I didn't know if he could get out, so I helped him out and off he went back to stock tank hotel. I'll be curious to see, as it continues to be hot and dry, just how many toads I'll end up with! Speaking of kiddie pools, I need to put one out in the pasture for Maia. I don't think the spring runs in the hottest weather (at least not above ground) and since I've seen her get in the stock tank to cool off, she might enjoy a pool of her own!

The Education of Raven
I have been trying to get Raven out in the round pen every day. It's gotten so hot here that I'm now getting up at the crack of dawn to work dogs. The very good thing about having Raven here is that she motivates me to get all the young dogs worked!

Raven has made tremendous progress in just a few weeks and with sheep that aren't really appropriate for beginner dogs. She started out much like her siblings Pip and Phoebe--a bowling ball with alligator teeth. In the beginning I thought I might need to buy stock in Blu-Kote and screw worm spray, but that phase lasted a very short while. The issues we started with were a reluctance to even go toward the sheep, let alone around them, or the mad dash in, teeth flashing. All of this is young dog stuff, but it was a little tricky because if I corrected Raven for the bad stuff, then she wanted to shut down and do nothing. I resorted to not letting her get away with just lying down and not moving--even going so far as taking her by the collar and walking her up to the sheep and around them. The other thing that helped was for me to go to the sheep and just ignore her. After a short while she'd get up and come toward the sheep herself and then I could step off and encourage her to go on around. The interesting thing about taking a dog who's nearly two is that they can take a lot more mental pressure than a much younger dog. The other interesting thing is that you can see big changes every day, which isn't always the case with a much younger dog, where the changes seem to be more incremental (largely because you don't want to put the same kind of pressure on a less mature mind).

Last night and again this morning we had some obvious breakthroughs. Raven is very one-sided and really prefers to go to the left. Until yesterday, if I switched my position to use body pressure to get her to turn to the right, she would simply stop and refuse to move. But last night, she actually started staying on her feet and moving away from my body pressure and to the right. She's way less comfortable going that way, which means that she slices in a bit and will try to grab sheep as she's going around, but this is a HUGE change for her. This morning, she was readily flanking around to the right, albeit still with plenty of tension. Also this morning I started doing mini-outruns with her, though only to the left. Now, when we walk into the pen, she'll still cling next to me, but if I give her some "shushes" she will go ahead and do a nice little outrun to the left. I won't push her on going right until she's a little more comfortable going in that direction.

We're not getting much wearing/fetching in, because the sheep are not dog-broke enough to stick to me when a young dog is behind them, so I pretty much have to catch them on the fly and start running backward to allow Raven a few steps of a fetch before the sheep blow past me and she flanks around to their heads to stop them.

Overall, the work is a lot calmer. I can see her starting to think and include me in the picture as well. It's not all frantic dashing about--her tension level is dropping and she's really thinking about what she's doing. Also, we've gone from a dog who would stop on her belly in the middle of the round pen and refuse to move to one who doesn't want to stop. That's a good change as far as I'm concerned because I'd rather have to work on stopping a keen one than begging a reluctant one up to work.

Having flown all the way from Alaska, I'm sure her world has been turned pretty much upside down. I'm quite sure she's not had to live in the kind of heat (upper 90s) we're experiencing now. Aside from the sheep work, I think the whole experience is maturing her in other ways. As I told her owner, I have been working with her evasive/manipulative behaviors off sheep and that has helped to build our relationship on sheep as well. If I call her and she flops over submissively on her back, she gets no reward (i.e, I don't try to cajole her into coming to me). She gets a verbal correction and I call her again. If she doesn't respond appropriately that time, she gets another verbal correction and I go get her and walk her to where I was when I called her. I then walk away and call her again. At that point, she usually comes right up and then she gets praise. Now she's pretty reliable about coming the first time I call and not acting all silly about it. Likewise when she's tied waiting her turn to work, if I go to get her and she flops over on her back, I don't bend down to unhook the leash. Instead I call her name, and when she sits up in response, then the leash comes off.

I'm having great fun with her. I can't wait to get her in a larger area and see how she comes along there. But I need sheep that are a bit more appropriate, because the sheep in my flock would just try to outrun her, and it's no good setting up something that will likely turn into a chase scene. So I plan to get a few dog broke sheep for her this summer (they'll withstand working in heat better than wool sheep as well and I can use them for my other youngsters too) and then sell them later in the fall. I can see already that once I have more appropriate sheep Raven will start progressing in leaps and bounds!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Trip to Naples

No, not that Naples, unfortunately. Although thinking back, I made a trip to Naples, Italy nearly 10 years ago (September 1998) and haven't managed to make it back since, though I'd love to do so. I am still in love with Italy's Amalfi Coast, even after all these years. And I still haven't managed to do anything with those lovely handpainted tiles I bought in Vietri and had shipped home. I guess it's one of those things--I'm just waiting for what I know will be my "last stop" before I set them permanently somewhere.

Anyway, this trip was to Naples, Florida, that I had to make last weekend for work. The meeting was our annual Executive Exchange, where the C-level executives of some of our best clients get together to network, exchange ideas, do some benchmarking, and, of course, go golfing. Yes, one afternoon is set aside for golf, and for those of us who don't golf, there's always some other activity or activities scheduled for that time. Last year, when we met in Salt Lake City, Utah, there were a couple of choices, including cooking at the culinary institute or fly fishing (I chose fly fishing). This year, the "alternative event" was a sailing regatta in the Gulf.

I was assigned to the "Tea for Two," a 32-foot (I think) boat, and we had a total crew of six. One of our crew happens to also race sailboats as an avocation, so we had a little bit of a leg up in that department when it came to figuring out a race strategy. I've been on catamarans, and I've toured tall ships, but I've never raced a sailboat, so this was an entirely new experience. And boy was it fun, in a slow motion sort of way (our top speed was a little over 6 knots, which if I understand correctly, was somewhere between 12 and 15 mph, so a far cry from the bass boats and other motorized watercraft I've had experience with). But oh, the silence--just the waves and the wind in the sails! We didn't see much in the way of wildlife, just dolphins who crossed our bow on several occasions. But on a couple of the other sailboats, the crew saw a sea turtle swimming along, and on another boat, the people caught sight of a manatee. I would have especially loved to see a manatee.

The race was a three-mile triangular course. There's a boat that keeps official times, tells you when to start, and keeps the course clear of other craft. The first thing we learned was how to release and set the jib depending on which way we needed to tack. We also learned about jibing (changing direction with the wind coming over the stern of the boat--this is when you must be careful because when the main sail catches the wind, the boom can go flying from one side of the boat to the other, and you don't want to be caught by it!), and what it means to go "wing-on-wing" (when the main sail is set to one side and the jib to the other, so that from the front of back the sails appear as two wings).

We gave it our all--and came across the finish line second behind the largest (and therfore fastest) boat in the fleet. Unfortunately, the way the boats are handicapped, we still didn't win. I didn't quite understand the handicapping, and our resident sailor thought it was done a bit oddly, but we still had a grand time!

On the way back to the harbor, we had hoped to catch a glimpse of the space shuttle launch 250 miles away in Cape Canaveral, but thunderclouds that built up to the north and east cut off any chance we had of seeing the liftoff.

The Naples Grande Resort, where we were staying, had a boardwalk on which you could take the half-mile walk to the beach through a mangrove swamp. The beach is closed at 6 p.m. because of nesting sea turtles, so I got up early Sunday morning and met my boss Angela at 6 a.m. (it wasn't even light yet) so we could take a walk to the beach and on the beach, because it would have been a shame to have traveled to Florida and not have gone to the beach at least once! We saw the usual shorebirds--namely snowy egrets and white ibis, and one osprey--as well as several fishermen. The water was a clear turquoise green, and I kicked myself for not having thought to bring a bathing suit as I could have jumped right in for a quick morning swim. Oh well, it was still a nice relaxing way to greet the last day of the conference.

The trip home was less than wonderful--late flights, late flight crews, overbooked planes and one seat assigned to multiple people--all the things that make flying less than pleasurable nowadays. But I manged to make it home not much later than planned, and Laura had done a great job farm sitting, so I gratefully came home to a bunch of happy, healthy, (glad to see me) critters!

The bad news about the Executive Exchange is that its dates change from year to year, and next year it will be held the first weekend in May, which means I will have to miss attending (and showing sheep) at next year's Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. The good news part to that is that it's being held at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and everyone I've talked to has said it's not only an absolutely fabulous resort, but also an amazingly beautiful location. Since I've been only to Denver, I can look forward to seeing another beautiful area of this country that I haven't seen before.

A Video of Kat at the NC State Championship Sheepdog Trial

Denise Wall took a few videos on Sunday, and this was one of them. It was not a great run, but it will give you an idea of the course and work required in the open class. Denise didn't tape the shed (because we didn't get one, and there was just too much running around for her to get any decent footage of our attempts anyway).

Kat is an 8-year-old working-bred border collie out of Bill Reed's lines. I have had her since she was about 3 years old.




If you want to watch the high-quality version, follow this link and click on "view in high quality":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBhDtrKa_fs

Enjoy!