Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yay, Rain!

We got rain last night. As I was doctoring on my sick lamb I could hear the thunder rumbling and see the lightning flashes south and east of us and figured that once again the storm would simply go around and we'd be left high and dry. But no, the rain came, blowing from the east, which is pretty unusual. Not a whole lot, but every little bit helps. There were some severe storms around us, but we weren't badly affected, fortunately. Tony had a tree fall on his fence, but the damage was minimal, just a broken cross brace, especially given the size of the tree.

When I got up this morning, clearly we had gotten more rain last night. I checked the rain gauge and it looks like our total from yesterday and last night was just over half an inch. Given that we are down something like an inch and a half for this month and more than five inches for the year, I'm quite glad for that little bit.

The sick lamb is hanging in there. I think she'd regain strength if I could get her to eat. She is now letting me get electrolytes in her with a feeding syringe, but fights like the dickens (well, okay, as much as a very weak lamb can) if I try to get Nutri-drench or anything similar down her. So I'm basically keeping her alive with Nutri-drench (what she doesn't just let dribble back out) and electrolytes and shots of fortified B complex. I'd love to be able to get some subQ fluids in her and will call the vet and see if he can't get me something when I go to Siler City later today.

Lamb Escape
When I separated the second set of lambs from their mamas, I had one set that was actually born at the end of the first lambing cycle. I had planned to leave them with the ewe and let her wean them, which she was attempting to do, but she was rather thin, so I went ahead and added her two lambs in with the group from the second lambing. They were never very happy about that and would stand along the fenceline and call for their mother. Even if I put them over on the unfenced side, they'd spend more time standing at the fence than eating the good grass over there--well except for the couple of times they took themselves out into the road and I had to take Twist to round them up.

Yesterday evening as the storm was approaching, I was heading out to doctor the lamb and as I got to the barn I saw that the lambs had knocked over the round bale in the stall. Then I counted just five lambs. You can imagine the thoughts going through my head? Could those lambs be under the bale? It didn't seem possible, and the bale is more than half gone, but I still couldn't lift it by myself. Being the pragmatic sort, I figured if there were a lamb or two under a bale I couldn't lift by myself, then there wasn't much hope for them anyway. I went ahead and treated the other lamb and by then a Progress Energy power truck had stopped in to see if we had power (we did) and Jimmy came home. I got Jimmy to help me lift the bale (no lambs underneath) and we both looked in the space under the tack room part of the barn, but no lambs were there either. Then we glanced down the pasture and saw what had happened. Someone had gone through the gate between the paddocks and the main pasture and had not latched the chain on the gate properly, and so the lambs had been able to squeeze through. Probably the strong winds from the storm had blown the gate open as far as the misattached chain would allow, and those two lambs, plus a little friend, apparently, made good their escape back into the main pasture.

Once the rain had passed, we took a round bale down to the sheep. I always take a dog to keep the sheep off us while we work, and last night it was Lark. She has gotten into the habit of howling when she rides in the cab of the truck when we go to get the hay out of the old chicken house. Of course we've encouraged this behavior because it's kind of funny, but I'm sure it would get old if we had to ride any distance with her. Still, since we country folk have to find our entertainment where we can, we get a kick out of getting her to howl on command as she sits on the fold down armrest in the middle of the seat.

Anyway, once we got the bale in place, Jimmy asked if I could see the missing lambs. The twins were pretty obvious, but as for the third missing lamb, when Jimmy asked "Is that one it?" while pointing at one of the myriad black karakul lambs out there, I just had to shake my head. Did he really think I'd be able to pick out one black lamb among the bunch out there and say from a distance, "Oh that's the one!" The only way to tell would be to look at ear tags or watch the flock for a while and see if there was a lamb that had "reattached" itself to one of the ewes I got out of Orange. As it was pushing 8 and we still had a gate to fix, I wasn't terribly inclined to gather the flock and try to figure out which lamb was the extra escapee.

Lark: I May Not be Big, But I Sure Am Bad!!!
And for all you Larky fans, here's another little Lark story. When we got back to the house with the roll of hay, I got out of the truck to open the pasture gate and took Lark with me to push the sheep back from the gate. Then Jimmy drove on down to where we wanted to put the roll, and Lark and I followed on foot, with Lark ranging out ahead. Maia came up to visit me, and little "Mini Me" came at Maia like a bolt out of the blue, hackles up in "I'm gonna get you" mode. What on earth is she thinking when she does this? Maia could pretty much swallow her in one gulp. Fortunately, Maia is used to--and quite tolerant of (as in she ignores them)--Lark's little sneak "attacks" (Lark never actually does anything but rush Maia), since Lark started them this winter when we had to push sheep off feed bunks every morning. Maia just gives Lark a look that says "Oh, just go away you little annoying gnat!" and continues on with whatever she's doing. Afterward, Lark is all puffed up as if she were David and had just slain Goliath. Silly little gnat....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This and That

Wow, it seems that no matter how hard I try, I just don't manage to keep up with this blog all that well. Last week was a really busy week as I was trying to finalize all the text for the magazine so we could go to press on Monday. Then on Friday, after looking at the first layout, we decided we needed to add pages, so what was supposed to be a relatively light (workwise) week this week is again busy with layout reviews and the like. Oh well, that's the way it goes in publishing!

Last night Mary and I took Laura out for a belated birthday dinner. Man, a person needs to get in line to get time with that girl! My mouth had been watering for Kabob & Curry all day! Mary and I stopped by Pet Supplies Plus, so Laura got the restaurant ahead of us. They are closed on Mondays. How could we have forgotten? What a bummer. So we ended up at an Indian restaurant on Tate Street. The food was as good as that at K&C, so all was not lost. We even brought in the cake Mary made and had a proper birthday celebration.

Bye Bye, Cell!
Verizon is my cell service provider, and I've been happy with their service. Just a couple of months ago I became eligible for a new phone on their "new in two" plan. I went to the local Verizon store because I have a hard time figuring out if I'll like certain features just by viewing online. I looked at one phone that was "hardened" against hard use (and misuse) and briefly considered it, but the extra built-in protection made it bulkier than I wanted. Well, maybe I should have trusted the fact that I'm hard on phones and gone ahead and bought that armored phone. Had I done so, I'd probably still have a working phone right now. Yep, just last week I was talking on the phone and filling a stock tank and accidentally dropped the phone--not into the tank, but onto the ground where I had just dumped the water. I snatched it up quickly, and other than some grit in the hinge, it seemed to be fine. Well, this morning I really did a number on the poor thing. I generally just shove my phone in my back pocket (main reason for not wanting that bulkier armored phone). I was tending to a sick lamb this morning and had gotten a bit dirty, so when I came in the back door, I just stripped off and dropped everything in the wash and walked into the kitchen. After putting on some clean clothes, I suddenly wondered where my cell phone was. Oh no! You guessed it! Having a nice soak in the washing machine. While it withstood the dunk in the mud puddle, the washing machine was just too much for it. Now I have to get myself a new phone. Bah!

The Butcher, or How Do You Know What You Want When You Haven't a Clue?
And this leads us to the next part of the story. This morning I loaded two ewes on the trailer (with Mary's help as I'm still not the greatest at backing a trailer) to take to the butcher. These ewes are going to my sisters, both of whom wanted to buy a sheep to eat.

I have had a few sheep butchered to eat myself, but generally just get chops, leg steaks, stew meat, and the like (with the "leftovers" going to the dogs). I've never been real clear on what exactly I could get and so have just stuck with the tried-and-true. Enter my sisters, who want to make intelligent choices about what they'll get from their sheep. Because I can't be terribly helpful in that regard, I sent them several Web sites that explain the various cuts and what parts of the sheep they come from.

And confusion reigned!

Most such Web sites show you every possible cut that you could get from one area of the sheep, say the shoulder or ribs. What they don't tell you is how much you can expect from each primal cut. Can you get a shoulder roast and shoulder as stew meat? Why do most charts show both legs, but only one shoulder? A sheep has two shoulders, but only one shoulder roast? Ribs can come as racks, roasts, chops, crown roasts, and any number of other cuts. So if you get a rack, presumably from one side, can you still get chops from the other? These are the sorts of questions my sisters were grappling with last night when I finally sent them an e-mail at 11 saying "I'm going to bed. I'm heading out for the butcher at 7 a.m. If I don't have your lists, you'll be at my mercy for the meat selection you get back." I had lists this morning, but they also still had a lot of questions. They did end up asking for a few cuts I have never gotten, so it will be interesting to see what we get in the end!

Also, both of these ewes were shorn in late April, so their fleeces are at a very nice length (karakuls have a long-stapled wool that needs to be shorn twice a year) for a rug of some sort. Because it's not the best time of year to be dealing with salting pelts, I nearly considered not bothering to ask for them, but since I'm planning to get a freezer soon and the neighbors say they have space in their freezer at the moment, I decided to go ahead and get the skins. When I pick them up I'll decide whether to start the salting process or just roll 'em up and freeze them for later processing. And that gets me back to my poor cell phone. You have to pick up pelts the day of butchering and I left my cell number with them, so they could call when the pelts were ready for me to pick up. Once my phone was officially declared dead, I had to call Chaudhry back with that information. As soon as I said who I was, the girl said "They won't be butchered till tomorrow" in a tone that implied a bit of aggravation at my not paying attention to the fact that she had told me that very thing this morning. Then I told her the sad story of my cell phone and that I needed to give her an alternate number at which I could be reached. She laughed and told me that she's gone through three phones this month--all phone deaths the result of being dropped in one sort of liquid or another. At least I'm not alone. But I have to wonder if the cell phone companies don't deliberately make the phones overly "porous" so that if they take a dunk they pretty much die immediately. More profits that way....

Dog Work
Raven has been on rest for a week because of an apparent soft-tissue injury. That's the problem with the young, enthusiastic, and not-quite-trained--they tend to be a little too "balls to the wall" sometimes, with occasional injurious results. I kept her on crate rest last week and through the weekend and she improved enough that I felt safe taking her out for a brief lesson on Monday. Pip has been on rest after surgery and was released to go back to work on Monday, so I used him to first corner the hair sheep in one of the paddocks so I could treat the ewe damaged by Twist (!) on Saturday and then push them out into the unfenced pasture so I could work them with Raven. At first she seemed to have forgotten what an outrun was, and I had to stop her several times for attempting to cross, largely from not engaging her brain as she was so excited to be working again. Once we got past that initial excitement, we got a few nice little outruns in, and some decent fetches, with her actually controlling her pace a bit better. I finished off our 10-minute lesson with a tiny bit of driving. She finds the idea of driving a bit confusing, but we did get a few steps in each time we tried. The good news is that she came off the field sound and remained sound even after rest.

Once we were done working the "Holsteins," I took Pip back into the paddock and got him to push the karakul lambs out into the pasture so they could graze for a while along with the hair sheep. The little sick lamb opted to go out with the rest, but was very slow (I have since confined her for her own sake and have done everything I know to do to try and turn her around. She's still hanging in there--what an incredible will to live). Pip was very patient with her, hanging back and jollying her along like a good boy. This from the dog who prefers to be an alligator when something's lagging (heeling is his thing), so I give him credit for recognizing that the lamb wasn't being difficult but just couldn't go any faster.

The Weekend
I had a busy weekend, to say the least. Darci and a friend of hers came up on Saturday and we worked dogs. Darci's friend had an 8-month-old that had never seen sheep, so I took him into the round pen and he was definitely keen to work. He was also very much one-sided, but overall if his owner wanted to pursue stockdog training with him, I think he'd manage pretty well with that youngster.

Because I had to run by the vet's office to pick up some meds, I was forced to make a stop at Homeland Creamery. Okay, I had an enabler with me; otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. While there, I called Mary to see if they wanted any ice cream or milk and she had me get both ice cream and chocolate milk for Tony. I had been all set to ignore the chocolate milk, but once I snagged a half-gallon for them, I had to get one for me too. Boy was it worth it. I'm am husbanding that bottle of milk because chocolate milk, especially straight from the dairy, isn't something I get very often. Yum!

Sunday morning, Mary and Tony came over to work dogs. Tony opted to work my crazy woolies. I tried holding them (with corn) for him, but they still were inclined to run over me rather than stand and wait for the dog to get there. Granted, the dog in question was Blurr, who could probably unsettle even the most stolid sheep! We worked young dogs on the hair sheep in the main pasture. There's no sense in working them on the wool sheep at this point as it would just turn ugly. The trained dogs can handle them well enough, but they're still a bit too challenging for the youngsters.

I worked only Phoebe because Pip still needed to wait (doctor's orders), and the plan was really to get Mary and Tony time on different sheep at a different place, since I can work my dogs on my sheep any time I want. I was quite pleased with her, though. She drove nearly the length of the pasture with good push (which is saying something because the Holstein girls are rather heavy) and without hesitation or looking back, and was taking inside flanks quite nicely. She worked really, really well. That is, if you don't consider her apparent lack of a good stop. We even got in a couple of sheds at the end. Maybe I truly do have my old (pre-heat) Phoebe back!

By the time I was done working Phoebe and Tony and Blurr had worked on shedding too, Rachel and Gwyneth showed up for a visit. I decided to entertain everyone by showing off Lark's prowess herding my Rhode Island Red chicks. It's funny how some dogs just love working poultry and others won't look at them. Lark happens to love it, so her training session for the day was to move the eight month-old chicks around the yard for everyone's enjoyment. I need to get it on video, because she's pretty cute while she's at it.

Rachel and I took all the dogs for a nice long walk and then we called Laura to meet us for lunch. It was good to catch up, especially with Rachel, whom we don't get to see all that often anymore. Maybe Brian will get a teaching position out this way and they'll move closer, because gas prices alone are a big enough deterrent to visiting friends.

The Bum Ankle
Lacey, may she rest in peace, did a number of my ankle, and the pain made for difficult sleeping all last week. By this past weekend, the ankle was still swollen and several people told me I should get it X-rayed, since swelling that lasts more than a few days is indicative of something other than a sprain. On Saturday I had just about resolved to go back to the urgent care place on Monday for X-rays, but by Saturday night the ankle was significantly less painful, although still swollen. Sunday brought even more improvement. And now I'm just feeling twinges--granted they become more frequent as the day wears on--but it's as if there was some sort of magic healing that occurred over the weekend. Given how little those sheep that went to market brought me, it's just as well that I didn't have to fork over another co-pay for a second examination!

A Family Visit
As I mentioned above, my sisters are buying sheep from me. One of those sisters is currently here visiting from St. Louis. That's sort of what brought up the whole idea of butchering sheep. Jean had wanted to buy sheep from me last year, but we couldn't figure out a practical way to ship it to her in St. Louis. So it occurred to me when she headed out here for a visit that we could process a sheep and she could just take it back with her.

She started her vacation with some friends on the Eastern Shore whom she got to know well while she was working at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. She then headed to my sister Renee's place up in Madison. She'll head down here on Thursday and stay till Tuesday. On Friday we plan to do a group thing with Renee and her two youngest (13 and 16) and possibly even her oldest and his wife. We had oringinally thought about making a day trip to someplace like Grandfather Mountain (hitting a few wineries on the way, natch!) but have since reconsidered (party because of one of the kids' work schedules and partly because moving back the date we go to press with the magazine has mucked up at least part of this week for me) and will instead have Renee and the kids here to visit with all the critters and then take a picnic lunch to one of the state parks around here. At least the weather is supposed to be a little more amenable to outdoor activities later this week.

Don't even ask me when I'm planning to clean this house up for her visit!

I think that catches things up here. We are roasting in the heat and praying for rain. We have a chance for storms tomorrow and Thursday, and I sure hope we get them. We did get a shower on Saturday that gave us a quarter-inch, but we are down more than an inch for this month and more than 5 inches for the year. I've already stockpiled a bunch of round bales (and am also already feeding hay, which is why I'm shipping sheep out of here), but need to get more to be safe. I'm hoping we're getting enough rain to allow folks to get a second cutting, because I think I can get the whole second cutting from the same guy I got this first set of bales from. Keeping my fingers crossed....

I'll even try to get some pictures up here sometime soon. I just have no real desire to venture outside except for the most necessary of things. Of course, given that I have a sick lamb in need of regular care, I am forced to go out to the barn several times a day, but you won't pry me out of here for much else! Okay, I do still take the dogs for their walks on the "back 40," even though the heat is opressive and I break into a sweat just thinking about it. (It's all relative, though, because the thermostat is set at 80, so it's not as if it's all that cool in here, but it sure beats the heat and humidity that are on the other side of these walls!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Pip and Phoebe! (A day late)

Okay, so I'm late with my birthday wishes. Their present (sheep bones to chew) is late too--they'll get to gnaw on them out in the yard this afternoon. It's hard to believe that they turned two yesterday (Bastille Day). I remember the day they were born, and the thunderstorm that rolled through, and my house phone going out (a regular thing there) with a cell phone that wouldn't work at my house, and needing to call the vet because of a last puppy we could palpate even though Twist said she was quite done, thank you very much. Thank goodness for my friend Jen, and experienced puppy whelper, who also had a cell phone that worked, and my vet, who told me to call her no matter what, and who advised us even as she was out to dinner with her husband.

That last pup was called Pudge, and later became Pipit, shortened to Pip for everyday use. I hadn't planned to keep him--Phoebe was my pick--but he decided from the start that he was mine, like it or not. So here we are two years later. Both are turning out to be good workers, though only time will tell whether they make excellent trial dogs (and given the cost of gas, we may not get to do a lot of that anyway).

Of course, I also need to give birthday wishes to littermates Nick, Raven, Caleb, Blue, Vic, and JJ. Raven gets to celebrate her birthday here. She may have had a better birthday in Alaska, but this year she just has to celebrate Dixie style!

And special birthday wishes to Laura (Nick's mom) too! Sorry to put you after the dogs, but it's how I'm able to better remember your birthday than anyone else's (except maybe my own!). Back when I didn't know Laura as well as I know her now, she approached me about getting a Twist pup. At the time I had planned to breed Kat and told her that I could put her on that list. But that breeding didn't take, and the following spring, I bred Twist to Sonny. I was delighted to be able to call her on her birthday to tell her that the pups had arrived--a great birthday present for her! She fell in love with Nick early, but the sire's owner had the pick before her, so she tried not to get her hopes up. I, of course, was doing the same with Pip, my unplanned keeper, but lucky for both of us, Roy took First and Blaze, now Vic and JJ, and Laura and I got to keep our chosen pups.

I'll go back and dig through old photos and post some puppy pictures later.

Ouch!
In my last entry I related my encounter with Lacey, the ewe who didn't want to go onto the trailer and so tried to run me down instead. Sunday when I went to Mary and Tony's for dinner, I finally got a good look at my foot (and so did everyone else) and was rather alarmed by the amount of swelling. It was still quite painful too, so on Monday morning I took myself off the the urgent care place in Randleman. The good news is that it's likely only sprained. There's a possibility of a small chip off the ankle bone at the point of impact (I'm not sure what I hit, but I suspect it was the ramp/gate itself). Because the pain in my ankle doesn't extend behind the ankle bone, the doctor said that if there was a chip, it was likely a small one and so no need to X-ray. Instead, she wrapped my ankle and told me to put it up as often as I could (and propped up while working on the computer doesn't count because I can't really prop it higher than heart level--and if I did, I would surely look like some sort of contortionist and find it difficult to write!). Someone asked me why I didn't just let go of the sheep, but I think the damage was done when she hit me and knocked me off the ramp, so the act of grabbing her and not letting go didn't do further damage and in fact kept me from having to sort her back out from the rest of the flock had she managed to rejoin them.

Anyway, I can get around pretty well. By the end of the day, it's throbbing pretty badly, but as long as I can get the chores done, I'll be fine.

Raven also has an ouch to report. After working the other morning, in which she actually was quite calm and sensible (so no apparent reason for her to have hurt herself), she came up lame. I couldn't find obvious injury on her feet or toes, so I'm thinking it's a soft tissue pull-type of injury. I'm letting her go out in the yard with the other dogs, but she's on rest from work and walks on the "back 40." If she's not improved in a few days, a trip to the vet will have to be placed on the agenda.... (I worked Raven on the hair sheep and Lark and Phoebe on the main flock, since it was an excuse to go ahead and push them through the chute and foot bath again. That sort of practical work is good for both youngsters. Raven will also probably be able to do that soon enough; well, once I get her outrun to where she can reliably gather the big field.)

And speaking of vets, Willow and Twist go in for their prolo therapy in the morning. Boy is due for a rabies vaccine, and as much as I'd prefer not to vaccinate at his age, I also don't want to be on the wrong side of the law, and with the large number of rabies cases that have been reported in the next county over, I'm going to bite the bullet and have it done. As he's 13 now, this will likely be the last vaccine he'll ever get.

Chickens
The Rhode Island Red chicks are growing like mad. At something like three weeks old they are already bigger than the two-month-old OEG bantam chicks. They also eat a heck of a lot more and make a bigger mess, but I'll still be glad when I can go out to the coop and gather nice brown eggs from my free-range hens. Yesterday afternoon I looked out the kitchen window to see Jill marching them down the side yard. Too bad I didn't have a camera on me--it was quite the color coordinated scene with the red border collie marching the little red hens down the yard. Jill is retired now, but she will occasionally help Jimmy if I'm gone and he's got to feed the sheep or go in the ram paddock, and apparently she finds a little chicken freelance work just the thing on a sunny afternoon!

Sheep
Mary came by this morning and picked out the tunis sheep she wanted. It looks like she'll be taking Kate, Molly, and one of this year's lambs. We marked them and she'll come back this afternoon to help load them on the trailer and take them home. Since I'm over there often anyway, I'll still get to see my girls on a regular basis.

While we had the sheep up, I went ahead and pulled the last two karakul ewe lambs that were born in the first round of lambing. I had thought to just let their mom wean them, and it looks like she's in the process of doing just that, but she's thinner than I'd like, and since I pulled all the lambs from the second round of lambing earlier this week, I figured I'd just go ahead and add those two to the mix. The first set had already resigned themselves to being separated from their moms, though, and these last two are very LOUD in their complaining. I'm hoping they'll get over it soon.

Once I get the sheep moved out that are sold or to be sold, I need to go through and do all the registration paperwork on my remaining ewes (those that I bought as unregistered but registerable) and the lambs. It will be an all-day job because you can't just record sire and dam on the karakuls--you have to fill out an extensive list of physical characterstics, including specifics about the fur of the lambs, and take a photo of each one to go in with the registration. It's a lot of work, and I've put it off way too long. I need to go ahead and get it done, and while I'm doing that I can go ahead and pick what lambs I want to show this fall at SAFF. I might have just one tunis ewe lamb left for showing, but that's okay. If Mary goes, I might be able to talk her into showing the ewe lamb she bought. And I'll have plenty of karakuls to pick from. In fact, I need to contact Letty Klein, who will be judging, to see if she has any ram lambs that she might be able to bring with her. She saw my short-eared yearling Peppercorn at the MD Sheep and Wool Festival and talked to me about preserving the short-eared variety, which is rather rare, being a recessive trait. If she has any short-eared rams, then she'd be the person to get another ram from....

And I guess that's all the news for now.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Catching Up

A lot has gone on in the past week or so, but with deadlines at work (getting the magazine to the designer plus other writing deadlines) I haven't had time to update my blog. So where to begin?

We've actually gotten a little rain, probably less than 2 inches in the past couple of weeks, but better than nothing. I made the decision to sell off some sheep, but ended up taking just half of what I had planned to the sale barn last Friday because we have some ethnic buyers who want one large sheep a week, and by hanging on to them for these buyers I can probably make a little more than what I'd make at the sale barn. It's hard parting with breeding ewes, especially of a rare breed, but at least I have plenty of ewe lambs to take their place.

Last Saturday, I drove up to Robin's, where a group of us got together to celebrate another friend's 50th birthday. I took the dogs with me, but I had already worked them that morning and decided not to work them at Robin's just because I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked. The food and the company were awesome, though, so it was worth the trip, especially since there were folks there that I don't get to see very often.

On Sunday, I got up early and worked all the youngsters. Pip, Phoebe, and Lark are all working very nicely and all of them are getting the idea of shedding. I've made it a bit more difficult for them by working with a small group of sheep (six of them), but they seem to be up for the challenge. I've been able to lengthen Raven's outruns a bit, and I've been putting names to what we're doing (away to me and go bye) and she's picking it up pretty fast. Darci came up around 10 to deliver my Rhode Island Red chicks (eight pullets) and work dogs. I got the chicks settled and we worked dogs, went to the pet supply place, came back and shaved Farleigh (I say we, but Darci did the grooming), who looks so much better now that he's back to his lavender shaved self, and then worked dogs again. On Saturday, Tony, Mary, and Jimmy had gone fishing and caught some really nice hybrid bass, so dinner was at Tony's: fresh caught fried fish, potato salad (made by me and Weight Watchers friendly), Tony's world famous biscuits, and a bunch of other goodies. Laura came down for dinner, as did Henry K. and his nephew Mike. In short, it was pretty much like another little party--must've been the weekend for that! I should add that Tony caught a near-record-size hybrid, which will someday be gracing his den in stuffed form....

Last week, all the dogs got a break from work. Not because I really wanted to, but paid work just got in the way. That and I spent Tuesday in Sanford because I took Pip to a clinic there to have him neutered. He now looks like Franken-pup, er, -Pip, because the vet had to make four incisions in his search for the missing parts. It turns out that his testicles were basically in a position to drop, but just never had. At least one was hidden behind some muscle. At any rate, he's now a "nobody," and he doesn't seem any the worse for wear. The vet even commented on what a sweet boy he is. Of course he's going stir crazy at the moment because he isn't allowed to do much, but by the middle of next week when he gets his stitches out he'll be back in the swing of things.

Friday morning early was "take sheep to auction" day. I had sorted off 10 ewes and put them in the round pen with hay and water Thursday evening so that I could get them loaded early in the morning. The auction starts early on Friday, so the stockyard usually allows people to bring stock in the day before, but I wanted to keep their stress to a minimum and so opted to get up early and take them down on Friday.

Jimmy came home Thursday evening after helping two guys load a wether at Mary and Tony's place and told me that they needed a sheep a week for the forseeable future. He suggested I sort off the largest sheep I was planning to take to market and save them for these individual buyers, so five sheep got a short reprieve, and I ended up just keeping five back to haul out on Friday.

There was one ewe, Lacey, who is rather young and I had some second thoughts about taking her (well, at least until I remember what a PIA she was during lambing, not only being overly protective from the dogs but mainly because when I was feeding the ewes with lambs I had to separate her out every morning, which was a lot of trouble, because she was very bad about butting the other ewes away from the feed). Still, I was feeling guilty about all of them, but it's a sad reality that when you don't have enough pasture, something has to go. I simply can't afford to essentially dry lot a big flock of sheep. So we backed the trailer up to the gate so that we could use the gate on one side of the ramp, with Jimmy doing the blocking on the open side. I got a wild hair and decided to use Phoebe for the task of trailer loading. I was on the side with the gate, but there was still maybe a three foot opening there because the gate is just a 4-foot gate. Darn if Lacey didn't come flying out of the pen and bowl me over trying to go through that opening. I grabbed her and hit the dirt, but I hung on! Any thoughts I had of sparing her went right out the window. The trailer is a utility trailer and has one of those diamond mesh gate/ramps. Her little performance left me with a gash on my left shin and on my right ankle, as well as a huge bruise on my hip. I had to ice my ankle last night it was so badly swollen. Darn sheep (and no, I used much more colorful language at the time, I'm sure).

Phoebe was a little too pushy and didn't take her flanks as nicely as she should, but we still got the trailer loaded in fairly short order and off I went to market. And the youngsters do have to learn to do basic chores sometime!

And that brings us up to this morning. I got up at 6 so I could take advantage of the cool weather and worked Lark, Phoebe, and Raven (with some help from JellyBean who likes to get in the way--the sheep's reaction to him is pretty hilarious, so it is kind of fun when he comes out to join us). I just did random fetching and driving with Lark and Phoebe (mainly just driving the sheep all over the field, no particular destination in mind, just going in straight lines with a few turns here and there). Then we did more shedding practice. Today instead of just calling them through and turning them on the sheep I wanted, we did some "crossing the bows" exercises. Neither dog is slow to come through, but this exercise really helps to speed them up. When the hole has opened and you call the dog through, you cross over to the side the dog was on while giving the dog a hard flank so that it ends up on the side you were on. Wanting to go to balance helps to speed them on through, and it's just a fun exercise for them to do. We also did a lot of pushing the shed sheep away and then bringing them back toward the other group and as soon as they got close enough to want to dash and close up the gap, then I'd flank the dog around hard between the two groups to hold them off. This is exciting stuff for a youngster and I think both Lark and Phoebe really enjoyed their work this morning.

I again worked Raven on her outruns and flanks. I have managed to double the length of her outrun on both sides, and she seldom slices, though she still backslides on occasion. She still wants to wear behind the sheep on her fetch instead of moderating her pace, so we're working on that. I think a few days off was good for her, and now I'll ramp up the intensity a bit and see if we can't make a bit more progress. When we were done, I let her fetch the sheep to me all the way back around the field and to the driveway and back to their paddock, where she got a tiny drive in putting them through the gate. Normally I would have left them out to graze in the unfenced field, but there was so much dew on the grass I didn't want to cause bloat issues by letting them tank up too much.

Then came our real project of the day. I set up the foot baths in the chute, took a cattle panel to hook to one end of the chute to work like a crush pen, and then added a gate to the other end so I could hold the sheep in and worm them as well as run them through the foot bath. We have worked the sheep through the chute on a number of occasions, so they do know about going through. I took Phoebe and did a dry run with the empty foot bath in place, and it worked well. Once I had everything set up, I got Twist out to do the real work. She's great at working in tight spaces (the crush pen) and doing her job without supervision from me, since I was going to be at the other end of the chute drenching, checking color, and marking sheep. I needed plenty of push because the sheep weren't as inclined to go through the now-full footbath, and by some unfortunate luck, I had a bunch of lambs at the head of the line, which meant no leader to take them on through.

I discovered that sheep can jump a rather lengthy foot bath (two Premier baths, end-to-end, so about 8 feet long), even though they showed no inclination to jump it when empty! So on several occasions, I had to turn a ewe back in the chute to make sure she got all feet in the bath. Overall, the system worked pretty well. There are a couple of things I'd do differently next time, but Twist and I got the job done. At the end, all I had left was five lambs in the chute, and Twist standing behind them in the foot bath. I looked back at the crush pen and thought we had left a lamb behind, lying down. It turns out it was JellyBean, who just can't help himself when it comes to sheep work--a cat's just gotta be in the middle of it.

And speaking of being in the middle of it, Phoebe and Raven got into a tussle the other evening (Raven stalks Phoebe, which understandably pisses Phoebe off). Out of nowhere comes JellyBean the enforcer--claws out and ready to join the fray, or in his mind, to put an end to it. Which he did. He stayed puffed up for a bit afterward, and even went after Phoebe again, although she wasn't the one who started the fight. I guess JellyBean figured she needed his brand of punishment anyway....

The youngest lambs are a bit thinner than I'd like, so I think I'm going to move the hair sheep from the paddock behind the barn (where I've been keeping them for convenience's sake) and out into the pasture with the main flock and then move the young lambs back behind the barn so I can keep a closer eye on them and feed them some. They are old enough to be weaned anyway (I was just going to let the ewes wean them in their own time), and this will take pressure off their mothers and give them a little boost.

And it will give the youngsters a practical reason the be shedding sheep as we'll now have to shed off the hair sheep each morning before we work them. I think practical work makes the dog, so it's about time I actually quit being lazy by keeping the training sheep separate and let the youngsters do the separating before our morning training sessions.

By the time we got everything done, it was mid-morning. I have an OEG hen who had started hatching chicks the day before yesterday and I left her on her nest for 48 hours to give everything that was going to hatch the time to do so. I went and checked on her this morning, and she had abandoned the nest and taken her three little black chicks to another part of the hen house, so I gathered them up and put them in the dog crate that is my "transition pen" between hatching and when they go in the little "chick tractors" out in the yard (which usually occurs about the time they have wing and tail feathers coming in). I thought about just putting them straight into one of the chick pens, but on the off chance that we really do get rain early in the week I figured it was better to stay with my tried-and-true schedule.

I let the RIR chicks out of their "chick tractor" on Thursday. It's amazing how much more food and water full-size chicks consume (and the bigger mess they make). So they are now free ranging during the day and just being closed up at night. Last night between 8:30 and 9 they still hadn't "gone to bed" (I think the lack of a mother hen means that they don't quite do things "by the book"), so I took Lark and rounded them up and closed them up for the night.

When it cools down enough this evening, I guess I'll go sort off those lambs and do the big sheep switch. I guess that catches us up on life here at Willow's Rest.

Reading Corner
I am currently reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I've picked it up many times in the book store, but never got around to buying it. The other day while running errands with Mary, I checked in at the library, but there was nothing new of interest, so in Sanford on Tuesday I picked up this book. It's already been made into a movie, which is supposed to be quite dark, but I have to say that the book is one of those that just sucks you right in. The book I just finished is Never Cry Wolf, an old classic of environmental writing by Farley Mowat. It was published back in 1963 (so in nearly as old as I am!), but still relevant today, with the reintroduction of wolves into their native territories here in the U.S. If you can look past the anthropomorphism, there's a lot of good stuff. Also on the current read list is City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), another nonfiction work, this time set in Venice after the burning of the Fenice Opera House. The book is set around the trial of the arsonists, and is full of colorful characters reminsicent of those in Midnight. I think anyone who enjoyed the first book and who has an interest in Italy will find this second book a fascinating read. I'm going a bit slowly on this one, since I'm reading two books at once, which I sometimes do when I've got both fiction and nonfiction books to read.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Training Updates

After a two-day break due to some writing deadlines at work, I took the four youngsters out early this morning and worked them. For my own ease, I just worked everyone on the hair sheep (the "Holsteins"), starting with Lark. I had left the sheep in the dog lot yesterday since there is a tiny bit of grass in there, so Lark had to bring them out of there, and then drive them through the gate into their paddock, through the bottom gate into the alley paddock and then out of the gate at one end of that paddock into the unfenced field. I went ahead and had her drive them all the way to the top of the field. I haven't been doing much driving with her lately because of her apparent confusion over when to drive and when to gather, as I've decribed earlier in this blog. I worked her for about 10 minutes or so, just doing basic stuff, stopping her on a circle around the sheep and pushing them off in various directions. She did everything I asked very nicely, so we called it a day. (I don't enjoy drilling anyway, so that guarantees short work sessions.)

Next I brought out Phoebe. I have been working with both her and Pip on looking for the sheep in the direction I'm walking. Both of them want to just take off and look for sheep as they go out (which just doesn't work if they happen to decide to run out in a wrong direction) instead of just looking for them in the direction I'm walking. I had finished up my session with Lark by leaving the sheep over in a little grassy area in the middle of some cedar trees where they wouldn't be obvious to spot. Then I walked out with Phoebe, asking her to look. Every time she just tried to take off blindly I'd stop her and ask her to look. After about the fifth stop and request to look, I could see her hone in on the sheep while she was just standing still. At that point I "shushed" her and let her bring them back to me. I then just had her drive them all over the field with minimal commands, occasionally flanking her around to take them off in a different direction, and sometimes letting her fetch them back to me. On a whim toward the end of our session I decided to see if I could call her through the sheep on a shed. That girl is going to be a shedding dog like her mama! I was using just the six hair sheep, a rather small number for early shedding training. But Phoebe was very obedient about stopping where I asked her to and then flying through when I called on her, which is really all I want at this stage--enthusiasm and speed coming through. The first couple of times, she was confused about which sheep to turn on, but then she figured out to cue off my position and drive off the sheep I was facing. Then I'd walk away and get her to bring those sheep to me and practiced sending her back for the other set of sheep. She had a blast! She clearly enjoyed coming through and after the first couple of tries, had figured out what we were doing and was even helping me some. I stopped on that nice note and pulled Pip out.

Again I did a lot of driving with Pip, using minimal commands. I had him set the sheep on a line and just keep pushing them in that direction. As they neared the limits of the field or where I could no longer see them because of the terrrain, I would give him a short flank and set them off driving in another direction. He looked back at me only a few times and mostly just happily pushed them along. I did the same basic exercises I did with Phoebe, including a few fetches, where I encouraged him to really bring them on per Jack Knox's suggestion when he was here for the clinic in January. I had such great fun shedding with Phoebe (and the sheep were being reasonably cooperative) that I decided to try it with Pip too. He was a little more "gee'd up" by the whole thing, and as he's also a bit worse about taking a stop, I had to get on him a bit before we could set up a few sheds. Like Phoebe, he was quite happy to come flying through a pretty small hole. Unlike Phoebe, he was much more concerned about the sheep we were "leaving behind," glancing back at them more than I'd like. I think part of that is the result of his habit early on of leaving sheep behind on the fetch, just pushing what was directly in front of him and ignoring those who peeled off from the sides, and I'd stop him and send him back for whatever he left behind. Interestingly, though, I managed to take a single with him and got him to push it all the way down the field away from her friends. He looked really happy driving her along and flanked himself repeatedly to correct the line (actually to prevent her from turning back, but the ultimate effect was a nice straight line). I then let him flank around and start her back and then make a really big, sweeping flank to gather them all back together before ending our session. Happy dog!

Wow, three youngsters, and three really good work sessions! I guess I'm going to be forced to go ahead and put the hair sheep in with the rest of the flock so everyone can get practice sorting sheep before we work in the mornings. No more being lazy!

Last, but not least, I got Raven out. I also grabbed some corn because the sheep have been a bit bad about leaving early when they see the Raven coming (partly because she's still a bit tight on her outruns yet), and that's going to encourage her to be tight at the top too. So I figured a little corn would inspire them to stay in place longer and give Raven a chance to do it right. She did some nice little outruns and then on the uphill fetch (ugh!) she was actually pacing herself a bit instead of pushing to fast and then having to weave behind the sheep as a result. Whenever she picked up speed and started to weave, I found that just using her name would get her to line up back behind the sheep and even check her pace just the tiniest bit. She still had a couple of "yeeha!" moments on her outruns to the right, but overall she looked pretty good. So we took the sheep back to their paddock and since I had Raven at hand, I decided to go ahead and use her to move the rams out of their paddock and into that same side field for grazing.

I don't know exactly what vibe she was getting from the rams (one mature ram and three lambs), but she did not want to gather them. She reverted back to her old behavior of lying down and refusing to move. So now there was nothing to do but work through it. The rams are usually pretty light for the dogs, so I was quite surprised that they didn't excite Raven into going after them in some form. Finally I got her to get around them enough to head them in the direction of the gates to the side pasture. She wasn't happy about it, though, and I didn't think I could end there, so we followed them out.

I felt like I was back at the beginning with a little dog who was refusing to leave my feet. She didn't even want to get up when I went out to the rams and started moving them myself. Finally I took her by the collar and got her started, and then she went on around. At that point I started moving quickly to encourage her to speed up and have a good time. The rams would try to "escape" and I encouraged her to take off after them. She always stayed on the correct side (no crossing over), caught them, and brought them back. She was clearly figuring out that she could work these sheep and have fun doing it. I let her catch them and bring them back a couple more times and then called it a day. There's nothing like having a mature ram and his little lamb buddies heading for you at a good clip, but in the end I think it was what Raven needed to give her a confidence boost. I'll try using her for the same chore again tomorrow, before we do any other work and see if our little lesson stuck.

The Idiot Department
Yesterday evening we were invited to Mary and Tony's for leg of lamb. Henry K. and Mike were going to be there, too, and so I offered to bring the Heartland Creamery ice cream to go with the cake Mary was making for dessert. There's a little store about four miles away that sells beef off their property and homemade foods, canned goods, etc. I went there first because I thought they sold ice cream in pints. While there I discussed the price of a half beef, which was a bit dear, but as the owner pointed out, the $2.75 liveweight price meant that the filets I got from that half would be cheap! That's when I said I was pricing for dog food, and filet mignon wasn't on their menu. And that prompted the owner to ask me about my dogs.

She then proceeded to tell me that they had a new dog, and Australian shepherd pup that they had bought to be the "girlfriend" of their current dog, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix. I asked if they used the older dog on the farm and she replied that he was the best cattle dog they'd ever had.

Me: Is the pup working bred?
Her: Well, no she's more show bred. We found one [working bred] out in Texas, but it would have cost as much to ship her here as it would to buy her, so we decided to look closer to home. We got this one from Ruffin, and she's mostly show bred.
Me: Are you planning to breed her to "Max" (not his real name) in order to get a new working dog for yourself?
Her: Oh, we have a hundred people who want pups off Max because he's such an amazing cow dog. The best we've ever had.
Me: Well, let's hope the pups inherit his working genes then.

The poor woman hadn't a clue. She's certainly not making the best breeding choice to insure that those hundreds of folks wanting Max "the world's best cow dog" puppies will get pups that work as well as their sire. They'll probably churn out multiple litters to satisfy the great demand for Max pups. Sad for the bitch, and sad for any owners who really are expecting the resulting pups to be "world's best" in their own right. It will be pure luck if they get it.