Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Falling for Fall

I love the fall. It's actually my favorite time of the year, which is funny because I really don't enjoy the short, dark, cold days of winter that follow (except that winter does give me more time indoors for reading and other projects). But while it's fall, I find that I can put winter out of my mind and just soak in the cool days and the crisp nights. If it could be like fall year round, that would be fine with me. I love spring too, for the rebirth--flowers blooming, trees budding, lambs racing--but for some reason fall just speaks to me. It's the time of year when I could just drop everything, take a good book (or not), and go sit under a tree whose leaves are changing color and just forget the rest of the world, maybe just listen to the earth sounds around me and just be. Fall tends to make me reflective as well, although I don't think so much about the year that has just passed as about the world itself and my part in it. It's hard to explain, what fall does to me. But it's a good thing.

Sheepdog Trialing for a Fantastic Cause
First let me say that our Whistle for a Cure (Ovines Agains Ovarian Cancer) Sheepdog Trial was a great success and we raised a good amount of money for ovarian cancer research. If you want to read a full write up on the trial, head over to Robin's blog at http://shooflyfarm.blogspot.com/. And even though my youngsters performed pretty abysmally, I at least saw some gaping holes I need to work on, and there were a few bright moments too!

For me, the best part of the day was getting to take part in the double lift demo. I think Robin felt sorry for me after Pip and Phoebe's nursery run disasters and so asked me if I wanted to do the demo, but I'm glad anyway, because Twist and I have never actually done a real double lift. I was quite proud of the beautiful job Twist did, and it almost made up for the ugliness that was her two pups....

Larky Uodate
But let me back up a minute and tell you about Lark, since I've been incommunicado since last Thursday. (In my defense, I did come try to update everyone on Friday, but Blogger was being squirrelly and I couldn't get logged on and then the weekend just got away from me, and then you know how the real job can actually interfere with all the fun stuff, and here it is Tuesday before I could get back with an update.) Anyway, by Friday Lark seemed to be back to her old self. I was sorely tempted to run her at the trial, but not knowing what caused the problem in the first place I was hesitant to throw her back into work so quickly. I did let her push the sheep back up to the set out one time as I was walking back up after our P/N runs (added in at the last minute to try and make up some of the awfulness of our nursery morning). She seems perfectly back to normal now, running and playing as if nothing was ever amiss. I am suspicious that the root cause of the problem was her jumping through the barn window the night before and then trying to jump back through (it's much higher from the downhill barn side) and somehow twisting her back, which was exacerbated into a muscle spasm when she jumped off the bed the next morning. I'll never know for sure, but that's one thing I can control, and so I will keep her from doing that.

Apple Butter Time!
Dawn seemed to come much too early the Sunday after the trial, but this day was apple butter day, so there wasn't time to lay about in bed catching a few extra minutes of sleep--the apples were calling! Mary and Lou Ann had spent a good part of Saturday while the rest of us were trialing, peeling and coring McIntosh apples that Henry had brought back from his most recent trip to Wisconsin. By the time Mary, Tony, and I arrived at Henry and LouAnn's, they already had a fire going under the copper kettle and Henry was stirring big chunks of apples with a special wooden paddle. We pulled out chairs and took turns stirring the apples, adding wood to the fire, and cleaning the sides of the copper pot with a spatula, as the apples cooked down to a consistency that meant it was time to add all the extras that turn plain old apples into apple butter. Henry is in his mid-70s and has been making apple butter since he was a child, so while I watched what he did, I have to admit that it seemed more of an art than a science to what he added and how much. But I can attest to the fact that the end result was absolutely delicious!

Making apple butter can be hard work--the apples cooked in the copper kettle from before 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. and had to be stirred constantly during that time, but with five good friends working together, no one had to work themselves into blisters and we got to enjoy one another's company and some good conversation--about working dogs, farming, sheep, and just life in general.

When it came time to put the apple butter in jars, I think it really did help to have as many hands as we did. We were able to set up an assembly line, with one person continuing to stir, one dipping out the apple butter, another pouring it into the jars, another placing the lids, and another tightening the rings. And after we had used all the lids that were available, there was just enough apple butter left over for us to each have a piece of bread slathered in it's cinnamon and appley goodness. A great reward for a day well spent.

And since Tony's neighbor has a number of apple trees and no one to eat or cook with them, we plan to pick them this week and have another go at making apple butter this coming weekend. It's something to look forward to!

Farm Odds and Ends
This morning I finally removed my young ram lamb from his little lamb buddies and put him in the ram paddock with the older ram lambs. I put a wether in with him so he'd have a friend his own size. So far, no bullying has ensued, so perhaps all will be well.

I also need to take my two remaining tunis ewes down to Tony and Mary's so they can go in with their ram. I don't plan to breed much this year, but I'd like some tunis lambs, and I also plan to breed a select few karakuls. My little ram lamb that I like so much is just five months old, so I don't think I can expect him to cover but so many ewes anyway. I am trying to get a gorgeous ram out of Colorado, one that carries both of the bloodlines I don't already have in my flock, but transportation is always a problem. His owners can bring him to Rhinebeck in New York, but I've got to find transport from there, and so far I'm not having great luck. This is a short-eared ram that I'd like to breed to my short-eared ewes just to keep the trait going in the breed. It is quite rare and one of the old time karakuls breeders, whom I talked to at a show in May, encouraged me to continue the trait if I could....

The neighbors down the road have two labs that they allow to run loose. When I walked out this morning, I could see Maia standing at the fence all puffed up watching something along the road. Then I saw the yellow lab. The property across the road slopes off, so I could see anything else, but Maia could, and soon she charged the corner of the property, barking, and I saw the chocolate lab go bolting down the road. It's neat to watch Maia doing her job and to see how the flock has come to trust her judgment when she wants them to move to safety.

Yesterday, I was working at my computer and I kept hearing a chirping noise that sounded like a baby chick. I do have some chicks out there, the six little Dominiques that I got about a month ago, and I just wrote the noise off as coming from them. I was concentrating on my work and not paying really close attention anyway. But eventually the noise worked itself far enough into the recesses of my brain that something finally said to me, "that chirping is a much tinier noise than those Dom chicks would make." At that point, I happened to look out the window and saw something small and white near the chicken pen. Well, with all the rain, we have an abundance of various mushrooms and other fungi sprouting everywhere, so small and white didn't necessarily mean anything more than a mushroom. But then my brain put two (tiny chirping) and two (small white object) together and I decided I should investigate. Out the door I went to find my hen that looks like a Sebright with eight tiny chicks. Huh? I've been looking for eggs in the henhouse and not finding any. The chickens had been molting and they quit laying while they molt, so I suppose I justified the lack of eggs by reasoning that they were still molting. But here I had before me proof that they were indeed not only laying eggs, but brooding them as well. Just not in the chicken house. These little chickens have been so good about using their nest boxes. Now it seems I'm going to have to go searching out nests and eggs....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fear Factor, or Please Don't Scare Me To Death

Every morning, if I survive Pip's good morning body slams, er, kisses, I hop out of bed and let all the dogs out, except Lark, who always waits on the bed till I come back and give her a tummy rub. Following our usual routine, this morning I gave her the belly rub and then called her off the bed to go outside. Usually she hops down, does a big play bow stretch, shakes, and then goes out the door. This morning hopped off the bed and immediately sat down. And couldn't get back up. This falls under the category of SERIOUS PROBLEM, especially for a working dog. She could stand, albeit hunched, and could walk a little with a very strange gait in the back, if I got her up on her feet. So I called to vet to see when I could come in, and around 8:30, we headed out the door, with me carrying Larky (thank goodness she's small).

I won't go into boring detail about our vet visit and will just say that Dr. Hammond couldn't actually find anything wrong with her. That's always comforting. Being unable to get oneself up and walking with a very strange gait are things you'd really like to find a cause for, but all neurologic tests were normal, bloodowork was normal, palpation and physical exam normal, presentation not what one would expect from a toxin, and so on. In the end, the prescription was pain killers, observation, and crate rest. By this afternoon, and before she'd gotten any pain meds, she was already moving a little better, could get herself up, but still with a funny gait--not nearly as bad as this morning, but still noticeable. I'm hoping I'll see significant improvement in the morning.

The real problem with not knowing the cause is that of course you can't prevent it from happening again, but if she's better tomorrow, I'll probably just keep her on crate rest for a while and then slowly work her back up to doing stuff. We'll see how it goes. It certainly was not a good way to start the day. I was scared to death for her when she first couldn't get up, and I'm still afraid that the vet might have missed something or that she'll get better and do it again. But all I can do is try to be sensible about it and hope for the best. I just love that little dog....

Thirteen Moons
When I finally got back from the vet today, the rest of the pack needed its walk, so off we went to the "back 40." As we got to the top of the hill past the creek, I saw Twist spy something and then jump back as if bit. Kat went over to investigate and did the same. Of course I'm envisioning a poisonous snake or something equally pleasant (and probably another trip to the vet, since I seem to be practically living there lately), so I walked over to see what they saw and found that Twist the Turtle dog just had a run in with a box turtle, who was so traumatized by the whole encounter that he shut himself back in his shell with a decisive snap. I picked him up so the dogs could take a sniff, showed them that he did indeed have thirteen moons on his back, and set him back down to continue his slow journey to wherever, unmolested.

A Fountain Flows
Well, not quite, but since I was over near (sort of) Phydeaux while I was at the vet, I decided to finish the journey to Chapel Hill and stop in and get a pet fountain for Elvis and Chili. They are the happy (well, I don't really know that, since they are cats and not prone to fits of showing their appreciation for anything) of a Drinkwell Platinum Fountain. I know, it's not super special like the Trevi Fountain or anything, but let's hope they actually use it and that the dogs don't trash it (it will be in my gated off bedroom, so the dogs will have access only at night). I also picked up some various canned foods to try them on so I can see what goes over well and what doesn't. We're switching to low protein and stopping the feeding of kibble (which they used to have free choice in addition to canned), so it's going to be a real sea change for the geratric kitties, and we all know how much cats like change, especially old, set in their ways cats. I did lecture them on how it's for their health and to prolong their good years, but when did cats ever listen to humans?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I wish I were a puddle duck!

That's what Phoebe's saying anyway. The temperature has dropped more than 20 degrees between yesterday and today, and we've gotten at least an inch and a half of rain since it started this morning. When I got back from the vet this morning around 11, it was absolutely pouring, but the dogs were going nuts because it was their usual "walkies" time. So I dug out the old white shrimper's boots (so fashionable) and the rain suit. Before donning the boots I had to take the vacuum to them to make sure no brown recluses or other nasties were residing in the toes. Then I pulled on the rain pants and jacket and off we went. I would have preferred to stay indoors where it was warm and dry, but when you own dogs, at least not little prissy ones that hate to get wet, you learn that you will go walking, no matter what the weather (thunderstorms excepted).

So who do you think was in hog (dog?) heaven? Yes, Phoebe. So many mud puddles, so little time. How can one dog possibly motorboat through them all? I will say she gave it her best shot! There's a reason, after all, that one of her nicknames is "Pigpen" (a la' the Charles Schultz character).

Larky even braved the white water coming out of the end of the culvert to make a few of her own version of a dock dive, and Willow didn't seem to mind the fact that the water was nearly over her back when she went in for her daily tussle with the tree root (border collies are so odd!).

Coming back from a rainy walk with 10 dogs is a drying off nightmare. Thanks to a tip from Robin, I now put down sheets folded lengthwise throughout the house like runners to keep dirt and mud off the carpet. I also probably have more dog towels than I do people towels, but in this weather more dog towels means more laundry, because I certainly don't have enough to cover multiple outings in the rain.

The rain has stopped for now, but I think we're supposed to have more of the same tomorrow. Still, I vowed not to complain if we would only get some rain, so complain I won't. Instead I'll look at the pastures and think how nicely green they are (and try not to think about the parasite explosion to come, nor the food scald that comes with the mud). I'll just look at the growing grass and munching sheep and be HAPPY!

Cat Corner
I have no more news on Chili. I did go over Elvis' bloodwork while I was there. Interestingly his BUN is at the very highest of normal, and the vet noted that his constant water drinking might actually be compensating for any early stage renal failure he might be facing. She was able to get a urine sample directly from Chili's bladder, so I should have those results tomorrow.

We have started Chili on a course of antibiotics and will continue with pulsative antibiotic therapy every month to see if we can have a good influence on kidney function by controlling some of the bacteria in her mouth. She may or may not ever be a good candidate for dentistry, but we're going to do what we can to get her there.

In the meantime, I did a lot of Internet research on various low-protein diets and found one I can live with, made by Wysong. It's the only one that actually has meat as the main protein source. I don't see how the other companies can tout high-quality protein for CRF cats while at the same time using only grains as the main protein source. Grains don't fit my idea of high-quality protein for a carnivore. The good news is that I can order directly from Wysong with a prescription from my vet. The other thing I plan to do is start adding bottled water to her canned food to keep her well hydrated, and I'm also going to buy a pet fountain so maybe she'll drink more water (and Elvis will quit pestering me every time I go into the bathroom).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chili Pepper update

I kind of knew what to expect when the vet left a message for me Friday regarding Chili's bloodwork, but you still hope for the best until you have the actual results in hand. It seems Chili is in chronic renal failure. Both her creatinine (3.0) and BUN (42) are high. She has an elevated white count as well. For now, her dentistry is on hold, but since I've always understood that there could be a connection between dental problems and CRF, I'm not sure that we won't eventually do the dentistry. But for now, she'll go in to the vet's tomorrow for a urinalysis. I will discuss with the vet the merits of low-protein vs. normal/high (quality) protein diets for a cat with CRF and whether it makes sense to do something about the teeth just in case they are the root cause of the problem. Probably if we go ahead with a dentistry, she'll have to be on IV fluids before, during, and after.

The odd thing is that I originally took Elvis in for bloodwork and dentistry because he was thin and was drinking a lot of water. I thought he might have a tooth infection or kidney issues, but his bloodowork came back normal, and while he needed a couple teeth pulled, his mouth apparently wasn't a disaster.

If I had to compare the two cats (they're littermates) I would have said that Chili was the healthier of the two. She actually looks a whole lot healthier than Elvis--at 15.5 years old, she's at a good weight (although she does vomit occasionally), eats well, and plays--but I guess looks can be deceiving! We'll see what the urnialysis says tomorrow, and of course I'll need to decide whether I think it's prudent to switch her to a kidney diet or just leave her on her current high-quality diet (Wellness and Eagle Pack Holistic), until she shows some actual physical signs of being in renal failure--signs that I'm quite familiar with, having been through this several times before.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fun demo, tough sheep

(Apologies to my readers--this is a long one as I try to catch up with everything that has gone on over the past week or so.)

There's a farm about five miles from here called Rising Meadow. It's a beautiful place, with two old, gorgeous farm houses (the one on the front page is actually where Ann and Ron's daughter and her family live) and lots of lovely pastures and barns. The farm belongs to Ann and Ron Fay, and they raise corriedales (including lovely moorits), dorsets, and Navajo churro sheep. Ann spins and sells yarn, fleeces, roving, pelts, and lamb, as well as registered breeding stock. They also have cattle and I don't know how many guard llamas (I've met just the two that stay with the ram flock).

Rising Meadow has a Farm Fest each September, and several years ago Ann and Ron asked my neighbors, Tony and Mary, to put on a sheepdog demo for the festival. Last year Tony and Mary asked me to join them. The festival features music by a Celtic band, Seamus Stout, of which Ann's son is a founding member; a number of crafter's booths featuring handmade products from knitted and woven items (and the needed supplies to make them), to goat's milk soaps, and pottery, and jewellery. And of course lots of good food, featuring lamb raised on the farm. We do demos twice during the day.

This past week we had three overcast and rainy days, with the sun finally peeking out on Friday. When I called Ann to ask what day would be most convenient for them for us to come by and drop off the pen and panels and set up the demo area, Ann told me they were way behind on getting ready because of the rain. The common refrain around here is "I won't complain about the rain; we've needed it desperately." So Ann told me that if we came Thursday, she and Ron would be less busy. But after talking with her some more it became clear that they could use help setting up since the weather had not been conducive to getting things done early. We decided we'd come out Friday, set our stuff up, and then help Ann and Ron get their tents up, get the seating arranged under the band tent, and so on. When the sun came out late Friday afternoon, it was like working in a sauna. But we got everything done, which I'm sure took quite a burden off of Ann and Ron. What we didn't get done was a chance to work the sheep and pick out our best candidates for the demo.

Saturday morning, Mary and I headed over early, hoping we might get a chance to work with the sheep some then, but Ron was still running around doing last-minute things, and the result was that we didn't even get the sheep up to the barn (it's not something anyone but Ron could do because of the guard llamas) until nearly 10, with our first demo at 11.

The sheep that we end up using for the demo are their yearling ram flock--a mixed group of corriedale, dorset, churros, and crossbreds. Tony and I had figured after last year that the corriedales seemed to work the best, and Ann told me the night before that the corriedale and corriedale crosses were the sheep with the red or yellow ear tags. So with the whole ram flock in the barn, seeing a dog for the first time, Tony and I (and Twist) started sorting off sheep. Because these sheep have never been worked by a dog, we decided that larger groups for the demo would be better, and sorted out three groups of six sheep each. The rest we ran into a little paddock beside the barn where they could eat or lay in the shade.

We still thought we might get to work the sheep a bit beforehand, but we were half an hour away from the first demo and it was already scorching, so we decided to just let them rest until it was time to go. Twist had been working them around the barn and paddock, so they had at least met a dog, and had been worked calmly, but had also learned that dogs have teeth and will use them. That was the best we could hope for at this point.

Normally the way we do a demo is to set up a typical trial course out in the field. We run one older, trained dog and then a young dog so that the spectators can see how much of the actual work we do is instinctual with the dog. We have an announcer (Mary) using Henry and Lou Ann's PA system, and she talks about the various dogs we work, about how they were developed as a breed and why, and about the diversity of looks in the working bred border collie (easy to do as the dogs we use look nothing alike!), and what practical applications the work we were demonstrating would have on a farm. We had called Laura that morning and she brought Nick along so that she could set sheep for the first demo. I thought it would be a good experience for both of them, and we also decided that it really works better to have three people working dogs so that one can do the set out while the other two do the demo part.

Anyway, Tony ran Maid, his 8-year-old open dog, in the first demo and I ran Lark, who is 2.5 and just moved up to open ranch in competition. Laura and Nick had to work hard to get the groups of sheep down to the bottom of the "next door" pasture and into the one where the demo was held. The rams didn't want to leave their buddies at the barn, so Nick had to do a lot of pushing to get them away from the barn area and down through the field. It was very hot on both dog and sheep (not to mention the human part of the equation!).

Remember that these sheep had never even seen a dog until the morning of the demo and suddenly they were being pushed here and there and made to do things that they didn't necessarily want to do. Being rams they had enough testosterone to make them willing to put up a fight, so it was a very good challenge for the dogs, all of whom are used to working with sheep that are at least used to being worked by dogs, even if some aren't as dog broke as others.

Tony and Maid got around the course (a right hand drive away, cross drive, and back to the pen, with a rock outcropping serving as the handler's post) pretty nicely. They had a bit of trouble at the pen, but Maid finally penned them to a nice round of applause.

The set of sheep that Laura brought out for Lark's turn had one that just didn't want to cooperate. With all the rain, we've of course had a worm explosion, so it's possible he just wasn't feeling well. He kept separating from the rest of the group and was standing up to both Laura and Nick. I finally yelled down the field to just let him go (and he drifted down to the bottom corner and stayed there) and we ran on the remaining five sheep. Lark had a nice outrun and lifted them cleanly and was bringing them up the hill to me, when another lamb decided he'd had enough and lay down. Instead of trying to get him up (given the heat) I just had Lark bring the remaining four on and we made our turn and headed for the drive away panels. At this point I could see the "left behind" lamb lifting his head, so I angled the group we were working over toward him and he got up and rejoined the group. I didn't decide until we made the drive away panels whether I would try to full course, but Lark was working them well, so we went ahead and did the cross drive, where I was slow to flank her and several of the group missed the panels. On the way back to the pen, the group got to the rock outcropping and stalled out. Lark was at a loss for how to move them because of the rocks, so I walked down (maybe 15 yards) and blocked them from going forward so that Lark could come up on the inside of the outcropping between rock and sheep and turn them. Once at the pen, there was a bit of a standoff, but we got them penned nicely. Sheep and dog were quite hot at this point, so I sent Lark out of the pasture for water and asked Laura to let Twist off her tie out so I could use her to take the sheep back to the bottom of the field to pick up the lamb who wouldn't work and bring them back up to the barn through the other field.

The lamb that was trouble for Laura and Nick also decided to challenge Twist, but a couple of good nose bites got him turned and moving up the field with the rest. They tried to get in the shade next to a fallen log, making the work tough for the dog, but with my help we got them out of the shade and back up to the barn.

I had noted the ear tags on the two troublemakers and we sorted those off and sent them into the paddock with the unused sheep. Tony noted that two of the sheep in the third group we had sorted were acting quite squirrely, so we sorted them back off too and then took the remaining four sheep from Lark's group and split them among the two groups for the afternoon demo so that we had seven sheep in each group.

Because Laura couldn't stay for the afternoon, Tony and I had to come up with a plan for switching dogs and sheep in the middle of the demo. I held sheep with Twist while he ran Blurr, and then went back to the barn while he was doing the course with Blurr and got the second set out and pushed them down to the shade in the pasture below the barn. As soon as Tony had penned, I pushed my set on down to the corner of that pasture where the gate was to take them to the demo pasture, then came back up and pulled out all my dogs, including the three Twist pups, and let them go meet the crowd while Mary talked about the different looks of the working dogs. Twist of course went trolling for food, and people had to snatch their plates up to save their lunches from the piglet! This entertained the crowd and gave Tony enough time to cool Blurr in the tub and then get Maid out to go set the sheep for my second run.

I decided to use Pip for the second demo because Phoebe has been so pushy and unwilling to pace or take a down (as evidenced by our two-minute full course nursery run--minus the time it took to pen--at Roy's trial) and I thought Pip might be more sensible on these unbroke sheep. Again I told Mary that depending on how things were going, I might just do one leg of the drive and come back to the pen. Pip did a nice outrun, lift, and fetch, and as with Blurr's run the drive away became something of a fight as the sheep split and tried to go uphill toward the barn and into the shade. Pip kept his cool and got the sheep back together (it took several tries) and then did a nice (if a bit wobbly--not surprising given the sheep) drive away, making the panels cleanly. Since things were going well and Pip didn't seem to be feeling so much pressure from the sheep as to risk blowing his top (remember, he's just two, and working sheep like this is a real challenge for a young, inexperienced dog), I continued on the cross drive, where Pip did a fine job keeping them on line and making the panels. He refused his right flank at the panels, pushing the sheep well past for a wide turn, but brought them smartly back to the pen after getting them back on line. The sheep were leaning heavily toward the barn area, and two actually broke for the gate. Pip gathered them back (after pulling a little wool) and then together we got them penned nicely). Again, these sheep had never been penned like that, so each pen was pretty much a standoff until the dog could convince them that there was nowhere else to go but the pen.

Once in the pen, the sheep didn't want to come out, so I sent Pip in (as I had done with Lark in the earlier demo) to get them out. Pip thought this was a fine time to use some alligator teeth on the leg of the sheep that had jammed itself in the corner and was preventing him from getting around to push them back out of the pen. That move was a real crowd pleaser! The sheep, however, figured that he was safe with his head jammed in the corner of the pen, but between the two of us, we were able to get them back out and back over to the barn.

This was a wonderful opportunity for the dogs to work sheep that had never seen a dog before. And given that they were rams (and that it was quite hot and humid), they were more inclined than the average "undogged" sheep to challenge a dog as well. Many folks would pay good money to have a chance to work dogs on sheep like this, because it's not something you see a lot of in this part of the country. Most of the farm flocks are well used to dogs and so present different challenges than you get from undogged sheep, which behave more like the range sheep used in trials out west. The downside is that of course undogged sheep make for a more ragged demo, simply by virtue of the fact that the dogs were having to break the sheep during the demo. Fortunately, the dogs all worked well and there was no real ugly work in front of an audience of folks who are not necessarily farm folks and wouldn't necessarily understand why a particular sheep might need to be bitten by a dog.

Next year, we will probably take our own sheep over just to make the demo work easier and to allow us to show some of the finer points of work that you can't show when you're also breaking sheep to work.

But it was still a lot of fun, and I met and talked to a bunch of really nice folks, who wanted to know more about border collies, raising sheep, and so on. I was able to steer one young couple to rescue, and talked to a couple of other folks about their dogs, which they wanted to start on sheep. The nicest couple I met was one that asked me if I had ever heard of "One Man and His Dog." They were from the UK (he is a retired veterinarian) and were joking about how only in theUK could such a program be shown in prime time! I told them that there were lots of folks here who would love something like that! (Rumor has it that there's a video of some of the demo, and if I can get my hands on it, I will post a link here.)

I did manage to refrain from spending too much money at the vendor booths, although Mary and I split the cost of a out-of-this-world coconut cake to bring home and serve up at one of the dinners we often have together. We might be eating it tonight, as Jimmy and Tony are cooking a deer roast on the grill and Mary has invited Henry over for dinner since Lou Ann and Mike have gone to Pennsylvania to check on Lou Ann's parents.

More Dog Work
This morning Mary came over early to work Roxy. We pulled the dog broke sheep up out of the unfenced pasture where they were grazing with the lambs and put them in the main pasture (I had caught Maia and tied her up and put the main flock in the round pen next to her earlier this morning) for Rox to work. Roxy has a lot of tension, and I told Mary just as I had told Darci (with Chris) that I thought it would help to take Roxy out and just let her hang out with Mary and the sheep (Mary can grade papers or do other chores) until Roxy gets a bit more blase about it all. I think just working to get the tension out (of both Roxy and Mary) will go a long way toward making big strides in their sheepwork.

By this time Tony had showed up with Blurr, and since she needs some close work, Tony worked her on the whole flock in the round pen (they must have been quite surprised, since they rarely get worked, especially in the summer), while Mary worked Ben in the pasture. I took Kat out and held sheep for Mary so she could work on Ben's stickiness at the top.

We let the sheep rest a bit and then Tony went to hold with Blurr so I could work on Phoebe's outrun. At Robin's she's been persistently coming in flat on top, and she has a strong inclination if I speak to her on the outrun to try to cross over. So I was working on two things: getting her to stay on the side I sent her from no matter what I said or did and getting her to go deeper behind the sheep at the top. And here's the catch of working your dogs only at home on your own sheep. Every outrun she did was lovely. Aside from the times I stopped her and redirected her just to work on the whole "I need to be able to speak to you without you trying to cross" thing she, according to Tony and Mary, had the absolute nicest outruns of any of the dogs we worked today. So this evening, I am going to take her with me when I go up to Tony and Mary's for dinner and when it gets close to dusk Tony is going to hold sheep again for me and we're going to see what she does on different sheep away from home. I expect she'll work through this issue well enough. When I first started running her in trials last fall in pro-novice, she always ran really tight on the first day and then would do a nice outrun the second day. She was worked through that without any particular help on my part, so I expect she'll do the same with the top of her outrun. But I do need to get her to where I can speak to her and redirect her without her trying to cross (Robin said it seems almost as if when I speak to her she automatically thinks she must be taking the wrong flank and so tries to go the other way--so it's about her reacting to what she thinks is a correction from me). She was actually much nicer on her lifts today as well, though still quite pushy on the fetch.

Upcoming Events
So this coming Saturday is the Ovines Against Ovarian Cancer, Whistle for a Cure novice sheepdog trial at Robin's. I am looking forward to what should be a really fun day. Tony and I will do most of the sheep setting. I am running Pip and Phoebe in nursery and Lark in ranch, and I had Robin put all their runs close together so I could just come down from the top once, run my dogs, and go back to setting sheep. Kate Caldwell is providing the food, so I plan to have plenty of cash because I've eaten Kate's cooking before and let me tell you, it's amazingly delicious. Laura and I are planning to go up Friday afternoon and help with the last-minute preparations. We'll spend the night at Robin's (which saves us an 80-mile drive the morning of) so we can go over bright and early and get things ready to go before the start of the trial.

This coming Sunday, we (Mary, Tony, and I, and maybe Jimmy) will be heading over to Henry and Lou Ann's for a day of making apple butter. I've never made homemade apple butter, and we'll be cooking it over a fire outside, so it should be really fun (not to mention that there will be a yummy outcome as well!).

I haven't gone to the Rural Hill SDT in several years, but have sent in my entry this year because it's back to being a three-day trial (which means less time off work for me), and Dean is offering the lower classes (except novice-novice) on Friday. If I wanted to spend the money and fry my dogs' brains, I could get three runs a piece for Pip and Phoebe on Friday (two nursery runs and one pro-novice run), but I opted to run them just in nursery. Even two runs on the full course might be a bit too much for a youngster, but I figure there's nothing to stop me from retiring a run if either seems to be overfaced by the second go round. Lark will be running in open ranch on Friday and Twist and Kat will run in open over the weekend. But before we get to Rural Hill the second weekend in November, we have the Fall Fiber Festival and Montpelier (home of James Madison) Sheepdog Trials the first weekend in October and Tom Forrester's Mount Pleasant SDT in Strasburg the first weekend in November. I am skipping Dave Clark's Lexington SDT and Edgeworth (for the first time since I've been running in open) to save money and so I can concentrate on trials where I can get mileage on the younger dogs. I will try to make the Edgeworth Winter Trial this year, since both young and open dogs can run there.

I always look forward to Montpelier, despite the fact that we might be limited to two dogs (in my case it will be Lark and Pip, with Phoebe as my third dog and Twist as my fourth if allowed) because of the fiber festival. There is a large number of vendors selling all sorts of wonderful stuff--it's one of those places where you just have to decide to hold on to your purse or you could really do some damage! It's also one of the few trials all year that has a large crowd of spectators (Rural Hill being the other), which adds to the fun and excitement.

It looks like I might also be helping with a demo at the Dixie Classic Fair in Winston-Salem the first week in October. Henry and Lou Ann, with a partner, usually help out at this one, but they will be at a sheep show for the first part of the week, so Tony will help out on Sunday night (I'll be coming back from Montpelier) and I'll rearrange my work schedule so I can go out Monday and Tuesday mornings to help out. They work sheep and ducks in this demo, so I'll plan to take Twist and Lark the duck dog. There's a cute little skit where we will put the ducks (brown ducks) into a "duck washing machine." After the wash is done, the ducks that come out are white (from the bleach). The washing machine has a separate compartment where the white ducks are hidden till after the wash is done. It's a real crowd pleaser and it should be loads of fun for me and Lark. Henry and Lou Ann will be back midweek and will be able to step in and finish out the week with their demo partner.

Sheep Notes
I seem to be having a very slight bout with coccidia among my lambs. Not enough to really get more than the occasional lamb down a bit, but when one of the hair lambs started acting a bit puny last week I suspected coccidia and took a fecal to the vet when I took Willow for her prolo therapy. There was coccidia present, so I have the sheep behind the barn on five days of Corid. The little sick fellow is a lot better and so far no one else has come down with diarrhea, so hopefully we're kicking it. The problem with the Corid is that it goes in their drinking water and of course we had rainy days last week and the sheep were getting plenty of moisture from the grass, so I was kind of glad for the past two hot and sunny days to encourage them to drink more of their treated water. I could have used the Corid as a drench, but it's easier to cover everyone back there if they can just "self-medicate" from the stock tank.

I still haven't sent my pelts off to Bucks County and all the dampness last week, plus the heavy rains we had before that (I will not complain about the rain--we've nearly caught up on last year's drought plus this year's, now being maybe just an inch+ down for the two-year period) got them damp again, so I will resalt one last time and then pack them up and ship them out. They were actually ready to go a month ago, but the folks at Bucks County were on vacation until late August and then the rains and dampness came. At any rate, I should have them back before Christmas, not that I'm going to want to part with them by giving them as Christmas gifts!

On the Feline Front
Chili Pepper is due for her dentistry this coming Tuesday. I took her with me last week when Willow went for her prolo therapy so we could draw blood and do a complete work up before subjecting a 15-year-old cat to anesthesia. The vet called Friday while we were setting up at the Fay's and left a message to call back Monday because there are some abnormalities in her bloodwork and we'll need to decide what to do about the dentistry. Now I have to wait all weekend to find out what's up. I've told them before to please call my cell phone and I think I need to make sure it's in my chart to always try my cell first. So I won't have anything to report on Chili until tomorrow.

And I think that pretty much catches us up here. Apologies for another really long entry, but I don't seem to find the time to post more often so that I can make shorter posts.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Squish, squish, watch that green grass grow!

It's the follow up to splish, splash. We got just two inches of rain from Hanna, but we'll take whatever we can get. That's two inches closer to being out of the rain fall deficit range. The pastures are actually really green for the first time in ages. And that means the sheep have cut back on their hay consumption, which makes my pocketbook thankful. Even though the rain came Friday night and the wee hours of Saturday morning, the ground still squishes when I walk outside, which means that the ground has been saturated, a phenomenon that hasn't happened in probably a year or more. The downside: moisture brings a greater worm load and so now I'm having to deworm regularly, but that's a price worth paying for edible forage!

I was due to take Willow to her first physical therapy/rehab appointment (and holistic heart consult), but last week she managed to overdo it on her good leg and was barely able to even get herself up into a standing position. I feared that she had blown her other ACL, but a trip to the vet on Thursday confirmed a likely overuse strain. So she is on strict rest and Previcox until her next prolo therapy session, which is Wednesday. Previcox is a wonder drug for Willow. She's actually back to bearing some weight on the bad ACL leg as well. But she's not happy being left home when the rest of us take our daily constitutionals. So given that she's on rest, it didn't make sense to try to get therapy started, and we've rescheduled for next month.

The Saturday before last, Robin, Laura, Darci, and Mary came over and we made short work of trimming the hooves of and worming something like 50+ sheep. Robin is the speed trimming queen and put the rest of us to shame. Doing chores like that is always better when you've got good company (and good help) to speed things along. We even had some time for dog work, despite an afternoon shower that left us all a bit bedraggled. Oh, and how could I forget the best part of the day: lunch at the Backyard Grill. We were hungry enough to eat shoe leather by the time we got there, because after trimming hooves and before heading out for lunch, I also enlisted Darci's help in shaving some mats of Maia. Maia was not real happy about the clippers and wouldn't let Darci get her neck at all, but did tolerate the rest of the shaving quite well. It amazes me that a dog who was essentially feral (though doing guarding work) for nearly the first five years of her life tolerates all the experiences I have thrown at her without just losing it--and still coming up to me for petting at feeding time! Now my job is to keep combing her regularly so that I can prevent any new mats from forming (easier said than done, but I'm giving it the old college try!).

That Sunday, Mary and I got together at her place for a repeat of Saturday, only with Mary's sheep. Some of her hair sheep are wild as bucks, and poor Mary has the extensive bruises to prove it. I took Pip and Phoebe along and tied them near where we were working so they could get used to being in close proximity to sheep without having to do something. Pip turned out to be much more laid back about the whole thing, but Phoebe finally settled and quit acting like she was ready to jump out of her skin. Twist performed wth effiency her usual task of holding the sheep so we could catch them, albeit with breaks to go stare at the barn cat Buffy (aka the vampire, er, mouse slayer) hiding among the bales of hay and playing coy.

Labor Day was spent laboring at Shoofly Farm to get ready for the benefit trial on the 20th. Robin brought Kate's flock over and we pushed them through the set out system a few times and ran them in small groups to get them used to it. This flock is largely unworked by dogs, so they were a bit tricky at times, especially when in small groups of three or four. We had a couple who liked to swim (as in they would jump in the pond even if there wasn't an inexperienced dog pushing them in that direction), so Twist and Jet got to put on their versatility hats as water rescue dogs. Twist tickles me when she'll take her flank commands while swimming after swimming sheep--unfortunately it's a little harder to influence a critter who's standing in water that is deep enough to require the dog to swim!

Last week was a busy work week with a lot of articles that needed completing, and this week is shaping up to be no better. Several of us met at Robin's again yesterday to work her sheep through the set out chutes and try to determine what sheep would be best for what level of dog and in what numbers. Robin's sheep are lighter than Kate's, but weren't inclined to swim and were a bit easier to pen. Laura went to the top and held sheep while Robin and I ran through our dogs, and then Laura and I switched places and I set out while Laura, Chuck, and Robin worked dogs. I think we've at least figured out a course, and sheep numbers, that is workable for novice dogs and handlers. We've figured out which sheep need to be pulled out completely, and which ones need to be run separate from their family units.

We also did a little more clean up (the rain had brought down a tree that needed to be cut up and hauled to the burn pile, which is beginning to look more like a towering inferno pile). I think we're pretty much ready for the trial. Laura, Robin, and I plan to go out on the Friday before and do all the last-minute things that need to be done and then just be ready for a fun trial day!

My little Dominique chicks are growing by leaps and bounds. Starting tomorrow I will let them out of their chick tractor to free range. The Rhode Island Reds look like nearly full-grown hens now. It's a bad time of year to hope for eggs, with the days getting shorter and most of my OEG chickens molting, but surely by next spring I'll have lots of good brown eggs from my free-ranging hens!

And I think that pretty much catches me up here. I know this isn't a terribly exciting blog entry, but sometimes life just ain't that exciting!