Sunday, November 30, 2008
I picked a great time to go--most people were out Christmas shopping and it was early, so the theater was pretty empty. I won't give away the story if you've not read the book or seen the movie, but I will say that you won't be able to help but cry (even the men in the audience were sniffling). It's a lovely story, beautifully retold for the big screen. But even the sorrow you'll feel won't dampen the ultimate triumph of this story. It's not a blockbuster, but it's a lovely little uplifting tale, and well worth the watching. If you get a chance, go see it. Better yet, read the book first.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I went to my sister Renee's house for Thanksgiving. All her kids were home, along with Aaron's wife, Emily, and Jordan's finacee, Emily. Yep, that makes for some confusion, but it's the fun kind. I haven't seen Jesse in ages, and she's gotten quite tall--model tall. She's turned into a beautiful young woman at 13. There was enough food to feed Coxey's Army, but we managed to put a pretty good dent in it. Jordan and Emily had to leave fairly early to go to one of her relatives' house for dinner (we ate in the middle of the day) and were planning to head to Emily's family home in Georgia the next day. Later in the afternoon, we played Taboo, which was pretty fun, especially since the my team, the "Curmudgeons" (Renee and Aaron were my teammates, playing against Jesse, Sam, and Emily). I headed back home in late afternoon in time to get chores done before dark and although I was invited to Jimmy's mom's house for another Thanksgiving dinner, instead decided to take it easy and stay home.
Weekends aren't complete unless I can get some good dog working in. We discovered the last time Robin was down here that the lamb flock (a group of about 19 or so) actually work really well. Usually lambs tend to be difficult to work because they are leaderless without an adult sheep and so just behave rather squirrely. So when we first worked them, I had Robin get out one of her experienced open dogs Jet, but it turned out that they worked beautifully. That gives us something in addition to the hair sheep--a little lighter and a little more difficult, without being nigh on impossible like the main ewe flock. Laura came over around 10 a.m. and between the two of us (I had started early and had already worked Twist, Kat--the maniac, and Pip before Laura got there), we got eight dogs worked before lunch. I was still working on driving--pushing straight from behind in a positive manner--with all my youngsters. With Kat, the work was on driving too, only the problem was the opposite--trying to get her to give me a little pace and not push the sheep at breakneck speed.
Last night Laura, who was farmsitting for Mary and Tony, had her BF and me over for dinner. She had made Becca's lamb and apple stew and corn muffins, and on request I brought over the candied yams I'd made for Thanksgiving. It was an excellent repast, and we topped off the evening by watching Alasdair MacRae's shedding clinic video. Laura has been working to learn to shed with Nick and is getting some good instruction from Robin, with practical dog help from Spottie. So we watched the video and got inspired. Laura noted how good the sheep were for shedding practice, and I told her that I thought we could replicate that in my flock by combining the hair sheep and the wool lambs. None of them are bad about running, and I figured the hair sheep would make good leaders to help line the whole group out and take a few lambs with them at a normal pace to enable good-sized holes to open up for us to call the youngsters through so we could work on the basic mechanics of shedding with them.
So this morning I pulled Twist out and sorted sheep, putting the ewe flock in the alleyway paddock, the lambs in the round pen, and the hair sheep out at the far end of the pasture next to the lone pine tree. This was fun work for Twist because the main flock was at the hay bale, so we gathered everyone into the round pen and then gate sorted the ewes back out. We then took them to the alley. The hair sheep and their four buddy karakul lambs were back in the woods across the ditch, so I sent Twist into the woods from the barn end of the field and she pushed them back out to where they could cross over and then brought them back down the field to me. I shed off the four lambs, but then realized that I had the hair sheep between me and the alleyway where I wanted to put the lambs, so I had Twist push the lambs up to the corner by the round pen, then take the hair sheep and push them around the corner back toward the woods, and then go gather the lambs back up and bring them to the gate at the alleyway. The hair sheep were within sight, and so presented a strong draw for the lambs, but Twist is good on the pressure for stuff like that and kept the lambs from joining the hair sheep and we got them put back in the alley.
I worked Lark for a bit on her driving and then got the lambs out of the round pen to practice what we had learned from the video last night. The whole group was good for this, as I had hoped. Lark has a hard time with the shed because she has a lot of eye and really wants to keep the two groups together, but I got her coming through pretty good. I hadn't planned to work Kat as she was a bit gimpy from overdoing it the day before, but the flock was working so well for this exercise and Kat's big weak spot is shedding, so I got her out and started calling her through. Her biggest problem is that she'll hesitate when you call on her, but today she was doing an excellent job. I shed of six or seven lambs and then had Kat push them out to the pine tree where they could work as a draw for the other sheep. I then took the rest of the sheep and put them back together, and did another shed so that I had three groups. I had Kat push the group she had control of toward the sheep under the pine and then flanked her around at the last second to prevent them from joining up. We did the same exercise coming back the other way as Kat's group tried to rejoin the group we had shed them from. I then regrouped the sheep and did several more sheds with her, concentrating on calling her through to my left hand on an away flank, since that is both of our weak spots. (I tend to prefer to call a dog through to my right hand, which means the dog is coming through on a left flank, and since I recognize that I tend to do that, I'm making a real effort to work both sides so that my dogs don't become one-sided on the shed. Kat had issues shedding when I got her, and I had the most success with a "quick and dirty" fix that had me always calling her through on a come bye flank, but of course that makes my job harder in the shedding ring as I was always having to set up the shed so that I could call her through in that direction, so that's why I decided to make sure we were also coming through on the side that was uncomfortable for both of us). I did the same sorts of drills with Pip and Phoebe. I was sure Phoebe was going to be bad about stopping and wanting to take the flank she thought I might want (or that she wanted) instead of waiting to hear what I had to say about the matter, but she was surprisingly good today and took to the shedding very nicely. Pip had a grand time, although he did get a bit overenthusiastic once or twice.
Laura stopped by and worked Nick and Spottie. Nick was less obstreperous than he had been the day before (I think some of his wildness and disobedience had to do with raging hormones as Spottie is in heat and also partly the result of working Tony and Mary's sheep, which are bad about wanting to run and so tend to "gee" a dog up). He did some really nice sheds with Laura. Spottie was looking pretty darn awesome too. When Laura was done working Spottie, I had her shed off the hair sheep and a few of the lambs and put everything else back in the round pen, so I could work Raven on a smaller number of sheep.
Raven's driving is coming along pretty good. She was pushing out in front of me about 30 yards and was taking her downs and inside flanks nicely. But when I had her bring the sheep back the other way and they got close to me, then Raven started to get confused and resistant to the inside flanks. It's like the pressure of me being close was more than she wanted to deal with and so the sheep did some curling around me while I tried to get her sorted out. Once I got her a little ways away and pushing again, then she was better with the flanks too. So we ended our session by having her push the sheep through the chute a few times as doing so required her to take her flanks with me close by, and when she did it right, she got the reward of getting to push the sheep through. She was clearly enjoying herself, especially once she figured out that when the sheep were in the chute she wasn't supposed to flank around on the outside to their heads but was supposed to follow/push them through. She had so much fun on the pushing part that the last time through, she pushed right under one of the lambs in her enthusiasm to get those sheep on through!
So this evening when I went out to feed, I decided to put my experimental nest boxes up. I wanted to try something like milk crates hanging on the wall (the nest boxes in the chicken house are bantam-sized and won't do for the Dominques and Rhode Island Reds). The only thing I could find at WalMart were small plastic laundry baskets, about hen sized. So I nailed those on the wall near the perches in the ram's stall. I don't know how sturdy they'll be, but if the chickens show interest in using them, I'll eventually replace them with something sturdier like milk crates. Once I had gotten the baskets nailed up, I walked through the barn gate to get some laft over hay out of the ewe paddock to use as nest material. As I turned from latching the gate, I heard a rush of wings behind me. My first thought was that I had disturbed a chicken when I came through the gate, but then a Cooper's hawk flew practically right over my shoulder and alit on a tree down by the creek. I don't need to worry about my big chickens, but something got one of the roosters a few days ago (no terrible loss there, but still) and I suspect this Cooper's might be the culprit. I figured he was out of the chance for dinner tonight though, because I had a bit more to do out there and the chickens were busy getting themselves to their roosts (speeded along by Lark) so I figured he wouldn't chance an attack with me and the dogs right there.
Injured Ewe Update (and Meet Freckles)
And speaking of the ewe paddock, the ewe who injured herself by running into a gate seems pretty much back to normal. If she gets panicky, she'll act spastic, but considering I was worried she'd never walk again, I have to say that I'm very pleased with her recovery. She first stood up about five days after I started her on dexamethasone, but it was very wobbly and she wasn't terribly coordinated in the front. By the time I finished the dex (another five days), she was spending more time on her feet than not, though still not as coordinated as I'd like. Last weekend, when we all went up to Robin's, Darci brought me a katahdin cross ewe lamb who is probably bred. I had been keeping a wether in with the injured ewe and I left him in there a few days longer, but Darci had been feeding her sheep quite a bit, and given that the ewe lamb is likely pregnant, I didn't want to drop off on her feed and risk ketosis, but I also didn't need little Mr. Wether to become so fat he couldn't move, so he got booted back out to the main flock. Frackles, as Darci called her, will keep #97 company for the next month or so. According to Darci, Freckles should lamb in the next four to six weeks. By then I'm hoping she will have bonded well enough with #97 and will remember the wether lamb so that when she goes out with the flock she can be worked with the hair sheep and stick with them. #97 is looking good enough that I think she'll be able to be worked again in the future, though I may keep her just for field work and not use her in the round pen. So Freckles was really meant to be a replacement for #97 in case she didn't recover. But all looks well now. Dr. Redding said that spinal cord injuries can take 3-6 months to heal completely (back when I was talking to him about how long I should wait and treat before deciding to cull her if necessary). If I'm lucky, Freckles will give me a ram lamb (who will be at least half St. Croix) that I can then use on the rest of my hair sheep in the spring or next fall.
And I think that catches things up here for now.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
What's that I See Out the Window? It's Snow!
Last week we got some snow. Not much, but snow is rare enough here in the central Piedmont to make any snowfall exciting. It was already melting by the time I went out to feed, but I grabbed the camera and tried to get a few shots of the white stuff and whatever critters happened to be around.
Lark and Phoebe
Mother and son
Farleigh has grown his coat back and is no longer the Liberty Lavender Dog. I think I'll let him stay fluffy until spring.
In early November we went up to Tom Forrester's Mount Pleasant Farm trial. I ran Twist and Kat in open, Lark in ranch, and Phoebe in pro-novice. I had entered Pip, but he had hurt his toe a few days before the trial. He as lame off and on and I tried wrapping his foot really well and running him that Saturday, but it was obvious it was hurting him, so I retired him and pulled him from Sunday's line up. My dogs did reasonably well given the difficulty of the sheep and the fact that much happened over a hill where the handler couldn't see what was going on. There was some confusion here and there, like when Lark decided that an away flank was meant to be a look back and kept trying to go for the sheep in the exhaust instead of flanking toward me to turn the sheep at the drive panels for the cross drive. I couldn't get her turned back on the appropriate sheep and had to retire. The next day, her sheep escaped the exhaust after making the cross drive panels (a common theme of the weekend). The exhaust was behind a hill so the handler couldn't see what was happening there. You just had to stand and hope and wait. I waited at the pen a while and then decided she must not be bringing them and so walked away, retiring myself. As soon as I stepped away from the pen, I could see the sheep's ears coming over the hill. Oh well, too late then. The folks who could see what was going on said that Lark did a really nice job with one ewe who kept breaking back to the exhaust, covering her and pushing her back to the other two as she tried to bring them back over the hill to me. Ten or fifteen more seconds was all she needed, but of course when you can't see what's happening you have to make a decision and that's that. Still I was pleased with the work she gave me. Twist placed both days. Phoebe placed on Saturday. So all-in-all not a bad weekend.
Pip got kicked in the face and ended up with a bloodshot eye. Although it made him a bit leery of going around behind the cattle for a short while afterward, he soon was back to the antics that got him in trouble in the first place. You'd think after a good whallop to the head that you'd back off a bit, but Pip thinks that cow tails are made for swinging from (just like his daddy) and still tried a bit of that nonsense even after being hit. At least he didn't just quit, but it would be nice if he learned a little more quickly from his mistakes. I've decided to run all three youngsters at Roy's. It's really a bit much for them since it's the full open course and none of them are running at the open level, but it will be good for them I think.
Friday, November 7, 2008
So those eight biddies that appeared in the Frosty Morn post? They've headed off to a new home. It's hard to tell at that age, but it looks like the guy got a really good deal, because I would guess that there were six hens and two roosters that he just took home. And I charged him just a few dollars per chick (roos free). And they were a nice range of colors.
I prefer not to sell hens, but my hens hatched out so many broods this year that I don't feel too bad giving them up, at least this once. In the future, though, I will sell only pairs and trios. The deal will be if you want to pay for a hen, you gotta take a roo too! I was sort of sad to see them go, but the smile on the gentleman's face made up for it.
OEGs really are neat little chickens, and maybe if I can keep the smaller ones going in this area, we'll be able to preserve the old style I love.
And I have the new set of five chicks to keep. I'm hoping I'll be lucky with those and have mostly hens there too.
Bye bye biddies!
Monday, November 3, 2008
I always marvel at the frost that stays on sheep's backs. This shows just how well their wool insulates them, since the heat from their bodies doesn't melt the frost that forms on the wool. These are some of last spring's karakul lambs.
The flock has been spending the night up near the barn and in the round pen. Here they are moving away from me (and the dogs) while I try to take their picture. These are mostly karakuls, but you can see one tunis lamb at the back.
Maia is wondering why she can't eat her breakfast undisturbed. She has put on a layer of fat, apparently in readiness for winter. Notice how nice her coat looks--it's growing out beautifully after Darci's shave (to remove some terrible mats) a couple of months ago.
These ewes are staying in the paddocks behind the barn because I'm hoping they're being bred. I didn't buy a harness for the ram lamb, and he was just five months old when I put him in with the ewes (who tower over him), so I have no idea if he's managing to breed them or not. Since I'm not desperate for replacement lambs, if the ewes don't get bred, Ill put them back to a ram in the spring.
That's the red ram lamb on the far left.
Because they don't have a lot of space or grass back behind the barn (even though I do let them out to graze in the unfenced pasture), I am feeding this group of sheep. So after giving Maia her breakfast, Twist and Lark and I go in with the feed. Twist and Lark are a good team for holding sheep off feed bunks, though with this small number of sheep, you could easily get by with using just one dog. Still they both enjoy the job, so I let them both help. Lark is wearing the dog equivalent of a horse blanket because she is so small and has little meat on her bones and gets cold easily. I actually put it on her at night because we're keeping the heat really low in the house to save on the electric bill, and since we got up and went straight outside, I just left it on her. Here she's holding her side of the paddock.
While Lark is rather clappy (and for that reason alone I probably shouldn't use her for this job), Twist likes to spend the time while I'm dumping corn in bunks walking up on the sheep and pushing them off.
Just to give the dogs something extra to do this morning (you know, so I could get pictures), once I had dumped the corn, I sent them around to gather the sheep back up and bring them to the feed. Notice that while Lark has turned on the sheep in this paddock, Twist is flanking around through the gate to get the sheep that are out of view in the lower alleyway.
Phoebe got her turn in the paddock with the ram lambs (they get a little bit of corn because they don't have much grazing space). I took the opportunity to do a little training with her, too, since we have a problem with her listening to my stops as well as anticipating flanks instead of waiting to hear what I want her to do (which can create a mess, needless to say). Here she's pushing the rams away.
After she pushed them away, I flanked her around to head them back up toward the feed, and then stopped her and asked her to flank off balance back toward me to catch them before they got to me.
And here you can see her taking a nice square flank. She had been facing the sheep. I asked for a left (come bye) flank and she sqared off nicely at the start. Imagine that--she was actually listening and waiting to hear what I wanted her to do instead of just winging off on a flank before I got a whole word out of my mouth. Now if she would only do that consistently, we'd be doing much better at trials....
Here are some random chicken photos. This is the little OEG hen that looks like a Sebright (there are some Sebright genetics in my flock, though my last Sebright died a couple of years ago). She hatched out eight chicks a couple of months ago. She's puffing up a bit at the dark hen because the dark hen is too close to her chicks.
This Old English Game (OEG) rooster decided to pose in the barn window. He wouldn't crow for me though.
This is one of my oldest OEG hens, Onyx. (No, they don't all have names--just some of the very oldest ones from back when I had just a few chickens. Now that I think about it Onyx and Albion, a rooster, are the only two named chickens I have left.) She's the one who hatched out and raised quail for Jimmy. She's probably eight or nine years old now and peeking to see if there's any left over corn in the feed bunk.
This pretty little hen hatched out this spring. You can't tell from this photo, but she's a slate blue color with gold spangling on her neck.
This is not a great photo, but it is good for comparing the sizes of the half-grown RIR pullet and a mature OEG rooster. Sadly, it's next to impossible to find OEG bantams this small any more, and I'd really like to bring in some outside genetics, but not if it means making bigger chickens.
Oh, that's what's in there! Yep, two weeks ago, this OEG hen hatched out five chicks in a nest in the hay stall. When they say bantams, and especially OEG bantams, are quite broody and good mothers, they're not kidding! Sorry for the poor photo, but the angle and light were bad....