Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Fine (Nearly) Chore Dog

So it's been forever and I've been meaning to update and just haven't gotten around to it. To make up for my lack of recent entries to this blog, I have included a bunch of photos for your viewing pleasure. (The photo of Pip above, and the entire series of Pip and Phoebe, were taken by Kristie Pope at the Jack Knox clinic here in January.) I've wanted to comment on Pip's education as a chore dog here on the farm. It all started several weeks ago when I was planning to vaccinate sheep and do some other stuff, and Twist hurt her hind leg while out running around on our walk. Darn the luck. This was on a Friday, and by Saturday she looked better, but hard experience has taught me that it's best to give a few days' rest when a working dog has come up lame or you risk turning it into something that requires a lot more rest. Everybody knows I routinely rely on Twist for chores. She's my main dog, can read my mind, and just does the job right pretty much every time. For example, yesterday evening I wanted to bring in one of the Tunis ewes who is bagged up and could lamb soon. Most of the flock was over by the woods, but two of the Tunis ewes, including the one I wanted, were grazing on the hill side. There was a decent gap between them and the rest of the flock. I walked out into the pasture with Twist, sent her, and then called her in so that she would pick up just the two sheep I wanted. One of the youngsters would never have been able to do that--not because it was a terribly hard task, but because they would not have understood that I neither needed nor wanted the whole flock and so it would have been nearly impossible to send them on an outrun between two groups of sheep in the same pasture and expect them to get it right. It was way easier to bring just two ewes to the gate and let the one I wanted through than to have to sort one off at the gate with the whole flock there. That's how Twist makes my life easy on a daily basis, and it's the main reason the youngsters don't get the chore work they should, which is bad on me because I'm a firm believer in dogs learning their work through chores (tasks that make it obvious to the dog what needs to be done).

So back to Pip. Phoebe is a little wild yet for the chores that require patience, and Lark has made it patently clear that she doesn't like that kind of work (holding a flock in the corner for drenching or vaccination). Since Pip, despite his general goofiness, needs work on his confidence at the heads of sheep, it made sense to go ahead and use him to hold the sheep in the corner. It's a natural extension of the corner work we've been doing to build his confidence and get him to automatically cover when sheep bolt from the sides while the humans are busy working on a particular individual. So when we were done working dogs on the Sunday after Twist hurt herself, Laura, Darci, and I took Pip down to the "alleyway" paddock and got him to hold sheep in the corner while we wormed the lambs and vaccinated everyone.

On the way there, we cut through the paddock behind the barn and Laura worked Pip around the sheep there a bit. He is apparently something of a sheep whore. He worked for Laura as if I weren't even standing right there.

Anyway, he did his job well that afternoon, holding sheep, not pushing then over us (too much), and covering the breakaways on his own. Laura even commented on how much he reminded her of Twist doing the same job.

Since then, much to Twist's dismay, I have been trying to use Pip more for chore work. Lark has a tendency to clappiness which is only exacerbated by using her to hold sheep off feed bunks, although she and Twist make an excellent team for that job. So instead I've been taking Pip and Twist in to the main pasture to hold the main flock off the feed in the mornings. I've just started feeding them in anticipation of lambing within the next few weeks, so they've been pretty easy on Pip and he hasn't required Twist's back up. Each morning, though, the flock gets a bit bolder and soon I'll need both dogs to hold them off.

As part of the morning feeding routine, I also separate out the hair sheep from the main flock. They aren't bred and are already fat, so they don't need corn. So before we can put feed out, we go get them--either as part of the whole flock, or if we're lucky, as a separate little group, since they often tend to separate themselves from the main group. This morning was one such case. The main flock was out just past the feed bunks, and the hair sheep were below the round pen, separated from the main flock by maybe 20 yards. I sent Pip around to get the hair sheep and they bolted for the main flock. He had to flank pretty quickly in to catch them--something that would have been very easy to get Twist to do, but which took some effort on my part to get him to understand that I needed him to catch just those five sheep before they reconnected with the main flock. It wasn't as pretty as it could have been (hence the term "nearly" in the title to this entry), and I had to get a little loud with him, but we got it done, and I think he was proud of himself afterward for doing what I needed. I then took him by himself and had him push the rest of the flock back so I could dump their corn in the bunks. Calling him off when it's time to leave the pasture is always a challenge. In that respect, he is just like his mama.

The photos below were all taken on the first day of the clinic, when we were using the hair sheep. You can see additional photos on my and Kristie's Facebook accounts.

In case you're wondering about the wrap or boot (depending on the photos) on Pip's foot, the week before the clinic he managed to badly damage a toenail on that foot and had to go to the vet to have it removed. So he was pretty ouchy when anything hit the spot where his toenail used to be. On top of that, he had also managed to wear a big hole in his pad, so in order to keep him from hobbling around the field I had to wrap him.

Kristie loved Phoebe and took some nice portrait shots of her, of which this is one.
Phoebe working at the clinic.

This past Saturday, I headed up to Robin's for a dog work day. If you remember the portrait of Twist that I posted to this blog a while ago, Kay is also supposed to do a portrait of Lark (for winning the overall open ranch championship at that same trial). I asked Robin if she would try to get some nice photos of Lark for me so I could choose one for the portrait. Here are some of the photos she got. If you have a favorite, let me know!

I've promised Laura pictures of Archie, my new dorset ram lamb. Archie will be used as the terminal sire next fall on the mule ewes I'm acquiring this spring. Dorsets just look sort of dopey to me, and Archie has this sort of Don King hair do going too, but right now, while he's still relatively small (at 10 months old), he's a pretty nice fellow.

But before we get to Archie, here's a couple of pictures of Inigo (as in "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." That's for all you Princess Bride fans out there!). Inigo is also young, about nine months. I used him this fall on my karakul ewes, but he was so small compared to them that I don't know if he managed to get the job done. A few of the ewes seem to be bagging up, so we'll see. I spent a lot of time selling sheep last year, so I figured that if he didn't manage to breed a lot of ewes it would be easier on me as I don't have the pasture to support a bunch more sheep anyway.


Inigo and his nameless wether friend, who could go back to the main flock now that Inigo has Archie for company. (The tunis ewe in the background is the one Twist and I brought up yesterday evening.)

Ta da! Archie!

Doesn't he look like an innocent? (Although he's already starting to show wrinkles on his nose.)

Here's an OEG hen sunning herself in the ram's stall this morning.

And the evil rooster who refuses to die (and the danged hawks won't get him either): Albion

He was threatening me from the gate to the stall, but he doesn't frighten me. We've done battle numerous times, and while he's drawn blood, I usually get some good licks in too. Since I've had Lark, I've just put a command on her to get the roosters--handy for when they're fighting one another or stalking me.

My Rhode Island Red and Dominique hens are laying nearly a dozen eggs a day. I am drowning in eggs. What ever possessed me to get more than two or three hens? The RIR hens are laying beautiful large brown eggs. The Dominickers have just started laying and you can easily tell their eggs apart from those of the RIRs by size.

This Dominique hen was trying to escape being photographed, whereas the RIRs tend to be hams, as above.

Maia is taking a well-earned nap in the morning sun.

Until I disturbed her with my picture taking.

Maia isn't the only one resting in the sun, as the flock takes its morning siesta.

This afternoon I watched three--count 'em--three Cooper's Hawks circling overhead. Fortunately I have a pretty healthy crow population thanks to throwing out corn for the chickens, and they did a fine job of chasing the hawks off. I wonder if I could put a sign on Albion's back that says "Pick Me!"

Work is keeping me busy; I'm waiting for lambs; and I'm running up to Tony and Mary's in the middle of the day to check on their pregnant ewes. They've had one ewe that has already lambed--she's obviously on some sort of accelerated program. Meanwhile, Crazy Red's bag is getting bigger, but she shows no real sign of imminently dropping lambs. She had to give up her karakul lamb friends for the Tunis ewe, but so far no one has manged to have much of a calming influence on her. Let's hope her lamb(s) aren't as nutty.

And now it's time to take the dogs for their evening walk and then feed everyone, sheep and dogs alike. I'll try to give another update in less than a month this time!