Friday, March 27, 2009

The View from the Top

And it's certainly not what you think! But first, I know a number of you are waiting for updates on a bunch of stuff, but you'll have to bear with me a little while longer. I'll get to it, but for now I just want to make some quick comments on dog trialing before I go park myself in front of the TV to watch Moonlight.

I often set sheep for trials. I enjoy doing it, whether paid or volunteer or in exchange for some entry fees. Working at the top really does give you a whole new perspective on what dogs do at a trial. Yep, it's a real eye-opener.

The one huge fault I see over and over again is dogs who do not have proper outruns at the top. Instead of going nice and deep so they can walk in and have a nice lift, many dogs slice off the top of the outrun. Some come at the sheep straight from the side; others actually get behind their sheep, but barely. Today, the sheep were not being held on feed, and yet they were amazingly tolerant of plain bad work at the top. Of the 10 or 11 nursery dogs who ran, probably one-third actually were nice at the top. That's a very small number.

And this problem isn't just confined to nursery dogs--I see it a lot in open as well. In fact, I can pretty much predict whose dogs will be right at the top since there's so few to remember! Here in the east we use a lot of farm flocks and an unfortunate consequence of that is that we often need to hold on grain. The problem with grain is that the sheep tend to bury their faces and no dog can get a good, true lift. But a worse problem is that the sheep don't tell on all those dogs who are so bad at the top. The converse of this is that the dogs who are actually proper at the top of their outruns get no credit for being so. And that's a shame.

Of course the other down side to this is that when the sheep don't tell on the dog, all those handlers whose dogs are less than stellar at the top have no real way of knowing, unless the outrun is short enough that they can really see what's going on. At a distance it's hard to tell just how far back your dog is. Whenever I get the chance, I ask the set out person if they remember my dog and if they can tell me how things went at the top. If it's a big trial and the set out person doesn't know your dogs, you might not get much feedback. But my view from the top indicates that most handlers would be okay to assume that their dogs aren't right. I always make a point of telling handlers when their dogs are particularly good at the top because I think it's a nice thing to hear from the setout person.

So all you trialers out there, please pay attention to what your dog is doing at the top of its outrun. You might be surprised to find out that your dog isn't nearly as good there as you think it is. And although circumstances at various trials might enable your dog to get away with it, sooner or later that poor work will come back to haunt you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

RIP Albion

You know how your brain will sometimes play tricks on you? Well it had snowed Monday and there was still ice in the shaded patches, so when I went out to feed last night, I wondered to myself "Wow, where did those little patches of snow/ice come from?" Then as I got closer I realized the white I was seeing was neither snow nor ice--it was feathers. I glanced off to the side and saw the source: a white chicken lay in a crumpled heap just outside the tack room door. As I got closer I could tell it was a rooster. It couldn't be! Could it?

I know I wished you dead many times, but I didn't really mean it, even if you did have a habit of stalking me and drawing blood from my ankles in your stealth attacks. And I know I'm always saying that I wish the hawks would take off the roosters and not the hens, and I really do sort of mean that, but your passing is the end of an era at Willow's Rest.

As soon as I saw that the dead bird had one thick leg, I knew it was he. He didn't have a mark on his body save for that scattering of missing feathers that I first mistook for snow. Was it a hawk? Or had he finally just jumped the wrong critter (i.e., one of the dogs)? I'll never know. But I do know that this farm's chicken flock will have a very large hole left by one very tough, small rooster. RIP Albion.

This is Albion nearly three years ago. He had been stalking Laura and me while we were out playing with Twist's new pups (hard to believe they'll be three this summer). The empty water bottle in the background was the first missile I lobbed at him. When that failed to have any effect I threw my flip flop at him, which he promptly attacked. Such a sweet fellow he was....

What ever will I do with Albion no longer here to terrorize me and any others he thought he could sucker into complacency? Oh well, there are more little evil roosters strutting around this place. I'm sure one or more of them will gladly step up to fill Albions spurs....

Spring Must Be On Its Way
As I'm typing this blog I'm looking out the window at the ram pasture. For the past several days the two rams and their wether buddy have been butting heads, chasing each other, and generally acting as if the "sap is rising," so to speak.

I posted beautiful snow pictures on Monday, and today it's a balmy 70 degrees or so. I heard spring peepers when I was out walking the dogs. And I saw that the purple martins have returned to their nesting gourds. I didn't breed much of my flock this year, and I suspect that poor Inigo wasn't terribly successful at wooing his much larger girls, so lambing will be light this year. Crazy Red had her lamb a week or so ago, and I got my hopes up when I jugged them and Crazy Red acted pretty normal around me. That lasted about a day, and then she went right back to being her crazy old self. I call her spotted red and white ewe lamb "Little Red," and I have no doubt she's learning how to be a nut from her crazy mama. Back behind the barn with Crazy Red and Little Red is Rosie, who is the daugher of Old Girl. She looks like she could lamb any day now, but she just won't go on and do it. This weekend would be perfect weather Rosie (hint, hint)!

On the Veterinary Front
I took Boy in on Wednesday to have his shoulder injected with hyaluronic acid/cortisone. So far he's still limping, but the weather was so nice when I took everyone walking earlier that I attached the flexi to him and dragged him along. I got tired of his clear reluctance about the time we got to the fork in the path and unhooked the leash, fully expecting that he would turn for home. But when the rest of us made our own turn, I saw that he had come a good way along behind us. When we turned, he turned and went back the way we came, but we all met up at the fork again, and he joined the pack for the last part of the trip. The fact that he continued on after I let him go is a good sign. Now if only that limp would disappear....

I examined Willow's thigh today, and it seems to me that the growth (for lack of a better word) might well be shrinking. Of course that could just be wishful thinking on my part. I'll check it again in a few days and see if I can detect any more changes for the better. She's due to get rechecked by Dr. Redding in another week and a half, and maybe we'll know for sure by then that the prednisone is working. I'm keeping my fingers crossed! I do want to ask him, though, how we know that it hasn't also spread internally. I'm assuming the high doses of pred would also work on anything internal, but I'd still like to know if there's a way we can tell if the recurrence is anywhere else other than her inner thigh.

Lark got over her injured toe and is solid on all fours again. Chili Pepper is back on another round of Clindamycin. The stuff tastes awful (I can smell it) and it would be nice if it could be formulated into something more palatable for cats, but it works, so she just gets a round periodically and it seems to keep her mouth under control.

Reading Corner
Gee, I don't really remember what I've read since the last time I posted about books. Right now I'm working on my "buy two, get one free" purchase that I made when Mary sent me to the bookstore. The first book of that group was The Book of Air and Shadows, by Michael Gruber (HarperCollins, 2007). Apparently this was a New York Times bestseller, and I can see why. It was an enjoyable read sort of along the lines of the Dan Brown genre: letters written in Jacobean secretary hand, some encrypted, are found behind the leather covers of a collection of antique books that were damaged aas the result of a fire. The nonencrypted letter was written by a dying soldier to his wife and is meant to give the details of his life to their young son, who will never hear these stories from his father. In the letter is mention of spying on Shakespeare as a suspected papist, and a passing reference to the existence of an unknown play, written in Shakespeare's own hand. Thus is the stage set for a mystery involving the encrypted letters, the torture death of a well-known Shakespeare scholar, a lawyer reluctantly dragged into the plot by the fact that the scholar had left papers with him right before his death, and the search the missing play. I found it very entertaining and at times hard to put down, which caused me to miss more than one full night's sleep. I haven't read anything else by this author, but wouldn't hesitate to pick up another of his books.

Right now I'm reading Portrait of an Unknown Woman, by Vanora Bennett (HarperCollins, 2008). The story centers around a woman named Meg Giggs, and adopted daughter of Sir Thomas More. It takes place place between 1527, when Hans Holbein comes to England under commission to paint a family portrait for the Mores, and 1533. This is a period of religious turmoil, when Henry VIII divorces his Spanish queen for Anne Boleyn. I am not quite halfway through, so I don't know the full story, but the author is staying true to the basic historical facts of the time, so I do know what happens to Thomas More in the end. Historical fiction is a genre I enjoy, and so far this book has not disappointed.

Next in line is Paolo Coelho's The Witch of Portobello (HarperPerennial, 2006). The Alchemist and By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept are two of my all-time favorite books, and I expect that Coelho will delight me with this work as much as he has with the other works of his that I've read.

But before I get to that book, I also have a book loaned to me by my neighbor Tony, Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man (Mariner Books, 2000; the original of this book was published in 1971). The books just keep piling up, but sooner or later, I'll get them all read!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A (snowy) day in the life.... (photo heavy)

After something like 36 hours of rain, the precipitation turned to snow last night, and this is what it looked like this morning when I went out to feed. We so seldom get a good snow here in the south that more than a dusting is a cause for celebration (of sorts). Here Twist is holding the sheep back from the feed bunks, with Pip and Lark helping, although further back and not in the picture. I didn't really need all three dogs, but they all dashed through the gate, so I figured "what the heck."

A bunch of karakuls, with a few tunis thrown in.

Pip holding his side back behind Twist.

Looking back toward the barn.

A closer view of the karakuls.

Lark likes to lurk beside the feed bunks (like a snake in the grass, or snow, in this case), just waiting to jump out at any sheep that come near. This is all you could see of her from my side of things.

She forgot to get out of her pajamas before going to work this morning. We had no electricity for part of the night last night and into the morning, so it got kind of cold in the house.

The view back behind the barn.

A little later I took the dogs for a walk on the back part of the property. The photos chronicle are loop around and back home. This looks lovely, but the weight of the snow is no doubt the reason why we had no power....

Swift is trying to work Lark, who wants to dive into the creek, despite the cold and snow.

Hey, you're going the wrong way!

More snowy branches.

Is that a fox in the woods? No, it's just Kat.

Jill in the snow.

And another photo of the Baby Rat.

Even old dogs feel spunky when it snows!

Swift, Phoebe, and Willow.

Another one of Kat.

The "donkey-eared dog" wants to make a snow angel (that's for you Dan).

Mother and son.

Let's hope all that snow doesn't drop on Pip's head.

At last, a rare Farleigh sighting. He prefers to walk solo and so usually leaves the rest of us behind.

A lone tree that I thought was rather photogenic.

Three amigos?

My old girl, Willow. I haven't reported this on the blog, but Willow's mast cell tumor has recurred, and in an inoperable form. I don't know how much more time she has with me, but I'm hoping the treatment works and we get plenty more time together.

Some of the bee hives. Just a few days ago the bees were buzzing busily in the warm weather; now, they're tucked safely back in their hives.

Pip seems to have an unfortunate habit of posing beneath heavily snow-laden limbs.

Heading back around on the homeward path.

Cedar trees that look like fern fronds or peacock feathers.

Swift and Willow framed in snowy branches.

Twist by the creek.

Willow watching.

Sabrina and Maia. Sabrina befriended Maia when Maia first arrived at the farm. I will often see them together out in the pasture.

A pack of dogs pausing from their snow play.

Lark and Phoebe mixing it up.

Hmmm ... it looks like Lark took a tumble.

Is she giving a lecture or simply waiting for someone else to make the first move?