Thursday, May 28, 2009

Avicidal Maniacs?!?

Tell me, does this look like the face of a killer? Okay, so maybe that's not the best way to frame the question. I suppose chickens aren't exactly known for their "warm and fuzzy" faces. But still.

Last week when I was sitting at the computer composing my meme blog entry, I happened to look out the window and see one of the Dominique hens apparently attacking...what? Another hen? I could see feathers flying as I started up from my chair. As I made my way out the back door, I could see that one of the Rhode Island Reds had joined in, and feathers were still flying. They moved off at my approach, into the stall to get ready to perch for the night. What did I find nestled next to a feed tub but a poor brutalized mourning dove, still alive, but looking extremely traumatized and rather naked.

Really, a dove? The worldwide symbol of peace? What were you barbaric hens thinking? And why not pick on something your own size, you big bullies?

I gently picked up the poor bird as the rams looked on and tried to think of a safe place to put it to either recover or pass on. I finally decided on the old-fashioned hollyhocks that are growing in profusion with plenty of dense foilage on the side of the house. And I was pretty certain that it was an area that pretty much remained unfrequented by JellyBean. I dumped a little cracked corn in front of her (that's what they come to the barnyard for anyway) and left her hidden there. When I went back to check later, she had tucked herself even further up into her hidey hole. Later that night I was out giving the dogs their last walk before bed and checked again and she was gone. I haven't seen a nearly bald mourning dove around here since then, but I'd like to think she survived the attack of the killer hens. (True confession time: I once opened a feed bin to find a mouse inside and JellyBean nowhere around to do the honors, so I dumped the mouse out in front of some hens hoping they'd finish him off. The lucky little beggar was able to get the jump on them and get away.)

Is this a flock of hens or a gang?

She really doesn't look like someone a small creature would want to mess with.

Dominicker patrol. They sort of look like they're dressed for prison don't they?

And my Old English Game hens are as broody as ever. I had a singleton chick about a month ago, but it died mysteriously. But this little black hen hopped on that same nest and managed to hatch out two more chicks, seen here in their chick tractor.

This hen sat on a nest inside a cat crate that I had set in the chicken house to hold the first chick that was hatched this year. I was slow to remove the crate, and the next thing I know a hen was setting in it. Here's what she hatched out. (I think she's a beautiful hen.)

This little pearl grey chick is my favorite. Knowing my luck, it's probably yet another rooster.

JellyBean is overseeing the transition of the chicks from houses inside the chicken pen to these outdoor chick tractors. Amazingly, he has never to my knowledge bothered a chick once I start letting them free range with their mamas (Moses was another story entirely--free range chicks meant free and happy hunting to him).

And we have yet another supervisor. Whatever would I do without all the help?

Is it a standoff....

or studied indifference?

Oh, those ears! (Okay, the mottling makes up for it I guess.)

Pip says, "Huh?" And that probably doesn't really surprise anyone. (See why I call him Big Head Fred?)

Willow is, of course, the one true protector of the hens and their chicks. She has really begun to look old over these past few months.

GlenGrant says, "Can you please get me out of this contraption? I've already turned those red sheep completely green from top to bottom, so it's time for this harness to go!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trial Report--Circle BR (Otherwise Known as Dr. Ben's)

Laura and I, otherwise known as the intrepid tent campers, had been watching the weather all week while trying to decide exactly when to leave for Dr. Ben's trial. Neither of us was running an open dog, so we didn't have to be there till Monday. But when Laura mentioned that she was thinking of heading down Sunday to watch some of the open, I thought "Why not be a copycat?" and said I'd go then too. But here's the thing--and if you're a tent camper, you'll understand--it just doesn't make sense to go to the trouble of setting up a tent for one night. So next thing I know, we're talking about heading out Saturday. We kept checking and and both were predicting high temps in the low 80s with a slight possibility of thunderstorms each afternoon. Sounds like pretty perfect camping weather, so a Saturday arrival date became the plan.

Saturday was indeed sunny (and humid) and we got there shortly before the end of the open runs and in time to hear about a possible jackpot class (pay an entry fee, run your dog, get money back if you win). The course would be the ranch course (full open course without the shed).

Of the young dogs, only Lark would get just one run on Monday (in ranch), so I decided to go ahead and put her in the jackpot. She hasn't gotten much trial time this spring because many of the trials offered just open and nursery, and with a late January birthday (she turned 3), she wasn't eligible for nursery this year.

She ran out beautifully and had a nice lift, but then the trouble started. The field is terraced, and although the terraces don't like big from the bottom of the field, if you've ever had the pleasure of running up that field (or even just walking it), they're a lot bigger than they look. When the sheep started to go offline on the fetch, I flanked Lark, not even thinking that she couldn't see the sheep, who had already dropped to the terrace below, and so when she took her flank, she couldn't find any sheep. You could tell she was completely lost up there (Lyle and Beth later said it looked like she was on her tippy toes trying to see over and down, looking for her sheep. Lyle also told me at dinner that night that with the young dogs especially, I should have waited until the dog also crested the terrace to give a flank so dog and sheep were on the same terrace and the dog wouldn't get lost. Well, duh, of course that makes sense. Now why didn't I do that?) Anyway, we made it around the course, but I could tell Lark was stressed and a bit confused--it's probably the biggest course she's run. But she managed it, so that's something.

I ended up running Twist in the open on Sunday, though it was nothing to write home about. She's fat and out of shape because I've been working the young dogs, and it showed. We timed out on the first marked shed (we were to take two without collars, regroup, pen, and then take one with a collar), though we should have gotten our shed points if I hadn't made the mistake of being too close to the edge of the shedding ring when we (finally) got the split we needed and I called Twist through, so that the sheep were out of the ring by the time Twist took control, and so no shed called. Our run overall was a bit raggedy--it's clear we are both out of practice, so now I just need to try and get her back in shape before fall.

Oh, and I should note that it started to rain early Sunday morning, after a night of listening to the call of the Chuck-Will's-Widow (as an aside, I have never marked this bird off my birding list--by omission or because I hadn't actually heard it before I don't know. Usually I hear Whip-poor-wills when camping at trials, so it was something of a treat to hear a Chuck-Will's-Widow instead). So the rain started and never really stopped, except for brief spells. My poor old tent is leakier than ever--even the rain fly had a serious leak at one seam. I did manage to stay mostly try (well most importantly, my bed stayed dry), so I think it's time to send it to tent heaven and find a replacement. The "Taj Mahal" tent will no longer be one of the Seven Wonders of the trialing world, sad to say.

Monday dawned grey and rainy--surprise! I had originally agreed to run Pip and Phoebe in nursery so there would be enough dogs to qualify two, and both dogs are quite capable of running the course, but given the trouble I've been having with Phoebe lately, I pretty much entered her with the caveat that if there were enough dogs to run nursery without her, then that's what I'd do. Pip was up first. I tried having him watch a couple lifts beforehand, but he never seems to actually look up the field and spot sheep. So I did something I shouldn't have done, knowing his heritage, and set him wide at my feet. He kicked wide, so wide it looked like he was going to the exhaust. At least he arced on up the field from the exhaust fence, but he kept angling out till he hit the fence along the road. There was only one problem with that (aside from the more obvious being too wide thing). About halfway up the field is a group of oaks, surrounded by fencing and covered in tarps--the area that is used for the novice set out. So Pip's galloping along the fence and gets to a corner. You can just see him put on the brakes and go "WTF?" But he recovered nicely, came on around that set out pen and continued on up to the top--nothing really lost but time. He had a nice lift, but the terraces created a few issues and our fetch was offline a good part of the way from the top to the fetch panels. The drive was a left-hand drive, and the sheep were pulling to the exhaust, but we kept them reasonably on line and made a rather wide turn (the turn was just in front of a terrace, so it was next to impossible to make it tight as the sheep would go through the gates and be up the terrace before you knew it). We bobbled a bit on the crossdrive, but kept a mostly straight line until we got close to the cross drive panels, when I realized we were getting a bit high. Pip has had some confidence issues on long drives and had been doing really well so far on this drive, so even though I knew we were getting ready to miss the panels high, I decided to err on the side of not putting a ton of pressure on Pip to flank fast and save it and instead went with just keeping the flow. We turned the cross drive panels with less than a minute to complete the course (thanks to that lovely meandering outrun). About halfway along that last leg, I told Pip "Get 'em up" because I wanted him to pick up the pace a bit. Mistake. Or not? As soon as the words were out of my mouth, he started to have a yeeha! moment, but I was quick enough to correct him before he managed to DQ himself with a grip. The little extra bit of speed gave us just enough time to pen, with the sheep dashing into the pen like they Devil was on their tails (and the sheep were in general disinclined to pen all weekend). We ended up with a score of 67, and second place, which meant another nursery qualification for Pip (he's already qualified to go to the finals, but I'll say that this nursery run was definitely his best ever from a confidence and good work POV, if you ignore the whole outrun thing, that is). (His breakdown: 18-10-11-18-10)

Phoebe ran at the end of the class. We had been joking under the pole barn about how so many handlers seem to have a slight Scottish accent to their "lie down!" when I commented that I would surely sound more like a fishwife, given the amount of head butting Phoebe and I normally did. I went out there with no expectations, and darn if the good Phoebe wasn't in residence that day. She ran out a bit wide, but actually stopped at the top with just one stop whistle! Instead of her usual out-of-control freight train approach to the fetch, she was taking my stops and steadies and taking the correct flanks. I was pretty stunned. Her drive was lovely, losing just 8 points. Then came the pen. We had the misfortune of getting a group with two who didn't want to play at the pen. I give Phoebe a lot of credit for keeping her head and working her little heart out to get those two in. One finally did go in, but the other chose to turn and stomp at her--several times. Each time I asked Phoebe up, she walked right into the face of that stomping ewe, but that ewe just wasn't going to turn and go in the pen, instead trying to break past me each time. And then time was called. Phoebe ended up with a 65 for 3rd place (nonqualifying). I felt bad for her as it would have been nice to get her second nursery leg on her, but I was very happy with the way she worked. Of course we still had P/N to run, so I was sure the other shoe would drop there. (Her breakdown: 18-10-15-22-0)

The ranch class was run next and both Lark and Pip were entered. Lark ran early and had another nice outrun and lift, but the sheep came off the hill running and never really wanted to let up. I was having to do a lot of flanking Lark on the run, and although she didn't get lost on the terraces this time, it was clear that she was feeling a bit stressed and overfaced with all the rapid-fire commands she was getting. The crossdrive was especially ugly, with the sheep coming way down the field before Lark was able to catch them and push them back up to the cross drive panels. On the turn to the Maltese cross, the sheep started running again. I ran out to meet them and stop them, but the second Lark started to move, they bolted again. I decided to retire at that point as it was clear Lark was gaining nothing from the run and probably losing confidence. It just wasn't her weekend.

Pip left my feet before I was ready to send him and in hindsight I should have just let him go as he was setting out at a nice angle. But I called him back, set him up pointing pretty much straight up the field and then sent him. He did a near-repeat of his nursery outrun, only this time he anticipated the blind corner and flowed on around it. His lift was nice, and his fetch was about the same as in his nursery run. The drive away went a bit nicer, but I made a big mistake thinking the sheep were through the panel (they were walking very nicely) and flanked Pip hard too soon, causing the sheep to turn just in front of the panel and skim along it. Darn! The rest of the drive was nice, although Pip seemed a little more hesitant on the drive than he had in the first run. Probably asking him to do both runs on such a big course was a bit much for one day. We made a nice turn at the cross drive panels but somehow I didn't manage to get Pip in position to stop the sheep from bolting past the first leg of the cross. Once they broke the plane of the cross chute, you had to go on to the second leg, which we managed very handily. At the pen, I again had sheep that didn't want to cooperate, and as often happens, they all marched into the pen just as time was called, so we didn't get any pen points. Our final score was a 67 for 5th place. (Breakdown: 16-10-10-21-10[1 leg of the cross]-0)

And that just left the pro-novice class. The course directors decided to push the sheep down from the top instead of using the pen over on the side of the field, which was a nice change because the pressure from that side pen to the exhuast is incredible, making life extremely hard for young dogs or inexperienced handlers. The P/N set out was actually the same as nursery, so rather long. Phoebe ran toward the end of the class, and I went out with the expectation that having already had one appearance of the "good Phoebe" I wasn't likely to be blessed with a second such event, but again she proved me wrong. I sent left again and she did a beautiful outrun, kicking out as she crested each terrace, and landing well behind her sheep. Once again she took my stop whistle at the top, but then we lifted a bit offline, which took a while to recover, but we managed it and made the fetch gates. The drive away, which was about 100 yards was absolutely lovely. This time we our sheep were more cooperative at the pen, and we ended up with a final score of 78 for first place. Could it be that Phoebe has turned a corner? Or is she just toying with me? The next trial will tell.

Yummy (and Easy) Banana Bread

I buy bananas because I like them but then invariably they get overripe before I eat them all. I got tired of tossing bananas out so went in search of an easy, low-fat recipe, with ingredients I'd likely have on hand. I found one at Cooking Light that I have used successfully and really like. I took a loaf of the bread to the trial this past weekend and shared it with folks. I had a number of people ask for the recipe, so here it is. Enjoy!

Classic Banana Bread
We love this bread's moist texture and simple flavor. Banana bread should form a crack down the center as it bakes--a sign that the baking soda is doing its job.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas--note, I don't measure, just use 3, as long as they aren't tiny)
1/3 cup plain low fat yogurt (I've also used nonfat and vanilla flavored, whatever I had on hand)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or something else with alcohol in it!)
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cup; level with a knife (I'm not so precise). Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed until moist. Spoon batter into an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 1 loaf, 14 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

Calories: 187 (21% from fat); Fat 4.3 g (sat 2.4 g, mono 1.2 g, poly 0.3 g); Iron 1 mg; Cholesterol 40 mg; Calcium 20 mg; Carbohydrate 34.4 g; Sodium 198 mg; Protein 3.3 g; Fiber 1.1 g

Cooking Light, September 2003

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Participating, for Once

So Becky over at has memed me, and from looking at her blog I gather than means I'm supposed to list six things that "I appreciate that may, to someone else, seem unimportant, but to me are precious." So here are mine:

  • The sound of a summer rain on a tin roof (and the smell of rain, too)
  • The chorus of spring peepers
  • Anyone who stops to move a box turtle out of the road
  • The unconditional love of my critters
  • A well-written book that sucks me in and becomes nearly impossible to put down
  • Bird songs

And now I'm supposed to pass this on to six people. Hmmm....I might be able to come up with that many. For those of you who don't wish to participate, never fear--this isn't a chain letter and bad things won't happen to you if you ignore it!

  1. Crooks and Crazies: Laura always manages to make me laugh, and I imagine her humor would shine through while making a list like this! (
  2. Shoofly Farm: You didn't think I'd let you off the hook, did you Robin? (
  3. Vet on the Edge: Hilary, you've been MIA for a while, and I hope this will find you and you'll resurface and share more of your lovely stories with us! (
  4. 1Sheepdoggal: Darci has left us for more the more desert-like pastures of northern Utah ("Go west, young lady!") and I'll miss her. Hopefully she'll have time either while on the road or once she gets there to share a list of her own with us. (
  5. 4UFarm: You've got my little boy Blue and I'd love to know what things you appreciate! (
  6. Eirene: Becca, are you out there? Come join the fun! (

I hope some of you find time to make your own lists. I'd love to read them! And thanks Becky for making me think about things that are special to me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Don't tell anyone, but Lark has been eating the veggie mix (yes, I said veggies) with her raw breakfast the past few days. Could we have turned a new leaf in Larkydom?

(Photo by Laura Carson)

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Day in the Life, or Who Ate My !!@#$%@ Salad?

As you know, I'm not working at the moment. (How's that for positive thinking? It's only for the moment after all--I'll be back in the full-time employment saddle before I know it!) And yet my days are fuller than ever just doing stuff around the farm.

Laura came over Wednesday evening to walk dogs and help me set GlenGrant up in his marking harness so I could actually do things right and know just when (or if) the tunis ewes were bred. We then sorted off the mule ewes and put them out in the main pasture (Twist and me) and sorted the tunis ewes from the main flock and brought them into the paddock with GG (Laura and Nick). For those of you waiting for an entertaining video of the harnessing process, I have to apologize--it was amazingly simple and there were no video-worthy antics to charm you with. Of course I need to wait for the ewes to cycle, but I suspect that by the time they do, the marking crayon will be long gone. Can someone tell me why my tunis ewes all have green crayon marks on their briskets? What are they doing at night--standing up and slow dancing with GG in the moonlight? GG himself is pretty much covered in green from the chest down. He's somehow even managed to turn his derriere green. WTF? What are these sheep doing??? Aside from the obvious, which is that they are certainly not breeding..... Fun coloring with crayons, anyone?

After observing my absurdly green-colored sheep yesterday morning, I went to check on my broody OEG hens. One had hatched a couple of chicks in a nest box and then moved to the floor of the chicken house, presumably when the chicks did their mad bungee jumps (sans bungee) out of the nest boxes, and so I had put them all in a small cat crate for their protection. The second hen was sitting on a nest she had built in another cat crate (left there after a previous hatching incident). When I had checked her the night before, she had just one little grey chick, but by yesterday morning she had seven hatched out (many colors). The cat crate was clearly too small for her burgeoning family, so I moved both hens and their chicks out into the pen where there's an old intermediate Vari-kennel and a hutch of some sort that I found in an old chicken house when I was living in Elizabeth City. I had to spend some time cleaning these out and putting some shavings in (so the hens would have something to scratch in and use to trash the waterers and feeders with--wouldn't want them to have dull lives after all). They'll stay in these cages for about a week and then will move out to the chick tractors. It's supposed to be nasty rainy this weekend, so I think they'll be more secure under the roof of the chicken pen and in the security of their "kennels." While I was doing all the prep work, Lark was keeping a close eye on the hens and chicks in the chicken house. She came in handy because one time I walked away to get chicken feed and turned to see that both rams had taken advantage of the unlatched pen door to go in and see what was what. They were mighty surprised when I called on Lark and she popped out of the chicken house and into their faces. Lark's other bit of usefulness is when the nasty little roosters come after me, which they invariably do, and always when my back is turned, natch. I've encouraged Lark to break up rooster (ahem, NOT cock) fights in the past and that training has come in handy when I need her to chase a rooster off me. Who knew raising itty bitty game bantams could be so hazardous to human health and safety? Thanks to Miss Larky, I am mostly safe from both rams and roosters, thank goodness.

On the big hen front, several of the Dominiques have decided that the round bale feeder is an ideal nesting spot. The sheep aren't really eating any hay, but really do I have to dig around inside the bale feeder to search for eggs? Ladies, what's wrong with the nest boxes in the walk-through stall? Give me a break!

The middle part of the day was pretty uneventful, but when it came time for our afternoon walk, the next crisis ensued. As I turned the corner at the bottom of the ram paddock, I heard some strange growling noise, and my first thought was Phoebe and that she might be having a seizure. I followed the noise to its source and there she was, in the midst of a lovely huge stand of poison ivy. Oh, how my sensibilities warred with one another: the instinct to go get my poor dog and the instinct to preserve myself from poison ivy rash hell. Of course Phoebe won out, but really Phoebe, did you have to put yourself right up against that huge rope of a poison ivy vine? Can't any of y'all cut me any slack? As soon as I waded through p.i. jungle and got Phoebe out of there, she was on her feet and fine and we conitnued on our walk. We had just had a brief downpour, enough to make the ground slick, and sure enough, I slipped going around the corner by the creek and nearly cracked my wrist catching myself (hello, wake-up call to lose weight--less pressure on whatever body part I use to catch myself during falls like this). I was wearing those darn Crocs, and so after righting myself I had to pull them off and try to shake out the pound of mud that came in through the holes when I slid in the first place. Who thought it was a good idea to put holes in clogs? So far this spring I've gotten stabbed by a stick through them (and the stick apparently had been in contact with poison ivy so that I ended up with a glorious and unpleasant mess on my foot) and now the bulldozer effect. Sheesh! I spent the rest of the walk constantly reminding myself not to touch my face with my hands.

Once back at the house, I went ahead and fed the sheep behind the barn and Maia too. By then I had about 45 minutes before the eye doctor's office closed and I needed to go pick up my contact lens order. But I couldn't not get in the shower first and scrub everything as hard as I could for p.i. prevention (and so far it seems to have worked as I have no breakouts yet). I left the house at 5:40 for the 10-mile trip to Randleman. I was doing great until some yahoo pulled from a side road right out in front of me and proceeded to poke along at a snail's pace. I did manage to get my contacts, and the bonus of going to Randleman was that I could go by the Wild Onion and get a "garden weasel" salad--one of my faves and something I've been craving for a couple of weeks.

I got back home with my salad and fed the dogs and let everyone out. I then managed to eat the barbecued shrimp off the top of the salad before the phone rang. As I was talking, I put the salad in its closed container on the trunk next to where I watch TV, since last night was Grey's Anatomy season finale night (not to be missed). My next big mistake was to walk into the other room to look something up on the computer in answer to my friend's question. Next thing I know I hear growling of the sort that dogs do when they're "discussing" whether food is to be shared. Huh? So I marched back into the living room to fuss at the dogs only to find my salad on the floor and the object of contention. WTH? These dogs wouldn't eat lettuce if you coated it in hamburger and handed it to them. But last night of all nights, when I had gotten a salad I'd been craving for a week or more, the little bast**ds had stolen it, dumped it on the floor, and eaten a good part of it. Now I'm not one to generally eat something if I think one of the cats' or dogs' faces have been in it, but in this case I salvaged the scant bit of salad left in the box and ate it, which only made the loss of the bulk of it that much worse to bear. Maybe I should have fed them all lettuce for breakfast this morning....

So, you see, even though I'm not working, life is still pretty busy around here, although it seems to be mostly in a "joke's on me" kind of way. Maybe I'll sell enough junk at Laura's mom's neighborhood yard sale tomorrow to pay for a matinee ticket to Star Trek. If Sunday's really going to be a washout, engaging in a little fantasy escapism might be just the ticket.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Joys of Rural Life!

So we all can probably recite the usual pleasures of living in a rural area, and I think most people you ask would admit that the perqs generally outweigh the inconveniences (like having to travel more than a few miles for shopping). The other night as I was stepping into the shower, one perq became quite evident. When I noticed the water pressure in the shower was quite low, I remembered that I had started water running into a stock tank earlier and oops! had apprently forgotten to turn it off. So out of the shower I hopped, dashed through the house wearing nary a stitch of clothing, out the back door (with a glance over at the neighboring barn to be sure they weren't there feeding the horses), and turned off the faucet (yes, the pasture was looking quite well watered, if unintentionally). In the country you can skip from shower to back yard without worrying about modesty. After all, the chickens and sheep don't care if you're running around in your birthday suit!

The dogs say, "Hey, aren't we going for like the umpteenth walk to the 'back 40' today?"

The Mules and Their BFL Friend Have Arrived!
And here for your viewing pleasure are my new sheep. Don't let their friendly looks fool you. They're wild as bucks! It's just that their desire for free handouts (hay) sometimes overwhelms their flight response. That's the BFL ram lamb (nicknamed "Tiny," lol) on the left. The dark-faced ewes are Clun Forest mules, and the white-faced ewes are North Country Cheviot mules.

A closer view, this time with GlenGrant the ram on the right.

With Laura's help, I sheared GlenGrant yesterday. It wasn't a beautiful job, but I'm sure just getting all that fleece off made him a much happier fellow. And, no, that's not a color spot on him, it's Blu-Kote. I never said I could shear perfectly, but we did get by with a minimum of bloodshed....

Personally I think the characteristic roman nose and blue-face of a BFL are better admired from afar, but just in case anyone prefers a close-up view, here it is.

When we sheared yesterday, we did so in a stall in the barn to be in the shade, since it was something like 88 or 89 degrees out. GlenGrant was not happy being alone with just two human females for company, so we brought the mules in to pacify him. They actually behaved like normal sheep, probably because they recognized that things could be much, much worse for them--I could be coming after them with my noisy shears. One of the Clun mules tried to eat Laura's shirt when she wasn't looking. It was probably this ewe, who is very nosy (as long as you don't look at her or move toward her or even think about doing anything to her).

A human behind a camera couldn't possibly pose any threat, so it's safe to come just a little bit closer....

The NCC mules. They are possibly even wilder than the Clun mules. And that's saying something.

Working Dogs

Remember Swift? Well, this is her littermate Simon. Yeah, you'd not guess it if you saw them together. Simon is cute isn't he? He's also a typical goofy boy dog of just over a year old. Did I say he was goofy? Understatement. He has learned pretty quickly to leave the chickens alone (in one sense anyway). The cats are another story, though I think JellyBean at least has put the fear of doG in him.

It looks like Lark might have some competition on the chicken herding front (note that Willow the Enforcer is going to make sure Simon doesn't do anything wrong):

At this point, Ms. Hen has had enough of Sir Simon and moves in for the peck, which I sadly did not get on camera. Poor Simon--can't get respect even from a lousy hen.

But once he's recovered from the indignity of it all, he's still pretty happy with life. Did I mention he's goofy?

So I have finally started on the re-education of Lark. And it actually has turned into the re-education of Phoebe too. After advice from several sources, I've decided to try to teach Lark to stand as a remedy to her clappiness. I don't know if it will successfully remedy her very strong desire to go to the pressure on a strong draw and hold there, but at least if I can teach her to stay on her feet, part of the battle will be won. So today we just worked on "stand!" She never quite got the concept on the fetch, but she was getting it on the drive and actually seemed to be relaxing into it by the end of our session today. I was keeping the work close and the work had an overall effect of slowing her down, which I don't want, but I mixed it up with some speedy stuff too, and I was really pleased with how quickly she caught on. Of course, there were a lot--a lot--of "Get up, stand" commands, which was a bit confusing for her, especially since she interprets "get up" to mean power up, as in drive on in hard, so it was like I was giving her opposite commands at the same time, but I think she's going to get it and hopefully it will help us with some other issues. I worked some on the stand on the fetch too, but she was having a harder time with that, and I didn't drill it because normally even if she claps on the fetch, she pretty much never sticks.

And that brings us to Phoebe. I have a confession to make here. In training Phoebe I had let my own training philosophy sort of fall by the wayside. I try to be a calm and quiet trainer. In fact, I was talking with a friend the other day who pointed that very thing out about my training style. As we discussed training philosophies, it occurred to me that I was my own worst enemy when it came to Phoebe. All this time I have let her push my buttons and I've reacted in a way I wouldn't with any other dog. I don't know if this is because I expect more from her because I know what she can do or if we just got into a head-butting contest without me really realizing it. I did know that what I was doing wasn't working. The harder I got on her, the harder she's pushed back. I was on my way to making a hard dog, I think. So after that recent conversation, I had an epiphany of sorts and decided I needed to change my attitude when working Miss Pheebs. No more getting annoyed or getting strident or getting loud. I had to get back to the kinder, gentler me. When she does something overtly silly, I just shake it off and maintain my even keel and calm attitude.

The result? I can already see her relaxing and little more and perhaps becoming more responsive. One big thing we have fought (and I mean fought) is the lie down. So today, since I had stand on the mind, I decided to work with her on a stand. And she loves it! She caught on quickly (of course it helps that she doesn't have Lark's automatic down, so I didn't have to start from getting her up and then asking for a stand) and was being much less hardheaded about things in general. Now I just have to see if we can maintain this newer, happier relationship and move forward from here.

I'm not working on anything in particular with Pip. I did a few outruns today and a little driving and tried to set up fetches and drives that were similar to what Laura and Nick were doing earlier to see how Pip responded in the same situation. Interestingly, he didn't want to come off the pressure in the same places where Nick was giving Laura trouble. It makes me think that while there is some disobedience going on (obviously), they must also be reading some pressure that we humans aren't seeing so clearly.

Linc worked really nicely today. I don't think it will be long before Laura can take him out on a pro-novice course.

I had Simon out in the round pen earlier this week and he showed me he doesn't need a round pen. So today I had him in the field with the dog broke hair sheep. There were some very yeeha! moments and some nice work. He reminded me of Twist as a young dog in that he wanted to work off to the side and control the lead sheep. He has a pretty good sense of balance and circles nicely in both directions. I couldn't send him very far on an outrun without him deciding to go straight up the middle, but if I was careful how I sent him, he went around nicely. He definitely showed me where I'll need to concentrate to start with. Today I saw a lot that was very unlike his littermate Swift. I'll be interested to see the parts where he is like her.

And now I must break out the bleach and go scrub a stock tank before dark.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nothing Clever Comes to Mind

Okay, so I haven't really been missing in action, not really. I've just been very bad about updating my life here. But I'm going to remedy that right now. And Laura, I promise (I think) not to go on too long. The easiest way to catch everyone up is just to go through the calendar by week, hitting just the high (or low) points, so here goes:

April 1-5: I drove to Sherry Smith's in Church Hill, MD, to set sheep for her spring trial. For once, it rained just one day of the three. Long days, lots of dogs, and I didn't really get to visit with anyone except Pam Gardner and Sherry Shelden, who came to Mohammed, so to speak. (Well, and Debbie Crowder who worked the pens and with whom I bunked and who was a delight to be around, as always.) I did run the young dogs on the last day, mostly disastrously. Only Pip made it around the nursery course. Phoebe stopped exactly once, on her outrun when I needed to redirect and was her usual freight train self the rest of the time, so I retired on the drive away. Lark ran in ranch and also retired on the drive away as she didn't want to let off the pressure and I was too absorbed in keeping a nice line instead of letting it drift a bit to save the run. Oh well, that's dog trialing.

April 6-12: Nothing much sticks in my mind for that week, though someone will probably remind me of something.... I did take 10 lambs to Chaudhry and got a decent price for them. I chatted with him for a bit and told him what my plans were for implementing a three-tier production system. He told me that if I could produce a nice uniform crop of lambs, he'd buy all that I had at a good price.

April 13-19: The bomb drops, and I was informed on Monday the 13th that as of Wednesday the 15th I was out of a job. Nothing like an advance warning so one can get affairs in order. I understand that there are vengeful people in this world, but I'd still like to think that those of us who have spent decades advancing our professional careers would be given the benefit of the doubt in such situations and given some notice so we can prepare. After all, how likely is it that I'm going to ruin years of making a professional name for myself just out of anger over losing a job? How incredibly stupid would that be? At least a got a small severance that will tide me over another month, but after that it's unemployment, and who knows how I'll pay the bills?

April 20-26: Phoebe had a second seizure in the early hours of Monday morning. She sleeps on the bed, so woke me pretty much instantaneously. So much for the hope that the original seizure was tied to her estrus cycle. This seizure was pretty much exactly a month after the first seizure, and according to all my vet sources, seizures that occur once a month or less don't need to be treated. So I'm just keeping my Phoebe journal and hoping things don't get worse. I plan to spay her, but that will now have to wait until my financial situation is a bit more stable.

Tom Forrestor came down on the 25th and sheared sheep for me and for Tony and Mary. I hadn't shorn the karakuls last fall so their fleeces were pretty worthless owing to the cotting/felting. I gave the tunis fleeces to Kelly's mom since she wants to learn the whole "sheep to shawl" process.

Sunday was lesson day here with Robin. I spent the morning running Tom around (he wanted to see the corriedales at Rising Meadow Farm around the corner), leaving Laura to do the sorting and holding for lessons.

April 27-May 3: I had to make plans to go up to the Howard County Fairgrounds Thursday evening to pick up my mule sheep and BFL ram. Yep, they were already paid for before losing my job, so there was nothing I could do but go get them. I stayed at Cathy Fiddler's place in Leesburg. It turns out she had been given tickets to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, so I had dinner Thursday night with her and a friend of hers and then she and I drove over to the fairgrounds to get my sheep. When we pulled up to the Lellis' trailer, the first words out of Mark's mouth were "I think the ram can jump out of that trailer." That's not what I needed to here. The trailer was one I borrowed from my former neighbor when I lived in Cedar Grove. He uses it to haul his goats, and surely if goats will stay in a sheep will too! No sooner had we loaded the ewes and ram then the ram stood up with his feet on the back gate, looking for all the world like he just might go over. We quickly threw them some alfalfa hay and hit the road, hoping the distraction of food and the movement of the vehicle would preclude any thoughts of ram suicide.

Since I had already made the trip up, I really wanted to stay and go back to the sheep and wool festival on Saturday. Cathy was going to be out of town and needed a house sitter, and so I did the house sitting. My new sheep stayed in her 60-foot round pen. They had never seen a dog before and weren't fond of humans. I thought in passing that it would be interesting catching them again, but well, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

I had planned to take the ram to Tom F's for shearing on Friday, but it rained Thursday night (and off and on for the rest of the weekend), so no joy there. I spent Saturday at the festival, ran into all sorts of friends, spent a good bit of time checking fleeces in for Joy at Ozark Carding Mill, and of course whizzing through the vendor halls. I didn't spend a whole lot of time with the vendors because I didn't really have any money to spend anyway. I also traded Swift back to Dan for her littermate Simon. I thought my Twist litter had some divergent looking pups, but you'd never guess that Swift and Simon were littermates just by looking at them. Simon is a saddleback tri, smooth-coated, prick eared dog. Swift is a rough-coated, white factored tri, though you really have to look to tell there's any tri there.

Of course it started pouring rain early Sunday morning. Cathy's round pen is at the bottom of a hill. I had spent a few minutes Saturday evening breaking the sheep with Twist. I at least got them to the point where they'd move off her, even if not calmly. The savior of the sheep snagging operation was the aluminum crook I had bought for Bob to give to Joy. It was about 6 feet long with a neck crook on one end and a leg cleek on the other. Picture a 60-foot round pen , with sheep who don't want to get within 20 feet of a human and who don't really know much about dogs except that it may be preferable to run into the dog's teeth than to get near the human. Those of you who know me also know that I'm not the most coordinated human on the planet, but I managed to snag one ewe with the crook as she passed me by at 60 mph. Triumphant, I loaded her on the trailer. I tried not to think about how it would get exponentially more difficult to catch sheep the fewer there were. In short order I had also managed to snag the ram (did I mention he's HUGE for a yearling?) by the neck---sitting back like a cow pony so he didn't jerk my arm out of the socket as he was making pretty good speed when he passed me (see, a pear shape does have its advantages!). He ducked his head and got loose. I realized the cleek might be a better option for him, and in short order had snagged him by the hind leg. Two down, and three to go.

At this point, I knew I was going to have to come up with a smarter method. Twist was exhausting herself trying to catch and hold sheep to me, and the pen was looking bigger as the number of sheep dwindled. I also worried about getting the trailer up the hill. So I decided to take my two prizes and haul them up to higher ground. I put the van in low gear and started climbing out. All was well till we hit the crest of the hill and then the van started to fishtail. A quick prayer and a little more gas, and we made it. Cathy's newly seeded field was only slightly rutted.

Now what to do about the remaining three ewes? I had talked to Cathy's office assistant Tracy the night before, and the poor woman had offered to help if I needed it, so I called her. She said she could be there in 30 minutes. A second dog might have helped, but not if that second dog was a youngster, so I nixed that idea pretty quickly. On the way back down to the round pen, I spied a metal fence panel from Cathy's hay feeder. I grabbed that up, along with some baling twine (a farmer's best friend) out of the hay room, and proceeded to tie that panel at a right angle to the inside of the round pen. I then took a short piece of field fence we had taken down to use for jerry-rigging a top for the trailer and tied that to the end of the fence panel, again with baling twine. Now all I needed was something to hold the other end of the wire vertical. I remembered seeing one of those shepherd's crook flower pot hangers in one of the sheds--it could double as a fence post to support the wire. While the ewes were moving off Twist better, they also could sense a trap and were bolting around me and the dog instead of going in (not to mention that Mark had told me the day before that they'd think nothing of jumping a fence). So time for Plan C. Cathy's hair sheep are a bit on the piggy side. So I grabbed a couple flakes of hay and threw them in the trap. Then I took Twist and rounded up the hair sheep and brought them into the round pen. They were leery of the trap too, but at least they were used to being worked by dogs. The ewes didn't want to join up with them, but with some patience I got the hair sheep in the pen, and then got the three ewes to follow. I grabbed the end of the wire and its makeshift fence post and closed the gap, effectively corralling all the sheep in a tiny space, fortunately with the sheep I wanted to the inside next to the solid round pen wall. I still had to use the crook to catch them, but I got them haltered (once you got your hands on these girls, they became amazingly cooperative) and tied them to the pen.

I sent Cathy's sheep back out and by then Tracy had arrived, so we led my three up to the trailer and hopped them on. Whew. All told it took a little over an hour. Twist and I were soaked (even though I was in a rain suit). But we got 'er done, with minimal trauma to any of us.

This week: I got my new sheep home and out in the paddock where they're quarantined. I need to shear the ram, but fortunately it's been cool and rainy, so he hasn't been suffering. It's drying off today, so I should be able to shear him tomorrow or Saturday.

I want to try Simon on sheep in the next day or so. I figured he could use a few days getting used to me and the routine here, but I am itching to see how he's like and different from Swift. He's definitely got that goofy, clueless adolescent male thing going on. And my own dogs could use some work too.

Job hunting is going slowly. This poor old dinosaur of a computer takes two minutes or more to download a page (even with high-speed access) and it's completely frustrating (as in blow-your-brains-out frustrating) to try and navigate around websites to do any job hunting. I ordered a new laptop, which was supposed to be here next week (and so I've been living with this agonzing process by telling myself "Just one more week"), but of course I just got an e-mail message saying my order is being delayed by a week. So I have no choice but to try and do it with this old clunker. If you hear gun shots coming from this direction, don't worry about me--it likely means I've reached the breaking point and put this piece o' crap out of its misery.

Sorry, I've gone on longer than I meant to. I'll post pictures of the new sheep as soon as I take some. One last item:

Reading Corner:
Currently reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch an In Hovering Flight, by, um, can't remember, and I think the book is out in the van, so will have to supply that information later.

That's all for now.