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:
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.