Saturday, June 15, 2019

There's Always That One

The pullet flock was happy to go outside this week.

The 8-week-old pullets are too big to confine in their pullet house, and too small to free range with the six adult hens.

So, my solution was, as it frequently is, to add more fencing.

Knowing they will be adult size in a few months, I went for the quick method, building a temporary fence around their pullet house. It allowed them to go outside, but kept the adult hens out.

Experience has taught me that not all my solutions are brilliant, and not all work. Erring on the side of caution, I kept the adult hens confined to the hen house on Wednesday and then let the pullets outside.

By day's end, three pullets were too chicken to go outside; five were enjoying their new digs; and five had proven that they were like mice, and able to squeeze through my fence.

I spent the evening catching pullets, and the following day planning for a grander temporary fence.

On Friday, I made a second attempt at pullet confinement. After completing the fence, I let the pullets outside. Within minutes all were outside, scratching for bugs and plucking weeds. At day's end, 12 pullets returned to their house and roosted.

And then there was this one, a Cuckoo Maran, who was in the sheep pasture, cooing, "Don't fence me in."

I wasn't going to argue with her.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Why it Pays to Look Down

The first time I spotted a killdeer's nest in the driveway. I noted its location, went to get my camera and could not find the nest again.

This spring, I've spent a considerably time looking down. In early spring, with hay supplies running low, I looked for signs of green grass. Now, that the sheep and horses are grazing pastures, I'm still looking down.

A wet spring means that many alfalfa stands were damaged, and I've yet to see a hay field cut in our area. I'm evaluating pastures, adjusting forage plans and looking down.

I still don't know how I spotted it among the clover, grass and weeds. Maybe it was the bit of brown among the lush green. But I stopped and looked closer.

And, I found a red-winged blackbird's nest and recently hatched chicks.

I crouched down for closer inspection and a photograph.

The mama flew overhead, squawking her disapproval.

Standing up and looking across the acres of grass, I told her, "Don't worry. I'll never find it again."

Monday, May 6, 2019

Small Victories

In herding, as in life, it's best to savor those magical moments and small victories.

This winter and spring have been marked by walking with dogs, in biting winds and rain, over rough, frozen ground and through mud.

I've been walking my young dog who is recovering from a leg injury. And, I've been walking with Emma, my open trial dog, as she drives, or pushes, the sheep around the fields.

Emma is not a natural driving dog. She'd rather gather the sheep and bring them to me. But driving is a useful skill, and a necessary one in competitions.

So, I've been trying to build her confidence by walking with her, and I've been trying to make it more exciting by driving the sheep to a fence where she can hold them there.

All those hours of training and miles of walking paid off at the sheepdog trial this weekend when she brought the sheep to me, turned the post, and trotted off, pushing the sheep toward the panels.

She had more confidence, and I seemed to finally have the timing of asking for little stops, flanks and walk-ups along the way. With just little adjustments here and there, we kept those sheep walking in a straight line and through the panels. When she completed her drive, Emma and I maneuvered those sheep right into the pen.

While we bobbled on other parts of the course, and still have lots of shedding work to do, I considered the weekend a success, and savored those small victories.

I savored a big victory too. For the first time, I scored a 30-point drive.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Reminder

While mowing, the red cones caught my eye.

And, I found myself wondering how I'd lived on the farm for 20-some years and never stopped to admire the pine tree in spring.

Spring is like that. Nature bursts in bloom and song and warm breezes, and I jump into action: cleaning barns, mowing, and all those other chores that have been waiting for warmer days.

But those red cones reminded me to stop and admire the flowers.

From the bulbs I've planted over the years.

To the wildflowers that pop up throughout the yard.

Sometimes I need a reminder to stop and enjoy what is around me, to spend some time on the back porch, reading, watching the lambs prong in the pastures, the cats stalking each other in the yard and the birds belting out their best tunes. Sometimes it takes red pine cones in spring to do that.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Littlest Lamb

Our first lamb of spring was the smallest born on the farm, and I never expected her to live. She was half the size of her sister and could barely reach her mom's udder.

Twice a day I gave her a shot of Nutri-Drench, which gave her some extra calories and minerals. But, I never offered her a bottle. She was nursing and her mother was accepting her.

Every day, that little lamb peered out from behind her mother, letting me know she was still there.

While the other lambs packed on the pounds, she added ounces.

Now, 5 weeks after her birth, the cat still outweighs her.

But, she is eating, drinking and exploring--and it's time to move out of the barn. So this weekend, she, her sister and mom are moving from the barn and joining the rest of the flock.

I think she'll do just fine.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Goodbye Jack

Jack arrived in the summer of 2016 when I was struggling to figure out sheepdog herding.

He was 8 and knew so much more about sheep and dog trialing than me.

In those first six months, I watched in awe as he gathered sheep and moved them around a trial course.

Eventually, though, I learned to become a participant, and we became a team. We started placing in trials.

And, in a storybook moment, Jack and I tied for first with Kay (his former owner and trainer) and his son, Bubba.

We qualified and went to the National Finals in Virginia in 2017.

I kept plugging away at learning more about sheepdog herding, and I started relaxing a bit and having fun.

Jack kept showing up at ever trial, finding the sheep and maneuvering them around the field. I called him my Steady Eddy.

When he qualified for the 2018 National Finals in California, both my friend Kay and my husband encouraged me to go. Jack was 10 then. His hearing wasn't as sharp and he was slowing down.

I went, driving across the country with him and two other dogs.

Although I'd retired Jack from competition last fall, I still used him as a farm dog, I could count on him to move sheep quietly and assertively, even in tricky situations.

This lamb somehow got a bucket around his midsection. Jack quietly walked the flock into a corner where I could catch the lamb and remove the bucket.

Some of my favorite times with Jack were visiting his home place in Texas and working Rambouillet ewes and lambs.

On his final visit to Texas a few months ago, we needed to move some sick sheep around a pond and to the barn. My friend Kay suggested we use Jack for the task.

"You do it, and I'll handle the gates," I said.

Just like that, Jack went back to work for her and I watched in awe as he walked the sheep toward the gate. When one ewe turned her head to the left, he quietly, instinctively, took a half step to the left, and that was that. The ewe continued forward and through the gate.

Throughout the winter, Jack kept working sheep, and I made plans for spring. Maybe we'd do a trial on a smaller field. Maybe I'd use him to set out sheep at a trial.

But that wasn't meant to be.

On Saturday morning, he stumbled out of his crate and just wasn't himself. His gums her pale and cold. A trip to the vet revealed a large tumor on his spleen, and he was bleeding internally.

And so I said good-bye to Jack, the best sheepdog I've ever had.

Jack's puppy picture.

Jack and Emma staring at the cat.

Thank you Beth Murray and Patti Sumner for the photos, and thank you Kay for giving me such a great dog.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Square Meals and Round Bowls

The dogs that run get the round bowls; the one on crate rest gets the square mat.

Sometimes this sheepdog thing doesn't go as planned. Sometimes a fence gets in the way of a very fast dog.

Over Thanksgiving, Gael, the young dog hit a fence during playtime and broke her femur and tore a knee ligament. After undergoing surgery for the broken femur, she had knee surgery last month. So, I've spent most of this winter rehabbing a dog, going on many long, slow dog walks, and acutely feeling the wind, the rain, the mud and the bitter cold.

But, if there is a bright side, it's that Gael may be the best patient ever. She's rather patient and compliant about heating, icing and massage, and seldom complains about her confinement.

Maybe it's because she can't read, and doesn't know that she has at least six more weeks of rehab.

Or maybe, she's quite happy about being fed out of Kongs and snuffle mats, rather than bowls.