Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A River Runs Over It, No More?

The upside of a long lane? Privacy.

The downside? Keeping it passable.

Several times this year, our driveway looked likes this.

A waterway, located about 100 yards in front of our house, collects water that runs off fields after heavy rainfalls. Three culverts running under our driveway allow the water to pass.

When we moved to the farm nearly 20 years ago, that's what usually happened. Once in the first five years, the rain fell so quickly that water filled the waterway and poured over the driveway. In the process, it washed away gravel and deposited cornstalks in and around the driveway.

For the past several years, the water has come up and over the driveway several times a year.

What's caused it? Most likely a number of reasons. Heavy rainfalls have become more frequent. Fewer fence rows and frequent plowing means the farm land is less able to quickly soak up the water. Thus, it runs off the fields to waterways, ditches, streams and rivers.

When a waterway in front of our house was being repaired this fall, we had a decision to make: keep replacing gravel and removing cornstalks, or put in a larger culvert that will allow even more water to pass under the driveway.

We opted for a big culvert.

So our driveway was closed for a few days while the area was dug out, a crane was brought in, and a new culvert installed.

When the heavy rains come, we're hoping the river runs through it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Rookie at the National Sheepdog Finals

Jack at the shed. Photo courtesy of Beth Murray.

When Jack arrived from Texas last summer, I never envisioned qualifying him for the USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals. Instead, I was hoping to have a nice open dog for competition and a dog that would help me improve my handling skills.

We traveled to trials in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Wisconsin and Virginia. We had sheep escape during the fetch; we missed drive panels; we were disqualified during a shed; and we timed out at the pen. Sometimes we completed the course, and sometimes we didn't. Over time though, we got better, and every once in a while, we were able to pull all the elements together and place. By this summer's end, we'd earned enough points to qualify for the National Finals in Virginia.

One hundred and fifty dogs from across the United States and Canada are accepted into the Finals--and the handlers' list reads like a Who's Who of the sheepdog world. They returned to the Finals year after year. I was a rookie, making my first appearance.

Running on the last day of the four-day preliminary round gave me lots of time to think about this. Over the first three days, I saw sheep escapes from the course, missed drive panels, disqualifications at the shed and timing out at the pen. I also witnessed dogs and handlers working together to move the four sheep skillfully around the course.

A friend and I made two visits to the practice field to take the edge off me and my dog. During the second work, she told me to fetch the sheep and then whistle Jack counter-clockwise around the sheep.

"You're going to need that," she said. During the fetch, many groups wanted to run toward the exhaust--and most handlers were giving quick "away-to-me" commands to stop them. It did little to settle my nerves.

The crowds didn't help. At most dog trials, the only spectators are the other handlers and a few friends. At the Nationals, hundreds of people attend and watch. Sunny September weather brought them out in droves.

Self-doubt set in. Would I be able to keep the sheep on course? Would I make a rookie mistake on the field? As my turn approached, I went to the car to get my dog, whistles and crook. Jack, a 9-year-old who'd run in many big trials, went into pre-run warm-ups: rolling in the grass, whining and sidling up to me. He was ready.

Like that, I forgot about the crowds and that this was the National Finals. Taking a few deep breaths, I petted him and reminded myself that this was just another dog trial. A sense of calm overtook me, and we walked to the post. As Jack swung out into an arc, it became just me, my dog and four sheep who were bolting toward the exhaust.

I gave my away whistle. Jack swung around to stop them. Usually that's enough to change their minds, but these sheep were determined to escape. I was determined to keep them on course. Pretty lines went to the wayside. Jack moved like a cutting horse, zigging and zagging to hold them onto the course. Somehow we got the sheep around the post and through the first drive panel. I was slow to give a flank in front of the second drive panel, and the sheep dipped low, missing the panel.

As Jack moved the sheep to the shedding ring, I glanced at the clock. Eight minutes had passed, and we had three minutes left to split two from the group, re-gather and put them in the pen.

Still inexperienced at shedding, I take time to position myself in the ring and set up the shed. We split the two and I send Jack to re-gather the group.

I have one minute to pen--and complete confidence in my dog.

With steady movement and a few flanks, we guide the sheep into the pen, and I shut the gate.

We'd done it. It wasn't pretty, and the 114 score wouldn't be high enough to move onto the next round, but we'd completed the course at the National Finals--and I was ready to try that again.

After my preliminary run was over, I had time to really watch and enjoy the
Finals--and take photos.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Year of the Rooster

Blame it on the sheep minerals. This past winter, I was standing in line at the hardware store to pay for the minerals and saw the flyer for Chick Days.

There were photos of Buckeyes, Buff Orphingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds and more. Usually we incubate our Buckeye chicken eggs. But here was a chance to get Buckeye chicks and maybe even try another chicken breed.

I left the hardware store with a mineral tub and an order receipt for 18 Buckeye and 6 Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks, straight run.

When ordering chicks, you can order all females, all males or straight run. With the heavier or rarer chicken breeds, buyers are only offered straight run, or as hatched. That's what we were offered, so we’d have a mix of roosters and hens.

The Silver Wyandotte rooster distinguished himself first. At  nine weeks old, his red comb was larger than the hens and he challenged the other chickens. A few weeks later, he attempted to crow.

“The Wyandottes must mature faster than the Buckeyes,” I mused as I scanned the flock, trying to pick out the young Buckeye roosters, who had yet to grow long tail feathers and to crow.

A few weeks ago, the Wyandotte rooster went to a friend's farm, and the noises from the chicken house ceased.

The chickens are four months old now—and none crow. They all look alike.

“I don’t think we got a straight run,” I tell my husband. 

In the Year of the Rooster, we have no roosters.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Problem Child

With dogs, sheep, horses, chickens, a llama and cats, finding a house sitter can be a challenge.

When  leaving for vacation, I write detailed instructions for the house sitter, noting which dogs are snarky with each other and which horse is the master escape artist.

I worry about Raven, the Border collie, not coming when called; and about Lily, the Haflinger, being pushy.

The care list for the sheep, llama, horses, chickens, dogs and cats goes on for two pages.

But when we left on vacation, I never anticipated Dewey Kitty being the problem child.

On the second day of vacation, we received a text about Dewey Kitty opening the bedroom door and pouncing on the house sitter in the night. She reported she was putting a chair by the door so that he couldn't come in. Instead, he threw himself against the closed door at  night.

The next message reported Dewey Kitty darting outside in the middle of the night and not coming when called.

And then of him ringing the bell by the back door, asking to be let out. When the house sitter opened the door, he looked outside and then walked to the dining room.

In just days, Dewey Kitty had gone from being a sweet, smart cat to a royal pain. When we returned home, the house sitter was giving Dewey Kitty the evil eye. Dewey was plotting how he'd steal her lunch.

With us home, Dewey settled into his routine.

And the house sitter sought revenge. I received this cat video from her.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Llambert Finally Gets a Haircut

A bent pair of hand shears meant I missed llama shearing last year--and that Llambert the Llama's coat was extra long and luxurious this spring.

In years past, llama shearing coincided with the vet's visit. The vet sedates the llama, vaccinates the horses and then trims Llambert's feet. While the llama is sedated, I give him a haircut.

But this year, I was early or the vet was late, and I found myself in the barn, shears in hand. Tying Llamber to a post, I turned up the radio and began trimming. Listening to the swish, swish of shears, Billy Joel and the falling rain, I thought how relaxing it was to trim the llama.

Ten minutes passed, and I assessed my progress. Llambert had an 18 x 18-inch bare spot.

This could take some time.

Trimming the llama while he is standing leads to a bit neater look--and I pondered if there was a standard hair cut for llamas. Or, should I give him a poodle cut? If I skipped his legs, would he look goofy? And, what about that neck hair? Does he need it?

Finishing one side, I moved to the other, and I no longer paid attention to the rain, or the swish, or my progress. Instead, I pondered llama-shearing elbow--and if I should research llama haircuts--and if he'd benefit from neck hair.

Certainly, he needs neck hair.

Besides, the bucket was full of llama fiber.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lamb TV

To create an attention-grabbing scene, start with lambs, green grass and sunshine.

When working outside this weekend, I let the two ewes and four lambs into the yard to graze.

All work stopped as I watched the one-week-old lambs zoom around the pasture and leap into the air.

But, I'm not the only one who whiles away the hours watching Lamb TV.

When I stepped into the barn this morning, I discovered the barn cats, too, indulge in this pleasure.

Trick the Cat opts for a balcony seat and observes the goings-on from his straw bale.

Leslie the Cat chooses a front row seat in the lamb pen where the lambs give her a good sniff before showing off their dance moves.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

State of Wonder

In her first day, the lamb learns how to nurse, tests her jump moves and watches her mom for signs of danger. She mouths hay and dunks her nose in the water. In the evening, she snuggles up to her sister for a nap.

This is our 11th lambing season, and I still find myself drawn to the barn and filled with a sense of wonder.

For the first time this year, we have a lamb with a distinguished sock.
Did it come from his paternal side? Or was there some gene on his maternal side, slumbering for generations and just now showing itself?

Or did he know that he'd enter this world on a Monday when mismatched socks sometimes happen?

I think I'll call him Monday.