Friday, December 31, 2010

The Thaw

The Thaw means that Lily and Jet have better footing -- no more ice to slip on.
They celebrated that by racing around the paddock and rolling in the wet sand.
The only thing that would have made them happier would be running in the pastures. But that's not going to happen.
Photos: Lily and Jet after their romp around the paddock. There will be no bareback riding today!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What I Didn't See

Over Christmas break, I've been reading Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human. Last night, I read about how humans often miss visual details. Today, I put it in practice on the herding field. During the herding lesson, I sent Caeli, my Border collie, on an outrun to fetch 10 sheep who were eating hay in the middle of the field. My instructor and her dog were standing nearby to simulate a trial situation. When Caeli lifted, or moved, the sheep from the hay, I focused on Caeli -- that she responded to the down command and that she did not rush the sheep. My instructor told me to down the dog and then have her bring the sheep back to the hay. As Caeli was turning the sheep back toward the hay, I noticed three ewes eating hay. "Where'd they come from?" I asked. "They never left," she said. Apparently Caeli had only picked up some of the sheep, and I was too focused on the dog to notice.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas on the Farm

The husband and I usually spend Christmas on the road -- traveling to relatives for Christmas gatherings.
This year, we stayed home.
The weather was ideal -- in the high 20s with calm winds and snow on the ground.
After opening presents and eating breakfast, I worked the Border collie on sheep. Then, the husband and I took our two Border Collies and the two foster Border Collies for a walk around the farm.
We couldn't have given the dogs a better Christmas present. They loved chasing each other, hunting for field mice in the clumps of grass, and rolling in the snow.
The Christmas puppy did his best to keep up with the the pack.
But by the time we arrived home, he was tired and ready for a nap in front of the wood-burning stove. I followed his lead. After selecting from one of the many Christmas books, I curled up in a chair by the fire.
Later, friends came over and we enjoyed a variety of stouts and snacks and good company. It was a peaceful Christmas.
PHOTO: This is Ripley, the new foster pup. He enjoys romping in the snow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

An Unexpected Christmas Song

When my husband and I arrived home on Christmas Eve, it was almost midnight. The snow was falling, the air was still -- the weather I always hope for on a winter's night. Into this silence I walked with three exuberant dogs and a puppy. The yips stopped me. I was only 100 feet from the house, and the yips and barks seemed to be coming from the field in front of me, or, were they to the east? The chorus grew louder. Growls were added. How many coyotes were there? I envisioned twenty or more. But that's the thing about coyotes. They can throw their voices, and a few can sound like a pack. I wasn't taking chances, and called the dogs to me. We returned to the yard. The yipping subsided. At midnight, the snow was falling, the air was still. It was a silent night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Believe It or Not...

We have a new foster puppy for Christmas.
Ripley is a four-month-old, purebred Border collie, and the resident cats and dogs have informed me that he is NOT the present they envisioned for Christmas.
They cannot believe I brought home a puppy that will compete with them for attention, and a puppy that has to learn about proper dog-to-dog behavior.
But they are good sports. They realize that all critters appreciate having a home for Christmas... even if it is a temporary one.
The first photo is of Ripley. Hopefully I'll get better photos in the coming days.
The second photo is of Dewey, who likes to believe he's king of the household.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Grazing

Some vegetables -- like parsnips and brussel sprouts -- are better tasting after a blast of cold weather. Apparently some grasses are too. We've had snow on the ground for about a week now. But that doesn't mean the horses or sheep have stopped grazing. They're heading into the pastures, pawing the ground to clear the snow, and eating the green blades underneath. The fescue that they avoided in spring, summer and fall is their grass of choice. I wonder if, sitting under the snow, it's gained a sweetness and become more tender. The stock seem to think so.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Riding and Herding

Today I had to talk myself into horseback riding and sheep herding practice.
It's been weeks since I've ridden -- a combination of limited daylight hours, good weather and motivation. My winter horseback rule is that it must be in the 20s and little wind (which at our place is less than 10 mph). Sun also helps.
That happened today.
Yet I was unmotivated until I brought the horses in from the pasture. As I removed a few burrs from Jet's mane, I ran my hands over her thick coat. That was enough to motivate me.
I hacked Jet around for 15 minutes. She seemed to welcome the adventure. I took in the snow, the sun, the wind on my cheeks. Then I looked at Lily.
I decided to ride her bareback, then had second thoughts when I went to get on. I ate a lot of cookies yesterday and was wearing my heavy winter coat. But she stood quietly while I not-so-gracefully mounted.
Then, she happily went to work.
Apparently the horses are like me. They need a little nudging, and then are happy about the work once it's underway.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Longing for Daylight

I spent the past two days in a conference in downtown Columbus.
By Tuesday afternoon, I was longing to be outside, walking in the snow.
Apparently not everyone shared by longing.
The two gentlemen in front of me were discussing how they didn't plan to go outside until the temperature hit above freezing -- no time in the extended forecast.
The temperatures reached the low 20s today. The sun was shining. The wind was calm.
I took an extended lunch break and walked with the dogs. They delighted in rolling and wrestling in the snow and hunting field mice. I worked Caeli on sheep, and I watched the horses, snoozing in the snow and basking in the sun.
After an hour and a half, my cheeks were numb, but I was much happier.
PHOTOS: Some of the sheep gather around the hay feeder.
Mandy, the foster dog, hunts for mice in the snow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday Mornings

We don’t have access to cable, or county water, or daily newspaper delivery where we live. But on Sundays, we receive both the Dayton and New York Times newspapers. I have to trek a quarter of a mile down the lane to retrieve them. But that’s not much of an inconvenience for a chance to drink coffee, eat breakfast and read the paper. Except in the winter when the wind is blowing and the temperatures fall below freezing. Then, the left side of my face is numb by the time I reach the roadway where the papers lie in blue pastic bags at the end of the driveway. Yesterday, I was rewarded for my efforts with no papers. In the early dawn, I shuffled my feet around in the snow, but could find no paper. Apparently the newspaper delivery driver and I have different expectations for the time of delivery. So, the dogs and I walked back toward the house. I stopped periodically to turn and look for headlights of the delivery driver. They came as I reached the front yard. So I turned and made a second trek down the driveway for the newspaper.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Pet-Proof Tree

If I wanted to love my pets during the holiday season, I could not have a traditional tree.
The dog could view some of those ornaments as chew toys. Dewey Kitty would see those ornaments as toys ripe for plucking.
Last year, we blocked the tree with a four-foot pen -- effective but not attractive.
This year, I opted for the natural tree. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I picked pine cones. After washing them and roasting them in the oven (to kill bugs), I sprayed them with glitter.
Then, after stringing lights around the tree, I tied the pine cones on with tan and red ribbons.
After a week, the cats have batted at the pine cones, but have only pulled off one cone. The dogs have left it alone.
It's a simple tree, but it seems quite comfortable in an old farmhouse.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Split Flock

When a ewe splits from the flock, my instinct is to: 1.Panic 2.Reunite the ewe with the flock. I have to learn to ignore my instinct. Sheep are herd animals. When split from the flock, they're nervous. If I panic, then we have a nervous sheep and person on the field. The dog is going to react by trying to take control of the situation -- and in her frenzy, she could grip or bite the sheep. Because the lone sheep is nervous, she's going to be hard to move. Therefore, I need to bring the rest of the flock to her. When working the new group of sheep on Thursday, I had lots of practice on reacting to split flocks. The seven sheep weren't working as a flock and would split. I had Caeli lying down while I thought of how to redirect. By Friday, they were working as a flock. I'll use this same group again today for a morning practice before turning them back with the big flock. Who knows what the next group will teach me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Matron, Newcomer, Three Virgins, and Two Lambs

Sometimes the sheep dictate the practice. At this time of year, I choose the practice flock randomly. Usually, it's the last group to the barn. In yesterday's case, it was the group that was leaving the barn and heading out to pasture. I shut the gate after several had gone through. The practice group was the Eclectic Seven. They included: The Matron-- the oldest ewe. She's been worked a few times by the dog and is a leader. I didn't see a problem with her. The Newcomer -- an adult ewe who'd never been worked by the dog. She'd be a challenge, but I hoped she'd follow the Matron. Three Virgins -- three of the practice ewes I'd used during the summer and fall. By fall, the Virgins had learned that if they came to me, I'd keep the dog from them. So, when I sent Caeli to fetch, they often came running to me before she reached them. At least they knew the routine, I thought. The Lambs -- I had a bottle lamb, who was people friendly but still followed the flock, and an unpredictable other lamb. When Caeli fetched them, the flock split. The Three Virgins moved toward me, then, realizing the others weren't following, stopped. The other four wanted to move toward the barn and the safety of the larger flock. I was going to practice: 1) Staying calm. 2) Putting Caeli in a down position while I figured out how to reunite the flock.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When the temperatures drop

The stack of hay in the barn is shrinking quickly now. When the temperatures are in the 30 and 40s, the sheep and horses pick through the hay, selecting the best pieces and leaving the undesirable ones behind as they mosey to the pastures and fence rows to find some bits of grass. The chickens eat the scratch grain and pick at the laying mix before searching the pastures for better choices. When the temperatures are in the teens and low 20s, the sheep and horses eat all of the hay. The chickens love the laying mix. The food requirements for all of the animals goes up. The Border collies, though, seem unaware that temperatures, as well as wind speeds, are in the teens. They look at me, asking, "Why aren't we going on a trek around the farm?"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A New Favorite

Over Thanksgiving, my sister was showing off her new boots. They were pointy-toed, had heels and fringe. I'm loving my new boots -- but not wearing them to family gatherings. My Muck boots are warm, waterproof and lightweight. I can slosh through mud in them and spay them off. I can chase the Border collie and sheep while wearing them. They're keeping my feet warm in the sub-freezing temperatures this week.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Pullet Egg

It shouldn't have been a surprise. I'd been checking the floors and nesting boxes of the young hen house for about a month now. I've been telling the pullets that it's about time. The pullets and cockerels are about 6 1/2 months old. The Buckeyes are a slow-maturing breed. While some egg-specialist breeds start laying eggs at 5 months, if not before, the Buckeyes take a little longer. We hatched this group a little later in the spring than we usually do, and I wondered if they would lay at all in December. My older hens lay few eggs during the shortest days of the year and then pick back up in late January. I was surprised when I stepped into the hen house on a cold, snowy Sunday morning and almost crushed it: a small brown egg nestled in the sawdust on the floor.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wood Cutting

During the past several years, the spouse and I spent many fall weekends in the woods. The goal was always to have a year's supply of wood dried, split and stacked in the shed.
With him working 60+ hour weeks this year, we had wood for this year, but none for next year.
That was until last weekend's wood-cutting extravaganza. A friend, a brother and a father joined us for a day in the woods.
As chainsaws buzzed, I drove the tractor and wagon through the woods and collected logs. By day's end, we had enough for a wood-splitting extravaganza. That is to come at a future date.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

For my Birthday

Mother Nature gave me snow. They were the first snowflakes of the season, and I welcomed them with an open tongue. Dewey Kitty also gave me snow. He shredded yet another toilet paper roll, and I welcomed it like snow in April.