Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Winter afternoon break

I had a story to write, and another to edit.

A friend wanted a letter of recommendation.

I needed to renew my driver's license.

But the sun was shining after three days of rain.

The first snow of the season was melting.

A break would be good for the soul.

Mickey, the Border Collie, didn't mind.

Even if it meant rough-going through the snow, the puddles, the mud.

When she was finished, she was content to rest.

And, I was content to go back to work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chicken Snatching

In the pre-dawn hours, I delivered 13 chickens to the poultry processing house. As I was transferring the hens from a dog crate to a chicken crate, a hen escaped.

Being a chicken, she ran toward the light in the building rather into the darkness of the parking lot and open fields.

The worker looked toward the hen and then at a chicken hook -- a four-foot metal pole with a hook on the end. That's what I use to catch chickens. If I can hook her foot, then I can get close enough to grab the bird.

He opted not to use the hook.

Instead he walked sideways toward the hen. When within a few feet, his arm shot from his side like a snake's tongue. He grabbed the hen by the leg, swung her off the ground and deposited her in the crate.

Neither the hen nor I said a thing.

I want to learn the fine art of chicken snatching. I will practice, once it stops raining and isn't so muddy. When I get good, I will move on to the art of fly snatching.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Afternoon Eyes

I was late getting home. As I walked from the garage to the house, I felt the eyes.

The familiar set of Border Collie eyes stared at me from the bathroom window. But on this day, they were joined by the hungry eyes of the caramel-colored cat. I was 90 minutes late for his dinner.

In the paddock were two sets of Haflinger eyes that were anxious to get to the pasture and scout out some grass.

In the young chicken yard, pullets and cockerels tilted their heads and gave me the one-eyed stare. Was I going to pluck dandelion greens for them today?

Debating sheep eyes peered at me from the side pasture. Should they trek to the front pasture or wait for me to open the gate to the lush five-acre field? The llama extended his head above the fence to observe me so that he could weigh in on that decision.

I hurried inside and changed into barn clothes. Feeding time would soften those eyes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Power of Water

Years ago, when I was novice to animal husbandry, a friend taught me about the power of water.

Have a barking dog? A bucket of water will make them stop.

Have a Border collie showing an interest in cars? There's nothing like a bucket of water to dissuade her.

When the ram developed an interest in ramming, which rams are prone to do, I turned to the bucket of water.

This guy doesn't miss an opportunity to charge. So, I've made it a point to avoid going into his pen except to give him hay and water. When I enter the pen, I always have a bucket of water. If he charges, I toss it on him. After getting soaked a dozen times, he learned to give me my space.

But an open pasture changes things.

Being a kind-hearted person, I decided to bring the ewes and ram in from the pasture when I saw an approaching storm.

He challenged that decision.

As he approached me, I held out the bucket of water.

He gave me space as I walked backwards toward the barn.

Then, he charged the bucket.

We both got soaked.

He stood and licked his lips, pondering another charge.

I used my "don't-you-think-about-it" growl. That made him pause and bought me a few more steps.

He charged again and was rewarded with the last few drops of water.

By then, I was to the barn and safety. Though, I was wet and cold and counting the days until the end of breeding season and his trip to the butcher shop.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Llama Lessons

When I moved Llambert the Llama into the unused ram pen, I didn't notice the water bucket.

Neither did he. Until he stepped in it.

Then, he refused to take one more step into the stall.

I put a rope around his neck.

He planted his feet and stretched his neck, and I learned how long a llama neck is.

With a horse, a turn of the neck is enough to force them to take a step to re-balance. A llama neck bends and contorts, and the feet stay planted.

I gave his rump a push. His 340-pound body didn't budge.

Sighing, I opened the horse stall door and put his grain in there. His neck swung around to sniff the grain, and the feet followed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Kind Gesture?

The husband says he feels sorry for the ewes. "It's raining and they have no shelter."

I point to the horses who could go into the barn. Instead, they are grazing in the pasture. Their coats are soaked from the rain.

"They have a choice," he says.

When I saw heavy rains in the forecast, I brought the ram and ewes in from the far pasture. For the past several weeks, we've had two separate flocks of sheep: the ones used for breeding and the lambs and a few others that I'm using for herding practice. The lamb group I see several times a day. The ewes and ram group I see from a distance when I bring them a fresh bucket of water.

The other night, I got a close-up view of the ewes and ram. They've all been eating for three, or maybe four. Without a dog working them around the pastures, they haven't been getting enough exercise. In other words, they're fat.

They enjoyed the shelter for the night.

The next day, I took the Border collie to their pasture and worked them.

They said they don't mind the rain so much.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Wood Cutting

As I repeatedly carry logs the 24 steps from the downed tree to the wagon, I imagine carrying split wood the 32 steps from the wood shed to the house in winter.

I calculate how many trips equals one heating day. That's a tricky calculation. To heat a house in November, I only need four armloads of wood. In January, the number jumps to eight.

I notice the path that my numerous log-carrying trips make in the woods. It's a winding path that curves around trees and briar bushes. By day's end, the leaves are flattened and it is well-worn.

I listen to the roar of the chainsaw and wonder if the squirrels, deer, raccoons and other wildlife are disturbed by the rumble. Do they find my whistling equally disturbing?

I think how easily poison ivy oils can attach to the skin, even though I wear jeans, long-sleeved shirt, hat and gloves.

As I feel the sun, and listen to the leaves, and breathe in the fall air, and feel the sweat trickle down my back, I am thankful for the time to work and wonder.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Working with It

I've renamed my old Border collie, Saint Mickey.

Mickey's a nine-year-old who recently retired from open, or the highest level of Border collie competition. Up until six weeks ago, she was being handled by a 20-year veteran of sheepdog herding.

Now, she has me as my handler.

Her new job is to make me a better sheepdog handler. She takes it quite seriously.

She does what I ask -- even if it's wrong. If I say "Come bye" when I mean "away," she goes "come bye," or clockwise. If I forget to say "down," she continues circling the sheep.

Now, she's mastering my whistling.

When a dog is working at a distance or if it's windy, she often can't hear voice commands as well as whistle commands. Also, whistles are more precise and carry less emotion than the voice.

I've been practicing whistling in the car for several months.

"You've got to go out in the field and use them," my instructor says. "The dog will learn to adjust."

Mickey is still tuned into her previous handler's whistles. At the trial this past weekend, her ears perked up when she heard her previous handler whistling to another dog.

But Mickey is also tuning into mine and learning them.

My whistles still sound like an adolescent rooster at times. Sometimes the tone is bad. But Mickey is trying her darndest to learn them and follow them.

And I'm continuing to call her a saint.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dear Hens

I thought we had a deal.

I provide you with grain, water, and tasty treats like apple cores, potato peelings, and garden leftovers. Rather than keeping you cooped up, I allow you to roam the pastures and investigate the barn.

In return, I want eggs.

There are 14 of you. I think it's reasonable to expect more than one egg a day.

You say it gets dark early. That it's cold. That you want to hibernate.

So do I. But I still feed you, provide you with fresh water, keep you safe from predators.

Lately, though, I've been dreaming of chicken soup.

You may want to have a meeting.

Surely you could double your production, maybe triple it.

Then, I could dream of egg drop soup.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cat Language

I am learning the difference between "toss the milk cap" and "I want a hug."

When I'm working at my desk, Dewey Kitty often taps his front paw on my thigh. When he was a kitty, that always meant he wanted a hug.

I'd pick him up and hold him tight against me. After five seconds, he'd hop down and proceed to torment Louie.

Now two, Dewey still likes his hugs. They're still usually short. Though sometimes, if I've been gone a lot or it's cold, he may want one that lasts a minute.

But in the past week, he's taken up a new game: fetch.

He brings a milk cap to me and taps my thigh. I toss the cap. He hunts it and brings it back to me. The game requires more attention on my part.

I must learn to look for the cap. This weekend, I mistook the tap as "I want a hug." He squealed and squirmed. Once I put him down, he tapped me again.

I spotted the cap and tossed it.

A tap and a milk cap means fetch. A tap and no milk cap means hug.