Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Changes in the Flock

What a difference a few months make.

After lambing season, the flock has almost doubled in size.

But the animals, too, undergo rapid changes in spring.

The ewes are almost shed out now.

(The above photo shows a shedding ewe. Hair sheep, like our Katahdins, shed their coats in spring. Wool sheep do not naturally shed and must be shorn.)

The mama ewes are also much thinner than they were a few months ago. Not only have they delivered lambs, but they've been nursing them and losing a lot of body fat.

Even our fat ewe, the one who sported a roll of fat around her neck, is looking trimmer. The neck roll is gone.

The lambs undergo rapid growth in their first few months of life.

The photo illustrates the difference between a 30-day-old lamb and 60-day-old lambs.

As the lambs graze more, they play less.

In  few months, the flock will look more uniform, and it will continue moving toward uniformity until the great change of spring next year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Llama Shearing

I begin with a sedated llama.

Then, I add the tools of the trade: leather gloves, hand shears, and a bucket for the fiber.

At the halfway point, Llambert the Llama awakes from his nap and studies the pile of fiber. I worry that I'd spent too much time talking to the vet and let the sedation wear off. Will we have a partially-shaved llama this year? Will the llama let me finish clipping if he's awake?

My worries are for naught. Llama sighs and goes back to sleep.

I take the opportunity to flip his 340-pound body. I now have the other side to clip.

I finish the other side quickly. It's not pretty. It's not professional. But how many people can say they spent their lunchtime shearing a llama?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Morning Walks

As the daylight hours increase and the temperatures soar, I find myself among wildlife on my early morning treks.

The nocturnal ones are grabbing a few more bites to eat before the sun rises higher in the sky. Others are just seeking the coolness of the morning.

One morning, I encountered a pheasant cock and hen among the drying rows of hay. I didn't stop, and neither did they.

On a bike ride, I rounded a corner and saw a mama raccoon and her three little ones -- including one that instinctively arched his back and hissed.

When walking the dogs this morning, the three Border collies stopped, raised their heads, perked their ears and looked into the distance. Gazing back were three deer, heads raised, ears perked.

Moments later, the dogs lowered their heads and put their noses to the ground; the deer resumed grazing; and I continued onward taking in the smells of drying hay and already feeling the sweat beading on my neck.

We all had business to attend to before the temperature soared to 90 degrees again.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Herding with Cats

When Dewey Kitty chased after the long line trailing the running dog,

And Trick the Cat lie in wait of the dog as it circled the sheep,

Caeli the Border Collie didn't lose focus.

She was circling the sheep as I had directed. She didn't care about cats on the practice field.

I, though, lost focus.

Laughing, I finally put Caeli in a down as I attempted to herd cats away from herding practice.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Bunny Battle

While mowing the last of the six pastures, I ponder the state of my garden.

Many of the tomato plants that I'd lovingly transplanted were now just twigs standing upright in the dirt.

"Rabbits," the nursery man said before presenting me with two options: metal cans or a gun.

I'd never seen a bunny set foot in the garden, though in addition to the tomato plants, I noticed tooth marks in my lettuce leaves. Apparently my bunny is neither a fan of beets nor spinach.

As I ponder this, a half-grown rabbit jumps out of the fence row and in front of the tractor.

I think nothing of it. Surely the bunny will circle back and return to the hay field. But as I make the turn for home, the bunny jumps back in front of the tractor.

He continues to do this, getting closer and closer to the barn.

But he doesn't go to the barn. Instead, he squeezes through a hole in the fence and finds safety in my garden.

(Author's note: No photos with this post. As the wabbits are wily and only coming out at night... I presume).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Tree-Hugging Hen

If I were choosing a place to sit for 21 days, I would not choose the roots of a tree.

I'd pick a cozy spot, with some straw or hay for cushion.

The hen chose the tree.

For 10 days, she's been depositing eggs in an indentation at the tree's base. Yesterday, she nestled in next to the tree bark. The nearby sapling conceals her, but I know she's there.

I marked the date on the calendar.

In 21 days, we'll see if her choice produces chicks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Woof, Woof, Black-Faced Dog

After spending three days at the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials, I was reminded of the beauty of the working dog.

These Border collies, because that's what most of them are, come in sizes ranging from 25 pounds to 55 pounds. Some have short coats. Some have rough, or long coats. Some are prick-eared. Others are floppy-eared. Many are black and white. Some, mostly black. Others black, tan and white. One or two might be red. A few more have a lot of white. Only one of the dozens was a blue merle.

All worked sheep. Because of this, most of their handlers cared little about their dogs' appearances.

Today, though, I left that working dog world and entered the rescue world, where I was evaluating a dog from a shelter. He was a mild-mannered boy, a nice mover, and had a nice disposition around people and other dogs. But he had a major strike against him. He had a black face.

In the pet world, black-faced dogs, no matter how mannerly, how sweet, how nice, are often passed over for adoption.

But after spending three days watching the beauty of the working dog, the dog that listened to its handler, that covered yards in seconds, that brought the sheep around the course, I'd become accustomed to looking at a dog, not a face.

I wanted to give this guy a chance. He's in rescue now, hoping someone will see him as a wonderful dog, not a black face.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When the Trickster disappears

Trick the Cat seldom wants physical attention.

A few strokes, every few days, suit him fine.

But he does demand to be the center of attention.

When I'm gardening, he's rolling around in the dirt.

During the days, he naps among the chickens.

He likes nothing more than to rub against the lambs and then entice them to follow him through the sheep paddock.

When I lunge the horses, he likes to lounge in the sand -- just feet from the horses' hooves.

When working dogs on the sheep, he sometimes lies in wait of the dogs. When they go by, he pounces them. Sometimes, though, he chooses the sheep for amusement. He likes to lie in their path and dare them to come close. They always veer to avoid him.

So, last evening, when Trick wasn't in his usual spots, I noticed. I've become accustomed to the Trickster.

For a few hours, he let me ponder about how he makes everyday chores a little more fun.

And because he's about fun, he returned to the back porch at dusk, safe and unharmed, and ready to play.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Llambert the Llama's Present to a Mama Ewe

In the early dawn hours, the ewes, the llama and all but one lamb slumber in the paddock.

The youngest ram lamb is wide awake and ready to play. Climbing atop a recumbent Llambert the Llama, the lamb strikes a pose before leaping and twisting into the air.

Lately, on clear nights, Llambert has been sleeping in the pasture, away from the lambs and ewes. Had he grown tired of the lambs using him as playground equipment? What made him choose the paddock for slumber last night? Did he know a ewe needed a break from her rambunctious ram lambs?

The lamb hops onto Llambert's back again and leaps again. Still, the other ewes and lamb snooze. None get up to join the lamb who climbs and leaps, climbs and leaps, into the slowly awakening morning.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Summer Scenes: The Gas Station on a Friday Night

"And so it comes to this," she says to him while sitting in a gas station parking lot on a Friday night.

They are surrounded by motorcycles, convertibles, minivans, and people, a dozen of more people, all eating ice cream.

Across the table -- one of two bolted to the asphalt -- a mother promises her three young children that their daddy is coming home tonight. She hands out ice cream cones and slushies to the children. When the toddler wails, the mother tells the daughter not to drink the slushie too fast or she'll get brain freeze.

A car pulls in, and the driver waves to two couples sitting at the other table.

Eyes turn when a diesel pickup truck rumbles into the lot, and one, two, three, four people tumble out of the front cab.

This little town, like many little towns across the Midwest, used to have a dairy bar, a place where people could gather and eat ice cream on summer nights.

The Dairy Bar, a white, wood-framed building, closed years ago. A few years ago, a food trailer set up shop in the gas station parking lot. Soon, the gas station parking lot became the summertime destination for ice cream and socializing on summer nights.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Do as I say, not as I do

On days when I don't have time to ride,

Which seems to happen too often in spring,

When the grass, the weeds, the garden is growing,

When the dogs have first priority on the work tab.

On those days, I've taken to working on the horses' ground manners.

For my spooky Lily, that means taking her on walks,

Around farm equipment, between trees, into tall grass.

When I spot a garter snake, in the grass, where I'm about to step,

I jump sideways into Lily.

Then, I laugh, and sigh, and keep walking.

Night Sounds in Early May

As I lie in bed, I am aware of the quiet.

It's that time of year when the windows are open, but the summer chorus of crickets, insects, bullfrogs and whirling fans has yet to arrive.

A lamb bleats, and a stretch of silence follows. Another bleat.

The ewes are not responding. They are bedded down for the night, tired after a day of grazing and nursing lambs. Most lambs nestle beside their mothers. But a few lambs aren't ready to settle in just yet.

They bleat their good-nights.

I fall asleep to "Good-night Kit. Good-night Kat. Good-night Milky Way."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

May Snow

It is the season of dandelion fluff and sheep fuzz.

The sheep are in full-shedding mode now.

Sometimes they leave their winter coats hanging on the fences.

But often, they leave their hair where it falls, among the clover and grasses.

The sight of a white patch in the pasture stops me. Is that a lamb out there? A stray cat?

Upon checking it out, I discover that it's just sheep fiber, the last bit of winter falling to the ground.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Power of Popsicle Sticks and Duct Tape

Lambs make me believe in myself and miracles.

When I saw a five-day old lamb running three-legged in the pasture last month, I was worried. A closer inspection indicated that her hind leg was broken.

I remembered a story that a dear friend told me years ago. She'd had a goose that broke its leg. Using Popsicle sticks and duct tape, she concocted a splint. Within weeks, the leg was healed and the goose went on to honk and harass for many more years.

Would that work with a five-day old lamb?

I had to give it a try. Using Popsicle sticks, cotton bandages and Vet-wrap, I splinted the lamb's hind leg. Then I waited and waited, hoped and wondered.

By week three, the lamb was running around the stall, ready to get out and explore the world.

I took off the splint and watched as the lamb took some tentative steps. By the next day, she was walking on it. A day later, she was ready to run with the other lambs.

I watch in amazement -- that the leg healed so quickly and that attempt at splinting worked.

PHOTO: The ewe lamb with the healed leg is shown with her mother. She ate well during her stall rest.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Good Pet and Bad Pet Awards

On random days, I award the Good Pet and Bad Pet awards.

While I don't keep records, Lily the Haflinger, Caeli the Border Collie, and Dewey Kitty usually win the Bad Pet award.

Though sometimes, they engage a herdmate or packmate in their antics.

This week, the horses won the Bad Pet Award before breakfast for multiple deeds. First, one of them rubbed the top of the cock condo open, thus releasing the rooster and starting a cock fight. Then, to ensure a win, one popped the gate off of its hinges. I imagine it was Lily, but I was irritated enough that I named both of them winners.

Sometimes, the Good Pet and Bad Pet awards are given on the same day. Last week, Caeli and Mickey, the two Border collies, won the Bad Pet awards after rolling in raccoon poo. Tag, the Border collie, then won the Good Pet award when he didn't roll in anything. Yes, doing nothing often results in a Good Pet award.

Sometimes, I can't decide whether to give a Good Pet or Bad Pet award. When Dewey Kitty brought a bird to the back porch, I pondered what award to give him. Seeing it was a starling made the decision easy.

And sometimes, the Good Pet award is just about timing. When I came home from work and needed to unwind, Dewey Kitty climbed into my lap, purred and went to sleep.