Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Clean-Up Crew

The raccoon was lying dead on the road near our driveway Friday morning.

The clean-up crew arrived Saturday afternoon.

There were 14 in all -- quite a large number for one raccoon.

One worked on the raccoon; four hovered a few feet away; and nine mingled in the driveway.

As I approached with the dogs, the ones in the driveway took flight first, flapping their wings and lumbering into the air. They circled, waiting for me to pass.

Turkey vultures are not graceful flyers, but who am I to criticize? They do the job that none of us want to do.

And then they leave, forgotten about until they are needed again.

As I watched them, I realized I knew little about these birds -- where they nested, if they hung out in groups. So I consulted my favorite bird website, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds, to learn more about the birds that came to clean up yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Roosters' New Home

"How'd you get all the bruises on your legs?" the husband asks.
"Grrr..." I say. "Those roosters."

This year's roosters rank No. 3 on the Most-Aggressive-Roosters-Ever List -- behind Andy the Barred Rock who terrorized me as a child (had to carry a rolled newspaper with me when I fed the chickens. He met his demise days after attacking my father.); and then there was Uckhead, a Golden Comet, who arrived with our first batch of chickens on the farm. His spurs were so sharp that they cut my jeans.

But the problem with this year's roosters is that there are two--and they double team us. Many days I've found myself facing two roosters and fending off one with my left foot and the other with my right. And they're agile, moving through the pipe gates from one paddock to the other.

We keep sticks at the gate entrances, but sometimes I don't grab one if the roosters are off in another paddock. I regret it moments later, when they come attacking.

And, so after months of being terrorized by roosters, I moved them to their new homes.

"It's only temporary," I tell them, circling July 1 on the calendar.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Border Collies' First Modeling Gig

Raven and Mickey had their first modeling gig today--and I discovered I'm not a good stage mom.

Oh yeah, I tried doing the endless brushing at six in the morning. But I found myself saying, "They won't see the mud stains on your belly."

I had no raincoats to put on them for their morning walk in the rain.

And, I couldn't see putting them on leash. But at least I kept Mickey from wandering into the muddy field.

I made an effort to dry them off afterwards, but I caught myself saying, "Just sit by the fan."

When I returned from feeding the sheep, horses and chickens, Mickey was indeed by the fan.

I brushed them again (much to Raven's annoyance) before taking them to suburbia where they were to look like happy dogs.

They wandered around the yard looking for rabbits and sheep poo and finding none.

But, when it was their turn to model, they went to work.

"Lie down," I told them, following up with a stay.

The photographer circled them, taking happy-dogs-on-lawn shots. Then Mickey stood while a human model applied pretend-repellent on her.

And like that, they were done.

No sheep. No running. Just a few stays. And a few treats.

Better than a day in the kennel, but not real work for them.

"We'll work sheep tonight," I promised.

And we'll run through the mud, and you'll roll in the grass, and you'll nibble some poo. And you won't have to look pretty again until....

A Childhood Sound Returns

The first bird sound I learned as a child was the distinctive Bobwhite quail.

His "bob-white" call rolled across the countryside--and soon rolled over my tongue.

And then it disappeared.

For years, the only bob-white sound I've heard have been around sheepdog trials. For many handlers, the come-bye, or go left, whistle is the sound of bob-white.

Until this spring.

For the first time in years, I've heard a Bobwhite quail.

These birds live in overgrown fields, shrubby areas and grasslands--something that's been lost to modern farming practices and development. Years ago, we established a wildlife strip along our fence rows and have turned a farm field into pasture. Maybe the quail find it attractive.

As I listen to him sing throughout the day, I watch the Border collies. Do they think this feathered visitor is giving herding commands?

They don't seem to notice.

Because they can tell the difference between a human bob-white call and that of the real thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Louie Ate Lily. I am now growing grass.

The lilies are blooming.

But I'll just be enjoying them in the flowerbeds.

Last week, in a moment of domesticity, I cut several and brought them indoors.

Louie, the indoor cat, ate them.

Lilies are toxic to cats.

While he threw up lots of lily leaves, I had no way of knowing if he regurgitated all of them.

So off to the vet we go.

He is fine.

I am now growing grass.

The indoor/outdoor dogs and cats leave the lilies alone. They have a smorgasbord of green (and other unmentionables), so they have no need to eat lilies.

Louie doesn't have an opportunity to eat greens.

So, I researched what is in the "cat grass" that is sold in pet catalogs and found it was a combo of rye, oats and wheat.

So, I pulled out an old litter pan, filled it with potting soil, and planted some landscape mix (50% rye grass) and threw in some oats from the chicken's scratch grain. The wheat will have to wait a few weeks... as it's ripening in the field.

Louie's little plot of grass is germinating on the back porch. In a few weeks, I'll bring it indoors. And, I'm hoping he'll find it more palatable than lilies.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Yet Another Herding Hazard

This morning I was focusing on Raven as she gathered the sheep and moved them from one pasture to the one where I was standing.

I gave her a down command and then a right flank.

Then pow! I had sharp pain in my left buttock.

Spinning around, I looked down at a 10-pound Buckeye rooster.

And, I forgot about the sheep, and about Raven -- and even forgot to tell her to cover her young ears.

The rooster lowered his head and puffed out his neck feathers.

I reached back three decades to those soccer skills I learned in high school.

After a few spurs from him and a few well placed kicks from me, he opted to rejoin his flock of hens.

And I asked Raven to gather the flock of sheep -- there was no gathering my dignity -- and proceeded with training.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Black-Faced Ewe

She thinks I don't notice her, lying in the shade, ruminating with the mama ewes and lambs.

A few weeks ago, I noticed I was missing a ewe from the dry ewe flock--the group of yearling ewes and older ewes that didn't have lambs this spring. The dry ewe flock is the one that gets the sparser pastures, that is worked by the dogs.

How did the black-faced ewe escape? She is a hefty girl. I'm sure she didn't fly.

One gate between the pastures has a gap, and sometimes the lambs shimmy under it for a little romp away from their mothers.

Could she have squeezed under?

She's not telling. And for the past few weeks, she's been trying to appear that she belongs to the other flock. She joyously goes to the prime pastures for grazing, and at nap time, she nestles in among them. No appearing like an outsider for her.

Her game is up this weekend. We're vaccinating and deworming lambs and trimming the mama ewes' feet. After trimming the black-faced ewe, she will be diverted back to the other flock.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Ticks and Toads

After an unusually cold winter, I was expecting less bugs this spring.

The fly population seems down, but the tick population exploded. In most years, I rarely find ticks on the dogs or myself after our June walks. But this year, I've found them.

Tonight, I found one intent on attaching itself to Caeli's lower eyelid. Luckily, we spotted it in time--and the Border collie was the ideal patient, holding still while I, after several tries, grabbed the tick with the tweezers.

The dogs will get their tick treatment earlier than scheduled this month.

Meanwhile, I've been tip-toeing around the toads. They're in the grass, in the garden, hiding behind the geranium, in the mulch pile, in the barn, around the barn.

I welcome the insect-loving toads.

Though, they aren't telling me where they spent the winter.

Or if they eat ticks.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A New Habit?

Once a day, I gather the four Border collies for their long walk.

On the best days, we take a loop down farm lanes, around the pond, and back.

When crossing the road, I put the dogs on leashes and they fall into order. Always Caeli and Mickey on the outsides and Tag and Raven in the middle. When crossing the road, Caeli always switches sides, causing Mickey to switch too. I've become rather adept at maneuvering the leashes.

The dogs love to roam the hay fields, searching for mice.

When we near the pond, Raven wades in. The others watch.

As we turn for home, Raven looks at me, and then, zoom, she races off, circling the pond as fast as her legs will take her.

I don't ask why she does this. Neither do the other three.

I just watch her circle and then we all amble home.