Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Perfecting the Stalk

Roxie, aka Little One, aka The New Barn Cat, is honing her stalking skills. Whenever I looked up on this bright November day, I found the 7-month-old cat.

She perched on a tree limb as I gathered kindling. When hanging blankets on the line, she watched with interest.

When returning with the Border collie from the sheep pastures, I looked up and spotted her atop the chicken coop.

Is this climbing and perching a new phase for her? Or does she realize how precious sun in November can be? Was she forever climbing higher, hoping to meet the blue sky and sun?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gratitude--Morning Walks with Dogs

I am grateful for frost-covered mornings in November and remaining bits of fall color.

And for Border collies who insist on the morning walk, no matter the weather.

Ice crystals formed on the pond overnight, but calm winds and a rising sun make it pleasant for walking.

As always, the dogs inspect the pond.

But, unlike me, they aren't mesmerized by the reflections.

They don't stop to ponder how every side of the pond throws a reflection.

We return home to a fire in the wood stove.

And delight in its warmth.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Star-Filled Walks: Part 2, Intruders

The stars and sliver of moon drew my eyes skyward during my early morning dog walk.

How can just a slice of moon throw out that much light? Would a star fall from the sky?

The Border collie standing in the middle of the driveway interrupted my thoughts. Hackles up, Caeli was staring at the waterway that stretches across the fields in front of our house.

My eyes followed her stare.

The moon illuminated black shapes.

Calling the dogs, I hustled them back to the house and retrieved the spotlight. From the safety behind the fence in the yard, I shone the light across the waterway.


In the fall, the neighbor lets his cows graze the harvested fields. The cows found our alfalfa field more tempting and escaped in the night.

Returning to the house, I looked at the oven clock glowing in the darkness.


No one wants to call their neighbors at 5 in the morning.

I took the spotlight back outside and illuminated the waterway.

Yep, they were definitely cows and they were definitely on the amble away from their farm.

And so I made the call--revealing to the neighbor that his cows were on the loose and letting him assume that it was a barking dog that awoke me from my sleep.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Star-Filled Walks: Part 1

In November, I mourn the lack of sunlight for dog walks.

Now, most of our walks are under a lightening sky, a darkening sky, a dark sky.

Our 5 a.m. greet-the-morning walk, though, always takes place under a dark sky. At this time, the world seems the quietest.

The coyotes and other night creatures have gone to bed; and most humans and day creatures have yet to awake. I hear very little engine noise and see fewer, if any headlights.

Warmer-than-usual temperatures and calm winds have made these walks pleasant and unhurried this fall, and I find myself looking up at the sky, the clusters of stars, the stars that outshine the others.

On so many mornings, I've watched a star shake loose from its moorings, fall and fade.

As I wish on those shooting stars, I think how lucky I am and wonder if someone, somewhere, is doing the same.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That Sweet Spot

Walking into the barnyard in the morning light, I hear bleating--softer and higher pitched than the demanding ewes.

Lambs! Four of them, scattered around the barnyard.

But that can't be, I argued with myself.

October, September, August, July, June...

Counting the months backwards finally rouses me awake. But it took me a few more minutes to settle from the nightmare.

I love lambing season--but I also am reveling in these carefree November days.

We are in that sweet spot of the year when our livestock numbers are down--and I'm carrying very little hay and water.

The lambs went to market last month, and we sold the two rams earlier this month. No longer do we deliver water to the lamb pasture, the breeding ewe pasture, the ram pen, the dry ewe pasture.

The 15 remaining ewes and the llama all hang out together. With pasture still available and a warmer-than-usual fall, that means I deliver one five-gallon bucket of water to the sheep daily.

The winter flock. No, the one playing the wheelbarrow game is not a ram; she's a ewe. I checked--multiple times.

The horses, too, are able to graze the pasture at night. During the day, they receive only one flake of hay each.

Earlier this fall, we sent the young roosters to the butcher and merged the young chicken flock with the old chicken flock. We're only delivering food and water to one group.

That means chores take 15 minutes, morning and night. And most of that time is spent playing with the barn kitty.

These carefree days will end soon, when freezing temperatures arrive and I become the ice breaker. Eventually pastures will be grazed down and I'll become the hay hauler. And the 15 minutes will become 20, then 25 and 30.

For now, though, I'll enjoy it--and try to avoid those sheep dreams.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Better--Without the Dog

For many farm tasks with the sheep, I rely on a Border collie for help.

Need to move sheep to another pasture? I call a dog to assist. Need to persuade sheep to go into the barn? I call the dog.

But just because I have a dog trained to work sheep doesn't mean that the dog is always the best tool for the job.

When sorting sheep in a stall or close quarters, I prefer to work alone, without the dog. Why add a dog to the close space and risk the dog or me getting hurt?

The one task that I've always struggled with is the trailer load.

Sheep fear dark, enclosed spaces--and they don't care for the rattle of the trailer. Dogs and people cannot persuade sheep that it's a good idea to go inside a trailer. My husband and I get the task accomplished, but not without high anxiety for sheep and people.

Until this year.

This fall, we parked the trailer in the pasture where the market lambs were living. Once a day, I'd put some hay in tubs inside the trailer. Within hours the sheep figured out the trailer was a place for food. They jumped in and out of it throughout the day.

On the morning they were to go to the butcher, I put some hay inside the trailer. The lambs jumped inside to snack on their morning meal. I slid the trailer door shut.

"Lambs are loaded and ready to go," I told my husband.

Neither of us had touched a lamb during the loading process.