Thursday, October 25, 2018

Red Orbs in October

Weeds took over the garden in late July.

Blame it on the rain, the heat, too much dog training, too much vacationing, not enough will.

In late August and September, I'd wade into the weed patch and search for a cucumber, a zucchini, a pepper, a tomato--whatever could grow among the weeds.

That's the way it is some years, and I'm okay with that.

Right before the frosts and freezes came, I picked peppers as they were near the garden gate and still somewhat accessible.

The tomatoes I let fall victim to the frost.

But gardens must be cleaned, and before I could turn the chickens or sheep into the garden, I had to rid it of the wire tomato cages.

So, in the afternoon sun and cool breezes of late October, I waded into the garden and pulled up the tomato plants.

Imagine my surprise when I found a perfect red orb, undamaged by the freeze or hungry insects.

After wiping it off with my sweatshirt, I took a bite.

It was firm and juicy and tasted of summer.

Apparently the weeds had protected it from the freezing winds and frosts. The weeds had protected others too. After a search, I discovered six more red treasures.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Searching for That Sweet Spot

Niki brings in the flock so that I could separate the flock. 

Spring is five months away, and that means sheep breeding season starts today.

Over the years, we've lambed as early at late February and as late as late April--all in an effort to hit that sweet spot when:

--Winter is over.

--The spring grass is coming on.

--Fly season hasn't started.

--The lambs are market weight by late October.

--Lambs are born before sheepdog trial season begins.

We've been raising sheep for well over a decade, and we have yet to hit that sweet spot.

This past year, we opted for early lambing, and ended up feeding hay as we watched winter hang on and on.

So, for 2019, we're aiming for the first day of spring. (A ewe's gestation period is 5 months).

This afternoon, I sorted the flock, separating the breeding ewes from the ewe lambs and dog-working sheep. I turned the ram out with the breeding ewes and moved them to a separate pasture.

In five months, we hope to have lambs born into sunshine and green grass.

Will it happen? We'll just have to wait and see.

Roxie, the mischievous barn cat,  parked herself in front of the pasture gate, making the sheep sorting process more of a challenge.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Another Day, Another Training Challenge

But mom, you said to keep the sheep out of the exhaust pen.

My tri-colored Border collie sees the world in black and white.

Niki is the most challenging, most affectionate, cutest and hardest working dog I own. But, she sees the world differently than my other dogs.

At the sheepdog competition this past weekend, I used her to exhaust sheep for the pro-novice class. The sheep weren't so sure they wanted to go into the exhaust, or holding pen, at the end of each competitor's run. The pen was unfamiliar, and sheep don't like unfamiliar.

Niki loved running out onto the field, collecting the sheep and directing them to the exhaust pen. She enthusiastically did her job time and time again.

On the second day of the trial, the sheep no longer saw the exhaust pen as an unfamiliar, scary place. Instead, it was a place where they could eat hay and get away from the dogs.

So Niki's job description changed.

Her job was to make sure the sheep did not get to the exhaust pen during each competitor's run. At the end of the run, though, she was to let the sheep into the pen.

And, that's where she got confused.

She was all into keeping them OUT of the pen at ALL times. That was great when the handlers were competing, but not when they were finished. She was not going to let those sheep into the exhaust pen EVER.

To get the job done, I resorted to keeping her on leash, opening the exhaust pen gate and keeping her out of the way so the sheep could get into the pen.

It's Monday now, and I'm pondering how to help Niki understand that her job description can change every five minutes.

The good news is that she wants to work with me. The bad news is that I've got to figure out her language.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Traveling with Dogs: What we ask

When I loaded up the Subaru, the Border collies saw the open crates and hopped in, ready for the ride. They had no idea that we were traveling for 2,300 miles, or that the journey would take days.

Before departing for California, people asked if I were traveling alone.

"Nope, I have three dogs," I said, adding, "They're great traveling companions. They never ask how much longer, demand a different channel on the radio or complain about my singing."

While Border collies amaze me on the trial field, they really amaze me as travelers, and not just because they never ask me to change the channel.

During my travels, I ask them to ride in crates for hours. When we get out of the car, they may see zooming cars and strangers. Sometimes they work on strange fields on unfamiliar sheep. At night, they sometimes sleep in motel rooms where the voices of people and vehicles can be heard through the walls. Sometimes, they sleep in their crates in the car.

Rarely do they protest. They just adapt.

Oh, there was a 24-hour period when the young dog was miffed about the pottying situation. With no green grass in sight, I asked her to pee on gravel. She just looked at me. Ten minutes later, she decided that gravel was okay.

We aren't in the green fields of Ohio anymore. Gael, now a year old, adapted quickly.

By the time they're adults, most Border collies participating in sheepdog trials have traveled hundreds, often thousands of miles. Although too young to compete, they often travel with their owners and other Border collies, to trials.

I'm sure the socialization helps them adapt.

But the dogs also live in the here and now--and if they're with their human and their pack, then that is where they want to be.

Emma checks to make sure it is Jack underneath all that dirt.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Traveling with Dogs: The Stalker Cow

Traveling with dogs often means spending nights in cheap motels. But on those lucky occasions, I, along with other sheepdog competitors, rent a house.

The best houses are the ones that are within a 30-minute drive of the competition, are set a ways from the road and neighbors, and have an area for walking the dogs. They're also the ones hosted by people who don't blink when you mention that you and your friends are traveling with 12-15 Border collies.

If a home owner is willing to accept people traveling with lots of dogs, then I'm willing to accept to accept some eccentricities, whether it be banjo music, horses mating in the parking area or a stalker cow.

During my recent trip to northern California, our hostess asked us to close the gate after we pulled into the farm so that the cow did not get out.

As we pulled up the driveway, Jax, the cow, was awaiting us. (Jax, a housemate pointed out, is a steer, not a cow. But, for the sake of this story, I am calling him a cow).

"He's friendly," his owner said.

I gave him a wide berth. Fifty years on this earth has taught me to be wary of 1,000-pound animals that I do not know.

Jax watched as we unloaded luggage and dogs, and bellowed intermittently. To make his presence known, he defecated behind my friend's van.

In the morning, the cow was nowhere to be seen.

I walked the older dogs in the moonlight. Not seeing the cow, I got out the young dog and moseyed down the driveway. Jax appeared and followed us.

The dog and I sprinted back to the house. The cow followed and took up his usual spot near the garage.

As the week wore on, we got used to the stalker cow, always watching, often bellowing.

On our last morning at the house, he was not there to greet us in the morning.

"I kind of miss him," my friend said.

And, just like that, he appeared.