Monday, August 26, 2019

A Plan B for Winter

I'm not sure if the local post master has a good poker face--or if shipping baggies of grass is an everyday thing.

For me, it's a new thing.

It all started when I read this article by the Ohio State University Sheep Team. In it, the OSU professors discussed the poor-quality hay crop.  A wet spring and early summer meant cutting was delayed a month for many farmers. The resulting hay is past maturity, not that digestible and not that high in calories.

The hay in their example provided so few calories that a non-pregnant ewe would have to eat 9 lbs. of it to meet her daily calorie requirement. A ewe can't eat that much in a day. It's a like a human trying to get their daily calorie intake by eating only celery.

We celebrated finally getting hay in the barn.

Our hay was baled on the same day as the hay in their example. Because of a dry summer, it's the only hay we have.

While I'm an optimist, I'm also a realist. If I can't get second-cutting (more calorie dense) hay, what's my Plan B? First, I had to find out how much protein and calories my hay has. (On the good news front, it's very pretty and smells fresh. The Haflinger ponies gobble it down).

For the first time ever, I sent hay samples to a laboratory for testing.

Okay, for me, that sounded like a scary, complicated process. It's not. I took samples from three bales, put them in plastic bags and took them to the post office.

It's a rural post office. Maybe they ship lots of forage, soil and other crop samples.

Five days after shipping the samples, my test results arrived in my inbox. I had 3 pages of numbers, percentages and abbreviations--and no idea how to interpret them.

Luckily, the local OSU extension agent did.

The verdict: while the hay's not great, it'll keep the ponies and dry (non-pregnant) ewes well-fed through winter. In late pregnancy, the pregnant ewes are going to need another source of calories (something more dense). I can either supplement with better quality hay or grain. I can also consider changing my breeding dates to take full advantage of green grass.

But I can at least develop a plan--and know it'll probably change.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Because You're Never Too Old to...

Gael looking at the sheep. Some day, girl, some day.
Nearly a year ago, I was 2,250 miles from home, at the U.S. National Sheepdog Finals in California, and reflecting on the year behind and the year ahead.

My run had gone poorly, but I had no regrets about going. The coming year was going to be a rebuilding year.

Jack, the dog that ran in the Finals, was retiring. Emma, my other Open dog, needed more training to be competitive. I hoped to get Niki, my 4-year-old, progressing and completing courses; and Gael, my 1-year-old, was just starting her sheepdog journey. Maybe, by the fall of 2019, she'd be ready to start trialing in the nursery classes.

In sheepdog trialing and in life, things don't always go as planned.

Which explains why I've taken up jogging.

Gael, sweet Gael, broke her femur and tore her ACL during play time. (She plays hard).

She had surgery to repair the femur in late November. In mid-February, she had TPLO surgery to repair the knee.

By March, when she was supposed to start walking on the leg, she'd become quite adept at running on three legs, and the muscle mass in that leg was gone.

Border collies are clever and practical. Why use that leg when it was easier and faster to run on three?

And so the walking began.

At first, it was slower than an amble. I'd stop when she picked up and held her bad leg, and only go forward when she used it.

Eventually we picked up the pace, from 1 mph, to 2 mph, to 3 mph. But she only used that leg when on leash.

In June, when the summer temperatures were really heating up and the humidity was rising, we went to a canine physical therapist.

"You need to start jogging with her," she said. Just jog for 30 seconds and walk for a minute.

And so I did. I started slow and slowed more when she picked up and held that leg or tried to lope.

Border collies are clever and practical.

Gael was tired of being crated and walking slowly. She wanted to go.

She started putting that leg down and trotting. And, she's trotting faster and faster.

The heat hasn't subsided, and neither has the humidity. But I'm keeping up.

Maybe, just maybe, she'll return to working sheep by late fall.

Gael and Bubba on the evening dog walk.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

From Squish to Crackle

For months--through February, March, April, May and June--I looked to the sky and said, "Stop."

Rain, after rain, after rain left the ground saturated. Walking across the yard felt like walking on a sponge. In the recently planted pasture, I slid through the mud.

Sometime toward the end of June, the rains stopped.

I watched the weather radar as green splotches went to the north and to the south of us, and I found myself looking toward the sky, asking for rain.

The earth is asking for it too.

The grass is going dormant and cracks are appearing where the vegetation doesn't quite cover the ground--the areas where the pastures are overgrazed or newly plant.

On my daily dog walk, I stop often, looking at the cracks, wondering how deep they go.

I brought a ruler with me this morning and let it fall into a crack.

For a moment, I thought the earth was going to swallow it whole.

Unless the rains come soon, I'm going to trade out the ruler for a yard stick.