Sunday, November 24, 2019

Good-bye Bon-Bon, Hello ...?

Years ago, we discovered the value of a wether (castrated male sheep).

Katahdin sheep can breed year-round. Because we don't want lambs year-round, the ram is only allowed to be with the ewes for a month in the fall.

So, what do we do with the ram for other 11 months? Being a flock animal, he's nervous and stressed if left alone. Put him with ewes and he breeds. Put him with rams, and he fights. The wether as his companion is the solution.

But here's the problem with wethers. If their only jobs are to eat and to keep the ram company, they get quite large. This fall, our 4-year-old wether, Bon-Bon, was as wide as he was tall. I was unsure how long he'd stay sound--and I certainly wasn't looking forward to trying to trim his hooves. It was time to send him to the butcher and get a replacement.

 Bon-Bon (on left) with Apollo, the ram on the right.
 In this photo, Bon-Bon is not quite a year old.

Hoping the new wether would stay on the small side, I selected our smallest wether to keep.

He's the one in the photo with the hay in his mouth. In the past month, he's been grazing with the unbred ewes and eating like it's his only job. Yesterday, though, he was introduced to his other job: keeping the ram company.

Because he isn't used to being in a flock of two, nor familiar with the ram pasture, I put the wether, ram and two bred ewes in the ram pasture. Next weekend, I'll remove the ewes.

In the meantime, I'll need to come up with a name for him. The ram is Titan.

Fun fact: This past week a friend asked if I knew of the origin of bellwether. It refers to the old practice of putting a bell around the neck of the wether leading the flock.

Meanwhile on the farm: We've already had two mornings this month when I've stepped outside onto snow. Our 15-acre pasture though still has plenty of grass for grazing. Unfortunately for me it's not near the barn. Fortunately for the Border collies, it's a trek from the barn and they get to help move sheep daily.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Yelling Louder is Not the Solution

When I step into the sheep pasture with my Border collie, the training isn't just about him.

It's also about me.

As a trainer and handler, I'm trying to move from okay to good. So, I'm working on avoiding using commands as corrections.

This habit started innocently enough. My dog was running; the sheep were moving; I wanted to stop the action and said, "Lie down."

The dog didn't lie down.

So I repeated the command in a louder voice.

The dog still didn't lie down. So I yelled "lie down" in my meanest, angriest voice and then went running toward the dog.

By doing this, I was teaching my dog to ignore the soft and a-little-louder lie down command. He learned he didn't have to lie down until I got good and angry.

I was also confusing my dog. I was telling him what he should do (lie down) and yelling at him (correcting) at the same time.

For the past few years, I've been trying to break this habit.

It takes a lot of effort and planning.

Now, when I go into the pasture, I imagine my dog gathering the sheep and bringing them to me. As I ask for the lie down (in a soft voice or whistle), I imagine watching to see if he does. If he doesn't lie down, then I don't repeat the command. Instead, I step toward the dog, slap my hat against my leg and growl at him. When he lies down, I step away and let him continue working the sheep.

After imagining that whole scenario, I send my dog on the outrun--and am prepared to react correctly if he doesn't take the lie down.

When I'm thoughtful, when I plan, I usually do it correctly. But it's still a work in progress.

Meanwhile on the farm...

In the fall, we breed about half of our ewes, and I use the other half for dog training. I mark the bred ewes with grease markers.

After trimming hooves this weekend, my husband and I re-marked the bred ewes. Confession: It brings out my inner child. Anyways, I might have been a little excessive in my marking.