Lambs & More

The current Covid situation means I’m home full-time for lambing for the first time ever. That’s one of a couple silver linings. There are also many depressing aspects to the stay-at-home quarantine. I try to keep from thinking too much about those. Dwelling on what we can’t control isn’t very good for the soul. Most days I can keep from succumbing. Cloudy, wet, cool days when I can be too much in my head… maybe not so much. We’ve already determined ‘in my head’ is not a good place for me to hang out.

Which is why it’s a good thing I have the dogs and livestock to occupy me even in those moments when I don’t feel up to being occupied.

This little guy was one of a pair born to a first time mom. She’s being really good with his brother but, as sometimes happens with first timers, she didn’t realize they were both hers to raise. I’m calling him Pita, even though he’s really not. He took to the bottle straight away and is doing really well with a minimal amount of fuss.
And even though I don’t often name lambs, though other people have been known to name them for me, this duo were the first to arrive and demanded to be called Salt & Pepper. If any lamb is going to cause problems, it is one of them. They’ve already caused me to put up additional fencing to keep them in the maternity ward.
This is the second year I’ve used Cello, a Barbados ram, and I love not only the personality of the lambs, but the coloring — getting both brown and white Barb marked lambs.

Then we have a bunch of red babies, with or without white, and two solid browns courtesy of our solid brown ewe.

We’re down to just two more ewes left to lamb. Despite the issues that can crop up, lambing is one of my favorite times of the year. Mainly because there is no greater stress reliever than watching a bunch of lambs playing. The next nice day we get, I’m going to plant myself in a chair to just sit and watch their antics. I plan on taking Finn with me so he can learn how to relax a bit around livestock.

Finn gives ‘intensity’ a whole new definition. Let’s see, there are the sheep, of course, the chickens, Rebel Kitten, and, apparently, trimming trees. Something we discovered the day we took the clipper along on our daily walk-about to trim some of the branches hanging in the trail.

Finn was quite obsessed with the whole routine and would happily gather up all the branches, no matter their size.

He also attempted to bite off some of the tiny saplings we were thinning out. I’m not sure he believed Dave was doing it correctly.

I have to say, Finn is a pretty cool dog and I can’t thank Becky enough for giving me this opportunity. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of pushing a young dog as driven and as mentally strong as Finn is. Thankfully I have a friend and mentor whose opinion I value greatly to remind me how young Finn is and how unwise that would be. Finn has shown me what he has to offer, it’s up to me to take the time to develop that potential. Taking time means putting in the time on the groundwork. You can’t build a very good house on a shaky foundation. A lesson you think I would have learned by now.

As far as Jig and Dillon, we haven’t gotten in too much training over the past week, mainly due to a strong, cold wind off the lake. Makes being out in the field just this side of miserable even when the sun is shining. Hopefully Spring settles in soon. If I have to be home 24/7 I’d like to be able to work my dogs, even if I can’t be doing it in the company of the folks I most enjoy.

A Dog’s Eye View

When I ran agility (which, for those wondering, was eons ago), one of the things we did while walking the course was to squat down to our dog’s eye level and survey our intended path. It no doubt appeared strange to onlookers. Heck, it felt strange the first time I did it. It also made it instantly clear that what I was thinking and what my dog was going to be seeing were two vastly different things. That, in turn, usually altered how I originally planned to handle that particular sequence.

Honestly, I haven’t given this much thought since those long-ago agility days. What brought it to mind now were some images I shot last weekend when Jig and I had some work to do.

It’s tough getting pics of my dogs working when I’m by myself. My phone is getting old and the camera in it isn’t what it used to be. So I brought out the big guns and did a lot of one handed, focus and rapid fire, holding the camera against my leg so I didn’t need to try and keep an eye on things while tracking a dog in the viewfinder.

Going through the images gave me a whole new appreciation for what our dogs do for us. Things like going into a packed pen to bring stock out.

Even from my vantage point there’s not a whole lot of room to be working in that doorway.

Usually it’s Jig who gets this type of job because she’s a tough-ass and it doesn’t bother her when everyone’s facing her off. In fact, she rather enjoys the confrontation. Sometimes too much.

Dillon isn’t as confident. To be honest, when I sent him in the other day, I wasn’t sure he would do it. It’s something we struggled with last year. To my surprise, and delight, he took my ‘go bye’, went to the fence, made his hole, slid into the barn, and brought everyone out, even with several of them giving him the stare down.

Needless to say, he got a ‘Good boy!’ before we continued on. I can’t give him much more praise than that or he gets all wiggly and excited and comes off his stock. We save the parties for when we’re done.

After looking at my dog’s eye view pictures, I went back out and set up one for the above scenario just to see what it looked like.

Guess I can see why Dillon was a bit hesitant about tackling that. Nothing but legs and noses and deep, dark shadows.

I took a few more shots, just because I had my camera handy and it’s fun to take a look at things from a different angle every now and again. Like the times the sheep need a bit more push in the chute where things can get tight…

…and occasionally a bit crazy.

It’s a blessing to have working dogs that can get in there when I need them to and help get things done. They’re a lot more successful at moving stubborn stock than I am. Not to mention being far quicker and exceedingly more nimble, athletic, gumby-like… all those things I sometimes think I am, until I try something to prove me wrong. 😉

Shaking it off…

I realized it’s been quite a few weeks since I last posted anything. I’ve been meaning to, I just haven’t had the energy or the motivation. It’s a late-winter-not-quite-spring thing. This time of year, with the promise of nice weather right around the corner yet not quite within reach, I tend to get impatient with not being able to venture out and do the things I most enjoy, which leads to being more irritable than normal, uninspired, and generally frustrated and restless. Besides which, not a whole lot happens this time of year and I don’t have a lot to share.

Jig appears to have similar issues as she’s been moody lately. Actually, she’s been a downright bitch, just ask Finn. Poor guy can’t even look her way without her curling a lip. Seems Jig and I are both suffering from the winter blues. Thankfully, Saturday was gorgeous. A good thing, because I had some chores that needed doing regardless of whether or not Mother Nature wanted to cooperate (which she did). And Jig and I really needed to spend some quality time together.

First on the list was moving the ram. Have to admit, Jig has a bizarre relationship with Cello. She’d rather kiss him on the nose than tell him to move. When she does need to get stronger with him, she opts to grab his ruff and pull. Kind of counterproductive. For his part, Cello never seems to take offense and has never once thought about fighting with her.

He wasn’t thrilled to be relegated to the hill pasture. It puts him too far from the other sheep. No more touching noses through the fence with his girls. Still, he claimed his pasture like a king.

Next up was sorting out the bred ewes and tagging last years ewe lambs. Something I’m a bit behind on. I feel the need here to give a brief introduction to Linus because he always makes chores a bit more interesting than they sometimes should be.

Anyone who has been here has likely met Linus. He seems to have quite the fan club. He was a bottle lamb two years ago, a preemie twin who my niece’s daughters named.

He’s the white one. The red was his sister, Cry Baby. Unfortunately, she didn’t survive.
Somehow, Linus became Dave’s buddy and shadowed him around, which probably explains his attitude.

In all honesty, I didn’t expect Linus to make it through that first winter. He had a weird shape, like he was perpetually bloated, and a very distinctive baa, which he still has. It puts me in mind of Marge’s sister on the Simpsons.

In any case, Linus did survive and eventually even started to look like a real sheep. Something that still amazes me. Unfortunately, he doesn’t act like a real sheep. Downright refuses to. He’s got my dogs believing he doesn’t need to obey the same rules as all the rest. Even Jig will just ignore him unless I press the issue.

“Yep, just go about doing your job, Jig. Don’t mind me.”

Much to Jig’s and Linus’s dismay, I do insist he be treated like a normal sheep.

Linus, “You don’t really expect me to move, do you?”
Jig, “You know I’m going to have to bite your nose if you don’t.”

Once the chores were done, I had just enough daylight left to take take Finn for a walk.

Being nice out, I’d left the barn open. Something Finn discovered on the way back to the house. He also discovered the chickens were out and about. Finn likes the chickens. More and more every day. Maybe a bit too much. His feelings are one-sided as I’m fairly certain the girls aren’t all that fond of him.

A little bit of stalking…
…followed by an excited bounce. Fortunately, he never tries to make contact with them.
He seemed particularly interested in the black one.

Nicer weather and longer days… a great combination that hopefully go a long ways toward yanking me out of the doldrums.

Last Friday the weather was finally conducive to getting the ewes out with the ram so the afternoon became all about getting them sorted and moved. Knowing there would be a few challengers in the group I fully intended to give Jig the nod. Dillon needs more experience learning how to handle belligerent stock and though I’ve been working on it with him, we’re having a few problems. It’s well known; Dillon and I have communication issues.

Then, in the way it often happens, the wise words of a friend popped into my head. Why not work Jig and Dillon together? How better to learn than side-by-side with an experienced dog?

The team, ready to go to work. Jig’s ear set says she may looking forward to it a bit too much.
Right off the bat, someone has to cause an issue. Dillon isn’t in the picture, but he’s right behind Jig in this image and the next. Watching and, hopefully, learning.
Walking in nice and steady, giving the ewe the opportunity to make the right decision.
She invariably did, saving her a hit to the nose.
It took a lot of years to get Jig to this point and I sure do love watching her in action.
You can just barely see Jig in the back pushing everyone forward. Dillon voluntarily took up a position on the side, keeping anyone from making a break for it.
He’s definitely got his eye on the potential troublemaker
The one time Dillon joined Jig at the rear, making sure there were no stragglers.
For the most part Jig and Dillon kept to their self-appointed roles: Jig providing the muscle and the push, Dillon holding the flank and tucking heads. Every now and again Jig would come up to make sure Dill had it handled.
Dillon giving a final push to get them through the gate while Jig was back by me getting a straggler.
“That’ll do,” brings Dillon right back, while Miss Jig…
She apparently wanted to make sure the ewes were all the way through the gate.

I’m not sure how much Dillon will learn from this exercise, but it sure was fun.

Part of my plan going forward is to make a concerted effort to get the dogs off the farm more often and take advantage of other places to train. Although you can’t recreate trial situations due to all the factors involved, the more opportunities you can give your dog, and yourself, to train on different stock and at different facilities, the better you will be for it.

Toward that end and much to Jig’s dismay, I packed the dogs into the truck Saturday and headed north for a day and a half of working dogs, talking dogs, planning future arenas, and goofing with our dogs, topped off by some serious damage to a gallon of apple cider and a bottle of Fireball.

Jig and I got the opportunity to work in a couple Post Advanced sized fields.

One of the fields we worked in.
Although narrow, this field was over 600′ long,
giving us a chance to work in the type of area we rarely have access to.

She had still her high ears on, so things weren’t as pretty as I would have liked. At home I’ve backed up to some foundation work with her and when I started doing that, things went better. Not spectacular, but nothing overly horrendous either.

Dillon not only got to work in the large fields, (which he handled awesomely — outside of the fact it became blatantly obvious he has no clue it’s not desirable to run the sheep over the top of me) but we even worked ducks. *gasp!* Twice.

The first time was out in the yard, which was an epic fail except for the part where the ducks disappeared under a pair of trailers. I have to say, it was pretty impressive watching Dill work independently as he figured out how to get the ducks out from their hiding places and regrouped. Once that happened, however, it all fell to shit again.

The next morning we worked the ducks indoors under my friend’s watchful eyes. I’ve said it before, it really helps to have experienced onlookers not afraid to tell you what they’re seeing. It made all the difference in the world. Dillon doesn’t know much about ducks and I’d been doing too much handling out in the open. That caused him to spend far too much time watching me and not paying any attention to the ducks. Inside, once that was pointed out to me, I switched gears and went into doing some Big S Turns. Once I got my timing right, things went much better. Everyone relaxed and it felt like a really good session.

Not only that, but it was, overall, a really good weekend. Just the right amount of fun, relaxation, pushing boundaries, and learning. I need to make having more of these a priority.

March was off to a rocky start not only with Cian’s breakthrough seizures, but with lambing as well. The weather was absolutely frigid, the majority of ewes were first timers, we lost a couple lambs, and one mother earned herself a spot on the fall trailer ride. All-in-all, that’s life on the farm. Things seem to have leveled off, however, and we’re down to just one ewe left to lamb. Seems there always has to be one holdout. To give us all something to smile about, I give you Photo Sunday, and a level of cuteness only lambs can achieve.

All images ©2019 K. L. Schwengel/Rustic Photography

Spring Has Sprung! I Hope

Sunday was a gorgeous day – finally – and I had every intention of taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon by getting in some training. First, however, I had to feed the bottle lamb. Done with that, I decided a quick walk-about was in order to check the footing in the pens and arena. The day before they had been slick and soupy. On my walk-about I noticed the duck-proofing was off on part of the arena fence. I don’t have ducks this year, so could have just removed it. That would have taken more time than I wanted to spend, so I opted for a quick repair with baling twine instead. Before taking care of that, however, I needed to bring over several wheel barrow’s worth of wood chips to fill in a soft spot in the roundpen, which reminded me that Cian’s outside run needed a bit of TLC. More precisely, it needed a great deal of woodchips put back into it. Out of the four dogs, Cian is the only one that manages to have more woodchips out of the kennel than in it. Not only that, but he pushes them to the back in a huge mound, creating a nice wallow in the front of the run. This time of year, wallow equals mud pit. Finished with those tasks, I managed to find a few more little maintenance things that needed doing. I guess that’s what happens when the weather hasn’t been conducive to anything other than the necessities. Anyhow, by then it was time to do afternoon chores and feed the lamb again. Needless to say, no dogs were worked.

Monday was another nice day and, given that I’d taken care of all those little annoying things the day prior, I was determined not to waste the little bit of free time I had after work.

These two were up first.

I experimented with working Dillon and Jig together a few times earlier this year after a suggestion by a friend, but couldn’t get to it with any sort of regularity to really gauge the results. My hope is it helps Dillon understand what I want, or helps me understand him, I don’t really care which way it goes. To be totally honest, my first hope was that Jig didn’t kill him. Jig doesn’t share well, and only started tolerating Dillon once he became more than a mouthful. To my surprise she never fussed with him, except once when they collided. Even then, it was just a quick warning snap and she kept about her business.

We’re working on the very basics, which is old hat for Jig. One thing I’ve noticed on any gather, short or long, is that Dillon will veer off as Jig brings the sheep in, and position himself to block any potential draw. I wind up with Jig pushing from the rear, and Dillon holding the front.

They really do work nicely together and, surprisingly enough, make a pretty good team. I’m not certain the tandem work is really accomplishing what I want, but I’ll stick with it for a while now that it looks like I might get some consistent training in. I need to give it a chance and not succumb to my tendency to move on too quickly.

That’s something I’m going to really fight against doing with Cian. Those of you who know me, or are regular visitors here, know it’s one of my worst bad habits. Oooh, a little bit of success at Step A? Let’s just take ten giant leaps to Step Z!

Bad, Kathi.

Cian has been in the round pen a handful of times and is gearing up to start some more serious training this year.

He’s starting to get more confident, which manifests itself in him taking some cheap shots on the top side. I have to be very careful of my corrections at that point, as he can’t take quite that much pressure yet.

He squares up very nicely when I step into him, and he’ll down when I ask, and those are both some nice building blocks to start our foundation on. Slow and steady.

Yeah. Like that.

I finished up the day taking Jig out for some one-on-one. I want to make sure I’m completely in her head when we get to Iowa. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and will need to find many off-the-farm places to go train this year because at home she’s a freaking rocket scientist.

I’m thrilled spring has finally made an appearance. Hopefully it sticks around and we can settle into a regular working schedule again.

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Out of Hibernation… Sort Of

Usually around this time of year I’m starting up the blog after the winter hiatus, bombarding you with pictures of lambs cavorting, and laying out my training/trialing plans for the year. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating. With any of it. I know other areas of the country are worse off. It’s hard to take solace from that, however, when, as I write this, it’s snowing. Again.

Lounging on the couch is all well and good when we’re under-the-weather,
pun intended, but we’ve had enough downtime.

We do have lambs on the ground, but there is very little cavorting taking place. Except inside, around the feed bunk and the other sheep, and occasionally around the hay bales when the little reprobates sneak out during feeding. Some of the lambs have taken to cozying up to the trough when mom is otherwise occupied, probably because we still have the tank heater in.

I warned Rebel to watch his balance. Just because the tank heater is in,
doesn’t mean the trough is a hot tub.

.

The chickens, on the other hand, have decided their warm, cozy coop
isn’t near as nice a roosting spot as the bottom barn rail.

 

Not only do the chickens not roost in their coop, they don’t lay their eggs in the nest boxes. Currently they have a spot behind the bales which makes me glad I’m still somewhat flexible and provides motivation to continue practicing yoga. They’ve also made a few nests on top of the hay, and in a corner behind a feed bin. It wouldn’t be as bad if they all picked the same nest. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. It’s like a never-ending egg hunt. Rather like our never-ending winter and only slightly less annoying.

I wish I would have had my phone on me the day I found Rebel Kitten on one of the bales with an egg nestled between his paws. I’m not certain what he was going to do with it, but he looked a bit put out when I confiscated it.

Speaking of Rebel, he isn’t such a kitten any more and really turned out to be quite a nice cat. I say it like that because that outcome was questionable when he was younger. There were times the only way I could catch him was to put on a thick leather glove and show him my hand. He’d latch on like a tiger on the haunch of its prey, all fangs and claws, and I’d lift him off the ground. Now he only uses his claws when he wants to be on my shoulder, and then its just a gentle request to be hoisted up. The cat loves to be up high.

 

Rebel doing his impersonation of
Snoopy impersonating a vulture.

 

On the training and trialing front… not much going on. There were a few days we were able to work, but not with any consistency. I can only hope we get a day or two in before our first trial which just happens to be in Iowa at the end of the month. They’ve been getting more snow than us. I’m thinking I may have to pack snowshoes.

Photo Friday

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done one of these. Sometimes you just have to spend the day doing something that makes your soul happy. So, I dusted off the camera and headed outside to see what I would find.

The first thing I found was Her Royal Highness who always looks stunning in black & white.

Shortly thereafter, some the girls decided they wanted in on the action.

Chickens always look so fierce.

Even when they decide to perform synchronized wall dancing.

It’s good to have friends.




Never a Dull Moment

It’s been a moderately eventful week here at the farm. It all started on the 26th with the very early arrival of twin ram lambs. We aren’t scheduled to start lambing until this week, and the ewe that lambed didn’t even appear bred. She also didn’t have any bag to speak of. Yet, there they were, two tiny ram lambs. And there she was, no milk, first time mom, wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. Ol’ softy that I am, I bundled up the boys and relocated them to the laundry room without much hope of their survival. One of them especially, the red one dubbed Crybaby, wasn’t even able to stand, and I’m pretty certain neither of them could see yet.

Their first milestone was living through the day. The next was surviving for 2 days. I had to enlist the aid of friends and family to feed them those first couple of days, since missing work wasn’t an option. The white one, named Linus by my great-niece (also responsible for Crybaby’s moniker), took to the bottle right off. Crybaby… not so much. I did convince him, however, to drink from a bowl. He wasn’t the best at it, but must have been getting enough that way because he started getting stronger and surprised me by finding his legs.

By the end of the week, both boys were happily taking their bottles and this weekend, they reached their 1 week milestone and even got to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.

Linus & Crybaby getting some outdoor time.

It amazes me every day that they’re still alive. I’ve never had the best of luck with bottle babies.

On Saturday went to pick up these fine girls, having decided that farm fresh eggs is the way to go this year. (And to give the Hubs even more to do once he retires.)

According to a friend of mine, they are now Poker, Henny-Penny, Chicken Little, and Camilla. Don’t ask me who’s who, I didn’t name them.

We got our first two eggs, one yesterday and one this morning. They are… tiny. Never having had chickens, I did a little research and discovered what we currently have are called Pullet Eggs and are, by some reports, even more delicious than regular eggs. We shall see.

And, of course, Rebel had to check out the newcomers. I was a bit concerned he might think of them as a food source, but he seems content to leave them be.

On the topic of Rebel Kitten, if you haven’t seen the video of him disrupting my last training session with Jig, I’ve posted it below. It makes me laugh every time. I truly do not understand their relationship. Jig isn’t the friendliest of dogs. If you’ve read my blog before you might recall she truly wanted to eat Dillon when he was a puppy. There are times she still considers it as an option. Yet she and Rebel play and tussle all the time with no hard feelings. The Hubs claims it’s because, in his words, “They’re both psycho.”

He may have a point.

They also both feel responsible for keeping an eye on everything stock related and take offense to things going otherwise than they feel is right.

Here Rebel Kitten, Barn Cat Extraordinaire, is having a word with one of the calves.

I’m certain to be regaling you with cute lamb pics in my next post, and I’ll get more training related subjects going again because Jig is really benefiting from having her own calves to work and it’s awesome.

For now, I leave you with an example of how we handle distraction training here on the farm.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG0TZOMAq_o]

I’m sorry, I just find it impossible to watch that without laughing.

Rebel’s Big Day

Yesterday was a big day here on the farm. Yup. Mr. Rebel Kitten officially assumed his position as Barn Cat. Given the speed at which he moved from place to place, and the efficient manner in which he kept an eye on absolutely everything, I’d say he’s going to do things his own freaking way. Then again, that seems to be the theme around here.

Here he is in a moment of stillness watching the calves. He’s not entirely sure about them.

 

And here are the calves watching Rebel. They’re not quite sure what to make of him either.

Since Rebel seemed occupied with coming to terms with his new responsibilities, I decided to take advantage of the sunshine and firm footing (that’s something of a rarity this time of year) and get some training in.

The calves have been here a week and, though they’ve met the dogs, I haven’t done anything beyond having Jig walk in on a nose to turn them. Having her own steers is going to do that girl a world of good. Okay, it’s going to do us both a world of good. Confession time: I pulled one stupid already. Here’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As you can see in the above picture, I’ve got the feed bunker in the doorway of the barn. This was due to weather. In any case, three of the calves were in the barn and I needed them out for the moment. I had Jig with me and that’s her job so time to take advantage of a situation.

I sent Jig into the barn and one of the steers promptly exited like a good bovine. I felt the need to then step into the barn myself because black dog, black calves, no light, no trust. All my attention was on that black dog in the shadows behind those black calves and making sure she didn’t start rodeoing. None of my attention, not even the tiniest bit, was on my own self. Jig pushed as she was supposed to do. The calves turned to leave as they were supposed to do. I stood there eyeballing my dog and blocking the exit as I was most decidedly NOT supposed to do. Let me tell you, people don’t give cattle near enough credit for their athleticism and grace. Thankfully the barn door was all the way up because the calves sought their only route out and that meant going over the feed bunker. The first one could have put a hunter-jumper to shame and did so from a dead stand. The second was not quite as talented, or perhaps not as bold. He landed in the bunker. It took a moment, but he extricated himself much as you’d expect a hoofed, four-legged animal to do; via much scrambling of legs, flailing of hooves, and flinging of feedstuffs.

Now, in my defense, Jig has been known to get a bit enthusiastic about moving cattle. Where enthusiasm equals stupid and rowdy. Still, I fully admit, the entire debacle was my fault and due to lack of trust.

In any case, yesterday was a much better day with some focused training. We moved the calves into the small arena and gave them a moment to settle in because they thought the new space was for romping and playing. My focus was on getting Jig to turn them, then take the pressure off and let them move off. That’s hard for her. One of our biggest issues. But she did very well and, overall, I was pleased with everyone’s performance, once I overcame a bout of diarrhea of the mouth and, oh yeah, trusted my dog.

Unfortunately, we had a slight distraction.

Rebel decided one of his responsibilities is to oversee all events.

Good distraction training for Jig.

Done with the steers, I took Dillon out on some sheep. Talk about distraction training. Rebel came right out into the arena. We worked through it and I warned Rebel he was going to get run over. The sheep, apparently, didn’t think that was a good idea and avoided him altogether. I finally convinced him to leave and continued on with Dillon’s lesson while Rebel watched from the other side of the fence… for the most part.

Here we are, working in the take pen, getting Dillon comfortable in pressure and being calm in tight places.

And here’s Rebel, deciding Dillon needed some assistance holding the sheep to me in the corner. *head, desk*

I have the feeling I’m going to have to start a new series of posts: The Adventures of Rebel the Barn Cat.