Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Meaning of Christmas

I’m an agnostic, one of those folks who just can’t decide what is or is not in the world of spirituality. I don’t really see it as a decision. To me whether or not there is a god or gods or an afterlife or some other all-encompassing spiritual entity is one of the many things I don’t yet understand or know, and will not be understood or known in my lifetime. I’m fine with that. I was raised Christian, and do believe in the Golden Rule and the example of love and tolerance set forth by Jesus of Nazareth.

Tonight was the “Carols on the Common” in our town, where the local church provides musicians and song books for families to gather on the common and sing both traditional carols and more modern Christmas songs. I thought about how Christmas does not have its roots in Christianity. We don’t know when Jesus was born. The core of the Christian faith is the resurrection, Easter. Christmas was created to appease the pagans in the northern hemisphere. These were people who celebrated the solstice, the darkest day of the year. The pagans were not going to give up this time of celebration, so Pope Julius I declared the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th. Christmas was a piece of political maneuvering.

Until tonight I’ve always looked at Christmas as a manufactured holiday. Over many centuries good hearted Christians have filled the event with meaning, a reminder of the humble birth of Christ and the good he brought to man. They have made Christmas a time to look for the love and kindness within, to live with joy and share that joy freely.

Tonight I realized that the beginnings of Christmas were more than a bit of political maneuvering. The pagans knew that when the world is dark and cold you need to work harder to bring joy into your life and your heart. The strength of the human spirit is remarkable, and sometimes remarkably fragile. The pagans celebrated in the darkest time of the year, the time we most need help to be strong and loving and joyful. Anger, depression and frustration can gain hold in winter. Rather than cloak these darker emotions in self-righteous doctrine, the pagans gathered the strength of all to celebrate life and bring forward joy. Perhaps the beginning of Christmas was an early expression of tolerance by the Christian Church. Perhaps the beginning of Christmas was an early recognition that our spirits can indeed be fragile and to celebrate together is to build strength through community, reinforcing our hearts so that we can go forward into the world with joy enough to give freely to others.

Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards all men.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fina is pregnant

I've been watching her thicken a bit, considering it could just be too much food. Since she is very short coated I up her rations this time of year when the cold sets in. But it is her waist and shape underneath that have subtle changes, her ribs have no extra cover. This morning when she sat for breakfast I could see that her teats are just beginning to swell. Pups will be just before Christmas, so we have three weeks left. Fina does not look all that big, so if I had to guess now I'd say a small litter. But then I'm always amazed how fast the pups grow in there the last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

4 dogs

Good lord I only have 4 dogs now. On Saturday I dropped Vesta off at Jersey West farm in NJ where she'll be working about 150 Churros. Now I actually have two spare kennels and a spare crate in the van. I've had as many as 9 dogs here so 4 is like a vacation.

It was hard for me to give Vesta up, but I think it was the right thing to do. Vesta is extremely relaxed on her stock and quite bold. She cheerfully squeezed between the fence and 3 pigs that were facing her and fought them backwards to me. All nose grips. These pigs had hanging weights of 220, 255, 260 the next day. She'll run out 500 yards with little training. However Vesta can be sloppy in her work, and did not seem to appreciate the pressure of training for precision. I did not feel she would become one of my trial dogs as she would have to be better than the three I have now, all young and all working well. Better to put Vesta where she'll be the number 1 work dog and get to snuggle up with Rebecca in the evening. I could not give her up entirely though, so I'll have a litter with her sometime soon. She's bold, relaxed, stable and friendly, and a good work dog. Those were genetics I was not entirely willing to lose. I just need to pick a male. And of course I'll keep one of those pups so my dog numbers will move back up again!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The fruits of my labor

Last night I went to dinner at the Journeyman Restaurant with my mother, her younger sister and husband from western NY, and my brother, sister in law and their son and daughter. The occasion was my mother's birthday, but the original reservation for dinner had been made to enjoy some of the pigs raised here on North Face Farm.

In short, the food was fabulous. Each course was as beautiful as it was delicious. The selection of flavors on the plate complemented each other. In the myriad of delicious offerings, the one thing that stands out most for me is the very first salad. The pork was delicious, but let me tell you nothing I have prepared from my own pork has come close to the flavors Tse Wei and Diana coaxed from the meat.

The folks at Journeyman visited the farm here late last spring, and have since purchased 4 pigs and 3 lambs. The Journeyman uses locally grown foods from small farms in the area. They took the time to visit the farms and facilities, see how the animals live, and speak to the farmers about the husbandry of their stock. When they arrived I expected idealistic city folk, looking for organically raised stock from postcard perfect farm scenes. I told them my stock is not organic, and to bring boots for the barnyard as it was mud season. They showed up with boots. They walked through the muddy barnyards up the wet pasture hill to where the sheep were grazing along some trees. They asked practical and knowledgeable questions about how the stock is fed, the amount and type of grain used when grain is used, and use of wormers and antibiotics. Since I don't actually have anything other than three sided sheds in my pastures it was clear that I don't confine my animals. I don't raise organic, but use no prophylactic antibiotics or wormers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Puppy time?

I bred Fina to Tom Forrester's Pete in VA. Pete works both cattle and sheep on the farm and at trials. He won the cattledog Nursery Finals in 2006, and was 3rd in the cattledog Open Finals in 2007. He made it to the final round at the National Sheepdog Finals in 2010. We'll see if we get some pups. I had 2 girls in season and Fina peaked before I expected her to so I'm not sure I caught the timing right. I'll be keeping a pup from this litter. They are due somewhere around December 21st.

I met Pete and he is utterly charming. Friendly, relaxed, no fuss kind of dog. Not much seems to bother him.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Myth of the Almighty Prepotent Stud

I never cease to be amazed how seemingly educated and intelligent people seem to forget how genetics works. Half the genes in a pup come from the bitch. Remember that folks.

So many folks seem to regard the bitch as a uterus, a simple vessel to carry the pups. People see a dog they like and immediately enquire as to the sire. This comes to mind today based on a new enquiry to me, interested in a possible breeding of a bitch of mine. This bitch was sired by the same dog as sired another litter I bred several years ago. One of those pups went on to be a fabulous agility dog. The mother of that litter was my Rhyme. This dog that so many folks admire is very much like his mother. In particular the traits that the agility folks find most attractive are entirely from his mother. No one has even asked who his mother is!

I had a conversation with someone talking about spooky temperament in some lines. A breeding was discussed in which a stable male from lines that seem to be consistently stable produced some spooky pups. The proposition was that there is spooky temperament in the male as he produced the spooky pups. I met the mother of those pups. She is fearful to the point of not being able to live a normal life. You certainly cannot condemn that male based on not being able to overcome the genetics of a bitch so desperately afraid of the world.

Yes, some males seem to be quite prepotent for certain traits, but nothing is infallible. Even if you have met pups from several litters off a male I’d want to know something about the bitches that he was bred to. In any litter a bitch may have put far more of a stamp on her pups than the sire. You may think you are smitten with a male as a stud dog, when actually his greatest contribution is to be fairly recessive and bred to good bitches. Don’t fall in love with a stud based on one offspring or even one litter until you have met the stud and the bitch to get a sense of which parent likely contributed the attributes that attracted you.

Breeding is such a gamble. The one thing we do know is that half the genes come from each parent, and we hope the dominant gene in each pair brings out the traits we want. Forgetting the genetic contribution of the bitch takes breeding from being an educated guess in an unpredictable world to just plain wishful thinking. So if your beloved Bessie has nothing to recommend her other than being in your kennel, go buy yourself a pup. Certainly she has faults. All dogs have faults. If she has some strengths worth capturing then be honest about the good and the bad, choose a stud to complement her as best as possible, and understand that Bessie will be responsible for half the genes in the pups for better or for worse.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Season is ending

It was a very anticlimatic end for this year's trial season. Song and Fina were both running better and better as the season went on. Fina had not qualified for the finals, but Song had. Then Song pulled a muscle in her right hind just 3 weeks before VA. Though I was relieved that it was an injury with an excellent prognosis with rest and rehab, my season was over. There are only a few trials in the northeast now with the finals having dominated the month of September and the season winding to a close.

Song is recovering well, but won't be running again till Nov/Dec, which really means she won't trial till spring. There are a couple trials I hope to attend with Fina and maybe Levi.

Fina looks like she may be a real star, quite a change from the dog I ran this spring, retiring almost every run. Levi, well who knows with Levi. He is my best farm dog right now, serious, sensible, and plenty of power. I have two good Open dogs so there is no rush for Levi to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. Gust was sticking terribly on the drive this summer, completely unwilling to work between me and the stock. On the fetch she comes like a freight train, driving a ewe into my knees and leaving me in a knee brace for a few weeks while my MCL regained it's original shape. I confronted the discomfort coming between me and the stock and got inside flanks on her. Now little by little she's settling into a good drive.

The last of the pigs and lambs leave within 3 weeks. The winter hay is in. Soon the hay fields will all be cut for the end of year outrun training and long drives. Unfortunately by the time Song is ready to go the snow will be on the horizon. Hopefully we'll get a bit of December training before we ice over for another year. Gust, Fina and Levi will benefit from being able to stretch out.

Vesta leaves soon for NJ to manage a flock of 150 Churros. That will keep her busy and happy as she'll be a companion as well. It looks to be the perfect match where she'll be both loved and very useful.

Fina should come in season soon. I plan to breed her this season though I've still not chosen a male. Most of the ones that attract me are far away. Hopefully she will peak at a time when I'm available for several days to get her where she needs to go. If not, there are some good closer options that will move up the preference ladder based on my schedule.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spaghetti Pigs

Pigs are fun. My neighbor brought up a 5 gallon bucket full of tomatoes from his garden for them. He dumped them in their paddock. They saw him come with the bucket and were circling around, curious as always. Once the tomatoes hit the ground they were on them, slopping them up joyfully. Then they lay down and rolled in them, while continuing to eat them. Life is good when you've can enjoy a tomato spa and the flavor of fresh tomatos all at the same time. I wonder if the tomatoes felt like those massage balls rolling on their backs? Or maybe this is the pig version of popping bubble wrap? Perhaps they were making tomato sauce?

I'm down to 3, the older 3 are already gone. 2 are on the opening menu at the Journeyman Restaurant in Somerville, MA. The ones that left were the full Tamworths, big red pigs.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Damn and Blast

No finals for me this year. Song pulled up on 3 legs while playing with her beloved basketball at a friends house Saturday evening. The dogs had run together fairly hard on the hills just before this and she had shown no problems. My immediate thought was the knee, so I iced the knee a couple times that evening. When I first examined her the muscles on her right hind (the injured leg) were blown up and rock hard.

Long story short, she has a non-specific muscle injury on the back inside area of her haunch. The muscles involved are the semi-tendinosus, semi-membranosus, and the gracilis? There are other muscles in that area but those are the main ones. The prognosis is very good, recovery not unreasonably long, but the finals are only 3 weeks away and I would be risking re-injury to try to run her that soon.

She has been running very well as the summer progressed, really taking responsibility for her stock and managing them on the lines. She lacks subtlety, but is a lot of fun to handle. She keeps me in the hunt, keeping her wits about her and remaining responsive under pressure. I was looking forward to running her in VA.

I pulled Levi as well. I was on the fence about running him as I doubt he would be competitive, and he really does not feel ready. I won't make the trip for just Levi.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vesta, hog dog

I needed to move the pigs from their pasture to the working pen so I could run them through the chute and sort out the ones going to the butcher on Monday. I’ve not worked these pigs since young as one of the big red ones is quite aggressive and none of my current dogs seemed that good at handling him. I started with Song, who was game and tried really hard, but she was not wanting to bite them and not wanting to stand her ground when they came at her. The dogs really can’t stand their ground unless they are willing to bite as the pigs will bite the dogs or just run by/over them. Song did her best and stuck with it but she did not impress them enough to be able to help me hold them in the corner till I could swing the panel shut and trap them there. So I thanked her for her efforts and tried Fina. Fina thought the pigs were fun to work as long as they were moving away from her. As soon as one turned towards her she looked away, and tried to find some sheep in an adjoining field, pretending the pigs did not exist. If I got the pigs moving she’d come back and help, but again if one came towards her she went back to casting out for sheep somewhere. I was pretty sure Levi was not going to stand up to them, so I tried Vesta, who has been quite fascinated with them. Well guess who was willing to step up to the plate and bite a great big pig on the nose as it was coming at her? She was unsure at first, and it sure would have helped if she was better on command, but she wanted to work them and started to get annoyed with them coming at her and not behaving. If they really came jaws open she dodged them then came back in bit their noses. It was not always organized, but she made an impression on them. She treated them nicely as long as they moved off her so they started thinking hard about just running at the dog. Once she had gained some respect then she was able to quietly hold one side of the corner while I approached the panel on the other side and swung it shut. Good girl Vesta! The pigs are not terribly fast, but they are faster than me. I'd have been out there till sundown without a dog to help.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Great Sloth

Some may tell you the great ground dwelling sloth is extinct, but certainly it has left modern tree dwelling descendants. Today I realized I was looking at another relative of these tree dwelling creatures best known for their economy of movement. The alarm went off at 5AM as usual. It was a lovely cool morning with the much awaited rain drumming on the roof. I pounded the snooze a couple times before getting out of bed some 20 minutes later. I opened the door for Song to dash outdoors, then called for Dare who ambled through. Dare is seldom in a hurry to get up in the morning. Not having seen Levi yet, I called his name a few times, no sign of him. So I walk back to my bedroom where I'm greeted by eager faces of the three dogs in crates, ready to go play. Where is Levi? Sprawled on my bed, big smile on his face, tail thumping, hoping I'll climb back in for another hour or so of sleep. What a lazy beast!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Splitting Sheep

Yesterday I decided to split the lactating ewes off to wean them. The lambs are 5 months. They are grazing in an electronet paddock with their lambs and some yearlings on town land by the cemetery. My latest thing has been using the dog least suited for each piece of farm work so as to strengthen those skills in that dog. As such Levi (“I can’t stay put for 2 seconds”) was the choice. I wimped out and decided to take the dog most suited for this task, Fina. You can park her while you are sorting and she stays put. Poor Fina, she’s done little farm work. When I’m doing farm work I’m doing a job, my mind is completely focused on the job, and the dog had damn well better be helping me do the job. In other words dog, don’t mess up.

Fina did a nice job bringing the ewes to the break in the net the holding them there without running them through. She worked nicely on command to change their position so I could sort the desired ewes up front. I managed to sort a few through. When I’m at the fence like this they know it is off, and the lambs wanted to follow their mothers. Of course there were some other ewes already weaned that were determined to get through, making it harder to get the ones I did want. I lost a few I did not want through so I called Fina out to put them all back in again. She had trouble with the concept of coming back out, but managed and got them all back in reasonably. Next attempt I got a better set out, but still had a couple animals that dove through last minute that I did not want. I decided to put them all in the trailer, then just grab the unwanted sheep and put them out of the trailer and have Fina put them back behind the fence. Remember this is all happening in a town field along the cemetery. I pull Fina out of the paddock to load the split sheep into the trailer. They have started down a dirt road into the woods. I send her to gather. She goes straight down the middle of the road, dives through the middle of them and splits them into the woods on either side (where I could not even see them). I yelled at her and resent. She basically does the same thing again, not thinking about the job or reading her sheep, making a bigger mess. I really let her have it. We get all but two of the sheep, those two she had buggered into the woods and chased, almost putting them back through a lower part of the fence (more mindless work), then finally they ran along the fence and woods back to the road up top near the trailer. I go to load everyone in the trailer (not entirely sure I actually have everyone since some of this happened out of sight so I’m guessing how many were lost and how many we got back). Fina’s feelings are hurt since I’ve yelled at her. She’s not sure she can do more than lay on the ground and feel sorry for herself. She quickly decided that taking my commands and contributing to the work at hand was a much better route to survival and we got the girls in. They load easily and I’d backed the trailer along the fence so she really only needed to cover one side. I get the two I did not want out, and Fina did a reasonable job putting them back in the paddock for me. Fina apparently does not deal well in tight situations (on road between fence and woods) where the sheep can and will actually try to get away.

I have the water tank in the trailer as well and the sheep have almost emptied the water in the paddock. I decide to go fill the water tank and come back to fill the trough. I go to the closest spigot in the cemetery to fill, noticing someone watering graves down at the next spigot. I wonder how long she has been there and whether my yelling at Fina was a tad crude for sacred ground. Oh dear.

I drive back to the paddock, clean one of the tanks and start filling it from the trailer tank. There are still some ewes with bags in the field. I decide to try to get those while I’m waiting for the water to fill. This time I take Levi. He was not bad. I manage to sort the three ewes still in the paddock with bags out the opening in the fence. Now I need to load them in the trailer without losing the sheep already in the trailer. This time I was not planning on loading sheep so I did not park the trailer along the fence. The sheep can go either way around the trailer and there is no real room to cover. And the sheep in the trailer were getting antsy as there was no food in there. They wanted out. It was a bit exciting. One sheep booked past the trailer and van, then veered and ran up a big pile of dirt they have for burials, Levi running right up the pile along the outside. His work was close, fast, but he was always trying to get a job done, never splitting through them, and reading his stock. I suspect he’ll be my go to farm dog in another year. He is much better than the girls at moving large groups. Fina is too direct and may dive through them. Song does not keep forward pressure on as she tucks the sides. Levi has a great sense of how to keep forward pressure on while keeping the group moving on line. He has always had this, nothing I taught. Also, he never gets truly stupid or silly which both girls are capable of.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Well we had a bit of rain in the past few days. A relief but not even beginning to be enough to end the drought. We've gone hot week after hot week with virtually no rain. My pastures are burned to a crisp, brown grass crumbling under your feet like uncooked angel hair pasta. I'm getting some big bale hay in to feed the sheep. The pigs lay in the dust. Right now my sheep are on town land beside the cemetary, not great forage but at least green. I've been supplementing with grain to keep condition. There are other offers to graze around town, but none of the areas is large enough to make it worth hauling the sheep and equipment over to set it up. I want at least a couple weeks of grazing to make the setup and transport worthwhile.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Fina has been slowly coming together. Little by little we have been working through her worries, gaining confidence at a distance, and most importantly learning that she has to keep trying and keep listening. Fina is a bit independent and does not handle pressure well. She also loses confidence fast when working at a distance from me. Not a great combination. However she is also blessed with a quiet and direct way on stock. That talent and the fact that she was a gift from my friend Darlene gave me the determination to continue working with Fina. I decided to work her through this summer, and if by fall we had not gained some significant ground I would find a home more suited to what Fina could give.

We had a tough spring. Fina would get to the top of her outrun, lay down and watch the sheep run to the setout. Or she'd get them down the fetch, start the drive, then get flustered, lay down and quit. She frequently became the flankless wonder, walking her sheep beautifully on a line, but not the line to the panel and not willing to flank to correct it. These problems showed up at home, and even more on the trial field. Her half sister Song delights in new sheep and new fields, not at all bothered by trial environment pressure. Fina is more fragile and gets worried about such pressure.

Fina was training up rather well this spring at home, but periodically went into the avoidance mode when under pressure. Add trial pressure and she quickly closed her mind. By mid May and many retires I was pretty frustrated. The problem manifested as the dog losing confidence at a distance, stopping taking commands, and often just laying down. I started picking people's brains on the problem. I got lots of good traing suggestions. It was Barb Armata that got to the heart of the problem. Fina's solution to pressure was to avoid it. So she closed her mind and either lay down or just blindly followed the stock. Barb told me to work through that avoidance first, make Fina listen. Not in a harsh way, but get her in situations where I could be right there to make it happen. So I put a short line on Fina, and when she stopped walking up because she was flustered I took the line and got her started. I worked her in smaller areas and subjected her to bursts of rapid fire commands, moving in and insisting when she tried to opt out. As I removed the avoidance option Fina learned that she really can do what I'm asking. Little by little she is gaining confidence in herself, in me, and in our ability to work together. She can handle some pressure for compliance now, knowing that the moment she does what is being asked the pressure will lift.

Fina placed at the Ames' Cascade Farm trial on the July 4th weekend. Nothing fancy, 9th in a field of 35 dogs or so. But a decent run. The July 4th Cascade trial was the last trial that Darlene was well enough to attend last year. The next weekend at Merck Forest was not always what I wanted, often hesitation before giving me the (oh so difficult) flanks I wanted, but she was with me. This past Saturday I had a dog on my whistle the entire run. She won the trial. Sunday she had to set out for some time early in the afternoon and did great on some very tough and recalcitrant sheep. Then she ran late afternoon. She had a bit more of the flankless wonder going on. The come by tends to fail first. So our lines were not great, but she took corrections, got the flanks eventually, and we got around. She did some lovely work at the pen with stock that did not want to go in. Since the run was not competitive at this point I used the pen for some stern flank practice and she was good with it, cleaned her flanks right up and worked extremely hard to get those girls in. We timed out in the shedding ring, having walked in with about 30 seconds to work.

I look forward to taking Fina to the post now. She still has her problems, but don't they all. Now Fina has opened herself to working with me, trusting my commands and her own ability to do the job. Fina was bounced around for training a bit when young as Darlene was sick. Then Fina ran in Open with Darlene. Darlene was too sick to train and Fina was not really ready, but they were well matched and earned a placement. I believe that Fina was put on this earth for Darlene to partner with. It looks like now Fina will partner with me as well, frosting on the cake.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How do I train thee?

After working dogs with a friend this morning we had a talk about various trainers, methods, and philosophies on training dogs. I don't seem to get dogs trained all that quickly. I've never had a dog on the trial field before 2 years, except Cato in Novice Novice. I have a tendency to move a young dog to the bottom of the training priority ladder whenever we hit a training plateau. They get a bit of work to see where their head is at, and hopefully we’ll get some progress going again. I take forever to get commands on a dog, and even longer to get them on whistles. My dogs generally run in Open for a year before they are reliable on whistles. I’m reluctant to move forward in training until they are working with the attitude I want, and I like them to be about 80% successful before I add complexity to any particular job. I’m quite reluctant to put a lot of pressure on a young dog until I’m sure it understands and has generalized the command I’m enforcing. The stop is learned early and enforced all along. I’m afraid I seem to take forever installing flanks, no doubt aggravated by my regular errors on which side is which. Then it seems, when I get one piece of training done, something else breaks, so I go back and spend some time fixing that. You can see how I manage to extend the process!

I know there are folks that get dogs ready to go much younger than I do, but today I realized I’m fairly comfortable with my methods. I’m enjoying the process and that is more important to me than having a dog trial ready at a young age. I see young dogs competing that are confident in the job and in their handler so you know some good training occurred to get them there. I just can’t seem to do it myself. I keep working with trainers, watching their methods, observing their way of working with their dogs, and trying to learn so that I can teach my dogs the job more quickly. I haven’t the natural talent for training I see in some, but I am diligent in observing, questioning, and analyzing the process. I’ll get there, but it needs to be on my terms: I won’t make the job more complex until the dog has shown me a fair mastery of the current level of difficulty (neither will I dwell at a level until the dog is flawless); I won’t apply hard pressure for compliance to commands until I’m quite sure the dog understands the command, has generalized it, and is well able to comply with the command when given. My exceptions here would be “lie down” and “that’ll do”. Many strong young dogs need some serious pressure to establish those commands before you can even consider going forward in training.

Part of our morning conversation was training pressure. There are very successful trainers who routinely put pressure on green dogs, and accept that the level of pressure may well make the dog quit. The dog will likely come out at the next session having thought through the lesson and much improved. I have put pressure on a dog until it quit, but it is a seldom thing. It takes the joy out of training for me. Afterwards I mentally review my session extensively, deciding if it was good training or not. Could I have changed something to help the dog achieve my goal in the current session? Was my goal realistic? Can I approach the training challenge from a different direction entirely and perhaps have more success? Did I just lose my temper, get frustrated and push too hard?

I have walked onto the training field with a plan to put a great deal of pressure on a dog for a specific behavior where I’m not having success with other methods. In these sessions I have a clear idea of how I will set the exercise up. My goal is for the dog to succeed, but I’m prepared with where and how I’ll apply the pressure to force the issue if needed. I’m ready to apply a great deal of pressure to break through the training plateau. I don’t like working this way, but sometimes I believe it is the best method to get a dog through a training problem, far better than muddling around in repeated failures. If I decide to put strong pressure on a dog for certain behaviors, I remove all other criteria. I set the exercise up so that I’ll be in a position to enforce compliance immediately. I try to set it up so as to expose the problem I’m working on, but otherwise set the dog up for success. Effectively the dog has a single requirement it needs to meet, or there will be hell to pay. The instant the dog complies then the correction ends, and my demeanor returns to cheerful. I want the message clear, understandable, and attainable. What is “hell to pay”? That depends entirely on the particular dog. It is whatever will make that particular dog worry about me and worry about the correction to the point of releasing a strong behavior that I don’t want and replacing it with a behavior that is likely mentally uncomfortable for the dog. Depending on the sensitivity of the dog and the intensity of the behavior I am trying to change, that is possibly enough pressure to make the dog quit entirely.

There are many people who substitute severity of correction for consistency of correction. Severity in the absence of consistency is abusive to the dog and ineffective as a training technique. If you allow a number of missed stops to go by you have lost the right to have a fit and get mad at the dog the next time it misses a stop. The absence of consistency is hard on a dog even if your corrections are not severe. Inconsistent corrections muddy the rules, delaying understanding. For corrections to be effective they must be consistently applied, even if the timing is inconvenient for you. After all, how many of you always obey the speed limit for fear of the occasional speeding ticket? If you were to get a ticket virtually every time I’m thinking you would be saving fuel.

There are many ways to train a dog. Each person who endeavors to train a dog must find methods that they are comfortable with, and that produce the results they want. Methods that work for one person may not work for another. Part of training is our timing, and the persona we project to the dog on the training field. Some methods require more precise timing, or a more imposing persona. You may be able to master these methods eventually, or they may never be effective for you. There is always another way. I have yet to attend a lesson or clinic with an experienced trainer and not come out with some new understanding, or a new method of training a behavior. However I sometimes reject a trainer's overall view on training. Dog training is rather like the Bible, you can find references to back up many different points of view. You can point to an example of a successful trainer’s style to validate your preferences, and I can point to the different style of another trainer to validate mine. Know yourself, your dog, and use your judgment and conscience. Take out the dog reference and I believe the same applies to religion.

Not all trainers can be successful with all dogs. Everyone's style and temperament suits them to certain types of dogs. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you remember that the fact that a dog is not suitable to you as a trainer or handler says nothing bad about either you or the dog. It simply means you are not a match. Personally I can really enjoy some strong minded dogs, as I'm a bull headed person myself. I have several friends who enjoy biddable and compliant dogs and shy away from dogs that attract me. All and all, you will probably be better off working with an instructor who enjoys the same type of dogs as you do.

When you are working with a trainer you need to try hard to understand how their methods work, and to handle your dog as they suggest. Give their methods a chance. If you are truly uncomfortable with that person's methods or a particular exercise then don't participate. Use your judgment. It is important to give a technique a good try to see if it will work, and equally important that you make the final decision on actions that will affect the physical and mental welfare of your dog, yourself and the stock. Use your own judgment, but don’t jump to conclusions. Find methods that work for your style and temperament. Have respect for folks that have taken numerous dogs from playful pups to confident working partners.

It is not easy, but then nothing worthwhile ever is.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Everything is under control here

I spent the day doing farm chores. My sheep are currently grazing on the town field surrounding the "little red schoolhouse". This is a historical one room school maintained by the Tyngsboro Dunstable historical society, a lovely setting used for a variety of town functions. On the edge of this land is the town pound, a small pen with 5 foot high stone walls and a narrow gate. This is where loose animals were put in colonial times to wait till they were retreived by their owner. The pound fills with brush and poison ivy, so each year I put my sheep in there for a day to clean it out. Today was the day. I got up there at 7AM, made a small pen with temporary net fence so I could catch Boogaloo the llama. This llama is not very trusting of people and quite difficult to catch. It takes patience and a small pen. Once I caught him I put him in my trailer, then took the sheep out of the fencing and called the police to come stop traffic for me. The gate to the pound is 2 feet from very busy Route 113 so I need traffic stopped to move the animals in and out. Once traffic was stopped I moved the sheep into the pound, then brought the llama in as well. All went smooth as silk. After a couple hours mowing, moving the temporary fence, and setting up the next grazing area for the sheep I checked the progress of the sheep in the pound. Not good, they really were not eating down the brush quickly. I decided to add the yearlings, who were pastured a couple miles away. I still had the trailer hitched so I picked them up and brought them to the pound around noon. Song moved them in neatly despite the three new sheep being a bit wild and not sticking with the flock. Again, the police stopped traffic so I could move the stock on the road safely.

I went to get the sheep out around 8 this evening. I had their next paddock all ready for them, fenced, nice full water tub, full salt mineral feeder, and deep clover to dine on. My plan was to wait till the police arrived, then go catch the llama and lead him out while the dog brought the sheep. I had left Boogaloo's halter on which makes catching him easier. Hah! At moments like this you realize that this is not simply a llama, but rather a f#$*%*ing llama! I was not going to spend 20 minutes trying to clip a rope on the llama while the policeman was waiting. I decided the brute would follow the sheep anyway, so I gave up on catching him and sent Song in to gather the sheep out. I backed into the road, ready to lead the sheep to their next graze. There were quite a few animals in the pound, and the gate is very narrow with a drop to the road. It took a bit for Song to get them all out. While she was in the back pushing them out, the front sheep were out the gate and turning up the road in the wrong direction. There was not much I could do with the dog still behind 20 or so sheep in the high walled pen. By the time Song emerged from the pen after the last sheep the front sheep were high tailing it up the middle of the road for the next town. The llama was running with them. They veered into a retail yard for a business that sells stone, weaving in and out of the pallets and piles of various rocks. They were putting on quite a show for the line of stopped traffic.

As soon as Song got out of the pound I sent her fast for the breaking sheep. The ewes and lambs had spread about in the stone yard, and it took some work to get them back out. The sheep were darting this way and that and Song was rather enjoying herself working too close and too fast, which was not helping. I got Song settled and she quickly had the group back together and marching in my direction. The llama (the f#$*%*ing llama) was nowhere to be seen. I calmly commanded my dog, bringing the sheep back along 113 towards the opening to the school house, pretending I had a plan. My mind was racing. No llama, no llama, no llama... This is a llama I can barely catch in a small pen. No way he'd be caught loose. If he did not show up I'd need to bring the sheep back up the road to try to get him to join up. Cars were already backed up quite a ways in the short time since the policeman stopped traffic.

Just as the last couple sheep turned into the the school house drive, the llama came racing out from behind the wall for the stone yard. He was looking about wildly for his sheep, whimpering and humming as upset llamas do. Fortunately he saw the last couple wooly butts disappear into the school house drive. He galloped down 113 after his sheep like Derby contender, skidding on the pavement as he turned into the drive right in front of the cruiser. If my llama runs into a police cruiser do I have to pay for the damage?

Fortunately the llama decided that the minute or so his sheep were out of sight was more than enough separation. He stuck right with the flock as I moved them into their waiting paddock. Once everything was under control I did admit to the officer that the process had been a bit more exciting than I had planned!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Empty Chairs

The latest NEBCA News is out. It has a piece on my dog Cato, who I lost in January. The piece included a photo of Cato, laying in my double folding chair at a trial. Beside that chair was the very empty chair of my very dear friend Darlene Hutchins, who died of pancreatic cancer in September, leaving us with only memories of her infectious laughter.

I sent the link to a couple other friends who were close to Darlene, but not likely to see the NEBCA News. Both were hit as hard as I was by the image of that familiar chair, without the familiar face and smile that go with it.

Brenda Buja commented...
"Empty chairs...someday ours will be empty too! Enjoy what you can, eh??"

It is a sentiment to remember. Enjoy your life. Enjoy and cherish your friends, your family, your dogs. Darlene met life with humor and a grin. She blessed herself and those around her with joy. Her chair is empty. Our hearts are full.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pigs and Roses

The three new piglets came home yesterday. One is mostly black, one white with black spots all over him, the other mostly red, a few black spots. These are Tamworth/Berkshire crosses. The Berkshire sow was black, and the Tamworth sire was the traditional Tamworth red.

I was concerned whether the younger boys would get along with their older and larger brothers. No problem. The two sets of piglets took to each other immediately and now I have a little herd of happy pigs.

They have been hanging out along the lower fence under some wild roses for shade. It made a pretty picture.

When pigs fly...

They decided that me following them around with the camera, staring at them all the while, was quite creepy. The little ones either ran, or hid behind their older big red half brothers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Matter of Trust

We went for a long swim today. I live on the edge of a pond and take my kayak out with them, making triangular laps around the pond, about 11 minutes of swimming per lap with a brief touch to shore in 2 places along the way. By the end of the summer they are swimming 30-40 minutes a day.

Today we did 2 laps for the first time this year. Gust is not a well established swimmer yet, so I pull her into the kayak when she gets worried, something I've done with all the youngsters until they get their confidence for the longer stretches. To get her in the boat I just hoist her across my lap with the handle on the life vest. She's a remarkably trusting little creature. She lays there with her chest across my legs, waist over the edge of the boat, and back legs completely relaxed and trailing in the water.

Watching her gazing about contentedly, laying completely relaxed where I had plopped her, I thought about the trust she puts in me. She has always been a trusting dog. I find it an endearing quality, perhaps only because it makes caring for her easier. I have had other dogs where I had to work hard to earn their trust, and under duress they tended to look to their own plans. Rhyme was the most independent dog I ever had, and the dog I worked hardest to build trust with. For the first year of her life I was nothing but the "puppy police", thwarting her desires. She was stung by a wasp out working one day. I called her to me to swat it off. She took off for the van, running right past me. That same summer Cato and Dare ran through a yellow jacket nest and were covered with stinging bugs. I called them and they raced to me without hesitation despite the fact that they were being actively stung. I was able to swat off the nasty beasts. How I did not get stung myself I'll never know. Both Cato and Dare trusted me to help.

I suspect there is a strong relationship between independence and trust. Perhaps an innate lack of trust creates independence? When I speak of independence here I'm not talking of dogs that are simply not needy, but rather of dogs that resist partnering. If you cannot trust others to work with you then you must always fend for yourself and follow your own plan. I do know that Rhyme began to partner with me much more willingly after I began consciously working to earn her trust. She started to look to me for support, and hear my commands as useful direction rather than endless nagging.

Too Darn Hot

It is 95 degrees in the shade here today. I let the dogs out of the kennels mid afternoon so I could take them for a swim. Usually being let out is cause for 15-20 minutes of exuberant play. Today they did one lap of the yard, then came and lay down on the porch.

We've been out training before 6AM both yesterday and today. It was actually quite cool and nice for both dogs and sheep when we started our work. By 7AM when we finished you could already feeling the heat coming. I have access to work in a large hayfield when it is cut, which it is right now. That means I load up the trailer and take sheep there for our training sessions.

With the 5:45 to 7AM sessions that leaves me getting home around 7:15, full blown rush hour. I live on a busy road. I drop the sheep off up at the sheep field, then drive home with the trailer, where I need to back it into my driveway on a fairly tight and indirect path. My method is to sit on the side of the road with my 4 ways on until it is clear in both directions, then pull across both lanes to back in. Usually I can do this quite quickly on a single pass, important in morning traffic when everyone is hurrying to work. This morning? Well I'm not sure what went wrong. Somehow I screwed it up and had to reset several times. It is amazing how much traffic can back up in just a short piece of time while I flail with the trailer.

The pigs are spending their days in one of two shaded corners in a small paddock they have access to. They occasionally get up, root around to get some cooler dirt on the surface, then flop back down. I told them they were lazy. They don't seem much affected by my opinions. I quite enjoy watching the pigs cavorting on a cool evening, but given the forecast I think they won't be getting lively for some time.

I get three more piglets this weekend, Tamworth X Berkshires.

One thing is for sure, the hot weather helps keep me inside at my desk doing things like updating this blog when better weather would have me outside.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nearfield trial

3 more days of trialing this weekend. Song got a 6th on Friday and won on Sunday. This is her first Open win. I'm getting together with her finally so we're hanging onto our lines better. We have actually started earning some points now, but I don't think we'll be able to get enough to go to the finals this late in the season. I enjoy going to the post with her. She's utterly focused and determined, and very quick on command. She has gained a lot of confidence in her ability to maintain control of her stock. This allows her to trust my commands on the tough spots on the field where dogs are tempted to take the safe route and either stop and not risk pushing the stock to where they may break or gather the stock away from the pressure.

Song gave me some very good work last weekend as well, but no placements. Fina on the other hand is struggling. She gets flustered when she gets away from me, particularly on the drive. Her littermate Jobe had a lot of trouble when he first started trialing. Jobe got through it and ended up quite a strong trial dog so hopefully Fina can do the same.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sand Creek Trial

I spent a fabulous weekend at Joyce Geier's Sand Creek trial. Joyce is a superb hostess, very organized and gracious. The sheep were tremendous. It was a group of undogged commercial market lambs. I'm assuming they had been moved in large groups with a dog as they had a sense of what a dog was. Separated into small groups on an unfamiliar field they were very challenging and great experience. A lot of dogs were flustered by them. They required the dogs come forward and really be determined to step in and take control. If a dog was hesitant or unwilling to move further into the pressure they capitalized on that. They would stall, or lean hard to either side, or bolt forward. It certainly made the dog think and manage the stock.

Song did well on the sheep this weekend. Her "ready or not here I come" attitude was quite persuasive with this flock. She was 6th on Saturday. She laid down a good run on Sunday, finishing split and pen with a couple minutes to spare when many folks were timing out because their sheep stalled so often. Levi got his 4th nursery leg. Fina lost her sheep at the top Saturday. Sunday she had great outwork, and good driving except that she gets worried on longer drive lines and will stop. I retired her on the drive on Sunday. She had no trouble pushing the stock.

In this early trial season I'm having a lot of folks who have not seen me since fall giving their condolences for Cato, who I still miss very much (and probably always will). This weekend he was simply described as "outrageous". What a great word for Cato! He'd sit in his chair in the handlers area watching the trial all day. He was flamboyantly social, standing on his back feet and throwing himself backwards into the arms of people. This was his solution to folks not wanting dog feet on them. Every time at the post he heard my soft command and left as if shot out of a cannon. He was an extreme dog in many ways. Outrageous.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More trialing

Well we had our first northeast trial this weekend. I was pleased with Fina. I'm realizing she and I have a long ways to go but she worked well for me, stayed forward, gave me the flanks I needed. I wanted to qualify her for the nationals, but realistically I expect we won't really be competitive till late summer. She is brilliant in many ways, but has some big holes in her abilities. Song... well she certainly is forward and certainly has an opinion. I need to work her in more areas with strong pressure as she feels that pressure more than she feels my directions. She's tough to handle, quick, fast flanks, not easy to settle a line with. We are working on settling her, but she'll always be that way to some degree so I need to learn to handle it better. I do enjoy running her but it seems I'm not very good at it yet.

No placements in Open so I'm still pointless. It is looking like this will be a mileage year for me. Both these young girls have nice pieces, but we're not where we need to be competitively.

Levi won both his nursery classes, beating the scores the two girls got on Saturday on the same course. So Levi is qualified for the nursery finals. He had a leg from the Long Shot trial in MD already so the extra win was gravy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I have a dog with neospora. How do I know? She produced a pup with neospora that was clinically affected. My bitch has never shown any illness. She is vibrant, energetic, and easily whelped and raised 8 apparently healthy pups. The pups went off to their new homes, then one became ill at 10-11 weeks old. That pup is now partially paralyzed behind. The owners called me as soon as it was clear that this was not a minor illness. The vets at the specialty hospital treating her suspected neospora or toxoplasma, both of which can be gotten from the bitch in utero. I had Song tested and she was negative for toxoplasma, positive for neospora. During this time I was in urgent communications with the owners of the other pups, in case another became affected. This disease is treatable with antibiotics, but it is important to get the dog on medications immediately before permanent damage is done. The problem is the early symptoms (diarrhea, perhaps a bit lame) do not indicate the severity of the problem and the need to react quickly. I needed the pup owners to watch their pups like a hawk and get them on meds at the slightest symptom. Fortunately no other pups became sick.

Learning that neospora is most often transmitted from bitch to pups in utero, I realized that littermates to my bitch might have the disease as well. I did not have a great deal of knowledge yet, but I contacted the owners of female littermates to my dog in case they were planning an upcoming breeding so they could test their dogs. Two of those have been tested, one positive, one negative. That means their mother almost certainly transmitted it to them.

Never heard of neospora? I certainly had not until that call from the pup owners. It has been tough finding information on this. My vet has never seen it, and in fact most vets I’ve talked to have not dealt with it. Neospora caninum is a coccidian parasite, similar to Toxoplasma gondii. Dogs are the definitive host. If a bitch contracts it during pregnancy, she may abort or have troubles with the pregnancy. Once a dog has neospora, they always have it. It encysts in the body. Even after an active infection (which is often asymptomatic) a bitch can transmit it to one or more of the pups in the litter. This is presumed to be in utero, though there is some question as to whether it is passed in the mother’s milk as well. The pups may or may not get neospora from an infected mother, and if they do they may or may not be symptomatic. Neospora can be transmitted repeatedly through successive litters, not showing clinical disease. Like coccidia it is opportunistic, looking for a chink in the immune response to flourish, producing the symptoms of disease. The most common early symptoms in a pup (lameness, diarrhea) can move rapidly to ascending paralysis of the hind legs. It is important to identify the disease and get treatment started before irreversible damage is done. Most pups who contracted it in utero show symptoms between 3-9 weeks of age. The other route for dogs to get neospora is eating raw meat. Cooking and freezing both kill the encysted bradyzoites (a life stage of the parasite). You need to freeze quite cold for several days. Beef is the most likely meat to be affected, but lamb and venison are also possible and there is even some thought now that poultry might be another meat that could be affected. For those of us using dogs on the farm, placentas from cattle or sheep that are affected are another source of infection for our dogs. Affected cattle or sheep may not show any outward signs of infection, and can carry and raise apparently healthy offspring. There is no evidence that people can get neospora.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Red Pigs

Three little Tamworth piglets came home with me today. They are a very nice looking lot. I must say I'm partial to red pigs. For the moment they are stuck in a small pen with a calf hutch for shelter. I'll move them to a section of pasture in a couple weeks once I'm sure they've mastered the feeder and learned to recognize electric fence. Being hopelessly irreverent, I'm calling them the "better dead than red" pigs. Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev. While picking them up I took a look at the next litter, Tamworth/Berkshire crosses. Most of them are white with black spots. I'll be getting 3 of those as well when they are weaned. I was tempted to name one McCarthy, but do not want to memorialize that regrettable chapter in US history any further.

Why keep pigs? I don't like the way most pigs are kept both for the stress levels on the pigs, and the quality of meat for me. My pigs live in portions of the sheep pastures, always with fresh green grass to dig up and eat, and enough room to run and buck and play. Yes, pigs play. On cool summer evenings they can really kick up their heels. During acorn season I move them if needed to get all the acorns that fall. They LOVE acorns. They don't live fancy lives, but certainly they enjoy pleasant ones. I only buy my piglets from small local farmers who keep their sows well, with room to relax.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A new season

We went to our first trial of the season in MD this weekend. My handling is rough to say the least, not seeing my lines well nor anticipating the stock. Song gave me two respectable runs but no placements. She's quick and tough to settle a line on light sheep with. Long Shot has light sheep so it pointed out our weakness there. Fina needs a whole lot of work as she was almost completely unable to give me flanks with strong side pressure. We certainly have lots of homework for the next month before trials get going up north here.

I had entered Levi in Nursery instead of PN because the Nursery classes were on the same days as Open so I did not need to stay an extra day. He was not really ready as his driving is still quite primitive and his flanks near the top of the fetch are unreliable. I retired him about half way through the drive the first day. He had done some nice work considering he is accustomed to me walking nearby to help out. I figured he had worked out there on his own long enough so I quit before things fell apart. The second day he also put in some good work and got himself a leg towards the Nursery finals. He had a good mind, workmanlike, serious, and not rattled by the trial pressure. I was quite pleased with him.

I saw a lot of very good work, reminding me of the high standards my dogs and I will need to meet to be competitive this season.

Jobe was there and got a 5th and 9th in Open if I remember correctly. I also got to see the ebullient Rhyme again though I left before her runs. Angie let me know that Rhyme took 3rd and 6th in her to PN runs in classes of about 25 dogs. Both dogs were happy to see me but quite clear that they were firmly attached to their current handlers. That was good to see. It is hard for me to sell dogs and I want to be sure they land in situations that suit them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Natural Squeaky Toys

Well I tried working stock yesterday. What a mess. The snow is now so deep and heavy that two of last spring's lambs actually got stuck. If I can't train the dogs at least I can keep them in shape. So off we went to run in the woods, where a number of trails have been packed by snow mobiles.

Song has been quite attentive to the rustlings of rodents in their under snow tunnel network. I often see her poised, head cocked, looking down at the snow. Then she pounces, head straight down into the snow. Yesterday she came up with a prize, a rodent of some sort, dark gray, big enough to stick out either side of her mouth. She dropped it on the snow a couple times, and quickly pounced and recaptured it. The rodent did what rodents do, it squeaked. Vesta, who will lay and squeak a toy for hours if allowed and spends her indoor time looking for wherever I may have hidden these toys, heard the compelling squeal of Song's prey. Next time Song dropped the little beast, Vesta had it.

I called the girls to join me as I continued up the trail. As Vesta ran by I saw a tail and some legs sticking out of her mouth. She ran another hundred yards or so up the trail in front of me. Then she flipped her head up a couple times, and finished with a big swipe of her tongue around her lips. Mmmmmmm, fresh rodent appetizers.

I don't think they'll be catching any more rodents. After the squeaking all the girls were interested in catching things. So if one girl poised above the snow to pounce she was quickly joined by other hopeful hunters, who only provided distraction and interference. Neither boy cared at all about the vermin.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I lost Cato last week. He'd gotten out of the yard the week before and gone to visit the neighbors across the street. He was hit by a car right in front of our house on his way home. He spent 24 hours in the emergency clinic then was sent home. At first it seemed he'd be okay, but it became apparent that he had neurological deficits, which began to get much worse. So we took him to Tufts where they found that the first vertebrae connecting his skull to the spine was knocked out of place. It needed to be re-aligned, which would cause great trauma to the spinal cord and brain stem, possibly killing him, likely putting him on a respirator for a few days. Then there was a long recovery. The decision point was that even if all went as well as possible the repair would be fragile, meaning that exuberant Cato would need to be restricted the rest of his life. I could not put him through all that to live a life of frustration.

Cato was my first BC, a home trained pup who took me from Novice Novice to the National Finals to the World Trial. He was my go to dog for difficult farm work. Cato focused on the job at hand, and got the job done. He slept in my bed every night.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pups have all flown the nest

The last of the pups left this moring. Little Dylan left for Ontario today. Joni left for VT on Friday. Dusty got to ride on an airplane to FL on Wednesday. Her person came to get her so Dusty got to sleep in the cabin in an underseat bag. Arlo went to VT on Tuesday. Jimi went to NJ on Monday. Cass and Maggie left last Sunday, Cass will be in MA and Maggie had a long ride to KY. Janis was the first to leave on Friday the 1st. Her trip was moved forward to avoid the big snowstorm that was coming through.

So now I've dismantled all the x-pens in the living room. Pulled out the plywood, rubber matting and newspaper protecting the floor. Picked up the myriad of toys. Pulled the calf hutch off the deck as well as the clear tarps that were on the rails as wind blocks. The vacuum cleaner got a workout and the living room and deck look great.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Nature of Hay

Hay is a remarkable substance. Properly harvested it captures much of the nutrients available in the included forage, removing the bulk of the moisture to allow long term storage. It provides nutrients and calories for my flock, keeping them fit and healthy through the winter, providing energy to stay warm and develop the lambs inside them. I love the smell of good hay. It is fresh and sweet and clean and wholesome. I bed my dog houses deeply with hay in the winter so the dogs can make a warm nest. The dogs smell delightful. I love the smell of the loft loaded with hay.

If only I did not actually have to carry the stuff.

Hay has an amazing ability to work its way into any amount of clothing. Wear a turtleneck, fleece vest, fleece jacket, winter jacket, long pants, hat, gloves and boots. Take a few bales out to the sheep. Brush the bits of hay off your jacket, noting with satisfaction that they seem to slide easily off the smooth finish of your outerwear. That, my friend, is a lie. The hay that slides easily off your coat is a distraction, covering the progress of the hay that is now working its way through 6 layers of clothing to your skin. As you took each bale and spread the flakes out for the sheep, small bits of hay have been surreptitiously disengaging themselves and beginning their journey. Some simply clung to your clothing as you carried the bale or lifted a flake. Some lifted through the air in the chill winter breeze, or perhaps separated as a flake was tossed to a hungry ewe. Many of these bits fall short of their goal, landing in the snow to be consumed by sheep or decay into the ground. But many successfully make it to the outside of your clothing. Once there they begin a burrowing process that any subterranean dwelling animal would envy. Hay can work through any fabric with ease. Natural fibers or manmade, knit or woven, if it is not hermetically sealed then hay can get through. If not through the fabric then it slides in the cuffs of your boots, up your sleeves, down the turtlenecks. Let’s ignore the fact that you never lifted the hay above your shoulders to avoid the turtleneck entrance, the hay gets in there anyway. Once in, it works its way through the layers like a chigger, aiming for the most sensitive skin. And only when it has positioned itself so as to cause maximum annoyance does that final, almost invisible, pointy piece of hay finally anchor to your undergarments.

You continue your chores, desperately trying to ignore this infernally uncomfortable sensation as the tiny bit of hay scratches at skin not at all accustomed to such abuse. Finally, in disgust, you drop the bucket you were carrying, unzip your coat, pull the hem of your sweater and underlying vest away from your body, un-tuck the turtleneck exposing your bare skin to the icy air, and reach up to sweep the offending needle of hay out of your clothing. You do this while leaning forward, pulling your upper layers away from you so the hay will fall freely to the ground. But instead it manages to slide down your body and into your pants. Lord only knows how since the waistband is so damn tight from holiday gluttony. Once there it snags on the top edge of your underwear and immediately works its way down into a position equally miserable as where it started. You sigh, perhaps swear, and finish your chores.

Once in the house you will find a good shake gets most of the hay out of your clothing, but there always seems to be one piece, one microscopic and very sharp piece, that cannot be found to be removed. You take a clean pair of socks from the drawer and slide them on only to realize that the wonderful, nutritious and remarkable hay is still with you.

Pups are hockey fans

Well the latest thing for pups is watching the hockey games on the pond. Usually we have few skaters as by the time there is good ice there is also snow. This year the skaters have been terribly ambitious, either shoveling or using a snow blower to clear large tracts of ice as fast as Old Man Winter covers them with snow. The pups like to watch the games. There is plenty of quick movement, and the crack of the stick on the ice and puck is music to their ears. One game really caught their eye today and I think it was the quality of the skating. The good players just glide along, hardly noticed by the pups. But today's determined players were hardly NHL material. They had lots of herky jerky motion as their bodies twitched trying to keep their balance, and lots of clicking of stick on ice, to keep from falling on their faces. The players had fun and worked on their skating, and the pups enjoyed all the erratic motion.

Today was a study in deep snow. We have a fresh 6 inches of light snow. For once I did well running in front of them as their little bodies plowed back into the snow on every stride. Hah you little beasts, look how I can outrun you. Probably the last time, but I did it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pups go sledding

Well okay, the pups did not actually go sledding. But we loaded them all in the van today and took them to a local recreational area with a sledding hill. There I set up an x-pen about half way between the parking area and the hill, easy access from either. I filled it with adorable puppies. The puppies had a variety of admirers, with lots of little kids poking their mittened and gloved hands through for the pups to chew. What the pups really liked was the kids running around and the fast moving sleds coming down the hill. Now that caught their attention. Of course I'm not sure if I was socializing them with a variety of people/kids or with a variety of snow gear. Most of the smaller kids had on the one piece suits, hats, gloves, the full Charlie Brown treatment. Some of the really little ones were towed by the x-pen in sleds by mothers and fathers, which was really cool to watch.

The parents were quite pleased with yet another distraction for the kids, particularly when the parents learned that all the pups were already sold so they could easily field the "aw mom, can we get one" question.

Everyone now has had one distemper shot and had their nails done. I'll do Parvo next, before each pup leaves. The first pup left today with her new person, headed to Nova Scotia. Her departure was moved ahead to accomodate the snow storm that is supposed to hit Maine very hard. Hopefully it won't be bad here as we have the temperament testers coming on Sunday.