Friday, January 21, 2011

Fun with Farm work

My paddocks are a mess of partial lumpy paths, deep snow with a harsh crust, some ice and some small broken up trampled areas. It will be a long time before any training happens, but it is handy to have a dog to put feed out. I'm afraid my sheep think little of my opinion unless one of my canine friends is around.

The first job is keeping the girls off the feeder so I can put out some grain. Not so easy as there is 32 feet of fenceline feeder, now so full of snow I have to fill it from inside the barnyard. The barnyard is small with no room for the dog to push the sheep well off, thus leaving the flock well positioned to try to skirt the dog on either end to get to the grain. Each of my 3 dogs has worked out a different method and style of moving them back and holding them quietly. The sheep have learned that even if the dog is at the moment pushing the other side of the flock back, and they are only 20 feet from the feeder and 30 feet from the dog, they will not make it to the feeder in time.

Another job is "bale dog". I just lay the dog down beside the main bale while I disperse the hay. Talk about boring! But with no dog at the bale all sheep will converge on it while I'm spreading flakes, then when I walk back they'll all bolt off through the bale, trampling it nicely.

This morning the sheep had eaten their grain and almost all were up at the hay I'd just spread. Several had remained in the barnyard, searching for those last few bits of grain in the snow filled feeders like pigs after truffles. Levi had been a very patient "bale dog" so I decided to let him bring those girls up. A couple were ewes that will cling to the llama to try to avoid the dog. One in particular almost fuses herself to her tall friend. Some of the sheep just trotted up towards me as soon as Levi got back behind them, but these two girls ran and clutched to the llama, who was eating another bale I had waiting to be spread, all this up against the gate by the feeders. Levi came around to lift on the narrow path through the deep, crusty now. He was confronted with a broadside bale, llama tight to the bale, and ewe almost under the llama. He jumped the bale, landing between the very surprised llama's legs and nose to nose with an appalled ewe. She recoiled from Levi's shockingly rude greeting and briskly made her way up to join the rest of the flock. Eventually I stopped laughing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Land Ho!

With 2 feet of snow in the storm yesterday I'm afraid training is completely over for winter. All that is left for the dogs is to push the sheep off so I can feed. This morning I fed the hay in the small paddock above the barnyard. I trudged through the deep snow and scattered the hay about a small area, forcing the sheep to make trails. It was fun watching them alternate from shoving through the snow to trying to jump from spot to spot. When I returned this afternoon the sheep had narrow lines between where each pile of hay had been, sort of like a giant connect-the-dots drawing.

This evening the sheep were eager for dinner so I had Levi push them ahead of me as I carried a bale out. They moved easily enough up the worn path, but then I wanted them off the trampled area so I could walk through to spread the hay. I had Levi turn them after the gate and push them off to the right. It was like grounding boats. The front girls moved into the deep snow and just stuck. I figured the flock was going no further so I had him hold them there while I spread the hay. Once done I surveyed my squat girls, bellies cradled in snow, legs nowhere to be seen. I rather wondered if I'd need to wait for high tide to get them out. I pulled the dog off and the sheep in the back ran to hay, while the front line slowly plowed their way back to the trampled areas.

I had spread some of the hay outside the trampled area to force them to expand their terrain. Some hay I put on the pristine snow between where the morning piles were. The sheep loved this arrangement as they could stand in the paths and dine on the table of snow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting the New Year right

It is over 50 degrees out. It hardly feels like January. I spent a good chunk of the day out with friends working dogs. Clearly all our dogs had made their New Year resolutions as they worked very well. The sheep had made resolutions as well, something about not cooperating with the dogs and avoiding the training program all together. When we got them out of the trailer they figured they'd just dive back in, and they certainly had no interest in clambering over the plowed snow banks into the main part of the field. Song was delighted with their recalcitrance, which gave her a chance to show her stuff. The sheep were trying to take advantage of the maze provided by vehicles and snow banks, hoping to dart somewhere she could not stop them. Song was quick, determined and tenacious, getting them away from the vehicles and up to the bank we needed them to go over. They were not keen on climbing the bank and a couple thought to stand their ground there, but Song was not taking no for an answer and indeed the sheep gave up and popped over the bank and into the field. I often call her "the tactless wonder", but she is clever and resourceful and relishes a challenge.

I've got just 3 dogs to work now. I must admit I'm really enjoying having fewer dogs. It gives me more time for each dog and with 20 minutes I can give each dog a nice little piece of work.

May you all have a safe and happy New Year. May your stock be healthy, your dogs effective, and you and your family warm and safe.