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Farm Fresh Blog
Wednesday, December 30 2015
Humans aren't the only ones who have trouble with the neighbors. Since we moved the expectant mother cows and calves into the pasture near the house, they are in closer contact with the sheep - and Briar. Big White Dawg just can not stand a cow staring at her sheep. Because we want the cows as close to the barn as possible, we feed them close to the fence. In addition to a round bale of hay, I also toss red top cane hay over the fence into their troughs. Because cows are messy, and sometimes the hay comes apart as I toss it, there is often a trail of hay near the fence on both sides. As soon as the goats and sheep are released from their pens, they race to this loose hay for a buffet. The morning after it snowed, the buffet became a hockey match.
I felt sorry for them because: A) goats are pitiful in cold weather, and B) everyone had been locked inside the barn for a couple of cold rainy days leading up to the snow and they wanted more roughage. So instead of watching them play hockey over the remaining dregs of hay, I got them their own bale. They were delighted. (except the goats. The goats were still miserable. Anything below 60 degrees is frowned upon. Anything resembling wet weather is Goat Hell.)
Even though the cows had their own hay, they were attracted to the fence by this new bale that was quickly being scarfed up by midget not-cow creatures. This freaked Briar out. There are rules about staring at sheep. The rules: Don't Stare At Sheep!
She snapped at them a couple of times to back them away and then settled down under her tree to supervise.
They were warned politely, but the sound of the neighbors enjoying hay was too much for them, and the younger ones ventured close to the fence again. It is amazing how fast a dysplastic dog can move with the proper motivation.
I think the roll must be the canine equivalent of an end zone dance. "I scored. You lost. You suck. This is my side of the fence. Don't forget it! Quit staring at sheep!"
And back to her post she went.
And this is why the cows hate Briar.
Monday, December 28 2015
I stared at it for a moment in stunned silence. I looked up at the house and back down again. No doubt. Nope. Ten dogs is not too many dogs . . . .
It snowed last night. This added another dimension to our morning patrol.
Each day after I feed the livestock I take the dogs for a walk so they can spread their scent along the predator side of the fence line.
Today our patrol started out as great fun for all of us but soon the dogs got serious.
Afraid we'd run into a pack of wild hogs, I called the dogs back. We returned to the house where I locked them in kennels and went inside for breakfast. A hour or so later Other Half and I fed the cattle and the horses some more groceries, and then we went to check the deer feeder at the blind near the pasture below the house.
I whipped out the camera to photograph tracks in the snow.
The more I looked, the more animals I found. And all was well until I found this:
That's a cat. That's a cat the size of Briar. I can only think of one cat around here the size of a Great Pyrenees.
Yes, a cougar. A cougar was within shouting distance of the house this morning. The cat was uncomfortably close to little Melvin.
The cat was also pretty close to where the dogs and I turned around and went back, where I walked alone into the forest with six dogs and no gun.
No, ten dogs is not too many.
Friday, December 25 2015
One of my favorite things about Christmas is that for this one day life slows down and gives us time to reflect. Everything is closed. There's no place you need to go and nothing you have to do, so there's no reason to feel guilty about just relaxing. It's also a great time to sit back and take stock of your blessings.
I did a lot of that these past two days.
This is my view from the kitchen door. Living inside the barn has a lot of perks.
We were able to fit in some time to ride just for fun. That hasn't happened a lot lately. It's hard to believe that two retired people living in the middle of nowhere can't make time to ride. Dear Friend Mindy (long distance ranch hand) brought her family to spend the holiday with us and she and I stole away on Tiny and Musket.
I do love this big red horse.
I reckon this is probably one of the best places to spend some time counting your blessings - on the back of a horse. So as the sun sets on another Christmas, take a minute to slow down and reflect on all the goodness in your life.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Tuesday, December 22 2015
When she didn't come in to eat the night before it was time to get worried. While Other Half doesn't trouble himself to name the cattle, I name the ones that stand out. I called this girl Secretariat because she is a racehorse at dinner time. When that cow gets called for supper, the Chariots Of Fire theme song plays in the background. Girlfriend doesn't miss a meal, so when she didn't come in, something was wrong. We started counted down the days since she'd been bred and realized we were late locking her in the pens near the house. She was now somewhere, in a forest thick with coyotes, trying to have a Charolais calf by herself.
Cows often wander off to give birth, but we like to keep everyone confined so we can monitor them. We haven't had to pull a calf since we started breeding to Angus bulls, but this little girl was from a group of heifers that had been bred to a nice young Charolais in South Texas when our Angus bull was in North Texas. I had some serious concerns about breeding first time mothers to a breed of bull noted for throwing big calves, but Other Half didn't share my worries until he was walking through the forest with a flashlight hoping to find his cow before the coyotes did.
Two hours of driving and walking in the dark proved fruitless. The next morning she still didn't come up. We decided she was either dead, had a calf, or both. By noon she dragged in for breakfast, looking like a gutted snowbird. Since she is normally fat and healthy, there was no doubt that she'd had a calf. Whether the calf was alive or not was another matter entirely.
While she ate, Other Half and I formulated a plan. In hindsight, we might have put more time into our plan. Since you could hide an elephant out here and not find it, our chances of tumbling over a newborn calf were slim and none. Our only hope was to follow the cow back to her calf. If the calf was dead, then so be it. It was a major financial loss, but at least the cow was still alive. On the other hand, if the calf was alive, and just hidden, waiting for his mother to return, he probably wouldn't survive the night alone with a first time mother. Coyotes are bad this year. We've already lost one calf, and the neighbor has lost four lambs.
I glanced at the time. We had guests coming for Christmas. The house was still a mess, and I had not put up one single Christmas decoration yet. It's been busy. We hadn't even bought a tree. Since we are surrounded by trees, the plan had been to find a likely candidate and bring a fresh tree in the house. We just hadn't found the time to do that yet. So I stood in a pile of cow shit, texting a friend to explain why her family would arrive tomorrow to a house filled with sand and dog hair. She sent this text:
"Is your tree up?"
God bless her. She knows me well. And loves me anyway. The plan had been to have a nice country Christmas for her son. Instead I was watching a cow watch me while I texted. We decided we could salvage Christmas by letting son and father tromp out in the forest and pick out their own tree. Can't get more Country than that!
The cow finished her cubes, let out a loud bawl, and slowly began to amble toward the pond. The game's afoot! I texted Other Half who had positioned himself on a 4Wheeler near the direction she had come from earlier. The plan was to keep a loose tail on her and thus allow the cow to lead us to her calf. We failed to consider anything past that, leaving us woefully unprepared for the rest of the afternoon.
Secretariat stopped at the pond for a drink, then she bawled again and headed off into the forest. I texted Other Half our direction of travel. Cell phone reception is spotty and since two reasonably intelligent people failed to get the walkie talkies while the cow was eating, I was stuck trying to avoid briars, branches and snakes while texting like a teenager at the mall.
Over my career in police work, I spent my share of time working with narcotics, and I'm one to give credit where credit is due. I've tailed drug dealers less wily than this cow. I gave that quite a bit of thought as I trailed the first time mother through the tangled mess of briars and cedars. The day was just warm enough to coax out the copperheads and so once again, I thanked God and Chippewa for snake boots as I trudged through the forest bed of thick leaves. I quickly gave up texting our direction. Just keeping an eye on a full size cow moving like a wisp of smoke through the trees was enough to keep me busy. It took an embarrassingly short amount of time to lose me.
Well, the upside was that I could text my direction again as I tracked her footprints. The downside was that the only thing worse than Other Half's hearing is his sense of direction. As I hiked through the forest, passing many Christmas tree Candidates, I tallied up the cost of another lost calf. I emerged from the forest onto the road by the creek where I met Other Half. Despite the fact that fresh tracks went through here, he confirmed that he didn't see a large black Ninja cow pass. My guess was that he found cell phone reception and was playing on Facebook while I was trudging through a tick-infested forest.
Since he was on the 4Wheeler, he followed the road to the creek while I followed the cow tracks and entered the forest again. I soon ran out of tracks in the thick leaves. I was reminded of that damned buzzard again as I headed east through the woods. This was the area where the last calf was killed.
A stick snapped in the forest ahead of me, so I forged on down a game trail. The path ended at the creek, and there standing above where the calf was killed last summer was my Drug Dealer Cow nursing a healthy bull calf. I took a moment to thank God, admire the dappled sun playing across her back, and catch my breath.
I then directed Other Half to our location so he could inspect the new addition to the herd. The calf was a big boned hulky cuss.
Other Half asked, "What are you going to name him?"
I have no idea why. It just popped in my head. Melvin finished his lunch, smacked his lips, and regarded us with a quiet curious look, and that's when the Ninja cow just walked off, taking Melvin with her. Now here's the point where we realized that we had absolutely no clue how we were going to get Melvin back to the house. He was disappearing into the forest at an alarming speed for someone so young. The cow was just walking, Melvin was hiking behind her, and I was left swatting briars and cedar branches again. Very quickly I gave up looking for copperheads. A $1200 calf was walking away and he wouldn't survive the night if I lost him in the woods.
It is at this point I want to pause and share a short note about relationships and marriage. Some couples actually discuss plans. They may have intelligent, meaningful give and take conversations where the views of the other are weighed and measured before a plan is cemented. Other people shout and cuss at each other while each tries to take charge of the situation because one person is clearly wrong, and we wouldn't be in the situation if the other person has just checked his cows like he was supposed to. I'm not gonna tell you what kind of couple we are, but I will say it is never a good idea to walk off into the forest with angry crime scene investigator who can kill you and make it look like a suicide.
So the cow continued through the forest.
And she popped out on the road, and crossed the creek.
And entered the forest again. And little Melvin followed along like a puppy on a string. Other Half got lost on the 4Wheeler while I trailed the cows through the cedar, briars, ticks, copperheads, feral hogs, and a partridge in a pear tree. There was more shouted cussing in the forest and eventually Other Half got off the 4Wheeler and joined me as I tracked Ninja Cow. We'd still be tracking that cow if Melvin hadn't run out of gas - or milk.
My plan had been to catch Melvin, put him on the 4Wheeler, and slow roll our little circus back to the house. I'm not sure what Other Half had planned. It involved a lot of cussing about leaving without walkie talkies, a cowhorse, a Border Collie, or a rope, and I soon lost interest. Plans should involve what we have, not what we don't have. What we had was a long piece of parachute rope, a 4Wheeler with half a tank of gas, a cell phone with 20% battery, and a pissed off wife who should have been cleaning house but was instead chasing cows through the freakin' forest!
The only two useful items from the above list was the rope and the 4Wheeler.
So we gently tackled Melvin and hoped his mother wouldn't stomp us to death.
Fortunately she was one of the cows I had raised at the house so she knew us and although she expressed concern, she didn't try out that insurance policy. There was more cussing about the pros and cons of tying Melvin's legs, how heavy he was, and who was hiking back for the 4Wheeler.
After a ride back that resembled the OJ Simpson slow speed hot pursuit, we finally deposited Melvin in a catch pen behind the house where his relieved mother joined him.
And thus begins the new calving season. Lessons learned: Do not leave the house for any reason without a rope, a gun, a knife, a pair of snake boots, a Border Collie, and a good sense of humor. And if you do, remember this: Prison orange is not your color.
Monday, December 21 2015
My posts have spawned a lot of discussion regarding the pros and cons of working homes versus pet homes for Livestock Guardian Dog breeds, so let's wade into this debate today. And yes, this argument really applies to ALL breeds of working dogs. It's not merely a Livestock Guardian Breed issue, just as many Border Collies are at the pound for the same reason. People get a Ferrari when they should be driving a Volkswagon. Folks, an Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a Ferrari. A Border Collie is a Ferrari. A Great Pyrenees is a Ferrari. I'm not saying you can't drive one, I'm just saying that if you don't do your research and learn how, you're gonna end up wrapped around a telephone pole.
And this never ends well for the dog.
Does that mean you can't do it? Of course not! I ended up with a great working Bloodhound. Just do your research and prepare yourself. Look at the pluses and minuses of that breed very carefully and decide if they're things you can live with, and this is different for everyone. Trust me, I think Jack Russell Terriers are the cutest little farts, but I know enough about them, and me, to know that I'm not man enough (wo-man enough!) to handle the things they do that terrier people just take in stride. We all have things that are deal breakers. Since I accept my limitations, I just admire terriers from a distance.
First and foremost, any dog is happier in a good home where he has a job and is loved by a responsible owner. The word "pet" is often seen as a dirty word in ranching and working dog circles. It shouldn't be. All my dogs are pets - even the working dogs. I believe "pet" dogs have a better working relationship with their handlers than dogs that are treated simply as tools. The real issue is not is the animal a pet, but are his physical and psychological needs being satisfied?
And before we go any further, read this: No dog is happy thrown outside with no social contact. If your dog is living on a chain or in a tiny fenced area in the corner of your back yard, where company won't see the holes he digs, you are the problem, not the dog.
So back to Livestock Guardian Dogs, a pet dog wants a something to guard and a working dog wants the security and stability of a happy home. I would argue a dog is far better off in a good pet home than he is thrown into the pasture by a rancher who thinks that Livestock Guardian Dogs shouldn't be handled. I also believe that a pet home is not a "good" pet home if they don't do their research and fully understand and appreciate what drives that dog. Generations upon generations of behaviors are hardwired into the DNA of your dog.
1) If you have a Livestock Guardian Dog and don't have livestock it doesn't mean your dog won't be happy guarding you and the kids, just prepare yourself for barking all night and crawling over and under the fence. Yes, I understand not every Livestock Guardian Breed dog does this, but enough of them do to it that these dogs should come with a warning label, so don't fool yourself into thinking that cute little polar bear cub won't act that way. He will. Get over it, work around, or don't take him home in the first place.
2) If you have livestock and a Livestock Guardian Dog, but it's also a pet, you shouldn't feel guilty about that. The proof is in the pudding. If you wake up in the morning and all your sheep are still there, I guess it doesn't mean a tinker's damn that the dog comes in the living room to watch television with the kids, now does it?
3) If you have livestock but don't have a Livestock Guardian Dog, I can't help you much. I got nothing. If I were you, I'd get a dog. Trust me, they're worth it.
Sunday, December 20 2015
Leaves have fallen, frost is on the ground, and coyotes peer between the strands of barbed wire at sleeping sheep. A layer of frost settles on the backs of the Churro sheep as they snore safely beside their dogs. The dogs roar to life throughout the night to remind the coyotes that meals are not free on this farm.
I roll up the barn door as the sun peeks over the trees and dawn breaks on another cold morning. The goats struggle to free themselves from their tangled pile of sisters as they stretch and greet the day with impatient cries for breakfast. The sheep rise and shake off the night as they totter toward me. Dogs bounce on the doors, eager to greet me and the morning. Before they bound off to play we cuddle and they tell me about their night of barking at eyes in the forest. With a stretch and a mighty shake, the older dog, an old hand at long nights and cold mornings, walks out of the pen and gives me her work card for the night before. It is always impressive.
The dogs run behind their frosty breath checking the fence lines. I toss feed to the livestock, grab a cup of coffee, and join them on patrol. The Border Collies momentarily halt their morning salute to the sun and investigate coyote scat.
The Livestock Guardian Dogs view this scat as a personal insult - a rival gang's graffiti on their wall. While the collies bounce and play in the frost, the big dogs march off to read the tags and fortify their borders.
The young dogs follow the older one as she carefully pokes along the fence, pausing from time to time to squat and leave her own trail of urine.
I open the gate and we all move into the pasture behind the barn yard. The collies race and play, leaving frosty footprints in this virgin space while the Livestock Guardian Dogs get down to the serious business of tagging the wall of their rival gang. I am grateful for their service. Hopefully this barrier of urine will push the predators a little further into the forest.
Tonight the sun will set, taking with it the warm illusions of the day. The coyotes will once again prowl the night in hopes of an easy meal while the big white dogs bark in the dark. And so will continue the ages old battle between the Singing Dog and the Sheep's Dog.
Saturday, December 19 2015
For this pup, we went back to the breeder of Lily (the perfect). Mesa is distantly related to Lily. The breeder runs a feed lot and uses his dogs to move calves back and forth to grazing pastures. His dogs need to be healthy enough to travel long distances with a rider on horseback, and have enough bite to handle cattle, but not too much because he's dealing with feeder calves that will be fed out on pasture and then moved on down the food chain to other buyers. He is primarily a cow man who uses his dogs as tools in his business. He doesn't breed dogs that aren't healthy or don't work because he doesn't have the resources to keep pets. His dogs must work the way he needs them to work or they are culled and sold.
Mesa was a bit of a gamble for me, but then I'd gambled on this guy's dogs before and it paid off big time with Lily so I was willing to take the chance. I carefully watched Mesa to see how her personality would develop since this was an accidental breeding. The breeder wasn't sure if her father was the red dog which was a planned breeding, or the black dog who made an unscheduled visit. Since Mesa's mother was red, I did a quick google search on Border Collie color genetics and discovered that two red dogs didn't produce black puppies. The entire litter was black. Both were good cowdogs but the black dog had just been sold because he had too much bite for a feed lot situation.
Since we are working cow/calf pairs that make an earnest attempt to kill the dogs, I wasn't as concerned with too much bite as long as the dog wasn't just a wild bully. We need a dog with enough balls to engage a cow, but enough sense to know when they don't have to engage. Lily has too much bite for my dairy goats, but has to use those teeth on the cattle. She has put some marks on our cattle, but now they pay attention to the little black dog. They don't have as much respect for Trace because he doesn't have a bite to back up that eye. Like Trace, Cowboy only uses eye and feinting bluffs, but the cows worked for him and I believe it's because he's black and thus a reasonable facsimile of Lily, the little dog that bites. So I took the gamble on the "Who's ya Daddy" litter and brought home the little ball of fluff that would be Mesa.
Because we have cattle, sheep, and goats, the dogs need to be versatile. We keep sheep and goats in the yard and so Mesa had regular access to them. She is still never allowed around the cattle except when sitting in a mule or a 4wheeler. I cannot emphasize enough that the cows around here will try to kill dogs. Mesa needs to be on her A game before she starts on cattle. When we wean calves next fall we'll start Mesa on those calves. Only after she has got some skills on them will she be allowed to work the momma cows.
In the beginning the plan was to let Mesa accompany us with simple chores on the sheep and goats and start formal lessons when she was an adult. Her early lessons were simply doing chores around the sheep without chasing them. Instead of trying to keep her completely away from livestock, we just let her come along for chores. She inserted herself from time to time when she thought she could be of help, but it wasn't until this summer that I actually started working her a little on sheep.
I pulled out Dorper sheep and put them in a big pen where Mesa could begin to practice gathering them, moving them to me, and then moving them into the chute. That's all we've done. No real commands, just body language, and getting the feel for each other and the sheep. She figures things out pretty quickly and I don't notice her bullying sheep at all. In fact, I haven't seen her bite sheep. Most of these guys are flighty lambs but there are a couple of wily adults in the mix who will make things more difficult for a dog. She is light enough to handle the flighty ones but strong enough to address the wily ones.
We haven't worked a lot yet, just enough to keep it interesting for her and not pattern-train the sheep. Mesa will start formal lessons next spring with a trainer who actually knows what they're doing, as opposed to me who just does farm chores with the dogs.
Here are my observations about Mesa:
Very athletic and well put together. She is in charge of her body now and can handle sheep and goats. Not mature enough both physically and emotionally for cattle. Earnest worker who listens well. Softer than Trace but not as soft as Lily. Not hardheaded like Trace, very willing to figure out what you want to do with the stock and accomodate you. Like Lily, she is very into rules. She wants to know the rules and make sure everyone follows them. If someone doesn't follow the rules she wants to enforce the rules. Nice recall. Crazy little resource-guarding monster around the other dogs. Into world domination through either fawning behavior with humans or fangs with other dogs. Does not have enough experience with small children to be trusted around them. Is relatively social with strangers and not shy. Still enjoys going to Tractor Supply and riding in the cart. Is genuinely disappointed if a stranger does not greet her when she's riding in the cart.
Watching her play with the Anatolian puppies gives me insight into her nature too. She is very tiny compared to them but holds her own quite well. When the chips are down and she is overpowered she comes up swinging with all she's got. She has a quick temper but is just as quick to forgive too. I no longer allow her to play with them unattended because they are such good friends that she forgets how big they are, and they are too young to understand they can accidentally drown their little buddy in the pond. That's my big fear.
Their rough play allows her to prepare herself for working animals much larger than her and realize that she can get hurt and still survive. It is a bit frightening to watch the Anatolians tag-team her. One will grab her head and the other grabs her back. They are relatively gentle and everyone is still having fun, but this play is a shadow of a serious killing game. A coyote wouldn't stand a chance with those two.
If they get too rough with Mesa, she goes batshit crazy on them and they adjust their bite accordingly and then everyone continues the game. Mesa is the only dog the Anatolians cut loose and play with. No one else wants to play with them and no one else needs to play with them. It is enough that they know which dogs live here.
I do notice Mesa beginning to pick on Ranger, the Blue Heeler. She has decided that he is a bit obtuse (he is) and she wants to bully him. (not acceptable) Yesterday she caught him bullying Judge. I snarled at him several times about trying to knock Judge down.
Mesa finally ran over and made it clear to him that bullying Judge would not be tolerated.
I question her motives. Was she defending her friend, Judge? Was she looking for the opportunity to be Sergeant At Arms and enforce my order? Or was she just looking for a free pass to be mean to Ranger? Who knows. She can be a little monster with everyone except Briar. She still tries to suck up to Briar, who barely tolerates her fawning behavior. From the beginning the big white dog has recognized her for what she was - another Border Collie bent on world domination.
Friday, December 18 2015
"I just watched the u-tube video on LGDs. The dogs are amazing. So, my question for you all. Why are there so many Pyrs and Pyr mixes in rescue? I follow a particular rescue group and have done some reading. It seems to be a really big problem. Thoughts?"
Wow. That's a loaded question. Let me see if I can answer that without offending people, or at least spread the offensive material across a broader range. Or we could just bounce right in.
As a puppy she lived with the sheep and lambs with no problems. As she got older, she saw the lambs as siblings and tried to play with them as she would another puppy. I had an entire lamb crop with scars and scratches on their ears because Briar played too rough. When I caught her at it, I threw a bucket at her and scolded her. I locked her in a pen inside a pen when she couldn't be supervised. Not only is the livestock my responsibility, but BRIAR is my responsibility. She is a dog, not a mindreader. She must be protected from herself.
As Briar got older and quit playing with the livestock we then had to deal with her climbing fences. In her case, it wasn't to roam, but was to attack the garbage man when he came and stole the garbage. We had to install a hotwire on top of all the fences. We could also have used the "roller" wire and if I'd known about it at the time, I would have used that instead. Regardless, the point is that instead of trashing the dog, we TRAINED THE DOG or changed her environment to prevent unwanted behavior.
A Livestock Guardian Dog is an investment. The dog is actually more important than the sheep. If I lose a sheep to a coyote, I've lost a single sheep. If I lose a dog, I lose all the sheep. Think about that for a minute. The dog is so important that you simply MUST invest the time to train it. Unfortunately, we live in a disposable society. People put more time into playing a video game to the next level than they do in creating a good Livestock Guardian Dog.
People want instant results, and they don't want to put a lot of effort into it. I think that's why the "throw 'em out with the stock and leave 'em alone" myth is so prevalent. Most of these dogs were never meant to be handled that way. In the countries where these dogs originated, a shepherd was out with the dogs and the stock. The dogs are not just thrown out there and left alone. Someone missed that little factoid when they created the myth.
So Karen, the first part of my answer to your question is that we are living in a disposable society of people who know nothing about how to train dogs. If we, as a nation, knew anything about dog training, there wouldn't be this massive number of dogs in rescue anyway. At the risk of offending the rescue organizations, I believe the problem lies not with breeders, but with the fact that very few people in this country seem to be able to train a dog. People get dogs, keep them for a while, and then discard them and get another dog. I believe the heart of the matter lies not with the responsible breeders who are producing dogs, but with the fact that the average American believes a dog should behave a certain way with little or no training. Instead of pushing all this money into spay/neuter propaganda, I'd put more money into "Learn to be a responsible dog owner and train your freakin' dog" propaganda.
Now that I've pissed off the rescue organizations, let me piss off the breeders. Just because you have a good dog doesn't mean you should breed it. Seriously. Just because you love Fluffy and believe the world would be a brighter place if everyone had a Fluffy, is not reason enough to breed two dogs. And just because Fluffy happens to be a stellar Livestock Guardian Dog, that still doesn't give you the license to plop 5-9 puppies on the ground, collect your cash, and never look back. Responsible breeders are responsible for the puppies they produce for their ENTIRE lives. If you can't take that cute fluffy puppy back next year when it's a gangly teenager digging up the yard, don't breed your dog.
There is a saying in the racehorse industry, "Breed the best to the best and hope for the best."
Now let's be serious. Are you breeding the best? Does your dog really work? Is your dog healthy? Do her parents work? Her siblings? Are they healthy? And by healthy, I don't mean "Is the dog still alive and walking?" I mean, does the dog have good hips? Good elbows? Epilepsy? Anything that keeps it from doing the job it was bred to do? What about the dog you want to breed to? Is it healthy? Does it work? Or God forbid, does it just have papers?
Here's a hot new flash for you. Papers don't necessarily mean squat. They "may" be proof that your puppy is a purebred, but they don't give you proof of health, working ability, or anything else that says a registered dog is any better than the dog behind the bars in the pound. In fact, many of the dogs at the pound are registered dogs that some nitwit disposed of because he didn't have enough knowledge to train properly. Does that mean there is something wrong with the dogs behind bars? Absolutely not. If I were looking for a pet, that's the first place I would go.
Read my lips: Every one of my dogs would have ended up at the pound. (except maybe Lily) None of my dogs were born perfect. (except maybe Lily) They all chewed up things. (except Lily) They dig holes. (except Lily) They escape the fence. (except Lily) They chase/chased livestock. (except Lily) They bark. (except Lily. Nevermind, she barks at the microwave and the coffee pot.) So in a nutshell, out of ten dogs, all would have ended up in the pound except Lily. And I'd say that looking at the numbers, that's about right. For every dog kept in a happy home for its entire life, nine or more are probably trashed. Do you really want that to happen to your puppies? If you just take the cash and walk away, the chances are good that it will.
Let's look closer at my Livestock Guardian Dogs:
Briar - mixed breed, no papers, bad hips, excellent working dog that chased lambs as a teenager, and to this day climbs fences
So Karen, to answer your question, all three of my Livestock Guardian Dogs would have been trashed by someone else. Judge and Jury are now entering into the prime time for LGDs to end up at the pound. They are gigantic. They eat a lot. They still jump on you from time to time. They will still chase a lamb if the mood strikes them. If you don't watch them like a hawk, they will escape for about 10-20 minutes every morning while the sheep are eating. Remember, dogs have no understanding of human boundaries and fence lines. They smell a deer gut pile just on the other side of the fence. Raw food is good. Leftovers come home with them. Do I like this behavior? No. Whose fault is it? Mine! Either watch the dogs closer, lock them up, or build better fences. The answer is not trashing these dogs and getting two more.
I hope that people who fall in love with Briar do not rush out and get a Livestock Guardian Dog without doing a lot of research and having a lot of patience. Briar is invaluable to us, but she didn't start that way, and she isn't without fault. You will recall that from time to time she attacks the herding dogs. She also killed and ate numerous chickens that belonged to the neighbor when they trespassed onto our property. Although she didn't kill chickens she had grown up with on our farm, she may now no longer be trustworthy around chickens since she developed a taste for the neighbor's roosters. We'll get chickens next spring. If she tries to eat them, we'll work around that. We won't trash the dog. It is a certainty that Judge and Jury will attempt to kill chickens. Again, they are dogs. Dogs kill chickens. Livestock Guardian Dogs have to be trained or managed around birds. It is my responsibility to do that. In this same situation, too many ranchers would send three dogs to the pound for killing chickens next spring. Me? I count on it and adjust my chicken numbers accordingly until we get the management system worked out.
Thursday, December 17 2015
The Dorper sheep sell well and the money earned from the sale of sheep, goat milk soap, and Nubian kids will pay for the hay for everyone next winter. This will allow me to explore the world of spinning with my fiber sheep. I want to learn to weave saddle pads, cinches, and lead ropes using the sheep from my flock. The Dorpers afford me this luxury because they will pay for the feed for the fiber sheep who don't give as much in financial return. Dorpers are hardy sheep, which are well suited for this climate. They lamb easily and gain weight quickly. Dorpers often have twins or triplets. And most importantly, they are recognized at the sale barn by breed and sell accordingly. I can either sell lambs by auction or private sale.
So although my visit was social, I'm always 'sheep-shopping' at Shirley's. She's had 28 lambs so far this fall. Four have disappeared. One was from a set of triplets of which I was buying two. Sigh.
Shirley doesn't have a Livestock Guardian Dog. She lives on a busy highway and her old yard dog was just killed. Although she desperately needs an LGD (or three!) she knows they get loose and understands that another dog will just be killed on the highway. Perhaps a llama would better be suited to her needs. Other Half is going to set up some game cameras at her place to see if he can find out what kind of predator traffic is out there during the day.
Aside from the emotional loss, there is a serious financial loss. Four lambs at $150 each adds up to a substantial loss, and whatever nabbed those lambs won't stop at four. Shirley needs the money, and I don't want to lose the lambs. Each ewe lamb Shirley loses is a ewe lamb I won't be able to buy at weaning time.
As if I didn't already appreciate them, seeing Shirley's situation gave me a better appreciation for my own dogs. We came home well after dark last night, but I was fairly confident that my flock would be intact because Briar was on-duty. When I wake in the morning, even though the coyotes are lurking every night by the fence, I know my flock will be fine because in order to snatch one of my sheep, a coyote must cross through Briar, Judge & Jury. I sleep easier at night knowing this. I cannot emphasize enough that these dogs PAY FOR THEMSELVES!
If you run a small farm and don't yet have a Livestock Guardian Dog, what are you waiting for? I waited for years before I got Briar, and for years I lost chickens, turkeys, and geese. I lost a full sized boer buck right behind my barn! I didn't think I had enough livestock to justify the addition of another dog, but after a week of having something get into my chicken coop, night after night after night, even though I re-fortified it like Fort Knox every day, was enough to make me throw up my hands in defeat. A game camera revealed that my Boogey Beast was a raccoon. Every morning my chicken coop looked like the scene of a mass murder, as if chickens exploded inside the coop. I finally turned the last three birds loose because they were safer in the trees than locked in a coop waiting on the damned coon to break in again.
That made my decision, so I got a Livestock Guardian Dog when I bought sheep. The killing stopped. The addition of Briar to the barn yard allowed me to have sheep and goats and chickens. I'm now a firm believer in the idea that where one Livestock Guardian Dog is good, two is better. With the predator load we have up here, we need at least three. As Briar ages, we may have to add some more dogs to take up the slack. The threat is real.
In other areas it may be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, to think a Livestock Guardian Dog is just a decorative white lump in the pasture, but up here, the 'wolf' is literally at the door, and you'd better have some dogs to chase him back into the forest, or lambs will disappear. Your livestock will be dollar bills floating like feathers in the wind.
Tuesday, December 15 2015
The new sheep came from a farm that didn't have Livestock Guardian Dogs, thus the Navajo Churro and the Jacobs are a bit flightly around the dogs.
For example, the puppy galloping behind them has no clue why they're all running. He was called. He came. Everyone started stampeding. Surely there must be a problem.
This confused some of the Dorper sheep, who followed, but since, like the dog, they were also clueless, they chose a fast amble instead of a full-out gallop.
The other pup, also confused as to why the Churro took off like antelope, stood in the roadway and took inventory as everyone passed.
"Check. Check. Check. Check."
The Churro saw the Checkpoint as a Predator Roadblock. Dog in front. Dog in back. This tripped them out. I guess if coyotes actually overrun us, the Churro will be the last to get eaten.
Fortunately Briar is on duty. Not only does she keep the coyotes on their side of the fence, but she is able to model exactly how a Livestock Guardian Dog moves around the flock. These shots were taken the first day the new sheep met Briar. She wants to sniff them, but doesn't want to get them upset. Instead, she goes into stealth mode. I call it the "I'm Not Looking At You" approach.
The sheep have managed to put themselves in a wide alley and are now in a panic when they see the dog. They want to run but see the dog looking at them. She wants to sniff them but doesn't want to make waves.
So as they trot forward, about to break into a panic, Briar stops looking at them, and pretends she is looking at something else. Her nose is wide open, drinking in the smell of the new sheep.
As they trot past, she still stays focused on something else, but tips her nose so she can smell them as they pass.
Only as the end of the group gets out of the alley does she turn her head to allow herself to look at them.
And as they pass completely, she ends her charade and turns around to sniff them as the leave.
The sheep are relieved that they survived their close encounter with the Yeti.
The puppies still have much to learn from their Kung Fu Master about moving like a wave under the water around flighty sheep. They're getting there, but they have a ways to go. They are still impulsive and don't think about the consequences of their actions.
These photos sum it all up. Once again the sheep are grazing in the wide alley of the driveway. Jury sees me with the camera and decides to run to me, thus causing a panic.
The look Briar gives him is priceless.
"Idiots. I'm surrounded by idiots."
Monday, December 07 2015
This ranch is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It's remote enough that without a satellite, we don't get television, and without a cell phone booster, we have to walk to the end of the bottom of the pasture for good coverage. Our nearest neighbor is about a mile and a half away as the crow flies. The nearest paved road is several miles away. That said, one would think that we wouldn't see a lot of strangers around here. Well, yes and no.
On every Friday afternoon during hunting season, our little mile long gravel/dirt road becomes the Holy Land for hunters. The ranches surrounding us are leased to men who bounce down the muddy road dragging trailers loaded with 4-wheelers and coolers loaded with beer. At first we worried the traffic would bring crime and littering, but some of these guys have been hunting the same ranches for over ten years now, so to them, we were the new neighbors. And the truth of the matter is, we're not the best of neighbors if you're looking for a peaceful retreat from your work week.
Imagine this, it is 5 am and you are just stumbling out of your camper to go to your deer blind. You had to listen to three Livestock Guardian Dogs bark at coyotes all night long. It was a clear night, and so you could hear everything, even the jangle of their bells. It took a lot of beer last night to drown out the noise of those dogs. So now you are sitting in the stand, a bit hung over, waiting for the sun to come up. It's a good time to finally get some sleep. You are later awakened by the deafening din of hungry sheep screaming to be fed. The sun is up and clearly someone is walking to the hay barn. The chaotic baaing is punctuated by barking dogs. You know the noisy ones by name because every weekend you hear "AJA, RANGER! Shut up!"
So yes, Dear Readers, we aren't the best of neighbors. Every weekend in the Fall, hunters who pay big bucks for peace and quiet, and big bucks, have to endure the sounds of living near a sheep farm with ten dogs. They are all good-natured about it, and everyone is on good terms, but nevertheless, we now make certain changes to our routine on the weekends.
Since the Livestock Guardian Dogs take exception to every vehicle passing by our front gate, it's easy to tell when the first truck rolls in on Friday afternoon. That's the cue that The Weekend is officially here. Instead of allowing Briar to patrol the entire property at night, she is then locked inside the sheep pens beside the puppies and the goats. It doesn't cut down the barking, because the coyotes still come up, but it keeps her from chasing them off the property and onto someone's deer lease.
We now lock the horses in the front pasture until the trucks roll out on Sunday afternoon for two reasons: bullets travel, and hunters drink. As a Crime Scene Investigator, I'm painfully aware of how far a bullet can travel. I'm also aware that many hunters drink. Most of the time they are harmless. They fall asleep in blinds, and they fall out of deer stands. But since I don't want a $6000 Mustang mistaken for a White-tailed deer because he's brown, it's just safer to keep the horses locked below the house from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday afternoon they are free to return to their lives of pretending they are wild mustangs. (okay, one really is, but the other three are just pretending.) Yesterday we turned them loose and like a little choo-choo train, they filed off into the forest. I watched the dappled sun play across their backs as they walked away.
One would think that it would be hard to hide a white horse in the forest, but when bright sunlight filters through the trees, the white ones disappeared as quickly as the brown ones. And soon the forest absorbs them all.
The hunters have said that the noise doesn't bother them when they're hunting because the deer in the area are used to our racket. Point well taken, but nevertheless I understand that the hunt itself, is not the biggest draw to going hunting on the weekends. People want the peace and quiet of the Great Outdoors. We enjoy that all the time - well except for when the dogs are barking and the sheep are screaming, but the point is that we have plenty of Great Outdoors time. The hunters are our Part-time Neighbors, and we all try to be good neighbors. We've pulled them out of the mud, they've helped us fix water gaps in the fence. There's been a lot of male bonding over beer and barbecue pits. As we've gotten to know them, I no longer resent the intrusion into my peaceful neighborhood. They're actually pretty good neighbors. Trust me, they're far better neighbors that the feral hogs and coyotes.
Wednesday, December 02 2015
While most additions to the farm are a result of tedious research and obsession, others are an accident of fancy. I went to the ranch estate sale with the intent of buying all the purebred Navajo Churro sheep I could afford, but I brought a Wild Card - my husband. Let me take a moment to explain that I was feeling particularly indebted to him that day.
One of my absolute pet peeves is someone wasting my time, and my husband, bless his heart, is the kind of person who flys by the seat of his pants. He often starts his day in one direction, but whimsy leads him in a completely different direction. A quick trip to the store can take hours. Running an errand with him is like a trip to Gilligan's Island. You end up a castaway when you started out on a three hour tour. This may be fine for him, but I don't like to be dragged along on these adventures. They are his adventures. I see them as a waste of my time. And I make sure he knows it. (sorry, I'm a bitch)
Anyway, on that Thursday night, Dear Friend Kim told us about this giant ranch estate sale that was taking place November 20-21. Since Other Half is a sucker for these sales, I assumed it would just be one more of his adventures and I had no plans on going. Then Kim dropped the bomb.
"They have those Navajo sheep that you've been wanting."
Sign me up! I obsessed all night long. At 8 am Friday morning I called the number to ask about the Navajo sheep. No answer. I forwarded the estate sale flyer to Dear Friend Sue who is my Sheep Mother. Sue called immediately and ordered me to buy ALL the purebred churros. And she reminded me of this rule,
"Remember, there are no bad sheep."
I assured her that my intent was to buy all the churros. In fact, the weather was supposed to turn really ugly on Saturday and I was hoping that would keep other buyers away. I smugly announced that no matter what the weather, I planned to be at the gates an hour before the sale opened on Saturday. That's when Sue pointed out that the sale was on Friday and Saturday. Not Saturday and Sunday. (Cue the Homer Simpson "Duh!!") It was 9 am on Friday. The estate was two hours away and the sale started at 8 am.
I rushed into the house, woke up my sleeping husband, and announced that we had to leave NOW!
And God bless him, this man who doesn't willingly get out of bed before 10 am, hopped up, threw on some jeans, and drove me across North Texas to get my sheep. No complaints. None. I was humbled. I thought about all the times I had bitched and griped as he dragged me along on his adventures, so as the rolling countryside passed us by, I announced that I owed him an apology. He took it graciously. (I think he was simply in shock.)
We got to the estate and to my relief, the sheep had not been sold yet. So while I picked out all the churros, he took one look at the large flock of Churro, Jacob, and Southdown sheep, and informed me that we needed to get some of "those spotted ones." I told him those were Jacob sheep, and thus not part of the plan. He pointed out that they were cool looking and he liked them. Alrightie then. Add a couple of the 'cool lookin' ones too. I mean, he did sacrifice his entire day without complaint to get sheep for me. What's a couple more sheep?
Now since I didn't plan to buy Jacobs, I hadn't researched Jacobs, thus all I really knew about them was that four horned sheep were more desirable. Other Half announced that he thought the 4-horned sheep were "evil-looking." Okay. No 4-horns. That was fine. Since we were not Jacob breeders, it made more sense to leave the most desirable Jacobs for someone coming behind us who may be looking for Jacobs, not Navajo Churro. Other Half selected two Jacob sheep that he liked. Bonus. One of these came with a half-grown lamb the lady threw in for free.
I must admit, I didn't think much about the Jacobs at first. I just bought them because Other Half wanted them. They are cute little sheep, but since Jacobs are not part of my breeding program, their addition was merely an added expense. But then I got to know these little guys and found that I genuinely enjoyed them. Instead of richocheting into walls, the Jacobs are calm and thoughtful sheep who influence the others. They were the first to accept me as their shepherd.
It looks like Other Half picked out an older ewe, her baby, and an additional yearling ewe.
Long range plans? Who knows. They are blending well with the flock and they don't cost much to keep. Now that I'm retired, I'm able to explore my interest in learning to spin and weave, and the Jacob fleeces will add some interest to that. We'll see. I believe there are no accidents in life. It remains to be seen what these little ewes will bring to ours.
Tuesday, December 01 2015
Hallelujah! The prodigal sons returned yesterday!
Disclaimer: These photos do not in any way reflect the condition they were in yesterday. The boys were a muddy mess but I was so happy to see them that I ran outside without my camera.
I'm not sure if it was Tiny or Montoya who led this ragtag little Band of Brothers back across that creek but I'm glad they all made it safely. After this adventure, we'll be clipping their wings. The weatherman is calling for possible rain again next week. The creek should be back down by then, but you can bet that if it looks like enough rain to bring it up these little musketeers will be locked in the pasture below the house. I'm getting too old for this. . . .