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Farm Fresh Blog
Tuesday, September 27 2016
"Oh my gosh! What kind of dog is that?! I want one!!"
With doggles or without, the reaction is the same, and we soon end up having a talk with total strangers about breeding merle dogs. I've learned a lot about the subject in the past week, and met many new people because of it. Ordinarily I wouldn't think Luna's color was such a big deal, but she has created so much interest everywhere she goes that I figured we may as well wade into the subject here.
Until we got Little Luna, I never gave it much thought. For the many years that I trained and trialed dogs, I often came across merle colored dogs and always found them to be lovely creatures. But as with breeding paint horses, I know that breeding these striking animals always comes with a risk of health problems.
In the very short time we've had Luna, my eyes have been opened to the realities of these risks and although I am just beginning to scratch the surface on the subject myself, because I see the public's response to this cute pup, I feel compelled to let Luna be an ambassador on the subject so that we can nip some things in the bud.
So let's start with the basics. Many breeds have merle colored dogs, and as a general rule, you shouldn't breed a merle dog to another merle dog because you have the chance that 1 in 4 of the resulting pups could be deaf and/or partially blind like Luna.
So why do people do it?
I honestly believe that a lot of people don't realize the risk. It's here where some folks start foaming at the mouth and viciously attack breeders who produce double merle pups. Folks, this doesn't help either. It blames and alienates people. I've spent my entire adult life training dogs and although I've never produced a litter myself, with that much time spent rubbing shoulders in the dog world, I can give you a few generalities about dog people.
It is very easy for everyone to look down on the Backyard Breeder who doesn't show, work, or do health checks on their dogs, but since I've spent so much time in the show dog/sport dog world, I've seen the other side of the coin too, and my measuring stick for judgement is the answer to this question:
How many puppies are produced and how responsible is that breeder for his pups after they are born?
Yes, many breeders of all kinds produce litter after litter with no thought to the welfare of the pups once money has exchanged hands. On the other hand, some breeders are responsible for their puppies from birth to grave. Those are the ones I consider to be responsible breeders.
So let's get back to merles.
We've had Luna for exactly one week now, and in that time I've met every example of the above breeders and rescuers of Australian Shepherds.
Luna came from Backyard Breeders who mistakenly bred two merle dogs and then made every effort to find responsible, loving homes for those pups. Since Luna is a pup, like any other puppy, she needs plenty of time socializing in public, and I have to say I'm stunned by the way she attracts attention. (Not always in a good way.) We've met a lot of new people because of her. We met one lady just walking through a horse show who immediately came over and identified herself as an Aussie breeder. She knew exactly what Luna was and explained that she had made the same mistake herself years ago. She placed those pups in homes and stopped breeding those particular parent dogs. We later ran across another woman who told us she'd bred Aussies for over 20 years and just euthanized all the white pups like Luna.
Really?! Holy crap! Since 1 in 4 can be born like Luna, that's a lot of dead puppies. We were appalled.
It's a puppy, not a product.
So I ask you, who is the more responsible breeder? The breeder who lacks education, makes a mistake, but finds homes for their pups, or the breeder who produces a lot of dogs, and just euthanizes the handicapped ones? Many folks unwittingly make the mistake of breeding two beautiful dogs, unaware of the possible results, but others do it on purpose despite knowing the risk.
Why would anyone knowingly breed dogs that could produce deaf or blind pups?
Well, after living with Luna for a week, I'll tell you why.
The public likes flashy, loud-colored dogs, and they flock to these white blue-eyed puppies.
I've socialized a lot of pups in public and I can tell you that I have never, NEVER, had a pup generate the kind of buzz that Luna creates. People are simply blown away by her exotic appearance. (Okay, I think she's cute too, but she also looks kinda like a white possum and thus her nickname is 'Possum.")
Because of all this attention, we are caught between trying to warn people not to breed two merles and at the same time show people that despite being partially deaf and particularly sensitive to bright light, Luna lives a very happy life and is not some accident of nature that demands pity. As far as Luna is concerned, she is just like everyone else in this family, except shorter.
After all this research, would we still bring Luna into our home?
She is a delight to live with, and she will ultimately make us better dog trainers as we attempt to make her life as normal as possible. For all practical purposes Luna is a normal puppy.
Inside the house, and on cloudy days, she can see just fine. In bright light Luna wears sunglasses because her eyes are very sensitive. She can hear really loud sounds, like dogs barking or banging pans, but for the most part, appears to be deaf to sounds within the normal range. To compensate for that, we are all learning hand signals. Each morning Luna, Lily, and Mesa line up and we learn basic puppy commands in sign language. (Just wanna point out that Luna is progressing faster than the Border Collies. . . ) I think it will take longer to train the humans than the deaf dog.
Our decision to bring Luna home was in no way affected by whether or not she would prove to have serious vision or hearing problems, and it makes me uncomfortable for people to praise us as saints. We're not. We're just dog people who can make a little more room for another crate and another food bowl. True saints are the folks who rescue dogs in danger. We don't consider Luna to be a 'rescue.' She's not. At no point was Luna ever in any danger. She came from a loving home and she came to a loving home.
Yes, she has some things that make her different from other puppies, but we prefer not to think of her as handicapped. She is more like one of the mutants in X Men. Luna is not handicapped, she is just unique,
and never for one moment do we regret bringing her into our home.
Friday, September 23 2016
It started with a phone call. His brother from another mother. Could we possibly take on another one? My initial reaction was absolutely not. Of course not. Not one more dog. I reminded Other Half that since she was a double merle, she could also be a special needs dog. But what better environment for a pup that may have vision and hearing problems than a multi-dog home in the middle of nowhere with two dog handlers? Touche
And so this happy little ball of fluff came to our home.
I did a lot of research on white Australian Shepherds to better understand her and get tips on raising a dog that may have hearing or vision problems. She squints in bright sunlight so we bought her some doggles. She can hear other dogs barking but has problems hearing things in the normal range. Because she came from a household with experienced dog people, she is very well socialized and is a highly intelligent, very friendly, playful, and for all appearances, normal puppy. She isn't shy or reactive at all. In fact, the world is her cupcake.
Welcome to the pack, Little Luna.
Friday, September 16 2016
The trick is that they CAN NOT BE LOOSE TOGETHER. They can't. It's as simple as that. Independently they will lie around like responsible livestock dogs. Together, they are frat boys on spring break. We are blessed to be in the middle of nowhere, so when two large white dogs the size of calves go on walkabout, it is highly unlikely they will be hit by a car. On the other hand, they could be killed by hogs, bitten by poisonous snakes, or shot by hunters. AND - if they are running amok, they are not protecting the effing sheep!
Of late we have settled into a routine with Judge on Dayshift, while Jury is locked in the barn, and Jury loose at night while Judge is locked with the goats. Briar may either be with Judge or Jury. This has been working really well - until Thursday night.
Thursday we left to deliver several baby goats. Because the babies were in the back of the truck screaming, and we didn't want Judge to follow us down the road, we locked him in the barn with Jury. Together. Where they could plot. We returned far later than planned and it was already very dark with a bright moon in the sky. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and all I really wanted to do was go to bed. That's normally when things happen. I was not to be disappointed.
I opened the barn aisle gate and the boys bounded off into the night with a jubilant jog. I called them back to sort them for their shifts. Their jog accelerated into a flat-out gallop into the night. By the time I screamed at them, they had reached warp speed. There was a sonic boom as they broke the sound barrier when they discovered Other Half had left the gate open between the barnyard and the big pasture when he was planting wheat earlier.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to cuss. I wanted to throw things. Two giant dogs can cover a lot of territory on those long legs and they clearly had no intention of coming back on their own. There are rules I accept out here. You cannot catch a large animal running through thick brush if it doesn't want to be caught. I leaped onto a 4wheeler to take a pass through the pasture in hopes they would decide to lope back and follow me. Nope. Nothing. Nada. There was absolutely no sound but crickets and owls. They were so far away I couldn't even hear their bells jingling. At this point I felt like Merle Haggard's mother.
If you were not raised in rural America in the 1960's perhaps you've never heard the song "Momma Tried" in which a young man laments about how his mother tried to steer him straight despite his wandering ways. This chorus kept running through my head as I cussed in the moonlight:
I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole.
And perhaps a bit harsh.
I woke up around 2:30 am and peeked out the window. They had returned sometime earlier and were both safely in the barnyard with the sheep. I have no idea if they ran 30 minutes or 3 hours. I went back to bed. At 6:30 am they were both still in the barnyard with the sheep. When the sun came up they were both still home. Apparently God and Darwin smiled on Big White Puppies that night.
We have returned to our routine and I'm even more cautious about letting them out together, especially on the weekends when they may encounter hunters. Briar lies around the barnyard watching these shenanigans with amusement. At their age, on this property, she would have been exactly the same way, but she's older, wiser, and slower now. She still enjoys the occasional off-property romp, but she doesn't go far, and she comes when called. When she was their age, I had a property small enough to employ electricity.
It's important to keep all this in mind if you choose a Livestock Guardian Dog breed. Do not hold my poster boys up as the epitome of perfection. They roam. All Livestock Guardian Dog breeds roam. Keep that in mind if you live in the city. These are not good city dogs because they WILL make a jail break from time to time. Out here, they 'might' run into trouble, but if you live in the city, trouble, in the form of a fast-moving Chevy, is right at the next intersection. If you live in the country and have a small place where you can fence with electricity, you're in luck. But if you have a large property, with varied terrain that makes it impossible to keep them from pushing up a fence 'somewhere' along the perimeter, until they mature, get ready to play an on-going chess game with teenagers, and stand in the moonlight with Merle Haggard's mother.
You can listen to the song from the link below:
The first thing I remember knowing,
Dear old Daddy, rest his soul,
I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole.
Tuesday, September 13 2016
Tending sheep outside the confines of good fencing requires some basic tools. Because our property is more than a bit untamed, it really isn't set up for sheep and goats who could be picked off in broad daylight without the dogs. The barnyard pasture is more of a 'sacrifice' area where the small stock can graze and browse in relative safety, but there isn't a lot of nutrition there. They can graze in the large pasture below the house without being monitored, because it's close enough that help is just a rifle away, but everywhere else they must be taken out with dogs and tended closely.
Tending keeps them within the somewhat loose confines of outer fencing and it keeps them out of the sticker burrs, which I will unfortunately already be picking out of some churro lambs.
(No, Halloween has not come early. She is really not black and orange. The red dirt around here turns all my white animals orange or pink. Thankfully it washes out easily.)
So back to tending:
The basic idea is to roll out with the necessary tools needed to move sheep and goats safely.
Here is a list of tools needed on my belt:
The dogs understand their jobs. The Border Collies have the perimeters tattooed on the foreheads and thus any sheep straying outside the imaginary line is dealt with accordingly. The Livestock Guardian Dogs take this time to poke around the pastures and leave pee-mail for the rival gang of coyotes. Then they scratch out a hole in the shade and watch sheep with the rest of us.
If our browsing takes us close to a pond, everyone goes skinny dipping, except me and The Supervisor. I'm not a big fan of wading through cactus and copperheads in bare feet to swim in muddy water, and she doesn't feel she can let her hair down and play in the water when there is the chance that a single sheep may randomly walk across the arbitrary line she has assigned. Ah well, we all have a cross to bear.
Others are not so encumbered by the weight of responsibility.
This can be a quiet time to enjoy coffee, a book, and peaceful meditation.
Or it can be a time of great cussing where curses are hurled at sheep who don't care, Border Collies learn new adjectives,
and Livestock Guardian Dogs don't care one way or the other.
Regardless, the nuts and bolts of tending sheep come down to the dogs, and the generations of breeding that has gone into making them the willing partners of man that they are today.
Saturday, September 10 2016
If you mixed a runway supermodel with a toddler you'd have a dairy goat. If you don't believe it, you've never tried to feed one.
My dairy goats are given a high quality sweet feed, sunflower seeds, cotton seed meal, calf manna, and alfalfa. The goal is to get as many calories as possible into them because milk production takes so much out. Life would be just grand if they'd happily eat everything they are served, but that is not the case. Goats are picky and their tastes change as often as a man with the television remote control. Sheep, on the other hand, eat what is served and gain weight on a diet that would make a dairy goat look like a prisoner of war.
Since we have sheep and goats it is necessary to separate them at meal time. Not only do the sheep not need all those calories, there is too much copper in goat food for sheep, so if the goats are getting a special goat chow, it's imperative that food be completely consumed before sheep have access to the area.
This is what feeding at our house is like:
Pull wagon to hay barn and load with alfalfa. Sheep and goats stagger out of their slumber and began screaming and dragging little tin cups across the prison bars to loudly announce to every coyote in the county that they are awake and are hungry. Drag wagon filled with alfalfa across yard and dump little piles into outside feeders. Release sheep only.
Sheep gallop like thoroughbreds bursting through the gates. There will always be one or two goats with them. These goats will run up to the alfalfa, stand over it in disgust, and demand to be returned to the pen. Every day. Same two stupid goats.
The rest of the goats will wait expectantly near their stall in the pen. I walk through barn and attempt to open sliding door. Cannot open door because goats are hanging on it. Goats knock door off runners. Cuss goats. Cuss door. Use Border Collie to push goats off door. Goats run to their feeders and climb inside. Dump feeders to clear them of any goats or debris. Go back outside and get hay. Goats mug wagon and climb on top. Toss alfafa into first feeder. Almost fall as goats rush like waves crashing on the beach. They shove each other out of feeder. Toss exact same hay into second feeder. All goats leave first feeder to rush at second feeder like a Black Friday Wal-Mart opening. Toss hay into third feeder. Black Friday shoppers abandon first two stores and race to third store. They climb in feeders and flip them. Ut oh! Hay has now touched dirt. It is no longer good. It is soiled and as such, cannot pass goat supermodel pouty lips.
They run to the next feeder and flip their neighbor's hay onto the ground. Oh, my bad. Looks like neighbor now has soiled hay too. While they are busy ruining $23 per bale alfalfa, I begin to dish out grain mix. This is an electronics sale on Black Friday.
A prison riot food fight breaks out. After the dust settles, the goats decide that this week they do not eat Brand X of sweet feed, but prefer Brand Y which they refused to eat last week because Brand X cost more money. They did not like Brand Y until they saw the sheep eating it, and now it is their favorite and they hate Brand X. But they only want the top 1/3 of the bag, after that it is tainted and cannot be eaten. It must therefore be replaced with Brand Z which costs enough to put a child through college. Brand Z is their new favorite. Buy several bags of Brand Z because they seem to like it. Wrong! They only like the first bag. The next bag is unacceptable.
Leave them with food for two hours. During that time the milkers are pulled out and given the same food in a bucket on the milking stand. There is a fight at the door every time a milker is pulled out. The food in the milk stand bucket must be far superior to the food in the troughs. Because, well, it's in a bucket, and everyone knows that food in a bucket tastes better than food in a trough.
Once done milking Goat #1, take the bucket out of the milking stand and place it on pavement in barn aisle. Pull out next milker and put her on the stand. Goat #1 leaves her bucket to mug the bucket on the stand belonging to Goat #2. Milk Goat #2 while Goat #1 attempts to steal grain from Goat #2 even though it IS THE SAME GRAIN! When finished, take that bucket and place it on the pavement next to Bucket #1 so they can clean up grain. Pull out Goat #3 and put Bucket #3 on the milking stand. Goat #1 and Goat #2 leave Bucket #2 and attempt to eat out of Bucket #3 while Goat #3 is being milked. Same feed. Different buckets. Repeat this a 4th time with next goat.
Now this begs the obvious question: "Why don't you just kick Goat #1 back in with everyone else when you pull out Goat #2?"
Folks, trying to drag one goat back into a pen when ten more are trying to get out of that same pen is the very definition of insanity. The best I can do is kick her out of the barn with the sheep. By leaving her inside the barn aisle while I milk, I am able to monitor exactly how much food she eats. She will also eat more food if she is fighting with her neighbor. This boggles my mind, but is the very reason why shoppers line up for hours outside Wal-Mart for a Black Friday sale. The merchandise isn't as important as the thrill of the game.
Nevertheless, I'm seriously considering going back to the old method of tying all the milkers up against the wall where they have to wait until their turn. I'm not sure which is less stressful on me. Watching them duke it out, or listening to them scream when they're tied to the wall.
After everyone has been milked and most of the goats have announced that Brands X, Y, and Z are no longer acceptable and the next time you're at the feed store, you need to buy Brand Q, with the crimped oats, not the whole oats, and they want chicken soup with stars and the crust cut off their toasted cheese sandwich.
The goats will then wander out to the pasture to eat poison ivy and mesquite trees.
The bucks will be turned into the same pen and they will conduct clean-up duties. Hours later the sheep and dairy goat girls will be returned to that same pen. The dairy goat girls will then fight with the sheep for whatever food the bucks left, forgetting this is the same grain and alfalfa that they wouldn't eat eight hours earlier. If the sheep want it, it must be special. And never forget, if you are feeding goats, every day is Black Friday and you are the Wal-Mart greeter.
Wednesday, September 07 2016
Liam's day started as usual, I stepped out the kitchen door to feed the animals. All was well in little Liam's world until I noted the two Livestock Guardian Dogs, Briar and Jury were not in the barnyard but were instead, in the pasture with the cows. This diverted my attention and Liam's breakfast. Since I noted this development after I had fed the bucks but before I had fed Liam and the girls, this resulted in a major upset of his morning.
No problem. He would just slither his ample fat belly underneath the gate and share breakfast with two Nubian buck goats in full rut. Yeah, it wasn't his brightest move. Who breaks into a prison of sex offenders? Liam.
Much to my disgust, and Liam's horror, he was the cutest fluffy white sex toy they'd ever seen. Liam was actually happy to see the two Border Collies I sent in to rescue him. The bucks will be sending him love letters for weeks.
After breakfast the sheep and goats (minus the bucks) were released into the south pasture to graze. Oh joy! His favorite thing! Because this area is wild and only partially fenced, I accompanied the stock with Border Collies and Livestock Guardian Dogs. This is a daily occurence and comes as no surprise to Liam.
The stock goes out. They graze and browse until their bellies are full. Then everyone comes back to the safety of the barnyard pasture to drink water and chew their cud. This is repeated as needed or time is available during the day. Liam knows the routine. Follow everyone back inside. The gate closes. Go get water and lie in the shade.
Not on this day.
I somehow failed to note that little Liam was dawdling and failed to make it through the gate in a timely fashion. I place all blame for this on Liam and his bus buddy, Natty, who should raise her hand and announce that her buddy was not on the bus before it left the field trip location. But there you have it, Natty and I both dropped the ball - or Liam.
Several hours later when I stepped outside, Judge, Dayshift Livestock Guardian Dog On Duty, ambled over to me, and reported,
"Hey, there's something over here you need to see."
Sure enough, poor Liam was bouncing up and down the fence like a little fat white basketball. He was quite hot and most relieved to see me. Once inside he scampered to join Natty, his Bus Buddy, in the shade beside the trough. I was happy the dog stayed close enough to keep him from being pinched by the occasional day-ranging coyote that trots through there.
As if being sexually assaulted and abandoned was not enough for one day, the evening brought humans with a curious new syringe gun. The dosing gun looked suspiciously like a bottle. Not really. But close enough for Liam. He watched as sheep were selected for worming and pushed his busy body self right into the action, determined that if the sheep were getting a bottle, he, Liam the One-Horned Wonder, was gonna get a bottle too! To insure the humans were aware that no sneaky bottle stuff was going to get past him, Liam pushed and climbed his way into every sheep mugging, nibbling on clothing and pulling arms. He made such a pest of himself that his eyes were checked too. Since it could go both ways, and Liam was INSISTING on a trying out this fancy new syringe gun bottle thingee, we gave him some wormer.
And that was it. The ultimate betrayal. His bottle. Liam was ready to move to Australia.
Nevermind that he's weaned. Hasn't seen a bottle in months. And is fatter than a white Halloween pumpkin. That did not end his fascination with the syringe gun but it dialed it back a bit.
The sun finally set on Liam's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. The buck pen has been reinforced to save Liam from himself, and I shall take better care to make sure he is with his Bus Buddy when the gate is closed. The sun is rising on a new day now and Liam is once again, the Napolean Prince of his barnyard kingdom.