Monday, November 30, 2009

Dog Training with Derek

Several weeks ago, my friend & dog trainer Derek Fisher came up to visit for a few days. Despite the absolutely terrible weather- wind & rain everyday- we spent most of the time working dogs. Derek brought his Jen and Mirk, along with two young dogs he's training, Maid & Bock. Derek & Jen laid down an awesome qualifying run in the semi-finals at the National Sheepdog Finals this year. I really like Jen, she's a sweet little dog, and very stylish. I like her enough that I put myself on the list for a future pup of hers. Derek was kind enough to take Jen out and shed off my rams so I didn't have to pen sort the ewes. Then, they practiced their international shedding and shed the ewes off from the market lambs so we could work just the lambs.

My own dog, Nick, is a an over-runner. He pretty much inevitably slices in at the top of his outruns, then runs too far past balance. I've been correcting him without much success. Derek watched us do one run, looked at me, and said, "You're correcting him too late. You can't fix him once he's already wrong." DUH! I sent Nick again, hollered BEFORE he over-ran, and he turned in right on balance. I've also gotten Nick to widen his outrun by correcting & resending him the moment he shows the slightest signs of cutting in. It's worked wonders! I even sent Nick on a couple of totally blind outruns last week- I knew the sheep were behind the orchard, but he didn't. He took off wide, hit the fence line, followed it around and out of my sight. I was getting worried when the sheep come over the hill with my little brown dog right behind them! I was so damn proud! I'm beginning to think that Diane was right when she told me I had an open dog on my hands.

The other thing I wanted to work on when Derek was here was putting a grip on Nick. Nick is a strong dog, and generally very pushy on sheep, but he has virtually no grip. Every now and then, though, a certain ewe or lamb will stand him down and Nick will back off. Derek put a few lambs in a pen (these are Feb-born lambs; they weigh 90-100 Lbs. Not little, fuzzy new lambs), and sent Jen in for back-up. Mostly, Derek had me flank Nick around the lambs while we attempted to get the lambs to scatter, to get Nick worked up about keeping the sheep together. Nick was confused at first, but one of the half-Katahdin lambs decided that she wanted no part of this game and kept splitting off. Nick finally got the idea, and nabbed the lamb when she came after him. In the pen, it seemed like Nick became more confident backing down the sheep, but I wasn't so sure about out in the "real world." A few days later, old number 14, a ewe I know to pushy & argumentative, decided she didn't really want to move and turned on Nick & stomped at him. Nick laid down, but didn't avert his gaze, and I asked him to walk up. He did. No hesitation. Walked right into a ewe who has come after him before. Number 14 (sorry, she has no "real" name) lowered her head, Nick showed her his teeth, and that was that. Yay! My dog WILL bite sheep when necessary!

With Lu gone, I've been spending a lot more time with Nick, out working sheep, both training sessions, and actual work. Nick's is running consistently wider, he's steadying down, and his driving is coming along nicely. He still drifts to the away side when driving, but I'm getting faster & better at correcting him.

I really, really like working dogs. I think I've gone nuts, but I'm thinking about a pup next. I'm on the bottom of the list for a Diane Pagel's Nan x Bobby Dalziel's Joe pup, and the top (I think) of the list for a Derek's Jen x whatever stud he picks pup... No, I won't be raising two! I'm not THAT crazy!

One day when Derek & I were out working, our local professional photographer came & took photos of Derek working. Well, of Derek's dogs working (yes, Derek, you're very photogenic, too, but people mostly want to dogs). Steve, the photographer, had some of the prints at the Pre-School Bazaar, Lopez's annual shop-til-you-drop fundraising extravaganza, and they were really nice. Someone was just buying a print of Mirk working some lambs when we walked up to Steve's booth. I can't wait to see the rest of the set!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leash your damn dog! And other more pleasnt things

This is my PSA for the year: LEASH YOUR DAMN DOG! And by "leash" I mean tie it up, fence it in, keep it inside, but contain the sheep-mauling fucker or someone will shoot it. If I had a gun, that someone would be me. It's legal in this county to shoot a dog that's harassing livestock. Trust me. I asked the (hot!) deputy.

On Wednesday, I chased a dog out of someone else's sheep. It had put holes in one, and stressed the rest. My sheep are right across the street. I chased the dog all the way home, hoping I'd catch it before it got there. I was planning on wholloping it with the large piece of wood I was carrying. And maybe taking it to the sheriff. Anyone who knows me knows I like dogs- ask the happy collie curled up by the fireplace. I, however, HATE dogs that go after sheep! I've lost sheep to a dog. It's never "Not my dog!" Nevermind the other dangers a loose dog faces, like cars. Just keep your dam dog contained.

Okay, on to better things, of a various and sundry sort.

This is the first year I don't have a Cotswold ram. I was going to borrow a cross-bred ram lamb, but decided he probably couldn't reach the necessary parts of my very tall ewes. Then I hurt my back and couldn't move for a week, and so my ewes are just now getting bred- roughly six weeks later than usual. Instead of a ram lamb, I borrowed the ram lamb's sire, Tex, KT's unoriginally named Texel. I personally think Tex is an ass- he's one of the few rams who has come after me more than once, and his daughters are kinda whacko. He does, however, throw a nice market lamb, and I'm not planning on keeping any of these crosses. And my ewes like him. Maybe it's his big, hulking body. Maybe it's the funny faces he makes as he chases them around. Maybe it's the way he tries to mount them when they're eating. Probably it's the bloody head wound caused by Clint, the one-horned Katahdin ram.

This Tuesday is Turkey Day. No, not Thanksgiving. My seven Norfolk (Spanish) Black and five Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys are headed to the freezer. I really like turkeys. They're hilarious. The Blacks are a heritage breed, and they're spectacular. The three big toms have been gobbling and strutting and generally acting like horny teenage boys for a few weeks, and they've provided endless entertainment. When one hen turkey gets loose, and Nick puts her back (yes, my Border Collie likes working turkeys), the toms court her like they've never seen her before. I kinda doubt turkey's memory... In any case, I'll be sad to see them go, but happy to have fewer chores to do (and a lower feed bill). I am looking forward to getting a box of little turkey peep-peeps in the mail next year. (Yes, I know. They're 'poults'. But I like peep-peeps better!)

Hot buttered rum. I love them. I'm drinking one now. I mean, it's alcohol and fat and sugar, what's not to like?

Potimarron Squash. It's a French heirloom variety, from 'potiron' for pumpkin and 'marron' for chestnut. Describes the flavour right on- sweet, but nutty. The texture, however, is not at all like a pumpkin. Instead, the Potimarron is a dry-fleshed squash, like a Kabocha, and totally smooth- not a hint of stringy-ness. I just roasted off a home-grown one to make into a pie tomorrow. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Kim & I are taking Sable (Nubian goat) and Amelia (Sable's half-Saanen doeling) to Anacortes to hang out with Hershey tomorrow. Hershey is a poorly named but very handsome black Nubian buck. Hopefully, next April, we'll have some of our own handsome Nubian bucklings. For once, I actually want males. We don't need any more goats, and it's easier to send even a good looking buckling to the freezer. And, as Kim discovered at Qulisascut, goat is delicious. 

Derek Fisher was here this week, and we had lots of fun working dogs. Nick & I learned a few things, but I'll save that for another post... When I haven't had a hot buttered rum... or two.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Planting Acorns

For those who don't already know, Scott is an oak nut (which I suppose makes him an acorn). His yard is a veritable arboretum of various oak trees, including a large number of our native oak Quercus garryana, the Oregon White Oak, or Garry Oak. 2008 was a terrible year for acorns, but this year, there are tons. Scott spent some time collecting acorns from both his trees and another lovely, large tree down the road. Garry oaks were once plentiful in Lopez, and indeed the whole county, but they were heavily logged, and now there are very few remaining on Lopez (and most of those have been purposefully planted). There are still large stand of naturally occurring trees on Orcas & San Juan.

So, in the interest of repopulating Lopez with our native oak, last Saturday, we hiked up to the top of Chadwick Hill and planted about a zillion acorns. There is something quite rewarding about planting trees. In our lifetime, we might see these acorns grow into small saplings. In all likelihood, the majority of the acorns will not survive long- they'll be out-competed by other plants, or they'll sprout, then be demolished by the deer. But the ones that do survive have the potential to grow into huge, gnarled, twisting trees, clinging to the side of the rock faces of Chadwick. We found some trees that Scott had planted several years ago, and the tallest one was maybe four inches. As Chadwick & Watmough are protected areas, it's nice to think that in 50 years, someone hiking up there might remark on the beauty of a tree that I planted.

We'll also start some oaks in pots in the greenhouse to grow out for a year or so to give them a head start. We'll plant those trees somewhere where we can fence them off and water them, though. In addition to the Garry oaks, we have some Red (maybe Black) Oak acorns from my family's place in Maine, and a few other acorns smuggled out of the Arboretum in Seattle. We currently have two Swamp White Oaks and one Red Oak from upstate New York in pots that need to go in the ground.

I'll plant one of the Swamp White Oaks in honor of Lu. Not that she was particularly like an oak tree, but I have an odd affinity for the Swamp White Oaks, and I'd like to see one grow for years to come.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

USBCHA National Finals 2009

The last weekend of September, Nick & I drove down to Klamath Falls, OR for the USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals. Klamath is not too far from the CA border; it took me about 10 hrs from the mainland to get there. The last part of the drive through the Ponderosa pine country was beautiful, but everything was obscured by a haze as southern Oregon is on fire.

We had a great time at Finals! We camped out with Diane Pagel & her husband Getty, and the 87 or so dogs they brought with them. Okay, they only brought four, plus picked up a new puppy there. Diane ran Roo & Nan in the Open Finals, and Tess & Rainey came along for the trip. I of course threatened to steal Nan every time Diane's back was turned, but it turns out I had lots of competition. Evidently, Nan has a serious fan club. Nan did, however, curl up in Nick's box several evenings when things got too rowdy for her, and she tried to jump in my car, too. Rainey, Diane's home-bred 2 yr old, had always been a bit stand-offish with me before, but this time she decided my lap was the place to be. Nick is totally in love with Rainey, so he was happy to share my attention. Nevermind the fact that Nick can rival Tess for working a crowd for food & attention! Then there was Gael, the new pup. SO cute, but she earned the nickname "The Howler Monkey!" Good grief, could that pup howl! Every morning, around 3 am, dogs (and coyotes?) would start howling all over the camp sites, and Gael joined right in.

I got to meet tons of folks whose names I've heard in the trialling world, plus lots of other folks from the Border Collie boards. Every single person I met was friendly, and happy to stop and chat about dogs and sheep and trials. Nick got lots of attention- non-merle blue dogs aren't all that common, and even less so in working circles. I got to meet the folks who bred Nick's sire. The Montgomerys are really nice folks, and they were pleased to hear that one of their pups is working so well. They also gave me some history of Nick's breeding, and told me it was a shame I don't trial.

Diane roped me into helping her blog for the Finals, so I spent a lot of time on the computer. It was great fun describing all the runs, and it was nice to hear from folks who couldn't be there that they appreciated the various blogs being updated. Our posts & many pictures are at Diane's DeltaBluez blog. Pearse Ward was also blogging at Diane's & my blogging is a little more, er, frivolous about some things- I couldn't pass up describing Amanda Milliken's hat, and I can never miss an opportunity to poke fun at Derek Fisher- but we did a good job of chronicling the runs (at least I think we did).

We also had a great time in the evenings at Diane & Getty's camper. Getty is a great cook & musician. He made a pot of fantastic jambalaya one night, then he, Pearse, and Amy & Ray Coapman pulled out instruments and played us well into the night. The other wonder was the cowboy hot tub. One of the springs the ranchers use for irrigations pumps out water at 103 F. They had a trough for the dogs to hop in, plus a big one for the people! The people trough was left on to overflow a bit to keep things clean. It was SO nice to rinse off the layers of dust in warm water when it started to cool off at night (it was close to 90 F during the day, but dipped into the low 40's F at night).

So many, many thanks to the folks who put on the Finals, the hosts, the volunteers, the hospitality folks... it was great, and I can't wait to go again. It won't be on this side of the country for another three years or so (Finals are in Virginia in 2010), and who knows, maybe I'll be running a nursery dog by then.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Temporary Turkey

Yes, I know, I haven't updated my blog in roughly forever. This summer was insanely busy, and spending excess time on the internet was not quite what I felt like doing. However, fall is here, it's getting dark frighteningly early, and I have a little more time for these things.

So I started a new blog. I've imported the measly two posts from the old one here, and I'll try to keep this one updated a little more often.

The Temporary Turkey? What the heck does that mean? Well, there are 12 turkeys running around the pasture right now. And they are temporary. On November 17, they'll head to the freezer. I suppose they'll still be turkeys, but they won't be running around, and even their freezer residence is temporary because I LOVE turkey. It bothers me that I can't find turkey except at Thanksgiving, and even then, who knows where those turkeys come from. So I decided to raise my own. I love eating turkey, but I also love turkeys. They're hilarious. They're not very bright, although they're not as dumb as most folks think. They quickly learn that humans mean food and come running over to inspect whatever it is you have. They make all sorts of funny noises in addition to the "gobble." And they taste. so. GOOD!

So there you have it: The Temporary Turkey.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Fuzziest Sheep That Ever There Was, and a Very Good Dog

I am currently in possession of the fuzziest, wooliest sheep that ever existed. Okay, probably not, but he's certainly up there! His name is Rasta-Bob, and here's his story:

In spring 2006, I sold two weaned wether lambs to some folks who had an old orchard/pasture that needed to be mowed. The whole thing was fenced, and they had planned on feeding the lambs some so that they'd be ready for the freezer in the fall. Since these folks had no dog, and really very little sheep experience, I sold them the b
ottle lamb and the runt. The bottle lamb, Bruiser, was a huge honkin' North Country Cheviot cross who was dumb as a box of rocks (even by sheep standards), but acted like a dog as most bottle lambs do. The runt was a Romney x Coopworth whose mother decided producing milk was not on her agenda (she's long since been sent to the freezer). Turns out, the sheep became more pets than food, so they hung around for a year until these folks moved to a less-well-fenced place. Bruiser and R13 (he was still unnamed save for his ear tag number) took to wandering down the road and causing trouble. They were large and woolly beasts- their owners apparently not having followed up with any of the shearing contacts I'd given them. After a number of complaints from neighbors about the marauding sheep, one of whom had no qualms about climbing on porches, etc, the boys were sent down the road.

This second owner is, well, less than respectable. I have no idea what his fences are like, but they must not be good, because in short order, Bruiser and R13 showed up in a friend of mine's yard. He chased them away, not being so thrilled about the sheep turds everywhere, and eventually, the terrible twosome ended up being shooed into the pasture across the road by a nice driver who probably nearly had a heart attack when two large, woolly blobs darted into the road in front of him.

Then it snowed. And snowed. And it stuck, which doesn't happen very often here. Bruiser, who'd always been a little off, died in the snow and was rapidly eaten by our healthy population of Bald Eagles. Poor R13 hung around his buddy's dwindling remains and won the sympathy of the friend who's yard he'd fouled, and said friend's girlfriend. Being kind-hearted folks, they started hauling some hay and mushy apples to the sheep, who they christened Rasta-Bob due to his now enormously woolly, dreadlocked bulk. It didn't take long before the fairly neglected horses sharing the pasture figured out what was goi
ng on, and they chased Bob away from the feed, and rather put him off people.

So my friend asks if I'd come wrangle the poor sheep, since his neglectful second owner could care less that his sheep (plural) are loose and now sheep (singular). Last Monday, I took some pen panels, and Nick, the Border Collie, and went down to see about nabbing the varmint. We managed to get him in a paddock by himself, through a series of very "interesting" gates whereupon Bob promptly smashed a mostly-broken fence and took off into another pasture. Fine, I think, I have The Dog. So out comes Nick. Now, Nick is
fantastically well bred for stock work, he has a ton of instinct, but he's young-ish and pushy and I'm not the best stock dog trainer in the world. It is also Very Hard to work one single sheep. Apparently, all the work I've done building Nick's confidence and taking inside flanks (flank= move around the sheep, for all you non stock-dog folks. Inside flank= flank between the handler and the sheep) has actually worked, because my little brown dog took every direction I gave him and pinned that sheep in a corner so I could knock him down.

In any case, my friend & I heaved an incredibly heavy sheep into the back of my truck, and Rasta-Bob is now residing in my barn awaiting shearing so I can figure out how fat he really is. His wool is more than a foot long. It's so thick, I can't feel his body to see how much of a fat pad he has. If Bob is actually fat under all that fluff, he'll be sausage soon; if he's skinny, he'll get wormed before going out to graze with the flock until spring, when he'll get butchered with the lambs. Yeah, I know. He's a Sheep With a Story. But he's a wether. He's useless to me except for in the freezer. Besides, you can never have enough ground lamb (ground mutton really), and he'll tasts awfully good.

The really great thing about this story is that since Nick proved himself capable of working one sheep, he's been helping me with the ewes who are lambing at an alarming rate. It snowed here last night (global warming?! I don't think so!), and one of my first-time lambers was having no part of following me-holding-her-lambs into the shed, so I grabbed Nick, and in no time, he'd put the ewe in a pen in the shed where she happily spent an otherwise cold, gross night indoors with her lamblets (lovely twin ewes, by the way). The more I work this dog, the more I realize just how lucky I am to have him. And he's a sweet, happy dog to boot!

I suppose you'd like a Pip update, too, even though this has gotten rather long.

Pip is doing wonderfully! She's doubled in size (8 Lbs!), and she motors around like a little wind-up toy, her legs still being a bit funky. She is, however, officially a Bottle Lamb, as her mother started butting her away the second night I had them in. Oh well, I haven't had a bottle lamb in two years, I was due. Scott is smitten with Pip, and is generally willing to do her noon feeding, which makes my life easier. I hate bottle lambs, but it is disgustingly cute to see the man I love snuggling with one!

Here, for your enjoyment, is Pip. And a very bad picture of me feeding her:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chocolate & Kumquats, and The Piplet

So tomorrow is Valentine's Day, but Scott will be gone at his friend's 50th, and I'm in full-on lambing craziness, so we did our exchange today. (We'll do the whole dinner thing later.) Scott gave me a box of chocolates and a bag of kumquats. The truffles are made right here on the island, from organic, fair-trade chocolate, in some insane flavour combinations. I won't know what's in my box until I open it & play match-the-garnish-to-the-flavour, but one of my past favourites is basil & lime.

Chocolate may be standard V-Day fare, but kumquats?! Yes, kumquats. These are round, Meiwa
kumquats, as opposed to the oblong Nagamis. Whereas Nagamis are pretty much sour through and through, Meiwas are a surprisingly complex burst of flavour. On first bite (they must be eaten whole), they have a startling tartness. This quickly gives way to a curious sweetness; almost as if the tart pulp had been rolled in a generous helping of powdered sugar. I absolutely love the funny little fruits. They're not in any way local, but no citrus is, and in this time of darkness, I need a taste of sunshine!

Then there's The Pip-let... Thursday morning, one of my Cotswold ewes, Kimmie, lambed. She had twin ewes- one huge and one tiny. The huge ewe is gorgeous and perfectly healthy. The little lamb, well, not so much. She was plenty vigorous
from the start, but couldn't stand on her own. This is only the ewe's second time lambing (she raised a heck of a ram lamb last year), and, bless her sheepie heart, she tried hard for that little lamb! I quickly realised the small lamb needed help, and once I held her up, she latched right on to the ewe & started nursing. (At this point, I should say something about Kimmie. This ewe is wonderful. She's beautiful, but she's also amazingly mellow and easy to handle. She'll just stand there while I fuss with her lamb, trying to get the lamb to nurse. The ewe is an easy milker, and she stood there unrestrained while I pulled some colostrum to bottle feed the lamb.) So, after one rather sleepless night of feeding the lamb every few hours, and of her proving that she was not going to die, she has been christened Pip, aka The Piplet. And, until this evening, she still couldn't stand on her own. However, when I went out with a bottle tonight, Pip hurled herself to her feet and barreled over to me for her food. After she pulled at the bottle for a bit, she toddled over to her mother and proceeded to try very hard to find a teat. The ewe isn't rejecting Pip at all, so I think I'll bottle feed her for a bit just to make sure she's getting some nutrition. If she proves to be able to nurse on her own, I'll turn her out with the ewe & other lamb with the main flock. If not, well, I haven't had a bottle lamb in a few years, and I guess I'm due. Besides, my sister (who is sort-of responsible for me buying this ewe- they share a name) is REALLY good at raising bottle lambs...