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Sunday, May 19 2019

It has been firmly established around here that dusk marks the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse. Everyone on the lower
rung on the Food Chain needs to be locked up or have a Livestock Guardian Dog, or both. The dogs pretty much keep my close
encounters with skunks, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, and the occasional cougar, to a minimum, but snakes are another matter
entirely. We used to live by the policy that all copperheads and rattlesnakes met an early demise, but rat snakes in the
barnyard were relocated. This policy bit us in the arse when we discovered that large rat snakes not only eat eggs, but
will also kill guineas and chickens in their misguided attempts to eat something woefully too large for them. This makes
for wasted birds and pissed off farmers. We amended our relocation policy. 

Since once they are locked inside the coops for the night the birds are pretty safe, we added Chicken Wrangling to the
list of evening chores. The problem is that I'm ready to get things locked up for the night long before the chickens are
ready to go to bed. If I wait too late to lock things up I run the risk of stepping on a copperhead, or finding a rat
snake already inside the chicken coop. That's where the Border Collies come in. 

I've heard it said that an adult Border Collie is as smart as a 3 year old human child. As a retired police officer, I can
assure you, an adult Border Collie is smarter than many 33 year old humans. That said, I've found that teaching a Border
Collie to herd chickens is really just a matter of having a dog that wants to help you, and communicating that you need
help with a task. A well-bred Border Collie should already have work ethic, so scratch that off the list. You should already have that.

Communication is the biggest issue. I'm a dog trainer, but as a herding dog trainer, I still suck - mainly because I'm too
poor and too far away from a real trainer that can train me. That said, I don't let it hold me back. And neither should you. My
dogs don't know that I don't know how to properly teach flanking, but they always want to help, and that's half the
battle. I present the chore at hand (one of the twelve labors of Hercules) and I give them a well-timed "good dog" when
they do what I want. Over time we shape the behaviors. The communication starts with a foundation of trust. I trust that
they really do want to help me, and they're trying their best, and they trust that I'm fair and that I'll guide them through
the steps of a task until we're both on the same page. That system works pretty well for most of what I need done around
here. It ain't always pretty but the job gets done. 

We have three chicken coops. All birds free range during the day and then are locked in their assigned coop at night. 
The adult chickens are easy. For the most part they cooperate because Mesa has already trained them that resistance is
futile. The twelve juvenile gray birds are another matter entirely. If you have ever seen the movie "Kindergarten Cop"
with Arnold Schwarzenegger then you get the idea. Every evening this group of half-grown nitwits splits and runs in twelve
different directions, none of which is aimed at their coop. Enter Border Collies. Two. You need two. One is not enough.
This chore has been a good learning exercise for Wyatt. He has to balance off me or Mesa, not get frustrated, not go too
fast, not get sticky, and be ready to try it again, and again, and again. 

The chickens don't make it easy. They hide in the sunflowers. They hide in the roses. They run for the rocks by the old
homestead. In general they force a Border Collie to go every possible place a copperhead would be lurking at dusk. We've
tried doing it without the Border Collies. It is simply impossible and results in a unhealthy amount of cussing and a lust
for chicken salad. The Border Collies have the task down to five minutes - and they're getting faster. 

Last night we discovered that if you use board panels to make a flow gate the dogs can funnel the silly birds straight
into their pen. They still have to run around the yard flushing them out of sunflowers and roses, but at least once they
get them near the coop, the job is easier. I look forward to when these birds get old enough to pull out the roosters for
butchering. That should reduce the number by half. In the mean time, Mesa is always happy to work, and Wyatt gets more
practice honing his skills. The dogs make a irritating chore somewhat enjoyable because I do love watching a good stockdog
laugh in the face of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 02:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Thursday, May 16 2019

As a former crime scene investigator, one would think I had a stronger stomach than this, but alas, the sound of 
crunching bones disturbed me enough to leave. 

The dew was still heavy when I took the sheep out to pasture. The grass, weeds and wildflowers are so high that sheep were
soon wet as they browsed their way through the jungle. It is thick and wild here, but I always have a dog or two to keep
the lambs safe. It's easy for predators to hide in the brush and lambs are easy prey. So this morning I had Judge.

He's the size of a small pony but he easily moves through this jungle like a tiger. I photographed the sheep as we followed
them and he poked around the wildflowers and trees. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, deep in my lens, in my world of
wildflowers and lambs when Judge walked into my frame carrying a dead rabbit. 

It was like a turd in a punchbowl. 

I never even heard him catch it. There was no rush. No running. No squealing. Nothing but silence. A tiger in the jungle.
Apparently freezing isn't much of a defense against an Anatolian. I was less than amused. He brought his bunny up to a
grove near us, settled down in the shade and commenced to eating breakfast. Curious, I ventured near to see if it was
fresh or not. It was. The normally food-aggressive Judge smiled at me as if to say, "Look what's for breakfast."

This is why the Easter Bunny never leaves us anything. 

Head first. Down the hatch. I gagged a bit and went back to the sheep. We all moved on. Away from the crunching of bones.
When I could no longer hear the crunching, I stopped to resume photographing sheep. It takes a lot of beautiful
wildflowers to erase the image of innocent bunnies and tigers but I was slowly getting there when he arrived. He wagged up
beside me and accused me of leaving him. I allowed as how yes, indeed, we did leave him since he was the only one who
wanted to dine on rabbit this morning. He wagged his tail and grinned. No worries. Then he barfed up the rabbit at my

With the first retch, I'd already turned around and was walking away. The sheep and I left the sound of crunching bones
and went deeper into the pasture.

A few minutes later he joined us.

"You really shouldn't be this far out here without me," he panted as he flopped down under a tree to watch the flock. And
he barfed again. That's when I realized what he was doing. His stomach was his "to-go" bag. It gave a whole new meaning to
the term "doggy bag." As long as the flock kept moving, he could simply use his tummy to hold that bunny in pieces for
later. The image of bunny pieces made me gag a little in the back of my throat as I left him. 

No problem. He had a to-go bag. 

He caught up with us at the pond, where he gagged up the bunny, took a swim, and then re-loaded his to-go bag as we left
him again. As he galloped to catch up with us, the sheep scattered. They'd had enough of his antics and raced back to the
barn. I stood with them in solidarity. We voted him off the island. He followed us back to the barn anyway. The sheep
settled in the shade to digest wildflowers. Judge barfed again. I stomped back into the house.

There is not enough coffee in Texas for this. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:42 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, May 16 2019

This post is for all the folks who've written to ask about an update on lambing. Sorry. I've been crazy-busy lately and I tend to forget that not everyone does Facebook. (But if you DO, follow us at Farm Fresh Forensics, and Red Feather Navajo Churros, and well, duh, Sheridan Rowe Langford!)

Lambing should end on May 28.  All the brown ram's babies landed on the ground in March and we impatiently waited for the white ram lamb's babies. And waited. And waited. Two weeks ago we sheared the ewes so we were better able to monitor any pregnancies. Nobody appears to be bagging up enough to be pregnant. Unless someone seriously surprises me, we're done for the season. I was hoping the young ram lamb would get a crop this year, but appearently none of my older girls took him seriously. No worries. He'll be the primary ram for the next crop. 

So here are some obligatory pics of some of the lambs from this year! All these lambs were sired by the brown ram, MLC Chance. 

Posted by: AT 11:13 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email

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