Tuesday, July 30 2019
This little dude is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t trash a “late bloomer.”
He’s finally got his head in the game and now he’s becoming handy. Handy is good, but the real question is “When it’s crunch time, will you reach for that dog?”
This evening was crunch time. And yes, I did. And he hit it out of the park.
We siphoned off some weanlings to keep at the house for Wyatt to work. I don’t believe in training pups on pairs. On our ranch, a cow will try to kill a dog who doesn’t bring his A game. Better to learn the skills on calves. They still kick and charge though. They still have to be dogbroke.
Today I was returning from town and discovered that one of our unweaned calves had somehow managed to get out of the pasture and onto the dirt road near the house. Figures. One of the rare times I didn’t have a Border Collie with me. Since both sides of that road are fenced, it wasn’t that big a deal to push the calf into the barnyard by myself. The problem was that the barnyard is over three acres and I wanted the calf to move away from the pasture containing his mother and into the pasture containing Wyatt’s weaned calves.
I tried Mesa at first, but the calf went ballistic. Frantic to get to his mother on the other side of the fence he was working himself into a foaming wreck whenever Mesa got near him. Mesa isn’t really a cowdog, she’s my go-to sheepdog. She was chosen because she has bells and whistles that Wyatt doesn’t have yet. But she doesn’t know cows.... and this little snot was kicking to beat the band. I opted to leave him in the barnyard until it cooled off some and he calmed down.
By evening it was cooler but it was crunch time. The calf HAD to be removed from the barnyard. He was ready to be weaned anyway so he might as well go in with the closest group by the house.
Enter Wyatt. I opened the gate that led to the weaned calves and whistled Wyatt to pick up that calf. And held my breath.
This calf was not one of the sane ones. No such luck. He flipped his tail over his back and ran straight into the trees on the other side of the pond. With his back to the fence the calf had a pretty good fortress in there. But he didn’t count on Wyatt to go THROUGH the pond to reach him. Wyatt never hesitated. He went straight across the pond and eased into the brush like a thief in the night.
Wyatt was calm and controlled but firm. It took that dog less time to pen that nut-job calf than it took me to walk out there. I was beyond elated. He’s beginning to understand his power and use it without getting into a scuffle or a rush. Although Mesa is tremendously talented, she doesn’t have the power in her eye and the confidence to handle something that much bigger than a sheep. Wyatt does.
I caught a glimpse of the dog he will become today. And I liked what I saw.
Tuesday, July 23 2019
I stared at the chicken wing on the ground, its feathers waving in the breeze. Maybe the joke was on me. That chicken had
been alive an hour ago. Perhaps the fuzzy bobtailed butt I saw running in the dark a few nights earlier hadn't been a
stray cat, but was instead a young bobcat. Maybe. I chewed on that thought as the dog and I pieced together what was left
of the chicken.
The dogs had announced his presence under the tractor mower deck that night. Since it was the dead of winter and I wasn't
worried about rattlesnakes, I leaned down for a peek. The dogs crammed in beside me. The cat shot out the other end. In
the dark he appeared to be tabby and white, with no tail. I was dumbfounded. How did a cat find his way to our ranch? He'd
have had to brave coyotes and Anatolian Shepherds to even get close enough to find a bowl of catfood. But as his
bobtailed butt disappeared beneath the cabin, I had to grudgingly give him credit for making the journey. And I filled the
So days later, I stared at the chicken wing waving in the winter wind and questioned both my eyesight and my judgement.
Did I see a domestic cat? Or juvenile bobcat? The catfood bowl and the chicken coop were a mere twenty feet from each
A few days later all hell broke loose in the haybarn. I rounded the corner to see my black barn cat in a knock-down-
scratch-his-eyes-out with a large tabby and white bobtailed cat. On the one hand, it was nice to know that my eyesight
wasn't failing, on the other hand I was not happy to see a strange tomcat beating up the rightful inhabitant of my
haybarn. I slung a shovel at them and the tomcat ran off behind the tractor. The black cat spat out a few cuss words and
left. And thus Stage One of Bob's plan for Occupation was complete.
He started in the haybarn. It was winter. He was hungry. We made no effort to evict him. Instead we left a bowl of food
near the tractor and bid him good hunting. Because he had no tail and we had no imagination, we named him Bob. For a few
months he was a tabby and white shadow, skulking around corners. Then one day, one curious day, Bob appeared in the feed
room. Unbeknownst to us, Stage Two of his Occupation plan was unfolding.
We live in a barndominium. A house in a barn. With the animals. My living room door opens up into a paved barn aisle with
three stalls and feed room. The feed room is simply a stall with a metal gate. It contains several feed bins, a saddle
rack, a woodburning stove, and a shelf that is filled with items which should be tossed but that Other Half has declared
that he cannot live without. They are covered in dust and he has no clue what is on any of the shelves but he squeals like
a kindergartener at the mere mention of tossing them in the trash, so there they sit. Collecting dust. And bobtailed cats.
Bob took up residence in the feed room.
The first few weeks, much like Alice's Cheshire Cat, he was just a pair of eyes floating in space. Sometimes on the dusty
shelf. Sometimes behind the stove. Sometimes behind a bag of feed. We got used to Bob being there and enjoyed our glimpses
of him. The other four barn cats keep the rodent population under control, so we didn't need Bob, but we admired his
pluck. He had somehow managed to avoid being killed by coyotes and Livestock Guardian Dogs to end up in the barn. Home
base. Tag. You can't kill me here.
And he was right. They couldn't kill him here. There is a strict NO KILLING CATS policy in the barnyard and this extends
to stray cats too. Bob basked in the glow of his newfound safe base. He had everything a cat would need here. Food. Water.
Shelter. The humans even gave him a real bed. Stuffed. Like from a Pet Store. It was a hand-me-down dog bed that the other
cat had peed in and the chickens laid eggs in, but Bob wasn't choosy. A bed was a bed. A bed was a home. Stage Two of
Occupation was complete.
The beginning of Stage Three was heralded in with a yowl. A demanding, mournful yowl. The kind of yowl that announces to
the world that a cat is ever so hungry, and in fact his belly must surely be rubbing his backbone despite the full bowl of
catfood not three feet away. It was that kind of yowl. Bob began talking to us. Humans are easily trained and so each time
he yowled, we talked back to him. We made sure his little bowl was full. Humans are clever that way. Soon Bob became
bolder. He spent more and more time in plain view. No longer content to eat from his little bowl behind the stove, Bob
wanted to eat on top of the feed bin with the other cats. In plain view. When he caught you watching him, Bob froze, and
hissed soundlessly, then slunk back behind the stove. After a couple of months of this, something changed. Bob changed his
mind. It was so sudden that it caught me by surprise. Like a summer thunderstorm. Or a plant sale at Tractor Supply.
Bob wanted to be a pet. A pet. Like, me touching him. Petting him. This cat, who for months hissed and spat at everyone
who noticed him, suddenly flipped a switch and announced that he wanted to be a housepet. Well, not in the house. In the
barn. He "wanted" in the house. He started lurking at the back door. Demanding attention. The very cat who slunk in the
shadows for months made every effort to convince us that he was a most friendly chap who was quite deserving of a head rub
and yes, please, a back scratching. He arched his back and rubbed against my leg. I wasn't buying it.
I like cats. I do. I like cats that I have raised from kittens. Cats who have had their shots. Tame cats. Cats who do not
ask to be petted and suddenly change their mind and bite you. Forgive me if I'm leery of a feral cat who swam through a
moat filled with raccoons with distemper to get to my back door. So I refused to pet Bob even when he rubbed against my
leg repeatedly. Other Half gave in quickly. He's friendlier than I am. He hasn't shot a raccoon with distemper yet. Soon Bob
and Other Half were friends. But Bob was not satisfied. Bob wanted the complete conquest. Bob wanted in the house.
I assured him that was not going to happen. And even as I made this promise, I wondered. How did that cat get here? I
reached out to neighbors. Nobody was missing a tabby and white bobtailed cat. From his behavior, it was clear that Bob had a
home at some point. He loved. He was loved. My first clue came when he shed out for the summer.
Being quite pushy, it was hard to see the back view of Bob's butt because his head was always in your face, demanding
attention. But as he got friendlier, Bob moved his homebase from the feed room to the top of the dog kennels at the back
door. (Just in case you changed your mind about letting him in the house.) This put Bob's butt at the right height to view
his tail. Bob did not appear to be a natural bobtailed cat. In fact, he appeared to have an anal prolapse. (No, I'm not
taking him to the vet for it. He has functioned quite well since last winter, it hasn't killed him yet. His next trip to
the vet will be to have those balls cut off.) After Bob shed out it was easy to see that he had two scars on either side
of his body. I had a cat with scars like that once. He'd been caught in the fan belt of a truck. Perhaps Bob had been
caught up in a fan belt thus resulting in scars and an anal prolapse. It is possible that Bob was either dumped
on the main gravel road a mile away or he rode in the truck until it stopped or he jumped out. No matter what happened,
Bob managed to survive his injuries and ended up in our barn.
The true tale of Bob's journey to us may never be known. We were not looking for another cat but it appears we have been
conquered. I have given in and am now scratching his head and giving him back rubs. I realized that Stage Four of Bob's
Occupation was complete when I took pictures of him and posted them on Facebook to see if anyone could provide more clues.
"If you don't want, we'll take him," a neighbor friend answered.
Oh dear. Getting rid of Bob hadn't quite crossed my mind. After all, he'd worked so hard to fit in here. My neighbor was not more than two miles away, so Bob would probably end up back in our barn anyway. Besides, he was annoying, but Stage Four of his Occupation was complete. Bob already had a home.
Wednesday, July 10 2019
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
Alice Walker, The Color Purple
A sea of purple ripples in waves as we pass. With the humble name of Plains Horsemint, a single flower grabs attention but a carpet of purple glory is nothing short of spectacular. Majestic purple wildflowers clamor for their place in the sun. Their place in the spotlight. It’s their time. They line the roadway between my home and the nearby town. Shouldering in beside the Black-eyed Susans.
First came the Indian Paintbrushes, the welcome color of spring. Orange spikes filled pastures and lined the highways. They gave way to the warm goldens and reds of Indian Blankets, followed by the Black-eyed Susans and Plains Horsemint. City and country folk alike took the time to drive the highway, stop for pictures, and admire the show.
For months these wildflowers have put on a performance to rival any fireworks display, but rather than the pop and roar of the following wave, there is merely a quiet costume change for the next scene along the highway. The change is seamless. It’s hard to define when the last Indian Paintbrush faded to seed and when the first Plains Horsemint burst into bloom. It is a well-choreographed Broadway show. Each flower blooming in its own time.
And perhaps there’s the lesson. In its own time.
I watch the lanky pup race across the pasture to pick up the calves. It’s not pretty but he’s getting the job done. In his time. He’s a late bloomer. Silly. Playful. Soft. His work ethic was as thin as a butterfly’s wing. He had flashes of brilliance surrounded by acres of mediocrity. But then something changed. The bud began to open. Slowly. The bud split open and a working dog bloomed. The pup got more serious. His brain began to catch up with his body. Now I still catch glimpses of that silly teenager but more and more I see the hardened glare of a stockdog at work. He is blooming. In his time.
“He’s my slow child.”
The words seared through me as the boy’s mother spoke them. Embarrassed, her son’s eyes darted away from mine. My heart cried for him. Perhaps like the pup, and like the wildflowers, it simply isn’t yet his time to bloom. How many of us are so hard on our children and ourselves because we haven’t learned the lesson in the wildflowers?
From the first cardinal that soared over the first Indian Paintbrush of spring to grasshoppers that play hopscotch over fading Black-eyed Susans on this hot July day, each scene has been choreographed to seamlessly shift into the next, providing months of glory. But what if?
What if they all bloomed at the same time?
There would be a brief riot of color that would explode and cascade to fading emptiness. And that would be it. Pollinators would work overtime like UPS deliverymen at Christmas but after a quick, glorious opening of packages we would be left with nothing but faded colored ribbons on the floor and a faint longing.
Timing. It’s all about timing. Time those blooms. Everything isn’t meant to blossom at the same time. Slow down. Relax. Sit back and enjoy the show. And so it is with pups and people and purple flowers.
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, March 07 2019
If you raise animals, spring is like having a second Christmas - except you can't shake the boxes. I was so happy with my 2018 lamb crop that I used the same ram again for nine of my ewes before I loaned him to a friend
and then sold him.
I used a young ram lamb with a completely different look on the rest of the flock.
He's small and young and I'm not sure how many of his breedings took, but I figured I'd give him a shot this year anyway. Next year I'm hoping to use him on the 2018 daughters of brown ram. And so now I sit, waiting as impatiently as a 5 year old on
Christmas Eve. March 6 was the earliest possible due date for the first group. They are like 55 gallon drums waddling
around the barnyard. Even heavily pregnant Navajo-Churro sheep can be quite agile, and just yesterday I noted one of my 55
gallon drums leaping a low spot in the fence like a deer to gain access to some tasty spring grass on the other side.
Because I don't want anyone lambing in the pasture, I've got all the girls locked in the barnyard until lambs are safely
on the ground. Understandably this does not sit well with pregnant ladies who want more than pickles and chocolate ice
I also shut my Livestock Guardian Dogs away from my pregnant ewes at this time because I don't want any accidents. I'll
return them when lambs are safely on the ground. In the mean time, the dogs are confined around the sheep so their
presence can deter predators. Confinement keeps them honest, discourages any bad habits, and allows ewes to lamb in the
barnyard without the stress of a large hulking white dog impatiently waiting for the afterbirth.
While it's tempting to think of a farm as a lovely Walt Disney film, with everyone getting along, the reality is that dogs
are still just dogs and I don't want accidents. It happens too often on too many other farms. I must also consider the
personality of the sheep. My dorper sheep are quite fond of the dogs and most probably wouldn't mind a dog hovering near
them when giving birth. They consider the dogs part of their flock.
My Navajo-Churro sheep are wilder. They know without a
shadow of a doubt that a dog is a predator. My churros do NOT want a dog near when they're lambing. They also do not want
a dog around their young lambs. Churros will not hesitate to t-bone any dog near their babies or someone else's babies.
These sheep will beat a dog up.
For the welfare of my dogs and my sheep, it's easier to lock up the dogs and keep the
sheep close to the barn. And wait. Impatiently. For Christmas morning.
Monday, March 04 2019
The walk of shame. I'm all too familiar with it. If you run a farm you probably walk that walk too. You are late to
meetings, choir practice, and any other important functions in your life. Despite your best intentions, the farm has once
again forced you to slink into a meeting which has already started. Sometimes you apologize, sometimes you just grab your
choir book and slither to your seat. Others pause briefly to nod a wordless greeting. Late again. They've come to expect
it. Your shame is compounded by the fact that not only are you late, you are also dirty. You often have the stains from
animal bodily fluids smeared on your jeans - even after they leave the washing machine. You have stomped your boots in the
parking lot so hopefully there is no cow shit in the tread. There was no time to change clothes.
And that's really what it comes down to, time. Some people, the non-ranching variety, will point an accusing finger and
say it's really about time management. Poor time management on your part. Irresponsible. You. Yes, you. The person who
rises before the sun to care for animals that cannot care for themselves. You, who have a calf in the kitchen, and chicks
in the laundry room.
I would argue that the root of this kind of irresponsibility is in fact, responsiblity. You are responsible for so much
more than the average nine to fiver. You have lives depending upon you. Animals have to be fed and watered. Outside of the
simple animal welfare part of it, if you run a ranch, it comes down to dollars and cents too. Every young animal that
doesn't survive is money taken from your wallet. Around here cattle pay the mortgage. Each calf eaten by a coyote is a
direct hit to my pocketbook, so it's in my best interest to monitor calving closely. I simply cannot afford to feed
I'm not sure which is worse, being late, or not showing up at all. Sometimes the farm won't allow you to simply be late,
the drama is of such magnitude that your attendance is required more at the tail end of a straining cow than at the tail
end of a meeting. Such was my last Sunday. I sing in the choir. Don't get excited. I'm not any good. I'm the poster child
for the phrase "joyful noise." Nevertheless, when you sing in the choir, even badly, people still count on you to be there
and I hate letting them down. But I had a cow down. A pregnant cow. An expensive pregnant cow that I cannot afford to
The cow appeared to be in labor. Not hard labor. Just thinking about it. The problem was she was "just thinking about it"
the night before too. And she was walking like a foundered horse. We watched her for a while and made the decision that
church would have to wait. We couldn't afford to lose this cow in a bad delivery. So once again I fired off a text
explaining my absence. While I looked through binoculars and pondered why I bother to try to have any kind of life off
the ranch, my Other Half left to feed more cattle in another pasture. Normally he would have done this after church, it
was just a twist of fate that we were skipping church so he fed early that morning.
My cow who was thinking about labor decided that she really just had gas, so after a good fart, she was bellying up to the
hay bar when Other Half rattled into the barnyard and announced that my help was needed in the other pasture. A cow that
we hadn't even been watching had given birth early in the morning and the calf couldn't walk properly on its back hooves.
The tendons were contracted and the hooves were flipped back so the baby was forced to walk on her joint. She had nursed,
but keeping up with the herd was not a possiblity. Thankfully her mother had brought her back into the relative safety of
the big herd and so Other Half found her when he fed them. But she couldn't stay there.
This baby was a Coyote Happy Meal.
So instead of going to church, we were kidnapping a calf and slow-rolling the calf and her
mother from the lease pasture all the way to the cattle working pens below the house.
There we would be able to monitor
her and give her a little bit of physical therapy to help loosen the tendons. She would also be close to the sheep and
would thus enjoy the protection of the Livestock Guardian Dogs.
Each day the tendon loosened and by Wednesday we were able to turn the baby and her mother out with the other cows which
have temporary residence in the lower sheep pasture. My heart smiled as I watched her run for the first time on working
She loped away taking with her any guilt I had about skipping church that Sunday. I doubt God minded anyway. In
fact, I cannot help but wonder if God didn't have a hand in this little drama. The cow who had us convinced she was in
labor on Sunday still hasn't calved, yet if we had not skipped church and fed the main herd early, in all likelihood we
would have missed the lame calf. The herd would have moved on and the baby and her mother would have been left alone. Our
experience in the past has been that a single cow cannot protect her calf from a pack of coyotes. She needs the herd. Or
When I let that calf out to run, I let go of some that guilt too, because when you live on a farm, and farm drama gets in
the way of a 'normal' life, oftentimes the main person pointing the accusing finger of blame at you is really just you. Let that guilt just gallop away.
Wednesday, February 13 2019
I closed one eye, aimed, took a deep breath, prayed my aim was true, and squeezed the trigger.
Over the years I've come to recognize days like this, when problems dogpile you like a college football game. Some days I
lay sprawled on the turf, waiting for the referee to sort it out even as another problem kicks me in the head, and other
days, I scream, cry, and kick back. Saturday I was kicking back.
Problems always seem worse when you're sick. I've been in a state of sick and half-sick for a month now. Respiratory
infections tend to hit me hard and like houseguests who won't leave, they linger forever. When you run a farm, you don't
have the luxury of being sick. Animals still have to be fed. Dogs have to be exercised. Eggs have to be collected.
Chickens and sheep must be juggled lest they end up on the menu of a bold Boogey Beast. Livestock Guardian Dogs must be
juggled lest the wrong combination end up together and they leave for an early spring break. And now I'm working a town
job again. Massive medical bills last summer coupled with the drought and rising insurance costs had me looking around for
a part-time job to ease the pinch of rising winter feed bills. I got a part-time job teaching at a local college police
academy and another substitute teaching at the local school. I was a 6th grade Science teacher for ten years before my
police career so going back into the classroom isn't a stretch. I love teaching. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy teaching.
I love the kids. I hate the germs. Teaching is a lot of fun when you aren't sick. When you're sick, when your muscles ache
and your head feels like a football, you're watching the clock countdown as closely as the kids. Saturday morning I was
looking forward to spending a day in bed with an electric blanket and a good book. The farm had other plans.
When you're taking cold medicine, multitasking is not your forte. I know this and yet, in my attempt to get the morning
chores done quickly, I forgot that I cannot do chores and watch dogs at the same time. I put Bramble's radio tracker
collar on her and let her out of the barn with Judge and Briar for a potty break. I was in the middle of feeding rams when
I remembered that it was Saturday and the Big Ram was supposed to be two hours away at a sale - in two hours. He'd been
advertised to be there and thus not going wasn't an option. I hustled to get Other Half out of bed and attempt to wake up
my pickup truck. My old Ford hates cold weather. It refused to start. After much cussing, screaming, and crying, it still
refused to start. I made the decision to sell it. Other Half managed to get it started and backed the trailer up to the
ram pen. Bramble kept getting in the way as we tried to load the ram. Fortunately the Big Ram cooperated and easily
loaded. Since I still had a date with a good book and an electric blanket, all was not lost if I sent Other Half to the
auction without me. He agreed to drop off a soap order on his way so I could stay home. I just needed to finish chores and
I was free to get back to bed. That's when I realized there was only one white dog in the barnyard. Judge and Bramble were
gone. I snatched up the tracker to her radio collar. She was over a half mile away. And still moving.
There was no one to blame but myself. And Judge. Judge had taken his young friend on walkaout. Give him an inch and he'll
take a mile. Or two. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was sick. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. And I
couldn't catch a freaking break. Other Half was already heading down the road when I realized he'd forgotten the soap
order. I phoned him. He backed down the road as I stomped down the driveway to meet him with a box of soap. I still had to
finish chores. Bramble's collar showed she was 1.67 miles away and moving. I was livid. I handed Other Half the box of
soap as tears of rage and frustration burst out. I had reached the point where I didn't care any more. If they got shot by
a hunter that was two less dogs to feed. I was that mad. Sick. Working my ass off for animals that either tore things up
or ran away, I was cussing at God, and deep in an emotional meltdown. And that's when I heard Other Half cussing.
The truck broke down. It was spewing some kind of fluid. Even as I knew I should be grateful he didn't break down on the
highway, I also knew I couldn't afford major truck repairs. The Jenga Blocks of my week came crashing down. Great heaping, heaving sobs of feeling sorry for myself didn't
solve the problem. And the ram still had to be hauled. We put a cage in a pickup and he cooperated once more. Other Half,
his two criminal Border Collies, and the ram left again and I walked back to finish chores. The tracker had lost contact
with Bramble at 1.67 miles away. Everyone has a breaking point. I'd reached mine. I muttered and cussed at God as I fed the ewes.
Even as I swore to God that I was done and didn't care any more, I knew what I would be doing when I finished chores. Mesa
loaded into the big dually pickup with me. I hate driving this truck. It's big. It's filthy.
Other Half and his Border Collies have trashed it out. I rolled the windows down so I could see past the dog noseprints as
Mesa and I drove off. The radio tracker still showed a lost signal. I drove in the direction of the last known signal.
Dogs don't follow roadways. They cut across neighboring ranches and go places I can't reach by vehicle. I would have to
drive two miles out of the way to get back to where the signal was lost. The tracker was still working as I drove down the
cold, wet gravel road. We were two miles away when I saw him. He was sitting there, staring at me with a lost vacant
expression. I slowed the truck down to get a closer look. There was no mistaking it. The raccoon was sick. Distemper.
Rabies. Who knows? Probably distempter, but I wouldn't rule out rabies. He stared at me from the bar ditch. He looked like
I felt. I drove off. The tracker showed I had radio contact again and was getting closer to Bramble. A half mile. A
quarter mile. 900 yards. 400 yards. 340 yards. 99 yards. 74 yards. 90 yards. Stop. Back up the truck. 70 yards. I stopped
the truck and cut the engine. Then I stepped out onto the running board and called,
The bell on her collar immediately answered me as she came bounding through the forest and burst out onto the dirt road. Judge bounded out behind her. They were delighted to see me. I grabbed Bramble and stuffed her into the pickup truck.
An adventure AND a car ride? Wow! Her day was getting better and better!
I tried to get Judge to climb into the truck. He refused. Both Anatolians are terrified of riding in vehicles. Lovely.
Just freaking lovely. It was gonna be a long trot home. As the crow flies we were probably two miles away. By vehicle we
were at least four miles away. I offered Judge a ride. He declined. So we started rolling back home. Judge settled into an
effortless trot beside me.
Bramble hung her head out the window and watched Judge trot along. Idiot. He was missing the best part. The open window.
A truck came up behind us. I stopped and waved him around. I'm sure he thought I was dumping dogs. If only. He shot me an
accusing glare as he passed. I wanted to scream at him. To tell him how these freaking animals rule my life. To tell him
how hard I work to keep them fed. To keep them confined. To tell him that my every waking hour is somehow spent caring for
animals. Ungrateful animals. The crunch of his tires disappeared, taking his accusations with them. I offered Judge a
ride. He declined again.
As he trotted I gave some serious thought to the sick raccoon. Would he still be there? By some miracle I'd managed to
leave the house without a gun. As I drove down the dirt road I looked through the truck interior. No gun. No freaking gun.
Not one. Not a snake gun. Not a rifle. How can you not have a gun in a ranch truck? I looked up the hill. There he was.
Judge hadn't seen him yet. The raccoon was walking unsteady, aimless circles in the road. There was absolutely no way I
could drive past that sick raccoon with Judge trotting beside me. Was God laughing at me? I stopped the truck. Judge still
hadn't seen the raccoon. I offered him a ride. He politely declined again. Mesa glared at him. Idiot. Certifiable. Class A
idiot. I searched the back seat for a gun. Wait! What's this?
An extension cord.
The raccoon was still wobbling circles in the road as I tied the extension cord around Judge's neck. If you've ever tried
to load an unwilling horse into a trailer, you know the drill. I climbed into the back seat and started pulling. Judge
isn't as strong as a horse and so he soon gave in and climbed into the dreaded pickup. He took up the entire back seat.
Bramble moved to the floorboard. I slammed the door in his face and rolled the windows up. By the time we drove past, the
raccoon was back in the bar ditch. Not six feet away, he stared at me vacantly as I stopped. Definitely sick. I would have
to come back.
By the time I got home, the ewes had finished eating. Hay was still spread all over the barnyard. They weren't eating it
all. They were just stomping on it. Searching for something else. They wanted corn. Or alfalfa. The hay spread all over
the barnyard was $22 a bale. Nice clean gorgeous coastal hay. The best I could afford. I go to work sick so I can afford
to feed them this hay. I cussed the sheep. (It was not my finest hour.) Ranchers all over the country cuss ungrateful farm
animals who waste feed. Wasted food is even more painful when you're sick. That's when you measure every grain of wasted
food and compare it to every minute you go to work sick to provide that food. And I still needed to find a gun.
I locked up the white dogs, exchanged Mesa for Lily, stuffed a pistol in my back pocket, and then climbed back in the truck. I
drove the two miles back to the raccoon. He was sitting in the ditch wearing a dejected look. I drove past so I could turn
around. He barely noticed me when I pulled back up beside him. Distemper is an ugly disease. It will run like wildfire
through the raccoon population. It was too late for this one, but if I put him out of his misery I may spare other
raccoons a similar fate. So I closed one eye and took aim. Then I took a deep breath and said a prayer that my aim
would be quick and true. It was the first civil word I'd had with God all day.
The shot rang out. The aim was true. His suffering was over. And so was mine. I had passed that poor raccoon four times.
Had I not been distracted and let the dogs get loose I would never have seen the raccoon. I would never have seen his
suffering. Who knows how long he would have suffered? Who knows how many more animals he would infect? And so it is with
our own suffering. Perhaps God hasn't forsaken you. Perhaps he's merely shuffling pieces on the chess board to force you
into the right place at the right time to help someone else. So perhaps a little less cussing and a little more gratitude
is in order. Just perhaps.
Because the world's problems aren't solved under an electric blanket with a good book.
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!
Saturday, February 02 2019
How Much is She Worth?
This dog has no registration papers. When she was a puppy someone laughed at me because I paid good money for a dog with no papers. No one's laughing now.
Papers don't work. A dog does. I didn't pay for papers. I don't breed dogs so I don't need registration papers. I paid for the security of knowing the dog would work. She comes from a line of stockdogs. I had faith that she would work and that faith has been rewarded tenfold. Not only has Mesa become the best sheepdog I have, but she is determined to be the best at everything. Mesa makes it her mission in life to figure out what I need and insert herself into that spot. And sometimes you don't know what you need until Mesa provides it. Take this for instance.
This is a Possum. A MoonPossum.
Through a twist of fate, Possum came to live with us when she was a pup. Possum is a Double Merle Australian Shepherd. She was produced when a merle colored dog was bred to a merle colored dog. Puppies like Possum are often deaf and have vision problems. Possum is deaf and has some vision issues. When she was young she wore goggles to protect her eyes from the sun's glare. Now it's a fight to keep them on, so we just limit her time in bright light. Possum does not let her disabilities handicap her. We do not tell Possum she is handicapped, she is treated just like everyone else. She responds to hand signals and at night we blink a flashlight to let her know it's time to come inside. Possum doesn't live her life in a bubble. When Possum was a puppy I lived in fear that she'd squeeze out of the barnyard and get into the big pasture with the cattle or get lost in the forest. This led to many panic-stricken runs around the barnyard screaming, "Where's Possum?"
You have a problem?
Insert a Mesa.
Mesa took it upon herself to start finding Possum, bumping her to get her attention and bringing her back to me. Note: MESA TAUGHT HERSELF THIS SKILL. She saw a need and inserted herself. That is work ethic. THAT is what you pay for, not papers. Papers are only worth something when they document dogs with work ethic. If the dogs in the pedigree don't work, there isn't a lot of hope your pup will work either.
Fast forward two years. Mesa's little trick now allows her friend to enjoy long walks in the forest with the pack. I keep a close eye on Possum and the moment she lets her attention carry her off the trail, I dispatch Mesa. Last week I made the mistake of taking Possum for a walk without Mesa and it ran me ragged. Even with a tracking collar on her, someone still has to actually get off the trail and show her the way back. Mesa does this fifty times a day. We can put her vibration collar on Possum, but someone still needs to make sure she knows exactly where I am. Mesa is that added security. If Possum slides under the barbed wire fence where I can't go, Mesa is dispatched to get her attention and bring her back. From time to time, Mesa notices before I do, and dispatches herself.
That kind of work ethic isn't something you train, it's inherent in the genetic makeup of the dog. I want to also point out that Mesa did not start inserting herself into roles like this until she was two years old. Then she began to insist upon doing more and more around here. The dog is quite bossy and highly competitive. This has proven to be a great combination since Mesa's bossiness is easily shaped into skills like working sheep, penning chickens and finding Possum. She has appointed herself to be Sergeant-At-Arms on the farm. While you have to be careful not to let this get out of hand (She terrorizes Trace the Troll Dog. On the other hand, most of the time he deserves it.) this mindset makes for a really handy stockdog.
And in the end, that's all I really wanted.
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!