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Farm Fresh Blog
Wednesday, November 13 2019
Temperatures this week dipped into real winter and dog lovers everywhere are being bombarded with reminders to bring their dogs inside. I can appreciate that. I really can. I like my dogs to be cozy and happy too, but I fear that too often all dogs are painted with the same brush and we can forget that not every dog's idea of cozy is a bed beside the fire.
I give you State's Exhibit A - the Livestock Guardian Dog.
These dogs were bred to be outside dogs who live with the flock and serve as protection against predators. They are hardwired for the job. It's in their DNA. While some dogs are happy lounging on the couch, these dogs are bred to be guardians in harsh weather. Read my lips - they don't want to be in the house on a cold night when the coyotes are yipping in the dark. They just don't. If you can't wrap your mind around that concept, don't get a Livestock Guardian Dog breed, get a Golden Retriever.
Let me share this battle with you.
It's a fight, people. It's a fight. Every damned night since the weather turned cold, it's been a fight.
Briar is an aging Livestock Guardian Dog. She has cataracts and her hips are bad. Sometimes her back legs lock up on her and getting up and down is hard. She NEEDS to stay in the house during cold weather. I have attempted to move her into my office at night where she has a nice, thick dog bed and she's far enough away from the heater that she doesn't get hot. It's still a fight. I have compromised by allowing her to stay locked in the chicken yard so that she can throw insults at coyotes but cannot plod off into the dark like a war horse and get herself killed.
The temperatures dipped into the teens the night before last. I didn't want Briar outside, so I locked her in my office. Each time I gave her a potty break she tried to slink away. Three times! Three separate times that old dog snuck off so she wouldn't have to come back inside the house. The first time I found her stationed in the driveway . The second time I found her by the chicken yard. The third time Briar actually made it into the pasture and was barking at coyotes that were hurling insults at her. The younger Pyrenees and I had to stomp out in the dark with a flashlight to retrieve a very sullen old dog and drag her back into the house.
Last night the clouds parted and with clear skies I expected lower temperatures. I fed the dogs early and gave all the house dogs breaks. Briar saw the writing on the wall and snuck off again. I found her behind the sheep pen. With the promise of a cookie I lured her back into my office. She was soon politely scratching the door. At the next potty break she made a dash for it. I heard them too. On a clear, cold night they're easy to hear. Coyotes.
So I gave up. I let her stay in the chicken yard in the cold. And she was happy. I worried that this morning it would be a Rimadyl Day but I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the gate to find her in the cheeriest of moods. The barnyard was blanketed with frost and so was Briar. But she was happy. We fed the sheep and took a walk in the pasture. As I sipped my coffee and watched Briar, I gave some thought to animal rights.
Few people who know me would argue that I don't care for my dogs. In fact, I spend more money on my animals than on myself. That said, care is not always about premium dog food and a bed beside the fire. Sometimes care is letting them be the dogs they were bred to be without projecting our emotions onto them.
And so I pass these photos on to you. After a long, cold night slinging insults at coyotes you can see that once again, Briar passed up the offer to come inside by the fire. Instead she wanted to go into the pasture, revel in the rising sun, read her pee mail, and roll in the frost. Briar doesn't want a dog bed in the house. She wants to be barking at coyotes on a cold, starry night. Briar wants to be a warrior.
Saturday, November 09 2019
I am so thankful for morning walks. It is hunting season now and so the sheep have been pulled into the lower pasture and barnyard because the Anatolian Shepherds must remain locked up. This leaves an old Pyrenees cross and an adolescent Pyrenees pup to guard the flock. They get by, but without the Anatolians, the coyotes get bolder. They come to yip at the fence to test for Anatolians. The old dog must stay locked with the chickens and the young dog doesn’t leave her sheep to address cheeky coyotes.
When the sun comes up we take a walk in the pasture to read our pee mail and run the Border Collies. I sip coffee as I am followed by nine dogs, five guineas, and one black cat. There is a lot to be learned on that walk.
We can choose to crash through the day with the wild abandon of a Border Collie breaking through the mist to hit the pond.
Or, like the old Livestock Guardian Dog, we can choose to thoughtfully map out our day by going through the details of yesterday and last night.
Or, like the five guineas, we can choose to dart here and there, and ricochet through the day like a pin ball bouncing in whatever direction life sends us.
The choice is ours. Choose wisely.
Thursday, August 01 2019
I always knew my life would go to the dogs. I added it up a couple of days ago and I’ve been training dogs over 45 years now. Training dogs and training people to train dogs has been really rewarding, and I’ve made so many lifelong friends doing it. My perspective has changed a lot over the years. Now I no longer have my show dogs, trial dogs, search dogs, or police dogs. There are only my ranch dogs. These scruffy farm dogs have less obedience training than my other dogs but far more responsibility. They aren’t my toys, they’re my tools. Truth be told, they’re more - they’re partners. They’re co-workers. They aren’t pets, but they are family.
Things change when your paycheck depends upon the work the dogs do. It gets serious then. A hobby farm with outside incomes can take the hits that a small working ranch cannot. Around here a dead calf is a mortgage payment. I depend upon those Livestock Guardian Dogs, they aren’t just decoration. And the Border Collies do so much work that I cannot even imagine how someone runs a ranch without them.
This week an internet bully on a large Facebook group poked a stick at me because I said that I always have my Border Collies in tow when I’m doing farm chores, thus the house dogs and the LGDs must interact. She said that if the BCs were so needy that they couldn’t be separated from me when I was doing chores then I needed to train them. Pardon me?
Isn’t that their freaking job?
I bowed out of the discussion because I don’t entertain internet bullies but I chewed on her words and wondered why someone would believe such foolishness. She wasn’t a Border Collie trial person. I could understand her logic if that had been the case. Often trial people want to control every time their dog is exposed to livestock. I can wrap my mind around that concept. What I don’t understand is anyone who thinks you can create and use a good stockdog without actually using that dog for the chores.
My Border Collies are handy for two reasons – they are there, and they know the routine. The dogs have work ethic. They see everything and want the world to spin according to the rules. Let us take, for instance, this morning.
I never move rams without having a dog with me. If you think your tame ram won’t hurt you, then please sign me up as beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Normally Wyatt handles the rams and the calves, but today I allowed Lily to come with me to open the gate and let the rams back in with the calves. She’s getting older and is retired now, but since she just had to be a presence, I brought her. Neither of us counted on what would unfold.
As I was locking the first gate behind me, the adult ram left the group of rams and rushed across the pen at Lily. She sidestepped his assault but fell into a deep crevice created by recent rains and he bowled her over. Lily was able to get out from underneath him as I yanked the gate open to release Wyatt.
And that, Friends and Neighbors, is why you take Border Collies along when you’re doing chores. It’s not because they’re needy, it’s because YOU NEED THEM.
Wyatt easily handled the ram with his signature M.C. Hammer “can’t touch this” move. The ram respects the young dog and obediently rejoined the group. Wyatt then moved them back into the pasture without incident. Lily’s pride was hurt but otherwise she seemed fine.
For Wyatt, it was just one more task in his already busy day. He and Mesa are the backbones around here. My day runs smoothly because when it doesn’t, I whistle for a dog to solve the problem. And they are there. Because they are always there. Watching. Waiting. Wanting to help. That’s the way Mesa learned to be a ranch dog, and that’s the way Wyatt is learning to be a ranch dog. They can’t learn the chores if they’re not there when I’m actually doing the chores.
And so my perspective on dog training has changed a lot over 45 years. For dog people it’s easy to let your ego get wrapped up in the performance of your current working dog. Most of us have been guilty of it at some time, but hopefully after a while, we gained the wisdom to see past that, and we’ve become better people and better dog trainers because of it. The other pitfall I see is that with years under the belt, it’s also easy to talk in absolutes, to see the world in black and white, with no gray, to bully people as you proclaim there is only one way to train a dog. I see it all the time. Mostly on the internet. Far too often it comes from someone with many years in the game, but few real experiences outside the familiar.
Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”
That’s pretty much my yardstick for assessing someone’s experience in anything. Not the years, but how much they think they know. Often these people are simply victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect, an overconfidence born of limited experience. Not years, but experience. There’s a difference. The people with the most experience in a subject tend to be more open-minded and less apt to pound their beliefs into someone with a stick.
So despite the advice of someone with 30 years of training dogs, I’ll continue to bring my Border Collies along when I do chores – because it’s their damned job.
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
The dogs had announced his presence under the tractor mower deck that night. Since it was the dead of winter and I wasn't
So days later, I stared at the chicken wing waving in the winter wind and questioned both my eyesight and my judgement.
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-
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
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
The first few weeks, much like Alice's Cheshire Cat, he was just a pair of eyes floating in space. Sometimes on the dusty
And he was right. They couldn't kill him here. There is a strict NO KILLING CATS policy in the barnyard and this extends
The beginning of Stage Three was heralded in with a yowl. A demanding, mournful yowl. The kind of yowl that announces to
Bob wanted to be a pet. A pet. Like, me touching him. Petting him. This cat, who for months hissed and spat at everyone
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
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
Being quite pushy, it was hard to see the back view of Bob's butt because his head was always in your face, demanding
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
"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
Since once they are locked inside the coops for the night the birds are pretty safe, we added Chicken Wrangling to the
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
Communication is the biggest issue. I'm a dog trainer, but as a herding dog trainer, I still suck - mainly because I'm too
We have three chicken coops. All birds free range during the day and then are locked in their assigned coop at night.
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
Last night we discovered that if you use board panels to make a flow gate the dogs can funnel the silly birds straight
Thursday, May 16 2019
The dew was still heavy when I took the sheep out to pasture. The grass, weeds and wildflowers are so high that sheep were
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
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.
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.
With the first retch, I'd already turned around and was walking away. The sheep and I left the sound of crunching bones
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
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
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
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
I also shut my Livestock Guardian Dogs away from my pregnant ewes at this time because I don't want any accidents. I'll
While it's tempting to think of a farm as a lovely Walt Disney film, with everyone getting along, the reality is that dogs
My Navajo-Churro sheep are wilder. They know without a
For the welfare of my dogs and my sheep, it's easier to lock up the dogs and keep the