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Farm Fresh Blog
Wednesday, January 31 2018
The Border Collies run ahead of me as I hike to the pasture below the barn. Mesa knows the drill - let the Dorper and Jacob flock out of the lower pasture, take them through the barnyard and into their pen for the night. Wyatt, the pup, has done this enough times to know how things should flow. He is getting some maturity now and is finally beginning to pay attention to the sheep and not just bounce along with Mesa. Lily, the older dog, walks beside me. She has long since given the reins to Mesa and concerns herself more with the perks of being a ranch dog rather than the actual work of it. Lily is happy enough to ride in the truck or the ATV and watch Mesa work.
Wyatt and Mesa arrive at the gate and wait.
I'm the one with the thumbs. Thumbs are needed to work the chain on the gate. One day I will devise another system so the Border Collies can do this themselves. No thumbs needed. Then I can sit in the porch swing and watch the dogs do my chores. Until then, I have to hike down there and back.
Lily and I arrive to open the gate and the sheep file out. Once out they begin the uphill run. Lily waits with me while I close the gate. Mesa and Wyatt go with the sheep. When I start back up the hill I see Wyatt waiting for me by the barn. Something hasn't gone according to plan.
I've forgotten to open the gate so the sheep can file into their pen. Mesa is holding them by the gate while Wyatt has come back to inform me that I had one job - open and close the gates - and I have failed miserably at that. He escorts me to where Mesa is holding sheep.
The Labrador Retriever, who until this moment has busied himself with the arduous task of selecting just the right stick in a yard full of fallen limbs, has made his final selection and now gallops into the flock of sheep with a log in his mouth. They scatter and run like hell. On their way down the driveway the sheep notice an open gate which leads to another pasture. Like a flock of birds they all hook a left and head through that gate and into 150 wooded acres and a rising moon. I am helpless to stop them. How long will it take to get them all back?
They thunder down the fence line as the Blue Moon rises above the trees and I hurl a curse into the sand at my feet. How far will they go before I can even reach the gate? Not far. A black and white streak glides ahead of the galloping sheep and turns the flock back on itself. I haven't even started toward the opened gate and the sheep are now loping back into the barnyard. My heart smiles as my eyes search to identify my savior. I am confident it's Mesa. I'm wrong.
Mesa and Wyatt stand in the barnyard and watch Lily neatly pen the runaway flock. She steals a glance at me as she slides past. The little black and white dog saved me a lot of work and she knows it. This flock is small, but it's particularly silly, so she waits at the gate as the sheep file in. Mesa and Wyatt close the loop around them at the back. I shut the gate and Lily gives me a smug look. Apparently she is not retired. She is in charge. There is a difference.
Lily has made it clear that just because she chooses to let Mesa do all the work it doesn't mean that she can't do it anymore, merely that she's content to let others do the chores as long as they don't muck it up. And when they do, she is still here to swoop in and clean up our mess.
Monday, January 29 2018
The morning sun crests the line of trees and creeps across the barnyard with warm fingers. As eager to greet the day as the sheep are to greet their hay, the dogs chase each other, madly dashing up and down the hill, round and round the barn.
This dog is no different. A stranger here would have no idea she is deaf and partially blind. MoonPossum lives her life with gusto. She grabs the day by the horns and insists on being a part of the fun. Possum so easily keeps up with the Border Collies in their frenzied chase games that it's easy to set aside her disabilities and forget she's different. Until . . .
I walk toward the cow pens as she comes racing down the path toward me. There is plenty of time for her to see me but she keeps barrelling onward, never veering off the path, a little train steaming forward. Surely she sees me. She has to see me.
I have just enough time to bend my knees before impact. Possum is clearly surprised that she's hit something, but then delighted that the something is me. We have a momentary love fest before she grins, wobbles into a lopsided lope, gathers steam, and off she goes to find her friends.
Why didn't Possum see me? I need only glance down for the answer. I'm wearing camouflaged pajama pants and a camouflaged hunting jacket with brown house shoes. This has effectively made me invisible to Possum as she races down a wooded path. For a moment my heart breaks. It aches for her. It's easy to forget that Possum has vision problems. It's easy to forget that she's deaf. It's easy to feel sorry for her. Then again, why? Why should we? Possum doesn't.
She races across the yard with wild abandon. Happy. The Border Collies know she's different, but she doesn't. Possum is happy. I watch her join her buddies, leaping, biting, wrestling, running. There is no caution. None whatsoever.
Perhaps we're the ones with the handicap, not her. Possum is not crippled by her disabilities. She motors forward, confident that things will sort themselves out as she runs. I watch her and consider the lessons she could teach the rest of us.
Just keep trusting, keep blindly running forward, and the way will show itself. Nothing fun is ever accomplished from cowering in the dark, from sitting on the sidelines, from playing it safe. Chase life with gusto. Even if you're wrong, even when you make mistakes, get up. Get up! Dust yourself off! Failure is just another experience gained. Get back in the game!
Monday, January 22 2018
You get a lot of thinking done when you're walking through the forest staring at a cow's ass.
The forest was thick. The cow was in labor. I'm out of shape. If you want a weight loss regiment, try raising cattle in a forested area. You could easily hide a grizzly bear in here.
Or a cow in labor.
For this reason we check the cattle daily and look for anyone bagging up. Last week we noticed that Poppy, one of the red Brafords, was starting to bag up.
"Keep an eye on her. We had to pull her first calf."
Her first calf was an exceptionally nice heifer calf, but was presented head first instead of front feet first. This meant we had to push the calf back inside her mother, reposition her, and then pull her out like a diver - front feet first, followed by the nose and head, and then the hips just plopped on out. It was a tough delivery, but Molly greeted the world as a healthy calf.
The plan had been to lock Poppy up in the sheep pasture below the barn when she looked like she was close to delivery so we could monitor her. That didn't happen.
On the day we planned to lock her up, Poppy didn't come to breakfast. Of course not.
You know why?
Because we planned to attend a horse show that day, that's why.
Instead, we loaded up the little ATV mule with a medical bag and headed out. We were hoping to find a cow with a fuzzy new calf. What we found was a cow in labor with two feet sticking out of her butt.
"Okay, we'll just have to deliver the calf here in the forest."
Poppy saw us coming, heaved herself up, and walked off. Take that.
Thus began a slow O.J. Simpson foot chase through the ranch. Poppy didn't appear to be in any distress and we stayed as far back as possible to keep an eye on her. It's easy to lose a red cow in the brush. She ambled up and down the banks of the creek which crisscrosses the ranch, stopping to drink, reflect on life and other cow problems, and graze a bit.
At least it was a pretty day for a walk. Why weren't we on horseback? We have four horses, two of which are pretty good cow horses. Why didn't we just rope her?
The brush in this area is too thick to easily travel on horseback.
Why didn't we use the Border Collies?
Cows in labor take a very dim very of Border Collies. Since these cows are pretty tame, our presence is only mildly annoying, add a Border Collie and a cow in labor will hike her tail over her back and crash through the woods like the Incredible Hulk.
Which leads us back to my walk through the forest. It was a long, slow walk, with plenty of time to think. And as I stood on the high creek bank, looking down at Poppy who was trying to decide if she wanted to have her calf or graze, I thought about how a ranch is like the Incredible Hulk and the rancher is like Loki.
I haven't watched a lot of the wildly popular Avengers movies. I've seen bits and pieces of most of them, enough to know who the characters are, and get a rough idea of the story line. Loki is kind of an arrogant bad guy. Hulk has rage issues. This scene pretty much sums up the relationship between a farmer and the farm. The farmer is Loki and the farm is Hulk.
https://youtu.be/OZ4AydWIcsc Hulk Smashes Loki - YouTube
Loki is a god. He believes that he's in charge. Hulk beats the crap out of him. Then he stomps off with a backward taunt, "Puny god."
And that's exactly what farming is like.
As I trudged through the forest, pushing aside briars and branches, stepping over downed logs, hoping not to find a rattlesnake sunning himself, I was thinking about chickens.
The week before Christmas we bought eight new chickens. Blue Laced Red Wyandottes. They are rare enough that we sought out a breeder rather than add our names to the spring list at a mail-order hatchery which sells out so fast. We drove to Central Texas in the rain and came home with eight of the loveliest birds I'd ever seen. They were 4 and 5 months old. Thus began my love affair with my own Blue Laced Red Wyandottes.
I couldn't stop admiring them. I just loved these little birds. It was just over a week later when the first one got sick. A week after that I had to euthanize her. We had our suspicions but held our breath. The rest of the flock seemed okay. The next week another was sick. Just like the first. This time we contacted our vet and Texas A&M. She was culled and her body was sent to A&M for a necropsy. The next day another bird died. Thus far, 3 or the 8 are dead.
We are still waiting on the test results but suspect Marek's disease. This means that one by one, all my flock may die. They may also infect the adult birds I already had here, my Golden-Laced Wyandottes.
Each morning I hold my breath as I open the coop door, afraid of what the day may bring. The remaining birds look fine, but then so did their comrades before the disease snatched them. It continues to weigh heavy on my mind.
So as I followed a cow's ass through the woods, I was thinking about dead chickens, and Loki. I timed the cow's contractions. Four minutes apart. Three minutes apart. Two minutes apart. Eventually we managed to get Poppy moved into the cattle working pens where she glared at us. She clearly wanted to have her baby in the privacy of the forest, not here in public with horses and other cows staring at her.
Since the cow didn't appear to be in distress, we opted to give her some time and some privacy. We left her alone for an hour. We returned hoping to find a new baby. What we found was Hulk snatching us up like Loki.
Poppy had not already given birth to a healthy calf. The feet were still hanging out. This was definitely a problem birth. We moved Poppy into the chute. Other Half took off his shirt, lathered his arm in KY Jelly, and dove in. What he found was a train wreck.
Instead of being in the classic diver's position, the calf's head was turned way back and down. After sorting everything out, Other Half began the long and painful task of pushing the calf's legs back inside and pulling the head into its proper place.
But through it all, he talked to Poppy. He encouraged her. He pleaded with her. He comforted her. I think it was as much for himself as for her. I watched all this and was reminded why I love this man. Like most men can be, on many days he is an arrogant, selfish man-child who makes me question both his sanity and mine. But as he stood there in the cow pens, covered in goo, he was my hero. And Poppy's.
Other Half finally managed to get the calf turned and successfully delivered. He immediately began CPR. The calf was dead. Clearly his neck was broken. Other Half continued his desperate attempts at CPR anyway. He and Poppy had worked so hard. He couldn't give up. It was futile. The calf had been dead for a while.
Thus began the second guessing. We shouldn't have waited to let her have it in private. We should have just pulled it. Maybe it was still alive then. We should have locked her up the night before. Then we would have known exactly when labor started. Or would we? We had planned to go to a horse show, so we wouldn't have been home anyway. What if? What if?
In the end, it's just like the chickens. What will be, will be. How arrogant are humans? We think we're in charge. We think we are the gods of our little domain.
Wednesday, January 10 2018
It's rare that I promote something and shout from the rooftop, "Y'all need to buy this!" but this book is a must for anyone living with Border Collies and everyone who wants a Border Collie. From Carol Price, the author of COLLIE PSYCHOLOGY, this is Book One in a three part series on the Border Collie mind. Book One - SECRETS OF THE WORKING MIND is probably one of the most comprehensive and thought provoking work that I've ever seen on what goes on inside the mind of a Border Collie, and why.
This is an expensive little book, and I'll admit, I wish it was bigger, but the moment I opened it up and thumbed through the pages, I was completely satisified that it was money well spent. This book explores in depth the link between OCD behaviors in Border Collies and the autism spectrum.
I purchased my copy from Border Collies In Action website, and I look forward to the next two books in this series.
If you have Border Collies, read this book. You'll love it, and your Border Collie will benefit greatly because it cannot help but improve your relationship with your dog.
Monday, January 08 2018
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light."
My grandmother always used to hang up a calendar from a local funeral home in her house. I'd often point out to her that a funeral home calendar might be a tad morbid for an old lady, and she'd tell me, "You never know. I could die at any time."
Many years later she moved into an elderly apartment complex beside a cemetery. When I pointed out the irony of this, she replied, "You never know. I could die at any time."
Despite her predictions, she lived to a ripe old age, and caused more than her fair share of trouble along the way. But you kinda have to admired an old bird with that much grit. And that leads us to Cowboy, the ancient Border Collie who refuses to "go gentle into that good night."
The family joke is that "Cowboy may not be with us much longer, so we need to baby him." Son pointed out that we've been saying that for years, and the old dog will live forever. The aging cowdog has a tenacious grip on life and is still spry enough to stir trouble wherever he goes.
He tries to incite dog fights. When your back is turned, he flashes gang signs and mouths veiled threats at other male dogs. When they roar at him, he manages to look innocent, thus if you had not caught him flashing gang signs, you would believe the other dog to be the aggressor. It's too cold or hot to keep him outside, so you bring him in the house. The moment your back is turned, he pees on the furniture. And then blames it on someone else.
He absolutely can not, can NOT, CAN NOT be left unattended at night with the Livestock Guardian Dogs because he will follow Briar through the fence after a coyote but not be able to keep up with her, or follow her right back into the yard, thus leaving himself old, lost, and defenseless against whatever lurks in the night. More than one tearful night has been spent in search of Cowboy.
If you take him with you to tend sheep, he MUST stay inside the mule. He was once allowed to come with Trace, Lily, and Mesa as we pushed sheep through heavy mesquite and cactus to go back to the main pasture. Cowboy couldn't keep up and got lost. I had to abandon the sheep and was beside myself in tears looking for the old dog. I found him waiting beside the mule for me. The other Border Collies moved the sheep to pasture. I hugged Cowboy and made mental note never to let the old geezer get in that situation again.
Unlike Lily, who is completely on board with retirement, happy to cheer the cow work from inside the truck, retirement doesn't fit on Cowboy. He is like an old man with no ass, who continually has to hike his pants up as he tells everyone who will listen about the glory days and why they're doing it all wrong. Instead of sitting in the VFW Hall, enjoying a drink and a tale with his buddies, Cowboy insists on still being in the action, barking orders from inside the truck, and bailing out if he thinks Trace needs help. (i.e. if he's doing it wrong.)
You have to admire grit like that. We don't know where he came from, what his breeding is, or how old he is, Cowboy is a stranger who came into our family and stayed. When we picked him up we thought he was the same age as Blue Heeler but it soon became apparent that he was much older. I'd estimate that he's at least 12 years old now, but still young enough to start a bar fight. Who says you have to grow old gracefully? You can be like Cowboy, look Old Age & Death in the face, and spit in his eye. Or piss on him.
Friday, January 05 2018
Virginia asked for an update on Ranger, the Blue Heeler. Ranger is getting up there in age and like the rest of us, he's put on a few pounds. Also like the rest of us, Ranger made no New Year's Resolutions to lose weight. Therefore he will not be giving up his gym membership in May. Ranger is quite happy sleeping in a chair beside a wood-burning stove, thank you very much.
It has recently come to our attention that Ranger is going blind. The change has been so gradual that it snuck up on us and probably Ranger too. Since cataract surgery is costly and it would be Ranger's idea of hell, we have opted to just modify his lifestyle the same as we do for his deaf and visually impaired roommate, Possum. He's happy. We do protect him more from the other dogs. Mostly Mesa. She senses his weakness and picks on him. This gets her thrown outside and he is elevated to Recliner Status, so it works out for him in the long run. It is best to keep him with Possum, Wyatt, and Trace.
Possum is a partially blind too, but never lets her disabilities affect her zest for life and her rollicking good nature helps Ranger.
Wyatt is too young to pick on anyone and still looks up to Ranger as an authority figure. This is good for Blue Dawg's ego.
And Trace doesn't care. He's company, without emotional entanglements.
Do not feel sorry for Ranger. Just like Possum, he doesn't dwell on his disability. His is a happy life. His social skills are getting much better and Ranger is now interacting with visitors. Despite our remote location, we get many more house guests and Ranger is adapting quite well to the idea that strangers are good. They often come bearing string cheese, and that's certainly never bad.
He does absolutely no cow work now, and trotting along with the tractor has been nixed since he ran into the bistro table chair because we had moved it to a different spot. That's when we realized just how bad his vision had become. It was a wake-up call for us. Since his work ethic was never strong anyway, moving into retired pet dog status caused no hiccups in his world whatsoever. Unlike Cowboy, who refuses to accept retirement, Ranger hadn't done real cow work in so long anyway, it was not an issue.
His big thrills are:
Riding in the ATV
Bonus if all that happens on the same day.
A safe rabbit.
"Did I miss something?"
"Piss on it. No worries, Mate!"
And that is pretty much Ranger's take on things now. He's a happy chap.
Thursday, January 04 2018
Several readers have asked for an update on Trace the Troll Dog, so here it is:
Trace is still a snarky little wretched beast who remains a pretty decent cow dog. Not great, but competent enough to be a big help around here. Most of his herding limitations are a result of us not knowing what we were doing, and not having the time or gas money to keep up with his lessons. That, and the fact that if I continued lessons with the little monster I would surely have put a bullet in his hard little head.
Speaking of holes in his head, yes, he does still have a hole in his skull as a result of his poor choice in attacking the much larger and stronger Labrador Retriever. The hole is slowly closing and doesn't appear to affect either his working ability or his cuddly disposition.
In case new readers, or Troll Dog fans, feel I'm being a bit harsh in my judgement of the little bastard, I say this. Spare me. Live with the little monster. I love him, but I have no illusions. He is a resource guarding, hard-headed, beast who appears to be slightly autistic. He often shuns affection and social interacion, and shuffles off to isolate himself. If one were to mix the logical Spock, with the Wrath of Khan, and then added the Hamburglar from the old McDonald's commercials, that's Trace. It does make a working machine though. Troll Dog would work himself to exhaustion and despite attempts to malign his character, I actually admire, and am quite fond of the little red dog. In spite of his propensity to start dog fights, the little troll is a very valuable member of the ranch family because he is our go-to dog for most cow work.
His best jobs aren't planned. They just happen. Most recently, was the Black Bull Fiasco.
A wise man once told us that if you have a windmill and a black bull, then you always have something to do. We don't have a windmill, but yes, a black bull can keep you busy. Our bull rarely creates any trouble but on this particular day, love, or lust, was in the air.
The neighbor had moved a group of cows next door. Shortly afterwards, he moved a nice yellow bull over there. Shortly after that, ANOTHER neighbor's black bull leaped into the pasture with the yellow bull. Much bellowing and bawling ensued. At one point I saw the black bull bellowing by our fence, while the yellow bull was ramming the electrical pole and tossing dirt on his back. This was highly entertaining until I realized it had attracted the attention of our black bull. He then commenced to bellowing back at the other black bull. And the next day the sorry SOB jumped the fence and trotted over there.
Sigh. Lovely. Just freaking lovely. We called the Neighbor who was most polite about it, and assured him that we'd get both bulls out.
Enter Troll Dog.
Since it was a big job, we loaded up Troll Dog, Cowboy the Retired Dog who is still good for barking, and Mesa the sheepdog who lacks cow experience but wouldn't get out of the truck so she got to go for the ride.
Apparently the little scrawny bull had already kicked our bull's ass because we found him grazing alone by our gate, so we opened the gate to let him back inside. Unfortunately everyone else came too, including the other black bull. The other black bull sighted in on our cows and started heading over there. Our bull decided that he needed to get his butt whipped again, so he and the neighboring bull commenced to sparring in our pasture. We let them duke it out while the dogs rounded up cows and calves and pushed them back through the gate off of our place and back onto the neighbor's place.
Troll dog was quite useful. Cowboy the retired dog even got to help, and because I was getting desperate I even added Mesa to be a presence at the gate to keep outside cows from coming in while still allowing the neighbor's cows to be driven out. In short, it was controlled chaos, but as always, Troll rose to the occasion and got the job done. The Academy Award went to Troll Dog. Best Supporting Actor went to Cowboy. (And Mesa got a Participation Trophy.)
Our bull got his ass whipped again by the scrawny bull and trotted off for a drink of water. We used that opportunity to pen both bulls. Once safely separated they started talking smack again.
And we were able to high-five the dogs and get them cooled off.
Mesa isn't sure she wants to work cattle because they're a lot bigger than sheep, Cowboy insists he isn't ready to be retired, and Trace just ignores everyone and continues working toward his goal of world domination.
Wednesday, January 03 2018
Update on Jury: After continued intensive therapy to elevate cats to God-like status on the farm, Jury now has resumed his normal nightshift duties. Thus far, no cats have been killed. I still don't trust him 100% but he is exhibiting avoidance behavior (i.e. looking away) when he sees a barn cat stroll past so I can only hope that he will continue this behavior when I'm not watching him.
Now, on to dayshift:
Judge is the Dayshift Dog. Although very much like his brother in appearance, Judge is longer, leaner, and not given to being as maternal with the livestock as Jury. Judge is all about the business of guarding the property. He is good with the stock, but not chummy.
Each day I try to take the sheep out to pasture. They are split into two separate flocks now which makes it easier to note the individual temperaments of the flocks. The Dorper/Jacob flock is more calm and all about the groceries. The Navajo Churro flock is very flighty and all about not getting eaten by coyotes. Thus far, they have been very successful in this endeavor. The reason for this is that at the first hint of danger, they gather like a flock of birds and fly back to the barn. This makes it hard to keep them in the forest on a windy day.
The hard freezes here have knocked off all signs of grass and so any good grazing must be done in the forest where the frost didn't hit the undergrowth as hard. Read my lips: churro don't like the forest. The Boogey Beast lives in the forest.
Even with two rather large white bodyguards the churro don't feel safe so sometimes the best I can do is let them graze on the edge of the woods. I stand out there with them, freezing my ass off. The sheep finally get settled. The dogs finally get settled. And then he sees something. Oh my. I know that look.
Out of the skies over the forest it comes. He trots forward to meet the threat.
That speck. Yes, that speck over the flock.
A vulture. He races underneath it to move it on its way.
And the churro panic.
Like a well-oiled machine, gathering the dairy goats too, they form a tight ball, and race back toward the barn.
Used to this behavior, Briar just watches them thunder past.
Judge stands his ground. Sector 12 is now clear.
Then he ambles behind the flock to catch up. They have made it to the driveway near the barn and stopped to browse. He spots another intruder.
The neighbor's cows are too close to the sheep.
Miffed, she gathers her calf and huffs away. All is well in Judge's world. He settles down in the edge of the woods to watch the sheep. Here he finds a thing - a precious, wonderful, curious thing. Wonder of wonders!
Somehow, someone has lost a water bottle - the ultimate dog toy! Judge settles down to chew on this new and wonderful bottle. The crunching of plastic is the final straw for the churro. They break the sound barrier. A sonic boom is heard as they gallop back into the barnyard. Judge picks up his water bottle and follows them.
I give up and go back to the fire. Hey, don't judge me.