Tuck turned 11 yesterday. (Fix is an attention hog so I couldn’t get just a photo of Tuck)
at gardening. Over the past ten years I have spent considerable time researching gardening techniques best suited for my location. One of the methods I discovered was a “keyhole garden” which is used in drought stricken countries with poor soil conditions. A few years ago I bought the necessary cinder block to build one but never was able to find the time to build one in time for spring planting. Finally, this year I was able to do so. Of course I had misplaced the book I had purchased on the subject (Deb Tolman’s Soiled Rotten) so was working off what I remembered from reading the book — as usual, a huge mistake. I marked the center of the garden.
I then marked off a circle six feet in diameter using the center as my guide.
The next step was to lay down hardware cloth (I have a serious gopher/mole problem). Even though I didn’t have enough on hand, I wanted to get an idea of whether or not I had enough cinder blocks (over the years the cinder blocks had migrated to other projects and while I had collected up as much as I could find I wasn’t sure if it was sufficient). So I laid down what I had of hardware cloth and then started building the base of the garden. Here is where I made my first mistake. Without the actual instructions I built the base layer trying to abut the cinder blocks flat against each other. First, that makes trying to create a circle very difficult and second, it uses more cinder block than what I had initially purchased. After counting the number of blocks used in the first layer I decided I was going to be woefully short and needed another 30 blocks. So a trip to town (in my new used truck) took me to the building supply business for 30 more cinder blocks, to the hardware store for hardware cloth and then to another store for a cheap and lightweight garden cart for moving manure, etc.
After unloading the cinder block from the bed of the truck, I realized that the new cinder block was much wider than the old block which meant that I couldn’t stack it on top and that I would have to dismantle what I had done and move all the old block out of the way. After moving way too many blocks, I finally got smart and started looking on-line for pictures of key hole gardens using cinder block and found a decent enough photo to show how to actually set the blocks. Once I set the new blocks correctly, it transpired that I didn’t really need the additional blocks and that my original amount would have been sufficient. Oh well, cinder block is always useful and if this is successful I may build another garden next spring.
So after putting the hardware cloth down and building the garden three blocks high I then pulled some tin cans from recycling and put some cans on the bottom. While the compost tube in the middle is usually made of wire, I was concerned about it collapsing when I filled in the garden so since I had an old trashcan around that I had cut holes into to make it into a goat hay feeder, I decided that the trashcan would work if I drilled more holes in the bottom and all around the side. (This is why those on farms rarely throw anything away – almost everything can be repurposed at some point in time.)
Now I was ready to start filling in the garden. One layer was old cardboard and then I layered in compost (manure from the sheep and goats mixed with old hay), followed by another layer of cardboard and then compost again.
Starting with the base layer of just hay, I heavily watered every layer before adding more. The compost tube had old hay put in first and watered well and then I added some food scraps. I am going to let the garden settle for about a week before either adding another couple of layers or just finishing it with top soil and then planting it. I need to cut some rebar so when I pound it in, it is just a few inches above the top of the garden. I will then bend some pvc pipe over the rebar to create a frame where I can put shade cloth or later in the season create a cold frame. I still need to clean up the hardware cloth around the edges as well, but if the garden works as advertised, I have a “keyhole” or cut out that allows easy access to the compost tube, the garden is designed to be drought resistant – initially it is watered on top but as it matures, the water will go into compost tube and percolate into the garden as needed, and everything planted can be easily reached. With luck I’ll have some great photos – and more importantly, great produce – from this garden over the summer.
In July of 2017 a cottonwood came down during a thunderstorm and landed on the pipe fence of the horse corral with the tree canopy almost completely covering the corral. The horse was unhurt but trapped in the far corner of the corral. A friend came over the next morning before work to chainsaw enough of the tree so I could get the horse removed to another location. It took awhile to deal with the bee hive that had taken up residence in the trunk of the cottonwood but once that was accomplished, the rest of the tree was able to be cleared from the corral. That still left part of the trunk on the pipe fence itself but the remaining tree blocked the horse from getting out of the corral. A few weeks later, I was finally able to get the rest of the tree cut up and then used a piece of cattle panel as a temporary patch. Another friend with welding equipment and skills agreed to take a look and see if he could fix the fence. When he finally made it out, we talked about possibilities and I asked if, instead of replacing the two sections of fence that formed that corner, it would be feasible to cut out the damaged sections and replace it with a gate that fit diagonally across to the undamaged sections on either side. He went home and built a gate but it was over a month before he could fit in the time to bring the gate and his welding equipment out. Tonight, after a few mishaps, the damaged pipe and cattle panel was cut away and the new gate welded in place. It took over eight months, but everything is finally done – and I have two gates.
I bred Quibeyn Chai (Joey’s last daughter) to Cosmos in hopes of getting a doeling to carry on Joey’s milking ability. Chai had snuck in with a buck I was borrowing when she was six months old – way too young for me to want her bred – and she had a kid in June 2016, a single buckling. Since Chai was small and only had a single, her udder development wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but she nevertheless produced a respectable amount of milk and I kept her in milk for almost a full year, drying her off only because I went on vacation last year.
I held off breeding her again until this past fall, wanting her to grow up a bit more. I had put her in with Cosmos at the same time I put Pearl in with Cowikee but a month later Chai went back into season. Cosmos was pretty small at the time so I hadn’t been surprised. I put her back in with Cosmos for another week and he managed to breed her the second time.
I was expecting her to kid on Sunday, but she had other ideas. When I went out to feed Friday morning I found two kids with Chai and after entering the doe pen, discovered a third kid lying next to the fence. I thought the third kid was dead until I picked it up and it cried. No muscle tone and no sucking reflex but since it was a doeling (and the other two bucklings) I wanted to try to save her. First order of business was to try and warm her up. I put her in a sink full of hot water (holding her head up) to bring her core temperature up and then dried her off well with towels. (I don’t own a hair dryer but that will change here shortly.) She was placed in a box with dry towels next to a space heater while I went out and milked out some colostrum from Chai. Since I couldn’t find my kidding supplies, I put her wrapped in dry towels and a syringe full of colostrum in the car and made a run into the feed store. My usual feed store didn’t have a feeding tube the correct size so I tried the newly opened Tractor Supply. That was a joke and just reinforced my unwillingness to shop there. The next stop was a local vet clinic where I was able (at a very inflated price) to buy a catheter to use as a feeding tube. I tube fed the kid in the car before making one last stop to buy a bottled soft drink (nipples don’t fit on water bottles). I continued to tube feed her throughout the day without seeing any improvement at all and I finally lost her in the early evening.
Chai, thankfully, is doing well, as are her two remaining kids.
I was expecting Chai to kid out Sunday or Monday so was planning on moving Pearl and her doeling into the newly kid proofed pen this weekend. However, Chai had other plans and kidded Friday morning so I had to move Pearl and her kid out to free up the lambing jugs.
The still un-named doeling is very happy with her new accommodations.
As my laying hens were aging, this past August I purchased 14 sexed chicks from a hatchery. I try to raise chicks in the fall so that they will be old enough to start laying by the time the days have lengthened again. Friends had wanted bantams so I ordered bantams as well. However, none of the bantam breeds are sexed so one has to assume a 50/50 split between males and females. The hatchery I ordered from stops shipping bantams in late August and I therefore placed the order for the last delivery of bantams. While the hatchery includes one free chick (to cover potential loss in shipping) this time around about twelve free chicks were included – all bantams. I assume it was because there was a surplus of bantam chicks. I ended up keeping three bantams – all Buff Brahmas. As it turned out, two were pullets and one was a rooster. I know this because the rooster started crowing two or three weeks ago and today I got my first egg from one of the hens. The others, all full-sized breeds, started laying about five or six weeks ago and I was starting to despair of getting anything from the bantams. Bantams are known for their broodiness and I kept these for that reason. However, a hen that doesn’t lay won’t go broody. I am now hopeful that at least one will be broody about the time that my Icelandic chicks arrive the end of May.
About 20 miles north is the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the Bosque del Apache, the Sevilleta is generally closed to the public. However, about once a month guided tours are offered to parts of the Sevilleta otherwise not accessible.
Yesterday a friend and I took advantage of one of these guided tours. The below photos are of the West Mesa – a limestone cap where the sides have eroded leaving a promontory which narrows and then widens again. This area is the result of volcanic activity which is still being monitored.
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To start working stock all you really need is a dog and stock but it really helps to have a working pen and some type of “stick”. The working pen needs to be a suitable size to contain the number of stock being worked AND with enough space that if the stock is bunched in the center of the pen there is 20 feet or more to the sides of the pen. A 100 foot x 100 foot pen is ideal. Corners are tough, so if the pen is round that is even better. Again, speaking from painful experience, make sure you clean up anything off the ground that you could potentially trip over.
The stick can be a piece of PVC, a crook, a rattle paddle or a lunge whip. I’ve known people to use bamboo as well. Basically the stick is no more than an extension of your arm so it needs to be something you can easily carry and use. If the dog is really sensitive to your body language, you may want to forego using a stick initially as it may pressure a beginning dog too much.
Before I start working a dog I want to make sure the livestock are familiar with the working pen so I’ll usually feed the stock in the pen for a couple of days.
If your stock is not dog broke (i.e., accustomed to dogs and not panicking when one appears) you will need to dog break the stock now. If you’ve fed the stock in your working pen for a couple of days, the stock should be comfortable in the pen. Put your feed in the center of the pen and put a dog on leash (this doesn’t have to be the dog you intend to start working on stock but it should be a quiet dog that isn’t going to be barking frantically.) Once the stock is quietly eating, enter the pen with the dog on leash and begin walking the perimeter of the fence line. You should be far enough from the stock (at least 20 feet) so that even if the stock notices you and the dog, other than maybe moving a couple of feet, the stock will settle back down. With every circle of the pen, move away from the fence line 6-12 inches. Switch the dog (or directions) so sometimes you are between the stock and the dog and sometimes the dog is closer to the stock. Watch the stock – you will notice when the dog’s pressure causes the stock to be uncomfortable and move away. Back away just far enough so that the stock settles down again; make another circles around the perimeter, coming in close enough to make the stock move a step or two and release the pressure. Do this a couple of time and then quit. Your goal is to have the stock respond to pressure from the dog without becoming panicked. Depending upon the stock, it may take a couple of days before the stock is quiet enough with the dog in the pen to move on to the next step. If you have stock that consistently doesn’t move away from the dog’s pressure but turns and faces the dog even though the dog is quiet and not threatening, you can use your stick to add pressure to the stock. If the stock doesn’t respond to the added pressure, this is not stock you want to start a young dog on. Too few head of stock will often be more willing to challenge a dog which is why I strongly suggest starting with more than three head. Stock with young offspring will challenge a dog more and I won’t work a young dog on stock with offspring less than a month old. Generally, if my sheep lamb in February / March I won’t start moving them onto pasture until sometime between mid-April and the first of May.
So now you have a dog and dog-broke stock. You are almost ready to start working your dog. Sit down with a cup of coffee (or other beverage of your choice) and think about what your long-term goals are for the dog. Are you moving all your stock at the same time? If not, do you have to sort stock before moving stock or is the stock penned separately? What is the routine for the stock? Are your animals used to be moved at a certain time of day? Always to the same location or does it change? If it changes, what factors influence where the stock is moved?
English Shepherds thrive on routine. However, and I’m speaking from experience, unless your routine will NEVER vary, you don’t want to fall into a specific routine with your dog too soon. It can make asking your dog to vary that routine later very difficult.
Once you know what you need to accomplish, take a look at your setup – fences, gates, etc. and determine the most efficient way to move livestock. You may determine that making a few changes in your current setup now to assist your dog is a wise investment in time.
If you have a working pen, your initial training will be in the working pen. Using a working pen allows you to have better (not absolute) control over what happens. Since good training is based on making the dog successful, having control over your environment in the initial stages is very, very useful. If you don’t have a working pen, you will have to train in the “real world” which brings a whole different level of challenges. As a well-known border collie handler once said, “you want to make the right thing easy, and the wrong thing hard.” If you don’t have a working pen, this may be accomplished by using “temporary” fences to help your dog move livestock where the stock needs to go. I use either corral or cattle panels (and lots of baling twine) to block off areas and help “channel” the stock when I start moving stock out to new pastures. Livestock, like your dog, fall into routines and it can be difficult for a young dog to convince the livestock to head in a new direction.