A couple of years ago, in a discussion with a friend, I reminded her that most plans/dreams did not actually come to fruition. There are many reasons for this – sometimes it is because of events outside of a person’s control and sometimes it is just because it is easier to make plans than actually implement plans. My many years of professionally training dogs (or rather owners) has made me painfully aware of the fact that the majority of people want something until they realize it is going to take time and effort on their part.
I had plans when I bought the farm in 2007. In the past ten years most of those plans have failed. Was it because of external factors or that I lacked the commitment to follow through? I suspect it was probably a combination of both.
So I am approaching 2018 with a more realistic outlook. In 2017 I took a hard look at the farm and decided that I was no longer willing to continue raising sheep. While I enjoyed the sheep, I was never able to reach a point where the sheep were self-supporting and the monies spent on the sheep meant I didn’t have funds for other things that needed to be accomplished. I came to the same realization about the American Guinea Hogs. The hogs were extremely personable and I always enjoyed watching the hogs come running across the pasture when I called, but it was evident that pasture raising hogs, at least in my circumstance, was not ever going to be a viable venture. While I downsized the sheep and kept a few ewes, the hogs are gone.
Other major changes include a return to being self-employed as of 2018. My plans for the farm in 2018 will hinge greatly on the income I can generate in the first four months of the year. I have sufficient hay in the barn to keep livestock fed until the next cutting of hay in May. At that time I will have to determine how much hay I can afford to buy and therefore, the numbers of stock I can afford to feed through another winter.
Going into 2018 the only knowns are that the chicks I bought in August should start laying in February or March. The possibilities are that if the does I exposed to bucks were indeed bred, I can expect kidding season to begin in February; if the ewes were indeed bred in November, I can expect lambing season to begin in April; and if the preservation center I pre-ordered from does not suffer any poultry losses this winter, I can expect 25 Icelandic chicks to be delivered the end of May.
In a nutshell, my plans for 2018 are to not have any concrete plans and to see what the year brings.
About 25 miles south of me is the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Serious birders everywhere in the United States probably recognize the name. Merchants, hoteliers and restaurateurs all welcome The Festival of the Cranes every fall. I’m not a fan of crowds and generally avoid venues where large numbers of people congregate so in the ten years I’ve lived in the area I’ve been to the Festival of the Cranes exactly once.
My goal for the upcoming year is to learn something about geology, birding, botany and astronomy so today a friend and I decided to take a guided tour of the Refuge. I learned quite a bit of interesting information about the migratory birds who winter at the Refuge as well as how the Refuge is managed. We saw bald eagles (three), several different types of hawks, kestrels, snow geese, Canadian geese, Sandhill Cranes, a Heron, a variety of water fowl (wet butt ducks, dry butt ducks and grebes), a couple of Snipes (yes, there really are Snipes), a couple of Shrikes, literally hundreds of Rio Grande Wild Turkeys, the ubiquitous coyote (and roadrunner, of course), several mule deer and the high point of the day – a herd of javelina (collared peccaries).
The serious enthusiasts all had very expensive cameras with huge telephoto lenses. I had my cell phone.
If you look carefully you can see the snow geese coming up off the water. If one of the tour guides follows through on a promise to send a photo or two of the javelinas he took with his very fancy camera with huge telephoto lens, I’ll update the post with a picture or two.
There are a lot of hiking trails in and around the Refuge and I hope to be able to spend some time hiking there this winter.
Several years ago when I was asked how I started my pups working stock I wrote up some notes. I was then asked to turn those notes into an article, which I did, but the individual who requested it had moved on and the article languished unpublished. In the interests of being able to put up regular blog posts in 2018, I am going to use the article as the basis of the Farm Dog 101 posts for the next few months. This should be timely as now that Tuck has been officially retired, my plans of having Fix ease into being my primary chore dog have been altered. Fix has been accompanying me on chores since the day he arrived on the farm. Although the dynamics on the farm have changed since I brought him home in late May, Fix has a good understanding of the day to day routine and is already proving himself useful as a chore dog. However, what he lacks is the training to move livestock with direction; i.e., he can already move escaped goats back to the correct pen, or hens to the chicken coop at night if needed, but he does it without being told and without me telling him “how” to accomplish the task. By early spring Fix will be my “go to” dog when I need help moving livestock. Since I had anticipated Tuck continuing to work for at least a couple more years, over the past summer and fall Fix’ training on stock had been less of a priority. That has now changed. Fix now needs to know the basics of moving up on stock, stopping when he needs to or is told to, and how to influence movement by using a “go-bye” or “away”.
(For those interested in learning more about introducing puppies to farm work, I highly recommend an article in the current English Shepherds at Work Handbook published by the English Shepherd Club, Thoughts on Training Your Pup for Practical Farm Work. Full disclaimer: the article was written by a friend who happens to be the breeder from whom I purchased Tuck and Fix.)
Check back January 1st for the first Installment of Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd. All I ask is that you understand that my farm is different from your farm and my dogs are not your dogs, so following the posts by rote is not necessarily going to get you the dog you need for your farm. It is also very important to keep in mind that working livestock is only one small job of a useful farm dog. My dogs work year round even though I only pasture livestock part of the year. However, if you know what you need on your farm (and this can change from season to season or even day to day) and understand your dog, the basic principles outlined in the upcoming blog posts should be useful in helping you train your dog to do the job needed on your farm. The second thing I ask is that you respect my copyright and do not reprint a blog posts or any part of a blog post in any forum without asking permission first.
It is hard to believe that 2017 is drawing to a close. I have been told that time speeds up as one ages and I can agree with that statement. 2017 has brought many changes to the farm and my personal life. Hopefully these changes will turn out to be good choices as 2018 progresses.
It is even harder to believe that the tiny pup I brought home in May turned nine months old today. Due to health issues, Tuck was retired from working this fall and Fix will assume his duties come spring when the livestock start getting moved back to pasture. In the meantime, Fix is enjoying being unemployed. . .
Yesterday late afternoon chore time
This morning with his new bone
I was talking with Fix’ (and Tuck’s) breeder several days ago and mentioned that I had been watering the horse in the pasture the previous night and forgotten to turn off the water. When I went out the next morning, the water was still running but since it had dropped below freezing, there were several patches of ice on the ground. Luckily, because the water was running, it prevented the frost-free hydrant from freezing. Replacing hydrants is an expensive proposition, not even considering the work involved. Since even leaving a hose attached to a hydrant can cause the hydrant to freeze, I started unhooking the hose after every use year round so it became a habit and I didn’t have to stop and think about it during the winter months. She mentioned that she and her husband had often forgotten to turn off the water when they moved onto their farm and told me how they fixed that problem.
I couldn’t find the type of bands she uses, but a trip to the dollar store a few days ago netted five, glow in the dark, hair bands for a dollar. When the water is turned on, the band goes on my wrist. If I am wearing the band, it is a reminder that I need to turn off the water. When the water is turned off, the band is put back onto the hydrant. According to my friend, she and her husband haven’t forgotten the water since they implemented this system about six years ago. So here’s hoping the solution works as well for me.
The weather this fall was unusually warm. However, the cold weather has moved in with a vengeance this past week. The other morning it was in the teens when I got up and was still below freezing shortly after 9 am. I think the high was only 43 degrees. I had scheduled a propane delivery for next week, mainly just to take advantage of the propane pricing I had locked in last year that will expire shortly; however, if this weather continues I may actually have need of the delivery.
The borrowed ram has returned home and I’m hoping that he bred at least one ewe while he was here. The hogs are now gone – it was apparent that they weren’t going to pay for themselves and I didn’t want to spend another winter having to carry water out to the pasture every day.