I was expecting Pearl to kid anytime between tomorrow and the end of the week. However, this evening as I was heading out to feed (later than usual) I heard her crying. Hoping that didn’t indicate she was in distress, I swung by the barn to fill the hay cart and then stopped at the house to pick up a headlamp as it was already dark. As I approached the goat pens I heard a kid – with very good lungs – crying. Pearl had kidded and didn’t appear to be in distress though she was definitely unhappy with Fix bouncing around. After filling feeders, I filled a water bucket for the lambing jugs and went back to the barn for another flake of hay. I then put the dogs back in the house and milked Charmin. After finishing milking I put Charmin back in the pen and picked up the kid. Pearl did not follow me to the lambing jugs, though her two pen mates did. I went back for Pearl and put her in with her kid and caught the other does and put them back in their pen. After a quick dinner I went back out to see if Pearl had a second kid. It looks like just the single, but it is a doeling so that is good.
The young chickens are not quite six months old but were large enough to allow out. The first couple of days, none seemed interested in venturing out of the familiar enclosure attached to the chicken coop but eventually the bravest started exploring the area immediately around the chicken coop and the others soon followed. Fix is helping to put the chickens up a couple of nights ago. The rooster is the Icelandic given to me by a friend. Notice how calm and quiet Fix is moving – just enough pressure to move the chickens without panicking them.
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At the point the dog respects you, is responsive to basic commands, and is mentally and physically able to handle the challenge, you are ready to start working stock.
If the dog has been accompanying you on chores, it should now have an understanding of the routine. This is critical for an English Shepherd because most English Shepherds are working to maintain the rules set forth by their owners. English Shepherds should be able to walk through a pasture full of stock and totally ignore all the animals (without being told to do so) as long as the animals are where they are supposed to be, at the time of day they are supposed to be there. This is what enables farmers not to have to tie up or kennel their working dogs when the dogs aren’t being supervised.
Once I have decided the dog is mature enough mentally and physically to start working, I want to ensure that the dog is successful in its initial introduction to the work. Working stock requires the dog to be willing to put itself in situations where the dog may get injured — it is absolutely critical that the dog trust the handler and that the handler makes sure the dog isn’t over-faced early on. Fence lines and corners are dangerous places for dogs — they understand that even if the handler doesn’t. Handlers all too often get very upset with their dogs when they are working in pens and the dog refuses to get around the stock because it means having to go between the stock and a fence line, without realizing why the dog may be reluctant to do so.
Training a dog on stock is all about pressure – the application and removal of pressure to get the dog (and the stock) to move where you want it. Pressure, however, can be very subtle and not noticeable to the observer. The handler needs to recognize the amount of pressure that will be sufficient to achieve the desired result and be careful not to over-pressure the dog. Over-pressuring a dog will either result in the dog becoming frantic and out of control or shutting down and refusing to work. Over-pressuring stock usually results in the stock running. Stock work should be about calm, confident control. It is not productive to run the weight off your livestock. Nor should livestock be stressed by this type of handling. Having said that, especially when working a young dog, things are going to happen. Unless your livestock is heading towards the road or a high cliff, take a deep breath and slow down. (Actually, especially if your stock is heading for the road or a high cliff, stop and breathe.) Panicking has NEVER made a situation any better. Give yourself, the dog and the livestock a chance to settle down before continuing to work. This is really hard for some handlers — don’t beat yourself up over it if you overreact. Just try not to overreact the next time things get out of control.
The moon now is the second full moon of the month which makes it a Blue Moon.
For Fix’s ten month birthday today, we took a hike. The entrance to the Quebradas Backcountry Scenic Byway, managed by the BLM, is about a tenth of a mile from my gate. While traffic (vehicles and dirt bikes) can be an issue during holidays and weekends, during the week it is generally quiet. (It is also a place to avoid during monsoon season as flash flooding is common and dangerous.)
Fix drags a line on these hikes but that will change soon. His recall is such that I can call him off deer and today we flushed a jack rabbit and he simply returned to me without the need for me to call him back.
He is turning into an excellent companion as well as a good chore dog, but part of me misses the adorable ball of fluff I brought home last May.
English Shepherds are/should be control freaks. They understand rules and want those rules followed. That is one of the things that makes it easier to work with them on your own stock and one of the things that often makes it frustrating to work them off your property and with strange stock.
English Shepherds are “loose eyed” dogs and thus work closer in to their stock than border collies. While some dogs will bark at particularly stubborn stock, if a dog is barking almost constantly it lacks confidence and you will have to be extra careful in starting that dog to build confidence.
The first thing I do when starting a young dog (and young isn’t age related but determined by experience) is develop a bond with the dog. This means I spend time with the dog in a variety of situations, teaching the dog to respect me and fostering its desire to be with me. I will take the dog with me doing chores. Depending upon the dog and the situation, this may mean the dog is dragging a line to ensure I can control its behavior. While I don’t directly focus on the dog, after all I am doing chores, I do make sure the dog isn’t getting into trouble and is staying close (how close is a personal choice.) When I have a dog that is sticking with me doing chores, coming back to check in frequently on off-leash walks and has rudimentary obedience skills as well as self-control I’ll evaluate whether or not the dog is mentally and physically mature enough to start working stock. This is also dependent upon my stock. I won’t work a young dog on ewes with young lambs.
If I’m going to work stock with a dog, I will wait to do serious obedience training until AFTER I have started working stock. While I want the dog responsive to me, I want the dog’s focus on stock. A dog who focuses on the handler is either going to be less effective in working stock or, worse case scenario, is going to get hurt by not paying attention to the stock. It is very important to remember that if you want a partner, you have to ensure the dog is capable of making decisions and not expecting you to make all the decisions for him/her. All the dogs I train are taught self-control early on so that the dog is making GOOD decisions on its own and so that I’m not constantly telling the dog to do or not to do something.
It is also critical that you set your dog up to be successful and not to fail. While corrections are, in my opinion, a necessary part of training, corrections rarely have a place in “teaching”. Until the dog understands what is required and knows how to avoid a correction, it isn’t fair to correct the dog. Once I move out of teaching and into training, I can set it up so the dog has to make the right decision under more challenging circumstances, but again I have to ensure the dog is prepared for the challenge and I’m not expecting something I can’t reasonably expect.
The age you start a dog is not critical as long as the dog is mentally and physically ready to start. What is critical is that you haven’t done things to “turn the dog off”. I’ve seen pups that were put on stock too young and a single bad experience was sufficient to turn the dog off working stock permanently. I’ve seen older dogs that had been discouraged as pups from interacting with livestock who wouldn’t work as they got older. I’ve also seen dogs bounce back from traumas that you would have thought sufficient to turn them off permanently — my first ES got kicked by a steer so hard it knocked him across a pen, gave him a concussion and broke a molar. He tried, unsuccessfully because of the concussion, to get up and continue working.
Working poultry (chicken, turkeys, ducks), sheep, cattle and goats is challenging in different ways and some dogs will excel on one type of stock and yet may not be a good worker on another type of stock. The dog might be ready to work poultry very early on and not be ready for sheep, goats or cattle until much later. So just because your pup or dog doesn’t seem interested in working one type of livestock or another, don’t be discouraged. It may need more time just accompanying you doing chores or you may want to try starting on a different type of livestock. While I do use my ES to handle my American Guinea Hogs, I don’t recommend starting an inexperienced dog on hogs and I personally will NEVER use a dog to work horses. There are several reasons for that but it can be boiled down to a safety issue for both the dog and rider.
NOTE: The above was originally written a few years ago, when I was raising Katahdin sheep for lamb and was pasture raising American Guinea Hogs. I have downsized the number of sheep I have and the hogs are now in various freezers.
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.