Spring Eggs

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.

Full size egg on left – Bantam egg on right

 

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Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge

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.

 

Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Introduction (Part Two)

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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.

It’s the little (or not so little) things that make life good

When the hogs were butchered last fall I had all the feet saved for the dogs. Fix had hours of enjoyment playing with (and finally eating) the pig feet but eventually he ran out of pig feet. So this winter when a friend and I split a beef, when it was hauled to the butcher I asked for all four feet in addition to my half of the cuts.

I have a freezer full of grass-fed beef and Fix has four feet to enjoy. He probably thinks he got the better end of the deal.

16 hours (plus or minus)

In the daylight, after being cleaned up and dried off, the doeling is actually a tri-color. She weighed 3 lbs when I weighed her this morning.

The dam is Blunderosa Minnie Pearl and the sire is CBF KS Cowikee. I generally try to name kids in a theme with the dam but in this instance will just use the “Pearl” — so the doeling needs a gem name. Suggestions are welcome.

A day early

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.

It looks like she is black and white like her mom but with more white. I’ll have a better idea in the morning when it is daylight and she has been fully cleaned off. I’ll also weigh her then.

Farm Dog 101: Chore Dog

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.

Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Introduction (Part One)

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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.

Fix at Ten Months

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.)

Sitting in the middle of a shallow arroyo created by flash flooding.

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.