Este es el fin

I previously mentioned that going into this year I was still uncertain as to the future plans for the farm. After having spent the last week dragging myself out of bed to attend to the livestock, I have made a decision about the farm.

Fix, my young English Shepherd, turns two tomorrow. He is an exceptionally nice dog – very good structure with effortless movement and a wonderful temperament. However, while he has shown a lot of potential as a working dog, he has been very slow to mature. While this was not a problem when I had Tuck and I could afford to wait for Fix to grow up and develop into a useful chore dog, Tuck is no longer around and I can’t wait any longer. Fix on his good days (i.e., when his brain is engaged) has proven to be a useful dog. However, Fix, as is the case with most adolescent males of any species, lacks focus and all too often will start a task and then find something different to engage his focus. Losing focus while moving stock in open spaces can be, and often is, disastrous. So, while there are some tasks that Fix can do, and does, on a regular basis, there are other tasks where I no longer even try to use a dog. The bottom line is that I can no longer effectively and easily raise sheep.

Since losing Tuck last June, I have been looking for another working English Shepherd. After many frustrating months of no prospects, a friend found a litter in Virginia that had potential. Unfortunately, based on her evaluations of the puppies at 5 weeks and 7 ½ weeks, it appeared that while the litter was very nice, it was unlikely that there was a puppy to suit my needs. Finally, in desperation I turned to looking for a litter of working bred Australian Shepherds and found a litter on the ground in Texas from a very well known breeder. After committing to putting a deposit on a puppy, I returned to my search for an English Shepherd, figuring if I could find what I wanted before picking up the puppy I could eat the deposit. After more e-mails with English Shepherd breeders I have finally faced up to the bitter truth – the majority of English Shepherds today are not working dogs and those few breeders of proven working English Shepherds are breeding a dog too large for my purposes. Over the years I have run cattle, hogs, sheep and goats, not to mention the turkeys and chickens, on my farm and never once in all that time have I ever wished for a larger dog than I had. Since it is important to me that I am able, if necessary, to pick up and carry an injured dog, a 60-70 lb dog is just not viable.

I had contemplated getting rid of the sheep when I lost Tuck but several friends discouraged me from making any decisions while I was still grieving Tuck. In hindsight, I should have followed through and off-loaded the sheep last year, but I plan on rectifying that mistake this year.

As soon as it is feasible, all of the sheep, and half of the goats, will be off the property. I will make a final decision about the remaining goats at the end of this year when the milk test I started in February is concluded.

I will no longer need a working dog so I can pass on the puppy and Fix can grow up at his own speed. Este es el fin


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.

Branding cattle

This morning I headed out to meet a friend to ride. However, when I arrived I found everyone finishing up with vaccinating cows and getting ready to brand, vaccinate, and for one calf, castrate calves. So I spent my morning helping vaccinate and brand instead.

I'm handling the head gate

I’m handling the head gate

In the squeeze chute

In the squeeze chute

The brand

The brand

By the time that was finished, it was getting hot so my friend and I hit the Tumbleweed Equipment Auction instead. In all the years I’ve lived here, I have never made it to an auction. It was interesting. In addition to equipment (vehicles, trailers, tractors, etc.) there were stacks of building materials and then a lot of miscellaneous items ranging from tools to household goods to furniture to odds and ends. There was an auctioneer in a trailer being towed by a truck auctioning off trailers when we arrived. Another auctioneer, also in a trailer being towed by a truck, was handling the miscellaneous goods. An employee would stand with a large pole on or next to the item being auctioned and would work his way up and down the aisles as each item was sold. There were several items that went for significantly less than I would have expected and some items that went for amounts that astounded me – like 45.00 for a fleece blanket that could have been bought for less than 10.00 new at Wal-Mart. The next time I am in the market for a farm truck or trailer, the Auction will definitely be on my list. A nice four-horse gooseneck stock trailer sold for 1,000.00. I don’t envision myself going again though unless I have something specific that I’m looking for.

And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon

I never knew before that cows could jump. Not only jump, but jump really, really well. (Where was this cow when I was riding hunter/jumpers?)

One weekend, a few months after purchasing the calves, I woke up to find a storm had knocked out my power. I have a gas stove so making the morning coffee was possible but the biggest problem was water. I’m on a well (two actually) and no electricity translated into no pump and hence no water. While I keep a gallon or two in the house for emergencies, there simply is no practical way for me to store enough water for the livestock. I fed as usual but couldn’t fill water troughs that morning.

The dogs and I puttered around, doing what we could without power, until the crews got the problem fixed shortly after noon. I immediately headed out to fill water troughs only to hear the heifer lowing. It didn’t sound like the lowing was coming from the pasture and sure enough, through the trees, I could see her running up and down the easement my neighbors use as a driveway to access their property behind me.

My first thought was that the fence was down (this is an expensive but poorly built fence so that wasn’t a huge surprise) and I gathered up my fencing tools and Tuck and went off to retrieve a cow and mend a fence.

We walked the fence line along the easement without finding a break. The gate in the cross fence was open to allow the cows and goats access to both pastures so evidently the cow had found  a break in the fence in the furthest pasture. Tuck and I trudged back across the field to the gate and then across the next pasture to the fence line along the easement. We walked that entire fence line without finding a break. While that explained why the steer and all the goats were still in the pasture, it didn’t explain how the heifer got onto the easement. Time enough to worry about that after Tuck and I retrieved the heifer though. Back into the first pasture we went. I found a section of fence that had been spliced and set to the task of taking the fence down. Of course, the goats were fascinated by what I was doing so Tuck was given the job of keeping the goats away from me and the fence. Tuck moved the goats to the far end of the pasture and came back just as I was rolling the fence up to provide an opening large enough to move the cow through without difficulty.

Now came the tricky part. The cow was down the easement close to the entry to the neighbor’s property. I didn’t want to push her further that direction but the easement was only wide enough for a single vehicle so getting past the cow without her moving the wrong direction was going to be tough. I called Tuck to heel and off we started. We had just managed to successfully get behind the cow so that we would be driving her towards the gap in the fence when the goats, realizing Tuck was no longer in the pasture, came over to investigate the opening in the fence. I quickly sent Tuck past the cow to push the goats back into the pasture and away from the fence. He moved the goats back across the pasture but now we had this problem. The cow was between Tuck and me. I had already discovered that the cow had no respect for me by myself and wasn’t going to move back down the easement without a dog. Worse, Tuck was very likely going to push the cow right over the top of me if he tried to come back to where I was.

With trepidation I moved as close to the fence as I could and called Tuck. With a wary eye on the heifer, Tuck stuck close to the fence and came. Together we started to move the heifer. For a couple of minutes it looked like the whole process would go off smoothly and without a hitch. Tuck and I stopped moving forward just before the heifer came abreast the opening of the fence. The intent was that she would stop moving at that point, notice the gap in the fence and go join the steer and goats in the pasture. At first, all went according to plan. The heifer stopped in the right spot, she looked over at the others in the pasture, and then . . . she turned and started moving down the easement towards the road. By the time she got ten feet past the opening in the fence it was clear she wasn’t going to turn around again. I sent Tuck and he hugged the fence line past the cow and ran in front of the heifer, stopping her forward motion. He very slowly advanced and to my surprise and delight she turned and headed back towards me. Holding my breath (and hoping he didn’t keep moving her right over the top of me) I waited and Tuck very slowly advanced until the cow was abreast the opening of the fence again. Without any direction from me, Tuck stopped and let her settle. I gave Tuck a command, he moved, the heifer moved and then all that was left was to repair the fence and wonder how the heifer had gotten out.

A couple of days later when I came home and found the heifer in the driveway I mentioned the problem to a neighbor who laughed and asked if it was a heifer. I said yes, and was told that heifers, unlike steers, were notorious for that behavior and that she was jumping the fence.

Lesson Four: Heifers don’t taste any better than steers and are a whole lot more trouble.

The Cowboy Way continued . . . or Why I No Longer Raise Beef

Dogs don’t generalize which is why it is necessary to train in a myriad of places if one expects the dog to be reliable in a new environment. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that with the calves, but I didn’t. Being led around the pen with a halter and rope was vastly different from being willing to be led out of that pen and through the trees to the pasture. We finally had to tie one calf to a tree and the two of us finally managed to get the first calf to pasture and went back for the second. A task I anticipated taking less than ten minutes took closer to an hour and in the ensuing commotion I totally forgot about vaccinating the calves.

So the next day back to the pasture with the halters I went, this time carrying syringes with the vaccines I needed to give. It goes without saying that these needed to be given sub-q instead of IM so rather than being able to simply jab the calves with the needle, I had to hold the calves with one hand and then administer a sub-q injection, through very thick skin with a very small needle, one handed. I’ve given a lot of shots but never under those circumstances and with luck will never need to do so again. Thankfully no one was around to see it as it wasn’t pretty. (I was thinking fondly of those huge spurs more than once.) I did finally get the job done and without damage to myself or the calves. Chalk one up for fools doing stunts, without being maimed or killed, that anyone with sense would know better than to attempt.

The Cowboy Way

I had heard that coyotes generally steered clear of bigger animals such as cows, and since I had several people interested in buying grass fed beef, I thought that a couple of beef steers in the pasture might provide some protection for my goats. I therefore made arrangements with a local rancher to purchase a couple of beef calves after they were weaned. In August of 2008 I received a call asking if I would be willing to take a heifer calf and a steer calf as the two were bonded to each other. Not knowing any better, I didn’t see any reason why it would matter and we arranged to have the two calves delivered. I planned on putting the calves in the pen I had built to work goats for a couple of weeks before moving them out to pasture so bought a water trough that I could easily move to the pasture and set up the calves’ temporary home. The day arrived and a stock trailer pulled into my drive. The cowboy got out of the truck, spurs jangling, and asked where I wanted the calves off-loaded. I showed him where I planned to put the calves and he looked at me incredulously – there was no way to drive the truck and stock trailer to the working pen. I suggested leading the calves the 50 or so feet from the driveway. He laughed – these were range calves and half wild. But he had been told to deliver calves and deliver them he would. With me handling the gate to the trailer, he climbed in with a rope and lassoed a calf. The calf bolted for the gate and I slammed it shut as soon as the calf and cowboy cleared it, looking around to see the calf in the air and the cowboy, with his spurs dug into the ground being towed behind. I had thought him pretentious when I first saw the spurs, but now I could see the benefit of those huge spurs. Without the spurs holding him upright he would have had been eating dirt. By the time he had moved both calves to the pen I’m sure he was muttering unflattering comments about the idiot (me) who had bought the calves.

Having seen the calves in action I knew there was no way I’d be able to get them out to pasture unless they were broke to a halter and lead so I duly bought a couple of rope halters and set to work. The first step was just getting the calves used to me being within twenty feet of them without them running. Initially when I would provide hay and a little calf feed I would move off and stand quietly until the calves would approach the feed and eat. At first, any movement would send the calves running to the other side of the working pen but eventually the calves would continue to eat while keeping a wary eye on me. Slowly I was able to progress to being able to touch the calves and then the big day came when I put a halter on one for the first time. After a few days of being able to move the calves by holding some feed in front of them I figured we were ready to move out to the pasture. In preparation for the move I had picked up the vaccinations I needed from the local veterinarian so I could vaccinate them before they went on pasture. The teenage son of a friend came over to help. I figured if I led one calf and he led the other, we should be able to get the calves moved fairly easily. When I’m wrong, I am really, really wrong!

To be continued . . .