One of this Weekend’s Projects

The former owners of my place evidently entertained frequently enough where they had put in a concrete patio with a gazebo and had installed a pond surrounded by flagstone off one corner of the patio. (I removed the gazebo a few years ago and replaced it with a greenhouse.) The pond was not operational at the time I moved in and I never bothered to put in a pump. Therefore, over the years, the pond really has only provided a breeding place for mosquitoes and I kept saying I was going to remove it and use the flagstones to create a path to the pump house.  However, there always seems to be more projects than time and this project kept getting put off. Today though two friends showed up to help me put in both a pathway to the pump house and one to the keyhole garden.

One friend and I started the task of removing flagstone while my other friend designed the path and laid the stone. (I had no idea how complicated it is to properly lay flagstone — I would have just laid the stones on the ground and assumed that was sufficient.) We removed enough flagstone for both paths and I promised the rest of the flagstone to my friends in exchange for their help so will help them move and load the rest when they come to pick up the stone.

Luckily it rained Friday and briefly yesterday so the ground wasn’t rock hard. I will salt the spaces between the flagstone and around the edges so that weeds don’t overgrow the stone. Once I pull weeds (again) from the area, I will seed it with clover.

Here is the new path to the pump house (it got the seal of approval from Kip, Sleet and Fix.) I’ll post later on the path to the garden and the keyhole garden.

Kip, Sleet and Fix

 

 

 

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

Not a White Christmas. . .

It snowed last night. When I let the dogs out this morning, I had to kick Kip out . . . although she later remembered that she liked playing in the snow.

Heading to the barn

Kip in the snow

This is the view from my gate. . . I am feeding for a friend and was very happy that my new(er) truck has four wheel drive as I actually needed it to reverse.

Kip and Fix

I’m glad someone is enjoying the snow. The sheep, goats and chickens are all sure this snow is totally my fault and they are NOT HAPPY. Since it is still snowing, I’m expecting a total of about 6 inches.

Happy Holidays . . .

While I don’t personally observe holidays, when I remember I like to do something special for the dogs. I have been saving the last package of neck bones for today.

Christmas Day

 

Fix will have completely cleaned all the meat off the neck bones by the time I go out to feed in a short while and then he will carry around the neck vertebrae for several days. Kip, on the other hand, will bury hers after she spends 30 minutes or so chewing on it.  (Which then gives Fix a chance to steal hers as well as he is very good at finding what she hides/buries.) And while Sleet would dearly love a neck bone, her teeth just aren’t up to the challenge so she will get a little something extra for dinner tonight.

If we were in England . . .

we would be celebrating Guy Fawkes day. However, here in the U.S. I’m celebrating my birthday.

My garden tower in the breakfast room (or as I call it, my home office) is flourishing. I’ve been making pesto from the basil and parsley to go along with the spaghetti squash from my garden and I should have enough lettuce for a couple of salads a week through the winter shortly.

Morning of 11/05/18

The weather was gorgeous today so I snuck away just before noon and Fix and I took a short hike in the Quebradas (about a tenth of a mile south of my gate.)

Last of the desert flowers

Fix perched on edge of Arroyo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had some rain a couple of weeks ago and the vegetation took advantage of the water and warmer temperatures.

I avoid the Quebradas when it rains because of the potential for flash flooding (the hikes are on the bottoms of arroyos) but it is nice to know that Fix could save himself if needed.

The cottonwoods are finally starting to change color. It won’t be long now before all the leaves are gone.

Heading Home

 

Welcome to the Farm

When I first moved to the farm I was operating a dog training business and had a sign at the end of the driveway. When I closed the business and removed the sign I decided to put a farm sign on the gate so that the (now occasional) visitor could find me. I bought a sign that turned out to be a plastic foamcore. While the sign was attractive when first installed it did not hold up well to the weather and after two occasions of having the Fed Ex driver leave packages at my neighbors (despite a phone call where I gave him directions) I decided I needed a new sign and one that had my address.

The original gate sign had photos of sheep, dogs and a goat but I decided to use a photo of an oil painting that a former dog training client had painted for me the year I first ran the business here. The three dogs are the ones I had when I moved here in 2007. Sleet – a failed foster from ARPH – who is now spending most of her time sleeping and eating; Jet – an Australian Shepherd who I lost a few years ago; and Tuck – who was six months old when I moved here and who I lost in June – way too earlier.

 

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.

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.