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.

Advertisements

Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Overview

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.

The Old and the New

The OLD: My hens are all molting and have stopped laying. These were the chicks that came in September 2013, while my driveway was under water.

At 4 years of age, the productivity of the hens was on the downward slope which is the reason I bought new chicks this fall.

The NEW: Readers of the blog may remember my failed attempt to add Icelandic Chickens to my farm a couple of years ago. A friend of mine has a son who purchased hatching eggs this year and had much better success in hatching out chicks. He gave part of the chicks to his mom and when she discovered that she had two Icelandic Roosters, she offered me one. I brought him home Friday night and put him in with the almost 10 week old chicks. He is five months old and is a very handsome fella.

More Random Farm Photos

I built another cattle panel shelter last weekend. The first two were built with two people and the shelters went up quickly and easily. Unfortunately, I am not tall enough to be able to easily “walk” a panel so putting up a shelter for the sheep was not as easy or quick. However, I did manage it. I bought a tarp to cover it last Wednesday so after work on Thursday, I tarped the shelter.

The chicks will be nine weeks old tomorrow.

Buff Orpington front left; Red Star front right; Delaware behind Red Star; Barred Rock in back. The Bantams are a Japanese and Red Frizzles.  It is really easy to see the size difference between the Bantams and the full-size chickens.

As I noted in the last post, I was tired of cleaning out the chicken waterer every day so decided I would try using a hanging waterer with “nipples.” The one I bought worked well enough that I wanted another for the main chicken coop, but wasn’t willing to buy another one ($19.99 plus tax). I bought four nipples and then found two plastic buckets in my recycling. The smallest one is 1 gallon — too small for summer use but should be useful in the winter when I can’t leave water out overnight to freeze. The larger bucket is 3.5 gallons.

I put the smaller waterer together using a drill bit that was too small so I was pleasantly surprised when my attempts to enlarge the hole sufficiently didn’t result in a too large hole. I did buy the correct size drill bit before making the second waterer. The nipples came to just under 1.50 each and I used two nipples for each bucket (rather than the four nipples on the 5 gallon waterer I bought). I can add two more nipples to the 3.5 gallon waterer if needed in the future.

Year of the Snake

The last Year of The Snake was February 10, 2013 through January 30, 2014 and it won’t come around again until January 2025. You couldn’t prove that by me however.

In an earlier post I mentioned that in the not quite ten years I have lived here, I had only seen nine snakes on the property and two of those were just recently.

The dogs and I went out just before dusk tonight to turn on the heat lamp and move the chicks into the brooder for the night. After that was completed I walked around the front of the chicken coop to close the pop hatch to the main chicken coop and heard an unmistakable rattle. I called the dogs and retreated to the house where I left the dogs inside before returning to the chicken coop.

Sure enough there was a seriously p**d off rattlesnake, this one caught in the chicken wire of what I think might have been a rabbit hutch placed next to the chicken coop. The chicken coop itself is built with hardware cloth which makes it predator proof but the outside run to the coop and this small structure were built using chicken wire. It appears this snake went into the hutch and then was unable to exit — possibly due to eating whatever it went in after. At a guesstimate, this snake is a little over 2 feet in length.  If you look carefully, you can see the head. The tail might be a little blurry because the snake was agitated and rattling like crazy. Again, since I won’t try to disentangle it, with luck it will be able to get out on its own; otherwise, there will be another dead rattlesnake in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This snake brings my total up to ten, three just in the past few weeks.  I’m wondering if the brush hogging I had done a short while ago has moved the rattlers closer in to the structures. I may never know exactly why I am seeing more snakes, but I do know I am going to be taking more precautions when I work outside in the future.

New Beginnings

Several friends of mine took care of the farm for two weeks recently so I could travel out-of-state to pick up my next farm dog. I spent those two weeks back east – a week in Vermont and a second week in Pennsylvania. The shades of green in both places were truly beautiful and very different from home. However, things (mostly weeds of course) greened up here while I was gone and while the green may not be as vibrant it is nonetheless a very welcome change from the winter browns.

Before I left I had given considerable thought to where I wanted – and needed – to be with the farm to achieve my original goal of the farm being self-supporting. While I was willing to pay for fencing, maintenance, etc. I wanted the livestock to be profitable enough that expenses for hay and other items directly related to maintaining the livestock were not coming out of my pocket. After several years raising lambs, I finally acknowledged that the lambs were simply not paying for themselves and that my pocketbook was being steadily drained; hence the decision to sell off the sheep. At the current time, it hasn’t been determined whether or not the hogs will pay for themselves once I start selling hogs, although I suspect that the hogs, too, will be a money drain. The chickens are seasonal producers but because I really like fresh eggs, I’ll maintain a small flock of chickens.

In recent years, the only livestock pulling their weight have been the Nigerian Dwarfs. I am also addicted to their milk, another reason to keep goats. As I had started drying off my does prior to leaving on vacation, and expected my does to be dry when I returned, I made arrangements to buy a doe in milk on my return. The difficulties in finding a buck with an excellent milk pedigree whose owner was willing to let me health test and lease him resulted in me deciding to purchase a buckling. After considering the matter I decided to buy two bucklings, from different breeders and with different pedigrees but both out of excellent milking lines.

A well-known Nigerian Breeder was retiring and selling all of her breeding stock so, in addition to the doe in milk, when the puppy and I traveled to Tulerosa to pick up the doe in milk, I ended up buying the last two available does . Both does have been exposed to bucks for fall kiddings.

At the present time the three new does are housed in quarantine, and the two bucklings are also in separate quarters, all awaiting health test results. More information and photographs of the new additions will be forthcoming.

I am currently contemplating different arrangements for new pens which will give me more flexibility in separating dry does from those in milk, weaned kids and so on.

The new puppy has been home for just over a week now and has settled in very nicely. He is accompanying me on chores twice a day and learning the routine. He has also finally managed to get one of the older dogs to play with him a little.

If I just keep bugging her, maybe she’ll play . ..

Chase Games

Year of the Sheep . . . not so much

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2015 is the year of the Sheep. Really not seeing that on the farm. This is the first year since I started raising sheep that all of my breeding ewes were not bred. Rather than the 20 plus lambs I normally have, this year I had eight.

It is, however, the year of the Chicken. I have had multiple hens go broody, starting with my first hen showing up with two chicks in tow. She unfortunately lost both those chicks, but the second hen hatched out eight chicks and those are doing very well. Hen number three hatched out seven but lost two within the first few days. While what I’ve read says that all eggs in a nest will pip out within 36 hours, that isn’t necessarily true. The chicks in this clutch were hatched over a week span so the oldest chicks are considerably larger than the youngest as demonstrated in this photo where the smallest can still spend the night snug and warm underneath mom while the oldest has to resort to sleeping on top of her. 20150615_Hen with chicks

Hen number four was not so lucky. She hatched out one live chick, with two that were unsuccessful in pipping out. Since she hatched her chick several feet off the ground in the hay stack, I moved her and her chick into a dog kennel in the barn. That worked for the first two weeks but then she started roosting on the top of the kennel and her chick, who couldn’t make it to the top, would roost as high as it could fly (it is now roosting on the top of the kennel) and from there it was inevitable that she would start taking the chick on walkabouts.

20150704_Sidhe and chick - crop

Then hen number five showed up with seven chicks in tow that she had hatched somewhere on the property. She is down to five chicks but those are growing rapidly. A couple of days ago I went out and found hen six was showing her eight chicks the ropes. It will be interesting to see how many she successfully raises.

One of the reasons I had looked at Icelandics was to get chickens that would go broody and raise chicks. It is a really good thing that some of my hens decided to go broody this spring as the attempt to incubate the Icelandic chicken eggs I had shipped pretty much failed. Out of 18 eggs, only six hatched and four of those didn’t survive more than a couple of days. However, the two that did survive are doing well and I turned them out with the other chickens a couple of days ago.

Icelandic Chicks

Icelandic Chicks

It will be interesting to see if I get any hens out of the 29 chicks or if I’ll end up with a freezer full of chicken instead.

Unusual Year

As mentioned before, I have never had a hen go broody until this spring. One of my Americana hens has been sitting a clutch of eggs since late April and according to my calendar was due to start hatching chicks out this week. I went out shortly after lunch today to find two chicks under her, along with more than a dozen unhatched eggs. A little internet research turned up the information that hatching may take place over 36 hours so I’m hoping to find more chicks tomorrow morning.

20150521_124810_resized

And we have been having thunderstorms (and hailstorms) on a fairly frequent basis this spring. The past few years the weather has been unpredictable, but generally rain is more likely to occur with the summer monsoons. The extra moisture bodes well for the pasture and will hopefully mean I won’t need as much hay this year. Joey found a unique way to stay dry (or mostly dry) during this afternoon’s thunderstorm.

20150521_165726-1_resized

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night . . .

I have been looking at Icelandic Chickens for a few years now. With my predator problem now under control (still knocking on wood) late last year I started a diligent search for an Icelandic Chicken breeder who would sell me some chicks. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in finding anyone who would ship anything other than eggs. So the search was then on to find someone local who had experience (and success) in hatching eggs with an incubator.

A chance conversation earlier this year found me that person and so arrangements were made to have 18 fertile Icelandic chicken eggs shipped this spring after the temperatures had warmed up but before the temperatures were too high. Yesterday I received an e-mail stating that the eggs had been shipped and were due to be delivered on Thursday. Since a tracking number was provided I went ahead and set up text messages every time the package was scanned to ensure that I was able to get the eggs as soon as they arrived.

You can imagine my surprise when this morning I got a text saying the package had been scanned in on arrival in Albuquerque. A second text followed shortly thereafter that the package had been scanned on departure. Shortly after noon I received a phone call from the Post Office stating that a package marked “Hatching Eggs” had arrived.

20150505_141426-1_resized

Carefully Wrapped

Carefully Wrapped

While the Icelandic is supposed to lay white eggs, these appeared more of a delicate cream

While the Icelandic is supposed to lay white eggs, these appeared more of a delicate cream

And the moral to this story is that if you need anything delivered quickly and efficiently by the US Postal Service, send it with a live chick or marked “hatching eggs” — the US Postal Service excels at these deliveries — letters, not so much.

It is the little things that make everything all right with the world

Since finishing the perimeter fencing I have not (knock on wood) had a problem with coyotes so I have started leaving the pop hatch open and the chickens can leave the coop when they want every morning. Usually that means that the chickens are behind the house or out at the animal pens when I go out to feed. However, since they know that I stop at the chicken coop on my way to the barn to throw layer pellets, when the chickens see me come out of the house they usually start running to the chicken coop ahead of me. Every morning I count chickens just to make sure I’m not losing chickens to predators. In the last three weeks I’ve often been short one hen. Initially it was every other day that my count was one off and then it seemed I was off one chicken for several days in a row. Losing hens when you free-range is not unexpected so I figured the hen had indeed been picked up by a predator or otherwise gotten herself in trouble. While I briefly considered that she might be sitting on a clutch, I discarded that idea pretty quickly as in all the years I’ve owned chickens and with all the different breeds I’ve owned, I have never had a hen go broody. Years ago I had a Rio Grande Wild Turkey hen sit on a clutch of chicken eggs and hatch out seven chicks. She later lost her life to a coyote protecting “her” chicks. But I’ve never had a hen sit on a clutch of eggs.

So this morning when I counted chickens and came up with nineteen, I counted again. Sure enough the hen was back and she had brought along two new additions with her.

Well camouflaged.

Well camouflaged.