Summer + Rain = Weeds

I didn’t think we had received more than a usual amount of rain this year but the weeds are proving me wrong. I generally start pulling weeds by hand in early spring and can more or less keep the weeds on the drive and around the house under control but this year – perhaps because I took a vacation and was gone for two weeks – I haven’t been able to keep up with the weeds and it was getting hard to get down the drive or even walk anywhere on the property. I usually pay a friend to come over with his tractor and brush hog 3 or 4 times a year to keep the grasses down. He has been in high demand this summer and so he hasn’t been able to come over after work until last night. He mowed down some of the high weeds along the drive as he came down the drive and then proceeded to do his usual brush hogging, plus whatever weeds he could deal with. I still have areas where the weeds will have to be dealt with by hand but things are looking much, much improved this morning.

Standing in the barn facing south (these grasses aren’t quite as high as elsewhere)

View from same spot in barn after brush hogging

The Cycle of Life

This morning while I was milking goats I kept hearing a strange sound. After putting the last goat back in the pen, I headed towards where I thought the sound was coming from. When I got to the pond (which I have never filled and only has water during monsoon season or after a heavy rain) I looked down and saw a toad. As I watched, a snake (I’m not good with snake identification other than rattlers, so if anyone knows what type of snake it is, please let me know) emerged out from behind a piece of flagstone that had fallen into the pond with a toad in its mouth.

Snake Eating Toad

The toads lay eggs in water which is why I have toads in the pond at this time of year. Evidently the snake knows that as well and has found a source of a quick meal though the toad seems awfully big for the snake to eat.

I went out later to see if the snake was still around and while I didn’t see the snake, I found two more toads hanging out in the pond.

Two More Toads

Another Weekend of Work

I try to work early in the morning and generally quit about 11 am when it is starting to get really hot. I did a little work on my own this morning but most of the day’s work got done when a couple of friends showed up at a quarter to 11. I had initially intended to build the new pens today but had run into some problems taking down the former sheep pen and needed the extra hands to finish that up. When I built the pens about 7 or 8 years ago, the pens were expected to be temporary and so I used cattle panel and T-posts. Over the years the bottom of the fence has become buried which made pulling T-posts and the fence a challenge and something that really went better with more than one pair of hands. The shared fence between the goat pen and former sheep pen had a damaged cattle panel and rather than remove both panels, we opted just to pull and replace the damaged section. This photo shows how deep the fence has become buried over the years when compared to the new panel set in place today.

 

Almost an 8″ difference in height

My friends dug out the small shelter that was against the shared fence and we moved it out to the general area where it will be put into use as a shelter for the bucks. Once I rebuild the pen I will erect a new shelter using cattle panel and a tarp. I will need to finish digging out the gate post and once that is accomplished, will need help moving it with the attached gate to its new location.

My friends were willing to work a little longer but despite a full bottle of water I was feeling the symptoms of heat stroke – nausea and being lightheaded – and decided to call a halt to the day’s work. I’ll conscript them to help on another weekend but can do quite a bit of the building myself, working an hour or two in the early morning and later in the evening when it has cooled off a bit.

Addendum to Goat Pens

I haven’t even starting building pens yet and have already had to make adjustments in my plans.

In formulating my plans to build new pens, I decided I would take the small gate off the post which had been sunk into the ground in the former sheep pen.The gate was to a smaller pen built in the corner which will be dismantled. I planned on putting the small gate at the east end of the 4 foot alley I was creating in front of the kidding jugs. I was then going to rebuild the former sheep pen only to the post – making the pen about 8 feet shorter. However, while I was able to remove the nuts, I wasn’t able to get the bolts to slide back through the tie. So my next bright idea was to just dig up the post and move it – and the gate – to the new location. My problem now is that I don’t remember how deep we buried the bottom of the post. I – with help from Fix – have dug down about 10 inches and can’t dig any deeper until the T-post next to the post is removed and I can’t remove the T-post until I have another pair of hands. As helpful as Fix is trying to be, he just isn’t up to the task of holding the cattle panel away from the T-post so I can use the T-post puller.

Goat Pens

Since selling most of the ewes and lambs this past spring I have been contemplating how I wanted to re-configure my animal pens. I considered moving the pens to the area around the barn but after deliberating on the pros and cons, decided I would keep the pens in the current location since it was more or less visible from where I work during the day. The lambing jugs will keep their current location and purpose (only for goat kids instead) and the main goat pen next to the horse corral will get a few minor repairs but otherwise will stay. However, the pen that used to be for the sheep will be taken down and rebuilt and two additional pens will be built. The configuration I have planned will allow me to bring the trailer directly back to the animal pens and will also permit expansion should I need more pens in the future. With the working pen dismantled, I hope to be able to re-seed the areas where I will not be building new pens.The below is a rough schematic of my current plans and the sizing may differ slightly once I start building. The “temporary” pens I built seven to eight years ago have worked well enough that I will use cattle panel and T-posts again since it is something I can do by myself if necessary and is relatively inexpensive compared to sinking fence posts and stringing fencing. It also is easier to change if I decide the new pens aren’t working quite as well as I envisioned.

8 foot
BUCK Alley
shelter
DOE (DRY)
KID
shelter
shelter shelter
4 foot Alley
KIDDING JUGS DOE (WET)
HORSE CORRAL

My Weekend

This weekend was spent taking down the working pen, cleaning out the lambing jugs where the bucklings currently reside, building a second compost pile with the old bedding, left over hay, and of course goat manure, and re-configuring the former quarantine pen for the sheep to give them more room. (The sheep got moved out of their pen to accommodate the horse when a tree fell into her corral.) I still don’t know if the two new does are bred, but one is starting to look as though she may be bagging up. If I have kids this fall I will need to have the lambing jugs available so my goal is to build three new goat pens plus two new shelters by the end of this month.

As usual Tuck and Fix were with me while I worked. It really is too bad Tuck doesn’t have opposable thumbs, but since he isn’t able to help with removing T-posts he elected to find a shady spot to lie down. Fix has decided that he needs to emulate his great-uncle and when I looked around to see what mischief Fix was into, I discovered he was quietly laying next to Tuck, just observing. When the temperatures started to climb I decided to quit until evening. However, later in the afternoon it started to lightly rain and I figured it was a good time to finish putting up the new, temporary sheep pen. I headed back out, accompanied by the dogs. Again, Tuck and Fix found a good spot to observe while being out of the way. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped – and the humidity soared – but I wanted to finish up so I kept working. It then started to rain heavier than before but still something I could work in. I looked over to see both Tuck and Fix hightailing it back to the house. I told them they were both wimps and kept pounding a T-post in. As soon as the T-post was set, the heavens opened and the rain started coming down in buckets. I ran towards the house – and nearly killed myself tripping over Fix who had come back to find out why I was still out in the rain. Fix is starting to act more like an adult dog and less like a puppy. . . I’m going to miss my puppy but am ready for the next stage in starting Fix as a stockdog.

A Working Dog No. 2

In the last post I mentioned that a dog with a herding title may not be able to actually work. There is a huge difference between taking direction in an arena where the handler is standing close by, and being able to work without direction to accomplish a task. In my experience, very few dogs which trial are capable of the latter. (And yes, I used to trial dogs many, many years ago.)

As an example of the difference, here is one of the many instances where Tuck has proven himself as a working dog.

Back in September of 2013 heavy rains caused flooding in my area (see post). The sheep had been in the east pasture when it started to rain and while Tuck and I had gone out after the rain let up, the depth of water and degree of mud made me decide to leave the sheep out for the night.

Tuck trying to get to the East Pasture

I received a phone call early the next morning from the post office saying that my order of chicks had arrived. I knew I was not going to be able to get off my property so I called a friend and asked her to pick up the chicks for me and once the frontage road had been cleared, I would meet her at the gate to pick up the chicks. So later that afternoon, after the county road crews had worked on both the frontage road and the county road I live on, she drove over to deliver the chicks. Tuck and I navigated around the cottonwood that had fallen in my drive and waded down the drive (which was still under water) to meet her at my gate.

Drive under water

Unbeknownst to me, the road crew had knocked down the corner post (a railroad tie) and the fence in the east pasture along the road was down. As my friend drove up she spooked the sheep that had made their way onto the road and the sheep took off south, around the bend and out of sight. My friend was upset and wanted to know what to do to get the sheep back. I simply told Tuck to bring me the sheep and he trotted off while I stood talking to my friend through the window of her vehicle. In relatively short order, the sheep appeared around the bend with Tuck behind them. He pushed them through the gate and down the drive where I knew the downed cottonwood would block them until I could wade back down the drive with the chicks.

A good working dog does not need to be micromanaged and given constant directions to get a job done. The dog simply needs to understand what the job is and then left to decide the best way to accomplish it.

Flies, Flies and More Flies

Flies are part of summer. When there is livestock around, the number of flies is exponentially increased. The past few years I have used fly predators, with the occasional fly-trap, for fly control and it has kept the fly population under control. Last year, however, the fly predators didn’t seem to be doing as good of a job so I investigated other sources for purchasing fly predators and decided to go with another company this year. I increased the number of fly predators I purchased monthly and decreased the number of livestock and yet the fly problem this year has been worse than ever. I also started getting biting flies which has not been a problem in years past. After I spoke with a representative of the company where I purchased the fly predators and learned a few things about different types of flies and fly reproduction that I hadn’t known before, I purchased some traps designed for biting (stable) flies which are not attracted to the usual fly-trap. The traps arrived and I put out two yesterday evening at feeding time. The below photos were taken at feeding time this evening , approximately 24 hours later. As can be seen, the traps work very well though it is somewhat horrifying to know exactly how bad of a fly problem I have. (I also was surprised to see that one trap caught about 8 wasps as I haven’t seen any wasps this year.) These traps are supposed to be reusable so tomorrow morning I will take them down and gently hose the dead flies off and then rehang the traps. I’m hoping that my plans for a new goat set-up will help control the fly problem next year.

Fly Trap no. 1

Fly Trap no. 2

Bees

 

Photo of bee taken to confirm it was a honey bee hive

Sadly, though I spent time this past week trying to find someone willing to relocate the bees, I was only able to locate one person who agreed to do so but his fee was too stiff for my pocketbook. While some beekeepers are interested in collecting swarms, evidently retrieving bees in a colony is something totally different.

So a week after the cottonwood came down, two friends came over to help kill the bees.

So last night just before dark, when the bees had all returned, one friend suited up and removed the “shelf” and then sprayed a foaming hornet and wasp killer into and around the entrance. He was concerned that starting to spray might result in angry bees flying out, but we saw no signs of activity. This morning when I checked the entrance I saw one solitary bee. This afternoon there were half a dozen bees but this evening I again only saw one. I had planned on re-spraying again tonight, but will wait and check tomorrow.

Entrance to hive is under bark “shelf” (just below shadow of pipe rail)

I regret having to kill the bees but I couldn’t get the rest of the tree cut up and the pipe fence repaired until the bees were gone.

Good view of entrance hole with “shelf” removed

Sometime this weekend, after I’m sure there are no more bees, I’ll clear as much debris out of the corral as I can and then arrange for the rest of the tree to be removed. The horse will be happy to be moved back to her corral.

When the Unlikely Occurs

My chickens are free to roam the property and over the years my chicken population has waxed and waned depending upon the predators in the area. A couple of summers ago I finally finished the last of the perimeter fencing and my coyote sightings fell significantly (as did my chicken losses). However, a short while ago I started losing chickens again. The occasional loss is something I accept as a consequence of my choice to let my chickens range, but when I lost four chickens in one day it was apparent I had a serious problem with predators again.

A few days ago I had finished morning chores and was back in the house for another cup of coffee. I was sitting at the computer in the breakfast room which has windows to the east, south and west. The south view is of the horse corral and sheep and goat pens. Lately the chickens have taken to congregating under a tree between the greenhouse and the animal pens. The chickens suddenly started squawking and the dogs went ballistic. All of the animals, horse, sheep and goats. were bunched up in the center of their respective corral/pens which was unusual behavior. I jumped up and opened the door and Tuck and Kip went tearing out, along the side deck, and to the chicken coop behind the house. Unfortunately, the problem was actually straight ahead — as a large animal ran past and disappeared into the wooded area to the east. I only got a glimpse but my thought was that it was the biggest coyote I had seen to date and was in exceptional condition.

Later that same day, the sequence played out again. Only this time the animal ran from the south past the windows to the east so I got a much better look as it went by. My impression was that it was not a coyote but a wolf based on the size and the shape of the head and ears. I have not had a wolf (that I’m aware of) on my property since the very first year I was here but evidently some of the Mexican Grey Wolves which were re-introduced into New Mexico in 1998 have wandered to the very edges of their range. While I was trying to convince myself I had been wrong and it was just a very large, well fed coyote, based upon the local newspaper there have been four confirmed sightings of Mexican Grey Wolves between San Antonio and Sevilleta and I am about halfway between those two locations, so I am now reasonably sure it was indeed a wolf.

While this comparison doesn’t show it, there is a substantial size difference between the two and my unwanted visitor was much larger than the coyotes in my area which are generally in the 35-40 lb range.

The chickens have been cooped for the past few days and while the dogs have let me know the wolf has scoped out the chicken coop I haven’t seen it again myself. I am hopeful it will continue its journey on now that the ‘diner’ has been closed.