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

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A Look Back and the Present

Last year my forecast for 2018 was pretty simple:

Going into 2018 the only knowns are that the chicks I bought in August should start laying in February or March. The possibilities are that if the does I exposed to bucks were indeed bred, I can expect kidding season to begin in February; if the ewes were indeed bred in November, I can expect lambing season to begin in April; and if the preservation center I pre-ordered from does not suffer any poultry losses this winter, I can expect 25 Icelandic chicks to be delivered the end of May.

In a nutshell, my plans for 2018 are to not have any concrete plans and to see what the year brings.

It was just as well that I had no concrete plans for the year. The chicks did indeed start laying. The does did not kid as planned and I was not able to start a milk test as hoped for in 2018. The ewes did lamb but I was unsuccessful in selling lambs (all were sent to the butcher in February) and I did not get the expected Icelandic chicks (current plans are for delivery the end of April).

I lost my working dog and best dog ever (Tuck) in June last year and with him, lost my enthusiasm for the farm. Going into 2019 I wasn’t – and am still not – sure exactly what my plans are for the farm.

My Morgan mare foundered between snow storms in January and I had her euthanized four months short of her 32nd birthday.

While I did not intentionally breed my remaining ewes last fall (long story about how they got bred) – and all five ewes have lambed. The first lambed with twins without trouble. The second had twins but lost both within a week. The third had a single and the same morning the fourth had twins – both struggling but still alive. The fifth also had twins so I have seven live lambs on the ground.

I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get does bred last year and rebred in August for January kids, hoping I’d be able to put the does on milk test this year.

The first goat kidded in January with triplets. I wasn’t home and when I got home after dark only two kids were alive – both male. I moved that doe and her surviving kids to the lambing jugs and also moved another doe which appeared to be close to kidding. Nutmeg did indeed kid either late that night or early the next morning – and lost all three triplets. In asking others for possible causes, I was told that it was possibly a selenium deficiency. Selenium has a narrow therapeutic window and I have never supplemented with it before, though I did have a syringe of a selenium/vitamin E gel in my goat supplies. I kept a close eye on Spice but it appeared that although she looked bred, she hadn’t been as the window for kidding based on the dates of exposure to the buck had passed. About three weeks later, when I was doing the evening chores it appeared Spice was in labor so I moved her to the lambing jugs. I checked on her frequently and sure enough about 9:20 pm she started to deliver a kid. It appeared she was in trouble so I went back in to get the necessary equipment and came out in time to help reposition a kid. A second kid followed shortly thereafter and since the other two had triplets, I hung around waiting to see if she was going to have a third. The temperatures this winter have fluctuated wildly and of course she picked the coldest night in several days to kid. By the time I finally got back into the house after midnight the temperatures had dropped into the mid-teens. Spice did indeed have triplets, all of which were very slow to get up. I didn’t expect any to survive but I did dose all three with the selenium/vitamin E gel (and also dosed the lambs that were born about the same time.) I was very happy to see that all three were still alive in the morning, though I did lose the third born a couple of hours later. The two surviving kids are both female and doing very well, except for the fact that the tips of their ears were frostbitten. Since Spice kidded later than expected, I will have to DNA test both bucks, Spice and both doelings to establish parentage before I can register the doelings. Cha-ching.

A selenium deficiency also explains the difficulty in getting the does bred so all the goats are now on a monthly supplement.

I was able to put the does on milk test starting in February. The results are acceptable, but not as good as I had hoped. My hay supply dwindled faster than expected, likely due to me feeding more during the really cold weather, and the quality of hay I was able to get to tide me over has been inconsistent. The first 20 bales were horrible and I ended up discarding quite a bit. A friend then bailed me out and sold me some better quality hay which I have been supplementing with pelleted feeds. I suspect the feeding regimen is largely responsible for the milk test results so far. Unfortunately, my hay supplier can’t provide hay until late May so the milk test results may not be what I expected and hoped for.

Then just because it has been a difficult year so far, in late January my furnace went out. Since according to the model number it was 26 years old I opted to replace it rather than try to repair it. After five days with no heat, I finally was able to get a new furnace installed. Not wanting to be parted from an old friend, I guess, the washer (left behind by the previous owners and also 26 years old according to the model number) quit working in February. It took ten days to get a new washer installed. I went ahead and had them haul off the dryer as I figured it wasn’t going to last much longer either and it saves me from having to deal with the removal as I wasn’t planning on replacing it. Of course the March winds started up a couple of days later so my plans to put up a clothesline have been put on hold and I’ve been using a drying rack inside. Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Hopefully the rest of 2019 will be less eventful and less costly.

 

The next morning. . .

Yesterday I ended up with almost 6 inches of snow. Evidently the one goat shelter was flatter on top and didn’t have the right arc. While the shelter is still functional, the sheep shelter didn’t fare as well.

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.

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.

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.

Odd Weather

The weather this fall was unusually warm. However, the cold weather has moved in with a vengeance this past week. The other morning it was in the teens when I got up and was still below freezing shortly after 9 am. I think the high  was only 43 degrees. I had scheduled a propane delivery for next week, mainly just to take advantage of the propane pricing I had locked in last year that will expire shortly; however, if this weather continues I may actually have need of the delivery.

The borrowed ram has returned home and I’m hoping that he bred at least one ewe while he was here. The hogs are now gone – it was apparent that they weren’t going to pay for themselves and I didn’t want to spend another winter having to carry water out to the pasture every day.

 

On Loan

I sold off almost all of my breeding ewes when I sold lambs this past spring. I kept one ewe which had earned a retirement with me (no. 86) and four ewes which I considered “cull” ewes; i.e., if I had continued breeding for lamb I would have not kept these four either because of bag issues or because of poor productivity. However, since I had the ewes, and my neighbor who breeds New Mexico Dahl sheep was willing to loan me a young ram for breeding, I decided to breed the ewes for spring lamb which I could butcher for myself. In the past, I could never afford to put lamb in my freezer as I needed to make as much as I could off selling lamb and the meat in my freezer was generally mutton (which is actually quite good.)

Here is the young ram. He has been here a little over a week and will be leaving in early December. Am hoping that he manages to breed at least one ewe.

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.