The moon now is the second full moon of the month which makes it a Blue Moon.
Several years ago when I was asked how I started my pups working stock I wrote up some notes. I was then asked to turn those notes into an article, which I did, but the individual who requested it had moved on and the article languished unpublished. In the interests of being able to put up regular blog posts in 2018, I am going to use the article as the basis of the Farm Dog 101 posts for the next few months. This should be timely as now that Tuck has been officially retired, my plans of having Fix ease into being my primary chore dog have been altered. Fix has been accompanying me on chores since the day he arrived on the farm. Although the dynamics on the farm have changed since I brought him home in late May, Fix has a good understanding of the day to day routine and is already proving himself useful as a chore dog. However, what he lacks is the training to move livestock with direction; i.e., he can already move escaped goats back to the correct pen, or hens to the chicken coop at night if needed, but he does it without being told and without me telling him “how” to accomplish the task. By early spring Fix will be my “go to” dog when I need help moving livestock. Since I had anticipated Tuck continuing to work for at least a couple more years, over the past summer and fall Fix’ training on stock had been less of a priority. That has now changed. Fix now needs to know the basics of moving up on stock, stopping when he needs to or is told to, and how to influence movement by using a “go-bye” or “away”.
(For those interested in learning more about introducing puppies to farm work, I highly recommend an article in the current English Shepherds at Work Handbook published by the English Shepherd Club, Thoughts on Training Your Pup for Practical Farm Work. Full disclaimer: the article was written by a friend who happens to be the breeder from whom I purchased Tuck and Fix.)
Check back January 1st for the first Installment of Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd. All I ask is that you understand that my farm is different from your farm and my dogs are not your dogs, so following the posts by rote is not necessarily going to get you the dog you need for your farm. It is also very important to keep in mind that working livestock is only one small job of a useful farm dog. My dogs work year round even though I only pasture livestock part of the year. However, if you know what you need on your farm (and this can change from season to season or even day to day) and understand your dog, the basic principles outlined in the upcoming blog posts should be useful in helping you train your dog to do the job needed on your farm. The second thing I ask is that you respect my copyright and do not reprint a blog posts or any part of a blog post in any forum without asking permission first.
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.
Every day since I returned with the new puppy, Tuck and I have moved the remaining sheep out to the east pasture. The east pasture is probably about five acres and was not used for a couple of years after a road crew took out a corner post and most of the fence along the road. I finally had the fence replaced last summer and was able to use it to graze sheep again but it is still very overgrown.
Yesterday morning Tuck and I moved the sheep as usual. Usually by evening the sheep are waiting at the gate to go back to their night pen. Last night, however, when Tuck and I went for the sheep, the sheep were no where to be seen.
Since I was wearing shorts I wasn’t enthused about traipsing through the pasture looking for sheep so I sent Tuck to find them. Given the terrain, I couldn’t see Tuck or the sheep so couldn’t give him directions other than just to tell him to find the sheep.
It took him awhile, but . . .
Unfortunately the phone camera isn’t a great way to take photos so I couldn’t get both Tuck and the sheep in the same shot.
While I think it is admirable that people want to do things with their dogs and are willing to spend the time and money to take lessons and trial their dogs, don’t ever believe anyone who has a herding instinct title or herding title when they tell you that their dog can work stock unless they can demonstrate that the dog can perform a task on its own without being given direction. If you need a true working dog look to a breeder who actually works their dog in a similar situation to yours, and not just one who has titles on their dog. These sheep are trotting – not running – and even so, if I hadn’t been yelling at Tuck to hurry up, he would have brought them up at a walk.
Over the past ten years Tuck has proven he is worth his weight in gold (most days) and I’m hoping his great-nephew will be as good, if not better, a worker.
A friend of mine who raises the (very) occasional litter of English Shepherd puppies had a litter planned for March 2017. Both the sire and dam (a niece of my working dog, Brandywine Tuck) had health clearances and the dam is operational as a search and rescue dog as well as working on her owner’s small farm, so the expectation was for a physically and temperamentally sound litter with the genetics to work. I therefore put in an application for a puppy and started making plans to visit and fly home with a puppy.
As with Tuck’s litter, the pups in this litter were all very nice and had a good balance of pack, prey and defense drives so making a choice was not easy. After six days, in which I evaluated the entire litter, puppy sat for two full days while my friend and her husband were at a conference, and spent hours overall just playing with and observing the puppies, I had finally narrowed my selection down to two puppies: a seal/white little female and a black/white male. My friend had made an appointment for a health certificate with her vet on the day before I flew home, so that morning I finally decided to bring home the little male.
After a long, unplanned delay at the connecting airport, the pup and I arrived back in New Mexico in the early hours of the morning. He started his job as an up and coming farm dog a few hours later as he accompanied me on the morning chores.
I have a two-week period of time in which I allow the pup to choose his/her own name. I usually have a list of names I like and will call the pup at some point while he/she is distracted to see if the name elicits a response. Generally I run through the first list with no clear preference for a name and have to start compiling a second list before finally finding a name which I like and to which the pup also has a strong response. In this instance I had spent the first week running through my first list of names and had one name which the pup had at least acknowledged. This would be my fall back name if the pup didn’t pick a different one before the end of the two weeks. With the second week half gone, I suddenly remembered Friday night that Sidhe had selected her name from a fantasy book series I had been reading at the time: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (if you are into fantasy, I would highly recommend this series about a wizard in Chicago – it is extremely well written as well as just a lot of fun.) So during Saturday morning’s chores as the pup was investigating something about ten feet from me, I stopped and called “Fix” – his head popped up and swiveled around to locate me and he came running, sliding into a sit in front of me. So the pup has chosen his name – “Fix” – the name of the knight of the faerie summer court.
Just before lunch today I heard the chickens raise a ruckus. Thinking it was another coyote, I grabbed Tuck and Sidhe and headed out to see how many chickens had turned into lunch. Instead I found all but one sheep had crawled through the open pop hole of the chicken coop and were standing in the fenced enclosure of the coop.
I have no idea what the sheep were thinking, but Tuck was very expressive and I know exactly what HE was thinking as he had to move the sheep out of the chicken coop.
This has been a momentous week for the lambs. Yesterday all nineteen lambs were ear-tagged and weighed and the males were all banded, with the exception of one which I’ll have to do in about a week. The first lambs were born on March 3 which made them just over three weeks old. The youngest lambs were born March 18/19 which made them a week old. My smallest lambs were 10 lbs and the largest 15 lbs which is a decent weight gain given the low birth weights this year.
This afternoon I turned the ewes and all the lambs out to pasture for the first time. This is not my usual routine. In past years I’ve lambed during the month of February and not put the lambs out on pasture until sometime in April. This is the first time I’ve put lambs out this young. The only pasture I have that is suitably fenced for such small lambs is very sparse right now (and if we don’t get rain soon, may not grow at all this year) and to get to that pasture, the sheep must travel through a section of wooded area from their pen to the driveway, down the driveway and then into the pasture.
Just the ewes would not have been a problem. My working dog, Tuck, is well versed in moving sheep out to the various pastures I have fenced. However, I have never before had him work the ewes with such young lambs. The ewes tend to be very protective of their lambs and dislike the dogs in close proximity. And of course, the lambs know nothing about gates so several who weren’t right behind their moms couldn’t figure out how to get out of the pen, or got stuck in the corner behind the gate. The more the lambs cried the more agitated the ewes got and the harder it was for Tuck to keep order.
I finally got all the lambs out of the pen and into the working arena where the ewes were milling. I let everyone settle down and then opened the gate out of the working arena and asked Tuck to bring up the sheep. It initially looked to be a smooth process but then as the ewes went through the gate into the wooded area, about half the lambs panicked and either ran back toward their pen or got stuck on the wrong side of the gate. Tuck and I finally gave up on moving the lambs by themselves and went to look for the ewes and remaining lambs. Without a dog behind them the ewes had all drifted this way and that and were scattered amongst the trees. Tuck gathered them up and pushed them back to the working arena. I assembled ewes and lambs again and gave it a second attempt. This time the lambs stuck closer and all got through the gate. Then it was just a matter of Tuck putting enough pressure on the sheep to keep them moving forward without putting too much pressure on the lambs, causing them to scatter and the ewes to be very, very unhappy with him. We had another slight problem going through the second gate onto the drive when four lambs split off. Tuck was able to push one back through the gate and the other three were small enough to fit through the fence and join the sheep. So a task that normally would take Tuck and me about five minutes took us closer to half an hour but finally the sheep were all in the pasture.
I kept an eye on them throughout the afternoon and decided after a couple of hours to bring them in as the wind was kicking up again. So Tuck and I duly went off down the drive to the pasture gate. It was a pretty simple task to bring all the ewes and lambs to the gate so I was thinking it was going to be an easy task to get them back down the drive and to their pen. Every time I think something is going to be easy, it turns out not to be. Tuck had evidently decided that ignoring the lambs was the better move, so when the ewes started through the pasture gate he didn’t apply any pressure on the lambs and only ten of the 19 lambs followed the ewes onto the drive. Of course, the ewes immediately headed down the drive and the lambs left in the pasture turned and ran back along the fence in the same direction, bleating piteously. The ewes made it all the way back to the wooded area before a few realized their lambs weren’t with them and then the ewes started bleating and running around.
After several abortive attempts by Tuck to group all the lambs and push them back to the pasture gate I finally gave up and called him to me. We walked back through the gate, down the drive and I had him collect up all the ewes and lambs and put them in their pen. I then sorted off four of the ewes missing lambs and had Tuck take them back through the working pen, through the trees and down the drive back to the pasture. Reunited, the lambs stuck very close to the ewes and Tuck was able to turn everyone back again and take everyone home. Moving sheep back from pasture at the end of the day took us an hour and a half instead of five minutes.
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.
When I first moved to the farm the perimeter of the property was fenced with barb wire. When I got livestock I needed to fence some pastures (Tuck and I couldn’t spare more than a few hours a day supervising goats.) I couldn’t afford to fence the entire property so I decided to fence a section of land on the south side of the drive in front of the house and running to the road. The guy who I had hired to put in the horse corral was no longer in the area so I was starting from scratch looking for someone capable of putting in a decent fence with woven wire. Unfortunately no one I asked could provide me with a recommendation so I was forced to rely upon the yellow pages to find a company in my area which did fencing. That was a very costly mistake*.
So a couple of years later when I needed another pasture fenced in I negotiated a trade where I would buy the materials and help with the fencing in exchange for running some additional animals on pasture the coming spring and summer. I could (and have) spent hours walking that fenceline checking for problems and marveling at how well it has stood up and came close to crying when a branch fell on one section and damaged the fence.
Now that I’m in a position to fence in another section of property, I’ve arranged to have the fence erected by the same person who did the second fence. In preparation for the project, I discovered a huge cottonwood had fallen on the barb wire fence in a very hard to get to spot. I prevailed upon another friend with a chainsaw to come out and remove the cottonwood.
*Lesson Three: if a person doesn’t know anything about livestock they probably also don’t know anything about putting up a fence intended to keep livestock contained.