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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last night’s thunderstorm dropped about 2 inches of rain in less than an hour. It was also accompanied by high winds. While the dogs and I took shelter in the house, I heard the familiar crack of what I thought was a branch coming down. It was raining hard enough that I couldn’t see more than 6 inches in front of me. After the rain let up and I could see, it was an unpleasant shock to see that the cottonwood that had been off the side of the horse corral had snapped at the base and fallen onto the pipe fence and into the corral. The canopy completely covered the corral and it wasn’t possible to see the horse. I dashed out to see if the horse had been hit by the tree and found her in a small 4×4 spot in the corner of the corral furthest from the tree, luckily unharmed.
A friend came by at 6:30 this morning with a chain saw and in an hour and a half we had cleared most of the corral. Unfortunately, this cottonwood hosted a beehive so as soon as the bees became active we had to stop work.
Once I deal with the bees, we will finish clearing the tree out of the corral and off the pipe fence and then I will have to find someone to repair the fence. In the meantime, the horse is now in what used to be the sheep pen on the other side of the goats.
Today was cold and bleak. The snow from last night soon melted with the rain of this morning. It rained off and on all day and the mud was deeper every time I went out. When I fed this morning the smallest triplet seemed to have a full stomach so I didn’t offer a bottle. I checked sheep throughout the day, expecting more ewes to lamb, and each time I checked on the ewes and lambs in the lambing jug. [The lambing jugs are set up so that I can create small pens to segregate new moms and their lamb(s) but since the two ewes I put in the jugs were both experienced and taking care of their lambs, I went ahead and opened up the jugs so that the entire space was available to the two ewes (and their combined five lambs)]. Each time I checked, the littlest triplet didn’t appear to be hungry. The bottle I took out a short while ago was the first bottle I gave her today. When I first went out she didn’t come running as usual and as I watched she went to the ewe that was not her dam and started nursing. She actually nursed for a short while before the ewe realized it wasn’t one of her lambs and walked away. At that point the lamb came over for her bottle. I had figured she was nursing off her dam and getting some milk at night, but I guess the little one has found a new way to supplement her own feeding without requiring a bottle.
The rain is supposed to continue through tomorrow so I’m hoping the ewes who haven’t lambed will hold off until things dry out a bit and I can turn the ewes/lambs in the jugs out to make room.
Google earth map of my location. In the upper right is my house – the dark roof next to the circular drive. My barn is to the left with a gray (almost looks blue) roof. What is labeled 4th Street is really an easement along the south property line which my neighbors use to access their property. If you follow the easement there is a quonset hut at the end. This was converted into a house. Just west is the roof of my neighbor’s sheep pens. At the bottom left is a large rectangular building and just below that is a house. This is the property where the fire started.
The next two photographs were taken off the website of an Albuquerque news station. The first is a picture of my neighbor’s property to give you an idea of how close the fire came to my property.
Inexplicably, when the fire jumped the fire break, it completely missed my property, and amazingly, when the wind shifted and the fire blew back, it again missed my property. As events unfolded, I did not need to evacuate my livestock. Power was restored within 24 hours and other than the smell of smoke, one could not tell there had been a fire by looking at my property. However, with the information available at the time, I decided leaving when I did was preferable to getting told I had to evacuate at 2 am and having to load animals into the trailer, in the dark, by myself.
In September 2013 flash floods flooded my property (see this post). Prior to that was the winter where the temperatures dropped to 14 below zero and all the pipes in the pump house froze and broke, leaving me without water from the house well as well as without water from the irrigation well used to water livestock. We have had several years of drought that impacted the farmers and made hay both difficult to find as well as expensive to purchase. I’ve lost countless chickens to coyotes and other predators as well as goats to coyotes and even a mountain lion once. With luck, the fire this year covers the last of the disasters.
Friday afternoon an explosion in a workshop to the southwest of my property caused a fire. Within ten minutes, the fire had spread to my immediate neighbor to the west and within thirty had burned a power pole to the ground cutting off power. No power translated into no water as the well pumps became inoperable.
This community is blessed with wonderful, dedicated volunteer firefighters who immediately responded. However, with limited access to water the priority became trying to prevent homes from burning and barns and other outbuildings were left to burn.
I had headed to my neighbor’s to offer whatever help I could provide when I was first called about the fire.(The photographs don’t really show how terrifying the fire looked.)
The neighbor was heading home but still some distance away so I called someone to help with my neighbor’s livestock. That friend swung by my place and picked up my trailer to bring to the neighbors. We were still trying to load livestock when the neighbor got home and made the decision to leave the animals. We took the trailer back to my place and swapped out trucks, hooking the trailer to my truck.
I had bought the stock trailer about four years ago, just because I was concerned about the possibility of fire. However, the SUV I had at the time would only tow the trailer empty – not real useful – and it took me another year or so to find an old Ford F250 which I could afford. The truck is a manual which wouldn’t be an issue except it has a very stiff clutch, making it hard to start and to get out of first gear. I don’t like driving the truck and can usually find all sorts of excuses not to use it. Fortuitously I had tried to start the truck a few weeks ago as I was running out of hay and needed to go pick up a few bales to tide me over until my hay supplier had hay, and discovered that the battery was stone dead. My mechanic (also a wonderful guy) swung by my place one day to take out the battery and bring back a new one. We had then disconnected the battery to ensure it didn’t drain itself again. The timing couldn’t have been better.
Although an evacuation was never ordered, without power and water, and with the increasing risk of fire on my property when the fire jumped the fire break crews put in at my neighbor’s, I decided to trailer as many of my animals that I could. Several friends had already phoned or texted offering any assistance they could provide. One, with a wonderful horse property on the outskirts of town, offered her facilities (and guest room). Another friend, without being asked, texted that he was hitching up a trailer and heading my way. He offered space at his place, but his fencing was less suited to my smaller livestock.
We loaded my trailer and started to load his, but it was getting late and I really wanted to be off the property before dark. I made the decision to leave the sheep, the pigs in the pasture and the chickens. I threw a few bales of hay in the truck bed and loaded the four dogs in the cab. I headed out, followed by my friend with his truck and trailer. By the time we got out my gates it was dark and by the time we got close to the bridge across the Rio Grande the smoke was so thick the only way to know where the road was, was by the lights of the emergency vehicles along the sides and the glowing orange embers in the tree tops which lined the road. I was too busy trying not to stall out the truck as I downshifted to get around emergency vehicles or was forced to stop for one to worry about photographs, but this one was taken by my friend behind me.
Photos of the area after the fire to follow. . . .