Monday, January 31, 2011

taking my own advice

This past weekend our 7 year old son James had his 3rd wrestling tournament. This is his first year and his dad is helping coach the lil guys. I did not go to the first 2 out of town meets so this was new for me. I will say that anybody who thinks kids baseball is fun has never been to a wrestling meet. I called it crack for type A parents :)

It is non stop action because when your kid or his/her teammates are not wrestling, there are 20 other kids wrestling all over the gym. Good stuff for us. Our son has been cursed with not one, but 2 type A parents, who also wear their emotion right there on their sleeve. James loves anything physical and he leaves it all out there on the mat. He goes hard all the time. This is a kid it took 3 games to get him to stop tackling the kids on his OWN team to take the ball..this was in T ball!! He was only 5 then :)

 Just to be clear for those that do not know us, at this age our kids like sports. If they don't want to play sports they don't have to. If they want to try music, drama, rodeo, working dogs or anything else.. we are all for it. Their life, their dreams.

James won his first 2 matches fairly easily, but his 3rd match was a different story. The other kid shot a take down right away, and pinned James early. James was crushed, so i comforted him, and tried to give my best advice from my experiences with competition. I told him that the best lessons come from the biggest failures ,and that he can use the loss to go back and get better. The people who have the greatest success have also had the most crushing failures. I told him to do what i do and go watch the people who beat him,  and see what you can learn from them.

 I also told him it was important to enjoy the competition no matter how he performs. It was fine to analyze his performance and to make a plan for getting better, but then put it away and enjoy the rest of the day. It is just as important to cheer for the team, and be there for all of the other kids. I told James that it is ok to always go out there and give it 100% and to try and win, but when the day is over it is just a game.  If the game is not fun then there is no use coming to play.

James went on to win 2 more matches, and to loose another tough match to place 3rd in the tournament.

The next day i was getting ready to go to a local sheepdog trial, and James asked me if i was going to win. I told him that i always try to win, but this was a "fun trial" so i was there to have fun too. James said " but mom don't you have fun at all the dog trials?" I laughed ,and I had to admit that i don't always have fun. My son asked me why i did not always have fun at dog trials....................................

Good question son. At 7 James wont take a laugh for an answer so i had to give him a real answer.  I thought a moment, and told James that a dog trial was just like a wrestling meet there was always fun to be had, no matter how well you compete. I said sometimes mommy's ego and competitive nature gets in the way of enjoying the whole day. The whole day being the sheep,the dogs, the people and the competition.

Nothing like a child to help you remember the more important lessons if life.  If i want to teach our children how to enjoy the ride, then i better take my own advice more often.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Trailing sheep

I wrote this for the Working Border Collie magazine and i thought some of my family and friends that don't get the magazine might enjoy it.

We define trailing sheep as moving sheep on the roadway or across country using Border Collies, ATV’s and or horses. In our case we are trailing the sheep instead of hauling them in trailers, and the distance we normally trail is 1-5 miles. Using a trailer to haul a large number of ewes and young lambs is just not practical for our situation. We use electric net and 4 wire when we set up a temporary pasture. We also use livestock guardian dogs on our ranch and when we set up graze on outside pastures.

As our flock numbers grow we continue to look for sheep management practices that work for our flock, and grazing opportunities in our area. We pasture lamb in late April and early May. This is in part to take advantage of the growing season so we can pasture and not jug lamb. We are also able to utilize alfalfa stubble grazing well into fall, so we extend our grazing season past the irrigation season.

Most years we keep the flock on irrigated pasture until fall when they are trailed to alfalfa fields to graze the alfalfa stubble. This is beneficial to our flock as well as to the farmers who fields we are grazing. Sheep grazing significantly reduces the weevils and aphids that are so detrimental to the spring alfalfa crop. Most years we can keep the flock on the stubble until well into December, and even longer if we don’t have heavy snow or cold.

Having the ability to graze that long into the fall allows us to sell our lamb crop later in the year than many area ranches. We are shifting our production from feeder lambs to a medium framed grass feed finished lamb.

As this is a magazine about working Border Collies you may ask what the heck all this sheep background has to do with the dogs! That is a very simple answer. Without the dogs, and by the dogs I mean well trained Border Collies with push and stamina, we would never be able to trail sheep. If we could not trail sheep we would lose a significant piece of our income from the lambs.

Trailing sheep in the fall is not too bad. Most farmers have their crops in and sheep stepping into farmed fields is not a big deal. Most fields are not fenced. The lambs are older and usually move well with the ewes. We do wean the lambs in September, but we put the flock back together for the fall graze. The traffic in our area is light and 99% of the people we encounter are ranchers and farmers, and they don’t usually get impatient seeing others make their living from the land. Sheep do seem to have a homing signal for nice yards, flower gardens and hay barns, and keeping the sheep out of these areas is key to happy neighbors, and requires a good dog.

Trailing sheep in the spring with very young lambs and freshly planted potato, grain and alfalfa fields is a whole different ball game. This year we did not receive irrigation water. I won’t go into the gory/controversial details, but an acquaintance from the south east said it seemed that the water issues out west were as controversial as discussing politics or religion. I told him that out west water WAS politics and religion all rolled into one.

Not having water on our ranch meant we needed to find other ways to graze the sheep. We had enough graze for lambing and for a first cutting of alfalfa. We started to look for graze in the 1-5 mile range from the ranch. We found a farmer about 1.5 miles away who decided that his rye grass/alfalfa field was not worth much as a hay crop, but we knew it would make fine graze for us. We have a fair amount of experience grazing standing alfalfa, and I did not want to put the flock on the field while it was wet. Wet alfalfa significantly increases the chance of bloat. The week we needed to move sheep we had more than a week of much needed rain. Grateful as we were for rain I did not want to feed hay for 2 weeks or more if I could avoid it.

We decided to move the sheep across one of our pastures and up past our dry land to a neighbors fallow grain field that had grass and mustard growing. We also thought the move across our own land would be a good way to break in the young lambs for the larger move to the new field.

The help for this move consisted of my husband Martin and his good dog Duster, me and my dog Kell, and our 4 year old daughter Katy. Our 6 year old James was in wrestling camp that day or he would have been there too. The move was only ¾ of a mile, but this was June 1st and the lambs were born starting April 26th and ending the 3rd week in May. That is a lot of very young lambs.

We started bright and early, a bit too early as I found out when I failed to check for new lambs before we started the move. I knew there were two yearlings that looked liked they may still lamb, but I was in such a rush that I committed a cardinal shepherd’s sin and failed to check the flock the am before the move. We took the flock out of the back pasture and started them across the road to the other pasture. As the flock spilled out of the back field I then noticed a very agitated ewe and her very young lamb that Kell was trying his best to keep with the rest of the flock. This lil guy was less than 12 hours old and no way was his mother moving anywhere as long as that lamb was on the ground. We scooped the lamb up to ride across our lap as we rode. The ewe was still mad as a hatter, but she went along.

The crossing of the road went well and we settled into the move. The sheep were being moved across an alfalfa field that we planned to hay, while I did not worry about bloat for that amount of time, I did not want them getting settled on the field either.

Marty got off of the ATV to walk on foot and Katy took the ATV to hold one side of the sheep. I know 4 seems young to handle such a job, but Katy is already a good hand and she was on a very small ATV. I was bringing up the rear and the other side with Kell. We were about 10 min into the drive when I made the mistake of thinking that it was all going rather smoothly. About that time 50-75 lambs made a mad break back to the original field. This is the work and worry of trailing young animals be it sheep or cattle. If you get a few animals that break back and you can’t stop it rather quickly it turns into loosing the entire flock/herd back to the area you just gathered from.

This is one of many times that a good dog (in this case ones that can effectively work young lambs) is essential to a successful day. Both Duster and Kell broke back to stop the lambs and worked tirelessly to stop the group and bring them back to the main flock. I think we held our breath during this brief, but intense portion of the move.

Once back with the main flock there was consistently a handful of lambs that would try to break back, but we did not have any more big breaks. The flock was tucked safely in the new graze for the next several weeks.
When doing this kind of work we do use a whistle and commands, but for the most part we expect the older dogs to know their job and do it with little input from us. We do use young dogs for this kind of work, but when moving very young pairs (sheep or cattle) we prefer a broke dog with lots of experience. The young dogs tend to come into a large group and quickly get their brains a little fried. It takes some experience to learn to pace out for the entire drive.

This kind of work is very physically and mentally demanding for the dogs. An average move is 2 hours and most of that is in a sprint as the dog pushes the back and tucks the side. In most moves there is likely to be some yelling and confusion and dogs that want to sulk away and hide from such pressure are not useful.
For the move to the next pasture we enlisted the help of our good friend Geri Byrne. This move required us to take the sheep down a much longer stretch of road and we like to have a person in a vehicle to warn traffic. Both James and Katy were there to help, but we do not allow them on the public road if they are using a horse or an ATV. The kids road shotgun with “Ms Geri” until we got to private land where they can run the ATV. Geri also brings a dog to help push the sheep, and to block yards and driveways.

This move took approx 2 hours and took us across the same alfalfa field, down the road, and across a fallow grain field. There was a shorter route that would have been all public road, but it would take us next to a neighbor who once shot at a ditch rider (takes care of irrigation matters). We decided to take the cross country route and avoid that possible conflict.

The lambs moved much better this time, and we had no major breaks. The sheep were on this graze for 3 weeks and when they had finished we brought them home to vaccinate the lambs before trailing them to the next field, again approx 1.5 miles away. For this move we had another close friend Angie Untisz here visiting, and as luck would have it she had a good border collie with her!

We were trailing along well when I heard somebody scream “gate!!!” and “potato field!!!” There are some private agriculture wells in use around the area, and many are on potato fields. That time of year the potato plants are small and very fragile. In other words if you let 600-700 sheep run over them somebody is going to pay. I am always on the look out for new graze and taking care of fields along the way is a good way to acquire new fans. There was no excuse for not seeing that the gate was open, but it was blocked by very tall grass in the barrow pit.

No matter who should have seen the gate (this is the sort of subject that is later argued/joked about amongst husband and wife ranch teams) the sheep were flowing into the field and they had to be stopped. I was on an atv and I bailed off and sprinted to the barb wire fence as I sent Kell out to stop the sheep. My friend Angie was ahead of me and she sent her dog too. The sheep were stopped and turned with no damage to the potato plants. There is no way we would have been able to stop those sheep without working dogs. We could not drive onto the field and people on foot have no effect on a mob of sheep. Thank God for Border Collies and all their skill and heart.

Later in the summer we moved from our ranch to a grain field about ¾ of a mile away. This should not have been that difficult of a move, but we had to get past an alfalfa field that had about 12-18 inches of growth. We were able to keep the sheep on the very edge of the field, so not much trample, but it took a lot from the dogs. This was a friend’s field so we knew a small amount of trample was not a huge deal, but it is a very fine line with a mob of sheep. One second most the flock is in the road and the next most of them are all over the alfalfa field.

The dogs have to work very hard pushing the sheep on the side and at the same time keeping the sheep moving forward. Sometimes it seems like time stands still, and nothing is moving. The dogs are often very tired and also frustrated. It is a job that some dogs excel at due to a natural presence and stamina, and some dogs get frustrated and start to grip wildly or give up.

Kell will be 9 in February so I am grateful that my young dog Mint is a natural at that kind of work. When things are going smoothly it is a joy to watch the mob move along with a few Border Collies working tirelessly to make sure the “smoothly” stays In the job. For me there is never a time that I have more respect for the Border Collie then when they are doing a tough job that could not be accomplished without a good working dog.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

mutton bustin and mud slingin

It was a busy day today. It started with getting up early to take the kids into a junior rodeo in town. They both wanted to “mutton bust”, aka ride a sheep out of bucking chute while you hold on to a rigging just like the big boys. James has done this a few times but it was Katy’s first go. James was quite and nervous the whole time we waited for our turn. Katy just wanted to ride and showed not an ounce of fear. Katy checking out the ride and the ride checking out Katy.
Katy was 1st and she made 7 seconds of an 8 second ride. She was one of only 2 girls in approx 15 kids ridding. She was so pumped when she got off the ground she immediately wanted to know when she could go AGAIN, and when she could start ridding the steers J A cool customer that lil cowgirl.

The sheep were mostly blk face, but there one Jacob cur with big horns that curled back. As we waited our turn James must have said 10 times “I sure hope I don’t get the one with horns! Well you guessed it… that was the one James drew.

James held on the full 8 seconds for a score of 60 and enough for 1st place in his age group. I think only 4 or so kids held on the full 8.  He won $27 and you would have thought it was 27 million. As nervous as James was when he hit the ground he bounced up and flew back to the chutes so excited his eyes were spinning. Adrenaline my boy, I understand the love of it very well, and so does your father J In the pic James gets some last second advice from dad. I was so excited just watching and cheering like a wild women( yup i am so one of "those" moms) i did not get any actual "ride" pics.

We didn’t stick around for some of the other events as we still had sheep to feed at home. I think the kids want to get more involved in some of the roping and ridding events, but I am not sure we are ready for that much commitment just yet.

After we feed Marty got a call from the neighbor saying somebody was up on our ditch road against the hill, and the vehicle was not familiar to the neighbor. Marty went up to "take a look" and found some folks stuck in the mud. Turns out they are renting a house at the other end of the road, and they could not get to it that way because of the mud. It has been raining on frozen ground here and it is messy.

Marty came back to the house and got the pickup to pull them out. When he and James didn’t come back I called and he said ohh he got the people UN stuck, but while he was backing around he dropped his tire of the edge of the bank. Now Marty was stuck. The people called a mutual friend who brought a tractor to pull Marty out.

As the guy was pulling Marty out the front of the truck slide at a 45 deg angle down a 45 deg bank. James was not in the truck at this time. Thank goodness. They got the pickup out with no damage and the boys came home 3 hours after they went to "take a look."

In police work we have a saying “no good deed goes unpunished” When Marty got back we both started to say the saying at the same time J Really thou helping a neighbor or a stranger is very much part of small town/rural USA and one of the things I love about living here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

confessions of a mud room dryer

What is on top of your dryer right now? Our washer and dryer is in our mud room, the room you come to first when you come in the back door. At our house the mud room could be twice as big, but back to the dryer.

It was pouring rain today onto frozen ground and it was a mess outside. After we feed sheep, did chores and got the kids to school, I thought the nasty weather was a sign I should stay inside and clean the house. I guess i don't get the "sign" as often as should as you will read later.

The last room I clean is the mud room. I got to the dryer and had to laugh out loud. My dogs are used to this when nobody else is home. On top of the dryer this fine rainy day was the usual assortment of gloves, and winter hats in all sizes and colors.

Then came the manual for Chevy trucks 1988-1998. Fence insulators for eclectic fence and a electric fence charger manual. A real paw from a mountain lion. I have asked my husband what his plans are for the paw, but I have learned to not ask such things more than once or you will pull your hair out.

Next layer on the dryer. I small can of pepper spray and a 12 oz bottle of straight capsicum ( this is the stuff that puts the HOT in pepper spay)..yup a whole bottle on the dryer.
Tools, a dog leash, pocket knife, headband with light on it, and last but not least a thermometer with ANIMAL written across the front. There is a good reason for a label on all thermometers in our house.

Last May when we lambed the weather was awful. I am talking 40 deg and driving rain for almost the entire lambing. Brutal. Many lambs were brought in to the mud room to be warmed and then sent back out to their moms. It was a hectic time and a few things got missed.

A few weeks after lambing our son James got sick with an ear infection. I went to take his temp and found 2 thermometers in the junk drawer, they looked identical. I asked Marty if he knew which one was the lamb thermometer and he said “ummm nooooo.”
Not to worry we didn’t use either one young James and we learned to mark the animal thermometer with a label that can not be missed.

Now I am not the best house cleaner, but I clean that dryer off on a regular bases. I like to think i did not know some of these things were on the dryer as the gloves and hates multiply at night. You don't even want to know what is in the cabinets in the mud room :) good thing it is sunny here 300 days a year, i bet i could find lots more cool stuff if we had more rainy days.  So what is on your dryer today?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

feeding hay in the dry land..Mint and #256

Feeding hay is actually a chore I mostly enjoy. It is a time to look over all the sheep, and I get to spend that time with my favorite husband. Marty feeds and I drive. Some times 7 year old James drives, but this feeding area is tricky and if he is not on point the truck could easily drop into a very deep ditch.

We mostly( I say mostly because if we get a lot of snow we bring them down to the pasture behind the house) feed our sheep in our dry land as opposed to our pastures. We have some land on our ranch that is not irrigated, it is hilly and the soil is sandy. This makes feeding a lil trickier, but the sandy soil never turns to mud, and I like the fact that the ewes get exercise going up and down the hill.
Our ewes are about 85% fine wool sheep( a cross of Rambouillet and Targhee with a slash of Finn) , but we still have a few Coopworth and Cheviots. We sell our wool to Columbia scouring which is Pendleton wool They make men’s and women’s dress shirts from our wool.


The less vegetation you have in the wool the happier the wool buyer is. The area where we feed requires us to be up above the sheep on a road, and then drop the hay down into the dry land. The sheep pile up and get under the hay causing it to land on the sheep’s back.

We use a dog to hold the sheep off of the top of the hill until the hay is dropped on the ground. The dog walks along the top of the hill as we feed down the fence. The sheep are used to this and most of the fine wool all go with the program. The Cheviots are another story.


We have a ewe “256” she is a North Country Cheviot and Hamp cross that we have had for at least 8 years. She not only produces huge twins each year, she is also our 5 year old Katy’s “friend.” Now ol 256 has never been handled and is not a show sheep. One day several years ago this ewe came running up to our daughter and allowed her to hug and pet her. I don’t know why. Katy has a way will animals and this ewe does not seem to like any of the rest of us. Katy can go out into the mob of sheep and call “256” at which point this ewe comes running. Weird but true.

Along with being Katy’s friend she is also a real pill with dogs. She is a ferocious mamma when she has lambs and in general always turns to say “make me” if she is at the back of the mob.

Last week 256 decided the whole stay off the top of the hill until the dog moves program was not working for her. She wanted her hay, and she wasn’t going to wait for some collie to tell he when she could eat.

My Border Collie Mint was waiting for 256 when she came up to hill. 256 put her head down and charged the dog. Mint bite her about 5 times in the head/nose before I could say a word. 256 re accessed her position, backed up and came at the dog again. Mint was still standing her ground and again rattled off some good nose bites. At this point 256 decided she was not really THAT hungry anyway, and she sauntered down the hill.

Today I had a camera with me and I got a picture of 256 and Mint having a lil “talk.” No biting was necessary but I think Mint’s ear set says “ do you remember me dear?” I guess 256 did as she did not charge the dog today. Note the livestock guard dog peaking over the sheep to see if there are any fireworks :)


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The city and the country

When Marty and i retired from police work with the Portland Police Bureau ( 30 years for him 19 for me) We spent many long hours discussing where we should raise our 2 children.  Even thou we worked in Portland we lived on our small sheep farm in Sandy.

The city. Great private Catholic schools, with access to the best of arts, music and sports.  Eclectic people, cultures, food and politics.  Some very good friends whom we love dearly.

The country.  Knowing your neighbors,  leaving your doors unlocked and the work ethic that comes with living on a working ranch.  Fresh air, animals and room to roam.

The country won, and 3.5 years ago we moved to southern Oregon and bought a ranch outside of  a very small town on the OR/CA border.  We raise fine wool sheep and working Border Collies( more on the sheep and the dogs in a later post) For now my kids are too young to think they are "missing" anything by not living in the city.

We believe they are missing some experiences that Marty and i think are important for them to grow up to be the well rounded citizens we hope they will someday become.  The older the kids get we want to make it more and more of a priority to take them to the "city". For us that is Portland( 6 hours) and Seattle(9, 10 hours. ) As time goes on we hope that the list of cities to visit will grow too.

I love Pdx and it will always be my favorite city. My brother and his family live in Seattle so that makes it even more important to visit. Marty also has family in Seattle with kids in our kids age range and we are looking forward to getting to know them better.

Trips always include lots of love from friends and family and making sure our kids keep that connection to some of  the people that we love.  We always try to go on an adventure that we can't experience at home.  The pdx zoo, and kids museum.  In Seattle The space needle, aquatic center, science center and ridding the train to so many fun places. New food and new people.  I am guessing as the kids grow the adventure will change.  On  a recent trip our son James was very impressed with the Trail Blazers stadium in Portland and wants to go to a Seahawks game.

I miss some things about the city. The great food, the diversity and the raw energy of a city. The handful of people who still live there that I have known me my entire adult life and whom i love and trust. But i think we made the right choice for us when we choose the country. We love watching our kids pull new born lambs,  ride their bikes/atv's to trail sheep, and help build fence and doctor animals.  I envy some of things my friends do with their kids in the city, and they feel they same about some of the experiences  my kids have in the country. Neither place is "better" just different choices.

I am also very grateful that we can take the kids to the city. We dream that at least one of our children will retain the love for  sheep, ranching or agriculture, but if they don't we want to let them experience as much of what "else" is out "there" as we can.  Then they will be able follow their own dreams where ever that may lead them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Star pup and Mint

This is Star aka Tarman he is the boy pup i kept from my Mint X Rye( E Bakers) Rye really stamps his pups but I can see his mom in this one.  It has been tough to get a pic of him cuz he is busy! The 2nd pic is his happy face. This pup was a lil quirky and that is one reason i kept him. He is less stubborn than the bitch pup i kept(Braken) but he not as bonded to me. Mint did not really bond to me until i took her to sheep and the more i took her to work the more she became "my" dog. All 6 pups from that litter are turned on to sheep so will see how they progress.

This is Mint working today. I have some replacement spring ewe lambs that i don't breed and that is what i use to train on in the winter. My other replacement ewe lambs are fall lambs and they are being breed. These are May born Targhee lambs coming off of dry land. Not much to look at now, but the breeder( Judy Scanlan) is in NSIP and has some of the nicest Targhees in the country. By the time these are breed they are beautiful.  The 2nd pic this bigger lamb was a real pill,  Mint walked her up backwards for a few steps and she went on her way.

 When i can i I have been working Mint several times a day. She has really made some amazing progress this past month. Last weekend we trialed in a small local trial. It was on rather spoiled( not complaining just a description) North Country Cheviots. From a sheep producer side they were lovely ewes, but from a dog trial stand point then were running fools! I ran last as Mint is in stranding heat.  She was flagging for a dog INSIDE the cab of a truck, while she was on the ground. I thought the sheep would not care for Mint as she has lot of pressence, so i knew she would need to stay well off of them.

I have really been working on the top of her outrun to make her deeper. She is not a dog who will be able to get away with a tight top. She did a lovely outrun and took my stop at the top. She then handled them well through  the course, and had a very nice pen to win the class.

I am very pleased with how she is handling trial pressure. I love so many things about this bitch, but she has been a handful to gear down for trialing. She has been able to do very difficult ranch work( mobs of sheep and cattle and long days) from a very young age, but she has needed a lot of it to get her where she is today. Trial dog or no i love and respect this lil dawg and she is teaching me so much.

I am starting a blog about ranch life,  and the working Border Collies we use on our ranch and to trial in sheepdog trials.