Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter or Fall??

The pups have been doing a capital job of taking care of things. The other night Bruno was out somewhere in one of the pastures barking at SOMETHING that clearly didn’t belong, while Cletus ran back and forth from Bruno to the house. I was exhausted, it was cold and I didn’t really want to run outside with my flashlight to see what was going on, but I had the feeling that Cletus was wanting our attention. I just couldn’t bring myself to do my part and fell back asleep, knowing the goats, sheep and chickens were all safely locked up and easily protected.
I awoke in a great deal of discomfort, as the barometer has changed again and that always tends to throw me off. Because of that, I got up extra early. Cletus was asleep on the back porch, but I couldn’t find Bruno anywhere. I let Cletus in to visit and get some morning hugs and prayed for Bruno’s safe return. Awhile later Randy located him out front, so let him in to visit as well.
Milking went well with Miss EmmaLouMoo, but the sheep and calves bellowed in chorus wanting treats while I attended her. Afterwards, I slogged my way past greedy cow, greedier sheep and very pushy calves to give them their goodies.

Afterwards I let the sheep out to graze on the big pasture. I decided to walk all the way to the bottom and check the spring box and show them where the water was, as they don't tend to venture that far away. They followed me in a little line, with Tooney in the front. The 3 little blackheaded Dorper X ewes would straggle way behind, then run to catch up. Of course that would set every one off, and Tooney would also start to run along with the little ram and lamb who had been with her. Not knowing WHAT they were running from, they would then begin to run in circles around me, until the pups came to calm them all down. The puppies discovered bubbles under the ice and tried their very best to capture them, without success.  We finally made it to the water, they drank, then they all ran off and left me to walk back home alone.

I slogged my way up the hill, mentally making a list of the things that needed doing. It wasn't very far into the list that I found myself overwhelmed and decided to just do what was in front of me, until I found myself somewhere near the end of the list...which is quite a long way to travel.
I raked some more good, garden-enhancing poo out of the pens, wheeled it out to the garden to dump in a pile for the chicks to go through, then threw my muscle into dragging the wagon full of milk bucket to the house.
 I stopped and checked to make sure Miss Priss, the goat, didn’t come back into heat, as its anyone’s guess if this little Boer buck, Mr PeeBody, has been able to get the job done or not. So far, signs point to his success.
I let the chickens out and went in to process the milk.
I stepped out front to put some laundry in and our new friend and neighbor called out hello and brought over some peanut butter we had asked them to pick up on their trip to town. She is going to teach me to quilt and I am going to show her how to make Mozzarella and Ricotta cheese today.
We went through the initial cheesemaking steps then she showed me a few  tricks on doing an applique quilt. We headed over to her ‘house’ to look at some fabrics while we had a lull in the cheesemaking process.

 As we were walking along, I suddenly found myself looking at the tops of some very tall, old trees. I noticed a wasp hive about the same time I noticed a great deal of pain in my hip and wrist. Apparently someone very large, fast and invisible, had lifted me overhead and body slammed me to the ground with such speed that neither of us ever saw the attacker. It’s all I can figure as I really have no idea how else I could have wound up on the ground. I groaned a bit, my companion noted that there was likely a measurement on the richter scale from the impact I made and the pups decided to do their rendition of “TIMMY’S IN THE WELL!”. 

They managed to get out of our back yard, through a corral and 2 pastures, in the blink of an eye and rush to my side to check on my welfare. I am guessing they DID see the invisible hulk which had wreaked such destruction on my rapidly stiffening self. Not just one, but BOTH Maremmas came to my rescue. I am not sure what they thought they would do, as they don’t have cell phones, opposable thumbs, or the number of the Medi-vac, but they were there at my side nonetheless to make sure I was okay.
Cider, in the meanwhile, my 'service dog', who had been playing with the pups when i fell, stayed in the backyard peering through the fence with an "Is she dead?" look on his face. He never did drop the toy out of his mouth.

 There is nothing like being the biggest klutz in the county to just embarrass myself beyond belief.
I had visions of “Granny fell and broke her hip” going out over all the newswires.
I escaped from the puppies’  concerned ministrations and limped into my friend's house. Bruno was unconvinced and tried to come in with us, then reconciled himself to watching with his head in the door.  We looked at fabrics she had and I marveled over a very complex quilt she is making of canadian geese standing in the water...unbelievably beautiful, amazing talent. I am very excited about what I might be able to learn. I opted to let her choose the fabrics as my color matching ability is about as great as my love for city life.
Upon returning to my house, we finished up the Mozzarella and quickly made Ricotta with the leftover whey. I grabbed the bucket of Boule dough out of the back room, 3 pizza stones and we made 3 big pizzas for dinner.

News travels fast.

I went out to feed and milk this morning and all the animals visually examined me to make sure i was really going to make it.

Its good to be cared about.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


The Maremma pups came back after a long night on patrol. Randy got up and showered, leaving me snug in the comfort of my warm down blankets for a bit longer. He went out and threw hay to EmmaLou and the goats and sheep. I made it as far as the couch and the coffeepot. As he came back inside to say goodbye, the pups followed him in. Tongue lolling out the side of his mouth in a large doggy grin, Cletus found me on the couch and buried his head in my lap. Cider watched, agitated that his place had been usurped, while Bruno waited his turn. Rubbing each furry body in turn, I indulged myself in my cup of coffee and slowly came awake enough to go milk.
I put the milking machine together, grabbed my bucket of warm water and headed for the door. When the dogs saw me step into my shoes, they knew I was really and truly going to go outside. They filed past me onto the porch and I put my buckets in the big wagon. I pulled it to the chicken pen, stopping to give them some more lay crumbles for their breakfast before letting them out to forage. The sheep had already been fed and were waiting at the big gate, so the pups and I went through the little gate, checking them all out to be sure no one was ready to lamb yet. Bruno and Cletus in turn went nose to nose with each one, counting, or saying good morning, or whatever it is that they do. I opened the big gate to their day pastures and Cletus led them out. Each morning, Cletus precedes the sheep out of sight and does another sweep to make sure no predators are close-by. The pasture the sheep like to graze in is probably about 20 acres or so with the large creek running through one side of it. If the water is low enough, they can just leave and go another mile or two out on the ranch. Its very open to predators and the willows along the creek bed give them good hiding spots from which to attack. Satisfied with the security check, Cletus comes back to meet me in the milk room. Bruno is already there, checking the calves behind the milk barn and sweeping the big horse corral and old barn with his eyes to make sure nothing is lurking there.
Emma takes her time eating, so after I am done with the milking, I decide to let the goats out back, as they go in a different pasture. As they hurry through the gate, Cletus runs to catch up with them as he hasn’t yet checked THAT pasture. He is faithful to do his best and when he returns, he plants himself where he can see the chickens and watch in the direction of the sheep, just in case he is needed. Bruno sleeps soundly as he is the night guardian who does the most traveling. He will rest unless Cletus sounds the alarm, then he will rise up in an instant, ready to do whatever it takes. For the most part, the days are quiet. The dogs have done such a good job we rarely have anything cross into their perimeter.
The goats came back up again. Scarlett, who is a very large Nubian doe weighing almost 200 lb. is in heat. We borrowed a little Boer goat buck to breed to them. For reasons that you need not dwell on if you have EVER been around an intact male goat, his name is PeeBody. PeeBody is tiny. Really, he is just a pip of a goat, but that doesn’t bother him least it DIDN’T until today. I notice them wooing and romancing one another and PeeBody decides the time is ripe to do his manly duty. It is then we all realize with horror that his legs are too short. He huffs and puffs while Scarlett grumbles. She continually climbs on anything in the pen, a stump, a large chunk of felled wooden fence, whatever she can find. In her little goaty brain she has the right idea, but the wrong half of the combination. I try gallantly to pull her down and allow PeeBody to take the higher ground, but Scarlett won’t hold still for him. In exasperation I open the gate to the 10 acre pasture behind the house to let them and EmmaLou out, hoping Scarlett will wind up in a ditch or low spot, or graze alongside one of the downed trees so PeeBody can have his opportunity. 
Emma and the pups accompany me as I walk down through the pasture, hoping to show the goats where the water is at the bottom. There are spring boxes down there they don’t know about, as for some reason, the goats and sheep never venture that far, even when hungry. About a quarter of the way down, EmmaLou suddenly turns around, shakes her head menacingly, jumps up and down and begins bucking and running, chasing the goats all the way back to their pen. I continue on and she catches up. The pups have gone ahead to do a perimeter check. Em passes me and I hear the machine gunfire of little hooves behind me as the goats catch up again. This time she allows them to come half way before she menacingly attacks them again and chases them off. I give up and walk back up to the corral. Its clear that Emma doesn’t think she should share. The pups meet me up there and they go back to chicken sitting while I go in the house to attempt, once again, to make cookies with homemade butter that will NOT melt and spread.
It takes a different kind of flour. I have been using the economy all purpose flour. Bosswife was helping me ponder the situation and she recalled that her mother used to use only homemade butter as, her dad being a farmer, they grew up with a milk cow. The only difference we could think of, was that she also ground her own flour. Bosswife had a higher quality flour she loaned me and boy howdy, it worked!!!
I have to soften the butter a couple of different times as it is cold in our house and it sets up quickly, not wanting to mix well. I cut out my cookies and set them in the oven for 75 minutes which is what the shortbread takes to cook. SUCCESS!!! Now I just need to sell a LOT of soap and a LOT Of lambs so I can afford my own grain mill.
The cookies retain their original shape, are silky soft and melt in my mouth. The flavor is remarkably improved. I am gratified as BUYING butter to make cookies with really irked me. I have an entire freezer shelf full of homemade butter and there is NO way I could possibly use it all up on bread and pancakes!
The chickens have already put themselves to bed. Its very cold out as I go to feed and bring all the critters back to their nighttime corrals. I can see my breath in the frosty air and my hands are chilled to the bone. Grateful things went quickly, I say goodnight to the 3 calves, EmmaLouMoo, the 3 goats and the 6 lambs. No point in bothering the chickens.
I wait until 8 o’clock and Randy still isn’t home from feeding. They are seeding a large part of the ranch and three of the boys are taking 4 hour shifts driving and pulling the seeder. Randy therefore, will feed the calves in a pasture somewhere out there. I haven’t been riding in so long I have no idea where anything is. I put on some water to boil for tea. The pups are sound asleep on the floor. They usually come in to visit for awhile after all the animals are fed and put up for the night before they go back to work. They can sleep through anything. I have literally rammed into them with the vacuum cleaner and not gotten so much as a twitch. The tea pot starts to softly whistle and both dogs are on their feet and in the kitchen with breath taking speed. I’ve never seen ANYTHING move that fast. They have the most amazing selective hearing. I begin to laugh as I recall another incident where they demonstrated this trait.
It was another night when Randy was late. I was terribly bored and was playing around on the internet, chicken shopping. Yes, I did say chicken shopping. I have to mail order chickens via internet from a hatchery if I want new ones. There is a website that has pictures of baby chicks who usually look nothing whatsoever like the adult version. Curious to know what one breed looked like in infancy, I innocently clicked the video link. 
Little chicks began to peep winsomely and the next thing I knew, my laptop went FLYING backwards out of my hand and 2 large white monsters were standing atop me, frenziedly looking for the chicks who were now in danger from my big RED dog who was hunting them in order to play. Desperate to reach them first, lest Cider abuse them, Cletus dug his nose into the pillows of the couch, under my leg, behind my back and on over the top of me. He rolled me around with his 120 lb frame like I was a walnut. As he neared the computer which had rocketed out of my hands when they made impact, he tilted his head in astonishment. Bruno was playing front guard to Cider, who was certain the chicks were in a brazier light over my head and continued to defy Bruno and climb his way up to find them. They were all relentless in their missions until I was finally able to reach out and click off the computer and close the peeping video.
You’ve just got to appreciate a good work ethic!
Next morning I got up and the world outside was white with frost, frozen in time and sprinkled with icy diamonds. Even inside my little rock house I could feel the crispness of the air. I shuffled to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and I saw the pups are out front. I am somewhat curious, as they are usually just coming back home at this time and ALWAYS come to the back door. I halloo them and they begin wagging  their bodies in joyful anticipation. I walk around to the front door and as I throw it open expecting two big white fluffy dogs, instead I am looking at SIX white wooly bodies in front of them...SHEEP! The sheep all got out and made their way out of the pastures to my front yard and the pups are there protecting them. I quickly close the door in their faces, run back with my coffee hoping that if I cannot see them, they aren’t really there. I hear them all bumping into the door on their way across the porch. I contemplate getting dressed to move everyone back to their rightful spots. It’s too early in the morning for me to think, much less react.
By the time I had on a sweatshirt over my PJ’s and some shoes, the front yard was empty. I walked a little way and saw the pups up by the horse trailers in front of the big barn. Sure enough, a little wooly head stuck its face out the door in the saddling area of the barn. 
I trotted back and opened the large gate to the sheep pasture. It’s between their night pasture and a large corral, with gates and alleys leading elsewhere. Once done, I walked through the sheep pasture to the small gate in front which we almost never use. I propped it open, stepped out front with my flake of hay and hollered 
Eight heads turned in my direction. The barn is several hundred yards away, but the two pups and 6 sheep all saw me clearly. To my horror, the sheep started a mad dash towards me, the pups pumping their legs to keep up. I did a rapid about-face and made it through the gate just about the time the thundering herd arrived. Like the ghost of Pistol Pete Maravich, I threw the flake of hay towards a feed tire on the ground and sank it. The mob thundered past me and I slowly let out my breath. Another wreck avoided. The pups walked up to acknowledge me and we all congratulated one another on a job well done. Ice chunks were melting off of their heavy white coats as I hugged them and we all headed to the house so they could veg out and I could have my cup of coffee where it was warm. The sheep? They stayed and devoured their breakfast and I’m not certain, but it’s just possible that wild & wooly MamaCass might be having her lambs today. She is kind of slab sided and not nearly as large as yesterday so the lambs could be dropping into the birth canal. Time will tell.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December Morn

last September

There are ice crystals blanketing everything and the water troughs are frozen, except for those that we have put heaters in. The world is quiet and the animals huddle, waiting for their breakfast. The pups have just come back from their patrol. It’s been very quiet the past several nights, unlike a few weeks ago when we heard coyotes everywhere. The Maremmas have been busy keeping everything at bay so our little band of sheep and goats can venture out safely. 
There is a new couple on the ranch. He is a trapper and carpenter by trade. He has been helping reduce the unusually high coyote population. Bruno was late coming home one morning. That is because an old horse was humanely destroyed out on the ranch and that drew lots and lots of coyotes. The coyotes drew Bruno. Because the coyotes were all around, Cletus stayed with the sheep and did not know Bruno ventured out alone to run off the intruders and got caught in the trap. The guy felt just awful about it. Bruno allowed the guy to free him but wasn’t about to get in his truck. He came to get us and Randyman took me a couple miles down the road to where Bruno was limping along next to the guys wife. They are very nice people and had no idea the pups would range that far. I don’t believe they normally do, but that is where the threat was.  Bruno is none the worse for wear, his foot was swollen and sore, but he went to work that night. The guy has since moved all his traps further to the south and across the road at the base of the mountains. Bruno seems to have things back under control again. I have  heard no coyotes and very little barking, which means, nothing has been crossing their perimeter. I am grateful I have socialized these dogs to the point I have. Being as remote as we are, human predators are not a concern for us. Had I not introduced Bruno to this guy the night before, the chances are much higher that Bruno would have been more seriously injured. As it is, these dogs are intelligent enough to make good judgement calls.
The chickens are fluttering around in their run, waiting for me to set them free. I throw them a large chunk of cheese that wasn’t up to par. Most of my hard cheeses have not been what I had hoped, I think because of the trouble I am having controlling temps. Once making Christmas gifts are not taking up so much of my time I will go back to making cheese. At least the dogs and chickens are happy with my failures. There are 12 gallons of milk in the fridge again, and 9 that I have to skim heavy cream off of. That will give me another gallon and a half of heavy whipping cream to make butter, or ghee or whatever. Its good to know that Emma will continue to gift us with this, until we dry her off, next May. There are several cartons of fresh eggs in the extra fridge, as the little hens are giving me 4-5 a day even in this cold weather. I can’t eat store bought eggs anymore. The watery whites, weak shells and anemic looking yolks just have to stay on the plate, as I cannot choke them down anymore. There is no flavor to them. I thank my God for the opportunity to eat fresh food, as there are many who are not so fortunate. 

Being here, hours from people, without pavement, cars, sirens, the need to lock everything, complaining neighbors, competition, consumerism and claustrophobia that comes from being in crowded conditions with horizon to horizon concrete buildings is a relief I cannot even begin to express. To enjoy all that nature has to offer in this place,  watching a hawk lazily riding the air currents, rising higher and higher, watching the quail grow from fuzzy little marbles with legs to full grown fat, sassy birds with their little floppy topknots, to see the grass go through its changing of seasons, from brilliant green to tawny gold, watching birds like the trumpeter swans, the egrets, the Canadian honkers, and a myriad of others come and go, is an immense gift. Being able to ride out on the ranch and see the deer and antelope grazing alongside cattle, waking up to see big bucks and does cleaning up the fallen apples on the lawn next to the house, having the time to ponder the shape of the puffy clouds and watch the lightening that splits the sky over and over, these are the things that make up the rhythm of my life. Listening to the music of the milking machine or a stream of goatmilk pinging the bottom of my steel bucket, raucious bird calls, the snorting of horses or the egg song of a hen are some of the melodies that carry me through a day.

I skim the cream from 9 gallons of milk and gather half a dozen fresh eggs from the coop. I crack one in the pan and it looks nothing like a commercial egg. The yolk is bright orange and stands up tall, with a white that does not spread. It's flavorful and I appreciate having them. I cut out the biscuits made with buttermilk left over from making butter of EmmaLou's cream. They rise up flakey and soft and my mouth waters, thinking of the just made butter and homemade apricot jam that I will smother them with.  After milking and cleaning up, I toss in a load of laundry and wash it with a mix made with my own soap. It's lightly scented of lavender and makes a monotonous chore more palatable. I visit with the Maremma pups and they fawn over me as if they've not seem me for ages. Christmas cookies are ready to come out of the oven. Hopefully someone makes a trip to town soon, as I am out of ingredients to make the next batch.
I think about the sweet recipients and I smile.

I have to decide on something for dinner and gaze at the venison, homegrown chicken, beef and lamb in the freezer. I settle on a roast from last years spring lamb.
I put potatoes in with it and the smell of fresh garlic and rosemary permeate the air and stimulate my appetite. A loaf of fresh, hot bread and green beans will finish off the meal and we will be well fed and sated as the sun disappears from the horizon. I feel a warmth envelope me, like all is right with my world...and it is.
It's like having a foot in paradise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Butter Blunders

This is what happened when I told EmmaLouMoo ...

"I have to go to town and BUY butter."

Its that time of year. I always make Christmas cookies to send to my son and his family. EmmalouMoo has been very generous and has been giving me 1/2 gallon of heavy cream daily, along with 3 gallons of milk. Because of this, I have LOTS of homemade butter in my freezer.
I found that you cannot make cream puffs with homemade butter. I found you cannot make chocolate eclairs with homemade butter. They do not rise. Apparently there is a lot of water in commercial butter, which is what causes the puffs to rise, so just to get by, I borrowed some commercial butter to make them until I have both the time and the patience to experiment with how much water I have to add, and just how exactly I will go about it.
I found that sugar cookies don’t do so well with homemade butter, when I wound up with a couple dozen buttcrack cookies.
Today, I discovered that you also cannot make shortbread cookies with home made butter. I CAN, but they don’t resemble the intended results at all. They are very wide, flat, shapeless and delicate. They are however, incredibly tasty. There is a definite difference in the flavor between using my homemade butter and commercial butter. Everyone on the ranch has been coming in to grab a cookie. The failures should be gone soon.

I must experiment until I find out wether to add less butter, more flour, or both. Or if something else is needed to stablize the cookies. I refuse to be defeated. After all, there was a time when all there WAS to use was good, homemade butter. There must be a secret.

Meantime, Christmas is coming and my kids are waiting for cookies.

Friday, December 9, 2011

About Livestock Guardian Dogs

The year we moved to the ranch a mountain lion attacked one of the cowdogs, right in front of our house. We kept chickens in a kennel with a chain link top while we built a chicken coop. A Great Horned owl parked himself on top and terrorized the chickens every night. After we got the coop built, we caught a bobcat trying to tear the wire in the mid afternoon. We had to lock my goats in the kennel to protect them from the marauding large cats and coyotes who came into our backyard with regularity, hunting for an easy meal.
Then we got our LGD’s, or Livestock Guardian Dogs. There are specific breeds that fit within this genre. They are unlike any other class of dog.
Just as I would not employ a Chihuahua to guard me from an assailant or duck hunt with a Border Collie, I would not count on a non-LGD breed (Great Pyrenees, Maremma, Akbash, etc) to protect my livestock. Unlike other breeds which might do a passing job, running off intruders, LGD’s actually bond to the stock and become part of the herd. I lost a ewe last year and the pups protected her dead body for 6 hours in a storm. I had to physically remove them before they would allow someone to take her away.
 Even with the loose structure employed here, where the dogs are allowed to travel from pasture to pasture across as much territory as they desire, they are very attached to their animals. Cletus, in particular, each morning, lowers his head and works his way around, touching the nose of every lamb/sheep/calf/goat here. I have heard stories from people who have seen these dogs here and in other countries, leading enormous flocks down from  mountain meadows with no humans in attendance. They simply do their jobs. I know if my  sheep move, so does Cletus. He wants everything in his field of vision.
LGDs don’t rely on human direction, but make their own decisions and the relationship is not so much one of dog/master, as partners in a common goal. Indeed, there are many times I actually feel as if they are truly the ones in charge. 
A year ago we picked up our two Maremma pups, Bruno and Cletus.  We decided on two because the predator pressure here is so great. While one dog might possibly be able to hold off an intruder, he could not at the same time protect the stock behind him if part of a pack drew him off and the other part circled around for the kill, as we have seen coyote packs do to the cows here, resulting in the deaths of more than a few calves.
One dog alone, is not as likely to survive a run in with a mountain lion either, so a pair was decided on.
The result of generations of breeding, with amazing instinct, they bonded with our stock and ourselves and commit their lives to protecting. They aren’t even 2 years old yet but they have kept our goats, sheep and calves safe and raised 20 free range meatie chickens without losing a single one, despite the fact that only yards away, a family of large owls have taken residence in the top of the old barn and large predatory hawks scan our yard and pastures daily.

When I hear their low, deep bark, I know they are keeping something at bay and I can rest easy. They’ve used good discretion, learning who is friend and who is foe.The deer started coming back this year after a nearly 3 year absence. I think that is because the coyotes are no longer hunting by the houses here. The pups started to run the deer off and I assured them them I liked the deer. They now allow the deer to graze along with the sheep, unmolested. Amazingly smart dogs. Their intelligence boggles my mind. 
A few nights there have been long periods of barking and I have gone to see what the problem was. Interestingly, Cletus is usually left behind or sent back to push the sheep and small stock up by our house before joining Bruno in the confrontation. One particular such night, I went out with my flashlight. Cletus had already brought the stock up and he led me far out into the back pasture several acres away. I couldn’t see what was out in the tall grass, but both dogs had their backs up and their tails curled tightly. I shuddered, trying to imagine what would be brave enough to stand off over 200 lb of angry, barking dogs. They suddenly bolted through the brush after whatever it was and I quickly headed back for the ranch house, alone in the dark, feeling very vulnerable with just my flashlight for protection. Moments later, Bruno was at my side, walking with me. I could hear Cletus still running behind us, after whatever they’d had the issue with. Once I arrived at our back porch, Bruno turned around and bolted back out the way we had come, to back Cletus up. I was in awe. He had intentionally escorted me safely home, then returned to battle. The next day, one of the guys said he saw large cougar tracks at the pond near our house.
They are tolerant with the other dogs on the ranch, but allow none of them in with the sheep. There is one dog they do pick on, but in all honesty, he started the issue. The problem is, I am having a hard time getting them to stop it. He is pugnacious with other dogs and has several times scrapped with Cider, my old retriever and once, going out of his way, ran down to our house and attacked the pups when they were small. They have never forgotten.
The pups are now over 100 lb. each. They have never injured him even though they have engaged him and could just as easily have dispatched him. Thankfully, they only put the fear of God in him, because the boss’ wife told me one day she heard a terrible shrieking. Looking out the open front door, she saw that they were headed toward her house in pursuit of the errant dog, who was screaming bloody murder, who raced past her, through the open door, to hide under a desk. He had never been in the house before, being an outside dog. Point made, they headed back home.
I had taken them one at a time to the dog and forced them all to sit quietly while I petted and made over him, so they would understand he was no threat. For whatever reason, they aren’t buying it, so I put a citronella collar on them to correct them. They’ve been pretty good about leaving him alone since then.
Earlier today, I saw them simultaneously begin to charge in his direction. I hollered at them to stop. They both halted and looked my way. That’s when I saw what they were REALLY after. A large owl was heading low towards the yard. I then had to get them to resume their pursuit! They did, but of course by that time, the owl was far ahead. Luckily, the chickens were locked up. The pups have established a no fly zone over the yard where the chickens free range. They are pretty good about watching the trees for hawks and owls. They aren’t very fond of crows either, but they never bother the quail. I should have known better than not to trust them.
The electric fence on the long side of the sheep pasture is down because of a heavy windstorm and a bunch of tumbleweeds. Therefore, the sheep have been running amok. Cletus and Bruno have been spending more time out front because of it, as that is the direction the little woolies are wandering. When the goats were born last January, Bruno helped dry them off. He faithfully watched over them day and night, laying in front of the entrance to the barn, until the kids were old enough to go outside.

 When I brought the bummer lambs home, he adopted them as well and allowed them to snuggle up to him. 

The lamb we kept still runs to him when she sees him, or becomes frightened. Cletus, who is a bit more puppyish and playful, was beside himself, as he really loves his charges. We raised meat chickens this year and he actually grieved when we took them away. He still checks the horse trailer for them, as that is where he saw us load them up. Everything that comes into our pastures, the pups accept as their responsibility, be it a lamb, chicken, a calf, or a child. 

When our grandkids came to visit, the dogs faithfully escorted them everywhere, even though they have never been around children. They were amazingly gentle and submissive to our 3 year old granddaughter. 
They are incredibly loyal and intelligent animals. They are unlike any other breeds. As I mentioned, the LGD is a self directed and self motivated animal who has to think for himself. He will learn basic commands, but taking direction from humans is not their highest priority. Protection of their charges is. They don’t think, or respond like other dogs. They will fearlessly lay their lives down in protection of their charges, but use attack only as a last resort, preferring to bark and posture first. This minimizes a lot of problems, not the least being their own injury. They set perimeters which they patrol regularly, using scent to deter predators from advancing closer. When something dares to venture past the perimeter, they confront it and if necessary, dispatch it.

We interact more with our dogs than is common, because I need to be sure they are bonded enough to  respond to me in the event they mistake a visitor or a cowboys’ dog as a threat, when they aren’t. It's not likely to happen, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. Most owners only want the dogs bonding to the stock.  I sometimes walk down through the pastures and I feel a lot safer knowing they will watch out and protect me from predators as well, since in the past cougars have attacked with impunity by the houses. The pups are occasionally allowed to come in the house, to have cockleburrs brushed out of their coats or to be medicated, or whatever else I have to do that I don't want to do out in the cold. It is a source of constant amazement that I can turn the vacuum on and bash into them with it without them waking up, yet some unheard threat will rouse them out of a dead sleep and they leap into action.
Prior to our moving to the ranch our boss’ wife raised 200 sheep here every year. They had lost their Great Pyrenees to a heartbreaking accident and decided not to replace him. The following year she had 80% losses due to the cougar population so they sold all that was left. 
Since our Maremmas have been here we have not lost a single animal to predators or even SEEN one in the vicinity, other than the arial hawks and owls which the pups run off. They have run off other dogs seeking mischief, even escorted two pups all the way to their front door kiyi-yi-ing in terror but unharmed. They have acted as bodyguard to my old retriever and even kept the ranch cats safe. There are no longer raccoons in the orchard, as the pups don’t allow anything we don’t encourage them to. 
 It’s common practice for owners of poultry or small livestock to employ LGDs. Unlike many dogs who may bark from boredom or angst, they only bark when they have a sound reason. I have gone outside to a chorus of barking, to find it’s the 5 Border Collies on the ranch sounding off at who-knows-what and the Maremmas are quietly laying out where they can see the sheep. 

Recently, Cletus was beside himself barking and posturing by the front gate. He was clearly very upset. I kept looking and seeing nothing. I brought him in the house to quiet him down, but he continued barking and woo wooing at the window. I finally relented and let him out, to show him nothing was there. He darted across the way, then began to circle warily, behind one of the trucks. His back up and lips curled he stood glaring, at something on the ground. I eased over and found that one of the kids had shot a coyote and thrown the body down behind a pile of rocks by the truck. Once Cletus determined it was no longer a threat, he took it by the tail and began to drag it away. Afraid the boys planned to sell the pelt, I discouraged him. He came back, unhappy to leave the evil thing so close to the house and well within their territory, but seemed at least satisfied it was no longer a threat.
Most nights I will hear the pups bark for a few minutes, then all is quiet the rest of the night. Without them, I could not have stock, as there is no other way to keep them safe. The dogs were an expensive investment, but they have paid off in a big way.
Many people live in situations where their property butts up to a neighbor. In unfortunate cases, they sometimes have intolerant neighbors who want to live in the country, without what the country has to bring. Crowing roosters, lowing cattle or a working Guardian Dog become a target to be eliminated. Fortunately, in MOST rural communities, Right to Farm laws are set up to protect the people who live there and take advantage of their freedom to raise their own stock.   Some officials are ignorant, not only of the laws, but of the nature of LGDs and their effectiveness. Such is the case with Joyful Farms. They are forced to hire an attorney to protect their dogs and their right to farm, at great expense.  In other areas, there might not yet BE Right to Farm laws. In this case, there needs to be precedent set to protect small operations like theirs, or perhaps yours.
The above widget on my upper right hand is to make donations to assist them in paying their attorney fees. This case is important not only to them personally, but to all  of us who own small livestock. If the right to own Livestock Guardian Dogs as part of small farming is not protected, neither will the right to own your stock be safe. A crowing rooster, or bleating goat, or whinnying horse can be labeled a ‘public nuisance’.
 If you are able, please join me in donating to the cause of all small farmers by helping these people out. Every dollar counts. Please feel free to post it on your Facebook page, or install the widget on your own blog. This is a battle we all need to engage in together.

*modified* I was having problems with the widget. Here is the link to donate.


Joyfulheartsfarm won their court case. Their dogs will remain and their stock and family will be safe. Thank you to all who donated to help this case. It will help set precedent for future attacks on LGD's and small farmers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It snowed here last week. Or maybe it was the week before. It’s hard to remember as one day runs into another here. There are no real weekends to mark the days by so I often lose track. Anyway, it snowed one day.

Cider sat outside the milk room waiting for me and he got snowed on.

Emma came out of her tent and got snowed on.

The next morning was sunny again and all the snow had melted.

The 'boys' came and waited for me to finish milking and escort me back to the house.

After milking, I took the milk can into the house and strained the milk into jars. I then put them outside in the ice chest with ice water to quickly cool them. Then I tried to find room in the refrigerator for another 3 gallons of milk.

Then we all took a nap.

After a long and productive day, EmmaLou wanted to eat some dinner.

Bruno also wanted dinner.

 Randy and I had an outrageously delicious dinner. Best I ever tasted. Much better than crackers.

And I discovered that if you use homemade butter to make sugar cookies, and cut them out with a heart shaped cookie cutter....

...they look like "butt-crack" cookies. If I knew any plumbers, I would make more to hang them on his tree. As it is, I guess we will just have to eat them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Good Company

It’s quiet this morning, here in the little rock house far from everything. Randyman has gone to work up in the shop and it’s just me and Cider. He is always happy to see me, whether I am waking up, or just stepping out of the bathroom. A separation of a few seconds brings the same joy over being reunited as a  week or a month would.
Most of the time, the majority of my life, I spend without much human interaction. The ranch family are all busy doing what they have to do and staying very busy and unless I am up to riding, or go visit or volunteer to help out with some of the many chores, I am alone in this funny little stone and concrete house. I never feel alone, however. I feel God’s presence everywhere on this ranch, stronger than I ever did anywhere else and He has provided me with very good company and companionship.
I put the milker together while Cider happily wags his tail at my side. Armed with a bucket of warm water, we step out onto the back porch to be greeted by the Maremma pups. Cletus stretches his big ol’, tall, lanky frame with an audible yawn and undulates like a fish, asking for his customary good morning rub. Bruno watches from his perch on the wicker loveseat, then sort of oozes and slides onto his feet to bump my hand while the 3 of us work our way to the wagon. As I drag the milker into the wagon and grab the handle, our little entourage moseys its way to the back corral to prepare for milking EmmaLouMoo. She’s behind her tent eating the hay that Randyman will have given her before he left. The little sheep are already spread out across the pasture, nibbling on whatever looks tasty to them. The bull broke into their pasture again last night and the pups decided it wasn’t a big problem since we didn’t rush to move him last time, so they didn’t fuss about it much last night.
Emma hears me and rushes to the gate, anxious to be let into the milk room. I open it wide and she gallops down the little lane and hurries into her stanchion. I quickly dump her grain in the feeder to appease her and make my preparations while the dogs investigate the back corral and check to make sure all is well.

I plug in the milker and grab the “dipe-wipes” to wash Emma’s udder. I dip them in warm water as they are pretty cold being in the milk room overnight. As I scrub and massage her bag, she lets down and begins squirting milk before I am ready. I wipe her dry and put her little belt on that holds the bucket up, turn on the pump and hook her up. She munches contentedly, as the machine taps out a steady beat. I can feel her warmth and smell her faint cowy scent. It’s nice and I smile and rub her hip, enjoying the feel of her sleek coat. I move up and rub her head around her ears and she happily chews and sweeps up another mouthful of grain with her long pointy tongue.
Cletus comes in to sit with me. The milking is almost finished. I turn the machine off and reach for the bucket. I can barely lift it as it is full of milk. I manage to wrassle it into the wagon, tidy up the milk room and unlock Emma’s headcatch. She breathes heavily and works hard to make sure there isn’t a grain wasted or left behind. I rub her eyes and wrap my arm around her muzzle to get her to back out of the stanchion. She coyly pretends to head out the door then bends her neck around to steal some hay off the pallet by the front wall. I coax and threaten and she slowly oozes her way through the door.
Bruno and Cider show up and precede me out the gate and back to the house. They know the routine and they can forecast my every move. Emma moves slowly on the way back and I have to lean into her hip and shove her to get her out the gate. She lollygags, relaxed and sated now and I give her a hug and a headrub before pulling my wagon out the gate. She heads to the water trough and takes in a long, satisfying drink.
Cider comes back and walks with me as I pull the wagon past the chicken pen, where the hens are taking their turns in the nesting boxes. There are 6 boxes, but they only choose to share 3 of them. I will come back at noon and gather eggs and bring them treats. If everyone has donated and no hawks or owls have been haunting the grounds, I might let them out to play for the afternoon as they love to run around and look for bugs and peck at the lawn or see what Emma may have dropped out in the corral.
The pups have already taken their places on their dog beds on the porch, as they have been out patrolling all night and this is when they finally get to rest. They re-think this as I muscle the big bucket up onto the porch and into the house. They all follow me in to watch the procedure. I rinse out the  warm-water bucket and fill it with hot soapy water this time. I pull the inflations off of the claw on the milker and take it all apart. I drop the pieces into the hot soapy water to soak while I wash the lid.
I grab 3 glass gallon jars and set one in the sink. Grabbing the strainer, I set it on top of the jar and with both hands and a loud huff, I hoist the bucket up and start straining the milk into the jars. It's steamy warm and  clean, as no hay, dirt, or manure can easily fall into it with the machine. I feel strangely wealthy, as the creamy white liquid rises to the top of the jar. I cover the tops with plastic wrap and a rubber band, write today’s date on it and whisk them out to a cooler full of ice water on the porch where the milk can quickly chill. There is still a half gallon left in the bucket, so I split it between the dogs.
After cleaning everything up, I collapse on the couch and Cletus comes over and buries his big furry head In my lap. I hug him, taking in his doggy smell and bury my fingers in his thick coat, noting the firmness of his strong, powerful neck and I feel his heartbeat mingle with my own. Bruno and Cider come up on either side of him, vying for my attention and I am overwhelmed by the affection of a loving God, manifested through my animals. I can almost feel His arms around me, hear His heartbeat, as I reach for the intangible and take hold of the tangible.
I hear the little ram blatting outside and my eyes settle on EmmaLou, nosing around in the hay she has nudged up by the tent. My arms are around two of the dogs while the third sets his foot upon my knee. My husband is only a couple hundred yards away, doing what he loves. I wipe away a grateful tear as I take in a million undeserved blessings. Life itself is a gift. I could never earn the divine affection I have been the recipient of. I thank Him audibly, for once again reminding me that He is present always, understanding that all of this is from His hand, but best of all, is the gift of Himself.
My knees unfold painfully as I stand up, my shoulder throbs with pain of past injuries, irritated by the cold, but my heart is light and full and I meet the rest of the day with enthusiasm.
I take the 4 wheeler and ride up the road to the boss’ house. I am going to help clean the guest house, so their folks can spend Thanksgiving weekend here. As I bustle around, inside, I look out through the big window to find an errant Cletus staring back at me. He managed to get out and as usual, worried about me until I could be located. He waits outside for several hours until I am finished, then keeping pace, escorts me home where Bruno and Cider are beside themselves to see me again. Randy will be home soon.

I am truly blessed.
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matt 28:20