Monday, October 29, 2012

Job Security

I went to work with Cletus this morning. He's one of my Livestock Guardian "Security" Dogs  (LGD). He prefers to carry no badge, no weapons other than his skills. We followed the sheep out to the Milk Pasture where EmmaLou was grazing. One end of it, we have fenced off for Mister and the rest of it is open. The sheep can walk under the horse fence if they want, but I prefer they go the other way and save the grass inside for the horses to eat.

Bruno didn’t seem to feel well and stayed behind. He was acting kinda funny yesterday too, but its hard to tell if anything is really wrong with him or not. We let him stay where he was happy and went on without him. You can't really argue with an LGD. They are pretty solid minded. I knew he had a good reason to stay, because that's just how he rolls. Who am I to argue? There was one ewe and Annie, who stayed behind so maybe he didn't want them there alone. Anyway, off we went.

It was fun to watch Cletus do his thing.  He led them first, then let them pass him up and he followed until they found a happy place. They started to go in with the horses again but Cletus headed them off and led them down the other direction instead, closer to where Em was. Once they sort of settled on a general location, Cletus checked out the area. He was gone out of my  sight for about 20 minutes. I had watched him go through a fence to the east but didn’t see him again. I thought maybe he’d left and forgotten about us, so I called and he came up from behind me, from the southwest. He had circled all the way around us, checking his self set perimeter and unbeknownst to me was watching us the whole time. I petted him for a couple of minutes then he decided he'd had enough and walked away very businesslike. He headed off a ways and set himself in a good spot to observe everything from. He had the milk cow, the sheep, the weaner calves in the next pasture and myself in his sight. The 300 weaner calves belong to the boss, but Cletapotamus is especially fond of calves so he checks on them everyday.

As the sheep moved around Cletus would often repostion. He finally walked past me as if he was headed back to the corrals. The sheep remained in the tall weeds, not paying attention. I was little dismayed that he was going to walk off and just leave them. He got to the big tree near the alley and sure enough, you could see them over the top of the thistle from there.

He sat down above them and sniffed the air for any danger that might be lurking nearby.

 He seemed pretty satisfied nothing was out of place

His workplace is  large and airy. The design scheme is top notch.

He has have a nice 'window view' and if you look very closely, you will see the little band of sheep waaaay out there. I was surprised we could see them better from his chosen vantage point than we could up close.

After awhile he got thirsty and headed for water. On his way, a crow flew by. He jumped in the air twice trying to capture it. The Maremmas don't like the crows to land in the fruit trees in their pasture for some reason. They will also go after owls, hawks and other raptors, but don't ever bother the migratory geese, swans, cranes or other birds that pass through. I find that interesting, how they discern a harmless bird from a potential predator. There is much about these dogs I don't understand, they are so highly intelligent and deliberate. 

I headed back to the house, finding Bruno still laid out in the feed trough, so I brought him with me to monitor him and make sure it's nothing serious. So far, all he does is sleep. He woke up after awhile and dragged his little 100 lb body onto the couch and slept with his head in my lap. I put out a 'distress signal' to the LGD boards to see if anyone had any ideas what might be wrong with him. There were several well thought out responses, so I will monitor him to see if one of them might be the cause of his behavior.

A while later I saw Cletus looking thru the front window. Exasperated that he'd left my sheep out in the far pasture unguarded, I went around the house to open the gate. He happily trotted in, checked out Bruno who had actually preceded me out the door. I think Cletus was concerned about Bruno missing. Assured, Cletus headed to gate of the little dog proof pasture where...

He had led the sheep! Oh me of little faith.

Poor Bru. I hope he feels better tomorrow or we'll be heading to town...but he's worth it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Buh-bye Go-goats

Well, it was a difficult decision to make, but all the goats went to the sale. Only Annie and the sheep remain. I had to cut down on the workload and the feed bill.

So now, it’s just my little band of sheep, EmmaLouMoo and Sushi, the Maremmas and my two saddle horses...and temporarily two steers who are destined for the freezer as Christmas gifts...and of course the chickens. Yeah, that should make life much easier. Hmmm.

I’ve taken to making some of my own clothes as I hate going to town and shopping is not a pastime I enjoy and I am grateful we only go to town every 3 months. Not a lot is needed here on the ranch, thankfully, which gives me flexibility and a little time to hone my skills. Making things for my 2 grandbabies has been good practice and kinda fun. Once again, I am grateful for the internet with its wealth of tutorials and suggestions, not to mention online purchases of fabric, notions and patterns. Abby liked her twirly dress, and I hope Kinley likes her romper.

 It’s been weaning week here on the ranch and a couple thousand calves are separated from their mothers so the cows are able to rest between calvings. The smaller, younger and/or calves that aren’t thriving, are pushed over by our house and put in the back pasture where my critters spent the summer. This way they will get supplemental feed and be doctored as they may require, until they are large enough and strong enough to be moved to a larger pasture somewhere else. This has made for some pretty noisy nights, as about 200 of them are on the other side of our rock wall transitioning and the moo-ing and bawling is pretty constant through the night. Considering I can still remember the nightmare of traffic and sirens while trying to sleep in the city, cattle-lowing is music to my ears. I have always preferred animal noises to humans anyway. They are much more soothing.

We haven’t yet gotten the winter shelters up, but it snowed last night anyway. EmmaLouMoo and Sushi took cover in the lambing shed while the sheep and Annie cuddled with the Maremmas under the fruit trees.

 Mister is out in his new digs. If it gets really ugly he can access the old kill-shed hidden behind the willows and wild roses.

One of my leppies got pretty sick before they put the weaners out back. *Note They are not wieners which are hotdogs, they are weaners, as in weaned off of milk.* 
 He didn’t show up for his grain one night, or the next morning. The Maremmas had been locked in with the sheep instead of going out on patrol because we have lots of traffic on the ranch right now. I  didn’t see any buzzards flying so I assumed the calf was not dead. With the pups locked in with the sheep, the coyotes could have easily come after the body and the Maremmas would have been barking like mad, not to mention the coyotes yipping, but it had been quiet for a couple nights aside from the weaner calves. I figured either the leppie was stuck somewhere, or had escaped. I was prepared to saddle up Mister and go look for him but a few hours later, I found him, staggering through the thistle. He had pneumonia and was really weak, so we brought him in with a couple of his buddies and made a little spot in the old scale for them and started him on some anti biotic shots. It's nice to have them all off the bottle as feeding 13 bottle calves twice a day really took its toll on me this year.

Cletus and Bruno, who always make me feel wanted, greeted me by the ‘alley’ where their feeder is. They have taught the sheep to stay out of it, so they have free access to their own food while the sheep graze and get hay, although I have seen both taste the hay and grain from time to time. They may have a wee bit of an identity crisis, living amongst the flock. They wiggled and nose touched and kissed until one of them spotted something out of place in another pasture and they charged off to work.

Randyman helped me feed, fill waters, gather eggs and we headed back inside as darkness fell. The snow on the Steens was a chilly blue backdrop to the barn, making our little rock house seem more cozy than usual. I grabbed some thyme, rosemary and parsley out of the garden on the way in, to use with our lamb chops for dinner. I'll have to grab a bunch more to dry for using this winter.

So goes another day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Just Chillin'

It’s weaning time on the ranch. I won’t be participating this year, sadly. Wimpy, my old Quarter horse will be celebrating that, as every other year we have worked 11 hour days at the corral and he’d get pretty darn tired. There are boatloads of cows and calves here that have to be worked.

The days are cooling off and the nights are freezing. The little pasture is pretty much down to dirt, which is a good thing, as we have been wanting to replant it with something that will be able to choke out all the foxtail and thistle that tries to grow in there. Next spring, I hope, will have a better pasture for them to graze on. Meanwhile, they spent nights and early mornings there, then I let them out to graze in the old ‘milk pasture’ where there is still a LOT of grass. The ‘sheep pasture’ they have all been living in for the summer will be taken over by some of the weanling calves that come in from the ranch this week. 

Mister, my trusty old Paint horse, is nearly recovered from his barbed wire injuries and also has to move. Randyman is fencing a corner off the milk pasture so he can safely stay there for the winter. I am hoping he will be able to access the old kill shed as a shelter, providing the ground does not get too boggy for him to cross. It would make a great little barn for him...only not so little. It’s actually an enormous shed that has been rendered unusable, like the old milk barn, due to a really bad flood years ago. It's overgrown with willows and wild roses, but if he can get thru the boggy spots, he'll have a nice dry place to wait out the storms.

Willy and Moe, EmmaLouMoo and Dolly’s babies from last year had escaped sometime in the spring. My nephew brought them back a few days ago and they are pretty darn big! Our plan has always been to ‘finish’ them and stock some freezers as Christmas gifts. In this economy, I know it is something that is desperately needed and not easy to come by. They look pretty nice just coming off the grass.

 The frost at night finished off the garden, so I had to grab what I could for the last time. The brocolli is still doing ok, but I only wound up with 1 plant, so its just a little here and a little there. Lots of squash and tomatoes, jalapenos and a  couple bitty pumpkins.

One of my favorite things this summer was zuchinni/cheese sandwiches. It sounds weird but its really good. Just saute' the zuchinni in some butter or ghee and a little garlic salt, then put it between two pieces of bread and two pieces of pepper jack or cheddar cheese and grill it. What I liked the best, is that I made every single ingredient myself. I grew the zuchinnis, made the sourdough whole wheat bread with my own home milled flour, made the ghee and made the cheese. How cool is that?

I've been slowly trying to pull out the ginormous squash plants and toss them over the fence where the sheep and Emmalou enjoy diving in and picking out the good parts. They already pretty much OD'd on sunflowers. No one seems to care much for tomatoes or tomato plants though, which is too bad, because they became quite a jungle over the summer.

I have been trying to spend some time out in the pasture with the dogs and sheep to take my mind off of the things I can no longer do. We wander down the alley to the old milk pasture which is pretty huge with lots of wild terrain there where predators can easily hide. The Maremmas do a perimeter check, cruising through the tall grass and checking under the willows and around the creek. The sheep spread out and glut themselves on the variety of forage out there. At one point, Bruno returns to rest in the shade where he can see both the sheep in the milk pasture, as well as those still behind the fence. Cletus precedes the sheep furthur out where there is more choice in the pickings. He suddenly stands at attention, his tail tightly curled. He barks an alarm and dives through the fence, disappearing in the tall weeds, while the sheep do an aboutface and run directly to Bruno for protection. It's so funny to me, the way they have all worked this out. At night, Bruno does the patrolling and in the event of a problem Cletapotamus makes sure all the stock is near the house and either pushes them up there or stays there with them. By day, they change jobs and Bruno rests and remains with the stock while Cletus confronts any threat that may occur. If it's in the same pasture they both pounce on it, but if it takes them away from the stock, only one dog will go. Even more interesting is that the sheep know which dog to run to or follow at any given time.

A happy Salty, headed for the big Buffet

The 'polar bears' doing a security check

Headed for the safety and security of Bruno

waiting for the all clear.

Cletus remained in the other pasture out of our sight for the rest of the day. That's where the goats have been hanging out and there has been at least 1 coyote seen out there frequently. The dogs are working all the time, even when they don't look like it. I can walk up and step  right over them without their twitching an ear, or opening an eye, but if a raptor flies over head, they are instantly in pursuit. All this, and they still have time for...


 When do they find time to practice? I don't know, but these two are like book ends. They always have been. Sometimes I think I am seeing double.

Note* They are even walking in sync

If you want to know what teamwork and efficiency looks like, these are the guys to watch.

Friday, October 5, 2012

In Defense

Due to some complications in my life, I have not been blogging much lately. I will spare you the details.

One night, however, was noteworthy. Randyman had been called away to fight fire again, this time in the next state. Home alone, I had all the chores to do myself. It took a little longer than usual, of course. Before dark, coyotes started howling close-by. Their voices rose in crescendo and through out the night, I could hear them from all directions, surrounding us. About midnight it got so bad that Cletapotamus returned to stay close to the sheep so nothing could get by him. This seems to be a mutual understanding between the Maremmas, when things get out of hand. He had a shallow slash across his muzzle where it looked like he might have been in a scrap. He’s never gotten one from play-fighting before, so I suspected he had engaged a threat. I was grateful for his heavy coat which acts as a kind of shield against fangs and claws.
Bruno stayed out alone, running the perimeter trying to keep the predators at bay. I spent a sleepless night, both creeped out by the howling and worrying about Bruno, who was now on his own and outnumbered.

Potamus was still with the sheep in the morning when I went to feed. Bruno was nowhere to be found. I filled all the waterers and served all the animals and could still hear an occasional coyote as late as 9 in the morning. I’ve never found a coyote howling to be ‘romantic’, like in the songs and movies. I think of my neighbor’s small dog in California, that was snatched in the middle of the day just 3 yards from where we were talking and the kids in cities who have been stalked and attacked, as well as the hundreds of thousands of domestic animals that have been slaughtered by them. I think of when I have witnessed a pack harrying a cow and engage  her in fending them off, while the others came around behind her and killed her calf she was so valiantly trying to protect. I think of the calves we have found that became warm meals for coyotes while still in the process of being born. The coyote is a canny beast who can adapt to any situation and thrive, including city living. I worry about my stock and my pets and my LGDs. Several small dogs on the ranch have been lost to the packs. For someone whose life and experience is far from living with the reality of the threat, their perception might be different.
It was not a restful night for me.

Just as I was finishing up morning chores, Bruno showed up, slowly making his way to me. I opened the gate up and he collapsed in the shade of it. I’ve never seen a young dog so exhausted. He couldn’t even make it to his food. He did not stir for over 3 hours. At the risk of his own life and well being, he had singlehandedly spent the entire night running, barking, advancing, to keep the enemy at bay and protect those he chose to protect. Even after Cletus had returned to stand watch over the stock from a more secure position, Bruno fought on. 

By day the coyotes have been making it into the very pastures where the sheep are grazing. Even after a full night of patrolling, the ‘boys’ have to remain vigilant all day in order not to fail. They do it without expectation of compensation or gratitude, although gratitude is all I have to offer them. They are just born responsible, compassionate and sacrificial.

I think of our American soldier, on the front lines and bases across the world, protecting us here at home. As with Bruno and Cletus, I have nothing to offer them but my heartfelt appreciation. They do it out of a sense of honor and loyalty. It’s not for the reward, as they are poorly compensated, under appreciated and often overworked, over-faced and overwhelmed.

In a world that is growing increasingly more hostile, more dangerous, more unstable, our troops fight on against almost impossible odds. More recently, they have received far too little support, in numbers, hardware, recognition, moral support and national esteem. Many give the last full measure of devotion, as they are struck down, often in the prime of life and become a mere statistic for the cable network news scrawl.

In a recent disaster when 2 of our elite Navy Seals, our Ambassador and another American were brutally tortured and murdered in Benghazi, the only thing that is clear, is that they did not have adequate protection. Regardless of who is at fault, or what information may surface out of future investigations, that one fact is certain. They were unprepared, unprotected, underarmed and outnumbered. As a result, their families are left with nothing but grief and loss.

Recently soldiers were killed at Fort Bastion in Afghanistan, as well as $200 million in military hardware destroyed, yet the media remains all but silent, lauding trivialities such as political ‘gotcha' videos in their place.
Our heroes are all but forgotten and America is letting them and their families down.

Those who make it back, find jobs scarce, food and gas prices skyrocketing and life overall, increasingly challenging.

Soon defense budgets are about to take alarming cuts under sequestration, ($ billions) affecting both jobs at home and military readiness. Our men and women are already receiving minimal troop support, less protection and often inadequately fortified protective equipment and this is only going to make things worse.

The Middle East is burning, Turkey and Syria exchange salvos, Russia is saber rattling, China and Japan are on the threshold of war, Israel is under threat of being 'wiped off the map' and as N Korea flexes its muscles, Iran is going nuclear as Ahmadinajad boasts about bringing on Armageddon. Closing our eyes, singing peace songs and ‘minding our own business’ is not going to change the state of current affairs, or keep us safe. The threats surrounding us, both within and without are increasing and our military which has voluntarily vowed to protect us, is being systematically weakened. 

This trend can be changed and turned around. It’s up to us. This is not a time to abdicate our responsibility as citizens and insulate ourselves in our private worlds as though the threat to America and the world doesn't exist. It is a time to step up and provide the support and protection, which our heroes and thru them our families, both deserve and require. I implore you, register to vote and use your vote wisely. Do it for all of us, but mostly for the ‘boys’(both men and women) and for those at home for whom they sacrifice.

We cannot morally or responsibly allow this course to continue, anymore than I could allow my dogs to be defanged and chained up, leaving them to watch their sheep defenselessly slaughtered alongside them.

My remote location should allow me to shut out the world and deny all that is happening and coast along in calculated, blissful ignorance far more easily than most people, but my conscience will not allow it.

To our American servicemen and women, to our Veterans, I offer my most heartfelt thank you. May God bless and protect you and may America step up and do right by you.