Thursday, May 30, 2013

Workin' Like A Dog

The Maremmas are responsible for keeping ALL my animals safe, in multiple locations. It’s an awfully difficult assignment, but so far, they have been successful. They accompany me each time I feed the 56 chicks in the milk room and look in the brooder to familiarize themselves with the little critters. They  stand by while I feed the leppie calf and then position themselves for the rest of the day where they can see the sheep in the lower pasture, the chickens who roam the upper pastures, our yard (which would mean "me"), EmmaLouMoo and Mister, my Paint horse, in the south pasture. Nothing gets past them very easily and if someone or something new comes by, they wind up out front, checking things out.

I finally turned out the little guinea birds with the chickens. They seemed to be smart enough to stick close to the rooster for the most part, but if they get to lagging behind they tend to wind up trapped or lost somehow as they are not smart enough to walk AROUND  a gate, or to the END of a fence line to get to the other side where their friends are and tend to panic. I do like how they flock up though, traveling as a little pod. They are a little noisy, very flighty and erratic in their movements and of course, they have been locked in a small brooder for weeks so the Polarbears, aka BWDs (big white dogs) have not really seen them, because they were not in the milkroom brooder with the rest of the chicks.

Randyman and I were working on putting up a fence for the rams and noticed only 4 of the 5 guineas were around. Soon after, I headed off to find something and he went to the pasture and saw that Cletapotamus had a dead guinea between his front feet. Now this could well have not been Cletus' fault. It IS possible that a hawk or something originally nailed the guinea as it was headless. Cletus never did kill a chicken outright as a pup, but would pin it and lick it naked until it died of shock, but this bird, he was being very possessive of. Randy came and told me.  I asked if he had taken it away to inspect it. He said “No, he was growling at me and wouldn’t let me near”.

Well, I know Cletus very well and the dogs respond to me and but not so much anyone else. Cletus is VERY vocal and always has been. He moans, he grumbles, he howls. It’s all bluff, but I would never want anyone besides myself to test that theory and I don't blame Randyman one bit for not following through with taking the bird and disciplining the Potamus, who has the size to do a considerable amount of damage to a person, but that really isn't his temperament. He's 'all bark and no bite' so to speak. 

I approached Cletus and he grabbed up the bird while making loud, throaty growls that were admittedly pretty blood curdling.   Being possessive and guarding something from ME is a bad decision, no matter how the bird got killed. I suspect he was the culprit, however. I told him the bird was NOT his and he was NOT to grab any more of them. His growling became even more aggressive so I grabbed him by his scruff and gave him “what for”, while taking the bird away from him. I then showed it to him, said "NO" again, popped him across the muzzle with it, with another resounding “NO” and marched to the back yard. First he looked surprised, then he groveled submissively, clearly mortified by my behavior toward him, but still he continued looking for the bird, as he slowly followed my path, sniffing around, hoping to find and consume it. I gave the bird to Cider to enjoy and ignored Cletus, who I then locked in the lambing shed by himself for the afternoon, to let the whole experience sink in. It was easy to see, later, that he was, indeed repentant. 

However, unwilling to risk having him repeat his mistake, diminishing his effectiveness as a poultry guardian, I got the remote spray collar and fastened it to his neck. He was TOTALLY devastated. Nothing deflates these two dogs more than having to wear "THE COLLAR". He moved cautiously, head down, attempting to be  invisible and was thoroughly humiliated and humbled. 

These two are highly intelligent and very 'soft' dogs. Cider would have just wagged his tail and nabbed another bird in his enthusiasm over being free. I have found that my Maremmas learn faster than any breed I ever had, they just respond differently. Things like basic obedience and recall are not high on their list of priorities...mostly just things related to their job of guarding, but their relationship with me is still a high priority and it's obvious that my displeasure affects them deeply.

I really believe it was just too much of a challenge seeing these noisy, erratic little birds who were strangers to Cletus, running through my flock. It is also a strong possibility he didn't realize they were OUR additions as I had no opportunity to show them to him personally. These two are masters of discretion and can tell in the herd in the back, which are my cows and which are ranch cows. I know Cletus would not intentionally do anything wrong, as he is really a big, sweet clown. Since then, the guineas have been free to run by him, over him and under him and he pays them no more attention than any of the other poultry we have and they are now as safe as a bird could possibly be.

It’s amazing to me, that all these dogs have to do is understand something is OURS and they protect it with their lives, even against their own desire to capture and play with or dine on it. Their sense of honor is almost incomprehensible. We could learn much from their example.

It’s very hard for me to resist these two. Their eyes are very expressive. They communicate more through looks and body language than people can with a whole host of words. I don’t always understand what they are trying to tell me but they are most definitely telling me something, nearly all the time.

 One of the things I can read clearly, however, is the overwhelming power of affection they possess. If I am overwhelmed or in a lot of pain, it is a comfort just to walk into their presence. Bruno is my solid and dependable protector. Even from his spot in the pasture, he is always aware of where I am, what I am doing and is at my side instantly if something happens or someone new appears. When the kids come to visit he immediately takes the grandkids under his protection. His quiet strength and steady devotion give me courage on some of my darkest days.

(Watching over Abby, whom he sees only 3 days a year)

  Cletus has a way of always making me laugh at his antics and silliness, or of slithering over my lap so most of his weight remains on his hind legs while he ‘hugs’ me with his enormous head. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, second only to holding a child.

Much of their days are spent sparring and wrestling. It can be very intimidating to watch but it makes it easy to see these dogs were developed and equipped to repel wolves in the Italian Alps. The blood curdling roar, apparent viciousness and speed with which they take one another down is chilling, yet they have never drawn blood on one another. They have an uncanny ability to 'pull their punches' and I have witnessed Bruno do so many times when disciplining stock that tries to steal their dogfood or commit other such felonious offenses, never so much as leaving a mark. It looks 100x worse than it ever is, when used on 'friendlies'. I shudder to think what it would be like, however, to be a coyote or other predator foolish enough to  challenge them.

And yet, with their charges, they are incredibly gentle and longsuffering.

After 3 years of observing them, I am still amazed by their behaviors.  Each day I ride the 4 wheeler out to the pasture where Emmalou grazes and drive her to the milk room. Yesterday I was in a lot of pain due to aggravating an old back injury. The dogs, who always precede me and clear everything out of my path, this time ran far ahead to EmmaLou and attempted to bring her in themselves. Bruno ran behind her and pushed, Cletus was in front of her trying to coax her to follow. She has no respect for them so they were unable to garner her cooperation. Still, I was impressed by their attempt and it IS the thought that counts. When I  bring the sheep in, the dogs are pretty quick to pick up on that and lead them in before I have to drive them, as the sheep willingly follow them. 

It would be nice to have an actual herding dog to send after Emma, considering my physical limitations will increase.  
The four dogs we have now are really more than we ever planned on having, but Scottie (#4) sort of just got dumped here. Nevertheless, I have been putting thought into who will come to fill the incredible void Cider will leave here with his someday inevitable passing. 

My needs are certainly different than they were when my youngest son got him for me as a Christmas gift years ago. He was the perfect solution to my needs at that time. These days, however, I could use a dog that can help me with some of the chores and still be a service dog. Cider has been a champ about bringing me pillows or blankets when I am incapacitated, picking things up to hand them to me when I cannot bend down, or if I drop them, and other helpful tasks. Whoever must fill his pawprints needs to be able to learn those skills and some others as well, such as occasionally helping me up and doing a little light herding work.

I realize that is a pretty big order, but I know there is a breed out there that is perfect...and I believe, thanks to my readers, I have found it. Thank you all for your input!

There is nothing on earth, quite like a dog.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fowl Play

After many valiant attempts, Thomas has accepted that he will not be permitted entry into the house. He has, instead, chosen to sleep on the arm of the wicker love seat, the same one Bruno prefers to sleep on. It didn’t strike me as a pet bed when I purchased it, but it’s not the first time I have been mistaken.

His obsession with my fingers has not subsided yet. I have been reminded more than once not to stand idly by with my hands hanging down, as he latches on to one at every opportunity. Randyman’s fingers, apparently, do not hold the same appeal. I got so tired of being vigilant about my hands, I tried to evict Thomas from the yard. Out into the big pasture we went, with the sheep. The Maremmas kept watch over everyone, as they usually do.

 I even hoped Thomas would take up with the chickens, in spite of the risks they hold for him. They were not interested in making friends with the big galoot. He followed me out into the pasture, noting various bugs.

 After I got him down there a good long way, I sped back to the gate, leaving him waddling in my wake.

 He spent hours pacing the fence trying to get to me. I finally felt sorry for him and dumped him in the pasture next to the back yard so he could at least see me. He resumed pacing THAT fence. I picked him up and carried him to the pasture gate while I let the sheep in. They all ran by except for Rosemary and Thyme. I set Thomas down, assuming he was now safe from the thundering herd. Thyme proceeded to chase him all over the corral. I never saw sheep attack before, but Thomas was having a very, very bad day. I caught him up again, tucked him under my arm and returned to the back yard while he sniveled and whined about my earlier abandonment of him. There seems there is no alternative to his being  a yard bird.

The 56 meatie chicks have arrived and are doing extremely well in the brooder. Randyman put screening over the top and on the front of the milkroom which is great, because it not only keeps the cat and birds out, but flies as well, for the most part. Other than 3 of the Red Rangers dying the first two days because of injuries during shipping, all the chicks are thriving. I am really tickled because the  CornishX chicks are usually not so likely to do well, especially early on, in my experience. Maybe this will be a good chicken year, even if it was not such a great turkey year.

Miss Buffy is setting on 10 eggs again. She went broody in the nest box again, so after marking all her eggs and taking out the ones I refused to let her have, I moved her into a soft kennel in the lambing shed where none of them can jump out, causing her to abandon the rest of the eggs. True to form, days after I moved her, my black hen went broody on me as well.

At the end of the day, I grabbed a small bucket of grain and called Sushi from the far side of the back pasture. To my surprise, she jumped the ditch and ran to me. Locking her in the small paddock earlier this year paid off. She’s smart enough to know her name and greedy enough to come for candy. It looks like we will have a bright future ahead of us. 

After I finished the outside chores, I baked, cooled and sliced my whole wheat sourdough bread for this week’s sandwiches. I love this recipe, because I can mix it the night before and let it rise all night, then just bake it the next day. This time, it 'over proofed' so I kneaded it down and let it rise a third time and it baked up perfectly, with 2 big loaves.  Still warm bread, fresh from the oven with fresh homemade butter...a great way to end a 'fowl' day.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Talking Turkey

It’s been a whirlwind of a week!  Poor Mrs Turkey passed away. We were not taken by surprise as she had seemed to be quite sickly from the beginning, never gaining much size. As a result, Mr Turkey has turned to me and suddenly become strongly bonded. He becomes ecstatic when I step out to the green house to water or repot the seedlings.

The rocket car people volunteered to come do a barn raising for a barn that has been in the planning stages for quite awhile. The migratory birds are arriving on their way through. It always intrigues me how the Maremmas can discern between predatory and non predatory birds. They allow the Canadian Geese and others to rest in our pastures unmolested, but if a hawk, crow or owl show up, the battle is on. They will actually leap in the air and try to catch them if the birds tease and get too low. They've always had an uncanny sense for who is benign. Take Cider for instance. He is allowed in the pastures although he is closely watched. If he wants to play or touch any of the animals, he is immediately body blocked by Bruno and if that isn't enough, a verbal warning is added to the mix. That usually does the trick. Occasionally he takes flights of fancy and imagines himself to be an LGD, but of course he can't be, because they are a specially developed genre of dogs that have different instincts, behaviors, and prey drive from any other genre of dog. A half bred or non LGD cannot do an equivalent job, but Cider takes pleasure in pretending, just the same.

Cabins had to be cleaned from the winter and readied for their arrival so the boss’ wife, myself, and the other 3 women on the ranch plus a couple of cowboys went to work for a couple days. They finished up, while I attacked our house in anticipation of our very own company, as my niece and her family were due to arrive on Friday night. They’ve never been here so this has been a long awaited and very exciting event for us.

They got here right on time and it wasn’t but a few hours before a return trip was already in the plans, maybe even a kidnapping of my brother and his wife to bring them along. In just 1 day there has been a lot of activity. We had sourdough waffles for breakfast with home-milled whole wheat, homemade butter and Mrs. Butterworth’s. We milked EmmaLou, played with the sheep, toured part of the ranch, visited Mister, gathered eggs, made soap and homemade ice cream and they went dirt bike riding on the lakebed. Everywhere we went out back, Mr Turkey followed in our tracks. At one point he was in the way so much, I had to pick him up and tuck him under my arm. He seemed perfectly content to be carried that way. Earlier in the week, I had some 1 gallon plants to put in the ground. Randyman dug the holes and I got down on my hands and knees to put them in. Mr Turkey came to help and supervise the operation. He got too close to the hole and fell in. I plucked him out and set him back on my feet. He fell in again. I removed him a second time and shoved the plant in it’s place in hopes to keep him out. As I tucked in dirt around it, he pecked at my fingers continually. I flicked his beak. He grabbed my fingers again. I was getting flustered with him, continually demanding that he stop doing that, and wondering just exactly WHY was he attacking my hands? I then threw dirt over his big feet to discourage him, but his toes stuck out. He promptly bent down and grabbed his toe...that is when it dawned on me...he thought they were WORMS!! Big, fat, tasty worms. What a score my fingers must have appeared to be. He could shove one in his pantry and survive off of it through the winter. That revelation behind me, I found some colored gloves and he no longer harassed me as the worms seemed to have disappeared.

He followed our little group on its long trek from the milk room, through Emma’s corral, through the big corral, down the lane and into the milk pasture where Em and Mister spend their time. One the way back, he took a liking to my niece’s long legged husband and kept trotting to keep up, while we snickered from behind. He’s turned out to be surprisingly entertaining. I have had to resort to putting up a doggie/baby gate to keep him out of my house when I leave the door open.

Last night, he finally had enough of being ignored and treated like a lesser citizen of the ranch. As we sat at the table, talking, laughing, visiting with the Maremmas, Cider and Scottiedog, who took a tumble out of the pick up truck last week and is badly bruised, Mr Turkey had made plans. I washed my hands in the back bathroom and as I walked through the bedroom back towards the kitchen in the coming darkness I was startled and horrified by the specter of  ...


He had perched himself on the small table outside of my bedroom window and was peering in. Feeling violated, I scurried to the kitchen table, only to find him now perched on the large can by the back door where we keep the milk replacer for the bottle calves. He was staring in through the top of the door at us. As we all stared back at him, laughing, he launched himself at the window and SPLAT!! Slid down the door to the ground. A few minutes later he dusted himself off and made a second attempt with the same results...and a third...I am beginning to thing he belongs in Washington DC as he has yet to learn from any of his mistakes. At least now he has a name. Peeping Thomas.

(video courtesy of Ky and his iphone)

We  had a great time with the family. They rode across the enormous lakebed and over toward the desert where the cows winter. We ALMOST got to play Pictionary, (my very favorite game)  but we were so busy talking and enjoying each other it never happened. We had homemade ice cream and a lot of other good stuff to eat. We talked about pretty much everything and think so much alike we could be relatives...but then, actually...we are! They packed up today and headed back home after saying goodbye to the polar bears, turkey, Cider, Scottie and ourselves, with a promise to return before summer's end, with plans to do some good eating and some shooting.

 New chicks are on the way, 50 meaties, so the guineas had to be captured and shoved into a smaller pen until they are old enough to turn loose. It’s going to be a full and busy summer. I hope there will be lots of family to share it with!