Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don't Fence Me In

In spite of my efforts, Bruno continues to climb out of the pasture when he deems it necessary. I totally understand his intentions as there have been so many dogs as well as  predators around due to his having been confined and unable to patrol and repel them. A lot of the ranch dogs have now figured out that the Maremmas can’t enforce anything through a fence, so they stroll through my backyard and terrorize the chickens with impunity. One of my Jersey Giant roosters has found he feels safer staying with the flock...that is, the sheep flock. He often perches on the back of one of my ewes, they don't seem to mind much.

Little more than a week after Bruno was stopped from patrolling, a cougar has moved in and is lurking around the houses. It was in the boss’ back yard, in spite of all the cowdogs they have, so close to the house that his wife could hear it growl. Now it has been eating the dog and cat food out of her shed. She has called in the state trapper. It was then spotted one morning behind the house closest to us, which is next to my sheep pen. It apparently was strolling along, unphased by the 16 barking dogs on chains just feet away from it. I’ve been told multiple times it is not afraid of dogs, but I feel it begs the question, why is it not eating my sheep and the rooster that lives with the flock?  I suspect it is because the smaller dogs, even in packs, barking and posturing, are not as intimidating as 2 dogs equal in size to him, that would seriously take him on. Instinctively the Maremmas use only as much force as is necessary to achieve their objective, which works well for me, as I don’t have to worry much about them injuring the working dogs on the ranch, but they will use lethal force if necessary. I’m reasonably sure they have held cougars at bay here before as there were those nights they were barking all night when I went out and found them wayyyyy out in the back, and pondered what on earth was willing to face off with over 200 lb of angry dog...only to hear there were cougar tracks at the pond nearby, the next morning. Their dam brought a dead cougar home for the pups to chew on before they were 3 months old, so it isn’t that unusual for the breed kill even a mountain lion, if it is called for.

The only way I could keep Bruno safe from being caught in a trap, was to lock him in the house with me. That had me up all night as I had to let him in, and out, and in, and out as he barked or had other needs.

The fence in the little pasture the sheep have been living in, is only 4’ high and the cougar has been down where he could easily spot them. He’s been spotted 5 times, usually in the daylight, so far. He has not successfully been trapped or treed in spite of everyone’s best efforts.  Cletapotamus was guarding alone as he doesn’t force his way out of the pasture. It’s not a good situation as it would be risky for him to protect the flock AND combat a cougar should it decide to try its luck. Bruno is the better combatant of the two dogs and is normally the perimeter guard but giving him access to the sheep also puts him in danger of escaping and being caught in a trap, so there was my dilemma.

Normally, the Maremmas are free to pursue a predator. This has been a huge game changer and the ‘bad guys’ keep coming in closer and closer all the time. One of the trappers who is our friend has gotten 59 coyotes in just a couple of weeks. Great for the trappers, but not good at all for me, my dogs or my livestock. I will be glad when either the cat or the state trapper are gone for good. 

My friend and I proceeded to drag home t-posts and all my insulator posts and wire. We pulled field fence off of the old line that is falling down and attached it to posts we pounded in the ground, making our teeth rattle. All 4 sides of the pasture were hotwired. The last two mornings I have awakened to a beautiful sight, that is, TWO dogs in my sheep pen. It’s good to know that both the sheep and the Maremmas are safe now that Bruno is back to work, even if he's locked up in a small pasture with them. At least between the two dogs, nothing can breach their defenses and the sheep are secure.

Madge was so happy to see him, she spent the morning laying near him in lieu of joining the rest of the flock. 

All the sheep and Cletapotamus welcomed him back. It’s always good to see the ‘kids’ getting along.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Angst and the Guardian Angel

It was a fine day, so we saddled up and decided to go for a long ride. Heading across several large pastures (large being of a size in keeping with a 250,000 acre ranch) we picked our way through miles of grassland, past rock jacks, around sloughs, through willows and across fields then weaved our way back to one of my favorite places, an old willow corral. It has decayed to the point of being pretty much unusable now, but was one of the prettiest places on the ranch, in my opinion, with the willow reed fencing and the wild roses growing on it. My camera went dead which was pretty disappointing because I want to get some good pictures of what little is left of it, before it's too late. We rode on by and headed for the far side of the valley, determined to make a long, long ride today.We were several hours out and I happened to glance behind me and with mixed feelings I turned my horse around. 

Bruno, my self appointed body guard/Livestock Guardian/nursemaid/Maremma/100+ lb Guardian Angel, who is certain that I am not capable or safe anywhere on the ranch without his presence, was galloping towards us. He had apparently managed to scale the fence of the only 'dog-proof' pasture we have, in which I had contained him and he tracked us several miles across the ranch. He is built for speed and power, not for distance and his heavy coat made it even more challenging for him to and catch us in the warmth of a sunny fall day. He was obviously greatly relieved to have found me, clearly proud of himself and so strongly convinced in his own mind that he was doing a most excellent job, I couldn't reprimand him. He had a look on his face of absolute joy and accomplishment and looked at me as if to say “I am SO glad I finally found you! It’s not safe out here, there are ________ “(coyotes, cougars, field mice)" fill in the blank.

 We turned and headed back home, Bruno happily riding drag and occasionally trotting alongside, ever watchful for predators.  He had overheated himself and I chuckled because he hates water but continued to immerse himself in every irrigation ditch we passed.

The thing about dogs...they can be trusted. They are never judgmental, or malicious. They are faithful, sincere, devoted. Honest. Loving. Dependable. Exasperating.

The fall calves have been weaned. These are smaller, younger calves and have a more difficult time adjusting. Most are currently 3 miles away below the processing corrals. Coyotes have been bad this year and killed a few so there are currently 3 trappers on the ranch trying to eliminate some before the cows start calving again. That puts my Maremmas at risk of being caught in a trap. I’ve had to lock Potamus in a small pen with sheep at night, and keep Bruno in the house. Potamus is the flock guardian and pretty much stays in the pen with the sheep. Bruno is a perimeter guardian and spends each night out patrolling and deterring or confronting predators. It's hard to confine them. They absolutely hate it. I’ve been letting them come in the house to eat because the ranch cats have been stealing their expensive dog food. I wish they would eat the ranch cats, but none the less, since the Maremmas haven’t been free to do their job, the ranch dogs have figured out they have free access to my chickens as well. In great frustration, I have all the chickens and guineas locked in their little henhouse for protection.

This morning in the wee hours, Bruno woke me up because he wanted out. It was all quiet so I figured he was just hot or needed a bathroom break. I opened the door and he quietly slipped through. 

This morning he was gone. He scaled the back fence again and didn’t come when I called. He could have either been guarding and disposing of a coyote kill, or he could have been caught in one of the $@!!*&# traps. I never know until he either shows up, or the trappers check their traps and find him there if he is okay or not.

It’s unbelievable how much damage anxiety can do to your body. He’s often been in the area the traps are set, and a couple of years ago was caught in one of them. I guess until the trappers are all gone, I will just have to deal with the anxiety and watch my hair turn a  lighter shade of gray day by day.

This morning Randyman told me that the cowboss complained Bruno was chasing the calves back from the fence. His sheep are on the other side of the fence so that is why he does what he is doing. Unfortunately, I didn't get to talk to the cowboss myself, but I do know he has disdain for LGD's, as his only real experience with them was a friend who apparently got one and locked it in a barn with a bunch of lambs. It was, of course, a disaster. People seem to overlook the fact that these are still dogs and you can't just throw one out there and leave it and expect great results. It's not like putting an Alka Selter in your water. Anyway, I have moved all the sheep once again so there is no common fence between them and the calves and hope that solves the problem. I don't want any misunderstandings between my dogs and the new cowboss. When it comes to human vs dogs, dogs nearly always lose. Better to play it safe.