Thursday, March 31, 2011


Sprite, back when we had green stuff on the ground
Sprite hasn't gotten to work a lot the past few months.   First she ripped off a toenail trying to jump into someone's car (yes, she would go home with anyone, "reserved? what's that" she says.)   Then she got spayed, which is still just killing me that I'll never have any little Sprite pups running around, but her hips did not pass OFA, darn it.   It happens.   It should not affect her ability to work or trial though, and I have entered her in the Memorial day trial up in Michigan, just a couple runs to test the waters of the Open class. 

Today she worked on driving the sheep to different parts of the pen in all directions.  First I laid down a line of hay, then had her push them down the line of and then across the pen.  It gives her the chance to feel different pressure points than the sheep normally have.  We had one hungry wether that was constantly trying to double back to the hay and the ram leading the rest of the sheep the other direction.  

I'm hoping to be getting out in to the big field soon, but it's been snowy and icy again.    The barn is a complete mess with water coming in and turning to ice, so all the ewes and lambs are outside now.   I spend a couple hours last night chopping ice and trying to get the drainage off the barn roof fixed.  It might have helped a little, but it's not completely better.   The small pen is still pretty good footing because we have been trampling it down a lot and it didn't ice over.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More work

Every dog seems to take a two steps forward and one back at times.   Yesterday I let Pepper get a little too close to the sheep before stopping her, so today I worked more on the line while driving,  stopping her and letting her think, do some outs and then have her flank with the line dragging.  It went really well, and so I was happy with today's training session.  

                I put the lambs out of the barn, except for the two youngest, so they have been frolicking in the snow all day.   Pepper is absolutely fascinated by the lambs.  She got to sniff one while I was feeding.  I had her lying down and one of the lambs went right up to it.   She thought that was pretty neat. 

Good girl Sally

Yesterday I worked the two youngest pups, Sally and Tessa, who are10 months old.    Tessa did about like she did last time but Sally reached a new level of brilliance.  She's always been wider than her sister, but for some reason yesterday she was just clicking- she was working intensely, but going out wide to the fence at times, and changing directions nice and square every time I asked her to.  I introduced her to walk up on the line and she was a bit confused by that, and leaning to go around but that is a first time for that.    She also stopped very easily for me on balance, and lay down when I went to her. 

With Pepper, on the other hand, I struggled to make progress yesterday.  It seemed like we went back a step to where she wanted to dive into the sheep while driving.  I probably put her in a bad situation and didn't stop her soon enough, especially for having the line dragging and not in my hand.   I'll have to be more aware of when she's likely to do that and pick up the line again BEFORE she dives in.  The odd thing is she's just going out of heat.   Some people have told me they don't train on females in heat at all since they are likely to be more sensitive and weird at that time.   Pepper may have been more sensitive, but only in a good way, not in a weird "I don't like this" way.   She was really listening to me and was more calm and careful.  

Here's some pictures of the girls- they get along better than most female (dog) siblings, I think: 

Sweet Sally kisses

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weird Ice and Cat Games

What do you get when you have freezing rain, blowing wind and rapidly dropping temperatures?

Icicles shaped like scimitars!
And ghosts

The gutter  on the barn needs repair

One of the cat, Butterscotch's, favorite games is to lie in the hay and bat at the sheep.  

Sometimes they step on him and he has to move, but he doesn't hold a grudge.

He'll be back for more

Working on the weekend

Thinking Hank


Saturday and Sunday I worked four of the dogs each day.   Some of them got just little sessions and some worked longer.   Hank is doing well on his out, and I moved to the larger area, set down some hay and practiced doing a flank, stop, out, flank from every direction.  The hay kept the sheep still in the middle as long as Hank didn't cut in on them.   It was easy to see when he was cutting in because they would leave their hay.   Otherwise, they wanted to stand and eat.   When he did a good flank or out I'd let him walk up and move the sheep.   The out is hard for him, so I tend to look at what will be his reward for doing it well.  He likes to flank, and even more he likes to walk in and move them. 

Dodge watching the sheep

Dodger, even though he is Hank's half brother, could not be any more different than Hank.   Where Hank is full of intensity, Dodge is matter of fact and plain.   He loves to work, but it is a different sort of challenge to train him.  He really wants to flank around and contain the sheep, he doesn't want to push them.  When I put pressure on him he goes more slowly and carefully around them.   So I've been working with him on walking into them and pushing.   After his training session yesterday the sheep, especially one white wether, were being very impatient about their hay.  They kept running into the barn to try to take apart the bales, get tangled in my water bucket electric cords, and generally cause havoc.   So each time they tried I encouraged Dodge to walk up and push them out again.    He was doing more on his own each time and required less of me walking with him. 

Sprite does well walking in to a certain point, and then she starts to feel the sheep bubble push back if they don't want to go somewhere, like a deeper area of snow.  If they aren't moving she gets excited and wants to jump at them.   So I've been holding her on a line to get her to just calmly walk in and hold that pressure.    Jumping at them is a last resort, along with biting, but with these sheep the dog can move them just by keeping the pressure steady and I want to show Sprite that.   Since I have the ram in the working group, leaping at him is a pretty bad idea as he is willing to fight back.  I'd like the dogs to hold steady and move him without biting unless he comes after them, then I encourage them to bite.  

Pepper is perfectly willing to walk up on the sheep, but her preference is a nice big fast flank.   It seems to be her joy in life to run around the sheep.  She seems to already have a good grasp on go bye vs. way to me.    So she's been working a lot on a steady walk up and hold the sheep, and patience.   When she does walk up she goes fast- like Ben I think she would like to drive them at a gallop.   It's nice to see in the beginning they are willing to drive fast, but I have to show them that slow works better most of the time.   If you drive into the sheep too fast they are likely to squirt and split. 

This is a video of Pepper learning to drive last fall.   You can see she starts out walking slowly but when she makes contact with the sheep she speeds up.    Now I am trying something different, which idea I got from Tenley.  Instead of starting next to her, I leave her way back, I stand near the sheep and have her walk up to the sheep.  That way am am always next to her or in front of her, never behind,  and I can use pressure to get her to flank squarely or to stop without having her turn around and look at me (as she did on the video- this can become a bad habit).    I know she has plenty of confidence driving in front of me, so much that she wants to tune me out, so I'm literally staying in her view this way.   

Pepper driving movie

Ben this weekend was working on driving straight and steady also.  In some ways he is like Pepper in wanting to drive fast, but he has far more experience so I don't have trouble with him running around to the head, or jumping at and startling the sheep.     I have trouble getting him to flank squarely since I didn't really enforce that very well in training originally.   He doesn't have natural square flanks, he has flanks that push.   He also for some reason has trouble with go bye/away.  He seems to pick randomly sometimes, or go the way he thinks my body language is saying.  I think he has trouble with the words, I know he is not just being stubborn, he's really trying to be right.    Luke was kind of that way too- directions were hard for him, just like some people have trouble remembering left and right I guess.  


Saturday, March 26, 2011

More lambs

We had two new lambs yesterday, and I think we are done now, assuming the yearling ewes were not bred.  My ram management was not at it's best last year, so we'll see.   They don't look pregnant anyway. 

Anka, the ewe Dane had to pull a lamb from two days ago is looking much better today.   She's eating with gusto and not standing oddly hunched anymore, so I'm feeling optimistic about her.  

I have all the lambs eartagged now, one little guy castrated, and all but the most recent have had their tails banded.  I tend to wait a couple days on that because sometimes the first stools are runny and I don't want the banding to be messy.  Hopefully you are not all grossed out now, but it's about to get worse.  Stop reading and come back later if you are eating and reading.    People ask why dock tails at all, and it's for cleanliness and their health.  In a pure hair sheep flock the tails are slick and don't collect glop.   In my part wool sheep, or in full wool sheep, any time the lambs get the runs the tail collects it, then you get flies and flystrike, which is pretty unpleasant to even think about, much less have to deal with.   So it is better for the sheep to have short tails.

We only had one ram lamb this year, and six ewe lambs, the opposite of last year when it was practically all boys. 
Here are the newest lambs:


Baby Kip

In 2002 I was looking for a male dog to train and possibly for breeding, and I contacted several breeders with really nice litters.  It was hard to choose, but I eventually decided on Starstuff and the Keep/Sory litter.   Since we were living in Nevada I'd have to fly out and get him.  For reasons that seem a bit mysterious to me now I decided the best way to do this was to fly to Madison, where Dane was going to be attending a convention, and then drive to Michigan with my friend Sheri. 

There were two males left at the time that I picked and Kip seemed to show more of a preference for being near me, as well as accepting a first time on a leash more willingly.   He was very well built, as was his red brother.    The ride to Madison was pretty good, but at the airport we ran into trouble.  Our flight was delayed, and delayed and delayed  for 6 hours!  We finally took off at 1 am.   We had David with us, and he was just one year old.  He and Kip actually share a birthday (June 7).   So here we are sitting in the airport with a one year old toddler and a 9 week old puppy trying to keep them both amused and not have any accidents.  Kip was very good- every time he had to pee we had to walk all the way outside to the grass and he never had an accident on the floor.    David was getting a bit over tired and squirrelly by then, but no major meltdown.

While boarding the airplane Kip had to be in his carrier, but once we took off I took him out and put him on the floor.  He was very good and quiet and no one complained about him.  Being black and it being dark on the plane helped probably, hardly anyone noticed a puppy lying on the floor.  Then I tied him to my wrist and fell asleep!    I am not a late night person.   David had fallen right asleep as soon as the plane took off. 
Kip a few years ago

Kip started training on sheep at about 10 months, and he was really very simple to train.   He liked to be out wide, he was very biddable and responsive.  He was fully confident in driving and just was and still is a real pleasure to work.   His first time trialing he got very close to a perfect started sheep score, driving most of the course.    With ducks, first he had to be convinced not to bite them, but after that he did ok.   We practiced a lot with chickens also, and he learned they should not be eaten either (at least if I was there, if not, all bets are off for the chickens).    On cows he is a natural heeler, and prefers that to heading.  He got some training with my mom for three months on cows to boost confidence on going to head, which really helped.  I don't have regular access to cattle otherwise.   

Kip finished his WTCH at the Portage Wisconsin trial when he was three years old.    One of my favorite trials with him was at Becky Bailie's ranch trial on sheep where he earned first place in a big class of nice dogs.  Post advanced sheep he did pretty easily also, as open areas are where he does best.  
Kip herding sheep yesterday, also below are from yesterday

driving the sheep to a corner
I sold Kip two years ago, but got him back when his owner's health was poor and he was cutting down on stock and possibly also losing his farm.  I missed the big boy, and am happy he is back.   He is a little rusty on commands, and missing a lot of front teeth from working cattle, but as eager to work as ever.   I was a little rash in starting him up again.  The first weekend I had him back I used him as the cattle set out dog for two days of trialing.   Most cattle don't take a dog to set out, they are sufficiently wary of people, but my mom's cattle are quite tame to people and if the choice is being near a person or going into the arena with a dog, they will choose standing by the person.  So we used a team of dogs, not in a mean, stir them up way, but just one dog to gently bring the cows from the back hold pen and another to push them out into the arena.  Laurie Nichols and Rainie were our partners and it seemed to work very well and the cattle came out calmly.  

Friday, March 25, 2011


Luke posing this week after the snow storm- see the 5 gall. bucket behind him?   It's spring, for goodness sake. 

Such a handsome dog!
When Becky had her litter, in 2000, my mom and I were planning to each keep a puppy- she wanted a male and I wanted a female.   I picked Cinder and I picked Dash for my mom as the male pup with the best conformation.   Luke had front feet that turned out when he was young, which ended up straightening out by the time he was an adult.   When the puppies were about 3 months, maybe a little older, and I still didn't have the right home for Luke, I took them to Missouri and we tried them on sheep.    Luke did so well, even backing down a grumpy ewe that didn't want to play, that my mom said "You can't sell that puppy".   I really didn't want to keep two at once so she said she would raise Luke but I would be his official owner.  

He turned out to be a major handful on sheep- he was more suited to cattle with his natural style and toughness- and eventually when we moved to the farm in Wisconsin we decided he needed a tougher trainer (me) and I took him.   At that time he was three years old, had a good stop and knew several commands, but he had the "pleasant" habit of flipping sheep- he'd grab one just right and flip it end over teakettle.     He did that exactly twice with me and the wrath came down on him, so then he decided he could give it up and just be a good dog.   It took quite a bit more training than that of course, but after about 6 months he was ready to trial.    He did really well trialing,  qualifying on most of his runs to finish up his WTCH when he was 5 years old.  That was a memorable weekend because Kip finished his WTCH the same weekend- they both needed the final advanced duck legs.  

In 2006 Luke qualified for the stockdog finals in cattle- I hadn't really planned that but he had several good runs over the previous year and I went,  even though I wasn't sure we were ready for that level of competition.  Actually I was pretty sure we were not, but it ended up being worse than I thought.  If trialing has it's most embarrassing moments, this was surely mine.    It was course B, and the cattle came running out of the pen straight toward us.   Luke just did not have the miles to settle the cattle quickly and he decided that taking charge was the thing to do with them.  Unfortunately, he did not really have me included in this plan and he got a bit wild.  He was trying to bring one steer back from the repen side and I should have seen it was getting agitated and stopped him, but I did not have the miles to realize it, so let him keep trying to do it on his own.   He scared the poor beast into jumping at the gate and knocking it over.     We got a "thank you CATCH Your DOG!"  and I was so embarrassed I could have just died right there.  

I'm sure other people have worked all year to get their dog to finals and then have had the first run go disasterously wrong, but this was literally the first "thank you" of Luke's trial career. 

Later that week he had the opportunity to win back my good graces as I was helping to set out sheep and they were being more than stubborn about going down the chute.  It was set up so they were single file, and the first sheep in line felt like she was being pushed out alone into an arena with a dog, so of course refused to budge.  Me and the other sheep handlers tried our best to make it easier, but the sheep knew what was ahead and weren't having any of it.   We were having to bodily lift each sheep forward down the chute.   That was getting very tiring, so I went and got Luke.   He hadn't worked a chute this way before but I pointed out the feet under the sides and told him which one to push and soon we had a nice system down that did not involve any more sheep lifting.  

Luke was an excellent dog with ewes and lambs- he was firm and persuasive without causing them to fight.  Once he figured out how to go wide he would make the same nice outrun every time out in the big field, and bring the sheep at a nice steady pace.    He is retired now due to a shoulder injury, but he is still an excellent companion and friend.   

There are a lot of good Luke stories.   When he was a pup he would manage to get bones away from the older dogs by his persistence.   He'd walk right up to a dog chewing on a bone and put his foot on the bone.  They would growl and he'd look down but his foot would stay on the bone.  He'd inch closer and closer until he had his mouth on the bone.  The older dog would always give in eventually and let Luke have the bone.

Another time I sent him out to the pasture to bring in the cows at my parents' farm.  I didn't realized the mother cow was still very protective of her baby.  He got too close to the baby and the mama cow got mad.  She and several of her steer buddies tried to charge and stomp Luke into the ground.    He gave them all a good bite and brought them right up to me.    I guess that's not how you're supposed to move cows and calves- the slow and easy technique works better with less stress, but Luke's way got it done.  

Tessa working

Michael and friends
This picture doesn't have anything to do with today's blog, I just thought it was cute.   Michael now wants to be a vet when he grows up, while David, who used to think that he did as well, now says maybe astronaut (good luck kid) or police officer.  

Tessa holding sheep to me

Flanking nicely
 We're working on more of her flanks being like the one above and less like the one below.  She really likes to hold the sheep with her eye at all times, and needs to learn to release the pressure as she goes around.   Walk up (driving) she got really easily, though, in just a few sessions. 
Flanking while leaning on/moving the sheep. 

The lambs are doing well, and the ewe who had trouble with her third lamb is a bit depressed acting but is eating, drinking and feeding her other two lambs.   I'm hoping she will be back to normal soon.  I gave her another shot of antibiotic yesterday.   A depressed acting sheep is most likely hurting since sheep are naturally evolved to show their pain as little as possible in order to stay alive.  A predator would go straight for a weak looking sheep, therefore sheep try to mask those signs as much as they can.  I have even seen sheep pretend to be grazing when they are just lowering their heads and brushing the grass with their lips when they didn't feel well enough to eat. 

I just missed a really cute picture here.  The spotted lamb was trying to climb up on the cat tree.   Why a cat tree in the sheep barn?  Well, for the sheep- cat of course. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New lambs

Single female lamb from Knobbyfoot

One of the twins from Anka

Anka's other lamb
I was trying to think why sheep seem to pick the worst weather to lamb and I have come up with a theory.  It's not scientific, but the only explanation I can think of (besides just bad luck) is that those bad weather nights are when the predators would have been huddled in their dens and not out looking for newborn babies to eat.  So last night we had a big storm, with thunder, lightning and snow, wind, hail, freezing rain.  Everything.

This morning when I looked out at around 7, it was still snowing, nothing happening with the sheep.  Then at 9:30 there were lambs.   Two ewes had lambed under the trees, and there were three lambs.   I grabbed all three and had Ben follow behind because ewes sometimes get confused when you are carrying their lambs- they will run back to the last place they saw them on the ground and then you have to start all over again coaxing them along.    With Ben there they did not have any thought of staying behind and my only problem was their anxious circling around me, the 5 inches of fresh snow, and three slippery wet wiggly lambs in my arms.  

There was one other ewe with the group, one who lambed last week but lost her baby, and we took them all to the barn, then Ben carefully sorted the ewe without a lamb back out.    The other two I decided to keep together because the flooding of the barn has left a shortage of dry lamb pens.  They already knew which babies were theirs and would gently butt the wrong lambs away if they tried to nurse.  They are pretty nice ewes though and not overly violent about it so I haven't worried about keeping them together. 

I kept going back out regularly all day to check Anka because she just didn't look right.   Her lambs were up and nursing but she looked uncomfortable, possibly straining and she hadn't passed the placenta.   Finally tonight I asked Dane to take a look because she had strings hanging down and was standing oddly.  I was afraid of a prolapse.   So we tied her in the aisleway and Dane took a look.   He thought there might be another lamb, so he got out his dish gloves (note to self:  get rubber exam gloves for home use).    After a minute of feeling around, yep, that's a lamb.   So much time had passed there was no possibility of a live lamb, but it had to be pulled.    Dane is a small animal vet, and so this was not something he's done since vet school, and then only with cows.     But he got the lamb feet turned right and with much groaning and straining (mainly from the ewe) he pulled the last triplet out.   Not a live one, but still it was a big relief to me that the ewe should be all right.     I gave her a shot of LA-200 (antibiotic) and will have to get some more and give her another one tomorrow.     

It's still snowing, not as hard now, but it sure doesn't feel like spring.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Back to winter


Today we're supposed to get several inches of snow, possibly 6-8 inches by tomorrow.   As with every year at this time it's got me singing Monty Python's "Always look on the bright side of life"  (favorite line: "life's a piece of s%&t, when you look at it" .)     The snow can't last, eventually it will be really spring.  

So here's some pretty snow pictures of Dodge for the bright side of winter.     Also the cardinals are really having a feast at the bird feeder just outside. 

Dodge got to work sheep in the snow today and he's doing very well switching between walk up and then going around on a flank.   I am still very close to him to keep him walking straight and then make the flank a nice one.   I think the intensive walk up work in the smaller pen will help him with confidence in driving.   He likes to fetch a lot more than drive but he's getting more comfortable with driving all the time.   His downs today were very snappy and quick stopping on or off balance- that's great to see.  Sometimes he'd even drop when I just said "stay" which is my standing stop command. 

Dodge is Birch Hollow's Built Ram Tough (Ruff Stock Grey Badger x WTCH. Birch Hollow's Red Hot Cinder).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Good working day


Looking at the weather forecasts for the week, this could be the last nice weather we see for a while, so I got out and enjoyed it.   The best part is the snow has melted down enough that I can get out into the big field without a lot of shoveling to get the gates open and being stuck in snow drifts.  Ben did a little work on walk up and out, pushing the sheep off hay.  Sprite was back to work and did really nice.   And Hank got a turn too.    I've been using Ferreh's suggestion of looking where you want the dog to go out to and it seems to be helping.   Hank is working very relaxed now.  

The kids are on spring break so we went down to the Wisconsin river with Sally to play at the park, go for a little hike, throw rocks in the river and stomp in puddles (the kids' favorite).  Sally was fascinated by all the birds.   I never noticed her being interested in birds before, but every duck or mourning dove she saw she wanted to chase after.  It may be time to start her on duck herding.  

These are some old pictures of Ben.  Sometime when it's nice and sunny I should get the camera out and take some new ones. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I had to move the lambs today after a combination of melted snow and rain flooded half the barn.  Luckily the other half is still dry so they are ok for now.    It's too bad there's no easy way to raise a whole barn up a couple of feet.    The basement was also flooding, so cleaning that up, while Dane repaired the gutters, took much of the day.   One gutter was full of ice so was not functioning and the other was completely flattened and had to be replaced.    The water was coming down pretty fast through the rock wall and under the basement door.  When I opened the door to see what was wrong a small wave came in.   Now it's pretty dry after much shop vacing and towels.

Nap time


Pepper and the kids
While the rest of the country is having spring, and much of it is having mud season, we're having the central Wisconsin version of spring:  melting slush and ice.    It takes a long time to melt so much snow, but we're starting to have patches of bare ground here and there.   It was warm enough yesterday to work on cleaning the barn and the yard.   The ewe, Diglett, and her two lambs, were moved with the help of Ben into a sunny outdoor pen for the day so I could muck out their stall, then we moved them back again for night.  It turned out to be a good decision because last night we had some freezing drizzle, not the lambs' favorite weather.  

Meanwhile, I've been working Pepper on the sheep as much as I can.  She does better with more work- never gets enough, really, like a lot of dogs her age (19 months).    She's got the big flanks already, so now I'm working a lot on her walk up and out and her smaller flanks, keeping her tuned into me and thoughtful the whole time.   She's a very keen and natural dog- she wants to cover the sheep at all times, but she's getting the walk up too and this week has learned to be steady and stand up close to the sheep without getting excited.    I think in the last few sessions  we have made huge strides in our teamwork and partnership.  

I also got the news that Pepper's breeder, Penny Ewert,  has just whelped out a repeat litter of the cross that produced Pepper.  They were born March 17 and there are 5 babies:  1 black male, 1 red bi male, 1 blue male, and two red merle females.

Snoozy Pepper