Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Learning from Sheep

This stories begins last month when I was asked if I wanted to come out and help ultrasound a flock of yearling ewes.  Fitting shepherd help in between my own personal lamb checks, when I arrived, the party was already underway.

The sheep were moved, race was filled, sheep filed past the ultrasound man who checked to see which were pregnant and which were open, meaning they did not take when the ram was around. 

Try as I might, I could not see a darn thing!  First, the fellow running the machine knew what he was doing and could do it real fast. Second, I did not know what a lamb fetus looked like on the screen.  These ewes would be two and a half months in on their "five months minus a week" adventure, so I had no idea what 'that' would look like on a blip screen. 

It was time to get to work, the Sheep Boss had things to do, so I filled part of his shoes and worked the pens, filling the race......all without a dog. Yep that is right, I spent the whole day in the muck and lanolin without ever pulling a dog out of my truck.....and I learned a whole lot in the process!  These were yearling ewes, not used to being run through the system and they were bred so calm, efficient work was my challenge with reactionary, young, impulsive sheep.

Actually, thinking back, I did have a dog...but it was the Shepherd's old Huntaway who pretended to work for me while taking his master's whistles.  Rocky pushed the mob while I ran the gate to the smaller pens that fed the race.  It was a good day's work and I did indeed learned.

On days like this, I don't get to think about "bad" sheep.  Not that there aren't baddies, but the job still needs to be done....so a girl has to think, observe, work it out and take input from those who have been working sheep their whole life and might actually have part of their brain that is sheep.  Maybe. 

These Dog Days of Winter are griding on me.  Finding the joy in "it is what it is" can't be brought to the top by Vitamin D and a tanning bed and I am having to dig deep to have decent phone conversations with understanding friends.  I need some dry dirt, ankle high green grass, sunshine to the degree that turns my skin brown and not beet red from its wind-whipped, cold, face grip.  I find my brain getting lost in bad sheep stories and wonder, could a person take a moment and think outside the box of trialing to find a suitable answer that allows, not a perfect run, but well handled livestock?  Can I prepare; myself and my dogs, to the degree that communication between the two of us allows us to accomplish tasks great and small, without blaming the sheep?

I think back to a day at the Hopland Sheep Station where a rogue ewe was bringing out the 'light' in dog after dog.  Some were complaining and encouraging the shepherd to make a taco out of that ewe.  I will never forget what the shepherd said.  She said, "In this country, filled with predators, that ewe will wean lambs every year.  Why would I want to make her into a taco because some of your dogs can't work her?" Hmm good point: weaned lambs, year after year = $$$ for a person who raises sheep for a living.   It was also interesting to watch the dogs and handlers that could manage that ewe; or those like her......paying close attention to how the task was accomplished.

Questions flitter through my head....how often are rogue sheep created on the trial field by lack of attention to detail; or rash methods allowed by the dog?   How can a dog be guided to work sheep, to allow for the sheep to get through the course, even if one is a little rogue? Is my dog doing something to create rogue?  Am I doing something and/or allowing something to create rogue? Is gripping on a rogue sheep going to de-rogue said sheep?  And in that rare occasion where there really is a rogue sheep, can my team get it done or is walking without sheep complaint in order?  From that time on sheep can I find communication details to work on, so the next time I can run rogue-less?

"You cannot speak that which you do not know. You cannot share that which you do not feel. You cannot translate that which you do not have. And you cannot give that which you do not possess. To give it and to share it, and for it to be effective, you first need to have it. Good communication starts with good preparation." -- Jim Rohn

Dear Lord, I need spring........

Seize the Day!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now

As I opened the door to the AKC Dog Show building on Friday, I glanced left and saw a trailer with a sign that said, "BEAR testing".  After watching my friend show her, I stand corrected, truck dog that is working on his GRAND Champion title, I went back to the trailer and inquired about having one of my dogs BEAR tested.  Their day was slow and I've always wanted to have Bella's hearing tested....not really because she blows me off regularly but more out of curiosity and the fascination of genetics.  So indeed, Miss Bella had her hearing tested......I tried to get photos but she was not interested in my paparazzi impersonation; instead I will show her results:

The good news is: she CAN hear perfect!  The bad news is: I'm going to have to dig deep and find another BS excuse as to why she does not stop for me "on occasion"! 

The whole test was fascinating...and Bella took it like a trooper. The clinician used needles and electrodes to capture the brainwave responses and a little ear bud to administer the sound. 

I'm sure all my dogs and my sons wish the BEAR testers could have tested my hearing too!  Oh well, next time.....

Seize the Day!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Bucket

Everyone at the show has one...that famous bucket. While some are more sacks and others embellished accessories, each is filled with the essentials to making the most of the presentation.  Each has its own unique purpose; while some tools produce volume, others can snip and cut, while
some create shine...adding where needed, taking away what is unnecessary.  One would never participate without THE bucket with the essential tools to make the most of the day. 

And when comparing buckets, it might be easy to fall into bucket envy.  Those buckets with the rhinestones and dazzle are most certainly alluring.  Yet a closer inspection might reveal that bucket does not hold what might  be needed for the moments of the day of the life the chosen bucket supports.

I have a bucket, filled with things I know; some of which I have forgotten are in my bucket while others I have chosen to not use.  "Things" that could add to or take away for improvement.  I love having good friends, one of which filled in as my bucket carrier today.  Together we pulled out the tools from my bucket: "every person is on a journey for themselves" was one of the first tools pulled out, cleaned and sharpened.  "What others think is no bother" was hidden in a pocket.  "There are many ways to train dogs, use what suits the dog being trained" was laying on the top, having been most recently used. There were more tools, some which were quite rusty, while others were well worn; all good to look at and review their proper uses. "soft whistles; save the harsh for a correction", "a little bit is still an answer", "don't let the judge take points based on your emotions". 

We also agreed, bucket comparing is never a good idea; it's human nature to compare the worst and lack of one bucket to the best and appearance of another.  Never an accurate comparison which can only lead to jealousy and a lack of satisfaction.

It's good to have friends to wade through the bucket of life with.  This friend asked why I have not blogged much lately.  I confessed I had been busy over thinking and some of those thoughts were best left in my head.  He told me to get over my thinking and post some cute lamb pictures.....

Instead I'll show you the secret life of his truck dog.....

a champion in the making.....

with small thanks to the bucket carrier!

Seize the Day!

Monday, February 18, 2013

True Confessions

1) I have a crush on my llama, Penelope.  She went crazy excited today when the first group of lambs and their mamas came out of the barn to explore the wide open world!  She can't wait to have those lambs get close enough for her to sniff them. She actually came running up from the bottom pasture when she saw the lambs exploring their new field. Silly llama, she just makes my day!

2) I love my chickens!  Who knew I would love chickens.  They make me smile with their cheering routine when I drive up.  They are also getting in the groove of laying.  Last August, I hatched out 5 Lavender Orpington eggs.....one of which ended up being a rooster.  He is now crowing and, probably because I don't live there, I love the sound of his crow as I do my early morning lamb checks. 

3) It absolutely makes my day to feed a lamb a bottle.  On the other hand, I don't keep bummers...so when my one first-timer mom had a hard time keeping two hungry mouths fed, I stepped in, giving her a helping hand by feeding her son twice a day.  While her daughter won't take a bottle and the son still nurses, the burden of feeding two hungry growing lambs has lessened for the time being.  By the looks of said boy lamb, I think I can stop helping....but it is so darn fun to feed him twice a day.

4) I love starting dogs. 

Synchronised breeding has left me with more questions than answers...but I am almost done lambing in just one short week.  I have more un-bred ewes than I was planning for....on the other hand, what has lambed has done so in a timely fashion! All but two of my ewes have lambed in the late evening/middle of the night......for those who say you can dictate the time of day you lamb by how you feed....I need to take a class.  I prefer day lambing, just saying! Oh and next time I lamb, I will live where my ewes live.....

Seize the Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


They say it is pressure that turns coal into diamonds.  Interesting thought that sustained pressure + time = one of the strongest and most beautiful objects found today.  When pressure meets coal you don't always get diamonds; it is the duration, quality, and time of the pressure that makes the equation work. 

I've been thinking a lot about pressure lately.  First, what is my response to pressure?  Me, well, I'm a chocolate brownie kind of pressure girl.  If not brownie, then chocolate birthday cake...cause a real bar of chocolate just doesn't cut it.  I've developed, or allowed to be developed, a really crazy response to pressure; one that I am now undoing. Lambing 2013 seems to be a good time to practice new responses to pressure......all in an effort to become a diamond.

I look at my dogs and each has a unique way of responding to pressure.  Snook would quit when she perceived too much pressure in a situation.  Being my first dog, I did not understand enough to see this until she moved to front seat truck girl.  No pressure in that job title.  Bella used to get tight and grip.  It took a while and the belief from a mentor for me to see that Bella was not trying to be naughty......and I was helped in finding a way to work her through to the other side.   Nell would cringe and tune me out to go ahead and do her own thing. Thank goodness for mentors with courage to point out what I was not seeing.

As I am becoming aware of pressure, I am really looking at my dogs to see what their response to those perceived pressures are.  Do I reduce the pressure and work back up to it slowly? Can I see the subtle information they give right at the point where they feel the pressure starting to become too much?  Can I find a way to help them develop a diamond producing response mechanism?

I do believe that rather than stay a piece of coal, I'll take on the pressure of becoming a diamond.....I'm at gestation day 149......still waiting while the pressure builds.......and I still have Kelly Clarkson stuck in my head...."What doesn't kill you makes you stronger......"

Seize the Day!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Winter Time

I've been thinking a lot about one of my past posts: mistakes.  I've received some good emails.....good meaning filled with thought provoking feedback about dog mistakes/training mistakes.  I also had the opportunity to attend a day at a Jack Knox clinic and as always, Jack challenged me to think! 

Recently, I zipped out to the Sheep Boss' place....I pulled into the barns and there, in the field adjacent, was the Sheep Boss on a four wheeler, young dog in tow trying to move a flock of sheep.  I knew he was down in numbers of hands to help with sheep work so I grabbed a dog and went to the task at hand; me thinking these were pregnant ewes and a goal of walking ewes with good stock management would be in order.  What I found was...these were lambs and it was later revealed that these were lambs that had never been worked by dogs before coming from a five-string poly wire grazing life.  Having never been worked by a dog meant they had not respect for a dog, nor did they want to stay together...at all...and pushing them over the two string fencing that was on the ground was near impossible!  I will say...I made mistakes, my dog made mistakes.  I had to grab another dog and work brace...and all three of us made mistakes!  True confession:  I loved every minute of it.  I was frustrated at times....Bella covering escaping lambs to chase them and take them down.....slapping forehead, "I thought we were done with that crap!".  That second of chase, relieving the pressure so the flock could start to turn back up the field took time and it was as if we had to start all over again.  Bella is smart, she figured it out real quick and she started to bend and cover, bringing the renegades back,  while pushing and maintaining the pressure on the flock.  Nell was a good partner to Bella, she gained a lot of confidence with Bella as her wing biotch. Although I'm sure if you ask...Bella would have seen Nell as the secondary worker. 

Then again, a few days back, I got a call from the Shepherd.  Lambing is on, his dogs are in transition and he wanted a spare, if not free hand to help with the days work.  It was a huge field with not-quite- yearling lambs there to graze and the goal was to gather, sort out the fat lambs, load the trailer and ride off into the misty rain.  Again it was another day of mistakes and learning.  I'm working on my skills of observation...indeed I did see that little creek as Bella jumped it and sprayed a bit of water coming in short on the other side.  She ended up bringing about 1/3rd of the flock and here is where "I should have known better; or maybe had a better plan".  It was the perfect set-up for a sweet look-back but hindsight, I should have brought my little flock over the drizzle of field water before sending her back.  Nope instead I sent her back, creating a large flock of lambs not wanting to get their feet wet.....and so back to brace I went.  This time grabbing Gyp for a go; good, confidence producing tasks for a young dog who was up for the challenge. Especially when the Shepherd brought out his handsome Huntaway to show off for my swooning girls! 

I love this work.....it fills my soul.  After the job is complete, I often wonder at the difficulty that was thankfully unseen as I entered the field...leaving me to finding ways to get a job done without knowing the challenge before hand.  It is also a crazy wonderful environment; the years of experience the Sheep Boss and Shepherd bring. Knowing that sometimes things just don't go the way they are planned allows me to learn; make mistakes and really learn.  Sure I've had my butt chewed a few times...more times than not, fun is poked....I've learned a few new ways to use old cuss words and I don't shock anyone with my creative flare of making sentences where all the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are cuss words when I hurt myself.  I have to harden my "softy heart" as I go into the lambing barns this time of year......hundreds of ewes lambing magnifies the agony of defeat.  It becomes a numbers game and heart can't dictate reason when the production is a business; so they tell me.  But I learn from those "mistakes" as well. 

Winter time: a time of less training and more learning.  I'm counting down the days to my first lambs.....trying to store up my sleep so I can be ready for the "every four hour" checks!  As the Terminator said, "I'll be back"! Maybe after lambing is done at Rocking Dog Ranch...but I will be back!

Seize the Day!