Living With Coyotes: Part 1


We are sure having trouble with the coyotes this year. Last year, we experienced almost zero predation, I think we had one duck go missing all year, and no sheep losses. We rarely saw coyotes during the day, and when we did, they were off in the distance, hunting mice in the fields. At a human encounter, they quickly made themselves scarce. We heard them howling at night, so knew they were present, but we were all coexisting OK.

But, starting in January, that has drastically changed! Continue reading “Living With Coyotes: Part 1”

Attention Deficit Mouse Hunter

mrspete21This is Mrs. Pete, our cat. She does ok at contributing to the farm by killing mice, but I think only by pure luck and the fact that there are SO many mice! As you can see in this picture, her attention span is very short. She has already forgotten that she has a yet-to-be-killed mouse before her, and she’s gazing off into the distance. Mice can outwit her by running in between her hind legs and escaping, and she cannot figure out where they went. Continue reading “Attention Deficit Mouse Hunter”

Here Lies Ewe #11

skeletonWell, it happened, and sooner than I wished: the coyotes snagged a sheep Thursday night. Of course I knew this was a possibility from the beginning, the coyotes howl in the valley every night, we see them occasionally, and I know neighbors lose livestock to them. They are definitely part of the fabric of this huge valley full of nature. Thus was the precaution of getting the llama. But, I had hopes that she’d be more effective.

My biggest concern was for the safety of the lambs, but it turns out, that’s not what I needed to be worried about. The lamb is fine- he runs fast and stays tight with the herd. What they got was a mature ewe who was probably lambing, or had a fresh lamb on the ground. Of the six ewes I bought, three were “probably bred,” but I didn’t know when. One has already lambed, another looks very close, and this third one didn’t look close at all. So she was far from one I would have thought was at risk. But, I’m guessing she had a single (so wasn’t very big looking), it was her first, and she got preoccupied with birthing and did not run, but stayed to fight. And that is a splendid opportunity¬†for a coyote family: a single animal out in the open, just standing her ground.

The llama probably stayed with the group. And, though she is aggressive and threatening with dogs, she’s also not dumb: I’m not sure she’d¬†risk her own skin to save another. I discussed this with another sheep-raising friend who has no livestock guardians at all, and has lost a lot of sheep to predators. She¬†confirmed this is her experience: flighty ewes will bolt and leave their lamb to run or die, but calmer, bolder ewes stick around to argue, and they lose.

It’s hard to lose a sheep, I was sick to find her carcass in the field, and lamented the investment in her and her lamb. She had the nicest feet of the group, but ¬†if she did not twin, she probably would have gone to slaughter this year anyway. And, now we know where we stand with the coyotes. So, I have moved #33, who is big as a hippo, up into a dog kennel next to the house, where she can lamb safely. She is not happy about the confinement, so hopefully she’ll get her job done soon and can go back out. She had triplets last year, one of which I think was a bummer. Since she’s so huge, I suspect she may do this again, so it’ll be good to keep a close eye on her and her lambs the first few days anyway.

The other three ewes aren’t due until the first week of March, so I’ll plan to bring them up then. As for the carcass of #11, well, the coyotes did a pretty clean job, eh? What they didn’t get, a yearling, still-brown bald eagle has been polishing off. At least nothing went to waste. Such is the cycle of life.

Kayaking in the Pasture

kayakinginpastureHere is Kirk, kayaking in our pasture! It’s not too often you can say you are boating in your yard!

His report of the sights out there: pumpkins everywhere, from our neighbor’s pumpkin patch farm. And the nursery tree farm, their irrigation tubes are also everywhere, in a huge tangled mess. Our ex-neighbor Nick’s port-a-potty is stuck on our fence- ugh! I’m hoping it wasn’t full of “stuff”, chemical or otherwise.

Below is another panoramic, this is taken from the hillside near our silo, looking across the valley. It’s really hard to capture the magnitude of the flooding in photographs, it’s really something you have to see in person to grasp just how¬†MUCH water comes through. But, this does a pretty good job of showing how there is water as far as the eye can see. It literally does spread across the entire valley.


Snow Geese And Snow

snowgeese1We live on a major migratory path for birds, so we get to enjoy a lot of them during the fall and winter. Lately there have been hundreds of Trumpeter Swans and Snow Geese coming through. They are noisy- day and night- but I enjoy the sound.

Last week in the snow, we encountered this bunch of snow geese in the pasture. My Border Collie Gene spotted them first, and started to walk up on them slowly, like a good working dog.

I lied her down so I could snap pictures of them on the grond, and then when I was ready, I asked her to walk up on them so they would flush, and got a few nice snapshots of them in flight. They are sure beautiful!

The snow was such an ordeal these last few weeks, our region is just not well-equipped to manage in this kind of weather. But it was so pretty, it’s worth the hassle, at least for a little while! Our animals are glad for the melt, however, I think the sheep really prefer fresh grass to hay. Kirk said today the llama was rolling gleefully on her back in the grass today, she seemed so happy to have it back!


Ladybug Invasion

ladybugsLast winter, the ladybugs decided that our house is a very nice winter vacation spot. I’m not sure how they select such sites, since this house is new to the area, it’s not like they’ve been doing it for ages. They’ve returned en force this year. They get in, definitely. And they don’t¬†totally hibernate, they move about the house all winter, albeit lazily. So, they’re kind of everywhere: on my toothbrush, in my coffee, on my clothes. Sometimes one will fall off me at work!

But, I guess there are worse things that could infest a¬†house. They’re not dirty, destructive, or¬†harmful. And they are pretty. Ladybugs are sought-after pest preventatives, as they eat aphids and other things. Some people buy them for their yards and gardens. Imagine! Maybe I can start packaging them in my household and sell them to somebody else’s household!

I find it interesting how unique each one is. They are all a different shade of red or orange, and all have a unique number and positioning of their spots. For now, I’m not terribly annoyed with them, I feel we can co-exist in the house during the winter, since they do benevolent work during the summer. This photo is a grouping of them I found clustered on the side of the house,¬†under the crawlspace cover.

Little Opossum, More Flood Prep, and Selling Stuff…

opossumI enjoyed spotting this little opossum in the duck pen one early morning a while back. He looked half-grown, maybe this year’s baby. I wonder if he (and maybe his kin)¬†are partly responsible for the extraordinary amount of duck food I’ve been buying lately? I’ll have to remember to shut the door on that pen at night (the ducks are sleeping in the other pen, just because they are in that habit now).

Opossums are such funny behaving animals. I only noticed him because the dogs did, and yet, he just ignored their poking and prodding. And he wasn’t too disturbed by me either. It’s no wonder they get hit by cars all the time, they seem to be rather oblivious to big things moving around them.

We had to move the sheep again midweek, more flooding forecasted. This time, it was different. The ewes marched up the hill calmly and smartly, and penned easily. The ram decided he didn’t want to. I ended up having to halter him and drag him the whole way. Uff da, he is heavy when he doesn’t want to walk!¬† I imagine a few drivers-by found amusement to see me tugging him inch by inch, in the pouring-down rain.

And, the llama didn’t cooperate this time, she refused to come with. I ended up leaving her down there, during part of the danger time with the gate open so she could save herself if she needed to. I do believe llamas have retained enough wiliness that she’d probably be fine finding her own way up the hill if water started coming across the valley. I’m pretty sure sheep are not capable of that, however. I think if I work the dogs on her a little more, I can have her ready to move next time. She is just so new to the place, and very unsure of her safety.

I wrongly decided it would be ok to move the sheep back down after dark on Thursday night. It’s hard for me to be at home during daylight hours to do this, due to my work schedule and the short daylight we have right now. I think it would have worked fine, had Maggie not made a critical error. I retired her from working once the sheep were headed down the hill, as I figured they’d run down, and stop at the gate and wait. But, Maggie ignored my command and tried to cover them. I didn’t see her doing this in the dark. By herself, she caught up with them, split them, sent a couple sprinting down the driveway, and the rest into the drainage ditch!! By the time we arrived down there, the sheep had crawled out, but were stressed and wet. And it took us a few minutes to find the other two. The ram decided to be stubborn again, and was tangled in the blackberries, so we had to heave him out. But, in the end, we got them put away. And I know next time to bring a leash for my dog when I don’t want her to cover! ūüôā

I’ve been trying to sell some things on craigslist and eBay, we have too much stuff from combining households. It feels good to clean out, somethings I’m just selling for the cost of shipping them, just to avoid throwing them away. So far, I’ve found takers for: some computer RAM, a PCMCIA LAN card, an old-fashioned 35mm film camera, a printer, a Dogloo, and a dog crate. There is much more to list, but I’m just doing a few at a time.

We’ve gotten three inquiries on the house sale, so that’s not too bad! Hopefully someone will fall in love with it.

Mutant Deer on Orcas Island

We went to Orcas Island last weekend, more specifically, we stayed at the Rosario Resort. Why we were there, I’ll get to that.¬†But, first: the deer. I had always heard and read that the San Juan Islands have some deer problems-overpopulation and inbreeding, due to the population being isolated. So, I was curious to see some firsthand.

They delivered: there seemed to be a resident population at Rosario that was completely tame, hanging around in the evenings shamelessly¬†begging for food from the tourists. And, indeed, we saw some weirdness amongst them. For one, they are about half the size of normal (well, normal for the mainland) blacktailed deer. One buck we saw had a deformed front food that twisted out to the side, so he walked pretty awkwardly.¬†They all had poor hair coats, I didn’t see a single¬†one I would consider healthy looking. On Sunday when we left, one was dead on the side of the road (the hotel staff was scrambling to get rid of that non-tourist-friendly eyesore!).

And, we saw this cool pinto (piebald) colored one- a very predator-friendly color, so lucky for him, the island doesn’t apparently¬† have cougars, coyotes or wolves.

Pinto Deer
Pinto Deer

Sunsets and Weekend Work

Sunset View from the House

August is the time for sunsets, and we’ve been getting a lot of fabulous ones lately. But, I’ve struggled to capture them in their full magnitude on camera. These modern day digital cameras–even¬†with their special “sunset” and “night” settings–just don’t do them justice. This is the best one I came up with, and I admit, I digitally altered the colors a little bit to bring it closer to what it looked like in person.

I have a four-day weekend ahead of me, with hopes of high productivity (as always). I came to realize that the tractor’s brush cutter is just fine and needs no adjustment– the blades I thought were “loose” actually are supposed to spin on their¬†bolt axes. It took me a while to think that through, and then of course when I re-read the manual, it confirmed this. I just didn’t interpret the instructions correctly the first time. So, I’m good to go, I can mow again. And I have the $75 socket set ready for the time when I do need to remove the blades to sharpen them!
Other to-do wishes for the weekend: smooth the driveway by the house and order gravel. Machete the blackberries around the duck pen. Build a sheep shelter in the pasture. Get ready for our weekend away next weekend-we’re going to Orcas Island.
And, of course, the fair– I need to go there Fri, Sat and Sun to finish up press releases, state fair entries and anything else that needs doing. Sunday we plan to visit the Wensleydale sheep flock.

Week One Without Chessie

At the agility start line (Cloud 9 Photos)

I guess it’s been just a week since Chessie died, it already seems like longer than that. Though, it’ll be a while before I adjust to making only three bowls of food, counting only three heads when coming in from the field, and loading only three dogs in the van. I have a lot of his “personal affects”-for lack of a better term-left to put away or give away. Extra dog beds, bowls, gear specifically for him, like his big tracking harness. And, now might be a good time to re-configure my van, which has semi-permanently installed dog crates and competition gear, since that’s one less big crate that needs to be in there.

I am dealing with the loss better than I expected I would, I think I was preparing for a long time. But, that dog was still a huge part of my adult life, so I sure miss him all the same.

I went back through my photo album of competition photos, and through his competition record book. The first entries were in the summer of 1997, when he was four years old and I had been out of college one year. He earned his AKC “Pre-Trial Tested” herding title with three straight passes, and his “Companion Dog” obedience title with one failure and three back-to-back passes and two placements. I remember¬† that weekend: his first run out, there was a minute of terrible loudspeaker feedback noise, it panicked him-so typical of Chessie. The judge, Christopher Cornell, was so kind, and re-started our heel pattern to let us regroup, but Chessie could not get it together. I had many runs ruined due to Chessie’s fears of certain noises, and umbrellas. But, he also almost always scored well, and often placed.

My last competition notes are from less than three years ago, where we finished our UKC Agility Trial Champion. He was still very athletic and comfortable jumping at age twelve. His final roster of titles earned was impressive for just a dog pound rescue, he had a good show career. His full registered name ended up being:


Left is one of my favorite photos of him and me together; we were waiting at the start line of an agility run in this picture. There was a delay, I had already tossed my leash aside, and I knelt down to make sure Chessie didn’t jump the line before the judge signaled his readiness. The photographer had a good eye for capturing moments of teamwork and closeness between dog and handler.