Fancy New Dog Potty Yard


The new dog yard is finished! We plan to eventually build a large deck on this side of the house, so we wanted to choose fencing materials that would be complimentary to a cedar deck design. So, we used tight-knot cedar 4×4 posts, and cedar 2×4 rails.¬† We did not get these at the “big box” store- these came from a local lumber yard, and the wood is beautiful, nearly flawless, and¬†straight (but was also expensive!). Continue reading “Fancy New Dog Potty Yard”

Goodbye Old Dog Potty Yard

The old dog potty yard, in 2007, with a lot of fallen-down-barn waste and constructiond debris in the background.
The old dog potty yard, in 2007, with a lot of fallen-down-barn wood and construction debris in the background.

In 2006, when the house was being moved and rebuilt, it was necessary to move the dogs from my old house in town out¬†to the farm.¬†I needed to get¬†the old house¬†ready to sell, and not have four Border Collies greet potential buyers at the door! With many things going on and lots of money being spent, I had to make a lot of quick choices on getting things done efficiently and cheaply, rather than well. ūüėź The dogs’ potty yard was one of those things. Continue reading “Goodbye Old Dog Potty Yard”

Herding Mayhem

herdingmayhemWhen we got Bronte the LGD, I was a bit worried about how things would go when she was first introduced to the Border Collies. While she was penned with the sheep in the small pen, if the Border Collies passed by outside the pen, she would snarl and threaten them. Which is good, it’s her job to deter strange dogs that look like they want to eat the sheep. But, clearly it would be ideal if the Border Collies could work without having to to lock up the LGD.

It turns out, there was nothing to worry about. When I first moved the sheep down to the pasture, a few times I had to work them, to get them into their Electronet pen. So, I just did it, to see how it would go. And Bronte was OK with it. The only annoying thing is she definitely gets in the mix. She is curious about the Border Collies, and wishes they would play. But, they ignore her, like she is a gnat flying around in their field of view, not a nearly 100 pound pup trying to pounce on them! They have zero interest in play or fraternizing with other dogs when there are sheep to work.

So, it makes for challenging herding. Bronte switches between getting in the way of the collies and getting in the middle of the sheep, and then sometimes throws in some llama-hassling for fun, too. It’s good practice for the collies, they really have to handle a lot of different pressure points when there is a dog running randomly through the sheep, the llama is sparring with the dog, and then the ewes are all stubborn and protective of their lambs and don’t want to move.

In this photo, you can see Maggie way in the back, behind the llama (who is showing her Angry Ears at this process). Maggie is trying to get this crowd bunched together and moving towards me. But Bronte is strolling through the middle, with her tail high in delight over the mayhem. The ewes are all spread out, and they turn on Maggie and stomp if she pushes too hard. But, she is able to get the job done, with some patience and an occassional, warranted grip.

I haven’t been working Gene as much, because this is very difficult for her and takes more time. Gene will feel too much pressure and kick out “into orbit,” and it’s hard for me to call her in to work the sheep consistently with all this chaos, she doesn’t like it. And, if she is off contact, the sheep spread too much, Bronte starts pulling on lamb tails and legs, and I start to yell! Hopefully a little later in the summer Gene will get some more chances to work, once Maggie has the lambs all dog broke.

Maggie is also the best tempered for the chore I am doing every three days now: moving the Electronet “square.” Maggie is “sticky” – she loves nothing more than to get sucked into the sheep, using her eye, and get them in a deadlock where nobody is moving. This is a very annoying trait when I want her to move them and she is frozen¬†in space and time, and no amount of verbal commanding can un-stick her.¬†But, it comes in handy when I need her to hold! I can park her anywhere holding the sheep and leave her, and she’ll keep them there.

So, when I’m ready to move the square, I park Maggie in the sheep in one corner of it. I move the other corner, then move Maggie and the sheep into it. Then I move the other half and box them all back in, and call Maggie off. I find that having Maggie hold the sheep in a tight bunch makes things less risky while Bronte has access to the sheep. She is less stimulated by that, versus having the sheep spread out in the pasture, where she can start to chase them and get to tugging on the lambs. I don’t want her to get in the habit of this, so I try to keep things very boring for her when she has a few minutes “in” with the sheep.

City Meets Country and No-Bed Bronte

dogabuseA sneaky person posted this, and another similar homemade sign, out by our pasture this week. My favorite part is the one about the bed. ūüôā Seriously, it is a double-edged sword living on a well traveled road, with our pasture visible to passers-by. On one hand, we can sell as much lamb as we could ever produce, and we’ve made a lot of new friends.

On the other hand, we get a lot of interruptions from people stopping by to ask questions about the sheep, or to let us know there is a dog in our field! :-0 This can get annoying, but I try to be polite to these well-meaning folks, since they might want to buy lamb from us.

We are blessed to live in a region where there are many well-off, well-educated¬†city folks who make it a priority to purchase meat and produce¬†from local farms and natural or organic sources. And they are willing and able¬†to pay top dollar. The flip side is, these people don’t always realize how farms work, even good farms, and they can stir up trouble for farmers.

The anonymous signs raise an interesting question- is the life of a livestock guardian dog abusive? Is being out in the rain and snow with no shelter detrimental to our dog’s well-being? Well, to be fair, there are meager shelters in our pasture, so she’s not quite shelter-less (but I’ll tell ya: she’s never going to get a bed!) She doesn’t choose to use the shelters, however, she seems happy to be near her sheep, and indifferent to the weather, gleefully rolling about in the mud and getting filthy.

She is a Maremma, after all, this breed has been developed for centuries to do this very job. They are equipped with a double coat, which keeps them quite warm and dry at the skin (even when they appear drenched on the exterior). They are generally a very lazy dog, Bronte sleeps most of the day, and entertains herself by digging holes and wandering about the rest of the time. She is not terribly interested in people or other dogs, other than to try to shoo them away from her territory. She enjoys hassling the llama. She likes her homemade dinners I bring ever day. When I leave the pasture, she doesn’t pine after me like a regular dog would. She seems, well, pretty happy, in her own, simple world.

And, for the record, actually she is wild- I have a hard time catching her without mechanical means or food bribery! Really, these LGDs are just not like a regular domestic pet breed of dog.

I, myself, have reflected on this subject of her welfare, because part of me considers an LGD’s life to be pathetic, compared to my perception of what a competition dog’s life can be. But, is that perception accurate? Our Border Collies live in the house and have a dog door that accesses a small potty area outside. So their environment is pretty constrained, unless we take them out for walks or to work sheep. And that’s better than most working Border Collies, who live in 8×10 kennels except at times when they are at work.

Our dogs can sleep on the couch and on the bed. Sleep is a common theme amongst all dogs, so no matter where they live, they usually snooze much of the day. Just as often as I see our dogs asleep on the couch, I see them asleep on the wood floor, or out in the dirt in the rain. So they don’t seem to care that much about bedding, or about rain. I think because we are bare-skinned and wimpy about rain, we assume animals are as well. But actually, animals stay pretty comfortable in most weather, if they are equipped with an outdoor coat and proper nutrition.

The Border Collies get to work sheep, and they are very enthusiastic about that. But, it’s not all fun- it’s hard work, they get yelled at when they make a mistake, they get hurt, and I often require them to do jobs that they don’t¬†prefer. I flatter myself to think they enjoy my company in the house, but would they trade that for 24/7 freedom in a pasture? I don’t know.

I have a friend who owns a Chihuahua, and that poor dog is always being  stepped on, scooped up, manhandled, and carted around. He often looks irritated and shys away from people. Who knows, maybe if he could trade his life in a jeweled handbag for a boring life in a rainy pasture, he would.

So, I guess, to manage public perception, we’ll put a dog house down in the pasture, even though Bronte will probably not use it. It’s important to me that people who drive by perceive that our animals are well-cared-for, whatever their definition of that may be. I could live without the belligerent, anonymous¬†handmade¬†signs. But, we do think these are funny. We’ve taken to calling the dog “No Bed Bronte,” because definitely, I am not getting her a mattress!

Comparative Costs of DNA Testing: Livestock vs. Dogs

33_lambsI am so impressed with the inexpensive nature of DNA testing for livestock: the going rate for a single sheep DNA test is just over ten dollars, and multiple companies are in competition for your business. Contrast this to the dog show world, where some researchers accept public funds to do DNA research.Then they get the help and cooperation of dog lovers and owners to collect samples for their studies. Then they turn around and patent their findings and sell the patent to a single DNA test company, who can then monopolize the test for seven years until the patent runs out.

This results in DNA tests for canine breeding stock that run about $200 “on sale” at a clinic setting! This phenomenon has made it exhorbitantly expensive for dog breeders to try to do the right thing and test their breeding stock for all known hereditary diseases. Verifying a dog is “good” for breeding can cost upwards of a thousand dollars!¬† Contrast this to the sheep scrapie gene discovery, which is now in the public domain, multiple DNA test companies compete to offer the test, and the price is very reasonable. I don’t know if this particular tets may also be subsidized, since it’s in the public interest to reduce scrapie. But, the drastic difference in price clearly points to some level of profiteerism on the dog DNA tests! I doubt that demand is a factor- I would almost bet that more dog DNA tests are done than sheep.

I always try to encourage “dog people” to ask questions before they donate to, or participate in, reserach projects on DNA, to first verify that the researcher has pledged to publish their findings to the public domain, and not patent them. My understanding is that this is a hot ethical topic in the research community, but one that we’re little aware of as laymen.

The Patty Ruzzo Sneaky Dog Long Line

bronteandhershey2First of all, we finally agreed on a name for our Maremma: “Bronte” (spelled without the umlaut- because who wants to spell a dog’s name with an umlaut?). Here is a photo of her with the ram, taken by our neighbor Marla. She and the ram get on pretty well. If she tries to tug at his ears too much and gets on his nerves, he pushes her down and hurts her. So, they have their relationship sorted out! ūüôā

You’ll note the¬†long-line she’s wearing. This is a¬† great secret I learned long ago from Patty Ruzzo in a seminar. Patty is now passed on, but she was a well-known dog trainer who was highly successful in Obedience competition, and I learned many valuable things from her and think of her often.

We all know that puppies usually go through a “keep-away” age, where they start to learn they can run faster than we can, and that being caught is not fun. But, traditional store-bought dog long-lines used for controlling keep-away dogs¬†are heavy and cumbersome. If you are training a dog to jump or herd, regular long-lines can get dangerously tangled on things. So this was Patty’s solution: grosgrain ribbon. This is a special kind of ribbed ribbon you can buy at a fabric store- it is quite strong, and inexpensive. Tie 10 yards of it to a brass clip, and you have a fabulous, lightweight long-line that “floats” along as the dog runs. It’s slippery so it rarely tangles with solid objects. And, if a dog really hits it hard, it breaks, saving their neck from serious injury.

This long-line is so lightweight the dog forgets he is wearing it. And, the best part is that you can step on it when you are calling him, and then just stand their casually like you haven’t done anything at all.¬†He has¬†no idea what has just occurred, and he starts to develop a superstitious belief that you are God-like, and can stop him in his tracks when you call him. Much better than stooping to pick up a heavy long-line, so the dog figures out “oh, if I run fast enough to get that long-line out of your reach, I’m home-free!” Instead, with this long-line, the dog starts to believe¬†that when you call, there is no choice but to come.

So, this is what Bronte is wearing most of the time. She is still at a very silly age, and is easily intimidated by us, so when we are out in the pasture, she bounces around and woofs, trying to initiate the keepaway game, half afraid of being snagged. When she does this, I¬†ingore it, and¬†now and then, step on the long-line, catch her, pet and praise her then let her go. ¬†The long-line is reasonably safe for her to wear in the pasture- there is not much for it to get stuck on. She has broken (or chewed?) it a couple of times, but I just re-tie it while she’s enjoying eating her dinner, and she is rarely the wiser. Her dinner is my best puppet string: she must eat it while I pet her if she¬†wants to eat.

I used a line like this for many months on my “remedial” Border Collie, Gene. Gene was horrible about keepaway, for much of the first year of her life! Especially in a pasture with sheep. And, when Gene is frightened or upset, she flees, unlike most dogs who seek comfort from their owners when scared. I attribute this brilliant and simple invention to me eventually getting Gene under voice control, and now she has very good call-offs when she is working livestock, and will even reluctantly come to me when she is hurt or panicked.

So, I’m hoping, if it worked for Gene, it’ll work for Bronte! So far it seems to be doing the trick! Training an LGD is very different for me, as I only have a few minutes per day of interaction with her, as compared to a competition and house dog that gets many hours of intensive interaction per day. So, I have to make the most of every minute I’m in the pasture, to teach her the things she needs to know!

Bummer Lamb

bummerlambOne of the lambs born yesterday was a bummer- too weak to nurse. He fooled me for a while, because he was standing there with his head up in the udder, wagging his tail. But I finally figured out he wasn’t eating, while his sister was gaining weight and energy, he was remaining a skeleton. I tried to help him nurse late last night, and succeeded in getting a little colostrum in him and getting a decent sucking response. But by morning he was weak and cold, so he wasn’t able to stick with it.

So, in the house he came, to be tube fed. I tried my best to milk colostrum out of the ewe, and I got a little, but boy she has small teats and colustrum is thick! So, I resorted to powered colustrum, which isn’t nearly as good. This lamb has a very weak sucking impulse, so tube feeding is definitely a must. He seems to be gaining strength, so knock on wood, he might make it. I was able to get a little more milk out of the ewe today, to supplement the powdered stuff.

Tomorrow I’ll have to take him to work, in the car in a crate, so I can feed him every four hours, as is the requirement for the first three days. Not to mention getting up at 2am to do one middle-of-the-night feeding.

The Border Collies think this is the best-ever: livestock in the HOUSE! ūüėČ Maggie must be watched very carefully, as she would be quick to kill such a little thing. Gene, in a rare reversal of her normally obsessive herding instinct, is being very motherly. She has very strong maternal instincts, and is always trying to wash and lick everyone. She’s finally getting her wish- it’s actually a big help to have her wash the milky mouth of this baby, and his back end! There is nothing like a dog tongue for non-chafing washing of orphan babies, I’ve found!

Winter Storm 2008!!

twomaggiesinpanoWow, we have a lot of snow– at least for us. I think it’s about a foot deep. Which, I’m sure, seems trivial to people in the Midwest or the East. But in the Northwest, that is a ton– I don’t have many memories of there being this much snow here in my lifetime. We’ve had snow falling for the last week, and more in the forecast for the whole¬†next week- incredible! Usually it doesn’t stick around more than a day or two before melting into a muddy slop. Here is a panoramic photo from the pasture, in which Maggie appears twice– she got in the frame more than once!

mapletreeandivyinsnowThe temperatures aren’t bad– a few days it’s gotten into the teens, but it’s mostly hovering right around freezing. We got our first official complaint to animal control about our animals- from a well-meaning citizen who felt concerned for them.¬† An animal control officer came out to investigate, and chuckled to himself, “well, the DO have wool, after all!” A friend of mine teased me that we should get wool coats for them!

It’s true, the sheep only have a tiny shelter out there, it may not seem like enough to we non-furry humans. But, sheep are amazingly hardy. We are giving them hay, but they are choosing to go paw through the snow to graze, and only picking the hay. (And I swear it’s not moldy or poor– this is a $19 fresh bale from the feed store!)33_insnow_small1 They really look like they’ve grown more wool in the last week or two, they are quite bundled up and puffy. The llama has so much wool¬†insulating her¬†that snow accumulates on her back and stays there– it doesn’t melt! Once a day I break the ice out of their trough with a pickaxe, though I suspect they are getting their water from eating snow and not going to the trough.

Our ducks seem equally unfased by the chilly weather. I put a heat lamp in their house, but they all slept as far away from it as they could get. Their ranging during the day is curtailed because it’s hard for them¬†to walk, but they still get out in the morning, and still bathe when I give them fresh water! Ugh!ducksinsnow

The dogs, of course, think the snow is fabulous. Here is a picture of Gene standing on ice in the ditches, barking like crazy. She seemed to know this was incongruous and was demanding our attention and skating all over like a silly, as if to say ” look at me! I’m walking on the water!”¬†They so make us laugh with their cleverness and spunk. Poor Mr. Spanky is getting old, and walking through the snow and ice is harder for him, but he’s always game for it, he just takes it slow.geneonice1

Dog Show Van, Reasssembled

van1Last weekend, I finally finished re-assembling my cargo van with all of my dog show equipment. It took me several weeks to think of how to re-configure all of the stuff. I like this design, there is a lore more room for hauling things like lumber and hay now. It’ll be¬†a little less convenient for unloading the heavy “ex-pens” (exercise pens), but I’m traveling less to shows these days, so that is less of a priority.

It is nice to have all of this stuff out of the living room and back into the van! Right now, I have half a bale of hay stored in there, left over from the flood plain drills. Since we are currently lacking a barn or garage, this is the best place to leave a half a bale of hay, for now. All in good time… van2

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.