Well the predators are definitely bold! We lost one lamb in the orchard in late January and we lost two more lambs in the orchard last night! The lambs had not had rigor set in by the early morning and neither were torn up but one was missing its entire abdominal cavity contents. I noticed the magpies fighting out in the orchard on my way to work and messaged Mr Rainman to check when he came out. He is coming out a couple of days a week to help out.
Due to this calamity between the houses we are no longer letting the sheep stay in the orchard overnight. They are getting moved into the barn lot at night. We think its a coyote, both of our dogs sleep in kennels inside at night. We are going to look into some solar motion activated lights. I think there is a solar set of red eyes that you mount on the fence at predator eye height to scare them away. I will need to do more research on that item. The funny thing is I have not seen a coyote this year at all. Our 11 month lambs running around on the back hillside have all survived, only the lambs have been killed. We have woven wire fences already.
I am mowing the yard again with the sheep. It’s just easier and more environmentally friendly! Again, the sheep poop is very wet and slimy due to all of the green grass but they are working on the yard. They like the hillside better as the grass/clover on it is shorter. They like to eat the short grass first before eating the tall grass. It’s pretty weird.
The puppy Chance is doing well when we use her to work the sheep and cows on a lead. I had the sheep in the front yard so the dogs are in the backyard. Our side fence is low and temporary and Chance decided yesterday that jumping the fence and playing with the sheep was fun. It was fun for her but not the sheep. She totally went crazy, running around, running into the herd, biting everything she could touch. She would not listen and would not follow “down” command. There was zero off switch. I had to wait until she grabbed a sheep then grabbed her. She spent the rest of the day on the overhead run. No way to get loose and as long as the sheep stay away she cannot harm anything. We spent a lot of the day going into the “down” command with me across the yard or from the road. There will be a lot more training to teach her that she is to herd the sheep, not chase or bite them.
Mr Rainman came out this week and finished spraying all the major fields. He has been backpack spraying the difficult to reach areas and still has more of this to do but I think he can be done in less than two days and will have gotten most of the farm, even the difficult to reach areas.
I came home early on Wednesday so that we could sort cows for butchering. It turned into sorting off six month old calves, sorting out 5 kill size cows and moving the old bull. This was going fairly smooth. I say that loosely as sorting any live animal does have its challenges. Mr Rainman is not a cow person, even really an animal and every time I got in the corral to walk around and sort out 12 jumpy horned cows he would squeal and get nervous. All was going well, I had placed Chance (1 year old border collie) on a 30’ lead and she was doing well. We are working on “down” command at any time and “left” and “right” commands. We only use “circle around”, “to Me”, “guard”(creates dog gate), “away”. “Stay” and “easy”. Those are the main ones, we do realize there are a lot more commands but over the years these are the ones we use. The only other thing is they have to learn to work in the barn with mommas and babies and to stay and allow the lambs to pass or sniff at them.
Once we had the cows in the barn lot, I tied Chance to the gate so the cows would not try and push on it and then we proceeded to push them into the corral for sorting. Everything was going smoothly (first indicator you are about to be in trouble) when one of the slaughter size cows reached the corner gate chain and lifted it off its anchor slot and pushed the gate open and got back in with the main herd. We finished sorting all the rest of the cows and even moved the weanlings off to the third holding pen so we could still use the main two and chute. We tried to push the herd back into the corral and they did not want to go especially the one we wanted. So I grabbed Chance and we pushed them into the corral. She got rolled twice by the cows, but she just jumped up and got right back at it. We pushed the cows in and I ran our target into the chute after he tried to climb the five foot corral fence. I failed to notice that I had left the sheep ramp in the chute. It is for running the sheep into the back of the pickup. It was leaning on the exit gate with about a 60 degree angle and the steer ran right up that ramp and jumped off it from five feet in the air. So we spent 30 minutes getting him back into the pen and in with the four sale cows. We never could have done this without Chance. We sorted off one steer (not crazy one) for someone to come pickup on Saturday morning (next warning sign). We would keep him in the corral for a couple of days until he could be picked up. The bull went into the corral to spend the night. He is so placid you literally have to go up and nudge him in the direction you want him to go.
I get up bright and early so I can be in Lagrande by 0730. Annmarie comes out to help me, the first four just go right into our livestock trailer. I try and run the bull through the chute but he keeps dragging his horns and having to turn his head. He is 13 or 14 years old and has a very large head and decent horns. So we let him back into the corral and Annmarie suggests just backing the trailer into the pen, opening the entire back and getting him to just walk into it by himself. We do this and he is coaxed in under five minutes. He is so calm.
I am off early around 0530, I adjust the trailer brakes and start the trip. I am going 55 mph and it feels fine. I get on the freeway and keep it at 55 mph, I can feel the animals moving around in the trailer. I creep up Cabbage hill at 45 mph. Honestly, except for my nervousness it is going well until I start coming down the hill on the backside. The whole rig starts shaking every time I hit the brakes over 50 mph. It did not do this on the flats. So more white knuckled driving and I pull in to Hines meat. I was there before the place was open. The guy comes out, compliments the bull on how good looking he is and we try and unload them. We got them unloaded but of course they did not want to comply.
When Hines called back this weekend to give weights on the cows they said there was one “surly” cow that gave them some trouble. Wanna guess who that was? Due to the small stature of a Dexter cow you get a lean meat and much smaller steaks. The carcass weights came in at 327#, 332#, 320#, 313# and the bull at 673#. The bull went to all hamburger. We are charging $3.50/lb hanging weight now. The average for our area is around $4-4.50/lb hanging weight.
On the trailer trip home I just dropped the horse trailer off at the tire place and asked them to balance all tires, check brakes and pack wheel bearings. The lights worked great!
This was the last week of Zeke’s life. He was 10.5 years old and our very first Border Collie. He was free, which makes it even better. We had never trained a sheep dog before or owned a border collie but we figured we could watch enough videos and read enough books to get it done. We did get it done, but there were some hiccups along the way.
We tried to socialize him early when he was a puppy by taking him out into the barn that first winter. This did not work out so well for him, as one of the ewes took an instant distaste to him and proceeded to stomp on him or roll him every chance she got. Zeke took this personally and he remembered her until the day we got rid of her due to old age. If given the chance he would single her out of the herd just to chase her down and drag her to the ground. He did not ever forget that grudge. This philosophy was his life, if all went well and you treated him well, he treated you well. If you made his life miserable, he was not going to forget. The older he got the harder he was to take to the vet. He would snub all treats and growl at everyone whenever we took him in.
We did train him to work the sheep and eventually even the cows although he loved working the sheep more than the cows. The only real problem with his training was that it ended up becoming the R rated version of a working sheep dog’s commands. You could not have little kids within 1/2 mile of hearing range of me working the dog. He did great but he expected a certain kind of criticism while he was working and if he did not get it then that meant he could do whatever he wanted. Luckily, we are in the middle of a large open area and don’t have any close neighbors.
He had torn out a knee and was retired from animal working although he managed to work the sheep twice in his last week. I buried him in a rock cairn at the very top of the farm property. He is next to our chocolate lab. The view is spectacular and I think that I would like my ashes/compost (we have not decided which yet) up here with the dogs so I can look over the farm and wish everyone well and watch over the place. He will be missed.
We are going to wait until early summer to get a replacement. It seems soon but our other dog is 5 years old and it takes about 2-3 years to get a dog trained up well. If they are only able to work until about age 9 then that does not give us much time. Mouse also needs eye medicine to keep him from going blind so he might not make it to the 9 year mark. Zekee proved how invaluable a dog is to us when it comes to moving the farm animals around. We will never not have one as long as we have cows/sheep.
Annmarie fed the sheep last evening while I started cutting the bridge parts. After we got the bridge installed we both walked up the hillside and attempted to push the sheep back into the ram pasture. The sheep were not really having any of this. We got them down near the creek but they would not cross the water. We finally gave up and Annmarie went and got the border collies. This was the first time this year they really got to work the sheep and there are babies! The babies are exciting and a huge distraction to the dogs. Mouse just would not settle down or listen. So basically he was a pain in the ass and pinned a lamb up against the fence. So now we will be taking a lead rope with us and when he fails to instantly comply he goes on the lead. He does not like the lead and we don’t like him playing an independent consultant.
The sheep did not appreciate the extent or amount of work put into placing and making bridges. Out of the 80+ sheep only about 6 used the new bridge and none used the first bridge I placed. The problem with them jumping the creek is they keep wearing down the bank where they scramble up it. I may have to add another bridge, but if I do it will have to be 16 feet long and it will have to be exactly where they are crossing and at the angle they jump across the creek. Otherwise our chances of compliance and usage will be abysmal.
I was only able to fence on Saturday and Sunday this weekend as I had to work on Friday. I have to say that if you don’t need to wear the waterproof overalls, coat and boots then don’t, cause that much rubber will keep you dry from the rain but if its not freezing you will sweat a gallon of water inside it. I was able to work all weekend in just the rubber boots and it was pleasant. Now the wind kept gusting then vanishing so I kept taking layers off then putting them back on but at least I can change the layers. I got all of the wooden posts set on Saturday. I had about 1/3 yard of gravel left over and I tossed it on top of the culvert. The culvert has a nice 6″ layer of gravel over it. Saturday afternoon before going inside I loaded the pickup with 2×6 boards so I could go out first thing on Sunday morning and start installing H-braces. I was worried about having enough 2×6 boards left from the corral build but after loading them I had 16 in the back of the pickup and in the end only used 14.
I was going to install the H braces and tighten them with wire but Annmarie wanted me to clean out the pickup and install the stock racks on it before dark so after doing three complete braces I realized I was going to have to stick to just cutting the boards and screwing everything together. I will come back and tighten all the H braces later. Each cross piece is made out of two boards screwed together. Because I kept each brace 6-8′ apart I was able to use one 2×16′ board on each brace. This left me with two full boards over the spring and two full boards to connect the long straight stretches. I need those boards to keep the bull from just lifting the fence at these intersections which he has learned to do.
I had some visitors while I was down by the old schoolhouse. All of our cows in the lower fields came out to see me. Zeke keeps jumping the yard fence to come see me also. I have either been making him stay in the back of the pickup or lay under the pickup for a few hours. Annmarie tells me at night that he doesn’t look like he hated spending the day with me. I just wish he would stay in the yard.
I was able to get the stock rack on with some help and we will be sorting sheep on Monday to send two whethers to the college for butchering Tuesday morning.