Monthly Archives: October 2011

Quiet day at Singing Bull Ranch

Since I don’t work on Fridays, I had the whole day to myself to enjoy the quiet and sunshine. After breakfast, I took the dogs for a walk around the fence line. I had put on EmmaLee’s  little pullover to help her stay warm, as it was still only around 33° outside, although the sun was shining and it was clear. She doesn’t have a heavy coat like Tucker or Sage, so she gets cold easily like her momma (me). She seems to like the little pullovers, as she gets all excited when I get it ready to put it on her.

About half way thru our walk, Tucker came running up to me with a stick he had found. As I was debating upon throwing it for him, he noticed that EmmaLee was looking at something in the tall grass around a scrub tree. I had been watching her cocking her head, very intent on one area, so knew there was something in there. Tucker ran over to help her investigate it, and then Sage came in for backup. Poor Em didn’t find the mouse, but Tucker did! I’m wondering about my little terrier! My English Shepherd usually out-hunts her! As there didn’t seem to be anymore mice in the grass, I called them off it, and continued walking.

As I got closer to the house, I saw my old mare, Clementine (Clemmie) standing off by herself. So I talked to her, and started walking up to her. She surprised me by walking up to me, but then she veered off about six feet away from me. Darn mare! So typical of her now that I don’t work with her anymore. I think she’s mad at me, although people keep telling me that horses don’t carry grudges. Hmm, I wonder…I called to her, and she stopped and let me come up beside her. I found a good spot to scratch, and she stretched out her neck and head, lips moving as if to say, “ahhhh, yeah, right there, ewwwww, yeah!” I continued scratching her in that same area for a few minutes then moved to a different spot. After awhile, she decided she’d had enough, and strolled away.

Junior, our young black john mule, came up to investigate as I was talking to Clemmie. He’s a very friendly mule that needs to be worked with, as he’s not trained at all yet. Although he’s the only mule that will walk up to me when I’m out in the pasture, I think he might have a bit of an attitude when I start working him, so I’ll have to work really slow, step-by-step with him. He’s to use to be out in the herd and not being asked to do anything. And he’s a young boy, so that adds to the attitude! He should be an interesting challenge to work with, and I look forward to it. I need to talk to Chris and see where we can set up a round pen to work with the other mare that we inherited from our neighbor and Junior. We have a paddock, which would work, but the ground gets really muddy and slippery when it’s wet, so that wouldn’t work.

After I let the chickens out of their coop, I took a load of wash over to the other house. Hopefully, we’ll have time to build our laundry room in our other house this winter. In the meantime ‘tho, I have to go over to the other house to do laundry. While there, I ran the vacuum over the floor and did a bit of other minor cleaning. The renter isn’t there right now, so I took advantage of it to do some cleaning.

The front yard before I started playing with it today.

After lunch, I decided I’d better get something else done besides running back and forth between houses to check the laundry, so I went out front and started pulling branches and sticks out of the piles of dirt and tossing them in the wood pile that we need to burn soon. The front yard is a mess, as last winter the irrigation company came through, laying pipe down the fence line that borders the road. There wasn’t a yard really before, but now there definitely isn’t, so we’re slowly working on it to make it look nice. I’ve pulled the woven wire fence off the posts, so now we need to pull the fence posts out. The construction crew had knocked over all of the elm trees that bordered our driveway, which Chris had cleared up for the most part, but I noticed little green trees sprouting  wherever there was a branch buried in the ground.  I had dug out quite a few of them already with the mini excavator, so there were holes all over the one side. So I started up the mini ex and tracked it over to see what more damage I could do.

The sun was going down just as I finished pulling up more branches, tossing them in the pile, and then leveling the area out as best as possible with the bucket and the blade that is on the front of the mini. It doesn’t look as good as I’d like, but I’m still learning how to handle the mini. But I was having a blast moving the dirt around and learning by trial and error how to handle the mini and the dirt. I enjoy operating the mini, as well as the old backhoe that we have here, but I don’t work with them often enough to get as good as I’d like on them.

After parking the mini, I went and got EmmaLee from the house and fed the two bulls we have in stalls and the cows and bull we have in the paddock. Their water was low, so I filled them up then went in the house to start dinner.

All in all, a decent day. It’s always good to be able to look back and see that you’ve accomplished something, especially since it’s so easy to get sidetracked with the internet!

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The Right Dog for the Job

“EmmaLee!!! NOOOO!!!!” I hollered uselessly at my Standard Rat Terrier as she tried gamely to help me herd the cows. Being of terrier temperament, albeit much more laid back, she has no clue how to herd a cow. Her whole heart is in it, but the instinct and ability just isn’t there. When herding with my Rattie, we usually ended up with cattle scattered and running every which way more than the sedate, steady move in the right direction that I had in mind. I dreamed of the day that we had a solid ranch dog that could help move the cattle without me yelling “no!!” constantly, and that would help us get them from one area to the next without chasing them fruitlessly throughout the pasture.

EmmaLee in the Gunnison National Forest

We don’t have a huge herd, and we don’t move them often, so we didn’t need a high intensity dog like a heeler or Border Collie. I wanted something to help watch over the place, and guard my free range poultry, as we lost our two tom turkeys and a whole slew of hens and a duck or two to our neighbor’s mutts last Thanksgiving.  So I started searching on the internet for the perfect breed. Ever since 4th grade, when I brought home a huge, very thick book full of dog breeds, about 350 or so, I have been fascinated by the many breeds of dogs there are. The disadvantage to this is you find out there are so many, that it makes it difficult to decide which breed to look at, as so many of them have some of the traits that might suite the job at hand. Some, but not all.

So I wrote down what was important to me. The dog had to be easy to work with, solid temperament, medium size, shorter coat, and be able to herd and guard. With the other house on the property that we rent out to various people, I couldn’t get a dog that was overly aggressive to strangers. It wouldn’t be as bad of a problem, but they have to drive passed our house to get to the other one, so I didn’t want a dog that would physically stop them as they drove into the driveway. And they absolutely had to get along with other animals, as we have other dogs and cats. They couldn’t be a high energy dog, as I don’t have the work or time to devote to working with them constantly.

As I love the Australian Shepherd, that breed was at the top of my list. I had had three over a 20 year period and lost my last one at age 13 several years ago. But they aren’t bred as much for general ranch work anymore, and locating the lines that I might use was proving to be difficult. They seem to have gone the way of many AKC breeds, and have become either working dogs, or show dogs. I know many are good ranch dogs, but I just don’t have the work to keep them “busy.” We tossed around the idea of getting a Livestock Guard Dog, (LGD), as they would guard the house and the poultry if we could find one that would bond to chickens. But they don’t herd. So that was out. I’ve always love the Beauceron, (Berger de Beauce) but they are too big (we have a very small house), and they just didn’t quite fit the bill. The German Shepherd, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Laekenois and the Dutch Shepherd are all breeds I would love to have, but I don’t want the long coats on the Sheepdog or Tervuren, and they are all very high energy dogs. With the German Shepherd, you have to be so careful of bloodlines, as few are bred for farm work anymore, and many have horrible hips and other problems. I found a breed called the Danish-Swedish Farm Dog, that actually look a lot like my Rat Terrier, but I couldn’t get ahold of anyone, quite rare here in the States, and they are a bit smaller than I want for a guard dog. As we have coyotes, bobcats, skunks and raccoons, I wanted something a bit bigger.

Head study - Tucker June 2011 - about 8 months old

But one breed, besides the Aussie, that I kept coming back to, was the English Shepherd. This breed is an honest, all around farm/ranch dog. Originating from the dogs that accompanied early settlers, mainly from the British Isles, they have maintained their heritage as a good hand to have around the farm or ranch. They are known for watching over the house and kids, taking care of new born lambs or goat kids, but with enough grit and tenacity to work bulls, bucks and rams. They are noted for naturally taking charge of the farm, and making sure things are where they are supposed to be. While there is variety in lines and individual dogs, they are known to be biddable and have the desire to be a working partner. So I located a litter from Peg Egertsen’s line (Cedar Creek English Shepherds – http://www.cedarcreekenglishshepherds.com/index.html) and made arrangements for a pup to come to Singing Bull Ranch.

Tucker at about five months old

That is how Hayes’ Tucker came to be a member of our family. He is an awesome dog. Not even a year old, and he has already proven to us time and time again that he was the right choice for our place. Low key, serious, gentlemanly, with a sense of humor, he is one great dog. He naturally herds the cows without any fanfare. Just gets behind them and starts moving them in the direction we choose. He’s tougher with the bulls, won’t give any ground to them, but he’ll turn away from a calf when we’re not herding them. He respects the momma cows and leaves them and their babies alone, although he watches over our bottle babies. (Orphan calves that we bottle raise.) He hasn’t quite attached himself to the poultry like I would like, but he does watch over the place, so I’m sure if anything came to get them, he would chase them out of the yard. He is well worth the time and effort it took to locate the right dog, and I couldn’t be happier.

AWOL Equines

Yesterday morning, as I went about getting ready to go to work, I thought I saw Junior, our young black mule, out on the road. I didn’t pay it much mind, as I thought I saw the other mules inside the pasture, and figured he was just really close to the fence. Running a bit late as usual, I jumped into my truck and pulled out of the driveway. Thirty seconds later, I was calling work to tell them I was going to be a wee bit late, as I had a small herd of mules and horses out on the road where they didn’t belong. I drove slowly up the fence line to our neighbor’s driveway, looking to see where they had gotten out. I didn’t see anything obvious, so hoped they would go back in the way they came if I just started them in the right direction. Turning around, I drove down to where they were hanging out at an open gate, and walked up to the two that were in the pasture. I asked them what they heck they thought they were doing. Of course, all they did was look at me with their big brown eyes, not offering any words. I shooed the two out of the pasture and back out to the road, then walked to the others who were lounging by a small tree, and got them moving in the right direction. I was a bit concerned about what they would do, as they don’t normally herd like cows do, but the one mare knew where she was going, and she led them back up road to the driveway, and walked back up to the house. Junior and Otis, our two young john mules, had thought we were going for a nice walk, and had started heading down the road, but I guessed, correctly, that they would follow the rest of them if I just let them be.

Now, the question was how to get them back into the field? I saw where they had somehow knocked over the decorative log fencing, and maybe got out that way, but the fence was lying inside the pasture, not out, so I’m not sure if that’s how they got out or not. I called Chris to see where he wanted me to put them while they nonchalantly sampled the lawn and flowers. They showed no interest in walking over the fence post logs, but kept heading towards the rear corner, so I opened that gate, and they all went in. I had to go find Ruby Jean, our huge mule, and shoo her over to the gate, as she was busy munching on their dead flowers. They all went back in willingly enough, and I got the gate closed with no loose horses or mules still out.

Now the challenge was to patch up the fence where Chris had taken it down this last weekend to start building a new one, and coax the mules and horses to go back over to our pasture until we got a chance to fix the fence at the neighbors. I left EmmaLee in the house, changed my boots so I wouldn’t get too wet, as there’s still irrigation water running, and took Tucker with me to see what we could do. Sage opted to stay home, which was fine with me. I didn’t want to have to worry about her with the mules, as our mules will stomp on a dog. They’ll watch a coyote go by, have a conversation with them, like,”hey, how are the kids?” or, “catch any prairie dogs lately?”, but they’ll stomp my dogs. Yup, our mules. Gotta love ‘em! I pounded in a fence post, and propped the old fencing up so that they wouldn’t walk out that way, then we headed for the other pasture to bring them in.

We found the herd and I started pushing them quietly towards the gate that is between our two fields. Tucker was all ready to help push, but I was concerned that he might get kicked or bit by any one of the mules, so I kept him back with me as much as I could. He did work back and forth, but he listened to me tell him ‘easy’ and ‘stay back’ really well. They didn’t know for sure where I was trying to take them to, so they weren’t going anywhere in a hurry. They broke up into two groups, and Otis decided that he was going to just go off aways and see what was happening over yonder. Tucker and I maneuvered behind them and to the sides, trying not to get them running. They don’t have pressure points quite like cows do, and they don’t move as readily either. But we kept them going, slowly, in the right direction, only getting stuck with a pause once or twice. We were pretty much in line with the open gate, so I was hoping they would see it and just head on over to greener pastures, and I was right. The young dun mare, (don’t know if she has a name, we just inherited her from the neighbors when they left) saw the open gate and started picking up some speed, head facing the gate. They all followed her through the gate, and started spreading out.

Ok, that chore is done. I need to go back and get Paloma, the old grey mare that we also inherited from our neighbors. But she’s not going anywhere, so I can do that later. I’m impressed with Tucker, as he stayed back and did as I directed, without getting too close to the horses or mules heels. He was there, as a presence, but wasn’t pushy or barky. He’s an awesome dog, and I’m so glad I have him.

Chris or I will have to come back over and fix the fence as best we can. It doesn’t look good with the fence down like that, especially since they’re trying to sell the house. But again, that’ll wait for a day or two.

Life with a Bull

Our young Dexter bull, Elliott, went AWOL the other day, as he must have become bored with the cows that were in his pasture. I kinda wondered where he was on Thursday night, but as our pasture is slightly rolling, I didn’t think much of it when I didn’t see him, figuring that he was close by, just not within sight. When I took the dogs for a walk around the pasture the next morning, I noticed the we were missing one red cow. Well, actually, one red bull. So I called our neighboring rancher, as they have been bringing their calves down off the mountain the last few weeks, and I figured he would most likely head over there. Robert said he hadn’t seen him, but I was welcome to take a 4-wheeler and go check the fields.

So I drove down to the pens to go look for the errant bull, and noticed he was in the runway, with the gates closed. I figured that Robert’s dad had put him there, so went on to a previous commitment that I had that morning. I called Chris to let him know that Elliott was indeed at the neighbors ranch, but he was locked up. Chris said that we would pick him up tonight when he got home, and not to worry about him.

While I was in town, Robert called and said that he had moved Elliott over to the southwest pen, and we could pick him up when we got the chance. I wasn’t too worried about it, as the pens are well made and have handled hundreds of cattle. I drove by several times on my way to and from town, and saw him longingly drooling over the heifers that were just soooo close, but out of reach. One time I drove by, and he was on his knees trying to crawl underneath the panels. I laughed, and thought how typical it was of him.

When Chris got home, it was just after dark. He hooked up to the trailer and we drove down to the pens. While I was guiding him to the loading chute alleyway, I kept hearing panels rattling, and was hoping Elliott didn’t get into someplace he wasn’t suppose to be. After lining up the truck, Chris sent me and Tucker, my English Shepherd, to go move the trouble maker up to alleyway to the trailer. When we reached where Elliott was, I knew I wasn’t going to get him to go anywhere. The silly, idiotic bull had somehow managed to get himself hung up between the gate and the fence panels. He couldn’t move forward, and he couldn’t move back. He was stuck, and stuck really tight!

Chris tried to get him to go backwards, but all Elliott did was bellow. He took a flashlight and examined the predicament a bit closer, and decided the only way to free the bull was to cut the chain that was used to secure the gate. While he ran back to the house to get the bolt cutters, Tucker and I just kinda hung out watching the bull. I had a very one sided conversation with him, and told him what a great idiot he was for getting himself into this spot. All he did was moan and blow, looking at me a few times as though he really was sorry and wanted out of the spot, and could I please do something?

Chris came back with the bolt cutters and managed to cut the chain. As soon as Elliott found he was free, he moved forward, with the gate still kinda hung up in his ribcage area. As there was another gate in front of him, he had to swing to his right, which brought the gate that he was hung up on with him. And danged if he didn’t almost get stuck again when he continued in that same arc! Tucker and I managed to back him up before he got wedged in too tight, and he turned around and headed for the pen he had been in. With a bit of encouragement, Tucker and I worked him down the alleyway, where Chris took over and followed him to where the trailer door was open and waiting for him to jump in.

After looking him over the next morning in the daylight, he seems no worse for wear. Lucky bull!