Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saturday Night Sheep

We didn't breed any of our own sheep-team ewes this year but we are enjoying the lambs belonging to our friend that we share a field with. Last Saturday afternoon we worked our dogs at her place and before we left to go home, we helped with chores, getting sheep into their "night places" and setting out hay for the various groups. There is an "older lamb" group, a "big woolie" working group, a pregnant group, and a just-lambed group. The group of pregnant, very expectant ewes came running into the barnyard from the pasture at the prospect of alfalfa, but one ewe remained, baa-ing and running frantically looking for a lamb that she just gave birth to. We walked out to the pasture to try to find the lamb, and there was none. The ewe had dug a couple of holes but there was no lamb. We'd all been sitting around chatting nearby, inbetween working dogs in the adjacent field, so we were sure that no big bird had swooped in and taken the newborn. So, we decided that she hadn't given birth yet, but thought she had...and if we left her alone that nature might take over and she would settle back down to finish her labor and delivery. We told our friend good bye and she assured us that she would watch the laboring ewe the rest of the afternoon.

I had been home a couple of hours, and it was dark out, when the phone rang. It was our friend. She needed help pulling the lamb from that frantic ewe, who had still not completed her labor and delivery process. I threw on a jacket and headed out into the cold and drove the ten minutes or so over there in the dark of a late-November Saturday evening. By now the ewe had been moved into a small pen. There isn't much light out there but our friend had a headlamp to see by. She gave me a halter and lead rope to put on the ewe, which I did and I held the ewe as best I could up against the wall of the pen while our friend pulled on the tiny back foot that protruded from the ewe. By now we expected a dead lamb and were only trying to save the nice big woolie ewe.

Our friend pulled and pulled. I held onto the ewe. It was a tough process. Finally some traction was gained and the lamb started to come out. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard, "I think it's alive". Pretty soon the lamb was extracted and yes, in fact it was alive, even after several hours waiting in breach presentation. I turned the ewe loose and she immediately began to lick and stimulate the lamb. He opened his mouth and "baa-ed". He was most definitely alive and kicking. Our friend and I were absolutely astounded by this amazing miracle. We wondered if the lamb would eventually even be able to stand and walk after all the pressure applied to his legs pulling him out. Meanwhile we got shavings to bed the pen for the pair and some alfalfa for mama to munch on, and a bucket of water for her to drink. When we got back with all those supplies for the ewe, we were shocked to see the little guy already attempting to stand, like a normal lamb. He was weak, but he kept trying and looked like he would be successful. The ewe continued to fuss over him and care for her lamb who had finally arrived!

When I talked with our friend the next day, she said that both mama and baby were doing fine and were indistinguishable from the other ewe and lamb pairs who hadn't been through such trauma. The tenacity and strong will of sheep is sometimes amazing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Song of Thanks

This article by Jon Carroll - one of my favorite columnists when I subscribed to the paper daily -- was published in the Thanksgiving Day version of the San Francisco Chronicle, but I am just getting around to reading Thursday's paper. I really enjoyed reading it and I hope you all do, too. Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Dunnigan - the Rest of Our Story...

On day two of the Dunnigan Hills trial last weekend, Coal and I drew up later in the afternoon to run. I helped by running and posting scores most of the day, mainly in order to keep warm on a cold, rainy, nasty weather day. I also feel that without help, there will be no trials; they are simply too much work for a small handful of people to handle on their own without volunteers. Originally slated to run dog #30, someone wanted to trade slots and since I was staying overnight, Coal and I ended up running dog #41.

Not wanting to mess with success, when it came to our turn, I sent Coal to the right again, as I had done on Saturday. He shot off over the hill and out of sight but I didn't worry. He knows those hills, I thought. Soon, however, it was apparent that too much time had passed. Coal must've gotten lost or he'd gone back to the letout pens. More tick-tock...starting to feel my energy drain. I was about to give up and go over to the judge when here Coal came over the top of the hill and lifted the sheep. So yes - he got to them somehow - but had wasted so much time I knew that any hopes of our completing the course today were gone. We completed the fetch and started on the drive; Coal and I were arguing about the whistles and drive lines, the sheep were squirrely in the wind, and I retired after much ado getting to the first drive panel. Enough was enough. I knew we wouldn't even have time to get our drive points finished. I was not unhappy, maybe a little disappointed at not getting to "attack the course" a second time, but  not at all unhappy with my dog. We exhausted our sheep and I went back to helping with scores. Later I found out that Coal had indeed gone back to check the setout pens but had not stayed there long - he checked in and realized that wasn't where he was supposed to be - but then moved on to try to find his sheep. I tried to take this as good news!

Later in the day we were asked to help with setout for the first Nursery class. Coal worked pushing the sheep from the letout pens by relay over to the person spotting for the working dogs on the trial field. Coal thought this was great fun and I was happy to do it, again to keep warm instead of freezing in a lawn chair watching the trial.

On Monday we helped with setout for much of the day, for the Pro-Novice and remaining Nursery classes. Luckily, the weather was much improved over Sunday so it was not so unpleasant to be out on top of the hill at the top of the trial field. Coal worked his heart out. He loves working in the pens to push sheep up into the letout. He is quiet in the pens and doesn't upset the sheep, yet doesn't give them any ground. He did not want to quit, when we got a break and someone else took over for a while. I have to give credit to the "heart" in the little dog.

All in all Dunnigan Hills was a very fun trial and I was glad I was able to go. It's our last trial of the 2011 season, so what a wonderful way to close out the year. Thanks to all who made the trial possible!

Coal - file photo
photo credit L. Dillon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stand and Deliver

We spent the past weekend at the Dunnigan Hills sheepdog trial near Zamora, CA. Coal was entered both Saturday and Sunday in the Open, judged by Elgar Hughes of Wales. After last weekend at Hopland, I was pretty discouraged about trialling but landed early Saturday morning at the field (after getting up at 3:30 in the morning to make the drive over) with a positive attitude. Coal ran dog #4 in the early morning-my best time of day. It was cold but seemed like perfect dog and sheep weather. We had a very fluid run, hit all the gates, and penned smoothly. I felt sort of like I was in a blur...it was really fun. Anyway then later we went to look at the scores and I was surprised to see that Coal had earned 86 points out of 90! Whoa! Running dog 4 out of more than 50 dogs meant that we had to wait all day long to see where things ended up. Never before had we placed in an open trial. I was surprised by how calm I felt. Everyone congratulated us on our fine run. I probably had the deer in the headlights look but sat back to enjoy and watch the rest of the runs. By day's end we were still in second place, with Anne Mock and Ben earning 87 points in a stellar run to win the trial. What a thrill this was for me: our first-ever open placement, and our first-ever USBCHA points. What a good boy, Coal. Now our trainer says we have to stand and deliver.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dog Day Afternoon

Here is another nice article about the Hopland sheepdog trial over the past weekend, from the Lake County Record-Bee, plus a photo of Bill Berhow and Gwyn at the pen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hopland photos and article

Here are a few more photos from the Hopland trial, thanks to Teri!

One ewe of our packet did not get a gold star for playing nice with others

Coal waiting his turn
Another UC HREC Hopland sheepdog trial has come and gone. There is a nice little article in the Ukiah Daily Journal about it. This trial is becoming one of the best trials on the west coast if not in the U.S. There was a wait list for the Open class, so we felt fortunate to draw in. The venue is spectacular with a patchwork quilt view atop a hill where you can see across a beautiful Mendocino County valley, and of course the sheep are fabulous. Where else do you get fresh, mostly undogged, very healthy and fit commercial wool sheep for every run, all weekend? The staff from the research center were more than helpful and had everything fixed up so that our trial experience was so much fun. The Ukiah 4-H kids (and their wonderful parents) prepared delicious food on Saturday and Sunday. The trial organizers had every detail planned for and in place, including a setout person flown in all the way from Wales! Doesn't this sound like a recipe for a great trial to draw a lot of handlers and spectators?

As for Coal and me, our late-afternoon Saturday run was one I'd like to forget. All the stuff we have been working so hard on -- good outruns that are wide and deep enough, for one thing -- seemed to have gone out the window, as did inside flanks to release off pressure. It was as if we never trained at all.  I was pretty discouraged.

On Sunday morning, our run was better. The outrun, lift and fetch were downright respectable. We still had troubles on the crossdrive that had nothing to do with the placement of the crossdrive panels (which were wicked in their own right). We did make it to the pen as the photos document, however, time was called while we worked on  easing the sheep toward the pen. The course time was cut by a minute from Saturday to Sunday which didn't help us, but helped to get the trial completed on time before dark.

It's hard not to still feel discouraged about trialling but a good friend advised me to tally up the good and forget the bad parts. Our trainer told me that he was proud of me for taking a risk on Sunday morning's run that worked well to our advantage. Also, on the good side, Coal is still looking really sound. He got a good report from his chiropractor last week so we are greenlighted to go ahead and train and trial. There is one more trial weekend on our calendar before we close the books on 2011. I guess we're back on the team...

Ryme, however, is not sound. He has a similar rear-leg pulled muscle/soft tissue injury to what Coal had, minus the spinning. So Ryme has been on the bench for sheep chores and training for a week now and it will likely take longer to get him healed up. Luckily his knee itself does not seem to be involved, for which I am thankful. Ryme without work is not a happy camper so that is a chapter in the book yet to be completely written...and I hope it is only a temporary one.

Meanwhile we'll carry on (to quote a favorite Welshman)...

What goofy boys do while waiting tied to the fence!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Dark and Stormy Night...

No, not a Peanuts cartoon....but I'm getting way ahead of myself. This post may end up as a bit of a novella itself as there is much catching up to do. We ended up driving home from Zamora last night in a driving rain storm in the dark with heavy traffic - none of which are my favorite conditions for driving after a long afternoon of good dog work.

RESDA Novice Program Event

The RESDA novice program sponsored a mini-clinic with Bill Berhow yesterday afternoon and there were eight dogs worked. The RESDA novice group is always ready for any challenge and many folks want to improve their ability to tackle USBCHA type courses in addition to RESDA, but they just need some help expanding their dog's and their own experiences. Yesterday, everyone showed improvement on the hills and on their outruns and drives. The weather started out just grey and threatening, but about two-thirds of the way through the event, the rain came down in earnest. Luckily I had already put on my rain gear so I was somewhat dry, but it was still cold.

Coal and I worked on our outrun again, as we did in our last private lesson. I took Coal to this novice event rather than Ryme as I normally would (the program is for novice dogs as well as novice handlers) because we have the Hopland and Dunnigan trials coming up in the next two weekends. This seemed to be the only chance to get coaching before those trials. Coal showed improvement on the outrun in our clinic session. We also did some driving and attempted again to shed those Dunnigan sheep (which can be an exercise in frustration!).  Happy with our clinic session, Coal and I went out to take the setout person's place so that she could have a break. Then the real work began. It's a long walk from the holding pens to the setout point, especially bringing the sheep down lower for the less experienced dogs. Coal got a good workout from all this, plus we got to pick up the sheep from the clinic group several times, resulting in more outruns to both sides. It was a really productive day for us. And the bonus is that Coal appears to still be sound. This morning he is gangbusters! And we have a chiro appointment for the dogs this week. I hope this is all good timing.

What made my day was seeing Coal's half-brother two-year-old Angus (who has never worked at Zamora before) take off in a beautiful wide outrun on the hill face, on his second attempt at it, as if the exposure the first time had released his inner hill-dog self! It was a thrill to watch. Angus also made a lot of progress on his baby driving. Angus has beautiful natural flanks from which to build on. The other dogs belonging to our friends also worked well and stepped up to the challenge...all nice to see. Bill is a great coach and draws on so much experience it is an education just to sit and listen.

It was dark out by the time we headed home from Zamora though. And the rain was coming down heavier and heavier. Saturday night traffic was thick on I-80. I was really glad I had company other than canine for the ride home. Thanks Teri!

Spencer Pt. Pleasant

Things are busy as always lately. I never wrote anything about last weekend. On the Friday before Halloween, Coal and I ran at Spencer's Pt. Pleasant 9th annual fall sheepdog trial. That day was nice and sunny; the weather could not have been more beautiful. I only ran Coal on the Friday event. The judge was Michael Shearer from Scotland who could not have been more gracious about his judging duties.  At Spencer's the challenge is usually presented for the Open class to send your dog through a gate in the cross-fence line on the outrun, or to send from the center gate. Last year it was not made much of an option so Coal and I fumbled through, sending through the side gate. This year Mr. Shearer said we should send from the center gate and then walk back to the handler's tower if we were not absolutely certain that our dogs would run out freely through the side gate. I took this as a message straight to me (even though we had practiced sending through the side gate at home the weekend before) and sent Away through the center gate.

Coal's outrun was a bit tentative at first but then he bent out. I did redirect him twice. We've been working on his outruns getting him deeper and lifting from the top and not the side. Despite the points lost for the redirects, they were worth it, as he went deep enough, and his lift was good and from the top. The fetch was fairly good and for once we made all of the gates on the course. Yes! I was really pleased with the run up to this point. After the drive you brought your sheep back through the center gate again and to a Maltese Cross. This obstacle should be do-able for us after all our RESDA work but it was not to be, on that day. We had a devil of a time with it, taking at least four (I lost count) attempts to get all four sheep through it. By this time we had used up almost all of our course time, got into the shedding ring, and time was called. It was a somewhat disappointing end to what had started out as a really good run for us. I was still really pleased with the outwork and drives. I do think we are showing improvement over our Open runs from last year. Coal's maturity and our experience last year are helping a bit. Now if his handler could step up with a little more grit!

Jack Knox Clinic - Hopland 

Last Saturday and Sunday I spent with notepad in hand, auditing from the comfort of a lawn chair in the shade of a large tree at the Jack Knox clinic at Hopland. It was very educational to sit and watch many dogs working under Jack's knowledgeable tutelage. Lately I've been feeling sort of left behind since I currently have only one dog to run at the trials, after deciding that Ryme is still not prepared enough to run in Pro-Novice. My new strategy is to try to make up for that lag by as much observation and visualization as possible when the opportunities arise. So, watching clinics, lessons and videos will help to take the place of more opportunities at the post, I am hoping. It certainly can't hurt! The Hopland university facility could not be a more beautiful and nurturing setting for a sheepdog clinic. One feels spirited away to a magical landscape of rolling hills, trees, and well-cared for sheep--hundreds of them.

A variety of dogs and levels of training and handling were presented at the clinic. I took notes on all of them! I have found over the years that collecting my notes on other people's dogs has been very fruitful - because sooner or later either one of my own dogs or one of our training partners' dogs has an issue that is helped by one of the comments or suggestions made by those past clinicians. Since my memory is poor I don't rely on it. Paper and pen work much better. I recommend that anyone interested in sheepdog trialling or training go and audit one of Jack's clinics.

That brings us up to date! The time change has come, shortening our training time after work. Year after year I dread this date but year after year, I find ways to adapt. Happy November, everyone. I am very thankful.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RESDA Novice Program Training Day

Training opportunity this Saturday, November 5

This session is a "beyond Novice" day! Take a look at the link.