On Closing Doors

My view from the milk parlor is on closing doors. Can you see I’m obsessed with doors? If only I could remember to close them.

I went over to the rabbit area early to take a rabbit doe out of a tractor to put her in with a buck. I did that, but forgot to close the door to the tractor. Came over and milked the goats and was heading to the garden to water. Right at that time, Wally McSwain came out of the rabbit area and said “there’s no rabbits in the second pen and a bunch hopping all over the place.”

You had to have been there to appreciate it. Wally uses a cane around the farm because it helps him with his bad hip – BTW kudos to Wally, he’s lost about 50 pounds since he went to the doctor who told him that he needed a hip replacement but he wouldn’t do it until Wally lost 50 pounds. Now that Wally’s lost the weight, he’s decided to not get the hip replacement.

Anyway, Wally comes hobbling out of the rabbit area with his cane and tells me there’s rabbits out. I stop watering and head over to help him catch them. It was a team effort – four rabbits caught and returned to their pen.
Later on, I went through the barn to go somewhere, not sure where, left three doors open in the barn. Guess where Wally found the goats? All over the place in the section of the barn where they’re not supposed to be unless they’re being milked. They helped themselves to the ginger snap cookies that they so covet.

My brain is sort of occupied these days. I keep going back in my mind over my days with Gel. I had a great dog. I didn’t appreciate him as much as I should have, but while I had Gel, no other dog was going to come into the picture. Except Jack of course, but Jack’s too crazy to go anywhere else. Jack is useful, he can hold gates and drive ducks into the barn, or to Timbuktu, depending upon his mood.

When we lost Gel, I tried other dogs. The primary problem was they couldn’t work the goats. Gel could move elephants if I asked him to. I still remember the day I first met Wally. I went to his farm to look at some goats

I wanted to buy to train Gel on. When I brought Gel into the barn, his goats all but climbed to the rafters. That’s how I met Wally, because of Gel.
We bought Katie back in January I think. Katie couldn’t move the goats either, but Katie is silly. She makes us laugh. She’s cute as a button – she looks like a panda bear. Another point in her favor – she hasn’t chased or tried to kill the cats.

After several failed attempts to work Katie on the goats, I just decided Katie was going to be a pet. Until about a month ago. On a whim, I brought Katie out to the buck barn and sent her to bring the bucks out. Previously, she couldn’t get them out of the barn. She might be able to pull out one, but would leave the other.

During this experiment, she brought those two bucks out of the barn like their tails were on fire. We worked them around the pasture and instead of the flipping, flanking mess she was previously when working, she was steady and focused. Katie had matured or maybe I just opened my heart to her.

Truly, I put her on the shelf. Wally took care of both dogs. I had little to do with them. She was bonding to Wally. As I write this, she’s lying behind me in my office.

We’re now taking lessons with a fantastic trainer who is kind to her dogs and her stock. That’s important to me. I don’t want stock abused, or the dog of course.

Wally and I are going tomorrow to pick up some sheep that have been worked by Border Collies. I’m not sure who’s more excited, Wally or me. We’ve spent the past week, Wally more so than me because I’m still working full-time, fencing in an 80×100 area for working. We moved the bucks into the doe barn (a separate area) to free up the barn for the sheep (and hay storage).

We’ve had issues with sheep in the past. Wally literally had a heart attack after wrangling one group to worm them. While at that time, I had a nice dog to work the sheep, we didn’t have a proper area to confine them to make it easier to work with them. After Wally got out of the hospital, we sold the sheep and I returned the dog because I didn’t need her. That was a shame because she was a really nice dog. I couldn’t use her on the goats though. She wasn’t strong enough.

A goat can size up a dog in a heartbeat and if they know they can get away with something, they’ll do it. They’ll stand and say “make up.” Well, Katie’s figured out very brilliantly how to make them – and she’s appropriate about it. Jack will make them, but I’ll have torn up goats as a result. With dairy animals, you need a dog that will bit clean – either the head or the heel. Even Gel didn’t always bite clean, but he rarely had to bite. Goats knew he meant business.

Gel was so incredibly magnificent he spoiled me. He read my mind. Once you were through working, he was happy to play fetch. He was a stick and ball maniac. The crazy thing is, I bought him to do agility with, and we did that – I considered picking up agility with Katie, but the investment in equipment is extensive. Plus, she really has no toy drive. Gel did great in agility. Then he turned on to stock. I took some lessons, but not many. At our last trial, we placed second in the ranch class on very difficult sheep – Gel was kind to his sheep.

I put the Australian Shepherd title “Working Trial Champion” on him in three shows and he was highest scoring dog in all three shows. To obtain a WTCH, you have to work ducks, sheep and cattle. It was great fun – expensive, but fun. Gel was push button. He covered up all my mistakes – almost.

Now he’s gone and I have Katie. I’ve forgotten all I didn’t know about working sheep, but she’s a good dog. I think we’ll succeed together. The goal is to ultimately trial her. That may take many years, but it’ll be okay. I’m not going to make the same mistake with her that I did with Gel. Eventually I’ll bring in another dog to work as a back-up. Once you’ve had a good stock dog, it’s hard to do without.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll remember to close doors.

Until later …