31 December 2006

A visit from the vet, and some good surprises!

This morning our new vet came for a visit to check on Jack: he's showing a head tremor, which is worrisome in a sheep as it can be a symptom of scrapie (an always fatal neurological disease). The vet believes, thankfully, that Jack's problems relate to his neck wounds received in the tussle with McKenzie - there may be an abscess in there still, or perhaps there's just been some nerve damage. He's on new antibiotics for a week now: if that doesn't clear things up we'll do some bloodwork and see what's going on, but all in all it's good news. We can deal with an abscess: it may be messy and a little painful, but it isn't likely to be fatal. Whew. I didn't want to lose him, he's such a sweetheart.

In other sheep related news, you may recall that in October I bought two purebred Icleandic ewes and two Suffolk/Icelandic cross lambs from a lady nearby. I got an amazing deal on the sheep: $50 each (CDN), so I couldn't turn them down! The ram lamb, Bruce, had been wethered ... or so I was told. (For you city slickers, this means he's been "fixed".) I assumed the task had been done with a Burdizzo when I noticed that he had a package - the boy's goods fall off when the task is done with an Elastrator, which is the more usual method in this neck of the woods. (Apologies to all male readers, who are now cringing at the very thought of the procedures involved, but this is relevant to our discussion!)

Anyway, I noticed Bruce paying a lot of attention to the girls earlier this week. Hmm, could the wethering have been incomplete? With a Burdizzo, it can happen. Well, since the vet was coming out anyway, I asked her to have a feel. Sure enough, this 'wether' has his full package and is likely to be fully functional! We have a ram! I'm quite pleased about this, actually, as Bruce has a fabulous white fleece that feels like silk, and it'd be great to have fleece like that passed on to some lambs.

Now, Bruce being intact would explain one other mystery that surfaced this week. Natalie, one of the Icelandic ewes, is looking VERY large in the middle. I had noticed Natalie's belly getting kind of big, but the Icelandics have so much wool I didn't think much of it. Then I noticed her belly seemed to have 'dropped' the other day ... ummm ... that's what they say happens before lambing! Here's the mystery: even if she'd been tupped (shepherd's term for 'knocked up') she couldn't possibly be showing yet, as she was only exposed to a ram after they were introduced to Jack in October. Sheep are pregnant for about five months, so that'd mean no lambs until March or so - it's way too early to be noticing anything. The mystery is solved, though: she'd been running in the pasture all summer with a sneaky ram lamb who was masquerading as a wether ... and Bruce apparently got some work done early!

The vet confirmed my suspicions when she was here this morning, she says it does look like Natalie is quite pregnant - so we're keeping an eye out for lambs now! I hadn't expected any early lambs but I'll be more than happy to have them ... The Boy needs early lambs for his 4H project: we were going to have to find some to purhcase, but if we can provide our own, so much the better. :)

Now to see if we can help our sheep through this adventure ... wish us luck on our very first, earlier than anticipated, lambing season!

29 December 2006

Thrummed mittens

I've finally decided to try knitting thrummed mitts, and I'm enjoying the experience!

(If you live somewhere warm and have no idea what I'm talking about, look here.)

I like knitting regular mittens, because you get done so quickly - you can see your progress and have something finished in a week of 'spare moments'. Plus, it's very portable: I've been known to knit my way through many a 4H meeting!

Anyway, I have fleece kicking around (I only have a drop spindle as of yet and much going on in my life, so I don't get much chance to spin) and thought this would be a good use for some fleece that's looking for a purpose. Besides, winter is cold and I have no good mittens.

The first attempt turned out way too puffy, I'd pulled off far too much fleece for each of the little bits that is stuffed in the stitches and ended up with a hand sized pillow rather than a mitten. So, that mitten got pulled back and I've started over ... with a bit more restraint on the fleece it is looking pretty good so far.

Sheep are great.

26 December 2006

Christmas at Apple Jack Creek

We have had a lovely Christmas season.

McKenzie is getting bigger by the day: he's starting to resemble a small polar bear.

On Christmas Eve, Union Guy and I were out in the pasture and saw Bob take off down the length of the field barking like crazy. He wiggled under the fence and kept on going, with McKenzie right behind him. I looked up to see what this was all about, and there in the road was a coyote! Right there, in the middle of the day, trotting down the road, bold as you please. Well, with all the barking and the dogs on his heels that coyote did a double take and bolted, with Bob in full pursuit, legs stretched out like a greyhound on the track. McKenzie, being a puppy still despite his size, flopped along as best he could barking something that sounded like "wait for me! I'll get him! I'll get him!" The coyote disappeared down the road, and eventually the dogs came back and lay in the hay to recover from their sprint.

The dogs got canned dog food for a Christmas treat. One should always thank those who provide good service! :)

The Boy and his Gram made a gingerbread house, complete with guest house. The Boy tells me Gram and Grandpa live in the big house, and he lives in the little guest house. There's even a stack of firewood out front, by the ice cream cone trees.

Apparently I still live in my own house. :)

The Boy had his school Christmas concert, and they did an awesome job. This is a public school that makes sure they describe and joyously celebrate all the different festivals held at this time of year. This year The Boy's class was singing a Kwanzaa song, and dancing with rhythm sticks (one set of which flew out of the dancer's hands and nearly smacked a spectator in the front row, but there were no injuries reported!). The stars of the show, in my mind, were the kindergarten students dressed as angels and shepherds, doing the actions to Away in a Manger. :)

Our Christmas Day saw this little house quite full: we had The Boy and myself, Gram and Grandpa, and Union Guy and his kids (Dinosaur Boy, 4, and Princess Girl, 2). We had presents and food and the kids got to see the sheep and the dogs and the chickens and the bunny ... it was all too much fun. Dinosaur Boy thinks feeding the chickens is a huge treat ... I told him he's welcome to do it any time! Grandpa played the piano (which was finally delivered here from storage, and is far less out of tune than any of us expected given that it has lived in unheated storage for more than a year). We sang some carols (and Old MacDonald, a request from Princess Girl), played Chopsticks on the piano, played with our new toys, and munched on Poppycock when the little ones weren't looking.

We heard from my sister and her husband, The Lithuanians (www.twoherringfishtales.com), and even had presents that they had left in a "do not open until Christmas" box, plus a few that were mailed directly from Lithuania! Our parcel to them hasn't arrived yet, but when they get it, I'm sure it'll feel like Christmas. There's some cool stuff in there!

The Boy and I are enjoying some much anticipated peace and quiet. I've been playing in the kitchen with my new pressure cooker and my butter bell, and I think I may go lie on the couch and read a book for awhile. Dinosaur Boy and I went out and fed the sheep earlier today, so chores are done and I have earned a rest. :)

10 December 2006

Christmas begins at Apple Jack Creek

We started our holidays today: we got our tree!

The guys went tromping around our land to see if there were any candidate trees available, but there was not a pine tree in sight. There was, of course, three feet of snow everywhere they tried to walk, so they were quite tired by the time we decided to head over to the Crown land nearby. We did find a great tree there, and Union Guy used his chainsawing skills to cut it down.

Once the tree was cut, we loaded it onto The Boy's sled and he towed it down the road to the house while Union Guy and I found a smaller tree for his house in town.

We have a 12' tree for our living room! It's huge!

We got the nice heavy tree stand my sister gave me and set the tree in it. About 20 minutes later, it tipped over! Nothing was damaged - I suspect the tree stand just isn't designed for trees quite this tall. This meant we needed a taller alternative: after some pondering and examination of what we had to hand, we stuck the tree in Mom's heavy old pickle crock, with rocks in the bottom for weight and chunks of firewood wedged around the trunk to hold the tree upright. It worked quite well, and will certainly hold lots of water.

For the first time in my life I had to stand on a ladder to decorate the tree! Union Guy had to put the star on the top - even on the ladder I couldn't reach.

Our Christmas trees are always covered in snow, even indoors. It's a family custom: Ivory Snow flakes - the original kind that are pure soap - make snow. Beaten up with water, the soap reaches a consistency like whipped cream, and you spread it on the tree branches. When it dries, it looks like there is snow piled on your tree! It's just not Christmas without a tree with snow.

We now have the tree completely decorated, with a Lego train running around the base, and presents piled around it.

I love this season.

You can see pictures of our day (including my first time using the chainsaw) on our
photo gallery.

05 December 2006

Guardian Dog Training

Training a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) is a real challenge.

First, you have to leave the puppy out there with the sheep so that he learns the sheep are his best friends in the world. You can't bring him in the house and love him there, because he will think you are more fun than the sheep, and you need him to love his sheep more than he loves you. He's adorable and tiny and cute, but you have to pet him only near the sheep, feed him only near the sheep, and make it so that his sheep are his pack. This requires significant willpower.

Then, when he finally gets that all figured out, you have to teach him that although he believes the sheep are his best friends, his pack, they really aren't other dogs and they cannot tolerate the kind of play that other puppies could tolerate!

Mckenzie has bonded very successfully to his sheep, and loves to play with them. The problem is that they are sheep, not puppies, and so they don't wrestle back. Once we realized what was going on, the puppy acquired a muzzle, and we fenced him in with the horned Icelandic sheep. These bigger, tougher sheep seemed to have remained unscathed by the whole fleece pulling adventure, and I did witness Brownie, the big Icelandic ewe, tossing her horns in Mckenzie's direction when he seemed interested in playing. He promptly went somewhere else.

It soon became obvious, however, that my fencing skills are no match for a Great Pyrenees pup's escape artist tricks. Mckenzie got out of that fenced area no matter what I tried. He went under. I patched. He went under again. I patched again. He went over. I tightened and added more fencing. He cried and bawled, and finally just went over the fence again. In the end I gave up, muzzled him, and put all the sheep and dogs back together again. Everyone seems to be managing this new arrangement fairly well, all things considered. I think Mckenzie believes a muzzle to be a reasonable price to pay for his freedom.

Yes, Mckenzie can eat and drink with the muzzle on. He can still get a little bit of fleece between his teeth and pull it out, too, if he really tries, but he isn't doing that very often anymore. When we are outside we leave him unmuzzled and provide instant correction should he attempt to play with his charges: he gets growled at, rolled on his back, and told in no uncertain terms NO PLAYING!

Of course, this behaviour is a normal part of the development of a guardian dog puppy, but it is hard work for the humans! Jack, our ram, has infected bite wounds on his neck that we've been irrigating with iodine and treating with pennicillin injections ... Banana Split is wearing P-nut's old wool coat, as she's missing half her fleece and seemed cold ... Baby has one bare leg, but seems relatively unaffected ... and honestly, none of this is a huge surprise.

Even with all this trouble, I love the dogs and think they do a wonderful job of keeping the coyotes away from our sheep. I know that getting a pup through this learning phase is very hard and that some damage is likely to be done as he learns, but in the end it is worth the effort. We will have to watch very closely during lambing season to ensure that he doesn't tussle with the tiny newborns, and some additional fencing is likely to be required to keep everyone separated during that crucial time.

I'm sure you'll all wonder why I like being a shepherd when there is so much heartache involved. I wonder sometimes, too, but I cannot argue the comfortable happy feeling I have when I watch the sheep.

Today, I looked out at my tiny flock and thought how wonderful it is to see them out there, munching on hay and meandering around the pasture. I can't wait to work with Bruce's fleece - he's a Suffolk/Icelandic cross with the most gloriously soft long white wool. I wonder which of the ewes are pregnant already, and which have yet to be tupped. (Jack was chasing Baby around and around the shelter's center support post today: clearly neither of their injuries are *that* significant, I noticed he rarely left her side today.) I wonder when we'll get lambs, if I'll get to see any of them being born, if we'll lose any of them. I wonder how long it'll take for Mckenzie to turn into the staunch protector Pyrs raised with sheep generally are, and I wonder how he will react to lambs (there are many tales of Pyr guardians rescuing chilled lambs by lying next to them to keep them warm, or licking them clean after birth if the mama will permit).

Living here is such an adventure. I can't wait to see what comes next!

We are experiencing technical difficulties...

Well, we were. I noticed a while ago that the pictures from my older posts were no longer visible, and that got repaired tonight.

If anyone happens to be Googling ... applejackcreek.blogspot.com is not behaving properly (although I see a tech posting saying they think we can fix that) and current posts all live here.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

03 December 2006

Wool is warm

Wool is warm, and fortunately, so is the weather these days. It was zero today - much, much warmer than last week! As soon as the weather warmed up the truck started no problem, so we've been able to venture out into the larger world once again.

This weekend we had our first joint 'sheep and crafts' meeting for 4H (all our craft kids are also in sheep projects, so combining it worked out fine). We only had one other 4H member who was able to come, but we had fun making felt, trying out hand spinning and carding fleece.