Thursday 28 November 2013

Border Collie pups vs Sarplaninac pups

As many of you know we had a littler of sarplaninac pups,
and much to my surprise we had a litter of border collie pups.
This presented me with the ideal circumstances to do some research,
here are my findings:
Border Collie pups


Sarplaninac Pups

Border Collie Pups
Sarplaninac Pups
Are tiny
Are huge
Averagely fluffy to short coated
Super fluffy
Play fight in a friendly manner
Play fighting ends op in full blown warfare
Super fast and racy
Slow and sloth like
Your trip over border collie pups
Sarplaninac pups are out patrolling their territory
BC pups come when you call “puppies” in a sweet high tone
Sar glance back at you with this amazed expression on their face
Need entertainment
Can entertain themselves
Never sit still for a photo
Will sit still and pose for a picture
Shiver and shake from a touch of snow
Love nothing more than sleeping outside in a blizzard
Are solids, hard colours
Are soft sable, grey tones
Have a will to please
Have a will to please IF is suits them
At 8 weeks a bc pup is ready for its new life
At 8 weeks a sar is still such a baby
Start herding anything
Growl and bark at strangers
Teaching walking on a lead, come, sit and down take about 5 minutes
Teaching walking on a lead, come, sit and down can take a lifetime
When walking down the road, people say “oh a sheepdog/border collie cool”
When walking down the road, people say “oh is that a great Pyrenees, husky, wolf cross, coyote?” Never do they get it right.
Are sheepdogs that herd
Are sheepdogs that guard
Cute as button
Cute as button
 On a sheep ranch as ours both breeds are vital to our operation.
We need both
and both breeds perform the jobs required of them.
They allow us to manage our sheep efficiently,
manage our grazing optimally
and have flexibility.

Friday 22 November 2013


Just let me state upfront that:
1. I am not a scientist, biologist or zoologist
2. What I am about to write are my thoughts and opinions,
and these may be wrong!

The relationship between predators and prey is fragile one and one perhaps not yet fully understood.
The ecology of fear, and the trophic cascade effect of predators on both the prey and their ecosystem are relatively fresh ideas, these are fascinating reads!
( The Wolfstooth, Cristina Eisenberg amongst others..)

 Not every interaction between predators and prey results in predation.

Predators need however, to stay in fairly close contact with their prey,
  to ensure a constant supply of food.

You will see lions drinking side by side with zebra, at a pool in Africa,
or cheetahs walking past herds,
where the prey is wary, but not flighty.

Many times, predators will just be passing through,
and resting close to the prey animal.

This all gets me thinking about the relationship between the coyotes and our sheep.

A few months back I got a call from a sheep rancher in central Alberta.
He runs a fairly large herd and has an older Great Pyrenees dog in with his stock
He was concerned about what he was observing.
 The coyotes would be coming within about 50 m of the flock
and the guardian dog did not seem to respond to this anymore.
Sure, if the coyotes came in closer the dog would get up and bark.
According to the owner, the dog was just not so into chasing off the coyotes.

Now, in my opinion there are a number of things going on here.
 1.Coyotes are the masters of observation, they have all day to watch and learn what we are doing, they learn our routines, our patterns and even the habits of our stock and guardian dogs.
In all likely hood these coyotes are just checking out what is  going on.
They are not in predatory mode (yet)
and just scoping out the situation.
2. This dog was older and alone. ( I will return to this point a little later)
3. The coyotes are probably in the process of habituating both the dog and the stock to their presence.

Habituation is a subtle process, it can be defined as
"Habituation is a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations. As a procedure, habituation is the repeated presentation (the Coyote) of an eliciting stimulus ( the dog chasing) that results in the decline of the elicited behavior (dog ignoring the coyote) (the process of habituation)."The American Heritage® Science Dictionary

Without the coyotes behaving in a predatory manner, the stock and the dog learns to disregard the presence of the coyotes. 
The dog may have initially barked at, or chased off  the coyote,
 however after time the dog got tired and accustomed to the presence of the coyotes.
Slowly, the dog started reacting less and less to the presence of the coyotes.
This could be due to the fact that it was alone and older.

One of the biggest errors I see with sheep ranchers is that they
do not have enough guardian dogs out doing the rounds.

One dog is never enough, the expectation that one dog can protect the livestock is simply not feasible.
In time the dog will become exhausted and will even become a target for predators.
A dog alone has no back up, no rest and will lose confidence if predators repeatedly test the dog.
It is the proverbial "sitting duck".

In some instances two dogs may suffice, depending on the number of livestock, terrain, predator load and other measures implemented to discourage predation.

Running a "pack" of dogs has a whole number of advantages:
-more guardian potential for your flock
-young dogs are trained and raised within the safety of the pack
-the dogs create their own territory and will drive off intruders
-more dogs will divide the jobs of perimeter patrol and close up protection
-they give the predators less chance to "habituate"
-more fresh dogs, the dogs do not get played out as easily
-they give each other  back up

It also has its disadvantages ( feed costs, naughty behaviour, roaming) however,
the advantages of having more dogs, far outweighs the negatives.
It is a number game, to have sufficient protection for your flock, you need enough dogs.
The most efficient pack is one that is built up of various ages, similarly to a wild canid pack.
You have a few older adults, some younger adults, a teenager or two and an up and coming pup.

The breed of guardian dog also has an impact on how the dogs react and behave,
however that discussion will need to wait for another blog sometime.

So, on to our situation:
I have seen this  ( habituationg) behaviour in the local coyotes here.

They regularly check out what we are doing, if we move the stock, change our patterns the coyotes come and see what has happened and what has changed.
 A few weeks back  I noticed a coyote coming around all times of day, staying way beyond the fence, but checking things out.
(We only had two dogs in the flock at that stage).
Not long after that, I found the same coyote laying on a bale watching what was going on.

A few days later, the same coyote was laying on a bale with the sheep.
There was a progression in the coyote's behaviour and his boldness.
I blogged about it  HERE and what our response was to this increased boldness.

I needed to up the dog numbers,
and thankfully I have some "spares" kicking around.

Last weekend, things came to a head, with the dogs killing a coyote in the night corral of the ewes.

Due to the large amounts of snow,
 we have now moved the ewes into another pasture,
 this is going to be the 2013/14 winter corral.

This week, we have seen more coyote activity again.
A large male coyote ( I am assuming the mate of the female) has been coming around, checking things out,
patrolling the fence line and laying on the bales at the cows.

I know that wolves will often leave a killed coyote on a well used trail as a possible warning to other coyotes,
so, I decided to leave the dead coyote on a well used trail in the bush hoping that this too will warn the other coyote to keep his distance.
We will observe and watch
and if needs be we will add in another dog or two to ensure adequet protection and maximise discouragement.

Every morning we let the sheep out of the corral so that they can look and dig for some grass
 and can nibble on some bales.
Leading the way is guardian dog VUK.
He is the black dot upfront.

He goes ahead and the ewes will follow him out.
This behaviour of the dogs going ahead and "sweeping" an area clean is what we like to see.
They will move any predators out of the area where the sheep are moving into.

Now, I have always said, even with dogs, and fences, and night corralling, and carcass removal etc,
it is an illusion to think that no predation will ever take place.
It is also an illusion to think that no deaths will occur.
Sometimes the sheep get killed, or our dogs get injured and occassionly a predator will die.

However, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce the chance of conflict,
and discourage predators from hanging around our stock.
Having enough dogs to be able to protect the flock,
(and to ensure the dogs safety)
 is one of the most important management factors we implement on our ranch.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Life and death at the sheep corral

What a morning this has been.
A morning filled with stress, blood, death, shock, surprise and of course sympathy
As you all know by now, we are Predator Friendly, that  means we do not employ any lethal means to "get rid" of  predators.

One of the methods we use to prevent predation are guardian dogs.
These dogs are large powerful dogs that are bonded to the sheep. They have a nurturing and protective nature towards the stock. But,  when the stock is threatened these dogs have a whole repertoire of behaviour and actions to discourage the predators from entering the area of the stock.
Most times they bark, posture, mark their territory, chase
and if the threat continues they will interact and fight.

We like to keep our dogs safe and value what they do.
We never "encourage" them to chase or hunt.
Instead we just let them do what they feel they need to do to keep the sheep safe.
We have heard them rumbling in the bush
Our Fena got beaten up pretty badly by a pack of coyotes a few years back

We have seen the dogs at work,
 however not like we did today.

This morning when we went to let the sheep out of the night corral we were shocked at what we saw.
A large coyote had got into the night corral with the ewes.
(One side of the night corral borders a page wire fence, we had no dogs on that side of the fence).
The coyote was on the inside of the fence in with the sheep.

 We have been locking the guardian dogs on the outside of the fence believing that this would provide the sheep with the most protection, as the dogs could patrol a larger area.
We never thought that a coyote would be that bold as to go into the night corral with the sheep.

The coyotes have been very active and coming in pretty close recently.
Just yesterday I decided to add Vuk to help the females out a little and moved Lucy to the lambs.
With the added pressure,
we like to switch the dogs around to ensure the safety of the stock.

inside the fence was one big, mad coyote.
On the outside of the electric fence were Vuk and Fena.
This coyote was snarling, hissing and growling at our guardian dogs

Coyote facing off with the dogs. The coyote is on the inside of the sheep corral and the dogs are on the outside of the electric fence. 

We debated what to do,
 how to get the coyote out of the sheep corral?
We needed to watch what we were doing as this coyote was upset and we did not want to get bitten,
or have the sheep hurt.
So, we opened up the electric fence and tried to guide the coyote to the opening
(on the other side of the dogs).
Eric tried a few times to get the coyote to move out of the corral however it kept turning back

Within a instant things changed
and there was nothing more we could do to give the coyote a chance of escaping.

When Vuk realised that the electric fence was off
he jumped over the fence to the coyote.
The coyote decided to jump out,
Fena grabbed it in mid air and swung is around.
Vuk jumped back over, and grabbed the coyote by the throat.
Fena had the coyote by the stomach and within a minute the coyote was dead.

Now, I know this is why we have guardian dogs,
they did their job,
what they did probably has saved quite a few sheep's lives.
However, I cannot help but feel some sympathy towards the coyote.

She made a wrong decision and died because of that.

What I can say is that it was quick.
The dogs did not badger the coyote at all,
they did not just nip at it,
nor did they unduly rip it apart,
their was no malice in what they did.
They dispatched it and then went about their business.

The dogs had just killed the coyote.
Us, being predator friendly has to do with our attitude and approach.
We will not shoot, trap, snare or kill any predators.
Our dogs do, what they need to do.
Of course, I would have preferred that the coyote did not chose to jump into the night corral  with the ewes.
Sure, I hoped it would respect the space of the guardian dogs and move on,
 however it did not.

The coyote overstepped the boundaries and died because of this.

I think part of the shock is that you never expect this kind of interaction to play out
right in front of your eyes.
We know that these interactions can occur,
and this is why we use the guardian dogs,
to keep the sheep safe and to encourage the predators to go elsewhere

I feel double about this incident as
I feel sorry for the coyote,
however, I am also proud of how our dogs reacted.
They did what they were bred to do,
and the sheep are safe in their care.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Some pictures of dogs and sheep

I tire quickly from Miley,
so thought I would up and change my blog rapidly.
I loved the comment from Brooke that I have "TWORKING" dogs!

So, I do not have too much content this time just some pictures of sheep and dogs in the new snow.
My favourite picture of the bunch.
This is Fena

I do enjoy a dog that is photogenic,
Mali is definitely going to be the photo model type.
So, if she dominates my pictures.. that's the reason.


Mali's mother, Katcha



Fena is shedding her coat after having her litter of pups.
She is looking a little motley here.

Mali (again)

Two sheep

Lucy licking snow

Lucy doing her rounds.

Mali, Lucy and Katcha,
the sheep are so relaxed with the dogs moving around between them, 
they do not even bother to stop grazing.
And, that is how it should be.

Another one of Mali
Mali is maturing into a great dog.
She was super grouchy as a pup, but has mellowed out.

Gathering the ewes to put them in the night corral.

Lad moving a group of lambs towards their night corral, while the ewes head to their night spot.

The evening sky.
The ewes take a quick lick at the salt before going to bed down for the night.

Monday 11 November 2013

Mali gives Miley a run for her money

So, Miley  caused a whole lot of  commotion at the VMA's
with her twerking and tongue twisting a while back.

Now, in all honesty my dogs can do this too, 
but with way more finesse and style.

So let us compare:
 Miley vs Mali



Mali girl,
you rock...

Sunday 10 November 2013

Living in the deep freeze.

High Prairie is found here:
55°25′57″N 116°29′10″W,
our climate is a sub arctic climate.
That means in layman's terms that we live in a deep freeze for 5-7 months of the year.
The average temperature of a household freezer is around -18C,
ours fluctuates anywhere between 0 and -52C.

We have had our first little blast of winter this week,
our daytime temperature was around -17 and at night would dip down to -27C.
There is just no easing into winter in this way.

A question that I regularly hear is "how do you survive?"
Well, I will use this blog to give you a little insight into what we do to survive the winter.

The first thing I would like to say is that our house is actually heated,
and we have hot coffee.
Two essentials for ranching here.

The first initial evaluation about how cold it actually is,
 can be heard when you walk on the snow.
The sound or crunchiness gives away a lot of clues..
The crunchier the snow, the colder it is.

If you have icicles hanging on your eyelashes, it is cold.
When you breath freezes on your is cold.

Toque (woollen hat) and mitts are not optional, even if they look ridiculous on you,
who cares when it is that cold?

Winter boots that warm to -40 or lower are an essential.

Dressing in layers until you look like the Michelin man is the way to go.

All vehicles whether they are trucks, cars or tractors all have to be plugged in.
The block heater keeps the oil in the motor block in a liquid state.
If you do not have a block heater, then the oil becomes like butter and your engine will not start
or may even be damaged if you try to start it cold.
Plugging in the tractor or vehicle is one of those chores you always wish someone else will do early in the morning. Running outside in your jammies and a coverall to plug in the vehicles is not really a fun activity.

All our watering stations have a heater.
If the stockwaterer does not have a heater of its own,
we hang in a heated flotation device.
If the stockwaterer freezes in the winter,
it requires a lot of work and energy to defrost and de-ice everything to get it functioning again.
In the worst case scenario you may have to wait until next spring before you can use it again.

The animals stay outdoors,
 they get fed a high forage ration that will create some internal heat.

Their coats are adapted to the climate and they are thick and fluffy trapping air between the fur forming an insulation layer.

We provide straw for additional bedding,
 for the animals to snuggle into.
This is particularly important for breeding bulls and rams, considering that their "crown jewels" are prone to freezing.
Frozen testicles are not conducive for reproduction.

The animals also have natural shelter such as bush to get out of the wind,

 and provide some protection against the snow.

If they do not have natural shelter we build a shelter belt for them with bales.

The dogs get additional meat, fats and oils to supplement their diet to create more warmth,
they can cozy up to the sheep and share the straw bedding.

The more vulnerable animals can come into the barn,
even though our barn is not heated, it does break the wind.
If the animals really need some added warmth then a heat lamp really helps to get 
them all warm and fuzzy again.


 So, even though I feel sorry for myself today..
Winter is also beautiful.
The air is crisp,
the skies are stunning and the northern lights are an added perk.

Until the first snow falls, I always feel some trepidation about the upcoming winter,
however once it is here,
 it is simply a matter of embracing it.
Appreciating the stark beauty,
enjoying the warmth of the house,
and accepting  that
 everything takes a little more time and effort to do in the winter.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Border Collie pup update

The little rascals are doing good.
They are still a little small for their age,
however considering that:
1. I had no idea they were on there way,
2. had worked mom Sheila up until she whelped,
3. did not feed Sheila as an expectant mom..
it is to be expected that they are (maybe) on the lighter side...

I did make some "inbetween" pictures however  they never made it to this blog.
They did get onto our Dutch  blog though..
So, to see them: click HERE

These pictures were taken today.

This is a fluffy girl, soft, sweet and a little timid.
My favorite.

This is the black girl, she is Eric's choice.

This is the short coated girl.
I like her too.

Same girl, no with the only tri colour and only male..

Fluffy female, sweet as candy

The boy, cute as a button.

All the pups

Shy girl, snow queen

These next bunch of pictures were taken yesterday.
We brought the pups inside for some snuggle and cuddle time
 as we have had over 6 inches of snow overnight and it is getting cold.
Cuddling close to the furnace is so much nicer.

 Sweet girl

Black girl

Fluffy girl

Shy girl

Black girl

I must have missed the boy on this photo session..
Have a wonderful day.

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