Newborns

Newborns

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Routine

The shepherd's year, as I reflect on it, is a combination of intense mileposts interspersed with routine tasks.  Lambing, shearing, weaning the lambs, shipping the lambs, sorting the breeding groups, moving the sheep between summer and winter pastures - these are the periods of concentrated effort.  Between these bursts of work (and indeed, even during them), the routine tasks must be accomplished.  These routine responsibilities include things like checking the electric fences, feeding the livestock guardian dogs, walking through the sheep to check for health problems, and moving the irrigation water.  With shearing now behind us and weaning lambs about a month away, we've settled back into our routine.

The routine tasks seem to lend themselves to a division of labor.  My partner Roger handles checking the fences and the sheep and feeding the guard dog.  I take care of moving the irrigation water.  At times, especially when we have a bigger move to do with the sheep or a lot of fence to move, we'll work together - but the daily smaller chores are covered individually.

Last year, we upgraded our main irrigation system from aluminum hand-pipe to a K-Line pod system.  Rather than disassembling the pipe, walking it to a new set, and reassembling it every 24 hours, I now drag the K-Line with an ATV.  Our system is set up on a 24-hour set and a 10-day rotation - for those of you who don't irrigate, this means that the sprinklers put out enough water in 24 hours to meet our plants' needs.  We come back to the same spot in the pasture every 10 days.

When all goes smoothly, it takes me about 30 minutes to move water.  If I leave for the ranch by 7 a.m., I can get the water shifted and make it to work before 8 a.m.  But as with most things in farming and ranching, the water moves don't always go smoothly.  Frequently, I find plugged sprinklers, which I try to unplug without turning off the system (to save time).  This means I often arrive at work with wet clothes!  Last year, the neighbor's dog took great pleasure in biting the sprinklers while they were running - on occasion I'd arrive to find a geyser in the middle of my irrigation set.  Sometimes I forget to check the fuel in the ATV!

Similarly, the sheep chores are mostly non-eventful.  One of us (mostly Roger) will feed Reno, walk through the sheep, and check the fences.  Once in a while, we'll find a lamb or a ewe that needs to be treated for some ailment (usually a mild respiratory infection).  This time of year, with warm days and with the sheep on irrigated pasture, we sometimes see coccidiosis (a parasite that causes diarrhea).  Sometimes we'll arrive to a non-working electric fence (usually a dead battery or some kind of fault on the fence itself).  These problems always seem to occur when we have someplace else to be!

This year, I have a couple of additions to my daily routine.  We recently purchased a new border collie puppy (Mae).  Our oldest working dog (Mo) is 9, so we've decided it's time to start working on his replacement.  Mae is still too young for direct training on sheep, but all of us are working on socializing her and on basic manners (coming when called, not jumping on people, crate-training, etc.).  She's been great fun to have around!  And this week, we also picked up a new guard dog puppy.  Bodie is part Anatolian and part Maremma.  His training is very different - we want him to bond with the sheep, so he's getting very little in the way of socialization (except at feeding time).  At the moment, he's adjusting to life away from his brothers and sisters by living with a handful of sheep we keep at the house.  Over the next several weeks, I'll expose him to electric fencing in preparation for his lifetime of guarding our sheep.


I guess in some respects, raising livestock is like any other avocation.  There are times of intense work and times of routine in any job, I suppose.  What's different about ranching, at least to me, is that the rhythm of my work follows the progression of the seasons - lambs and shearing in spring, sorting breeding groups in fall, and shipping finished lambs in fall, for example.  The other difference, I think, is that I'm on the ranch's schedule - even when I think I'm not!  A broken water pipe or a sick lamb can't simply be left until tomorrow.

2 comments:

  1. Not sure why I'm so fascinated with shepherding but the more I read your posts, the more I find I'm interested! It's certainly not just a guy standing around with a shepherd's staff as I had previously imagined. Besides all the necessary chores, I guess there's plenty of thinking time.....just being grateful for the land, the beauty of the season and the sweet charm of the sheep themselves. I never realized the amazing amount of work that needs to be done day in and day out. Thanks for all your posts, dear Mr. Shepherder!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not sure why I'm so fascinated with shepherding but the more I read your posts, the more I find I'm interested! It's certainly not just a guy standing around with a shepherd's staff as I had previously imagined. Besides all the necessary chores, I guess there's plenty of thinking time.....just being grateful for the land, the beauty of the season and the sweet charm of the sheep themselves. I never realized the amazing amount of work that needs to be done day in and day out. Thanks for all your posts, dear Mr. Shepherder!

    ReplyDelete