Continuing to Train Our Livestock Guardian Dog

The training of our Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), Anya, has been full of ups and downs, steps forward and steps backward.  We are learning a lot, and really love this sweet girl, who is such an integral part of our farm.  It has been hard this year, with the loss of our lead LGD, Tundra, this summer.  But Anya is doing a good job of stepping up to the plate and taking over the protection of the barnyard.

Bobcat looking for a chicken dinner at our farm

Living in the Rockies means predators…lots of them.  It seems not a week goes by without some sort of predator-near-the-barnyard-incident.  We have coyotes, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions that are all anxious for some lamb, or chicken.  Plus foxes, raccoons, and birds of prey that would enjoy an easy chicken dinner.  Our first defense against all predators is properly built fencing and livestock housing, and closing all animals indoors at night.  The way we have built our housing and fences pretty much takes care of the threat of coyotes, foxes, and raccoons.  We are still left with bears, bobcats, mountain lions, and aerial predators – and that is where having an LGD becomes a necessity.

 

We got Anya at 10 months of age last April.  She is an Anatolian Shepherd and had a good foundation with livestock before she came to us.  We started her living in her own pen, sharing a fence with all the livestock and watching Tundra as he did his work with the sheep, goats, and chickens.  We worked with her at least 5 days a week, for an hour or so each time, teaching her to not wrestle and play with the livestock.

We made quick progress and in May she was able to live full-time with our grumpy old nanny goat because the goat wouldn’t let her get away with roughhousing her.   That went really well.  Then we butchered that goat and didn’t really have anyone for her to live with safely yet, so she went back to living in her own pen sharing a fence with the livestock, and having her daily training sessions with the livestock.  Then in July Tundra died, and we tried to accelerate her training as much as we safely could, knowing she was now the only LGD.  We had a really good two-day time period where we were out in the barnyard almost all day long and she was with the sheep the entire time and did fine.  So we let her start living with the sheep, but not with the chickens.  The weanling lambs were about half size by then (much bigger than in this picture) so we figured she could handle them.

It all was going fine until a couple of days later we caught her holding down one of the weanling sheep, licking her like crazy.  She was not trying to kill, her, she just wanted to play, but the lamb was super stressed and went into shock.  Thankfully, the lamb pulled through fine, and doesn’t even show fear of the dog.  But after that we had to move her back to her own pen again to be safe.  A day later we had the chicken incident, where a chicken squeezed into her pen and she killed it.  We again took a step back and re-doubled our efforts at her training with chickens.

That was all back in July, and since then she has been living in her own pen, sharing fence, and we have continued daily training sessions where she goes in with the sheep and chickens and we keep an eye on her and reprimand her if she does anything wrong.  But for the last couple of months, she hasn’t done anything wrong at all during those times.  I usually just sit there reading or knitting while she hangs out with the flocks.  So we felt it was time to take another step forward.  She is about 16 months old now, so we still are not ready to trust her with chickens or young sheep (most people say not to until after 2 years old and plenty of training).  But in preparation for breeding season we put the ram in the back pen, along with the young ewe lambs who wont breed this year.  Come November we will put the ram in with the breeding ewes for breeding – we don’t want earlier breeding because it will land us lambing in Feb/March, which is too cold here for lambing.  We like to lamb April/May.  So that left the 3 older breeding ewes in the main barnyard.  We decided this was an excellent chance to try to get Anya living with livestock again in a situation that she could be successful in.

So she has been living with the three older ewes for over a week now.  At night she is separated from them, but all day she is with them.  We have been checking on them all often, to be sure she is doing well, and so far everything has gone great.  She has not been trying to wrestle them or play with them.  She has not been chasing them.  She has just been doing her thing, being the LGD.  I love seeing a dog living with the flock again (or part of it at least).  It is cool how they kind of just mesh in and become part of the flock, even though they are not sheep.

We plan to continue with this situation even after we put the ram in for breeding, of course keeping a close eye on things when we add him in.  Then if all goes well, at the end of the year we will decide if we think she can handle having the younger ewes (who by then will be 9 months old and about 3/4 to full size) added into the mix or not.

It has been a bumpy road, but we know that the time and effort we are putting in now to train Anya will pay off with years of an excellent LGD watching over everything for us.  It will definitely be worth it!

Homestead Update – We are Back

It has been over a month now, a very long, VERY long month.  But here we are, still pressing on and finding the blessings in the everyday ups and downs that are life.  Mr. Smiles is not out of the woods yet medically, but we have a reprieve from doctors and hospitals for awhile.

It is fall and I LOVE fall in the Rockies.  The weather is crisp but still warm enough for jeans and a t-shirt.  The smell is beautiful, and the views are, as always, impressive.  Even the sounds of fall are great – especially the elk bugling.

Garden

The harvest has been bountiful.  We have been harvesting, canning, and freezing consistently for the last month.  Our first frost came through, later than usual, but still it meant we had to harvest all the beans and tomatoes.  The basement has tables full of green tomatoes that will ripen for us over the next few months and we canned all the green (purple) beans.  Our experimental drying beans produced well and we are looking forward to growing more in future years.

Because we have such a short growing season (approx 10 weeks frost to frost), we have to harvest our tomatoes green right before the first frost, and let them ripen in the cool basement.  They will ripen over the next few months and still taste just as good as fresh from the garden!  The first year they all ripened within about a month of picking, but we have been purposefully breeding a long-keeping variety of tomatoes and saving the seeds from the longest keeping ones to lengthen how long they last each year.  Last year in December we were eating “fresh” tomatoes that had been harvested from the garden in September and had taken that long to ripen.  The flavor was still amazing and we are hoping to continue to extend the length of time they keep so we can eat fresh tomatoes farther and farther into the winter.  It will be interesting to see how long they last this year.

We also have enjoyed eating fried green tomatoes a few times this month as well.

The new onion patch we built in the spring really paid off.  We harvested more than 30 lbs of big beautiful onions.  We braided some of them and hung them in the basement.  Others are stored in a crate in the basement and we have been using them a lot for cooking.  We are making more changes to the new onion patch this fall and next spring to make it even better.  More on that project later.

The carrots, turnips, beets, lettuce, peas, and spinach are still going strong in the garden.

The grape harvest this year was much bigger than ever before at 2 lbs.  Still not enough for a batch of jelly, but we are hopeful now that the vine is established we will be able to get more and more.

We harvested a lot of herbs before the frost as well, and they are hung all over the house drying.  Once dry we will crush them up and store them in jars, using them through the winter to season our food.

Bears

Fall does mean bear trouble in our area as the bears start to prepare for hibernation.  Every year we have barn break-in attempts made by bears, last year was the worst with 8 attempts between Sept-Nov.  They were stopped only by the barking of our LGD, Tundra, that woke us so we could chase the bear off.  Now that Tundra is dead, our new LGD, Anya, is holding down the fort.  We have been very surprised to have no attempts at all made on the barn this year by the bears.  We are not sure what it is that is different and making them not even try…is it Anya’s larger size and larger bark?  We are not sure but we are happy about it.

Unfortunately, the bears have been breaking into cars on our property.  In our area we have multiple generations of garbage-fed bears that don’t know how to eat naturally and only know how to eat from humans.  Last year they finally implemented a law forcing people to lock up their trash, which is good, but a bit too-little-too-late.  Now the bears are so desperate for food they are breaking into homes and cars because they can’t get trash from dumpsters anymore.  If a vehicle is left unlocked they will open it up and check it out, even if there isn’t any food in it.  They can actually operate the door handles.  And even when a car is locked they will often try to open it and leave nasty scratches all over the door.  Also, a friend left their car window cracked an inch while parked on our property over night and the bear grabbed it and busted it out.

Lastly, and definitely the least of the bear troubles, was a bear that decided to try out some of our squash.  Apparently it didn’t fit his tastes as he left it on the ground after tasting it.

Chickens

All the pullets are now laying and we are enjoying bountiful fresh eggs.

One of the two roosters we kept for breeding roos is getting pretty aggressive, so we will likely be butchering him soon and just keep the one.

One of the new laying pullets, a Partridge Chantecler named Alice, decided she wanted to set right away as soon as she started laying.  So we went ahead and gave her 7 eggs since the roos were mature and we had fertile eggs.  All seven were fertile and 6 of them hatched!  One died in the first day or so, which is not uncommon, so we have 5 adorable chicks with their mama hen in the barn now.

Sheep

We have separated the ram off from the ewes until November when we want them to breed.  He hasn’t shown signs of being mature enough yet, but we are hoping that he will be ready in the next month or so and we don’t want winter lambs being born.

I caught this pic of one of the chickens “grooming” the sheep by picking seeds out of the wool.  They do that often and I love it.

More updates coming later this week…

Sunday Homestead Update

This will be our last update for awhile.  Mr. Smiles is having another surgery and hospital stay, so farm life will be heading to the back burner for awhile while we spend our time caring for our family through this hard time.

We have been scrambling to get things in order around here so that everything will be as low-maintenance as possible during this.  Our friends and family are stepping in to help us with everything, which is such a blessing.

Barn Flood Aftermath

It has continued to rain quite a bit, but thankfully no more flood damage.  We have dug several new ditches around the property to try to force the water away from buildings and down the mountainside.

We also decided to re-do the barn floor with cement pavers.  We bought the first load and have started setting them.  We have been putting a few in here and there as we find time in all the busy-ness right now.

Goats

Our friends took the goats and are boarding them for us until this hospital stuff is all over.  They will milk them for us, which will take a huge load off of the chores around the farm.

Sheep

We had two sheep we were planning to butcher later this fall, but we decided to go ahead and get one butchered now so that there were less animals to care for, and we didn’t have to try to squeeze it in later if things get rougher.  We got 26 lbs of meat, 12 lbs of dog food, and stock bones.  We started making the stock yesterday and will can it soon.

Making stock is really easy and it is so delicious and nutritious.  We put the bones on a broiling pan and brown them in the oven for about half and hour.

Then we add some veggies: carrots, onions, and celery – these were fresh from the garden!

We put it back in the oven until the veggies are brown.  Then we put all the bones and veggies, plus the drippings, and some herbs (some of those were fresh from the garden too!)

into a big pot with some water and simmer it for several hours.  Strain it and cool it, then skim the fat and pressure-can the stock.  It will be nice to have some more lamb stock in the pantry for this winter.  And it is exciting that the only things in it not from our homestead are the peppercorns and the bay leaf.

Chickens

The chickens are in two separate pens, but there isn’t anything we can do about it at this point.  We have the upper coop and pen, which has all the hens and pullets, plus the two roosters in it.  Those chickens also have access to free range in the barnyard.

Eve and her three chicks are still in the grow-out pen in the barn.  It will be a few more weeks before she is done raising them and we can figure out the plan for what to do then.  For now, to make it easier to care for everyone, we are training them (or having Eve, their mama hen train them) on a drip waterer.  It is much cleaner and doesn’t have to be filled as often.  The other pen of chickens is already on a drip waterer, the chicks just hadn’t learned to use one yet.

That will make chicken care as low-maintenance as possible.

Garden

We have been harvesting and putting-up all that is ready to harvest in the garden.

Celery, beet greens, beets, cabbage sprouts, lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  We ate a lot fresh, and then froze the extra carrots and celery for soups and stews this winter.

We also got green beans and canned them.

Our first frost is likely to happen during all this craziness, but there isn’t much we can do except take it as it comes.  Hopefully we, or our friends who are helping us around the farm, will be around to quickly harvest all the green tomatoes and the last of the beans right before the frost hits so we don’t lose that part of the harvest.

Knitting

I have been, surprisingly, getting a lot of knitting done during this busy time.  When I am anxious it makes me feel better to put my hands to some knitting.  So whenever I sit down to rest for a few minutes, or am waiting in the waiting room at yet-another doctor’s appointment, or am on the long drive to the specialists’ offices, I have been knitting.  I have a pair of socks, a shawl, and a hooded scarf all on the needles right now.

 

Please keep our family in your prayers.  This is Mr. Smiles’ 6th surgery in his very short 2 years of life.  Every time we have to do a surgery and hospital stay it is very difficult on him, as well as our whole family.  Our experience thus far does make it a little easier to prepare ourselves, and the homestead, to try to make it as easy as possible to get through.  But it is still quite a trial for all of us.

I hope to be back to posting later this fall with all things autumn-in-the-Rockies…my favorite time of year!

Tundra and the Elk

This will be the last story we share in remembrance of our wonderful LGD, Tundra, who recently died…

Elk are obviously not predators and are not dangerous to our livestock (except a bull elk during rut, or a cow protecting a calf, but inside the barnyard our animals are not effected by those situations).  But what they can and will do is jump into the barnyard and steal the hay from the livestock.  Deer can as well, but for the most part the mule deer around here are much more cautious and timid than the elk are.

Whenever the elk would come through the property and approach the barnyard fence, investigating the possibility of some free hay, Tundra would charge the fence and bark like crazy, keeping them back from the fence and usually causing them to move along quickly.

Occasionally, we have had curious elk, usually yearlings or two-year-olds, that will just stand about 5 feet from the fence and watch Tundra with their ears perked forward.  He would continue to charge the fence and bark and they would watch him with interest.  It seemed they knew he couldn’t get them, and that they were interested in what he was and what he was doing.  It drove Tundra craaaaazy.  He hated it and would get more and more riled that they weren’t afraid of him and moving away.

One of those times the curious elk actually approached the fence.  It was standing right at the fence, and Tundra, instead of charging the fence, changed over to jumping up on the fence over and over again barking.  The fence was 5 feet high, so as he jumped up over and over again his head and muzzle would just barely get over the top.  The elk’s head was bobbing up and down watching the dog jump over and over again.

I heard the barking and looked out the window, seeing the elk standing right at the fence and Tundra jumping repeatedly.  I walked through the house to the door to go out and encourage the elk on its way, and as I went out the door I saw the funniest thing happen.  Just at the same time that Tundra’s head reached the top of the fence during one of his jumps, the elk’s head raised up to watch him and it leaned forward with its muzzle just enough that they both accidentally touched their noses to each other.  It surprised them both so much to have accidentally touched that they both tore off running in opposite directions from each other.  It was so funny!

After he got a few strides away from the fence, Tundra realized that the elk had taken off too, and he turned and ran back at the fence barking again, as if to say “Take that!  And don’t come back!”  And then strutted around acting like he had won the battle and the whole running-frightened-from-the-surprising-touch hadn’t happened at all.  It was so hilarious!

I told him he was a good dog and didn’t let on that I knew his secret.  😉

Sunday Homestead Update

Can you believe it is August!?  Where did July go?  Actually, July felt long, and short to us.  Long days, short month.  That is life – long days, short years.

We had a very chilly day this week for August, it didn’t get above 60F, and the night was cold, which was surprising.  But then it went back up to warmer again.  We continue to get a lot of rain.  We are digging ditches and trying to divert the water to keep another flood from happening as happened last week.  We are still deciding what to do about the barn flooring.  Paving stones definitely seem like the ideal option, just not sure if we can pull it off right now or not.

Garden

The garden continues to be the main topic of conversation this time of year.  It is doing beautifully and we continue to harvest from it.  Here is a picture comparison of the garden now, compared to earlier in the year.

The carrot harvest has started.  We tried a new variety this year and were not happy with it compared to the variety we did last year.  It did not germinate as well, several of the plants went to seed even though it is their first year, the carrots seem to go from under-ripe to over-ripe very quickly which makes harvesting timing hard, and they have very deep cracks in them that are hard to clean out.  So we will not be doing Royal Chantenay next year and will instead go back to St. Valery, which we love.   But nonetheless, we are harvesting them and enjoying eating them fresh as well as freezing them for the winter.

Carrot section of the garden, with celery in the front of the photo

The tomato plants are huge and there are a lot of green tomatoes on them and growing.

The peas are growing really well this year, which has not been the case previous years.  We have been eating them fresh so much and enjoying them that way that we have not been able to put any away for the winter.

The herbs are doing well both in the main garden and in the container herb garden.

We have tons of purple beans and purple bean flowers on, and the shelling beans climbing up the new arch and doing great as well.  We are discussing adding another arch or two next year.

A wonderful bountiful garden this year!

We had the opportunity to harvest some crabapples and are going to make them into jelly.  My favorite flavor of jelly by far!

We took 8 different veggie entries to the fair this year and did quite well with them – got a couple first places, a second, and a couple third…happy with that!  The kids’ 4H projects did very well at fair and will compete at state.  And we also entered a few items in the open class and we got several ribbons from those.  Overall an excellent County Fair experience this year.

Knitting

I finished the “fast project” pair of striped socks that I started after my sweater.  I am really happy with how they turned out.  The self-striping yarn almost matched itself perfectly from one skein to the other.

Chickens

The roosters are settling pretty well with the hens, although we have had some trouble with one of them trying to get aggressive with us humans.  If that continues it will be easy to choose which one will be our breeding roo – we don’t keep aggressive roosters.

I will leave you with a couple of cute pictures…first, our indoor kitty watching our barn cat through the window.

And Anya, our year-old LGD, laying on top of the compost pile looking oh-so-cute.  This continues to be her favorite game during our training sessions lately – she gets on top of the pile, digs, rolls down the side, repeats it, and then eventually just lays on top.  With her face like that she looks very puppy-ish to me.  It is sometimes hard to remind myself she is still a puppy since she is over 85 lbs now.