Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a hard week.  The chicken accident was upsetting, and then the death of our LGD, Tundra, has knocked the wind out of all of our sails.  But despite that, we are trying to get up and keep going and work on what needs working on.

Garden

The garden is beautiful and bountiful.  We will be entering some of the awesome veg from it into the county fair this week.  Last year our carrots won first place at fair, which makes us pretty happy because we are growing our garden at a much higher elevation and harsher climate than most all of the competitors at our county fair.  This year we will be entering more than just carrots and we will see how it goes.

I made and froze some green base this week since we had an over-abundance of spinach.  Green base is orange juice blended with spinach in a food processor or blender.  We use it in our smoothies.  About 3 times a week we have goat’s milk kefir smoothies for our morning snack.  Our favorite recipe is bananas, mango, green base, raspberries, blackberries, and kefir.  During the growing season we use fresh spinach from the garden to make the green base, but in the winter I use frozen green base that I make and freeze in ice cube trays during the summer.  It is nice to get some of that put into the freezer for later.

Anya

Our one-year-old LGD pup has continued to do well with her training since the chicken accident.  While Tundra’s absence leaves a hole in the barnyard, Anya’s presence does somewhat soothe that pain and fill the hole a little, especially when she is being silly and cute and we can’t help but smile at her.  The other day she got on top of the compost heap, dug a little, and then rolled down the side of the heap sideways, then ran back up and did it again.  She just kept rolling down the side like a little kid playing.  Then she dug herself a nest on top, and plopped down in it.  It was so cute.

As hard as it is to lose Tundra, it is very relieving to have Anya and know that our livestock are still going to be safe and protected.  We really can’t keep livestock up here in the mountains without something to protect them.

Goats

The new goats, Fern and Clover, are settling well and their milk production has actually gone up quite a bit from the first stressful days of them being here.  Clover is definitely more laid back, and Fern is kind of high strung.  We are happy to have fresh milk again, and made mozzarella this week for our Friday-night-homemade-pizza-and-a-movie tradition.

Chickens

And then there were two…we butchered another cockerel and are down to only two now.  We put them both out with the flock of girls and will watch them in the coming weeks to see which one we like better to keep as our breeding roo.  If they can get along and not beat up the girls too much we might keep them both.

We now have three pullets laying.  We get two little green eggs and one little brown one, in addition to the hens’ larger eggs each day.

Sheep

The weaning nose rings worked and about 8 days after we put them into the lambs’ noses, the ewes’ udders were dried up and we could take the rings out of the lambs’ noses.  The lambs are none the worse for the wear and all is well.  We really like using those for our weaning.  Now the ewes can gain some weight and be ready for breeding season late this fall.

Tundra and the Bear

Continuing with some more stories remembering our awesome LGD Tundra…

Before we moved to Willow Creek Farm we lived in a little cabin on a small plot of land and had chickens and meat rabbits.  The bear traffic in that area was constant from May through the end of October.  We had at least one come through our property every night, and in the fall we saw them at all hours of the day.  They were mostly looking for garbage, and would always give our bear-proof dumpster a try before moving on.  One particular bear had decided that since we wouldn’t let him at our garbage, he wanted our chickens.

Living in the Rockies, Mtn Man has always done a very excellent job at building our livestock housing as solid and bear-proof as possible.  Nothing is ever totally bear-proof, they are very strong.  But most of the time they are not desperate enough to try very hard or for very long.  Our chicken coop at that house has an exterior pen that had wire sides and a wire roof.  There was also wire buried for a foot out from the pen walls so nothing could dig in.  Two trees acted as corner posts for the end of the run, the other end hooked to the coop.

This particular bear was probably a 2-year-old.  Not fully grown, but still pretty darn big.  Tundra was not a big dog as far as LGDs go.  He only weighed in at 55 lbs.  But he had a big presence when it came to protecting the livestock and would go after predators viciously and as if he thought he was a 150 lb dog.

We were inside at about 8 in the morning and we heard Tundra go crazy with both his alarm bark and a vicious snarling/fighting sound.  Mtn Man ran out to see what was going on.  As I approached the back door Mtn Man stuck his head back in, saying “You have to see this…Tundra has a bear treed!”

Sure enough, the bear had been trying to get to the chickens and Tundra had treed him in one of the trees that served as the corner post for the run.  We let Tundra bark and jump at the bottom of the tree for awhile, with us encouraging him, to try to haze the bear a bit.  Then we put him indoors and went inside ourselves to watch out the window.  The bear waited a few minutes, then climbed down and ran away in a hurry.

We didn’t have any more trouble with that bear and the chickens.

At Willow Creek Farm Tundra had plenty of run-ins with bears as well, but all of them occurred at night through the walls of the barn.  The bears in this area like to try to break into the barn at night.  Tundra was always closed into one or the other of the stalls.  The bears would listen to where he was barking from and then would try to break into the other stall – the door that he wasn’t right behind.  Thankfully though, his barking always wakes us up, so when that would happen Mtn Man would go out and chase the bear off.  Without Tundra’s barking at them when they tried to break in I am afraid we definitely would have lost some livestock to bears over the years because we wouldn’t have heard the barking and woken up to go chase the bear off.

Tundra was small, but a mighty bear-dog.

Another Tundra Story

I shared about when Tundra saved the baby bunny in the barnyard, and that story linked to the story about chaos in the barn when he saved another bunny.  There is one more Tundra story that involves him saving a baby bunny that I’d like to share.  It was actually the first time he protected our livestock.

Before we moved to Willow Creek Farm, we had a little old cabin on a small piece of property where we had chickens and meat rabbits.  The cabin had what can only be described as a walk-out crawl space.  The back part of the crawl space, (the uphill side) was just like a regular crawls space – dirt and only about 3 feet tall.  But because the house was built on a hill, the other end of the crawl space was about 8 feet deep.  The previous owners had poured a cement floor in this section and put up partial walls.  So it was kind of like a basement storage area that was accessible only from the outside.  This is where we kept our meat rabbits.  The “barn” cat also lived down there at night and then outside during the day.  And because we had been having some bear trouble, Tundra slept there at night as well so his barking could alert us if a bear was trying to get in.

When we first moved in, Tundra found a nest of tiny baby bunnies in the back yard.  The house has been vacant, so I am sure the mama bunny thought the fenced yard was a great place for her nest.  Unfortunately, he killed a couple of the bunnies and then we got to him and took the last three to a wildlife rehab.

One morning we heard Tundra down in the “basement” alarm barking and then snarling and then alarm barking again.  We had bears coming through the property every night, and sometimes during the day, and they occasionally tried to break into the basement area where the rabbits were.  We immediately headed outside to see what was going on.

When we got into the basement Tundra was standing there snarling at the barn cat who was hissing in front of him and challenging him.  On the floor between his front feet was cradled a tiny, 3-day-old baby bunny that had fallen out of one of the meat rabbit cages.  We were new to rabbit breeding and the cage wire was too wide, thus allowing tiny babies to be able to get through.  We later fixed that issue.

As soon as we walked in the cat ran away.  Tundra leaned down and gently licked the baby and then looked up at us as if to say “Here you go!  I saved it for you!  I didn’t let that cat eat it.”  We picked up the baby bunny and it was alive and well, albeit a little slobbery.

That was the first time we realized that Tundra was so special.  He had no training about livestock, and he would kill a wild rabbit, yet somehow he had the ability to know that we cared about these meat rabbits and didn’t want them harmed.  He was so smart and watched Mtn Man care for the bunnies each day, and thus made the connection that he needed to help his owner take care of these animals.  And he stepped up and helped us to care for them by protecting them from harm.  We already loved Tundra, but we were very excited to see he had a special guardian working ability with our small livestock that we didn’t even know was there.

Stories About Tundra

With the loss of our amazing LGD, Tundra, I would like to share some of the stories of his heroic deeds.  This is a re-posting from April of 2013, it was titled “The Day the Dog Saved the Baby Bunny.”

Anyone who has followed us for a while knows what my most prized animal on the farm is – our farm dog named Tundra.  I often rave about him, but it is so well deserved I just can’t help myself.  I have mentioned before in a story about some barn chaos that it wasn’t the first time he has protected our rabbits.  I’d like to share a story with you about another time he saved a baby bunny.

Back in late 2012 we had a litter of baby bunnies that were between 2-3 weeks old.  So they weighed about 1-1.5 lbs.  Here is a picture of the size of rabbit we are talking about:

3These babies were living in the top cage of this set-up in the barn with their momma: 102_8626They were purebred Champagne D’ Argents so all the babies were solid black.

We had done morning chores and my husband had gone off to work.  I had a very busy morning as I was trying to finish house chores and homeschool and be ready to leave the house the second my husband got home from work at lunch time.  I had an appointment in a town an hour away and it was going to be close timing to get there in time based on when my husband could get home.  As is often the case when I am in a hurry around the house, things kept going wrong…a sweet little helper accidentally spilled 1/2 gallon of milk all over the floor, the dog vomited in the middle of the livingroom, the bathroom sink began leaking and filling up the cabinet underneath with water….you name it and it happened that morning.

Throughout the morning I heard the barn dog barking a few times, I was in such a rush that I would look out the window to check on him, and then I would go back to what I was doing.  Every time I looked he was out in the barnyard, standing in a different place each time, and he didn’t seem to be barking at anything in particular.  But it kept happening and I started to think that I better actually go out there and check on him.  Despite my best efforts, we kept having things happen in the house and the tyranny of the urgent kept me from going out.

Then it was time to go and my husband arrived and in a rush I told him on my way out the door that the dog kept barking but I didn’t see anything worth barking at.  He said he would check on it and sent me on my way.  Because we live in the mountains, cell service is patchy.  The place I was going was through the mountains so I didn’t have cell service for most of the hour drive.  I used that time to decompress from the morning happenings and still my soul.  When I got to where I had cell service I saw that my husband had called so I called him back and heard a very interesting story.

After I left he went inside to check on the kids and tell them he would be going out to the barn.  Then he headed out there.  He could see the dog in the barnyard and he was laying down, facing away from the house, but turning his head and barking towards the house.  This was a very strange position as he normally faces whatever he is barking at with his whole body and he really never barks laying down.  As my husband approached him his tail started wagging and he got more and more anxious and the barking turned to whining, but he stayed laying down.  It was very strange.  My husband got within a couple of feet of him and said “What’s going on Tundra?”  Tundra stood up and looked right down at the ground under his belly as if pointing with his nose saying “THIS is what is up!”

There, under his belly on the ground, was one of our black baby bunnies.  It was perfectly fine and healthy, alive and well.  It immediately took off, darting across the barnyard.  The dog went after it quickly, barking as he went, and when he got to it he gently laid down on it again, keeping it from moving.  He turned and looked at my husband in desperation as if he was saying “Get over here and help me!  Catch this thing!  I’ve been chasing it around and laying on it all morning and NO ONE came to help me!  Come and get it!!!”  My husband walked over and when the dog was satisfied that my husband was close enough to do something he stood up again and my husband grabbed the baby before it could dart away.

Hubby went into the barn and found that the momma, plus this baby, had both gotten out of the cage and the rest of the babies were still inside the cage.  The latch on that cage was not in the greatest condition and we don’t know exactly how they got out, but they did.  Momma was up on a few bales in the hay pile, munching away without a care in the world.

It is kind of amazing to us that the baby even survived the fall from the cage, it was about a 5 1/2 foot fall.  But it did and then it somehow got out into the barnyard and could have easily been taken by a hawk, or hopped out of the barnyard and been lost in the big world, or been eaten by a predator or frozen to death.  Or one of the barn cats would have been happy to find it and eat it.  No matter what, it would not have survived.  But the heroic dog had kept it inside the yard AND had kept it warm and safe all morning by laying on it.  I think he got tired of chasing it and didn’t know how to keep it still and so he just layed on it to keep it still so he wouldn’t have to herd it around.  His laying on it, in and of itself, probably saved its life because it was so cold out that day.

I felt SO bad for not going out sooner.  As best as we can guess he was dealing with the baby bunny for at least 2 hours.  You can bet I learned my lesson and I listen to the barn dog EVERY time that he tells me something is going on.  And I gave him a very special dinner treat that night for being such an amazing dog.

102_8354I think there is a lot you can train a dog to do (I used to work as a dog obedience trainer), but some things you are just lucky to have built-in.  A truly good farm dog is a mix of both good training and amazing instincts.  It knows what is important to you, the human, and works to protect and care for whatever that is.  Our farm dog would kill a wild baby bunny that he found, but he just knows that the bunnies in the barn are something that are important to us, his owners, and therefore he protects them.

We love that amazing dog!

Tundra

12 1/2 years ago Mtn Man and I were running some errands and discussing whether he felt ready to get another dog yet.  6 months earlier, his previous dog had died and it had been very hard on him and had taken some time to get over.  As we began to pull into a store parking lot Mtn Man said, “Yes, I think I am ready to get another dog.”  We worked our way around the lot, looking for a parking spot.  As we pulled into an empty spot, there on the grass median that divided up the parking lot was a woman with a box.  On the box was written “Puppies – $25.”  We looked at each other in surprise and smiled.  We walked over to the box and there was one male pup left.  Mtn Man scooped him up and looked in the pup’s eyes.  Then he turned to me and smiled…he had found his new dog.

Tundra’s early years were spent going to work with Mtn Man each day.  He was quickly trained and very smart.  He could be off-leash and would follow Mtn Man around construction job sites.  Everyone knew him and enjoyed greeting him.

When we got our first chickens, there was a shift in Mtn Man’s job situation and Tundra was left at home.  He hated being indoors and spent his time in the backyard, which included the chicken coop and pen.  Bears were thick in the area we lived at that time, and they came through the property every night and sometimes during the day.  Tundra took to guarding the chickens and even treed a bear once.  He also guarded from one particular bobcat that often came by, hoping for a chicken dinner.

When we first moved into that house, Tundra found a nest of baby bunnies in the back yard.  Being a dog, he killed a couple before we got to him.  We took the rest to a wildlife rehab.  Soon after, we got our first meat rabbits and began breeding them.  We were very surprised when one day we heard Tundra barking frantically.  When we got to him he was carefully standing with one of our baby meat rabbits, alive, in between his front feet.  He was snarling at the barn cats who were trying to eat the bunny and barking to get our attention.  He knew the difference between a wild bunny (which he killed) and one of our meat rabbits (which he protected and saved the life of).  We were so amazed at his ability to tell the difference between something we cared about and wanted guarded, and animals that didn’t matter to us specifically.

When we moved to Willow Creek Farm and started building our dream homestead Tundra fell right into place as the Livestock Guardian Dog.  He loved living in the barn with the animals, and continued to show amazing abilities to protect and care for whatever he saw Mtn Man taking care of, while still killing vermin that came into the barn to cause problems.  We have countless stories of his guarding the stock from coyotes, bears, mountain lions, and bobcats.  As well as guarding the baby chicks and baby rabbits from the barn cats who are eager to get an easy meal right inside the barn.  He loved life and was the most content and satisfied dog we have ever owned.  He had purpose and I know it sounds crazy, but it seemed like he took pride in his job well done.

The awesome stories of his guarding abilities circulated and everyone knew who Tundra was and how he was the most important animal on our farm as he guarded and protected every single other animal.  We even had people who we had never spoken to about him come to tour the farm and when they arrived they said “So this is the amazing LGD we have heard about!”  We were so surprised that someone we didn’t even know, knew about our awesome Tundra.  He was “famous” in his own way, but most importantly, he was famous to our family and we loved him dearly.

Age slowly took over Tundra.  This spring he began acting like an “old” dog.  Slower, and stiff.  He refused to retire indoors in “luxury” with us and instead demanded to be back out in the barnyard with his charges.  When our new 1-year-old LGD pup, Anya, arrived earlier in the spring he helped show her the ropes around the barnyard.  But he was always in charge, always the alpha.  A couple of weeks ago he gave over the position of lead guard dog and alpha to Anya, of his own accord.  There wasn’t even a fight.  At that point we knew that we had precious little time left with him.  He had always been in charge, and it was as if he was passing the torch, knowing his time was near.

Tundra died this week.  After 12 1/2 wonderful years of life.  Thankfully he didn’t suffer.  We all miss him desperately.  The homestead isn’t the same without him, he was like the Willow Creek Farm mascot.  When I go to the barnyard, he is no longer there, leaning his head into my thigh for me to scratch him.  There is a big hole left by his absence.  It has been very hard for our family.  Tundra was older than 3 of our 5 children, and the other two were so little when we got him that none of the kids ever remember life without him.  It is hard.  It will take time for us to heal from this loss.

He leaves such great memories and a legacy of being an excellent working dog that served our family and homestead well, and he was a loyal companion to the end.