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20 July 2016

Red Foils Rosemary/Izzy Breakout

Red Foils Rosemary Breakout

Red Foils Rosemary Breakout

Rosemary is a powerful presence on the farm, even after one day. She is a leader, smart, independent and vigilant. I think she is still looking for her flock from the other farm. Two were left behind. This morning, all of the sheep were grazing, and suddenly Rosemary led Izzy out of the flock and made a break either for the barn or in search of her pals.

I yelled ahead to  Red to get up and "walk up" and he locked eyes with Rosemary and moved slowly towards her. She advanced on him with her head up, challenging him. He lowered his ears and tail and went into his now famous border collie crouch.

Rosemary paused, looked around, stomped the ground, and then turn and ran back to the other sheep. There is no way she would have gotten past Red, and if she did, it would be with a border collie hanging off of her neck. I think she remembers yesterday, when he got her into a special pen.

Breakout foiled. Fate did her usual spectacular job of running in circles around Izzy and Rosemary, neither of whom paid the slightest attention to her. She had a lot of fun, though, and it is always a joy to see her run.

Red is getting massage and laser treatments this and neck week, he's walking stiffly after his brawling yesterday as we rounded up the sheep.

Posted in General

First Encounter: Red and Rosemary

First Encounter

First Encounter

The was the first encounter yesterday between Red and Rosemary in a wide, well fenced and hilly field in Shushan, New York, about ten miles from our farm. Red was trying to move Rosemary back up the hill, from which she had just bolted,  and made a run for the barn down below where the other three Romneys were dug in.

In a minute or so, the ram – used to being in charge –  came up the hill and butted Red and flipped him over on his back. Red  came up and nipped him on the nose – this is the only way trained border collies are permitted to correct sheep, as grabbing their wool has little effect. He drew a drop or two of blood, as is customary, and the ram backed away.

Rosemary put up a long and determined fight, she also butted Red, charged him and flipped him over. He did  not nip or bite her, he just got down low and did his wolf-like eye stalk and after a long stand-off, she turned and ran back up the hill and into a temporary fence that had been set up. Red walked her up and kept her inside of it.

Red put on quite a show yesterday, the four sheep were big and not dog-broke, although they were dog-broke in a half-hour or so. Red is remarkable in his poise, professionalism and strategizing. He is a problem-solver. He anticipated the sheep's moves, headed them off and put pressure on them.

Sheep are not aggressive, they are all about fight or flight.

They will butt and charge, stomp their feet, then run. A grounded dog will keep pressure on them until they move or give in. If pressed to hard, they will panic or freeze. Red played it like a maestro, wearing them down, giving some laser-like eye, keeping the pressure.

You can see in the photo the awful condition of Rosemary's wool, her coat was heavy with feces and encrusted with dirt and dried urine. Red dug in in front of her and just wouldn't move, inching closer, backing her up. The command I was giving him was "get 'em up," which means move them no matter what. She was hoping to stare him down.

The flock broke away and headed down the hill several times, he went down each time and got them. I had a lot of fun as the Field General, giving commands, out-thinking the sheep, trusting the dog. Red and I have worked so often together and so well, I barely need to speak at all. But where I move is important, herding is a ballet, the human dog and sheep all move in relation to one another, I control Red as much by my movements as by my commands.

I love working the dogs and sheep, and yesterday was a great affirmation of the importance of training and patience – and a great dog. The sheep is pretty impressive too.

Posted in General
14 July 2016

For Red: Coming To Terms With The Maintenance Idea

For Red, The Maintenance Idea

For Red, The Maintenance Idea

The veterinary maintenance idea is somewhat new to me, I have resisted it, I think. For some years I've watched the veterinary culture turn high tech and somewhat corporate, as modern health care has. Vets have a lot of expensive new equipment, and a lot of new ways to treat things, and they need lots of people to pay a lot of money for it. Veterinary care, once almost deliberately reasonable and small-scale, is neither any longer.

This threatens many elements of the human-animal bond. Some people tell me they can no longer afford to have dogs, and often avoid bringing to them vets for fear of bills they can't afford to pay. We are learning that some vaccines and many tests are not really necessary.

So I have become somewhat wary of the new devices, vaccines, pills and approaches I see being offered. I suppose I am conservative about veterinary care, as I try to be about people care.  I live on a real budget, and there is not room for everything. There is always another side to every story, and I have always liked and trusted my vets, they are, by far, the best qualified people to help me care for my animals.

I don't believe people become vets to be rich, but vets, like everybody else, are under financial pressure these days. Having a dog is no longer cheap or easy. That has a lot of implications for dogs.

Red has brought me to this issue, which I am trying to face thoughtfully and carefully and responsibly. I have lost several border collies at Red's age, which is nine, they work hard all of their lives and seem to simply wither and decline. I'd like Red's story to be different.

So I have begun a dialogue with my vet, Suzanne Fariello, which is open and honest. She came to the farm to see Red run, and when he began limping badly and struggling, we worked out a comprehensive maintenance plan that costs money, but it not prohibitive. Red has arthritis, and also a spinal injury. He is also getting older.

He takes anti-inflammatory medications only when indicated, and he receives laser treatments once every two weeks with Cassandra, a vet tech I trust implicitly. He also gets a message every other week. I have to say these treatments have had a visible and marked impact on Red, his limp is gone, so is his stiffness. He is running quickly and with confidence, our new ewe Izzy ran right over him yesterday and he popped up and got her where he wanted her to go. He runs easily on the paths in the woods again, and rests comfortably.

I think vets can be drawn into the new hi-tech, hi-maintenance world of health care just as easily as the rest of the world. It's good to be thoughtful about veterinary care. Many of my friends are farmers, and I have internalized their feeling that when a dog has moved beyond their natural life, it is time for them and us to move on. What that precisely means is different for every person and animal. Red is not nearly there.

I have never committed myself to a long-term maintenance program, and I'm not sure what the fiscal and other boundaries of animal care ultimately are for me. I am never quite sure we did the right thing in spending nearly $2,000 we didn't have on Minnie the barn cat, when we amputated her leg. She is doing well, but we didn't have the money and she is a barn cat and she suffered greatly for our decision. I'm not sure what the line is.

Our vet feels strongly about heartworm prevention but I have questions about it, it is very expensive and also very rare in many parts of the country. She said she had two reported cases in her practice last year, and that justified everyone's dog getting the blood work and monthly pills. When Dr. Fariello says she saw two cases this year, that signals here that it is necessary. I'm not as sure as she is, although we are going ahead with the treatments. I've never known a dog up here to get heartworm and never had a dog with heartworm.

Treating them for it is hundreds of dollars more. The only two I know were rescues from Alabama, and they came with it.

Red is a remarkable dog, and I love him beyond mere words, I will go far to keep him healthy and working and in my life. I am very far from having to make great decisions about it, but I am feeling positive about the decision to maintain his health, rather than react to it. Dr. Fariello well understands my cautions and concerns. We talk about it openly and  honestly.

The laser package costs $126 for four treatments, which is two months. The massage costs $45.  These costs are not painless, but we can handle it, and I don't want Red to follow in the tracks of my other border collies. But I afford it for the rest of his life, and if so, would I still wish to do it for what might be years and years? I don't have the answer.

Red's laser machine is a fascinating symbol to me. It costs many thousands of dollars and a lot of dogs will need to be treated to pay for it. I also see that it works, frankly beyond my expectations. What is the lesson  here? Think and talk. Not much more than that. And I will keep writing about the new ways to maintain the health of a dog, ways that only a few years ago would have seemed ludicrous, even unthinkable.

Red has many good years with me and his work ahead of him. How far will I go down this road? I don't know, it's not time to decide. But I will be thinking about it.

Posted in General

Red’s Duty

Red's Duty

Red's Duty

Red guided Izzy out of the flock in the pole barn and into the stall where she could be grabbed and moved into Jay Bridge's truck, Red followed her every step of the way and locked eyes with her, not moving until the truck drove away. I felt bad for Izzy, she just got settled in and is already going away for a day or so. But we'll be able to clean her up and acclimate her and she will be much more comfortable when she gets back.

Red pays close attention to the flock, he watched as the truck pulled out of the driveway and onto the road, he will know she is gone and will look for her until she returns.

Posted in General

Red’s Eyes

Red's Eyes

Red's Eyes

Red's Eyes. The hand belongs to my friend Bill Figlozzi. An IR photo.

Posted in General