Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Pleasures and Challenges of Spring

Walking our roads in the past few weeks has been, well, interesting. The gravel seems to have been entirely swamped by mud, alternating with ice and ruts. It is hard to watch my feet though, as there is so much to see and hear and smell right now.

The cold weather until recently caused the ice on the lake to continue its booming, vibrating expansion. There was the occasional loud zing, as another pressure crack provided more room. Two weeks later however, the colour is changing rapidly from silver to dark grey and it no longer looks safe. The next big wind may give us liquid waterfront once again.

The Robins and Redwing Blackbirds arrived in hoards heralding spring.

The males come first, battling and complaining. They joined the squawking legions of Blue Jays and the nearly silent, diffident Mourning Doves near our feeder. The Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers (Don is convinced we have an ‘Uppy’ too) enjoy our homemade suet cakes from range-fed pork fat, as does my grandsons’ dog Diego, who comes to lick the bottom of the container on rainy days. I get chills from the wilderness sound of the geese gossiping in their V’s overhead; spring returnees.

The deer regularly come near the roadways, gleaning food.

We occasionally have grain spills on the north side of the barn, when we auger our grain mixture from various bins into the hopper on the tractor, or the ‘snacker’ pulled by the ATV. (That’s a royal ‘we’ there – Don and Chris do almost all of the grain feeding.)

Each morning Christopher reports deer, fox and rabbit tracks in the snow – now in the mud.

One morning I was about to set off for a walk, but paused, so as not to scare the 3 deer, calmly enjoying the treats of a grain spill. Soon they will disappear again, as more food become available in the woods.

As I’m writing this, a pheasant just took a stroll across our yard, then posed peacefully under our grapevine. (I tried to sneak up behind our old sauna to get a picture, but no luck.)

Drainage here in spring is a constant problem. We’ve put in a lot of labour and money, trying to deal with the fact that the gardens and barn and barnyards and our shop are downhill from the land.

The wool and sheepskin products in the Wool Shed (also available on-line) are threatened by the spring flooding.

I’m told that the culvert is frozen solid, so our careful drainage efforts have resulted in water flowing in the south door of the barn, mainly freezing solid, then trickling out the north door. Don has rigged an ingenious siphon, which has made quite a difference. Sump pumps in basements are working overtime.

The sheep and dogs are thriving this winter. We just brought the main flock of ewes back through the woods from the wintering grounds. We constantly battle hoof rot, so want them to be on higher, dryer ground. Hopefully they are all pregnant, due to birth starting the first week of May. We’ll be shearing all the sheep on the farm in the last week of April. More on that later.

The scent of warming earth stirs the yearning for the garden within me, giving the necessary boot to get me sorting last year’s seeds, putting in a new seed order, and starting the first flat of ‘plant them indoors and early’ types. Finding indoor space for them all will be the next pleasant dilemma.

Meanwhile the snowdrops are in full bloom.

Guardian Dogs at Topsy Farms

We need our guardian dogs at Topsy.  There’s a bumper sticker that says ‘Eat Canadian Lamb: 10,000 coyotes can’t be wrong.” Some seasons it feels as though most of those coyotes have found their way, over the winter ice to Amherst Island. We have three significantly large sheep farms here, and lamb is a favorite food.

When sheep are not stressed and fearful, they are far more healthy and calm. This results in the production of quality lamb and wool for our products, offered on-line and at the farm’s Wool Shed.

We have a variety of methods to try to counteract predation.

Our guardian dogs help keep coyote predation losses down.

We tried donkeys some years ago. We gather they are useful for very small flocks that don’t move often. For us, Golda (named after G. Meir) was harder to herd than the entire flock and a huge hassle when she needed her hooves trimmed.

After trying one very large Komondor dog, Bear, we decided that the long dredlocks were just not suitable for fields with burrs and brambles. Until his old age, he wanted to be a lap dog – not always convenient during picnics. He smelled in his old age.

We’ve tried Akbash and Maremma breeds, liking their general attitude of defensiveness, rather than aggression. There’s lots of variation within each breed of course – lots of individuality. We’re now moving mainly to Akbash, as their coats are shorter, and have less knots and burrs. They live with the sheep year ’round, being fed and patted once a day.

At the moment we have 10 Guardian dogs:

Lucy was given to us, as she was rough on cats in the suburban area where she was first raised. She’s an older dog, somewhat skittish and matronly. She chums with…

Pollux. According to Christopher our shepherd, he’s a ‘portly old gent’. He’s stable and enjoys Lucy’s company.

Marcus is a lovely big, handsome, affectionate dog. We’ll have to watch his food intake as he’ll have a tendency to get too large.

Marcus and Michael

Nichola spends time with Marcus – her brother. She’s much more skittish. We bought both from another sheep farmer. She raised one litter which included Mr. Purple. Don has seen her jump the perimeter fence (over 5 feet).

Leo is an older, quietly affectionate dog – Chris considers him our most useful dog.

Blackie is a much younger dog, bred here on our farm. He’s already reliable at not yet 2 years old, spending lots of time with Leo.

Trixie birthed 2 litters for us, before we decided she should be spayed. She’s the mother of Blackie and Tweedledum.

Tweedledum is a promising young dog who has been slowed somewhat an unfortunate injury last year, breaking a back leg badly, when jumping a fence. The vet bills were impressive.

Jack is Trixie’s brother. He is now top dog. Despite his size, it took quite q while to assume that roll from Marcus.

Mr. Purple is our youngest pup-in-training. He used to sneak bites of food from the older dogs who tolerated it until just recently, when they gave him a sound lesson in manners.

Young pups are patted regularly, though we are cautious to ensure they are more attached to sheep than people. They spend time first with rams who teach them basic manners. Each dog in the field is patted daily when fed, though most are somewhat shy. Their greatest dread is the annual trip to the vet clinic. They are also somewhat uneasy when we move the flock to different pastures. Their ‘backyard’ is now the 250 fenced acres of the home farm.

Our guardian dogs are important workers on Topsy Farms, doing their best to help protect our flock from the coyote predators.

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