Tuesday, February 18, 2014

River's Kids

CH Castle Rock Moon River 3*D kidded last week, with a buck and a doe that are both full of personality.

The doe kid is the bounciest of 2014, and also seems wise beyond her days

It is possible that she knows where all the bodies are buried...because she put them there.

Her brother, on the other hand, is a total momma's boy, who would rather be on my lap than with the other kids.


We're easing into kidding season this year...sort of.  We have had 18 kids out of six does so far, though the beginning of March will have us with our hands full with ten does due in a span of two days.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Replacements, Part III

Between what was going on with our livestock guardian dog situation, and Rohana's goat questions, the two of us had been chatting quite a bit over the course of several months.  So I was aware that Mroot, Mini's dam, had been bred in December and that she was expecting a litter in February.  And we knew when she had her litter that there were plenty of females available.  Andy and I had discussed whether we would go ahead and get a puppy from this litter in addition to keeping Cassie, or if we would wait another couple of years before getting another LGD so that the older dog would be able to help train the younger dog, and that there would be more space between the two age wise so we wouldn't be dealing with two older dogs at the same time.  When we decided that Cassie wasn't going to stay, we knew that we needed to find the time (in the middle of kidding season, no less), to take a little road trip to pick out our new puppy.  It felt right going back to the breed we knew something about, and getting a little sister of Mini's seemed like a good call as well.

I have never had a puppy who was less than five months old.  This was not by design, life just happened to turn out that way, which is not unusual when a couple of your dogs have come from rescue, and your first dog was a year old when you were born.  Not having had a really young puppy before, I was not altogether prepared for the intense amount of cuteness involved in a two month old.  That soft little belly! The puppy breath! It was almost overwhelming.

We spent the whole drive home trying to come up with Armenian or other European names as a tribute to her country of origin, and settled on Anush (which can also be spelled Anoush, and is pronounced AH-noosh), which means "sweet", and seemed fitting as she was born on Valentine's Day.  While she is sweet, if we'd had a few months to get to know her, we might have gone with Exuberant as that describes her very well.

*Looks up Armenian word for Exuberant....it's Hord...nope, that would not have been her name after all.*

Someone was not quite as happy about the puppy on her first day home.

Lalalala I refuse to acknowledge the existence of any so-called puppy
Nope, no puppy in this direction either.

 The puppy, on the other hand, thought Stella was fantastic.

Imma be just like you when I grow up!

See! I'm doing it now!
Stella seemed a bit annoyed with the attention from Anush.  It could have been that she was just annoyed that there was yet another new dog here, though since we have had her, she had dealt with the arrival and departure of six other dogs.  It could have been that she just didn't believe this one would be staying for long and didn't want to bother getting to know her.

After about 48 hours of either pretending the puppy didn't exist, or, if she did exist, that she was annoying, we finally saw:

Woot! Stella inviting Anush to play!

We were back to having dogs that got along, and who could exercise with each other twice a day.  The nice thing about getting Anush so young was that the goats did not feel intimidated by the new dog, and let her know that she was to respect them.  Being young during kidding season was also good for us because there's a bit less shaping that you need to do, and less trouble they can get in.  We mainly tried to let her know that she didn't need to be around people ALL the time, and that when we say "Go On!", we mean that she needs to give us our space.

Anush is definitely quite different than her sister.  Where Mini looked worried all the time, Anush is alert, but confident that should anything come up, she'll handle it, no worries mate!  When greeting her at the gate, she will often get all four feet quite far off the ground, so excited is she to see you.  When I would get upset with Mini, she would stay far away from me until I had calmed down, but Anush will still come to me with "I'm sorry!" written all over her face.  Mini would hang out for a couple of minutes and then wander off to keep an eye on things.  Anush wants to sit on my feet and slide over onto her back for a belly rub.  I'm pretty sure she would crawl into my clothes if I let her, but still manages to keep her eye on everything.  We know we've had mountain lions in the area and coyotes, and they appear to be uninterested in coming onto our farm.  She doesn't bark as much to hear her own voice, which is really nice.

We're pretty sure this one is here to stay.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Replacements, part II

In January of 2013, one of the nicest people I've met through having goats, Lynda of Foggy River Farm contacted me about possibly solving our lack of livestock guardian dog (LGD) problem.  She and her husband had come to the realization that they no longer had as much livestock to guard as they had when they first got their Anatolian Shepherds, and since the upkeep on large dogs gets expensive, it made sense to find the dogs new homes where their cost/benefit ratio would be in better balance.  I was thrilled at the idea of having a dog who had been around my breed of goat before, and who was already a bit over two years old, so I would not have to go through the puppy training again. 

The spouse and I went over to pick Cassie up, and she did very well on the car ride home.  I let her sniff all over the yard and barn to become accustomed to our "normal" smells, and to get acclimated a bit.

Cassie, looking at me like So Now What?

Thinking they should meet quickly, before Cassie had a chance to get possessive of any part of the farm, and shortly after she'd had a chance to smell Stella's scent all over the barn, I brought Stella out for a meet and greet.  Within seconds of opening the stall door between them, and without giving a warning growl or anything, Cassie jumped onto Stella, pinning her down and biting her neck, while  Stella tried to escape and let loose a torrent of yelps.  My yelling wasn't stopping Cassie, so I lifted her by the scruff of her neck (all 90lbs of her) off Stella, screamed at Stella to get out of the barn while she had the chance, and pushed Cassie back into the stall to end the attack.

That's right, this is MY house now, and don't forget it!
So that was a bit of a surprise.  It definitely meant that I would need to spend more time having the two get to know each other.  She was very sweet to me and to Andy though and warmed up to us quite quickly.  The next order of business was to introduce her to the goats.

iPhone picture in low light-sorry for the lack of quality
The ladies in the barn yard were a bit suspicious of this large new dog in their living space.  Eventually one of the younger girls got brave and decided to take a closer look.

That seemed to go pretty well.  She went back into a stall for the night since I wanted to make sure that I could supervise her when she was let off leash with the does.

The next several days we worked on her getting to see Stella do chores with us- she was on a leash so she would not be able to go after Stella, but she could see that Stella was supposed to be there and that Stella was getting praised for her activities.  They'd spend quite a bit of time around each other, and Cassie didn't show any signs of aggression towards Stella.  In the barnyard, she was out with the does only during the day, and often for only about half of the day before she started getting too "playful" for the goats.  I did let her run around in a pasture that the goats weren't in to take some of the edge off, but it was surprising just how much energy she had, especially considering that she was 26 months old.

After a couple of weeks, we decided to try seeing how Cassie would be with Stella if she could actually get within a few inches of her since it is important, at least for our operation, for the LGD and the herding dog to get along.  The LGD is supposed to live full time with the goats, and needs to understand that the herding dog can come into the pasture and move the goats around and remain unmolested.  One can restrain their LGD and then bring in the herding dog, but that adds extra steps to working with the livestock, and every extra five or ten minutes in an already long day adds up quickly.  I also know that accidents happen, people get forgetful, gates get left open, etc., and I didn't want an accident to result in a mangled Stella.

So, we slowly eased the two dogs into closer proximity, with me watching like a hawk for any sign of aggression on Cassie's part.  Her tail remained low and friendly, the hair on her back remained down, her body language appeared relaxed and not at all stiff.  Stella casually walked by, in front of Cassie and with her eyes focused on something else, and again, with no warning or change in body language, Cassie suddenly attacked Stella. This time, it took the two of us to separate them, and Cassie even got her teeth through Andy's jeans.  Stella got pretty badly bruised this time and was quite sore for about a week.  *Sigh*

We'd also had a bit of an issue with Cassie running right through the does or deciding to trot right behind a doe who smelled interesting.  She had to start dragging a small log (this or staking young LGDs when they go through adolescence is pretty common and temporary) to allow her to move around, but which would take some of the edge off of her speed, giving our goats a chance to get away from her intense attention.  She especially seemed to like plunging into a crowd of does who were at one of the hay feeders, sending them scattering.  One of the times she did this, one of our young does slipped and got stuck in a feeder and I found her dangling by her hoof in a very awkward position, twisted and flipped around.

Piapiac, modeling her cast
After taking Pia to the vet, where she was such a trooper about getting her leg set and the cast put on, we decided to try Cassie out in the pasture with the dry does.  Maybe more room would be good for her, and there would be less of a risk of one of our pregnant does getting stressed by her.

After a week or so, we noticed she had decided that the shed in the pasture was off limits to our does.  We had considered tying her out in that pasture to try to make it so she couldn't chase the does, but the only place close to shade and water was the shed she wouldn't let the does near, so that was not going to work.  At this point we were also getting deep into kidding season, and having gone into January already exhausted, I was starting to run short on time and energy to fix the behavior of a dog who was acting like an adolescent puppy.  Livestock guardian dogs have to think on their own, and they can act quite differently on one farm than they did on another farm, and this was proving to be the case with Cassie who seemed to have reverted back to being a puppy, though she had been a responsible adult with her previous family.

Now, I should say that I have found from many conversations and from my own experience that all LGDs have their quirks.  It really depends on your situation as to what quirks are adorable and little and can be dealt with and which ones are just not right for you and your situation. Which means that while a very mellow dog can be good on a small farm, that dog may not work on a large ranch operation.  Some dogs are more about guarding their home territory and the animals thereon from anything that falls into their definition of "strange", and some dogs are bonded with their herd or flock, so don't touch the sheep, but go ahead and help yourself to as many chickens as you want.  So even though some of Cassie's behaviors were not what I needed, that did not mean she was at all a "bad" dog, or that she couldn't fill the purpose for which she had been bred.  She was clearly dog aggressive, but people friendly, and from her barking at night, we knew she was working to keep something(s) away from our place. Lynda was incredibly generous with her time helping us trouble shoot some of Cassie's behavior and find solutions to keep her here, especially considering all of the challenges of having a newborn and a busy organic farm.

I was starting to get the feeling that someone who had bigger animals than we do (which, let's be honest, includes the majority of livestock), and who had a lot more room would do better with Cassie.  Anatolian Shepherds can take longer to mature, which in turn means they have a longer average lifespan than other giant breeds, so it was possible that in a couple more months, she'd just "click" into being a fantastic dog.  However, my hands were already full with everything else on the farm, and kids were hitting the ground every day, so just did not have the energy to put into a very large puppy who had a will that was proving to be stronger than mine.  Yes, that is saying something.

About a week and a half after giving Lynda the heads up that we weren't the best fit for Cassie, Andy drove her back to the coast, leaving us once more in need of an LGD for our does.

Next up: Third try's a charm?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Intermittent Invertebrate: Series Introduction

It has been a while, hasn't it? 

I just drafted and deleted several paragraphs about why it has been a while since my last post and then wondered why I felt the need to explain why I was gone.  Silly, right? 

I was gone (figuratively speaking)! Now I'm back (time permitting)! Huzzah!

I was trying to come up with something clever along the lines of Wordless Wednesday, Photo Phriday, etc. for a new subject on the blog, but was not having luck until I settled on what probably best describes my current blogging style- sporadic posts which will now include pictures of insects found on the farm. Yes, they aren't as cute as baby goats or Stella, but they certainly are a part of the farm (integrated pest management, baby!), and an important aspect to try keep in balance for optimal produce production. I think some of them are kinda pretty too.

My interest in bugs was first stoked by my high school biology teacher who gave us the choice of collecting and identifying 60 different types of insects or doing some other project that sounded much less interesting to me at the time.  One of the first things I learned was that spiders are not insects (too many legs), and that "true bugs" are a type of insect, but not all insects are considered to be a type of bug for classification purposes.  My family lived in a suburban housing tract that backed up to open space, and I quickly discovered that I could easily collect more insects in the open grassland than I could in our manicured back yard, even though all that separated the two spaces was a four foot high wooden fence.  I remember being amazed at just how many different types of flies there are since I had assumed that flies were pretty much one type of annoying bug, and was quite surprised at how many niches in the ecosystem they occupied.  Once I started keeping an eye out for individual insects, I started seeing more detail in the world- like instead of just a swarm of insects on the porch light, there were moths, leaf hoppers, and oooohhhh a lace wing!

Cuckoo Bee on oregano flowers- click on image to further embiggen

This interest was renewed last year when a few of my blogging friends wrote about pollinator week, and I decided to take a look at what insects, besides our honeybees, were visiting our summer blossoms.  I expected to see mostly bees, but I am pretty sure I saw more wasps at the flowers, and I came to learn that many of the insects that we consider "beneficial bugs" rely on nectar sources to complete some parts of their life cycle, which probably means that the dearth of nectar sources affecting honeybees is also affecting the predatory wasps that help keep "pest bugs" in check.  This is one of the reasons that I often end up letting our herbs flower- we don't get as large of a harvest, but they tend to have more blooms than ornamental plants, with a wealth of nectar for the insects.

A few notes on photographing pollen/nectar seeking insects: there's a reason the early bird gets the worm- pollinators are not early risers.  Insects are generally more active with higher temperatures, so  in the middle of summer, that can mean some pretty sweaty photo sessions in the garden.  I've also discovered that in a digital era, insect photography brings back some of the thrill/uncertainty/crushing disappointment of film developing where you just never know if you actually got the shot of the teeny tiny bee until you have a chance to review the photos in detail after your session is over.  These little creatures move so quickly, often in evasive flight patterns, that they can be difficult to keep track of, and even if you do manage to keep track of them, it can be difficult to convince the camera lens to focus on them (too small of a thing, too many other options in view to focus on).

These first pictures feature cuckoo bees (and oregano flowers, which are incredibly small), a type of bee I was not aware of until I took these pictures.  They sort of straddle the line between two insects most people are aware of: bees- which are fuzzy and gather pollen on themselves, and wasps, which are smooth bodied and have no mechanism for intentionally gathering pollen.

This cuckoo bee seems to be visually checking nectar levels...or making sure this isn't a trap.

You'll notice that the cuckoo bees in the first and second pictures (they are two different types- if you look closely, the stripe patterns are slightly different, and the leg colors are different) have no pollen on them, and pollen gathering is one of the traits bees are generally known by.  So at first I thought these might be wasps, but then again, they don't have the typical wasp profile with the narrow elongated waist, and they are ever so slightly fuzzy, which put them back into the bee family.  Cuckoo bees, as it turns out, are not pollinators who only visit flowers to consume nectar, and are predators of other bee species- usually of a type they are closely related to.  Bees actually evolved from predatory wasps, so it would make sense that the cuckoo bee would have some waspish traits, making it initially challenging to identify them. 

Apparently, the flower was indeed worthy of stopping for- love the green eyes on this cuckoo bee

Both wasps (yellow jackets, paper wasps) and bees (honey, and to some extent bumble) can be social hive dwellers, but the majority of our California bee species live alone, either in the ground or in some type of wood.  Where the cuckoo bird lays its eggs in the nest of another species of bird, which then ends up raising the cuckoo chick(s) as their own, the cuckoo bee engages in similar behavior, known as kleptoparasitism.  It will find a ground dwelling bee, usually a pollen-gathering type, and lay its eggs in the cells the host bee has provisioned for its own eggs. The cuckoo bee larvae hatch, earlier than the host larvae, and eat through the provisions, and usually the host larvae as well, if the mother cuckoo bee didn't already do so when she was laying her eggs.

While at first I was disappointed to find that these were bee parasites, as opposed to the native bee species I was hoping to catch on camera, I have since read that they are an indicator of a more complex habitat.  So I am not sure that I would call these a particularly beneficial insect, but they may fit into the "indicator that you're doing something right around here insect" category. Because there are many types of cuckoo bees, I am sure I'll be posting more pictures of them in the future.

Oh, and I took this for scale:

While I know insects aren't everyone's favorite topic, I think knowing what they are and what they do makes them have less of an "ewww" factor, and I always find that the more you know about the natural world, the more you see.