Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tired of weeding!

If weeds were edible (and I guess some are) there would be no world food problem. I could probably feed all of Bangladesh out of my little garden plot, at least this year I might've as they seemed especially vigorous and fast-growing.

I know there are many schemes to avoid or defeat weeds, but next year I am going to try a containerized garden. I have quite a few of those heavy-duty "lick tubs" that ranchers use to feed specialized nutrients to their cattle. One of my neighbors has a huge stockpile of the really good ones (heavy resin or plastic construction— almost indestructible) and said I could have all I want.

So Jack and I took a ride today. Only about 25 miles round trip, but we ended up with some nice containers for next year, and the promise of more if we want them.

The Little Man

Anyone who has visited this blog more than once or twice knows that dogs are, and have been, a very important part of my life. I have been enormously privileged to have lived with some really fine dogs. By fine I do not breeding, pedigrees, and the like. I mean character, intelligence, and spirit.

In the last couple of decades I have been unusually lucky to know six such very special friends. Casting no aspersions on my present house-mates, the finest of them all was Murphy, who died in 2007, prematurely from a particularly vicious form of cancer.

The other day I was going through some boxes of stuff and found this little portrait I did of him right after he came to live with me in 1999. He's eight or nine weeks here and I believe I can already see the keen intelligence and sensitivity that would characterize his life. He was by far the smartest, most savvy four-legged I have ever known and his instincts, particularly about people, were always spot-on. He also had the most wonderful, complex sense of humor. He very quickly earned the nickname "The Little Man." I used to joke that he was not really a dog, but a pure soul on his journey to his next level. Well, I say I was joking anyway.

It's been four years since he went on ahead, I hope to find a shady spot for us under some trees next to a mountain stream. I miss him terribly.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The gentle rain that falleth

We haven't had any rain for quite a while. But this morning a gentle drizzle began to fall. The birds lined up on all the fences and flapped their wings happily. The dogs, usually not fond of getting their feet wet, went out and played for a while in the cool air. When Emma and Mags came in, Jack wanted to stay on the front deck. He's out there now sniffing the air and enjoying the cool breeze and the moisture in the air after our blistering hot, dry days.

I had a bowl of tomatoes and squash out on the shooting bench, partially under cover, and the rain bedewed it. After a long spell of dry and hot weather, a gentle rain is a blessing to all things.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It doesn't take much

We humans are pretty jaded critters. It's hard for us to get too excited about "fun activities" unless they are expensive extravaganzas, often involving lots of alcohol and other added "entertainment" magnifiers. Dogs don't have that problem. They still know how to have 110% fun with the simplest things. A 49¢ tennis ball. A bone stuffed with peanut butter. A short walk with the boss. Or a ride in the Rhino on a hot afternoon. All get the smiles, the enthusiasm, the sheer unadulterated happiness of the moment.

The Rhino was in the shop all last week with a fuel feed problem. I brought it home just the other day in the van trailer. When I let the ramp down and the dogs saw it they went ape, as we used to say. Even thought the tailgate was up Jack and Emma were in it before I got it unloaded. They were so happy to see "their" Rhino again. Of course, I didn't have the heart to deny them a quick couple of turns around the pasture, for which I was rewarded by their sheer unfeigned delight.

In the picture above, taken today on our road, Mags is occupying her usual place in the right hand seat. Just couldn't get her in the frame as we were moving (only about 15 MPH) and I was holding the camera out the side. But you can bet she was there and in the moment!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A family group

Bison are for the most part very companionable creatures. They are group-oriented in the extreme. While you will occasionally encounter a solitary old bull, they are the exception rather than the rule.

When bison roamed the American plains the male-female ratio was much closer to 1:1 than it is now in controlled herds. Nowadays the ratio tends to be 15 or 20:1. Even so, there seems to be quite a bit of family cohesion within a herd, and you will see the same cow/bull combination frequently together.

Calves are ear-tagged as they are born and one rancher noted that consecutively numbered ear tags will go through a sorting chute together for years. These are not siblings, just "group buddies."

Training collars

Someone recently wrote me about the collar that appears often on pictures of Jack. I answered then and later thought that I should post that answer here. Here it is...

Thanks. My dogs are happy. A genuinely happy bunch. Jack's tail almost never stops wagging— except when he's after birds or something else he can point.

I'm going to answer your question about collars at some length because I have some very strong opinions about them. I do not "train my dogs with a collar." I use a collar to augment training but it is only a peripheral aid. I estimate that 80% of the people that buy them don't know what they are doing and thus misuse them, even to the extent of abusing the dog. The collar is not punishment; it is a tool to help the dog understand what you want from him. Overuse of collars is common, and dogs can be completely ruined by it. A collar is not a cure-all or a panacea. It's an aid and needs to be used with discretion. Here are some "rules" based on my experience and methods of use.

RULE 1. If you are not willing to try the collar on yourself, at all power levels, you are not entitled to buy or use one. You don't have to use it around your neck. Strap it on your leg and see what it feels like, at ALL levels. Don't use it on the dog until you know what he's going to be experiencing.

RULE 2. The collar should not be activated until the dog has worn it for several hours a day, every day, for at least two weeks. I prefer a month. Make a big deal of putting it on. It's fun! Give him a cookie-biscuit and take him outside and play with him. Don't even bother to turn it on. Strapping a collar on a dog and then immediately "training" him with it is cruel, counterproductive, and, well, stupid. (When Jack sees me pick up the collar he gets excited, comes over to me, sits, and extends his neck so I can put it on. We've dispensed with the cookie long ago. He doesn't need it anymore. He does not see the collar as a threat. I have seen dogs cower and whimper when they see the boss pick up the collar. A sure sign that it's the boss who ought to be wearing it!)

RULE 3. If the collar is to be used to correct objectionable behavior (after the familiarization period) like fence-climbing, digging, or chasing stock, do not let the dog associate the correction with you. Preferably be out of sight when you apply the correction and say nothing to him. He shouldn't even know you are there. YOU didn't do it, the fence (hole, sheep, whatever) did it. If he associates the correction with you, he will behave in your presence and when you go inside he'll go after that ewe with renewed vigor. Also, do not wave the controller around or call attention to it. You don't want him to start associating the controller with the correction he receives.

RULE 4. When you use the collar along with a verbal command or signal be sure the dog knows what he is being corrected for. He should know precisely what you expect of him first and only then can you correct him when he balks at the command. Timing is important. The correction should be brisk and immediate.

RULE 5. Think long and hard before you use the collar more than two or three times in a busy day of working with him. If you feel the need to use it frequently, something is wrong and should be corrected. Again, the collar is not a cure-all.

RULE 6. Never let anyone else use the collar with your dog.

These are some of my thoughts on the use of the training collar. The collar has been an aspect of training six or seven of my dogs. None of them were ever "ruined" or "abused." It's a good tool if used with care, restraint, and knowledge. Otherwise, it's a no-go in my opinion.

I hope these notes have been helpful.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In among 'em

I swore to myself I'd never again stand behind a commercial mo'om pitcher camera. But I am weak, and at the request of the ranch foreman I have been doing some filming of his critters lately. He wanted some footage of moving them between "pastures." The word pasture does not really convey the meaning of what these grazing grounds are. This morning they were moving them out of a rough, canyon-smeared pasture that is five miles long, into one that is about fifteen miles long. Poor folks only have about 90,000 acres so they have to make do.

This was my third session and it was the most up-front-and-personal yet. They had split the herd into two 2,500-head components and today's shoot was the last of these two. That many buffalo, moving at speed, up close, cause an unbelievable amount of dust. I joked that I was going to have to put the camera in the dishwasher tonight. Maybe along with myself.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Today is the 89th anniversary of the death of Michael Collins.

Who knows how the history of Ireland would have been shaped had Collins lived. Would he have been the savior of his country, or would he have slowly morphed into a military dictator? Both, I think, are overstated positions. What cannot be disputed is that he was a principal player in wrenching the initiative from the British and setting Ireland on the road of freedom and independence.

The circumstances of the death of the Big Fella have spawned a publishing industry in Ireland, much as the assassination of JFK did for us here. Did DeValera have him killed? Did a member of his own command murder him? Or, more likely, was his death the result of his own rash act coupled with a lucky shot from a young man who didn't even know who it was that he had killed— or even if he had killed rather than merely wounded him.

We'll never know. Nevertheless, the date of 22 August 1922 will continue to be observed by those who think about such things. And I will fly my tricolor on this date, as always.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Threesome

Pictures of my three all together are few and far between. They're most often tearing around doing their own thing and trying to get them together, quiet, and attentive is almost impossible. But last month, for a split second, it all came together. They were playing together in the cool of dusk, I called them, they looked, *SNAP*. And they immediately went back to their fun.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Los Olmos

That's the tentative name anyway. The new place is quite a bit more "southwesty" than my present digs, even though it's at the same altitude although further south. As I mentioned earlier, the dogs and I spent last weekend on it, getting the feel of it, and with me digging out prickly pear of which there is much. Interestingly, the dogs avoided it very skillfully and I don't think anybody got stuck all weekend.

There's no electricity or water on the site right now and I'll be putting those in in the spring. There is too much land for my own needs, so I'll build on my five acres and lease the rest back to the ranch for grazing. Whether I use it myself or not it's a heckuva nice buffer, not that there's much danger of encroachment.

Note the small prairie dog village to the right of the ranch trail in the picture.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jack gets porkied

The other evening I noticed Jack out on the lawn nibbling away at a forepaw. I went out to find he had some quills in it, as well as a couple in his nose. I got the pliers and pulled them. He didn't care much for the process at all, but was a very good boy and let me pull 'em. I put the dogs inside, got a rifle, and walked the place looking for the culprit, thinking that from the quill size it must be a young one. Couldn't find it. Finding a porky in tall, fully leafed trees is almost impossible,

The next morning Jack found another quill in that same paw and we did the deed again. He was even less happy about this one as it seemed very sore and tender. But we got it out and he forgives me.

Later in the day I took a walk with the dogs and the 77/22, figuring it was pretty futile but worth a try. Lo and behold there it was high in a cottonwood, clinging to a limb. A big one. Not wanting a porky falling into or on my dogs I took them back to the house and came back to do the sanction. (My "official" porky gun is the fine little CZ 527 in .223. But this time I took the Ruger 77/22— the one I just put a Leupold 4x on.) I wanted a head shot so there wouldn't be any thrashing around and dropping quills. Porkies are easy to kill and with an eye shot this one was dead before hitting the ground.

I hate to kill 'em but it has to be done. The damage they can do to a dog is just too much to put up with. This was a very big female, maybe the biggest I've seen here. 25-30 pounds and fat and healthy with pretty well-worn teeth. I checked around for young ones but couldn't see any— which doesn't mean they weren't there.

Jack is fine. I just hope he learned something.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mea culpa, mea culpa...

I apologize for not paying much attention to this blog of late. I was really touched by the several kind souls that emailed to see if I was still among the living. Kind indeed, and somewhat guilt-inducing (but nothing I can't handle). Thanks, friends.

Truth is I have been pretty busy of late with not much time for anything else. I was in the process of acquiring a piece of an existing ranch in another state. That's done now. Sometime next year, starting in the spring, I will be building on and then moving onto the new location. The dawgz and I spent this last weekend on the place surveying the building site. Jack and Emma were pretty happy to find that there were plenty of pheasant and quail on the place, and Jack was over the moon to discover that there were many little lizards and toads to pursue and harass.

Mags, on the other hand, bored to tears with that kind of childishness, was just pleased to stake out her very own place in the shade.