Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Big Thaw and Gem goes Home

The thaw is on. And it’s raining to make matters sloppier. There's a big lake at ranch headquarters, but we live in rolling sandhills and are avoiding the flooding our neighbors are having to deal with. We finally wised up and put chains on before we entered the feed ground this morning because we knew we’d be falling through the snow. Oh, but the warm temperatures feel good and the hay bales come apart much easier.

My ranch of origin, just up river from us, has been feeding Fish and Game hay to the 600 elk that were hanging around until the thaw moved in and dissipated the herd. Here at home we only had 4 big bulls visit the haystack for a couple of weeks before moving on.

The deep snow has been tough on wildlife and makes me know that our efforts to leave tall standing weeds, flower heads, and brushy wooded areas are appreciated by all the organisms that share our space. The year round resident birds are singing again; things are looking up!  

Nan’s eight puppies are finding homes now that they’re 8 weeks old. This morning “Gem” went home to an Oregon cattle ranch in the arms of the ranch wife. The ranch has both sheep and cows, and from what we know of this couple, Gem is sure to have a happy life.  

We usually let Anita do the dog breeding, but we had our own batch of puppies at Christmastime. Anna’s male, Clyde, and our female, Nan, managed a liaison despite our not so thorough efforts to keep them apart. It was fun to have the puppies over the holidays so the kids could enjoy them. Nan was a rock star neophyte, birthing eight pups successfully and nursing and caring for them with aplomb.

Border collies are a big part of the Pratt ranch culture. We can’t imagine doing this without them. We follow several hundred cows with baby calves 50 miles to summer pasture every spring. Call us crazy, but we make it work because of our animal helpers, the horses and dogs.  

From selective breeding for many generations, the border collie knows that livestock should be kept together and headed in the same direction. When a calf turns back, which they are hard wired to do in search of their mother, the dog follows until they face off. At this the collie does a quick maneuver to head them back to the herd. They’re so much better at it than we are! A horse and rider mostly succeed in chasing a calf further away from the herd.

I remember the first time I used a dog on the ranch. Mark was on a rotary exchange trip to England and I was left with his two dogs, Jack and Queen. Because Mark was gone, I was second best and they followed my horse and herded cattle for me! I was hooked and got my own puppy, Beauty, shortly thereafter. Kate followed Beauty, and now she and I make a good team. I can hold my own with the guys no matter their skill at riding and roping because I have my dog with me.

We’re happy with the great homes the puppies have gone to so far. There’s only one male left. I call him “Slack” and he’s an engaging little guy just looking for a friend and a job.

the crew at play

today's shelter pet looking for a home

Gem with Jack and Teresa