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Gus, The New DogGus, The New Dog
When he brings me a shoe, I exchange it for his toy.
When he barks at the sheep we teach him to sit quietly.
While we're opening a gate he waits. He's learning patience.
The first week we repeated the process about 100 times daily.
By the following week there were a few less corrections.
Each day is better than the day before.
Soon it will be second nature, for now it's a learning process.
Our dogs are getting older. Maisey is 11, she loves her job, she's great at it, too.
Miley is 13 and takes Maisey's lead. She's gentle but needs a lot of affirmation.
Spike is fourteen, his hearing is failing but his attitude is strong.
Eva is younger but she has a plate and rod in her front legs. She gets around fine, though.
They're all mentors. Their job is to teach Gus the rules of our farm.
When we move cattle they wait for the herd to walk past. They follow any stragglers pressuring them. They are Quiet and patient.
The ewes are protective of their lambs so the dogs keep a greater distance. They pressure the sheep without chasing or barking. When the sheep move in the right direction the dogs back-off. This rewards the flock. When the sheep stop, or deviate course, the dogs pressure them again.
On our daily walk up the lane there are no rules. It's a free-for-all. They wrestle, bark, and fight for the best stick, bone, or toy. They chase deer, flush pheasant or turkey and run wild. They bark, growl, and race ahead.
But, the dogs are always quiet when they're with the livestock. With great role models and consistent work the new guy, Gus is catching on.
Oh, and then there's Grant. He's teaching Gus how to nap. Grant's specialty is sleeping in the sun, or on the sofa, surrounded by the chew toys that he took from the puppy.
HUMOR:  Proof of who's your best friend:
This will dispel all rumors…
If you don’t believe it, just try this experiment:
Put your dog and your wife in the trunk of the car for an hour.
When you open the trunk, see who's really happy to see you.
It's a dog's life!
Gus, The New Dog


Esme' riding in the tractor
Esme' riding in the tractor

Goodbye, Esmé. You were the goodwill ambassador of the farm. I found Esmé at the Dubuque Animal Shelter and named her after a character in a short story by J.D. Salinger. Esmé was a clown, always having fun, and exceedingly happy. She loved swimming, digging, chasing, and biking.

She welcomed every new arrival. It didn’t matter if it had two legs or four Esmé welcomed everyone.

I heard the dogs bark and knew someone was coming up the lane. Cookie ran into the house and yelled, “call the vet, Esme’s laying in the driveway bleeding!”

As soon as I saw her I knew she was gone, she was so still. So small. So lifeless. Scooping her up I held her close and whispered goodbye. I kissed her head as tears trickled onto her fur. Looking up I saw the face of our friendly delivery driver, her tears fell, too.

I assured her it wasn’t her fault. Esmé must have gotten caught by the tire as she turned into the drive.

When our boys lost their first dog, Squeaky my sister gave us a book, Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. The inscription reads, “Given in memory of Squeaky. January 1999.” We’ve added the names of other beloved pets. With deepest regrets I’ve added Esmé to that list.


DSCN1951Electric Revenge

The deep snow pack prevents the electric fence from delivering a shock, so it's turned off during the winter. A five-strand, high tensile wire fence contains the cattle, two of the wires are usually electrified. There's plenty of hay for them to eat, but at the first sight of exposed grass in the yard the temptation is so great that the adolescent steers sneak through the fence. Once they're through they run, jump, and act wild. In the few days since the snow has receded the steers have broken one young oak tree, a small apple tree that was planted last spring, trampled some lilacs, and rubbed on a cherry tree until it cracked. They like to scratch on young trees. The grass in the yard isn't any different than the grass in the field, but the freedom of sneaking through makes it taste more delicious.

The bottom strand, which is one of the hot wires, is clear of snow so the grounding rods are making good contact. The charger is twelve joules, which is strong. Only three of the steers come into the yard, the three oldest. They're excerpting their independence from the herd. Heifers don't test the fence, they're content. Today I got my electric revenge. I plugged in the fence charger and waited for the rogue steers. It wasn't a long wait. The first one hit the fence with his nose, jumped into the air, kicked up his back legs, and ran down the hillside. The second steer leaned through the high tensile, got zapped by both hot strands at once, let out a burst of protest and ran back to the herd. The third one stretched his head through the fence, felt the shock and rushed forward, breaking a few connectors. He ran through the yard where the dogs met him and chased him back through the gate. He tried again, this time he felt the full force. The shock made a loud, crackling, 'POP' as he touched the wires. One good zap is enough to re-train them for the season. Revenge is sweet, just ask Cookie.

Our friend Corky is a bird watcher, as is her sister, Storm. Storm lives in Texas and watches her bird feeder all winter long waiting for the Robins to return. When they do she calls Corky and gives her the news along with a report on the number of robins she's seen. Corky marks her calendar and waits. It's usually three weeks until the birds make it this far north. Sure enough, as soon as the robins get here so does a blast of severe weather. Folklore says that the robins will have snow on their tail three times before warm weather is here to stay. Here's where you can track the robins migration.

 There seems to be so much more winter than we need this year. -Kathleen Norris

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Yesterday was the first day in over a month with temperatures above freezing. It was the perfect day for a walk in the woods. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine, too. Especially Eva who's recovered from her accident last spring. I searched the timber for berries, fruit or any sign of first food for the robins. Some of the gooseberry bushes have a few shriveled fruit clinging to the branches, but for the most part the bluejays have picked the timber clean.

Soaking up the sunshine
Soaking up the sunshine

The cattle lined up in the sunshine, soaking the beams into their souls. Their contentment was as visible as the sun itself. The chickens ventured a little farther than the barn yard for the first time in weeks. They cackled and called out with joy. It's amazing how restorative a small temperature inclination, accompanied with bright sunshine, is. Everything seemed to sing yesterday.





signs of spring!
signs of spring!


On our walk back up the lane in an area where the snow was pushed back so the bare ground was exposed, a small patch of grass was greening in the afternoon sun. Only 28 days until spring.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. -Henry David Thoreau


This is Spike. Spike loves the cold weather. Actually, Spike likes everything. It doesn't matter if it's cold, hot, rainy, dry as dust, or snowing. Spike is always happy.

DSCN1572 - CopyHe likes overseeing the farm from the top of the round bales. He's disappointed that we won't let him hitch a ride on them at feeding time.

keith on our walkOn our regular walk through the timber Keith and I noticed signs of the changing season. The color change of the leaves is obvious, but there are subtle signs, too. The wooly bear caterpillar's color range of reddish-brown to black is an indicator of the severity of the coming winter, if you believe the folklore. According to The Farmer's Almanac the legend is; the wider that middle brown section is (i.e., the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.


maisy 10-24-13Maisy and Spike are staking out hollow trees looking for raccoon and opossum. Spike cornered a momma coon, at our urging he backed down, she wouldn't have.Spike 10-24-13







 10-24-13 deer rubThe canopy overhead is sparse now. The natural windbreak of the ravines shows signs where deer have bedded down for the night. Young trees have fresh rubs where bucks are marking their territory. We've seen large bucks in the timber and larger gatherings of doe. In another month the area will be overrun with men in orange blasting away at anything that moves. The cattle will move closer to the barn during hunting season, the dogs instinctively know to stay close. For us, this is the most stressful time of year.

 Last year a neighbor was surprised to see a group of hunters in his timber. He asked them to leave, but they insisted they had hunting rights granted by the landowner. They continued driving deer towards other's in their group waiting for the animals to get within firing range. Every year we're amazed at the techniques used to bring down deer. Hunters waiting on two different hillsides will shoot into the valley as another group runs the deer through the draw. Generally these aren't local folks. They come from different counties and states, all hoping to take home a trophy buck.   This season our neighbor has a preventative plan to avoid the situation. He's implementing something along the line of  the old adage, 'walk softly and carry a big stick.'  In this case it will be a very big and powerful stick.



Now that September is here the air conditioner is off and the windows are wide open. At night I've been running the fan, not because it's hot but to drown out the insect's singing. When I fall asleep the crickets, locusts, grasshoppers and others joining in the evening symphony seem far off and distant. However, if I wake up during the night their sound is overwhelming. It's loud, it's close, it's intense. So much for quiet country living. A couple hours before dawn the coyotes start their own mournful calls. Lying awake I try to judge their distance from the barn, sheep in the pasture, and turkey pen. One morning, a couple of years ago, while he was walking to the catch the school bus, Garrett saw a coyote take a turkey. The bird was too heavy for the coyote to carry while being chased by a young boy. The coyote dropped the turkey, there weren't any nasty gashes or wounds, at least not visible. The turkey walked around the yard, feathers plumped up for a day or two but he didn't recover. That same week Miley was dumped in town and found wandering. A friend called and asked if we could take her. We tried finding her owner, no luck. She's such a nice dog that we decided to keep her. Since she and Maisey have been at the farm we haven't lost anymore livestock to coyotes.

Turkey and ducks
Turkey and ducks


Cookie and I were in the barn having a great visit. He was explaining to me the value of petrocurrency. Anyway, in walked the flock of ducks, the pleasant conversation ended. We couldn't hear anything above the noise from those ducks. Cookie pointed out that of all the animals on the farm the ducks are the only ones who make a singular sound. The cattle have a range of vocals. So do the sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Ducks, however make only one sound. It's loud, it doesn't vary, and it's incessant. When ducks start talking you can hardly hear yourself think. A sign of the times perhaps...we finished our conversation by texting each other.

We have a foster puppy, Eva. She's a twelve week old German Shepherd. If her hip x-rays, physical exam, temperament, and size are exemplary when she's two years old she'll will go into a breeding program. Last week when Keith was backing up the truck and trailer Eva ran underneath. She broke her leg, tore muscles, damaged one eye, was cut and bruised. Have you seen the poster about Lucky, the lost dog? Other than the line about being neutered- that's Eva. Three legged (temporarily), one eyed (temporarily), and cut up.


Eva is lucky. She has one good eye, the other is stitched shut. Her front leg has a pin and plate holding it together. The other front leg has stitches and torn muscles. She's cut up and bruised, but healing. The vet expects a full recovery. In the meantime she requires lots of attention, love, and time. We need ear muffs. She's in pain and whines when she's left alone. She also whines when we're in the room with her. She whines when she's hungry, thirsty, bored, has to go out, wants attention, is falling asleep, or when the radio isn't playing her favorite song. Basically, she whines all the time, but that's alright with me. Given the alternative I'll listen to her all day long because she's lucky, and we are too.


Every afternoon the piglets sneak up to harass Hobo. Their electric fence is set higher because the tall grass shorts out the fence.  Consequently, the piglets can scoot under without getting a shock. In a couple of weeks they’ll be big enough that it will stop them. But for now, they’re regular visitors to the garden and Hobo’s napping spot.

Hobo's been a frequent visitor at our house over the past few years. In February it became official, we adopted him. Our neighbors placed an ad in the paper, “Free to good home. 12 year old farm dog." Not too many  people are looking for an older dog. He's a gentle, affectionate, ancient chocolate lab who gets along with everyone.  In all these years Hobo has never been to the vet’s office, had a vaccination, or an exam of any kind, for that matter. We always assumed that because of his age he was arthritic (he's also obese). On our daily walks he has to rest every few yards. The vet ran a quick blood test. Hobo has Lyme Disease. Now, after completing his first course of antibiotics, he’s moving much better. He’s relatively fast for a fat old dog.  You should see how high he can  jump, especially when he's goosed by a piglet.



She ran up the hill for the last time.  Her hips were giving her some trouble, nothing a baby aspirin wouldn’t help.  She’d been our constant companion for fourteen years. Wherever we were on the farm Sassy wasn’t far behind.  She grew up with our boys, ran along as they learned to ride bikes, fished in the pond and raced their go-cart around the fields.

Cookie and Sassy

The boys would get mad at her when they went fishing because she loved to swim in circles around their bobbers waiting for fish.  She didn’t understand that she was a fish deterrent. Eventually the idea caught on that they were displeased with her, she’d swim back to shore, chasing frogs instead.

Sassy and the Boys

Every new life on this farm was welcomed first by Sassy. It didn’t matter if they were chicks, calves, lambs, goats, piglets, or a foal. She was the first to greet them, sometimes even before their own mother.  When the cows calved Sassy would watch over them, too.  She’d sit on the hill and scan the horizon. From her lookout post she could oversee the farm.  She knew where every animal was and where they belonged.  If the sheep wandered to close to the garden she’d bark and chase them off.  She kept them from creeping under the fence and eating the apple trees. She kept wandering piglets from stealing eggs out of the nesting boxes. Sassy was proud and well mannered. She kept all the other dogs in line and corrected them if they broke any of the rules. Chasing a chicken was unacceptable to Sassy’s code of conduct.  When Miley was new here Sassy caught her chasing a young chick. She pinned Miley down.  Miley, showing her belly, quickly learned the rules. When a stray cat had kittens in our barn Sassy watched over them while their mom was away. She’d clean them, allow them to climb on her and when the cat returned Sassy would leave the barn. She respected her place.

Sassy, Nifty, and Alice
Sassy and Sammy
Sassy and the Goslings


Sassy helping burn pastures

She loved to be warm. When we’d burn each spring she’d lay in the smoldering grass, twice she’d caught on fire. Once it was the end of her tail and another time it was her rear end. She sat on the burning embers and Keith had to extinguish her with water. It didn’t phase her, she just found another hot spot to lay on. She also loved the warmth of our wood burning stove, she’d sleep close, soaking up the heat.

We’re all going to miss her.  I think Keith will miss her most of all. He hasn’t built a fence, moved cows, or fixed equipment without Sassy’s help.  She rode with him to check waterers and walked miles and miles checking fences over the years. Sassy loved to run alongside our Willy’s jeep. When she was too old to run alongside, Keith would lift her in, she discovered the joy of riding shotgun.

Sassy fencing with Keith

It was apparent that she was slowing down, her weight was dropping and her hearing was about gone.  One morning she woke up and couldn’t move. We figured she’d had a stroke, the vet confirmed it. Saying goodbye was heartbreaking, the boy’s said goodbye, dug her grave, and buried her on the hilltop overlooking the farm. She was a wonderful friend and a great dog.