book learning, meet real life

 

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Thanks super-nice lady with great intentions…

You have thrown a wrench into the middle of my daily life.

In the new wave of farming books, a livestock guardian dog is the perfect solution for a small farm with free ranging chickens and a posse of poultry loving hawks. Obviously, du-oh.

These breeds of dogs, in Michael’s case Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Maremma, and several others, can be challenging house dogs. They are active, I-N-D-P-E-N-D-E-N-T thinking, protective prowlers still in tune with their inner wolf.

Their instinct is to “own” their farm and the livestock on it.  The best dogs act as doulas, nurse maids, rescuers of death-wish lambs, wayward goats and calves.  Anyone can see, the obviously perfect solution for my chicken/hawk/fox problems is a dog, right?

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Enter Michael. Michael is a good, playful, lovable boy. He is also independent, and strong willed, and I’m well aware that he is most likely training me, not the other way around. After dabbling a bit in his various employment opportunities – calves, pigs, chickens, geese,  Michael has decided that his preferred livestock work is the human kind.

So when things get dull, or his human is not pleasing to him, or ignoring him because she is working, or is not available, Michael has discovered a sure-fire method for changing things up.

The R-U-N-N-O-F-F method works like a charm – you just slip under the fence, run down the long driveway to the road. Wait, and the next car down the road will slow down, and if you’re successful, the person inside will get out and make a big fuss over you.

AAARRRGGGHH. A couple Sundays ago Michael decided to have his first adventure, and unfortunately the outcome yielded results I will be fighting to reverse for a long time. That fateful day, unbeknown to me, Michael ditched me and the job we were working on, and ran by himself to the road at the end of my lane.

Piecing the timeline together with the benefit of hindsight, apparently two passing cars stopped, powwowed and one of the women decided that rather than walk down my lane or ask a neighbor, she would put Michael into her car and take him home.

I of course have no idea this was happening, and am calling, calling, calling on the opposite end of the farm. Since Michael had never run away, and he has his own schedule and activities he enjoys and sometimes does not come immediately, I was a bit annoyed, but not yet concerned.

I had an errand to run and a schedule to keep, so I closed the gates and headed to town – again, Michael has already been successfully loose on his own as is the goal, so I was not overly concerned about leaving him loose within the closed gates for a short time.

As I pulled out onto the road, I scoured the fields by the road, the drive, and the neighbor’s pasture across the road though, just in case, and there was no sign of him outside the gates. I called as I went with no response so I “knew” that he was busy with something on the farm.

When I returned a short while later, still no sign of Michael. This was not the usual.

Michael does not always come right away, but he always comes. Damp, rainy, and bone-chilling, on this day, after a good romp, Michael would be tucked into the hay inside the barn. But no.

I searched high and low on the farm. The creek was running hard, so I worried that maybe he got sucked under and braved the brambles and treacherous banks to see end to end. Aside from a heart-stopping large bit of beige foam, nothing. Whew.

So I got on my quad and started scouring the country roads. I headed in the direction I had seen him eyeing up, and started slowly riding and calling, riding and calling. Nothing.

Chilled, and discouraged, I returned to feed the animals, then got in the truck and started driving the roads some more. Down one, up another, the lead felt cold. I felt pulled towards the dairy farm up the road, so headed that way.

Nothing. Kept on going, up one road, down another, and now, it was about 8:00pm and getting dark. I was discouraged, and running out of ideas, and truly amazed he did not come when I called because again, he ALWAYS comes.

As I was running out of ideas and daylight, driving, five miles per hour, blinkers on, calling out, a car passed me and pulled along side and the driver asked if I was missing a dog? 

I said I was, and lo and behold, there was Michael, in the back seat of her car! Bawk??!!

Michael had spent the day with the driver and her daughter, who clearly had bonded with him. They had replaced his harness with a new collar, taken him to the groomer for a blowout and perfume, and were headed home for a slumber party. 

They had called the phone number on his license and reported finding him; my fault for not having a second tag with my name and number which would have saved us both hours of misery, but also were clearly hoping that nobody showed up to claim Michael. They asked that if I didn’t want him, they would love to adopt him. 

Wherein lies the rub. If you found a dog in the road at the end of a farm driveway, would you put him in your car and drive away? Or would you go down the lane and see if they were missing a dog? Or maybe stop at the neighbor’s house across the street and ask?

Though she was kind, the woman clearly did not approve of Michael’s lifestyle and freedoms. And, on my part, since things had gone so wrong, I really haven’t done much to prove her concerns invalid.

So my freshly fluffed, perfumed guardian dog and I headed home. I watched closely to see if maybe he was not happy with his lifestyle? Would he prefer to be a house dog? Was he happy to see me?

I put him to bed and spent the night fretting. I was frustrated by the woman’s misplaced sense of right action, because I knew it was a seriously positive reinforcement for Michael, for a really negative behavior.

But I also know that equally wrong were some of my own actions, or lack thereof.

Since then, Michael has headed for the road six or more times. The negative spiral has begun, and I need to find a way to reverse it pronto. It’s a self renewing cycle – the more Michael is tied, the more frustrated he is, and the more ready to bolt he is when he gets a chance. 

The more Michael acts out, the more frustrated and less fun I am for him, and the more likely he is to run away in search of softer, easygoing strangers who tell him he’s wonderful and give him treats, their full attention and salon visits.

And, the more Michael is tied, the less he gets to do his job, which is to chase away varmints. I’ve lost two chickens this week to fox and hawk.

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So, like all those common-sensical, seemingly simple old fashioned farming solutions Mother’s Earth News and Hobby Farm make it seem that any dunce can easily do, like using invasive Hawthorne bushes to build a living fence, once a day milking, portable electric fence, tilling with pigs, and so on and so on, livestock guardian dogs are not fool-proof. 

All these things are wonderful and possible, if you are diligent and invest the time. Time as in daily, religiously, without fail and reliably.

Let’s see. 24 hours in a day. One person. Time-consuming water hauling and generator rotating to a farm without electricity. The limits of being over fifty and not as fast as I used to be.

Looks like somebody needs a reality check. The longer I try to buck factory farming methods and allow the animals to express themselves, the more complex my own life becomes.

Animals, like people, need reliable, diligent, consistent schedules they can rely upon.  A human/animal partnership is the result of hours and hours and years of diligence, false starts and mishaps. Mistakes will happen. The love will be stretched. 

But when you reached the other side of that barrier of misery, the rewards are extraordinary. So. Deep breath, plodding ahead, how am I going to fix this?  UPDATE: the day I wrote the rough draft for this post, Michael and I had a perfect day. He slipped away for a while, but he had just gone into the shady barn for a cool nap. He was clearly enjoying his life.

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Feeling optimistic the next day, things went really, really wrong. Not only did he run off, he came near and followed the quad I was riding to search for him, but willfully would not let me close enough to catch him.

Fortunately, he was ready to go home, and I was able to tie him up which is where he has been since.

Honestly, I am out of patience and ideas except for this:  Micael is a good dog worth the effort. We will figure it out, but I did feel pretty shamed by the neighbors finger wag…

But damn, this perfume?!