Puppy Update: 1 year

The “puppies” turned one this week! Here are some of the highlights of their first year:

Both collies participated in a Herding Instinct Test in April and performed very well. While we have not had a chance to get any more formal training, we brought home two new lambs that weren’t keen on going to the barn at night, so we started letting the collies help us get the sheep into the barn. Both dogs were eager to help, and were quick to pick up on what we were asking them to do. Unfortunately, their eagerness means they often over-run the sheep. Both dogs in the pen at the same time seems a recipe for disaster, but even having the not-working dog outside the pen seems to increase the energy level too much for my comfort, so we’re going with one at a time for now.

Kep & Findlay have shown a great interest in “helping” with the chickens as well. They do not seem inclined to harm the birds, but their energy can get out of control and has, on more than one occasion, led to the “rolling” of a hen. I have deliberately asked each dog for help with the chickens from inside the pen one time. For a while few of our birds insisted on “roosting” under the chicken house instead of inside it and since we needed to move the house the following morning, I needed all the birds inside. I was able to get three of the four inside by myself, and Kep helped me catch up the straggler. He was definitely excited but really seemed to be listening to me. On a second occasion, after a chicken refused to cooperate following a chicken-house-move, I took Finn by the collar and walked with him behind her, saying “Easy, easy..” His presence alone was enough to gently encourage the wayward hen to return to the flock.

After losing a few chickens late last summer, presumably to airborne predators, we have not lost another since the boys have been on full-time duty. We did have an accidental chicken death in the fall when one of our younger hens left the pen and ran into the barn. All the dogs chased her and she got squeezed between some old barn boards and the stone wall. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it was our 12-year-old dog, Hickory, who had the last contact with her. After getting Hickory out, I was able to send Finn into the tight space and encouraged him to “get the chicken.” He brought her out just far enough so I could grab her and I asked him to give her to me. He dropped her at my feet. While Kep & Finn are probably too old to be considered for full-time chicken guardian duty, they have done an exceptional job keeping our chickens safe from outside the pen.

The collies have separately or as a team, killed, retrieved, scared off or otherwise annoyed: 5+ moles, 1 groundhog, 1 squirrel, skunks, coyote {twice}, deer, hawks, crows, vultures, bears {suspected}, owls {much to my chagrin} and 1 tom cat. They have proven to be useless against mice, so far. 😦

Kep & Findlay have been wonderful with our dogs and our children. They are still a little too interested in our two outside cats, but don’t bother the indoor cats at all. Finn is the more sensitive one, reacting like his feelings are hurt when I’ve reprimanded him. He also doesn’t like to be touched from behind. He’ll ask for space and hasn’t shown any true aggression, but he really, really doesn’t like to be brushed or have his nails trimmed. In fact, he’ll put his mouth around my hand {or the comb I’m using} to dissuade me from grooming him. Unfortunately, his very, very thick coat tends to get matted and is constantly full of burrs so we’re working on it a little at a time, trying to make it a positive experience for him… Kep, on the other hand, lets me comb his entire body and trim his nails. Finn’s coat is also much thicker than Kep’s, and I do prefer Kep’s easier-to-maintain coat.

Kep is more biddable, probably because he has bonded more closely to me. Findlay is not nearly as willing and in fact can be a bit of a bad influence – he is much harder to recall and tends to run off {a bad habit he learned from our older dog, I am sure}. While I know focused training could help with some things, Finn often looks right at me when he’s disobeying, as though daring me to get angry. He just doesn’t have the instinct to “help” that Kep has. Fortunately, we have a lot of space, so when Finn runs off he’s usually still on the farm, but he does chase the car off the farm {I have to put him in his kennel now when we leave} and has recently started going next door to bark at my neighbor’s penned hunting dogs. Kep chased us for a while – I could tell he wanted to stay put but was persuaded by his brother to disobey – but seems to have grown out of it. Kep almost never misbehaves if Finn is not around.

Findlay is an absolute love when you’re not messing with his fur or feet. He “hugs” and is an incredibly gentle “kisser,” just barely touching you with his nose, and always with a closed mouth {unlike Kep who is an exuberant and toothy kisser}. Finn has never met a stranger, which makes him a great greeter on the farm. In fact, one of our biggest challenges has been keeping him away from our rental cottage – he keeps an eye on the doors and makes a beeline whenever he sees someone step outside. Finn will run up and waggle all over the guests while his brother is barking his head off. It’s a bizarre scene to be sure…

Bottom Line: We have decided to neuter Findlay and leave Kep intact. It was always our plan to choose one of the pups to breed, and I think Kep is a more complete package – at least for what I’m looking for in a farm collie.

Our plan for the next year: 1) Get more sheepherding training and practice and 2) Find a female to start a family with 😉 We’ll definitely have our hands full!


Two pups on one rock

Two pups on one rock

Kep {2 Months} and C

Kep {2 Months} and C

Puppies {2 months } and Hickory

Puppies {2 months } and Hickory

Two Puppies at the Bonfire {3 Months}

Two Puppies at the Bonfire {3 Months}

Finn {4 Months} and O

Finn {4 Months} and O

Kep {7 Months}

Kep {7 Months}

Kep & Findlay {8 Months}

Kep & Findlay {8 Months}

Scotch Collie History

Many of you already know our dogs, Kep and Finn, are Old Time Scotch Collies. However, it doesn’t seem I’ve shared what makes them so special to us.

We were extremely deliberate in choosing the farm dogs for Owl Moon Farm, and came across this breed in August, just after we moved to the farm. The wife of a colleague of Tripp’s has a breeding pair of these dogs, and is committed to reviving the breed. Old Time Scotch Collies {or, Scotch Collies, or Farm Collies, or Farm Shepherds} were once a dime a dozen. They are featured in agricultural works from 19th Century Europe:

Sheep Gathering in Glen Spean - Richard Ansdell 1872

Sheep Gathering in Glen Spean – Richard Ansdell 1872

Collies circa 1890

Collies circa 1890

And many, many photographs (and films!) from the early twentieth century in the US and the UK:

Collie helping with the sugaring - 1940

Collie helping with the sugaring – 1940

Beatrix Potter and her companion, Kep

Beatrix Potter and her companion, Kep

Known for their loyalty, biddability, and teachability, Old Time Collies were relied on for every job on the farm. They helped protect the livestock and children; they hunted rabbits, mice and other varmint; and of course, they helped the shepherd move his stock from place to place. They performed those duties in the Old Country, and the Scotch-Irish settlers brought them to the New World when they immigrated in the mid- to late-1800’s.

But, as the family farm started to decline, so did this once precious breed, and these well-rounded, dependable dogs were nearly lost. Luckily, there were a few breeders remaining in the late 1900’s that decided to rescue and revive the breed. There is a lot of history involved, so if you’d like to read more, I encourage you to visit Old-Time Farm Shepherd.

Our breeder was one of those folks that remembered having collie dogs around on a grandfather or uncle’s farm and committed to resurrecting the breed. Our pups are a result of that effort and we couldn’t be more pleased. Knowing that we are working side by side with a breed of dog that can likely be traced back to my own Scottish Highland ancestors…. Well, I get goosebumps every time I think about it.


Herding Instinct Test

Here’s a link to the video my son made during our Herding Instinct Test yesterday. I was so nervous leading up to it, but both boys really were phenomenal. Turn the volume up if you want to hear the trainer’s comments, or down if too much barking gets to you…

We tested at Keepstone Farm in Berryville, VA with all breed trainer, Susan Rhoades. We plan to do some more training with both boys and would love to take them to an AHBA trial or two this year. Stay tuned!

Puppy Update :: 6 Months!

The puppies are 6 months old! They are just about as tall as our Golden Retriever and definitely bigger than our 30-pound hound mix, much to his dismay. They play with both older dogs, and seem to be much more gentle with the Golden {she’s going to be 13 in April and can be a little grouchy}. She doesn’t chase them around, but they jump around her, nipping at her while she “barks” at them. I’ve tried to catch it on video but haven’t gotten it yet. The hound {he’s 12 this spring} seems to like being with them, but he still enjoys his solo “hunting trips” and lounging around in the warm house. They play a similar game with him, but more aggressively, and sometimes I’m not sure if the old guy really likes it, or is just a good sport.

They have learned to “back up” so I can open the door and “wait” when I open the door so they don’t go rushing in ahead of me, knocking me down. They sit for a treat. They do not come reliably when called {especially if they’re after something}, or stay for that matter, but they definitely know “leave it” which I use for just about anything I want them to leave alone. Chicken scrap bowl, on the ground outside the pen? They’ll just sit and look at it. Toys, indoor cats, shoes – they’re generally really good about leaving what we ask them to leave. But the outside cats? Not so much. Plus, Kep is a counter surfer and Finn likes to run upstairs when {he thinks} no one’s looking and eat the cat food. The kids say both dogs have a bad habit, but they’re not bad dogs. I totally agree, I just wish I could get them to quit!

Mountain Wave McCaulay "Kep" :: 6 Months

Mountain Wave McCaulay “Kep” :: 6 Months

We got our sheep last month and the pups were CRAZY for a few hours, barking and carrying on, but gradually they got used to having the girls around and now they walk down with me every morning and even to check on them. We haven’t let them in the paddock yet and don’t intend to until they’ve started some training at around 10 months. I’m still looking for somewhere local to get them started if you know of anyone…

My biggest question right now is – what next? I used to bring them in at dinner-time and keep them in their kennels for the night, but I have been letting them back out at night for the past few weeks, to get them used to being outside at night. Not overnight, but just till I go to bed. Generally, they bark and bark and bark off an on until about 10:30 when they relax and usually sleep on the front porch {which is off the living room, where I usually hang out in the evening}. We lost our only remaining original hen last week {the one that hatched the eggs!}, and another one today, and both times the pups were inside. SO – when do I leave them out for good? I fed them on the porch today, so I wouldn’t be tempted to kennel them for too long, but they don’t have a dog house yet, so they’ve been doing their regular snooze/play/chase thing all day without a solid nap. They seem tired. I left them in the fenced front yard when we headed to town for an hour today. {They often chase me or Tripp down the driveway when we leave, so I figured leaving them in the yard would help get them used to “staying” without the risk}. The pups and our hound mix were in the yard when we got back and seemed totally fine {and thrilled to see us}.


Mountain Wave Findlay “Finn” :: 6 Months

I am really looking forward to working these dogs this summer. We still talk about whether or not one {or both?} will ever be an “inside dog.” They are just so nice and loving and sweet – it’s hard to imagine them living outside 100% of the time! We spend a lot of time outside, so we get to be with them often but it’s just not the same. When they are inside separately, they will often lie down in whatever room I’m in and just hang out – it’s so dang sweet! When they are inside together they rarely sit still… Findlay seems to be a little more high strung and paces. But, I used to think Kep was the more active one, so who knows what personality will ultimately stick!

Either way, we are all so in love with these dogs. I’ve always thought I’d have a Golden forever and ever, but these boys are so darn smart, and they barely shed… I may be rethinking my earlier promise…especially once we start breeding… {OvO}

We have sheep!!!

I remember the day (weekend?) I finally realized just what it was I wanted to do on our farm. I’d been through all sorts of ideas: CSA, dairy, broilers… Nothing really fit with what I was looking for, until I was chatting with a fellow Ladies Homestead Gathering member about knitting and livestock when I finally realized what I want to do on our farm is SHEEP! I’m an avid knitter and I love caring for animals, so of course I should raise sheep!

So almost immediately after finding the farm, I started looking for sheep. Tripp and I decided that two pregnant ewes would be the place to start. I had my heart set on a pair of Romedale/CVM ladies, and once we learned that the largest breeder on the east coast purchased our Scotch Collies’ brother we knew we’d found our source. After a few months of emails back and forth with Marie at Marushka Farms about caring for sheep, and then exactly which animals would fit us best, we picked up our girls this weekend! I cannot fully express how excited we are to have our first two sheep on the farm!

New hay Feb 2015

Rose and Flower

Puppy Update :: 10 weeks

McCaulay {Kep} and Findlay {Finn} came home Saturday September 13th. They were excited to be in a new place and exhausted by the end of the day. Mom slept on the couch with them in a kennel together, hoping to take them out as soon as they whined to use the potty. Unfortunately, they whined a lot that night. Luckily, no one peed in the kennel. Mom slept on the couch for night #2 as well, but that was the last time – mamas need more/better sleep than what can be had on our couch with two whiney puppies by your side… The pups spent the next few nights on the screen porch, and only had one or two accidents overnight. {The screen porch is directly below our bedroom window, so I could hear them and let them out as soon as they whimpered.}

A few nights ago Findlay had the hardest time falling asleep and it was 11:30 before he finally settled down. For a few nights, the pups had been sleeping in kennels in the playroom {it’s starting to cool off here at night}, and were doing really well from about 7pm to 6am. But that night, Finn just wouldn’t quiet down. I’d let him out of the kennel and he’d go outside and just lie down on the patio. I started to worry he was refusing to sleep indoors! I tried putting him on the screen porch but he just kept pushing on the door {bang…bang…bang…}. Even though I really really didn’t want to, I offered to let him sleep outside. He was barking {for the first time ever} within 10 minutes. Finally, I moved his kennel out to the screen porch, locked him in, shut the house door and hoped he’d be quiet. He was. But at their 2:30am potty try it was really chilly out there, so I brought his kennel back in, only this time I left the door from the playroom to the porch open. I’m thinking he was just getting hot because he’s at least twice as furry as Kep. Knock on wood – he’s been sleeping fine every night since then {in his kennel, in the playroom, with the house/porch door open}.

The pups don’t seem to enjoy their inside time very much – at least not when they are together. We can’t let them have free run of the house because they are chewing EVERYTHING. Kitchen towel, rugs, couches, table legs, EVERYTHING. So I put up a gate to confine them to the kitchen only {cookbooks, the island, the recyclables…} but they still don’t want to relax, so they often head back outside. Outside they wander around the yard, wrestling, digging for voles, chewing on tree roots… They stay very close to the house and as long as Hickory doesn’t take them on any adventures, they very rarely leave the yard without a person.

I take them for a walk every morning, to practice their leash manners. Even though they are primarily farm dogs, they will have to leave the farm from time to time, and I need them to be respectful even when restricted to a 6-foot leash. I usually take them one at a time, so they can focus on me, down to check on the “animals” {just chickens right now} in the field and in the pole barn. Right now they are walking “okay” on a leash, and prefer eating chicken poop to actually checking on the chickens, but they are getting much better. I have had puppies before, but never a pup that I expected to do any particular work, so I’m flying blind here – I think they’re doing great!

One last thing – I’m amazed at how different their personalities are. I have had dogs my whole life, and I know dogs are different, but there is something fascinating about seeing two litter mates behave so differently. Kep is needy, and affectionate, and very bidable. Findlay is incredibly smart, but a little stubborn and more independent. Just like with my human kids, I am trying not to “label” them, for fear of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy situation, but it’s hard not to. I am eager to see how their individual traits serve them as they move into their roles as working farm collies.

Food: They are eating Taste of the Wild Puppy. It’s available at Tractor supply and the price point is good – plus it’s grain free! They’re getting between 2 and 3 cups/day. I measure a cup in the morning, give “a little” at lunch time, and then measure a cup for dinner time. I feed them in their kennels 100% of the time.
Sleeping: Right now they are sleeping in separate kennels side by side. Of course I thought having them face each other would be “better” but it actually made them whine/bark more and more, as they fed off each other’s excitement. Placing them side by side means maybe 10 seconds of whining then quiet; when the sun goes down, these boys are hungry and ready for bed. Lesley {of Mountain Wave Farm} suggested keeping them indoors until about 6 months of age, while they get potty trained and learn their family, so I have a few more months before I have to come up with a plan for that…

A rare moment of kitchen peace...

A rare moment of kitchen peace…