Working-dogs are a marvel.
Bo and I have been sorting and moving livestock regularly this past month. We are discovering teamwork for the first time, really, as he arrived here two years ago at the same time as Brendan, who thereafter worked with him. Bo and I are getting to know each other and it has been a pleasure to do so. Working as a team is an imperfect process, as we all know, and he tests his handler regularly. He likes to advance way ahead of the handler, creating disconnection, and has to be continually called back. But he is smart and eager to learn, and responds readily to both positive and negative reinforcement.
The other day we sorted yearling lambs, destined for the market, from ewes who are unexpectedly having babies. Not wanting to separate newborns from their mothers by sending Bo to round up the group in a stampede, he and I walked together to the flock in the field, and were able to surgically leave behind mothers with newborns, while taking the rest to the sorting pens. Once in the sorting pens, Bo showed an understanding of pushing the flock forward, in a way he did not a year ago. Some dogs are good in the field but not in the sorting pens. Some are good in the sorting pens, like Nick, but don't have the discipline to stay in the rear of a flock in a laneway to drive it forward. Bo does all three, better than any of our previous dogs - gathering in fields, driving down laneways, and pushing in sorting pens.
The Border Collie is one of the smartest canine breeds, as its genetics are closest to the wolf, from whom domesticated dogs descend. A highly skilled handler of Border Collies demonstrates absolute control, typically through whistles, which can be heard at far distances. Such a master can induce a dog to dance a ballet, and it is beautiful to behold. But back on our farm, we resort to a few basic commands, issued by voice, which suffices in general, though is not always pretty. The commands are: "come bye" (swing to the left), "way to me" (swing to the right), "lie down", "walk in", "stay", and "that'll do". When calling signals to a dog, it almost sounds like one is calling to a square dance.
Having a dog that is good with sheep is one thing, but having one that works cattle as well is another. Because of the difference in size of beast, most dogs just refuse to deal with cattle. We had two such border collies - Jazz and Dally. Nick was willing to wade into cattle, and so is Bo, which greatly compounds his value.
The other day, we were moving steers from a distant paddock to the barn to sort several out to be harvested. Once we had done the sorting, the group of 40 animals were in a holding "lot", and weren't finding the open gate by which to return to the laneway. This group was feeling frisky and began running around the lot. So, I sent Bo to collect them, hoping for the best but not thinking that would really be successful, because a herd of charging bovines is hard to influence. But intrepid Bo swung around to the front of the lead steer who was on the move. He opposed the steer, then gave some ground, slowing the group. The steer charged Bo; Bo gave more ground, slowing the group further; the lead steer then charged a third time, and, in response, Bo leaped in the air toward the steer with canines snapping right in front of the steer's nose! That lead steer was shocked. He and the herd following came to an abrupt stop, reversed direction, and willingly move toward the open gate... It was amazing to witness a 70-lb.-dog reverse the momentum of 40,000 lbs of bovines. Nick wasn't that strong a dog. He would have retreated after the first charge. Not many dogs are that strong. It takes unusual courage to confront thundering hooves, such as Bo demonstrated that afternoon.
But he is not our only working canine. We also have Maremma guard dogs (from the province of Maremma in Italy), who keep coyotes at bay, in protection of sheep and laying hens. Those dogs are: Coquie, Kentucky, Max, and Abie. Because of them we are able to enjoy the cacaphony of coyote howls at night, without worry.
We periodically receive tributes for our food, such as we cited from Massachessets for Bolognese Sauce. The following is recently from Catherine, regarding Chicken Stock:
We had the most delicious chicken noodle soup made with Susan’s broth plus a grocery store rotisserie chicken. It wasn’t 100% perfectly homemade with that chicken, BUT it was almost and more importantly, it came together in less than 30 minutes. Susan’s broth gave a rich multi-layered flavor that barely needed any extra herbs or seasonings. The kids ate it and we had leftovers for the next days’ lunch.
We really appreciate this kind of feedback. It makes the journey worth the great struggle. To that end, we have recently set up a Yelp account, where such reviews can be collected to create a deeper picture of the work underway. Go to Yelp, search for Grassroots Farm & Foods, and post your review. This will help us build presence in the digital marketplace. We would be grateful for your efforts in this regard.
Several weeks ago, we witnessed a spotlight of sun upon the grey horizon, inviting us forward to higher ends, not unlike the spotlight provided by a review in Yelp.
Susan chooses her mentors more selectively than most of us, with Mr. Lincoln being at the top of the list. We thus have a dog, Abie, and we thus celebrate Lincoln's birthday, as if it were Christmas. The repast below acknowledged him on his day.
Note the stunning lettuce-rose, from Farm Beach Bethel. The grassfed lamb loin chops were as delicate as wild tuna. Backyard Orchard provided local fresh fruit, with which to make delicious baked apples. Polenta, sweet potatoes from Elmwood, and creamed kale, also from the Mancinos, made for the vegetables. Abe would have been proud, though it appears he was not all that interested in food. Nevertheless, the celebration was in tribute to a great man and mentor.
This weekend is a "meditation" weekend for Susan, so Beth & Bob will step into the rotation for us at Hyde Park on Sunday. We are grateful to them for doing so. And we are grateful to you for your steady patronage.
We will not be at Findlay market this weekend.
Blessed be man's best friend, without whom life would be less.
Drausin & Susan