Night Shift - Home on the Range Blog at - 246507

Home on the Range

Night Shift 
Aug. 9, 2011 4:19 pm 
Updated: Aug. 17, 2011 6:57 am

Daytime is idyllic here. The sun shines, the hummingbirds swoop under the eave of the backporch mobbing their feeder, the chickens happily scratch around, eating greens and bugs off the flowers and lawns and I marvel at the color palate and textures we have to experience in this world as my eyes scan the grey and craggy rock wall, the velvety green lawn, the towering yellow sunflowers, the petunias in varying shades of pink spilling out of their trough by the iron arbor.

The pups loll around, sleeping most of the time, greeting me when I come out. I laugh as the 6-week-old layer chicks flit around the yard like roadrunners, streamlined and rapid, quickly disappearing behind plants as if I had only imagined them. The 6-week-old meaties lumber past in their big breasted, heavy bodies, looking for a handout and enjoying the freedom to stretch their fat, thick, not so powerful and not so rapid legs.  I find my first small egg in the run where the 5 month old layers reside. Life seems quiet, safe, serene and simple.

It’s still morning. I wander through the gate and across 2 pastures looking for the cows and calves. They haven’t come up this morning, it was their first night in a long while, all together, including the new leppie calf. Mo and CWilly came in without him last nite. You know how kids are when there are 3. They nursed and gorged themselves so I let everyone out, knowing the cows would find ‘stepchild’ and feed him.

The sheep follow us down and the Maremmas stay close by us. I ask Cletus
“Where are my cows?”
He heads off on his own, as if he understood me. I continue down through the tall thistle, being scratched and pricked with nearly every step as I follow the little cow trail to the shade tree they like to sleep under. No one is there. As I head out the other side, I see Cletus over to the south…standing in front of Dolly. He DID understand what I said!

The cows say hello, Dolly steps into the ditch for a drink. One of the lambs follows suit and Dolly tries to push her in. She is not a morning person, much like myself. Bruno stands between her and the lamb, as a barrier, even though he knows Dolly will deliver him a painful head-butt without due cause. He stands his ground, neither challenging Dolly, nor backing down, but faithfully guarding his lamb from a cow he also considers one of his charges. It’s an interesting dichotomy to me. He handles it graciously and fearlessly.

Seeing that the cows have been adequately nursed and in no need for milk, I head back. Cletus follows me, the lambs follow him single file and Bruno brings up the rear. 

I don’t know how they work out the details but they always seem to have an agreement about who will be where and do what job. They are truly amazing dogs. They pass me except Bruno, who remains behind me with the older ewe who is dilly-dallying along. He won’t leave her, as she is separate from the group now. When I get up by the alley between pastures, I see that Cletus has stopped to wait and the lambs are grazing around him. Once we get there, they all continue on to the house pasture again. The dogs have things all under control and although they remain flexible on my account, I am just along for the ride. They are pretty clearly the ones in charge.

Dolly and Emma come up a few minutes later, moo-ing to let me know they are ready for their grain. I oblige them and they gratefully finish and head back out to the back pasture.

I spend my days doing various things, milking my cows and moving them from pasture to pasture, making soap, or cheese, changing water, hoping for eggs from my two older hens who are only 5 months and had not, until this morning, begun laying.

When daytime ends, life on the ranch takes on a different face. Predators come forth from their hiding places, moving stealthily, looking for victims. Owls take to the sky, swooping down on smaller creatures, sometimes not so small. Chickens are not immune to the razor sharp talons of owls and hawks. I have seen Great Horned owls pick up cats and fly off.  Coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and cougars, all move across the landscape in search of sustenance, be it a hapless deer, a newborn calf, a barn-cat, or bounty from the garden and orchard. Nighttimes the ranch can be a dangerous place. Before the Maremmas came, it was often even dangerous by day. There were several kills by the houses in the daytime. Once, a cougar drug a huge ewe up into a tree. These are not animals to be taken lightly.
 The goats and sheep band together more closely, alternating between sleep and wakefulness, their scent wafting on the breeze tantalizing those in the darkness.

We snuggle down under the comforter, warm and safe. With Cider at my feet, I ease into sleep.

Hours later, I awoke to hear Cletus sounding his alarm bark. It’s not unusual to hear the dogs once or twice a night, calling out a warning to opportunists from the sky or out in the tall grass, but it rarely lasts long. Last nite I could hear his voice trailing out across the sheep’s pasture and far away. He was in pursuit of something. It continued on for a time then I could hear Bruno take up the barking. It had been several minutes and was a different sounding bark than the usual “don’t come near, these are MY charges”. It was more of a “Leave or DIE”.

I decided to go see what was going on. I assumed it was a raccoon, or something they had treed, so I wasn’t too concerned for my own safety. I threw on some sweats and grabbed a flashlight. I went through the gate of the first pasture and found Cletus was now with the sheep. He had come back, leaving Bruno out with the threat and led them all up into the corner closest to the house. Apparently it was not just a coon, as the dogs don’t often split up and one hover over the stock. Cletus acknowledged me, then turned and led me out of the pasture and on into the darkness toward the barking without further ado.

I didn’t use the light except when I thought there might be a hole to step in. There was some moonlight and I followed Cletus, who continued to look back for me. As we headed down a lane, the sheep caught up to us. Cletus ran them back, which was something I had not seen him do before. They returned to the beginning of the alley and waited there. We walked on and started through the tall weeds, in the direction of Bruno’s growling. I could see him, his hackles raised, his tail curled tightly. Both dogs were sounding and barking out in the direction of impenetrable brush. They stopped for a minute to listen, then took off ahead of me. There I was, alone in the pasture in the dark, with thistle taller than I, unable to see further than a few feet ahead of me, no weapon to defend myself but a flashlight. I knew if something attacked me, the dogs would know and protect me and had indeed, already run whatever it was out of the vicinity. I had the willies, but I knew I was safe enough. I started heading back towards the house. Bruno suddenly and silently, appeared at my side, escorting me, matching my tentative steps through the darkness and the brush, walking so closely, I could feel his fur on my fingertips. Cletus had gone on in pursuit of whatever it was they had protected us from. We caught up to the sheep and Bruno took the lead. The sheep followed him back to the gate dividing their pasture from our backyard. Cletus caught up to us by that time.

All was quiet until I was back in bed. I heard Cletus again, by our window at first. His bark trailed past our window, the side of the house and across the road in front. Something was stalking the goats. He sounded fierce, aggressive and confident. The barking didn’t last for long. Most likely whatever they had run off before, had doubled back for the goats, who were in a different location than the sheep.

I used to lay awake at night, fretting about the stock. I had goats in a small pen close to the house, but we had to put a top on it, because of bobcats and cougars who brazenly entered the yard, even to the point of attacking one of the cowdogs just feet from our front door.
The wire on our chicken run has places where it was nearly pulled off by some animal, likely a raccoon, attempting to get inside where they would quickly put an end to our flock.
Now I rest at ease.

I know the Maremmas are on patrol and won’t allow anything to endanger their charges. Their barking tells me the dangers haven’t disappated, but they are restrained. I marvel at the instinct, heart and courage of these incredible dogs. Grateful the danger to themselves is minimized by both of them working together, I sleep peacefully.

I stepped out on the back porch this morning and was greeted by a wet and muddy Bruno. He must have just gotten back from his patrol. He was watching meatie chickens grazing on the lawn. Cletus came around the corner, from out front where he’d been guarding goats. They both jumped on the porch, their joy of seeing me working its way through their huge, powerful, wiggly bodies. They tried to squeeze one another out as they pressed their big heads onto my lap and looked up to touch my nose with theirs. I don’t know if all LGD’s or all Maremmas do this, but these two do. They do it daily to each one of the goats, calves, and sheep and each time I see them, they do it to me.

It means “I love you and I intend to guard you with my life”.

Lord, I am blessed.
Aug. 9, 2011 4:31 pm
All I can say is Wow!
Aug. 9, 2011 4:40 pm
Those are some truly amazing dogs. But then, I think there is a little Dr. Doolittle in you too - whoever heard of a cow coming to greet you? Thank you so much for giving us such great descriptions of your life that I feel as if I'm trailing along with you. Hug Dolly and the doggies for me!
Aug. 9, 2011 5:14 pm
Boss' wife thinks it was a cougar. Their 5 Border Collies were barking at something last nite and were afraid to go past their lawn. Not much besides cougar that scares that pack!Glad it backed down!
Aug. 9, 2011 5:37 pm
Bless our pooches. I would not live where I do, and allow RNGrampa to work out of town for the stretches he works, if if were not for my dogs. My old husky would sit on her butt, lift her paws and bark a terrible sounding bark-we knew to grab the gun before we went outside to see what she was after. My Ikeda sleeps on the driveway if RNGrampa does not come home, on the door step if he is at home. They have saved my butt a few times:)
Aug. 9, 2011 5:55 pm
What a treasure you have in those dogs. Great blog as always!
Aug. 9, 2011 6:06 pm
I just went and looked at their puppy pictures and completely melted!
Aug. 9, 2011 6:07 pm
Amazing. I felt those thistles as "we" walked through that over grown path. Your story-telling abilities are a blessing. Thank you once again for sharing!!!
Aug. 9, 2011 6:09 pm
Really an amazing story. Your dogs, how they know, how they work, is truly special. How all the animals work together, the sheep know the dogs are working and to trust them. Just awe stuck I am. I hope you fed your dogs a great feast for their efforts. They deserve a real meal. Not no dog chow, real food. Awesome. A great read. Thanks.
Aug. 9, 2011 6:21 pm
LOVE LOVE LOVE your blogs and those 2 big ol' lovely dogs! Thanks for sharing!
Aug. 9, 2011 6:37 pm
I just caught up on all your blogs and I want more! I was totally wrapped up in the suspense of this one and was wishing you had a gun with you. Your are one brave lady and I know you have such faith in those courageous dogs. What an amazing life you have, a treasure every day!
Aug. 9, 2011 6:41 pm
Your wonderful blog prompted me to learn more about the breed. What a comfort to know they are there to protect. Thank you for sharing your story.
Aug. 9, 2011 7:20 pm
You most certainly are! And so are we when you share your stories with us!
Aug. 9, 2011 7:24 pm
Wow! I just love the stories of your journal of life!
Aug. 9, 2011 8:39 pm
Petey, your blog just keeps getting better and better! I love the stories of the big beautiful white protectors you have! And the cows, how sweet! Can't wait to read your next blog!!
Aug. 9, 2011 9:05 pm
Petey - I have to say that your blogs always leave me wanting more... they take me to the country - to feel the night air and the suspence. Excellent writing - thank you for sharing your life with us.
Aug. 9, 2011 10:04 pm
I can't possibly add anything more than the ladies above me have already said. Petey, you and the pups are a treasure and we are the lucky pirates that uncovered the prize. LOVE IT.
Aug. 10, 2011 12:08 am
What an awesome story!
Aug. 10, 2011 3:58 am
oh my...your story made me so happy that we got to come along with you guys....but made me so sad that i can't live the way you are truly blessed...thanks for sharing...
Aug. 10, 2011 4:10 am
Petey, I'm a late-comer to your blogs but I've read the last few and love them!
Aug. 10, 2011 4:46 am
Petey your stories just draw me in and I can't stop reading. Yes you are blessed and I sure would love to sit on your porch and just listen to them all day long. What amazing dogs you have, I miss feeling the fur of my dog at my fingertips as she walked along side of me.
Aug. 10, 2011 7:12 am
Dogs never fail to amaze me at the jobs they can do. Even though mine's a youngster still, he takes his protection role seriously. Still, I'm not so sure I would have done the midnight check with only a flashlight and your furred protectors. You're something else petey!
Aug. 10, 2011 7:16 am
You guys are all too sweet! I wish I could do more. This is such a great life, I wish more people could experience it! Sadly, we are no longer an agricultural society and my life which used to be the norm, is now as rare as hens teeth
Aug. 10, 2011 8:09 am
What a sweet life you have!
Aug. 10, 2011 2:39 pm
I don't know how in the hell you had the nerve to walk out there without a weapon of some sort! I know the dogs were there, but, man, oh, man! And then you just have to wonder what they saw! Your life is not for the faint of heart!
Aug. 10, 2011 4:37 pm
i originally thought it was a raccoon, or something treed, because they were barking at it for so long. The coyotes and stuff usually move on we are fairly sure it was a cougar. There have been cougar tracks by the pond. It tried to come back last night, but I think they have discouraged it. I wouldn't go outside without the dogs!
Aug. 10, 2011 6:47 pm
I know the maremmas are watching out for you - but I praise our Lord that He is the One who is watching over all of you - including the maremmas and all the other critters. Please take care Petey - we want more of your blogs - and don't want any cougar or other critter short changing us.
Aug. 10, 2011 6:47 pm
Cheers to your doggie heroes!
Aug. 10, 2011 7:24 pm
Hi Petey. I don't read blogs except try to catch yours. I love your way of story telling & your dogs. I must admit that your dogs is part of why I come back to your blog. We have had Pyrenees for almost 20 years now & have a great love & respect for them. I thought this was the breed you have. I had to google Maremmas today & they seem to be the Italian cousin to mine of French-Spanish descent. Mine are giant fluffly snowballs, goofy at times, very loving, very smart & very protective. I don't have the 'live' stock but they protect us, the outside cats, the kid's little dogs, the business. We use to hear bands of coyotes everynight that sounded like they were right outside the windows & have had the occasional bobcats. We are in the country with one aunt about a mile away then nothing for miles. Our Pyrenees patrol 'their territory' of their own thinking, for about 2 square miles & nothing comes or goes without their approval. Only hear coyotes off in the far distance now. Haven't lost another pet or farm cat since. They scare away or kill skunks, possums & armadillos but the outside cats can have kittens & they are safe. They know who is supposed to be here. They have a great sense of who is good or bad before I do & have come between me & some stranger several times as a barrier, warning, protector. One night I heard something outside & was about to go out but one dog was on the porch & turned to growl at me to stay inside. I watched out a window to hear barking then saw taillights of someone leaving. We are always outside with the DGKs but the dogs help keep watch & keep them herded up to the inside yard. One day, a pack of strange dogs coming down the road. One dog herded the baby up close to us & stayed by the baby & kept an on guard prance while the other was a barking protective force to send the strange dogs running on up the road. One day I fell outside, hurt my shoudler & couldn't get up. I had my phone to call DH. Both dogs layed right beside me, maybe to keep me warm, until the ambulance came. My dogs were protective until they saw I was happy to see the 911 workers so let them near me. I only had one shoe on at the hospital. The next morning, my other shoe was by the front door. I had one old beloved cat who was getting slower but still wanted to hunt or go through the motions. The dogs would follow him around & stay a respectful distance behind so the cat could do his thing but there to protect him. I watched out the windows & cried at this beautiful act of love & understanding. My aunt down the road is included in this protection service. She still works afternoons at the hospital & gets home around 5. One or both of the dogs are there when she leaves & when she gets home. Like with us, if she has company, a car drives up, one or both are there to check things out. If the dogs don't know them, no one gets more than a few steps from their car unless we are happy. I didn't know this until after a couple of years of it happening but my aunt says one dog always comes by to check on her at night. She always goes to bed at 10:30. Within minutes of her turning out all the lights, one dog will be outside her bedroom window with a WOOF. At first she would yell hush Snowball. Then realized they were just checking on her then said a sweet Hey Snowball. Giant breeds have a short lifespan, sometimes 8-10 years so over 20 years, the older teach the younger ones. She calls them all Snowball. She was at her son's at the coast for a week a couple of years ago when her sister & BIL had to come home (here) to deal with FIL's business. They were to stay at aunt's for a couple of days. Aunt's sister knew the dogs would be there to meet everyone but my aunt called her to say Hey, you will hear & maybe see Snowball outside your window & he will bark. Just say hey Snowball & he will leave! Didn't mean to take over your post. Just so much love & respect for these dogs who are so smart, protective & loving.
Aug. 10, 2011 7:37 pm
Great account, HotGrandma. Amazing.
Aug. 10, 2011 8:14 pm
they surely are in a class of their own, these LGD's. Thanks for sharing your story HotGrandma. I love hearing about others!
Aug. 11, 2011 3:32 pm
And who gave us dogs to keep us company? :) They and the rest of the creatures that we allow to share our lives can give us so much. I'm too lazy to envy how much work you do on the ranch, petey, but I do love your animal stories. Now I'd better go tell Pippin(the 3 legged cat) how much more wonderful than a mere dog he is :)(:
Aug. 11, 2011 3:56 pm
Petey, awww what a great blog! I love, love, love reading each and everyone of them. You are a great writer and I am your fan! :)
Aug. 11, 2011 6:16 pm
Thank you :)
Aug. 11, 2011 10:25 pm
Thanks! I feel like I am there, when reading your reports of daily life. Love those dogs!!
Aug. 13, 2011 9:19 am
Thanks so much, Petey, for your wonderful blogs. I have only been reading here for a few months. I am an old city gal, so all your stories of country life are fascinating to me. I've lived in a small town for the last 17 yrs, and love the slower pace of life. And the oportunity to be a little closer to nature. I can only imagine what life must be there. Keep writing and we sure will keep reading!
Aug. 17, 2011 6:57 am
Said it before and I'll say it again - I love your pups! :)
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About Me
Kids are raised, we are ranchhands on a 250,000 acre working cattle ranch 110 miles from the nearest small town, so we raise a lot of our own food, vegetables, fruits, milk,eggs and meat. Love riding and working cattle, but find myself spending a lot more time in the kitchen, and the garden.
My favorite things to cook
Having 2 Jersey cows as well as milk goats, playing with fresh milk is a hobby, making our own butter, yogurt, sour cream, cheeses, soap and all the other great stuff you can do with fresh raw milk.
My favorite family cooking traditions
Homemade from scratch...anything! All traditions are sort of gone by the wayside, as we live so far from family now
My cooking triumphs
Most things from this site, this has been the best thing the internet has had to offer!
My cooking tragedies
A layered Jello dessert...the middle layer never set, so it did the 'ooze-wiggle'...and...well..I liquified a couple of chickens on 2 different occasions, turning them into a black gel. Moral of that story is, don't start cooking then go clean barns!...and there was the time that my kids were helping me make Thanksgiving dinner and SOMEbody (who resembled my youngest son) forgot to put the sugar in the pie!!!
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