Farm Dogs

Dogs are an iconic part of American farms. Border collies may be the first breed you picture and while these hard-working athletes are common, they aren’t the only useful ones. As a dog lover, I especially enjoy looking through Jan Dohner’s recent book, Farm Dogs. The sheer variety of dogs and their historic uses is inspiring. At Apple Creek we’re keen to keep two specific types of working dogs; terriers and livestock guardians.

IMG_20131023_162850Terriers
Fiercely loyal, tenacious and energetic the terrier is well-suited to farm life. These dogs are useful in keeping squirrels out of the barn, catching nesting mice in the hay mow and digging up burrows of ground hogs. Ever watchful, it is difficult to get anything past these dogs!

Terriers come in a wide variety of sizes based on their use.  The largest I’ve met is the Black Russian Terrier . These dogs weigh as much as 140 lbs!

Our first terrier was Chicory (pictured at left). Also called the Blonde Coyote, he lived to the ripe old age of 13. His years were spent on various farms across New England where he learned about farm life alongside Abby. Chicory weighed 35 lbs, large enough and tough enough to intimidate the livestock, but small enough to join us on the couch. We miss Chicory the most at lambing season. He wasn’t always at ease with people, but was an amazingly attentive nursemaid to our lambs. He loved to lick the lambs clean after they drank their bottles or to encourage them to drink up by licking their behinds.

 

 

IMG_1691Many readers know our newest terrier, Rye. He came to us in the summer of 2016 as a rescue from Arkansas. He is a mix breed and though his coat says “terrier” his behavior indicates he may have an equal mix of retriever. Ever playful, Rye loves a good ball toss and was described by our nephew as a, “real boy’s dog.” Rye only weighs 20 lbs and so he isn’t much for interacting with the livestock. He prefers cruising the fields looking for mice and voles. Like all terriers, Rye has a surprising bark which he loves to use. Often, he uses it to bring our attention to a piece of equipment that has changed location in the dooryard or to scare off potential threats. Both Rye & Chicory have proved they are more brave than brainy.  Rye has met several possums in his time here in Maine and he has to be convinced not to tangle with them!

Livestock Guardians
IMG_20140702_053034_673Ochi is a Pyrennees / Maremma cross. She joined Janet and Pete’s household about 10 years ago and has slowed down the last few years. Ochi walks the perimeter of the farm every morning with Pete. This keeps large carnivores like coyotes out which keeps our animals safe. There are a wide variety of livestock guardian dogs from locations worldwide. Several studies are underway to use dogs to guard large sheep flocks in the American West.

Though the farm hasn’t had a coyote attack in more than 10 years, we’re sure that having Ochi around has helped. That’s why we’re adding a new member to our farm dog crew this season. We’ll be picking up a Great Pyrennes pup very soon! She’s been raised alongside goats at a farmstead in Massachusetts and we look forward to introducing her to the farm. This photo of the whole litter (below) may give you the same sense of excitement we have. We visited the breeder last week to identify a couple of prospective pups. The breeder will be watching each as they get introduced to their goats to find us just the right temperament– a independent and confident pup that will be up for the job.

Our new girl will have her work cut out for her. In a recent blog post, Who Else Lives on the Farm we describe some of the recent uninvited guests who have been calling on our hens!  Our new pup will be trained as an LGD or Livestock Guardian Dog in order to spend her days (and nights) patrolling the fields and deterring owls, hawks and other would-be predators.

This will help us sleep better and eliminate the need to lock up our broilers and turkeys every night.  We’ve been reading our copy of Jan Dohner’s other book, Livestock Guardians to be sure we’re prepared and know how best to support our new pup as she learns basic obedience and how to trust her instincts. Breeds such as the Great Pyrenees don’t need to be “trained” how to protect their stock. For centuries they’ve been bred specifically for that purpose, so our instruction will mainly be corrected undesired behaviors such as chasing livestock. Stay tuned for more on this topic!

Who Else Lives on the Farm?

These days the farm is a blank canvas, a landscape draped in snow. It might be easy to only see our animals, content in their winter quarters but to do so would ignore all the wild animals who share our farm. We’ve seen the tracks of the smallest residents, red squirrels on up to the biggest, a moose!

 

We’ve had a number of unwelcome visitors over the last few weeks. One was the only North American marsupial, the possum.

I regret that we didn’t inspect this one further to determine whether male or female. If female we could have checked its pouch for joeys, but when you look that face…. you change your mind about getting too close!

 

And while opossums are a fine addition to your yard, (here’s why) they are not permitted in our chicken yards! Rye bravely crawled under the hen house and sniffed ever closer until we decided he should probably observe from a safer distance.

On of our other visitors has been around since last fall. An adult red-tailed hawk has spent much of its time scanning the big field for rodents. But, perhaps since our Rye is such a competent mouser or because the snow is now fairly deep the hawk has turned to other prey – chicken!

This series of photos documents his flight into the pasture, through his successful hunt and departure (click for larger images). The neat part about this visit was that the hawk sat and watched from the tree in the background for over an hour before flying into the pasture. Then, once on the ground inside it waited another 30 minutes for its opportunity to strike. I have to admire that patience.

 

One of our other frequent visitors is another avian carnivore, a great horned owl. We caught this owl’s photo on our game camera. In the photos below you can see an owl arrived, saw that we’d left him a dead chicken (set up as bait) and then returned an hour later to dine on the leftovers. The game camera helps us get a positive ID and to better understand the animal’s behavior and habits which in turn can help us to deter it.

 

For the past few years we’ve been using our Emden geese as guardian animals. Since geese don’t normally sleep at night they have worked well for us. However, they aren’t 100% effective and our regal avian predators seem increasingly undeterred. So, we’ll be adding a livestock guardian dog to the farm this season. One of these rugged and adorable Great Pyrennes pups will be joining us in March!

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Photo courtesy of Peter Sannicandro, Guardians of the Honey Hive. We found Peter through Geri Vistein founder of the Farming with Carnivores Network. Geri is a wildlife biologist who has helped us to understand the benefits of biodiversity on our farm. Geri and I were joined by Deb Perkins and Mort Moesswilde in a recent presentation about this very topic. You can read more on Deb’s website, First Light Wildlife Habits.

 

 

 

Titans of the Forest

This essay is from Two Farms: Essays on a Maine Country Life by Janet Galle.
2006. It is available at Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick or from Apple Creek Farm.

          Winter quiet often inspires reflection and this winter is no different. These thoughts arrive during our daily work– feeding the animals, preparing meals or as we plan for the upcoming season.

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Titans of the Forest
January, 1996

        Trees are like the dinosaurs of the plant world but not in the sense of being extinct. It is the size that counts. They easily top Tyrannosaurus Rex — in sound, as well as height. I never look up enough when I am outside to truly appreciate the dinosaur-like plants that tower over me. Rather, my view is usually straight on, about six feet above ground level. In spring, in autumn, after a snowstorm, I see this picture: lacy, delicate trees, etched and painted by Mother Nature. I forget there is another — the view of giants.

img_3374         In the middle of a snow-sleet storm this past week, Nell, our new pup, and I went for a walk with the wind swirling around us, tugging at her fur and my scarf, bringing tears to our eyes. There were no other distractions in this storm, only the elements and us. Near the ice pond we stopped for a while, stood still. Nell leaned against my leg as we were engulfed by the rage of the wind. Twigs and small branches flew through the air in a fury. Detritus from last autumn’s leaf fall was scooped up and hurled back to earth. Wind howled, and the trees above us answered in kind. They were not taking this beating like lambs.

        Ice-covered branches and the slender tip tops of trees clinked together, jostling each other like fans at a football game. They pushed and shoved under the wind’s influence, always returning to their original position and then moving quickly in the opposite direction, all the while chattering and clanging. Ice in a glass. Tap dancers on stage. Horses on parade with their clattering shoes hitting asphalt. All of those sounds rained down upon Nell and me as we stood under the bare ash tree towering 50 feet above us. I crouched beside her, held onto her for comfort. The forest was filled with passions in a storm, and nowhere was it more violent than under the trees.

         The more the wind pushed, the more the trunks swayed, groaning as if sick or injured, left to die along a path. Unlike their distant branches that reach the sky and greet the sun on brighter days, the trunks sustain the weight of the entire tree, limb to branch to stem to leaf. Theirs is the task of transporting food, minerals, and water. Here the sap swells, rises, freezes, and then slowly melts. Here the transportation system — switching terminals, platforms, and connections — carries out its work. It is a life of burden and responsibility — and endurance.

        On the first farm by the ocean where we once lived, when my children were young and I was frequently awake in the dark, bewitching hours of night with a baby on my shoulder, I would watch the white pine and northern red oak along the shore. Throughout winter those trees moved like tyrannosaurs stalking along the ocean’s edge. Their entire bodies seemed in action except for their feet which were rooted and solid, the support that kept them from tumbling. Groaning, not from illness, but from exertion in the battle, the trees struggled to remain upright.

        I am fascinated when trees have lost that battle, when I come upon the newly-split wood, splintered into daggers, of a fallen pine deep in a forest. The intricate web of roots and rootlets that have provided water and minerals, sustained a tree for a lifetime, are exposed. Death of a titan is dramatic. Sixty feet of fallen tree is not to be scoffed at.
At the university in Ohio where I went to school, an old red oak that once defined the center of the campus, now over 200 years old, was taken down this year. It did not lose a battle to a wind storm as the trees in my woods may, but fear of the consequences of such a defeat drove the campus officials to “remove” the tree first. Their comment, “It was only a matter of time before a storm blew it over…”

        But just imagine. Sprouted about 1795, that red oak grew up in a forest which stretched from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. It watched over the birth of the university and the comings and goings of countless students who strolled beneath its branches. People do not take kindly to the loss of such a tree.

img_3378         I wonder, then, about the lesser-known trees that tower over Nell and me, the ones complaining loudly about the strength of this particular storm. They will survive. They are still young in tree years and have flexible trunks and tenacious roots. Long after we have gone on our way, these ash and maple, hemlock and fir, pine and beech which inhabit our woods will have withstood the sting of sleet, the weight of snow, the pelting of rain. The titans of this forest may wail in response to the wind, but they will win the battle. From the viewpoint of giants there is no room for whimperers. Nell and I will do best to weather this storm under the protection of a roof.

Quills

This essay is from Two Farms: Essays on a Maine Country Life by Janet Galle.
2006. it is available at Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick or from Apple Creek Farm.

          With the extraordinary amount of snow this winter, the wild animals in the woods around Apple Creek Farm are clearly impacted in their daily lives and routines. This week, we have been visited by an unseen and, as yet, unrecognized animal, but we know he is about. Tracks and scat reveal his nightly prowls, but we can’t identify him.
           In addition, the 13 acre field, an immaculate expanse of white, presents even more of a puzzle. While cross-country skiing two days ago, we came upon a series of “scuffles” in the snow. These upheavals had no tracks, not deer, not coyote, not our dogs, leading to them. They just appeared in the middle of  an empty field. Closer examination shows bird wings around the edges of the stirred snow. An owl? The local ravens? Did they catch the mouse? No blood, no feathers, but definitely some action took place.
           All of these signs reminded me of a long ago time at our first farm, when our now adult children were small.

IMG_4836February, 1982 Quills

          Life in the country produces inevitable confrontations with wild critters. By hook or by crook, these clever creatures of the forest world find ways to benefit from our presence. Fat raccoons grow fatter eating our corn and chickens all summer. One young skunk spent an entire spring sleeping next to the grain bin in the barn, undisturbed by our daytime habits. A milk snake, who preferred to keep cool wrapped around our dog’s water dish, would not stay out of the house in spite of daily evictions.

          Midwinter this year brought a porcupine. The porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, does not hibernate, yet is not overly fond of snow. Once a cozy spot which provides warmth and food is located, he rarely ventures far afield. Our young Erethizon, as we were soon calling him, followed that pattern exactly. He established a den under our neighbor’s cottage with a short, direct path to our towering, tasty Scotch pine. We did not have many trees along our shore and this one was a beauty.

          One evening in late January, we spotted him munching away on the pine’s bark, and within a week the tree trunk was stripped bare. We tried to capture him with a salt-filled trap. No luck. Shooting was not a desired alternative. But as the snow deepened, and the tree’s condition worsened, we knew something had to be done.

20150222_154723          One day, at dusk we five — my husband Pete, the children, and I — set forth, armed for the confrontation. Our weapons? A broken hockey stick left over from previous raccoon engagements, a wooden club, a seven-foot length of giant tinker toys, a garbage can, and a smelt net. We positioned ourselves in a wide circle to block all possible escape routes as we advanced on the Scotch pine. If Erethizon hadn’t seen us coming, he certainly heard the nervous giggles, followed by shouts of “Quick! He’s crawling down,” and “Get him Mom,” and “Where’s the net?!”

           Porcupines do not climb very gracefully, up or down. Their powerful claws do the work going up. Mostly they tumble coming down. It wasn’t too difficult to scoop our porcupine into the smelt net. The harder part was keeping him there. Immediately he began hoisting himself over the net’s rim. Four of us danced around, keeping our distance, yelling worthless instructions to my husband, the net holder. Pete put an end to our foolishness with a sharp command to get the trap. Quick!

          We scurried back to the house and returned with our box-like trap, which at various times has contained raccoons, a skunk, several curious cats, and once thirteen chickens. It was the ideal spot for Erethizon. First, we dropped him into the garbage can, and then, with a tip and a push from the smelt net, our porcupine scuttled into the trap. The metal doors were locked, followed by five sighs of relief.

      20150222_152830    There remained one last adventure to complete our porcupine’s day — a truck ride (I imagined it was his first) to a distant deserted forest where he could nibble away to his heart’s content on some absentee landowner’s trees.
Meanwhile, I am becoming aware of a gnawing suspicion that close by a groundhog slumbers. His sleep grows restless as he grows thinner with each passing day. Undoubtedly, he is dreaming of my fresh lettuce and pea sprouts. I think I had better remove the quills from the smelt net. I may need it come spring, and not for fish.