29 July, 2011

A place of our own...

Well, I've gone and done it. I have entered into a cooperative arrangement with a friend and leased pasture near home so we can have our own sheep. The pasture is about 15 minutes from my house, and what I save in gas alone will pay the pasture lease.

I never thought it would make "sense" to have my own sheep, but with an open dog and a pup who will benefit from frequent, short training sessions, it actually will save me a considerable sum each month to have my "own" flock.

This road won't be without bumps, but the journey promises to be fun. I went for my first work this morning with Lucy and everything went fine.

The field will be mowed tomorrow, so here are the before pictures.

Field looking West.

Use the pointy evergreen tree in the distance, just below the end of the
branch dropping into the photo from above as the "reference" point.

Field looking Southwest. Reference tree in the center,
it is about 2/3 of the way to opposite the corner of the field from this point.

Field looking south
Reference tree far out of frame to the right

Lucy driving the sheep toward the north edge of the field

Lucy lying down, holding sheep off the draw.
I love how her ears are cocked back listening for me.

Today I just went to see how the sorting goes (there is a guard llama to watch out for with the dog work), and get more acquainted with the field. I spent a good portion of the work just training the sheep a bit that they MUST move off of me, and that they must go through the gate from the night pasture to the work field. I suspect I will be spending my first several works just doing this, getting the sheep into the routine a bit. The sheep are all very nice for the dogs to work, but they are not accustomed to being pushed through gates or having their movements forced. It won't take long for them to get the idea.

The sheep belonging to the pasture owner are for sale, but still on the property (Let me know if you are interested. There are 10 ewes available, some are Romney, some are Rambouillet crosses). My co-op partner's 12 sheep are there, and my 8 sheep will be delivered in a few weeks, hopefully once the pasture owner's sheep are gone so the graze won't get depleted unnecessarily.

Tomorrow I will stop by to help finish shearing, install the tank I got today so the dogs have a watering place to dunk in and dress a few wounds on the pasture owner's ewes that were uncovered with shearing. Also tomorrow the field will get mowed, so look for some after photos later this weekend.

Overall it was a peaceful morning. I was able to go, sort, do some gate practice, work Lucy, practice Rye's recall and down, visit with the pasture owner and stop at the feed store on my way home -- all in less time than what I would have spent in the CAR before just to get to and from sheep! This is going to be terrific!

Lucy appeared to have a grand time, though she did get a little warm running through the high grass. However, that, like all problems, was easily solved with a little technology.

The dog dunk trough gets installed tomorrow.

Fortunately Lucy was clean when she hopped in so no mud in the sheep water :)
I am really looking forward to this process, and having the ability to work my dogs more often. Yes, the flock maintenance will mean some extra work, especially at lambing. However, I think the investment will be well worth it, and still be a significant savings of both time and money.

24 July, 2011

When the air is rare...

For a long time I have been battling exhaustion. I simply could not get out of bed. 3 alarms were needed to get me up, and then I would drag through the routine of the day. I could never believe it was time to get up when the alarm went off. I chugged coffee by the pot to get my way through. I assumed this was all because I am a very busy person. I have 2 jobs, am in college and have a sweetie and 4 dogs, let alone the rest of the zoo to look after, resulting in an average of 5.5 hours of sleep a night, sometimes as little as 3 or as much as 7.

I was wrong.

In May, I went to the doctor. My exhaustion was going to get the better of me, my blood pressure was creeping up. I had headaches when I got out of bed and a sore throat every morning. My sweetie reported I've always snored, but that my snoring had gotten worse over the last 2 years and now I would sometimes cough or choke in my sleep.

The doctor referred me to a pulmonologist, who ordered 2 sleep studies to determine what was wrong with me and why I could not seem to get rested.

Well, long story short, I have sleep apnea. On average, my sleep was being interrupted 29 times per hour by respiratory arousals - meaning I would partially wake up due to difficulty breathing, but not awaken completely. She estimated in 8 hours of attempted sleep I was getting less than 1 hour of actual restful deep sleep.

I have obstructive sleep apnea. The doctor says this is partially because I have an "impressively long" soft palate combined with my obesity. I have a strong family history for sleep apnea as well, at least 2 generations that I know of.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when you relax and go to sleep, and the soft parts of your throat that comprise the airway collapse on themselves, making it difficult for air to pass through. This results in snoring, coughing and lack of breathing. When a lack of breathing occurs, the brain tells the body to begin waking up to get AIR. All of this partial waking up disturbs the deep sleep that is needed for rest.

When awake, my airway is open, like this.

When asleep, my airway collapses, like this.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition worth diagnosing and treating, as I am learning. Based on my sleep study test, the pulmonologist prescribed a CPAP machine. This machine delivers air through a mask that seals over my nose. The pressure from the air through the mask into my airway keeps the soft tissues from collapsing, allowing me to breathe. When I exhale, the machine lowers the pressure automatically making it easy for me to push air out.

To calibrate the CPAP machine, the doctor ordered a second sleep study. During the study when I was connected to the CPAP, my respiratory arousals decreased to 0.4 per hour. Yep - less than ONE. Further, I achieved a plane of deep restful sleep within 5 minutes of going to sleep. In the previous study it took over 2 hours before my first restful sleep. I was shocked to get those results.

So, now I have this next to the bed:

And this strapped to my face while I sleep:

The CPAP is a smart little machine. It is also silent. The only noise sounds like my own breathing just a touch louder because of the amplification of the mask. It is a million times quieter than snoring, I am very sure. It stores all my sleep data and when I go back to the doctor they can see how many times I stop breathing, how much my mask leaks, and how many hours I sleep, as well as how many days I use the machine. I went back for my first checkup the other day and they were STUNNED to see I had 100% days in usage. Apparently this is surprising.

It did not surprise me at all. Because I have NEVER FELT BETTER. I no longer need coffee in the morning to function, I no longer need 3 alarms to awaken from sleep. I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day. Am I tired sometimes? Yep. Getting too little sleep will do that to you. However, I am getting approximately 8x more sleep than I have been per night in years.

Because of my increased sleep and decreased caffeine use, my blood pressure has returned to normal. I feel like a new person. I can not overstate how much this little machine has changed my life. I've never even pulled the mask off while asleep. I look forward to putting it on, knowing how much better I will sleep.

If you have sleep problems, please go see the doctor. It is SO worth it.

16 July, 2011

Wessels' Dirt Blowing Trial - June 2011

We went back to Archer Farms in beautiful Dayton, Washington for the Dirt Blowing SDT again this year. Last year at Dirt Blowing was my first time to ever really see commercial range ewes. I learned a lot in a short period of time, getting around the course with no pen that year.

This year we got around the course in much better stead, still no pen either day. Guess I have some work to do.

Judge Karen Child lived in the big red combine for the weekend, having an eagle-eye view of everything going on on the course.

The view toward Dayton

The view away from town.

Rolling wheat fields cut to stubble.

We ran on a rolling field with several hills and blind spots. The photos don't fully capture the terrain, but I tried with some captions to see if you could get an idea. I figure the outrun was around 450 yards, but did not get a measurement. The crossdrive was quite long.

The set-out was done from trailers and went very smoothly especially when contrasted against last year which was a struggle. The sheep were not easy, but got better with every passing day. I ran on Friday and Saturday, and had to come home to go to work on Sunday. My understanding is Sunday saw the best runs of the weekend.

Click the photo for a larger view to see more detail.

The running was tough. Many runs never got past the lift, with sets of sheep taking off into the high wheat and being tracked down on ATVs. Mutton-busting and roping were required to retrieve a number of sheep, and ranch hands carrying a ewe on the ATV was a common sight on Friday and early Saturday.

The set out point was on top of the knoll, with the fetch coming down through a blind gully. Just when the dogs would get the sheep off the draw of the trailers, they would disappear into the blind gully, leaving us handlers at the post holding our collective breath. The sheep were quick to run and quick to split, but could be worked with decent distance and if the dogs did not shut them down by catching the eye too much.

Interestingly, turning the post was one of the more difficult points on the course. The sheep were reluctant to go between the pen, the combine and the handler on the first day, with several runs stalling out at that point.

Both days I sent Lucy left. On Friday, she lifted beautifully, coming between the trailers and feeling the draw nicely. Once they got to the gully they ran for the protection of the tall wheat. It took quite a bit of work to get them back on line, as Lucy was worried they were escaping and reluctant to give me a nice open flank to pick them back up. We turned the post neatly and made all the drive panels. A little bit of fussing to get the shed and timed out walking to the pen. We had a score in the 50's.

J. Helsley at the post running "Cole"

On Saturday, I was bound and determined to fix the fetch, and not work hard for a tight turn at the post after watching runs stall there. Lucy ran out nice and deep and came in at 12 o'clock this time, feeling the sheep a bit differently at the top. She lifted them beautifully and then re-lifted them after preventing a break-away.

She gave me a nice open flank at the top of the fetch, I think having learned a bit on Friday. We split them through the fetch gates and turned the post smoothly but wide to allow the sheep to stay away from me and keep moving instead of turning to stall or fight. The drive was comprised of lovely lines and we made all of our gates with a nice consistent pace. One wobble on the third leg caused by me overflanking Lucy because I wanted a nice tight turn. I let her get just a bit too much of their eye and we had to fix that line a bit.

Her shed was the thing that impressed me the most, I think. I knew we were good on time, so I let the sheep settle. We stirred them around a bit to see if they would string out toward the draw, which they did not. That being the case, I left the draw side unprotected and put a bit of pressure on, calling Lucy up quietly a few steps. The ewes shifted without splitting, I called Lucy into a very small gap (perhaps 12 inches). Smaller than was prudent, but I could tell from the look on her face that she was ready to come in quickly and so I called her in for a lovely shed and hold. It took my breath away to watch her zip in and hold the 2 I asked with such authority.

We tried to regather them in the ring but still had 2 sets and they didn't really want to group back up. I knew at that point I was nearly out of dog, and Lucy was a risk to grip. Temperatures were in the 80's with the air being still and heavy. Lucy tolerates heat well but I knew she was close to done with these ewes. We worked a bit at the pen but I was not motivated to get it, rather was protecting against gripping off after what I thought was a very nice run. We were successful in not gripping off, and did not get them into the pen probably because I was mostly out of dog. If I put her back off them they would not move, and if I called her up close they would split instead of moving so I just kept things quiet. We ended up with a 75 I think, which was a very good score for Saturday but was buried by the sweet runs on Sunday which saw some scores in the 90's.

J. Helsley's "Cole"

I must say in my very limited experience I think this is one of the best trials in the Northwest. It is well-run and the hospitality is top-notch. The sheep are a challenge and a ton of fun, and many top hands put on a great show for me to learn from. I was very proud of Lucy for her good work and think we have come a long way as a team since our attempt at Dirt Blowing last year.

Many thanks to Sue Wessels and her whole crew for such a great weekend.