Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kessie is here!

Still trying to keep up with my New Year's Resolution to write and take photographs regularly. I had intended to take photographs of Wally's baby Boer Goats to add to his website, but it was so overcast yesterday, it wasn't worth it. Hopefully the weather forecast is correct and it will be sunny on Monday.

I rejoined the anti-vaccination list, justsayno, but it wasn't the same. The "magic" was missing. Back in 2003 and 2004, it was a great list, but now, it's just bla. Magda's (a/k/a the Great Magda) list, Truth About Vaccines, isn't much better and when on that list, you need to listen to Magda's mouth, so I elected to ditch that one as well.

Recommending fake rabies certificates, etc. on a public list is just plain stupid as you never know who's lurking on those lists. I don't break the law, my dogs and cats are vaccinated for rabies.

Kessie came to me vaccinated and while I'd rather she wasn't vaccinated, I am not going to risk her purchase price ($700 including transport to me) when I know the Parvo virus is particularly virulent in my area. I'd rather deal with whatever damage the vaccine did to her than to risk Parvo. I am not worried about any of the other viruses dogs and cats may contract, but Parvo, nope, can't deal with that. If I had the ability to take a week or so off from work and nurse a sick puppy through Parvo, that would be a possibility, but I cannot.

I think, maybe, if I breed a litter of Border Collies, and that's unlikely at this point, but if I do, I may not vaccinate for Parvo given I have both the stud and the dam and I can rely on survival of the fittest. If all of the puppies die from Parvo, and of course I would nurse them, then so be it. I would have reasonable control of the health of the sire and dam, the puppies would be weaned on raw, they'd be in a better state of health than a kibble-fed puppy coming from kibble-fed, vaccinated parents.

Damn! I hate switching a kibble-fed puppy to raw. I hate the smell of a kibble-fed puppy. Kessie is going to be striking once she looses that kibble-fed look.

Interestingly, there's a bunch of feral barn cats up at my neighbor's house. I buy him a car-load of cat food for them once a month to help off-set the feeding expenses. Even though they are kibble-fed (and they eat just about anything else up there that's edible), they are gorgeous! One of these days I need to go up there and take photos of them.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Border Collies

It has been almost two years now since I drove to Virginia to meet Gel (formerly Angelus). After my experience with the Aussie-breeder-from-Hell, I was terrified about dealing with another dog breeder. My fears were unfounded and Ali Curtis has been nothing but supportive of my journey with Gel, despite my often waspish, intolerant nature. Not only am I blessed that she sold me Gel, but that she’s remained in my life and continues to help me.

My journey with Gel has been nothing sort of extraordinary. Never have I had such a close relationship with another animal, and maybe even another human, as I have with Gel. We have had our ups and downs and we have had some almost complete melt downs, but these melt downs seem to be like growing pains. Once we get through them, we are closer and have a better understanding of each other.

When I was examining which breed of dog I wanted to work with, I avoided the Border Collie because I felt it was too much dog for me. Today, I could not imagine having another breed of dog. Yes, a Border Collie is a lot of dog and a lot of work, but you are not going to find another breed with as much intelligence, drive, athleticism and work ethic of a well-bred Border Collie. By well-bred, I mean from solid, working lines.

When I bought Gel, I was interested in doing agility and obedience with him. Gel is trained through Novice, maybe even Open level agility. I spent a lot of money on lessons and equipment, all of which sits in my yard relatively unused. I haven’t entered Gel in an agility competition. I suppose I should, one day, but agility does not cut it for me anymore.

I discovered herding. There is nothing more magnificent than to watch a dog run out into a huge, wide-open field, arcing out around the sheep so they are not disturbed (this is called an outrun) then stopping at the top and “lifting” the sheep, without overly disturbing them, and bringing them back to your feet in a straight line. I did not do much to teach Gel his outrun; he just did it, all because of his breeding. I could sit and watch Gel do outruns all day long they are so pretty.

Herding is the hardest, most rewarding thing I've ever done in my whole life. I waited until I was 45 to get into a sport that is so incredibly hard to do. I'm not much of a dog trainer, I have no stock sense, yet somehow, Gel and I are hanging in and slowly making progress.

Gel is learning to drive (move the sheep away from me) which is very hard for a Border Collie, who is a natural gatherer. In the beginning, Gel would get so frustrated with my commands, he’d take it out on the stock. He's finally getting the hang of it (or more likely, I'm getting the hang of it) and seems to enjoy driving.

It’s taken me months of practice on my way to and from work (I knew I had an hour ride each way for a reason) to learn to blow my whistle. Because Border Collies work at such distance from the handler, you need to switch from verbal commands to whistles. Poor Gel, I've screwed with his brain for so long in giving him wrong flank commands (away-to-me means for the dog to go counterclockwise around the stock, come-bye means to go clockwise). Imagine standing in the middle of the field with sheep (or goats) going every which way trying to figure out which way is clockwise and which is counterclockwise. Somehow, even if I gave a wrong flank command, Gel would take the one I really meant, which seems to be a good thing, but now that we are moving up into driving, he has to take flank commands that seem wrong to him (called off balance flanks) and he has given me a hard time with taking off balance flanks. Now that I usually give the right flank command (driving has cured me of giving wrong flanks) I have to remember which whistle corresponds with which flank and be able to blow the correct whistle.

Gel is a sensitive dog and almost too in-tune to my feelings and emotions. This is what has caused some of our melt-downs. If I’m stressed, angry, sad or depressed, he knows and he’ll sometimes shut down on working. This in turn gets me angry at him which only makes the problem worst. On Saturday I went out to a trainer's house, somewhere I've gone before. There was a time I’d go out there and we'd spend several hours together working dogs and it was fun. Saturday wasn't one of those fun days. I guess he was having a bad day or maybe he just didn't want to have me come out. I came there all excited about Gel’s newly-developed driving talent and was excited about showing the trainer. As we walked out into the field, the trainer started barking commands behind me. I got nervous. Gel picked up on my emotions and forgot how to drive. It got ugly and I walked off the field with Gel and went home. I took out my own sheep and goats and we (Gel, sheep, goats and me) all had a wonderful afternoon out in the fields near my house.

Many of these herding people go through dog after dog after dog after dog looking for that special one. I don’t know how many of them find that truly special dog. I have. Gel may not be a world-class champion, but I think he’s wonderfully talented, he is extremely forgiving of my mistakes and the wrongs I’ve done him when I’ve been in a bad mood, he’s silly and zany, and just a wonderful dog to spend time with. Not only is he a great herding dog, but he’s great in agility and may one day make a good obedience dog. I’ve started to train him to be a service dog, he picks up things that I drop, all in all, he’s a very useful dog.

A Border Collie has to have a job, otherwise, they get into trouble. Gel is no exception. Allowing him too much time on his own is a recipe for disaster. I will often create work for Gel to do. Recently I started dumping out his entire toy box throughout the house, then sending him to pick up all the toys and bring them to me to put in his box. The other night when I got home from work and was bringing things into the house, I left my chore shoes outside at the bottom of the steps. While changing into my play clothes, I took off my work shoes and socks and was looking for my work shoes. I finally found them, where I left them, at the bottom of the stairs. It had started raining and I really didn't want to go down the stairs barefoot to get my shoes. I sent Gel for them and he happily brought them up one at a time.

Another new “job” is to break up noisy cat wrestling. The flea market kitties often get into rip-roaring play sessions. Border Collies don’t like disorder and as his keenness has developed, he’s become less tolerant to loud cat wrestling. When one starts, he comes running to me and stares at me, waiting for me to give him permission to break it up.

An example of how Border Collies don't like disorder. While at a herding clinic a few weekends ago, there was an Aussie there who was herding like Aussies do, barking, with lots of darting in and between the stock, causing them to go every which way. The Aussie broke one sheep off from the bunch and honed in on it, chasing it away from the rest of the flock. Both Gel and another Border Collie ran after the sheep, not to chase the sheep, but to head it and bring it back to the flock. Keeping the sheep together and moving in a calm manner is what a Border Collie is bred to do. This is why they run far wide away from the stock rather than right up the middle of the field. The less disruption, the better.

I have a puppy coming this week. It’s taken me a long time to decide what I wanted in my next Border Collie and when I was going to get her (that’s the only thing that I knew, that it would be a female). I finally decided on an extremely well-bred puppy from a breeder in Connecticut. The pedigree of this puppy is essentially a who’s who of herding dogs. She should have a tremendous amount of natural talent, probably even more so than Gel. She should also be extremely precocious, which may or may not be a good thing. Gel has been extremely slow to mature. He still is not completely turned on and only has a few brain cells touching. I don't expect to see Gel's full potential until he's four or five.

One thing I will do with this puppy is start her on whistles very soon in her training, as well as start her driving sooner than I did Gel. I've learned so much with Gel. I hope I can transfer it to the puppy.

Raw Cat Food Companies

Preparing and selling a raw food diet for cats has become a big market. Last week I heard of a company called Brothers Blend. I checked the web site to see what they were selling and was quite appalled at the ingredients of their food: raw muscle beef, blanched vegetables (any combination of carrots, broccoli or green beans), steamed brown rice and chicken necks. This is supposed to be a complete and balanced diet? Where’s the variety? This is the only "flavor" they offer. Where’s the liver? The web site says that cats are carnivores. PERIOD. So why the vegetables and steamed brown rice? It seems like just about anyone can start up a company preparing raw cat food these days.

Another new company was brought to my attention over the weekend, Wild Kitty Cat Food. This company, at least, is adventurous in their variety of food offered. Look at this blend, Tuna and Conch: fresh tuna, conch, clams, chicken liver, apples, beets, broccoli carrots, cod liver oil, dried kelp, dried yeast, flax oil, flax seed, lecithin, mushrooms, oysters, peas, rice bran, spinach, water sufficient for processing, wheat germ, wheat germ oil. I’m sure cats love this food, but they should not eat tuna over an extended period of time, not to mention the risk of urinary tract disorder from eating a high fish diet. All of their formulations contain clams, which are high in Taurine, but not part of a cat’s natural diet, anymore than conch is.

The Wild Kitty food is expensive: a case of 36-3.5 ounce containers is $100.00 plus $30.00 shipping. Brothers Blend is much less expensive, but only available through retailers in Florida. Their food comes in "chunks." A three ounce pouch contains six "chunks." Their specified feeding amount for a 8-10 pound cat is one chunk, hmmmm, I'd like to tell my 8-10 pound cats that they are only getting a half an ounce of food per meal.

If I had the energy, I’d go into the cat food preparation business, well, I guess I already am in the cat food preparation business. Feeding eleven cats a raw diet is a business, I don’t need to be making any more than I already am.

If I were going to prepare a special raw food diet for cats though, I’d do something really neat and natural. Let’s see: whole ground rabbit excluding digestive organs, feet and hide. I'd roll the ground meat into meatballs, freeze it and call it rabbit balls. You could put it down for your cat in its frozen state and let the cat roll it around the floor for exercise and prey stimulation while it was defrosting. Once the meat defrosted and your cat had lots of fun playing with its food, he could eat it. What fun is food in pouches or containers?

I was recently hired by Animal Wellness to write another article. This makes at least four I've written for the magazine. This one is to be on hairballs, something I have little experience with. It will be fun to read the ingredients of the hairball formula cat foods.

There have been a lot of commercials on lately by Iams for their new multicat formula, not only is it designed to feed all of the cats in your household, it also helps prevent hairballs. The irritating thing about all these different formulations is that the ingredients are all essentially the same, rearranged a little and a few extras added here in there (for example, for multicat, they added the amino acid L-Carnitine ("a proven fat burner"). Marketing, that's all it's about.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Commitment to Take Photographs

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am also making the commitment to take more photographs. This past Sunday was beautiful! Almost 70 degrees and sunny. Unfortunately, the upcoming weekend is going to be horrible, rain, rain, rain. Not conducive for taking photographs. I don't like how Blogger handles photographs so I put a page up on Blakkatz of some of the photos I took on Sunday.

The weekend will give me the opportunity to try out my new oil cloth slicker and hat. I’ve always wanted an Australian slicker and I found a local store that sold them. It was a Christmas present to me.

Going to herding trials and having to go outside no matter what the weather has forced me to invest in quality weatherproof clothing.

Last night while on the phone with a friend, one of my black cats (I have two, both females. They have names, Zoe and Zest, but I can’t tell who’s who so they are either referred to as the Z Sisters or the Black Girls.) came in through the cat door dragging a rat the size of a squirrel! I freaked! Luckily it was dead. That must have been quite a fight. One or both of the black girls is an amazing hunter. They are always dragging something in. Why they can’t eat it outside is beyond me. I prefer not to come home to feathers all over the kitchen, but what can you do. Cats are cats and they hunt. Luckily mine eat what they catch.

These rescue kitties have been an absolute delight. I’ll get them all spayed and neutered in January. I need to stop buying outerwear and save my pennies for that expense. They are delightful, but they are eating me out of house and home! The bunch of them (I have eleven cats, six random bred rescues and five purebreds) will consume two small rabbits in one meal. Luckily it’s venison season so I have that to round out the rabbit supply. I go through forty pounds of rabbit every two weeks. It’s a tremendous amount of work cleaning and grinding that many rabbits, but I couldn’t imagine feeding them any other way.

Those cats, they make me laugh every day. When I take Gel outside to play with his Frisbee or Kong, they run after him while he’s running after his toy. If I have a cat on my lap and he comes for attention, they get on his head and kiss his ears. Not sure what the attraction with the ears is about. If I have the goats and sheep out, they have no fear of them. They either run along with them (a/k/a running with the bulls) or help Gel herd. Oh, herding ducks can be quite difficult for Gel with the cats charging in scattering them in all directions.

Life is not boring at my house.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Commitment to Write

I am attempting to turn over a new leaf before the New Year is here. Might as well start early! The goal is to update NRN more frequently. I have elected to go with Blogger vs. continuing to keep NRN at updated because it’s easier to add to posts at Blogger and archiving is a lot easier. When I have a few minutes – maybe over Christmas weekend, I’ll change the template at Blogger to match the NRN template.

Before I play around with the web site here, I need to finish that of my good friend, Wally McSwain at McSwain Boer Goats. I met Wally in April of last year when I bought seven goats from him. Since then we’ve become wonderful friends. Wally and his wife are wonderful people. They care for their animals like I do and that makes them okay in my book. Wally should have some baby goats to play with by Christmas weekend as well.

Everyone at the “farm” is good. We will soon have a new addition, a second Border Collie named Kessie. A puppy I bought from a breeder in Connecticut. Hopefully Kessie will arrive in North Carolina on December 29.

The other resolution I’m going to try to keep up with is taking photographs. On Sunday, I took a bunch of pictures and remembered how much I love to take photographs. Wally bought a llama at the auction on Thursday so I went over to take photographs of her and of his newly constructed birthing stalls for his goats. Gel was more than happy to help positioning the llama, Shelby, for photographs.