Fox Hunt

I was in the middle of posting my last blog when I heard one of the chickens carrying on and squawking quite a bit.  It was more than the usual rooster-chasing-hen-to…well you know.  I stood up to investigate and saw the hen run around the front of the house with a FOX in hot pursuit!  I ran to the front door, grabbed my big walking stick, and ran out after that fox screaming, “Get away from MY hen!”  I’m sure the neighbors were pleased to hear that at 6:30 in the morning.

Well, fox ran away and through the woods by the side of the house.  Since it was heading towards the back of our property, I decided to go out to see where it was headed.  By the time I had slipped on my Birkenstock garden shoes, grabbed my other big walking stick, and got out the back door, that fox was out back stalking another chicken!  I jumped on my four-wheeler, stuck the stick in front of me, and lit out after that fox.  He was surprised to see me coming and ran back into the woods and down toward the front part of the property.  So, for about ten minutes, I drove the four-wheeler up and down along the tree line on that side of the property and along the back.  I wanted to make sure to scare it away at least for now.  Today I will be on fox watch.

Life in the country can be exciting!

Note: this is probably the same fox that got all ten of my call ducks that we used for herding.

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Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

This is a gopher tortoise that my husband spotted at the side of the road on our way into town one day last week. We have two gopher tortoise holes just outside of where the new pasture fence will be. Since they are a protected species here in Florida, we wanted to make sure the sheep could not disturb them. In the four years since we have been living here, we never saw one of the tortoises. This was our first glimpse of a live one.

How It All Began

In August 2006, our little corgi/beagle mix named Ernie, died a tragic death. While were were away one afternoon, our little rescue mutt got into the trash, something which he never did.  He got his head stuck in a gallon-sized ziplock bag and suffocated.  My youngest son, Thomas, and I arrived home first to find him dead by the front door.  Needless to say we were distraught.  Shortly after, my eldest son, Christopher, and my husband, Larry, arrived home.  We took our little dog to our German veterinarian and had him cremated.  Then we went home to mourn our loss.

My boys grew up with dogs, and Ernie was our second one as a family.  Our first dog, named Bear, was a German Shepherd.  Within 24 hours after he died, we were at the dog pound to find another family pet.  Ernie (he came with that name and he responded to it, so we decided to minimize his trauma and keep it) is the little chap we selected because he was so sweet around my young sons.  Shortly after getting him we took him on a car ride up the Mississippi River near Belleville, Illinois where we were stationed at Scott Air Force Base.  It was a beautiful autumn afternoon with crisp blue skies and falling leaves everywhere.  We stopped at a roadside park with a playground for the boys to run and play with their new buddy.

A few years later, Larry received orders to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.  We were all excited about our move and began preparations to take our little Ernie with us.  We heard that Germany was a dog-friendly country and found that to be true upon our arrival.  Because we were staying on base during our housing search, our little dog had to stay in a German kennel for a short while.  The boys missed him terribly and we went to visit him as often as we could.  We knew then that we could never be without a dog for very long.

After Ernie died, we decided to go to the German Tiergarten (dog pound) and find a new family dog.  Much to our dismay, we discovered that the Germans would not allow Americans to adopt pets because most of the pets they had were there because irresponsible Americans left them behind when it came time for them to move back to the States because of the added expense to take them along.  So they often just kicked them out the door as they were leaving!  The base veterinary clinic did have a few dogs available for adoption, but most were either very large breeds, short-haired breeds (to which Thomas has allergies), or “stubborn” hard to train breeds.  So we began to search for breeders that would adopt to Americans.

Our first step was to decide which breed.  Since Ernie was a beagle-corgi mix, we decided to begin there.  I researched the different breed traits and discovered that beagles were probably not the best choice for our quiet, small German village.  We did NOT want to bother our neighbors with a loud dog that would probably easily escape the confines of our garden!  So, on to the two corgi breeds: Pembroke Welsh Corgis and Cardigan Welsh Corgis.  Although the tails of the Pemmies were no longer being docked on the Continent, they were still being docked in the United Kingdom.  And since we wanted to be able to converse with the breeder, we knew we would probably end up getting a dog from England.  So, Pems were out and our search for a Cardigan Welsh Corgi began.

I contacted a lady with the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association and she told me that during that particular year, there were very few registered births of CWCs in the UK, but that a friend of hers in Ireland had one five month old puppy left from a litter.  I got her contact information, made arrangements to pick up the dog, and flew two weeks later with Christopher to Ireland.  We picked our new guy, Timmy (he also came with that name and knew it, so we kept it), drove him up to Dublin from Castleisland, Ireland, put him on a plane for Larry and Thomas to pick up in Frankfurt, and then took another plane back home.

The next weekend we decided to take our little shy guy to the base exchange area (small shopping mall to you civilians!) for a little socialization.  There we met one of my husband’s workmates who told us about a dog training class on the base.  So we drove over to meet the instructor and find out more about the class.

Upon our arrival, the German man whom we later found out was the instructor, came walking very quickly over to us and said, “I sure hope you are planning on showing that dog!”  My husband was stunned because I had told him Timmy’s breeder had suggested the same thing along with the breeder of Timmy’s sire, but Larry, being an untrusting person, decided that the breeder just wanted us to show him for her.  Now, he was a “bit” more interested in showing him since a complete stranger thought we should do so!

Later, we found out that Axel Hehl (our instructor) was a long-time judge with the FCI (Fédération Cynologique International) which overseas all the dog shows for most of the world outside of the USA, Canada, and the UK.  Learning that was the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin for Larry.  We began in earnest training Timmy for the show ring.

Timmy went into the ring and won all the points needed for a championship, but he was not old enough to receive one prior to our departure back to the United States.  Under the FCI, a dog cannot receive his championship until he/she is a minimum of twenty-seven months old.  Here in the United States, a dog can receive his championship well-prior to becoming full-grown.  We missed the age mark by less than four months.  We could have taken a trip back overseas or to Mexico with him to try and get his remaining points, but that would have been a very big expense for such an insignificant thing.

Prior to leaving Europe, we decided to get a mate for Timmy.  This time our family packed up the BMW, drove across Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France, through the Chunnel to England, on to Wales, then a ferry across the Irish Sea to Ireland.  We picked up our new puppy, Katie, and drove back to Germany.  A few days later we were on a plane back to the United States and Little Rock Sir Force Base, Arkansas.

About a year after arriving back in the States, I decided to take both dogs to the Cardigan Welsh Corgi national show which was being held in Topeka, Kansas.  While there I entered them in the herding instinct test.  Timmy was not even remotely interested, since his favorite pastime is having his belly scratched while stretched out on the couch!  Katie on the other hand, was a pistol!  It was pouring down rain and the testers were using goats, which I later learned despise being in the rain.  She was the only dog out there who got those goats moving.  She showed great promise as a herding dog.

So back home we went to begin our search for herding instructors.  We finally found Nancy Obermark of Outrun Farm about 2-3 hours away from us in Olive Branch, Mississippi.  So we made our way out there and Katie and I got hooked on herding.  Now, I must say that really it was Katie who got hooked on herding first.  Me, I felt like I had two left feet and my brain suddenly turned to mush each and every time we pulled into Miss Nancy’s driveway!  But, I digress.

About a year and a half later, it came time for Larry to retire from the United States Air Force after 24 years of service.  His job hunt took him to our present location in Milton, Florida, just outside of Pensacola in the panhandle.  It also took us 7-8 hours away from my new favorite hobby, herding.  So, my husband, being good to me, conceded to allowing me to get a few sheep so I could continue herding practice and take a few trips each year to Miss Nancy’s.

Well, a few quickly turned into four, since one of the sheep we got was pregnant.  Then we decided to get a few more as we continues advancing.  This Spring, our flock of six sheep turned into eleven sheep when three of my ewes gave birth.  We had two sets of twins and one singleton; four girls and one boy, just as I had hoped.  The boy is bound for the freezer this winter and the girls along with their mothers, will be bred in June 2015 for our next batch of lambs.  I want to keep my flock to ten sheep, so the best will be kept and the rest, well, they will be freezer bound.  That is the sheep story.  On to the birds….

One day I asked my husband if I could get some chickens that were listed as free on Craig’s List.  He agreed, albeit reluctantly, and began building the first bird palace.  A few of those birds were lost to predators or just plain escaped, so the following spring he decided that we could replace those few with chicks.  So, in to Tractor Supply we went to get three chicks.  There we discovered we had to get a minimum of six, so I picked out my six.  Then Larry leaned over the enclosure and said, “Why don’t you go ahead and get ten, because invariably a few of them will die.” So, I did.  Then the young man who was assisting me said, “Why don’t you just make it an even dozen?”  My reply: “If you give them to me for half-off I will.”  (Mind you, they were already marked down from $2.99 each to $1.00 each because they wanted to be rid of them.)

He jumped up, ran across the store to find the manager, and the manager yelled across the store, “If you take them all, I will give them to you for $15.00!”  Larry looked at me, I looked at him, he shrugged, and the rest, as they say, is history.  We walked out of that store with 35 baby chicks for $15.00!  That’s about thirty-eight cents each.

The next summer, Larry built a new chicken palace for our growing flock.  (Someday I will post photos.)  This past Spring I bought an incubator and filled it with 41 eggs.  Thirty-five of those eggs hatched. One chick was eaten by a rat snake, so we have 34 new chicks to go along with our 17 remaining “big” chickens.  All the roosters will be in the freezer in the next few weeks, along with some of the older hens.

The old chicken palace became the home for the ten call ducks we had for herding practice (they work like cattle, yet are cheaper to feed and don’t hurt when they run over you!).  Until recently, that is.  One night a few weeks back, a canine predator (fox or coyote) dug under the duck enclosure and carried/scared off all but one of my ten ducks.  So the remaining call duck hen is hanging out with my remaining Swedish Duck male, since his mate was lost to a hawk this winter.

Our farm now has 11 sheep, 2 ducks, 15 mature chicken hens, 3 mature roosters (one of which I recently saved from the chopping block; he’s a Cornish Rooster which I plan on using to cross with my Brahma hen), and we have 34 bitty chickens coming along.  Our new batch in the incubator has only produced two chicks thus far, but there are more to come…hopefully!

And it all began with a little corgi boy named, Timmy!