Killer cat?

Yet another cat appears at the croft

Over the years we have had around 5 cats move in.  We don’t dislike cats, in fact we would welcome one into the home, but for the dogs.  Living in a rural environment, we are plagued with mice, so a nice mouser would be just the thing.

We have no idea where the cats have come from.  It could be that they have been dumped here (we once had a goose dumped in the yard too).  Or perhaps they drift here on their own, although we are quite a way from civilisation.

Some cats have disappeared after a while, whilst others we have captured and taken to a rescue.

The latest one turned up in October and has been living in the hay shed.  It doesn’t seem particularly friendly but it hasn’t hissed at us either.

Whilst milking the goats the other evening, we heard a huge kerfuffle coming from the chicken shed.  It was pitch black outside but their door was still open.  On investigation, we couldn’t see anything likely to be upsetting them.

A day or two later we went out to tuck them in for the night, and discovered the cat feasting on a dead chicken.  The chicken’s body was still warm, so either the cat appeared just as it died, or more likely, it killed the bird. Since then, our chicken numbers have been slowly decreasing.

Sadly, the cat will have to go.  We will entice it into a cage with some food and then take it to a local cat rescue, where they can find a more appropriate home for it.  Maybe somewhere it can get a chicken dinner served in a dish!

 

Stock control

Selecting beasts for the market

It’s getting to that time of year when we will be sending the lambs off to the mart.  Not all of them will go – some of them are just too small and will bring down the prices of the larger beasts – but most will.

We will also sending some of the older ewes, particularly if they have made a poor show in lambing.  For instance, one ewe produced just a single large lamb this year, which had to be euthanised by the vet as he wouldn’t have survived more than a day or two.

We also have a couple of ewes who have produced lambs with Entropian (inward turning eyelids). Although this is a minor condition that can be treated by injecting the eyelids, it isn’t pleasant for us or the lambs, and we would prefer not to proliferate it.  This year we have decided to be a little more disciplined and remove these ewes from our flock.

However, our ruthlessness only goes so far.  We have two older ewes that are way past their prime, but they will remain with us for the rest of their lives.  One is Geraldine (front right in the picture).  She was one of our first ever sheep and is such a character, although she has been in the wars more times than we care to mention.  The other is Agnes, who may also be over the hill, but remains very special to us for one reason or another.

This year, we have been using a new tup, and he has proved to be very challenging.  Hand reared by his previous owners he has no fear of humans. Quite the opposite in fact, and we have had to watch our backs constantly when in fhe paddock with him.  Given the chance he is more than happy to charge in and butt us, and we have resorted to carrying a bag of straw with us to help absorb the impact!

We won’t keep him on for another year and it’s one beast we will be glad to be rid of.

Who gives a fig?

When you can eat the figs, prune the fig trees

This year has just flown by and we are sad to admit that we haven’t done any work at all in the polytunnel, there have been so many other things demanding our time and attention.

However, even our lack of effort has not prevented it from producing.

In the spring we had bunches of wild garlic, perfect for pesto, salads and making a cheese omelette just a little bit more exciting.

Then there was the rocket, which grew in abundance and was just as delicious in all of the above situations.

Potatoes popped up here and there.  Sage, rosemary, lemon balm and even lavendar were plentiful.

Even the grapes have produced a harvest, although smaller than usual.

But, the star of the show must be the fig tree.  Every year this has been tended lovingly, watered and cared for.  We have had the odd fig or two but most of them have never bothered to ripen, falling off in the winter months.

This year, after being completely left  to its own devices, it has produced dozens of plump looking figs which are just now beginning to ripen and we are picking them before they burst open.

According to an ancient saying “when you can eat the figs, prune the fig trees”, so maybe that’s a hint for us to get on with it!

Jack has a ball

After baling, we needed a break, but it wasn’t to be

We finally managed to get some hay baled but thanks to the continuing showers, it was very damp.  Fingers crossed that it doesn’t go mouldy and that we have some decent fodder for the beasts this winter.

Just when we were hoping for a bit of downtime and an opportunity to enjoy some outings with our guests who were here for a couple of months, Jack suddenly became unwell.

At first, we weren’t concerned.  He had vomited and was off his food but was still full of life, racing around the field with the others.  However, after a couple of days, he still wasn’t eating so we took him to the vet as a precaution.   They didn’t seem worried, just gave him some antibiotics for an upset tummy and steroids to get his appetite going.  We were told to give it 48 hours.

After 24, he still wouldn’t touch his food so we took him back on a Saturday morning.  He’s a chewer so we were thinking he may have a blockage.  The vet agreed, x-rayed him straight away and discovered that he had a large foreign body inside him.

We had no choice, they operated immediately.

Inside him, they found a piece of hard rubber ball which could have been chopped up by the mower.  He probably came across it in the field and swallowed it!

The operation went well and we bought him home on the Sunday resplendent in his Elizabethan collar, which he quickly learned to use as a battering ram.  There was a danger of peritonitis so we had to watch him closely 24 hours a day.

We spent the next week on constant Jack alert.  We couldn’t take our eyes off him for a minute.  Despite the collar, he was constantly trying to get to his belly.

Thankfully our guests joined in with the dog sitting, so we did get some breaks.

He’s had his final vet visit and has healed well.  Now all we have to worry about is making sure he doesn’t do it again.

Wet weather and wuffling

Fighting a losing battle with the weather

We were very excited at the prospect of baling the hay from our newly reseeded field, but as usual, the weather has put a bit of a dampener on it.  It needs to be hot and dry to ensure that we have plenty of decent winter fodder for our animals, but It has been neither of those things.  In fact, it has been completely the opposite.

There have had a couple of very nice days but almost every single one of them has included rain at some point, either at the start or at the end.

The grass was getting long and thickening up nicely, with some beautiful seed heads breaking out – just crying out for cutting – but whenever we thought about taking the plunge, the heavens would open and rain on our parade!

In the end we felt we could wait no longer, and after a dryish couple of days we did cut it.  Then, true to form and before we even got the mower back in the barn, the rain returned and refused to give us a break.

After a week or so we had another not-so-wet spell, and out came the wuffler to turn and fluff up the drying stalks.  Once again, the rain came just as we were finishing off.  It seemed like the tractor was persued around the field by a huge black cloud!

Despite this, we are still hopeful of a reasonable crop if we can hold our nerve. The hay is slowly drying out (between showers!), and if we can just string together 2 or 3 dry days, we might get away with it.  But of course, that will depend on the weather…

Clicker Choices

 

What to look for when selecting your training clicker.

If you are new to clicker training or even if you’re an accomplished trainer, the wide range of clickers now available can be confusing. They come in all shapes and sizes, have different sounds and there are a variety of different attachments that can be used with them.

How do you choose which one is right for you?  Every individual is different and has unique requirements so we explain here the pros and cons of the most popular varieties.

Clicker

Volume

Extras

Tab

Use with
Gloves

Ease of Use

Guide

Box

5

Yes

Not easily

Medium

No

i-Click

3

Yes

Yes

Easy

No

QT Clicker

2

Yes

Yes

Easy

No

Quick click

4

Yes

Yes

Easy

Yes

Dogsline Push Button Clicker

2

FL

Yes

Yes but not loop

Easy

No

Dogsline Button Clicker

3/2

Yes

Yes

Easy

No

Dog Activity Soft Clicker

1

WC

Yes

Yes

Easy

Yes

Clix Multi Clicker

3/5

Lan

Yes

Yes

Easy

Yes

Clik R

4

FL

Yes

Yes

Easy

Yes

Dog Activity Finger Clicker

2

FL

No

Yes but not loop

Easy

Yes

Mikki Clikka

5

FL/

Lan

Yes

Yes but not loop

Easy

Whizz Click

4

WS

No

Yes

Medium

Yes

Duo Click

Click 2

Chime 3

FL/

Lan

Yes

Yes

Medium

Yes

Key: FL – Finger Loop; Lan – Lanyard; WC – Wrist Coil, WS – Wrist Strap

Please note:  Clicker volume can be subjective and will differ slightly between clickers of the same type.  Please use as a guide only.

Before you choose, you may want to consider a few things: where you will be using the clicker, will you be wearing gloves, whether or not your dog is sensitive to sound.  If this is your first clicker you may also require some basic instructions.

Box Clicker

Shaped like a small rectangular box with a metal tongue.  This is probably what some may call the original clicker.  You hold it in your hand and depress the metal plate with your thumb.  It gives a lovely, clear and loud click which is its big plus point.  However, there are some minuses.  It’s not very ergonomic, so doesn’t fit in your hand comfortably, only one end of the metal plate moves so you have to ensure you are holding it correctly as it’s very easy to miss that perfect moment.  Excellent for use outdoors or in a noisy environment, it comes in a wide range of colours and usually has a small tab on the end so you can attach it to a wrist coil or lanyard.

i-Click

Developed by perhaps the best known clicker trainer, Karen Pryor, this clicker is the perfect shape to fit into your hand and instead of a metal plate it has a raised button.  This button is easy to locate without having to look and it minimises the chances of you missing the click.  It can be used with a variety of attachments.  The click, although clear is not quite as loud as the box clicker.

You could also use this clicker with your foot, if you put it on the floor and press down gently.

QT Clicker

Very similar in shape to the i-click, although slightly quieter.  However, for those of you who are fashion conscious they come in pastel or neon colours.  Push button action and an ergonomic shape, complete with tab for attachments.

Quick Click

The quick click is another clicker with a button, however, the click is louder and crisper than the i-Click, but not quite as loud as the box clicker.  It is a tear-drop shape and fits comfortably into the hand.  Again, attachments can be used with this clicker.

 

Dogsline Push Button Clicker

Very similar in shape and design to the Quick Click having an ergonomic shape with a in-built button which is not prominent and therefore less likely to be pressed by accident.  It has a softer click but it does have an extra feature which can be extremely useful, a finger loop.  This ensures that the clicker is always to hand and ready for action.

The Dogsline Button Clicker

This clicker comes in two slightly different tones, you can choose from a muted or crisp click.  The button itself is prominent and easy to find and press, and the clicker shape is comfortable to hold with a tab for use with the attachment of your choice.

Dog Activity Soft Clicker

An ergonomically designed push button clicker, with wrist coil and detachable strap.  It has a more muted sound than all of the other clickers, but is still perfectly audible to your dog and may be more suitable for sound sensitive animals.  Probably best used in a quieter environment.

 

Clix Multi-clicker

This is the only clicker that actually has a volume control so it can be matched to your dog’s sound sensitivity.  It has a large raised button on a metal tongue which makes operation easy and underneath there is a sliding switch to change the volume.  Comes with a wrist strap.

Clik-R

This clicker was created by Terry Ryan.  It is quite large but ergonomically shaped for a comfortable fit in your hand. The button is prominent for ease of use and it also has a stretchy finger strap on the back.  Other attachments can be used if required

Dog Activity Finger Clicker

This small clicker is again, ergonomically shaped, and comes with a soft plastic loop on the back to slip on your finger.  This loop is not stretchy and would be difficult to fit over gloves.  There is no tab on this clicker for alternative attachments.

Mikki Clikka

This slightly larger clicker has a big easy to use click button and a stretchy finger band, it also comes complete with a neck lanyard and training guide written by professional behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith.  It feels robust and has a good loud click.

 

WhizzClick

The WhizzClick is unique in that is combines both a clicker and whistle in one device.  It has a flat plastic button which can only be depressed at one end, so, rather like the box clicker, you have to ensure it is the correct way round before clicking.  With the built in whistle it does offer additional training options.  Comes complete with a wrist attachment and training guide.  Developed by Stephen King.

CLIK-R Duo Dog Training Clicker

Developed by Peter Neville, this is the most expensive clicker available at this time.  It is digital rather than mechanical and is capable of making dual sounds so that you can train more than one pet.  The sounds available are either a traditional click or a triple chime. Its ergonmic shape sits well in the hand and both its raised buttons are different so, with practice, you should be able to tell them apart by touch.  It comes with a stretchy finger loop, lanyard and full instructions.  Requires batteries.

Replacing the Rayburn

We wave a fond goodbye to an old friend and sparring partner

Ever since we moved into the croft, nearly 11 years ago now, we have lived with an ancient Rayburn Regent.  Its exact age will never be known but they were made in the 50’s.  It was our only form of cooking and it also heated the water to red hot temperatures.

The thing was a blessing and a curse.  It ran on solid fuel and was very temperamental, and easily influenced by the weather.  Windy days were a nightmare, you couldn’t get the thing hot and if you tried too hard, you ended up setting fire to the chimney.

We kept it going 24/7 and had to constantly feed it with fuel.  It rewarded us with tonnes of dust, which covered everything in the kitchen.  Cooking on it was a challenge, you never knew what sort of a mood it was in, and we had been known to wait over 4 hours for the kettle to boil!

In the winter the kitchen was always snug and warm but the rest of the house was freezing, heated only by the woodburning stove in the lounge, which was not lit until the evening.  In summer it was stiflingly hot in the kitchen and very unpleasant to work in.  Every morning it had to be emptied and at night, banked up to keep it going.

Despite all of its faults and indiosyncracies, we loved it.  But it was on its last legs and so we took the difficult decision to replace it.

We chose another Rayburn as we felt that they were great workhorses, that lasted forever (almost) but decided to link the new one into the heating system so that the rest of the house could benefit from its generous warmth.

The engineers were here for two days and we had a few hiccups, some of which are yet to be sorted.

This shiny new black beast is far removed from the quaint old brown version that we knew so well and in fact the operation of it so far, is a complete mystery to us.  In our minds, its first priority should be to cook the food. then heat the water and finally to warm the radaiators.  It seems the Rayburn has its own agenda and as far as it’s concerned, heating the house is its number one job.

When we tried to cook our first Sunday roast in it, we ended up with hot bedrooms and a cold oven!  Maybe we should have put the chicken under the duvet!!

We have a way to go yet before we manage to tame this beast.

Training your dog with a Target Stick

Teach your dog to target using a target stick or target wand. A fun training activity, but also a useful way to lead your dog without force.

Targeting or Touch Targeting is very simple – it is teaching your dog to touch something on command, such as your hand, a cup or maybe a ball, with either his nose (or paw).

How is it useful?

Fin is lured into a Down with the target stick

Targeting can be useful in a number of ways. For instance, sending your dog to his bed to ‘settle’, or training him to ring a bell to go outside are both forms of targeting where the bed and the bell are the targets.

Why use a target stick?

Almost anything can be used as a target, but the beauty of using a target stick is that you can move it around easily.  They usually have a target ball on the end which can attract your dog’s attention, they are easily portable, and they can be used to encourage your dog to follow. Some even have an integrated clicker.

Once he is comfortable touching the target ball, this behaviour can easily be transferred to other objects.  Floor standing target sticks are also ideal for distance work where your dog may need to work away from you (handy for dog agility/dog sports, but other situations too).

As soon as your dog is working with a target stick, it can be effective for leading his movement without force.  With your dog happy following the target, you can use it for many things – like encouraging a ‘down’ (right), leading him through the weave poles in agility, doing a twirl around you, or pushing objects on cue

Getting Started

Make sure you have your clicker, a quantity of small but high value treats in a treat pouch, your target stick, somewhere quiet with no distractions, and a dog that is hungry!

Your dog should already be familiar with the clicker (although the steps can be adapted to non-clicker training methods if you prefer).

Step 1

Start by doing a few simple tricks that your dog already knows to get him to focus on you.  Sits or downs perhaps, remembering to click and treat each time.

Once you have his attention, present the stick to your dog.  Be ready – out of curiosity he is bound to sniff the stick, and as soon as he does, or shows any interest, (anywhere on the stick, not just the end with the ball) click and treat.  Repeat the action and again click and treat each time he shows interest.

Try not to let your dog bite the target or stick

If your dog attempts to bite or grab the stick, try to discourage him without putting him off of the exercise.

Vary the stick’s position slightly in relation to your dog, and keep going until it is clear that he understands that if he sniffs or touches the stick (wherever it is) with his nose, he will receive the click and treat.

If your dog is really not interested, be patient and give him a chance to work out what you want him to do.  In some cases it helps to smear something smelly and tasty onto the target ball to help get your dog started.

Train in short bursts so that he doesn’t lose interest, taking regular breaks to do other things.  Only once your dog is touching the target stick 100% of the time, move on to the next step.

Step 2

So far you have said nothing when he touches, so now it’s time to add a verbal command, or ‘cue’.  Present the stick and just as his nose is making contact, say the word you want to use, like ‘touch’.  Don’t forget to click and treat. Do some repetitions and gradually introduce the word earlier and earlier until it is clear that the cue is making him act.

When your dog is 100% reliable, stop clicking for touches that are not done on command.

Step 3

Vary the position of the target stick

At this point you can start to move the target stick’s position a little more, still using the ‘touch’ cue.  Click and treat each time.  Most target sticks are telescopic so you can extend and get your dog to work further away from you.  You could also put the stick on the floor or on a piece of furniture.

Again make sure the behaviour is 100% solid before moving on.

Step 4

When your dog is reliably touching on command, you can start to shape the behaviour.

Your dog may only be touching the target ball already, but if not, it shouldn’t take too much encouragement to focus him on that rather than the whole stick. Just click and treat for nose touches on the ball itself, and nowhere else.  He’ll soon get the message.

Then, try moving the stick a little as your dog approaches, so that he follows it. As your dog understands what is needed, vary the distance and speed of movement.  Remember to click and treat the touch each time.

Before long, your dog should be touching the ball at the end of the stick on command wherever it is.

What next?

A floor standing target can encourage your dog to work away from you

If you have a free standing target stick you can begin to ask your dog to work away from you.  Start with the target close at first and use your ‘touch’ cue.  Click immediately and he should return to you for the treat (setting up the next go very nicely!).

Move the target to different positions relative to you and gradually increase the distance to it, repeating the command, and clicking and treating for each success.  If you have a hand held target stick, you could achieve the same thing by putting it on the ground where your dog can see it.

Dogs enjoy speed and excitement so it is good fun to turn this into a fast paced game.  Put the target down a few feet from you, give the touch cue, and when your dog touches the target, click and throw the treat out past it so that your dog has to run to get it.  On his way back to you, give the touch cue again, click and throw the treat again after a successful touch.

Remember…

If at any time your dog starts to get confused or frustrated, either go back and repeat the previous step, or switch to something simple that he can do easily.  This will make the training fun for him and keep him interested.

Take your time. Some dogs take longer than others, and it is important not to push forward too quickly.

Always put the target stick away at the end of a training session so that your dog is not touching it when you are not looking and therefore not receiving a click and treat.

Have fun!

Daisy loves her Bionic Toss n Tug!

The Bionic Toss n Tug flying dog toy is a hit with Daisy!

Our white German Shepherd Daisy is a connoisseur of flying dog toys, and has tried several of them for us over the years (including Jawz Flying Discs, Fling a Rings, and Easy Gliders), so when the Bionic Toss n Tug arrived,  no-one else could be better qualified than our Chief Product Tester.

This little gem looks deceptively unexciting at first glance, but one throw and its true potential is revealed. Not only does it fly effortlessly through the air, but if you hold it vertically when you throw it rather than flat, on landing it continues to roll at a rapid pace.  Everything Daisy looks for in a chase toy!

 

It is also incredibly durable. Daisy has been hunting this toy daily for several months now, and there is barely a mark on it.  She’s not a chewer but she does like to clamp her jaws onto it as she brings it back, and it has lived to tell the tale almost unscathed.

Although tugging isn’t really Daisy’s thing, she does tend to engage if she thinks the game is about to end. The Bionic Toss n Tug has retained its shape perfectly throughout these encounters.

This brings us to another interesting and surprisingly good feature. By folding in a certain way, the Toss n Tug twists into a full blown tug toy, giving you two for the price of one!

But that isn’t really Daisy’s cup of tea. As far as she’s concerned, tug toys are for the boys – she prefers a jolly good chase!

Bionic Tug n Toss:

The Bionic Tug-n-Toss is a fantastic 2 in 1 dog toy. The orange colour makes it easy to see, and it flies and rolls extremely well making it great fun for retrieval games.  Twist it inside out and it becomes a fun tug toy too!

Two sizes available.  Extremely durable.

The dairy

The kids are weaned, the goats are in full flow and the dairy re-opens

It’s been a busy few weeks here at the croft.  We separated the kids from their mums, earlier than anticipated due to sore and bleeding teats.  Those little beasts have sharp teeth.  For a while we hand milked the does and fed the kids with bottles, but they weren’t keen and were eating solid food and hay with great enthusiasm.

Once the mothers were healed up, we got out the machine and since then have been milking twice a day.  These two goats are not producing a lot compared with some breeds but we are getting around 21 litres a week.

Every day is a challenge, so far we have made yoghurt, ice cream and butter. With the waste product, buttermilk we have baked some beautiful baps.  The fridge is full of jars of cream and soon the cheese making will begin and we will be drowning under vats of whey.  It’s almost a full-time job!

In other news we have switched Fin’s medication from Atopica to a relatively new drug, Apoquel which is extremely difficult to get hold of.  It is not specifically for his particular problem but it seems to be keeping him stable and the difference in his overall demeanour is remarkable.  His appetite is back and he is far happier.  At nearly 15, we know we are not going to cure him of this awful disease, but we are doing the best we can to keep him comfortable and allow him to enjoy his life again.