Animal care, system shocks and farming

Most of the time I give a cheery view of #farmlife, but it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes things are simply hard. It can be hard because you want the best for your animals. It can be hard because something has to change unexpectedly in the routine. It can be hard because spring is colder and wetter than normal, and you fear getting buried in a mud tsunami. I subscribe to the work of Donella Meadows and system thinking, so I tend about these changes in terms of Floof Farm being a system. In that line of thinking sometimes there are shocks to the system which due to the interconnectedness can have far reaching impacts.

One of the things that has been simply hard over the past couple months is caring and worrying about our first Livestock Guardian Dog, Ada Floofington. Ada is a Maremma Sheepdog and was one of the first critters we brought home to Floof Farm.

Ada as a puppy
Ada as a puppy

A couple months ago we discovered a large lump on Ada’s side and took her to the vet where they biopsied it. It is never good when the vet calls you the next day with a change in treatment plan from what we decided the day before. It turns out Ada had a Mast Cell Tumor which is pretty common in dogs, but certainly needed treatment. We were able to shrink the lump with medication and it became possible for her to have surgery.

That surgery happened 6 days ago from the writing of this blog post. We don’t know if the entire tumor was removed, but have done the best treatment path we can for Ada. Next week we should find out the status of the tumor. This week has been challenging, probably more challenging for Ada than the humans as she has a huge incision, doesn’t know what happened and has gone from been an outside goat guardian to a house dog. The two days were particularly hard for Ada as she had to get used to wearing an inflatable donut to protect the incision, was one 5 different drugs and had to figure out how to walk with part of a muscle missing. One evening I was taking her out to potty before bed and from the look in her eye I assume she was hallucinating.

Now almost a week into recovery Ada has gotten used to the routine and is not as heavily drugged. She really has been a very good patient and hopefully the next week or two of indoor recovery go smoothly.

Other effects of Ada’s surgery

Along with the impact on Ada in having a major surgery and the changes to our household life to care for her there are the other disruptions in our farm system this causes. Leland Floofington (yes all our dogs have their own last name) is alone guarding our buck/wether herd. This is mostly okay because another dog in training is penned next to Leland, but he misses his partner. Yesterday we were switching hayfields in the pasture and Leland ran out the gate suddenly when he had the chance. It ended up just being a couple minutes to catch him, but this was unexpected.

Dazza my Australian Cattle Dog is also displeased by the change in canine routine. He is usually the only house dog and since Ada needs to be as quiet as possible I’ve been rotating Dazza and Ada in the house. This means Dazza isn’t getting the quantity of attention he is used to.

The dog disruption of schedule is manageable in this situation but is seen the most acutely. Not as noticeable, but very much on my mind is the additional risk to our stock from predators. Livestock Guardian Dogs should work at least in pairs and we are down a pair in our front pasture. While I think the risk is relatively low from predators it is still greater than it was before. The reason I view it as low as we are still the hardest farm in the area for predators to be successful, we are the only ones with guardian dogs nearby and we keep our animals close to the house and barn at night.

What is next?

Ada should be back to guarding full-time in the next couple weeks. We will hear back on how the surgery we went next week, which will then determine if there are additional treatment steps. Longer term this made me realize we need to think about our next guardian dog, so I made a reservation for a fall pup. Currently we have five guardian dogs aged between two and seven years old with most leaning towards the six of seven year old mark. It usually takes two years to get a dog completely trained and working, so Ada’s cancer diagnosis has us thinking about making sure we have enough trained and reliable dogs at all times.

What is strange to think about is the complexity of the dog care, training and raising here as the reason we have working dogs is to guard our goats. All this stems from the need to protect the goats, which while important can feel pretty far away from milking and making cheese.

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