Border Collies & Livestock Guardian Dogs

The dogs here at Hillingdon are a huge part of our operation. Without them, we could not accomplish what we do.

The Border Collie is a working & herding dog breed. They are considered highly intelligent, extremely energetic, acrobatic, & athletic. Border Collies typically require considerably more physical exercise & mental stimulation than many other breeds. These dogs are bred to stare or ‘give the eye’. Their eye is so intense that it can control a herd of goats or flock of sheep. Border Collies are devoted to work & some are even considered workaholics. Our Border Collies respond to simple, short voice commands such as ‘way out’, ‘push’, ‘get back’, ‘here’, & ‘easy’.

Gathering sheep & goats from the pastures would be impossible without our Border Collies. Sometimes they are needed for an ornery bunch of cattle that do not want to follow the feed truck.

Jill, our oldest Border Collie, is 15 years old. Her hearing & eyesight are slipping, but her drive is still there. Hands down, Jill is a workaholic. If there are not sheep or goats around, Jill will find something to ‘give the eye’ to. She has been known to herd people & stare at something in a hole for hours on end. She must be kenneled just so she will rest. These days, Jill spends most of her time around the house & working pens. Her hearing loss makes gathering a challenge, so she no longer joins in on the rides out to the pastures. Jill has been such an important co-worker for many years.

Gus & Tres are our two male Border Collies. Gus is 8 years old, & Tres is about 3 years old. Gus & Tres work well together, but neither are too motivated to do it on their own. Gus is the most lovable dog around but will not miss out on a chance to hop in the Rhino & work. Tres is full of energy & wants to be a part of the action.

Sugar is our youngest Border Collie. She is just over a year old. Sugar has spent lots of time watching & learning from the other dogs. She has recently joined Gus & Tres with gathering & is showing great potential! She is a little live wire & wants to be doing whatever the others are doing.

Livestock Guardian Dogs {LGD} are a dog type bred for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators. Their purpose is to prevent losses by discouraging predators {specifically coyotes for us} from their territory.

It is important that LGDs are exposed to livestock from an early age. This teaches them that livestock is a part of their pack & not competition for their territory. LGDs are typically gentle, unless provoked by a threat to their herd or flock. We currently have four LGDs in use.

Pepper is a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd mix. We have had her for a couple of years. Pepper was born at WW Livestock Guard Dogs in Prairie Lea, TX. Texas A&M AgriLife Research then had her & spent more time training her. We got her from Texas A&M AgriLife Research when she was just under a year old. Pepper’s size is very intimidating, but she is very gentle. She loves to jump up & gently give you a hug from behind. She is very friendly to those she knows but is very stand-offish & protective when someone she does not know approaches her herd. Pepper prefers to be with goats but is seen with sheep at times. She moves around to different pastures, which gives us the notion that she moves to where she feels the biggest threat of predators is at the time. Pepper can often be heard barking at night, which leads us to believe there is a predator nearby.

There is no way Pepper can protect all our sheep & goats at the same time, which is why we recently purchased a few more. Rex, Bandit, & Daisy were also born at WW Livestock Guard Dogs.

Rex is a Great Pyrenees/Akbash mix. He is about a year & a half old. Rex is a shy dog, but very gentle to those he is comfortable with.

Bandit & Daisy are about 9 months old & are both Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd mixes. Bandit is very playful & friendly, while Daisy is calm & quiet.

When we first got these three LGDs, we put them in the lamb feedlot. This allowed them to bond to our livestock & to us. It did not take the lambs long to become comfortable & see that the dogs were there to protect them. The lambs would lay next to them & even lick on them after only a few days of being together.

After about six weeks, Rex, Bandit, & Daisy began to venture out & visit the sheep & goats out in the pastures. The livestock were not bothered by their presence since they were already familiar with Pepper.

Snares & M44 cyanide guns have been the primary predator protection measures that we have used over the years. We are still using those devices, as well as LGDs. Ideally each pasture would have a couple of LGDs in it, so we plan to continually add more to our operation. More guard dogs means a larger area where we will not have to rely heavily on snares & M44s for predator mitigation.

From what we have learned, producers using LGDs typically do not use snares or M44s. Since we are using all three, it is very important that we know where our dogs are, so they don’t get into trouble with a snare or M44. Therefore, each of our guardian dogs wears a GPS tracker on its collar. An app on our phone allows us to check the location of each dog. If the dog is in a location with signal, it updates every few minutes. The GPS tracker is a necessity in our situation.

The use of LGDs is very new to us. We are continually learning how to incorporate LGDs & how they can work best in our situation. Thanks to the team at Texas A&M AgriLife Research & WW Livestock Guard Dogs for helping us along the way.

Calves, Kids, & Lambs

Spring at Hillingdon was full of babies. Pastures & fields were filled with calves, kids, & lambs.

Calves are now being worked for the first time at about four months old. Working the calves includes vaccinating, ear tagging, treating for internal & external parasites, & castrating most bull calves.

Vaccinating calves at an appropriate age is important to build a healthy immune system to fight diseases. Cows & bulls also receive a round of vaccinations & are treated for internal & external parasites. Cows & bulls receive vaccinations for reproductive diseases & as annual boosters to vaccinations they received as calves.

Ear tags provide proof of ownership, are a visual indicator as to who the calf is, & to associate a calf to a specific dam {cow} & herd.

Calves, cows, & bulls are all treated for internal & external parasites through a pour-on solution applied across their back.

Most bull calves are castrated, while others are kept in tact {for our own use or to be sold}.
Since the calves are so young & there are no records other than dam & sire, eye appeal & birth date is the greatest factor that goes into selecting ‘keeper’ bulls. After many years of selecting the first born bull calves to leave intact, reproductive efficiency is being selected for. The cows that routinely have the first born calves are the ones that are the most fertile & are first to be bred every year when the bulls are turned in. In every herd, there are those exceptional cows that seem to have their calves first & selecting their calves for mating increases reproductive efficiency.

Castrating bull calves that are not going to be used in a breeding program is essential. Castration reduces aggressiveness & sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels. It also creates a higher quality carcass-more consistent, marbled, & tender beef. Steers are much easier to handle. Bulls tear up facilities & injure each other fighting, which is why keeping bull numbers at a minimum is important.

Calves will be weaned in the Fall.

In May, nannies & kids were moved from the fields, drenched for stomach worms, & put out in pastures. Kids will be weaned at shearing time {August-September}.

Ewes & lambs are being gathered from the pastures. Both ewes & lambs are being drenched for stomach worms. Lambs are also receiving a preventive vaccine against enterotoxemia, combined with long term protection against tetanus.

Enterotoxemia, also known as overeating or pulpy kidney disease, is a condition caused by Clostridium perfringens type D. These bacteria are normally found in the soil & as part of the normal microflora in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy sheep & goats. Under specific conditions, these bacteria can rapidly reproduce in the animal’s intestine, producing large quantities of toxins. The epsilon toxin produced by C. perfringens Type D is the most significant toxin in producing the disease. Young animals are most susceptible. Sudden & high mortality rates may occasionally occur in lambs & kids. Although adult animals are also susceptible to enterotoxemia, they develop immunity due to frequent exposure to low doses of these toxins. source: University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine

Ewes are being turned back in the pastures, while lambs are being moved to the feedlot & are eating a prepared ration. Having the lambs on feed keeps them in an environment that breaks the life cycle of the stomach worms, out of coyote feeding grounds, & makes them readily available to sell.

Bulls {scanning, assessing, & selling}

In early March, Casey Worrell {certified by the Ultrasound Guidelines Council} came out & ultra sounded our yearling bulls. These 31 bulls were on a gain test here in the feedlot since early December.

Ultra sounding an animal allows us to put a score of muscling by weight, which would be difficult at best by visual observation alone. Casey scanned each of the bulls. Results for each animal were sent to us, which included ribeye area {measured between 12th & 13th rib}, marbling, rump fat, & rib eye fat.

As the bulls were in the chute, we also weighed them, measured hip height & scrotal circumference, & noted individual disposition on each bull.

A combination of weight & hip height determines a ‘frame score’. A frame score is used to estimate the growth pattern & potential mature size of an animal. Frame scores are moderately heritable & can be used to influence the selection process before breeding. A large frame size cow has a higher maintenance requirement than a smaller frame size cow.

The circumference of a scrotum can estimate the amount of sperm producing tissue in a bull. There is a high correlation in scrotal circumference & sperm output.

In order to test the sperm {a key piece to a breeding program} we took the bulls to Gillespie Veterinary Center where Breeding Soundness Exams {BSE} were performed by Dr. Lana Bush. A BSE includes three evaluations: 1) structural soundness assessment, 2) reproductive system evaluation, & 3) semen quality appraisal.

The structural soundness assessment involves examining the overall condition of the animal, including flesh, feet, legs, eyes, & teeth. The reproductive system evaluation includes examination of the scrotum, testicles, & penis, as well as a rectal palpation to determine any internal abnormalities.

The final phase of a BSE consists of semen collection & an evaluation of the semen. To be considered a good potential breeder, a yearling bull’s scrotal circumference must be greater than 30 cm, must have greater than 50% sperm mobility, & greater than 70% normal sperm. source: Society for Theriogenology

Each of these evaluations play a key role in selection of bulls. After reviewing all of the information about each bull, decisions were made as to which bulls to keep for our own breeding program & which ones to sell to other ranchers.

2019 HIL Bulls for Sale

Sausage Shindig & Spring Shearing

On February 15th, family & friends gathered at Hillingdon for the annual sausage shindig.

About 200 pounds of venison from the hunting season was combined with 200 pounds of pork. Two hundred fifty pounds of hard sausage were made, as well as 75 pounds of cooking & 81 pounds of pan sausage.

The day was filled with laughs, fellowship, conversations around the fire pit, & a bit of work. 😉

February marked the beginning of Spring shearing season. Both sheep & goats are sheared in the Spring, while we only shear goats in the Fall.

Pastures have been gathered, sheep & goats have been shorn, wool fleeces have been skirted & baled, mohair has been graded & baled, the sheep & goats have been treated for overeating {Enterotoxemia}, stomach worms, & lice.

Ewes were then sorted based on their pregnancy scan {carrying singles or twins, short or long bred} & put back into the pastures. Nannies were divided up & placed in fields & smaller pastures. Ewes & nannies are now lambing & kidding.

The pastures & fields are green, creeks are flowing, & tanks are filled with recent rainfalls. The sight of the beautiful range land & new life are encouraging & a good distraction to the current situation around the world. Hoping you & your family are staying healthy!

Hosting Tours

For the last couple of years, we have had a visit from the Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging Team. One of their coaches, Nick van den Berg, first spent some time with us in 2014 when he was in Texas & the United States representing the 2014 Australian Meat Judging Team.

We enjoyed showing them around the ranch & hearing about their homes/farms back in Australia.

A couple of weeks after their visit here, this team competed at the National Western Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Colorado. They were awarded Reserve Grand Champion High Team Overall (by 3 points)! Way to go, Nick & team!

A couple of weeks later, we hosted a tour here as part of the 2020 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention & Trade Show. The convention was held in Austin this year.

A bus of about 50 convention attendees traveled from Austin to Hillingdon while listening to Robin along the way. Robin shared his knowledge about the land/vegetation along the route, as well as Hillingdon history.

Attendees were welcomed to the ranch with a gathering demonstration by the working dogs. They were then given a tour of the working pens & shearing barn.

Lunch was served, followed by a brief viticulture talk & wine sampling by Newsom Vineyards {Comfort}.

We always enjoy hosting these groups. It’s fun, informative, & encouraging when we get to meet other farmers & ranchers from around the US.

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Calves {working|weaning|shipping|gaining}

Much time at the end of October & November was spent weaning calves. Weaning is a vital time in the management of the cows & calves. The milk diet is replaced with a forage diet. At the time of weaning, calves were about eight to nine months old.

At weaning, the calves were vaccinated with a booster shot, treated with a pour on solution for internal & external parasites, & branded. Branding is a useful & cost-effective way to identify cattle. A recognizable brand is instrumental in proving
ownership.

All calves received an ‘HIL’ brand. All keeper heifer calves & bull calves received a number brand as well {their ear tag number}. These heifers were selected based on visual appeal, as well as their pedigree records.

At the time of weaning, the mother cows are about four to five months pregnant. It is important the cows have a break from nursing a calf in order to provide adequate nutrition to the developing fetus inside of her.

Once the calves were weaned, the heifers & steers spent a couple of weeks here at the ranch before being shipped.

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A few days before being shipped, all heifer calves received a preventative calf hood vaccination for Brucellosis. Brucellosis of cattle is caused by infection with the bacterium Brucella abortus & causes abortion or premature calving of recently infected cattle, typically between the fifth & eighth months of pregnancy. It is spread from vaginal discharge of an infected cow or from an aborted calf.

This vaccination must be administered by a veterinarian. After receiving the vaccination, they were tagged with a United States Department of Agriculture EID {electronic identification} ear tag. Many states require that breeding age females be OCV’d before crossing their borders.

On December 21st, we shipped 194 heifers & steers to a grow yard in Conlen, TX. We kept 18 ‘keeper’ heifers here at the ranch.

A grow yard is an operation that grows or backgrounds cattle for a period of time before they enter the feedlot for finishing. When they arrived at the grow yard, they were placed on a high roughage prepared ration. They ate out of feed bunks & learned to respect a single hot wire fence.

It’s crucial that the calves respect the single hot wire fence. If they aren’t used to hot wire fencing {like our cattle}, a disaster could happen quickly. Cattle could easily run right over it, allowing the entire herd to escape from the enclosure. The first calf to run through the wire would likely be the only one to get shocked. In turn, the others would not learn that it will shock them.

Once they were trained to respect the hot wire fence, they were moved out on wheat grazing. They will spend the next several months {until April/May} on wheat.

Once they are done grazing on wheat, we will then have to make decisions on where the heifers will go next. Market conditions & whether we have interested replacement heifer buyers lined up will determine if we ship some or all the heifers back to the ranch, sell them, or send them on to the feedlot. Decisions on the steers will have to be made as well {sell them at auction or retain ownership through the feedlot stage}. Factors that will affect these decisions are available feed & pasture, feed costs, cattle prices, & projected profitability in the feedlot.

A big advantage to retaining ownership through the feedlot stage is that we receive carcass data on each animal. This is advantageous in evaluating sires {bulls} & dams {cows} & determining future breeding plans. In times that demand reducing our stocking rate, carcass data can also help us decide which animals to liquidate.

Thirty-one bull calves went on gain test in the feedlot here at the ranch on December 5th.

We weighed each of them at the beginning of the gain test & will weigh them again at the end. These bulls will spend the next 85 days or so in the feedlot consuming a prepared ration.

During this time, we will be able to collect data on efficiency & production to be considered in genetic selection of future herd sires. This gain test allows us to measure feed conversion, which is the amount of feed an animal consumes as compared to the amount of body weight gained {expressed as a ratio}. Feed conversion ratios around 6:1 {6 pounds of feed per pound of gain} are common in most beef cattle operations. Cattle that gain more weight with less feed or forage are more efficient.

Having the bulls close by allows us to interact with them regularly. We can observe their disposition/temperament to ensure they are calm & handle well. A ‘snuffy’ or hot-tempered bull can be very dangerous. When selling bulls to other producers, it’s important to us that the bull is docile.

Fall Shearing

September was spent gathering, shearing, & sorting goats. Nannies, kids, muttons, & yearling billies were sheared this go round.

After shearing, we separated the billy kids off of the nannies & nanny kids. We put the billy kids on fields {away from the nannies & nanny kids} in hopes that none of them would get in with the nannies. As the days get shorter & nights get cooler, all the billies prepare for breeding. One billy in a pasture full of nannies at the wrong time can create quite a problem. It’s important that all nannies kid at the same time so they can be sheared again in February/March & placed in kidding pastures before kidding in April.

After shearing the nannies, we sorted through them. We decided to cut back a little on numbers. We sorted off older nannies & sold them to another rancher.

Nanny kids ran with the nannies for a couple of weeks so the nannies could show the kids how to seek shelter in wet or cold conditions. We then gathered the nannies & nanny kids, treated them for chewing lice, & separated the nannies & nanny kids. Nannies tend to breed back quicker & easier if they do not have a nursing kid at their side.

Before the yearling billies were sheared, we sorted through them & selected keeper billies & sale billies. All others became ‘muttons’ {male goat that has been castrated}. We castrate with a burdizzo {device with large clamp designed to break the blood vessels leading to the testicles}. Once the blood supply to the testicles is lost, the testicles shrink, soften, & eventually deteriorate completely. We then treated them for chewing lice & tipped their horns. Tipped horns provide a quick, visual distinction between them & billies.

Muttons are beneficial for several reasons. Since they are big & strong, they are not as
susceptible to predators. Coyotes are opportunistic & prefer young lambs & kids rather than a stout mutton who is ready to fight. Muttons do not reproduce so they can run with nannies at any given time. And since they don’t reproduce, their nutrition maintenance requirements are less. Consequently, they are able to grow more mohair per year because all of their nutrition goes into growing hair instead of reproduction efforts. Since their nutrition requirement is less, you are able to run more in a pasture at a given time which means greater Ashe Juniper {cedar} control.

Working Cattle

Cows began calving in late February. Most had calved by the beginning of April. At about four months of age, it is important that calves are ‘worked’. This includes vaccinating, ear tagging, treating for internal &  external parasites, & castrating most bull calves. Cows & bulls also receive a round of vaccinations at this time. We spent July & the first part of August working the herds of cattle.

To have a proper vaccination program, calves must be vaccinated several times. Vaccinating calves at an appropriate age is important to build a healthy immune system to fight diseases they could encounter when being weaned from their mothers.

Cows & bulls receive vaccinations for reproductive diseases & as annual boosters to vaccinations they received as calves.

It is important that each calf has an ear tag in order to provide proof of ownership & to be able to associate the calf with its herd. Herds are based on which pasture a group of cattle is in. This is important because each herd has its own bull. The ear tag numbers are recorded, which allows us to identify the calf with its dam {mother} & sire {father}.

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Cows, bulls, & calves are all treated for internal & external parasites with a pour-on solution. This solution is squirted across their back. It is then absorbed through the skin & distributed internally to the areas of the body affected by parasites.

Some bull calves are selected to be kept as bulls for our own breeding purposes or to be sold, while others are castrated. Since the calves are so young & there are no records other than dam & sire, eye appeal & temperament are the greatest factors that go into selecting ‘keeper’ bulls. There are several benefits to castrating bull calves that
are not going to be used in a breeding program. Castration reduces aggressiveness & sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels. It also creates a higher quality carcass-more consistent, marbled, & tender beef. Steers are much easier to handle. Bulls tear up
facilities & injure each other fighting, which is why keeping bull numbers at a minimum is important.

Herds of cattle will once again be gathered in October when it is time to wean the calves.

 

Selling, Sustainability, & Recognition

At the beginning of August, we sorted through the ram lambs that had been in the feedlot since weaning {June}. These lambs were fed a prepared ration in order to gain weight at a quicker rate.

We selected 19 keeper rams & decided to sell the remaining 175. On August 6th, we sold those ram lambs at the Gillespie Livestock Auction. This was a key sale since it was just before Eid-Ul-Adha, the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice.

This festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to in a dream. As Ibrahim prepared to kill his son, God stopped him & gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead. During this festival, Muslims sacrifice domestic animals {usually sheep} as a symbol of Ibrahim’s sacrifice.
source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/holydays/eiduladha.shtml 

All ewe lambs {182} are still in the feedlot. Some will be kept for ourselves, while the remainder will be marketed to other ranchers for their sheep operations.

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The 104th annual convention of the Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers Association {TSGRA} was held in Kerrville in mid-July.

Presentations, demonstrations, & discussions about issues relevant to the sheep & goat industry were a big part of the conference. Grant served on the ‘Sustainability’ panel. This panel discussed the importance of meeting consumers’ needs in regards to food & fiber.

The goal of sustainable agriculture is meeting those needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Consumers, more than ever, want to know where their food is coming from & be assured that it’s being grown in an environmentally friendly way. It’s important for farmers & ranchers to share their story & reassure consumers that their practices are humane & environmentally friendly.

Sustainable agriculture is more than a collection of practices. It is also a process of negotiation: a push & pull between the sometimes competing interests of an individual farmer or of people in a community as they work to solve complex problems about how we grow our food & fiber.

source: https://asi.ucdavis.edu/programs/ucsarep/about/what-is-sustainable-agriculture 

Congratulations to Grant for being selected as the 2019 recipient of the TSGRA Young Ranchers Award! Grant was selected for this award in appreciation for his outstanding efforts to promote the sheep & goat industry of Texas.

Events like this provide a great opportunity to visit, catch up, & learn from others in the agriculture industry.

Spring Babies, Showers…& Worms

This spring has been filled with lambing, kidding, rain showers, & {unfortunately} stomach worms.

Ewes & nannies began lambing & kidding in March. Fields & pastures have been filled with lambs & kids. We have also received numerous rain showers. Unfortunately, these rains bring stomach worms for sheep & goats.

Most flocks/herds have dormant parasites in them, but may never show symptoms until ideal conditions occur {rainy, wet, warm}. Worm survival conditions improve during warm, wet weather or when a ewe or nanny’s ability to resist parasites declines {i.e. during lambing or kidding}. At this time, the worms liven back up. Spring arrives & stomach worms begin to lay eggs {as many as 10,000 a day} spreading them across pastures through the animal’s manure. The eggs then hatch into larvae. Wet weather helps move them from the manure to plant leaves where other animals eat them. This allows them to complete their life cycle.

Internal parasite management is a key concern for sheep & goat producers. Stomach worms are ravenous bloodsuckers & will destroy the lining of the stomach to access the bloodstream. The destruction of the lining of the stomach can cause colic {abdominal pain}, diarrhea, anemia, weight loss, & possibly death due to the animal’s inability to digest feed completely. A wormy nanny will sometimes ‘kick off’ or quit nursing her kid due to her poor health. Ewes are less likely to abandon their lambs.

sources: Texas A&M AgriLife, Oregon State Extension

Ewes & nannies were drenched {treated} for stomach worms at shearing time earlier this year. However, with the recent wet, warm weather some still became ‘wormy’. We have been steadily gathering & drenching. The wormiest nannies kidded & were grazing on planted fields, which is an optimal setting for stomach worms. After being drenched, these nannies & kids were moved to other pastures.