Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scrapie Inspection Day

We had our annual Scrapie inspection today. We're in the voluntary Scrapie Free Flock Certification Program, which means that once a year, a state vet comes and inspects both our flock and our records. We have to keep track of every sheep that comes and goes from the farm. We've been in the program two years now. After five years, we'll be certified Scrapie free. (Obviously, our flock IS scrapie free, but it takes five years to become certified.)

It sounds like a big hassle, but it's actually not that hard. The vet that comes here to do the inspections is very nice. He speaks kindly to the animals, does the inspection quickly and efficiently, and chats about life in general as we walk from paddock to paddock. So, I don't mind doing it. Before he left, he said he wished everybody kept as good records as I do, so that made me feel good.

We originally got into the program because it was a requirement if I wanted to own any sheep that were the result of AI breedings from Iceland, but I've heard that that rule is about to change. I guess I'll still stay in the program, since we've come this far. In a few more years, we'll be certified.

I also took Penny out and worked with her again this afternoon. She's actually eager to come with me and do the lessons now, because I use the "attitude adjuster" which is a Gladware container full of grain I keep in my pocket. Whenever she succeeds at doing something new without losing her cool, I give her a bite of grain. This answers her basic underlying question, "What's in it for me?"

I don't use the grain exactly as positive reinforcement. I use pressure and release of pressure as my signals and rewards. The grain is just something I use in between sections of the lesson to help keep the foal's mind open to the idea that working through the lesson is a fun thing, not a stressful, anxious thing.

It's amazing how quickly it works. I mean, I did it a couple of days ago when I last worked with Penny, and ever since then, she's been asking me to take her out and work with her again, every time I go in the paddock. So today I did. Far from being worried about having me work with her, she was eager for it.

She led right out of the paddock away from the other horses, followed me calmly even when the other fillies were running along the fence line whinnying to her. I tied her to a post and made her stand quietly---that was a first, I'd never made her stand tied before. She fussed only a little, and then calmed down.

I lifted her feet, which she does very easily, but then I also slapped them gently on the soles, mimicking some of the weird feelings she may get when the farrier works with her. She hopped around when I did it to the first hoof, but after that, she stood still as if nothing at all was happening.

Then I took her out to the round pen. She was excited to be outside of the yard for the first time in months, and she spooked at a bush. But the great thing was, even in mid-spook, she yielded completely when she got to the end of the lead rope. Rather than pull hard on the lead rope, she yielded and turned around so suddenly she sat right down on her butt---never yanking on the rope at all.

Senter is extremely good about yielding to pressure on his halter too, so it's great that Penny is like her dad in that way.

I let her loose in the round pen and let her trot and canter around for a few minutes. I was just basically giving her a chance to experience a new location, a new scenario, rather than trying to get any specific action from her there.

Then I led her back, tied her to the post again, and repeated the lesson of lifting and tapping on her feet.

She did so well! I just can't believe how easy Senter's foals are to work with, how willing they are, and how quickly they learn. Even though today was her first time ever being tied, she was very well behaved---even when one of the sheep came up (interested in the grain I'd been handing out) and started nibbling on her tail!

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