Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Tale of Love, Lust and Violence

It seems Spring has arrived early at Spring Rock.  One not so young man's fancy has definitely turned to love.  The problem is this middle aged man is Phoenix my beautiful red rooster.  For those of you who don't remember Phoenix he is a gorgeous boy who was hand raised by my daughter in law Savannah's mum and little brother and sister.  Once Phoenix hit puberty he became a problem.  He challenged anyone he thought he could bully when they came outside and he found he could bully everyone.  Phoenix intended to be head rooster and claim all the chooks for himself - he's not a sharer.

Phoenix surveying his kingdom

It was decided that Phoenix needed a good home and the best home for deranged pets was obviously here with me.  Phoenix arrived in a box held gently by two loving children who were sad to see him go, but wanted access to their outside toys and yard again.  Phoenix decided he liked the upgrade in girls (most of our hens were full size Isa Browns at that time while Silkies abounded at his old home) and immediately tried to put Graeme and me in our places.  Trouble was we refused to move down the totem pole and install Phoenix at the top so Phoenix turned his attentions to our old black rooster, Eros.  It soon became apparent that Eros was a lover not a fighter and Phoenix thought his spot  as top rooster was assured, all he needed to do was rid the world of Eros, who the chooks made clear they preferred.  Eros ended up wedged in between the laying box and shelter wall on a few occasions while Phoenix attacked from the rear.  I decided drastic action needed to be taken.

Before Phoenix could put his world domination plans into practice I asked Graeme to build a yard within the chook yard to house Phoenix.  He was installed in this yard as soon as it was finished and eventually settled down and became the gentle soul I came to love.  He decided that if he couldn't have a feathered harem he'd content himself with a harem of one very large featherless hen (me).  Each day he'd do his special rooster dance for me before I picked him up and sat him on my knee.  He'd sit there and discuss his day until I discovered he loved having his comb and wattles stroked.  Phoenix would go into a state of bliss and thus our days passed quietly.  I was able to let him out each day with the rest of the chooks for a scratch and peck around the back yard.  The only problem arose when lock up time came.  If Phoenix got into the chook yard first he'd stand at the gate and allow the hens in, but not Eros.  I overcame this problem very simply.  When it came time to lock everyone up again I'd call Phoenix who would come running.  I'd then pick him up and we'd round up the chooks and ducks and once everyone was in the chook yard, I'd install Phoenix in his private quarters. Peace reigned supreme.

Sadly, Eros eventually succumbed to old age and died.  I allowed Phoenix to join the girls once more.  I'm sad to say this went to his head and he once again attacked anyone who came near his girls, myself included!   I have the scars on my legs to prove it.  Phoenix was once again confined to the bachelor quarters, but although he still enjoys comb and wattle rubs, he's never settled down to the point where I can let him out with the rest of the chooks.

Eventually I bought five Faverolle pullets and a Faverolle cockerel.  The girls were far too similar in markings to be given individual names so they became known as The French Girls.   The cockerel was named d'Artagnan.  d'Artagnan grew into a gentle, friendly rooster and basically ignored The French Girls until recently.  What happened recently? 

           Faverolle rooster very similar to d'Artangan

The Faverolle chooks have started to lay at last.  I bought them before Christmas last year and 20 weeks is supposed to be the age when chooks begin laying.  My French Girls just refused to begin laying, enjoying their childhood to the full extent.  Graeme wasn't impressed when we had to buy layer pellets for the girls and a dozen eggs for ourselves, once the three Silkies finally took a holiday from egg production.  I looked Faverolles up on the internet and found that the girls are supposed to be good winter layers.  These girls obviously hadn't read the article, or were waiting for the cold to truly set in.  Now that they are into egg laying production I've discovered they lay pinkish coloured eggs which look quite pretty.  

The French Girls in their younger, pre-egg laying days

Phoenix, continues to live by himself in the bachelor quarters - or he should live in the bachelor's quarters.  He is regularly getting out somehow and settling in amongst the newly fertile girls.  Poor old d'Artagnan is no match for the feisty Phoenix.  

I am constantly catching Phoenix and putting him back in the bachelor quarters where he simply begins plotting his next escape, while trying to chat up the girls through the wire with his sexy rooster dance. Sadly the girls all flock to watch this performance and heap clucking compliments on the dancer. This only encourages Phoenix to escape once more so he can show the girls the true beauty of his dance without the ugly wire to distract them or hinder him.

Last night I discovered him with the girls once again. I put him back in the bachelor quarters once more and I felt very mean indeed. He was snuggled in amongst the girls, ready for a good night's sleep so he could get ready to bash up d'Artagnan in the morning. d'Artagnan had found himself a lonely roosting spot some distance from the cosy scene. Phoenix looked so warm and cuddly, but I picked him up and put him back in solitary confinement anyway. I learned my lesson a few weeks back when I thought he looked too warm and comfortable to move for the night. At a very cold day break Phoenix got stuck into poor d'Artagnan and a rescue party had to be quickly put together to save the gentle French fellow. I was out there amongst the frost in my pyjamas and dressing gown shivering away as I caught the recalcitrant Phoenix and put him back where he belonged.

Phoenix is a gentle soul himself when he doesn't have a harem to look after. He's an absolute devil when he's got one or more hens to boost his ego.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Aslan At The Vets'

Aslan has been spending some time at the vets' practice lately.  Aslan has bad hips and elbows I'm afraid.  After yesterday's comprehensive X-ray session it can be said, according to his vet, that Aslan has perfect knees,  but the rest?  Not so much.  Initially, Aslan was placed on a combined painkiller and anti-inflammatory medication that made a great difference in his tin soldier, stiff-legged gait.  He responded well and is now moving more like a living dog than a robot and is up and about and generally enjoying life more.  Yesterday's X-rays were to see if there is anything surgical that might help Aslan's situation.  I am hovering between hope that there is and fear of the cost if there is.   Aslan will have to travel to Canberra (a three and a half hour drive from here) to visit an animal orthopaedic specialist for arthroscopic surgery.  We are now awaiting the specialist's opinion of Aslan's X-rays,

A few things have come to light during the recent vet visits.  The first being Aslan's true weight.  Before the recent vet visits I was estimating his weight at around 65kgs, then after our attempt to get him to stand on the scales a few weeks back he was estimated at 75kgs - estimated because Aslan doesn't like the feel of the rubber mat on his delicate toes.  Yesterday he figured out if he sat on the scales it reduced the ratio of rubber/toe contact point and we got an accurate reading of 78kgs.  Aslan doesn't want to talk about it.  He always said no good could come of that rubber covered contraption and really when it comes down to it, there's just more of him to love.  I checked with our vet anyway and he said Aslan isn't overweight, he's just a very big dog.  Aslan heaved a sigh of relief at the verdict and may even get on scales again if required.  He's not promising anything mind you, but he just might.

The other discovery I made yesterday was that Aslan is very nervous around little dogs.  To say he was scared of little dogs is most likely a bit severe.  The last three visits to the vet have revealed that our vet has a lot of little dogs as patients.   Most of these dogs had owners who wanted to meet and talk and/or pat Aslan and while he was more than fine with meeting and being patted by the humans Aslan didn't want the little fluffy creatures anywhere near him.  If they yapped at him, as many did, our ever laid back Aslan dropped to the floor and tried to look invisible while staying as close to my legs as possible, but Aslan thought it was much worse if the little dog was friendly.  As the small fluff ball (they were nearly all of the fluffy small dog variety) approached on the end of its lead Aslan would sidle closer to either Graeme or me for protection. If the little dog kept coming, tail wagging and a friendly look on its face, Aslan would go into a severe panic for Aslan that is.  Severe panic Aslan style is to raise his eyebrows and look around for help.  Most owners by this time got the hint and handed their little dog over to someone else and approached Aslan alone.  At this Aslan perked up and accepted all pats and compliments while ignoring the poor little dog who just wanted to be friends.

It's only little dogs that bring about the timorous side of Aslan.  He was fine with anything Kelpie size or larger.  He didn't meet many Kelpie size or larger dogs but those he did Aslan was happy to touch noses and generally pass the time of day with.  While navigating the small dog shoals Aslan did his best to ignore such thoughtless comments as to how much he ate, the amount of drool generated, the size of his paws and other ill-considered personal observations by his new adoring crowd.  He simply rose above those comments and demonstrated the irrelevance of them by looking gorgeous and relying on me to mop up the drool before more comments were passed.

Aslan's visits to the vets' were reminiscent of Billy's visits long ago.  When I rang to make the first appointment after a two-year gap I told the receptionist my name and that I needed an appointment for Aslan.  "I remember Aslan!" she exclaimed and proceeded to tell me how beautiful she thought him.  When we arrived for our appointment a different receptionist was at the desk.  She looked up, saw Aslan preceding me and said, "They told me Aslan was coming in today!"  After sorting out his appointment and incidental information she then said she was off to tell everyone he was here.  Aslan just soaked up to attention while trying to ignore the miniature poodle growling at him across the waiting room.  After the consultation, which took place outside so the vet could see Aslan move, I returned to the surgery to pay the bill while Graeme and Aslan waited outside.  One of the receptionists who had been lavishing attention on Aslan while he waited his turn to see the vet looked up from her computer and asked if she could help me.  I told her I had left Aslan outside and had come to pay the bill, but before I got it all out, she said, "Oh Aslan, of course.  He's such a gorgeous boy."  I realised that while she'd been patting and loving Aslan she hadn't looked up once to see who was attached to his lead - which really is just how it should be.  There's no way either Graeme or I could compete with the awesomeness of Aslan.

After spending the entire day at the vets' yesterday Aslan was well and truly ready to come home.  He missed his Cleo and didn't like living in a cage.  It was the largest cage the vets had but still, there was little wiggle room for a St Bernard.  Aslan was still groggy but determined to get into the car.  He forgot he can't do that unassisted even when totally in charge of all his faculties.  He approached the car enthusiastically (well, enthusiastically for Aslan) and after a couple of aborted attempts to get his front legs on the tailgate he plopped his head down on it and swiveled his eyes towards Graeme, inviting him to do the rest of the work.  Aslan arrived home to be greeted by a worried Cleo.  She'd missed him too.  He gave her a perfunctory nose bop and tail wag then retired to his bed in the laundry.

This morning he is feeling much better and ready to face the world once again.  All he needs is his morning cheese (with tablets hidden inside where he can't spit them out) and he'll be good to go.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Showering With Friends

Recent bathroom renovations have caused me to look back over the years at the fun and games the old bathroom endured and more or less survived.  The old bathroom was installed when the house was built in the 1960's.  The floor had little square tiles in shades of brown and cream, the walls were pink Lamipanel (that by the time we moved in had lost the top polished surface and were now a porous pale pink and difficult to clean.  The bath was a pink cast iron model that had suffered in the past and had one huge repair in off white waterproof putty or some such material and a newer (around the 1980's possibly) missing chunk where the iron had gracefully rusted.  This bath thought was big and deep and a joy to lie back and relax in a bubble bath whenever our tanks had sufficient water for me not to feel guilty about using all that water.  The real joy of this bathroom was a tiny shower with a brick high step over into it, a 2 metre high Lamipanelled wall with a wooden shelf like top on it and a shower curtain.  The old bathroom had no toilet - that was in the laundry attached to the outside of the house.  The new bathroom has no bath but it does have an inside toilet.

I have had occasion to write about the ordeals related to my personal hygiene activities before.  I've mentioned showering with a duck (on purpose but reluctantly), almost getting a bath with Billy (definitely not on purpose and very reluctantly!).  I have also showered with ferrets unintentionally - they just muscled in on my shower one day by walking through the shower curtain and passed rude comments about my weight while paddling around in the water on the shower floor.  I've also written about the trials and tribulations of using our laundry toilet especially during the early hours of the morning. This was mostly due to Billy's presence in the laundry and his determination to become one with the toilet pedestal.  Back before the new bathroom showering once again became fraught with potential bodily harm - my body of course, the menagerie behave very circumspectly around Graeme at all times and wouldn't dream of intruding on his daily personal hygiene rituals.  

When they were kittens Ambrosia and Nefertiti were much like toddlers - they wouldn't let me out of their sight and followed me everywhere I went to see what new and exciting activity on which I was about to embark.  In their efforts to keep tabs on me at that time in their lives Ambrosia and Nefertiti both wandered into the shower at various times.  That's the disadvantage of a shower curtain compared to a glass screen.  Nefertiti visited just once, found the falling water decidedly not to her taste and remained on the outside of the shower curtain ever after.  Ambrosia, on the other hand, visited a few times passing the time of day with me while batting at the falling water before deciding that nothing exciting was going on in there.  She's not adverse to a bit of water to play with but in her opinion I took up far too much of the shower recess to allow for free access to the water, so she stopped visiting - much to my delight.

Back when we still had the old bathroom Ambrosia rediscovered where I disappear to each morning and decided to join the party.  First she'd peek behind the shower curtain to make sure it was me in there and not Graeme.  This despite either following me in to the bathroom or seeing me enter the bathroom if she was already in there. I don't know if Graeme had words with her on the subject of disturbing his shower, or she just preferred to visit with me alone, but when she reassured herself that it was me in there, she would spring up onto the shower wall and sit looking at me for a little while.  While she considered the sight of me naked and dripping wet I began to worry - not because I have body image issues, but because I value my skin in one piece.  All enjoyment of the shower disappeared and I had to  stay sharp and keep a wary eye on the Bengal above my head.  If Ambrosia jumped up there before I had washed my hair I was in real danger of getting soap in my eyes as I tried to lather up and keep an eye on her at the same time. 

Photo of Ambrosia visiting (taken after I’d finished my shower and dressed)

Then she'd get the brilliant idea that now would be a good time to ask for a pat or a tummy rub.  She indicated her readiness by flipping over on the timber wall top and attempting to display the tummy area needing attention. I was always quick to comply so that her contortions were kept to a minimum, trying to get the pat in before she actually flipped on her back because you may remember that Ambrosia has a terrible sense of balance (actually she has no sense of balance to speak of at all) so my showers became a very exciting activity fraught with all sorts of painful possibilities.  When Ambrosia flipped on her back on a narrow surface she invariably ended up on the floor with a confused look on her face.  Sometimes she ended up on the floor on the outside of the shower wall and sometimes she ended up in the shower with me.  I would pin myself against the opposite wall, withthe taps wedged against my spine, in an attempt to avoid the claws - sometimes I was successful, sometimes not.  The fact that my naked body stood between Ambrosia's fall and the floor was always painfully obvious to me - an anxiety I could have done without.  

Ambrosia didn't seem to mind my wet hands - as I've said before she doesn't mind water at all.   Ambrosia, as you can see in the photo, teetered on the edge of the wooden ledge and didn't consider her balance challenged nature while she performed all sorts of contortions in an effort to receive a pat or two while I was otherwise occupied.  Heaven help me if I ignored her and she felt obligated to try harder!  I'm just lucky that the man who built this house felt the need for a very wide top to the shower wall.  I doubt he had shower visiting cats in mind when he chose that bit of timber for the top, but I blessed him every morning.

I wasn't  comfortable excluding her from the bathroom while I was in there.  Her plaintive cries on the outside of the door I could have endured but the litter tray has always lived in the bathroom and Ambrosia wouldn't have been above finding somewhere else to use instead if she was denied access, even if it was just to get even for closing the door on her.  So it was, and still is, access all areas, or at least access the bathroom for Ambrosia at all times.  The new shower has a very good glass shower screen all the way around with no convenient ledge for a Bengal to sit.  When the new bathroom was finished and I took my first cat free shower Ambrosia accompanied me into the bathroom as usual.  When she discovered there was no space for a cat to sit, recline or otherwise occupy while watching her mum shower from a great height, she gave me the look that is reserved for someone who has bitterly disappointed you.  

Well, I'm off to have my shower now.  Ambrosia will still follow me in as she always does, but these days she spreads out on the bath mat in front of the shower door and chats to me, most probably sadly remembering the good old days when she felt more personally involved with my daily ablutions.  She complains when I open the door and step out because she either has to move from her comfortable spot or get dripped on.  Usually she just shuffles to the side of the mat and allows me a small amount of shower mat to stand on.  I think she's still miffed that her shower ledge wasn't incorporated into our new, modern bathroom.

I will managed to enjoy my shower none the less. 

Friday, March 16, 2018


Last June we dispersed our White Suffolk stud.  It broke my heart but my back injury has meant that as it has worsened over the years I've been able to help less and less with sheep work.  Graeme couldn't manage them alone and finding time for lambing and sheep work as well as cropping, all single handed, something had to go.  I'm sure no-one who has kept up with my life here on Spring Rock will be surprised when I say that I miss the sheep dreadfully.  A farm without livestock just isn't a real farm.  Looking out over the empty paddocks makes me long for the days when sheep roamed at large, most minding their own business and getting on with the job of stud lamb production.  I thought I'd reminisce for a few posts and revisit stories I wrote way back in 2008.  I'll just cut and past them every so often so you can read them at your leisure.  The first one will tell all my new readers about the art of running a sheep stud.

From 16th December 2008
How To Run A Sheep Stud For Fun And Profit

OK.  Got your Akubra hat and your Blunnie boots on?  Right then, here is the Rosemary Small Concise Course in Operating a Sheep Stud For Fun & Profit.
 First you go out and buy an exorbitantly priced ram who catches your eye and says, "I'm the best one here.  Ignore all those zero's at the end of my price tag and take me home with you.  I promise to work hard, prove myself as a good sire and then, just when it will cause the most trouble drop dead in the paddock."  Of course you don't hear the last part of the sentence because you are so wrapped up in his wonderfulness that it’s temporarily affected your hearing.  So you take a deep breath, write the cheque and travel the hundreds of miles back to the farm where you carefully unload your newest addition to the stud and watch him tear across the paddock and introduce himself to the other rams, none of whom seem to be at all impressed with his wonderfulness.  You may wince a few times as you watch a significant portion of the farm budget getting butted from one end of the paddock to the other, but you know that short of installing him in Justin's room, The New Boy has to make peace with the old crowd and learn to survive out in the paddock where he will meet snakes, plague and pestilence on an almost daily basis.
 So, you have your top grade ram.  You settle him in for at least six weeks.  Apparently rams feel the stress of their job even before they've done their job (if you are following me here) and he must spend a minimum of six weeks after his road trip from his home of origin to your farm, contemplating the task ahead and zoning out as only a sheep can.  During this hiatus you sit at home worrying about all the nasties out there that can reduce your costly investment to dog food in the matter of days, and plan to spend all the money his lambs are going to bring in, providing the former doesn't happen of course.
 Then the big day arrives!  You have spent days or even weeks working out just which lucky ewes are going to be introduced to The New Boy and which lesser ladies are going to run with the other rams who have been slightly superseded by the new boy.  It's not that these rams are necessarily of any lesser quality that The New Boy, they most probably are just as good and cost just as much as he did in their day.  It's that he's THE NEW BOY and he promises to add a certain something to your stud that you haven't had before.  If you think that is a bit vague, you're darned right it is.  The New Boy is like all your dreams come true and the pot at the end of the rainbow all wrapped up in one woolly package.
 You muster the rams and run them into the sheep yards.  Once the whole mob is confined to this relatively small space they start flexing their muscles and playfully start butting one another.  It's as if they know that only a chosen few are going to make the grade and get the coveted raddle harness, and they want to be the ones.  The boys are run through a race where you must quickly and correctly identify the rams you are using for mating this year as they come hurtling towards you down the race.  With a deft flick of the drafting gates to the left or the right the rams are separated into those that didn't make the cut and those that did.  The unlucky ones needn't feel too bad.  They are destined to be sold for flock rams and will have their day (or six weeks per year to be exact) on someone else's farm with someone else's ewes.
 The holding pen is now full of the darlings of the stud.  There they stand looking smug and winking at one another while you stand back and admire the supreme masculineness of them all.  It is now time to get very personal.  Their testicles must be checked for size and to ensure they are not damaged in any way.  Failure to pass the squeeze test means that ram will not even have a chance to join the also rans as a flock ram.  Thankfully all your A Team passes the test, even if their eyes bulged temporarily during the examination.  It is now time to put the raddle harness on each boy.
 A raddle harness consists of various lengths of webbing lead, joined together with metal rings and clips that go around the ram’s front legs and under his chest to do up over his withers (the shoulder blades for want of a better term).  Once the raddle is in place the metal crayon holder should sit squarely in the middle of his chest.  All to frequently the crayon holder doesn’t!  It’s either way under his belly or up behind his left ear.  This means that you are going to have to undo all those clips and re-position the harness around a ram who feels that he’d be happier somewhere else and refuses to co-operate. 
 The ensuing harness fitting begins to take on aspects of an all in wrestling match, but finally it’s in place.  The crayon is a large rectangular piece of blue wax that is clipped in place and will rub off on the ewe’s back end to show that she has mated with the ram.  The ease with which you attach the raddle depends on a number of outside influences.  These can include some or all of the following; the heat of the day, the attitude of the ram, the proximity of the waiting ewes, whether or not you have to be somewhere else in a few hours time, the look on the Kelpies face as it sits outside the race thinking of better things. 
 In short if you have all the time in the world to get those rams into those harnesses you will accomplish the job in no time at all.  If, on the other hand, you have a very small window of time in which to get the boys dressed and out into the mating paddocks it could take all day.  Once the harnesses are in place and each boy is sprayed with a small amount of sheep branding paint (to identify who’s who from a distance - you'll see why later in this lesson) The chosen boys are put aside in the shearing shed while unlucky candidates for the job are returned to their paddock. 
It’s now time to get the girls in.   This usually entails quite a bit of work in getting them all to put in an appearance in the sheep yards.  Invariably, just as you think you've rounded up the entire ewe population, you'll notice one solitary lady off in the distance grazing quietly without a care in the world.  After the third or fourth time this happens it's not unheard of to toy with the idea of letting her stay barren this year, but a nagging little voice in your head (yes, by this time you are definitely hearing voices) keeps saying, "What if she's your best ewe - the one predestined to mate with The New Boy and produce a pair of the best ram lambs the industry has ever seen?"  So you once again head off and round her up with the rest of the mob, only to find that she is the one you were toying with culling earlier in the year.
 Oh well, after only a few stress-filled hours you now have all the girls together and heading for the sheep yards.  This is where you are reminded of something that has slipped your mind.   A mob of ewes has the combined IQ of a jellyfish, and not one of your brighter, up and coming jellyfishes either.  While they have travelled the path to the sheep yards innumerable times they can't seem to remember how to get there.  Those in the lead believe that it's over there to the left and head off that way accordingly.  As you rev up the bike and try to head them off because the sheep yards are actually to the right, where they have always been, the girls at the back decided to do a U turn and see if it's back near where they came from.  This to-ing and fro-ing goes on until the ewes are finally manoeuvred into the yards, or you give up and go and check what price farms are fetching in your area these days.
 Once the girls are in the yards they need to be drafted according to the colour that has been sprayed on the top of their heads a few days previously.  Remember the colour on the rams' heads?  Now you can see what that was for. The ewes and ram are colour co-ordinated to ensure that everyone goes with the right group.  The fun begins here because you have five different mating groups and a three way race.  This entails double handling of a few of the groups but once that is finally sorted the rams are put in with the ewes of your choice and escorted to their nuptial paddocks looking somewhat like a group of punk rockers out for a walk in the park, and that should be that.  In a well regulated world you would go out into the paddocks in six weeks time to find every ewe with the tell tale blue streak on her rear end and a satisfied look on the rams' faces.
 But this is anything but a well regulated world.  It is quite common for the ewes to object to your choice of mate for them.  It's not that they have anything specific against the male in their paddock; he's quite cute in many ways, but the ram over in the other paddock!!!  Wow!  Now there is a ram to get any ewe’s heart a-flutter!  The star-crossed ewe tends to spend her time up against the fence, ignoring the blandishments and downright propositioning of the ram in her paddock, while she lusts after the forbidden fruit in the much greener paddock a few paddocks away.  Strangely enough it’s more likely to be The New Boy who doesn’t appeal to his harem – ewes obviously don’t appreciate quality when they see it.  With any luck the ram of your choice will manage to convince her that she really has no other option and she too will wear the blue streak like a badge of honour.
Once the six weeks (or seven, or eight or nine weeks, depending on how busy you are with other things) is over, all the mobs are brought into the yards again.  The rams are undressed, removed from the girls and put back in the bachelor quarters with all the other rams.  And about time too, think the ewes.  They are all (hopefully) in lamb and have better things to think about than the compliments and longing looks of a ram who has served his purpose and should have the decency to leave them alone now. 
 The rams have definitely served their purpose, and will now rather impatiently wait for next year to roll around so they can do it all again.  In the mean time they will eat, drink and be merry with the other bachelors and once again endure the daily perils mentioned above.  But this time you don't worry about them quite so much.  Not even about The New Boy.  You are too busy planning for all the lambs that are going to arrive in five months time and start sorting your worries into categories including foxes, drought, cold snaps and heavy rains, all of which will seriously deplete your lambing percentages.
 Ahh lambing... but that is another lesson entirely.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Unwelcome Visitors

Summer is well and truly making its presence felt here at Spring Rock.  We've had quite a few days over 40 degrees Celsius and the menagerie, with the exception of Cleo and Aslan, are looking forward to Autumn.  Why would two Saint Bernards not be looking forward to cooler weather you ask?  During the hot weather Cleo and Aslan are allowed inside (don't get  me wrong, I'd have them inside all day every day, but the menagerie has to make deals with Graeme remember) to lie on the kitchen floor and soak up the air cooler, or in Cleo's case the cool of the refrigerator.  Cleo lies in a very unladylike manner on her back with all four legs spread wide, waving in the breeze, to allow maximum tummyage for the air from the cooler duct while cozying up to the refrigerator to soak up the cool of the metal.  This makes getting cool drinks, milk for our tea or any other item stored in the refrigerator almost impossible to access.  This does not further the puppies' chances of being allowed in on cooler days.  

Navigating a kitchen full of Saint Bernards is a feat worthy of the Olympics.  One has to first get through the baby gate array set up across the opening between the kitchen and dining room where a wall was removed way back in history.  The array consists of three interlocked wooden gates tucked between the ferret cage and the little bit of wall left over on the right and the refrigerator and the other bit of wall on the left.  Half the problem with getting through this gate is Cleo's ungainly position against the refrigerator.  Those waving legs mentioned earlier often get tangled in the spaces between the poles of the gate.  First, you have to untangle those legs, only to find that when you've removed one and are concentrating on the other, the first leg returns to its original position, meaning the unfortunate untangler has to start from scratch.  Once this never-ending task is completed (if Graeme is involved many loud, unpleasant words accompany the task) the gate is slid along the floor to remove the end near the refrigerator - easy, but then you have to get through the gateway that is full of Cleo.  Asking her politely to move gets you no-where, growling at her gets you a worried tail wag and a bit of a wiggle.   Sadly this wiggle doesn't remove her body from the gateway opening.  Usually, it takes sliding her along the tiled floor with your foot until there is enough room to get through the gateway.

Finally, our intrepid homeowner is in the kitchen, and if he or she doesn't snag any contents needed from the refrigerator while Cleo is getting her bearings, and before she returns to her favourite spot while he or she boils the water or gets drinking glasses out or whatever, it serves he or she right!  Now is no time to congratulate yourself on a successful mission. 

Once in the kitchen proper, you still have Aslan to navigate.  While Aslan assumes a much more compact shape while soaking up the cool, his total mass is a force to be reckoned with.  Aslan lies on his tummy resting on his bib laid along his paws - the picture of a well behaved Saint Bernard (Cleo's bib is useless because she usually manages to flip it over her shoulder and wear it like a Superman cape).  It pays to remember that while Aslan doesn't like to move he also likes to please.  He's watched the battle with Cleo and is determined not to cause trouble.  He knows he is in the kitchen under sufferance and wants to be sure he's invited back.  

As you approach Aslan you have one of two choices.  Abandon the whole drinks/snacks program and return to whatever you were doing or step over his bulk.  Graeme doesn't have the same disadvantage as I do and he'd be surprised to know that there are times, after the Cleo/gateway battle that I lose heart and consider abandoning my refreshment plans when I'm faced with Aslan in repose.  This is because the ever helpful Aslan is sometimes inclined to stand up and get out of my way just as I'm stepping over him.   I can barely straddle Aslan at the best of times but on a shiny floor with slippers on I'm in serious danger of bareback riding a Saint Bernard!  If the worst happens and I end up straddling Aslan and trying to keep my balance Aslan, ever helpful, will try to get out of my way.  This often results in me trying to grab hold of any object secure enough to support my weight while I try to untangle myself from the big dog.  Let me just say grabbing such things and door and drawer handles doesn't work - they tend to come with me on my wild ride around the kitchen.

If we've safely arrived at our destination now is no time to rest on our laurels.  The realisation that we have the process to do in reverse while carrying cups or glasses full of liquid is enough to make one jealous of camels.  Once safely in the lounge room once again, drinking our beverages,  we wonder if it had all been worth it.

The puppies might give me some difficult times in summer but our uninvited visitors are giving us even more.  It all comes about because the Galahs are messy eaters.  They have a habit of throwing out any seed they don't like that they find in their feed bins.  This usually consists of wheat seeds.  There are wild Galahs out there who would be glad to have a steady diet of wheat, Hedwig got into her original difficulties when eating wheat dropped on the road by a passing wheat truck, but these two spoiled Galahs turn up their beaks at wheat and sorghum seeds, preferring the oats, sunflower seeds and other, more exotic seeds in the wild bird mix I buy from the pet shop.   Of course, we grow wheat on the farm and it costs us a lot less than the store bought mixed seed that I like to bulk out with our wheat.  Anyway, I've got off track with my grizzle about Galahs who refuse to save us money.  The discarded seed attracts mice.  There's not much we can do about the mice that won't hurt the Galahs as well so we've just had to learn to live with their presence in the aviary.  I think the Galahs keep the numbers down somehow because, while there are a few mouse holes, we aren't overrun with them.  

Now for the bigger problem.  The mice (and the water trough in droughts) attract snakes.  The snake that abounds in our area, and sadly abounds in the aviary as well, is the Eastern Brown Snake - a highly venomous and often aggressive representative of the breed.  The Galahs don't like snakes.  They take to the perches highest in the aviary, spread their wings as wide as possible and let loose with a series of ear-shattering screeches reserved only for the sighting of snakes.  The snake, safely ensconced on the ground and believing it is more than a match for a Galah or two, continues its foray into the aviary.  The wing spreading and screeching escalate and this pattern continues until the snake leaves the aviary.  Snakes tend to take their time and poor Hedwig and Hermes get themselves into a real state with beaks chattering and bodies trembling if no-one comes to their rescue.  

As soon as I hear the Snake Alarm call I lock up the puppies if they are outside (we don't want them helping me deal with a highly venomous visitor do we?),  don by gumboots, grab my snake deterer and head for the aviary.  Now a word about this snake deterer.  We inherited it with the farm.  The couple who sold us the farm was moving into town and didn't envisage meeting snakes while wandering around their garden so were happy to bequeath us the implement.  The deterer consists of an eight-foot long metal pole with a flat end. When I first saw it propped up against the back of the house I asked what it was for.  When told it was to deal with snakes that got too close to the house I pointed out that the metal pole was nowhere near long enough.  Now back to my trip to the snake-infested aviary.  I'm not scared of snakes as such.  I'm wary of them and sensibly give them a wide berth and live by the leave them alone and they'll leave you alone philosophy, but if one is turning my two Galahs into quivering, screeching bundles of feathers then something has to be done.  I approach cautiously, saying calming things to the Galahs, pointing out that snakes can't climb wire and they are perfectly safe where they are so there's no need for that ear-splitting screech.  Either Hedwig and Hermes don't believe me or they can't hear me over their screeches - I'm inclined to think it's the latter.  

Once I've assured myself the snake hasn't moved to outside the cage I pay careful attention to where the two noisy feathered people are looking.  I then move to the opposite end of the aviary and locate the position of the snake on the aviary floor.  I warn Hedwig and Hermes that I'm about to make a big noise, but they are usually too caught up in making their own big noise.  I then whack the snake deterer on the side of the aviary along the wall closest to the snake.  Whacking here brings the vibrations close to the snake.  Snakes don't appreciate that sort of behaviour and quickly plan to leave the hostile environment that has vibrations that put their fangs on edge.  I make sure I'm not in the snake's exit path and once it's left the vicinity I turn my attention to placating two overwrought Galahs.   

Soothing words only go so far.  What is called for now is a few long stems of mint plant.  Hedwig and Hermes love mint.  They munch on it with the gusto of a child attacking a lolly.  Once they are munching away at the mint stalks they forget the intruder and all is right with their world again - as long as they don't accidentally spy the hose.  They are usually aware that the hose isn't a snake but after a close encounter with the real thing, they are sometimes a bit twitchy.

These are some of the delights of summer at Spring Rock.  Me? - I'm looking forward to winter when snakes hibernate to some degree.  

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Nefertiti's Crime Spree

It has to be said.  Nefertiti is embarrassed by the facts, but she has brought this exposé on herself.  There's no getting around it - Nefertiti is a kleptomaniac.

For years now my little half Siamese, tortoiseshell cat has been light pawed.  She restricts her nefarious deeds to plush toys.  Until recently her kleptomania was limited to toys with big eyes, but lately she's branched out.  I often buy a small plush animal toy as a souvenir when we are out and about to display somewhere around the house.  Some of these toys sit on my chest of drawers in my bedroom and these poor innocent creatures have long been the victims of Nefertiti's marauding.

I've never actually caught her in the act which, when you consider this has been going on for years, is a testimony to her sneakiness.  But Nefertiti has never learned to be quiet about her capers.  I'm not sure of the timeline or the thieving techniques she employs because as I said, I've never caught her in the act, but I imagine it goes something like this -

Nefertiti waits until the coast is clear.  She has spent the afternoon lying down with me while I rest my back, but once I'm up and about again she feigns sleep so I'll take pity on her and leave her in the bedroom.  Now that she's alone with her prey her whiskers twitch -does she try to resist temptation?  I doubt it.  She looks to her right, she looks to her left and assuring herself that the room is human free she resumes her life of crime.

Moving as stealthily as only a Siamese descendant can, Nefertiti stalks whichever unfortunate toy is the object of her compulsion at the time.  She tends to concentrate on one particular toy for a while, anything from days to months, and limits her kidnapping to that toy until her fancy lights on some other ill-fated target.  Once she has scaled the heights of the chest of drawers, usually knocking over various toiletry items as she goes, our sure-footed scoundrel grabs her prey and heads for the hills.  The hills, in this case, is usually under our dining room table.  Occasionally Nefertiti's eyes are too big for her belly (or her jaw strength as the case may be)  and she targets a larger toy which never makes it to the dining table area.  These poor individuals usually end up on the bedroom floor near the door, where I imagine Nefertiti's strength and/or interest has given out.

Once the toy is acquired Nefertiti then begins her victory cry.  It's a pathetic little sound.  She inherited her Siamese dad's croaky voice and her victory cry sounds less like a celebration and more like a strangled complaint.  Never-the-less Nefertiti sits by the purloined plush figure and croaks out a triumphant song.  She then loses all interest in her latest haul and goes about her usual pussy cat business (sleeping in the most comfortable spot she can find) as if nothing wicked has happened.  I retrieve the snatched toy and return it to its rightful home after accusing the tortoiseshell yet again of dark crimes.  Nefertiti adjusts her whiskers, this time in indignation, rises above the whole sordid conversation and sleeps the sleep of the just.

Nefertiti with one of her favourite targets.  No, she wasn't caught red-pawed, I challenged her with the evidence but she sniffed it and said it had nothing to do with her.

This pattern has been going on for years.  I know I could haul her out of the bedroom when I leave and at times I've done so, but at some time during the day the bedroom door is usually accidentally left open and Nefertiti's pussycat sixth sense alerts to an opportunity not to be missed.  Also, it's a harmless vice and no-one gets hurt.  That is until two days ago.

With all my Christmas decorations out and my plush toys put away for the season, Nefertiti has turned her wicked attention to my plush decorations.  I have reindeer, Santas, teddy bears and more all sitting around the living room, bedroom and hall looking suitably vulnerable to a kidnapping attempt, and just waiting for Nefertiti to get around to thieving them.  For some reason Nefertiti has relaxed her strict rule about big eyes.  She is now targeting my Nisse (Scandinavian elves).  I bought a few during the after Christmas sales last year and love their big noses and long beards, but the fact remains - they have no visible eyes.  Their long pointy cap covers their face right down to their nose.  Maybe Nefertiti feels these large noses compensate her for their lack of eyes.  I'm not sure, all I know is that she ignores many delectable, large-eyed Santas, bears and reindeer as she snatches one of my Nisse.

Some of my Nisse.

When I first decorated the house the Nisse sat on my sewing table minding their own business and looking very cute.  After a couple of forays on Nefertiti's part, I moved them to the back of my decoration collection of ceramic Santas where they were basically hidden.  It saddened me to hide them but Nefertiti was wreaking havoc on their beards and felt bodies.  I thought, because they were hidden, with only their pointy hats showing, Nefertiti would turn her pilfering attentions to some other victim.  I was wrong.

It seems that Nefertiti, in the manner of all true fanatics, has fixated on the Nisse and will settle for nothing less now.  I found out the hard way.  The day before yesterday I discovered this ...

Nefertiti had scaled the heights of the television unit, passing many, many tempting (but not tempting enough) soft toys to get to my poor Nisse.  On the way she must have scattered porcelain and resin decorations to get to her objective.  This poor Santa paid the price.  I've only had him a year or two and he is one of my favourites with his jaunty nose and huge, overflowing present sack but with the broken bits being so much shrapnel there was little I could do to repair the damage.  Another bear had her black boots broken off but a bit of Araldite fixed that problem beautifully, with the repair invisible.   Santa and his broken present sack went into the bin and was duly mourned. 

My Nisse were all moved to the floor where Nefertiti has easy access to them without bypassing breakable objects.  Scarily, the broken decorations were right next to my Royal Doulton Santas.  Thankfully Nefertiti went for the closest Nisse and not the one nestled in behind these precious decorations.

Later, I was complaining to Graeme about my defunct Santa and showed him the gaping hole.  Graeme tried to show sympathy but I think he may have been secretly rejoicing that one of the decorations had bitten the dust, taking the population down by only one but maybe Nefertiti’s raids could add more to the defunct list.  While I was bemoaning my loss, with the damaged Santa in my hand, a brilliant idea occurred to me.  I could stuff the hole with something.  At first, I thought maybe a little present could be seen sticking out, but I lacked a tiny present to fit the hole.  Then, most likely because we have been suffering from an excess of mice here on Spring Rock, the answer sprang to mind. 

Can you see the little mouse peeking out of the hole in the photo above?   I know the scale is wrong and the mouse looks more like it might be a kangaroo joey, but I'm fine with that.  Also, I think a little bit of payback has occurred.  

That mouse is one of Nefertiti's catnip mice.  I think that's Karma, don't you?

From everyone at Spring Rock, we wish you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2018.  Heaven's knows what the menagerie will get up to next year. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

When All Around You Are Holding Their Noses

Here I am with the pup Elliott before the dreadful deed.  I never thought he would be involved in such terrible treatment of two innocent dogs.

My day began as usual.  I woke next to Cleo on the laundry floor (my most favourite place in the whole world) and wandered out for a nice breakfast of kibble and a big drink of water.  Cleo went for a morning run around the yard and stopped to say hello to the chooks, who replied very rudely as usual.  I can't be bothered with all that running and investigating.  Lying in the sun, or preferably on my bed in the laundry is my idea of the way to spend my day so I watched Cleo exercise and wagged my tail in encouragement.  Cleo likes encouragement.  Cleo likes attention of almost any sort.

Justin, Savannah and their pup Elliott arrived during the morning.  I'm always glad to see them.  They have three different dog smells on them and I like to catch up on the news of these unknown dogs.  I imagine they are just as interested in Cleo's and my news when the family returns home.  Cleo tends to lose control when we have visitors.  She's very anxious that they love her and her efforts to make sure they know she loves them often results in muddy paw marks on the humans or a lot of drool.  For some reason a lot of humans object to drool  I don't understand why, drool is a fact of life after all.  I have to admit to leaving drool on humans too (as well as on the porch, on the path and anywhere else it happens to drop) but I consider a reasonable amount of drool on a person a sign of affection.  Cleo, I'm afraid to say, goes overboard drool-wise. 

Justin has what it takes to make a dog sit up and listen and he can get Cleo's enthusiasm under control with just a word or two.  Cleo always looks rather startled to find she's obeying him but when Justin says sit, Cleo sits.  I must admit I'm very grateful for this.  I tend to find Cleo's over the top energy tiring.  After I've greeted the visitors I usually need a long rest to recover from her exertions.  Today, after my welcome to Elliott and his parents and a bit of drool depositing I was preparing to retire to my laundry when Mum came out and called Cleo and me over to the clothes line.  This was unusual enough to get my attention.  It looked like she had a treat bag in her hand so I wandered over to see what she wanted.  Yep, sure enough, there was a treat bag involved.  I love treats and Mum is usually generous handing them out.  Today was no different and while Cleo and I munched on the tasty morsels things went downhill.  As well as the treats there was also a chain - not a walking lead mind you, a chain!  Well that just never happens to me.  Sometimes Cleo ends up on the chain for bad behaviour, but as I find bad behaviour just too exhausting I have never been put on the chain for such a thing.  It's been a long time and I can't remember why the chain was involved before, but I do get a feeling that it was another lovely warm day like today.

Then the buckets of water arrived along with bottles of smelly stuff.  Justin got a very business like look on his face and his pup sat down beside me and offered comfort (see the photo above).  Now why did I need comfort?  Cleo, also on the chain, said no good could come of this but I pointed out this was our beloved family and Mum was there too and she'd never do anything horrible to us.

I was right.  Mum stood back and watched the whole horrible process.  She didn't get involved at all except to tell us we were good dogs.  Elliott told us we were good dogs too.  Well, I already knew that, what I wanted to know, and vague memories were stirring, was what all this was about?

Cleo was the first to find out.  I heard Mum tell Justin that if Cleo saw me get washed first (washed?) she'd be harder to wash later.  Mum said I was too laid back to get worked up about anything so I'd be fine to wait until Cleo was clean.  I lay on the ground and watched to proceedings trying not to laugh at Cleo's drowned rat look and her new aroma.  Cleo tried to remind Justin and Elliott that they loved her and no-one who loved her would do such dreadful things to her body.  Justin just kept washing until Cleo was as clean and fluffy as a smooth coat Saint Bernard could be (not a patch on we rough coated ones - we take fluffy to a whole new level).  We were on concrete so she couldn't find something smelly to fix the clean smell and she had to sit or console herself with shaking bath water all over Justin and the pup.

Then their attention turned to me.  Uh,oh. I smiled and told them I was fine.  I liked my aged dirt and other interesting smells.  I'd worked all winter on it and it was nearly perfect.  One more dead sheep to roll in and I thought I would achieve perfection.  Justin ignored my logic, and my months of dedicated work and began wetting me down.  The little Elliott got involved too and behaved as if he thought he was giving me a treat.  Speaking of which, it was a while since Mum had dished out the treats when we were tied up so I looked over at her with my most hopeful expression.  She misinterpreted my "where's the treat?" look as she often does and told me it would be alright and I'd be a much more socially acceptable puppy when this was over.  Socially acceptable!  Smelling like flowers and sporting a clean, fluffy coat?  I don't know what social circles she moves in but I felt embarrassed at what Savannah's and Justin's dogs would think of Cleo and me when they sniffed the news this afternoon.  It's a good thing we've never met socially.  I could imagine the jeers should we ever meet.

I didn't struggle of course.  I find struggling exhausting.  You may have noticed from what I've already said that I don't get myself worked up about much.  As a matter of fact I can't think of something that would get me worked up.  It's OK.  I have Cleo for that anyway.  Mum always says thank God I'm bullet proof because she doesn't  think she would survive two Cleos.  Cleo says that I can be boring at times but I don't mind.  I'm happy resting up on my bed or in a sunny or shady spot depending on the weather.   Boring is good. 

Once Justin and Elliott thought they'd removed enough of my beautiful smells a thing called conditioner was applied to my long fur and any hope I had of preserving even a tiny bit of my previous aroma vanished.  I was rinsed off again and began to plan just where in the yard I could roll to repair some of the damage.  Sadly Cleo and I were taken to the laundry to dry off so we couldn't find dirt patches to "ruin all our hard work" as Justin and Mum put it.

Cleo and I stayed in the laundry for quite a while.  It takes a long time for Saint Bernard fur to dry it seems.  While we were there we planned the rest of the day.  Most of it involved rolling in dirt and looking forward to walks off the lead when we could find a dead sheep carcass or two. 

Until then we will smell of flowers and soap.  We won't be able to hold our heads high until we find those carcasses.

Note my stoic, brave demeanour while the indignities continue.