Monday, December 29, 2008


When I first met Shadow, our little black and tan Silky Terrier type dog, she was scrounging dropped food from the car park of a shopping mall. When she was still there the following week with an aged, black potato chip hanging from her mouth, I knew that I had to do something so Rebecca, Joshua, Justin and I managed to convince this surprisingly overweight stray to throw her lot in with us. She sat on Joshua’s lap all the way home, looking at him adoringly. The rest of us she suspected, were definitely up to no good and couldn’t be trusted, but this tall, good looking boy was just what the doctor ordered for a little dog in distress. Once home she continued to follow Joshua wherever he went and so came to be christened Shadow.

Graeme came home that night without a care in the world only to find that the ever-growing pet population had once again increased by one. At that stage we didn’t know that our pet population was about to increase by a lot more than one!

Now if there’s one thing of which we can never accuse Shadow it’s being an ungrateful dog. She settled into our family quite easily and within a few days, even learned to trust the rest of us. Her attitude was if her personal god, Joshua liked us then that was all she needed for a recommendation in our favour. Before too many days had past, I discovered that Shadow’s round shape wasn’t due to an excess of worms, but rather an excess of pups! Day by day this little Silky type dog grew rounder and rounder, taking on the shape of an over-inflated balloon. Walking became more and more difficult for Shadow as her belly grew until finally her feet were no longer able to touch the ground. She looked exactly like a cartoon dog who had been blown up by an air pump. So Shadow spent her days resting on her bed or indicating by a series of sharp barks that she needed her new human family to rally round and give her some assistance so that she could answer calls of nature.

Thus I spent the first days of my university holidays, while everyone else was a school or work. Keeping my ears open for Shadow’s distress call and rushing outside to pick her up and put her in the garden so she could go to the toilet and then bring her back to her bed. Picking her up had it's own special problems. There was no obviously spot to grab and she squealed every time I tried to lift her. Shadow was a very cowardly little dog during those last few days. She seemed to squawk at nearly everything that happened to her, but I don't point the finger - I've never been pregnant with a litter of 9 so I don't feel that I can judge her. The large gap between Shadow’s feet and the ground lasted for two days before she finally delivered her brood. During these two days I lived in trepidation that she was going to need a caesarean to deliver her pups, and that Graeme would finally disown me. In the end there was no problem at all with Shadow’s confinement, she delivered her entire brood of nine pups naturally while we were asleep.

Now we were in deep trouble. Graeme’s patience with the rest of his family’s pre-disposition to welcome any and all animals into the fold, had worn extra thin. I think his breaking point came when I very recklessly pointed out that the dog count on our Razorback property was now 23! Our Maremma bitch, Robbie had recently given birth to a litter of ten pups. Apollo, our male Maremma and Socks our Kelpie made up the extra numbers. After taking in what I had said, Graeme tottered to the nearest chair and didn’t speak for some time (for which the rest of us were extremely grateful). When he did regain his powers of speech it was to ask us what we thought we were going to do with all these pups.

Robbie’s litter was not a problem. They were purebred Maremmas and very much in demand for guarding farm stock. Shadow’s more than likely Silky something else crosses, were likely to prove a challenge in finding homes for all eight of them (Shadow, believing nine to unlucky number squashed the 9th pup in her sleep). I galvanised the kids into action. They began doing the groundwork on their school bus and at school by telling everyone they could that we had eight of the most beautiful pups anyone had ever seen. We could have given the pups away several times each for all the children who wanted one of Shadow’s pups. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to dole out pups willy-nilly. I refused to hand over any pups without a parent present and in favour of taking it on. Things were starting to look grim. The pups had reached eight weeks of age and we hadn’t found a home for one. Robbie’s brood on the other hand, had all begun their careers as guarding dogs on other people’s property, so at least the dog count had reduced to 13. Graeme refused to be consoled by this piece of mathematics. In his estimation we were still at least ten dogs too many, if not 13.

I thanked God that six weeks later we hosted JOTA for the local Scouts and Guides. JOTA for those uninitiated in Scout and Guide lore stands for Jamboree On The Air. Guides and Scouts gather at various venues around the world and attempt to contact Guides and Scouts in other parts of the country or even in other countries. Our farm on the top of a mountain was ideal for radio reception so a camping weekend was organised for the Scouts and Guides and that weekend we played hosts to over 300 uniformed children and their leaders.

Now the wonderful thing about 300 plus children who are a captive audience for two whole days and at close quarters with a litter of adorable pups is that they very quickly devise plans not to go home at the end of the weekend without at least one little furry bundle. Thankfully the parents came to pick up their children and so got to observe child and treasured pup before they had been warned and made up a convincing argument against taking on one of Shadow’s team of eight. Consequently we found a home for all eight pups.

With only one return that night by a mother who had come to her senses when the pup began to pine for its mother, I felt that we'd got our money's worth out of hosing the JOTA weekend, despite the mystery stain on my kitchen ceiling that couldn't be removed no matter how many coats of paint we applied.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas From All At Spring Rock

Everyone at Spring Rock would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Billy sends big drooly kisses to you all.

Lancelot and Tristan have taken time out from fighting one another to say. "Have a purry day."

Guinevere just sends a disdainful glare but you know deep down inside she's saying happy Christmas (well, maybe not but we can always pretend).

Chacha and Chockcha the axolotyls are blowing festive bubbles your way.

Hedwig the galah and Nova Perris, the retired racing pigeon, wish you a very happy day with lots of treats (and speaking of treats, where are our's?!)

The Kelpies, Dione and Juno, took time out from running around the farm to pant, "Have a tail wagging Christmas and are we getting out marrow bones yet?"

Feather Duster the rooster, Pepper the Chinese Silky and the rest of the girls say, "Happy Christmas and may all the eggs you lay be small ones."

Farrer the White Suffolk ram says, "Happy Christmas and can you come a little closer and give my head a scratch please?"

The ferrets:
Miette and Horton say, "Yawn .... have a happy day."
Ebony would wish you a happy Christmas but she's still asleep.
Jocie is taking time out from her frenetic schedule of harrassing the other ferrets to play with her, to say, "puff, puff, puff, Yeah, happy Christmas. Now where is that Miette hiding?"

And the newest additions to Spring Rock, Byron (the albino baby ferret) and Cecilia (the sable baby ferret) say, "Wow! This is exciting! Our first Christmas!!!! What? Oh yes. Have a happy, bouncy Christmas everyone."

Cecilia and Byron. They belong to Savannah and Justin and are visiting here until Savannah and Justin can find a place of their own.

And from both us humans - have a wonderful Christmas. I hope it is filled with love, family and lots and lots of presents.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bathing Billy

When we first took possession of Billy he was in pristine condition, bathed, fluffed and groomed right down to his manicured toenails. Billy was a true sight to behold. On arrival at “Spring Rock” he was made to understand that while we loved him dearly, baths were in future going to be a rarer event, especially while the drought was in full swing. We were doling out water as if it was gold at that time and the gallons (or as modern society insist on calling them – the litres) of water required to keep Billy in the immaculate condition to which he was accustomed just couldn’t be afforded. I’ll admit I did briefly consider sharing a shower with him in an effort to conserve water, but after raising Bob the duck and sharing showers with that power hungry bird, I chickened out (if you’ll pardon the pun) and left Billy to grow grubbier and grubbier.

Don’t’ get me wrong. Billy wasn’t at all put out by this cut back to his personal hygiene routine. If anything he revelled in it, taking every opportunity to add another layer to the mud accumulated over the months. I did engage in daily brushing rituals, with Billy as a very active participant, but these always degenerated into a boisterous game where knocking me over and drooling all over me ended up as the main activity. Consequently Billy’s once sparkling white and glossy brown coat had begun to look decidedly the worse for wear. I have been throwing out gentle hints on the need to bathe Billy to Graeme and Justin for ages. You know the sort of thing, “When are you going to bath Billy for me?” And then, “When are you going to help me bath Billy?” and finally “I’ve got all the shampoos, towels and such ready and waiting, all I need is you and Billy in the bathroom!” Strangely none of these gentle requests succeeded in anything other than Graeme and Justin running as far from the bathroom as the farm permitted. There was always an excuse of farm work that had priority - a tractor to fix, sheep to crutch or cattle to drench – hang on we don’t own any cattle! The only way Billy was going to get close and personal with a tub full of water was if I took charge of the proceedings.

I chose my moment carefully. The moment I chose was my birthday, and I intended to pull that trump card out if necessary. Graeme’s self preservation sixth sense came into play and he scuttled for the neighbour’s place to help with fencing before I had even mentioned my plans. That still left Justin, who is also developing an early warning system where my pets’ needs are concerned. Fortunately Justin’s defence systems aren’t yet as finely tuned as Graeme’s. Justin informed me that he was leaving for Wagga at 1.30 and headed off to have a shower. I lectured him on not spreading water from one end of the bathroom to the other as he is inclined to do when showering. Don’t ask me how he manages it – I haven’t got the vaguest idea. He assures me he stays within the confines of the shower recess, with the curtain fully closed, but all I know is that when he leaves the bathroom it looks like a victim of a flash flood. I wanted the bathroom left in a fit condition for me to bath Billy when Justin was finished, although I made sure not to mention this yet in case Justin decided to dispense with his shower and bolt for Wagga immediately.

While Justin was showering I was gathering my supplies and battle plan. I was going to bath Billy today or bust. As soon as Justin left the bathroom (this time quite a dry and respectable bathroom for a change) I announced my plan. I was severely reminded that he was heading off for Wagga. There was no alternative. I played my trump card, “It’s my birthday, and I’m not complaining that you are going to Wagga and leaving me alone (sniff, sniff). All I’m asking is that you help me get Billy into the bath. You don’t have to stay to bath him, just lift his paws in and the rest will follow” accompanied by a pleading look with just a touch of reproach.

The guilt thing worked like a charm. Justin sighed heavily and agreed to get the bulk of the dog into the bath before he left. The best way to get Billy to the bathroom was via the front door. Billy spends his days on our back porch, from which vantage point he is able to waylay us as we go to and from the house to the farm. I stood on the front porch and called, “Here Billy, Billy, Billy!” No response. I tried again, “Here Billy, Billy, Billy!!” again the front yard was totally free of St. Bernards. I looked at Justin who began to form a refusal to drag Billy through the house to the bathroom, but before he could get the words out I devised a devious plan. Once again I opened my mouth to call, but this time I called, “Puss, Puss, Puss, Puss, Puss!” In no time at all Billy came hurtling around the front in search of any cat that might answer the call.

Justin and I had no trouble getting Billy inside. It has always been Billy’s dream to be a housedog. Actually it has always been his dream to be a lap dog, but I think even Billy recognises that will never happen. Billy happily danced along the hall with Justin attached to his collar. We steered him to the bathroom door. That’s when Billy put the breaks on. He came to an immediate stop when he saw the tiled floor, splayed his front legs far apart and tried to back away at the same time. Justin almost got whiplash! I was bringing up the rear encouraging Billy and complimenting him on being such a good dog. I was cut off in mid sentence by this sudden halt and ran into the back of Billy who was moving as quickly as he could drag Justin with him in my direction.

You might remember that the reason I was given Billy in the first place was because he hated going to dog shows. It was slowly becoming evident that Billy very closely associated being shown with being bathed. With a very reproachful look at me, Billy kept backing away from the bathroom, muttering about people lulling a dog into a false sense of security for five months before getting ready to drag him off to a show without so much as a by your leave. It only took a little amount of effort on Justin’s part and plenty of reassurances that there was no show at the end of this bathing session on mine, to get Billy actually in the room and facing the bath. I then speedily closed the door. With a great deal of moaning about being clean and dressed for town, Justin was nonetheless persuaded into lifting first Billy’s front legs and then his back legs into the bath of warm water. I will admit that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The problem was that as soon as Billy’s front legs were settled in the bath and Justin headed for his back end, Billy would simply lift his front legs out and turn around to face Justin’s ever growing wrath. In the end we worked as a team (all except Billy that is – he was playing for the opposing team) and Billy was duly plonked unceremoniously in the tub.

As soon as the last paw hit the water and Billy’s collar whisked off, Justin did a runner for Wagga, leaving me alone with a decidedly dejected and soggy dog. I set to, slathering shampoo all over Billy and telling him what a good boy he was and how beautiful he was going to look. In retrospect, telling him he was going to look beautiful wasn’t a good idea. It made my protestations about not going to a dog show sound phoney. Throughout the lathering and rubbing session Billy stood in the tub with a stoic expression on his face, contenting himself with darting wounded looks in my direction. He chose to follow the passive resistance example set by Ghandi and the like, and while offering no real opposition to being bathed, he wasn’t going to help in any way either. I soon found out just how hard it is to reach those more inaccessible body parts of a huge, wet dog who won’t budge an inch.

As I moved to Billy’s back end, he saw his opportunity and climbed out of the bath. Don’t think that I was just standing there watching him leave. I had hold of his back end and was pulling for all I was worth, which in a battle of strength between Billy and me isn’t very much I can tell you, all the while commanding that Billy stop and get back here. With each step Billy took I moved closer and closer to losing my balance and landing in the muddy soup that was Billy’s bath. In the end I decided to make the best of it and steered Billy’s front end through the shower curtain and into the shower recess. Once he was in I blocked off as much of the opening as possible and turned on the shower. Billy’s reaction was to try for sympathy. He lowered his head almost to the tiles and began to let out pathetic little snoring noises with each breath. At first I thought I might be accidentally drowning him. I turned off the shower and performed a quick check of his nose and vital signs. I reassured myself that he wasn’t in any danger of inhaling water and once again turned on the shower.

After what felt like hours of playing the water over his back and neck in an effort to rinse off the soap under his belly and chin, I was beginning to make some headway. Billy all this time seemed to have resigned himself to his fate and stood still, if dejectedly, while I rinsed off as much of him as I could reach. What I didn’t know was that Billy was formulating his own devious plans. When I moved to rinse his back end, Billy saw what he had been waiting for - an opening between me and the shower wall. He lost no time in leaving the shower recess to stand dripping on the bathroom floor. There was no way I could get him back in the shower now so I opened the door and scurried out into the hallway to leave him in the bathroom to shake off the excess water. As soon as I was on the other side of the closed door, I remembered that I had taken my jumper off and placed it on the vanity with our towels, well out of Billy’s reach, but not well out of shaking range. I dashed back into the bathroom to rescue these items. Not a good move. As I dashed in, Billy dashed out as fast as a soggy St. Bernard can. Did he head for the front door and freedom? Did he head for the back door and his old familiar porch? Not likely. He noticed the open door just beside the bathroom and ran in there. Here he proceeded to shake and shake spreading water far and wide and leaving the room looking like it had been caught in a thunderstorm. And which room of the house was it you ask? My sewing room!

So the damage tally stands at one drenched, tired and sore birthday girl, one totally trashed, filthy and water logged bathroom, a shower curtain that has definitely seen better days, a jumper that may never get the smell of wet dog out of it, a set of towels ditto, a stretch of carpet between the bathroom and sewing room that squelches underfoot and a sewing room full of soggy fabric, water damaged patterns and damp magazines. “And Billy?” you ask. Well after I had dabbed at everything I could in the sewing room and shut the door to the bathroom with the intention of getting back to it when I feel emotionally stronger, I went in search of my once more beautifully clean pooch, just to remind myself that it had all been worth it. What met my eyes, immediately brought tears to them. After being pulled and steered out the front door accompanied by a lecture on the evils of taking revenge on innocent sewing items, Billy headed for the biggest dirt patch he could find.

I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. I’m just too fragile at the moment to continue this story.

Friday, December 19, 2008

An Intruder At Spring Rock

Lancelot guarding some quilt blocks I was working on in case the intruder tried to steal them.

We had an intruder last night just as I was settling down in bed. I was reading my book about the archaeology of dead (a great Time Life book - I thoroughly recommend it) when it seemed that one of the Neanderthals had come to life! The only way I can describe the sound was heart wrenching. There was moaning and caterwauling (literally as it turned out) and other otherworldly noises coming from very close by indeed. I stopped reading the better to concentrate on where the sound was coming from. I couldn't pinpoint the source of the wailing so I called to Graeme, who was still at his computer, to check if Lancelot was inside and locked in a room in which he didn't belong. I knew it wasn't Tristan or Guinevere. Tristan was on the end of my bed, standing at attention and bristling from every hair follicle, ready to spring into action should the call to arms come, and it wasn't the sort of sounds I associated with the ladylike Guinevere.

Graeme, as ever, wasn't eager to go searching for a black cat at night time and grumbled as he went from room to room giving them a cursory glance in case any cat came forward and surrendered itself. I knew if there was going to be a proper search done it would have to be by me, so I got up and thoroughly searched each room. It's a small house so it didn't take long. The noise had stopped even before I had begun my search, so not finding any black cats lurking in the shadows, I went back to my book. Within seconds the noise started up again so this time I jumped up and headed for the front door, with Tristan in hot pursuit. If there was going to be a cat fight he wanted his share. I found Lancelot on the path to the houseyard gate fluffed out to the size of about four black cats and crouched low casting threats of murder and mayhem into the darkness. Tristan bounded down the steps and stopped just short of Lancelot to see if he could see what Lancelot was seeing. Lancelot decided a cat in the hand was worth two in the bush and taking Tristan's head off was just as good as dealing with whatever he was threatening out there, and proceeded to put thought into deed. I swooped on the two of them, grabbed Lancelot and headed for the front door. There I found Guinevere coming out to see what all the fuss was about so I ordered her inside too. I called to Tristan to come back but he feigned night deafness (closely related to night blindness he tried to convince me later) and refused to budge.

Once I'd deposited Lancelot in the house I returned to retrieve Tristan, picked up Lancelot who was heading out the door again uttering dreadful threats to all and sundry and shooed Guinevere back in with my foot, I closed the front door and settled down to read yet again. It wasn't long after this that Graeme came to bed and we settled down to sleep. It was just as I was snuggling into my pillow that That Sound started up again. I asked Graeme if he'd opened the door and he told me not only had he opened the door, he had shut it again with the cats on the other side because they were all prowling about like cats who wanted to go outside. Any cat inside looks like a cat that wants to go outside to Graeme. I was very strong and didn't hit Graeme over the head with a pillow. I got up yet again and opened the front door. A pale orange flash took off from the porch and headed for our little bush area of the garden. Three house cats proceeded to dash off after it but I managed to catch the two boys and convince Guinevere yet again that she didn't want a part of this war.

This isn't the first time a feral cat has visited us on our front porch. We had a little black kitten come and move into our spare room one night and settled himself on the bed. Life was looking good for the poor little thing when he was quickly surrounded by three anti squatter cats all of whom gave him a number of good reasons not to think of settling in. I didn't know what the noise in the spare room was all about, but suspected that Lancelot and Tristan were at it again so I barged in to deal with them (once again I was almost asleep when the battle began). For once in their lives Lancelot and Tristan had united against a tiny common enemy. As I entered the room the little black flash whizzed past me. Cats were one thing, but humans entering the fray were another matter entirely. He returned a few days later and was again seen off by The Gang of Three. We haven't seen him since. I was more than ready to adopt him and teach him the joys of being domesticated but there was no way I could get close enough even to introduce myself.

Anyway, back to last night's intruder. I could see his eyes shining from the bushes and knew if something wasn't done to put him off the whole idea of settling down on our front porch for the night thus inciting the resident cats to voice their disapproval at the top of their very loud voices, I wouldn't get any sleep. I walked to the end of the porch, shone the torch in the general direction of the shining eyes and made half-hearted threats to back up Lancelot's threats of dismemberment if he returned to the scene of his crime. I don't think he believed a word. Animals seem to know by some sixth sense that I'm a push over for the entire animal world, bar spiders. Still, he left us in peace and quiet for the rest of the night. All three cats were as twitchy as if they'd received an electric shock, and their puffed out tails and raised hackles only enhanced the electric shock similarity. They spent the night jumping at small sounds and muttering threats under their breath.

Not the best environment in which to get a good night's sleep but better than diving outside to break up a four way cat fight on a regular basis.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How To Run A Sheep Stud For Fun & Profit

A few of our rams in better days when there was no drought and lots of grass.

OK. Got your Akubra and your Blunnies on? (Work boots for the initiated). Right then, here is the "Spring Rock 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 bedroom, 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 than 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 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 lumps 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 ensuring 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 the 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, go get-‘em 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 land prices. Most sensible farmers have a couple of dogs to help out here, but Graeme is anti animal remember and eschews even the thought of going into business with a couple of Kelpies.

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 or 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.

In your opinion the rams have definitely served their purpose (if you’ll excuse the pun), and will now 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. 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 worry about foxes, drought and heavy rains, all of which will seriously deplete you lambing percentages.

Ahh lambing... but that is another lesson entirely.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Resting Ha!!!

Tristan doing his Meerkat impression. He does it rather well don't you think?

I can't remember if I've mentioned I have a spinal disc injury. Most days I need to have a lie down in the middle of the day to rest my back and enable me to get through the remainder of the day. I read a book while I'm resting and generally try to relax. If only relaxing was that easy. My three cats Lancelot - my big black cat, his tabby sister Guinevere and Tristan (known to the other cats as That Orange Interloper) make resting very difficult. Guinevere and Lancelot (and Tristan, if he is not out consorting with rabbits) all love to come and share this rest time with me. Guinevere has come to love spending quality time with me on my bed so much that if I try to do without my rest one day or she's outside communing with nature while I am resting, she follows me around the house and nags me to go and lie down so she can have her rest. She tries to tell me that it just isn't the same lying on the bed without me and it's my duty as a loving cat owner to go and keep her company. The nagging would be easier to ignore if she just confined herself to nagging from the floor, but Guinevere is too smart for that. When floor level nagging doesn't work she jumps up on any available furniture, puts her paws on my shoulder and rubs her face against mine the better to nag. I've found the easiest thing to do is to give in and go and lie down for five minutes with her. She's happy after that and we can both get on with what we were doing before the nagging started.

Well, a couple of days ago I was resting as usual and all three cats were on board. I must add here that there is a prime piece of real estate on my body that might not be obvious to the untrained eye. All three cats prefer to snuggle on my right side right up as far as they can get almost into my armpit with my right arm moved out to make a little nest for them there. If I don't voluntarily move my arm, the invading cat will just paw at it and work away until a nest is made. It's a lot less painful to just move my arm as any of the cats approach with that look on their face that says they are ready to colonise my side once more. I don't suppose I need to add that there is no way three cats can all fit in this keenly sought after spot. Guinevere, a master campaigner, usually prevails by the simple tactic of washing the cat who beat her to the spot. Guinevere over the years has perfected this strategy and uses it whenever and wherever she finds a cat where she wants to be. She begins by moving in so close she's almost, but not quite shoving the cat out of the spot. If she shoved, a fight might ensue and I'd get involved. Guinevere doesn't want me to get involved because I tend to favour the cat that got there first. A silly human foible, but one she has learned to deal with. Once cuddled up to the target cat she begins washing their face. At first Tristan and Lancelot enjoy the attention and even point out bits Guinevere has missed, but as time goes on and the licking continues the boys find it all a bit annoying. Tristan, the brighter of the two has tried to turn away from her to present her with his rump, only to find that as soon as he strands up to shift position the spot has been entirely filled with Guinevere and there's no room for him. Guinevere has mastered the skill of taking up the entire space where two cats sat just seconds before. As Guinevere is a little cat and both boys would each make two of her, this is quite a talent for her to have perfected. Lancelot, our mentally deficient cat, has never been able to think the problem through to come up with a defensive strategy. Every time Guinevere muscles in and starts washing him, he's pleasantly surprised at the attention and laps it up until it all gets to be too much and he moves off, and Guinevere once again reigns supreme. Tristan, as I said, tries resisting the inevitable and often come up with new defensive manoeuvres all as unsuccessful as the rest.

Anyway, back to my rest this day. I was lying down with two pillows under my knees to ease the back pain and Lancelot chose to lie on my feet. Tristan made a bee line for the prime position and settled in. Guinevere fussed around on the bed for a while, pretending to try and find a comfortable spot and peace and serenity reigned (as long as the three of us ignored Guinevere's fussing – and we did). Then Guinevere began her invasion tactics. As soon as he saw Guinevere on the move, Tristan burrowed his head into my armpit in an effort to ward off any washing that might be in his future. Not to be deterred Guinevere, after circling around my arm and right hand side a few times (reconnoitering I believe it's called in military tactics), moved in close to Tristan and prepared for the head washing. She was a bit surprised to find no head where a head should be, but being a very adaptable cat she just started washing whatever bit of orange cat poked out. After a short while the spot on Tristan's back that was getting all the attention was actually soggy, and still Guinevere persisted in her washing, I think she thought if she washed him enough he might shrink and make room for her. Tristan kept his head burrowed down and endured the water torture heroically.

My ability to read while these invasion manoeuvres were waging over my right side was severely impeded but I did my best. Time passed and Tristan got soggier. The only sign that he was alive was that he tried burrowing closer and closer to my armpit, never raising his head while trying to conceal more of the rest of him. Guinevere feeling that she may have met her match at last, like the good general she is, changed tactics. She was wedged in under my right arm during the washing process and now moved around with maximum fussing, until she was sitting right on top of Tristan. This had the desired result and caused Tristan not only to raise his head in surprise but also caused his eyes to nearly pop out of his head. He gave me a “What in hell is going on here?” look and realised too late that his head was now exposed and being severely washed. Not only that, but he had a full grown cat (albeit a small, delicate one) sitting right on top of him. He was trapped. It was too late to try and burrow back down. Guinevere had cut off his retreat and he was toast, soggy toast, but toast none the less. He put up with the head washing as long as he could but he knew he was a beaten cat. Guinevere just kept washing away, occasionally stopping to check on her progress in annoying Tristan. As she noticed signs of impending surrender Guinevere increased the strength and speed of her washing until Tristan finally had had enough and began to retreat from the battlefield.

I felt sorry for the defeated puss and moved him over to my left side offering a consolation prize. Tristan graciously accepted the second prize and settled into the inferior territory, but Guinevere, now happily ensconced on my prime bit of real estate, was drunk with power (or a giant hairball) and draped herself over my body so she could continue her washing campaign. I pulled her back a couple of times but she was relentless in victory. Tristan finally removed himself from the region of my body altogether and settled on the end of the bed, a respectful distance from Lancelot who is not a Tristan fan. Guinevere, with a smug look on her face, settled down for a well earned sleep.

Tristan eventually snuck back to my left side and tried to settle down too, but to say he was twitchy barely describes his emotions. He tried to nap while keeping a wary eye on Guinevere and that just can't be done. You can either nap, or you can keep an eye on Guinevere, but you can't do both. Guinevere was dead to the world by this time and sleeping the sleep of the victorious. Lancelot, who had shown rare good sense and stayed out of it also slept, Tristan on the other hand jumped at soft noises and twitched from time to time if Guinevere so much as moved an ear.

And me? How was my rest going? I gave up any thought of having a real rest and tried to get back to my reading. Do you know how hard it is to read peacefully when you know your body has been used as a battlefield and my be used as one again any time soon?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Silky In The Tractor

Before we came to “Spring Rock” Graeme had a little, ancient tractor that was sufficient to work our 25 acres, but of course we needed a much larger one for sowing crops. After spending a few weeks carefully choosing just the right tractor Graeme brought his prize possession home. It was huge!! I just know he felt quite chuffed riding around in his monster - very much the real farmer type. Shadow, the little Silky Terrier type, soon saw to that!

I worked full time back then, but arrived on the farm during the Christmas holidays so I was home for six weeks before going off to work. I was company for Shadow who loves to know where everyone is. Graeme too was around the house area a lot. Harvest was over and sowing had yet to begin.

Once I returned to work and Justin started high school, sowing started and the house yard became deserted during the day, Shadow began to feel lonely. If you met Shadow the last thing you’d think is that she’s a sociable little person. Generally she resents visitors and grumps for ages after one has the temerity to say hello to her, but she’s devoted to her family and likes to have them all around her, preferably rubbing her tummy while they’re there. She looked about for any available family member (we’d left Rebecca and Joshua living in Picton so she was permanently down two family members anyway) and came up empty handed. Shadow put her little doggy mind to the problem and came up with the perfect solution. She soon discovered that if she followed the sound of the tractor she'd find Graeme. Now while Graeme was the least satisfactory family member to find, a dog has to take whatever she can get when the entire family disappear on a daily basis.

Shadow was a slip of a girl back then and could both see and hear without difficulty, not to mention all her joints worked perfectly and she could run!! She'd make a beeline for the tractor and run around the paddock beside it, ears flapping in the breeze, tongue hanging out and sheer joy on the fluffy little face. The problem was that Shadow measures about 30cm at her highest point while the stubble measures about 60cm or more. To add to the confusion, Shadow and the stubble were roughly the same colour. Graeme, way up there in the tractor had problems.

Identifying a small Silky type in the long stubble, not running over her and continuing to sow in straight lines didn’t seem to be mutually possible. At first he’d stop the tractor, get out and tell Shadow to go home. Shadow would look embarrassed to be caught out, lower her head and head home. Graeme, feeling that was easy, climbed back into the tractor and resumed sowing only to notice the stubble moving in an odd way beside the tractor once more. After a few more attempts to be stern and send her home, he realised that the only way to prevent Shadow becoming natural fertiliser, and really getting into my bad books, was to pick her up, put her in the tractor and keep working. Shadow was in seventh heaven. Her life’s ambition was to be a farm dog. Graeme doesn’t own a ute and isn’t the sort of farmer who would take a Kelpie in the back anyway – Silky types were totally out of the question – so her farm dog activities were limited to sitting on the front seat of my Saab when I went up to the village for farm supplies.

The first time I did this, the postman looked out the post office door, saw Shadow sitting up on the seat trying to look like a Kelpie on official farm business and asked what the hell that was? I told him it was our farm dog. Bad move. I then had to stand there and listen to a lengthy lecture on why a little Silky type couldn’t possibly be used as a farm dog. Thankfully the car window was closed so Shadow didn’t hear all the insulting things said about her size and general fluffiness. No amount of telling him I was joking worked. We were new to the area and considered most likely city slickers come to play at farming, and needed educating in the kindest possible way. Shadow and I returned home and I assured her that she could be a farm dog if she wanted. After all she was a dog and this was a farm wasn’t it?

I didn't realise that Shadow had taken the farm dog thing into her own hands, or rather, paws every day of the week; taking weekends off to keep me company, until I came home one afternoon and Shadow was missing. After searching everywhere and fearing the worst for a little fluffy dog, I tracked Graeme down to find out if he knew anything about her disappearance only to see her sitting up on the floor of the tractor, looking out the huge windscreen as it circumnavigated the paddock. She had a look of pure bliss on her face. Unlike Graeme who, whenever he glanced down at her, had a totally different expression on his.

Ever the supportive wife, after picking myself up and trying to control my laughter, I told Graeme that he was lucky that no local farmer had visited yet. I informed him that if one of the locals came along and found Graeme working in the tractor with a fluffy little Silky Terrier Type at his feet he'd lose all credibility as a farmer before he had a chance to gain any. Shadow nodded her head wisely and continued to help sow the crops. Once harvest started she had an even better view in the header! Talk about city slickers playing farmers!!!

I think Graeme was secretly a bit relieved when I was medically retired and Shadow voluntarily retired from her tractor and header duties. Graeme’s little secret was never found out by the locals and I've kept mum about it until now. So you didn't hear it from me - right?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

St Bernard Meets Ferrets

It took Billy three days to meet Theodore, Miette and Albus. Don’t get me wrong, Billy was extremely busy during those first few days, but with my house yard it was a case of too much to be chewed, too little time to chew it all - as far as an overly zealous St. Bernard was concerned. So, in those early days, Billy was otherwise occupied. The ferrets saw Billy as soon as he jumped out of the back of the car on the day he came home. They stopped what they were doing, stood up on their little back legs to get a better view, looked at each other in disbelief, formed a huddle and came up with a united plan to keep this huge brown intruder in his place. And believe me you haven’t been put in your place until three tiny little ferrets make you feel that, despite your size, you just aren’t important in their scheme of things.

It seems to me that our pets have ranged themselves in two camps – Apollo and the ferrets believe in keeping Billy at the bottom of the pecking order, and rubbing his face in it by never missing a chance to let him know just how insignificant he is, despite his size. Shadow, the cats and all breeds of birds, on the other hand, just wish he’d go away and inflict himself on someone else - preferably in some other country. As I mentioned before, Billy had spent those first days being quite busy making friends and chewing anything that stood still long enough. He managed to explore nearly every nook and cranny of our very large house yard. His day was made when he found a couple of holes in the fence and he rushed up to give Graeme the good news. Graeme was working in the shed, thinking of nothing but getting the tractor ready to sow the crops when Billy sidled up from behind and offered to help. Graeme, after climbing down from the shed ceiling, brought Billy back to the house yard, lecturing him on social etiquette and the bad manners of sneaking up on unsuspecting farmers and then barking loudly from behind, especially with the improved acoustics in the shed. I’m pretty sure he mentioned Emily Post’s undoubted disapproval of such behaviour. Graeme then returned to the tractor and ... yep, Billy almost beat him back to the shed. Graeme put tractor maintenance on hold and found where Billy was getting out. Billy helped Graeme locate his doggy exit points by getting out via one of these holes as soon as he was returned to the yard yet again. Graeme fixed the hole and returned to the tractor without further incident or St. Bernard offers of help.

Billy spent most of his days loitering around our back door either looking in with a longing expression on his face with large strings of doggy drool hanging from either side of his jowls (even in my St. Bernard loving heart I know it’s not a good look), or trying to manoeuvre me out of the way in an effort to barge through the door ahead of me to reach what he imagined to be St Bernard paradise - the kitchen. The score so far is me 2 - Billy all the rest. I get the 2 because on two occasions I managed to sneak inside while Billy was occupied with Shadow’s head in his mouth. I know, I know – I don’t deny that I sacrificed the little Silky type’s dignity to save my own, but someone’s dignity had to be sacrificed and I’m bigger than Shadow!

After Billy had settled in and felt comfortable with the rest of the now decidedly soggy menagerie, he decided to explore further a-field. He needed to find another past time now that the ducks and rooster were ensconced behind wire and poking their tongues out every time Billy went up there to invite them out to play.

The answer to Billy’s prayers occurred while I was feeding the menagerie. Billy had managed to scoff his entire dinner before Apollo could throw Billy's dish off the porch, so he had some spare time on his paws. He followed me on the rest of my feeding rounds. “Hmmm,” he thought. “Ducks and rooster - definitely not coming out to play.” There was no fun in feeding chooks, they lived behind wire as well, and when Billy was around they were behind the tree in their yard for good measure! Now that’s a sight worth seeing – 6 fat, black chooks and 1 large, red rooster all jostling for the best hiding position behind one pine tree. While it definitely caught Billy’s attention and amused me for a while, it still wasn’t getting Billy a playmate.

Then he saw them! What they were he couldn’t even begin to imagine. Billy had never come across something this small! Or that fast! Still, they certainly looked like they were going to be fun. Remembering Graeme’s etiquette lessons, Billy began by politely introducing himself. He crouched, the front half of his body down low with his front legs straight out in front, so he was ready to spring should the need arise. His head was lower than the bottom of the ferret cage giving him a good look at their soft underbellies. The ferret cage is a large wire rectangular box on four long, wooden legs raising it off the ground by about 1 metre. It also has a raised box off the side at the front end providing them with a private bedroom. With his head down low as described, and his bottom end furiously wagging tail up in the air, Billy gave a very loud "hello" bark and waited for the reaction. Only problem was, there wasn’t a reaction. He stared at the ferrets in disbelief. This was the modus operandi that so satisfyingly sent the cats in all directions with their tails the size of bottle brushes. This was the technique that Shadow was well used to by now, and sent her grumbling off to dark corners.

Billy realised that a more direct approach was called for with these fearless creatures so he stuck his face up close to their wire door so they could better appreciate his size, and sniffed the occupants from the opposite side of the wire. Albus gave a huge yawn right in Billy’s face to register his boredom with the whole business, but other than that The Gang of Three were much more interested in getting their dinner and regular meal time cuddle with me. All three ferrets came out of their cage, studiously ignoring this huge, furry object trying to bounce up to their height on my shoulder. They had their regular afternoon cuddle and chat, mooched around the top of the cage for a while as usual, and then let me know they were ready to go back in and have their dinner.

Now Billy might be a dog of peace, but he’s not a dog to be ignored by three tiny little squirts who should have at least given a gasp of surprise when he bounced up to their eye level. He bounded around the outside of the cage, trying to get a better look at these little fur balls. Theodore, Miette and Albus continued scooping up their daily meat rations without even looking up to see what Billy was up to. Despite Billy's best efforts the ferrets continued to eat their dinner and chat quietly amongst them selves. You could almost hear Theodore asking for someone to pass the salt please. Billy couldn’t believe it. They were so unconcerned that once they finished dinner, they slowly climbed the ramp and retired to their bed room for a well earned nap.

You can imagine how frustrating this was for Billy. Here he was, face to face with the three tiniest creatures he’d ever encountered and, by the look of them they could supply hours of fun and frolic, but they wouldn’t come out to play! Here finally, was something new, interesting and potentially the most fun his new home had to offer and they didn’t even appear to notice that he was there. This situation needed rethinking.
So Billy retired to the back porch, placed himself equidistant between the ferret cage and the kitchen door and tried to keep an eye on me in the kitchen and the ferrets in their cage. He looked like he was watching a ping pong match – his head going quickly back and forth to keep everyone in his site. Meanwhile the ferrets went about their normal business of sleeping, playing and eating, as well as their new and favourite pastime – ignoring Billy.

Billy tried regular noisy, forays to the ferret cage throughout the day with no better success. The next afternoon, Billy had a plan: gobble down dinner before Apollo did his dish removing trick, plant himself right near the ferret cage door, before I could get down there to give the ferrets Dutch courage, and bark until he was blue in the face. The ferrets were totally unimpressed. They countered this move by first giving him the old triple ferret stare and then single file, but very slowly to demonstrate their total lack of fear, walking up their ramp and into their bedroom.

After all the members of the menagerie were fed I went back into the house and for once Billy didn’t follow to try and push his way before me. He stayed right where he was, nose pressed against the ferret cage, offering all sorts of encouragement at the top of his voice for the ferrets to come out and play. Surely they weren’t going to stay in that little room all night? As it turned out they were.

After a day or so of this treatment, when Billy’s decibel rating was too much for all in the house yard to deal with, Theodore Miette and Albus finally took some action. They came out of their bedroom, stood along the front of the cage, shoulder to shoulder (with tiny little Miette in the middle), their little mouths wide open displaying rows of very sharp teeth and dared Billy to come inside the cage and say that. Now you can see their sneaky little plan here can’t you? There was no way Billy would ever be able to fit one foot, let alone his whole body in through the door, so Billy wasn’t able to accept their challenge. After what seemed like years he ceased barking at them and wandered away to find more entertaining pursuits. All three ferrets sneered at him, making comments along the lines of “all talk and no action” and calling out to Russell Crow to supply a white feather for the coward, turned their backs on him and got on with their ferrety business. I could almost swear that Theodore lifted a paw in the air and chalked up one for the ferrets and a zero for Billy.

And, I can’t prove it, but I’m sure I heard Shadow and Apollo cheering in the background.

From now on I will only post a story once or twice a week so that I don't overwhelm you all with the goings on here at Spring Rock.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Billy Settles In

This was written in 2003 shortly after Billy arrived.

As I said in a previous post, Billy was the ideal travelling companion when we picked him up from his previous owner (ideal if you can ignore he drool and I can when I'm in the front seat and he's way over in the luggage area). Arriving home and settling in was another matter for Billy. He was more than happy to be adopted by us and was determined to be part of the family from the beginning.

Apollo and Shadow on the other hand, were sure no-one had put in an order for a grossly over sized pup. Apollo told Billy a few facts of life, none of them complimentary to St. Bernards in general and Billy in particular. Billy, being a dog of peace, stepped back and left Apollo to his bad humoured thoughts, turning his attention on the other canine inhabitant on the porch. Shadow, our Silky Terrier type, who spends most of her spare time bullying all the larger dogs on the property, took one look at this massive newcomer and realised that she’d met her match. She quietly snuck into the laundry and turned her face to the wall, refusing to acknowledge Billy’s presence. Maybe, just maybe, if she ignored that great hulking dog, he’d take the hint and go away.

Billy, in the meantime, was anxious to explore his new surroundings. He set off on his first survey of his new home and liked what he saw. He returned to the back door happy with his new home but carefully avoiding Apollo’s eyes and curled lip, and Shadow’s disapproving back. He then settled in to waylaying any member of his new family who came out the back door, requesting pats or tummy rubs or any other demonstration of affection they might like to bestow upon his person. If you’ve never seen a St. Bernard rolling around on his back, four legs in the air, head rolling from side to side with his huge tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, and displaying a large amount of stomach ready to be patted, you have missed out on one of nature’s funnier shows.

Mum-Puss, Lancelot and Guinevere our cats, who appeared to Billy as grey and black blurs when they shot through the back door on his arrival, opted to spend the night inside rather than answer calls of nature and head off on their night time rambles with this brown giant as a companion. They stoically settled in for the night, crossed their legs and tried not to think about running water or garden beds just ripe for fertilising.

Unfortunately, Billy’s first reaction to everything he met, both animate and inanimate, was to ask himself the question, “Is it edible?” At 6 o’clock on the first morning after Billy’s arrival we awoke to loud quackings and the fluttering of wings. Graeme (who was getting up anyway so he can’t tell me the damn dog was the cause of his waking early), went outside to find Billy standing there with a very disgruntled TOD (stands for That Other Duck) in his mouth. Billy stood there trying hard to smile at Graeme bits of duck hanging out either side of his huge mouth, while TOD voiced his opinions on people who let duck eating dogs roam at large during the night. Graeme, who long ago earned my undying respect for the way he can think quickly in the mornings, persuaded Billy to drop his feathery bundle and leave the scene of the crime. TOD was basically unhurt, with the exception of his dignity, and limped pathetically whenever we went to check on him for the rest of the day. By this time I had got out of bed too, and Graeme and I sectioned off a small yard for TD (That Duck), TOD and Russell Crow, our spare rooster who had the run of the back yard up until now. All was peaceful in our little domain until...

We returned to the house via the back porch. A scene of devastation and destruction lay before our bleary, sleep deprived eyes! It appeared that Billy had been busy exploring his new home while we slept and had spent his time testing any object he encountered for taste and texture. The first morning’s casualty list included a diverse range of objects. The body count included: Justin’s old thongs (well Goths don’t wear thongs so no real loss there); various plastic feed dishes which had taken on the appearance of colanders; the back door mat now shedding coir like a Persian cat who knows summer is just around the corner; and a bucket which was now no more than a large number of chewed bits of blue plastic with a handle. I gave the bucket the last rites with Billy watching on with interest and offering to help by further reducing its size. I hid the bucket from Graeme’s sight and tried to convince Billy that all these things were useful, so we therefore wanted them to remain in one, un-chewed if possible, piece. Billy pointed out that they weren’t very tasty or soft on the gums and therefore, in his opinion, they weren’t useful at all and consequently no great loss. I’m still working on this minor problem of Billy’s inability to recognise any other criteria for an item’s usefulness apart from its edibleness rather than useful-to-the-familyness.

The rest of the day passed with very little excitement. I breathed a sigh of relief when Apollo declared an armed truce and agreed to share the back porch with the interloper. Apollo soon took to employing guerrilla tactics and managed to put Billy in his place by the simple expedient of picking up Billy’s feed dish from under his nose, preferably while he was actually eating out of it, and dropping it on the grass off the back porch. Billy good naturedly sat and waited for one of his humans to retrieve it and then stand guard while he finished his dinner. He discovered that there’s no use in going down to get it himself because Apollo would just remove it again. I’m pretty sure that Apollo was working on the premise that if he restricted Billy’s calorie intake Billy just might shrink to a more reasonable size, or better still, leave home in search of a feed bowl that stayed put.

The next morning (Day 2 of Life With Billy and his new found freedom) we were woken by the sounds of a rooster in distress. Billy was obviously an early riser. It appeared that Russell Crow (not knowing what was good for himself) found a way out of the makeshift poultry safety house we’d built after TOD’s little adventure, and came across Billy in his hunt for breakfast. That’s Russell’s hunt for breakfast not Billy’s – then again … There was Russell, thinking of nothing other than finding a tasty worm or two, and maybe having some harmless fun scratching a plant out of its garden bed in the process, when the next thing he knew he was getting the worm’s perspective and found himself looking at the inside of a huge mouth. This view not being one of Russell’s preferred vistas; he immediately let out his distress call.

Graeme again rose from the bed quietly muttering unintelligible sounds (and I wasn’t about to ask for an English translation!), found Billy with Russell in his mouth and persuaded the exultant dog to drop the indignant rooster. Russell, like TOD before him, was unhurt. Billy had not chomped down on his feathery mouthful. We came to the conclusion that Billy just likes to carry soft things around in his mouth. Russell now limits his wandering to the poultry safety house and the area outside the house yard next to his new home.

Billy became addicted to plenty of attention in a very short space of time. He still works hard to keep me from going back inside whenever I come out to check that everyone still has the standard number of ears and paws. His technique for preventing me going inside is very effective. He stands in front of me at right angles to my body and then uses his back end to push and steer me into a corner. He then places his body across the corner and voila! one trapped Rosemary who should now have nothing better to do than pat Billy and tell him how gorgeous he is. No amount of pushing on my part can move him, so I’ve resorted to various sneaky tactics to get past. It has to be admitted that Billy’s no dummy, despite his goofy appearance, and any technique I develop lasts a very short time before he finds a way to get around it. Things have ended up so bad that I really need to take a packed lunch with me when I go outside now.
Shadow remained anti-Billy for a long time. Her negative attitude wasn’t helped by the fact that Billy looked on her more as an animated, fluffy toy than a dog to be taken seriously. This attitude deeply offended Shadow who spent most of every day sulking in the laundry. When she wasn’t hidden away sulking, Shadow reluctantly participated in her least favourite activity – sitting with her head in Billy’s mouth. Billy had taken the line that if he couldn’t have fluffy roosters and ducks to chew on he could always enjoy just sitting there with a fluffy little doggy head between his jaws. He didn’t bite down or give in to his baser instincts and chew, so he saw no reason for Shadow to complain about her part in his game. It must be admitted that he didn’t appreciate the sound effects coming from that furry little head, but he was prepared to be philosophical about this and take the good with the bad though. Looking at it from Shadow’s point of view, it was really aggravating to go from being top dog of the house yard to St. Bernard teething ring in the matter of one day. I’m also working on this minor problem.

Theodore, Miette and Albus on the other hand are not at all frightened of Billy, but that’s another story.

So the state of the nation is as follows: Billy’s very happy in his new home and working hard to redecorate the back porch and house-yard in his favourite decor - Modern Chewed. The cats have sought and been granted political asylum in the house, venturing out the front door at night and scuttling back inside as soon as possible. Apollo is brushing up his stealth tactics and keeping Billy in his place. Shadow spends her time either sulking in the laundry protecting her mat from all comers, or providing Billy with an ever ready small fluffy object for his mouth. The ferrets have barely changed their routine except for the occasional guard duty when challenged by Billy.
Graeme has actually come to like Billy and spends a few minutes each day bonding with him. Not as you might think, because Billy has cornered him too, but because Billy follows Graeme to the gate on his way to the tractor. During this short walk he listens carefully to all that Graeme has to say to him, quietly agreeing with all that’s said on the subject of large, roguish dogs and the chaos they create. At the end of Graeme’s lecture Billy always promises to mend his boisterous ways. The fact that he instantly forgets his good intentions once Graeme is out of sight, and the ferret cage is before him, hasn’t as yet caused a breach in the burgeoning friendship.
I am, of course, thrilled to have my very own St. Bernard and spend my days retrieving Shadow from her soggy fate, reassuring Apollo that he’s still truly loved, trying to keep my dignity in tact while being held prisoner by a benign giant, providing the cats with a safe escort to the house, feeding the menagerie and retrieving Billy’s food dish.

Keeps me busy I can tell you!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Bob Finds True Love

Once again a photo from Wikipedia. Actually they are called Frizzle hens, but she'll always be Frilly to me.

A while before moving to the Riverina Rebecca and I attended a local auction in search of plants. Typically for us we not only came home with a carload of plants, but three bantam frilly chickens. Now, when I say bantam, I mean bantam. These little hens never attained 15cm in height - the bantam Chinese Silkies towered over them! I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Frilly breed of chooks; they come in both standard and bantam sizes and are the shape and colours of a normal leghorn or Rhode Island Red chook. The only difference is that the Frilly’s feathers appear to have been stuck on the wrong way. Frilly feathers face forward instead of backwards giving the chooks the appearance of having been standing with their backs to an on-coming wind. Anyway, the Frillies were duly installed in the chook pen and managed to shake down happily with the other inhabitants. Life went on as normal (well, as normal as life had ever been on our farm).

After the move to the Riverina, all hens and Harley, our red rooster, were installed in the new spacious accommodation of the chook pen Graeme and the kids had built and once again all seemed to be going along smoothly. By this time my original standard sized hens had either died of old age, or gone through menopause, because egg production had ceased, with the exception of the occasional tiny Frilly or Silky egg. I bought eight new attractive, brown hens, guaranteed to lift my egg production and the aesthetic qualities of the chook pen (the old girls were well past their best looks). I also bought a new rooster because Harley had seen better days as well. I reasoned that Harley could move out into the house yard with Bob, our duck, and the two bachelors could live happily together. By this time the last surviving old Frilly was going broody with alarming regularity, so I decided to let her raise this clutch of eggs and achieve completion through motherhood. Bob was thrilled with the new brown additions to his harem,even if he couldn’t get to them. (You might remember Bob from a previous post - he had an identity crisis and thought he was a rooster.) He welcomed Harley to his side of the wire with a friendly nod and a quack. The two of them quickly became good friends.

Unfortunately, the new girls proved to be bullies. As soon as they moved in they set about revising the chook pen’s pecking order with them on top and the old ladies coming way down the list. Frilly caused social problems in many ways, not the least in her broody state, refusing to move at the new girls’ insistence. I came out to the chook pen one morning to find the poor little Frilly sadly lacking in feathers. The brown bullies had spent the night pecking out her feathers in an attempt to get her off her nest. The only thing that could be done about her in the new regime’s opinion was to eradicate her, one feather at a time. You see it all the time after successful political coupes. The incoming insurrectionist does away with the troublesome old order in an effort to gain supreme command over the population. What the chook pen had that these tumultuous nations don’t, is me. I wouldn’t tolerate the new girls’ stand-over tactics, nor their continuous attacks on the poor little Frilly. I duly gave her and her eggs political asylum near the back of the house in a specially made shade cloth, chook wire and star stakes safe house, complete with extra weather protection made necessary by her semi-nude state. Frilly settled in quite happily and returned to the serious business of incubating those eggs.

Then it happened. Bob was strolling around the yard one day, having a chat with Harley, when he stopped short in mid quack. He couldn’t believe his little ducky eyes. There, with only a little bit of shade cloth between them, was the prettiest hen he’d ever seen attractively nestled in her little corner with a vague, far away look in her eyes (Frilly’s normal broody look). Her unattractive, semi-nude state didn’t daunt Bob. He had fallen in love at first sight and remained unaware of her physical short comings. Bob quickly waddled over to her and dusted off all his old lines – “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”, “What’s a nice hen like you doing in a place like this?”, and his last and most effective, “Let me take you away from all of this.”

While Frilly had no intentions of being taken anywhere her eggs weren’t, she didn’t run away from Bob’s romantic overtures either, so Bob was convinced that he’d found true love at last. He bid a hasty farewell to Harley – how could his bachelor friendship matter when this little beauty was sitting there waiting for him? - and settled down to taking care of the little woman. Bob’s attentions were basically ignored by Frilly; she had a job to do and no amount of interruption from this overgrown and sadly deformed rooster was going to sway her from her mission in life.

Bob, realising that her babies would always come first, decided the way to win her heart was to show some interest in her confinement and to find little ways of making her wait more comfortable. He sat just outside her little shade cloth and chook wire covered maternity ward and plucked the down out of his chest which he then presented to Frilly as a love token with a gentle little quack of admiration. Frilly looked coldly at each feather and shuffled around on her nest, leaving Bob’s love tribute lying there on the ground. Bob obviously believed he just hadn’t found the right feather to temp her yet, because he spent most of his days scrabbling around amongst the feathers on his chest and surfacing every now and then with the best bit of down he could find, all to no avail. Frilly refused to consider any and all of these hard bought offerings.

Eventually Bob’s patience was rewarded, the eggs hatched and Frilly remained in her private accommodation until the chicks were big enough to go out into the world with her. I let them out of their safe house with a great deal of trepidation. Bob’s previous reputation with hens a lot larger than Frilly caused me to expect the worst. I really had no option, the little family couldn’t live permanently in that cramped accommodation and they couldn’t go back to the new regime in the chook pen. Thankfully, Bob proved that he was a reformed character. He followed Frilly and her brood at a respectful distance and didn’t try to force his attentions onto her even once. This happy state of affairs continued until the chicks were big enough to introduce to the chook pen. My garden is incapable of supporting a love struck duck, a rooster, a frilly hen and her eight scratching chickens, all looking for tasty morsels among the plants. Repatriation to the chook pen seemed to be the only move possible. By now the new brown hens had fought all their battles and ensconced themselves at the top of the hen hierarchy, so I was hopeful they’d ignore Frilly and her babies (all of whom where beginning to tower over their mother and take after their dad, Harley). The family were moved into the chook pen and, heaven be praised! settled in without even one skirmish.

The only casualty of the move was Bob. He no longer had Frilly to follow around, whispering his undying affection for her as he went. He had to content himself once more to spending his days sitting on the wrong side of the chook wire and trying, usually unsuccessfully, to entice Frilly over to his neck of the woods for a little tête-à-tête.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Miette Is Going To Live!

Just when I though everything was settling down around here after what has become known as the “Ferret Incident In The Sewing Room”, Miette decided to liven things up. For the past few days she's been coughing delicately (a la Violetta Valéry, in the famous opera La Traviata) and looking interestingly pale – a difficult thing for a chocolate coloured ferret to do. I’ve kept an eye on her, suspecting hypochondria, but being prepared to give aid and sustenance should the need arrive. Yesterday I attempted to combine quilting and ferrets again ("What!" I hear you say, "have you gone totally mad?"). Ahh! but I took precautions this time. I plugged up the gaps between the wall and the back of the cupboard, so yesterday, my quilting/ferret adventure was rather uneventful. Until ... Miette went on the missing list.

If you remember, Miette is a tiny female ferret (Miette means "small, sweet thing” ...sweet? hmmm?), and has much in common with that other height challenged individual, Napoleon Bonaparte, in that she has a quarrelsome outlook on life and is determined to be the boss of everyone. While she was at the Ferret Welfare Society’s Safety House, she managed to become the Alpha ferret simply by grabbing every ferret in sight by the back of the neck, regardless of their sex, size or attitude to her world domination aspirations, and squealing her lungs out. While Napoleon used more subtle tactics in his quest for supremeness like shooting the enemy, Miette’s technique has proved to be a very effective means of gaining dominance over ferrets. So much so that I intend to use exactly the same technique at the earliest opportunity to bring the ferrets into line. I might even try it on Graeme to see if it works on other species - I'll let you know. Hey, it’s got to be preferable to Napoleon’s methods of getting his own way.

Albus too had a very effective strategy to avoid unpleasant ferret incidents (and one I'm definitely going to use regularly!). I can see him now - Miette (known during her time with the N.S.W.F.W.S. as Twinkle - yuck!!) wanders over to Albus (at that time going under the name of Umina), trying to look innocent and not at all interested in dominating him. Suddenly Miette/Twinkle makes her move! She goes for Albus/Umina's neck! And that's when Albus shows his true colours – he rolls on his back (bad luck if Miette is still attached) and goes to sleep. If she was now under him, and she usually was, Miette had to squeeze out as best she could while trying to preserve her dignity and status among the other ferrets. Apparently Miette respects other ferrets who won't take any guff from her and she and Albus became good friends. I'm told all the other ferrets kept a respectful distance.

Her best friend though is Theodore. When she tried her Alpha ferret strategies on him at their first meeting, Theodore was extremely confused. His deceased mate, Isabella had never demonstrated these strange behaviours and until now, Isabella was the only other ferret Theodore had ever known. So poor Theodore spent the first 24 hours either being rescued by me from Miette's clutches or hiding where she couldn't find him (a much less effective strategy). Albus was just pleased that Miette had turned her bullying attention to another poor unsuspecting ferret and kept a low profile - literally. When ever they were inside and she was gunning for Theodore, Albus dropped to the floor and crept around on his belly until the trouble had blown over and he could finally come out and play.

During the second day of the Miette/Theodore siege, Theodore had had enough. He was the oldest ferret by a long way and this member of the new, impudent generation was going to find out what the older generation was made of! Miette approached, full of confidence with fangs specially sharpened and with Theodore's name on every one of them. Theodore stood his ground. Miette went in for the kill and that's when she met her Waterloo and Theodore became her hero. With Miette firmly attached to his throat, Theodore quickly did a sort of double flip somersault with a half pike thingy thrown in for good measure, twisting and turning until Miette was detached. He then sunk his little teeth into her neck, lifted her off the ground, gave her a shake for good measure, dropped her and walked away.

I’d been watching all this, and didn't know what to do for the best. My sympathies lay totally with Theodore, but Miette is such a little thing I was worried for her too. After the Final Battle, as I now like to call it, Miette limped over to me with a very hurt look on her face. Another ferret had actually fought back! That just didn't happen in Miette's world. She sat on my lap for a long while thinking things over and seeing a less appealing, new world dawning. Finally, with a true female sense of fairness, she admitted that she probably had that coming to her and went off to find Theodore. I held my breath (no, not because of the ferret smell - I'm used to that by now) and watched carefully in case someone needed saving. Miette held out the olive branch in the form of a ferret kiss, Theodore said, "No hard feelings," and they have been the best of friends ever since, often sharing a ferret sleeping bag in their cage.

Now I know I’ve rather wandered off the subject of Miette's delicate state of health, but I thought you might enjoy those little snippets of The Gang of Three’s early days. Anyway, back to the subject under discussion. As I was saying, I’ve been keeping an eye on Miette’s health for a while now and when I finally found her yesterday afternoon she was sitting quietly in the lounge room, obviously contemplating her future and not thinking there would be very much of it. She had developed a sneeze that had to be seen and heard to be believed! With each sneeze her entire little body become airborne. Her little head ricocheted right and left, she'd take a sustaining breath, and sneeze all over again. I ran around after her, with the tissues (don't worry I won't go into those gory details) and generally behaved like an over protective mother with one very frail child.

Miette soon realised that her 15 minutes of fame had arrived and she was going to milk it for all it was worth. She lay down on the floor and began planning her funeral, requesting that donations be sent to the N.S.W.F.W.S. in lieu of flowers and mourners should line the street for her funeral cortège. I too was starting to think her end was nigh (I was planning a much less grandiose funeral - a shoe box buried in the back yard if the truth be told) and waffled between putting her out in her cage with the boys and hoping that nature would take its course and she'd get better - to keeping her in a little ferret papoose-type bag (I don't actually have one - but I can sew remember) near my heart. I too can be a drama queen when the situation calls for it.

I finally compromised by bringing the indoor ferret cage into the kitchen and installing Miette and the boys for the night. Now I may have mentioned this before, but there was something sadly lacking in Graeme’s upbringing because he doesn’t like ferrets. I’ve come to accept this defect in his character and love him anyway. We compromise by the ferrets only being inside when Graeme is outside. Bringing them in last night constituted a break down of the original agreement and a re-negotiation of the Ferret Treaty was called for. I'm pleased to announce that we quickly (if not quietly) achieved a peace settlement. The amended clause now reads: “The ferrets may be inside at the same time as Graeme as long as said ferrets are securely contained in the indoor cage. At no time can said ferrets be released from said cage. If Graeme has just ducked outside for something and has given prior notice that he will be returning quickly, the ferrets must remain in their indoor cage regardless of the time it takes Graeme to return to the house.” Imagine what I could achieve for peace on the world stage!

So, the state of the nation was: one very sick little ferret; two very healthy ferrets trying to convince her that the world hadn’t come to an end and it was time to play; one totally disinterested husband and me all of a twitter and expecting every breath to be Miette’s last. I finally climbed into bed sometime after midnight after hovering around the cage trying to get a peek at Miette to make sure that life still flickered in that little body. Miette frustrated my attempts to reassure myself that life still persisted by climbing in between the towels on the bottom of the cage and sleeping out of sight, leaving me to try and determine whether the bump under the towel was still rising and falling with each breath. I went to bed fearing what I’d find in the morning. I woke up the next morning to sounds of Graeme walking around the kitchen. I couldn't hear any happy dances or muffled cheering so I assumed that Miette had survived the night. When I got up I found that not only had she survived the night, she had made a miraculous recovery! There she was running around the cage with the boys, giving as good as she got in the ferret games and stopping occasionally to ask Graeme if he wanted his toes nipped when ever he passed close to her cage (Graeme's toes are the only ones my ferrets nip - I think they know a non-ferret lover when they see one).

To cut a long story short (I know it's too late for that now - but work with me here), I took Miette to the vet's where she assumed a look of total good health and bewilderment as to why she was even there. After my running the gamut of interested pet owners wanting to know all about ferrets and Miette doing her best for Ferret Public Relations, I told the vet the sad tale of the previous day. Although Miette was doing her utmost to make me look a liar, the vet found that she did have a slight temperature (nothing like last night's raging temperature and burning nose!) and pronounced Miette the victim of a secondary bacterial infection brought about by her eating too quickly and having a piece of food go down her windpipe. Miette wants it stated for the record that the vet is confusing her with some other ferret. She, Miette, eats in a very ladylike way at all times and she must object to these slanderous stories being spread about her.

I now have to administer the tiniest amount of antibiotic you have ever seen (0.2 ml) twice a day. This will almost surely involve Graeme because I can't see how I can hold her, open her mouth and squirt half the contents of the smallest syringe you’ve ever seen (maximum capacity 1 ml) down her throat. Don't worry, I have a plan. I’ll hold the ferret, putting myself in jeopardy of connecting with her teeth, and Graeme can have the wussy job of squirting the medicine in the general direction of Miette's mouth. I have complete faith that this plan will work. Well, I'm confident that this should work … All right, then, I'm pretty sure it will work ... O.K., O.K. I hope it will work because I don't have another plan.

Wish me luck!