Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mr X & Juliet - A Love Story

Juliet in her pre-loving the world mood with butter on her paw to encourage her to love us.

 Warning:  The following story may contain ACO material (suitable for adult cats only to read).  If you prefer not to know about cats in season falling in love with totally inappropriate males don't read any further.

Juliet has fallen in love.  Sadly her feelings are not reciprocated.  The object of Juliet's love is very embarrassed about the whole thing, is not a cat person and would rather not discuss the whole sordid incident, so we'll call him Mr X.  I'm sure none of you have the slightest idea who Mr X could be even though Graeme is the only Mr anything in the house.

We are minding Juliet for a few weeks while her real parents, my son Justin and daughter in law Savannah, are on holidays.  Juliet is a beautiful Domestic Long Hair tabby cat, about seven or eight months old I think.  They had tried to arrange cat sitters closer to home but I think their friends must have had a premonition about what was about to befall us all.  At first Juliet wasn't too keen about moving in with us and took quite an aggressive position on the whole "here for a holidays" idea.  She hid under chairs, sulked in corners and generally made us all feel guilty about relocating her.  She used language no young cat should even know and used it regularly.  She swatted and scratched any living creature who came within swatting or scratching range and generally acted like a very feisty hostage.  I tried the old "put butter on a cat's paw" trick to see if I could calm her down a bit.  She enjoyed the butter, but retained her dark thoughts about us.  Little did we know that this was all just PMS.

Even though I'm not totally convinced it's not an old wives tale, I've used this trick successfully on most of my cats when they move in with us and usually, by the time they have finished the tasty treat and cleaned their fur thoroughly they zone out and are at peace with the world.

After Juliet had made sure she'd ruined any chance of Justin and Savannah enjoying their holiday she mellowed a bit.  Not much at first, but little things like not trying to shred my hand if I tried to pat her, and refraining from growling threateningly whenever one of us passed her hiding place, began to happen.  I hoped that soon she would at least tolerate our presence in her gaol.  Almost overnight Juliet's outlook changed and she began to view the world as a good place to be.  She began purring and rubbing up against our legs.  Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, the same mouth that I'd threatened to wash out with soap.  She'd hop up on my lap and politely pass the time of day with no references to being held hostage in our discussions.  Life with Juliet was looking up.

Then it happened.  The reason she'd mellowed became obvious.  Juliet was in season.  I have only lived with one other female cat in season and it was an experience I never wanted to relive.  I had been stuck in a tiny flat with three young cats, one of whom behaved more like a cat possessed than the friendly little tortoiseshell she usually was.  Topaz, the cat in question, climbed the blinds, crawled along the carpet on her stomach, tried to bite the heads of the other two female cats who had always been her best friends, and meowed a low moaning meow non stop.  The vet, when I rang him, said he couldn't spay her while she was in season, so I hunkered down and rushed her off to the vet's, along with the other two girls, as soon as Topaz was back to her normal self.  Having endured that over 30 years ago (it left a deep scar on my psyche as you can see) I wasn't too thrilled about Juliet's delicate condition.

I must say Juliet was a lot more discreet about the whole thing than Topaz ever was.  Juliet began by flirting with us both.  She would drop to the floor, turn her tail to one side and then roll on her back, making demure little meowing sounds to entice us closer.  I took pity on her and patted her or rubbed her tummy and she appeared grateful for these small bits of attention.  Then, as the days progressed and we hadn't got passed the patting and tummy rubbing stage of our relationship, she started to prowl the house looking for a boy.  Our only male cat these days is The Redhead (Tristan our ginger de-sexed tom).  When he arrived home one morning after a night of chasing mice in the grain shed, Juliet met him at the front door, rear end first, tail cocked to the side.  She cast him what she felt was an alluring look over her back and gently meowed at him.  Poor Tristan backed up as quickly as he could, saying he wasn't that kind of cat!  To be fair, I couldn't blame him, Juliet's last welcome had been to attack him with claws out and bad language in place because he had the effrontery to enter his own house.  Now, here she was, a Jeckle and Hyde cat who wanted bygones to be bygones.  Tristan wasn't having a bar of it.

So, Juliet had to cast her net further in order to find a boy.  I can only think what happened next was brought about because she homed in on the only testosterone possessing creature in the house - Mr X.  She began her seduction more discreetly this time.  At first she wound herself around his legs, tail cocked to the side, and tried to whisper sweet nothings into his ankle.  His ear would have been better but it was almost six feet off the ground and Juliet measures about  15" tops on all fours and even lower in what had become her natural tummy on the floor, tail to one side pose.  When this got her a little scratch on the head and kind word, Juliet decided to up her seduction techniques a level or two.  She began to stalk Mr X.  Where ever he was in the house, so was she - purring and flirting.  She'd drop to the floor, raise her rear end and give him the come hither look over her shoulder.  When Mr X proved to be a slow learner she began marching her back feet up and down while still looking him in the eye and purring demurely.

Mr X finally got the hint but embarrassment was the only emotion Juliet managed to stir in his breast.  Mr X tried ignoring her, no longer giving her the little pats and kind words.  This had no effect on her pursuit of the new love of her life so Mr X began giving her not so kind words.  I found myself retrieving the love struck cat and putting her in another room at regular intervals throughout the day.  I'd give her a pat and a tummy rub as consolation, but as far as Juliet was concerned it just wasn't the same thing.

Things came to a head two nights ago.  Mr X was sitting at his computer and Juliet was under our bed, plotting her little heart out.  After a while she snuck out of the room, and crept into the lounge room.  There she eyed her quarry sitting at the other end of the room, concentrating on the computer screen.  Juliet sidled up to where Mr X was sitting and gazed up at him with adoring eyes.  Nothing.  She gave a tiny little mew to announce her presence and still nothing.  Finally she jumped up onto his desk and began rolling around on her back professing her undying love.  I'm afraid I wasn't much use by this stage.  I was rolling around myself, but with laughter.  Mr X assumed his now familiar hunted look, picked Juliet up delicately and put her on the floor a few feet away from his seat.  He then resumed his computer work.  Juliet,ever the optimist, began backing up towards him, rear end in the air as usual and kept backing up until she reached his foot.  Mr X didn't even notice.  I was still incapacitated with laughter so couldn't step in to retrieve her.  Finally I said, "He's just not interested Juliet."  Mr X looked up from his computer saw me still doubled up with laughter, looked down and beheld Juliet, up against his foot doing her best to radiate sex appeal from every hair, and he gave me a forlorn, hunted look.  He also mumbled something like, "And that's putting it mildly!" to the cat.  I took pity on him and once again moved Juliet to another room.

Juliet's stalking continued for another day or so.  Mr X found lots of reasons to be out and about on the farm and Juliet sought consolation buy sulking under our bed.  Today Juliet is back to her old, non in season, self.  She no longer loves the world as she used to.  She is back to tolerating my presence but really wanting her own Mum and Dad to come rescue her.  She hasn't given Mr X so much as a glance today.  He is able to come and go without assaults on his person by a small cat and is much happier for it.

Oh, and please remember - if Mr X ever finds out this got out - you didn't hear it from me.  OK?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas Everyone.  From everyone at Spring Rock

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lancelot & Guinevere

 Lancelot taking his job as quilt inspector very seriously.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Lancelot, my black and white cat and his bad behaviour towards the kelpies.  Two days ago we found Lancelot curled up under a bush in the garden, dead.  He appears to have died in his sleep.  It was the day we had booked Guinevere into the vets' to be euthanased because the tumour on her leg had got to the stage where she couldn't cope anymore.  Thursday was a very bad day for me.  We buried them side by side - together as always.

Lancelot and his sister Guinevere were born on the farm at Spring Rock shortly after we took possession - a housewarming gift from their mother, Mum-Puss, I always thought. It was the first time in about 25 years that we'd had kittens in the family - I usually end up with older cats seeking a new home for some reason or another, and kittens were a novelty for all of us.  Both kittens soon wormed their way into my heart despite the fact that Guinevere channelled her feral cat father for the first seven years of her life and hated all human beings on principal. 

Lancelot wasn't the brightest cat we've ever met, actually I think he would have won the dumbest cat prize if we'd held a competition.  We put his slowness down to Mum-Puss's old age when she had him.  He used to constantly bash his head against the glass in the windows when he saw a bird outside, in his efforts to get at it, and my windows aren't even that clean!! It didn't a matter that his first, second, third or thirtieth attempt met with cold, hard glass, he honestly believed that if he kept trying the glass would disappear and he'd be able to bat the bird out of the tree or sky or where ever it was.  If he was outside and he saw a bird fly overhead he'd jump up with an outstretched paw, thinking he could bat it out of the sky. Maybe he hoped that's he'd learn to fly too - then watch out birds!  Needless to say, bird life at Spring Rock had no worries about Lancelot's presence here too.  The bell on his collar was really just for show.  Lancelot tried the patience of Mum-Puss regularly and there were lots of ear cuffings and harsh words spoken between the two of them at times, but more often they could be found curled up together with Lancelot enduring yet another face washing session.  Lancelot was a gorgeous, affectionate boy who I miss dreadfully.

Guinevere waiting for me to sit down so she can climb on my lap.

Guinevere, as stated, spent the first seven years acting more like a hostage than a member of the family.  I would pick her up regularly in an effort to show her I meant no harm, but no sooner was I upright after lifting her, than she struggled to get down.  I always let her go straight away, wanting to prove I could be trusted. I'm nothing if not patient.  Shortly before Mum-Puss died Guinevere suffered a reversal of opinion about one human at least.  After seven years of this, she finally decided to trust me.

At first she would sit on the chair behind me and gently touch her nose to the back of my head.  If I moved a fraction of an inch, she was off like a flash.  When I passed this first test over and over again, she surprised both of us by climbing down onto my lap for a second.  She didn't even have time to sit, she was gone so quickly, but the fact remained that she'd crossed a line that she couldn't take back.  I wasn't allowed to move or pat her and slowly she stayed on my lap a bit longer each time until she finally settled down and became my friend.  I was allowed to pat and pick her up after that and Guinevere became the most soppy, affectionate cat I've owned.  She still hated the rest of the human race mind you, but me she loved.  She would regularly insult friends and visitors who would see her nestled on my lap, looking the picture of a cute, affectionate cat, and come over to give her a pat.  She would fix them with a glassy stare, rise from my lap, and leave the room with her tail in the air, bristling indignation from every hair.  Visitors soon got the message - leave the tabby cat alone.  Shower affection on the black and white fellow or the ginger cat, but don't touch the tabby.  And that was fine with Guinevere too!

I have to lie down in the middle of the day most days because I have an injury to one of my discs.  I usually lie down and read for a while around 1.00 p.m. to rest my back, often nap, and recharge for the afternoon.  Guinevere always joined me and chose to have her rest snuggled up against my right side with my arm around her.  If I was late lying down, Guinevere would follow me around the house nagging me to come to bed.  On the days when I just couldn't afford the time to lie down, Guinevere's day was ruined.  She would eventually stalk off to my bed and have her own, solo lie down, but she left me in no doubt that it just wasn't the same.  When the two boy cats discovered our resting routine they decided to join in the fun.  Guinevere did not approve.  If one of the boys beat her to her favourite spot she would tackle the problem in a very pacifistic manner.  She wouldn't raise a fuss, show any temper or bad manners.  She would just lick them to death.  Well, not literally to death, but she'd get them in a headlock and keep washing their face until they could stand it no longer and left my side to seek dryer spots on the bed.  Guinevere would then settle in, sigh happily and all would be quiet for the remainder of my rest.  Resting without Guinevere just isn't the same.

So, I'd like to say thank you for sharing your beautiful lives with me Lancelot and Guinevere.  I will miss you for a long time to come.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Socks And The Ghost

I'm experimenting with various looks for my blog. I'll try out different backgrounds and colours to see which I prefer and finally settle on some combination. Until then who knows what it will look like when you come back next time!

To give you something to read while I experiment, here is a story about a gorgeous Kelpie I used to own. His name was Socks. I got him as a fully trained working dog who needed a new farm to work. The problem was he was trained to obey whistle commands and I can't whistle. It took us a while to work out our language problems before he became the best working dog I've ever owned. Sadly he would only work for me, which caused Graeme a lot of frustrating hours trying to get Socks to bring the goats in (we owned Angora goats back then) from our very steep, hilly property (we lived on top of a mountain at the time). Socks would just look at Graeme when issued with a command, turn his head sideways as if to say, "Who? Me?" and trot off in the general direction of the goats while making no promise to bring them in. Once out there he'd fain deafness and just wander around the goats, passing the time of day with them and generally ignoring an increasingly irate Graeme. In the interest of Graeme's sanity and Socks' reputation as an outstanding Kelpie, I'd eventually convince Graeme to let me tell Socks what to do, but Graeme always had to try first.

After a few years of living on the mountain I entered university as a mature age student. I was away from home for most of the day most days of the week. The pets all adjusted and found things to amuse themselves while I was gone. When I came home one day I found Socks throwing himself at the glass door, hackles raised and a low threatening growl rumbling away deep in his chest. I pulled him away from the door, but he returned as soon as I let go. Starting to feel a bit scared, I tried the door. It was locked. I moved around to the back door, checking the windows as I went. They were all locked too. This was in the days before mobile phones and I had no near neighbours so the only thing to do was what every stupid heroine in a horror movie does. I opened the door and took a few trepid steps into the house. I nearly fainted when I was almost knocked over from behind.

Socks wasn't allowed inside and had never tried to flout the rule before. He was always content to sit on the veranda and smile at us through the glass door. Today rules were thrown to the wind as Socks almost bowled me over in his effort got get inside and get at whatever it was that had tripped his doggy radar. I took a few calming breaths and tried to follow Socks as best I could. He tore into the lounge room with all the hackles raised on his back growling very low. I was just about ready to make a run for it at this stage, but now that I had access to a phone I held tightly to Socks' collar (he was eager to get to the end of the house for some reason) and phoned my unimaginative husband to tell him all bout Socks and his vendetta against an unseen threat. Graeme's take on this eerie happening? He thought Socks was just being"silly". My description of Sock's killer attitude and raised hackles failed to impress him so I realised defending the house against intruders or ghosts was up to Socks and me.

Very slowly, and I must admit, very reluctantly I gave Socks his head and followed him on his inspection of every room, armed only with my university books in my backpack. Socks stalked past all the doors in the hall, giving a perfunctory sniff just inside each room until he came to our bedroom at the end of the hall. If it was possible for him to raise his hackles higher he did, he stalked into the room and headed for our dressing area where our full length cupboards faced each other. He then threw himself at my mirrored cupboard doors and growled and barked a challenge to whoever or whatever was in there to come out and fight like a dog! I thought he might have been lunging at the dog in the mirror so I opened the side at which he was lunging so the dog disappeared. Socks ignored the closed mirrored part of the cupboard (and the dogs in Graeme's mirrored cupboards opposite mine and dived into the open part of my cupboard. There he proceeded to threaten my clothes and shoes. I could hear him inspecting everything thoroughly, sniffing here and snuffling there, but even after he'd had time to thoroughly go over all my belongings he wouldn't come out of the cupboard. I wrestled him out only to find that he sat down and refused to leave the house voluntarily. Needless to say I was more than happy for him to stay as long as he wanted. By this stage I was a nervous wreck and would gladly have made Socks a bed inside my cupboard if that meant he'd stop spooking me with every growl and suspicious look.

We never did find out what it was about. Socks eventually calmed down enough to be persuaded to leave the house and after a few hours seemed to forget all about whatever it was that had started the whole drama. It took me a bit longer to stop jumping at small noises and seeing things in dark corners. All the windows and doors were locked just the way I had left them and nothing was disturbed anywhere (apart from me!). As for my four cats - they had rushed out of the house the minute Socks rushed in, so they weren't around to tell me their side of the story either.

So I believe one of two things happened. 1. We had a ghost visit who'd said something insulting to Socks as he/she passed through the locked door, or 2. We had a burglar who managed to get by Socks in the first place, came into the house, didn't steal anything and locked up after wards. Maybe he just tried on my clothes before he left - that would explain Socks focusing on my cupboard.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shadow's Big Night

I wrote this story in June 2007. Shadow is sadly, no longer with us. She died at the ripe old age of at least 18 and possibly older (she was an adult dog when I rescued her from the shopping mall). I miss her as does Billy. He doesn't have anyone to boss him around anymore/

Warning!!: This story is about abscesses and associated oozings. The descriptions below can get a bit graphic and yucky (a very technical medical term). If you have a weak stomach you might want to skip this story, or at least the first few paragraphs.

Shadow is up for adoption if anyone is interested. In the interest of fair trading Shadow is a very elderly, deaf and blind Silky Terrier type dog. She had an abscess on her face just below her right eye last week. With her furry little face we didn't notice it until is burst and then it was hard to ignore. Bec and Frances spent part of their Christmas vist helping me clean up the little face and needless to say Shadow was less than greatful. I think the purple spray to deter flies and disinfect the wound was the last straw. After a few terse comments about the younger generation of her family getting a bit pushy and disrespectful to elderly lady dogs (she seemed to hold a grudge against the girls, but still love me - after all I'm the one who knows how to work a can opener), she turned her back on them and hobbled away (Shadow alwasy hobbles when she's feeling indignant). I cleaned up the abscess a few more few times over the next few days and it's now looking good (if a red hole in her face covered in purple can be said to be looking good). A few days ago, just to make things interesting, her other eye started weeping and the hair around that eye ended up matting over it like a pirates eye patch. I know Shadow is blind and the matted hair made no difference to her at all other than aesthically, but I duly clipped and cleaned the area, sprayed all available bits of Shadow that I could reach with the purple stuff and left her to it.

That night Graeme came to bed at 11.30 and told me he thought Shadow needed an anitibiotic injection because "she smelled a bit". I got up and investigated and decided that with all her seeping bits it most probably was a good idea. We farmers do these things ourselves, living so far from town we have become proficient in providing quality medical care for our pets (with the vet's expert advice to back us up of course). The vet has prescribed this antibiotic when the abscess first became apparent, it looked like it was time for a followup dose.  I loaded up the syringe and popped it into Shadow while she was dozing in her bed. She barely gave a squeek so I congratulated myself on a job well done and went to bed.

About half an hour later, Shadow began to yap. Billy, who thinks that any time Shadow has a disharge (regardless of which end of her is oozing) Shadow is in season, despite the fact that she's been desexed for about 100 years, and he is therefore been banished to the other side of the laundry door where he keeps constant vigil in case the love of his life needs him to slay a dragon or some such small task (now that was an involved sentence wasn't it?!). He immediately gave voice too. If his love was protesting, well then, so would he!!! A high pitched yip was bad enough, add to it a concerned baritone bark and there was not way we were going to get to sleep. I got out of bed and opened the laundry door to see what the problem was. Shadow shot out and went for a drink. Fair enough I thought, maybe the injection made her thirsty. She was definitely moving at a faster speed than she'd managed in the last few days so I thought the injection was working and she was feeling a lot better. I stood on the back porch and waited, and waited and waited. Shadow had decided that now that she was feeling better she'd better catch up on her duties and now was the time to do a perimeter check of the house yard. Billy, ever anxious to help, was keeping close and whispering sweet nothings in Shadow's deaf ears. She must have heard some of what he said, or maybe it was just his doggy breath in her ear that ticked her off, but every now and then, then night air was broken with Shadow's pithy comments about her love struck body guard. Of course, this didn't deter Billy at all. He lives in hope that some day (or in this case night) Shadow will look up at him through her catarct dimmed eyes and realise what a dish he really is. When that day comes Billy wants to be close by so he can take advantage of the moment.

And what was I doing all this time? I was standing on the back porch calling Billy (well there was no point calling Shadow, she couldn't hear me) to no avail. Then my chance came. Shadow's circuits of the yard brough her past the porch steps with Billy close behind. I swooped on her, picked her up and plonked her in the laundry, dusted off my hands with a job well done and returned to bed. Graeme was fast asleep by now so I settled down to join him BUT about fifteen minutes later the yapping and barking resumed. I tried to ignore it but that didn't work. I once again got up and opened the laundry door. Shadow was doing laps of the laundry!!! She stopped to say hello when she realised I was among those present and invited me to join her in a 2 am dance. I delcined. Billy on the other hand was saying that he'd like nothing better than to be allowed in the laundry to partner Shadow in any dance she chose. I grabbed Shadow, gave her some calming pats and a good talking too, more for my benefit than her's, plonked her in her bed, filled a bucket with water so she had no further excuses for disturbing the peace and went to bed. I had toyed with the idea of leaving the laundry door open, but this would have resulted in Billy trying to chat Shadow up all night and Shadow is very vocal in her rejection of his propositions. Her rejections are actually a good deal louder than the yips of joie de vie with which  she was piercing the night air.

But that wasn't the last I heard from Shadow by any means. At regular intervals throughout the night, usually just after I'd managed to drift off to sleep again, Shadow again invited me to come and join in her revels. Then Billy would ask to be allowed to join her her revels too.  And so half the night passed. Eventually, even Billy grew tired of Shadow's celebrations and he moved to the front porch to catch up on his beauty sleep. Graeme, who is deaf in one ear, simply put his good ear firmly into the pillow and had no problem staying asleep. I on the other hand, heard every yip throughout the night. When it finally came time to get up, Shadow was only yipping once every now and then, but still enough to make sure my sleep was very, very disturbed. I let her out of the laundry with a few well chosen words to send her on her way, all of which she ignored.

And how did Shadow spend the rest of her day? Sleeping of course. After such a busy night, a girl has to catch up on her beauty sleep after all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Billy Gets a Pedicure

Billy resting after his ordeal

Every summer Billy starts collecting grass seeds between his toes (read about De-grass seeding Billy here ). The best way to counteract this habit of his is to give him a pedicure at the beginning of spring. As are most things Billy doesn’t enjoy, it’s a two person job. This year Graeme was very ill around the optimal pedicure time followed closely by me catching Graeme’s bug. Crawling around on the concrete laundry floor attached to Billy while he tried to hide all four paws at the same time just didn’t appeal to us until we had completely regained our strength, so Billy had ample time to go out and stock up on grass seeds.

The fateful day arrived and we gathered our instruments of torture (electric clippers and a pair of hair dressing scissors), invited Billy into the laundry while carefully concealing said instruments of torture, and quickly locked the door after him. As soon as his avenue of escape was blocked Billy started to suspect something was up, especially seeing Graeme was in the laundry too. Our one and only toilet is located in the laundry and Graeme is very strict about not sharing this experience with Billy. When Graeme enters the laundry Billy is told to leave! So something sinister was definitely afoot (literally).

The first thing we needed was Billy lying down on the floor. Experience has shown that trimming Billy’s toes while he’s standing just isn’t a good idea. Billy leans, and when Billy leans his massive body on someone they know they are being leaned on. The usual outcome for someone being lent on by Billy is to fall in a heap on the floor. Billy then feels very sorry for his latest victim and stands over him or her and worries that you might not have appreciated being leaned on. This wouldn’t be too bad, except that Billy usually has strings of drool hanging down and these tend to be shared with the leaned on vicitim. Graeme tried his sheep dropping technique to get Billy to lie down. To accomplish this Graeme reaches under Billy’s tummy and grabs Billy’s front and back leg furthest from him. Billy immediately drops to the ground, unlike when I try the same technique solo and I’m the one that is dropped to the ground. As soon as the St Bernard hit the floor I dived on his head and held the sides of his face, murmuring words of encouragement and love, even though Billy is now stone deaf and can’t hear a word I’m saying. Billy watched me with wrapped attention as if he was soaking up every word, but what he was actually doing was trying to get me to rub his ears, head or any other part of him I could reach.

Graeme had begun the toe shaving as soon as I had Billy’s massive head in a strong hold. Billy gave me a hurt look as if to say, “I thought you were here for a love fest and now I find you are working in league with the master torturer!” I apologised profusely and explained that it was all for his own good. This got me nowhere because, as stated above, Billy is stone deaf. I then had to endure reproachful looks from Billy while Graeme played Catch That Foot at the other end. Billy wouldn’t leave his foot in Graeme’s possession if there was any chance of removing it and hiding it under his body. At first Graeme would wrestle Billy and retrieve the foot he’d been working on. When this grew old, Graeme resorted to attacking any foot not tucked under the 70kg dog instead of going after the foot he’d been working on. Billy can’t hide all four paws under himself at the same time, no matter how hard he tries so there was always at least one foot available for clipping.

Once Graeme had finished with the front paws I decided to help by trimming the undergrowth around Billy’s pads. This required letting go of his face, but by now Graeme had a good hold of a back leg and I remained vigilant in case I needed to grab Billy’s head in an emergency (Billy turning his head to help Graeme is considered a major emergency in this procedure). Once I began snipping the lush growth of hair between Billy’s pads, Billy joined in and nosed my hand away from his foot every time I managed to get the scissors near his foot. Sometimes I was quick enough to snip some hair, other times I was too slow and no clipping was accomplished. I was hampered by the fact I was trying very hard not to snip Billy’s nose when he moved in to remove my hand and scissors from the general area of his foot. Billy took unfair advantage of this and won more rounds than I did.

Finally Billy’s feet were shaved and trimmed. One thing I noted about Billy’s shaved feet. Usually when a rough coated dog is clipped you find there’s not much dog under there. They look to be about a quarter of their size pre-clipping. Not so with Billy’s feet. They look just as huge bare as they do covered in fur. Billy was not impressed with this new streamline look and tried to escape to go hide his feet until the hair grew back. We’d found a few little holes in his feet where grass seeds had dug in and wanted to spray those spots to prevent any infections, so, while I once again held Billy in a headlock, Graeme sprayed The Purple Stuff between Billy’s toes. This was the final indignity and Billy had had enough. He rose from the floor with me hanging on and totally unable to keep him down, and headed for the closed door. I gave up and let go. Billy then stood at the door, turned his head to give us one of his best long suffering looks and waited for me to open the door for him. Suitably chastened I did. Without a backward glance at us Billy summoned all his dignity and left the room.

Unfortunately he had to walk past the ferret cage to go sit in the shade and brood. The four ferrets were lined up along the cage as they always are when Billy is being held against his will. They know bad things are happening to Billy and they are all for it! As Billy walked past the ferret cage I’m sure I heard pointed comments about purple toes and naked feet. The ferrets deny it, but Billy and I both know the truth.

 A close up of Billy's shaved foot before the purple spray was added.  This is embarrassing enough for poor Billy I didn't want to photograph the graffitied foot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Billy & Emu BFF - Well Maybe ...

Billy is now as deaf as a post and I'm teaching him sign language. Silly dog could have pretended not to understand what I meant when I pointed to the laundry (the place Billy has to go when he's in trouble), but I suppose a combination of the look on my face, hinting that I wouldn't put up with any gaff from an oversized dog and the fact that he felt so guilty, he immediately slunk off laundryward as soon as I pointed to it. He sits there now, brooding on the unfairness of a world where new, fluffy roosters are imported into the menagerie and an innocent St Bernard isn't allowed a taste.

Emu, the Chinese Silky rooster has come to take up residence in our chook pen. Emu hails from Camden way where he lived with another rooster and a harem of hens on an acre property owned by friends of my daughter.. Unfortunately Emu likes to greet the morning long before sun up each day and does so at the top of his lungs. Neighbours don't care that Emu is a beautiful fellow and is just doing what nature dictates a rooster do. They, the neighbours complained and kept complaining until it was obvious that Emu had to go. Luckily for Emu I was up at Camden the weekend a home needed to be found for him. I was attending my grandsons' birthday party, minding my own business, when without quite realising how it happened I became the proud owner of Emu.

I gently broke the news to Graeme while still at the party. I used to wait for a quiet moment to inform Graeme of any additions to our animal population, but lately I've discovered that confessing in public isn't only good for the soul, Graeme is usually too preoccupied with whatever conversation he is having to really register a protest - or maybe he has finally realised the futility of protesting - whichever the reason, Graeme barely raised a murmur before returning to his conversation about cars and their respective tyres.

So, Emu was transported to Spring Rock and set up home in the chook pen. At first there were the usual sorting out of pecking orders to endure. Emu spent the first week in a makeshift small yard within the larger yard, where Adonis, the resident rooster, and the girls could meet him without getting physical. Emu was used to be the second rooster in the yard so he had no aspirations to move up in the pecking order. After he was released to join the gang, he settled in quickly at the very bottom of the pecking order resigned himself to a boring life being bossed by rooster and hens alike.

Billy had noted Emu's arrival almost as soon as he was released. Billy at first spent every waking hour with his nose pressed against the chook wire, trying to figure out what exactly had come to stay. Billy pays no attention what so ever to the rest of the chooks in the yard. Common old laying hens and accompanying rooster hold no interest for him. Emu on the other hand, looked to good to ignore. Emu didn't help the situation either. One could say he actually encourages Billy to visit daily. While Billy sat staring at the fluffy one, Emu from his little yard, glanced back and wondered what Billy was, I'm sure. The day Emu was set free to roam the entire chook pen was a red letter day for both of them. Billy could hardly contain his excitement. Now he'd get to see exactly what this fluffy thing was and hopefully manage a taste or two while he was at it. Emu seemed eager to help out with these aspirations.

The day Billy began to learn sign language came about because I found him settled in for the day, stretched out at his ease along the outside of the chook pen, eyeing Emu longingly. Billy was staring at Emu with evil intent obvious in every fibre of his being. He was employing his never take your eyes off the target and don't blink stare. Emu, on the other side of the wire was thrilled. You see Emu thinks he's made a new friend. He was sitting on the safe side of the wire, just a few inches away from it in fact, looking back at Billy and clucking quietly to himself (or maybe to Billy, who knows). He looked like he too had settled in for a long and delightful day conversing with a new friend.

Emu firmly believes in the noble side of Billy and would be shocked if he could read Billy's mind. Billy has no noble thoughts where Emu is concerned I'm sure, so Billy was banished to the laundry to think about his sins and adjust his attitude to little fluffy members of the family. Each day Billy can still be found sitting outside the chook pen, drooling over the chicken dinner on the other side of the wire while Emu rushes up to the wire to get close enough to commune with Billy. They sit and stare at each other for ages until I make the hike all the way to the chook pen and angrily point to the laundry. I'm worried that Emu will be tempted to poke his little head through the wire to chat more easily with Billy and Billy will just chomp it off!

It would be such a sad ending to a beautiful friendship.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lancelot The Scourge Of The Kelpies

The Kelpies, Juno & Dione being held at bay by Lancelot (He's on the top step out of camera shot)

With the number of pets I have, feeding timeis quite a chore. Every evening I feed the cats, dogs, ferrets etc around 5.30. A ritual has formed, complicating the proceedings and making my job just that bit harder.

About an hour before the designated dinner time, the cats start to feel the first rumblings in their tummy. The fact that dry cat food is available all day in their dish doesn't count when the time for delicious tinned food in approaching. Lancelot decides that subtle hints are needed just in case I forget my most important job of the day. He starts the proceedings by staring at me. He sits in my direct line of sight, even if that means sitting in front of the computer, and stares with the unblinking gaze that only a cat can pull off. If he can, he'll stop glaring and find Guinevere so they can stage vicious looking fights all over the lounge room, or whatever room I'm in, until I get up and get The Tablespoon. This is the spoon I use to dish out the tinned food and Lancelot recognises it from immediately. If I move to another room for any reason, they will stop their battle to the death, follow me and then resume hostilities. Tristan usually rises above the whole feeding time ritual and watches from a distance. There is only one flavour of cat food he will deign to eat and that is only served every fourth day so he doesn't tend to get excited about nightly feeding time.

As soon as they see the spoon peace breaks out and Lancelot then takes on a supervisory role.
Guinevere resumes her lady like personality and sits quietly waiting for dinner to be served but Lancelot is stuck to me like glue. I try to get out the back door without him following me, but I haven't succeeded yet. He escorts me to the laundry where the food is kept, but doesn't come in with me. Instead, he takes up a pugnacious stance on the top step of the back porch, raises the hackles on his back and glares at the Kelpies, Juno and Dione, who desperately want to come up onto the porch for their share of the dog food. Lancelot doesn't move a muscle. He doesn't say anything to the Kelpies, there's no need. At the first sight of Lancelot on that top step they turn into two quivering wrecks unable to think straight or take their eyes off him. They shuffle restlessly from one foot to the other and try to drum up the courage to mount those steps. Occasionally Juno and Dione will have a rush of blood to the head and bound up the steps only to meet with a hiss and a raised paw from their black Nemesis. The quickly cave and bound down the steps faster than they bounded up.

Now I hear you all asking, "Is Lancelot some giant, monster cat breed?" No he's a 12 year old cat showing all the signs of age that the average 12 year old cat shows. He just thinks he's some giant monster cat breed and has somehow brainwashed the Kelpies into believing it too.

I've found the only way to get Lancelot inside so the poor Kelpies can get their share of dinner is to feed Billy, who remains unimpressed by Lancelot's presence, close the laundry door (so I can bring in the ferrets later and the Kelpies can eat without Billy muscling in) and then open the kitchen door and insist that Lancelot go back in the house. He usually shoots one glare and one hiss at the Kelpies for good measure, before complying with my request and stalks into the house. The Kelpies wait until the door is closed and Lancelot is well out of sight before venturing onto the porch. I then feed them and get on with feeding the rest of the menagerie. I keep telling the Kelpies that they are dogs, bigger and stronger than Lancelot (whose threats have all been either via body language or verbal. He has never laid a claw on them - they won't let him get close enough to try), and that there are two of them and only one of Lancelot. Nothing works, they are terrified of him and insist that only one of Lancelot is more than they can deal with. Just the thought of him on the other side of the door is enough to send them scurrying for the porch steps again. I have to wait until they have finished their food before going inside or they will scarper as soon as the back door is open and they see Lancelot on the other side.

Once I'm inside and dishing out the cat food, Lancelot returns to his old mellow self, tucks in with gusto and doesn't give the Kelpies so much as a second thought. If only I could have that sort of power over the menagerie! Life would be so much easier.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Hail as far as the eye can see

No, not as in Hail Caesar - we had a frighteningly severe hailstorm on Tuesday night. The hailstones were huge and quickly covered the ground. It looks like all our crops have been badly damaged (our crops are insured so it's not as bad as it sounds), my garden is devastated and it was just coming into flower. This is a big deal because the only flowers I get all year are in spring. But above all this I had pets out in the maelstrom.

As Graeme and I stood in the middle of the house, yelling at each other over the storm (we have a tin roof and the noise was unbelievable), Graeme worried about the windows breaking or parts of the roof lifting off. All I was really worried about were the animals I couldn't gather in my arms and bring inside for tender loving care. The chooks, galahs and pigeon were out there managing as best they could and I was inside frantic about them. As it turned out the chooks were smart enough to seek shelter in their little chook house - truth be told they were most likely already there, settled in for the night.

Tristan, my ginger cat, was outside when it hit but thankfully must have found shelter quickly. He came home a long time after it finished and was in a sorry state, soaking wet and covered in mud. He was frightened and spent Wednesday stuck to me like glue. He has wanted to sleep with us each night since, but with Graeme's wound so delicate after his hernia operation; I've had to close the bedroom door to keep him out. He spent part of the first night outside the door meowing pitifully and complaining about unfeeling family members who abandon a poor cat in his hour of need.

The Kelpies were beside themselves with fear during the storm but Billy remained as unflappable as ever and looked after them. The two quivering girls moved into the laundry with him and snuggled up as close as they could get to the huge mountain of calmness. He was so undisturbed by all the noise that they calmed down a bit. By that I mean they quivered less than before they joined Billy in the laundry. They were still basket cases mind you, just slightly calmer basked cases.

The birds in the aviary were a different matter entirely.

Hedwig and Hermes (the galahs) were my biggest worry. They have a protected area at the back of their aviary where they can seek shelter in the rain, wind or heat, but the front is all just chook wire - a lovely spot to sit on warm spring days. They sleep out there on a large branch every night regardless of the weather while Nova, the retired racing pigeon, sleeps in the protected part in the darkest corner. During the hail storm I got a torch and looked through the kitchen window to see how they were faring and then started to worry even more. Hermes was being the perfect, if somewhat stupid gentleman. He was literally standing on top of Hedwig with his wings partly spread out. He was protecting her from the hail assault, but he was taking the brunt of it himself. Hedwig looked less than impressed with his chivalry. I can imagine how I'd feel if Graeme stood on my head to protect me from something. I'd be looking around for something to protect me from Graeme's protection. Hedwig looked like she needed a new knight in shining armour to deal with the one she had on hand (or on head in this case). Thankfully he did seem to be a bit protected by the metal post that the branch is leaning up against.

Once the hail was over, and all possibilities of concussion with it, I grabbed an umbrella and went out to the aviary and moved Hedwig to the protected part of the cage. At first she didn't want to budge. She just wanted to tell me all her troubles from where she'd finally been set free from Hermes' protection. After a bit of a chat, in which my role was that of sympathetic listener, she consented to jump onto my hand and be moved to drier and safer territory. She was very upset and it took me a while with soft talking and lots of scratching under her wing (her favourite spot to be scratched) to calm her down. I eventually convinced Hermes to join her. He moved over to the protected area, mumbling under his breath about having the whole situation under control and there being no need for pushy busy bodies coming in after the emergency was over and taking charge.

Nova has more sense than the two of them and had taken refuge under shelter straight away. She usually flies away from me when I enter the aviary but tonight she was staying put come what may. I left the aviary and pulled the shade cloth cover I have for summer over the wire part of the cage in case Hermes moved himself out from undercover, which he did as soon as he could convince Hedwig to join him. I'm having serious thoughts about the intelligence level of some galahs.

The next morning both galahs were still asleep (out in the unprotected area of course). Whenever I checked on them during the day they were still asleep, in different spots around the aviary, but with their heads tucked under a wing snoozing the day away - they had a hard night.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Think Our Ram Has Learned His Lesson

Handsome isn't he? Our ewes all thought so.

Last year we bought two new stud rams. We met both of them at the Adelaide show and after I’d had a quiet chat with each of them I convinced Graeme we needed two, not one. The first fellow was up for auction that day and after a bit of fierce competition we were the winners. The second ram was going to auction at his stud’s farm a week later, so we arranged to bid for him over the phone.

The big day arrived and coincided with my quilting group’s day here so Graeme and I had an eager audience as we sat on the kitchen floor with our heads together and the phone in between us. We’d tried to fancy conference setting on our new phones and it worked beautifully until the time of the actual auction, then there was only silence at my end. Some pretty fast and furious bidding took place, with us having difficulty not knowing if our bid was the highest at the time – without the auctioneer staring pointedly at us it’s easy to lose confidence, but in the end all was fine and we were now the proud owner of the auction’s top priced ram. The quilting group ladies gave a mighty cheer in celebration and then returned to their sewing.

We hurried off to South Australia yet again to take possession of our ram and carried him home in triumph. He settled in well and performed well in his first mating season with the girls. He was also soon showing signs of wanting to be friends – always something I appreciate in 200 kg ram. Unfortunately as so often happens with rams I befriend, he developed a bad habit. If he’d confined his bad habits to just being friendly and getting in the way during drafting, like Farrer does, I could live with that. Two overly friendly rams trying to get pats while I was doing my level best to move the rams through the drafting race would have been difficult indeed, but so much preferable to this new ram’s sins.

Every night, while we were tucked up in bed, our new ram would find a weak spot in the ram paddock’s fence and go wandering. His wandering always took him to the same place – our ewe paddock. Each morning when Graeme was doing the rounds of the farm, there our ram would be, happily ensconced with a few hundred ewes to keep him company. He always had a very pleased with himself smile on his face and so did a few of the ewes. Graeme and I would return him to the ram paddock at the other end of the farm, then Graeme would check the fence for weak spots and not find any he could identify and the game would start again late that night. We are now convinced that he simply climbed the fence - some rams will do anything to get back with the girls

After a couple of these night wanderings we decided to lock him up in the sheep yards with another ram for company in the hope that he’d forget about the ewes and wherever the weak spot in the fence was. After a week of isolation we returned him to the ram paddocks. The next morning he was not among those present in the ram head count. He was very much in evidence in the ewe paddock though. Sterner punishment was called for. We now locked him in the sheep yards for a month. He and his ram friend lived high off the hog during this time, with unlimited hay and water and the occasional serving of lupins. Both rams settled into their new environment wandering from yard to yard. I’m sure he checked out the fences for weak spots but none could be found.

In the middle of his imprisonment all my grandchildren came to visit at the same time. This is a very rare treat and we made the most of it, working on our fairy garden, collecting eggs from the chooks, passing the time of day with the galahs and pigeon and generally having a great time. We were wandering around the yard this day when Michael noticed some wool on the fence. The conversation got around to shearing and I realised none of the grandchildren had ever been in the shearing shed, so I took them all over to the shed and showed them how we shear sheep. They were very impressed with the shearing gear and the chutes down which the shorn sheep go for a slippery slide to under the shed. It all sounded like great fun to them all. I had to dissuade them all from trying out the chute for themselves. We then walked out into the sheep yards so I could explain how we got the sheep into the shed for shearing. Hannah noticed the two rams in the yards and asked why they were there. I explained that the big one had been naughty, breaking out of the ram yard and wandering around the farm to go and visit with the girls, and he was in time out until he learned to behave himself. All five grandchildren quickly understood the concept of time out, all being quite experienced in the system themselves.

Hannah was indignant. At first I thought she was sticking up for the ram and thought he should be set free, but she soon made it clear who’s side she was on. With a determined set to her shoulders and a stiff little, irate walk, Hannah marched up to the fence and wagged her finger at the ram, giving him a stern lecture on good behaviour. It looked like such a good idea that Michael, Erin and Ethan all joined her and four little fingers were wagged as each child contributed their might to the lecture. Claire preferred to remain safely on my hip and watched the lecture with great interest from this protected vantage point. The ram just stood there looking in disbelief at these tiny people, with a sturdy fence between him and them, telling him off. When Hannah decided that he had learned his lesson she gave her parting shot, "And make sure you behave yourself from now on!" turned on her heel and marched back to me. Without Hannah there as back-up the other three gave a final wag of their fingers and a loud, "Yeah!" in support and quick marched back behind her. The ram continued to stand there looking at where the tiny people had been.

We returned to the house with all four kids feeling very smug. I was very good and didn't laugh once. It was difficult but I kept a straight face through the whole lecture and only gave the ram a sympathetic look when the kids weren't looking.

I think he must have taken Hannah’s and her posse's lecture to heart. When he was released after his month’s incarceration he didn’t go visit the girl’s even once. Of course his earlier visits are now paying off and we are about to have an unplanned lambing descend on us any day now – a reminder of his more irresponsible and care free days.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cecilia Goes Wild

A ferret gone wild!

We had a major gaol break here last night. For a while there I thought that I was going to have to tell Savannah that Cecilia had run away and I really didn't want to be the one to tell her she was one ferret short.

I first noticed that the kitchen had one ferret too many running around the floor. Any ferret running around the floor at night when Graeme could come inside an minute is one ferret too many. I rushed out to scoop up said ferret and put her back in the inside cage where they all sleep in winter. Jocie, as this ferret proved to be, went back into the cage peaceably while I did a head count and came up one ferret short. Neither big fat boy ferret can fit through the little opening at the back of the cage and tend to sulk when the females find a way out. I have adjust the bottom bars of the cage from time to time to stop skinny little female ferrets exiting and going on excursions around the house. I began my search for Cecilia noting that the front door was open and saying a little prayer that she hadn't left the building. A quick look outside didn't give me any clues as to whether she'd gone on a big adventure or just confined herself to finding mischief in the house.

I next checked our bedroom and found evidence that a ferret had been in there having a great time upsetting Lancelot who was on the bed with his tail brushed out and a hunted look on his face. Further evidence to the fact that a ferret had been here was that the bin was overturned and all the rubbish strewn over the bedroom floor (ferrets can't resist rubbish bins and love to sift through their contents for treasures). I heard a scuffling in the kitchen and raced out there only to find that this escaped ferret was Jocie making a reappearance because, in my eagerness to find Cecilia, I'd forgotten to close up her escape route. I kept hold of Jocie while continuing my search for Cecilia.

We went outside together to do a thorough search of the front yard, but I realised if Cecilia had gone out there there was no way I was going to find her. Never the less Jocie and I put in a few frantic minutes searching through the undergrowth. Well I put in the minutes searching, Jocie tended to try to free herself so she could get into that undergrowth and cause me more angst. In the end I had to accept that the only way I was going to find Cecilia if she was out here was for her to reveal herself, give herself up and come quietly. Jocie and I went inside to continue our search.

More rooms were examined thoroughly and I eventually gave up and put Jocie back into the cage and was just repairing the escape route when a little face with a black mask popped out from behind the fridge. I sat where I was, my head moving back and forward between the cage needing escape proofing and the ferret needing scooping in before she went further afield, not sure which to attack first. In the end scooping in the fugitive ferret took priority. I added a stern lecture on the wickedness of giving me heart palpitations, said a little thank you prayer and returned her to the cage, only to find Jocie half in half out of the escape route. As soon as she realised I could see what she was up to she froze where she was, obviously hoping that I wouldn't notice half a ferret sticking out of the cage.

I moved to the back of the cage and tried to poke the excess bits of ferret back into the cage without hurting her, while Jocie tried to add to the ferret excess on the wrong side of the cage (or I suppose the right side of the cage from her point of view). Cecilia came to join in the fun while the fat boys just looked on with sour, jealous looks. In the end it was easier to let them both escape while I sat there and pop them back in the front door. Admittedly their hearts weren't in the great escape this time, they knew they'd be returned to the cage as soon as they got out, but if there's one thing a ferret won't admit it's defeat. So I duly scooped them both up, returned them to the front of the cage and dashed back to fix the unintended back exit before they beat me to it.

Thankfully there were no further ferret escapes during the night. Oh there were many break out attempts from the sounds of attempts to prise the cage bars further apart, but the reinforced cage held up to every ferret assault. I imagine the boys settled down for the night with smug little smiles when they realised the girls were just as locked in now as they were.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Billy Has Joined Our Quilting Group

Billy's idea of joining a quilting group is to roll on his back and offer his tummy for a rub whenever a quilter walks past.

Yesterday Billy decided to join my quilting group. Five lovely ladies and myself meet here once a month usually, but weekly during January. My neighbour Aileen was the only one who could make it yesterday with some of the others still cleaning up after the January fires and others not feeling too well. With the temperatures well into the 40’s Billy usually spends his days lying on the kitchen floor underneath the air conditioning duct. I was a bit worried about inviting him in while I had visitors, but Aileen likes Billy (believe it or not some people are actually frightened of him!!) so I thought I'd risk it.

Early in the morning, before the heat really hit us, I gave each of the dogs a frozen bone, sort of like a doggy ice-block. The standard routine for dishing out bones is to give Billy a huge marrow bone to keep him occupied while I give Shadow a smaller bone and lock her in the laundry so she doesn’t have to stand guard over it while Billy tries to steal it. Then it’s time to give the Kelpies their bones. I manage this tricky manoeuvrer by constantly feinting stealing Billy’s bone so he doesn’t feel confident enough to run down the porch steps and grab the Kelpies’ bones. The Kelpies know to take off with their treats as soon as they get them, and peace reigns supreme to the sound of bones crunching from all directions. Once the temperature hovered around the high 30’s it was time for Billy and Shadow to come inside. I opened the laundry door to invite them in. Shadow wandered over to the back door, sniffed Billy's bone and decided the cool air was the better option and Billy, who had been trying to push past me, turned and made a beeline for Shadow's bone in the laundry.

He then faced a huge dilemma. The kitchen door was open and he was finally being invited in. Did he steal the bone and miss out on coming inside or come inside and miss out on Shadow’s bone? He stood in the laundry door way, a picture of indecision with his head swaying back and forward between the bone and kitchen door. Decisions, decisions. What was a dog to do? Then inspiration struck. Billy lunged at the bone, picked it up in one quick movement and headed for the back door. I was too quick for him and told him to finish the bone first and slammed the door. Once the crunching stopped I allowed the thief to come in and enjoy the cooler air.

All is usually fine once the dogs are settled in the kitchen. Shadow, with one evil glance at Billy as he stretches out under the air conditioning duct, finds a cool spot on the floor and grumbles about huge furry lumps who take unfair advantage of their size and hog all the coolest air, but apart from the Silky grumbles, an air of quiet and calm descends on the kitchen.

Not so yesterday. It appears that Billy didn’t feel quite secure in his being able to stay in the kitchen. It could be he thought Aileen might voice a protest about wall to wall St. Bernards on the kitchen floor, or he might have been playing for the sympathy vote from a visitor, but whatever it was the decibel rating in the kitchen regularly came close to that of a sonic boom. As Billy lay prone, soaking up the breeze from the air-conditioning duct, he began to pant. No problem with that, after all dogs have to pant to cool themselves. He had a bucket of water next to him to help him cool down if he needed it so there was little excuse for all the panting. I even ignored the lolling tongue and river of drool on the floor while he indulged in his panting session. But, did he stop at just panting? Not my Billy. The pants developed a definite grunting undertone and soon it sounded like a mob of pigs had invaded the kitchen. With each pant and grunt the noise level increased until Aileen and I had trouble hearing each other. Graeme, who hasn’t joined the quilting group, but was doing inside farm work today (accounts and such) began adding his grumbles to the general cacophony. Eventually I’d have enough of the noise, say “Billy!” in my loudest, sternest voice and Billy would go back to almost silent panting. Then, sllowly but surely the grunts were re-introduced and the cycle began again.

Aileen, true friend she is, found the whole thing very amusing and had a good laugh. Billy immediately recognised this as a sign of support for his overacting and rushed over to the silver strip separating the carpet in the dining area from the vinyl floor in the kitchen. He knows he’s not allowed to put a foot on the carpet and usually respects this rule. The problem is that with his toes on the silver strip, while he’s technically still in the kitchen his head overhangs the carpet. You can see the problem here can’t you? Billy’s toes aren’t the problem, his toes don’t leak – his head does (or more accurately his huge mouth does). Soon, strings of drool were heading south towards my lovely cream carpet while he smiled at Aileen and tried to garner sympathy for a poor unloved dog forced to live in this heat. I jumped up and pushed the offending head back onto the vinyl area, getting my arms bathed in drool, and reminded Billy of The Rule. The Rule is that when inside Billy has to sit with a towel close by so that it can either catch the drool, or be close at hand to at least wipe it up. The problem with The Rule is similar to the problem with the No Feet On The Carpet Rule. Billy is more than happy to stick close to the towel, if I really insist, so much in fact that he’s usually sitting on it, and again, his back end isn’t the end that leaks! Also, with the weight of a large St. Bernard on the towel, it’s very difficult to retrieve it to wipe up the drool puddles.

Each time Graeme or Aileen wanted to go to the kitchen I’d race ahead, indulge in a sort of one sided tug of war with Billy in an effort to get the towel out from under him, and wipe over the floor. Not because Aileen would complain (although Graeme would!), but because I’m aware that few people are as tolerant of dog drool as I am, and heaven forbid that either Aileen or Graeme slipped on the slippery stuff and landed in a puddle! It just didn’t bare thinking about. Billy was always helpful during my cleaning up sessions. He followed me round pointing out spots I’d missed, while failing to notice that he was actually making these new spots as he went.

When lunch time arrived Billy and Shadow were banished to the back porch until all the food was eaten. This is because Billy is ever the helpful St. Bernard - he’ll tell you it’s in his breeding to help whenever possible, and he’s more than happy to place his huge head on the kitchen counter and sniff the food to make sure it’s hasn’t gone bad. He doesn’t steal the food, mind you, he’s far too well mannered and honourable for that! But, by the time the food has been thoroughly sniffed, no one else seems to want it. So the battle to de-Billy the kitchen began. Shadow is always first out. With the air a of martyr about to face the firing squad Shadow hunches her shoulders and marches out to the oven like back porch. She doesn’t let on that she knows the laundry floor is considerably cooler and where she’ll spend her time until she’s allowed in again, that would ruin the whole impressive martyr act, so with the bravest look she can muster, she leave the kitchen and the fun begins.

Billy develops a strange condition when he comes inside. He can no longer understand humans if those humans are saying, "Outside!" no matter how those humans try communicating with him. I tried verbally, loud verbally, very loud verbally and finally sign language (I grabbed his collar and started pulling). I managed to get Billy as far as the back door and there he stopped. He splayed his legs and just refused to budge another inch. Let me tell you when a 75 kg Billy refuses to budge, budge he doesn’t! So there he stood, spreading drool and winter coat everywhere. I finally decided to resort to bribery and waved a cup of cat kibble in his face. Billy loves cat kibble - he'll even ignore the ferrets for the few seconds it takes him to scoff the kibble. Just like his earlier dilemma with Shadow’s bone and the kitchen floor, Billy was torn between the kibble and the cool air and couldn’t make the decision. He did have the bright idea of trying to get the kibble from my hand while maintaining his hold on the kitchen floor, but apart from having me in stitches at his attempts to stretch his neck as far as it would go while keeping the rest of his body well and truly in the kitchen, we didn’t make any headway towards outside. I eventually had to call in the big guns. Graeme grabbed Billy’s collar and it was all over in a matter of seconds. The kitchen was now Billy free. It did mean I had to empty the teapot on the front garden rather than the back, but otherwise everything was fine and we enjoyed our lunch while trying not to imagine the pitiful sight of a melting giant, outside the back door.

As soon as lunch finished Billy was invited back in. He nearly bowled me over in his eagerness to get the best spot on the kitchen floor again. Shadow followed at a more sedate pace and settled quickly. Not so Billy. He tried first one spot and then another, letting me know that now he’d lost his favourite spot and couldn’t find it. That would teach me a lesson to go wantonly shoving dogs outside in the middle of the day! How could I live with myself now that I was witnessing this pathetic little scene? I cold-heartedly returned to the lounge room after a quick reminder about The Rule, and with no audience to impress, Billy settled in his usual spot to begin his panting and grunting routine. It wasn’t long before everything was back to “normal” and cries of “Billy!” rent the air from time to time to regain peace and quiet, even if only temporarily. All in all I didn't manage a lot of sewing.

And how do I know that this was a special act for my visitor? Billy is lying under the air conditioning duct as I write – there’s not a peep out of him; not a grunt or even a pant to be heard.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Grandson Michael feeding one of last year's bottle babies

I’ve told you all about ram buying and mating here on Spring Rock, now it’s time to initiate you into the wonderful mysteries of lambing.

After the girls have been mated and are proudly walking around the paddocks displaying their blue bottoms (from the crayon the ram wore on his chest when mating was in full swing) things settle down for a while. The girls are left to their own devices to swap parenting stories, wish they could use their wool to make little sets of four booties, and generally eat for a litter of six or seven rather than the single, twins or triplets they are likely to have. The rams return to their paddocks and I imagine their conversation turns to the girls they me, then later on to the ever important topic of the quality and quantity of food to be found.

So life in the sheep stud is quiet and reflective for a few months. We can now turn our attention to the task of sowing the crops and all its myriad of tasks associated with crop growing. I’d like to say life settles down to a quiet routine, but Graeme and temperamental farm equipment never allow that to happen. Crop sowing has a definite window of time when it has to be completed for maximum benefit to the future of the crops, so sowing time is fraught with stress and worry. Farm equipment that hasn’t been used for a year now shows its true colours. I believe that all the larger equipment spend their downtime wrecking important components of their workings just to spite us for ignoring them for most of the year. Emergency dashes to town and hundreds of phone calls to repair shops with minute description of the symptoms are an integral part of our day. But I digress; we are discussing lambing, not cropping.

A few weeks before the girls are due to pop they are brought into the sheep yards to be injected for various nasty diseases that they and/or their lambs may contract if left unprotected. The ewes are never enthusiastic about this assault on their burgeoning bodies and many loud complaints are bleated and indignant sheepy glares are directed at us. Once the girls are injected and assured of another healthy year of life, they are turned out into a paddock close to the sheep yards so they can be mustered and sorted yet again a few days before they are due. If you have read How To Run A Sheep Stud For Fun And Profit you may remember that we synchronise our joining so all the ewes are due to deliver their cute little bundles within a very hectic, two week period. Before their due date the sheep shed is set up with individual maternity rooms made from steel fencing linked together with tent pegs. Each mother-to-be gets a private room nestled in amongst all the rest. The ewes can chat to each other over their pens and compare notes on the size of their tummies and what sex lamb they are hoping for.

When the big day finally arrives for the first ewe the atmosphere in the shed becomes electric. All the girls realise that a new arrival has put in his or her appearance and they begin to ponder their own offspring’s arrival. Ewe faces take on a serious, getting down to business look and before too long more and more lambs are popping out. The older mothers take this all in their stride. Usually they pop out their twins or triplets, clean them up and go back to the serious business of eating, taking time out occasionally to feed their lambs or chew their cuds with their babies snuggled into their sides. All is at peace in their world.

First time mothers can be a whole different kettle of fish. A number of them have no idea what has happened. It’s not uncommon to see a first time mother looking askance at the slimy little thing that has just appeared in their pen. The ewe may stand up and pop her head over the pen to discuss this strange happening with her next door neighbour. I imagine a conversation something like this:
New Mother: “Hey, look what just moved into my pen! Have you ever seen anything like this before? Is it dangerous? Should I be worried?”
Next Door Neighbour (if she’s an experienced mother): “It’s alright dear, it’s just your baby. Just clean him up and you’ll find a cute little lamb under all that slime.”
New Mother: “Clean him up! How?”
Next Door Neighbour: “ You lick him all over until he is dry and white. It’s not too bad, you’ll get used to it.”
New Mother: !!!!!!!

The conversation is a little different with two first time mothers in adjoining pens:
New Mother: “Hey, look what just moved into my pen! Have you ever seen anything like this before? Is it dangerous? Should I be worried?”
Next Door Neighbour: “Good grief! What is it! I hope it doesn’t come in here!!!”
New Mother: “I know! I know! What am I going to do with it?”
Next Door Neighbour: “I have no idea, but keep it away from me!!”

These mothers usually require a short course in cleaning and caring for their babies. We rub down the baby with a towel and then encourage the mother to join in and help. Sometimes they do sometimes they don’t. The next step is to get the mother to stand still while the lamb tries to drink. New born lambs have a lousy sense of direction and will suck on any part of their mother’s (or anyone else’s close by) anatomy. We usually leave the lamb to its own devises and eventually it locates the teats and with a bit more good luck, the ewe stands still while it drinks. Once again these first time mothers can be a different story entirely. Many of them jump each time the cool little mouth touches their warm udder. They not only jump, but dance around the tiny pen acting as if they have had ice cubes put down their back. The lamb tries to follow and latch on to the teat again but this is a forlorn hope. We often have to intervene and hold the mother still while baby has his first drink.

Then there are the lambs who take their dreadful sense of direction to extremes and no matter how many times you push it in the direction of the teats, it will swerve to the left or the right and try to suck on a leg or their mums’ stomach, or our fingers, or anything things else as long as it’s not the teat. Helping these lambs takes on all the attributes of an all in wrestling match, especially if it’s a first time mother with a baffled lamb. The gentle bonding scene between mother and lamb slowly dissolves into chaos and first lamb, then mother and finally we begin to roll around the less than pristine straw on the floor of the pen trying to attach the lamb’s mouth to the reluctant ewe’s teat. Needless to say we wait quite a while before we decide to intervene. Thankfully, the majority of lambs know what to do and the most efficient ways of doing it.

Occasionally, for one reason of another I end up with a bottle baby or two. Before taking this big step towards drastically reducing my free time, we try to encourage another ewe to adopt the orphan baby. First, we cast our eyes around the likely adopters, looking for a ewe with a kind face (well I look for a ewe with a kind face, Graeme just looks for the closest lambless ewe), amongst those who have recently lambed and either lost their lambs or have a single lamb at foot. After choosing our candidate we then rub the lamb all over the ewe’s back end and the afterbirth if it’s still in her pen (usually it’s not). This messy procedure is to get as much of the ewe’s scent as possible onto the ring-in lamb in order to trick her into believing she had simply misplaced this lamb and it has now come home. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way there is usually a performance similar to the one described above of attaching the lamb to the teat.

A problem that rears its head all too often amongst Suffolks and White Suffolks occurs when a confused ewe believes she has lambed simply by watching the ewe next door lamb (oh if only childbirth were that easy). The befuddled ewe is eager for her lamb to get away from the ewe next door and come home where it can be loved properly. The real mother is just as anxious that the lamb stay right where it is. The trouble arises when the mother ewe has twins or triplets. While she is busy giving birth to number two or three, the bewildered ewe next door takes this opportunity to entice the lamb over to her pen with promises of ever flowing milk and lots and lots of love. Lambs don’t care who their real mother is. They are just in it for the milk, so these promises usually work straight away. We have tried to place the bars of the pens close enough together to prevent the lambs escaping, but with little success. Part of our time in the shed is involved with re-introducing lamb and real mother over and over again. Most times the real mother will be quite happy to see her offspring again and give it a quick clean up to remover the foreign smell of Mrs Next-door, but on some occasions the real mother will no longer have anything to do with her lamb. So where’s the problem you ask? Why don’t you just let Mrs Next-door have the lamb and add it to her compliment of babies to be raised that year? Ah, it’s not that simple. There are three ways this situation can go:
1. Mrs Next-door can take the lamb to her heart and love it and her own offspring as well when they arrive shortly after
2. She can take the lamb and love it, but reject her own offspring when they arrive because … I don’t k now - who knows why ewes do the things they do.
3. She can realise her mistake as soon as her own babies arrive and reject the baby she stole.
As you might have guessed, outcomes 2. and 3. are much more common that 1. and the result is another bottle baby or two added to my quota.

Of all the reluctant mothers in the shed, I am the most reluctant. Bottle raising lambs gets exponentially more difficult with each lamb that is added to the brood. Each lamb gets exponentially more boisterous and insistent on being fed first with each additional lamb added to the brood and so it goes.

Oh the joys of bottle feeding lambs. I’ll tell you all about that some other day when I’m feeling strong enough to relive the experience.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Well We Survived

We had had dust storms all day. Dust storms in July are unheard of, but coming out of the drought, there were still plenty of empty paddocks and dry dirt roads for the winds to whip up into a dust storm. Later in the afternoon, the dust storm turned into rain. With the amount of dust in the air, it was more like it was raining mud that water, but at least the dust was settled. Then there I was sitting in the lounge room, thinking pleasant thoughts about the wind and rain outside when all hell broke loose. The child like storm outside had whipped itself up into a fully-grown, vengeful mini tornado. The house began to groan in protest. The window flexed and made that scary noise windows make when they are on the verge of shattering. Our corrugated iron roof joined the party, making noises like a roof about to leave the party.

I not unreasonably decided that my spot on the lounge near the windows was not the best place to be. I quickly joined Graeme and Justin in the kitchen where we waited until the violence abated before doing a quick check of all the windows in the house, before Graeme checked our roof for damage. The roof held up well, but when I went in to check our bedroom, I found a small rivulet of water cascading down the wall, adding a water feature to our room causing our bedroom to be soggier than I would have liked. Mum-Puss and Guinevere had been sleeping on the bed during the tempest, and as soon a I walked into the room Guinevere made a dash for safer environs. Mum-Puss, the stoic old lady that she is, toughed it out even objecting loudly when I forcibly removed her from the bedroom to give Graeme and Justin elbow room to staunch the flow.

Apollo and Shadow were locked up in the laundry and only Billy was roaming at large. Apollo wants it stated for the record that he wasn’t the least bit afraid. These violent weather phenomena are meat and drink to a brave guarder of the sheep (even if he is retired). Shadow was just grateful not to be face to face with the storm and also to have that Rock Of Gibraltar, Apollo for comfort. Billy wasn't sure, but he thought the end of the world had come and took off around to the side of the house, when various items stored on our back porch were sucked out into the garden. We managed to coax him back and I coaxed him into the kitchen with promised of a safe harbour until he calmed down. Graeme quickly laid the dining room chairs down to provide a barricade thus locking Billy into the confines of the kitchen where he proceeded to make a mess of the floors with his great muddy paws. Thank goodness for Graeme’s quick thinking.

Let me tell you, you don't want an over-anxious St. Bernard confined to a kitchen, especially once he's discovered that his arch nemeses, the ferrets are taking shelter there too in their inside cage!! Miette and Albus galvanised into their regular Billy repelling stance and dared him to start anything. Billy, who’s quite used to this reaction when he wanders over for a chat with the ferrets ignored their blatant threats and continued to try to find a way into the 30cm and 150 cm cage. He thought he'd found heaven when he looked up from inviting the ferrets to come out and play and saw Guinevere and Lancelot sitting under the dining room table on the other side of our makeshift barricade. To Billy’s credit he didn’t attempt to scale the chairs to reach the cats. It wouldn’t have even been a challenge for his long legs, but he dutifully stayed on his side of the chairs and tried to entice the cats to join him in a game of chase. Needless to say the cats declined to accept his offer. The only problem now that he knows where all the fun animals live is that I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep him out of the house in future!

My poor garden seems to have taken the brunt of the damage with large amounts of trees are lying all over my front garden. It was only just getting back on its feet after the drought. The rest of the farm came off relatively unscathed. It appeared that the true violence was confined to the house yard and its environs. I don't think God wants me to have a garden at Spring Rock. I don't know why He has taken this attitude, I've always built lovely gardens at my other homes, but every time I begin to get the garden where it looks more like a garden than a disaster area, something comes along and wrecks it. I just might have to stop trying now. If God is going to send mini tornados to stop me gardening then I hate to think what He'll send next time!

The sheep weathered the storm in their normal calm, cud chewing manner. Only one set of twin Suffolk lambs became separated from their mother. Graeme braved the elements and reunited this little family. He returned to the house looking very much the damp hero and I’m sure the Suffolk mother was eternally grateful that she didn’t have to venture out from the safety of the flock to retrieve her young. Graeme conducted a damage assessment of the farm the next morning. He found that no damage was done further a field and that Mahala was calm and in charge of the situation. Mahala had been my biggest worry now that her mother Christie has died. Mahala always looked to Christie for reassurance and protection in trying times. By the way, next day Billy looked like he has been swimming in mud. I don't know how he's managed it, but there is hardly a clean spot on him. He's spent the day after the storm sitting at the back door waiting for us to go out to the toilet and then he waylaid us. We come back inside looking like we've rolled in the mud ourselves. The sad part of this is that Billy needed a very thorough grooming to restore his coat to its usually glossy appearance. And you know what grooming Billy entails!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

De-Grass Seeding Billy

An example of the offending grass seeds - the natural enemy of Billy's paws

Ah the joys of summer. The flies, the heat, the lack of rain and top of my list … removing grass seeds from Billy’s toes.

As many of you may remember, grooming Billy is fraught with all sorts of dangers (for those of you who are new to my blog and don’t know about the ways not to groom a St Bernard, you can read all about it here ), and let me tell you de-grass seeding Billy is even more hazardous to my well being! Grass seeds have to be removed from Billy’s toes because the seeds will eventually work their way into the delicate skin between his toes or between the pads underneath and begin to work their way up his leg, forming abscesses on their way. This happened last year on Boxing Day and ended with an emergency dash to the vet’s where the vet, with me assisting, crawled around on the floor of the surgery removing numerous grass seeds from Billy’s legs and more delicate parts while Billy was under sedation. We crawled around the floor because the vet declared Billy just too darn big to lift onto the table. Even though I acted as vet nurse the procedure still cost us a couple of hundred dollars.

It all begins when Billy is found gently gnawing away at one of his massive paws. Billy is getting very sneaky, after numerous de-seeding sessions, and tries to munch surreptitiously while my attention is somewhere else. But eventually he’s discovered chewing away at one of his paws. He immediately tries to change the subject by jumping up and inviting me to play a game of Knock Rosemary Over but I won’t be distracted from my mission. With a huge sigh I gather my tools - my reading glasses, small scissors and tweezers and return to the back porch from where more often than not Billy has completely disappeared.

Billy is sadly handicapped when it comes to lying low. I usually come across him trying to be invisible in the shadows of some bushes or trying to blend in with the scenery somewhere. As soon as I spot him he hunkers down in an effort to shrink his bulk or better still disappear altogether. When neither miracle happens I wrestle, pull, push or anything else that works to get Billy back onto the porch for his pedicure. Once the porch is reached and I regain my breath and composure while keeping a firm hold on his collar, the next job is to turn Billy onto his side from a standing position. I am seriously out classed here. I’m 5’ 3” (heaven’s knows what that is in centimetres, but I bet it’s not much) while Billy is nearly 3’ tall on four legs and somewhere around 6’ tall on two. Not that big you say? Well you have to remember to pack 70kgs of muscle and fat around those vital statistics, and let me tell you, Billy has every gram well packed.

I approach this delicate task the same way with the same technique I used when turning sheep over back in my sheep turning over days. I kneel down, take hold of the two legs furthest from me and pull. Now this worked about 90% of the time with sheep. Sheep are dumb and when they find themselves slightly off balance they fall in a confused heap and wonder what the hell just happened. Billy on the other hand, while often giving the impression of having little more brain power than a sheep, is actually quite an intelligent dog. When I pull his legs in the time honoured fashion, he lowers his head into my shoulder and knocks me off balance. Then over I go in a confused heap wondering what the hell just happened while Billy stands nearby the picture of concerned drooly innocence, offering his back for me to lean on to help me up again. This goes on for a while until finally Billy takes pity on me and drops to the ground. Once he’s on the ground I once again regain my breath and composure before the next step in the proceedings.

Just because he’s feeling sorry for me doesn’t mean that Billy will actually co-operate in the removing of grass seeds. Oh no … Billy’s role in the entire process is to put as many spokes in my wheel as he can. I pick up the massive, soggy, chewed paw and try to hold it in my left hand. This paw is big enough for any full grown lion to be proud to call its own and holding onto it is made extremely difficult by Billy thinking I’m starting a game of tug-of-war. After an initial tussle where Billy wins most of the rounds, I end up sitting on as much of Billy as I can while holding my body at whatever uncomfortable angle is best for seeing the spot where the grass seeds might be. From time to time Billy will quickly draw his leg out of my hand to the safety of his body where he will do all he can to protect it from any more maltreatment on my part. Billy often stoops to manufacturing even more drool than normal and threatening to spread it as far over my person as he can reach while still protecting his foot. Sometimes he pretends that he needs the foot for some other vital job like having a scratch or covering his eyes, whatever he thinks I will believe. I don’t believe anything a wussey St Bernard says during de-seeding of paws, although the drool threat does give me pause for thought. When these ploys fail to stop the clean out operation, Billy becomes very helpful and constantly inserts his head between me and the paw in question. He assures me it’s just so he can get a closer look at my technique and show me where it hurts, but I have my doubts. Trying to work around a massive head with strings of drool hanging off each side of its jowls certainly puts a dent in my already pitiful enthusiasm for the job, but ever the masochist, I persevere.

As with any activity involving Billy getting the worst of the deal, the ferrets stand at the front of their cage offering advice and volunteering to help anytime I’d like to see the seeds removed with sharp little ferret teeth. I can almost hear the shouts from the ferret cage to allow audience participation. I really do believe this is the ferret’s favourite time of year.

Eventually I manage to clean out all the grass seeds between each toe and pad and move on to the next foot. Most of the actions described above are repeated three times at least. Thus after the better part of an entire day has passed, Billy ‘s feet are once more in pristine condition and ready to go out there and gather more seeds. Which is exactly what he does as soon as I set him free. The ferrets return to their naps or whatever they were doing pre de-seeding and I’m left with a pile of seeds big enough to sow a fair sized paddock (always given someone wants to sew a paddock down to weeds that is), clothes covered in St Bernard hair and drool and an aching back. There are possibly a few bruises to show for my efforts too, but out of loyalty to Billy I refuse to acknowledge them.

The only variation on this procedure occurs if Graeme hears me rousing on Billy (or pleading with Billy if I’ve been at it for a while) and comes along to help. He then takes over the de-seeding operation while I hold Billy’s head and distract him from what is going on down at his feet. Billy still offers some resistance, but with Graeme’s strength and my efforts to prevent his head getting between Graeme and the seeds, Billy is severely hampered in his efforts. This means that Graeme will get the job done in a disgustingly short space of time with minimal effort. Graeme doesn’t understand why I find the job, when practiced solo, so difficult.

And so Billy’s feet are once more seed free and I can rest up for a while … Excuse me, I have to go now, I just saw Billy chewing on his paw.