Saturday, April 25, 2009

Billy Joined My Quilting Group

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 Junee 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 (one of the quilt group members is 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 bee line (b-line?) 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 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. 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 nose 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 honourable for that! But, by the time the food has been thoroughly sniffed, no one else wants 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 coldheartedly 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.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Please Take Care When Using Our Facilities

We are expecting visitors in the next week or so and Billy is going to be so excited with all these people staying here! He just loves visitors. Shadow on the other hand will retire to the laundry and grumble at anyone who has the temerity to use the toilet.

Toilet visits here are fraught with problems. There is little privacy when a visitor wants to use our one and only toilet, which is located in the laundry on the porch outside the back door. It is wise for visitors to announce their intentions to us so that we can take the necessary actions to safeguard their visit to the loo.

When a visitor needs to use the "facilities" we have to de-Billy the laundry first. This is harder than it sounds. Billy likes nothing better than to accompany those visiting the loo and offering any form of assistance they might (or even might not) want. Putting his head in their lap and looking up at them with mournful eyes, while they are seated is his favourite way of helping out, meaning that one rises with a patch of wet drool on one's bare legs. He then leans against you while you try to wipe this off and "adjust your clothing". Billy has been known to knock people sideways during this delicate procedure. Luckily no-one has landed in the actual toilet bowl, although I did come perilously close one time (Don't ask! I don't want to talk about it.).

Lately he has developed a new strategy that is only slightly more acceptable than his head on the lap technique. Billy now sits down beside whoever is unfortunate enough to be using the facilities and looks for all the world like he's planning on behaving himself. As soon as you are lulled into a false sense of security Billy begins his new line of attack. He slowly stands, still not looking at you, and backs up. Before you know it you are up close and personal with Billy's back end, his tail wagging somewhere around your knees if you are lucky, somewhere around your face if you are not. The first worrying thought is that Billy is preparing to back up with a view to sitting on your lap while you are a captive audience. You can rest easy on this score. Billy has never yet actually sat on someone's lap while they are visiting our toilet. No, what Billy wants is that special spot at the base of his tail scratched. If you refuse to participate in this favourite pastime of Billy's he believes you haven't had enough encouragement and begins to back up closer and closer until you are leaning back as far as the cistern will let you. Occasionally Billy will look over his shoulder with a "What's wrong back there? Why isn't anything happening base of tail wise?" look on his face.

I've tried pushing his rump out of the way, I've tried ignoring him, I've tried rousing on him. Nothing works. Billy continues to live in hope. Why don't I put him out when I enter the laundry you ask? Because I am such a sucker for a pair of big sad eyes that promise to stay right where they are, along with the rest of the dog, on the floor over near the washing machine and far, far away from the toilet. Sometimes he actually does stay put leading me to hope that that will happen again next time. It rarely does.

Once you survived whichever stratagem Billy has chose and you have redressed yourself it's time to wash your hands. You have to negotiate the distance from one end of the laundry to the other - a total of about three feet. This is much harder than it sounds because Billy is there with you all the way. Exchanging pleasantries and doing a lot more leaning as you try to move those few vital feet to the sink. Giving Billy a pat and telling him he's a good boy (an out and out lie, but by this time you are desperate to wash you hands and get out of there!) will only result in Billy dropping to the floor in front of you and exposing large areas of tummy to be rubbed. For such a huge dog he always manages to perform this little feat with surprising agility, meaning that he is on the floor in no time flat, taking up all the available space including where your feet are at the moment. This results in the toiletee once again being in grave danger of falling over. The bright side of this you quickly see is that you have plenty of soft, squishy St Bernard to land on when you do reach the floor. The downside you only discover when you land. Billy is ever helpful (it's the St Bernard Way!) and is more than happy to give you some welcoming licks as you land with a thud, and lots of drool to be going on with. As you struggle to regain your feet, you realise that Billy is using his front paws to bat at you in an attempt to pull you back down for some reason. Then it dawns on you - you haven't patted his tummy and this is his subtle way of telling you so.

So you give his tummy a rub, climb back on to your feet and finally gain the longed for laundry sink. You are able to wash your hands and leave the laundry with only a few pawing motions from the supine Billy making you buckle at the knees.

Is it any wonder we rush out to de-Billy the laundry before visitors enter?

And what is Shadow doing all this time? She is lying on her bed, glaring at the visitor and grumbling about this invasion of her personal territory as I mentioned earlier. She is blames the toilet user for all this mayhem and offers no sympathy what so ever. Shadow expects bad behaviour from Billy at all times so she tends to blame those who actually supply Billy with the means to behave badly, rather than Billy himself. She leaves visitors in no doubt that they should show some self control and wait until they get home to relieve themselves - regardless of how many days they are visiting here!!

Now, who else would like to come to Spring Rock for a visit??

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Birds & Bees & Rams

One of Spring Rocks' handsome Suffolk Rams (not SR
he wasn't here long enough to get a name or have a photo taken)

We’re home again after our travels with another Suffolk ram in tow. This ram is to replace the ram we bought last year who, as a stud ram, was a dismal failure. Just let me tell you about last year’s ram. He wasn’t here long enough to get a name so we’ll just call him SR (for Suffolk ram of course).

We first met SR at the farm in South Australia where he was being auctioned. He had everything we were looking for in a ram (or so we thought) – a good head, lovely strong legs for chasing the girls around the paddocks, he was well grown and fit and a very handsome ram. In other words just perfect for what we needed. We settled into the auction with only one thought – get that ram! When he came up for bidding we obviously weren’t the only ones who had that thought, but after a fiercely fought battle of flying bids where no auctioneer was safe from the nodding, finger lifting or eyelid fluttering, depending on each bidders technique, we emerged the victors and the owners of one gorgeous ram ready to make the trek back to Spring Rock.

His arrival at the farm was uneventful. We took the trailer into the ram paddock, introduced him to our other rams, opened the trailer gate and away he went, anxious to make new friends. If only we had stood watching him for a few more minutes we might have got some inkling of what was to come. As it was we were delighted to see him apparently settling in well and definitely on the way to making new friends in the sheep community. With light and happy hearts we turned our tired thoughts to the house and our bed.

A few months later it was time to introduce SR to the girls who would be ready, willing and able to whisper sweet nothings in his ear and make him the happiest ram on earth. These days we synchronise the ewe joining. I won’t go into the scientific details here but all it means is that we know which ewes will cycle (be ready for mating) on each particular date. We arrange it so each ram in our mating shed has six ewes to serve in the one day. I know , I know, it takes all the romance out of it for the poor ewes. No honeyed words in the days leading up to the big event, no being followed by a love struck ram just waiting for her to give him the nod. Just tossed into a pen with the ram and left there for 24 hours while he casually dealt with each of six ewes all more than ready, willing and able! Then turfed out, back with the ewes with an embarrassing red, dot on her bottom where the ram’s raddle (harness with a crayon in it) has left it’s tell tale mark.

But back to the particular pen where SR was to meet the girls for the first time… We bunged the six ewes into the pen with him, wished him luck with his first forays into love and sex and left him to it, believing that privacy would be very welcome to the ram as he perfected his technique. Unfortunately when we entered the shed the next morning, each ewe was exactly how we’d left her, with the exception of a frustrated look in every eye. No tell tale red dots on the bottom. Ahh, we thought, the raddle crayon is too hard, or too dirty or too something else to have made a distinct mark. We vainly searched every fibre of wool on each girl’s bottom in the hope of finding a red streak or two. No red streaks appeared. We tested the crayon on a ewe’s side just to be sure it was working – it was. There was no getting away from the fact that the blame seemed to be levelled right at SB’s door.

Not a problem we told each other. We’ve had young innocent rams before who have taken a while to get the idea of what’s required. We left those six ewes with him in case any of them were still cycling and added another six to his harem for variety’s sake. With a wink and a few ribald comments to help get him thinking the right way, we once again left him to get on with it in private. The next morning the only difference from the morning before was that we now had 12 frustrated ewes instead of 6. All other rams were making their way through their allotted 6 ewes each day with little more than a leer as the old guard was returned to the paddock and the new girls were hustled into their pens. SR watched this with interest, but basically ignored his new allotment of ewes as they entered, giggling and nudging each other in excitement as they saw this handsome fellow so close. Right, we thought this time, he’s used to large paddocks and the free life. He probably feels too restricted to get to work with all these walls around him. So we let him and his ewes out into an adjoining paddock, gave him a few last minute instructions regarding the birds and the bees and once more left him to get on with it.

The next morning alarm bells started to ring for us when we saw that he had forced his way through the fence back into the ram paddock, where he was making up for lost time carousing with his friends around the dam wall. Hmm, we thought this time, maybe he needs a role model. With that we drafted off one of our old teaser rams (a ram that has had a vasectomy – no really that is what a teaser ram is. Honest) to show the young fellow the ropes. The idea behind this is that the young ram will soon get the idea and try to muscle in on the old ram and take over the serving of the ewes. At which time we would remove the teaser ram and go inside for a well earned cup of tea.

I’ve been involved in the stud equivalent of a porn movie before. We once had a young buck who was totally inexperienced with their girls. We introduced an experienced and highly oversexed ram into his harem and had a great time trying to stop the experienced ram serving the does, while trying to encourage the new comer to get in there and do the job. Ultimately we had success but not until we’d made a mortal enemy of the experienced buck who vowed never to forgive us. So we felt quietly confident that the introduction of the teaser ram would work, and without any of that unseemly intervention of us to try and stop him mating with the ewes.

Then we were faced with the stark reality. SR stood back and watched the proceedings with an interested look on his little woolly face. The light bulb went on and SR new what he had to do. He chose his new beloved and … sidled up to the teaser ram!!!! Yep, our new boy was gay. Unfortunately for him the teaser ram definitely was not. Not only was he not gay, but he really, really found SR’s tender attentions annoying while he was trying to sweet talk a particularly nubile ewe. With a murmur of, “Wait right where you are my dear, while I deal with this annoying little upstart and I’ll be right back.” He turned his head and tossed SR a few feet before returning to the now admiring ewe. SR wasn’t to be put off that easily. Oh no. He’d finally found love and by God love he was going to give.

We ended up removing the teaser and SR, turning all the Suffolk girls out into the paddock with the mated White Suffolk ewes and rejected Suffolk ewes from the two previous days. Here the Suffolk ewes could all commiserate with one another and try to ignore the smug looks from the White Suffolk girls. We then returned to the house to have a cup of tea and a re-think about our Suffolk mating this year. We only have one Suffolk ram for breeding, and he can only breed with the ewes for two years before his daughters are old enough to go into lamb. Once that happens we need to buy a new ram, which we use for two years and so it goes. Just a small digression here, if you think we actually get rid of the old Suffolk rams, you don’t know me very well. When we first had to replace an existing ram Graeme was all for sending the old one to the sale yards where his likely fate would be dog food. I wouldn’t have a bar of this. I told Graeme that the rams had worked themselves to the bone providing us with beautiful lambs suitable for selling as stud rams and we were not going to be so ungrateful as to condemn then to ending up as kibble. Graeme knew when he was fighting a losing battle and that’s why our ram paddocks are populated with geriatric Suffolk and White Suffolk rams, enjoying a well earned retirement.

Now back to our breeding problems. We couldn’t use either of the retired fellows because they were father and grandfather to a lot of the ewes. We rang the person from whom we’d bought the ram and told him our troubles. He was very understanding and offered us an old stud ram of his as a replacement for that joining and a full credit to spend at his next sale (the one from which we have just returned). We drove back to South Australia lickety split, picked up the very experienced and very heterosexual ram and introduced him to our girls at the first opportunity. To say he was willing to accommodate even the most blatant hussy in the mob is to understate the case. He was thrilled to be back among ewes again, and to find that every ewe he met was immediately willing to entertain his most erotic demands was sheer heaven! All was well on Spring Rock once again.

I’m afraid all wasn’t well for SR. I pleaded his case long and hard. He could live his alternate life choice with the rams, I said. He wouldn’t be any trouble. He wouldn’t eat much. He was only young and couldn’t be condemned because he liked boys instead of girls. What about sexual discrimination?? What about a bit of the milk of human kindness for a ram that had a different sexual orientation to the majority?? What about … I was starting to run out of what abouts by this time, but that didn’t stop me. I simply started again from the beginning. I’m sad to report that none of my what abouts had any effect on Graeme. He didn’t want SR “bothering” the rams so he said SR had to go and he stuck to his guns. I think he was worried that SR might convert a few of the rams to his way of thinking and that could have been disastrous, so poor old SR took the short ride to Wagga Sale yards while I quietly mourned him at home.

And the new ram you ask? Is he all that a ram should be? Has he shown an interest in the girls yet? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s not mating time yet. But you can be sure that Graeme and I will be watching his performance with interest. Excuse me for a minute. I’m just off to tell the new ram this whole sad story. Hopefully he will think twice before making any snap decisions about his sexuality.