Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to hug a baby Billy style.

When it comes to hugging babies, Billy has his own method. He can't brag that it's successful or wins friends, but he makes up with enthusiasm what he lacks in finesse.

Step 1: Billy spots a baby (or in his case toddlers. They are more thick on the ground - babies tend to be kept up high out of his reach). Spotting the toddler usually makes Billy stop whatever he is doing and do a double take. He seldom sees toddlers on Spring Rock, but when he does he's always ready to offer a paw of friendship.

Step 2: In order to get this friendly paw closer to the toddler, Billy makes a dash towards said toddler (hence forth to be referred to as the hugee). One of two things happen after this. Billy either fails to stop in time and knocks the hugee over or the hugee loses all confidence in the face of so much dog and jumps backwards on very unsteady legs, usually landing on his/her well padded bottom.

Step 3: Either of these results puts the hugee in the perfect position to receive some drool just prior to being sniffed all over in an extremely enthusiastic manner, while Billy professes his love and undying loyalty.

Step 4 (in theory only): The next step would be to do the proper St Bernard thing and help the hugee up, then proceed with the hugging bit, but for some reason Billy’s never been able to proceed to this step. He's discovered that toddlers, when knocked to the ground by large, friendly dogs, tend to cry and adults come running from all directions and remove said toddler from the love fest, thus removing any chance of the hug actually taking place.

This failure to follow through hasn't discouraged Billy though. He still tries to complete the whole mission each time a toddler gets within bounding distance. He's hoping that when toddlers grow up to be children he'll have more success. After all children are harder for adults to lift and remove.

Only time will tell.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Love Farming

I love farming, I really do. If I keep telling myself that over and over again I just might remember why. I've had a traumatic experience recently that could only happen to those living on a farm. Now that I have sufficiently recovered to be able to talk about it, here’s what happened.

I was sitting at the computer, having a friendly chat session with a friend when Graeme came tearing up to the window and shouted, “Sheep in the dam! Ring Justin and come and help now!!!” With a very dramatic “Got to go” message to my friend, I disconnected, rang Justin and followed Graeme to the shed, with pictures of half our stud flock wallowing up to their necks in sticky mud.

As you most probably know (I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice) “Spring Rock” is currently drought ravaged. Most of our dams have either dried up or are in the process of drying up. When a dam is in the process of drying up the edges become very sticky with sloppy mud up to a few metres deep. This is not your average, brown innocuous mud, oh no – this is slimy, oozy, very smelly, stagnant water, black mud, and it is this wonderful stuff that sheep seem to find irresistible. Once a sheep puts two feet into the mud they are trapped and being sheep they do whatever it takes to make their situation worse and the task of getting them out as difficult as possible.

I caught up with Graeme while he was loading whatever he could find that might act as a sheep extraction tool into the back of the old Range Rover (our paddock basher). One look at Graeme and I knew this wasn’t going to be simple case of pulling the ewe to the edge of the dam where the ground is firm. Graeme was caked in the black, smelly muck up to his knees, with generous splatters reaching up to the top of his head! I tried not to breathe too often during the drive as we headed for the dam.

On arriving at the dam I was relieved to see only one ewe stuck there. She was up to her very generous middle in the stuff. Getting this ewe out was going to take a Herculean effort. She is one of our larger ewes and heavily pregnant with what looks like twins. At that moment she was resting with her two front legs on top of the mud, but with her back legs deep in the mire and no where to be seen. She didn’t look at all distressed; on the contrary, she looked for all the world like a drinker propped up at a bar and all she needed to complete the picture was a glass of beer in front of her. Her position in the mud explained Graeme’s mud caked clothes; he’d managed to turn her around and extract her two front legs by himself. Graeme lowered the gate he had brought onto the mud beside her while I scrambled down to the ewe, slipping and sliding in the garden clogs I’d slipped on for speed and regretting that I hadn’t taken the time to change into my farm boots. The ewe seemed to agree with me about my inappropriate footwear because she took one look at me sliding down the side of the dam, rolled her eyes and looked away with a pained expression on her muddy little face. While Graeme once again ventured onto the sloppy part to extract her back legs, I remained on firmer ground holding the ewe’s head out of the mire and offering reassuring words to keep her spirits up. Whenever we have a ewe in crisis I'm always there with soothing words and moral support.

Then Graeme gave me the bad news. He expected me to reverse the Range Rover down the side of the dam wall so that he could tie a rope to the gate and the tow bar and then I was to slowly, REMEMBER SLOWLY!!! drive back up the slope in low range and voila! the ewe would have a sled ride out of the mud. This plan was fraught with potential danger and difficulties. The side of the dam is very steep and I’d be heading straight for Graeme and the ewe! I took a deep breath, put on my stoic farmer’s face and did as I was instructed.

Of course the first thing that happened was that I found just how difficult it is to back down the slope of a dam. I managed this manoeuvre by keeping my foot on the brake and sort of reverse kangarooing down the slope – move a little bit, jump harder on the break and clutch, move a little bit, jump harder on the break and clutch. My technique left Graeme (an ex-rally driver) less than impressed, but I got to the desired distance from Graeme and the ewe without mowing them down or landing the car in the sticky mud in the process, so I was more than satisfied with my backing down the dam wall technique.

The gate was tied to the bumper bar and the next difficulty presented itself. How to drive “Slowly, REMEMBER SLOWLY!!!” up the side of the dam wall. Of course on my first half dozen attempts I went too fast (all of about 1 km an hour) and the gate simply slipped out from underneath the ewe leaving her and Graeme stuck in the mire behind. My attempts to convince Graeme that I was driving as slowly as I could without actually slipping backwards, were met with less than polite disbelief. I said a silent prayer that Justin would get here quickly and once again left the car to wallow about in the mud in order to help Graeme set up the gate/sled apparatus. The monotony of this procedure was sometimes alleviated by Graeme accidentally sinking his foot into the mud up to his calf. We then spent a few minutes trying to extract Graeme, rather than the ewe, from the quicksand like goo while he shouted at me to stand back because he didn’t want me stuck in the stuff too. At first I thought this was an example of how much he cared about me, but Graeme ruined this rosy dream by adding that he didn’t want to have to spend hours trying to extract me too!

Then, just when I was thinking that Justin had decided to seek out a non-farming family to adopt him rather than come and help us, I heard his car at the gate. With a little cheer (I didn’t have the energy left for a big cheer), I sat on the dam bank and waited for him to arrive. Justin, bless his cotton socks, had left the party immediately to come to our aid. The only problem with this was that he wore his brand new, very snazzy leather pants and shiny Doc Martins to the party. So here he was in all his glory, dressed to the nines and ready to help us if not enthusiastically, at least resignedly. He sort of blanched when he looked at the muddy state of his parents, but brave fellow that he is he slid down the dam wall to join us without hesitation.

Graeme took a minute to bring Justin up to speed on what we had tried and failed to do. Justin nodded wisely, offered suggestions and agreed to take over the driving of the Range Rover. Right there and then I was ready to write everyone else out of my will and leave all my worldly possessions to this wonderful boy. I swear I could see a halo shining over his head, but then again it could have been lack of oxygen to the brain from my exhaustion. Justin got into the car, started the engine and made ready to drive it up the bank. It was then that I realised that I didn’t want any child of mine, balancing precariously down the steep side of a dam wall with my husband directly behind the car. I shouted out something along these lines and Graeme nodded and moved a few steps to the left, and reminded me that the little bit of dam that still had water in it was very shallow and besides there was no way the car would reach the water if it slipped down the dam wall. It would bog up to the axles in the mud! A very comforting thought.

So with this reassurance ringing in his ears, Justin began to move the car up the side of the dam. I wish I could tell you that his first attempt was successful, but I’m afraid it was far from it. The sun had well and truly set before success was finally achieved, but achieved it was. The poor old ewe couldn’t believe she was on solid ground at first and just sat there with the same vague look on her face. Graeme and Justin mustered enough energy to help her to her feet. She realised she was free and with astounding ingratitude, took off with all the speed her tired body could muster (and she could muster more speed that any of us could), and headed back out into the paddock, meaning that Graeme was going to have to go find her and move her into another paddock so that we didn’t have to do this all over again in the morning.

After cleaning up as best he could, Justin gave us a quick goodbye and was gone before we had a chance to find some other fun way of sharing the night with him. Graeme headed back out on the bike to find the ewe and persuade her to move to a dam free paddock. I thought longingly of a hot bath, but with the lack of rain we’ve had I settled for a quick shower, organised a quick dinner for Graeme, and fell into bed without dinner.

I love farming. I really do … now can someone remind me exactly why I love it please?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Winter Is Almost Here

Winter is almost here at last. The days are getting shorter, the air has that sparkling, icy-misty look that only freezing winter days can produce and the countryside is finally turning green after months of brown. The reason I’m waxing lyrical about the cold weather is that winter is my favourite time of the year. In my opinion the only good thing about summer is the cricket matches. Take that away and all I’m left with is a menagerie of over heated animals all vying for the prime piece of real estate on the kitchen floor under the air conditioning duct.

In winter my thoughts turn to keeping the now decidedly chilly menagerie warm. The ferrets bring new worries as the days grow colder. They no longer lie in their cage looking like they are at their last gasp, rather they hibernate in their quilted polar fleece sleeping bag, coming out only to have dinner, seek the warmer climes of the house or, during one of Billy’s assaults on their cage, threatening to give Billy the thrashing of his life, if only he’d show some spunk and come into their cage and say that!

I have now added a hand spun, hand woven woollen table runner I made years ago during my spinning and weaving phase, to their bedding. I try to wrap the ferrets in their sleeping bag in this runner to add that extra layer of warmth. This entails going out into the freezing back yard, well after the sun has set, quietly opening the cage door, feeling around for the table runner without disturbing the sleeping furry ones and tucking them in for the night. If I disturb them Miette will come struggling out of the sleeping bag to find out what is going on in the hope that it’s Billy coming to start something. When she sees it’s only me, she’s perfectly happy to settle in for a chat. Persuading her to return to bed so I can go back into the warm house, is a lost cause. There’s nothing to be done but, return to the house and have another go in half an hour – when the night air will be even chillier. If I am very careful, I manage to tuck them in without disturbing the sociable Miette and once this little chore has been done, I go back inside with a clear conscience with only the TOD the duck and the galahs to worry about. So far I haven’t figured out a way to keep these feathered pets any warmer than they can keep themselves. Graeme assures me that the ferrets have thick winter coats to insulate them against much colder weather than any Australia can throw at them. He also says that the quilted sleeping bag with two layers of polar fleece and two layers of wool batting top and bottom, would be enough to keep me warm should I want to spend the night outside. This could be a veiled threat, but I’m too busy sorting out the cats to give it much attention.

Mum-Pus, Lancelot and Guinevere have different needs when the weather turns chilly. They spend their summer days lying on the kitchen floor within close proximity to the fridge and freezer’s cold blasts of air – always providing that Billy isn’t having an inside day. If Billy is amongst those present, the cats retire to the dining room, an extension off the kitchen with only the metal strip where the vinyl and carpet meet to indicate where the kitchen stops and the dining rooms begins, to poke their collective tongues out at Billy who’s not allowed to put one paw onto the carpet. Their winter days are spent following the sun around the lounge room carpet and cuffing any other cat who seems to have a better spot of sun. I repeatedly tell Mum-Puss that she is in dire need of parenting classes.

“No mother worth her salt,” I say to Mum-Puss, “digs her claws into one of her children because it has the softer chair or warmer patch of carpet.” Mum-Puss glares at me with her one beady eye and asks for help disengaging her claw that seems to have somehow become hooked into the body of her daughter or son.

Now don’t imagine for a second that Lancelot and Guinevere are the innocent parties in all this. They have far too much of their mother in them to be above such things as starting fights with mother or sibling just for the sheer hell of it. Their combative natures have led them to developed a very subtle way of letting me know it’s dinner time. For some unfathomable reason, as soon as 4.30 p.m. rolls around, the cat version of World War III begins in whatever room i amy be in. All three cats will wander through the house, in perfect friendship, searching for me. Once I've been located all hell breaks loose in the cat world. One minute all three cats are the picture of domestic bliss. Three little furry bodies intertwined in shades of black, white and grey lying on their pillows in front of the heater with not a thought in their heads except familial love. As soon as the clock indicates the dinner hour is approaching the peaceful scene is shattered with snarling, scratching and the most foul cat language you have ever heard. Heavens knows what it is they are saying to one another, but whatever it is it’s guaranteed to be R-rated! It’s times like this that I’m grateful I’m mono-linguistic. All this aggression disappears as soon as dinner is on the table (or in the cat’s case on the floor). Each cat has its own bowl and own space on the plastic place mat. Dishing out the food is an exact science. Others have tried but failed to master the intricate pattern required for all three cats to get their fair share of food while keeping peace in the feline community. I won’t go into the lengthy description of how to successfully feed the family, buy suffice to say it’s taken quite a while to perfect. Once the three tummies are full of the tinned food du jour they return to their fireside pillow, intertwine themselves once again and settle in for the night. Ah peace at last. The Spring Rock Terrors have settled down for the night and won’t return until 4.30 tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime they will keep up their strength with the never empty dish of dry cat food available to be munched at all times. Now all I have to contend with is Billy’s Winter Pass Times.

Billy, ever true to his Swiss heritage, is in his element in the winter time. This unfortunately means that while the rest of the pets are only interested in finding sunny spots around the yard or house and hibernating until summer, Billy is at his metabolic peak resulting in excess energy and mischief making. He spends his days between terrorising the chooks, stalking TOD, our drake and seeking out other less than desirable (from my point of view) ways of amusing himself.

The chook/duck chasing isn’t too bad when compared to his other pastimes. The hens are safely tucked away in their chook pen with seven or eight feet high wire between them and Billy, but this simple matter of logic hasn’t occurred to them yet. As soon as Billy begins his mad run from the back porch down to the chook yard, ears and jowls flopping as he goes, the chooks begin their crazy, panicked flight to anywhere other than where they are. Given that we have nine hens and one rooster, a fair bit of the chook pen is taken up with chooks when they are as we might term “at rest”. Therefore when these chooks (and rooster) begin literally flapping about they tend to ricochet off each other, the chook wire, hen house and the odd tree in their yard. This in turn causes them to panic further, taking fright at the sight of each other panicking and so on. It’s my belief that one day they will end up bouncing off each other and the various objects in their yard ad infinitum. Add to this TOD’s mini-panic on the outside of the chook yard and our winter back yard is definitely not a peaceful refuge for the summer haters among us.

When Billy’s other winter past time is considered though, I’d choose the panicking chooks and drake any day. With the longer nights Billy has searched for a new form of amusement that can be safely conducted from the confines of the back porch. He’s tried bowling Shadow, the Silky Terrier Type, over and sniffing her from head to tail while she’s in her prone condition. Needles to say Shadow doesn’t take this lying down – well actually she does take it lying down, but as soon as she can get up she takes her little fluffy dog revenge, bailing Billy up against the porch wall while snapping and snarling to let Billy know how she feels about his new found past-time. Billy, squashed against the wall, looking down at the little ball of fury, has all the appearance of a bully brought to book for his sins, promising never to harm undersized little dogs again.

Eventually, Billy turned to other, less risky ways of passing his winter nights. Billy has taken up singing, or in light of his Swiss ancestors, possibly yodelling. Now you’d be forgiven in thinking he’d be a baritone – what with the size of him and all, but no, Billy is a male soprano. He sits on the back porch yipping and howling to his heart’s content, happy in the knowledge that not only is he enjoying his own musical interlude, but he is bringing a little joy into the cold winter nights for his family. It’s obvious that Billy sees us in his mind’s eye sitting in our lounge room, tenderly smiling at each other while commenting on the beautiful musical tones emanating from Billy’s oversized lungs. He is so sure that we are as happy about his new-found talent as he is. When one of us goes outside to let Billy know our true feeling about his impromptu recital he turns towards us, leaves off his singing often mid yodel, and invites whichever music lover in his family who has come outside, to join in. The hurt look on his face when growled at to be quiet is truly heart rending. Maybe with a professional’s help, just maybe we could turn those teeth grating yowls to something bearable?

I’m off now to go and look through phone books to try to find coaches for Swiss yodelling.