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.