Saturday, December 15, 2012


I've circled some of the bees so you know they are really there.

A couple of months ago a found a bee in the sewing room.  I used a drinking glass and a piece of light cardboard to catch her (I read somewhere that all bees except drones are female) outside on a flower.  Soon after that I began finding bees in increasing numbers in the sewing room.  A little investigation on Graeme's and my part revealed that a hive of bees had moved into the sewing room chimney.  Graeme sealed up any possible exit hole he could find, without much success.  The bees kept appearing in the sewing room, making straight for the window where they buzzed in an annoyed fashion until I rescued the.  I spent my days checking on the bee population of the sewing room, rescuing bees and feeding sugar water to those that had worn themselves out trying to get through glass.

The sewing room used to be our lounge room until Graeme built an extension on the house to make a better one, and at the very end of this old lounge room lives a slow combustion fire set into the old fireplace.  I don't know when it was last used because the previous owners had a gas fire and we've used gas ever since we got here.  Anyway, back to the bees.  Graeme and I discussed options and my preferred option was to not kill them.  We decided that they had moved in because the area was rich in canola flowers at the time and pollen gathering required very little flying to find that pollen.  We thought that once the summer came and there were no flowers anywhere the bees would realise that this hive wasn't in the best of places and move on.  They didn't.

With all the family coming down for Christmas the sewing room is needed to be pressed into service as a spare bedroom for the grandchildren.  Graeme and I had a bee removal strategy meeting and decided to remove the chimney cap that had rusted out and let the bees in and then hose a little water into the chimney at regular intervals, thus making the location of the hive much too soggy for the bees to remain.  Graeme sealed up all a few more holes he could find and we put our devious plan into action.  The water went in the chimney and the bees came out the chimney.  Unfortunately they came out into the sewing room in droves!  We spent ages carting bees out of the room and Graeme plugged up more exit holes.  This went on for a few days until we stopped putting water into the chimney because it just wasn't working.  The bees kept visiting the sewing room regardless.  While catching one to help it outside, Graeme managed to get it caught in his hair.  I rushed to his aide and was promptly stung on my right hand middle finger.  The first sting we'd received after the rescue of countless bees over a month or more.  Two days later I was stung again on the foot. 

A few hours after the first sting I remembered something -  I'm allergic to bee stings.  The pain in my finger didn't lessen over the hours and I went to bed with an ice pack firmly placed on the aching digit.  When I woke up in the morning my hand had ballooned up and the pain was still present.  I spent the next two days rotating ice packs from the freezer and bemoaning the fact that I couldn't do any hand sewing or Christmas cake making (I couldn't stir the mixture because I couldn't hold a spoon).  Yesterday I went to the chemist and was given some antihistamine tablets and told me they'd make me drowsy.  Drowsy!?  I took one just before I lay down for my afternoon rest and ended up sleeping for four hours! I woke up to find that neither my toe or hand itched which was a good thing though.  The itch came back about an hour later, but I knew when I went to bed and took another tablet I'd get some relief.  Wonderful!

So the score at the moment is -  Bees - lots and lots.  Graeme and I - 0 plus two stings each so I think that actually puts us at -4.  We sort advice and everyone recommended pest control.  I've sadly admitted that I've run out of ideas to get the bees to move on peaceably and I definitely don't want my grandchildren stung.  Our pest controller can't come out here until the new year.

I've had to ring Rebecca to ask her to bring the camper van when they visit because we are closing off the sewing room until further notice.  I'm still hoping the queen bee decides that her present location isn't all she thought it was when she first moved in and she up stakes and seeks a better home for her family.  Until that time we are a room down here at Spring Rock.  The worst thing is it's my sewing room!  I have a feeling that I'll be sneaking in and estimating the chance of being stung and weigh that up against how much I want to sew.  I will also be wearing farm work books while I sew. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Goodbye My Darling Billy

Billy (with me) showing just what a great show dog he could have been if he'd wanted to.

I'm so sad.  Billy died on Friday night.  He was 12 years old which I'm told is very old for such a large dog, but 10 years of sharing my life with this beautiful soul just wasn't enough.

Billy came to live with us when he was two years old.  He had been bred and raised to be a Champion St Bernard.  His breeder told me he had everything it took to make an Australian Champion and she thought she'd hit the jackpot when he grew into the beautiful fellow you see above.  Billy had other ideas.  He hated being taken to shows and refused to co-operate.  He wouldn't raise his head, kept his tail firmly down when it should have been up and wagging and refused to smile at the judges.  Consequently Billy never won a ribbon.  I can imagine the frustration of his former owner- here was a dog bred to win ribbons and all he did was mope around.  You see Billy was a people person.  He lived in a dog run along at the back of the yard along with all the other show dogs and didn't see much of people, apart from feeding and show preparation.  When I met him he was a sad dog who I thought lacked personality.  He jumped out of his owner's car and into ours without a backward glance. 

Once he arrived at Spring Rock and took in all the acres and other menagerie members he brightened up in a few days. At first he chewed his way through everything not nailed down, and some things that were.  It seemed that when Billy was upset or worried he chewed.  He didn't care what he chewed he just chewed.  The first morning after his arrival we got up in the morning to find an array of work boots, buckets and assorted unidentifiable paraphernalia chewed into small bits of rubble all over the porch floor.  Once he settled in and felt himself to be part of the family (it took all of a week or so thankfully for our farm  and garden equipment) he was always at the back door ready for a pat and a  bit of drool sharing.  Drool sharing and leaning on people were Billy's two favourite pastimes.  Within days of coming to stay at Spring Rock he had met and got up close and personal with most of its inhabitants.  We woke very early one morning to hear one of our ducks scolding away near our bedroom window.  When we went out to investigate we found Billy with said duck sticking out either side of his mouth.  Billy had a big grin on his face (what wasn't taken up with duck that is) and pranced around ignoring the dreadful language and dire threats coming from the soft, fluffy thing in his mouth.  We rescued the duck and build a safe house for him and his friend, but next morning the silly things had found a way out and Billy took no time in renewing his duck carrying experience.  After that the ducks were happy to stay in their safe house - it might be a lot smaller than the whole back yard, but at least it was St Bernard mouth free.  We found that while Billy was eager to please, he was also a bit of a rogue and would see what he could get away with no matter how much trouble he knew he might be in later.  He lived by the motto that the fun was worth the scolding.

It actually took him a couple of weeks to meet up with the ferrets.  Spring Rock was just so full of things to do and creatures to meet that he'd paid little attention to the big cage under the apricot tree.  When he meandered over there one day just to complete his getting to know his new environment, he was shocked to find that the tiny inhabitants of the cage had absolutely no respect for a big, drooly dog.  They were more than aware of the arrival of Billy and had their game plan ready to put into action.  They lined up at the front of the cage and hurled insults at the new big dog on the farm.  After that a life long war was declared between Billy and whatever ferrets were in residence in the cage at the time.  Each new generation of ferret was happy to take up the cudgels and threaten to take Billy on any time he liked.  Even in his last days Billy made sure he passed by the cage every morning as the ferret were put outside to exchange insults with them for a few minutes before going to find a quiet place to lie down for a good rest.

Despite his war with the ferrets, Billy was an easy going dog, with a live and let live attitude to all Spring Rock inhabitants including all the cats but one (he and Ambrosia never got on well together) and our ancient Marrema Apollo.  Apollo was is the winter of his life when Billy arrived, a young, brash pretender for dog of the yard.  They developed an uneasy truce and as long as Billy knew his place (well and truly down the pecking order from Apollo) all was well.  Shadow, our tiny ancient Silky at the same time just rolled her eyes at the displays of testosterone.  She knew she was the boss of the back yard, and what's more both male dogs knew it too.

Billy doted on Shadow.  Shadow wasn't thrilled about this at all.  Billy's demonstrations of affection usually exhibited themselves by his chewing on some part of Shadow's tiny anatomy.  One time I found Billy with Shadow's entire head in his mouth.  She was growling and cussing for all she was worth - if somewhat muffled in the interior of Billy's mouth, but Billy was just sitting there with the fluffy head in his mouth once again ignoring the bad things being said to him.  I rescued Shadow and she emerged soggy but with steam coming out her ears.  She baled Billy up against the porch wall and loudly told him a few facts of life about large, overgrown, dumb dogs who had no respect for their elders.  Billy promised to try harder to behave but it wasn't long before he was gently chewing on some other part of Shadow.  When Shadow died at a very old age Billy missed her dreadfully.  He spent days looking for her and feeling lost.

Billy loved to help me with the gardening.  I have a back injury and getting up and down to do the weeding or planting is a slow process  for me.  Billy saw the opportunity to channel his rescue ancestors and would lean up close to me so I could use him to get myself up.  This worked well except for the times Billy was a bit too eager in his leaning and would knock me flat on the ground.  He'd then stand over me with strings of drool hanging down asking when he could do to help.  He also took it on himself to stand still next to me as I mounted the back stairs.  He adopted the most angelic look on his face and waited patiently for me to lean on his strong back and get myself up the stairs.

Billy also liked to yodel.  I assume with his Swiss ancestry that that was what he was doing.  Some nights he'd sit on the back porch and make noises that in other dogs might be considered gentle howling or singing.  Billy would keep this up for ten minutes or so, consider he'd entertained us long enough with his yodelling prowess and settle down for a good night's sleep.

He had a mixed relationship with my grandchildren.  He loved every one of them but when they were little  he was such a big dog, and they saw him so rarely that they were inclined to be frightened of him.  This upset Billy and one dreadful day he managed to bale Hannah up on the porch where she felt trapped.  I rescued her and brought the crying child inside for comfort and reassurance that Billy would never hurt her.  Billy was very worried, and when Billy was worried he looked for something to chew.  He found a little pair of gumboots and sat down to chew and think about what went wrong with his attempts to love Hannah.  I convinced Hannah to go out and make friends with Billy.  When she walked out the back to forgive Billy for being so big, Hannah couldn't believe Billy's wickedness. She discovered that not content with monstering her, he had the perfidy to chew holes in her brand new gumboots while she was inside crying.  Billy sent her an abject apology and a new pair of gumboots in the mail, along with a photo of his sorry face.  After that they were firm friends.

Billy's Sorry Face

Unlike most dogs, he loved visiting the vet.  Everyone from the receptionist to the vets and other pet owners made a big fuss of him when he arrived and apart from trying to weigh him which he didn't like, everything else was just love and fussing over.  All of which Billy lapped up with a regal air.  Apart from the time when the vet tried to remove a grass seed with just a local aesthetic and me nowhere around to run interference.  No matter how many times she tried to hold his paw he just removed it from her grasp with a polite but firm look on his face.  In the end she had to put him under full sedation just so she could hold his paw.  Billy didn't like strangers getting fresh with him, even if it was a vet.

I could go on and on with wonderful memories of Billy.  He was a joy to own and a truly devoted friend.  Life without Billy her on Spring Rock will not be the same.  Each day I wake up and open the back door to a feeling of loss.  There is no big, furry face ready to greet me and have his morning pat and chat.  I don't have to worry about getting drool on me when I go out.  The back porch is very empty these days.

Good bye Billy.  I will miss you.  Thank you for sharing your beautiful life with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Love Is A Very Strange Thing At Spring Rock

The menagerie members of Spring Rock have long kept me wondering about their various, often one sided, love affairs.  The peculiar crushes that have come to life down through the years often defy description.  Christie my pinto pony loved Tiffany a comeback sheep almost from the day they met.  Tiffany loved Christie in return with her whole little sheepy heart. Then there was Bob the Tegals refugee duck I raised almost from an egg, who fell in love with a bantam filly hen and was convinced he was the father of her little brood of chicks.  Bob ignored Jemima the female mallard we’d imported just for company for him while he whispered sweet nothings to the frilly though the chook wire.  Billy my St Bernard fell in love with Shadow, my aged and cranky little silky terrier type despite the fact that Shadow had no use for overgrown, love struck, slobbery dogs.  Even though she scared Billy witless at times when the mood took her to tell him off, he continued to sidle as close as she’d allow and chew on various parts of Shadow’s furry anatomy while Shadow grumbled away and became increasingly soggy.  There have been other, mismatched love affairs at Spring Rock too numerous to mention but today I’m going to tell you about the latest one.  

Nefertiti, my half Siamese tortoiseshell puss has developed a relationship with a giraffe.  Now while it is quite within the bounds of possibility, if not probability, for a Spring Rock resident to fall in love with a real live giraffe, I’m relieved to put your minds at rest and tell you it is a little toy giraffe.  When and why this love affair began I don’t know.  I’ve had the giraffe for quite a while.  I was shopping one day and its huge eyes said, “Take me home,” so I did.  The giraffe then spent all its days sitting on top of my little embroidery thread cabinet in the lounge room minding its own business and moving only when I gave it an occasional dusting.  Thus it whiled away the time thinking toy giraffe thoughts and causing no one any trouble. That was until he began to disappear and turn up in strange places around the house.  I’d find him under the dining table, in the kitchen, even in our bedroom at the other end of the house.  There he’d be all by himself, abandoned by his kidnapper in strange positions – upside down, on his side, even on his head at times.  I’d pick him up, dust him off and return him to his perch on the thread cabinet with stern instructions to stay put.  No matter how hard I tried I never managed to catch the giraffe napping culprit.  Ambrosia the Bengal cat was the prime suspect, mainly because she’s been caught in the act of stealing any sewing tool she can get her teeth around.  Ambrosia denied all giraffe napping charges but I remained unconvinced.  I’d seen that innocent face denying all charges before.  Time came when I had to apologise to Ambrosia and exonerate her from all suspicion of evil intend towards toy giraffes.

Josh, Frances and our four granddaughters visited a few weeks back and I thought with all these extra eyes, not to mention enthusiastic detectives in the form of the granddaughters, we might be able to finally pin the rap on Ambrosia, so I set the girls the task of getting proof positive of the giraffe napper’s identity.  It was Josh who proved to be the best detective in the bunch though.  While we all sitting in the lounge room chatting away, Josh brought our conversation to an end to point out that Nefertiti was making off with the giraffe.  We turned to find a very guilty Nefertiti frozen in place with the incriminating evidence in her mouth.  There, for all to see, dangled the giraffe.  Irrefutable proof!  All four girls took off after the giraffe napper to retrieve the giraffe and lecture a non-repentant Nefertiti on the evils of giraffe stealing.  Nefertiti tried strong denial, but it was too late, she’d finally been caught in the act.  Ambrosia meanwhile assumed the innocent, hurt look only a cat guilty of multiple misdeeds, but for once exonerated of all blame can.  

Since then Nefertiti, realising the jig was up and her love for the little giraffe was out in the open, has become a lot more brazen about running off with her beloved toy.  How do I know it’s love and not jealousy or a desire to de-clutter my lounge room?  I’ve watched her pilfer the toy.  She walks up to the cabinet making little purring sounds, gently lifts the giraffe by the back of its neck and begins making noises not unlike a mother cat with her kittens – sort a  cross between a purr and a meow.  She then proceeds to carry the giraffe to some previously determined place in the house, purring/meowing all the way, where she gently lays it down on the floor (not necessarily in an upright position though) sits with it for a while purring/meowing to it and giving it little nudges with her now.  Obviously the talking to the giraffe is a new thing of I would have heard her when the thief's identity was unknown.  Stealth is no longer necessary so she can let herself go completely when pilfering her love.   She has even groomed it a couple of times while I’ve watched.  Nefertiti then seems to lose all interest in the love of her life and walks off without a so much as a backward glance.  

Her love for the giraffe seems to come in fits and starts.  She’s capable of ignoring the toy for days on end and if I put the giraffe close to her, Nefertiti will give me a totally unimpressed look as if she’d never met the creature before.  Once she drops the giraffe at its preferred (for the moment) destination and spent a small amount of quality time with it she then goes back to ignoring it for an undetermined period of time.  I’ve tried leaving it where she’s put it and so far she’s left it alone in its abandoned location for days on end.  I am the one who eventually puts it back on the cabinet.

Maybe she just disapproves of giraffes sitting on top  of embroidery thread cabinets?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Not So Welcome Visitor

I have been having lots of problems accessing Blogger lately and have missed posting a few of the happenings around Spring Rock.  I still can't access the photo uploading part of Blogger so no photos today.  Hopefully I'll be able to get one of the many computer expert males in my family to figure out what is wrong with either my computer or Blogger (I suspect my computer) and I'll be back with you again complete with photos.

I love birds of prey. I have a vast owl collection and the eagles, hawks, harriers, kites and falcons who visit Spring Rock are simply a joy to watch as they ride the thermals high in the sky. I feel a bit of a traitor sometimes, what with all the vulnerable species resident in the Spring Rock menagerie, but knowing they are all safely ensconced behind some form of wire or tucked up inside the house I usually feel free to admire whatever bird of prey is in the sky grabbing my attention at the time.

Recently I mentioned that my attitude towards birds of prey changed while Hedwig and Hermes were loose. I spent my days then waving my arms and loudly suggesting the predators go elsewhere until my galahs were home safe in their aviary. Now that the wanders have returned and are once again safe from peril I have resumed my admiration of all visitors to Spring Rock – except for two days ago.

I had a persistent Little Eagle visit here that considered my back yard an all you can eat buffet. After looking up Little Eagles via Google I discovered our visitor was a female and that Little Harriers are a threatened species. While I’m glad she’s here and looking in tip top health I’d much rather she confine her hunts to the paddocks where I can’t see the poor little victims that become her main course and the outside members of the menagerie are left in peace.

The Little Eagle started with the ferrets. She sat in the tree where she could get a good look at The Gang Of Three and consider her option of how to get at them. The ferrets were considering their options of how to get at the Little Eagle at the same time. They banded together, standing shoulder to shoulder and watched it carefully, showing no fear and daring it to start something. From where I stood at the lounge room window it looked like the Little Eagle was more than willing to start something so I went outside and had a few words with her, suggesting she move on.

She did. - right over to the tree in the chook yard just a short flight north of the ferret cage. I in turn moved down there and again suggested a different venue would be appreciated. At first she just glared at me from her lower branch in the pine tree, in between noting the number and fatness of the Spring Rock chooks. She took careful stock of Eros and Hellios, my two giant roosters and I suppose lost a bit of confidence in just how easy it might be to swoop down there and grab a fluffy fat hen. I was still flapping my arms and suggesting the canola paddocks or wheat paddocks might afford better scope for her when she jumped up to a higher branch to get away from both the annoying human and the large rooster who had just spotted her and was voicing his own opinions of birds of prey (nowhere near as admiring as my opinion). From her new vantage point in the pine tree the Little Eagle was able to see another dinner option and she flew off to go inspect the two plump galahs near the house (my beautiful Nova Perris, the retired racing pigeon died of old age two weeks ago).

While the chooks, with the exception of Eros, seemed to be almost oblivious to the Little Eagle and preferred to think I was there to give them a second lot of treats, the poor galahs knew a threat when they saw it and became very agitated with the proximity of a hungry eagle even if it was a “little” one (and let me tell you now – Little Eagles aren’t really that little!). I decided that trying to gently move the Little Eagle on wasn't working but I continued waving my arms and telling her to go away. Trouble was she was so high up in a tree I represented no threat at all and those galahs looked delectable. The Little Eagle sat there and looked at me like while I was an interesting oddity, she really had other things on her mind at the moment and would I please go away and leave her to consider her dining options. I ended up going into the aviary to calm the poor birds down, offer moral support and assure them I wouldn't let anything hurt them. Hedgwig believed me, Hermes not so much. Hedwig calmed down quickly and came over for a head and under the wing scratch and we had a little heart to heart about the trials and tribulations of being a prey bird rather than a bird of prey. I couldn’t resist pointing out that had she not come home, Hedwig would have been out there in the big wild world with no-one to protect her from such birds. Hedwig just craned her neck to help me reach a better spot to scratch. Hermes meanwhile was flapping around the cage, shrieking his head off and predicting the end of the world any minute now. No amount of calm talk and reassurance could make him feel better. In the end I decided to go outside the cage and have another go and getting the Little Eagle to move on. The Little Eagle must have thought I'd beat her to dinner because when I came out it was gone and peace reigned at Spring Rock once again.

I saw the Little Eagle yesterday. She was riding the thermals over our canola paddock at the side of her house. She showed no interest in visiting the back yard again, despite all those well fed morsels she’s seen the day before. I have a feeling she just didn’t feel up to dealing with that maniacal human with the flapping arms.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Saving Of Hedwig

Hedwig in her early days with her bedroom box in the background.

When I was a child my Nana was given a baby galah with a crippled leg and wing. Nana raised her and sort veterinary help for the crooked leg and wing, but it had been left too long before the galah was given to Nana for the vet to be able to fix.  Rosie O'Grady as she was named learned to walk with a distinct limp, resembling the rolling gate peg leg pirates made famous in movies.  Once Nana moved in with us and I grew a bit older,  Rosie O’Grady  became my responsibility, mostly due to a firm friendship that had grown between us. Being responsible for Rosie O’Grady entailed getting out of bed at dawn when Rosie woke and began calling “Rosemary!!” at the top of her lungs, and taking her out to her aviary. Rosie O’Grady was a bird of few words only learning the names of those she truly loved. Therefore her repertoire was limited to “Rosemary!”, "Chick" my father's name, until they had a major falling out and she stopped calling him forever after, and later when we started going out together, “Graeme!”

She would call, “Graeme!” as soon as he started his car outside the house where he lived around the corner from my house. She continued to call his name until he arrived to say good-bye to me prior to heading off for work and stopping by her indoor cage to say good morning to Rosie who was bobbing up and down shrieking "Graeme" until he did so. After Graeme had stopped at Rosie O’Grady’s cage, given her a scratch and said hello, Rosie would quieten down, have breakfast and then after Graeme had left, ask to be let out of her cage for a stroll around the house. Her aviary had been converted to a stable for my pony Christie by this time.

Rosie O'Grady died when I was in my 20's and was deeply missed by me.

Needless to say, after that I’ve always had a soft spot for galahs, but not being a caged bird person, I didn't make any effort to acquire one of my own.  Well, to tell the truth with all the members of the menagerie, the vast majority came into my life invited and unsort.

I was on my way to a doctor’s appointments few days before Christmas in 2001 when I saw a young galah sitting on the side of the road. It didn't move as I passed by, but it did sort of topple slightly. I couldn’t pick it up and take it with me to the surgery so I marked the spot in my mind and vowed to check on the way back. Sure enough, as I came up to the spot where I’d last seen it, there was the obviously injured young galah still sitting there. I pulled up and searched the car for something in which to wrap the injured bird. Of course, there was nothing in the car even remotely suitable to wrap a young bird with a very powerful beak and most likely a very short temper, so being the brave (Graeme has another word for it, but I won't mention it!) woman that I am, I picked the galah up with my bare hands. My bare hands were soon reduced to mince meat, but I didn't let go, I yelled a bit, but I didn't let go. I finally got the bird into the car and drove home to the tune of outraged screeching from the floor.

Once home, I found a towel to throw over the galah, ascertained that it was a girl (I'll explain how I knew this later) and a very young girl at that. Young galahs have grey breasts instead of the beautiful pink of the adult and this galah had far more grey feathers than pink on her front. I also discovered that she had a damaged wing and leg. O.K. I thought, I know what to do in cases like these - ring the local animal rescue group!

I found the number in the phone book and rang them. The fellow at the other end obviously had planned to have a hassle free and presumably, galah free Christmas season. He recommended that I hit her on the head and even told me the exact place to do so to ensure instant death. I was a bit put off by this unexpected advice from a member of a group that claimed to rescue animals, but after I had picked my jaw up, I explained that I was hoping to save the bird. I also told him that I had owned a galah when I was young and knew a little bit about them. He said, fine, he'd trust me with her (a strange way to put it after his detailed instructions for putting paid to her existence), said good-bye and most probably went back to his guaranteed galah free and peaceful holiday.

I put the galah in a large box with some of our home grown, prime quality wheat and water then closed the lid. I had no worries about her not liking the wheat, unless her recent accident had given her a dislike for the grain. She had been pecking at grains a local wheat truck had dropped on the road when she almost became another road statistic. I then considered it best to leave her to herself for the night. She certainly didn’t sound like a galah who wanted my company!

When she was still with us the next morning I named her Hedwig after Harry Potter’s owl and sought and provided her with medical attention.  Unlike the owl, Hedwig the galah hated all mankind and especially the one particular member of womankind (me) who had a habit of foisting herself on Hedwig at every opportunity! Whenever I gave her food or water she immediately went on the attack. I wore thick gardening gloves to give me some chance of coming out of the encounter with my normal quota of fingers. As Hedwig's recuperation progressed, her dislike of us seemed to increase. She began physical therapy by walking around the kitchen floor each day, all the while telling us what she thought of people who kidnapped innocent birds from the side of the road. The days progressed much like each other. We'd all be nice to Hedwig, Hedwig would screech at us, flap her wings and call us all the obscenities her young vocabulary contained, in between trying to get hold of our more fleshy parts with her beak.

When she was fully mended Hedwig had a slightly wonky wing, a tail that listed to the left and a slight limp. The listing tail and wonky wing meant that there was little chance she'd survive in the wild. I had intended to set her free once she was rehabilitated but her physical problems meant that Hedwig was going to be a permanent resident of the Spring Rock menagerie. “Oh Joy, Oh Joy!” I could hear Graeme thinking (he thinks quite loudly when a new animal moves in). When all our kids were visiting for Christmas, Rebecca, Frances and I set about making Hedwig fit for human ears and safety. Little by little we handled her with the gloves, scratching her where her ears should be and making a fuss of her. We calmly explained that we were not going to leave her in peace until she accepted the fact that no-one wished her any harm. I mean really, you have to wonder about some creatures. Here we were, feeding and caring for her comfort and safety every day, fending off attacks from her beak without trying to retaliate, and never once behaving in a manner that could be interpreted as even slightly aggressive. Our Chinese water torture strategies finally worked and she learned to love humans and to be kind to them most of the time.

Now that Hedwig was to be a permanent family member we realised that the box was not going to be a permanent galah home. Rebecca and Grant built Hedwig an almost palatial aviary while Graeme, Justin and I were on holidays and this met with Hedwig’s instant approval. Once ensconced comfortably in the aviary, Hedwig forgot all her wild bird roots and became anxious if left out in the dark. She was therefore brought in just before sunset each night to socialise with the family and pretend that the dark aviary didn’t worry her one little bit.

Hedwig spent her visits catching up on all our news, sitting on my lap, drinking some of my tea and cadging scratches from whoever was nearest. She also spent a fair bit of the time watching whatever was on TV, although I have to admit, Cricket was her favourite program. I just know she was cheering for the Aussie team. Graeme volunteered for the job of putting her out each morning by placing his hand into her cage (we had to buy an inside cage for her night time visits), letting her climb on and then walk up to his shoulder. From this great lookout she rode out to her aviary, surveying the country side like a queen being conveyed by her slaves to her palace.

Hedwig continued her single galah existance for a couple of years, until I encountered another galah road accident statistic who again came only to stay as long as his recovery took and be set free, but fell in love with Hedwig and refused to leave.  Thus Hermes entered our lives and Hedwig settled into a happy couples status and could finally spend her nights in the aviary with a big strong male galah to protect her (womens' lib is a closed book to Hedwig).

And how do you tell a female galah from a male? It’s quite simple really. A female galah has brown eyes while a male has black coloured eyes.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Wanderers Return

My two galahs, Hedwig and Hermes, left home last Monday night/Tuesday for the big wide world (of Spring Rock anyway, it looks like they didn't leave the farm).  Nova the refugee racing pigeon, the little shut in, stayed in the cage squatting in the darkest corner and trying to ignore the open cage door. I imagine after her last effort at free flight when she was blown off course in a race from north of Brisbane to her home south of Melbourne she feels her days out in the world are over and she's more than pleased with that thank you very much.

I forgot to put the pin in the latch when I closed the cage door after feeding the birds on Monday night.  This is the first time in ten years that I've forgotten, but it only takes the one time for the birds to fly the coup.  Of course I've been worried sick about Hedwig out there with her weak left wing, crooked left leg and total lack of experience at  being a wild bird.  I was pinning my hopes on Hermes (who has just as little wild bird experience but is a whole and hearty galah) to look after her. 

Hedwig came to live here nearly 11 years ago when I found her as a very young bird on the side of the road.  She'd had an altercation with a car or grain truck and had come off second best to say the least.  I gathered her up without anything to protect my hands (I didn't have anything in the car I could use and it was summer and I wasn't taking my tee shirt off on the road side) and Hedwig, despite being broken and hurt took full advantage of my bare fingers.  The local wildlife rescue service didn't want to take her so close to Christmas and told me how to put her down.  I agued I wanted to save her so they gave me their blessings and said goodbye.  I nursed her back to health and after some misunderstandings and bad feelings, we became best friends.  She has a permanently weak, slightly crooked leg and a weak slightly crooked wing and tail.  She can fly short distances but has trouble steering.   

A few years later Hermes was found on the roadside in a similar condition to Hedwig and came to stay for rest and recuperation too.  He was fully healed so I intended to let him go as soon as he was well enough.  Then he fell in love with Hedwig and just didn't want to leave without her, so they became a pair and have lived in the aviary happily ever since.

I scanned the skies for them every time I went outside and worried almost non-stop about Hedwig making it out there with the hawks and eagles.  Every time I saw one of these predators I would cringe and tell them to go away.  I usually love watching them soar over Spring Rock, but with my little girl and boy out there it was a different matter entirely.

 On Thursday afternoon Hedwig and Hermes dropped by to say hello while I was looking after the chooks as they grazed around the back yard.  The two galahs perched high up in the pine tree and Hedwig called out to me to let me know she was there.  She obviously wanted me to turn around and have a catch up with her on all the news from the farm and all her news of being out and about.  We chatted back and forth for a while and eventually Graeme joined us.  The basic topic of conversation rather than a catch up on news was  whether or not they'd come home.  I said yes, they said no.  After a while I very reluctantly decided that they weren't coming down more than the couple of branches they'd hopped down to say hello, yet still out of reach, so I put Nova in a small cage and left the aviary door open in case they wanted to come home or have a snack.  Hedwig didn't sound too impressed when I left them sitting in the tree but I wasn't about to stand out there as the sun set and freeze to death.

There was no sign of Hedwig or Hermes on Friday or Saturday and I stepped up my worrying.

This morning I was putting the ferrets back in their outside cage after their nightly winter sleep over in the house.  We were having our early morning chat about how cold it was and how they needed to get into their sleeping bag and keep warm when I heard Hedwig call out to me.  I answered and with Hedwig calling out each time I said her name, I eventually managed to track her down to the top of the big steel workshop shed up the back in the next paddock.  She and Hermes were sitting up there bobbing their heads and saying hello.  Every time I go outside I take a handful of seed with me in case I meet up with the errant galahs so I was ready to start enticing them.

Hedwig started to weaken after a few minutes and began making her way down the shed roof towards me, her beady little eyes on the sunflower seeds.  Hermes headed her off and talked tried to talk her out of it.  Hedwig took to the air and headed for the  house yard in the general direction of the aviary and my hopes soured.  Hermes took off after her.  By the time I made it around the shed towards the house Hermes had returned alone and came to roost on top of the power poll.  I offered him the seed and he bobbed his head in acknowledgement but stayed put.  I went out to the aviary and found Hedwig in the Kurrajong tree in the paddock behind the cage.  I talked to her and showed her the seed while my poor toes froze in just a pair of crocks (I was still in my pyjamas and dressing gown too).  Hermes eventually joined us and Graeme came to help.  After a while we decided to give up again.  I put the handful of sunflower seed on top of the aviary so they could at least have a treat.  Hermes made a beeline for it.  I got some more and put it on a red plate to attract his attention and in no time flat Hermes was sitting on the edge of the plate.  I walked slowly to the cage door, opened it carefully (I'd left it unlatched before I tried feeding him) and he flew into the cage and straight to the feed containers.  I closed the door and called Graeme back.  We renewed our efforts to convince Hedwig to come home.  After all she was the one I was worried about out there in the wild with hawks and eagles soaring over our place all the time.

Hedwig bobbed her head, tweaked at us and generally tried to maintain the friendship from a distance.  Graeme (the love of my life even more now) climbed the tree to try and talk face to face with her and convince her to end her wandering.  I warned her that if Dad fell out of the tree she was in big trouble!  Graeme took his jumper off and tried to put it over her while they were chatting and she was getting a longed for scratch.  She simply side stepped it a couple of times.  I gave him the red plate and after a few aborted attempts Hedwig was nabbed and retuned to the cage! 

They both tucked into the seed and started getting reacquainted with Nova, before falling asleep on their favourite perch despite the lateness of the morning.  Hedwig has a large area of feathers missing from her chest just below her throat. No broken skin thankfully, just a bare area where pink feathers should be.   She won't say how that happened but I'm wondering if it had something to do with their return home.

I'm breathing a big sigh of relief and all is well on Spring Rock once again.  I can go back to admiring the eagles and hawks with a clear concience.

Hedwig in her younger days while recovering from her car accident.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Lots Of Animals And One Husband Behaving Strangely

It's been a while since my last post.  Life has been busy on Spring Rock with lambing, bottle raising eight lambs, sowing crops and general farm stuff.  The menagerie has been misbehaving from time to time, but nothing really out of the usual to let you know about.

Billy is slowing down with old age.  He's slow to get started in the morning but still manages to sneak out of the house yard every day and come home with a huge collection of Bathurst burr decorations on his coat.  Bathurst burr is both sticky and very, very prickly.  Pulling it out by hand is fraught with sore fingers and hours spent with a sharp needle digging out the prickles.  Combing them out upsets Billy as they tend to pull rather drastically, so I've been shaving them out of him when they are really stuck.  Billy now has a decidedly moth eaten appearance with little holes throughout his beautiful winter coat and no no fur on his tail at all.  Every day there are a few new hole in his coat as Billy continues his tiptoeing through the Bathurst Burr.

The new hens have settled in and one of  them has proved to be a true Spring Rock menagerie member.  When the girls first arrived they were traumatised by the wide open spaces of the chook yard and clustered together in the rather small laying box.  The laying box is built for one hen at a time with the possibility of a second hen squeezing in should the first hen in their take too long to lay her egg.  Fitting six panicky hens in there at the one time was just ridiculous.  Graeme and I would pull each hen out and send her clucking and fussing about her business only to have her return before all six were evicted.  In the end we reluctantly barricaded the laying box off so no-one could get in.  This meant that I had to perform an Easter egg type hunt for the eggs every day until the new girls adapted to the wide expanse of chook yard.  While I was doing my daily chook yard wander I noticed I always had one brown hen accompanying me.  After a couple of days when I stopped to inspect a likely egg spot she would come right up to me and peck near my shoes.  Of course I started chatting to her on our daily wanders and she chatted back when the mood took her.  It wasn't long before I was bending down giving her a scratch on the neck.  We became firm friends.

When the time came to open up the laying box again I thought my days of bonding with the little brown hen were over, but she had other ideas.  As soon as I walked through the gate she'd come running from wherever she was, often almost running right into me in her haste to say hello.  I sat down on the shed beam the better to have our chat and one day picked her up and sat her on my knee so I didn't have to bend over.  I introduced her to Hedwig the Galaha's favourite thing, being scratched under the wing, and we haven't looked back.  Every day I have to sit, wait for her to come up to me, lift her on my lap and and scratch her under her wing.  When she's had enough she hops down and goes and eats the scrap treats I usually bring with me.  I worry that she's missing the best ones while we bond, but she's happy to visit, so I'm happy to provide the scratches and chat.

When I told my grandsons about the hen via email, they wanted a photo.  I had to bring the hen inside so Graeme could take the photo.  I'm in my lamb feeding clothes with all the kitchen mess behind me, but the boys loved the photo and the hen enjoyed her extra wing scratch while admiring the new chook pen she hadn't seen before.

Sadly, I can't I can't tell her apart from the rest of the hens.  My granddaughter Hannah named her Patsy because she likes pats, so here is the photo of Patsy and me.

Now for the really surprising news here on Spring Rock.  As those who have been reading this blog for a while will know, Graeme is totally anti-ferret.  We even have a Graeme/Ferret Treaty in place that states that the ferrets are not allowed inside (except in their inside cage) when Graeme is inside.  You see the ferrets have always found Graeme's toes irresistible.  Every ferret I've ever owned and the ones who have visited here with my daughter or some friends have all agreed that the most tasty thing in the world is Graeme's toes.  Graeme is of the opinion that they should resist, but ferrets don't know the word resist and make a beeline for his toes as soon as they hit the ground.  Consequently I go to great lengths to keep the ferrets and Graeme's toes in separate places.

Now that winter is here the ferrets spend wet days and every night in their inside cage snuggled in their sleeping bag.  Yesterday, after I changed the litter it seems that I accidentally undid one of the catches that holds the back of the cage down.  Jocie and Cecilia both investigate the back of the cage every time they are put in it to see if they can find a weak spot and get out so they can play with me while I try to catch them or better still, quest for those delicious toes.  I hadn't realised the catch was up so after dropping the ferrets in the cage I went outside for a while to let the chooks out for a run in the yard.  I  have to supervise their run for a couple of reasons - they tend to prefer digging up my plants rather than just roaming the grass areas, and Billy finds the soft fluffy feather feel in his mouth irresistible (much like the ferrets and Graeme's toes I suppose).  Billy knows if I'm out there I won't allow any chook harassing so he sits near me and dreams of carrying fluffy feathered creatures in his mouth.  That's where he and the ferrets differ.  The ferrets don't care that they aren't allowed to nibble Graeme's toes.  The danger of getting into trouble just adds to the whole toe dining experience.

Graeme came in from the paddocks while I was babysitting the chooks and went inside to make himself a well earned cup of tea.  He was only in there a few minutes when I heard, "There's a ferret loose!"  I pointed out that I couldn't come inside immediately because Billy would take the opportunity to pick up a chook while I wasn't there.  I asked if he could come outside and wait until I got the chooks back in their yard, or come out and watch Billy while I hunted the escaped ferret.  Much to my surprise he called out that the ferret was back in the cage.  Now the only way it would bet back in the cage was for Graeme to actually pick it up and put it there.  This is an unheard of act.  Graeme just doesn't interact with the ferrets in any way including touching them.  Knowing if a ferret had got out once then two were likely to keep getting out until their exit spot was closed up, I put the chooks back in their pen so I could go inside and retrieve said ferrets.  Billy wanted to help so it took longer than usual, but finally they were all in their yard ready to settle down for the night.  I went inside expecting to see a battle between Graeme and a couple of ferrets.  I was stunned at the sight that met my eyes.  Graeme had to broom in his hand and was sweeping Jocie around the kitchen floor.  At first I thought he was fending her off.  That might be the way it started, but they were playing with each other.  Graeme was playing with a ferret!!! He had actually picked up a ferret and now he was playing with one!!  He was laughing at her antics and she was having a wonderful time challenging him to battles and being slid over the floor.  I really didn't want to break it up, but as soon as I came inside Graeme reverted to his anti-ferret stance and left her to me to put away.

It seems that the first time he put her back in the cage Byron took the opportunity to escape and he took some catching.  Of course while he was catching Byron, Jocie made her exit from the cage again.  Realising he was on the wrong end of a losing battle Graeme put Byron away (yes he'd actually touched TWO ferrets!) and protected his toes with the broom.  Ferrets are fun loving (no matter what Graeme mumbles about vicious little biters) and Jocie was quick to see that Graeme has started a great game.  Graeme found he wasn't proof against Jocie's antics and his initial defence of his toes did indeed become a game.  I don't think Graeme was aware just how lucky he is that Cecilia has put on some winter weight and couldn't fit out of the little gap in the back of the cage.  If he'd been trying to fend off two ferrets working in tandem his toes wouldn't have a chance.

Of course now, that Graeme has been caught playing with a ferret I'm not going to let him live it down.  Jocie won't either.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


Miette & Horton in Horton's younger days.

My gorgeous Horton died a week ago.  His death was very peaceful thankfully.  He was very old and just wound down.  As time went on Horton just got slower and slower, slept a lot more and enjoyed more and more cuddles.  He finally passed away in his sleep one night.

Ferrets are very difficult to photograph so sadly I have very few photos of Horton where you can actually see what he looks like.  Most are a blur of white or close up of noses.
Miette's is the nose in question here, but you get the idea.

Horton came to me with his best friend Ebony when Albus died of old age and his best friend Miette was pining for him.  Miette was old too and lost interest in life without her friend.  She gave up eating and things looked grim. 
I contacted the Ferret Welfare Society of NSW and asked if they had any ferrets available for adoption.  I prefer to buy my ferrets from the FWSNSW because these are rescued ferrets in need of a good home and are already desexed and socialised when you buy them.  The lady to whom I spoke said she only had one pair in need of a home at the moment but they hadn’t been there long and their socialisation training wasn’t complete.  She understood my plight and said as I’d had ferrets before and socialised some as well I could have these two if I liked. The FWSNSW have a full refund policy if you aren't happy with the ferrets you buy but we all know that is of no use to me.  No way could I give an animal back after it's moved into the menagerie.

My daughter Bec picked them up the next day and she, along with her family made a four hour mercy dash to Spring Rock to deliver them the day after that.  Miette was hanging by a thread, with no interest in going on.  Of course Miette did have the reputation of being a drama queen but I didn’t want to take a chance that she wasn’t overreacting this time.  She lay limply in the inside cage, refusing all nourishment and attempts to cheer her up were flatly ignored.  The change is my little old ferret when she was introduced to her new friends was amazing.  She was up and bossing them around in no time flat.

Horton and Ebony arrived with the names Shadow and Fetish.  I already had Shadow the Silky type terrier, so he needed a name change; and I wasn’t going to burden a sweet little girl ferret with the name Fetish for the rest of her life, so they became Horton and Ebony. I think Ebony may have been badly mistreated in her old home because she was terrified of humans.  She played nicely with other ferrets but tended to panic if held by a human.  It took a long time and lots of nipped body parts (mine, not Ebony's) but eventually Ebony learned to love me and trust humans in general. Horton was always the laid back boy.  He and Miette hit it off straight away.  All her plans to rule the ferret world, and I believe, ultimately the whole world, returned as soon as the new ferrets arrived and Miette settled in to ferret domination in no time.  Ebony cow-towed straight away, showing submission and doing whatever Miette told her to do. Horton showed a similar disposition to Albus and simply rolled over and went to sleep if Miette got rambunctious.  Unlike Albus he didn’t roll over on top of Miette so Miette saw that as a definite plus.  A strong friendship was born. 
Horton had a great sense of fun and as soon as he was released in the house to play each day, danced about doing the ferret thing and looking for mischief to get into.  Mischief was always available.  He refused to play with Ambrosia the Bengal cat though.  While the other ferrets joyously waged war with Ambrosia, enjoying their skirmishes with gusto and fluffy tails, Horton would just go to ground if Ambrosia pounced on him.  He’d lie there on his tummy biding his time until the cat lost interest in him and then resume his never ending search for shoes to climb into, cupboards to hide things under and sewing items to steal and stash.

His other favourite indoor activity was to challenge me to ferret duels.  This began by him bouncing up to me, all four legs stiff and his mouth wide open.  If I ignored him he’d move a distance away and begin the challenge all over again.  Well, let me tell you, two ferret duel challenges are just too hard to resist.  I’d bend down and try to catch him and the duel was on in earnest.  Horton would race for cover, usually under the sideboard, and pop out from different ends trying to catch me while avoiding being caught himself.  If you can imagine a real life game of whack a mole played horizontally instead of vertically you’ll get some idea of Horton’s duelling technique.  I don’t think I ever won a duel - most likely the reason Horton loved them so much. Ferret duels became a thing of the past recently when Horton felt just too old and tired to challenge me.  He spent his time sitting on my lap and reminiscing about the good old days when he was more than a match for me.
Horton won a special place in my grandson Ethan’s heart.  You see Horton gave the best ferret kisses in the world.  While the newer ferrets, Jocie, Byron and Cecilia were inclined to nip little fingers or noses if held by little boys, Horton would just give gentle, wiskery kisses.  Of course wiskery ferret kisses tickle a lot so Ethan always had his face screwed up like he was being tortured.  Thus no photos are available to commemorate the friendship.  Ethan and Horton had lots of fun and games together and Ethan misses his good friend now.
Goodbye Horton.  Thank you for all the fun, love and cuddles – not to mention those tickly ferret kisses.  You are greatly missed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meet Eros & Helios

One night a few weeks ago disaster struck at Spring Rock.   A  fox attacked the chooks and ended up killing all but three of the hens.  Adonis, the rooster, but up a great fight by the looks of things and the fox finally left him alone for easier prey, but Adonis didn't survive the mauling.  I moved the three survivors into the aviary much to Hedwig, Hermes and Nova's disgust until Graeme could find time to do some major repairs and fox proofing of the chook pen.  

I can't say that harmony reigned in the aviary but everyone was safe from attack fro foxes and that was the main thing.  Hedwig assumed a permanent scowl on her little Galah face and settled in to a bad mood for the ensuing weeks.  Hermes ignored them but didn't approve and Nova, who is really a pigeon of peace, just tried to get along with everyone.  The chooks weren't impressed with the cramped accommodation after living in their spacious chook pen for all their lives but they soon saw the advantages of previously unscratched ground and had a great time tearing up the aviary floor in an effort to find every bug present.

On Monday, at our craft group meeting, I mentioned my intention of getting some black Australorp hens in then next few weeks and that I'd try and buy a rooster at the same time.  My neighbour told me that a friend of ours, a fellow craft group member, had two large black roosters she was trying to find a home for because they were driving her mad chasing her bantam hens.  Our friend is up to her neck in clearing out all her recently deceased husband's stuff and works non-stop all day.  The rooster problem was just adding to her stress.  She is like me and wouldn't do anything to harm the roosters.  They were thrown over her fence when they were younger and have lived there ever since.


I rang our friend on Wednesday and arranged to pick them up so they could come and live here with full size hens (all three of the survivors from the fox attack). She thanked me and said I'd taken a load off her mind.  Poor Graeme wasn't thrilled with me taking both roosters, but when he saw how grateful our friend was not to have to worry about them any more he didn't say a word about both coming to live with us, sweetie that he is.  The boys are beautiful.  Our friend believes they are show poultry rejects because of their size and general good looks.  I've searched the Internet and think they are Orpingtons.  If you have a better suggestion as to their breed I'd love to hear from you.  They are outside crowing at the dawn and showing off to the girls as I type.

I named the two roosters Eros (the Greek god of love) and Helios (the Greek sun god before Apollo took over), and they are settling in nicely.  Our friend assured me they were very gentle roosters and would get on well together despite competing for the girls.  They'd never had a cross word with each other while living with her and they tried to compete for the bantam girls whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

The three surviving hens' opinions are divided on the benefits of the boys moving in.  I'd just moved the girls back into their heavily reinforced chook pen from their stint in protective custody in the aviary, hours before the boys arrived and the girls were having fun running around and being basically free range again when these two huge and bossy males arrived.  The boys immediately set about trying to mate with the girls.  No polite introductions or getting to know you drinks or dinners, just straight into it.  The ancient brown hen was really put off by the whole sordid incident and has adopted the attitude that if she ignores them they may just go away.  She has taken to keeping herself at the opposite end of the chook pen to wherever the boys may be roaming at the time.  She's not impressed with the morning crowing competition either.  I went out yesterday to give them some scraps and check on the state of the nation chook-pen-wise and the two boys were in full voice.  The old brown girl was sitting up the other end of the chook yard and every time one of the boys crowed she closed her eyes, almost achieving a pained expression on her little chooky face.  I could almost hear her saying, "Yeah, yeah, you're both big strong males and you make the sun rise every morning.  It's been up for hours now.  Enough already!!"  

The Old Brown Hen.  Note the closed eyes.  The roosters were crowing hello to me as I took the photos

When the three girls were ensconced in the aviary one of the girls started to make very un-hen like crowing sounds. I have read that sometimes when a rooster dies and only hens are left the dominant hen will take on attributes of the rooster.  I imagine if that was what was happening it would have been the old brown hen, so maybe she's just ticked off that her moment to be really top of the heap has been taken away from her.  There's no chance she will be able to lord it over these two giants of the chook pen, even if they are gentle roosters. 

The younger brown hen seems ambivalent towards the boys.  She doesn't keep her distance, but she doesn't court their attention either.  They are just two new inhabitants of the chook pen and there's room for everyone to roam about and plenty of juicy bugs and interesting things so everyone gets a chance to catch the worms whether they are early or not.  Unlike the old brown girl, the younger brown hen is still of child bearing years so the roosters mating activities don't really offend her.

       The Young Brown Hen looking for a tasty bug.

Mum The Marran, named by three year old grandson Liam (his second choice of names when he was told Dad wasn't an appropriate name for a girl chook), sees them as God's gift to put upon young hens.  The older two girls had spent the entire time in the aviary showing Mum The Marran that she is at the very bottom of the pecking order.  They implied that it's a pity there are only the three of them because she would rate even lower than third in the pecking order if that was possible.  The thing about the pecking order is that it involves just that - pecking.  Poor little Mum The Marran spent her days in the cramped aviary trying to find a spot the other two hens would let her have.  Wherever she moved they pecked her and moved her on.  Now, with two huge black body guards she is in seventh heaven.  Wherever Eros and Helios can be found there she is with them, peeking out from behind them metaphorically poking her tongue out at the other two hens.  She is enduring the crowing competitions in the knowledge that a slight headache is better than being pecked constantly, and while she sticks close to the boys no-one is trying to peck her back into her place in the pecking order.


Mum The Marran 


Mum The Marran hiding behind Eros

 So the state of the nation chook-pen-wise is that things are looking very good (unless you are an ancient brown hen).  Peace reigns supreme, if rather noisily and a more democratic reign has been installed where young Marrans can live free and scratch and peck with the best of them, unmolested and safe from bossy hen domination (well, not pecked anyway, I imagine there's a bit of rooster style molesting going on with Mum The Marran but she doesn't seem to mind).

A happy, serene chook pen (if you discount all the crowing).  Note the Old Brown Hen is nowhere to be seen in this photo.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Very First Time I Dyed and Broke the Four Minute Mile.

I’ve been reading a great new blog and promised Nadie that I’d send her this story.  After I sent it I thought the rest of you might like to read it too. 

This instalment contains no animals (unless you count the passing mention of my Aasta, my Old English Sheepdog from years ago and my comeback sheep, Tiffany who produced the wool).  So here is the animal free zone story of how I learned to dye and break the one minute mile in the process.

About 35 years ago I bought an Old English Sheepdog.  She needed something to herd (she tried magpies but they kept flying off) so we bought a sheep from a backyard in Penrith when we were out on a drive one day.  Every year Tiffany needed to be shorn and her wool started to accumulate.  With no thoughts of stockpiling it and becoming wool barons, I learned to spin – basically in self defence.  Tiffany produced kilos of wool every year and we lived in a very small house. 

Learning to spin was fraught with dangers not previously considered.  Of course, like everyone else the first thing I did was closely examine the spinning wheel for the sharp object that pricked Sleeping Beauty’s finger and put her to sleep for 100 years.  While there were times in my life with a twelve month old baby girl that a long sleep was very tempting the thoughts of what she’d accomplish left unsupervised was a nightmare all by itself.  Just for the record, I’ve never met a spinning wheel with a finger pricking sharp piece attached to it.  I can only assume that Sleeping Beauty was a real klutz. 

Anyway, back to my spinning lessons.  I lived on an acre at the bottom of a deserted street miles from the little village of Hill Top in the Southern Highlands and couldn’t drive so if I wanted to learn anything I had to borrow books from the library when Graeme drove me to Bowral each week and teach myself.  Bec, added another hurdle to learning to spin because she thought the spinning wheel just perfect for poking pudgy fingers in to see what happened.  I ended up, book on my lap, safely enclosed in Bec’s playpen while she free ranged around the loungeroom with her toys, perfecting my spinning.

Once I could produce a reasonable skein of yarn I taught Graeme's Aunt Rae to spin (and then she took herself off to TAFE and is now a master spinner and master weaver!)  Rae lived up at Eungai (far north coast of NSW) and we used to visit for a couple of weeks each year.  During our visits Rae and I would usually try out new crafts together (believe it or not, Rae never wanted to try quilting!).

The holiday where I taught Rae to spin she took to it like a duck to water.  Rae took full advantage of my spinning wheel being in residence and we even took in on picnics with us so we could keep spinning while Graeme, his Uncle Robert and our kids (we had two by now) could enjoy themselves in the canoe.  With quite a few skeins produced, we decided to have a go at natural dying the skeins and some fleece.  Of course I had a few books on the subject and we set about getting all our supplies together.  We needed a range of mordants to experiment with the various colours they would produce with the gum leaves, barks, lichens etc that we’d gathered, so we headed off to Macksville (nearest largish town to Eungai) to get the equipment and mordants we needed.

Rae went to the co-op for the equipment and I was put on chemist detail.  I was a bit of a hippy in my youth, flowered jeans, long hair, head band around the forehead, flowing cheesecloth tops etc.  (I don't know if this had anything to do with the next part of my story, but it may have contributed.)  I asked the girl behind the counter to sell me some chemicals (I can't remember the actual chemicals now, but I asked for each by name).  The girl gave me a long look and asked what I wanted these chemicals for.  Without thinking it through (see I was just as scatterbrained in my youth) I said in my most confident artisan's voice, "Dying".

She then gave me a scared look, put her hands up as if to calm a wild animal and said, "Just wait here, I'll get the chemist."  She then disappeared out the back, where I could hear a whispered conversation taking place.  The chemist came out, the girl pointed to me and he headed in my direction.  He gave me a professionally concerned look and asked what I wanted these chemicals for.
Once again I said, "Dying" (the penny still hadn't dropped with me).  The look on the chemist's face finally penetrated my little brain that was overflowing with artistic plans and I quickly said, "Dying wool not me!!!).  The chemist looked sceptical at first but I managed to convince him that I really had a load of wool at home and wanted to boiled it up with leaves and lichen and needed the chemicals to help set the colours.  He agreed to sell me the chemicals, but I couldn't get him to sell me the quantities I actually wanted.  He rationed them out very sparingly.  I thanked him in a chastened voice and slunk out of the shop.

Rae and I decided not to push our luck by sending Rae in to get some more.  We'd just use what we were given.  We returned to the farm and set up our dying workshop in the kitchen.  The kitchen took on the appearance of a very dedicated witch’s kitchen with leaves, lichens, ferns and flowers scatted in piles on the table and benches.  The chemicals were kept over on a separate counter and treated with a very large amount of respect.  We were quite twitchy by now about using these mordants.  To add to the witch’s kitchen look, Rae had a fuel stove and used it whenever possible because it also heated the house's hot water.  Rae put the pot on the stove and carefully added the mordant while I stood well back in case it jumped off the measuring spoon and attacked. 

All was quiet as the water heated on the stove.  A few seconds later a very loud POP! sound  erupted  from the stove.  Without even looking at each other, Rae and I hightailed it out of the house, banging the screen door closed as we passed and dived off the back veranda and stood out in the garden almost hugging each other in fright.  We left that kitchen  so quickly I’m sure we must have broken the sound barrier.  Graeme, Robert, Bec and Josh sat out there where they’d been quietly chatting about farming and life in general, but now staring at us with puzzled expressions on their face.  The pop hadn’t even been loud enough for them to hear it on the back porch.  It suddenly occurred to me that these chemicals were poisonous, not explosive.  I relayed my epiphany to Rae who nodded her head and we both laughed nervously in relief.

Even with this comforting knowledge, we were reluctant to go back to the kitchen, but we gathered our courage (what little there was left of it) and bravely (???) re-entered the kitchen.  The popping sound had been made by a little bit of water boiling between the base of the pot and the top of the stove and having no where to escape.  Thankfully all such water had evaporated by the time we ventured back into the kitchen.

We spent the rest of the day creating beautiful muted colours in skeins and fleece and decided that while natural dying could be a very scary experience it was worth it.  I should have taken the wool back to the chemist to show 1. I was still alive and 2. I’d been telling the truth, but it never occurred to me at the time.