Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Tale of Roosters and St Bernards

I'm wondering about the sanity of our new rooster. On occasions, when I collect the eggs, the chooks organise a gaol break by pushing at the chook yard gate to open it enough to squeeze through and head for my poor chook and dog ravaged garden.  They refuse to be corralled back into the yard.  One person versus eight hens and a feisty little rooster is just no competition at all.  It's a win to the chooks every time.  I'd just get three or four into the chook yard and after issuing stern warnings to them about retribution if they got out again (chook dinner is often mentioned, but they know it's an empty threat), I return to my very large garden (about an acre in all) in search of more feathered escapees.  While I am rounding up the hens the ones I'd managed to corral just walk out and resume their gardening work - digging up plants and scratching out pot plants.  This could go on forever if I let it.  As it is I no longer even try to return the chooks to their home.  I just get out my hand sewing, sit on the garden bench and spend more time shooing the chooks away from my plants towards the expanse of weeds that stand in place of a lawn.  Little sewing gets done but I try.

The other thing I do is lock up both dogs as soon as the chooks escape.  This used to be a very trying job.  With every dog I've owned their number one ambition is to chew on a fluffy chook.  None of my St Bernards have actually damaged a chook, they just like to hold it in their mouths, or in Cleo's case use it as a pillow.  This results in the poor chook being pecked when she's returned to her flock.  I think it's because she no longer smells like a chook and now her scent more closely resembles eau de dog.  Anyway, no dog has ever been keen to co-operate with me when I try to move them into the laundry for the duration of the chook invasion.  Dragging is the order of the day, and let me tell you dragging a full grown St Bernard from the back of our yard to the house, up three steps and then across our small back porch and into the laundry is no picnic.  Neither threats nor treats work.  Each dog has been fixated on the chooks who stupidly studiously ignore the large threat to their peace as they peck or scratch away at my garden.  Unlike my unmitigated failure with corralling chooks, I always manage to corral my dogs.

Aslan has been the exception to the rule.  He couldn't care less about chooks.  He has no interest in their fluffiness and will wander around minding his own business while chooks and rooster cross his path, peck near his feet and generally try to tempt him into bad behaviour.  Cleo used to be a real trial when the chooks escaped.  She made up for Aslan's disinterest by being interested enough for both of them.  She'd channel gun dogs as soon as she saw the first chook out of the yard and almost go on point.  Getting her attention was a lost cause.  Her whole world was chooks and their fluffiness.

A few weeks back Cleo came into season and is too young to mate as yet.  This meant we had to keep Cleo and a very interested, but far too young himself, Aslan apart.  They hadn't spent any time apart from each other since Aslan arrived as a six week old pup.  This was just fraught with dire possibilities.  I had planned on having a dog proof dog run made by the time Cleo reached her interesting condition, but Graeme always found other things that needed doing.  When I asked for spare farm materials to do the work myself I was always told I'd never manage it with my back injury and Graeme would do it.  It didn't get done. 

Now we'll skim over the gory details of Cleo's and Aslan's separation, only to mention no fraternising took place thankfully.  I spent the entire two weeks on guard, changing dogs over so one was locked in the laundry while the other roamed free. I can tell you, it kept me busy.

Now back to the chooks and rooster versus St Bernard issue. With Cleo still in the last stages of her season and locked in the laundry for her turn in isolation, Aslan was roaming the yard when the chooks made their escape.  The only thing I could do was tie Aslan up to the clothes line and hope his disinterest in chooks lasted and the chooks were sensible enough to avoid him.  Sensible chooks is actually an oxymoron.  I was worried Aslan would be tempted to try a chook dinner by the time the chooks had strutted near him for a few hours, but that's not Aslan's style.  And isn't Phoenix lucky that's the case.  I gave Aslan a pig's trotter as a treat to make his being tied up a bit less boring and give him something else to focus on.  I  went inside and got myself a cup of tea prior to doing a few chores.  I looked out the back door and there was Phoenix, strutting around within inches of Aslan's indignant face.  When I went out to move Phoenix on I saw the attraction.  He'd taken Aslan's trotter away from him and was offering it up to any of his girls who were brave enough to come near the dog to get a peck or two at it.  Phoenix couldn't move the trotter very far, if he'd moved it at all.  Aslan was standing back looking at Phoenix and his stolen pig's trotter and feeling very hard done by.  I gathered up the rooster, moved him away from dog and trotter and then gave Aslan his trotter back with stern words to eat it up before Phoenix came back and took it off him again.  Aslan took my advice and no further trotter stealing took place.

The next dog meets rooster episode was much stranger.  The chooks managed to find a way out of the chook yard all by themselves.  I hadn't been to collect eggs so how they got out is still a mystery.  They must have managed to push the bottom of the gate enough to squeeze out.  I know it wasn't a big exit space because the ducks were still in the chook yard, looking out longingly at the very free range chooks.

I had no idea they were out until I heard Phoenix crowing and the hens clucking away quite close to the house.   I bolted out the back door (well, my version of bolting is rather slow, but I did my best) only to find the commotion wasn't caused by Cleo attacking innocent hens.  It was quite the reverse.  Little Phoenix, a bantam/standard size cross rooster, was attacking poor Cleo.  Cleo was desperately trying to get away but wisely wouldn't turn her back on the rampaging rooster.  Her backwards retreat wasn't working though because Phoenix just followed, neck fluffed out and wings flapping as he advanced on the now cowered dog.  All eight hens were behind Phoenix cheering him on and offering advice of the best doggy spots to attack.

I rescued Cleo who was so relieved to see me that she followed me to the laundry and rushed inside for the first time in her life.  Once Cleo was removed from his immediate environment Phoenix moved on to my garden, taking his girls with him while they clucked admiring compliments and told him he was their hero. 

A one off even you think?  No.  Cleo is now rooster shy.  Phoenix knows he has her right where he wants her and all he needs to do to make Cleo head for the hills (or in her case the back porch) is move close to the chook yard gate when the dogs and I go to collect eggs.  Cleo was with me one afternoon when the chooks once again managed to get the gate open, despite my best efforts to prevent such bad behaviour (it really is frustrating trying to keep them in their yard).  Cleo didn't manage to escape and once again I had to rescue her because she was too scared to turn her back on Phoenix and run.  Now keep in mind that we are talking about a rooster who barely makes 40cm in hight at full indignant stretch, and a full grown St Bernard, weighing in at about 65 kilos with a full set of very large teeth.  It's never occurred to Cleo that she should have the upper paw in these confrontations.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled she hasn't thought this through.  I love Phoenix and would hate for Cleo to turn him into a feathered pillow.  I'm just saying you'd think the size and weight difference would occur to Cleo.

Phoenix - on guard and looking for St Bernards to bully.  

Please excuse the mess.  I clear up this sort of mess on a daily basis but the chooks and dogs work hard to replace all I've tidied up the day before.  Most of the mess is the photo is dog created (the broken pot was a victim of a Cleo/Aslan tug of war), the chewed pot behind Phoenix is just one of many.  The dogs like to raid my supply of nursery pots I keep for cuttings, and munch on them until they are useless.  They they find the next pot to wreck.  The watering can is also a victim of St Bernard chewing - I now have a metal one they have no interest in at all.