Sunday, July 11, 2021

Vale Phoenix

Phoenix in his younger days

 My gorgeous rooster, Phoenix, died on Friday.  He was a very old rooster and had started slowing down dramatically over the past few weeks.  Phoenix appears to have died in his sleep peacefully after spending the night snuggled up to George (short for Georgina). Phoenix was the only rooster I’ve ever owned who came when I called him. I miss him dreadfully.

Phoenix came to live amongst the Spring Rock menagerie many years ago.  He was hand raised from an egg by my daughter in law's mother, Casey, and little sister, Ivy, and brother, Jasper.  Phoenix was always just a little bit to big for his boots.  When he was put out into Casey's back yard to live with the resident chooks and roosters, Phoenix saw his opportunity to be top dog (or top rooster I suppose it more apt).  He began lording it over the rest of the chooks and roosters and even turned on his human family, not allowing the children into the back yard to play.  Phoenix challenged everyone who tried to access his kingdom (the aforementioned back yard).  By and large, Phoenix managed to intimidate all comers, with the exception of my son Justin.  Justin had been raised with feisty roosters and knew the trick was to take no guff, firmly putting Phoenix in his place when challenged.  Ivy and Jasper tried to standing up the fluffy tyrant, but caved each time Phoenix ran in their direction.

The day finally came when the children wanted their yard back.  Phoenix had to go.  Despite his bad behaviour, Ivy and Jasper still loved Phoenix and wanted him to go to a good home.  The first name that came to mind when thinking of a good home for a badly behaved rooster was Rosemary.  I was asked if I could provide the good home and of course said yes.  Phoenix arrived in a cardboard box, with his loving family who were all eager to see where Phoenix was going to live.  Phoenix was let loose in the chook yard and immediately set about introducing himself to the ladies, without so much as a backward glance to say goodbye to those dedicated people who raised him.  Casey and the children could see Phoenix would be happy with his new harem and returned home, sad to say goodbye to Phoenix, but happy to have their back yard back.

The first time Graeme and I entered the chook yard after Phoenix's installation, Phoenix tried his domination tactics.  Graeme was the first to meet with the fluffy ball of outrage.  Phoenix came at Graeme talons first with order to leave his domain.  Graeme simply batted Phoenix away, using the flat top of his shoe to send Phoenix a short distance from his legs.  Phoenix found himself too far away from Graeme's shins to do any damage and charged back into the lists.  Once again, Graeme fended him off and Phoenix began to suspect he may have met his match.  I doubt Phoenix would have been surprised if he'd been told that Graeme was closely related to Justin, the only other human he couldn't terrify.  Then it was my turn when I came down to collect the eggs.  After one abject failure to cower the human male member of Spring Rock, Phoenix doubled his efforts to show the human female he was a force with which to be reckoned.  I used the same technique that Graeme had found so successful and Phoenix soon accepted the fact that our presence had to be tolerated in the chook yard.

One thing that Phoenix found in the chook yard that couldn’t be tolerated was Eros, our resident black rooster.  Shortly after Phoenix entered the chook yard, he decided that it would be a better world with less black roosters in it.  Phoenix decided that changes needed to be made and needed to be made now!  He immediately turned his attention to ridding the chook yard of the excess black rooster.  With this thought in mind, Phoenix immediately tried to put an end to Eros.  Eros was a rooster of peace and refused to fight back, but he usually ended up cornered somewhere with Phoenix beating the daylights out of him.  The only solution was for Graeme to build an inner yard in the chook pen and Phoenix was forced to reluctantly retire from the lists and take up residence in his new bachelor's quarters.  Eros once again reigned supreme in the chook yard and Phoenix, while not exactly enjoying living in the bachelor quarters was happy enough.  He was able to chat to the hens through the wire and even share his treats with them when I dished out the scraps each afternoon. 

Eros, our rooster of peace.

Life settled down in the chook yard, but I soon felt sorry for Phoenix living a solitary life.  I tried putting a couple of hens in with him so he had female company, but Phoenix suffered with a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome when living with hens.  Alone in his bachelor quarters, Phoenix was a gentle, affectionate rooster who enjoyed daily visits from me, where he sat on my lap and enjoyed wattle and comb rubs.  This would put him in a state of bliss and he always ran up to me with his little welcome dance before I lifted him onto my lap.  When living with even one hen, Phoenix reverted to the Mr Hyde part of his character and became aggressive towards any human who entered his yard.

Phoenix was doomed to live a solitary life, doing his best to entice the hens over to chat with him through the wire.  He pretended to find tasty treats and made little noises of encouragement to lure gullible hens over to the wire.  This worked for a while, but eventually the hens recognised a scam when they saw one and Phoenix only managed to rally the hens to his boundary when I arrived with scraps or treats.  Then he would generously share whatever bounty came his way.  Eventually I decided to let Phoenix out with the rest of the chooks each afternoon so he could socialise and forage.  At first Phoenix’s first stop was to bash up Eros, but after a few interventions by me, where Phoenix was immediately put back into the bachelor quarters, Phoenix learned to ignore Eros’ existence and focus on the hens.

Sadly, his “come and see what tasty morsel I’ve found” no longer worked with the girls, they’d been tricked once too often, so Phoenix had to find a new hen catching strategy.  He accomplished this by the simple expedient of finding a hen or two who had strayed from the flock and herding them to a remote part of the garden where they could all forage far away from any large black roosters that might exist somewhere else in the yard.  This strategy proved to be a full time job, because the hens naturally wanted to re-join the main flock, but Phoenix maintained vigilance and kept the girls he managed to corner with him for the whole afternoon.  This meant he got little else done, including romancing the girls, but Phoenix was happy.

When it was time to round everyone up to lock up for the night, I’d call Phoenix before the herding began.  Phoenix would come running towards me, do his little dance then wait for me to pick him up.  I needed to keep him with me because I’d found that during the chook muster, Phoenix would place himself at the gate to the chook yard and not allow Eros to enter.  Eros would arrive at the gate, see the obnoxious red fellow in residence and think of some task outside the chook yard he had yet to complete, wandering off to accomplish this very important (if imaginary) task.  With Phoenix comfortable nestled in my arms the rest of the feathery population would be easily persuaded to return to their yard.  Phoenix chivvied the slow ones from the comfort of my arms and once again, all chooks and ducks would be safely locked up for the night.  Phoenix would be returned to the bachelor quarters, and if I had time, would get his wattles and comb massaged while we chatted about our days.

 As winter approached this year, I began to worry about Phoenix being alone in the cold weather.  I tried swapping Phoenix and D’artagnan (our Faverolle rooster who came to live with us after Eros succumbed to old age), putting D’artagnan (another rooster of peace Phoenix usually bullied at every opportunity) in the bachelor quarters and Phoenix with the girls.  D’artagnan didn’t like this arrangement and nearly damaged himself trying to get back with his girls.  Phoenix, who miraculously had adjusted his attitude to excess roosters, was content to share the yard and sleeping quarters with D’artagnan, so peace reigned supreme in the chook yard during autumn and winter. 

As the days passed, I worried that Phoenix, while not objecting to D’artagnan’s existence any more, wasn’t completely happy with the new arrangement.  Having a young, virile rooster in your face in the twilight of your years couldn’t be wonderful.  I hardened my heart to the Shut Ins (George and Emu, my two Silkies who’d had more than enough of roosters and lived in a cloistered yard – yet another inclusion in the chook yard – rooster free) and installed Phoenix in there with them.  George, ever the gentle, quiet girl she is, allowed Phoenix to snuggle up to her on cold nights in the nesting box and thus Phoenix whiled away the last days of his life.  We continued our wattle and comb massaging sessions, right up until Phoenix final day.

Rounding up the hens each night is now a lonely occupation without Phoenix to help.  He brought a lot of happiness into my life as we sat together, me massaging his wattles and comb, Phoenix listening drowsily to my chatter about how beautiful he was.   Phoenix will be greatly missed for a long time to come.






Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Arrival Of The Header

The Arrival of the Header

There's not an animal in sight with this latest episode of happenings at Spring Rock.

Well!  It's been all fun and games here lately.  After the long wait for the header to get here, it arrived, wrapped in high drama.

Last year’s harvest was encumbered with many header breakdowns.  Graeme would just get back into the swing of things, harvest-wise, and something would break, crack or just plain refuse to work on the header.  It has served us well for many years, and the truth of the matter is, that the poor header is just old and well and truly entering its troublesome years.  With a good harvest behind us, the decision was made to find a newer, second hand header with all the special bits and pieces Graeme wanted.  It took some time to track down the perfect header, but once it was found and our header budget, drastically increased, Graeme agreed to buy it.  There was a long wait between the agreeing and the actual buying, all to do with the header’s present owner’s (who was trading it in on the latest model) wish to keep hold of it until he actually had his new header on his property – a very wise move that ensured he still had a header if something went wrong with the arrival of the new one arrived.

The day finally arrived and the header was available for us to buy.  Getting an invoice to pay for it from the dealers was surprisingly difficult; I suppose they were just busy trying to sell all their other trade-ins, but the invoice was finally emailed the day before the header was due to arrive here and we could now pay the invoice.  At least we thought we could.  First, on Monday the bank made paying for the header very difficult.  Poor Graeme had to make more than half a dozen calls, with each one timing out while the person on the other end went off to find the answers to Graeme’s problems.  When the bank app told Graeme that there hadn’t been any activity for a while, so it was shutting down the session, Graeme had to ring back each time, explain his problem all over again only to have that person put him on hold while he/she went to find the answer and of course, it timed out again.  Graeme, despite the obvious frustrations of this little exercise, managed to stay calm and polite to each person to whom he spoke, but I did think I saw a bit of steam coming out his ears.

Once that was finally sorted and the payment for the header was made all we had to do, was sit back and wait for the header to arrive on Tuesday.  Well, that didn’t go according to plan either.  Tuesday arrived bright and shiny, with blue skies and dry roadways (the importance of which will become clear later on).  The salesman rang to say the truck was having difficulties (unspecified) and hadn’t arrived at the dealership as yet.  This was around lunchtime and there wasn’t enough time left in the day for the truck to drive the long trek to get the header here during daylight, so they were rescheduling for Wednesday. 

Wednesday’s weather forecast was for rain, followed by more rain.  Our 2km roadway from farm’s our front gate to our machinery shed is not a pretty sight after a bit of rain after a lot of rain it’s even worse.  Navigating the sloshy bits and the deep puddle bits is not for the faint hearted.  The day started with 40mm of rain (which our crops greatly appreciated) and rain just kept on coming all morning, only varying between showering and pouring down.  The header left on its long trek at 9.30am and we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  Graeme advised the salesman not to bring the truck on to our lane, but to offload the header on the main road (tar) and drive it along the lane (dirt) and then on through our gate and ultimately to the machinery shed where a nice, new spot was waiting for the header to settle down until harvest. 

The salesman, who arrived with the header to teach Graeme how to use all the high tech stuff, and truck driver took this good advice and all looked hopeful for a successful delivery of one header.  That’s when the fun and high jinks began.  The salesman drove the header along the lane and, with a false sense of security, continued through the gateway and on to our farm roadway.  Having never before seen what Spring Rock laughingly calls a roadway, the salesman seems to have lost all confidence and decided not to follow the soggy tyre ruts but to straddle them and choose the ground less waterlogged – big mistake.  The higher parts of the roadway did not have a firm base, made from decades of cars and machinery compacting to ground, underneath.  The header slipped sideways and into the newly erected boundary fence. 

Graeme, who had driven our four-wheel drive out to meet the salesman (well really he drove out to greet the header, but we’ll say he went to meet the salesman), managed to bog our car a short distance along our roadway from the stuck header.  I wasn’t present for the discussions that took place with two stuck vehicles (can you call a header a vehicle?), but the upshot was that the salesman opted to forgo the header tutorial for another day, walk back up the lane to meet the truck there and drive back to his dealership, leaving Graeme with the stuck aforementioned vehicles to sort out.  The salesman did say he’d wait a few days to bring the header comb down here.  He had intended to bring it Thursday, but he wasn’t going to brave our roadway again until it had a chance to dry out a bit.

Graeme walked back to the house, collected me and the tractor and we drove out to free the car from its ignoble position, stuck deep in the mud.  I busied myself taking photos of the stuck header and the bogged four-wheel drive to share with Ethan, our farmer type grandchild.  With the tractor doing all the heavy work, and me behind the wheel just steering the car as the tractor pulled it out, the car was soon out of the bog and trying to look like the whole embarrassing incident never happened.  Graeme decided to drive the car back to the house (for which I was truly grateful), finish his interrupted lunch and have a well-earned cup of tea before tackling the header issue.

To remove the header, Graeme had to dismantle our new boundary fence and drive the header out through the opening, then put the fence back together.  The header wasn’t bogged, it just didn’t seem to want to do anything but snuggle up to the fence, no matter how many attempts were made to steer it in the other direction.  One silver lining to this whole dark cloud incident is that our neighbours decided to plant the paddock on the other side of this fence to crops this year.  He’s run stock in that paddock for a number of years now and if Graeme had to drop the fence with sheep or horses in there, the unsticking the header process could have been a lot more fraught.  Thankfully, the header behaved once Graeme was in the driver’s seat and it was a simple matter of driving it out of the problem area and onto the roadway.  All Graeme had to do then was put the fence back together, drive the header down to the machinery shed, get me to drive him back for the bike and then back again for the tractor and we could put this whole distasteful episode behind us.

The header is now ensconced in the machinery shed.  Hopefully it has now got all its bad behaviour out of its system and will now become a model member of the Spring Rock community who no longer wants to get up close and personal to fences.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Learning At The Paws of a Master


 Mum-Puss Keeping her one good eye out for any mice.

This story is from the archives, written in 2006.  Now, in 2021, the mouse plague in full swing on Spring Rock, with mice in the paddocks, mice in my garden, in the chook yard and aviary, mice in the house’s roof cavity, mice everywhere!  I was thinking that if Mum Puss had been alive today, she would have seen to it that the mouse plague ended a lot sooner.   


Mum-Puss doesn’t care that I’ve done my time at University, gained a First Class Honours Degree and gone on to a successful teaching career, even earning the promotion of Assistant Principal and beginning my PhD. before I was injured and medically retired.  She considers all those achievements as useless, cerebral stuff not worth the lifting of a furry eyebrow.  Nor has she shown respect for my years as a mother, raising three children who have all gone on to lead responsible, independent, and happy lives.  Mum-Puss argues that I’ve failed miserably in my parenting duties in one crucial area and she’s going to address this gap in my education even if it kills one of us!

For the past couple of months Mum-Puss, our one-eyed mother cat we acquired with the farm (or as Mum-Puss prefers to see it – bought her for a world record price paid for a cat and got the farm thrown in), has been gallantly fighting a losing battle to teach the dullest student she’s ever encountered to provide for herself and her family.  Who is this dullard - a new intellectually challenged kitten?  her seven-year-old, thick as a brick son, Lancelot?  No, it turns out that I am the dumbest student Mum-Puss has ever encountered! 

Mum-Puss is getting on in years now and realises if her new family of humans is to survive after she’s gone, there’s only one thing she can do to ensure our survival – teach the matriarch of the humans, that dolt Rosemary, to hunt and catch her own food.  Oh yes, Mum-Puss has heard rumours of my being a vegetarian, but she doesn’t believe that anything that’s grown as large as I have could possibly turn her nose up at a good, fresh mouse.

Mum-Puss began her lessons like all good teachers.  She arrived at the back door, meowing that special meow that cats use when boasting about a particularly good catch.  I went to the back door dreading what I’d find.  Mum-Puss sat at the bottom of the steps with her catch lying dead at her feet, looked steadily at me with her one bright eye (according to her previous owners, Mum-Puss went out one night with two eyes and returned the next day with just one), and suggested that I come and have a taste.  I, not unreasonably to my way of thinking, declined her generous offer, scooped the corpse up with a garden trowel, and deposited it in a shallow, anonymous grave in the herb garden.  Behind me, Mum-Puss gazed at my small, but respectful funeral service in disbelief, meowed once more, this time a “washing my hands of this imbecile” meow and stalked off with her tail in the air - the picture of an insulted benefactor.

All was quiet on the mouse front for a week or so.  Then, one afternoon while I was sewing away without a care in the world, I heard That Meow again, not the “washing my hands” meow - the “come out and share this wonderful treat I’ve caught just for you” meow.  I trudged to the back door and, sure enough, there sat my feline survival coach with another mouse at her feet and a look in her eye that dared me to even think about interring this fine specimen in my ever-growing mouse cemetery.  One look in that determined eye and I quailed.  I didn’t want a fight on my hands or to permanently loose Mum-Puss’ respect, so I took the coward’s way out.  “Puss, puss, puss!”  I called, aimed not at Mum-Puss but at Lancelot and Guinevere, her two kittens who have overstayed their welcome by more than seven years now (Mum Puss's opinion not mine - I love them).  Lancelot, who believes the only good mouse is a mouse inside his tummy, came hurtling down the yard, skidded around Mum-Puss, dodging a swat of her paw as he went, scooped up the defunct mouse and disappeared the way he came all in the blink of an eye.

Mum-Puss, Lancelot and Guinevere taking a break from mousing.

Mum-Puss just sat there looking at me with a sad, almost hopeless look on her face.  Here she just may have met her match, she was thinking.  Never in all her years of training kittens to be self sufficient had she come across one so thick!  True, she thought that Lancelot had been a challenge to teach the fine art of mousing; Lancelot isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box (Hell! let’s call a spade a spade – he’s the dumbest cat I’ve ever met).  He believes he can catch birds by forcing his way though glass, by continually throwing his body at it, and is surprised every time his head makes contact with a solid object.  You can’t get much dumber than that now, can you?  I could see Mum-Puss’s little brain working overtime.  She reviewed her teaching methods and decided that “hands on” was the next method to try.  She wasted no time in putting her new system into practice, returning the very next afternoon with a mouse still alive, but with all the fight taken out of it.  Mum-Puss sat in her usual teaching position, using the bottom step as her lectern, and gently batted the poor little furry offering in my direction.

My first reaction just caused Mum-Puss more anguish.  I screamed at the top of my lungs.  I don’t suppose I need to tell you that I’m not frightened of mice, rats or anything with less than eight legs, but the poor little mouse, still being alive startled me.  I took emotional refuge in yesterday’s successful manoeuvre and once again called the “kittens”.  Lancelot once again performed his “now you see me now you don’t, and you don’t see the mouse anymore either” act of yesterday and peace was restored to my world.  I couldn’t look Mum-Puss in the eye.  She left me in no doubt that I was the slowest, most troublesome student it had ever been her lot to educate, before once again stalking off, mumbling about the need for more funding for remedial classes for the hopelessly slow mouser students.

I returned to my sewing room with relief, hoping against hope that Mum-Puss would abandon all ideas of instructing me in the fine art of mouse catching.  As it turned out it was a futile hope.  Mum-Puss is clearly a never-say-die cat.  She’d taught litter after litter, including the utterly backward Lancelot, how to catch their daily meal just in case the humans forgot to feed them one day (as if they’d allow that to happen!) and if she could teach Lancelot to become a more than competent mouser, surely this poor excuse for a human huntress could be whipped into shape eventually.

With these admirable sentiments in mind Mum-Puss began an intensive teaching program by bringing a mouse to her brick lectern each day and calling me to class.  All these mice were alive to some extent or another.  I attended class each day dreading what I might find.  I couldn’t ignore her call for two reasons, one the mouse might be suffering and need Lancelot’s immediate attention, and two I still had to live with Mum-Puss in her non-teaching hours and I didn’t want to get well and truly on her wrong side.  It was bad enough that she thought me mentally deficient – I didn’t want her to think me insolent as well.  She just might remember that this is her house after all and kick me out.

I adopted two different tactics to deal with the mouse situation.  If it was relatively unhurt, I gently picked it up, examined it for wounds and let it go out in the paddock.  If it was too far-gone I called Lancelot.  You may have noticed that while I answered Mum-Puss’ call neither of her kittens came when they heard it.  This is because they knew that if they sabotaged Mum-Puss’ lesson by stealing her teaching aids she’d exact quick and painful revenge, but all bets were off once I’d invited them to class.  The first time I picked up the mouse Mum-Puss gave a little cheer of a meow, “Now we’re getting somewhere!” she thought.  “This is more like it.  I knew no-one could be that dumb and still walking around.”  When I set it free on the other side of the fence, Mum-Puss gasped with disbelief.  Who had ever heard of letting a nice juicy mouse being set free!?  Mum-Puss considered the appalling action she’d just witnessed and came to the conclusion that I hadn’t really meant to let it go.  Obviously I had taken it away from her to try my clumsy hand at catching it for myself and had stupidly put it over the fence with me on the wrong side.  Mum-Puss gave me points for trying and stepped up her teaching program.  She refused to give in.  She’d teach me to catch mice or die in the attempt.

Just when she was beginning to wonder if the second of these options was the more likely outcome of her quest to turn me into an efficient family provider, Billy the St. Bernard, came to live with us.  Mum-Puss’ bottom step lectern became a favourite haunt of this oversized dog and it was absolutely useless for her to try to teach from there anymore.  Sitting outside and calling me to class wasn’t going to work either, because Billy was only too happy to join the class and change the syllabus to teaching me how to catch cats instead.

Mum-Puss has now retired from the education profession.  She’s biding her time.  One day I’ll come to my senses and beg her to teach me to catch mice.  On that day she’ll generously agree on the condition that Billy goes – she doesn’t care where, just so long as he’s gone.  Then maybe, I’ll pay more attention to her instructions, do my homework and pass all my exams.  Until that time Mum-Puss is in retirement and can be found lying in front of the heater or in a warm sunny spot in the sewing room consoling herself that she’s only had one abject failure in her whole teaching career - and when you think about it that’s a pretty good achievement.


"The Kittens" Guinevere & Lancelot with Tristan thrown in because he was in this photo.  Tristan never met Mum Puss he arrived about a year after Mum Puss went to that big mouse hunting field in the sky.


Monday, April 19, 2021

An Update On Venus

Last time we met Venus she was settling in to domesticated life as a member of the Spring Rock menagerie.  She continues to enjoy the life of a domesticated cat, but the domestication is just a thin veneer I’m afraid.  I imagine there will always be a feral puss, lurking beneath the surface.

Venus is happy to while away some of her time in the house with us and chooses most nights to come inside late at night and sleep with Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti in the bathroom; this is despite the fact that Nefertiti constantly puts Venus in her place by snagging whichever of the two beds she thinks Venus will prefer that night.  When Venus first moved into the house, The Gang of Three (Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti) wouldn’t allow her to sleep on their very spacious, faux fur covered bed in the bathroom.  I made Venus a bed out of a purple furry throw and a pet mat so she had somewhere to sleep.  It’s much more Spartan than the plush bed The Gang of Three share because our bathroom just isn’t large enough for another fully padded bed, but it wasn’t long before Nefertiti had decided that if Venus was happy with the purple bed it must be better than her fur bed.  She soon moved in and wouldn’t let Venus on.  Nefertiti will allow Ambrosia to share the purple bed if she’s in a good mood, and divides her time between the large bed and the purple bed.  Tristan has risen above all this musical bed business, somewhat literally, and slept on the windowsill during the warmer weather – now that the nights are cooler he’s moved back to the fur bed and ignores anyone who tries to turf him off.  Venus, ever the pragmatist, sleeps on whichever bed is vacant or shares with Ambrosia if Nefertiti and Ambrosia decide to spend the night one on each bed.  Ambrosia isn’t exactly welcoming but she doesn’t actually hurl insults at Venus – Nefertiti, who looks like a sweet, gentle cat never loses an opportunity to use the worst cat language I’ve ever heard when face to face with poor Venus. 

On the nights Venus decides not to come inside, no matter how many times I call her, she ends up sleeping in the laundry with the puppies.  Cleo and Aslan are much more welcoming, if somewhat embarrassed about being good friends with a cat.  Venus particularly loves Cleo.  How this came about I’m not sure.  The first time Cleo and Venus met, Venus was still mostly feral and coming into season.  She lived on the front porch at this stage in a seething mass of annoyed hormones.  I was out there patting her and telling her of my long-term goals to have her friendly enough to become a domesticated cat and Venus was listening quietly and soaking up the pats.  Cleo came bounding around the side of the house, saw a new cat she hadn’t introduced herself to yet, and proceeded to do so.  Venus took one look at the huge nose approaching her and hauled back with her right paw, claws fully extended, and told Cleo she did not like dogs and she particularly didn’t like very large, drooly dogs as she took a swipe at Cleo’s nose.  Cleo backed down the steps as quickly as she could, backed down the path and around the side of the house, never taking her eyes off the new cat with the sharp paws.  

I thought that would be that as far as Venus and the dogs finding an amicable living arrangement, but after her visit to the vets’ Venus became a much more peace-loving cat.  We soon set off on our two-week trip to Central Australia, leaving Venus living on the front porch (complete with comfy bed and sufficient food to last a couple of months).  When we returned, Venus came to greet us and then headed off to rub herself along Cleo’s legs.  Cleo had a look of panic on her face and was definitely trying to tell us to please, please save her!  I got the idea that this wasn’t Venus’ first efforts to befriend Cleo so left her to make amends for her previous bad behaviour. 

Cleo has now settled in to a friendly relationship with Venus.  Venus was late turning up this morning.  She chose to sleep outside last night, and when she's out and about after we've gone to bed, she usually spends the night snuggled up against Cleo in the laundry.  Cleo is her dog.  This morning I went out to the back porch and called Venus, with no tortoiseshell cat appearing.  The second time I tried calling her Cleo pitched in to help.  She picked up her newest squeaky toy and, with tail wagging, went looking for Venus.  If Cleo finds Venus when I call for the cat, Cleo will bring Venus back to me - Cleo leading the way and Venus following.  Cleo didn't find Venus this morning and came back empty-handed and tail drooping, but with her squeaky toy still held firmly in her mouth.  I then turned to go inside again, beginning to worry where Venus was, when I found her, sitting on the kitchen floor on the other side of the screen door.  She was clearly wondering what puss, puss, puss I was calling.  Cleo came up to the door to say hello as well and Venus just assumed a superior air and walked away after rubbing noses with Cleo through the screen.

We struggled with Venus’ weight for months.  When I say we, I of course mean I have struggled – Venus is quite happy to be a very rotund cat.  Venus found free food too tempting to pass up, wherever it was and to whomever it belongs.  She’d sit at the bowl of cat food and just keep eating until I removed her and closed the door to stop her returning to the bowl.  She ate the dog food when she was outside, along with a variety of wildlife, despite the bell on her collar.  By the end of winter, Venus’ weight had ballooned up to alarming proportions.  

I can’t keep Venus inside as I do the other cats because Venus simply refuses to use the litter tray.  She’ll go to the toilet behind a chair or some other very private spot if I don’t let her out in time.  Her preference is the garden, but if she’s desperate, Venus will make her own arrangements inside.  Needless to say, this makes Graeme and me super aware of when Venus asks to go outside. 

Thankfully, when summer arrived, Venus put herself on a weight reduction diet.  I really wish I knew her secret!  She has gone from a grossly overweight feline to a very svelte young lady in the matter of a few months.  When one of our cats lost weight when I was a child, my Nana always said that the cat was eating lizards.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do hope Venus isn’t catching poor defenceless lizards in her quest for a better figure.  I have noticed as we move into autumn, that Venus is now beginning to put on a bit of weight again.  I have a dreadful feeling we’ll have a very fat winter cat and a trim and terrific summer cat as the years go on.

As I wrote earlier, Venus’ domestication is just a thin veneer.  When there is just Graeme and me at home, Venus’ behaviour is very much like the other three cats’ behaviour.  She’s a bit more standoffish than Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti, but she’s happy to lie on her back with maximum tummy exposed to the air cooler or heater depending on the weather.  She occasionally honours me by settling in on my lap and going to sleep, but mostly she prefers to have her personal space respected.  Venus is always happy to receive a pat or scratch behind the ear from me though, and she adores Graeme – choosing to sit on his chair as soon as he vacates it and looking very offended when he puts her on the floor on his return.  Her feral nature comes to the fore whenever we have visitors.  If she is inside when they arrive, she shoots out the back door as soon as she can, looking terrified.  She then doesn’t reappear until she thinks the strangers are gone.  If she has miscalculated, and the visitors are still present Venus will keep a very low profile under the dining table or demand to be put outside again.  I’ve tried to explain that no-one will hurt her, but Venus just isn’t comfortable with anyone but Graeme and me.

On the one occasion she visited the vet, to be spayed, I had to stress and restress that, although Venus looked the picture of a gentle, calm cat, she was still basically a feral cat for anyone she doesn’t know.  Venus sat in her carrier looking very chilled out and insisting it was all a lie.  When I picked her up after her surgery, the vet nurse told me that Venus had remained a quiet, calm cat until they did something she didn’t like, like getting her out of the carrier or anything else they needed to do.  Then Venus showed her feral side with a vengeance and she soon lost all the friends she’d made by looking calm and beautiful in her carrier.  Thankfully, no mortal injuries were dealt, but Venus left everyone who came in contact with her in no doubt that she didn’t like them, didn’t like their surgery, and didn’t like humanity in general.

Venus continues to refuse to use the litter box, despite being a house cat for eighteen months now.  Because she has to be put outside when she indicates she wants out, she now blackmails us.  Her favourite way of telling us is to jump up amongst my very delicate ceramic owl collection and wander back and forth causing the owls to make little clinking sounds.  She is promptly told to, “Get down!” and does so begrudgingly, but is confident that either Graeme or I will now open the back door for her.  With her tail in the air, and a triumphant look on her face, Venus regally escorts us to the back door and leaves the house. 

One problem we have is that Venus is one of those cats that firmly believe that the other side of the door is the best place to be.  She no sooner goes out than she’s back at the door asking to come inside.  Once in it’s not long before she wants out again.  Her personal record was the day she came inside, did a U turn and went outside again before I’d even had a chance to close the door.  I feel that I spend my days as an unpaid doorman, opening and closing it multiple times a day just to allow one rather spoiled, ex-feral cat to come and go as she chooses.  Venus is happy to believe that this is just how it should be.

Now that the days are getting cooler, Venus is taking full advantage of her domestication and spending more time inside.  She is happy to nab Tristan’s heated bed before our elderly gentleman can get there first.  Venus settles down with her back to the room and does her best it ignore Tristan’s affronted look.  While Tristan is usually happy to share his bed with Ambrosia or Nefertiti, Venus is built on a much larger scale and takes up the entire bed.  The fact that she stretches out to her full length to expose as much of her as she can to the warmth, doesn’t help at all.  I intervene and put Venus on a quilt or the furry bed at the top of their scratching post and with a resigned sigh, Venus settles down to the second best spot in the lounge room.  Tristan makes a show of hurt feelings and not wanting to sleep on the bed now, but the warmth soon calls to his old bones and he settles happily on the bed to sleep the day away.

The cool nights are also working on the bond between the Gang of Three and Venus.  Snuggling up to the larger cat at night is much more comfortable than letting Venus have the whole fur bed to herself.  Venus is more than happy to mend fences and welcome any of the Gang of Three who wants to snuggle and conserve warmth. 




Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Sad Tale Of The Abscess

Warning - this post is not for the faint hearted or those delicate tummies.  Blood, gore and general medical talk are contained herein.

Cleo has been creating fun and hijinks lately.  Last Sunday, when Rebecca made a lightning fast visit to pick up one son and drop off another to help us with harvest she had to run the usual gamut of members of the menagerie greeting her.  Cleo bounded up with her usual joie de vie to say hello and Bec greeted her in her normal manner.  Bec is a neck scruffer of dogs so she was first to discover the lump.  I pat my puppies on the head or scratch them behind the ears, I rarely express my love by scruffing under their chins, and that's my excuse for not noticing the lump, along with the acres of excess skin Saint Bernards keep under their jaws.  

Bec came into the house, said hello to us all then asked if I was aware that Cleo had a massive lump under her jaw.  I immediately went outside to check and, to say the size of the lump under Cleo's jaw was huge, barely covers the description.  I couldn't get two hands around it.  It was also obvious that it had grown to these massive proportions in a matter of a few days.  I'd bathed the puppies two weeks ago and if there'd been the slightest hint of a lump, I would have noticed it.  The puppies have been enjoying inside time under the air cooler ducts and wear a bib for the occasion - a bib I personally put around their necks, so again I would have noticed a lump.  This didn't stop me imagining the worst and worrying it was a tumour.  

Monday morning I rang our vets and was told they were booked out all week, but I could have an emergency appointment if I could bring Cleo in an leave her for the day to be seen as soon as someone had the time.  I was concerned that Cleo would need to be euthanized and didn't want that to happen without me being with her so I made an appointment for the next week.  On Wednesday, Cleo upped the ante.  The lump proved to be the biggest abscess I've ever seen and began to ooze disgusting stuff.  Cleo had chosen for some reason to sleep out on the concrete driveway on Tuesday night and when the abscess burst, it created a huge mess all over the concrete.  The entire area looked like a crime scene with blood and gore from one side of the driveway to the other – the only thing missing was the police tape.  Despite this horrible sight, Cleo's abscess was still an impressive sight.  I rang the vets' and told them the non-urgent lump had developed into an urgent one and may I bring her in this morning to be seen when they had time please?  The receptionist told me to bring her in by 8.45am, which was only just doable considering the distance we live from the vets' surgery.  

Graeme is still harvesting, and as I've mentioned before, I am unable to drive any more due to a back injury.  Luckily (from Cleo's and my perspective, definitely not from Graeme's) the header and broken down on the weekend and needed repairing (we'd driven three and half hours on Monday to get the part needed) and we'd had rain which meant the wheat couldn't be harvested until it dried out considerably which meant that Graeme was happy to drive Cleo to the vets'.  Graeme prepared the car for a canine passenger.  This involves putting a protective covering over the cargo area of the car to protect the car’s interior from drool.  Graeme has never learned to shut the puppies up while he's doing this and as soon as they see the cover go in, they try their hardest to get into the back of the car.  Neither are athletic so all attempts fail, but their attempts always annoy Graeme who is worried they'll scratch the paintwork in their abortive attempts to get into the car, ready for their car ride.  Thankfully, Cleo wasn't in the mood even to attempt to get in the car and Aslan was soon dispatched to the laundry.  Cleo then needed to be lifted bodily into the back by first placing her front feet on the tailgate and then Graeme hefting her backend up to join the front paws.  

Once at the vets’ I was lucky to for Cleo to be seen straight away and surgery was recommended.  I left Cleo with the vet and went home to wait for the phone call to come pick her up.  Later in the afternoon Graeme suggested, we take Aslan with us to pick up Cleo because Aslan was sad that he'd missed out in the morning and he'd missed Cleo all day.  Venus, the ex-feral cat, also missed Cleo while she was away, but taking her with us wasn't suggested.  Once Cleo was ready to come home, we loaded an unusually enthusiastic Aslan into the car.  I told Venus, the ex-feral cat, her dog would be coming home soon and left her looking wistfully at the last dog in the yard to leave her.

I hadn't realised that Cleo was the social glue that held the backyard menagerie together until she was gone for the day.  Aslan sulked in the laundry and didn't want to talk to anyone.  Venus moped around and tried to befriend Aslan instead, but as I said, Aslan was sulking and ignored any pussycat overtures of friendship.  We took Aslan with us to pick Cleo up and he was over the moon when he saw her wobbling her way towards the car (she was still dopey from the anaesthetic).  When she was lifted into the back of the car (with lots of interested patients' owners looking on and laughing), Aslan tried to welcome Cleo back to the fold.  Cleo wasn't interested and just wanted to go back to sleep so Aslan, ever the pragmatist, settled down to sleep next to her.

Once we arrived home and got Cleo out of the car (no easy feat with a drowsy puppy wobbling everywhere) Aslan again tried to welcome Cleo home.  Cleo just tried to weave her way to the water dish, but Venus had rushed over to greet her as well.  There were a few harrowing moments when cat and puppy's legs looked about to tangle, but Cleo managed to keep her precarious balance while Venus decided the welcome home could wait a few seconds.  Once Cleo was drinking from the water container Venus went to town with her welcome.  She rubbed against all Cleo's legs, one after the other, stood under Cleo's jaw so she could reach part of Cleo's face to rub against in welcome (not the best idea with the drainage tube doing its job) and finally, Venus followed Cleo to the laundry.  This looked something like a triumphal march because, with Cleo leading the way, Venus following close behind and Aslan bringing up the rear, a parade scene was definitely brought to mind, even if the leader of the parade looked decidedly tipsy.

The vet had told me to take the tube out on Monday.  Cleo and Aslan had other ideas about that and Friday morning Cleo greeted me at the back door sans drainage tube.  I had a closer look and she had the tiniest bit still in place held down by the stitches.  I think she got Aslan to chew the tube off on Thursday night, although neither was admitting to anything.  By now, Graeme was once again harvesting so he was less than impressed with the possibility of another trip to Wagga.  When I rang to tell him the bad news he grumpily said it would just have to wait and hung up.  Why he was cross with me I don't know - I think it was guilt by association.

Thankfully, our son-in-law Grant is here to drive the truck for us.  He told me he wasn't needed until 10.30 so, after another call to the vet, who was again booked out for the day, I locked up Aslan - he wasn't invited this time - helped Grant load the Puppy-Who-Was-In-Disgrace into the car and off we headed for Wagga.  When I rang I was told there could be quite a wait and neither Grant nor I were thrilled about that because Graeme would have the truck ready to go at 10.30 and grandson Ethan, who had come down to help with harvest as well, isn't old enough to drive the truck.  I'm sure he would have been thrilled to be given the chance, but ... just no.

Thankfully, our vets are all country people who understand about harvest frenzy and the vet saw Cleo as soon as we arrived.  There was a moment when I had to laugh when we arrived at the vets'.  The new Covid-19 system is to ring the receptionist when you arrive and someone will come out and tend to your pet.  I dutifully rang and told the receptionist I had Cleo in the car-park ready to see the vet.  The receptionist told me to just carry Cleo in and she'd let a vet know.  This was obviously a new receptionist who hasn't met my puppies before.  I thanked her, but silently declined carrying Cleo in.  The vet met me almost at the door, whisked Cleo into the back room, with Cleo wagging her tail furiously because she was making a new friend.  The vet and Cleo returned after a few minutes when the vet removed the tube and stitches.  I was told all should be well now so we thankfully headed home.  

Once home again, Cleo had to endure the same over the top welcoming committee from Wednesday's joyful reunion, but she was bright and happy this time so she joined in the celebration of being back home, only showing mild embarrassment when Venus rubbed up against her and generally told the world that Cleo was her best friend. 

There's nothing I can say to Cleo to make her feel ashamed of her bad behaviour in getting rid of the tube.  In Cleo's mind, it was all win win.  She'd had two more car rides and made a new friend at the vets'.  In Cleo’s opinion, causing all that trouble at home and the extra trip to Wagga at a very inconvenient time was worth it.  It’s a good thing I love her.

Thursday, November 19, 2020


This is the only photo I have of Penny.  My mother and sister Robyn are standing behind her.

Penny was the first dog I owned.  I received her for my fifth birthday, but she was really a family pet.  We were very lucky the owner told my father a small fib about Penny's ancestors, if they'd know the truth they never would have bought Penny.  The owner said Penny would grow into a medium sized dog because she was a German Shepherd/Border Collie cross.  With this assurance my parents paid for Penny and brought her home.  Needless to say my sister Beth and I were thrilled to have this little pup join our family.  We already owned a rabbit and cat, but in our house there was always room for another pet.  

It soon became evident that there was very little, if any Border Collie in Penny.  She started to grow and she put all her effort into it, soon becoming a very large dog indeed, in fact Penny grew into the largest dog on our street, which was quite an accomplishment.  It turned out that Penny was an Airedale/German Shepherd cross and my family began to believe she was the product of the largest specimens of these two breeds.

Penny soon grew into a beautiful, devoted friend and looked on my sisters and me as her pups.  She played with us, ate whatever we tried to feed her - sometimes with a very long suffering look because we'd feed her grass or fruit or lettuce and other non-dog type food.  Penny grew up with a rabbit (Whisky) and a cat (Tibby) who were both adults when Penny arrived as a naive little pup.  The older two pets traded on Penny's naivety and convinced her that dogs, no matter how large they grew, were at the bottom of the pet pecking order and that was where they stayed.  I remember lots of games with my three pets where Penny always took care not to hurt any of us, despite her superior size and weight over all of us.  To watch this large dog, frolic around a small rabbit and cat and gently bowl them over with her nose and then run as fast as she could before the victim righted itself was one of my lasting memories of Penny.  Seeing her curled up asleep, snuggled up to a black and white rabbit and a tabby cat didn't seem strange to me - that was just normal behaviour for my three pets.

Penny was the best dog - she looked on my sisters and me as her responsibility, to keep safe no matter who the aggressor was and at times to gently correct our bad behaviour. She wouldn't let any harm come to all her charges. She actually put herself between me and my father on one memorable occasion, when I was little and Dad was after me for something I'd done wrong. She came running when she heard Dad roaring at me. Penny stood in front of me and stared him down, raising her hackles on her back slightly to show she meant business, but she didn't growl or make any threats. She just stood there and wouldn't let him get past her to reach me. Dad decided the dog was supposed to protect us so he walked away, not at all happy about it, but I gave Penny an extra tight hug for coming to my rescue. I still get tears in my when I remember her standing between us, defending me.

Penny was always available when I was sad. Many times when I was feeling hard done by, or was upset about a genuine grievance, I'd sit with my arms around Penny, telling her my woes and often crying into her fur. Penny sat beside me for as long as I needed, gently wagging her tail to cheer me up, and would occasionally lick my hand or wherever she could reach in a show of solidarity with me. As I grew up, Penny became the repository for all my teenage angst, listening quietly and wagging her tail to show me it would all be better soon. Penny would fret if I cried, be it while telling her my troubles, or if she heard me crying somewhere else. If she wasn't with me when I started to cry, she very quickly made sure she was by my side to offer comfort. Sometimes in her effort to comfort me I'd end up knocked over and lying on the ground while Penny stood over me with a very concerned look on her face. I'd haul myself up, using Penny as support, and do my best to stop crying because it was upsetting her so much. Once I was no longer weepy, Penny would stay by my side for a long time, wherever I went, just to be sure I was OK.

One day, we were quite young, my sister and I were sent to the corner shop to buy a few groceries. I suppose I would have been about six years old at the time. Back then parents thought nothing of sending a six year old and a four year old off to cross a couple of quiet avenue streets and buy whatever was needed. We usually took Penny with us, but on this occasion we didn't for some reason. On the way we encountered a group of boisterous teenagers who were sitting on a fence chatting and laughing. When we approached them they stood along the width of the path and verge and linked arms, stopping us from passing them - they were just having fun, but they seemed so big and scary to me. My sister and I ran home as fast as we could and told Nana. Nana simply told us to take Penny with us and we'd be fine. I knew if Penny was there I could be a lot braver and we headed off with Penny walking beside us while Nana stood at the gate and watched and as we approached the teenagers again. They were back sitting on a fence but when they saw us approach they moved to the path again and linked arms to stop us from passing. Penny moved from beside us to in front of us, raised her hackles, dropped her head and stalked towards them. I remember the sound of her nails clicking on the concrete as she approached the now quiet teenagers. That's all it took - one very large, protective dog daring them to start something. The teenagers opened up like a gate and we kept walking to the shops. The teenagers walked down to where Nana was still watching and told her they were just having fun Nana told them the dog had meant business so it was wise of them to let us past.

Penny big vice was chasing cars. We did our best to keep her in the backyard, away from temptation but our house was built on brick piers and Penny often found a way under the house and out to the front yard. We lived on a blind corner and I dreaded the day Penny and a car met head on. Thankfully this never happened and Penny remained triumphant, warning all strange cars away from her territory. Even though chasing cars was one of Penny's favourite pastimes, she wouldn't let us girls anywhere near the road. When walking with us to the shop or a friend's place Penny became a very strict guardian. She always walked on the grass verge beside the path, closest to the road. Penny never chased cars when she was with us and always looked straight ahead, resisting temptation while on babysitting duty. We tried many times to walk between Penny and the road, but Penny remained firm - the cement path was the place for children and on the cement path we would stay or Penny would take action to make sure we did. Occasionally we'd wander slightly off the path closer to the road only to be met with a large, furry hip that would give a little swish in our direction and the next thing we knew we were shunted back on the path. Despite our many efforts to tease her by moving off the path Penny never relented, even when we were teenagers and Penny was an old dog. Thankfully, Penny gave up chasing cars when she became elderly and preferred to while away the hours snoozing in the sun or in front of our heater in cooler weather.

When Penny was in her prime we discovered that she had another bad habit. One afternoon a man knocked on our door and asked Nana if she could lock "that big dog" up in the morning and evening when he was riding by on his bicycle to and from work. He told Nana that each day, as he rode by and slowed down for the corner outside our house, Penny would be lying in wait for him. As he slowed down, Penny would dart out onto the road and grab his back wheel with her teeth. He would then go sailing over the handle bars, and as this man told Nana, Penny would then laugh at him. That was all she did - once he got back on his bike she let him go. We thought it unbelievable that Penny would have the jaw strength to accomplish such a feat, but this man assured Nana that Penny certainly did. Thankfully she somehow never managed to puncture his tyre. He didn't hold any ill will against our dog, in fact I think he admired her strength and sense of humour, but he was sick of being catapulted off his bicycle. Penny was duly tied up morning and night and the poor cyclist as left in peace.

About the only enemy Penny ever made was the coalman. Back when I was young, we had a coal fire in the winter and had regular deliveries of coal brought to our backyard, by the coalman. On one of his earlier visits he'd encountered Penny who was tied up but barking at him, because she had an innate disapproval of strangers on her territory. He heaved the coal sack around and hit Penny on the head with it. Nana came rushing out and gave him a piece of her mind, and when my Nana gave you a piece of her mind you knew you were in deep trouble. He put the coal sack where it belonged and left. From then on whenever he delivered coal, Penny, who obviously felt Nana had dealt with the coalman far too leniently, strained at the end of her chain, barking and making threats the coalman knew she would carry out if that chain was just a bit lighter. The coalman was silly enough to complain to Nana, who was firmly on Penny's side, about Penny's behaviour and Nan simply told him he'd brought it on himself and he now had to live with it.

Despite these incidents I've mentioned where Penny raised her hackles or in the case of the coalman, made genuine threats, Penny was a gentle, loving dog. She only showed her meaner side when in defence of her children (or hit with a sack of coal). Penny was often found at the bottom of a pile of children when friends came over to play and she enjoyed every minute of our games. As more children were born in our family (I have three sisters), Penny would sniff the new arrival all over, sigh a deep sigh and add another to her list of responsibilities.

Penny lived to a very old age. I'd married and left home when she was in her later years. I missed her every day I didn't see her, but she always made a big fuss of me when I visited my family. Penny would bustle up to the front door as soon as she heard my voice on the other side, walk up to me with her tail wagging and a big grin on her face. She had cataracts by then, so she mostly went on sound and smell but she never missed a chance to greet me and remember old times.

Every child should grow up with a pet like Penny. She offered unconditional love, boundless patience with little girls and their friends, a warm heart and a strong shoulder to lean on when needed. I was privileged to share have her in my life and her role in my growing years was responsible for my development of my love for animals that exists today.

Friday, September 04, 2020

An Update On The Menagerie - Phoenix


It’s been a while since I’ve written anything so I thought, as my last post was devoted to the oldest member of the menagerie, I’d catch everyone up on the state of the nation at Spring Rock.  All inhabitants are well and happy and most of the furred or feathered varieties are as loony as ever.

Phoenix, my beautiful red rooster, is still ageing disgracefully and spending most of his time in his bachelor quarters trying to entice any hen who wanders close enough to the chicken wire barrier, in there with him.  His strategy is based on the hens’ never ending quest for tasty morsels.  Phoenix struts around his yard making little clucking sounds, picking up imaginary bits of choice food and offers to share with the girls.  He’s been trying this, what can only be called a scam, for quite a while now and the girls now ignore his offers of gourmet worms or seeds, knowing they are empty promises.  Sadly, when Phoenix has his time out in the yard with everyone, even when he genuinely finds some tasty treat, the girls just show him a cold shoulder. 

Phoenix has always been of the opinion that the world would be a better, brighter place with fewer roosters in it, himself excepted of course.  With this goal in mind Phoenix has always set about his rooster eradication plan as soon as a new boy comes to stay.  This is one of the reasons Phoenix lives in his bachelor quarters.  The other reason being that when Phoenix shares quarters with chooks 24 hours a day he becomes a most unpleasant fellow, attacking anyone who dares enter the chook yard.  While living in the bachelor quarters, and only spending a few hours a day out in the garden, Phoenix is a pussy cat.  I can pick him up, stroke his wattles and generally have a safe and friendly time with him, unlike if I tried the same thing when he’s in his Mr Hyde mode when living with the girls.  I’m lucky if I escape without bleeding shins after he’s come and me talons first.  Despite this personality flaw I love Phoenix to bits. Phoenix sees me as his girl when he doesn’t have feathery girls, but when he’s with the hens it’s all bets off and he acts as if we’ve never met before.

I know Phoenix sees me as his girl because when I enter his yard he immediately starts his picking up imaginary food routine.  He'll sometimes pick  up a stick and dance up to me and lay it at my feet inviting me to admire it (or possibly eat it - who knows what goes on in that fevered little brain).  After the invisible food or stick offering Phoenix will then do a little dance around me, quietly clucking away and showing off his beautiful plumage.  I then pick him up and sit down with Phoenix on my lap.  This is when the wattle stroking begins.  Phoenix has been known to drop off to blissful sleep during this time, but usually he just sits on my lap and enjoys the wattle massage.

When out and about in the afternoon Phoenix, faced with a bunch of hard hearted chooks who don't believe he has tasty food to offer, had to devise a new “Get A Girl Plan”.  He has perfected his plan over the weeks and now has it down pat.  I let D’Artagnan and nine of the girls out each afternoon after locking up the puppies (George and Emu, the Chinese Silky hens, refuse to leave their little safe house yard so I give them all the scraps and treats to make up for being shut ins).  Phoenix remains in his bachelor quarters until D’Artagnan has a head start away from the chook yard, otherwise Phoenix will pick a fight with the poor fellow as soon as he’s out of my reach.  D’Artagnan is a rooster of peace.  He’s twice Phoenix’s size but prefers to take the pacifists path in life if he possibly can. 

Phoenix’s plan is a simple one.  As soon as he is let out of his yard he races out to the garden, looks around for any young ladies separated from the main flock and cuts them from the herd.  Sometimes he has to content himself with just the one straggler, but on other occasions his luck is in and he might get as many as three or four of the girls to himself.  He then has to keep their interest and stop them joining up with D’Artagnan and the rest of the girls and I must admit, this keeps him rather busy, heading off any hen that tries to make a break for the other group, but he seems happy enough with his mini-harem, even if the girls are there by gentle duress.

The rest of the chook yard inhabitants lead relatively quiet, simple lives, lining up at the gate like hungry children in a canteen queue around 3.00 each afternoon.  That is when I usually lock the dogs in the laundry and open the chook yard gate.  Rounding up in the afternoons can be a bit of a trial.  Most come quietly, accepting the inevitability of returning to the safe confines of the yard.  The two Hamburg pullets like to play dumb no matter how many times they are herded towards the open gate.  They manage to veer right or left at the very last minute and head off into the garden again, clucking madly and trying to leave the impression that they thought being locked up of a night was optional, not mandatory.  I patiently round them up and try again and again, my patience admittedly wearing thin at times with threats about feather dusters being made.  I don’t fool them one bit I’m afraid.  They trade on being young and inexperienced and milk it for all it’s worth. 

I have to round Phoenix up and put him in his bachelor quarters before D'Artagnan will walk through the gate.  He knows that, should he be foolhardy enough to enter the yard before Phoenix is gaoled once again, Phoenix will go on the attack, and if there's one thing D'Artagnan wants to avoid it's getting into a rooster fight.  Phoenix tends to behave as if he believes he now owns the chook yard and sees no reason why D'Aragnan can't have the bachelor quarters (if I insist that D'Artagnan needs to remain alive).  He, Phoenix, struts around the yard, or if it's near sunset, ensconces himself in the shelter with the girls.  Once I pick Phoenix up and put him in his quarter D'Artagnan strolls into the yard and behaves like he would have walked in earlier, despite Phoenix's presence, but he had pressing business outside.

The other part of locking up the poultry of a night is the drakes Adonis, Ares, Darcy and Beaky (the last drake named by Elliott ages four).  These four boys like to settle down early in the afternoon and find what they consider to be safe hiding place.  This is usually up against a fence where any enterprising fox would have a field day later in the night (can you have a field day at night?).  They usually choose the same hiding spot a few days in a row, but then move on to another secret spot.  This means that more often than not I have to roam around my very large yard calling, "Duck, duck, duck," until I find them.  Usually it's not too difficult because the boys are incapable of no answering me.  They immediately start quacking softly to each other (I think they might be telling each other to say quiet so they aren't discovered) and I track down the source of the quacks.  I then walk them back to the chook yard and nine times out of ten they come quietly.  The tenth time usually ends up with a similar situation as with the Hamburg pullets and I have to try and try again to encourage the suddenly confused drakes through the gate.

Eventually I get all inhabitants of the chook pen into the yard and if things are going well I do a head count that goes something like this, “Three, three, two, one, one, one, four,” and I’m happy (three Faverolle hens, three Sussex hens, two Hamburg pullets, one Bunny (Easter Egger hen), one D’Artagnan, one Phoenix and four drakes.  Graeme is inclined to shake his head at my unusual counting method, but it works for me.