Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Great Christmas Ferret War of 2015

I'm in the middle of Christmas decorating at the moment and have decorations everywhere.  Some of you know that I REALLY decorate my house, with every room full of decorations (17, 90 litre tubs worth of decorations not counting the tree), so before it's all done the house is a maze of little walkways with decorations, tubs and protective wrapping covering the floor. I'm at the stage where it's maximum mess because I'm trying to empty the tubs so Graeme can return them to the shed.  He prefers to make just the one trip so he waits for all 17 tubs to be empty or filled, with non-Christmas items removed, to make room for the decorations.  The dining room has ten tubs stacked up against the sideboard, there are five tubs in the living room and one still in the sewing room along with one empty tub that broke along the side and needs replacing.  So all in all the house is in utter chaos.

The ferrets hadn't been let out to roam around the house for a while because of the head cold I'd been suffering - ferrets and head colds are not the best mix; you need to be totally alert to deal with ferrets.  I just put them outside each day in their luxury cage under the apricot tree with promises of a run when I felt better.  I need to be at peak fitness and health to deal with two ferrets on the run around the house.  I felt better yesterday so I gritted my teeth, said a little prayer that the decorations would survive and I'd find two ferrets at the end of play time, and let them have a roam around the living room, dining room and kitchen.  It only lasted a few minutes sadly.  I think they sniffed too much tinsel or glitter or something because they got over excited almost immediately.   

An over excited ferret is not a pretty sight.  They come out dancing sideways with mouths open wide and all their little sharp teeth on view.  They challenge all comers and even go looking for someone to challenge.  The sight of a ferret in full battle mode with a bit of gold tinsel draped over his little face is a sight to see.  I'm sure Loki thought the tinsel just added to his tough guy image as he made little lunges at me, daring me to try and catch him.  I was trying to decorate around them while they were investigating the new and improved rooms.  You'd think this would be easy, after all they are just two tiny little ferrets and both white and easily seen so I could avoid them.  The problem with over excited ferrets is they move everywhere at top speed so seem to be everywhere at once.  
I wasn't interested in participating in ferret games, but it proved easier to pick up the gauntlet and battle a little ferret for a few seconds so I could have some peace once he or she had won and gone looking for worthier opponents.  Once they'd defeated me battle, they went in search of cats or large decorations needing to be toppled.  Instead of being left in peace to keep decorating, I tripped over ferrets, dodged ferret teeth and ferret war dances, wrestled with ferrets for decorations I think they intended to stash behind the lounge or wall unit and rescued cats, who usually cope well with ferrets who aren't over excited, but find these frenzied ferrets another matter altogether.

The cats protested loudly and threatened to pack up their food dishes, beds and toys and seek asylum in the machinery shed where Tristan reported that mouse hunting was so much more fun that losing fights with ferrets. It was time to gather up the ferrets and take them outside.  

Trying to gather up two ferrets high on tinsel is fraught with problems.  Even though I said they seemed to be everywhere at once they have a sixth sense when it comes to being put outside.  Suddenly there were no ferrets to be seen.  An occasional pile of decorations would wobble, or tinsel mounds would rustle but that was the only indication that a ferret was in the house.  They'd make guerrilla style attacks on my ankles, or at a passing cat then dash back under cover of the tinsel and await their next opportunity.  

I managed to snatch Loki during one of these attack forays and he immediately changed from attack ferret to loving ferret who showered me with ferret kisses and tried to convince me it was another big white ferret who declared war on the household.  It seems a tinsel heigh quickly wears off.  Pandora seemed to know she couldn't cover all the territory alone and came out with her paws up.  She too reverted to loving ferret as soon as I picked her up and both calmly accompanied me to the back door.  There was an incident when they spied a washing basket full of tinsel near the back door on top of their inside cage.  Their whiskers twitched and they both leaned over my arms looking longingly at the tinsel.  I gave in and let them bounce through the tinsel for a little while, making sure they didn't escape the basket.  The cats were just starting to calm down in the ferret free living room and I was keen to keep it that way.  The ferrets lacked victims in the basket and I refused their request to add a cat so they settled for mock wars with each other.  Thankfully no matter how excited they get Loki and Pandora never fight with each other.  They scuffled about for a while, disappearing under the tinsel and resurfacing with their mouths open and tinsel draped over their faces but no real bites or insults were exchanged.  It was two ferrets in seventh heaven.

After a short while watching these antics and grabbing escaping ferrets to return them to the basket, I picked them up and carried them outside where they spent their day in their cage dreaming of Christmas decorations and what they will now refer to as The Great Christmas War of 2015 for the rest of their lives.

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. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015


I've been run off my feet with lambing.  We have 12 bottle babies now.  Most are one of a set of triplets and a few are orphans.  We had 15 sets of triplets and 9 sets survived intact, meaning all three of the triplets are alive and doing well.   We lamb nap the smallest lamb, or a ewe lamb if the smallest is a male, in each set and bottle feed him or her.  While the mothers are in the shed I leave the lamb to be stolen with his or her mum and supplementary feed the lamb.  I hate taking the lambs but we’ve found all three lambs grow so much better and the survival rate of all three is drastically increased when the mum only has to feed two.
After only a day or so after lambing began I had a full time bottle baby.  He was the largest of a set of triplets and was stolen at birth by the ewe next door who had lambed on the first day.  She loved him, cleaned him, parked him next to her lamb and called him back if he left the pen.  She was the perfect mother with one exception - she wouldn't let him feed.  Each time he moved towards her udder she realised her mistake and hopped around the pen as if she were on hot coals.  The poor little fellow persisted but without luck.  Of course his mum wouldn't have him back.  He smelled wrong to her, she’d never really had a chance to meet him after her was born and she had two lambs to take her attention anyway.

We had the pens set up to theoretically prevent the lambs moving from pen to pen, but this little boy had great athletic skills.  If hurdles were an Olympic event for sheep he’d be a real contender.  After each unsuccessful attempt to feed from the lamb-napper he’d remove himself from the pen and sit out in the little alley way and sulk.  The lamb-napper and her lamb were duly put out after two nights in the shed and the little now motherless fellow spent his days stealing milk from the ewes around him.  Despite my dutifully bringing him a bottle four times a day, he always told me he preferred sheep milk.  When no-one was in the shed to stop him he hopped from pen to pen stealing as much milk as he could before he was kicked out by the outraged ewe.

Over the years I've hardened my heart to dead lambs and while I feel desperately sorry for those who struggle to survive.  I've try to be as pragmatic as possible but sometimes I fail.  I soon learnt I couldn't break my heart over every little lamb who didn't make it.  Each year brings its share of these lambs.  Some are born dead; others just seem to fade away despite anything we can do for them.  One day during lambing I just sat and cried over the latest little one - a little ewe lamb I'd been trying to feed since she was born.  

She was a twin and her mum seemed to have only enough milk for one.  She fussed over both lambs and looked after them well, but they were not thriving after just one day.  The little boy was a fighter and manages to be fed while the little girl gave up right from the beginning.  I took her on as my second full time bottle baby and supplementary fed her twin until we were sure his mum could raise him in the paddock.  The little ewe lamb had been drinking less and less each day until I couldn't get any milk into her at all the one night.  I told Graeme she wasn't going to survive and came to terms with that as I tend to do on these occasions.   One morning I went over to feed the lambs to find her lying quietly in the alley way where we had kept her with the other motherless bottle baby.  I sat in there and fed the ram lamb, deciding to leave her alone as she was near the end.  I talked to the little boy as I fed him and she heard my voice.  She crawled over because she couldn't stand any longer so I picked her up thinking she wanted some milk.  She didn't, she just wanted to be held.  I sat and stroked her, talking to her the best I could through my tears and settled her into sleep again.  It took a while and I think Graeme thought I should just put her down and get on with feeding all the triplet babies we are going to steal when their mums were put out, but I couldn't abandon this little girl.  Graeme came over; saw me in tears and left again to do the watering - a wise move on his part  I wished there was an easy way to hasten her demise but with lambs there's nothing much humane we can do.  I make them as comfortable as possible and usually leave them alone once they are past helping.  Graeme came back from the shed at lunchtime to tell me she was dead.  It looked like she didn't move from where I placed her once she was sleeping again so hopefully she just passed away easily and quietly.

Sorry for the sad story but I really felt for the little girl and mourned her loss.  

On a much happier note the gang of 12 are all growing well, mug us unashamedly every time we go over to the lambing shed where they are kept in a huge pen at the front so they can sunbathe on warmer days and sit in the shade a bit further back in the shed should the sun get too warm.  They each have a strong personality of their own, but I’m not allowed to name them apart from the number spray painted on their back so we can tell who has been fed and who hasn’t.  Lambs are not above looking starved to death and scoffing down a second bottle before we realise he or she was in the first round of those fed.  

We now have a system for feeding such a large number of lambs.  We tried lamb feeders but found that some lambs won’t persist long enough for the milk to come through and walk away, while those more stubborn lambs drink way too much now the herd has been thinned.  So hand feeding it is.  Graeme set up a small pen within the large lamb raising area of the shed.  He lifts the six smallest lambs into to the pen then we feed the larger lambs on the outside.  We used to feed the smaller lambs first but once we were out with the now starving to death and determined to get their milk no matter how rough they had to be with us lambs, we were nearly battered to death in their efforts to get at the bottles.  The larger lambs proved much calmer about the whole feeding process if they were allowed to go first.  The smaller lambs are eager to get their milk when we move into the small pen, but in the cramped space they can’t get quite as rough as their larger siblings.

Graeme and I have developed a great method to feed three at a time.  It’s not very elegant but the lambs don’t mind.  We sit down on an upturned bucket each, hold a bottle in each hand, holding on tight to the base of the teat so the lamb doesn’t pull it off and have the third bottle tightly held between our knees with a lamb tucking in.  We have to choose the lamb for the between the knee bottle carefully.  Most lambs are easily distracted and if the lamb comes off the bottle we can’t move it closer to the lamb’s mouth.  A lamb who has come off the teat doesn’t automatically reattach to that teat.  The lamb’s first thought is that the bottle being consumed by the lamb next to it is a much better, tastier bottle than the one where the teat is being waved in front of his/her mouth.  

Lambs numbers 3 and 7 are our best “in between the knees lambs”.  Once on the bottle they get straight down to the job of drinking and don’t stop until all the milk is gone.  In the second round of feeding (we have 12 lambs remember and can only feed 6 at a time) we have problems.  Number 9 is my choice and is learning to stick to the job of feeding but apart from him there is no other candidate for the job.  We just grit out teeth and expect mayhem.  We are rarely disappointed. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spring Rock Happenings

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything so I thought I’d catch you up on all the happenings at Spring Rock since Christmas.  I'll try to get a post out every few days until you are all caught up.

We had a lovely Christmas lunch with my daughter in law’s parents and family.  We also picked up two ducks and a drake while we were there.  Casey (my daughter in law’s mum) had a clutch of eggs hatch and had too many ducks wandering around her back yard.  They are Mallard Peking crosses and very handsome indeed.  I don’t think the ducks were very impressed about being handed over and the duck collecting apparently turned into more of a duck rodeo from the sounds emanating from the back yard.   The ducks all objected to the project and the chooks and rooster joined in with rude comments and flapping wings while most of the males at the lunch tried to corral three ducks.  The drake expressed his opinion of being caught rather forcibly when Justin caught him.  Justin had the scratches to prove it.  The ducks were duly tucked away in a box and I uttered soothing words to assure them life was going to be just as good at our house as it was at Casey’s and Scott’s.

We got the ducks home safe and sound with the occasional soft quack to be heard from the rear of the car.  Once the ducks were ensconced in the chook yard we went inside to finish digesting our big Christmas lunch and take things easy for a while.  If only we could.  Cleo, who’d noticed the arrival of a few new additions to the menagerie went down to visit and ran along the outside of the chook yard to say hello.  Guess what?  The ducks could fly!  Yes, it was a big surprise for me too.  I had considered this possibility but they looked too bottom heavy to get off the ground and over the chook fence.  The first night one duck objected to large dogs greeting them to her new home and took off, never to be seen again.  It looks like she used a combination of wings and climbing techniques to get over the fence. I had proof positive the next day that they couldn’t get more than a metre off the ground.   When I arrived to remove Cleo she was nowhere to be seen.  I locked Cleo and Aslan up early for the night and decided I'd clip the other remaining duck’s and drake’s wings the next morning, thinking it was dark now and they’d go to sleep.  I came inside and enjoyed the rest of my Christmas Day – or what was left of it.

I forgot to tell Graeme about the wing clipping plan and he let the dogs out when he got up. Not feeling she'd properly introduced herself the day before, Cleo went down to say hello again.  The other duck took flight and was last seen desperately trying to get airborne but in fact just skimming the ground until she landed on one of our dams.  I once again locked up the dogs and caught the drake to clip his wing.  The dogs were tied up to the clothes line where they could see the chook yard but not reach it.  I thought that once they got used to the idea that there were new residents we'd all be OK, but the poor drake was now lonely.  I didn't believe for a second that we’d be able to catch the duck on the dam.  The drake took himself off to the nesting box where he cuddled up to Aunty Brown, the little broody Silky.  She was not too sure about her new companion, but the drake lived with Chinese Silkies and bantam hens at Casey’s place so he was quite at home with her.  

After doing a few important jobs around the house I walked down to Christie's dam as we call the dam down from the house in memory of my beautiful pony Christie.  As I got closer to the gate I saw the duck standing there looking towards the house with a wistful expression on her ducky face. The sheep took this moment to come tearing down the hill, eager to see what this black and white thing was, and as I got closer I could only stand and watch duck soar (well soar implies grace, there was very little of that) over Christie's dam and into the long, brown grass in Christie's paddock with the sheep in hot pursuit.  I slowly caught up - I was still a fair way away at this time, but couldn't see the duck anywhere.

Eventually, after lots of roaming around the paddock and calling the sheep all sorts of names, keeping a wary eye out for snakes and thinking dire thoughts about ducks and dogs who wanted to meet them, I spotted the duck as she too flight again and landed on the driveway on the other side of the fence in Christie's paddock.  I tried ringing Graeme to come help wrangle the duck but he wasn't answering either his phone or the house phone so it was just me and the duck.  I suspected he was hiding out, worried that I would find the duck and expect him to grab her out of the skies and return her to the chook yard.

My back injury was feeling the effects of all this walking as I made my painful way through the fence wire, doing my best to avoid the barbed wire and not really succeeding.  I had words with the duck about this but she just kept waddling homewards, quacking quietly to herself as she waddled homeward .  I walked slowly behind her with my arms out to try and block any turning back.  She was walking right into a very stiff wind so couldn't take off unless she changed tack.  I was determined she didn't change tack.  As we walked at duck pace rather than human the normally 10 minute walk back took us close to 45 minutes with me talking gently to the duck so she knew I was behind her.  We discussed such things as badly behaved ducks, drakes who were missing their friend and having to settle for being ignored by a broody silky and suitable, yet non-insulting, names for ducks and drakes.

I sped up when she reached the driveway's closed gate in case I could catch her but she just ducked (pardon the pun) under the gate and actually waited for me on the other side while I had to open and close it to get through!  I’m sure the quacking was her saying, “Hurry up!” in duck language.   

We continued our snails' pace wander home and finally caught up with Graeme in the shed  near the house.  Graeme came out and, being a man, immediately took control of the situation, telling me where to stand and what we were going to do.  My back was very sore, I was sick of the whole thing and just let him direct us to where he wanted.  The last leg of duck herding was over very quickly now that I had help (or had been relegated to being the help).  We caught the duck right next to the chook yard, clipped her wing and returned her to her drake who was then happy to leave the much relieved silky and come out and welcome his duck home. 

As I said, while the duck and I were on our walk, chatting of this and that, I tried out a few names for her and the drake.  She studiously ignored such suggestions and Pain in the Neck, and Troublesome Duck.  The ones she seemed to like best, she quacked when I offered them as suggestions, were Christmas for the drake and Quacker for her - Christmas Quacker?  I hope you all get it.  Graeme didn't.  I just got a blank look and explained it to him.  He calls crackers bon-bons so that explains it all.  In all the 41 Christmases we've shared he's never noticed I call them Christmas crackers and he’s never referred to them as bon-bons (being anti Christmas he just has never referred to them)! 

Christmas and Quacker are now happy members of the menagerie and while they studiously ignore our chooks they enjoy competing for treats and scraps and foraging in the garden when the dogs are locked up.  No ducky/doggy friendship blossomed.  Cleo occasionally visits the chookpen to make sure everyone is behaving and when she does the ducks just turn their backs and pretend she isn't there.  A much wiser tactic that panicking and escaping for the wilds of the farm if you ask me.

Christmas and Quacker back home and enjoying a wander around the back yard now that they have promised not to try escaping again.