Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Chook Wrangling

I thought you might like to read about my normal afternoon tending to the chooks' and ducks' needs.  I can't have the chooks out all the time because Cleo tends to use them as pillows if she catches one.  She doesn't seem to mean them any harm, but that huge head resting among the soft feathers isn't a good thing for the poor hen.  Cleo has a look of bliss on her face at these times while the poor fluffy pillow looks decidedly frantic.  If there is an escape from the chook pen while the dogs are out and about and Cleo manages to find a chook pillow I have to give that chook a bath.  I returned a hen to the chook yard one time and the rest of the chooks ended up killing her.  The stupid things didn't recognise her as one of the mob, they concentrated on the foreign scent and acted accordingly.  They don't see a shampoo smelling hen as a threat thankfully and the bathed chook is welcomed to the fold once again.  I'm sure she has exciting stories to tell the rest of the gang when she is returned.

So, here's what it takes to give the chooks a chance to browse around the garden.  Around 2.30 in the afternoon I lock the dogs in the laundry so I can let the chooks out.  It sounds simple doesn't it, especially when you realise the dogs are nearly always in the laundry to begin with.  If only it was that easy.  I'm sure that as soon as 2.30 rolls around Cleo begins listening carefully for my footsteps approaching the back door because she usually meets me at the laundry door, or worse still on the porch so that she can lodge her regular complaint that just because she was sleeping in the laundry before I turned up that doesn't mean that she necessarily wants to be in the laundry.  Cleo backs this protest up with passive resistance, and let me tell you when a Saint Bernard passively resists you know you have little hope of winning the tussle.  If I make a grab for Cleo's collar she simply drops to the ground and rolls onto her back.  I then have the choice of either pulling her into the laundry (my back doesn't appreciate this option) or waiting for her to get tired of passively resisting and sit back up to see why I'm not playing the game.  The trick is to grab her by the collar while she's upright, but make sure she's grabbed by the collar under her chin.  For some reason, and I'm happy with whatever reason she has, Cleo won't drop to the ground if my hand is on her collar under her chin, she declares a fair win on my part and comes quietly.  Trouble is I'm slowing down and half the time when I make the grab for the right bit of collar Cleo drops to the ground before my hand makes contact with her, right part or not and I have to wait for her to get up and laugh at me before I can have another try.  Aslan, bless him is still lying down in the laundry trying to ignore Cleo's antics and distance himself from any slurs I may make on overgrown dogs who don't behave.

OK, so eventually I manage to get Cleo into the laundry, close the door and find I've left the chook scraps sitting on the washing machine.  The number of times I do this each week makes me worry about my brain.  You'd think after years of leaving the darned thing on the washing machine I'd learn to leave it outside the laundry door somewhere.  Well, I don't.  I am getting better - I used to leave it on the washing machine every time.  Now one out of three times I remember to put it down before I tussle with Cleo.

After squeezing through the smallest door crack and pushing Cleo back into the laundry as I enter I retrieve the scrap bucket, closing the door quickly before Cleo gets a chance to escape.  I then have to sweep all traces of dry dog food off the porch or I'll have all the French hens and their rooster up on the porch grazing on the little pellets.  I've been met at the back door on a number of occasions by a feathery lady wondering if there are any pellets on my side of the door, and could she just come in and have a quick browse just in case?  With no dog food to encourage them up the stairs (it's all on the pathway at the bottom where I sweep it) the girls are usually happy to have a quick look, make certain there are no other treats on the porch and then go back to scratching around in the garden.

Scrap container in hand I head for the galahs and Silky roosters in the aviary.  The roosters are back in almost solitary confinement because they were making  a great nuisance of themselves with the French hens.  They had already worn out their welcome with the Silky hens and the two smaller breed hens who now won't come out of their safe house yard, even though the two Silky roosters are no longer a threat.  I dish out some of the vegetable scraps to both galahs and roosters along with some grass weeds I cut before my visit to the aviary.  If Hedwig is feeling hormonal I have to keep an eye on her.  She is not at all grateful for my offerings and if she's nest making, or nest destroying she is likely to land on my shoulder and nip whatever fleshy part she can reach.   If she's not hormonal she loves me to pieces and I'm her favourite human.  It''s a Russian Roulette situation every time I go into the aviary.

Galahs and roosters fed I then move on to the chook pen and let the five Faverolle hens, Serena the Sussex hen and D'Artagnan, the Faverolle rooster and the four ducks out for a forage around the garden.  They head for whatever tender plant I'm trying to keep safe at the time with the exception of one little French girl who knows the Silkies and Phoenix are about the get treats.  She follows me around reminding me that she too likes treats, but turns her nose (beak?) up at whatever I offer her.  It seems she has overly optimistic hopes of what I keep in the scrap bucket.  Phoenix usually tries to convince her that he has the best treats ever seen by a chook and if she comes closer he'll share.  Strangely she rarely takes him up on his offer so he turns to the shut ins as I call the Silkies, Aunty Brown, George, Emu and Henrietta - the Hamburg and Bunny - the Easter Egger.  They are usually more than happy to relieve Phoenix of any treats he may care to pass through the chicken wire that separates them.

Right!  Still with me?  I collect the eggs and do an egg hunt for wherever Isis, the mother duck has hidden her egg this time.  I'm a bit worried at the moment  it's been five days since I've found a duck egg.  There aren't that many hiding places in the chook yard and I'm wondering if she's holding the egg in until she's out and about in the afternoon and is laying them somewhere in the garden.  She's keeping schtum and refusing to discuss her egg laying habits with an egg thief.

After all this I can come inside until around 5 o'clock when it's time to round them up.  D'Artagnan and four of his French girls (they don't have names like the others because they are impossible to tell apart) usually stick together wherever they are in the yard.  One French girl, most likely the one that comes back in looking for treats in the chook yard, is never with the group and Serena goes her own way too.  She's easy to spot being a huge white Sussex and resigns herself to going back into the yard.  She usually takes a very circuitous route to the yard, but eventually gets herself there.  The French lot aren't so well behaved.

D'Artagnan and the girls spread out and head in five different directions.  I've taken to keeping a long stick handy to direct them towards the yard.  This takes some time unless Graeme is around to help, in which case the whole getting the chooks in is over and done with in a matter of minutes.  Sadly the farm work gets in the way of him helping me wrangle the chooks.  Eventually five of my six French chooks and Serena are in the yard.  Whew!  Now comes the difficult part.  I have to close the gate or they will simply walk out and scatter while I'm getting the lone French girl and the four ducks into the general area of the chook yard gate. 

I then circumnavigate the entire acre of yard calling either, "Chook, chook, chook," or "Duck, Duck, Duck,"  whichever takes my fancy on the day.  I usually find the French girl easily and escort her individually to the chook yard.  Opening the gate for her to enter is a slick process.  I have to keep her close enough that I don't have to leave the gate area (the others will simply walk out if I get too far from the gate) and her inclination is to see the gate is closed, shake her head  and say she tried, but what could I expect? and then head off on another foraging expedition.  Once she's finally in I then have to find the ducks.  Nature has been very kind to Australian Call ducks.  They are a nice buff grey or in Isis' case buff brown that blends in with most of my garden.  They are also small enough that if they sit down amongst the plants they just disappear. 

It was so much easier when Christmas was alive.  He was a huge black and while drake and couldn't hide if his life depended on it.  I just had to locate Christmas and I had all the ducks located.  I do have one secret weapon though.  The ducks can't keep quiet.  When they hear me calling they invariably answer and my job is done.  They come quietly (except for the quacks and mutterings) and head for the chook yard as soon as they know they've been spotted.  They always answer me, except for yesterday.  I did three circuits of the yard, calling, "Duck, Duck, Duck," with mounting panic.  I checked out dam outside our house yard in case they'd got through the fence somewhere and finally came back to the chook pen to rethink my search.  That was when one of the drakes broke rank and stood up.   About ten metres from the chook yard gate!  They'd sat there the whole time watching me go round and round the yard and managed to resist the temptation of answering me.  I told them a thing or two about their sense of humour and got them into the chook yard. 

I have a feeling that the drake who stood up and revealed their hiding place wasn't that popular with the rest of the ducks last night.