Sunday, May 30, 2010

Magic carpet

The squalls of the last few days have almost finished stripping the leaves from the trees and they've blanketed the garden rather like snow.

They also hide the detail and the devil is in the detail as I found out trying to cross the bridge in gumboots, step across the moss covered rocks in the creek and stay upright on the path down from the horse shed.

None of these tasks were accomplished without mishap, so it may be time to break out the rake and get composting. The rain has made them sodden, however, and less likely to blow around so I could get away with admiring the aesthetics of the autumn carpet for a few more days.

The sheep also appreciate the leaves although they see them more as a culinary bonus. The pet wethers Gimli and Elrond like chewing fallen leaves in particular although they prefer the deciduous European ones to the eucalypts. Seasonal produce and all that. Elrond actually clears whole areas of them. You would think they would make a soft, insulating bed for the sheep, but he inexplicably sits in the exposed muddy patch.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mouse in the house

Jeremy is convinced there is a mouse in the potato sack. For someone who meows the house down when he's hungry and actually bangs at the door if he wants to come in, he displays remarkable patience waiting for the potato mouse to come out.

Eventually, with Jamie egging him on and Jelly's complete indifference even he can't wait any longer and, tired of waiting, with a "tsk!" of annoyance, he goes in after it.

I should point out that there were no rodents in our potato bag at all. Jeremy just gets these ideas in his head sometimes. I doubt if anything small and furry would dare poke a whiskery nose in our kitchen, filled as it often is with cats. Whilst we've heard something very like mice occassionally behind the skirting boards we've never seen any evidence of them actually in the room, so mouse lovers rest assured: no mice were harmed in the making of this post.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Couch potatoes

With rain squalls still lashing the trees, falling rocks and storm debris, trees shedding limbs or giving up the ghost entirely and crashing over roads, work commitments and the animal care routine have continued unabated. It's been difficult to take advantage of any lulls in the weather action to get the house pets outside.

They don't seem to care, however, as long as the firewood is stocked up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On the spot

The chickens love to roam around the garden, especially the parts they can dig up. The rose garden bears scars of their endeavours as do the camelias, the violets and the pathways. The worst hit area however is the lawn.

They have the whole of the lawn to destroy.. err, roam over if they wish, but prefer to create caters one by one. All of them. At once.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The end of the road

There comes a time in every sheep's life when they start the downward spiral. For some loss of teeth is an issue, preventing them from eating properly and therefore losing condition in harsh weather or when grazing is scarce. For some, latent disease finally catches up with them and they are unable to fight off colds, footrot and other infections. For some their problem is just getting too old and the resultant internal organ failure.

A sheep with liver failure is like a drunken sheep and for the same reasons. They circle, get lost, are confused, don't eat and don't keep up with the younger, fitter, more sober flock members still dancing, joking and laughing. Spending all their time looking for their keys, a taxi and the nearest open takeaway shop means they don't do all the normal sheepy things and in the wild they would be eaten by predators; in this area the fox thugs that lurk in the bracken alleys. In the nice, domesticated, sheep estate field they just lose the ability to think, see and walk and they slowly die.

Many of the forlorn sheep carcases you see left out in remote paddocks are the result of this slow and - rather frightening for a sheep - natural death. Unfortunately before we knew enough about it we had two of our old pets die this way, the two original coloured sheep the love of whom started the whole shebang. We were there at the end for both and they had the shelter and warmth of a shed lined with hay but we could have done better for them, nonetheless.

So it was that over the last several weeks, with the weather getting colder and the nights longer, we observed some of our very old ewes heading in the same direction and decided to spare them the rough journey. They did have a journey, albeit a very short one, but within the hour of being yarded with their comrades they were grazing in the great pasture in the sky.

Now most of the time when we try conduct some sort of business-like farming practice as amateur smallholders every obstacle known to man is thrown in our path. Or so it seems. The simplest plan has concertina folds that open to reveal as yet untried difficulties, unforeseen problems and just plain unbelievably bad luck.

So it was with a complete lack of bouyancy that we set about our pre-dawn routine for taking sheep to our local abbatoir, although blessedly only 4 minutes drive away. The sheep trotted meekly into the temporary yards we had set up for the purpose, then quietly stood watching whilst the usual numerous attempts were made to back the trailer into the right place. Their conduct was a bit unnerving in itself, as if they knew what was happening. We also wondered why they were being so well behaved. The natural state of things made a resurgence when Diana tried to jump out of the trailer, Esmerelda kicked SO and Florence flatly refused to move, lying down in the middle of the tiny drafting gate, but these minor protestations dealt with, they were at last on their way.

The little abbatoir was busy with autumn small farmers' stock and it's always interesting to see how everyone marks their sheep. Some had ice-cream container lids hung round their necks with baling twine, and the instructions marked on these. Some had the usual ear-tags, a few quite decorated with several in different colours. Some had giant ribbons or scraps of coloured cloth tied round them and some, like ours, were simply marked with stock paint.

There were two yards full ahead of ours - which constitutes the whole holding capacity of this tiny enterprise, so they were put in the loading yard. Then another chap rocked up with his woolly load. At this point karma for our kindness actually presented itself for once, and the nice man orchestrating the show let our old ewes go in ahead of everyone elses to clear the loading yard.

So our dear old ewes did not have to wait at all, and it was all over before breakfast. Vale Esmerelda, Diana and Florence.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Maximum security

Today's main objective was the second attempt at separating our Merino ram, Wilberforce, from his new harem. Poor chap had just begun to get to know them. In the ramly manner this occurs after the intimate relations, not as a prelude. Three weeks after his move to our place he'd begun to get comfortable, to know who was whom and to mingle with the flock at all times, not just feeding time.

Then we stole them all away. This was no mean feat and involved a tactical plan mapped out and repeated to ensure it covered all contingencies. Stage one involved separating Wil into the raceway adjacent the home paddock serving as the ewe's current residence. This is usually done by bribing everyone with food into the raceway then closing in on the sheep with a portable fence made by each of us wielding a hurdle - sometimes even as a team. Then in the resultant confined space we can grab the required sheep and shunt them back through the drafting gate  where they are directed to the appropriate paddock, yard or enclosure. This needs to be conducted in the correct order as the remainder of the sheep then have to go to whatever other paddock, yard or enclosure they have been allocated. If you're not careful you can snooker yourself. Sheep in the wrong place or the right place too early can block other sheep from moving to their allocated position and so on.

From the raceway we got Wil to the Pine paddock where Gimli and Elrond were wildly excited to see him. They met him a few days ago before he left them to get back to the ladies. Their greeting him like a long lost friend now was met with indifference but at least he didn't try to jump back.

Then all the other sheep and the two alpacas along for the ride were put back into the home paddock by way of simply breaking the temporary hurdle fence and getting it out of the way stat before they injured themselves on it trying to rush past in a frenzy to get to the very exciting new place being the paddock they were in five minutes before.

The raceway now empty and acting as a buffer zone should anyone try showjumping over their respective fences, the separation of the sexes was completed. Then we simply bribed the ram and pet wethers into what was formerly known as the lamb yard - now to become the ram yard - with sheep nuts. Their favourite! Well, Gimli and Elrond were bribed, Wilberforce followed them for moral support.

Everybody else looked on from the hills above, yelling encouragement. Or yelling for their own sheep nuts. Difficult to tell which.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

High maintenance hairstyles

Georgie and Snowy both love to roll in noxious substances. As far as we can be we are organic farmers and gardeners so we don't have any truly toxic chemicals here or anything, but the most deadly chemical known to insects doesn't come close to the smell that a three week old drowned rat can emit. Or fox droppings. Even seemingly innocent sheep manure can get pretty pongy when rubbed into a poodle's fur, unnoticed because it's the same colour, and allowed to fester for a week.

Eventually though, Georgie can't hide any longer. With that aroma the neighbours half a kilometer away were asking what she'd done. Georgie protests about having a bath, but we can't hear her over her smell.

Making her best appealing eyes, or singular eye in her case, doesn't work either...

and it's back into the shampooing, rinsing and drying routine. People think non-shedding dogs are low maintenance but this is not true. Georgie also gets a haircut every few weeks otherwise her early 80's Kylie Minogue hairstyle clouds her vision and she can't see. All those curls also get quite matted in carrying out farm dog duties although in Georgie's case these only involve following us at a distance, barking at benign things and checking out the clearance under fences. Most of her time these days is spent monitoring the warmth of the fire on her mat, only looking up occassionally when possible treats are detected.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

'Frosty' but no snowman.

The first real frosts of the year have fallen onto the valley, adding a subtle crunch underfoot on the new seasons grass.

No ice on the troughs or frozen wool on the sheep, but just enough to let you know autumn is on the way out, leaving a space for winter to roll on in. The parsley is crisp, along with the morning air, making the animals just that little bit happier to get their morning feeds.

No real damage done, except for missing out on making a large batch of pesto with the last of the basil from the tomato patch. This has now turned to mush and will be headed for the compost.

With all the animals fed, gates opened for the daily graze and horse rugs left on until the temperature gets warmer, it's time to head inside for breakfast by the fire.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leaves leaving

Autumn is in  full flight in the Hills now, and so are the leaves. Since raking leaves up is a futile process whilst loads of them fall each day and there are so many other jobs pressing for time with the shortened daylight hours, they stay unraked.
Except for the chickens, they like to do a bit of raking. If we could just get them to work as a team instead of in different directions they might be more effective.

Among other gardening jobs they could turn their claws is spreading mulch. They do this rather well. Too well, mostly. Very well indeed over lawns, paths and other non-mulch requiring places. Not at all on mulch loving fruit trees, roses or vegetable patches.

Vegetable patches in fact get their own special treatment, similar to that of an agent orange drop zone, so the chickens are generally not allowed into vegetable growing areas. When we're watching anyway.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No room at the inn

When the floor's a bit cold some cats and dogs like to get up off it. Some cats and dogs have it easy. Some cats and dogs know which furniture is warmest. Some cats and dogs just ignore House Rules in favour of comfort. Some people don't have anywhere to sit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

They're baaaaack

The kangaroos appear to have returned to our valley. At the end of the summer the pickings were too lean in competition with sheep, horses and alpacas so they moved over into our neighbours.

Now that the grass is growing again here they've moved back. They are fleet at speed, and they have delicate little heads but they're not exactly balletic when thumping about in the undergrowth.

Sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking that an elephant is moving furniture around in the bracken. Usually it's just these chaps moving about.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pesky peacocks

Our nearest neighbours are lovely people with a larger place than ours and a menagerie of their own. Parts of their farm have very high fences and a  fox proof electric-fenced enclosure they call "the sanctuary" so their numerous tame animals stay on their place. Well mostly. Sometimes sheep explore out on the road, the last time was a ewe and lamb just moseying along the verge. At one stage their Saanen goat went for a wander, as goats will, and the odd dog gets out. A couple of times cows have jumped the fence into our place, and numerous times onto the road. I've been coming home from work several evenings to find bovine road blocks just standing, thinking, quite unperturbed by large metal objects on wheels hurtling towards them. There's one of their cows in another neighbour's place just now.

So all right, the neighbours' animals don't always stay in their place. Most of them go back where they belong without too much protest however, and rarely do we get repeat performances from the same animal. Except for the peacocks.

Along with the more traditional feathered farm species the neighbours also keep peacocks. Except that when a peacock perches on a high electric fence the current isn't grounded by its feet like other animals, so it's a painlessly short leap to the other side. This way they feel no shock, and no prick of conscience either. The world is their oyster. And feed bowl. So the neighbours don't really keep them as such, just feed them occasionally when the peacocks drop home to say Hi, pick up their laundry and raid the fridge. Other than that they're always out. Party peacocks.

The peacocks just have a different map in their head of their territory which doesn't end at the boundary fence and our place is a favoured part of that map. Rapid natural selection by foxes (they selected the slow ones) has meant that there are now only two of the original four left but this may be a good thing. Those two get about. They're a bit more street wise too, roosting high in our gum trees out of the reach of marauders.

You may think it's lovely to see the splendid plumage in the roses, to see the dappled light on the metallic green, to catch a glimpse of the irridescent blue in the shrubbery and you'd be right. They are lovely, walking with a dignified strut up the driveway, laying in the sun glistening bronze, perching on the henhouse and harrassing the chickens.

They are quite beautiful whilst they madly attack their reflection in living room windows for hours on end, pecking violently at the glass and slashing the flyscreens with their claws. They are enchanting as they eat every baby lettuce seedling we plant and any strawberries the lizards missed. They are charming whilst they strip the peach tree sapling of all its leaves and eat all the cherry tomatoes. They are utterly delightful draped over the veranda railing, leaving rather large, squishy calling cards on all our main walkways. We just adore them. Really.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Morning ritual

Every morning lately the horses, who have about 20 acres of grassed and treed hills to roam on, stand in the muddy raceway instead waiting for breakfast to be served. Usually with the odd sheep or two who fancy their chances.

Kalara, the proverbial old grey mare, can be seen here inspecting the buffet laid out in the paddock next door.

The morning's routine includes throwing out hay for the dry ewes and wethers first, simply because they'll mob me for the horses' hay if I don't. The next step is to sneak through the garden hoping I'll get to the yards ahead of them in order to distribute rations without a riot. This usually fails because (before coffee hour), I invariably forget that the pet lambs will see me and protest - in rising harmonies - my walking past without dolling out the grub to them first.

Everyone else joins in and lodges their complaints in a series of neighs, whinnies, bleats, baas, grunts and cackles that has to be silenced in stages as I get to each yard or paddock.

At this stage Jelly, the tortoiseshell cat, will join me as overseer, trotting along behind me on my rounds, supervising proceedings from her chosen fence post. Then it's back up to the horse shed to replenish supplies for feeding out. Distribution is a bit like an obstacle course.

The pet lambs lay in wait behind the gum tree in their yard then jostle me from either side in a race to the shed, always hoping they'll dislodge my cargo before I get there. The breeding ewes wait for me to step over the fence with a bucket of sheep nuts in each hand, held high out of their reach like lanterns. Should they get their noses in the bucket too early the combined force of three or four sheep heads will mean I cannot raise the bucket again and it's game over. So instead they wait until I'm teetering over the fence and as many as possible get under my airborne foot, rendering me unable to put it down, and the rest push against the grounded foot to capsize me. For a few long moments I have to hold this one legged karate pose with the heavy buckets and if I'm lucky I'll get through the woolly mass upright. It's only occasionally they win. Usually when it's wet. The alpacas thankfully take a more subtle tack, waiting until I'm actually through the gate before descending, necks outstretched, on the hay. I simply have to keep out of the way. It's a good policy to keep out of the way of alpaca spit.

Then it's down to the chicken pen. Jelly waits discretely outside for this part. They are mostly benign, except for their protector and leader, Silver Boy the rooster. He's convinced I mean deadly harm and the mixed grain and hot bran mash is just a ruse for an enemy wanting admittance on false pretences and he isn't having any of that. If I'm quick I can feed them and get out again unscathed, but I use an old saucepan for the feed because it doubles as a self-defence mechanism. To be fair, I admire his courage and attacking ability. He's left a few dents in the saucepan.

Whilst the breeding ewes are staying in home paddock hotel they get extra service with hay as well, and the other animals want a piece of it. Including Jelly, apparently.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Civilised canines

Snowy usually gets a daily walk into her fitness regime and I try to follow. Cooler days now are making a brisk trot round the district much more pleasant than in the summer's heat and the autumn leaves are falling.

One of the disadvantages of me not being able to run like a beagle is that Snowy must then walk decorously on a lead to stay with me. Also because, being your typical beagle, she would hare off a the first interesting scent that came her way and there goes your afternoon. This stately promenade however means she sometimes gets cold.

So we like to pop into the neighbour's for a nice cup of gossip. Snowy tells the latest to old Jill, who doesn't get out much,

then they both discuss the local goings on with Jimmy

whilst Jaeger remains aloof, receiving guests in a more formal manner.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Worries and doubts

Wilberforce has been doing all the right ram-related things, sniffing hopefully around his new harem, pawing the ground, taking the ewes out for sheep nuts or extravagant meals of clover hay and whispering sweet nothings in their ears. Yet no lamb-producing action has actually been witnessed. He still seems a bit bewildered by his new surroundings.

Perhaps the ewes are tired, have headaches or just don't feel like it. The latter is a worry, it's possible they were made pregnant by their younger cousin before he became a series of roasts and cutlets. This would explain why they won't come into season. Perhaps the daylight hours are now too short. Perhaps Wilber is just shy,

or perhaps he just needs time to think about it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Boxed from the box!

Jeremy the Gloucester Old Spot Cat loves boxes. He also loves to get into bags, sacks, rugs, discarded pullovers and washing on the floor, but he loves boxes best. He's reserved rights to every new one that enters the house,

...and he maintains that if another cat should challenge him to this...

...he'll box it's ear!