Saturday, July 31, 2010

Macropod in the making

The kangaroos on the summit track showing how well camouflaged they are in bright sunlight per the one on the left, but have the classic silhouette problem against a dark background - as the one on the right demonstrates.

These are wild animals that just use our land for free cover, grazing and water in the summer. They are most welcome, but they are not pets. We can't get close to them or handle them but they are learning to handle us and our presence in their valley. Actually, the one on the right has a rather bulging undercarriage.

Here's hoping there's a joey in that pouch. She's certainly carrying something.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Self grooming for horses

How to get rid of excess hair and the itches of the day: Start clean and out of your rug. Your carer likes you clean so they can put your rugs back on at night with minimal fuss. This is not to be tolerated. For maximum attention, get as dirty as you can. Therefore you should select a spot to roll that is already churned up and if you desire a new spot, dig one up with your front hooves. Your carer can later reseed the muddy places. Make as many as you can for choice.

Once down on the ground, grind it baby! Rub your hips and shoulders well into the soil, get as much over your back as you can,

making sure you rub mud and grass well into your mane. This is particularly hard for your carer to get out and will ensure she spends a lot of time with you. If you can get some clods into your forelock all the better.

As you get up, ensure you pause for a moment to let the moisture and grit sink well into the hair on your knees and fetlocks. To keep your skin healthy your carer will have to spend another 20 minutes just cleaning your legs later on. Don't worry that she has other horses to do and other animals to care for, you must make sure she spends as much time as possible with you.

Finish with a token shake. This feels good and can make a pretty dust cloud in dry weather, but is pretty useless for mud and won't really ruin all your hard work in disguising your true colour. Your carer will still have to spend ages brushing you off instead of doing any other chores that would take her away from you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breakfast barrier

When it's really cold SO sometimes has his breakfast in the big room by the fire. To do this successfully however requires some sort of division be used between him and reaching cat paws,

or he'll end up with everyone vying for the contents of his plate.

(Everyone with fur has had breakfast, by the way, they just fancy boiled eggs and toast)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Woolly piranhas

The sheep, especially the half grown lambs, are voracious on cold mornings. They ambush a bale of meadow hay I've put out before I've had a chance to get the strings off. Their method of attack is a combined one, from all sides including the top. The sheep not on the front line are circling between me and the bale to make sure I have nothing else up my sleeve.

When I elbow the woolly bodies out of the way long enough to dish out the breakfast they're onto it in milliseconds. It's a feeding frenzy a pod of sharks would be proud of.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

House inspection

Lately we've been watching the chickens while they're out scratching up the garden. Sometimes we find convenient jobs to do in the vicinity, but with the surrounding hills bursting at the seams with foxes we're not game to leave them alone too long. They don't want to be game, either.

Yesterday's convenient job was, in fact, right there in the chicken house being it's regular cleaning and bedding replacement. On these occasions the chickens actually want to come back in of their own accord. They need to check that the cleaners are doing their job properly,

...that the bedding is - quite literally - up to scratch,

and that the nest boxes have been well appointed.

Once the tour of the fresh apartment is complete and they've compared notes they'll go back to fertilising the weeds and digging up the flowering bulbs, but their house needs to pass inspection first.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cat on a stick.

This is Jelly looking for mice, other small creatures or something we can't fathom, from her vantage point on the compost heap post.

She'll sit there for ages, looking intently. Sometimes a tiny twitch of her tail gives away the fact that she's thinking, but the rest of her remains completely still with the patience of a martial arts master.

This kind of self discipline is too much for the boys, whose idea of gardening is to look after the tools. From a sunny position.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Red alert

Over the last few nights the foxes have been a bit unruly. Days, too. Broad daylight at any time in fact. Honestly, you'd think they'd have a little more respect, but they're brazen creatures, wandering down the drive, saying hi. Gazing into the chicken house and commenting on the condition of our hens. We've seen them out at all hours, yapping and barking, crossing the paddocks, encouraged by the bracken cover, encouraged by the rabbit population explosion and encouraged by lambs breaking out all over the place. Dripping with courage, in fact. This is why we got Orion (the Hunter) and his faithful companion, Sirius (although not terribly dog-like a good guard animal nonetheless). They are known locally as Ori and Siri.

Alpacas don't like foxes. They don't like dogs either or anything strange in their territory. They even intimidate the cats. They put their heads down and lope over like graceful camels to investigate, confidently radiating a quiet "What's all this, then?" attitude. They are camelids, in fact, which is why we also call them the Camel-lads. They will not generally negotiate, their procedure for dealing with threats to their flock is to bite first, ask questions later. Sometimes they vary the response by spitting although this usually occurs when they feel personally threatened. It's very effective. It's also very smelly.

All our neighbours with sheep also have alpacas, this is Goofy keeping regal watch over his Dorper x Damara flock and their new lambs. He's a big alpaca and very hard to shear. We assisted the bemused owner and our shearer to restrain him last year whilst he screamed blue murder all the while. He wasn't hurt at all but much spitting was done. He felt better afterwards of course, as it was very hot, but he really resented the restriction of his freedom and would be lethal to foxes.

Every evening our own alpacas round up their charges - currently our breeding ewes - and keep watch for danger. They're very good at it, almost too good sometimes. The other night SO watched a fox come down the hill into the home paddock and went to get his gun. In the moments it took him to get back the camel lads had seen the fox off and were standing at the fence watching him go. By then he was too high on the hill to have a shot at.

We lay in bed last night listening to a vixen screaming for her mate, or perhaps at her mate. This was after several freezing hours scanning the hills for them with no success. Recently SO stalked a young male all the way to the pine forest, but a lot of the time the lad sat and looked at him insolently, which was when SO discovered the rifle sight was out. We were standing on the road this afternoon chatting to our neighbour, as you do, about this very subject. His sheep are lambing and he's heard and hunted foxes every single night. Just as we were discussing this I heard myself say "There goes one now!" as a big, red dog fox made it's way across the hill full of the neighbour's lambs playing innocently and unaware. He was no doubt looking for afternoon tea. I worry about the lambs constantly. Ours are yet to come and there have already been many losses this year.

Still, at least the alpacas are on guard.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Extreme sheep

If you're not living on the edge...

you're taking up too much room!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Share and share alike

A while back I wrote about how Chesterfield the Finn x Merino wether likes to steal the horses' breakfast. Lately he's been nipping into their high-protein, formulated-for-elderly-horses (and clearly very tasty) supper mixes as well.

Normally Gem will get all snaky at thieving sheep. He doesn't with Chester. Gem has even been known to nip at precocious lambs testing the boundaries of equine tolerance by pestering him like flies. He's never threatened Chester. Chester always looks at him carefully first, asking nicely. Chester has an overbite that makes it difficult for him to graze. Perhaps Gem knows this. They eat peacefully together from the same small feed bucket. Sometimes they take turns to have a mouthful...

...each munching whilst the other loads up with another bite,

but they spend most of the time with heads down together. Perhaps Chester's woolly face keeps Gem's nose warm.

Or perhaps they have quiet conversations plotting farm domination over dinner together.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome, swallows!

In a strange deviation from the usual Australian bird-naming practice of stating the obvious, this little pair are called Welcome Swallows.

They were blown in by the recent storm and sheltered in our horse shed for a few days. They politely left their calling cards. All over the spare horse rugs. They are welcome here, but because of that tendency I daresay they're not welcome everywhere.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tucking in

"Have I got spinach in my teeth?"

Dorinda tucks into the best clover hay. Sadly, it's the last bale. The sheep get ordinary meadow hay tomorrow which they will no doubt protest about.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Valley view

At the beginning of the year the valley is dry and the grass cured - what little grass is left from the animals grazing it. It won't start to grow until the first real rains around April. If we're lucky.

When it does start to rain the valley starts to go green again.

Sometimes the valley is full of animals...

...and sometimes it's not there at all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Waifs and strays

This little, half-grown ewe lamb came to us back in April after we found her wandering up and down the road, looking for a way into where our sheep were. When I say "Came to us" I mean she sort of "Wanted to come into be fed with the others but didn't want any truck with humans so ran away whenever they approached."

She had to be rounded up using traditional methods, driven from behind rather than having a bucket of sheep nuts shaken at her. This was an interesting exercise, being carried out as it was by my lone self, assisted - or rather accompanied - by a beagle and a toy poodle, each of which had their own separate agendas. Eventually we got her into the garden and at least off the road. After some time crashing up and down the creek bed I - at not inconsiderable risk - left the gate to the bachelor boys' yard open and left them to charm her into their lair. This was in the pre-Wilber days, so no ram would molest her, but Gimli and Elrond might possibly have felt a little gardening was in order and come out instead. By some minor miracle this did not happen and they fell in love with her and offered her lunch. Elrond in particular followed her everywhere. She settled down and made herself at home.

She is a coloured Dorper/Damara cross. The only people with those around here are our next door neighbours who actually live about 2 km away. He was away but she came, saw and said "Nope, not ours," so it was down to catching the wild sheep to read her ear tag. Three days later we did and lo! Same next door neighbours' tag. It's true that she is unusual, the rest of their sheep actually look like goats, (but don't say that to the gentlemen shepherd of many, many years, he doesn't like that!) still she seemed a little miffed at not being recognised. Or perhaps at being carried bodily through the garden to the waiting trailer. Gimli was sad. Elrond was grief stricken. It took a whole day's sheep nuts to get them over her.

Earlier this week we saw her again. On a walk out with the dogs we check out all the neighbour's stock from the roadway and there she was, a little plumper, a little older, but the same girl, home with her flock.

...and with one new addition to it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Misleading signage

A long time ago in a galaxy far away my job involved being picked up by a helicopter at a moment's notice and this often involved making a temporary helipad at the nearest school oval, open, flat space or sometimes, amazingly, an airport. Sometimes we just flew around a bit and then landed but sometimes we had to stay out for days so we set up our own helipads wherever we happened to be in the bush. A relic of those days was put on the gate to the only flat spot we have, the former pony arena, now vegetable garden.

It was a joke, of course. The area is also the only one transversed by high tension power lines, right next to the house and surrounded by steep hills, fences and trees. A worse helicopter landing site is possible, but not by much. However it became surprisingly useful in the early days when the vet lived here... er, came so often that he'd go straight out to whatever shed, paddock or yard the animal catastrophe was occurring in based purely on our brief description over the phone. "In the top shed, up the drive and past the helipad..." When a new vet joined the practice he was clearly briefed, we are now known to all of them as "The place with the helicopter landing site" despite a helicopter never having set foot here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Waiting for GoCat

Some winter mornings are pancake mornings. Jamie loves pancake mornings. He loves all home cooked cakey things but he especially loves warm pancakes. He prefers his without toppings.

Sometimes the cook's a bit slow, and needs to be spoken to.

He looks hopeful when the cook turns around to put something on the table but it's not pancakes. Not yet. It's disappointing. Jamie's not so keen on coffee.

Disclaimer: we do not feed our cats at the table. Really. They just live in hope that we will.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rise above it.

Even after the sun has come up over the valley, the mist still hangs in a line over the track cut into the side of the hill. It will dissipate with the sun's heat eventually, but until then the kangaroos stay above it. You can't see them, can you? Neither do we, half the time. Their colours have been used for battle fatigues for soldiers in Afghanistan.

But they are there. Tiny brown and grey dots in a sea of grass and bracken with tiny brown and grey dots. They graze in the sun until the valley floor is warmed up too. They know how to keep warm on a cold morning. Here they are grazing for breakfast.

Should they hide in the bracken you wouldn't see them at all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Building an ark...

...might be a good idea if this rain keeps up. This is the creek across the road. Usually you can't even see it as it travels quietly down it's little ditch, about six feet deep. Today it was approximately five times it's normal flow, gushing through the neighbour's fence which didn't seem to like it much. There also appears to be another creek running parallel to it further up the hill, diverted by said fence. The wire bowed a lot, and collected a few saplings and other rubbish, but appears to have held until tonight. We'll see if we have cows in the front garden tomorrow.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, back on our farm anyway, we had our own duckpond in the citrus grove.

The actual duckpond, which has never held water much before, now does. It overflowed in several directions it shouldn't have so it's become apparent perhaps a little more work (hard slog with a shovel and wheelbarrow) on the walls and a bit of reseeding is in order. Quite a bit of reseeding probably.

And we have new creek of our own! In the middle of the home paddock.

The animals, having spent the best part of the night and morning with their backs to the wind and their heads down, were less than impressed.

Everyone has access to a hail-free place to go tonight anyway. Morning will tell if they've all been washed away.