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.