Category Archives: Farm, fur and fowl

A monthly(ish) ramble on whatever amused, irritated or intrigued me – taken from my old blog

Dramatic Licence

We have been watching our favourite medical drama on DVD – all utterly preposterous, all very enjoyable, but seriously… can anyone have that many disasters in their life? I was grumbling about it to my other half… and I was reminded of a few things. If anyone were sad enough to dramatise my life, perhaps pack it into a three part miniseries, just how many crises and disasters are there to draw on, given a little dramatic licence?

I started adding it up – so we have the standard family bereavements, paternal grandfather in my teens, maternal grandfather in my late twenties, all the way through to my mother the year before last. Nothing out of the ordinary, really, although plenty of scope to pepper the script with personal tragedies.

Wait… one more… need to add Jim, the son of our neighbour when I was growing up, only a matter of months younger than me. Jim was a bright guy, degree from Oxford, and a stellar career in the financial sector. Mum phoned to say he had had a massive stroke – now that is a serious kick in the life experiences. All of those ‘standard’ family bereavements were people in their eighties and nineties, but Jim… thirty-something… if it could happen to him, it could happen to me…

So now, roll on a few years, and changing jobs. After time-served in the scientific civil service, I decided I wanted a job out in the real world. I deliberately took a month break between old and new, just to build a new back door for the house. I thought it would be fun and interesting (which it was) but there was time pressure – a week before the new job, we were going to a convention, so the door had to be in and secure. And there had to be time to cook a whole selection of easily re-heatable meals for a family party just after our return from the convention, and then be ready for the new job on the Monday. And then…

Commuting by train to Slough – not my idea of fun, but scarcely a disaster. By my second week, I was experienced enough to know that something was wrong, just little signs, not enough people at the station, no west-bound trains, and then in the office, not enough people. I had travelled east from Reading and got off at Slough; had I been coming west from Paddington I might have had a front-row seat for the crash at Ladbroke Grove which killed 31 people and injured over 500.

A year or two later, and I was going to Slough by car, so welcome to the game of Russian Roulette known as the morning commute. On my first day, I was fractions of a second from being part of a multiple pile-up. I just happened to be in the outside lane whilst passing the motorway junction East of Reading and saw the vehicle three cars ahead drift into the central reservation, enough to give me warning.

The first and second ranks of cars somehow dodged through the mess, those of us in the third managed to stop. That still left a van parked up on the bank beyond the hard shoulder, a hatchback destined for the scrappy in the middle lane, and the initiator of the whole sub-second crisis parked hard against the central barrier, facing the wrong way. No one was killed, no-one injured enough to need emergency attention, but a tenth of a second or two different and I would have been testing the crash-worthiness of our Volvo.

The list of dramatic (or dramatisable) incidents goes on: near-misses on the motorway, test results to confirm it wasn’t cancer, the announcement of a redundancy round the day we were signing the papers for a huge mortgage, the employment hiccup that led to the move to Cornwall, or even just the day that Bitsy, a delightful cat who had been with us for nearly fifteen years, died curled up on my lap (after a short illness, as the press-release might say). One ordinary, run of the mill life, filled with largely near-misses (for which I am very grateful) and still packed with stuff that could be an over-blown miniseries with just a little dramatic licence.

I suspect it would be hard to find anyone who didn’t have a similar list. It doesn’t all happen at once, there is no music to hint that it’s time to reach for the tissues, and no stunt double if it really does go wrong.

Now, I’m off to watch another episode of over-hyped, unrealistic, and dramatic nonsense (only half a step from the stuff that happens to everyone at some point) and ignore the news channel with its snapshots of the people who aren’t lucky enough to have the near-miss.

Bite-Sized Chicken Pieces

You can’t beat a nice piece of rabbit – the nice pieces are pretty much everything except the intestines and the back legs. For the gourmet cat.

Ginge likes her meat fresh. Preferably barely stopped breathing. And rabbits are in season at present, along with a whole delicatessen bar of small rodents. Oatmeal also likes rabbit and eats any bits that Ginge leaves, apart from the guts. No-one likes rabbit guts. (Or mouse guts – they get left as well, usually in the most startling places. As horrible experiences go, high on the list is the sensation of mouse guts popping between the toes, in the dark, on the way to the bathroom at two in the morning.)

Now we are on to bite-sized chicken pieces. Earlier in the year, the hatching rate from the hens was very poor, so every time a hen has gone broody we have stuck a clutch of eggs underneath. Whatever our brooding problem has been, it stopped about seven weeks ago and, one after another, four hens produced chicks. We now have a total of eighteen bite-sized chicken pieces, who have spent their first week or two in the greenhouse, but four mother hens (translation= ruthless, psychotic monsters) in a confined space does not work, so one brood at a time, we are moving them out to face the world. And Ginge. And Oatmeal.

I am literally chick-watching as I type this. The hens are doing a good job of watching over their chicks, but as we bring each brood out, we spend the day with them, just to make sure. The first one out, Crème Brûlée, launches herself at any cat who comes too close – wings out, claws out, feathers out, attitudeout. Today, we have brought out Chicky and Dark Penguin, and are waiting to make sure they are up to the challenge.

The problem is the pecking order. Amongst the hens it is easy. Amber (still in the greenhouse, the newest brood to hatch) is number one and kicks the proverbial out of any other hen. Crème Brûlée is next, then Chicky and finally Dark Penguin. The trouble is, that only counts amongst the hens, and the only way to find out where cats sit in the pecking order is to watch and wait. Crème Brûlée is high above cats, no doubt about that, but what of the others? And how well are their chicks trained, because the other half of the defensive package is for offspring to run for Mum at the first sign of trouble.

Even that might not be enough. Last year, we lost a number of chicks to a fox who came through the yard a few days in a row – and then never seen again. Since the food (hen and chick) supply was far from exhausted, we assume that something killed the fox. There were only two broody hens at that point, Silver, an uncompromising drill-sergeant of a mother, and Barn Growler who would be high on the Social Services watch list as an incompetent mother. Silver lost all of her chicks to the fox; Barn Growler lost none, because they were so accustomed to fending for themselves in even the tiniest crisis that they took cover at the first sign of trouble. Silver did what all our chickens do when faced with a fox – flew up to the nearest high-point. Another few weeks and her chicks would probably have followed her up, but… they hadn’t learned that one yet, and didn’t have the run for cover reflex.

In watching over chicks, we have added a new phrase to our lexicon – chicken-on-chicken violence. Every time we hear the sound of frantic chicks, we rush around to do a head-count, check the location of cats, check for suspicious feathers between the teeth, but it’s just another chicken. Ninety-nine percent plus of violence is chicken-on-chicken, and nothing to do with the cats at all.

So, here I am, sitting guard, waiting for hens and chicks to establish their dominance over the cats. As it turns out, Ginge is not the problem: she likes rabbit and they don’t peck back. Oatmeal, on the other hand, is a persistent little ****, and catching one of those bite-sized chicken pieces is a challenge he simply won’t give up on. He’s a bright cat – he has worked out that we don’t want him killing chicks; Crème Brûlée has explained very robustly that she doesn’t want him killing chicks.

Oatmeal understands. He will wait until no-one is watching…

How Did That Happen?

Lambing is due to start on Monday – it says so on the calendar. Of course, the sheep never look at the calendar and honestly, I don’t think any of them can actually read. So when my other half came in and said Tuppence has lambed, my thoughts were mostly that Tuppence was early, and that lambing with barely an hour of daylight left was about par for the course. (Our Soay sheep lamb outside, and this year we have deliberately had a late lambing.)

Daylight going, a lambing ewe to watch… how long is that going to take? How long depends on the ewe. Rosie, a first timer a few years back, was showing signs about lunchtime, then she disappeared, then she walked out of the barn with lamb in tow. In contrast, Cilla was making ‘gonna lamb now’ signs just after breakfast and kept us waiting most of the day. Not that it mattered – I had misunderstood. Tuppence wasn’t just starting, she was done, lamb out, suckling, all going well… except for that nagging worry in the back of my mind: something was wrong. I just couldn’t figure it out, and there was that look on my other half’s face, just waiting for me to get the punchline.

Oh. Yes. That was it. Tuppence was not supposed to be lambing at all… Now how did that happen? (OK, apart from the obvious – when a Mummy sheep and a Daddy sheep…)

Back to the calendar… there was the day marked when the ewes were put in with the ram… and there, a few days earlier, a note that Tuppence had somehow broken in to the ram field. It was one of those things that gets forgotten over the space of five months. At the time, we probably had the conversation: ewe cycle is seventeen days, only fertile for a couple of days, certainly less than a one in ten chance that she was actually on heat that day…

So, how did it happen? Simple. Sheep don’t read, don’t check the calendar, and certainly don’t have any truck with probability theory. Of course Tuppence was on heat that day. There was a field of rams next door, and she wanted some, wanted it really, really, badly… There was no other reason for her jumping, burrowing, or otherwise forcing her way next door.

So now we have Tippex – a white ram lamb with a few bits of black showing through.

Back on the calendar, the real thing starts Monday. Or Tuesday. Or… Sheep do things when they’re ready, not when the calendar says.

We are in charge. But… There’s more of them than there are of you, they have all day to plan their next move, you can’t watch them every second, and they are driven by those big three biological imperatives: food, reproduction and sheer bloody-minded curiosity. And when I say driven, I mean forty-ton, diesel powered, cargo-truck driven, and the bottom line is us mere humans are the cargo in this arrangement, not the driver. Being in charge is just a delusion.

A Shed-load Of Nostalgia

I have a shed – which is somewhere between a stereotype and a cliché. Strictly speaking, it is one of the stalls in our stable-block, has a concrete floor (in my mind, a proper shed has a wooden floor), and isn’t at the bottom of the garden, but in spite of all these shortcomings, it is a shed. I hadn’t really thought of it as anything other than a place to get things done, until I walked in there yesterday to finish building a gate.

They say smell is a powerful trigger for memory, with taste just behind. Over the last few years, just out of curiosity, we have indulged in little bits of food-related nostalgia, treats from our childhoods to find out if things that seemed so wonderful back then were really all that great. How about Wagon Wheels? I quite liked them as a kid, and perhaps they changed the recipe, but one bite and there was a decision to make: spit now, vomit later. More successful was lemon meringue pie, which I was ambivalent about as a kid, but my wife was really keen, because her mother made it from real lemons – so we tried the instructions in the Good Housekeeping cookery book and I can now forget the dubious lemon meringue of my childhood, and enjoy the real thing on special occasions.

Not so long back, I came across a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer – my grandmother always had them, a taste I really adored. I tried it: quite nice in a vaguely chocolatey, caramely, chewy sort of way, but nothing to get excited about.

To borrow another pseudo-cliche, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. That was until I walked into my shed yesterday – a warm day, the smell of sawdust, the tickle in the throat that says there’s something nasty in the sawdust, the work-bench made from old pallets, the tools and shelves… just like walking into Granddad’s shed. There was nothing so-so about this. Real nostalgia, they way they used to make it, full fat, full calories, full memories.

My maternal grandfather started out as a car mechanic and had all sorts of stories: looking after Lord Hailsham’s car (and how Lord Hailsham could cycle in the rain and hold an umbrella up at the same time), pulling a sports car out of a ford because the air intakes were low and the pistons rods bent (a cylinder full of water does not compress and something has to give), early clutches that were faced with cork and could contaminate the engine oil with little bits of burnt cork. Those are just the ones I can remember, stories I had not thought about for years until I walked into my shed, on a warm June day, and it was just like the old timber summer-house Granddad used as his shed.

I learnt to solder in that shed, how to wire up a car’s indicator system, how an old clockwork gramophone motor worked, the startling sensation of being really alive at the touch of the output of a car ignition coil, and I learned that I never wanted to be quitethat alive again. We lived in Bristol, mum’s parents were in Hailsham in Sussex, so we only visited a few times a year, and Granddad’s shed was a magical place on a hot June day.

Later, a few years older and in my first year at university, faced with a very real prospect of failing my Maths course, I spent a couple of weeks at Easter in Granddad’s shed, working through every lecture note, attempting every available old exam question. I think that shed made all the difference.

So maybe some childhood wonders have lost their magic, but you can’t beat a really decent bit of nostalgia. Or a really good shed.

The Milk Of Human Gullibility

My other half calls me the cat whisperer, but this business of cat whispering runs both ways. The cats exert some mysterious, mesmeric influence which forces me to tolerate behaviour that would elicit a robust verbal refusal otherwise. Unless you have encountered cats, this might sound unlikely, but for the cat-aware reader this will be perfectly familiar.

It goes like this: Can I sit on your lap… and drool on your trousers… and sharpen my claws on your skin… and now we will go to the food bowl… move your feet over, this bit of bed is mine…

The obvious response should be NO. But this is a cat, so the power of the subliminal whispering subtly shifts that sharp refusal to: not really… prefer not to… I’m not really happy about this… I suppose it would be OK… sure… yes…

That is the whispering cat… a patient predator. But sometimes they just pounce, catch you out with the surprise manoeuvre, just like the one Ginger pulled on me to prompt this chain of thought.

Both Ginger and her stalker, Oatmeal, have moved out of the barn and into the house, although Ginger likes to spend her time outside, you just can’t beat a good comfy chair on a cold, wet day. We have now reached a significantly inequitable division of furniture – Ginger has my chair, my wife has her own chair, Oatmeal has the sofa and I learn to type standing up. All this close interaction gives the whispering cat time to study her prey.

I was making the porridge for breakfast – not hard-as-nails, real-man, Scottish porridge, but poncy English stuff with milk in. Ginger was in the kitchen, deciding whether or not the biscuits I had just put in her bowl were fresh enough. A perfectly ordinary day, until I started pouring the milk, and then she launched into the circling dance, staring straight up, the sure sign that your cat has seen something infinitely desirable and the usual softly-softly catchee human approach is not sufficient. This is the feline version of gimme-gimme-gimme.

The thing is, I know cats don’t really like milk and are often lactose-intolerant. I am sure there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and cats conditioned to drinking it by owners who have bought into the classic stereotypes. Our own experience has been somewhat different. Milk? Bugger that and fill my water bowl… too slow, I’m off to slurp at a muddy puddle. And cream? That rare moggy treat at Christmas? Most of our cats over the years just walked away, one or two would have a quick lick and then opt for something more tasty such as washing chicken poo off their paws.

I told Ginger it was milk. I told her cats don’t like milk, but she didn’t believe me. I followed the standard advice to writers – show not tell – and put a small amount of milk on a saucer. The only thing I didn’t do was think it through. Ginger recognised a plastic milk bottle, she knew what it was, what it contained, and it turns out she adores milk. Every last drop was scoured from the saucer and I heard the determined rasp of tongue on glaze.

That was the pounce. The psychological killing blow. Now the pattern is established – milk bottle, dancing cat, saucer… If only I had just thought it through and said no. Too late now, because I said yes. I have fallen victim to the milk-shark.

Cats are inextricably linked with quantum physics – seriously, you don’t think it was just chance that led Schrodinger to pick on a cat? Whispering is a non-localised effect, and the persistent influence from Ginger has rubbed off on Oatmeal. His pale fluffiness had no interest in milk before Ginger first lulled me into the world of the milk-shark, but now he has learned the habit from her we have gone beyond the cold, ruthless milk-shark: Oatmeal is a total milk-junkie. He now wails if denied the chance to bury his nose in a saucer of the white stuff. He recognises the sound of the fridge door opening, and can hear it, in his sleep, at the other end of the house. We ration him, but when the whispering is not enough, when the wailing rises to deaf ears then there is the special, attention-grabbing cat talent of being where yourfeet are about to go. Lactose intolerance? No, lactose impatience. Not meow, but me, now!
If you whisper to cats for long enough, the cats whisper back.

The Pursuit Of Green Wellies

Green wellies was a disparaging term when I was a student, a short-hand for people studying land management, as opposed to a real subject. A few decades on, and not only do I own and wear a pair of green wellies, I have multiple old pairs in the shed, and manage eighteen acres with all the benefit of a PhD in physics. Green wellies are a part of my life, along with animal excrement in various stages of decomposition and an interest in the weather forecast I would never have expected when I was a student.

Green wellies have a curious property – they are a magnet for young chicks (the feathered variety), and it starts around three or four days from hatching. Wellies on, step out of the back door and find yourself surrounded by an insane mob of proto-hens and Sunday lunches.

The first time, it looks cute – little fluffy bundles zooming around your feet. Now try to take a step forwards… oops… no… mind that chick. They move fast in pursuit of the green wellies, rushing unerringly to where your foot is about to come down. When they are a little older, they perch on the toe of the welly if you stand still too long, then its off for another round of zooming as you step away.

The pursuit of green wellies always puts me in mind of the scarab beetles in ‘The Mummy’. A fast-flowing tide of small shapes. Fortunately chicks don’t try to eat you alive, not until they grow a bit bigger.

I’m sure this behaviour sounds bizarre. Why would chicks chase after green wellies? The answer is food, of course. After three or four days of a pair of green wellies turning up and putting food down, the chicks are programmed. When they get older, forget the green wellies, the adult chicken learns to recognise the measuring pot for the feed. I know I sounds incredible – these are chickens we are talking about – but seriously, see it once and they remember, twice and the memory is set indelibly in the little brains.

This year (so far) we have had a solitary chick. Until recently, the owning (she hatched it, but who knowns who laid the egg?) hen has been looking after the chick. Now she is a bit distracted and the chick has to fend for itself (Go and play, dear, Mummy is laying an egg). Abandoned and about the size of a fist, the chick turned back to the pursuit of the green welly. If Mum is not going to point out food, or provide shelter from the breeze, perhaps those green wellies will do it.

The pursuit of green wellies can be amusing, interesting and down-right annoying. The reasons behind it seem simple enough. All of the livestock do it to some extent, and the pattern varies. Lambs shun the green wellies until they are old enough to take an interest in sheep-nuts, pelleted sugar beet or any of the other scrummy things that the green wellies might have in their pockets. As for geese, they are little more than psychopaths with feathers, hell-bent on assaulting green wellies… unless there is a tub of grain on offer.

Watching the chick and trying to dodge around, my mind wandered – do I have pursuit of green welly behaviour? I know I don’t follow people who toss handfuls of mixed poultry corn on the ground, but the green welly chase is really about getting something you want. All of the livestock are heavily oriented towards finding food, and their behaviour is the repetition of a successful strategy. Realistically, it’s something which rarely pays off, but when it happens it’s worth it.

When I put it like that, I can see that my life is just another example of the pursuit of green wellies. I can tell myself that it is more complex, more sophisticated, but I do keep repeating the actions that get me what I want. Even the things that rarely work, if the reward is great enough. The only obvious exception is cleaning out the goose hut – I keep doing it, but I am very fuzzy on the actual reward.

I also don’t play the lottery. Not every welly is greener on the other side of the fence.

Another One Bites The Dust

We lost a chicken the other day – Titch-Black (one of our blue-egg laying Araucana crosses) died of natural causes, as opposed to a local predator for a change. I went into the chicken shed and there she was, apparently sleeping in the indoor dust-bath. She had looked a bit ‘off’ for a few days, but lively enough when food was about, so I didn’t pay too much attention. Losing them to a predator is definitely more upsetting… but seriously, how attached can you get to a chicken? Just because we have known them since they were an egg, seen them grow up, develop character and irritating habits…

It prompted me to consider how we treat our animals in general, and the mind-boggling contradiction of looking after the oven-ready. Before going any further, I ought to warn those of a sensitive disposition – we have been known to eat our livestock.

On the topic of eating animals (eating-animals?), we have an injured cockerel living in the greenhouse. He was attacked by something (probably rat or weasel) that injured one leg and one wing – if we were a commercial operation, we would have snapped his neck there and then. But we’re not, so we checked him over, made sure he wasn’t in any major distress, and treated the open wounds. We have a simple rule of thumb with chickens – if they are sick they do one of two things: get better or die. You can influence that by keeping them warm, keeping them drinking water, keeping a bit of food going in to them (unless you want to get technical with things like sour-crop). So, we have a cockerel in the greenhouse – recovered, able to fly up on to a perch, but not agile enough to cope outside, and some day soon he will be a chicken dinner. He was a youngster when he was hurt, too young for us to determine whether he was a hen or cockerel (there are usually ways to tell, but our chickens are random mongrels, which really confuses the issue) – so would we have taken such care if we had known that there was no career of egg-laying ahead? Based on our record, yes.

I know it sounds crazy, but that’s just the start of the really nuts…

There is a second chicken in the greenhouse and she is called Leopard Neck, on account of her markings. Year before last, she was droopy and not eating, but had no other symptoms, so we brought her in, trickled glucose and water carefully into her beak, then kept her warm in the house in a big dog cage (absolute pain in the lounge), and when she started eating for herself and generally perked up we’d give her a couple more days of convalescence and then put her back outside on a nice day. Within hours she would need to come back in – on and off we had her indoors for almost two months (I did say this was nuts) so then we moved her out into the greenhouse where it was warm, dry and safe from predators (including other chickens!).

Chickens in the lounge really is only a short-term business, although Leopard Neck was one of the better housemates. Our first cockerel, Hairbrush, had a run-in with another young cockerel recently taken on by our neighbours – younger, fitter and faster. We had Hairbrush in the lounge (big cage again) for several weeks whilst he recovered from his injuries, and once he was feeling better (only a matter of several days) he started crowing. The only thing I can think of as comparable was a Burn’s night celebration in a one-bed flat complete with piper. Bag-pipes and crowing cockerels simply do not belong in confined spaces.

Leopard Neck has now recovered, but her eye-sight has gradually deteriorated and now she is almost blind. If we were focused on profit… but we aren’t, so Leopard Neck gets to live out her days in comfort in the greenhouse, eating grain and laying the occasional egg.

So, chickens in the greenhouse, even in the lounge… it can’t get any crazier than that, can it? Except for the sheep in the bath.

In the run-up to lambing last year, one of our smaller ewes took sick, in the cold weather. We carried her to the greenhouse (warm, dry and already had Leopard Neck in residence) and went through all the standard treatments for things like twin-lamb disease and calcium deficiency, which matched the symptoms and benefit from prompt treatment. When this clearly wasn’t the answer, we moved on to antibiotics from the vet. After that, the essentials were to keep her hydrated and taking the sheep-equivalent of high-energy sports drinks. The weather was turning worse, the light was going, and our ewe really needed caring for through the night. The best answer we could think of was to take her into the house and put her in the bath, which kept her relatively confined since she couldn’t stand at that point. It was the perfect place to be able to keep her warm, whilst feeding water and high-energy drenches through the night. Sadly, she died, but the next time we have a poorly sheep who needs nursing through the night, it will be in the bath again.

It makes the final hours of Bitsy the cat seem perfectly normal. He was 18 years old and ill, booked in to see the vet first thing in the morning for what we were certain would be the final visit. By breakfast time he was so far gone, in no evident distress, and apparently comfortable so that the stress of being put in the cage and a car journey would have been unkind. I sat on the sofa for the morning, with him curled up on my lap, until he died just before lunch. We have had numerous cats over the years take that final trip to the vet and I don’t think this way was any less stressful for me, but Bitsy went peacefully.

Household pets or lunches-in-waiting, we look after our animals. Whether you know each individual by name, or just one out of a herd, it’s always unpleasant when another one bites the dust, a horrible business when you have to call the vet in to put an animal down.

Reached the Top – Butch and You

Some songs don’t so much get stuck in my head as lurk in the background and wait for their moment. This week’s hit is from the Disney Jungle Book: I’ve Reached the Top and Had to Stop…

Now, if this were a movie, the dialogue would be ‘It’s a guy thing.’ In the testosterone driven world of livestock, its just the way things are. Once you reach the top, there is nowhere else to go except down – just hold on as long as possible until the newcomer knocks you off your perch (possibly literally).

All this was prompted by You, our Number One Cockerel. I will admit that it is confusing having a chicken called You when we also have a flock of ewes, but names here often happen by accident. We do a head-count on the chickens each night (certain idiot hens have been known to go broody and settle down any old place, rather than in the fox-proof hen house) and when we only had a few birds, that was easy. Then the count got up in the region of twenty and they will not stand still, so the process was to count by colour: eight white, seven brown, five black, etc… and You – the multi-coloured cockerel.

You is a splendid bird, mostly black but with iridescent blue highlights and golden-yellow flashes on his wings. The hens like him, he pays attention, he watches for predators, he doesn’t pursue them across the paddock as if trying to emulate Usain Bolt but finishing with a flying ****. The competition is Mosaic, a mostly white chap with brown patterning, and a year or two younger. To be fair, some of the hens do like him, but he is inclined to the fast pursuit and sudden mount finish. (Or the sudden last-minute jink to a hen who didn’t even know she was in the race.)

The relationship between You and Mosaic wassimple – You chased, Mosaic ran away.
Not any more. You is getting older and slower, and now Mosaic has taken his chance. We have a new Number One Cockerel, and now You needs to learn the art of running away. That’s not so easy for a bird who’s been top of the pile for so long.

It’s the same with Butch, the first lamb born here, a solid piece of proto-mutton. At one point we started to regret calling him Butch, because a vigorous and chunky lamb grew into a skinny, leggy sheep, but in his second year he filled out into a woolly tank and very much the alpha male. We have a small flock of rams and until last autumn, everyone got out of Butch’s way.

Butch has a half-brother, Monk (very much the number two ram), and a son Pad (by Lily two years back) who has been working his way up the ranks. Butch and Monk have sparred all their lives, and Pad is not really a match for Dad (yet), but mistakes happen. Butch decided to take them both on at once.

The interesting thing is that when there is a change at the top, the former alpha male does not move down a notch or two, he goes to the bottom. Even the youngest ram, barely half-grown at nine months old, was suddenly prepared to (cautiously) test his horns with the Old Man, whenever Butch was prepared to come out the gorse clump he hid in.

When you reach the top, the only way is down. All the way down. There is no retirement on a golden-handshake pension, just a one-way trip to the bottom of the pile.

Feral Conversation

Ginger-And-White is a big, feral tom cat, with the sort of expression that says “extra garlic with my babies for breakfast.” He was a minor character in last-year’s retelling of the classic love-triangle, Romeos and Oubliette (I love you… No, I love you… Forget it, both of you…)

G&W now lives in our barn. I put some food out for him morning and evening – any additional snacks are his business to catch.

He has been a regular resident for a few months, but with no set routine until a few weeks back when he started hanging around, waiting for breakfast. Now we have a regular morning conversation as I walk in to the barn:

G&W jumps off the hay bales, retreats a safe distance and hisses at me.
I tell him “that’s not very nice.”
G&W meows at me with a tone of voice that says: “Watch it, writer. I invent worlds as well. Worlds of hurt and bloodshed…”
I tell him “that’s better.”
G&W blinks at me.
I blink back and put the food down.
It’s a relationship of sorts.

Relationships evolve. For the last few days, we have skipped the whole hiss and meow bit. G&W just watches me from the far side of the hay bale. There’s still the promise of hurt and bloodshed if I push my luck, and he waits until I am outside the door before checking out breakfast.

The cat whisperer strikes again.