Monday, 27 March 2017

And Behind The Third Door...

Thug, aka Drang (aka the Purring Death), still drops by to say hello. It’s nice to see him, stroking is essential because he is a demanding cat. Mostly demanding with cute menaces. The important thing is that he is not, under any circumstances, allowed in the house, on account of his tendency towards violence against other cats.
Us getting in and out of the house becomes tricky when Thug is visiting, because he knows there are tasty snacks inside. The merest hint of a door opening and his nose is pressed to the gap. Fortunately, there are two doors, and Thug has learned the dangers of the Front Door, which is dangerously close to The Van. He knows the routine – stroke, stroke, cutesy noises, lifted into the air, into the van and get driven home, down the hill. Thug doesn’t appreciate being taken home, or not before he’s had a bite out of someone else’s food bowl. And perhaps a bite of said someone else. So the front door is the answer for us to get in and out the house.
At present, my partner is away, with the van. Thug is a bright cat and he’s worked it out – no undignified return home without snacks and some recreational violence. (As I type, Ginge is hiding somewhere between five and ten meters up inside an overgrown cypresses hedge, Oatmeal is watching the cat-flap and Piper is just keeping his ears down.) Thug followed me round to the front door, and pressed his nose to the opening gap.
The trouble is, Thug is fast. I can’t get round the corner to the other door before he arrives, let alone open it and get inside. My final trick, once all sheep, geese and chickens were settled for the night, was to climb over the yard gate, walk along the road as quietly as I could, use the sound of a passing car to cover walking up the path, and then try to get through the front door...
I made it. Just. I shut the door in Thug’s face. With the keys still on the outside, but that’s another story.

Thug will move on sometime in the night, but he will be back. No doubt about that, and probably before my partner gets back with the van. There’s only one answer - I need a third door.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Run Away, Run Away...

I’ve written about the downfall of the alpha male before. It doesn’t matter what the species, when that fight comes, the top beast versus the challenger, there is no first and second place, there is first and last. When the alpha male loses, he falls to the bottom – if he lives.
It’s just happened to Party Pants, our top cockerel, and now Neo is the bird. Just to be clear – this not just a little punch up where Party Pants walks away muttering I could take him if I wanted to. This is a cock fight – pecking, clawing, slogging it out until only one is left breathing. Or, with the aid of welly intervention, only one is left standing. And they have to be separated with a welly, because no-one in their right mind puts a hand down there. Not if they like the way the skin goes round it as a continuous covering.
Some years ago, we got a call from a neighbour. A young cockerel of ours thought the best trick for getting food and sex was to hang out with the neighbours hens. We got the call because the neighbour’s cockerel was a big bruiser who had just kicked the living crap out of ours. We carried the bleeding heap home, patched him up as best we could, sprayed the multiple puncture wounds with antiseptic and nursed him in a quiet dark place with glucose feeder and warmth for a day or so. Then he died.
Party Pants in his prime
So, this is Party Pants, the loser, battered and bloody but with no major penetrating wounds, on account of that welly intervention. The trouble is, his time spent at the top of the heap, high on testosterone-fuelled triumph, has erased the two basic survival skills that every young cockerel learns. Run. Away. Two words, two skills, but they go together.
Party Pants has clearly forgotten both. Take run. It’s not complicated. Run, don’t walk, don’t dawdle, don’t pause to inspect an interesting blade of grass, just run, and keep running, because Neo hasn’t had time to forget running. Neo is good at it. All he has to do is master a new skill to go with run: after. Interestingly enough, Neo has grasped it immediately, and run after so easily leads to catch up, and inflict violence, all because Party Pants hasn’t yet got back into the essential skill of run.
And then there is away. That matters. Not just over there, or perhaps if I stand in this corner, but away. Far away. So far away that Neo no longer wants to run after, because all those hens are his now. So far away that it’s clear that Party Pants no longer even thinks of dipping any appendages into the gene pool. Being top bird is all about possession.
Party Pants is in denial and needs to work on away. Particularly when he can not resist the urge to crow, the great chicken expression of come on, if you think you’re hard enough. (Or, Hey! I’ve got a great big tonka. Very difficult to tell those two apart.) The only concession to defeat: Party Pants is crowing quietly, with his beak between his knees. And frankly, in his current state, I bet his toes are whispering back: come closer and we’ll show you we’re hard enough.
In time, Neo will probably settle down and not need to re-iterate his victory. For now Neo has to assert himself, hence the run after with attendant violence. And he also has to assert himself with the hens, because when he’s not looking, or when Party Pants has managed enough away, certain girls are still hanging around with the old top cock. So Neo is asserting himself, frequently and persistently. There’s an old joke: a god and a mortal woman after a night of wild sex, and he says I’m Thor, and she says, You’re sore? I’m so sore I won’t... Well, you know the rest. If you could translate it into chicken, our hens would get the punchline before you could finish. For now, Neo is asserting; eventually the shine will wear off. If he would just stop polishing.

And Party Pants will re-learn run and away. Or get used to the pain.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Two Mega-Nits of Ram

I was never any good at Rubik’s Cube, but imagine one covered in wool, dripping wet, fighting back and now try to solve it in the dark, by lamp-light.
I’ve been away for a week and drove home Saturday afternoon, pre-warned by my partner that Pad and Earl, two of the rams, had got their horns tangled and were currently inseparable. My partner had tried to get them apart on her own, one ram clamped between her knees, trying to move the other. No chance.
All I had to do, after an exhausting week and a five hour drive, was disentangle two-times twenty kilos of testosterone-driven stupidity, in the dark, ideally without losing any fingers.
Just nod if you can hear me...
Our Soay rams have large, curved horns. Imagine something with a two-inch diameter coming out of your skull above your eye, curving backwards and round the back of your ear, down and forwards along your jawline and then, if you have the deluxe version, curving up and back towards your ear... Those horns are big beasts, and tough enough for a ram to batter at a telegraph pole just for fun, or smash a gate off its hinges when bad things like worming are about to happen.
Fancy a hook-up?
Now picture two rams who have twisted their horns together like a pair of corkscrews until the last minute when a jiggle and a shove has left them locked together. It’s a little bit like that early scene in the Hunt for Red October, a narrow passage and only one way in. By the time I got home, the pair of them had had hours of pushing and shoving, failing to find just that right combination of twist and push to get back out again. The other rams had, naturally, been helping – with two of the top males locked together the others took turns in battering them up the backside. Rams are like that.
We looked by lamp-light, we tried, got covered in **** but in the end, we gave up. We did try to get them to take some water because they had to be getting dehydrated, but they were both too busy: gotta shake loose that b****** that’s got hold of my horns.
So let’s try again tomorrow, in daylight, with an option on calling the vet to cut the ends off their horns.
So, Sunday morning, when vets are especially expensive, we looked at the problem again. Really, if it was just a pair of spiral rings to disentangle, it would be easy, but with the rest of the ram attached, not so much. First there is the matter of noses. I looked, I saw the way to undo it, if only the ram’s nose wasn’t there. It was obvious that the two spirals could be untwisted, but once the nose of one ram is firmly wedged against the head of the other the untwisting stops. Then there was a clearance problem – those horns are big and Pad’s horns curve an inch or less from his jaw, so only the thinnest tips of Earl’s horns can get through that gap.
I could see what I wanted to do, sort of, but I couldn’t just wave two rams around in the air. Look... if we could just float Pad at knee-height, and twist Earl like this...
The solution was an old, dead dining chair out of the barn. With Pad lying on his side on the chair, held steady by my partner, I could turn Earl upside down and lie him on his back. It sounds easy, but now factor in the furious wriggling, the surprise of a ram trying to pick my nose with his back hooves (still tingles a few hours on), the need to blow my nose to remove the sudden injection of mud, grass and sheep-s**t, and the problem becomes more tricky.
If only I could see what was going on. Forget the nose and the attendant eye-watering, I could either hold Earl or look at what I was doing, so the un-screwing of the horns had to be done by touch. So, just put a finger in that gap, test which way the curve runs, get finger out again quickly when one of the woolly b******s moves suddenly, and then try again. Those horns that shake telegraph poles and destroy gates are not actually round, more triangular in cross-section, and would easily purée my finger with their ridged edges.
I was so nearly there when Pad decided he didn’t like the chair. My partner was trying to hold him, hold the chair, check he wasn’t about to break his neck... and then I lost my grip on Earl. I’m not sure who was the most surprised out of the four of us. That final extra wrench was either the answer, or I had succeeded just in time to save the rams from serious injury. Whatever really happened, they were no longer linked.
We got them on their feet, and they went and hid under the bushes in the corner of the field. Together. The little ******s has been trying to get apart for the best part of a day, and now they huddled together for safety against the big mean people that just got them untangled.

That’s sheep for you.