Friday, 4 April 2008

Animals Behaving Badly

All the inhabitants of the Rock, be they bi or quadruped get along very well most of the time.

There are inevitably occasional inter species spats to establish or reaffirm the pecking order. I tend to avoid these hierarchical disputes by recognising that whilst I may be viewed as farm manager, Tracey my wife is most definitely the boss. The animals have established a series of relationships that seem to suit all needs.

There are however accidents and confrontations amongst the residents.

Accidents such as the goat getting into the duck house for a cosy nights sleep and crushing to death one of the Pekin ducks, or a Gordon Setter running at full speed through the yard and colliding with a fat chicken breaking the hens leg, or believe it or not, a fifteen year old, very fat, very heavy beagle falling off the conservatory roof and breaking its fall by landing on a passing and very surprised Gordon Setter.

Confrontations are usually brief and mostly over food, like a goose chewing the ear of a Bernese Mountain Dog for stealing its grain, maybe a goat attempting a flying head butt at a shitland pony (yes it is spelt correctly) for taking too much hay from the rack, or an irate piglet attaching itself to the tail of a greedy Golden Retriever caught helping itself to a pigs breakfast from their trough.

So the majority of the time it’s safe to say the animals are all well behaved and a joy to be with. I really wouldn't be without them. They do have their days though where they seem to have conspired to misbehave and their only aim is to drive their very patient owner to fresh depths of despair. This usually happens when you are cold, tired, hungry, in a hurry, ill, have visitors, are exceptionally busy or more preferably a combination of any of these factors.

Take Sunday for example, I am doing the rounds, feeding and watering the various beasts, not, it has to be said in the best of moods as I have to go to London later in the day to complete a training course. So as I am contemplating once again swapping birdsong for sirens, fresh air for exhaust fumes, a rural vista for a concrete nightmare and all the problems of public transport, getting to the hotel and so on, my animal companions embark on a display of behaviours designed to test my mettle, patience and commitment as an animal lover.

Maggie started my morning well with her usual in your face antics, jumping into, onto, and over anything and everything. You try balancing buckets of feed or water while you attempt to negotiate a tricky gate latch whilst a goat with a severe attachment disorder is doing her utmost to assist the process by making the buckets lighter by eating the contents, knocking them over or standing in them. Or she might put her front hooves on your shoulder and peer intently over the fence with you as you check the lambs, inevitably treating you to a face full of fresh of goat bogie's as she turns and eyeballs you. Should any of this fail to get your attention she cannot resist a playful headbut up the backside as you get the feed out of the bins. When, finally, you can take no more of her antics and a well aimed boot or thrown bucket forces her from your side she gaily canters off and watches your progress from one of several vantage points, her favourite being the cottage roof, bleating encouragement.

Trevor the Shitland then cheered me up as he nearly had me over trying to hump the life out of the bale of hay I was trying to drag up the lane to feed the sheep. As I was vowing to get him gelded as soon as I could arrange it I discovered William had disgraced himself by turning on the tap that serves as a temporary water supply to his temporary home. This had run for hours and had totally soaked the bedding in his and the turkeys sections of the “barn” with hundreds of gallons of cold spring water.

The sheep were next on the list to cause me bother, so keen are they to get their sheep nuts, and so convinced are they that they are going to get short measures that they dive in head first to any bucket offered. Despite the fact I was carrying two equal measures of food in two very similar buckets Easter and Springtime launched themselves enthusiastically into one bucket. Two heads being bigger than one bucket they were stuck fast so they panicked and ran around the pen kicking the second bucket skyward and knocking me sideways into the shelter wall. To save myself from falling I stood up, an action I instantly regretted as my forehead struck the main roof support. Blinded by the pain I curled up into the foetal position where I was found by my ever patient and sympathetic wife who listened to my diatribe of oaths vented at Karl for not having built the shelter six inches higher as Easter and Springtime ran round with the bucket still attached. It wasn’t the first time she had heard this and I am certain given my innate ability for self harm that it won’t be the last.

As we are not busy enough Tracey had decided that what we really needed at Rock HQ were two orphan lambs to hand rear. So, enthused with the prospect of having to do four hourly feeds twenty four hours a day we set off up the valley to see Wynne and Margaret, local farmers who had a couple of tiddlers for us to bottle rear. Due to the sheep being housed in the kennels we decided that it would be safe to leave Rocky and Reba the Bernese Mountain Dogs in the bespoke, hand built, Colombian Red Pine conservatory that is such a feature of Rock HQ. A wonderful construction of wood and glass that is the envied by visitors to the cottage, it was built by the previous owners who were master craftsmen building doors and window frames from scratch.

This was a huge mistake, because, for whatever reason, the dogs destroyed the front door. God knows what they were thinking but they chewed the door frame and panels taking huge chunks from what were, when we left them, hand planed, hand sanded silky soft red wood panels. Its still functions as a door, but as an attractive feature it has ceased to be. Worse was to come, Rocky, for it was he, had also chewed one of the window frames exposing the bottom edge triple glazed panel and he had also taken a foot long section from the internal front door frame. They had only been left an hour or so, there were chews and toys, a bowl of water, its not like he has to misbehave to get our attention, he’s a 55 kilogramme dog, ergo he always gets your attention. He had never chewed anything before so we were at a complete loss to explain this episode of destructiveness. He hid whilst I cleared up the debris and Tracey settled the lambs into their new routine.

I got myself ready to go to that there London place and reflected on the behaviour of the residents that share Rock HQ with me. Why am I so convinced that it was a conspiracy of misbehaviour?

It was the fish.

They were the ones that finally convinced me that the animals had joined forces to test me.

As I sat on the toilet and looked out over the garden I could clearly see them.


Trying to provoke a response.

Trying to goad me.

Perhaps they were trying to break me, make me wish I was back in our modern three bed semi.

How can fish misbehave?

Well, under normal circumstances they swim around a lovely pond fed by a mountain spring, set amongst the rocks of the garden.


Today they were swimming nonchalantly up and down the garden path.

Suddenly 24 hours in London seemed quite appealing.

No comments: