Stumpy

A about four months ago, a possum appeared in the trees near our house. This is not unusual; possums are common, especially down at the chook pen at night, where they come to see what scraps have been left them. But this possum had lost his long bushy tail. Instead, he had a stump with a raw wound at the end and another just above. The stump was bare of fur and the possum looked thin and ragged. Rather unimaginatively we named him Stumpy. Since then, Stumpy has been appearing most nights. At dusk we might hear a thump on the roof as he emerges for the night and see him peering over the edge of the guttering, his eyes bright but fearful.
I called the vet one day as I was worried about the raw wound on his stump which was still open and sometimes bleeding, even a few weeks after we first saw him.
“Possums without tails don’t tend to do very well in the wild,” she told me.
It’s true that he obviously has trouble manoeuvring. He doesn’t have very good balance and, one night, fell quite spectacularly from the birdfeeder suspended from the back deck. He was fine, so I guess he’s pretty tough.
One afternoon as I was going out the back door, I heard a scraping noise above me. I went out into the garden so I could see up onto the roof above the door, and there was Stumpy crouched in the corner of the roof that overhangs the verandah and underneath the main roof that sits out over it. It had been very hot — 40 degrees some days — and I was worried about him up there under a hot tin roof. So I got onto the local Facebook page and asked if anyone knew where I could get a possum box. I soon had a solid box that my husband fixed to a tree near the shed. We wondered if Stumpy would find it so we put a banana on the lip to entice him.

We went away for a week the next day, but when we got back, my husband got out the ladder and climbed up to see if the box was occupied. Nope. No possum. He checked again a couple of days later, but still no possum. I’d been leaving fruit out as usual for Stumpy but it had been going uneaten, so we presumed that Stumpy had finally succumbed to the brutality of the bush, where it really is survival of the fittest. Finally my husband decided he may as well take the box down and return it to the person who had leant it to us. He climbed up and decided to take one last look before taking it down. He didn’t bother being cautious, just opened the top for a quick look, and there, lying on its back in the pile of dead leaves, was a possum.
“Well is it Stumpy?” I asked him when he called out to me.
“I don’t know, I didn’t look at his tail,” he replied. So I climbed up the ladder to look for myself and as I peered into the box, a rather startled and somewhat affronted possum looked back. Sure enough, there was just a bare stump; Stumpy had found his home. We put a piece of banana on the edge of the hole to see if he would take it. We looked away, looked back and it was gone.

Stumpy hasn’t been in his box when we’ve looked recently, but he still turns up most nights and takes the food left out for him. He has put on weight, his fur is lovely and thick, and his stump has healed and is also covered in fur. His only problem now is other possums with lovely long bushy tails moving in on his turf. We hear territorial noises on the roof. I’ve seen one take Stumpy’s food, and last week Stumpy turned up, obviously very hungry because he allowed me to hold a piece of banana while he held onto my fingers and ate it. Hopefully he’ll survive. We’ll keep an eye on him and keep leaving food out.

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Myrtle the Turtle

Last week my friend, Reyna, sent out an email asking if anyone could adopt their Eastern Long-necked turtle, as they are relocating to Geneva for two years and an Australian turtle wouldn’t really do well in a Swiss climate. Since we have a lovely garden pond, I said we would happily take Myrtle the Turtle.
On arrival at Reyna’s house she took me over to her pond to meet Myrtle.
“There she is,” she said, pointing to a clump of plants.
“Where?” I replied.
“There.” And she pointed closer to two tiny nostrils poking through the greenery. She reached a hand in and pulled out Myrtle, who was about the size of a bread and butter plate. She flailed her legs a bit, but didn’t seem too perturbed, reaching out towards Reyna with a neck that was easily as long as the rest of her body, hence the name. Reyna gently replaced her in the pond and she disappeared under the plants, reappearing when Reyna sprinkled some “turtle sticks” on the surface of the water.
“You don’t really need to feed her often,” she told me. “She can go for days. She eats what’s in the pond.”
Reyna’s pond had been purpose built for another resident who washed away after heavy summer rains. It has a timber frame, like a raised garden bed, and a large rock in the middle where Myrtle could sun herself. But the straight timber sides meant Myrtle couldn’t escape. My pond is different. It is set into the ground, surrounded by large stones, more like a natural pond, easy for a turtle to escape from.

Reyna carefully placed Myrtle in a bucket, a little worried that she would hurt her long neck, but since Myrtle did what turtles do and tucked it into her shell, there was no need to worry. Reyna also loaded me up with fish and plants as they would have to drain the pond for safety reasons, since the house would be rented while they were away.

When I arrived home, I carefully took Myrtle out of the bucket and released her into her new home. She immediately swam off and hid under the plants. I have a few fish in my pond and only one plant, so I hadn’t really paid it much attention for a long while, which is a shame, because it’s lovely to have a pond in the garden. Small children are drawn to it like a magnet and love trying to catch the yabbies that creep along, scouring the bottom. Small birds come and bath in it late in the day and dragonflies flit above it in the sunlight. Tiny spiders spin webs in the plants above the water and water-spiders skim across its surface. It’s quite mesmerising to sit and watch the fish gliding through the water. Now I would also have Myrtle to check on each day. Throughout the afternoon I went out to see where she was. She seemed to be luxuriating in her new, larger home, slowly moving about, occasionally poking her nose out of the water. The yabbies poked at her to see what she was and the new fish, her old friends, swam around her as though sharing the excitement of their new surrounds.

The next morning it was raining quite heavily. I couldn’t see Myrtle in the pond but reasoned she may be taking shelter amongst the plants or under the overhanging rocks. But, sadly, there has been no sighting of Myrtle for a week now. She was originally a wild turtle, picked up by Reyna’s family on the side of the road, so I guess that’s where she’s gone: back to the wild.

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How to catch a fox

How to catch a fox indeed!

Last week, looking for a solution, I went to the local rural produce store. This is where I buy my chook food and pig ears for my dog. I recognised the two attendants who looked up as I walked in.

“What can we do for you?” one of them said.
“I have a fox who has taken a liking to my chickens. Do you have any traps?”
They both smiled and gave a wry look.
“We do, but I don’t know that they’d be big enough and foxes are pretty clever.”
“I know,” I replied. It’s the only thing I do know about foxes, apart from the fact that they love chicken.
He reached over to the end of the counter and picked up a business card which he handed to me.
QLD Vermin Control and Wild Game Harvesting
Professional Shooter
“He might be able to help you. That’s all I can suggest unfortunately.”
I thanked him and took the card.

The next day I called the number.
“No worries,” said the professional shooter with a slight drawl. “I’ll come out and have a look.”
He came a couple of days later, late in the afternoon when foxes become active. He brought what he called “lure”: food that foxes like to eat. Sardines and dried liver treats. We walked down into the bush so he could check things out.
“You probably can’t see it, but there’s a track here that the fox has obviously been using,” and indeed once he pointed it out you could see a line through the dried leaves and small trees heading in the direction we’d seen the fox take.
There was a mound of dirt from where we’d planted a tree which had been partially dug out.
“He’s been diggin’ here. Probably a marsupial mouse or rat or somethin’ in there. I’ll put some lure here and see what happens.”
He poked some of the bait into the dirt and then laid two sticks down either side and angled towards each other so they formed a V. He told us that foxes and dogs won’t step over sticks laid like that, but will go around and be effectively funnelled towards the narrow end. If the lure was taken, he’d lay some the next night and the next, and then when the fox was feeling secure, he would lay a foot trap.

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He’d explained to me on the phone that these aren’t the ones with jagged metal jaws, but have rubber edges and are RSPCA approved. When he arrived he opened his car boot and showed them to be. They’ll clamp down hard, but won’t do any damage unless they’re left too long. He also showed me a box of small bullets.
“Once they’re caught,” he explained, “by law I have to shoot them because they’re a grade 2 pest.”
After he lay the lure, he spent a few minutes trying to call the fox out with what he called a fox whistle. It was like an accordion and made a sound like those annoying whistles kids buy at markets and shows, the ones that go right inside their mouths and make everyone start to hate them.
The fox took the lure the first night but not the second.
“That’s ok. We’ll just keep putting it out. Foxes are clever.”
The next time he lay the lures he added a vile-smelling substance made from dogs’ anal glands. Possibly the worst smell in the world, but irresistible to dogs and foxes alike. Maggie lifted up her head and kept sniffing the air, even though she was far from it, up the hill on the verandah. I closed the gates, but when she knew I wasn’t looking she found a way out. She reappeared reeking of that pungent stuff. Boy was she in trouble! I’m sorry to say I hit her and then chained her up: something I never do, but I was so angry and am so desperate to get this fox. Until we do, my chickens cannot be allowed to free-range.
My next door neighbour said he’d seen two foxes together one morning a couple of weeks ago.
“No worries,” said the shooter, “we’ll get both of ’em.”

The Wretched Mr. Fox

What am I going to do? I now have only two hens and Bryan the rooster left. That wretched fox having taken one hen, decided last Thursday that it was time to try his luck again. I had quickly become complacent about it. Why? He was hardly going to stop at one chook, but I can’t keep my chickens locked up all the time. They must be allowed to free-range some of the time, otherwise what’s the point? They’ll be unhealthy if stuck in their pen, with only dirt to peck around in. They need to eat grass and grubs and insects, and lie in the sun, flicking dust through their feathers to get rid of lice and keep themselves clean. Watching the chickens pecking about in the garden and on the lawn is strangely hypnotic and relaxing. If they’re down the hill locked in their pen I can’t see them or hear them.

I had left to drive my youngest son to soccer training and asked my middle son to lock the chooks up before it got dark. As we were driving I got a text message and asked my youngest son to read it:
A fox got one of the chickens
“Which one?” I asked. “Quick text him back.”
“He says he doesn’t know.”
“Well call him and put it on speaker.”
He said he’d gone down to lock them up, but that they weren’t in the coop yet, so he came back up to the house to have a shower. As he was getting out of the shower he heard a comotion. The chickens were squawking and Maggie was barking. He got dressed and ran down to see the fox carrying off a flapping hen with Maggie close on his heels. The other chooks had scattered and he was trying to find them.
He hung up and I drove my youngest to soccer. On the way back, my phone rang again. It was my other son again, breathless, obviously on the move still trying to sort out what was happening. Having taken one chook, the fox returned, but the other chickens had disappeared. He said the fox stood there and just stared at him for a good 30 seconds before Maggie spotted it again and it took off. He then saw it again carrying the original chicken with Maggie chasing it. It headed up onto the road where it dropped the now headless chicken and disappeared. Dan was trying to find the other chickens and when he looked at the road again the headless chicken was gone. He would keep looking for the other chickens. He hung up.
When I got home the first thing I saw was the rooster and Sylvia, my oldest beautiful silver Wyandotte, now 8 and a half years old, blind in one eye, a survivor of that the attack that had blinded her and also a lung infection which I had diligently treated, feeling slightly foolish for giving so much medical attention to a chicken. Her feathers were askew; both looked shaken.
So those two were still alive.
I went inside and turned on the verandah light then walked outside again. There under the light, squashing one of my pot plants on the small glass table was my gold Wyandotte, Gladys Emmanuel. She was terrified and when I picked her up she tried to peck me. I tucked her gently under my arm and spoke softly to her, saying how it must have been terrifying, but it was ok now. She began to coo back at me, like a little child, as though saying, “Yes, it was very scary.”
So it was Doris who was taken, my gold Wyandotte, with blue/grey edges on her feathers. A couple of years ago she was almost killed trying to protect her chick from a hawk and I found her standing in a corner with her chick, dripping large dark drops of blood, with no strength left to fight me when I picked her up. Meghan the vet stitched her up and the staff had fallen in love with her and her chick which stayed with her, and used to jump up onto her back. Doris was patched up, but the chick was killed two days later by a tiny carpet snake, the only thing that could get into the guinea pig hutch I had put them in. We got the snake out but it was too late. Doris tried to keep feeding her dead chick, dropping bits of food next to it and cooing to it, until I finally removed it and put it out in the bush.

We eventually carried the remaining chooks back down to the pen and they’ve been locked in ever since. I can’t let them out now until this fox is dealt with, but how to catch a fox?

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Dead Installations

A few weeks ago, I went along to an exhibition at the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) in Brisbane. It was called “Falling Back to Earth”, by Cai Guo-Qiang and consisted of three installations. The first was a large blue pool, surrounded by many different animals, a hundred or more, very life-like, but not real. The water was completely still except that every thirty seconds or so a small drop would fall from the ceiling. That was it. The friend I was with remarked that it gave her an awful feeling, as though in the future, the only way you would see such things was in a museum. I found the thing totally incomprehensible. For me it was what it was: a whole lot of models of animals, very cleverly wrought, around a fake pool. I just didn’t get the point.

But the next installation was downright depressing and just plain stupid. It was a dead tree. That’s it. A dead tree, on its side, roots and all. It had been ripped out of somewhere to make way for something, so the artist had had it dragged into the gallery and put on display as…well, a dead tree, representing…dead trees?

The reason I found this particularly irritating, is that only a few days before, I had seen several trees, exactly like this, whilst paddling down the river. They’d been pulled up in the floods three years ago. They were dead trees, that had been pulled up and displaced by a flood. But now I had paid $15 to come into a gallery and see exactly the same thing with someone trying to convince me that it was somehow more significant than what it was. If there was ever a case of the “emperor’s new clothes”, this had to be it.

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Turns out I have a whole property of installations.
And I thought they were trees.

Predators

My flock is dwindling.
Two weeks ago I heard a commotion from the chickens who were free-ranging down near the water tank behind the house. Maggie and I ran down to investigate. The chickens were all huddled together under the bougainvillea on the concrete tank looking terrified. I counted them; one was missing. I had a bit of a look for her, but knew I wouldn’t find anything. She has vanished without so much as leaving a feather. I believe it was the work of a hawk.
A few weeks ago I was watching the chooks pecking about on the small patch of grass in the garden when they suddenly scattered and took cover under the bushes. Surprised, I stepped off the verandah and looked up. There, slowly circling high above, was a hawk. The chooks wore the same terrified look they now had clustered under the bougainvillea. They refused to come out into the open until it was well and truly getting dark.
So Stephanie, my black Wyandotte, with the black legs that reminded me of the stockinged nuns from my early school years, was gone.

Then on Monday afternoon, about an hour after I’d let Bryan and the girls out I heard an even greater commotion coming from down near the chook pen. I quickly ran down, Maggie running ahead as usual. There was nothing to see, but Maggie was off and through the bush after something. After a quick check I was sure another of the girls had gone missing so I followed her. She came running back but I told her to get after whatever it was. She again ran off through the bush with me running after. I followed her across our property, dodging my way through the lantana bushes and through the barbed-wire fence onto the neighbour’s property. Maggie turned a sharp left to run around the dam, but to the right I heard flapping. I called to her and she turned and ran in the direction of the flapping. I followed her towards a large clump of lantana. She suddenly sped up and I looked up to see a fox hurrying away. It briefly looked back at me before running off, Maggie close behind. It had no chicken, so I concentrated on the clump of lantana and soon spotted gold feathers. Sure enough there was one of my beautiful gold Wyandottes lying on her side, head stretched back at an awkward angle. As I picked her up I was surprised at how much heavier she was dead than alive and as I did so I heard the fox cry out in fear or warning.

The fox having got away, Maggie soon reappeared trotting beside me as I carried my chicken by the feet. This seemed wrong somehow, so I lifted and cradled her body, supporting her floppy head, her eyes closed. She was still warm and I marvelled that something I had seen alive and pecking about in the scraps only an hour before could now be so lifeless.

Our ground is hard clay, so I didn’t bother burying her, but just laid her down in an old tyre that was lying in the bush the other side of the gully next to the house. I stroked her golden feathers and left her for the bush to take her. The next day she was gone. Maggie sniffed where I’d laid her then followed a trail through the fence where she stopped and sniffed again. I followed and found a pile of gold feathers and some grain. As I stood looking at them, a tiny red-headed finch flitted down and picked up one of the feathers. It flew up onto a branch and seemed to be weighing up the feather, deciding if it was suitable for nesting material. It must have been, because the finch then flew off, carrying the feather in its tiny beak.
Maybe the fox came back to claim his prize or something else took care of her. It doesn’t matter much. She’s gone, but at least she’s being of use to someone else.

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Rain

Last week the rain came at last. Dark clouds drifted over from the west and it began to bucket down. We went to sleep to that much-loved sound of rain on the tin roof. My husband loves it so much he refuses to get insulation in the ceiling for fear it will dampen the sound. It overflowed our uncleared gutters and saturated the verandah, but both tanks are now full and the dam is brimming. Next door the dam overflowed down into a gully on a neighbouring property, a temporary roaring waterfall. Everything feels clean and the grass became instantly green.

By Sunday it had eased and begun moving out to sea. We drove to a local waterhole to see how it looked now. Water flowed across the causeway, so we parked and waded through the shallow but swiftly flowing current to get across and then walk through the bush along the far bank to get to the swimming hole. The water was flowing fast, but slowed here as it widened and deepened. Maggie scrambled in as soon as she got there. We sat and watched on what little of the bank was left to sit on. The water level was higher, but not as high as it had been and we cursed ourselves for not taking away the pile of rubbish we saw there last time, left behind by people who don’t value these beautiful places. It was gone, washed down the river–bits of plastic and glass that may reek havoc on marine life out in the bay.

I eventually followed Maggie in and dove under the fresh flowing water. I grew up swimming in these kinds of swimming holes and they are still my favourite. They literally wash away stress. While the weather is still warm we plan to return with friends for a picnic. Old fashioned stuff, but a great day out.

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Illness

Illness is never welcome, but sometimes it can be a blessing.
Yesterday I was struck down with a vomiting bug. Every time I moved my stomach began to cramp and a fresh wave of nausea would grip me. This morning the worst of it is over, but I have no energy and no appetite. So I sit on the verandah with a book, but I keep being distracted by the sounds around me. The heat is gradually building as it did yesterday. The bees are loudly swarming in a tree with small, white flowers and in the few frangipanis. Constant birdcall fills the air, particularly from the bell-birds. These never used to be heard from our house, but if you walked up the road a bit you could hear them calling from the forested gully. Now they seem to be everywhere. They have been a problem in other parts of the country, pushing out other birds and taking over. I hope that isn’t happening here.
As a child I used to love hearing bell-birds and when we drove through areas where they lived, I would wind the car window down so I could hear their clear notes. Now I live with them.

The butcher bird’s penetrating song still rises above all else now and then: the same few notes. They compose a different one each spring.

There are frequent, albeit brief, windows when I can hear only natural sounds–nothing man-made. Strange how the man-made sounds–cars, trucks, planes, earth-movers–suggest destruction.

We were out to dinner on Saturday night. One of our dishes was some red-claw yabbies. As I ate them I thought about where they had come from and imagined them quietly swimming along in whatever body of water they had lived, scouring the bottom for food. I looked around me and wondered if anyone else gave a thought to where the food they were enjoying had come from. All the plants and animals they were eating had once lived in the quiet, slow environment of the natural world. Even if farmed, they moved and grew at their own pace, oblivious of their fate.

Most of us are so disconnected from the natural world that we can’t know the harm we are doing to it, even as the number of hot days increase, the glaciers and polar icecaps melt, bushfires rage and floods devastate. But our disconnection is, I believe, also doing harm to our mental and physical health. Life is too fast for us. We were never designed to run from one thing to the next like we do. Even those who appear to cope fine with the fast pace of life, even thrive on it; doesn’t it catch up with them eventually?

Our dam is almost dry and our tank is getting low. If we had to grow our own food, we would be in serious trouble. But we don’t. We can go to the shop. That’s where our food comes from. We can pretend we don’t rely on the natural world.

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No oranges this year

I am in a lather of sweat, the cicadas in the gum trees are building to an industrial level of noise and many plants that have been valiantly hanging on to life are finally succumbing, their leaves draining of colour, turning crisp and shrivelled. It’s hot. An orange tree that has been growing itself by the main road, providing oranges to whomever can get there with a ladder first is, for the first time, showing signs of stress. It hasn’t rained here properly since a weekend of three violent storms dumped heavy rain in early December. Our tank is barely a quarter full and our dam is but a muddy puddle.

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Last weekend we holed up inside in the airconditioning–something we only use in extreme heat–while the temperature outside climbed into the high 30s. I had to let the chooks out of their pen so they could find cooler places. They quickly made their way up the hill, wings held out from their bodies, beaks open and panting, and made for the cool of the dirt under the house. I filled a dish of water and set it down for them. They just stood and stared at me. I had never seen them so stressed.

The television showed footage of bushfires in Tasmania and New South Wales. Another fire wiped out a resort near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, where the temperature hasn’t fallen under 40 yet this year. Last week a heavy pall of smoke from fires on nearby Bribie Island drifted over us, obscuring the mountains; we could barely see out the front gate from the house.

Afternoon smoke haze

Normally at this time of year our tank is overflowing; we watch the overflow tank overflow and wish we could catch all that excess water. I hang wet clothes under the house and when I check them the next day they’re still damp and starting to smell. I refuse to buy a clothes dryer because they use so much power and the clothes dry eventually. And I don’t want to contribute any more to this overtaxed planet, suffocating under an excess of carbon dioxide and starting to sweat under it’s ever thickening blanket of gases.

When I was in high school, back in the 80s, our science teacher, Mr. Hawkin, used to talk passionately and urgently about “the greenhouse effect”. He told us that the buildup of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause the planet to heat up, that we would see extreme weather events, that it would become increasingly hard to grow our food as periods of drought increased in length and frequency. Occasionally, in the media, you would see the greenhouse effect referred to, but it was treated like something mad, radical scientists were scaremongering about and anyway, it was way off in the future like flying cars. Hawkin used to make me feel shit-scared, but then the bell would go and I’d forget about it.

Mr. Hawkin is probably retired now. He’d be in his 60s. I imagine he kept telling his students about this mythical “greenhouse effect”. I wonder if anyone ever acted on anything he said. I think, certainly in recent years, I have always striven to conserve electricity and not waste things, but then my mother was of the depression and war years, so it was probably her careful ways that instilled this. But I wonder if anyone has actually taken action based on what he told us, studying science at university, buying a hybrid car, not using plastic bags at the checkout, striving for self-sufficiency. Not enough people listened to him or any of the other scientists who tried and are still trying to warn us. I think the time for warnings is well and truly over. Now we have to work out how we’re going to survive. There may be no oranges from that tree by the road this year, and that will just be the beginning.

Dog and Chicken go to the Vet.

On Monday morning, as my dog, Maggie, jumped up to put her front paws on the side of the bed to greet me as she does every morning, she let out a sharp, high-pitched yelp. She then slunk away and wouldn’t come when I called her back. I got up and sat on the floor with her to check her out, but couldn’t find anything: no ticks, no obvious injury. She was very quiet and didn’t even hassle me for her breakfast. I decided not to feed her in case it was serious. She tried to put her front paws up on my knees but recoiled, and when she went downstairs, did so very slowly and carefully.

As soon as the vet opened I called them, explained the problem and they told me to come in at 10. In the mean time, Maggie retreated to her bed and sat there shivering in obvious pain. I started to get really worried. What if she had some internal damage and was bleeding? What if some poisonous thing had bitten her and the venom was taking effect? Should I take her up to the vet early instead of waiting? But I didn’t want to look like one of those neurotic pet owners.

So in order to feel like I was doing something I gave her some rescue remedy. Now I have never experienced any miraculous effects from rescue remedy but always keep it in my bag. If you can give a few drops to yourself or someone else in times of extremis you at least feel useful. So I managed to get a few drops onto the outside of Maggie’s lips and she licked them off. She sat there looking as mournful as ever, but I decided there was nothing more I could do, so I left her to rest on her bed and got on with my chores.

I walked out to the kitchen and picked up the scrap bucket for the chickens and was about to head out the door when Maggie appeared. Taking the scraps to the chooks is the highlight of her day and she wasn’t going to miss it. Lo and behold, she rushed ahead of me as usual, took off down the stairs with no trouble and was soon up on her hind legs against the side of the pen barking at the doves that always get trapped in there. Could it be that rescue remedy actually works?

Now I had an appointment at the vet, but what seemed to be a perfectly healthy dog! I equivocated, but decided to tale her anyway, just in case.

But just in case she was fine, I decided to maximise my visit. While down at the chooks, I got hold of Esme, the misbehaving chook, and had a good look at her. She had chicken shit caked all around her nether regions and I wondered whether there might be some infection as a result and this was causing her strange behaviour. So I tucked her under my arm, brought her up to the house, cleared the dirty newspaper from the carry cage and put some fresh stuff in and locked her in there. She was not impressed. Not only was she now closely confined, I had taken her straight after I threw the scraps into the pen and she was missing out. She kept shifting around and giving me menacing looks.

So at 10, I walked into the vet with one apparently healthy dog and one outraged chicken. Dogs being superior to chickens in the minds of humans,   Maggie was examined first. After prodding and poking and twisting her this way and that, the vet could find no obvious defect and decided it must have been a muscle spasm that had resolved itself. I didn’t mention the rescue remedy. She told me to keep Maggie confined and quiet, just to be on the safe side. I nodded obediently.

Next, Esme was extracted from her cage and placed on the table. The vet felt her all over, lifted her wings and listened to her chicken heart and lungs. Esme’s response to this was to make pull herself up to full height and crow as loudly as possible. But if she felt indignant at that, the best was yet to come. The vet pulled her gloves on and committed the ultimate humiliation. Even Brian, the rooster, had never violated Esme to such an extent. She gave another outraged crow. The vet declared her nether regions healthy but took away a little sample to examine more closely.

While we waited, Maggie paced around a few times, told me she was bored and wanted to go now and sat down and curled up on the floor in resignation. Meanwhile, Esme was enjoying the unusual experience of being stroked by a human. As I ran my hand along her silky, black feathers she first sat down and then her eyelids began to flutter and her head slowly droop. She was asleep! As I continued to stroke her I pondered on the absurdity of my life that I had been brought to a point where I was standing in a room with a sulking dog and a somnolent chicken who hadn’t been feeling quite herself.

The vet eventually returned to say she’d found nothing unusual in the sample but it might be best to worm Esme and all the other chickens. I felt nervous. How big were the other chickens, she asked. Bigger than Esme, I replied. And we have a rooster who’s quite big. Hmmm. Could we weigh him? I put my head in my hands and groaned. No, don’t worry, it’s ok, she replied. I said, no I didn’t mind doing it, but could just visualise capturing the rooster under cover of darkness, while he was sleepy, and trying to make him stand on a set of bathroom scales and keep him still long enough. We’d already had Brian to the vet after he ate a giant rubber band, most of which was tangled around his legs. He was found stumbling around the carport making a loud, strangled noise. The vet had knocked him out, then tried to pull the rubber band out, but it was firmly fixed somewhere deep inside. She pulled it out as far as possible, snipped it off and we took him home. He’s never crowed properly since. Yeah, maybe we could weigh him…

So I left the vet with two apparently healthy animals, slightly poorer and with two bottles of liquid that I’m supposed to administer to the flock. I was also instructed to cut away the shit encrusted feathers from Esme’s bum and wash it lest she become flyblown and they eat away her flesh. God I love that chook.

Come on Esme. It won't hurt a bit.