Monday, 7 November 2016

Dogs, Ducks and Death

Caretaker Farm has had dogs since Dorothy and Audrey moved onto the farm in 1990. Those international visitors who have stayed with us over the past 23 years will remember them  well starting with Minty, Bart, Duchess, Maxie, Lucy, Frodo, Jack, Gypsy and Ruby in that order of arrival. Also there were the 4 lots of puppies bred by Lucy, Gypsy and Ruby and then sold by my daughter Tamarah, (whose dogs were bred), to people she vetted so carefully and kept contact with over the years.

Duchess, Dorothys dog, having a beer!

The various Wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms) who have stayed and worked on the farm over the past 23 years have walked, played with, washed and loved the dogs.

Interestingly this farm seems to have attracted to it international visitors who are very tolerant of dogs although we have had a few with cat allergies who have not been able to stay for long due to their reaction to cat hairs in the wwoofer house.

Part of the farm daily routine when we had 6 dogs was to walk them a kilometer twice a day and for some wwoofers it was a delight and a chore. For example as the first job in the morning a long fresh walk on a sunny day was a lovely way to start the wwoofer work but if it was your turn to come back at 4pm it could be a dragging chore and might lead to complaints.

Frodo being washed by two Polish Wwoofers

Jack, Lucy, Ruby and Gypsy
Australian Terrier

   Now I have to state at this point that personally I am not a dog      person-I have never been rude or particularly mean to them and    of course over the years I became fond of them, but if I had a        choice of a cat or a dog I would chose a cat (despite the                  environmental damage to the birds of NZ which 
   are so precious).

 I love the independent nature of a cat and the fact that a cat  chooses to live with you or not. Dogs on the other hand, despite  being clearly "mans" best friend, are much more dependent on humans and really seem to require a master/mistress who is the head of the pack. I have watched the dog whisperer and seen just how important this pack-leader role is when keeping a dog.

 Further,  dogs put up with some of the worst owners and continue to give that person their loyalty--allowing someone to torture you and going back for more-maybe they are masochists deep down. 

Annika walking all 6 dogs in 2011
However, despite my reluctance to own and care for a dog, because I co-habit this world and this farm with others who were and are dog lovers, dogs have been very much part of the life here on Caretaker Farm. Also all of us, me included, have gone through the sorrow of losing a loved dog pet and recently we have lost two dogs who have featured larger than life on this farm, namely  Jack-Tyler, an Australian Terrier at 11 years, and Fodo, a black Labrador at 13 years. A couple of years prior we lost Duchess, a Hunterway and the oldest at 15 years, and then Lucy, the mother Australian terrier at 11 years. Each death of one of these beloved animals has led to a grave and the planting over of a tree or shrub and a small plaque to remember the animal who has passed.

I wish my passing could be the same-a hole dug, my body put in and then a tree over me for my remains to fertilise--aahh if only human death was so uncomplicated.

The sad death of Frodo last week means for the first time since we came to the farm in 1990 we have no large dog to greet people who arrive at the gate. There is no warning bark, no dog to wag its tail at those visiting, to keep the fearful in their car and to thrill the doggie lovers. Rather you are more likely right now to be greeted by a little family of growing baby ducks and their mother who now the big dog has finally gone have taken over the front entrance area of Caretaker Farm

5 dogs, wwoofers and Bryan 2014
  Ducks are also a feature of Caretaker Farm because the particular    breeds we have are not plant eating ducks but rather ducks that       eat  grubs, slugs, snails and other insects that eat the plants.

  As part of an organic, natural agriculture and permaculture system that operates on the farm they have an extremely important function in helping keep the eco-balance. Unlike my tolerance for dogs I unreservedly love ducks because they are so interesting to watch and help keep the farm free of annoying bugs.

The ducks I introduced to the farm were Peking, Kayuga and Khaki Campbell's which then interbred to create the now 35 to 40 or so ducks that roam on this land and unfortunately on the neighbour's across the road. Why is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence I ask? Especially when its the same!  Every so often this duck roaming results in me getting a complaining phone call from the neighbour and so have to go duck chasing-this involves carrying a long stick, climbing the neighbour's fence and then carefully walking over the paddock and through the river to push the ducks back up towards my gate and into my property. Luckily ducks can be herded, unlike chickens who will never go where you want without a fight or flight. I saw this herding of ducks in China when I was there in 1986 and was so impressed by the efficiency of the Chinese farmer with his long bamboo stick walking behind 20 or more ducks as he herded them up the road that I resolved one day to get some ducks of my own.

7 baby ducks with their mother
Raising baby ducks successfully in a natural way however is a problem and just like humans some mothers are better than others. Then there are various predators-rats, hedgehogs, hawks, ferrets, stoats to name some of them. It is distressing each spring,  to see a mother with 10 cute little ducklings, slowly lose them to either one of the many predators lurking about at night or because the mother is so selfish and stupid to take good care of the babies she has. It takes 4 weeks for a duck egg to hatch a chick-thats 4 weeks of a mother sitting on eggs and occasionally coming off to eat in a great haste, quacking and shitting profusely as she avoids the gang rape of drakes waiting for an opportunity to get her down on the ground.

the chicken ducklings
To combat this carnage I try separating the mother and babies into cages where they are afforded some protection at night but stupid mothers stand on the ducklings and kill them despite my efforts. This year I have raised 16 of the babies by keeping them a bit separate from the others, feeding them lots and I even have a chicken with 4 baby ducklings as I replaced her chicken eggs with those of a duck.

Farm work every day involves feeding ducks. Wwoofers help mix feed for the ducks, chickens and turkeys who live here and provide the eggs and meat for the humans. At present just as we had too many dogs at one stage we have too many ducks so we will have to either sell or kill some if we are to control the numbers and keep the correct balance of animals and plants.

The Australian terriers hate the ducks and Jack in particular was a duck killer from hell. When he escaped from the house he would kill ducks one after another until he was caught-his record was 5 ducks at one time. This action would result in me screaming, cursing and crying like a demented harpie and poor Jack and my daughter Tamarah would get it in the ear. One week before he died he managed to escape for one last time and kill a duck who had strayed into the house area-his final act before death-hence leading to the inspiration for this story from Caretaker Farm entitled dogs, ducks and death.
Duck sitting on eggs
3 ducklings in a cage

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Caretaker Farm Miracle

 This evening around 7.45pm I decided to quickly visit the chicken house and collect the eggs as it has been two days since I did this and we have a couple of broody hens who are sitting on the fresh laid eggs and keeping them warm so the eggs start to develop and therefore I should have done this yesterday...anyway thats another story...

So in the half light I put my hand under under one of the broody hens, taking great care that she didnt peck me, picked up the other loose eggs in the boxes  and then reached under yet another broody hen to extract the eggs when I felt a soft body of another type of animal.

I admit to freaking out at first thinking that the body I felt was that of a rat as it had a tail and then found to my surprise that it was a kitten and that actually there were three kittens all keeping warm under this broody chicken.

What a shock-how did they get there? This chicken house is shut up with wire and metal walls and full of about 35 hens and one rooster? There was no cat present and how did three newborn kittens find their way into a box above the ground under a chicken. Oh I wish I had taken a picture but I had a bucket full of eggs and was in shock at what I had found so my first thought was to tell the family and get others to see what I found. My daughter and the two French visitors came to see and help me take out the kittens-as dusk was about to descend and the the chickens in the coop were looking quite put out at this unprecedented level of activity before their bedtime so it didnt occur to me to bring the camera and show the picture of this find-anyway another hen in the same box had started to peck the kittens now they had shown themselves from under the broody chicken so it was time to remove them from this strange place.

We took them into the house and here they are.

I thought I would have to drown them as without the mother they would need a lot of care and we are not set up for this however my daughter got onto facebook and miracle of miracles a local woman agreed to take them as she is already looking after young kittens and has the capacity to care for them. Actually 7 people contacted my daughter within 20 mins of her posting what we had found on social media-truely this is a powerful medium.

At 10.30pm I met the woman's husband in Matakana which is a 10 minute drive from the farm-he was on his way home from work on the north shore. We had a hot water bottle under the woolen scarf to keep the kittens warm and the first report from the rescuer is that they were feeding strongly.

Really its a miracle-if I hadn't gone out then they would have been three dead bodies under a chicken.

Yesterday sadly our 13 year old Labrador Frodo had to be put to sleep here on the farm as he suffered a stroke which had paralyzed and blinded him and today three kittens are born and are found under a hen-life here on Caretaker Farm is always interesting.