My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Irrational Urge was Hard to Stifle

Stifle

Eleven years ago, Himself arranged for a stock agent to buy four, white-face beef animals at the local cattle sale held each Tuesday. We understand that animals can be nervous when they off-load from the truck. But, they tend to settle once they have explored the paddock, had a drink and start eating grass.

On this occasion, the new cattle stood quietly in the stockyard while Himself checked them over before releasing them into the paddock. Four black bodies charged through the opening gate, just missing Himself flattened against the fence railings. They stampeded across the paddock and hurtled through the live electric fence. They splashed across the stream into our neighbour’s property.

Himself’s language probably offended the animals as there was more cattle mayhem. Neighbours rallied to help herd the runaways home. One animal hurdled a 7-wire fence into another neighbour’s farm. Three fled in a headlong rush up the road before being rounded up. The final gallop was through my vegetable garden. They kicked divots of garden soil into the air and trampled my late summer vegetables. One dived back into the stream and joined the animal still on the neighbouring farm. It took three hours to restore calm and to secure the animals in the back paddock away from the stream and the road. That was on Tuesday after I got home from work. 

That night, Himself was on the phone to the stock agent. “From a forestry block!” Himself was heard to splutter. These four animals had had little contact with humans. Cattle hand-reared as calves are more used to humans and this is what lifestylers want on small blocks of land. On Thursday, all four animals were back on the truck to their new owner.

That weekend, it was drinks and BBQ at our place for the neighbours. Everyone had their similar stories of strife with cattle. In the heat of the moment, we had all felt the irrational urge to shoot the lot on the spot, an urge which was hard to stifle.


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The Ages of our Inscrutable Cat

Inscrutable

Ignoring the wet and windy weather, a tiny tabby kitten chased the leaves blowing around the enclosed courtyard next to the staffroom. No-one knew how he got there. He was not telling.

I found an old cloth and dried his fur. Next, some cold milk from the staff fridge poured into a saucer, was lapped up with gusto. A box emptied of  five reams of A4 copier paper became his shelter to sleep. There was talk of taking him to the SPCA. After work,  SPCA forgotten and during the 30-minute drive home, this kitten sat on the back seat, never moving, facing forward between the front seats. How was I going to tell Himself that just we had just become parents to another fur baby? After a lifetime of now departed cats, Himself had declared it was time to call it quits. Nestled under my jacket, the kitten peeked out as Himself gave me a hug. Eighteen years later, Himself and Pushy the cat remain constant companions.

T. S. Eliot considered naming a cat to be “a difficult matter” because a cat “must have three different names”. Eldest Grandson was learning to talk at the time the kitten arrived and his word for cat, ‘Pushy’, stuck as the “everyday name” we use. Pushy responded to this name. Whether he cared or not, he was not telling.

Living as we do on a lifestyle block, there are jobs to do. When Himself mixed milk powder to feed four-day old calves, Pushy got the first drink of warm milk. Hay was wheeled to the cattle in the paddock with Pushy in the driver’s seat. Rats have to be kept in check. When electric fences are checked, Pushy never walks never beyond the third tree down the driveway. He will sit and wait for Himself to come back. And someone needs to be Sleeper-in-Chief.

In keeping with Eliot’s rhyme,  

…, a cat needs a name that’s particular,

A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,

Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,

Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Pushy the Cat

Sleeper-in-Chief annoyed at being disturbed

Over the years, his naming has included Pushy the Farm Cat, Rodent Officer, Pushy the Lazy Tabby Cat. I like to think of him as one of Eliot’s Practical Cats”. I have different  thoughts though when his tigerish tendencies came to the fore if we offend his sensibilities and he digs his claws in.  This is the same cat that protected Binky, the baby rabbit when it escaped from its hutch. This is the same cat that lifted his head when we returned after an absence of almost three years, and wanted to be fed. Cats can be quite difficult to read. We are not always sure of what Pushy is feeling or thinking. He is not telling.

And we will never know. Pushy is about eighty-eight in human years. Grandson’s  old sleeping bag is now his to sleep away his days. His deepest cat dreams and thoughts are beyond words. What is his cat name that he calls himself? He is not telling. Pushy, our old moggy, remains inscrutable.

Old Cat

Constant companions


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Summer

January is the month when New Zealanders enjoy summer days. It is a time when people leave their real world lives to relax, to holiday at beaches, lakes and rivers and to enjoy outdoor activities. It is a time when we are busy in our gardens and enjoy the fruits of our labours. However, nature is having an impact on our environment.

Puddle

Ripples caused by raindrops ahead of heavy rain forecast

But, I can be forgiven for taking childish delight, for now, in watching raindrops splat and ripple onto puddles. It is the promise of the rain needed to fill our watertanks and to raise the stream level back to its regular level. Rain is forecast to keep falling. Heavily. And with high winds for a couple of days. Water will fall and flow everywhere and not as we would wish it. So we are warned. It has been a very dry and unusually warm December. Did I miss spring? Is this climate change at play? Nature is leaving a trail of evidence.

 

Even though heavily mulched, my garden is wilting. Lettuces have bolted and gone to seed. They were tasty while they lasted. Dahlias are showing their hot colours. Yellow butter and other beans are producing well. Defiant heat loving plants remain true to label. Leaves on the liquidamber trees are displaying signs of early autumn colours.

Pukeko Under the Fruit Trees

Pukeko eat the ripening fruit and damage the branches.

Pukeko and rosellas are unrelenting in their assaults on the ripening Captain Kidd heritage apples that should ripen in March. My early Peach Haven is history. It drives me crazy to see a pukeko, apple clamped in its beak, sprint from under the fruit trees across the paddock to its stream-side habitat The birds jump into the trees and damage the branches. The stream level is very low, the soil is rock hard, the plant habitats are parched and I am sure the birds are desperate for food. Earlier this morning, a family of four fruit thieves raided the orchard undercover of a downpour. No summer holiday in my world. It is garden guerilla-warfare.

Cattle

Grass is greener on the other side of the fence

We have our cattle on a sheltered hill paddock which is prone to dryness. They are grizzling because the grass quality is not as good as that on the other side of the gate. The trouble is that the better grass is in a flat paddock that is prone to flash flooding when our stream spills over. Years ago, in our early experiences of coping with bad storms, the cattle either stood in the shallows or huddled under trees. We gave up trying to move them. Wading in fast-moving, waist-high water that sweeps all manner of debris, including fences from neighbouring properties, in its path is not safe. Those animals all survived. Mindful of forecasts, we are now better prepared.  So, these cattle can stay on the hill for two days until the storm blows over.   

Meanwhile, weather forecasters continue to track the sub-tropical storm as it unleashes over New Zealand, to warn of the dangers of heavy rain, king tides, large waves and strong winds and to advise holidaymakers to evacuate.  No doubt the raindrops and the ripples will cease to be delightful as the puddles  flood and reform to flow as a small stream down my driveway.   


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Binky Bunny

Baby Bunny, the surviving kit, is five weeks of age. Paws, the father rabbit, has been neutered. Oreo, the mother rabbit, has resumed her bond with Paws, and both live in the larger of the two weather-proofed hutches each with an attached caged run. Baby Bunny is being weaned and readied for departure to a new home in seven days time.

Morning and evening, the three rabbits are let out for a run among the herbal ley under the fruit trees. Leo, our ‘wanna-be predator’ family cat, much to his chagrin, is locked inside the house at this time. It was a leap of faith I would be able to get three rabbits back into their cages. The orchard is a big area and easy for small animals to hide. Initially, I worked with one rabbit at a time. They loped to the other’s cage and sniffed each other through the wire mesh. They made their territorial marks as they explored the potential for rabbit play. Together, they have now developed playful freedom routines.

Binkying Bunny

Binky Bunny’s high jump landing behind Dad

‘Binky’, a new word for me, is a fascinating insight into playful behaviour. I learned from google searches that what our baby bunny is doing is called rabbit binkies. And oh boy, does Baby Bunny love his binky playtime. He leaps and twists. He sprints. He darts in and out of the borage, comfrey and wormwood. He dashes at great speed full circle round an apple tree. He races up to his Mum for a sniff and races off again. His hind paws kick out. Such exuberance. Such fun. Such life. Such joy.

Meanwhile, Oreo and Paws are sedate by comparison. They lope. They explore. They sniff. They burrow at the bases of trees. They nibble clover. They eyeball the hens. They reform as a family group and huddle with their kit. They groom. They stretch out.

Paws has been receptive to being handled and petted. Since his visit to the vet four weeks ago, he is more settled. Oreo has been shy and reluctant to be handled. Since she moved back with Paws, her behaviour has changed. Almost overnight, she seems to be more trusting letting me stroke her, even pick her up for a short spell. Tonight, she lay stretched out on the ground while being quietly scratched behind her ears like we do with our cats. Rabbit bliss.

An urgent call of nature dictated that Baby Bunny, exhausted from binkying, would lunge at his mother, wriggle upside down under her abdomen and suckle greedily for a full three minutes. I timed him. Binky bunny got a goodnight cuddle and settled for the night with a feed of fresh greens and hay. 

Paws, Oreo and Baby Bunny
Paws and Oreo with five-week old kit suckling Mum.


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Paws the Rabbit has Exercise Time

 

Late afternoon has been pleasant as the spring weather warms and the garden plants grow and blossom. Paws the rabbit is being encouraged to exercise. Once he has explored the boundaries, visited Oreo’s cage and sniffed the smells, he will hip-hop and dart in and out of the borage, rhubarb, comfrey, curry plant and  wormwood herbs that grow under the fruit trees. Tonight he dug a shallow burrow in the hens’ dirt-dust bath area. The hens accept Paws now and there is beak-to-nose communication.

Playmates

Friends Brown Shaver hen and Paws explore the comfrey plant under the apple tree.

Burrowing under the Rhubarb

Paws hip-hops and digs as he explores the orchard during his timeout from the caged run.

 


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Learning Rabbit Care on the Hop

If we thought rabbit care would become routine pet care, think again. I have been on a steep learning curve, learning on the hop so to speak, moment by moment.

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Oreo’s hutch is predator proof. Leo hunts wild rabbits and would attack the pet rabbits.

Leo, the family cat, frequently and successfully hunts wild rabbits. Though the hutch and run are predator proofed, it has not stopped him scoping the possibility of getting easy prey. It means we must spend time daily with Paws so he can have a run and forage in the orchard. For now, Oreo does not leave her cage and is never far from her kits.   

After the birth of the kits, it was the behaviour of our normally amiable free-ranging hens that astounded me. I was giving Oreo fresh water and feed. Two of the hens tried to push by me into the cage run.  I pushed them away. They flew back and pecked me as they tried again to get into the run. They stayed near the cage for some time glaring at the enclosure that had been their chicken coop one year ago.

The local pet-shop owner suggested I remove the placenta stained fur to clear the hutch of smell that would attract predators and might be agitating the hens. Later that afternoon while doing as I was advised, I sadly counted four kits. The fifth was nowhere to be found. Oreo for reasons of her own had eaten this newborn. I had been told to expect this could happen.     

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Paws the pet rabbit and Grandson have quality bonding time.

Grandson, 9-years old, was an interested onlooker at this time. He wanted to know about about birth and the placenta and asked lots of questions. Sitting quietly in the orchard with this boy while we watched his pet rabbit, it was a special moment to be part of a learning conversation about Oreo’s experience and be able to relate it to facts of human life. Wow! Oreo is more than a pet. Oreo the mother. Oreo the teacher.