Tuesday, 1 May 2012

..and then the fox came

Gosh, but it is still wet, although when it does stop raining the sun comes out and quickly dries the top of everything. Underneath, though, everything is soggy. Very soggy. The sheep had to almost swim through the ditch between one of their fields and their night paddock, but most managed to do a big leap, all except the newest lamb who sort of jumped but landed plop in the middle of what must have been, to her, a swimming pool. Indeed half the flock took one look at the water and did a quick about face, but returned a moment or two later as they realised that they would have to spend the night in an open, wet, field. Better, they thought, to be brave and ‘do’ the water filled ditch and thus be able to spend the night under cover, all jammed up together in one cosy huddle.

All go to bed indoors now. Well, not our indoors. What I mean is, that they go to bed in their in their own bedrooms, except two hens who park themselves high up in the fig tree. Even the two geese are put indoors, their ‘indoors’ being the wood shed, which is now almost empty because the various items of wood have been used up. Two geese? Yes, two. The males. Where is the female? In a fox’s tummy, that’s where.

This weather is not doing well by the foxes. Too much rain. All the little animals which would be its normal diet are tucked up in their hidey holes. Nothing for it, but to go raid the nearest eatery.

I know it was a fox. I was in the Side Barn getting ready for bed when I heard a screech. As fast as my feet could take me I zoomed down to the patio doors. Opened the curtains the same time as the outside light automatically switched on. Saw a fox hunched over the Limo Hen. She, who will insist on sitting on one of the lower branches of the fig tree. The fox must have done a running gallop, jumped, and pulled her down. I could see her under the fox’s front feet. I hammered on the window, shouting ‘Oi, get off’ or other some such words. The infernal lock of the doors wouldn’t work. Saw the fox do a spin around. Left the hen. Ran off.  

Half dressed I zoomed through the house to the front door, clumping rather than zooming, but speedily did I clump, shouting  my head off as well, only the words were all sort of jargled, it being not easy to do a clumpy speediness plus breathe at the same time. To the door. Outside, Lester following, not sure of what manner of berserkness I was suffering from. I saw the hen. Thought her a goner. At the same time I saw that the wire which serves as the back gate was still open. The geese! Where were the geese! Always they are in the Courtyard, tucked in by the chickens. It was pouring hard with rain. Had been for hours. We had been complacent, kept indoors by the ongoing downpour. Ah, but that fox had chosen its time well. Must have watched. Saw an opening.

I heard the geese give a clatter of noise. Saw two hurrying back through the open gate. Waited for the third. Knew it to be the female. Hurried to the porch of the front gate where she lays her eggs. Waited for her head to rise up to see who was hurrying to disturb her, but no, she was not there.

 Lester, Bools and Gus go on a hunt. No sign of her.

We are getting wetter and wetter. No point, there is no point to staying out here.

The Limo Hen moves, deciding to unmake a gonner of herself, waddles dazed towards a patch of darkness, huddles herself down in a corner. She looks a state. Half her feathers are not on her but left in a heap by the Chicken Hut. We pick her up gently. No blood on her. No holes in her. We put her down on the straw in the maternity wing of the Middle Barn. We blockade everything: the Chicken Hut, the maternity wing, the wire of the back gate. For the geese we can do nothing except keep a light on in the window and leave the curtains open so they can sit in a patch of light.

They survive the night, as does the Limo Hen. But a few soggy black feathers says that the black bantam is now done for. She sat up in the fig tree, quite high normally, but obviously not high enough.

The two male geese are quiet and forlorn all day. Come night time and all the chickens have to go in the Chicken Hut now. Lester climbs up and gets them. A couple stay really up high. Should be OK, unless the fox gets a ladder. Now for the geese. What to do with them. Lester suggests the Wood Hut, which was our once upon a time Office, and which is nearly empty at the moment. Get the geese in there becomes the project of the moment. Oh they are so dainty as they hurry about the Courtyard, trying to avoid our outstretched arms as we try to herd them towards the Hut. So dignified, so graceful, so achingly lovely. But they are ticked off with everything. They split up. One goes left, the other buries his head in a newly bought shrub. It is obvious that he has given up and is resigned to whatever is about to befall him. He is easy to pick up. The other one is not much harder. Into the Hut they go.

 Everyone is in bed. In the morning not one peep from anyone. It is raining hard again, but normally the geese are chatting, Orpy is crowing, the pigs are making piggy type noises, and the sheep are starting to rev up. Today, silence. I suppose this is what would happen if we did not have animals here, this silence.

Lester lets the geese out. Says that they were standing with their faces against the wall, waiting for whatever fate had in store for them. But they come through the door, waddle down the makeshift ramp, refuse Lester’s offer of some maize for their breakfast, but continue on towards the back entrance of the Courtyard. Suddenly they open wide their wings. Full of life, and obviously glad to be able to have a stretch, they race out to the Oak tree then plunge their beaks into handily placed puddles, so glad to be out, so glad to still be in life.
 And tonight, they walked themselves back into the Hut without hardly any shepherding efforts on our part. I did feel tearful as I watched them go up the ramp. I don’t think those two boys are ever going to go in the freezer.

Last year we lost a couple of hens, and they were the least healthy birds. We were sad, but not worried. This year is definitely worse. It is the weather, I think. But we are losing sound healthy birds. On our front drive are three pallets of block bricks. They are for the ‘proper’ chicken hut. Before that happens another pig hut has to be made. Before that can happen another pig paddock has to be finished. But before all that can happen, it has to stop raining.


John Gray said...

I have been here a few times and its bloody awful isnt it?
a beautiful piece of writing... more emotive and tense than ANY book I have read....

Horst in Edmonton said...

Great writing and sorry for the loss of the Goose. When I lived on the farm, one morning we woke up to the fact that 50 hens had been stolen from our chicken barn by thieves. We couldn't believe that we didn't hear a thing in the night. Not a peep out of our dogs.

DUTA said...

It's amazing how well you interpret the body language of your animals!

Fox and Rain - the bad guys in your story. I know nothing good about foxes, but rain (when it's not pouring constantly as in your post) is water, and water is life.

Vera said...

John, thanks a million for your encouraging words.

Horst, crikey, 50 hens all gone in one night and not a noise made. It must have been a very stealthy raid, and must have made your family worried forever after in case it happened again.

Duta, you are right about the rain, without it there is not life and we much appreciate the fact that our ground has had a soaking. Thank you for reminding me of that! It is just that nothing is getting done outside, no seeds, no ground preparation, and it is May now so it is getting late. But rain is good!

rosaria williams said...

You make us part of your family too, Vera, guiding us in and out of the huts, in and out of danger. You are a great writer, wise and careful, and how you describe your work and your caring makes us all be part of this story. Thank you.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Oh Vera I am so sorry, I am surprised as I though that the geese who are always such good watch dogs would have attacked the fox. Short of sitting outside in this rubbish weather with a shot gun I don't know what you can do. I agree with everyone else here a great bit of writing but such sad news. Diane

Vera said...

Hello Diane, our two male geese are surprisingly good humoured when it comes to being watchdogs, preferring to keep the chickens in check rather than guarding the property! But for most of the year we do not have trouble with foxes because all of the poultry is kept in the walled courtyard area. I suppose the fox has young of her own which gave her the energy to jump over the wall, which is taller than me, so she must be driven by the need to feed her young to be able to scale that height! Hope you are well.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

I did not foxes could jump that high.... I am fine other than this flippin cough..... Have a great weekend. Diane

Vera said...

Diane, I think the fox comes over a tall old wooden gate...I think the rain has softened the wood sufficiently for it to grip with its claws. As for your cough, I have put you on my absent healing list. Vx

Jean said...

A great but worrying story, Vera. What a delicate balance between all being well and disaster occurring, just because of the damn rain.
As you say, rain is good, we need the rain but it makes life so difficult when it comes at the wrong time.