Sunday, 29 January 2012

Brown Dog

She appeared, silent and stealthy from beneath the canopy of our gnarled old plum tree. There were no chickens left to feed on, just a confused adolescent rooster lurking around the house, so perhaps she was following the scent from the compost heap. I was emptying the kitchen scraps into the worm farm when she arrived, and my heart started to flutter as I faced the animal who had killed my birds. Her name was Tarnee, and she was quite happy for me to slip a leash on her collar while we waited for the ranger to come and take her away.

We spent a couple of hours sitting together on the steps, Tarnee and I. And when the ranger failed to appear we called her owners and asked them to come and collect her. I didn't want to face them, but I am glad we did. Perhaps it made a bigger impact than a visit from a man in uniform would have, to meet our family and hear firsthand the damage their dog had wrought. They agreed that now she had been "blooded" something would have to be done, and promised we would never see her at our place again. They also said they would replace the chooks we had lost with laying hens from their friend's organic poultry farm. Hearing how sorry they were took some of the sting out of the loss.

I am already hungry for freshly laid eggs. Buying them from the supermarket again feels like a travesty. But I am scared that another dog could come and kill again. They wander wild and unchecked over the hill which is our home; no one bothering with fences, gates or chains. Despite hours spent digging in wire and connecting it to the orchard's mesh enclosure, Tarnee was able to unravel the weave of the wire through sheer dogged persistence. We have patched it up as best we are able, and can only hope that no more brown dogs come our way.

We used the last of our hens' eggs to make pavlova for Australia Day, and raspberry icecream with berries from a local farm tonight. A fitting farewell, we polished it all off in five minutes flat.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Hattie and the fox

Hattie was a big black hen. She gave us eggs and scratched in our garden and ate insects. Hattie was boss hen in our chook run. She was a fierce mother to her chicks, which sheltered beneath her soft, glossy wings and found sanctuary there as they ventured beyond the hen house to explore the farthest corners of our rambling garden in the forest.

A neighbourhood dog killed Hattie yesterday – along with all of our hens and the chicks they had raised. The netted orchard, that we had thought was impenetrable to dogs and foxes, was strangely silent as I walked down to check for eggs and empty the kitchen scrap bucket. There was no throaty clucking to greet me as they launched themselves at the cereal dregs and fought over the last piece of cheese, nor warm just-laid eggs for little hands to gather. A lone rooster strutted anxiously between the feathered bodies that lay scattered around the fruit trees. The rooster made a dash for freedom and then only the ants remained, their trails connecting the dead as they returned their bodies to the earth.

A friend gave us our chickens soon after we moved to the south coast from the city a year ago. We named them after storybook chickens that triumphed over the wily fox and nourished their growing bodies with organic grains, greens and kitchen scraps. The day our three-year-old collected their first eggs one cold wintery day felt like a watershed on our journey towards growing our own organic food.

This blog will follow our journey towards a simple life growing our own organic food where the forest meets the sea and fending off the foxes in whatever form they appear.

Chick-pea the rooster