Monday, 19 May 2014

Put Salt on His Tail

It's a hullabaloo from my dog 'Towser' which has us suddenly wide awake at 06:30 on Saturday. The window sills are low enough upstairs for a small dog to jump up onto them and we let him keep vigil up there where he can see out across the front lawn out out of the back where he can see across the orchard. The other two dogs were joining in from the bed and floor - something was amiss in the front garden. It was a fox! A big, fully grown, fit and healthy looking animal standing bold as brass in the middle of the front lawn looking about him, not 30 yards from Ginny's and Goldie's rabbit runs. Both of them were out in their wire mesh bits looking back. I had enough time to call Liz over to look before I flicked one of the front windows open, which startled him into a lope off across the grass and out of the front gate into the lane.

I was wide awake by then so I got the dogs all onto leads and we went out on a 'patrol' and the dogs were going ballistic trying to get on the scent and the smell was obviously everywhere; they were pulling this way and that in zig-zags trying to be everywhere at once, noses to the ground, anxious to be "there" first even if they did not know where "there" should be. But Mr Fox had scarpered by then and I doubt whether my short-legged crew would keep up with a fleeing fox across these fields and hedges which he would know but mine would not. We ticked it off to experience, thanked Heaven that our birds and rabbits are locked up safe at night, and didn't really think any more about it. Later that day I even went on line to record the fox's existence on the Bio-Diversity database.

Generally, given that we are fully free range here, we are both amazed at how few (touch wood) big predators we have seen in the 2 years we have been here. No mink so far and just the one very young looking fox a year ago which fled at the sight of me and was never seen again. I have been told that it was probably a young cub leaving 'home' and trying to find a territory of his own. We lost just one of the original Sussex Ponte hens within weeks of first getting them and that when we sat talking indoors late into the dark evening and didn't know to lock everybody up at dusk. We are amazed and delighted that we have not really had a fox problem, when we are sure they must be about. Until now, maybe?

This morning he/she was back. No hullabaloo this time - the fox was undetected by the dogs but as I took them out for their first 'patrol' (I walk them round the place on leads to do their toilet because otherwise they would be away through a hedge, totally out of control, harassing the neighbours' calves or worse) I spotted out of the corner of my eye, the fox's russet shape nip along the side of the pond and out into Vendor-Anna's 5 acre field. He looked like he was coming from our yard up the cattle race, and this was 07:30 this time and broad daylight. The dogs, hidden down below the wall had not seen him and only discovered his presence by scent when we got round that far on our walk. I could see him again in the 5-acres obviously not having run off that far yet, but seeing me again he turned towards the bog field and, I thought, fled.

I hoped he was away home to his earth. I finished my patrol and started to do my feed and release of chickens and geese, hopeful that now he really had gone, but was appalled and surprised, 10 minutes later, to see his tall narrow triangular red profile just outside the front garden gate into the lane, sitting there as if somebody had trained him (...and SIT!), peering in at me. Liz, now awake upstairs had seen him too. I headed for the gate and lane but he now did flee and I could see no more of him in the lane. We've been around all day and we are sure he's not been back, but it's a nervous time.

Our nearest 'man-with-gun' happens to be Mike-the-Cows (who is also, according to Bob, a member of the local gun club) and I was reasonably sure this is his week on the cattle minding. The three brothers rotate the task week-about. I texted him to tell him about our fox and invited him to come and take a pot one of these early mornings. By then it was quarter to 8, so Mike replied with "Yes, it's a bit late this morning but I will put salt on his tail tomorrow morning". This expression struck a chord and tickled me, bringing back from childhood long forgotten memories of, I thought, possibly a childhood book. I could even see in my mind's eye, an illustration of a small boy chasing after a chicken, trying to pour salt on its tail though I couldn't for the life of me remember why. I was especially intrigued at how such a long forgotten image could be a phrase still used by the local farmers.

Step forward, Google. Liz tracked down the expression which gets frequently discussed on 'childhood memory' sites and 'things I used to believe'. It is a thing many people can remember being told as children by grand parents - if you chase a chicken (or other birds and animals depending on whose memory it is) and can manage to pour salt onto its tail it will stop running and you can catch it. John Deere Bob remembers it as you having to pour salt on the cat's tail to make it run away. In the course of all this internet searching I also remembered that it was not, in fact a book, but was the logo on a table salt pot. I thought 'Saxa' but we have now nailed it as 'Cerebos' table salt, where the 'see how it runs' is not only a reference to the chicken chasing but also (It's all coming back to me now!) to how freely Cerebos salt flows from the shaker. Ah, the nostalgia.

Brooding goose eggs in stereo.
Meanwhile, far from simplifying things in the goose brooding department with a nice, final and decided hatch, we are, sadly back in the world of confusion and uncertainly. This is Day 38 for the proper first batch of 12 eggs, brooded so well and faithfully by Black Feather, so we are past the expected hatch date and into waiting patiently and leaving well alone. We know that the other female goose (Smudge) is both getting 'trodden' by the gander and laying eggs into the nest at night, but we have not wanted to disturb the sitter this late, so we decided to wait for the hatch, when we'd then be able to have a good old clear out, rescue the more recent eggs and clean up. No such luck. This morning, Smudge decided to go broody too on the same nest, so we now have 2 geese sitting on an indeterminate number of eggs, some 38 days 'cooked', some for fewer days. The Gander is out in the rain on his own in the orchard. We are now very uncertain of the future. We hope the old eggs will still hatch whereupon both mothers will proudly put 'their' babies on display (as they did last year), abandon the rest and we can clear up and Smudge will wonder at the 'express' hatch rate - 2-3 days on the eggs and, look!, I already have goslings! Or we may have to wait till day 48 or so and the give up on the original 12 eggs, junk them and let the girls carry on with any newer eggs for what Black Feather will surely think is a marathon sitting session. We were going to get it right this year but it seems we have lost the plot once again.


Matt Care said...

Hold the front page! I had no sooner finished typing this post, than I went out to check the geese and there, in the corner of the nest (worryingly not UNDER a goose's skirts) was broken egg shell and a wriggling yellow fluffy gosling head. We have a hatch. Maybe only one, but it's a reassuring start. Don't count your......

Anne Wilson said...

congratulations, hopefully there will be more goslings to come.
I hope your neighbour gets that fox, the ONLY good fox is a DEAD one. It will keep coming back unless you can either get it or scare it so much that it's quaking in it's boots.