I have left the suburbs. I enjoyed my time living in the outskirts of Sydney and Brisbane, but I am now on a farm in Wingham, New South Wales, four hours north of Sydney. It’s not a large farm, but a lovely one with a cow and calf, and many chooks (chickens), as well as five sheep that arrived the day before I did. There is of course, my nemesis, the damn rooster (well, roostersS). But this is a farm, not the Sofitel Bora Bora, so I won’t complain. They belong here more than I do.
At 7:45 a.m. my first full day on the farm, Lyn and I were off to a neighbouring farm where she was temporarily keeping two newly purchased horses until they were to be moved to her farm. We were meeting the vet and the horse dentist there. Yes, the horse dentist.
As we motored to the farm on the country road, “Koala Crossing” and “Kangaroo” signs were a refreshing change from “Mind the Gap” and the little green man beeping telling me it was O.K. to cross the street. I have left the suburbs indeed.
When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted by the congenial owners and their two daughters, dressed in their school uniforms. With us all standing, chatting in the paddock with their horse and Lyn’s two, me with my Aussie boots, work socks, shorts, wide-brimmed hat and the kookaburra screaming like monkeys in the trees, the country vet arrived and it was all so perfect. This is what I had hoped Australia would be like. I felt fully integrated. I had forgotten about the purpose of the whole excursion – some equine dentistry – until the man in question, David Cooper, arrived.
The vet was on hand only to administer the mild sedative to calm the horse as David did his thing. As he selected one of the long stainless steel files from his bucket of implements, grabbed the horse’s tongue and began filing teeth, I thought I would need the sedative. But after a minute or two I got used to the whole thing and by the third horse I was handing him the needle with the sedative and loving it.
There were no root canals or extractions, his job was simply to check the health of the horses’ teeth and file down any sharp or uneven edges so there was good contact between the top and bottom sets. After he worked on each horse, he would move its jaw back and forth to ensure there was good contact. Think fingers on a chalkboard.
The horses were high on tranquilizer and I was high on the whole experience. No one rushed off. We shared a cold drink, chatted about the weather, and other farm things and it was all a lovely morning.
Lyn and I returned to the farm as James, Lyn and her husband Roger’s 19 year old son, had taken possession of a box of day old chicks while we were away and they needed to be tended to. We began moving chickens from one cage to the other to make room for the newly arrived chicks.
Lyn pointed out on the ground the few remaining feathers from my predecessor, Marek’s, exploits. She explained that one of her three blue heeler dogs, Maggie, had her working dog instincts fully intact and if a chicken got lose you had to yell at the top of your lungs for her to stop chasing and killing the chicken. Apparently Marek didn’t have that authority in his voice.
As we transferred the largest chickens into a cage to move them, one escaped and Maggie was in full attack mode. I yelled and gave chase. Feathers flew and the chicken cried foul over the whole thing. Maggie made contact several times and it wasn’t looking good, but I caught the chicken and quickly handed her off to Lyn who inspected the injury, which revealed some exposed bone and innards on the neck, but she assured me this was no big deal and a little iodine would fix things up.
Earlier that morning I had confided in Lyn how during my last visit to Australia I conquered two of my dislikes (fear might be too strong a word): heights (by climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and water, well drowning to be more accurate (by snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef).
I still haven’t told her that foul were another thing I could do without becoming too intimate with. It’s the flapping of the wings, the sharp talons and the pointy beaks. Koalas they are not and I never handled a chicken except at Sunday family dinners. As we moved the chickens from one location to another, I would coax them toward her, hold open the transport cage, and generally be as helpful as I could without laying hands on the things. The great chicken chase was pure adrenaline and I really had no choice and it was quite exhilarating. I had a great feeling of accomplishment, but was happy to quickly pass my flustered feathered friend back.
As Lyn mused what we would do with the injured chicken as we couldn’t put it with the others as the smell of blood may invoke a mob attack, she thrust it towards my chest and went on with moving the remaining chook until we put it in isolation. I found myself cradling and comforting my new friend as Maggie circled around us. The chicken infirmary happened to be right outside my ‘hut’ so we are now besties and now if you hand me a live chicken, I will gladly take it off your hands, no worries mate.
Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and his accomplishments, owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. – Unknown