Was it a Hawk? A Plane? No, a Stoat!

Carnage in the vineyard. A while ago I wrote that we believed a hawk had made off with either Mikki or Nikki – let’s say Mikki – one of the brown bantam hens (impossible to tell them apart). That was bad enough to imagine – a petrified squawking bantam being spirited away to be hawk dinner while poor Mother Pip watched in vain from her helpless position below. But it wasn’t a hawk. It was worse than that.

A few weeks later, in the garden, I found a fairly large slain rabbit; guts ripped out, and attributed this to Scaredy Kat, praising her for earning her keep. Then just a few days later, back working in the garden, I noticed it was eerily quiet. No crowing from Bill the cock bantam. Where was Bill? A quick search found poor Bill, dead as a dodo under the clothesline, throat torn out, guts all eaten up. I know sometimes Bill had driven me crazy with his random shagging of all and sundry, including his own daughters which weren’t even his own kind, I’m talking about the ducks which Pip had raised. And times he’d had to be chased off poor Pip to give her a chance to eat. But heavens to Betsy, he didn’t deserve to die like this. CCQC was mowing the vineyard and I stopped him as he passed in the tractor, held up the carcass of poor Bil, and gave him the bad newsl.

Bill had become part of the family.

I’m sure it was Scaredy Kat, I announced. I’ll have to take her to the vet and have her put down. I can train a dog not to chase poultry, but not a cat.

That night I shut Scaredy Kat in the shed when she went to sleep with Kete. I admit I had a heavy heart, but last in, first out. Ironically, it was CCQC who thought hard and saved her bacon (cat’s bacon, that is). He said, that night, he doubted a little wee cat could savage a vicious bantam rooster in the manner Bill had been torn to bits (Bill, by this time, was buried under the strawberries I’d been lifting and dividing when I’d discovered his poor broken body). Perhaps we had a stoat on the property, CCQC suggested.

More than ‘perhaps’. Next morning, our dear lady duck, Duck Duck, was gone. Couldn’t have been Scaredy Kat, she was still shut in the shed, waiting for her one-way trip to the vet. We did indeed have a stoat.

I’ve never found the duck carcass, but I set the stoat trap and luckily Mr Duck had the good sense after that fateful night to climb into the kennel with Pip and Nikki every night so I could shut them up and keep them protected. I never caught the stoat, but professional trappers are now working in the area, and all seems to be safe these days. Sadly though, our little family is exactly halved. Those bastard stoats. I named the one responsible for our carnage, New Act.

Meanwhile, we decided to have a cleanout of chooks. I got sick of the girls and Winston pooping all over the verandahs, and scratching all through my gardens. Since you can’t move a chookhouse when the chooks get settled in it (because the silly bints won’t roost where the house is shifted to, they return each night to the empty site) as soon as they went off the lay, I gave them all away to Tanya in Carterton (except Winston, who went to one of the vineyard workers to become stock for Tom Yum Goong).

Then CCQC put strops around the chookhouse (Hen Hilton, as the locals have dubbed it, because it’s so posh), picked it up with the tractor forks and carried it further down the drive for me. Now I can still see it from my kitchen window, but it’s hopefully far enough away so when I buy new chooks in the spring, and get them established, they won’t wander up here and settle down on the front and back verandah and poop everywhere.

Can’t say I miss the sound of Winston when he crept up to the window then crowed at the top of his voice. I’d grab a handful of avocado stones, saved especially for the occasion because they don’t upset the lawnmower blades (ergo my husband), charge out the door and fire them at his head while he raced off like the arrogant, vainglorious, bastard bird he was. Very pretty though.

This time I’m counting on getting very calm, lazy, opposite-of-flighty chooks, whatever breed they may be.

In the vineyard, the pruning is nearly completed. We pressed the Syrah on June 25th (our last harvest for the season), and our barrel of Viognier is still bubbling slightly. This year I also – for the first time – bottled some olives from neighbour John’s trees, who has Te Hera vineyard. It’s not such a difficult process, just long and probably more expensive than buying olives. But they taste terrific. I got the recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s book:

Soak in cold water for 40 days, changing the water every second day. On the 40th day, cover for two days with rock salt, then wash thoroughly, pack into sterilised jars with accompaniments of your choice (I used slivers of lemon, or twigs of thyme, or rosemary, or sage), then fill with half red wine vinegar and half olive oil. Leave for two weeks before eating.

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