Was feeding the chooks this morning and looking at the old black rooster.  He is very old and I fear his days are numbered but he is chirpy and boppy and happy with his life.  He only has the one black  hen to deal with and I think that is about alll he can cope with.  In any case, she calls the tune around the place and is glad to have him there to let her know if there are any hawks or other undesireables in the vicinity.  She hasn't yet realised that his eyesight is getting a bit poor and I don't draw it to her attention.  What she doesn't know won't hurt her.

I remember when he came to live with us a long time ago - can't remember how many years, but a good few.  He had been bred by a neighbour of ours and came from one of those haphazard connections which stops one determining any particular line of breeding.  He looked good though and strutted his stuff well in the end but in the begining he was a bit shy and anxious and unsure of himself because he had been chased and bullied by the resident rooster in my friend's henhouse who wasn't going to let this little upstart get above himself.  He stayed on the periphery of everything, just dashing in to grab a bit of food here and there before he was hunted out again by all and sundry.  My friend wanted a good home for him so he came to us to keep company with our three middle aged virgin hens.

He came to us in a cardboard box and we waited until the girls were well and truly in bed in their cage before we put him in at the front of the cage and not near where they slept so that they would not be too shocked in the morning.  The cage we had was a moveable, well-built dog run with a closed in house at one end into which we had put some perches so that they could have a comfortable sleep.  The run itself was completely secure.  They were locked in there at night to keep foxes out and they free-ranged during the day.

We could hardly wait till morning to see how the whole thing would pan out and were down there just before dawn sitting on a log, rugged up against the cold, beanies pulled down over our heads, hot, steaming coffee in out hands, quietly waiting to see what was going to happen.

Cold mornings with hot, steaming coffee or tea remind me of Bourke and the Darling River when Dad and a couple of his mates used to come up fishing and we would go out to their camp and usually stay a night or two with them.  Waking up in the early morning we could hear Dad up, kicking the fire awake, putting the billy on and then going off to check the lines.  When we heard him come back we would crawl out of warm sleeping bags in tents, drag on jackets and warm trousers, pull the beanies on and head out to meet the day.  There is something so comforting holding that first cup of hot coffee or tea warming your hands, standing round the fire, watching the sun come up, seeing the mist rise from the river.

And so it was that morning (without the fire and the river and my Dad) but it was still exciting watching to see how our newest member of the family managed to settle in.  We were patient but didn't have to wait long.

Firstly, he cautiously put his head out of the box with his eyes just peeking over the top.  Then, as he saw there was no present and immediate danger, he became a little bolder and put his head out further and furher until he had this really long neck, the longest neck we had ever seen,  swivelling his head this way and that checking out the place.

Meanwhile, the hens were up and whispering among themselves about the strange goings on.  What was that box with a neck and head that they could see through the doorway?  How were they going to deal with that?   The biggest, bravest one stuck her head out momentarily to check it out.  The other two put their heads out around the corner of the door, their eyes wide.  What was it anyway with that long neck?  It definitely didn't look natural!!!  What would you do with a neck that long?  Maybe it was crossed with a giraffe!!!  Their cosy little world was suddenly turned upside down. This great, hulking stranger!!!

By this time we were no longer quiet.  We could not contain the laughter that just bubbled up and spilled over till the tears ran down our cheeks but they were completely unaware of us.   They were just there, engrossed in dealing with their own business in their own separate ways.

Finally he became brave enough to hop out of the box and they saw him in all his virile magnificence.  He strutted a bit and even gave a crow.  That went down well so he tried another one.  He shook himself, flapped his wings, shook out that beautiful neck plumage and said "Look at me.  See how beautiful I am.  Come and get me.  You're all in for a treat."  

The few heads peering round the corner of the door disappeared in fright and there was a rush of feathers to the back of the sleeping quarters.  More whispering.  Then the alpha female stepped forward tentatively with the others crowding behind her and finally the introductions were begun.  The girls seemed not to be impressed.  They eyed him up and down, had a few short, sharp things to say to him and to each other then turned their attention elsewhere.  He was studiously ignored.  

His ego shattered, he tried to look interested in other things like seeing if there were any remains of the previous night's meal around.  He picked desultorily at the ground and tried to look small wishing he wasn't there.  Who did these old girls think they were anyway?

At this stage we fed them and because he was used to rushing in and getting food while he could, he did the same here and the girls were scandalised.  He was young and inexperienced so they taught him a few manners very quickly.  Ladies always eat first - rule number one!!!  We lay the eggs around here.  We get fed first. You stand back young man until we have finished, then you can come in and eat up the leftovers.  You learn to call us when there is food around and if it is a good call you might just get rewarded but not just yet.  Not just yet.  These Australaups are big  strapping girls and not to be tangled with.  "We rule the roost" and they left him there wondering what he had got himself into.  Had he jumped from the frying pan into the fire?  When he had been dealt with and banished to the back, they finished off their breakfast as if he wasn't there and then sailed out the gate into the orchard, heads held high and ready to face any other challenges which might come their way.

It was lucky that he had a beautiful sunny nature as he grew the longest, biggest spurs on his legs that you could imagine.  He was never nasty to us and Himself used to pick him up occasionally and stroke him and talk to him man to man.  They both enjoyed these conversations.

 When I was 8 my sisters and I lived at Carcoar with our Dad for 18 months.  We had chooks and the nastiest red rooster you could  possibly imagine.  I was terrified of him and used to collect the eggs dressed in raincoat and hat and with gumboots on, wielding a big stick which we kept at the gate for the purpose of keeping him at bay.  I only collected the eggs when I really had to because he was such a wicked.  My sister, Kay, knocked him out with the stick one day and thought she had killed him.  There was a great to-do - how were we going to tell Dad?  However, he stood up groggily and staggered around a bit before returning to his favourite pasttime of terrorising us.  The rooster never attacked Dad who thought  we were exaggerating but he finally succumbed to our entreaties and donated him (suitably plucked and dressed of course) to the Catholic Ball at Carcoar, to be included in the supper. What a relief!

In those days they used to have wonderful balls, the Catholic Ball and the Scottish Ball and others that I cannot now remember.  Dad was a good dancer and so were my sisters and they all loved to dance the night away in all their finery.  There were a whole lot of kids, me included, who used to slide up and down the hall in between dances.  The floors were amazing, shiny and slippery for the dancers and they used to put sawdust on the floor (mixed I think with kerosene but I could be wrong there - mixed with something in any case) to make the dancing better and we would slide up and down to make it cover the floor.  We were quite useful and handy in our way.  As the night wore on we would get tired and just climb over the first row of seats around the walls and go to sleep in the second row.  The hall was used as a picture theatre when it wasn't being used for dancing and the seats were just pushed around the edges of the walls in rows, to leave the main floor clear for the dancers.

In any case, the upshot of it was that our boy finally settled in, became a gentleman, had the rough edges knocked off him and was accepted for the fine young man he turned out to be.  These girls knew their stuff.  They mightn't have seen a rooster before but they were not just going to accept anything.  No Sir.  

Those girls are all gone.  They lived till they were ten or more and mostly died quietly in their sleep.  At one stage, one was taken by a fox but while trying to make his escape with the hen in his mouth, he was chased and run down by Himself (he used to be a sprinter in a former life you know)  who was also emitting banshee-like screams and yells.  The terrified fox dropped the hen and made his escape while he could. I bet he was never the same again!!!   Because she was a big girl she had slowed the fox  down a fair bit (not to take anything from the speed of Himself I might add) and was retrieved by the runner who triumphantly made his way back with the hen under his arm.  She was then coddled and comforted until she regained her composure but it took a little while for all her feathers to grow back and longer still for the injured pride to be healed.  She did suffer a slight stroke though and dragged one leg around for the rest of her life but amazingly laid an egg just about every day right up until the day before she died.  They are really something, those birds.  Great layers!!!

Anyway, the boy is still here, only he is an old man now, motheaten looking and rheumy eyed but crowing his little heart out every morning and still strutting his stuff.  He is a happy old man.