Animal attraction

With three dogs, a highly strung feline and two flocks of chickens, I’ve come to realise a bit of cat and mouse at the Smallholdings is inevitable. As we’ve acquired different pets over time, the dynamics of our own mini animal kingdom have shifted. First there were the two chocolate Labradors – adorable, laid-back creatures who happily travel back and forth to work with James and have been a big part of our lives for the past eight years.

Megan, the most generously coated of the two chocolate Labradors

Then came a pair of chickens – elderly, third-hand birds we inherited from a friend. After the odd chase here and there, the Labs learned to respect them and now barely take notice of their feathery companions as they range freely around the garden. More members of the flock followed and all was harmonious.

The hybrid flock enjoying a bit of 'bread porridge'

Two years ago Beau, the Bengal arrived. A beautiful but feisty (and, some say, disturbed) rescue cat that couldn’t resist running at both the birds and dogs, ambushing them at every opportunity. The Labs soon grew weary of the surprise attacks from this insane interloper and the hens were equally indifferent to his empty threats, so when Darcy, our German Shepherd puppy, arrived last year, Beau was rubbing his paws with Cheshire cat glee. Since December 2009 when the unwitting young canine arrived, Beau has kindled a passion in Darcy that would surely be a match for his literary namesake. Obsession barely begins to describe Darcy’s love for Beau who teases him relentlessly in the garden, begs him to chase him then meows ear-shatteringly in his face and swipes at his head. Darcy’s puppy eyes follow wherever the cat chooses to go – I can’t help admire Beau’s masterful manipulations.

That's one loved-up dog (and a very smug cat)

While the cat pursues the dog and vice versa, Darcy is also a little too interested in the two Araucana hens and Buff Orpington cockerel that live near the house. He’s already tried to break into their run by chewing a hen-shaped hole in the chicken wire (can you imagine?), which we discovered only when the three birds were out pecking about on the lawn one morning. So these days we put Darcy into his kennel before letting the chickens loose out into the garden – but even this isn’t fool-proof. Last Sunday, the German Shepherd’s penchant for poultry inspired him to scale the brick wall of his enclosure (5 foot tall!) and break free. Thankfully, the feathered trio somehow managed to run round to their coop and squeeze back through their pop-hole before Darcy could have his wicked way with them. So while all seems peaceful at the Smallholdings, there are undercurrents of predation everywhere – and that’s not to mention the cockerel’s relentless courtship of his women folk and Beau’s taste for rabbits and mice.

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