Creatures We Share Our Paddock With

A big attraction of living in a tiny house on wheels is that you can take it away from suburbia. You can put your house in places where a pile-grounded house would probably never be built: on a dune or hillside, up in the mountains, in a field.

We are in a paddock. Though our house is tiny, there’s more space around us than in any place we’ve lived.

But we’re not alone here in the paddock. Let me introduce you to our neighbours.

Peabody close

The Peafowl

A former owner of this piece of rural New Zealand evidently liked peafowl (the nonsexist term for what most of us call “peacocks”). An estimated 20 of the stunning birds continue to live here, nesting in trees, posing on roof ridges, striding around and making a racket.

Peabody tail 2

The noise they make is sometimes *honk*-haROO, but more often ma-YOON. It’s as though someone crossed a cat with a parrot who’s being murdered. But it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it.

Seeing a peacock fly is quite a sight. They don’t go far — just from the ground to a rooftop, say — but they look like something created in a CGI program, streaking across the sky with their enormous tails cometing out behind.

Most of the time they walk. Sometimes they walk in groups of a dozen or more, and that’s quite a sight too.

One bold peacock strides up sometimes at the Mustard Yellow House under the kitchen window, seeking food scraps. I’ve nicknamed him Peabody. The internet tells me peafowl are omnivores, so I’ve tried him with bread crusts, boiled potatoes, boiled egg and broccoli; only the broccoli went uneaten.

Peabody fence

The most famous thing about peacocks is that they fan their tails out in a display that’s one of the glories of nature. I haven’t seen this yet from any of the locals, but remain hopeful!

The Pigs

At the centre of the Makahuri campus is a fenced basin of grass and brambles where the kunekune pigs live. There’s Ceridwyn and Black Betty, who are huge and black, and the fast-growing Trinity. Trinity is the youngest of Black Betty’s litter and the only one remaining here, after the elder two were found homes in the outside world.

Piggies closeTrinity (centre) and her siblings.

Let me tell you about Trinity. Hoo boy, Trinity. She is a trotting tornado of food-lust, a compost-shredding, garden-despoiling, uncontainable force of nature. Nobody here dares plant anything while Trinity’s around, so we’re waiting for her to grow just a little bigger and no longer fit through the fence holes.

Almost daily she visits the Mustard Yellow House, sniffing around for anything she can find, careening around and under the house and setting the dogs off barking.

Yet I’m quite fond of Trinity. She always runs up to me and accepts a scratch around the ears, even if I’m not currently carrying grocery bags.

And that broccoli that Peabody wouldn’t touch? Trinity wolfed it down.

The Dogs

Two beautiful farm dogs have the run of Makahuri: Piper and Scout.

PiperPiper’s a black and white girl who loves to guide, lead, protect and organise people. She’s mad for a game of fetch and leaps up for pats like a puppy — but even so she’s the grownup in the room when she’s with Scout.

ScoutScout is a dome-headed yellow-and-white sheepdog whose coat still has some of its puppy softness. He came from an urban home to Makahuri a couple of months ago and loves this roomy new place and its kind inhabitants. I hear his sharp bark many times a day and often see him hurtle into Paddock World in pursuit of a bird.

I doubt he’s ever caught a bird but I’m told he’s accounted for 15 rabbits in the past two months.

Scout pooey collageScout is so sweet. But there’s always a poo stain on him.

Piper and Scout are physical, soppy, protective and funny. They’re the kind of dogs who give their species its good name.

How do they get along with Connor and Phoebe? It wasn’t instant chumminess but Connor and Piper are on great terms now — and Connor doesn’t make friends easily. Scout’s energy is sometimes a bit much for both the dachshunds but so far things have been peaceful.

The Birds

The old classroom and dormitory blocks of Marycrest rehabilitation school for Catholic girls are now mostly the home of rock pigeons. They roost among the roof beams, and in some areas there are stalagmites of poo on the floor.

From our house we can hear the pigeons cooing 30 metres away in a derelict classroom block, and every so often there’s a crash as a group of them take off in a sudden flap.

A less relaxing noise is made by pukeko, who strut around the nearby paddocks and only seem to visit ours at dusk. They squawk and rark up the dogs, but otherwise are no pest to us.

Also seen:

  • Pheasants.
  • Kāhu (harrier hawks), especially over the most rabbit-infused fields.
  • Small birds: blackbird, sparrow, thrush, finch.
  • The occasional tui and magpie.
  • Shining cuckoos — not by me, yet, but I’m told they’re around.

The Rabbits

This is rural land, so rabbits are part of the deal. Their burrows dot the other fields but in our paddock there are only a few. On the sides of hillocks are notches where holes have given way in the sandy Kapiti soil, making what look like big footholds.

Once, a proud-looking hare moved across our paddock in a dignified lope, its head high.

Phoebe and Connor, bred to chase down rabbits, have so far not noticed the local ones. I suppose it’s because there’s so much else to look at.

The Horses

The no-kill shelter group Help You Help Animals grazes six horses at Makahuri, shifting them from paddock to paddock as they munch up the grass. Volunteers turn up twice a day to feed and look after the horses.

Right now these six horses are our closest neighbours (no pun intended, honestly). They share our paddock, separated from us by electrified ribbon and about 10 metres of grass.

Site looking westSome of the horses, back when they had the run of the whole paddock.

When we raise the blinds in the morning or when we return from a shopping trip, they’re lined up watching. If we step outside, they whinny to us.

I go over and greet them every now and then, cautiously stroking their heads. Cautiously, because my relationship with horses has been shaped by that time a pony bit me when I was 8 years old!

Blacky and WhiteyBlacky and Whitey (as I call them), 10 metres away from our house.

Most of these horses are rescued — they’re alive because of Huha and the grass of Makahuri. One of the others is from the wild herd that roams Kaimanawa Range; every so often there’s a muster, and individuals are taken for slaughter or adoption. This mare was taken on by Huha — and she soon foaled.

Now she and her sparky foal get to stay together. With those other second-chance horses, they can live out their days breathing fresh air and chewing fresh New Zealand grass.

Each has a name, of course. I know them informally as Blacky, Whitey, Black Socks, Pony, Mama, and Blaze.

They’re great neighbours to have. I hope we are too.

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