Sulyeman Rex (My Self-Respect!)

It was not pretty. A 256 pound two-legged creature of the species homo sapiens sapiens pilfering the egg of one gallus domesticus, confronted by a particularly fierce six pound male member of that species. Readers of this blog know this creature by the name of Sulyeman, named for the great Turkish Sultan of the 16th century. It all started when I went to do afternoon egg collection.

A particularly stubborn Rhode Island Red started to cackle when I disturbed its nest and reached under it to collect an egg – she was fiercely defending it and her cackling simply would not stop. Finally I collect the egg, along with four others already in my big coat pockets, when I see none other than Sulyeman running up to investigate.

Only this time he did not stop running. He fluffed up his wing and breast feathers, the silky down on his neck puffed up, and as he started to bob and weave and talk trash I knew at once we were about to go mano a mano. Now, I am not a violent man, and I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I am, and that is that the closest thing on this planet today to a Tyrannosaurus Rex is . . . that’s right, the gallus domesticus! Frightening, no?

Just remember what you saw go down with the Cornish Crosses in the front yard my friend . . . just remember!

So I had about a split second to cogitate on this fact: The descendent of this . . .

was now out for blood, and more importantly, not just anyone’s blood, but my blood. So my first instinct in something like this would be to . . .

But I realized instantly that . . . No. If I do that he will become the alpha rooster, and I can’t spend my whole damn life avoiding a free range rooster on my farm where I pay the mortgage and not him. So as he launched his attack I had no choice but to defend myself with my rubber boot. It was ugly – like Patroklus attacking Troy, thrice he assailed the mighty wall of my rubber toed mucker, thrice he was thrust back, until on the fourth try I affrighted him off, like Apollo’s mighty battle cry affrighted off Patroklus over three millennia ago. (Okay, it was less glamorous than that – I aimed to give him a swift kick with my boot, missed, and hit a bucket of chicken manure instead, at which point I think he had either had a enough or was satisfied that I was no match for him in battle).

That damn bird. A shame too, because just earlier today I gave him kudos for herding his girls under a tree when a large hawk passed over our pasture. He’s important, and we need him because he does such a fabulous job at protecting and herding our girls, and he passed through a big hurdle this week as we took down the fencing and allowed them to free range our property (we have only aerial predators, and there is nothing we can do about that, so we thought, what the heck, let them have at the whole barnyard!) His job is tough. I don’t know – maybe he was just stressed – but I hated having to thump him! Our point is to treat our animals humanely and to keep them as stress free as possible, to let the chickens be chickens, but sometimes they just tap their inner, well, dinosaur!

On other fronts – we had a great time meeting lots of fine people at the Nourish Yamhill Summit this weekend at Linfield, the Henny Penny Hilton is done, we are gearing up tomorrow for the arrival of our third pair of hands on the farm (aka Lori’s sister Nancy), and are looking forward to spring.

The Henny Penny Hilton will host a flock of layers that will do us the service of tearing up our front yard to put in a flower bed soon.


“If Thou Longst So Much To Learne”.

Fog has engulfed us like a ghost – literally. The first couple of days before my last blog, a week ago this past Saturday, the frozen fog was a novelty. But now we are ten days in; temps linger at between 25 and 34. I don’t think we have broken that for a week except for some brief sun on Thursday, but I was in my Master Gardeners  class then and missed most of it.

The whole landscape looks like some scene from a Homeric or Vergilian Underworld, the cosmos like a giant white poltergeist. On our hill we can’t see for 100 paces, sometimes less. Down in the valley it’s a bit better, but not much. I have spent my days in the big red shop barn this week building infrastructure for the coming spring just to forget what is outside – but right now the frozen fog and frost seems as relentless as this past summer’s drought and heat. Each day forecasts temps in the mid 40s, and each day huffs and puffs to break freezing. Each day I plan to spray my fruit trees, but each day finds them encrusted with hoar frost and ice, frustrating my plans.

So there was nothing for it this week but to build what I have dubbed the “Henny Penny Hilton” – a somewhat fancy chicken coup that I will put in our garden to have the chickens do my task, that is, to dig and till the garden for the spring. In the process, maybe the chickens will take care of our vole problems and fertilize our garden to boot! This house will be for our new flocks that we will be getting, so we will have nearly 60 laying chickens and three roosters – one for each flock. Our current flock will remain in the pasture, and we plan to divide the thirty-two new chickens we will be picking up at a local hatchery into two flocks. One will live in the egg mobile I built this past November and December, and the other will live in the Hilton.

The back side of the Henny Penny Hilton. We plan, as soon as it warms up, to paint it a nice lemon yellow with white trim. I plan to put Lobelia in the planter for a nice blue-popping contrast with the yellow and white. I also put plenty of windows on to give them plenty of light in winter to keep them laying, plus plenty of ventilation since the floor is solid plywood.

In my years traveling through the Mediterranean I used to like to have people in my photos for scale (how can you appreciate the size of an ancient Greek or Roman building without people in the pics?). So, to give you an idea of its size, behold, the Henny Penny Hilton with its creator!

The front of the Hilton and the side with the roosts – the front door will be provided with a separate gangplank that the hens will use to climb in and out. The door on this side of the structure is to enable Lori and Nancy to easily clean under the roosts . . . Oh, didn’t I tell Lori and Nancy that they would be in charge of cleaning? Doh! My Bad!

An interior view of the roosts. It should comfortably house 15 chickens. All material is as light as possible so that Lori and Nancy can easily lift and carry the chicken coup to where it is needed on the farm . . . Oh, didn’t I tell you that you would both be in charge of moving it? Doh! My Bad!
A view of the side with the nest boxes; a door will be installed on the side for easy collection. There are only three nest boxes for 15 hens because, well, our 26 layers only use about three out of nine nest boxes in the current coup!
We will use one of the flocks to tear up our lawn in the front; we then plan to turn it into a flower and herb garden, or, if we run out of time this year for doing anything of that sort, to at least plant it with cover crop to build and maintain tilth. The other, as I said, will till up our garden.

I must say that I am rather pleased as I look back to a year ago at this time and see how far we’ve come. A year ago my carpentry skills were minimal; neither of us had any idea about how to raise a chicken let alone how to breed a goat; we were clueless when it came to how to drive a tractor or pull a fence; we had never grown anything but a smattering of fruits and vegetables; and we had never brewed or fermented so much as a single grape.

Among my favorite guitar pieces that I play in the mornings (after, of course, my daily read of Vergil and Homer!), is a piece by the Elizabethean composer Thomas Campion, entitled “If Thou Longst So Much To Learne”. I enjoy this short but difficult (to play) piece for the depth and reflection it expresses. And I think, these days, as I play, about how far we have come in so short a space, but how far we have yet to go.

As we look to the months ahead, we face some daunting learning curves: how to raise sheep, how to raise pigs, how to get our goat does through birth, how to raise healthy kids, how to milk, how to grow and develop a base of good clients and serve them well, how to juggle this with what will be my teaching duties starting next year at Linfield. Today we face the awesome lesson of how to process our chickens respectfully, cleanly, and efficiently. Not all lessons are looked forward to with the same anticipation.

Janus Rising.

Several days of frozen fog and temperatures that have stayed below freezing have given our chain link gate to our garden the forbidding appearance of razor wire.

Janus, the god of endings and beginnings, is present with us as we begin the new year. We are ending our first year on the farm and beginning our second, though first full one. And upon the year’s inception, we find ourselves planning and working furiously, hence the radio silence for these past nearly two weeks. In fact, we have been so busy I was tempted to title the post Caesari omnia uno tempore errant agenda: pars secunda (see my July 9th post for details!)

The view to the north this past Saturday around four in the afternoon.

A veritable flood of seed catalogues inundated us this week, and we ordered our seeds for spring and summer, though we still have more ordering to complete. We have planted and have coming in our greenhouse and covered beds (despite freezing temps) lettuce and greens. Pruning and spraying schedules are furiously being doped out as well for our various trees (apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, and cherries all have different requirements – the figs are on their own, because I never sprayed them in Maryland and had good success – we will see here, the wet winters might mean I need to treat them).

The ever-confused Mr. Puckles has noooo idea what to make of this new thing on the pond that his primate companions seem to refer to as “ice”.

This past week we also contacted a hatchery in Gervais – we will be raising more meat ducks and broiler chickens this year, getting more egg ducks, raising another flock of layers, and raising a flock of chickens to act as pest patrol in the garden and yard (and we will have two brown single comb leghorn roosters – gorgeous birds!) We’ll also be getting some more bronze breasted turkeys, but not until later in the summer (though their meat is so good we are tempted to get some sooner). Also this week I started a Master Gardener class through OSU extension, and had the chance to meet some wonderful people with similar interests. This week was Botany 101 and basic orientation – but photosynthesis is a hard thing to think about as we approach our third consecutive day of frozen fog.

Our little Saanen gals seem to love the cold weather, and all are now, hopefully, eating for two (or three, or four [gulp!])

The rabbit complex has now been completed and soon we will be feasting on coniglio repiena con patate e rosamarino in vino (rabbit stuffed with potatoes and rosemary stewed in wine). The garden is mud when it is not frozen mud but I have been waging a war against the voles (still!) and the whole thing is a damned mess. Monday we will meet with a graphic artist to design a business logo. And now, as of this writing, all five of our does have now been bred, and, we hope, have settled; if all goes well we will go from 5 to around 15-20 goats come the end of May. Today we hunkered down inside except for chores and pressed our last five gallons of cider.

This rabbit house will be used for female rabbits to kindle; their offspring will be put on pasture in our rabbit tractor.

This hutch should contain about three rabbit cages for isolating bucks and sick rabbits, and to help with managing our rabbit operation in general down the road.

Last week we opened up our first batch of cider that we had made using champagne yeast and ended up with, well, champagne cider! It was the best batch yet, clear, effervescent, and delicious, with big heads of champagne bubbles. In fact, I had used old champagne bottles in storing the batch, and when I opened the first one I lost about a third of the bottle to the pavement as a white effervescent torrent of bubbles escaped onto the kitchen floor despite valiant efforts to trap them in my mouth.

The weather has also stunned us a bit this past week. We have had frozen fog daily since Thursday, and it has not warmed up during the day, so we are now surrounded by a frosty, hoary, crystalline landscape that has made traveling around here a true iter lubricum (a slippery path) – when we took Obie to be bred on Friday we slipped and slid during a ride that lasted an hour and fifteen minutes which should have taken no more than 50 – fog had frozen on the road. We made the trip twice since we took my mother in McMinnville to lunch later in the day, and then got home just in time to rustle 20 some odd chickens from pasture into the barn, concerned that it was a bit too cold and damp for them on pasture. Dealing with water for animals has been a task; we could get heated ones, but the duration of hard freezes here really don’t make it worth the expense. The critters definitely go through more feed in this weather to stay warm, and we have had to make extra rounds during the day to check food and water for them.

A stark contrast to my pics from October and September. But the garden needs a good sleep right now to wake up refreshed for its task this spring, summer, and fall.

The lane leading from our house to the barn on a cold January morning.

The view looking east from our pond to our barns this past Sunday morning. 

Working in the cold outside finds us expending and consuming as many calories as  during those long days of summer spent out in the garden (especially as we try to keep up with all the wood we need for fuel). The amount of eggs, butter, coffee, hot cereal, potatoes, fruit, bread, cheese, and large cuts of meat one needs to keep going (and did I mention the hard cider?!?!) are prodigious to say the least. But that is our mammalian, hibernial nature – frozen fog is nature telling us to store fat so we have the reserves to hand dig our garden in spring if we are to have those wonderful zucchini flowers in July or those creamy Yukon Golds come September. Sit by the fire, play your guitar, read your Virgil (we almost killed Helen yesterday amidst Troy’s flames for those who know their Aeneid), enjoy your Xenephon (we just executed Clearchus the Spartan for those who know their Anabasis), and have another glass of hard cider. And maybe another. Winter wants us fat because come spring you will be burning that girth, and who am I to oppose either Old Man Winter or Mother Nature? This is the time, as I posted some time ago, for Thaliarchus (see November 5th’s post). So withdraw to winter quarters, because in six weeks Mars comes, and with it the campaign season when we fight for spoils – the Brandywine Tomato, the Sugar Pie Pumpkin, the Green Gage Plum – to be driven off in the fall.