Four decibels less

Araucana bantam rooster

It finally happened this week: the first complaint about our chickens being too noisy. Fair enough too, nine roosters crowing in unison is bloody ridiculous. I mean, we’re not running a charity home for useless cocks! I was pleased to show the landlord’s wife that I had already taken steps to terminate the problem, with five of the offending beasties in the “death row” pen, awaiting execution. Such is the nature of being born male surplus to need on a farm.

They start out so cute and innocent, yet they all grow up to be soundwave terrorists

They start out so cute and innocent, yet they all grow up to be soundwave terrorists

I had been plotting the demise of these aggressive louts for weeks already, as more and more of our home-hatched Araucana chicks turned out to be roosters. Oh the dismay upon hearing their awkward baby crows! Oh the rage as the whole hoard cranked out full blown rooster anthems at 4am! Fortunately I am up at 4am anyway, getting ready for work, but I did feel vaguely sorry for one of our neighbours who I know is a shift worker. The other neighbours, a couple who foster feral cats and cultivate weeds along their boundary fence, I must admit I savoured their getting a rude pre-dawn awakening, thanks to my army of feathered heralds. Hehe. The flipside to my spiteful glee was being woken up myself on sunday mornings by relentless deafening crows. My only day off – sleep-in thwarted. Owh, so sad.

So the cretins had to go. The roosters, not the neighbours, I mean.

You are going to die

You are going to die

Today my dad came round to help me knock four of them off. Doling out death is not an enjoyable prospect to face alone, the task is much less grim with company. I used my broom handle technique, where I first calm the chicken by laying it on its back and massaging its crop, then I stretch out its neck, placing the broom handle lengthwise on top. Then I step down on either end of the broom handle, grab the chicken’s legs and wrench upwards to snap the neck. Dad was rather dubious after the grisly results of my last culling attempt, which I haven’t mentioned here yet. This time, I got three from three though – one broken neck, two accidental decapitations… and a lot of blood spatter! Ah well. Dad had a go at snapping the one rooster’s neck with his hands, not as easy as it looks! Chicken necks are super bendy, and though we did eventually hear the pop of vertebra separating, it probably wasn’t the cleanest of deaths.

Because the Araucanas are only bantams, there’s not really enough meat to warrant butchering them to eat. So I contacted a local chap who rescues and rehabilitates injured birds of prey, who said he would gratefully take the carcasses, feathers and gizzards and all, to feed his raptors. So now we have four decibels less, and he has four square meals for his deserving birds. Smiles all round!

And Sir lives to see another day… for now.


Rooster Survivor – farmers prefer gentlemen

This is the only chicken we have named. By virtue of his polite and gentle demeanor, our blue Australorp rooster Sir has won his name and his place as flock protector. Despite being quite the gentleman, he does sometimes act … Continue reading

Grass is greener

grass is greener

Our electric fence battery keeps running flat. The horses have discovered they can push on the electric wire braid until it sinks to the ground, and step over it into the promised land of growing grass. They’ve busted into the pasture four times over the past couple of weeks. I can’t hold it against them, I’d do the same if I were a bored horse in a sand run with lush green grass just a hot wire away. Particularly if the hot wire is only hot a very little of the time.

It’s my own fault really. I’ve recently extended the horses’ run so they can shelter under some trees, which is good because they don’t spend all day hanging around the shade of the stables. Unless it’s really hot or there’s heavy rain, they prefer natural shade. But it does mean the electric wire frequently makes contact with tree trunks and shorts out, running down the battery within a day or two.

It’s annoying but once I have covered the tricky bits with more lengths of old hose as an insulator, it shouldn’t be too bad. There are always other jobs to do and this one has just fallen by the wayside. Until I fix it up, let the escapees have their fun.

Johnny on the other side of the fence

From what I can tell, Calais uses Johnny as a sort of battering ram to test the electric and push it down, pretty clever. Though he’s not always keen to follow Johnny across that wire once its down. He’s stepped on a live wire before, and he remembers the bite.

Calais confused on the other side of the wire

You can sense how pleased Jonathon is, to be out of range of the bossy little bum-biter, for a brief while. Until I catch him and return him to the run.

Johnny on the forbidden pasture

He was happy to come willingly this time, good naughty boy!

Baked not burnt!

Oven victory! Woo hoo! The anti-Nigella (that would be me) has successfully baked bread! Only minimal swearing was required, and rather than being scarred by the experience, I am actually inspired!

Aren’t gardeners meant to be good at cooking their produce? I was vegetarian for nine years, and though I’m not at all queasy when it comes to slaughtering our chickens, I am not confident when cooking them. In the kitchen I am known for my incredible slowness and ability to burn everything, including myself.

yellow mini tomato

Stay on the vine, you will be safer there!

Rice is my favourite thing to ruin – burnt-bottomed glug in the pot! Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? I had a stovetop triumph about two months ago – cooking perfect rice for the first time ever. A bittersweet victory given that, having been a poor uni student for many years previous, I’ve been cooking rice – badly – for a long time. I was so pleased when I tasted the rice and the grains were just right, I did a victory jig, complete with self-cheering sound effects. I reckon you’ve got to give yourself a cheer every now and then – no one else will!

Needless to say, I’m not a natural in the kitchen, more like an indentured labourer. There’s a few things that I like to bake, like cookies and muffins. Technically, I only “like” to bake them because I like to eat them at the end – the only enjoyable parts of the process are the taste tests and the escalating profanities. At tea time, I’m pretty good at bunging something together Macgyver-style when the cupboard appears bare… But if I only need to cook for myself, when my partner is away working up north, I’ll quite happily plonk myself down on the couch to watch Masterchef, and eat milo cereal for dinner. What kind of aspiring farmer does that make me? I am proud of the things I grow, but shouldn’t the mere sight of over-ripe tomatoes on the vine inspire me to get cooking and canning?

Bread making seems like such a fundamental basic skill to have – I love the idea of making my own and eating it hot. It’s a way of living more independently – making my own if I run out of store-bought bread, and being able to leave out the preservatives and chemical additives. But the kitchen can be a daunting place for someone slow and uncoordinated. Along with the burning, I’m also quite good at cutting myself, grating myself, and slamming parts of myself in drawers.

One part of cooking that is satisfying is the swearing. For me, cooking always involves swearing, out of pure necessity. I have Scottish ancestry, so cursing furiously as I bash ingredients together hopefully counts as “cooking with love”. The amount you care about someone is reflected by how angry you get at them!

Anyway, I would much rather be outside shoveling manure than stuck in the kitchen. I actually enjoy making up the horses’ dinners – sweet smelling chaff, pellets and bran and mineral supplements, just add water and mix. Lovely.

the boys eating breakfast

They always appreciate my culinary efforts

Of course I love eating good food, but I’m certainly not a foodie. Anyway, if “foodie” isn’t a derogatory term by now, it should be!

So I’m not keen on food snobbery, but I do enjoying growing things you can eat, and I would dearly love to gain some more cookery skills. I envy my partner’s kitchen confidence – he’s the Masterchef around here. Ben has been encouraging me to try making bread for almost as long as we have been living together, and prior to last night, I had done it just the once.

I braved the scary yeast voodoo about a year ago, facing it with full faith in Ben’s instructions but little in myself. I can make muffins, but bread is a bit different. Kneading is required – eek! I was petrified I would end up with a rubbery loaf. In the end, the bread I made was really good, dense yet fluffy, but it took hours. Hours of hovering anxiously, waiting for the bread to burn or morph into a granite boulder while my back was turned. Daunting. Scary. Not even the smell of fresh hot bread has been enough to tempt a second try from me.

the bounty!

Soup and stock made from our own home-grown home-butchered chicken, cooked and canned by Ben.
All the homesteader cred duly goes to him!

UNTIL… I discovered a recipe for “beer quickbreads” in one of my mum’s old cookbooks. BEER BREAD! Given my love of beer, I was instantly intrigued. At first I was skeptical. Bread? Quick? Whenever speed and ease are used as selling points, it is usually anything but. But it actually sounded super easy! And it turned out to actually be super easy!

The recipe only called for half a cup of beer, so naturally I had to drink the rest of the bottle (and then some). A recipe that invites you to enjoy a nice cold brew while you cook?! It was like the cookbook knew exactly what I needed to get me through a bout of cooking. I used our current favourite, James Squire One Fifty Lashes (pale ale). To my amazement and thrill, my four little bun-loaf-things did not turn out like little granite lumps! They were perfect and soft on the inside, with a crunchy crust. I had been so anxious about kneading the dough into rubber, I had hardly handled it at all. The worry paid off, for once, and I feel encouraged to make more! A good way to use up some of the James Squire Nine Tales (amber ale) we have sitting in the pantry (previous fleeting favourite – we’re over it now, it’s too heavy for summer anyway). Maybe it will be awesome in bread?

Bread success!

The edible results!

Here are the tasty results! We had lovely warm buttered bread for tea, with herby vintage cheddar and homegrown grape tomatoes. I had mine with pesto and fresh basil as well. As much as I can’t stand the pretentious “Ner ner look what I’m eating!” shot, I’m so stoked with my prowess I can’t help myself. This sort of kitchen success just does not happen for me.

Since my first bready foray, I have also baked savoury roll-ups, with herbs, spring onion and cheese filling – the cookbook calls them crescent scones, which sounds a lot more fancy. They were all different shapes and sizes, but they still tasted good. Me and mum enjoyed them for morning tea the other day – they didn’t last long!

morning tea

Okay, so I might be using self-raising flour rather than making dough from scratch with yeast, but if it gets a culinary hazard like me confident enough to try baking, it’s well worth the short cut.