Last summer was a good summer for the deer, and we had several that visited us regularly. There was a momma deer and her doe, a second momma deer that had two does, and there was also a solo young buck. I would see them often as I would go about my rounds, making several trips a day to both the chicken and turkey yards. Sometimes I would be so focused on where I was going, that a deer would startle me when I would look up and see one standing a few yards away from where I was walking. Now that winter is here and we’ve had several snow storms, the deer seem to be spending more time closer to the house browsing on the vegetation that is not covered in snow. I’ve even seen the deer kneeling down underneath the edge of the chicken coop to browse on the weeds growing underneath the coop! The last snow storm dropped 11 inches of snow, and we’ve had some spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the snow covered landscape. Since we are on a hillside with a southern exposure, certain areas of the farm thaw more quickly than others, and the deer have figured this out. There is one of the younger does who has taken to browsing in the rhododendrons and other ornamental shrubs right in front of the house, only a few feet from the front door. The other night we were watching TV when the motion sensor light by the front door turned on and illuminated the head of the young doe poking up from behind the front deck as she sauntered through the rhododendrons, apparently having a midnight snack. Today the group of three deer spent most of the afternoon napping in the sun under a cedar tree, in one of the only non-snow covered areas in the backyard. Every time I walked by the kitchen window I would look to see if they were still there, and they were, and I was happy to get to spend the afternoon with them.
We’ve also had a less than welcome nature siting recently, which was a coyote right outside the fence of the turkey pasture. It was a Saturday morning, and I was relaxing in the living room by the wood stove when I heard the unmistakable turkey alarm call. It is a high pitched, quick call, sort of like an insistent “Pip, Pip, Pip”. As soon as I heard the call, I looked out the living room window which has a perfect view of the turkey pasture. I saw all of the girls in a tight group together in the middle of the pasture, necks outstretched, calling in unison. Ringo was not gobbling, which I thought was strange, as he usually gobbles at anything unfamiliar and often at birds flying overhead. At the downhill side of the electric fence stood a coyote, looking at the turkeys and presumably for a way into the pasture. I quickly threw on my shoes and coat and grabbed the baseball bat that we keep by the mudroom door for just such a predator emergency. I ran outside to see the coyote still there, he had run back and forth along the fence and was still eyeing the turkeys. I started yelling at him and he got the idea that he was not welcome and ran off into our neighbor’s field. Later on, we reviewed the film footage from the turkey camera that we have overlooking the pasture. We could clearly see the coyote running toward the turkey pasture as he first appeared in the frame, and it did not appear that he was just passing through. The turkeys saw him right away and moved away from the fence to the center of the pasture. The way coyotes hunt when they are after a potential meal that is protected by a fence is that they will charge the fence, knowing that the instinct of birds such as chickens is to take flight, unfortunately sometimes flying over the fence where they can be captured. Thankfully the turkeys did not do that, and they exhibited a good self-preservation instinct. I am hoping that the coyote finds easier prey elsewhere and does not come back. We will be moving our motion activated trail camera to the location where we saw the coyote to see if we can capture any images of him coming around at night. It is fun to see wildlife at the farm, but this particular sighting was a bit too close to home.
Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty – John Ruskin
It’s certainly been a busy summer at the farm. There’s the daily and weekly chicken chores – feeding, watering, poop scooping, coop cleaning, and tending to the occasional ailment. There’s been time spent socializing Salt-n-Peppa and getting them integrated into their new family with Millie and Lil’ Red Rooster. Many enjoyable hours have been spent with the turkeys training and socializing them so that they will grow up to be well-behaved, friendly tom turkeys. The garden is doing very well this year thanks to all of the warm weather, but it’s also taken lots of time weeding and watering it to get it to its bountiful state. And of course lots of time has been spent keeping up with the harvest and putting away fruits and veggies in the freezer and pantry for the winter. In the midst of all this, I try to remember to take time, even if it’s only a few minutes a day to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures. Here are some recent ones.
It’s been a year since we moved to the farm full-time, and what better way to celebrate than by counting down the reasons I love living at the farm.
17) the beautiful walk to the mailbox
16) the starry sky at night
15) snow days
14) fires in the wood stove
13) forest views
12) hearing the tree frogs
11) tending the honey bees
10) garden bounty
9) summer sweets
8) lil’ red rooster
7) my greenhouse
5) wild things
4) the little things
1) and of course, more chickens!
One of the things I love about living at the farm is the frequent wildlife sightings. No matter whether the farm visitors are large wildlife such as deer or elk, colorful birds such as the western tanager or evening grosbeak, or more common creatures like tree frogs and sparrows, they always bring a smile to my face. This week however, I saw something I had no idea lived at the farm and is not such a welcome visitor – a long-tailed weasel! Although the weasel is fairly small, not much bigger than a squirrel, I was somewhat alarmed by the sight of its sharp teeth and claws. I did some research and was not comforted by what I read. One website described it as follows “the long-tailed weasel may seem as endearing as a curious, lively kitten, but in fact, ounce for ounce, it ranks as one of nature’s most relentless and ferocious predators. Indeed, it has been called nature’s psychopath.” It went on to say “it attacks its prey, sometimes several times larger than itself, with unbridled ferocity. It kills small prey by driving its sharp incisors into the head. It ambushes larger prey, clinching to the back and biting into the neck, inflicting a lethal wound. Although it is much more likely to attack rodents and other pests, it has been known to invade a poultry coop and, in a killing frenzy, slaughter every chicken within the enclosure.” Well geez, that did not exactly put my mind at ease. Although to be fair to the weasel, we do have a ton of rodents that have been digging up the garden and being somewhat of a nuisance by doing things like eating most of the strawberries. That could very well be what attracted the weasel to the garden, and if the weasel contents himself to dine on rodents that would actually be a good thing for the garden, so I’m crossing my fingers that’s the case. Without further ado here’s the story of my encounter with the weasel.
I let Coco Puff and Millie out of their coop as I was headed up to the garden to do some weeding. As usual Lil’ Red Rooster was on point to guard the ladies. Coco, Millie, and Red followed me up to the garden which is unusual as they typically prefer to scratch about in the grass a bit closer to the house. I had my back turned to the ladies while I was weeding when Lil’ Red Rooster began making an alarm call. This is a pretty frequent occurrence as he makes an alarm call anytime he sees a bird, no matter how small and unthreatening it may be, fly overhead. Usually the alarm call lasts only a few seconds, but this call he was making sounded a bit different and he kept repeating it over and over. After about 30 seconds or so of his non-stop squawking, I got up and walked over to see what the fuss was about. He was staring at the raised bed with leeks and onions in it, and I followed his gaze to see a weasel standing with his paws on the edge of the raised bed and sniffing the air in the direction of my sweet little chickens! Oh, the horror! I scooped up the ladies and carried them outside the garden fence and put them down on the lawn close to the house. I went back for Lil’ Red Rooster who seemed reluctant to leave the scene, but I finally got him to follow me back down to the ladies’ coop. I put some kale in their coop to occupy them since obviously outdoor playtime was over for the day. I let Lil’ Red into the ladies coop so he could enjoy treat time with them as thanks for being such a good protector to the ladies.
The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.
We hike the trails through the large tracts of forest about a mile from our house when we feel like a long Walkabout, but when we feel like a shorter hike we hit the trails right behind our house. These trails are on what’s known locally as Bunker Hill. Columbia County is horse country, and there are several horse breeders and horse boarding facilities just up the road from us. One of the quarter horse breeders organizes an annual trail ride every summer, and he has built an extensive network of well-maintained trails over the last few years. As we’ve explored the trails we’ve seen quite a few interesting landmarks along the way, and I’ve picked out a few of my favorites to show you.
I may be a bit early in saying this, but it looks like spring has sprung at 5R Farm. It’s been just over a week since the last of the 18 inches of snow we got melted, and signs of spring are everywhere. I made the rounds of the farm today, and I was pleased to see flowers, fruits, and veggies all showing signs of life. One of my favorite birds that we see regularly at the farm is the spotted towhee. We have a pair that made their nest in our weeping cherry tree last year, and now instead of two spotted towhee we have four. I often see them flying back and forth from the weeping cherry to Lil’ Red Rooster’s food dish on the back porch, delighting me with their beautiful rufous, black, and white coloration and their striking red eyes.
Today we finally got around to planting the plum trees we started from seed last year and that spent the winter in the greenhouse. We planted them near the beehive to provide them with a nearby source of pollen and nectar and also to provide them with some protection from the wind. On these sunny days when it gets to 50 degrees or so, there is usually quite a bit of activity outside the beehive. When it gets a bit warmer I’ll do a beehive inspection and see how much honey the bees have left from the winter stores that we left them and make sure they have enough to get them through until mid-April when the peak nectar flow season begins. I’m hoping that they still have plenty of honey left, and we’ll be able to harvest a bit more in a couple of months.
I’ve been starting seeds in the greenhouse over the last couple of weeks. Lettuce, leeks, onions, and pepper seeds have been planted, and there’s much more to be planted over the next several weeks. I’m very excited for garden season this year since my handy husband has been busy building me several things to make my gardening chores easier, but I’ll wait to tell you about that until the photo shoot is complete!
Now that we’ve gotten settled in at the farm, we’re trying to make time to take the occasional break from the chores and get out and explore all of the beautiful forest that surrounds us. We are fortunate to have large tracts of private timberland to the north, west, and south, many of which are open for recreational use. There are miles and miles of old forest roads and trails which are closed to vehicles and are perfect for hiking. Some of the trails start as close as the north edge of our property and others we access by walking down the road a mile to a different trailhead. Hunting is of course a popular recreational use out here, and we’ve seen lots of elk remains lately. Sometimes we see old scattered bones, but we’ve also seen entire rib cages as well as an elk hide left along the side of the road. I must admit that I thought for a brief moment about bringing that elk hide home and attempting to turn it into a rug, but learning how to tan a hide is a hobby that I just don’t have time for at the moment! During our hikes in the fall we found a great mushroom patch and harvested about 15 pounds of chanterelles. We’re looking forward to returning in the spring and searching for morels. It’s great to be able to walk to our new mushroom hunting spot instead of driving to our old spot in the Tillamook State Forest. Now that we won’t be going to our old spot I would be happy to share its location, but the location of our new spot near the farm will be a closely guarded secret!
It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.
– Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s been a month since we moved to the farm full-time, and it’s been one of the best months of my life. There are so many things I love about living in the country, and I feel so fortunate to be able to enjoy the farm every day of the week now, not just on the weekends. There are the obvious things that most people probably associate with living in the country – the beautiful scenery, the peace and quiet, and a sky full of stars at night. There are the things that I write about on my blog – the adventures that go with tending a flock of 30 chickens including a few too many roosters, having a large garden, a greenhouse, and a beehive, and still having plenty of space to expand our menagerie and garden over the years to come. But in addition to all of these things, it’s also the little things, the things that don’t make it into the blog, that make life at the farm so enjoyable. I thought I’d share a few photos documenting some of my favorite little moments around the farm.
We’ve been working hard at the farm nearly every weekend since early spring, and this weekend it was finally time for some R&R so we took the canoe out on Scappoose Bay. We haven’t taken the canoe out in almost two years, and with the bay less than 15 minutes from the farm we were well past due for a paddle. Scappoose Bay is the perfect place to go canoeing for many reasons – it’s an easy paddle with calm waters and no motorized boats, there are lots of forested meandering side channels and wetlands to explore, a variety of wildlife, and a beautiful view of Mt. St. Helens. On this trip we saw a half dozen osprey soaring overhead and diving for fish in the bay, great blue heron, egret, and geese, and we could hear the call of the belted kingfisher in the distance. It was such a beautiful day on the water, and it felt great to take some time off instead of working the whole weekend. I’ll have to keep that in mind now that we’ve just added a couple of dozen items to the farm to do list!
Well it finally happened, the deer have discovered our vegetable garden. You can’t really blame them – the garden is looking lush and tasty and Sean did recently clear a big patch of blackberry the deer liked to munch on that was close to the garden fence. Luckily, only a single deer raided the garden. The strawberries and raspberries were the only victims, and they are already growing back replacement leaves. With all the deer we’ve seen on the property, we knew that it was fairly likely that the deer would eventually get into the vegetable garden. We had already built an electric fence around the garden, but we hadn’t turned on the electricity since we wanted to wait and see if we did in fact need to electrify the fence. Now we have our answer, and we turned on the electricity a couple of weeks ago. So far it seems to be working, and we haven’t seen any deer in the vegetable garden recently. As for the flower beds around the back deck, that’s another story. Every week the deer take a few more bites out of the flowers I’ve planted, although I don’t really mind all that much since it’s fun to see deer so close to the house. The chickens don’t much care for the deer and will announce their presence with quite a ruckus of alarm calls. It’s all quite enjoyable and one of the things I love about having a place in the country.