Cool autumn winds are blowing here on the farm, the small avenue of liquid amber trees finally showing hints of bronze as winter creeps closer. It never gets too cold here, or too hot, and after living in places that have topped 43C (109.4F) and others that have bottomed out at -8C (17.6F), I appreciate the lack of extremes. The weather is gentle and the shift between the seasons subtle. But despite the lack of truly cold weather, I still feel an urge to settle down and bake something as autumn rolls on. Cool weather. Autumn. Baking. It all goes together.
Bare Cupboard Spelt and Buttermilk English Muffins
I found a recipe for English muffins a little while back by (the very awesome) baker and author, Peter Reinhart in his book ‘The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.’ I’d been pretty keen to give it a shot but, as usual, inspiration struck when the cupboard was fairly bare. With all the wheat flour gone, and full cream milk drunk, it wasn’t looking good. Then I remembered I had some leftover buttermilk from pancakes we’d made the day before…and a bag of spelt flour tucked in the corner of the pantry. Spelt and buttermilk English muffins? Sounded alright to me.
The Challenges of Free-Ranging Chickens
Our three free-ranging chickens, Strawberry, Caramel and Chocolate have been a delight to have around the farm. There’s not much more endearing than seeing chickens exhibiting their natural behaviours – chasing bugs, scratching for worms and generally enjoying themselves. But all this comes with risks, and with a price. We are lucky in this area not to have foxes, and while one of our neighbours swears there are wild dogs we have never seen any evidence of them. Pet dogs are another matter. Our neighbours a couple of properties away own two very large dogs. Recently the dogs learnt to escape their yard, trotting down the road to our farm, ducking under our five strand barbed wire fences and taking two of our chickens, Strawberry and Caramel in broad daylight, a few metres from the house. The first time I only heard a squawk, saw a dog with a collar, but never saw any evidence that a chicken had been taken. No feathers, just a missing chicken: Strawberry. A few days ago I saw the dog and the feathers – this time it was Caramel. It’s all a bit depressing, really, but that’s the reality of letting your chickens roam freely. Chocolate, the flock leader and our best flier (she who loves living and sleeping in trees) escaped.
This leaves us in a bit of a quandary. We are not particularly keen on keeping our remaining chicken, Chocolate, or our second newer flock permanently cooped up – the quality of the eggs aren’t as good, there are ethical issues regarding chicken freedom, and frankly we just enjoy seeing them out and about. But…we have to ensure their safety. Losses during free-ranging are to some extent inevitable – we knew that when we chose to let our chickens range. And we have been fortunate only losing two in almost twelve months. Reducing the risks has to be the aim. I’d been keen to use portable electric netting to give the chickens a designated ranging area that could be moved from place to place to even the wear and tear on the grass. I’m not really sure whether this would deter two dogs intent on chicken dinner – would they just jump it? And obviously electric fencing won’t stop predatory birds; but surely our birds are now big enough to be less of a target? It’s not an easy one. We still haven’t released our chicks from their chicken tractor, apart from supervised excursions….It’s something to think about.
And in other news – we have another rooster! Pam is actually a Patrick. I caught ‘her’ crowing a few days ago. That brings our boy chicken total to two. Two roosters out of five chicks…and counting…