Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paint Yer (Egg)Wagon

So, we were sitting at Fat Boy's with Coyote, talking about chicken eviction...

See, there's a wee barn on our farm that was originally built for The Piper's Jersey cow, Biscuit. Biscuit and her calf, Red Emma, have been gone from the farm for many years. The "two cow garage" morphed first into a woodworker's storage shed, then was repurposed to hold gardening supplies, pigs and chickens. Now, after several generations of pigs and chickens, we have a new plan in mind: tear the whole thing down to the frame and turn it into peoplespace. We imagine book groups, workshops, some nice south-facing windows for seed-starting, and a place for the occasional swagman (or swagwoman) to waltz his (or her) matilda.

That said, the chickens gotta go. We'd been thinking about this all winter and considering the process. We figured we'd cull the non-egg-layers (Mmmm! Chicken stew with dumplings!) and then put them into a moveable coop of some sort. We started looking around at plans and images and studying other people's portable poultry palaces, and the harder we looked, the more perplexed we became. Thankfully, along came Coyote, who had been raising and tending chickens for years and had some ideas and skills to contribute. We decided it was time for a hardware run. Coyote and the Piper and I headed out, with a stop at our favourite cheap seasonal eatery, Fat Boy's, for fortification.

Now, in addition to good, cheap, locally-sourced hamburgers, onion rings and frappes (milkshakes), Fat Boy's has another important feature: crayons and paper placemats. Many a farm project has been sketched on those placemats over the years. We set the paper cup of crayons in the middle of the table and set to work, tossing out possible names for the structure as we went. "Yolks-Wagon" was a solid favourite, but with my taste for the obscure I lobbied for "Taigh-Beak," a play on the Gaelic word for "outhouse." By the time our meal was consumed we'd come to no firm agreement on names, but we did reach the shared conclusion that our moveable coop, in order to fit with our farm's Celtic/British theme, should look something like a traditional Traveller/Gypsy wagon. Alas, due to a local dearth of Travellers and Gypsies, we had only our imaginations and memories to go on, so we boldly scribbled our best approximations of a few paint schemes and sallied forth to the hardware store for said paint and two sheets of red metal roofing.

After we got home, we searched the internet for traditional caravan images. Huzzah! Our paint choices were culturally and historically correct! (Well, mostly. It turned out that "Montpelier Red Velvet," which looked like a basic cherry red under the fluorescent lights of the store, turned out to be sort of a deep raspberry instead.) Our other colours, "Orange Glow," "Blue Flame," and "Globe Artichoke," were right on target. As soon as Coyote had finished the actual carpentry of the structure, with The Piper's occasional help and guidance, I primed the structure and started to paint.

We got one coat of "Globe Artichoke" on the structure before Coyote left. Another WWOOF volunteer helped apply two additional coats, and then I started to play with the other colours. First, I tried out the red paint on the window trim and watched it dry into the aforementioned deep raspberry--not the effect I'd been going for. Next I tried out "orange glow," (really more of a school-bus yellow, but also close to the lovely deep hue of the yolks from our free-range chickens), on the lower portion of three sides. Well, that made everything look bright and cheery, but the big blocks of colour were also intimidating. How shall we get from these bold patches to the complex motifs commonly seen on old caravans? Well, I.....have absolutely no idea. My coop-painting muse has utterly deserted me--and besides, now that it's Spring I have other pressing priorities. It seemed a bit more manageable when the whole thing was three inches high, two-dimensional, and scribbled in crayon on a placemat.

Meanwhile, the chickens seem utterly undisturbed by the paint scheme (or lack thereof). We've been leaving the front door of the structure open and the hens have been seen hopping in and out. I haven't found any eggs in the structure's two laying boxes, but the two-inch layer of pine shavings with which we lined them has definitely been disturbed. More than one hen has apparently been road-testing those nests. Within the next few weeks, I think we'll go ahead and begin culling, then shut the diminished flock in the new structure for a few days to re-imprint their tiny chicken brains with a new concept of "home." From then on, the little hatch on the side of the barn will be closed and their best option for evening roosting will be inside the yolks-wagon/taighe-beak.   (With the chickens relocated, we'll be able to start cleaning out the barn in preparation for its overhaul and eventual repurposing.)  After a week or two of reliable coming and going from their new abode, we'll move the structure a little farther from the barn each night, and eventually the wee chicken caravan will take its rightful place in the pasture where the chickens can clean up after the cows, following Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm model.

And one of these days, maybe we'll even finish painting the silly wee thing.

(All text and images copyright Mainecelt, 2012, except caravan, borrowed from here.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012


After three wonderful weeks, we said goodbye to Coyote, our first WWOOF volunteer to arrive on foot. As with every one of our WWOOFers, the farm is better for Coyote's contributions: potatoes started in barrels of soil and seaweed, fruit trees gently pruned, (and the budded branches saved in a vase for forcing), blueberry bushes well-mulched, animals well-fed and tended, fenceline cleared...not to mention some serious sourdough bread-baking, ukulele-strumming, and a couple of epic scrabble games.

Our first year as WWOOF farm hosts has been the best sort of adventure. Yes, there are risks. Perhaps it takes a certain temperament to open one's home to strangers, to gently negotiate shared space, to relinquish a measure of privacy, to build trust...yet the people who have chosen to travel here have truly blessed us. We have welcomed their widely varying stories and experiential wisdom as much as their energy and willingness to work.

On this Easter morning, as the Piper played the sun up and--gathered at the town landing at daybreak--we heard the story of angels at the empty tomb, I looked over at Coyote, face to the water, perhaps pondering leave-taking and the next leg of a personal pilgrimage. The quilted patterns on Coyote's poncho hinted strongly of wings. Why not? If the risen Jesus could be mistaken for a gardener, why couldn't a travelling farmhand come with wings? There are deep reasons why, in many wisdom traditions, angels and strangers are closely intertwined...

So, on this day of resurrections and possibilities, may we all be surrounded by winged strangers and shining gardeners. May we all be open to winds of change and wild gusts of blessing.


We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place,
& with the sacred name of the truine God,
[They] blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ
In the stranger's guise.