July 2014


1 grain sowing Nov13
Chickens need food and bedding. Planning for this, I ploughed some of our land last November and sowed cereal – wheat and triticale – to provide seed food and straw bedding for them.

Growing it is dead easy – after a month chuck fertiliser onto the young grass, and let nature take its course until the following summer when it is tall and golden, with big ears of corn drooping down.  My problem (through having no experience) is what next? Obviously the wheat has to be cut, the grain threshed from it and stored, and the straw stacked. A combine harvester is the usual big farm answer but is impractical on a remote farm with small curvy fields. I’ve never seen one in this area.

2 wheat fields b May14

JJ has a side-cutter for his tractor but last year some bolts sheared on it and I don’t know if he could repair it, it was old. João had a walk-behind wide blade mower but in May that too broke down irreparably.

3  wheat with chicken fort in background

I looked into buying a scythe a couple of years ago but the shop has now closed down. Eventually I used a three-lobed brush cutter blade on my strimmer, which worked well but slowly. What I really need is a top-mounted scoop for the end of the strimmer, so that with each pass of the cutter the wheat is scooped and at the end of the stroke it falls into a neat bundle, all stalks together. This is how the scoop is used in India or South Asia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwVTpiDmqig They can be bought in India but the rural makers and vendors have no English and my written Gujarati / Urdu etc. just isn’t up to scratch 😉4 wheat strimming 2

Cut wheat is then gathered together in big bunch with the ears at one end and tied into a sheaf using a few of the straws twisted into a cord. You will not have tried this. I have, and can tell you that without being shown how it is, for me, an embarrassing waste of effort. You can imagine. Then the sheaves are assembled into stooks and one eventually threshes them.

5 trac & wheat stackIn the end I co-opted Janet and we raked it up, straws parallel, and shifted it into the stack you see here, with grain still attached. Threshing is at present beyond our ken. In theory I need a flail, a threshing floor, a winnowing basket and the knowledge of how to do it. The locals just buy sacks of grain for chickens on the market. One of our neighbours has a very old baler which makes rectangular straw bales, wheat ears included, but at harvest time he seems to make himself scarce. So much for self-sufficiency. I’m told it was all done by hand and donkey in the 1980’s.


Our friend Celia offered me a few good words of advice and, by her attitude to her chickens, is an encouragement to anyone to keep them.

dorkingNeighbours Brenda and Stuart kindly talked and showed me through the routine maintainance for these most basic of self-sufficient domestic animals.  They also lent me a good book.

I know it’s unlikely that we will find for sale in our part of Portugal  Dorkings,  Plymouth Rocks or Sussex chickens, but the pretty Wyandotte with its pencil edged feathers and excellent homely disposition should be available – but is not.

Wyandotte _Silver_Laced
We were shopping for stone (as one does) a few miles from home when we passed a chicken suppliers farm, the gateposts with stone cockerels on were its advert. We asked the owner if we could see his stock and surprisingly he had hundreds of chickens all the same. What race were they? “Good layers”. Were they of mixed race or did they have a name? No, no, not of mixed race, but he’d forgotten – “Oh yes, very good breed, named Hybrid”. Hmmm. This is a man who makes a living from selling chickens and ducks. There are two poultry suppliers on the market in Fundão. He is one of them.

I asked if he could supply ducks to lay eggs, he would know what breed would do best here (maybe). He said he could, and I asked if they quack. No, he said, they are “patos mudos”, mute ducks. I know those are bred for meat not for laying. I asked if he could supply two female ducks which go “quack” and lay eggs. He said that would be complicated and hasn’t replied yet.

campbell duck 2All I want is a couple of Campbells or, second best, Indian Runners.  Obviously I’ve searched the internet and apart from mute ducks I can get “patos Esmeralda” (green ducks i.e.mallards) or “patos reais” which seem to be mallards too. Here, ducks are only bred for meat, the occasional eggs are simply where more duck chicks come from. Stuart tell me the patos mudos just eat and eat and get bigger until at ten weeks they can’t walk, they fall over and die. Bred for meat. Not what I want. I want a waddle and a quack, pet ducks, duck eggs.

Our builder João contacted his friend and arranged for us to go together and get half a dozen chickens from his friend, who happens to be the son of the previously-mentioned “expert”.  I drove out to meet him and we went together to the chicken farm in a lovely location with a mountain view. His friend was not there, had forgotten us and was busy an hour’s drive away. He told us on the phone that he had no ducks other than mute ones.

Janet and I decided that in view of these delays maybe we should put our fowl plan on hold for the moment, so we still have no chickens nor ducks.

Perhaps we will take a trip to France and get some Maran chickens which are friendly to humans and good layers of dark brown eggs. Maybe we will go to Spain to get Andalusians which have grey feathers with black pencilled edges.

Maybe even we’ll find someone who lives in central Portugal and has already done this seeking and by natural means, and now has spare thoroughbred chickens . . . anyone?