Marvin Rowland was a timber man until the industry went bust in Oregon, and his wife, Barbara, taught culinary classes everywhere from Alaska to Oregon to Tacoma.
Her last stop before retirement was Stadium High School, and by then the couple had bought about 20 acres on the Key Peninsula, near Key Center. The Rowlands call their spread Sunny Key Farm.
“My husband is from Appalachia and always loved free range chickens,” Barbara said. “So we started with about 20 chickens — and probably 20 coyotes — on 20 acres.”
The coyotes were winning, so the Rowlands got a pair of Great Pyrenees dogs, and the predators kept their distance.
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Last year, Barbara had her female dog, Mindy, dyed pink.
But that part comes later.
After the chickens came the peacocks, which happily nested on the property. Then came the guinea hens, just because.
“They’re weird,” Barbara said. “They’ll run back and forth along our fence because they forget they can fly. I must get stupid ones, but they have a funny little chatter.”
Rabbits followed, and a duck or two, even a couple of cats and a turkey. The Rowlands added Nubian goats to the mix and have been baby-sitting a pony, Sparkle, for months.
“She was lonely, then we had five little Nubians born and she absolutely loved them,” Barbara said. “Now she’s Auntie Sparkle, and the goats follow her everywhere.”
Marvin, 72, doesn’t say much. Barbara, 68, usually speaks for both of them. When they founded Sunny Key, they weren’t looking for the quiet life.
Peacocks are loud, and the chickens, guinea hens and goats all keep up a constant rattle and hum that can be crazy at its peak, noisy when normal.
Not long after they arrived, chickens and roosters followed, most of them thrown over the fence around the farm.
“If someone had a hen they didn’t want to raise, or a rooster, we’d take it,” Barbara said. “Then we’d have five roosters thrown over the fence at night ...”
Without quite meaning to, the Rowlands seemed to have started a chicken rescue.
Barbara was open to selling the birds. At least, in theory.
“Sometimes, people will want a couple of hens and I just won’t sell them,” Barbara said. “I’ll sell roosters, because you can have too many of those. And I’ll tell people how to cut them up and cook them, too.”
Over the years, she’s begun running private experiments at the Sunny Key.
When her lone turkey hen sat forever on a pair of unfertilized eggs, she stuffed a couple of chicken eggs in the nest and they hatched.
“She loves being a mom,” Barbara said.
Likewise, she slipped duck eggs under a female chicken, with near-disastrous results after they hatched and the hen started mothering them.
“The hen was walking near the pond with her gaggle of little ducks when all the babies hopped into the pond,” Barbara said. “The poor hen almost had a heart attack. That was so traumatic, I never did it again.”
The Rowlands will sell eggs but have found another outlet they enjoy more.
“Our daughter, Amy, lives in Port Orchard, and has two autistic children,” Barbara said. “We give her eggs and she takes them to a special ed classroom and incubates the chicken eggs to show kids how chicks hatch.
“Usually, once the chickens grow a little, we’ll get them back. Sometimes a teacher or parent will want them.”
Keeping the flock at about 40 chickens isn’t as hard as you might think.
“We have something of a raptor buffet out here,” Barbara said. “Small chicks and chickens get picked off by goshawks, peregrine falcons, eagles. Free range chickens means they’re out there on their own.”
Now, about that big pink dog ...
“For years, there was a bright pink trailer on the property and people used it to give directions out here,” Barbara said. “When we came, we used it as a chicken coop, but eventually it had to go.
“When it did, we got all these complaints about losing the pink trailer. So I took Mindy in to our vet and had her white hair dyed pink. And people would just say, ‘Turn where the big pink dog is.’”
At the Sunny Key, the Rowlands are nothing if not thoughtful.