Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

12:56 PM
Sorry I've been slow at posting.  Things have been busy here with a big snowstorm which dumped about a foot of snow.  Now, the cold has set in.

My neighbor came by on an ATV to buy eggs.  She showed me the picture of a mountain lion that hunters took a couple of weeks ago.  This is probably the same mountain lion that has screamed and hissed at me.  It was bigger than the ATV in the photo.  OMG.  I guessed it was probably 200 to 250 lbs.  No wonder our whitetail herd has been decimated.  Snowmobilers up on the state land behind the house have reported big cat tracks up there recently, so another cat has moved in.  Sigh.  It explains Mishka's hackles when husband takes the Malamute up there for snowshoeing.

I'm working with Sid and the clicker.  He's pretty smart, but llama training is sort of trial and error with me.  For example, he'll come into the barn when I have the big door open, but he won't if it is shut.  So, I've been trying to get him to step in.  He will stand right on the threshold and stretch his neck, then his head and then his lips to get at the treat, but won't step foot inside.  Snot! ;-)  I suspect we'll bring his new buddy up here after the first.  That'll be good.

Hope you all had a merry Christmas and have a happy new year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Llamas Need Your Help!

10:10 PM
Since it's pretty much in the news, I guess I can say that the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary and Rescue is disbanding due to lack of funds.  It was a gigantic sanctuary which took animals in, mostly llamas, and did not adopt out animals.  As a result, when they lost funding from two major sponsors, they had more than 1200 animals to feed, of which are about 800 llamas. Yeah, it's a real mess.

There has been some allegations of neglect (I've seen donkeys on the news with severely overgrown hooves ), but I don't know what sort of condition the animals are in, so I'm assuming it's probably mixed.  Right now, the problem is feeding the animals, which Animeals is doing.  You can check in about the situation and donate to: Animeals

On that site are application forms for adopting animals or you can go here and fill an application out.   There are a lot, so consider tossing an application that way if you can adopt an animal.  As I said, there are a lot of animals and the winter up here is pretty severe for this time of the year.  You're welcome to repost this.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gigantic Egg and 9 Week Old Chicks

12:34 AM
Tonight, we got back from Harry Potter 7 and after dinner, I went to feed and water the birds and Sid.  The weather has been typically weird: first massively cold, then lots of snow, then a warm front that dumped lots of rain, and now settling into cold, but more seasonal.  I moved the 9 week old birds who are fully feathered out from the brooder to a dog crate.  They become sexually mature some time around the 15th to 26th week and right now should be able to handle the cold, provided I give them lots of water and good food.

My golden sex link who survived the pecking had healed up enough to where I reintroduced her back into the flock (the other one had died, sadly).  I had removed Crooked Toes who will be soon going to freezer camp and put in the barred rock rooster and his pal, the Brahma rooster.  Crooked Toes got demoted when he decided to go after me in typical Rhode Island Red fashion.  So, he's cooling his heels with the ducks.  Since his departure, the chickens in the pen have relaxed a bit.  I've put the Buff Orpington, Bossy Hen, in the cage there to get them all used to her.  She'll be joined by Oddball in a week or two once I get her mixed in properly.

Anyway, I know the Golden Sex Link hadn't laid any eggs since her injury, going on more than a month.  I began to wonder if she would ever lay eggs again.  I found an enormous egg -- larger than a goose egg (!!!)  -- in the nest and knew she had laid it.  Poor hen.  It looks like it is the fusion of 3 or more eggs.  I fully expect to have multiple yolks out of this one.  For such a little hen, she produces such big eggs.  The other golden sex link was my first egg layer and she laid such big eggs, I was so sad when the other chickens beat her up.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snowshoeing and Llama Training

3:06 PM
Now that the snow is deep enough, we've been snowshoeing into the state lands behind our house.  We've been taking Haegl, Mishka and Sid up the mountain.  As I've said in the past, Haegl and Mishka adore Sid, barking and inviting him to play at every turn.  Sid is unsure about all this Malamute love, but he takes it stoically. 

One problem Sid has is he does not have the concept of snowshoes.  He's constantly stepping on mine, which has almost caused me to face-plant a few times.  He acts surprised when that happens and picks his foot off my snowshoes with an almost apologetic look. 

His favorite trail munchy is pine needles and branches.  He also likes the bark, but I don't let him eat it because it'll hurt the trees.  I think he learned to eat pine needles and bark when he ran around a bit feral at his last owner's, until she tied him up so he couldn't run.  He gets plenty of hay and llama pellets, so the pine needles are now just a snack.

The other day I decided to start clicker training him.  He's a very smart animal, so there's no reason why he couldn't be clicker trained.  I started on some very basic stuff -- learn what the clicker means, recognize his name, and come when I call.

The clicker is a bit disconcerting to him.  It's not a natural noise, so it takes him a little time to accept it so he isn't surprised.  He comes to me when I have llama pellets, which is his favorite food.  He will eat them right out of my hand, which is very cute and ticklish because he has no top teeth and uses his lips to move them into his mouth.  I've gotten him to recognize his name now, and come when I call, but he's nowhere perfect on that.  My goals for him is as follows:

  1. Come when called.
  2. Accept petting without shying away.
  3. Accept the halter without theatrics.
  4. Accept me handling and trimming his feet.
  5. Accept me brushing and combing him.
  6. Accept a pack and carry things (this shouldn't be a problem, since he was a pack llama).

I think they're quite doable.  I've had some positive results with him accepting the halter.  Considering this was a llama who would not allow me to touch him when I first met him, he now allows me to touch, pet and even kiss him, albeit with reservations.  He is good with the Malamutes and good with my husband.  He knows gee, haw, get up, and whoa.  So, I think he's very trainable. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A plea for donations -- sanctuary collapse

12:47 AM
I know times are tough, but there's been a large animal sanctuary that collapsed due to lack of donations and more than 1000 large animals are facing starvation.  What's more, these animals need homes as well as food.  Although Animeals is keeping the sanctuary's name out of the news, I'm pretty sure I know which one it is and they have a huge herd of llamas.  I'm asking that you go to Animeals and donate generously.  I spoke to Animeals today and while they have enough donated food for a week, that isn't enough.  If you can donate or offer to adopt one of these animals, please do so. Thank you.

 Today was worthless as I had to go into town and buy animal food.  They were out of llama lunch, probably due to the emergency, so I had to go to a feed store and pay nearly twice the amount for llama food.  Sigh.  All in all, I bought nearly 300 lbs of feed that should last approximately 2 weeks between the chickens, geese, ducks, llama and dogs.  Note that I had to carry that same 300 lbs inside and put it away.  I also picked up bags of sawdust for animal bedding.  My clothes are covered with sawdust as a result. 

I've been working on Christmas presents and I hope to have some done pretty soon. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wood Shavings, Happy Animals and Frames of Reference

1:25 AM
Today I got a line on free wood shavings.

While this seems like a little thing, when you have chickens, it's a big deal.  You see, it costs me between $4 and $6 for a bale of clean shavings.  Today, I picked up five 39 gallon bags of shavings to put down for my chickens, ducks and geese.  I gave the people there some free eggs to express my gratitude.  This was enough to lay down a nice carpet of wood shavings for all the birds plus lay down a nice pile for Sid. 

What's more, I'll be getting wood shavings every week.  Which means my animals will always be warm and dry.  This made me so happy because I've been trying to think of ways to cut costs but still provide a good environment for them.  Now, I have the ability. 

My husband and I got to talking about differences between places like New York City and Chicago and here.  I've been to these places and quite honestly, my world is very foreign to city dwellers.  I can't imagine spending my entire life in a city like New York, even though it is a cool place, it doesn't feel real to me. 

The rest of the world isn't like New York, but I can see how living there can give a very myopic view of the world.  The city is the environment.  Everything in NYC is man-made, from entertainment to Central Park.  Even the weather is affected by the city: the wind comes rushing around buildings because of the effect the narrowing of the "landscape" has on the airflow.  People in New York have vastly different days than I do -- they ride subways or take taxis, they eat in restaurants, and they seek their entertainment and hobbies within the city.

In comparison, I spent more than a month chasing after wild animals to fill my freezer with meat for the winter.  I'm highly entertained by my poultry and llama.  I sell eggs to neighbors to pay for my chicken feed.  And I sit near a woodstove at night and write. 

The funny thing is that I could do most of what New Yorkers do.  I could buy my meat from the supermarket, entertain myself by going to the mall (yes, we have a small one), eat in restaurants and do things city people do.  But I don't because I don't want to.  I've been there.  I grew up in suburbia.  I travel to big cities all the time.  I have my master's degree.  I just don't want to be like other people.

Today I spoke to a fellow who buys eggs from me.  He had served in Iraq, which make him pretty amazing in my book.  Instead, he was amazed at my life.  I don't know why -- I really don't consider what I do all that special.  But he seemed to think that because I hunted, had a small farm and wrote professionally made me special.  Seems odd, but there you go.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicken and Llama Update, Grouse, Moose and Icelandic Wool

12:16 AM
Hunting season finished with no elk.  Despite that, we saw more moose (bringing the moose count to 10) and saw 3 grouse.  One of which is now in the freezer along with another blue mountain grouse.  Mountain grouse hunting continues until 12/15, which means we'll probably be going back to the same areas to get a few grouse for the freezer.

All-in-all, hunting season was successful with two deer in the freezer and a couple of grouse.  We got to see a ton of moose -- something pretty rare.  I would've liked to have gotten an elk to ensure we would have meat through the summer, but sometimes you don't get what you want.  Elk are elusive critters so sometimes you just have to take your lumps.

Oddly, a lot of what hampered the hunt was the large amount of snow up high.  If you can't get to the places where the elk are, it's pretty much moot.  Even with our jeep and the chains, it was still sporty to get up there.  Assuming the elk hadn't migrated somewhere else.

On the cold and snow front, the chickens and other birds did pretty well.  The toughest part was deicing the waterers for them to drink out of.  They're also eating a ridiculous amount of food to stay warm, which is why I'm grateful the Easter Egger chickens have decided to start laying again.  These birds have been on strike for the past 3 to 4 weeks, laying about one egg every two or three days between six birds.  The following 3 days I've gotten six eggs from these girls, which might not seem like much, but it's better than before.  I'm able to sell the eggs for $3 a dozen, which helps pay for the feed.  Most of them time, I could expect close to 5-7 dozen eggs a week.  During these cold times, I've been looking at about 4 dozen eggs a week. 

My four older chicks -- the three Marans and splash Orpington -- have been silly.  I introduced them into the EE pen and the one Buff Orpington has decided to be the bully and annoy them.  But no one is hurt and they pretty much give that pullet a wide berth.  When I show up, the chicks will all crowd under my legs and climb up on my boots and peep at me.  It's really cute.

Sid is doing great in the cold.  I was somewhat surprised because he was so thin, but he has gained a lot of weight.  You can no long feel his ribs and his backbone feels good.  He knows I'm coming over to feel him morning and evening, which means he gets hay in the morning and llama pellets in the evening.  I'm going to start taking him snowshoing.

On a Christmas note, I've decided to make most of the presents I'm giving this year.  Right now, I'm knitting a present for one of my sisters out of Icelandic wool.  This stuff is amazing to the touch, but is very difficult to knit with.  The fiber is very fragile and breaks easily when you're working with it, but end up being very strong when knitted together.  Odd, that.  Icelandic wool is pricey too, but it's worth it because nothing feels quite like it. 

One thing I love about the Internet is the ability to look things up  like knitting patterns and get free patterns.  Years ago, I remember having to buy all these books to get the basics and patterns.  Now, I can just look up the information.  How cool is that?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Four Moose, No Elk, Winter Storm Warnings, Turkeys and Happy Thanksgiving

1:21 AM
Sorry for the lack of update.  The past week we've been getting record cold, winter storm warnings, and lots of snow.  According to the National Weather Service, we're in a La Nina cycle, which means colder than normal temperatures and higher than normal precipitation. What that's equated to is a shift in the really cold weather -- we usually get it mid-December instead of now.

The chickens, ducks and geese are fine, despite the cold temperatures.  The main problem has been the waterers freezing.  I have one set of waterers on a hot mat that keeps them thawed, but in order to have all of them thawed, I'd need four heated waterers and at about $45 a piece, I've got to wait.  Sid has his very own heated bucket, so he's good.

Everyone outside eats twice as much as they normally do to stay warm.  I added the chicken scratch in with the regular feed and have been keeping the feeders full.  I'm going to have to fill them tomorrow -- I've been hoping to fill every other day, but the birds have been eating like crazy.

We've been looking for elk, but instead found four moose in one day, making us both wish for moose tags.  They're pricey and you have to draw for it in the summer, but now that we know we have lots of moose, we're going to try for them.  We'd have two moose in the freezer by now if we had tags.  So far, the moose count this hunting season is 6 moose total. 

We butchered and dressed the turkey for Thanksgiving.  She was a tasty bird and we felt somewhat sad for her, but the broad-breasted white turkeys don't live long.  By next year, I'd probably have to take an axe to her to put her out of her misery or she'd die of some implosion due to her huge size.  She was over 20 lbs dressed out and without feathers and skin.  Next year, I'm planning on getting heritage breed turkeys so I can keep some around for eggs and chicks. 

Thanksgiving consisted of turkey with organic cranberry stuffing, organic potatoes, homemade cranberry chutney, salad and blackberry pie.  Yes, it was good.  Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sid the Llama Update

3:12 PM
Like many of my animals, Sid the llama evidently has his own fan club.  I was actually asked where my biweekly posts about Sid were, so for you looking for your llama fix, here's what's been happening with Sid.

I was going to get another llama, but due to logistics, I couldn't make it happen.  The llama in question was still intact and rather squirrelly and the owner somehow couldn't get anyone to take him here even though she had a horse trailer and was hinky about us borrowing it.  Long story short, I decided against this llama and am still looking for another one as a buddy for Sid. 

We had extended the fencing on the back of the barn, so now Sid has a bigger run.  It's set up to subdivide so we can introduce another llama slowly. 

I have taken Sid's halter off.  This is a major accomplishment because yes, I can put it back on -- with a bit of annoying behavior on his part.  He'll stick his back end at you and raise his head when you loop your arm around him to halter him.  Snot.  He'll come for llama lunch and eat out of your hand, though. 

His weight gain has me relieved.  He's still a bit thin, but not so skinny he'd freeze to death.  He has muscle on his legs instead of toothpicks!  I caught him lying out in the rain and snow, even though  he has a nice shelter.  He even had snow on his back.  Feeling his sides under the coat, he was warm and dry.

When I feed the chickens, he'll peer in the barn and make grunting noises at me.  I swear, he's saying "where's my llama lunch?"

Because it's hunting season and we have a bunch of people hunting on their land, I wear hunter orange when I walk Sid and I keep to the road.  It's marginally safer than taking him into state lands.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preparing for Bad Weather

12:53 PM
Winter has arrived early this year.  No doubt it's due to the La Nina cycle that we so desperately need up here.  La Nina brings cold and snow to Montana as well as cooler and rainier summers.  While not everyone likes that, I'm good because it means it's less likely the forests will burn in the summer.

But early winter conditions are tough.  We usually don't get the spate of below zero temperatures until mid-December and we're already looking at getting those next week.  Combined with snow almost every day, and we're looking at a winter that will be pretty tough if you don't prepare.

One of the major issues with Montana is the lack of daylight during this time of the year.  From about now to solstice, we're speeding away from light at about 2 to 3 minutes a day.  My chickens have slowed down or even stopped laying in many cases.  People who are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder really feel it up here.   Because I've been out in the wilds, and thereby in natural light, I haven't been affected by the season.  

I went to the feed store and picked up both layer feed and chicken scratch, which is mostly cracked corn.  Supposedly cracked corn is good for providing energy to birds to keep warm, but I really don't know how much science goes into that statement and how much is old wives' tales.

I bought Sid a heated water bucket.  So far he's not cared one bit about the weather, even lying out in the cold soaking rain and having snow fall on top of his coat.  (When I felt his body underneath the fiber, he was warm and dry).  I think the cold will be tough even for him, so I'll be keeping an eye on him during the worst parts and bring him in with the chickens if he starts looking uncomfortable.  I'll be feeding him more grain which will provide a lot of energy.

I suspect he'll be okay as he was treated as a pack llama and not a pet, but he's my llama, which means I'm a bit more careful just because. 

The snow up in the high country is pretty amazing.  We had over two feet of snow where we hunt and more expected, which means we won't be looking for elk in that place.  The basic logistics of getting back there combined with seeing no elk tracks means they left the high areas and we'll have to look for them in lower areas.  We saw another moose (a cow moose, this time) and some cagey mule deer, but nothing else.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Knitting Project and Pinto Beans

10:45 AM
I've wanted to make venison chili for months now and now that I have venison, by god, I decided to make venison chili.  I usually make chili with three beans, pinto, black and red, which would horrify my Texan sister who states emphatically that chili does not have beans. 

Nevertheless, I am not from Texas -- I am here in Montana.  And by god, it's my chili and I'll put in beans if I want to... (Wasn't that a song?)

The problem I ran into was the cost of a can of organic chili beans.  Paying nearly $3 is not a cost savings.  So, I went to the dried bulk aisle and looked at the dried beans.  Now, I have a confession here.  I don't recall using dried beans except when all hope was lost and I couldn't buy canned beans.  I don't recall my mom using dried beans either.  So, I took the "how to prepare bulk beans" information sheet and bought pinto beans only because I didn't want to work too hard and try to mix three beans.

After reading "soak overnight," I figured that soaking for most of the day was best and then cooking them for 2 hours.  I made 2 cups, which ended up being more than I needed, so I froze the rest, so if I need to add beans to something, I can just add them frozen. 

After realizing that I'm not going to be purchasing more shearling slippers anytime soon and having my "new" ones blow out, I started knitting my own slippers.  I'm part way done and today I went to Walmart for some meds for my dogs (they sell prescription meds cheap) and went over to the shoe area.  Sure enough, they had cheap ($12) slippers that I figured would get me through the next few months.  I hate buying stuff made in China, but damn.  I just can't afford to blow a lot of money on things.

I've been looking at probably making some presents this year.  I've wondered what why family will think of that, but maybe I shouldn't worry so much. As I said, I've started knitting again, which is good.  Maybe it won't be sidelined by the arthritis.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Moose on the Loose

9:23 PM
This is a repost from my Livejournal Account

Monday I got my buck after being roused from bed by husband because a small group of deer showed up in the State Land behind our land.  I would've been wearing my slippers to get my buck except I needed new ones and so ended up shooting the deer wearing Crocs.  But they were camouflaged Crocs, so that kind of counts, doesn't it? 

So, with both of us having our deer tags filled, we've focused on getting elk.  But those are ridiculously elusive critters and not easy to find.  We went to another area we hunt and looked around.  We found mule deer, an elk carcass and a moose.

A moose?  Yep.  I saw a critter halfway down the hill and thought maybe elk.  We both put our binoculars on the critter in question and I declared he wasn't brow-tined and his antlers were wrong.  Husband declared brow-tined but something wasn't right.  We continued to look and that's when he announced "it's a bull moose."

I couldn't believe it, but looking at him through the binoculars, I made out the head proper and noted, yes, indeed, we spied Bullwinkle taking a nap.  The moose wasn't at all concerned about us and was happy to lay there and watch us as we watched it.  It was dark chocolate brown in color and had an enormous rack.  I've seen only one other moose in my life and that was a cow moose that jumped in front of my sled dog team and took off down the trail.  My husband has seen two other moose besides the ones I've seen, so his moose sightings are four while mine are two.  By comparison, I've seen elk and deer more times than I can count (except during hunting season!) and I've even seen mountain lions more than moose.  Since neither of us had a moose tag, we waved at the moose and continued hunting.  We saw him several times while passing on the same trail, and again, he wasn't particularly concerned.

Moose are notoriously ill-tempered and dangerous, despite their ungainly and comical looks.  Mushers have no desire to run into moose with their teams as these creatures will stomp dog teams.  So, I was thankful that this moose seemed happy to stay where he was and I was happy to see him and leave him in peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Missing Grouse, Dead Chickens and Revamped Llama Pens

11:47 AM
Tuesday morning we spent rearranging the llama pen since I may be getting a new bud for Sid.  We widened the pen and then split it down the middle, putting Sid in the bigger pen.  He is very happy with his new digs.

Since it took us until about 1:30 to finish the pens, we decided to go grouse hunting again.  We went to the same place where we got our grouse, found grouse nests and what not, but no grouse.  After looking around and walking around, we got in the car empty handed and went home.

The bad news is one of my injured chickens died tonight sometime between 5 and 9 pm.  I think she ended up getting egg bound because of her injuries and couldn't lay her egg.  Or maybe she was just too injured to survive.  I'm keeping an eye on the other one who is in better shape.  We'll see.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another Buck!

11:46 PM
We had no intention hunting on Monday as we decided it needed to be town day.  But sometimes life throws you something you didn't prepare for.

I was still in bed when husband decided to put Haegl outside.  When he opened up the back door, he saw a doe.  Now, we don't have doe tags, but he told me to get up and get dressed because maybe there'd be a buck with the doe.  He got my rifle and got some binoculars and went outside to scout. 

He comes into the house and grabs me.  I barely have time to toss my crocs on my feet.  "There's a buck..."

Okay.  So we go out and just behind our land on state land is the buck.  I take a shot and he's down.  Crocs this year; slippers two years ago.  Go figure.

The butcher, when he heard I got the deer in my crocs said "That is so Montana."

The buck was a pretty small mule deer, barely a fork.  But he had enough antler to make him legal.  The doe he was hanging out with was a whitetail, which made us wonder about that.  I had the butcher remove the antlers so I could try mounting them by myself.  If they work, I'll mount my husband's fork antlers.

We had the tenderloins that night.  OMG, they were good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can You Hear Me Screaming?

1:00 AM
Tonight I got home late and brought 100 lbs of chicken feed, 50 lbs of llama feed and 80 lbs of hay in.  I noticed some of my layers had been picked on and I checked them out.  I almost wish I didn't.

My two best layers have bloody butts.  The other chickens must have picked on them and blood dripped from their vents where they lay the eggs.  Chickens, being the descendants of dinosaurs, are a bit on the heartless side and will eat each other if they think it is in their best interest. 

I had been feeding them leftovers, bread from the bakery that is considered out of date, veggies and hay for about 3 days before getting more of the feed.  I wonder if that had anything to do with it, although they did have some feed left.  You can never tell if they're truly starving or just being normal -- feeding them makes them wolf down (chicken down?) the feed until they practically burst. 

So I used blue kote and now I look like I got into a fight with Barney the Dinosaur.  I separated the severely injured bird and put her in a cage.  The other bird got blue kote but I left in the pen.  One of the barred rocks has a ring of feathers removed on her neck, so I blue koted that as well.  Blue kote is an antiseptic with a blue/purple dye that makes the bloody areas look uninviting.  (Birds peck at the color red but do not react to blue.)

Dang.  What am I going to do for eggs?  Half my birds aren't laying because of the temperatures and lack of sunlight.  The others are getting into pecking fights for no apparent reason.  Sigh.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Musical Birds

5:12 PM
The current brood of larger chicks, which consist mostly of Marans and one lone Splash Orpington are showing serious impatience in the dog crate.  So, rather than feel sorry for them, I popped them into the introduction crate and put them in the pen where the Easter Eggers and Buff Orpingtons are.  They're staying in there for a week and then, I'll open the crate and they'll mingle. 

It probably helps that at least two are roosters.  The Black Copper Marans and the Cuckoo Marans are most definitely roos.  After looking at the Blue Splash Orpington, I can't say for sure what her sex is, but I'm assuming girl.  The Blue Marans is definitely a female. 

The plan is to put the Marans with the Easter Eggers and produce Olive Eggers plus produce more Marans.  If the Orpington is a boy, I'll need to separate him out and put him in with the brown egg layers.  If not, she can stay with the current brood.

My current Buffs (a BO and a BO cross) will go into the pen next door if the Blue Splash is a boy. 

In the meantime, I need to move the birds out of the turkey pen so we have pen panels for the new llama.  Yes, I am hitting my head.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hunting Grouse and Looking for Deer

12:03 AM
Today we decided to stick close to home and also take the shotgun with us to hunt grouse.  We've seen grouse up on the state lands near our house and we had upland bird licenses, so we figured hunting grouse was a good idea, if we couldn't find deer.  We knew where we could find grouse, so when the deer hunting was poor, we decided to go to the place where the grouse were. 

Within seconds of walking on the trail, I spotted a grouse.  Husband shot twice.  Bird flew off.  I found it again and he shot the bird.  We searched for the bird and I almost missed it -- it looked like a tree stump.

Surprisingly, it was still alive but couldn't move.  We put it down and then brought it back to the house for cleaning.  We would've hunted more, except husband didn't think he needed that many rounds to take down a grouse.  Next grouse hunting trip, we're going in with a lot more ammo.

The grouse is a type of mountain grouse called a dusky grouse.  The feathers are beyond belief in terms of beauty and I dry-plucked them and saved them.  I don't know what to do with them, so if you have any suggestions what I can make with them, I'll give them a try.  Cleaning them is a breeze compared to chickens, so I was thankful that this bird was easy to do.

A grouse won't make a meal for two people, so it looks like you have to at least get two for a dinner. I cleaned and froze the grouse for a later meal.  The bag limit is 3 per day per hunter with a maximum of 12 birds in possession at any time.  That means between us both, we could have 24 birds in the freezer,  Good lord, that's a lot of birds.

Now I just have to find some grouse recipes.

One thing that amazed us was the toughness of this bird.  We shot with a shotgun shell that is used for turkey and the shot didn't penetrate the breast.  What stopped it was that it couldn't fly and couldn't walk, so I told my husband we're not downsizing on the load. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chasing After Animals

1:15 AM
Hunting in Montana is an institution.  In other places where one might be considered odd or politically incorrect if you hunt, in Montana, people think you're weird if you don't.  The first question my neighbors asked us when we moved in was "Do you hunt?" 

Hunting here is part of a lifestyle, but it is based in some pretty practical necessities.  When a large number of people are on the SNAP (the food stamp program), hunting and fishing is the only way for some folks to have meat in their diet.  I spend a good portion of the year eating venison and then having to switch to buffalo or (shudder) beef when the game runs out. 

I used to really like beef and I'll still eat a prime rib, but I'd rather eat venison over beef.  Much healthier for you.

The past several days we've been chasing animals.  One day, I saw about 18 deer of either whitetail or mule deer, but I couldn't take the shot because they were all does and I had a buck tag.  Yesterday, I managed to take a shot at a buck, but I missed probably because the wind was strong and swirly.  Tonight when we walked Sid, we saw a whitetail buck.

We've also been chasing after the elusive elk.  We'll find fresh tracks only to not see a single elk.  A guy told us we missed a whole herd by 10 minutes.  We found plenty of tracks and fresh elk poop, but no elk.  Using binoculars on the hill didn't yield anything.

It feels like we walked forever.  We walked and walked and walked to get at the deer in their beds, but didn't find any bucks, only does.  Frustrating, but they have been good walks.  Still, it's caused my hip to hurt and a blister to form on my foot. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Goose Eggs, Quiches, and Animals

3:04 PM
After all this time, I'm thinking I'm better raising animals than plants.  My mom was a master gardener and contrary to my sisters' beliefs, I'm really lousy at growing things.  My ability to grown plants stems from rushing down to the nursery and replacing stuff that doesn't grow.  Yeah, call me lazy or unproductive.  It happens.

Animals, though, I seem to be better suited for.  Ever since I could remember, I've had a natural affinity for them.  Cats have followed me home from the street and even camped out waiting for me to claim them (I lived in a no-animal apartment).  Dogs will try to leave their owners to come with me.  I have a strong sense of what an animal wants and needs.  The only animals I was really afraid of was birds while I was growing up, but as you can see, I'm not afraid of them at all now. 

I loved to fish as a kid.  My sisters hated fishing.  It makes sense that eventually I would join my husband on the hunt.

Yesterday, I decided to make a quiche and use some goose eggs in it.  I hadn't tried the goose eggs because they're so big and I didn't know what they tasted like.  Silly me.  They're really good.  Here's the recipe -- and yes, you can use chicken eggs in it too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Day Hunting

7:33 PM
I missed opening day for hunting largely because I was in Denver at MileHiCon.  Sunday, however, I got back home in time to go out with my husband and begin hunting.  We both failed to draw doe/cow elk tags for our region, so we had to make due with general tags and mule deer buck permits.  Basically, we could shoot at critters with antlers.  In truth, I'm not particularly fond of buck/bull elk mainly because the meat can be a bit tough, but if you can score a younger one, the meat is pretty good.

The problem with my area is that the whitetail deer have pretty much disappeared.  I don't know why, but I suspect it's due to various predators since we have so many wolves, coyotes, bears and mountain lions. They may have fallen victim to two legged predators (poachers) as well, but I have no proof of that.  All I know is that a herd of some 8 whitetail does and 3 bucks dropped to 3 does and 1 buck in the spring and then dwindled down to a doe and her fawn, and finally just the fawn.  However, I've been seeing more and more mule deer and have counted at least two herds in my area alone.

Anyway, we went back into an area we've been to in the past and started hunting.  If you've never done it, it's a lot of using binoculars, sitting and waiting, driving, hiking and looking for animals. More often than not, you're looking for tracks, game trails and signs the animals are around.  It's a lot of work and those who tell you it's easy either went on canned hunts, poached or don't know a thing about hunting.  The average take in Montana is somewhere between 6% and 8% of the hunters getting something.  That's pretty abysmal odds, if you're a betting kind of person.  We've always been lucky and gotten something the past three years.

We got some information from some other hunters about a mule deer herd going down the mountain.  They had passed them up because they had only whitetail buck tags and they were looking for some deer with big racks.  The deer they saw had forks (two tines on each antler) which meant they were young and didn't have much in terms of antlers.  We're not proud and we hunt anything legal because it's meat on the table.  What's more, deer that are a couple years old are more tasty than those with those huge sets of antlers.

It happened that I spotted that herd and the deer that I spotted was a forked mule deer buck.  I directed my husband to shoot and he took the shot, hitting the animal in the lungs.  It ran and we waited.  Then, we went in search of it.  I ended up finding the buck about 100 yards down the trail. It's amazing how far an animal can travel even with a lethal blow.  We dragged him back to the car and brought him back home to field dress and skin.  The skin will go to the tanners and the meat is already at the butcher's.  We took the antlers and put them in the freezer and will probably do something with them.  We try not to waste anything worthwhile on the animal if we can help it.

The next couple of days, we hunted in the same place and Tuesday, I saw deer but didn't see a buck -- they were either not with the herd or were out of sight. 

Mule deer -- not the one we got.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sick Buff Orpingtons

2:41 AM
At least I know what was wrong and how to fix it.  Even so, I ended up with three dead birds.

I had noticed that my young Buff Orpingtons were cold when the weather changed.  I thought that they were being weenies.  My mistake.  They were sick.  I had one die and thought that maybe it was an accident (she had gotten caught between the crate and the pen).  A week later, another one died.  That was followed by another dying the next day.

I didn't bother calling the USDA on the first death, but did on the second.  The veterinarian called back and did a diagnosis over the phone of either worms or bird coccidia.  Neither would cause problems to humans, but could be deadly to my birds.  Not highly contagious, but it made sense because the Buffs were so young.  I treated them with wormer and then started them on Corid. 

Coccidia is a protozoan that lives in bird intestines.  There are other kinds of coccidia, including those that affect humans, but the protozoans are actually species-specific. All birds have a colony of them inside their intestines, but they can take over and kill young birds without treating them.  Usually the chicks don't get it because they're on a low dosage of the medication in Corid

The good news is that the puffed up look combined with being cold has stopped.  The bad news is that I lost three birds who were on the verge of laying eggs.  Not only that, but I treated everyone in the pen to be on the safe side and have had to throw out all the eggs from that one pen.  Oh well, better safe than lose the rest of them.  Now, I have to find more Buff Orpingtons.  Sigh.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brainless Llamas, Feed and Chicks

1:01 AM
Today I took a look at a young (4 year old) llama for a friend for Sid and possible packing llama.  This llama was still intact.  Basically, he was flaky and freaked out by a new person there.  It took three people to get him into the stall and get him to accept the halter.  Once we did that, I took the halter and tried to walk him.

OMG.  The guy was squirrelly and kept trying to dance away or bolt.  At one point, I even got a rope burn from the snot.  I spent 2 hours working him and getting him calmed down enough to walk straight and even got him to accept a hand on his shoulder and neck and eat out of my hands.  Maybe I should've charged for the work?

By the end, I was sore, but I got him to walk nicely and even accept some petting.  He's in better shape than Sid -- even a bit on the heavy side -- but he's much more kept up.  His coat is more of a fiber llama coat -- I would need to cut it down for packing.

He would need to be gelded.  What's more, I got to look in his mouth and I saw that he grew back his fighting teeth, which means those would have to be cut.  Sharp buggers.  We're talking needle-sharp here.  If I had known he still had them, I might have been more retrospect about putting my face so close to his mouth. 

So, he's a real goofball and even a bit untrained, which means he'd be a project llama.   Sid is less of a project llama and more in need of feed and daily interaction.  This guy needs consistent training and commands (not to mention brain-surgery with some snips).  The price, however, is right.  I just need to think about what kind of training I need to do with him and whether I'm willing to put in that much work.  The good news is that he's not a total idiot and I got him to come around with two hours of consistent work.  I keep thinking he's very young and unneutered, but again, do I want to take on a project? 

I'm pretty sure I can train him.  Yesterday, I hit a huge milestone with Sid and got him to let me touch and rub his ears.  That's a huge measure of trust right there.  Sid has also been clamoring for llama pellets, so I picked him up some at the feed store in Alberton.

The feed store had grass hay, which is why I went there.  It appears that there are no bales of grass hay in Missoula and I've been told to take him off alfalfa as a feed.  Apparently, it's bad for male llamas.  The manager gave me a 50 lb bag of layer feed to try out and also gave me a small ranch discount (way cool).  I was pretty delighted by the treatment and Sid was thrilled to get his frickin llama pellets.

I came home to a hatched chick -- one of the marans eggs hatched.  I'm disappointed that others haven't hatched, but maybe they will tonight or tomorrow.  If not, then I figure there's something not going well with the incubator and the hatches.  I may have to get one of those fancy brinsea mini incubators and let it take care of the hatches.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Big Fat Goose Eggs, Turkey Eggs, Llamas and Leaping Lizards

10:19 PM
Today, I discovered that Louise the Toulouse had a clutch of eggs!  The sneaky goose dug a hole in the wood chips, laid the eggs and then covered them with wood chips, so I didn't catch the first egg.  But today I saw the clutch of two and whisked those eggs off to the refrigerator.  I am delighted I have a mated pair and excited because now I can raise goslings!  (Evil laugh here!)

I've been harvesting the turkey eggs and the other day I grew bold and actually scrambled one up.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  They are good.  Really good.  Like better than a chicken egg.  They taste a lot like chicken eggs only richer and yummier.  What a surprise!

Both my husband and I really like Sid the llama and we're thinking now about getting a llama buddy for him.  Tomorrow, I am looking at a possible llama buddy.  I hope this guy will work out.

We've been working on walking Sid and getting him used to both of the Malamutes as well as getting him used to being touched.  He's very skittish still, but today I got him to let me touch his ears.  Major milestone here!  He usually freaks out when people try to touch his ears, but I managed to get him to let me touch them and even rub them.  Wow, major trust there.  He and I went round and round about it and he threw a little llama tantrum, but he eventually let me do it.  And no, he didn't even spit.

On one of our walks, Haegl the Malamute discovered a lizard or salamander.  He tried to play with it (like he tries to make friends with darn near anything) and the lizard freaked out and left its tail.  It was pretty weird seeing a tail whipping back and forth, but we got Haegl away from the lizard and went on our walk.


12:39 AM
Today I went down to the barn to care for the chickens and pick up the eggs.  In the Buff Orpington/Easter Egger's pen, I saw some feathers.  Looking around, I saw that one of the Buff Orpingtons was missing. 

I found her dead; wedged between a crate I had in the pen and the pen's sides.  After examining her, I suspect she died from being smothered by the other Buffs.  When cold, birds tend to pile and the stuckee on the bottom may suffocate.  I suspect that the weenie Buffs crowded for some reason right there and despite their so-called cold-weather hardiness, they piled and crushed the bird beneath it all.  I felt really bad.  I had a couple of days ago turned the heating mat on in that pen so they would have some warmth, but I guess they didn't notice.  So, I took out the crate and put the heat mat where the crate had been.  I also picked up the birds and put them on the mat.

At this point, I wrapped up the dead bird and put her in the freezer in case I need a necropsy performed.  At this point, I probably don't have anything big happening except a case of 5 birds who are weenies about the cold.  Still, it's important to have it in case I need to make sure there isn't a disease running through the coop (not likely -- everyone else is fine). 

She was thin, but at that age, they're all skinny.  They are on a free-feeding schedule with food and water available all the time.  I fill up their feeders about every other day, so I know they're eating.  The entire flock goes through about 250 lbs of feed a month plus food scraps plus bread from the bakeries plus hay and weeds.  On another note, the six hatched-out chicks are doing fine (knock wood) and haven't shown problems with the cold.

So, I'm hoping this is just a freak accident.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't Ask for the Truth -- You Might Not Like It

12:58 AM
Today I was asked about winters in Montana.  The person who asked me was from a southern state and was asking me if the winters were really that bad.  You see, she was going to move up here next spring.

This person is one of those who have come to Montana during the summer and was charmed by its splendor.  There's a lot of wonderful things here, but the weather -- well, that's a major subject.  You see, I gave her the links to the temperature graphs on NOAA to the area she was planning on moving to.  Furthermore, I noticed that NOAA has a Montana Winter Awareness Week, which gave lots of good, if scary, information about the weather in Montana.

It's not that the weather is nasty all the time.  It's just that if you're unprepared for it, it will hit you in a major way.  In 2009, some folks from Oklahoma discovered this.  This wasn't really that far from me, but they were off the grid, and yes, unprepared. 

I guess this person thought I was intentionally being negative about Montana, but honestly, visiting during summer does not give you a good feeling as to how this place really is.  We get subzero weather for a few weeks at a time.  We get snow.  We commonly get 24 to 30 winter storms, of which at least 2 are blizzards.  We get nasty ice storms too. 

People who have never experienced this kind of cold or snow need to first come here in the winter to decide whether or not this is something they can deal with.  Not everyone can -- nor should they.  I have friends who are still suffering for serious injuries due to car crashes on icy roads.  I looked at my land in the wintertime.  That was a good thing because I got a good feel for how bad the road would be and whether or not the weather was an issue.  (It wasn't for me). 

If you do decide to "rough it" out here in Montana, be aware that being off the grid is very brutal as well.  I am not off the grid -- for good reason.  I like living with 21st century conveniences like plumbing, hot showers and internet.  Even living on the grid has its challenges, but it's something I prefer over the city.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Birds in Love, Llamas and Malamutes

11:16 PM
We've been slowly introducing the Malamutes to Sid the Llama.  It's been going pretty well, and I thought I'd take a quick video of Sid walking with Mishka.

I think overall Sid is doing pretty good.  He's very skinny and in the short time we've had him, he's put on a bit of muscle mass, but he's going to need a fair amount of time to gain weight.  Herbavores don't pack on the weight as quick as carnivores do -- or so I've discovered.  It seems to be the lack of high quality protein that meat gives an animal.  Still, both husband and I think he's pretty neat and the dogs are enthralled with him.  That's way cool.

My turkey, who proved to be a hen is very much in love with me.  Sort of uncomfortable, when you realize she's a she and she's going to be Thanksgiving dinner.  Today, she laid a lovely egg for me and I saw the egg pop out, so I know it's not the ducks (I know a turkey egg from a duck egg, anyway). 

I also caught my geese in a poor attempt at goose sex today.  It suddenly became all too apparent that Ee'qua is a gander as he jumped on Louis(e), who is obviously a goose.  Ee'qua has been going ballistic over the roosters in the pen next to them and has been lifting his head in a display.  Ee'qua is an African gander (black bill) and Louise is a Toulouse goose (orange bill).  Their picture to the right.

These two, once old enough, will be able to mate and produce viable offspring.  I've heard that geese go broody, that is, will sit on eggs, so I may just let them do that once she's old enough to lay big enough, viable eggs.  Geese live a remarkably long time for fowl -- I should expect them to live to about 20 to 25 years if nothing bad happens to them.  Geese are pretty expensive birds to buy -- I spent about $20 for goslings that were less than a week old, so hatching out geese is a good investment.  If I don't sell the goslings, I can always put them into freezer camp when they're big enough.  I've heard goose eggs are tasty too.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking Turkey

12:06 PM
Tonight I candled the remaining eggs.  I doubt seriously that any of the Blue Orpington eggs or the last Easter Egger egg will hatch.  But, I'm keeping the eggs in the incubator and turning them anyway.

Of the 4 Merriam Turkey eggs, only one is developing.  I can see the eye and earlier I could see the heart beating. 

Of the 12 Marans eggs, I think I have more than half developing.  There are a few I don't think got started.

It's kind of disappointing when you spend money on eggs and have only about 20% hatch out.  The Marans eggs I got from a friend down in the Bitterroot, so they didn't come via mail.  What's more, she gave them to me because she wasn't sure if the bantam Minorca that had slipped in had done any breeding. 

I was so hopeful for Merriam turkeys, but one turkey doesn't make a flock.  Still, maybe I can pick up some turkey poults and breed them once they get big enough.  That would give me an interesting mix of birds and if I find a bunch of Narragansett Turkeys, I may add them to the lone Merriam and breed them.  They're the closest I can find to wild Merriams and this Merriam isn't completely wild when it comes to the genes.  Still, at nearly $10 a poult, it's a lot of money. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Vaccinations and Thoughts on Farm Animals

11:08 PM
Today I had to get up super early for me as the Humane Society of Western Montana was having a free rabies vaccination day to celebrate World Rabies Awareness Day.  I needed to get two of my dogs revaccinated and since the vaccinations were free, I decided to have it done.

This required me to get up early to get to the Farmer's Market.  This did two things.  First, it got me to the Market early enough to get raspberries and blackberries, but not early enough to get the cheese ends or the bison mock tenders.  Second, it got most of my errands done by noon and we were able to get to the vaccination spot with Mishka and Kira (Haegl had already gotten his vaccinations earlier and Kodiak is really too old and decrepit to transport). 

Despite being on a budget, the blackberries and raspberries from this one farmer are awesome and worth the price.  I broke down and bought a mini-flat.  He had told me he had lost most of his plants due to a frost in October last year and was picking what was left.  What was left were very wonderful berries and worth it.  I got some butter ends, butter, cheese (at full price), celery, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, salad mix, ground bison, beef mock tenders, bison cross-rib roast, strawberries and apples.

I've been talking quite a bit about the turkey on Facebook, and I sometimes get the feeling that people think I shouldn't name the turkey or not eat her.  It's like people are willing to eat animals, some that are raised in the most horrid conditions, but because the animal is packaged up nice and neat in somewhat unrecognizable parts, it's somehow better.  (I'm not saying that all commercial meat is raised is bad conditions, but given that our food can come from damn near anywhere on the globe, you know there are farms out there with bad conditions.) 

My birds are raised in my barn.  They're touched and handled kindly.  They have plenty of space to be birds, with perches, nests and space.  They get lots of treats.  Today my birds got honey-o melon rind and seeds, apple cores, corn on the cob, rice, carrot tops, celery leaves, bread heels, shortcakes and strawberry hulls.  This is on top of the layer feed and oyster shell they get daily.  When they are slaughtered, we take them outside and out of view of the other birds so they aren't disturbed by it.  In other words, we're very conscientious about their quality of life. 

I think the difference is I'm willing to look at my food in the eye and do what needs to be done to eat.  I understand the cycle of life and the food chain.  Quite honestly, Thanksgiving Henrietta wouldn't be alive if someone wasn't willing to purchase her as a chick for the precise reason of eating her when she got big. 

The American Indians had (and may still have) a ritual of thanking the creature who gave its life so that they could eat.  I think it is important to acknowledge that life.  I will often thank the animal for its sacrifice. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Pages to Eating Wild Montana!

1:39 PM
I've decided to add some pertinent pages to the blog to include my recipe pages (so you don't have to search through my posts to find them again) and my poultry articles.  I'll be adding pet care articles and other articles I think are pertinent to this blog as I have them time.  Check them out.  They're the page tabs right below the header.  Let me know what you think!

Turkey Hens, Baby Chicks and Elderberries

12:46 AM
Well, it's official.  Thanksgiving Tom is actually Thanksgiving Henrietta.  She laid a whopping big egg yesterday and while the other birds pecked a hole in the shell, I took it anyway and showed it to my husband. The dogs enjoyed the egg.  Tonight, she laid another egg, but the schizoid rooster of the bunch ran over it and cracked it.  So, the dogs get another egg.  The schizoid roo is going to be put out of my misery tomorrow.  He has been running back and forth along the pen that separates them from the geese and the geese are trying to pluck him.  He then stuffs his head under the space of the pen's corner and thinks he's getting out.  Sigh.  Other than damaging the eggs and annoying the heck out of all the other birds, I think he's pretty worthless.  He's skinny too, which makes me wonder if he'll even make soup.


On another note, I have had two Easter Egger chicks hatch.  I took a video of them in the incubator.  Yes, they're mighty cute, and yes, I'm lousy at recording video, but there you go.  The Xs on the eggs are to let me know which side is up when I'm turning them.

On another note, it's elderberry time.  Out here in Montana, we have many elder trees and the berries are said to be very good for you.  There have been studies that suggest elderberries may help flu symptoms.  I've been picking elderberries to make syrup, but you need a lot of elderberries and evidently, elders around here don't live long. 

It's kind of interesting that there are some very old myths about the elder trees.  For one thing, in English and Scandinavian myths, it is very bad luck to chop down an Elder tree without some sort of incantation because a spirit called the Elder Mother lives within the tree.  The Elder trees are associated with the Elven folk and, while I believe none of this, I've still forbade my husband from chopping down any Elders.  (After all, even I won't tempt fate).  Besides, why chop down a useful tree?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tea, Anyone?

1:00 PM
Anyone who knows me knows that I love tea.  I'm really a tea snob too, preferring loose tea over bagged tea.  I'm one of those people who love black and flavored tea, with some oolong thrown in for good measure.  I've tried to like green tea, but I think it's often more suited to what Sid likes than what I actually drink.

I'm a fan of Adagio tea -- and I won't lie to you: I'm an affiliate, but only because I like their tea so much.  You may notice the signature blends I've made and also check out the teas they have on site. Now, before you faint over the cost, let's put it in perspective:

  1. Loose tea is real tea.  The tea that is sold in teabags is called "finings" and they're basically the swept up leftovers after the leaves are processed. 
  2. You use less leaves than teabags, thus making it cost efficient.
  3. You're paying for the leaves, not the packaging and processing to get the tea bags.
  4. Loose tea is reusable.  You can make several tasty pots of tea before you need to throw the leaves out.
  5. You can easily compost tea leaves.
While Adagio tea isn't organic (and don't get upset about this!), the reality is that organic tea isn't the same high quality as "regular" tea.  If you're concerned over pesticides and whatnot on tea, do what I do -- a flash rinse of the tea with boiling water before brewing.  

Tea is remarkably healthy and full of antioxidants.  Even black tea has some very healthy properties.  So, to your health!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Preserving Food, Farmer's Market Day, Chicks and Mishka

11:37 AM
Saturday was Farmer's Market Day.  As expected, I went down to the market and bought a whole bunch of goodies.  My friends at Dixon Melons were selling their last melons of the season -- this really wonderful melon called the Honey-O which is very much like a cross between a honeydew and a cantaloupe.  Very sweet.

Bought salad, tomatoes, carrots, cheeses, butter, kale, green beans, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, honeycrisp apples, strawberries, beef steaks, celery and melons.  Today I'm going to try to bake a honey-white bread to eat with meals.

It's a rainy day today which means not a lot of walking Sid the llama.  If you want to read about our latest exploits introducing Mishka to Sid, check out my other blog.  It went really well.

With all that food, it makes sense to save it.  The best way, in my opinion, is to freeze the vegetables.  I remember for years just throwing the vegetables in the freezer, which didn't preserve them as well as I thought.  Then, I remembered my mom did something called blanching.  So, I broke open cookbooks and searched for blanching on the internet.  Yesterday, I blanched the kale and green beans.  I'm also going to chop up most of the green peppers and freeze them too.  I use a lot of green peppers in cooking, it seems.

I was pretty sure I had screwed up something with the latest incubation when this morning I heard some soft peeping from the eggs.  Yay!  I have a few chicks!  I turned the eggs that are later hatchers and made sure the humidity was high enough.  I end up getting my eggs in batches and I have only one incubator, so I have to kind of violate the single hatch rules.  Even so, I've gotten chicks out of multiple hatches.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Peach Muffin Explosion

11:16 AM
I decided to make some Spiced Peach Muffins from my King Arthur Cookbook.  My husband likes bringing homemade muffins on trips and they're really handy as snacks.  So, when I discovered the fresh cherries were kind of icky, I broke into the peaches I froze the other week. 

Much to my surprise, instead of the 18 muffins it claimed it yielded, I got a whopping 27 muffins.  I know my husband likes peaches, but really?

So, I'll be freezing some, I guess.  The results were very good,  Even tasty.  Although I ended up discovering I need more flour, oil, nutmeg and brown sugar, it's still a lot cheaper to make these than buy the equivalent or buy snacks.  And they taste better too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sid and Haegl

8:59 PM

Today we decided if Sid was going to pack with us, he'd have to get introduced to the Malamute gang.  We figured that the best dog to introduce to Sid would be Haegl, who loves darn near everyone and everything.  He's still a Malamute, which means he's very much a toned-down predator, but still has a lot of prey drive in him.  Sid, unfortunately, is prey in the minds of such animals, but Sid has a few things going for him.  1.  He is unafraid and doesn't act like a prey animal.  2.  He will spit if provoked.  3.  He will stomp and kick if really threatened.  (He's a big sweetie to humans, though).

The photo here is of Haegl packing.  He's really the sweetest dog around.  Unfortunately, I couldn't use the camera today as I need to buy more batteries for the camera.  I'll take pictures when I'm able.

Not surprisingly, Haegl did okay with Sid.  He barked a few times and even tried to nip a bit, but with a few easy corrections, Haegl went into work mode and began walking with us and Sid.  Sid, he reckons, is some very odd critter that is part of the pack.  Haegl at first investigated Sid's desire to eat grass with great intensity -- Haegl thought Sid was eating something he might want.  So Haegl went looking through the grass for food and finding none, felt like this was all some cruel joke.  In the end, they walked side-by-side with us, Haegl giving up the urge to nip or bark at Sid.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Siddhartha and Montana Friendly

1:17 PM
One thing you must learn when living in Montana is that things never get done fast.  I love this place and the people, but one thing you must be aware of is if you go to a neighbor's house, prepare to spend at least an hour talking.  It's just not civilized, otherwise.

It's not that people don't have things to do, it's just that everything happens on Montana time.  My neighbor, Kate, who is a really nice lady, had a tonsillectomy a few days ago and wanted eggs.  So, I brought them.  We got to talking.  We were soon talking about Sid the llama (she wants me to name him Siddhartha)  and all the happening in the neighborhood.  Before I knew it, her husband had come home and I had to go back and explain Sid and the entire circumstance again.  It's really like people love stories and catching up with what's going on.  " and so tells me that the doe and the fawn is all that is left of the herd..." and "so and so has a friend staying in a yurt behind his house and the mountain lion came by the other night..."  You have to admit, it's pretty interest stuff here. 

I found out some interesting news about Sid.   His old name may have pointed to a line of llamas known as Ten Mile packing llamas.  So, he might be from that pedigree, which is cool, but seeing as he's a gelding, he won't be passing that line along anytime.

As I went back to see Sid, I noticed he's hanging out looking and waiting for me.  That's way cool.  He's a very happy llama now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eggs and Determined Minorcas

1:15 PM

Yesterday I made the long trip into Florence, Montana to pick up some Marans eggs.  Marans are the chickens that lay really dark chocolate eggs and I've been wanting more than just two chicks out of the hatches.  The person who gave them to me is a friend and she warned me that a little Minorca Bantam rooster got in with the hens at one point.  She thought it was unlikely he could've mated with the full sized  hens, but I've always felt that nature has a way of messing up our best attempts.

 So, she gave me the eggs free.  I'm willing to see if I end up with half bantam Minorcas and half Marans for the price of waiting and a little electricity.  ("If they have white earlobes, you'll know...")  So, now I have a bunch of eggs in the incubator.  To this end, I added a schedule to the right so you can follow along on all the fun.

I think that's it for hatching this year -- unless I don't get more turkeys!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Llamas, Turkey Eggs and Farmer's Markets

9:38 PM
Sometimes you come across something free that's hard to resist.  And who can resist that face?  Meet Sid, my "free" llama.  The woman who got my refrigerator asked if I wanted a free llama because she didn't want to feed him during the winter.  He was the odd critter out in her horse herd and basically doing nothing.  So, I took him.

He's a trained pack llama and despite needing a good brush and a shave next spring, and being on the thin side, he's a cool beast.  He hasn't been handled by people a lot, but I got far with him yesterday and today, getting him to accept me touching him all over and even getting him to pick up his front feet for me.  He's in his glory packing, so I took him for a walk and used commands and he was very good.  I'm going to use him for packing, in case you were wondering.

On another note, I got my Merriam turkey eggs today!  Merriam turkeys are a type of wild turkey and one we have here in Montana.  I checked the regs and I'm good as long as I don't let them range with the wild turkeys.  That's easy enough -- a separate pen and I'm good.  I'm hoping to hatch out the four of them.

I've discovered I really like the turkey personality.  Currently Thanksgiving Tom is my only turkey and well, you can guess what date with destiny he has.  The Merriams would be a welcome addition to the flock.

All this eclipsed the market, of course.  And yet, I was able to get peaches, honeycrisp apples, melons, strawberries, cheese, butter, bison, carrots, kale, onions, salad mix, tomatoes, peppers and other yummy things.  Gosh, I wish the market would never end -- but the last day is October 23rd.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Roosters!

12:00 AM

Well, I adopted four roosters from a woman who didn't want to feed them over the winter.  That seems to be a common occurrence with livestock and Montana.  These roos are skinny and need to gain weight.  I suspect they were primarily free-ranged -- if not totally free-ranged.  I figure in a month's time, they'll be ready for freezer camp.

Two Barred Rocks and the Brahma
I will admit that they're awfully pretty.  They are two barred rocks, one bird that looks like a Rhode Island Red to me but the woman said was a New Hampshire Red, and a Brahma.  I'm really partial to the Brahma which is a very big bird.  He's very impressive and has feathered feet.  Anyway, I thought I'd post picts of the birds.

Light Brahma
These guys were starving when I fed them, chowing down on 10 lbs of food in 24 hours.  That's a lot.  Now, granted I have a turkey and two ducks with them, but these guys don't suck down that much food.  I think when they get used to eating on a schedule, they'll chill out.  In the meantime, they'll just get fat.  Oh well -- that's really what I want.

They're pretty mild-mannered roosters too.  This morning I got up and found that I had 3 roosters in the pen.  One was missing.  So, after looking around, I found the RIR in the geese pen, cowering by the dog houses.

The barn went from being only moderately noisy to very noisy with five roosters crowing at each other and when I picked up one rooster, they all went into an alarm cluck which sounds like an egg song.  All the chickens picked it up and I got to hear buc-buc-buc-BAWK! at the top of their lungs.  It was cute, if noisy.  Even the 4 week old chicks cheeped in.

The RIR or NHR Roo
On another note, I have 10 eggs in the incubator.  Hopefully Blue Orpingtons and Easter Eggers.  I want an Easter Egger roo and a couple of blue orpingtons.  I'll take splashes like the last chick.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heirloom Breeds and Single Points of Failure

11:03 PM
In my other life, I was a rocket scientist.


Heritage breeds are important
I know I harp on about the large conglomerate farms, but with good reason.  You see, as a rocket scientist and an engineer, I was trained to set up redundant systems.  That meant that if some system went ten toes up, there was always another backup system to take over.  The idea was to build in redundancy and not rely on just one mechanism to ensure the system stayed up.  This basic principle stayed with me whether it was nuclear weapons, satellites, cable TV or telephones.  Unfortunately, there's no planned redundancy when it comes to biological stock and our food source.

I was surprised at first to read about endangered domestic breeds.  I picked up a book called Pocketful of Poultry and read how most of the breeds qualify as endangered or worse.  When we think of endangered animals, we think of wild animals, but that's not always the case.  The current food industry uses mostly one or two types of animals to produce food for most people.  Using chickens as an example, the number one laying bird in the US is the white leghorn.  For brown eggs, most industrial producers use ISA Browns -- a cross between New Hampshire Reds and Rhode Island Red.  For meat chickens, producers use exclusively Plymouth Rock/ Cornish Crosses.  As a result, breeds that were once commonplace are now rare and a huge percentage -- up to 50% -- of ancestral chicken genetics are gone for good.

This isn't just with chickens either.  Throughout our agriculture, we're turning it into a monoculture that will have devastating results. Don't believe me?  Take a page from history of more that 1 million dead Irish in the potato famine, the various rice famines and wheat crop failures. When you're dependent on one crop and if that crop fails, you'll begin to understand the need for diversity. What happens when we're limited to one or two types of animals or crops for food and disease hits it?  Animals with more diverse genetics may be resistant to disease that one within a monoculture may be susceptible to.  And do we really want to have only one or two breeds provide us food?  It is a shame if we lose part of our agricultural history because it doesn't fit the current agriculture system.

So, how can you change this?  Easily.  Start buying heritage produce and grains.  Learn where your meat and eggs comes from and buy from heritage herds and flocks.  You can find this out by buying from farmer's markets and organic food stores.  Start thinking about where your food comes from.  Something as simple as that can change industry.  If enough people care and request natural and heritage foods, that will cause the food industry to offer more variety.  Look how popular organic and heritage foods are already.  By simple changes in your buying habits you can help change the way agribusiness functions.

There's an interesting article about the subject of heritage breeds and genetic diversity. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Bread Baking and Other Slow Foods

12:25 AM
Today was Farmer's Market Day and I bought a lot of food.  I bought purple kale, celery, fennel, potatoes, salad mix, cherry tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, beef, cucumbers, green pepper, carrots, honey-o melon (a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew), peas and corn.  I bought beef because the woman who sells the bison wasn't there, but despite this being "natural beef," the price tag wasn't outrageous.  I bought ground beef and a cheap cut called mock tenders that the rest of the world hasn't discovered yet.  It's relatively tender and is a mock fillet mignon, but has a cheap price.  I've never tried the beef version, but the bison version on the barbecue is very good.  I made Badlands Pepper Steak with it and it came out very good.

I need an egg basket.  My chickens laid 11 eggs today which made it almost impossible to carry the eggs.  I shall check Freecycle to see if someone has one.

I've heard the term "slow foods" used quite a bit.  It's a comparison to fast foods that we all have eaten in the past.  Slow foods are more economical, healthier and better for you.  If you're into saving the planet, they're also supposedly more eco-friendly, but I don't know the rationale behind this.  I'm not too worried about saving the planet, but I do believe in saving money and not wasting, so if I do that and someone who worries about such things applauds me, then there you go.

Slow food was the kind of food I pretty much grew up on.  My mom made her own stock and soups, cooked her own homemade dinners and whatnot.  I've had to relearn some of those skills because I wasn't interested in such things while younger.  Now, I am but because I feel better eating organic and unprocessed foods and the only way to really eat these things is to cook your own meals.  What's more, my husband travels a lot and has to eat out, so eating in is special for him.  He would rather eat homemade food than go out, and nowadays, there's so little out there that tastes better than what I cook at home. 

One of the things I have learned is to use work-saving appliances to cook meals.  I have arthritis from writing and martial arts, so I need to use whatever aids I can.  My mom's old Cuisinart gets used constantly to slice and cut up vegetables and meat.  I use a bread machine to knead dough.  I also use mixers instead of mixing food by hand.  I pop everything in the dishwasher because I don't have time to scrub.

Baking bread is truly a joy when you use a bread machine.  The hard part is pretty much taken out if you mix everything with the dough cycle and then put it in the pan for the final rise.  I made a honey-wheat bread that was very sweet and tasty.  When you take out the kneading portion, making bread is a snap -- and it's so cheap too by comparison.  I realized that for pennies I was making bread that I would purchase for $2 to $5.  Tomorrow, we'll have hamburgers and I'll make burger buns from scratch.  These buns are better than anything I buy at the store.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gingerbread Muffins

3:45 PM

Today, I decided to check out some recipes in Prairie Home Breads. This book I got from the Book Exchange in Missoula.

It's a great book with homey recipes. In particular, I made their Gingerbread Muffins.  I'm a sucker for gingerbread and what's really cool is that you put the recipe together and then put it in the refrigerator so that you just bake what you want at the time. 

I modified the recipe because I discovered that I didn't have enough molasses. You need a cup and I ended up adding rice syrup and honey to make up the difference.  I also added more ginger because they only called for a tablespoon of ginger for 3 dozen muffins.  Next time I will use 2 tablespoons of ginger. 

I made about 14 muffins and promptly ate two.  They're that good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Preserving Food and Hatching Chicken Eggs

6:55 PM
Farmer's market proved to be once again a bounty of yummy things.  I bought zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, salad mix, peaches, strawberries, Honey-O melon, apples, Flathead cherries, beans, onions, corn, celery, butter, cheese, and a pork roast. 

Today I blanched beans and sugar snap peas and froze them for use over winter.  Blanching, I have found, to be the easiest way to preserve foods.  I will probably do so with kale and Swiss chard.  I just wish I could preserve other foods better.   My mom used to make canned preserves with the paraffin wax top the USDA says isn't safe anymore.   I don't have a pressure cooker and canning seems a bit daunting at this point. 

Lastly, I succumbed to chicken eggs.  I bought 6 Easter Egger and 4 Blue Orpington eggs for about $4.74 plus shipping.  We'll see...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eggs for Sale, Cold Frames and Markets

9:09 PM
Now that the chickens are getting into the swing of laying eggs, I'm going to have to sell some.  I eat a fair amount of eggs, but I'm getting about 8 eggs a day, which means they're surplus.  I'm thinking of putting up a sign at the local gas station and market as well as bring some eggs by the veterinarians.  Who knows?  Maybe they'll subtract those eggs to my bill.  If you live in or around Missoula and want fresh eggs, let me know.

Decided to try making Welsh cakes today but made them with barley flour.  They are very sweet and even a little crumbly, which made them a tasty breakfast treat. 

Cold Frame on Vegetable Gardener
The weather is now a bit on the cool side and I'm thinking about planting something in the cold frames.  After having been sick for a while, I haven't done a lot.  But I need to get some stuff planted if I want fresh herbs and veggies in the fall/winter.

Tomorrow is the Farmer's Market.  I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Saving Money By Making Your Own

1:13 PM
One of the reasons I've been working on stock/broth is because buying it from the store seems so darn expensive.  I mean, when you're paying $3 to $5 for the convenience of organic stock, I started thinking about making my own.

Today I bought part of an organic knuckle bone and a piece of "chuck steak" for about $5.  I tossed it in the pot with some celery, onions and carrots I had bought at the farmer's market.  Combined, those ingredients probably cost about 75 cents.  I added herbs and spices, most picked from my garden or dried.  I figure by the end, I got about 6 quarts of stock, cooked meat for soup, a bone for reuse in stock, and a bunch of vegetables I'm feeding the chickens tomorrow.

So, maybe I spent $6.  If I paid about $3.50 per quart of organic beef stock, I would have spent about $21 for the amount of stock I made.  That saves me $15 on the stock alone. This stock I can now use in recipes like risotto, stews, and, of course, soup.  Since it freezes nicely, it stays good.

My Chickens love leftovers
Because I have chickens, vegetables don't go to waste.  If I have old vegetables, leftover soup vegetables, fruit peels, melon rinds and the like, they go to the chickens.  The chickens eat them and that goes towards the eggs.  Heck of a deal.

I know some recipes claim that you should throw out the meat you use in the broth, but I've never done that.  Meat from the broth gets frozen and used in soups or some other dish, so it does double duty.  I never give cooked bones to my dogs (too brittle), so if I have a bone from a soup, I put it in the freezer because I might be able to roast it and use it again as a stock flavoring.