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.