Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hunting, Mule Deer and Tamaracks

10:26 AM
Hunting season always starts on the Saturday when MileHiCon occurs, so I have to forgo the first day and a good portion of the second day of the hunt.  If you're a hunter, you know this is a bit disastrous as the animals are less stressed on the first day and then get more stressed after being shot at.  Luckily, here in Montana the rifle season is five weeks long, so you can take your time to fill your tag.

Most people here in Montana hunt for meat, and we're no exception.  Sure, you get those trophy hunters and whatnot, but it's illegal to waste meat and so any meat that isn't consumed goes to the food bank.  So, if you're looking for a big trophy buck, you have to eat it or donate it. 

So, I wasn't surprised when my husband got his first deer on the first day of the season.  He thought it was a doe (he had a whitetail doe tag and an either species tag for buck) and discovered it was a legal spiker (horns are straight without any branches) buck,so filled his buck tag. Spike bucks are yearlings, so they aren't as big as an older buck and aren't sexually mature, so they aren't full of testosterone, which makes meat "gamey" and tough if you believe the old timers.

The next several days while I was back from MileHiCon, we searched for my buck and my husband's doe.  We also looked for elk.  First day, we saw nothing.  Second day, we were tired and hunted around the house and up into state land.  We also tried an area we knew there were mule deer but they were cagey.

Third day, we decided to walk a trail we had seen plenty of tracks and poop.  Before we walked it, we looked into another area and I spied some mule deer about a mile away with my binoculars.  We raced over to see them crossing the road and found that they were all does and not huntable.  So, we went to the trail and walked.

Right now, Montana is gorgeous.  The tamaracks are in full color and the ground foliage is a brilliant red.  After a while, it became obvious that my boots had shrunk and were squeezing my feet.  So, I gimped along after more than an hour's walk and hobbled back into the jeep without anything.

Mule deer
That late afternoon, we decided to go back to the cagey mule deer.  We've tracked these deer last year and got a buck there before, so we drove to the area to find that the deer were already in the spot we expected.  They weren't as cagey and I suspect few people know their trails other than me and my husband.  So, when we saw a young forked buck, I shot and we had a big, fat mule deer.

We brought the deer home and dressed him out.  Heavy boy, despite being about two years or so.  The good news is that herd is so big and so healthy that it's unlikely losing a young buck will affect it and we'll be able to harvest more deer from that same herd for years, because they have the same pattern.  (Deer aren't bright).  My husband thinks he saw a bigger buck in the group, but he was so cagey, I suspect he got behind a tree.  It was tough as it was to shoot the one we got because he too was dodging among the does and even got behind some deadfall for a bit. 

So, that's our second buck.  Now to find a whitetail doe and some elk.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carnival Squash, Giant Kohlrabi and Dragon's Tongue

12:39 AM
One of the most awesome things about living in Montana is being introduced to odd and heirloom  vegetables.  I wasn't a real big vegi person when I moved to Montana, but the food here is so amazing, that you have to take risks.

One is Dragon's Tongue beans.  If you've never had these beans, you're missing out.  I tried planting them this year, but the grasshoppers ravaged them.  Dragon's Tongue are purple spotted beans that lose their spots or stripes when cooked.  They're tasty and worth searching them out.  I found one person at the Farmer's Market who sold them.  So, I bought a pack, blanched and froze them. 

Another odd plant is Kohlrabi.  A relative of the cabbage, these plants are peeled and cut up.  They taste like cabbage, but are delicious sauteed in olive oil and garlic.

My other surprise was finding something odd called a Carnival Squash.  No, I have not tried it yet, but I may just do so now that I have one.  They're a colorful type of winter squash that sometimes is incorrectly called a variety of acorn squash.  I'll tell you about cooking it when I do get it cooked.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Homemade Tomato Sauce

12:38 AM
It's unlikely you'll ever make homemade tomato sauce, unless you get quite a few overly ripe tomatoes that need processing fast.  I've lucked into a bunch of vegetables, so in order to preserve them, I'm doing a lot of freezing.  I have a bunch of tomatoes that I had to do something with quickly, so I decided to make tomato sauce.

The first time I made homemade tomato sauce, I thought the recommendation to simply use a peeler on the skins was a good idea.  Wrong.

Tomato skins don't peel easily.  That's why if you're making tomato sauce, you should blanch the tomatoes first.  My mom blanched vegetables before freezing them, but I never understood the mechanism or why it was done.  With tomatoes, it's used to remove the skins.  So, I set a huge pot of salted water to boil and put the tomatoes in until I saw the skins crack (about a minute).  I removed them with a slotted spoon and in some cases dunked them in cold water and then peeled them.  I found quickly that the Roma tomatoes peeled much easier than the beefsteaks (something to think about!).  I put them in a pot with chopped garlic (about 5 large cloves), extra virgin olive oil, and a handful of fresh basil in a pot to simmer for 2-3 hours.  I used a potato smasher to crush the tomatoes and let them cook down.  Now, the recipe I read said to core the tomatoes and remove the seeds.  Hmm, yes, I could have, but didn't remove the seeds.  If I wanted to, I could have put them in a food processor and blended until smooth.

Obviously, I like having chunky sauce, so I opted to keep it that way.  I ladled the sauce after it cooled into containers and put them in the freezer.  This sauce makes an awesome pizza sauce and can be used in just about anything that needs tomatoes or tomato sauce in it.

After peeling the skins, I put them in the bird bag and fed them to my chickens along with the other leftovers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hatching Chicks

12:18 AM
It's a day early, but already my incubator is full of peeping.  My latest batch of chicks are hatching, which is good, because I've needed to replace my current layers.  Despite everything I've read about chickens living 8 to 15 years, I've come to the conclusion that most chickens don't live that long due to the fact that they're birds.  The slowdown in egg production starts at a year and continues in a downward spiral until they're pretty much just eating feed and not providing anything.

I saw a graph that shows most chickens' laying decreases 40% after two years.  That's huge.  That means, if you were used to getting 5-6 eggs a week, you can expect to get only 3-4.  And that number continues to drop.  I lost a number of birds due to odd problems such as congenital problems and injury, so I've been forced to hatch out a number of chicks.  Right now, I have 7 six week olds and 5 three week olds.  If all chicks hatch that I expect will hatch (I have one egg that I'm sure is a dud), I'll have 6 new chicks.

These chicks will make the bulk of my flock for next year.  Already I can see two chicks in the six week olds are roosters (sigh), and that will affect the total number I keep.  I have plenty of roosters, so unless I'm attached to them, they'll end up in freezer camp.

The chicks are mutts, being mixed breeds of my chickens.  I have a Buff Orpington, 2 Barred Rocks, 2 Rhode Island Reds, 1 Easter Eggers (EE) (I have 5 total, but 4 are in another pen), 1 Blue Marans, and 1 Black Sex Link.  The roosters in that pen are 1 Barred Rock, 1 Cuckoo Marans, and 1 EE.  It's pretty funny, but one of the non-Easter Egger eggs hatched a chick that had characteristic EE muffs on its cheeks.  That means my EE rooster, who runs away from everyone, has been busy with the ladies.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Riding Horses

11:42 PM
Well, well, well.  The day finally arrived where we brought the horses over to a training stable for a bit of riding.  Since we hadn't been on either horse, and seeing that I had not seen Scarlet in action, I figured the safest thing was to have a pro ride Scarlet and tell us what she knew or didn't.

The good news is that Scarlet is more or less harmless.  She's a follower trail horse that has not been fully trained.  Rein commands leave her puzzled, but she understands leg commands.  The trainer said she felt like Scarlet had been a kid's horse.  She know whoa really well and is more likely to be slow than fast.  Which is good because my husband is a novice rider. 

Scarlet is out of shape, too.  Basically, by the time the trainer, I and my husband rode her, she was lathered up and sweaty.   She needs working, which is fine.

Next, I put a hackamore on Rocket and climbed on board.  A hackamore wasn't the right choice as she felt like she had her head and insisted on trotting and cantering.  I had a snaffle bit put on and we tried again, and boy was Rocket a star.  I was in complete control, learning her sensitive reactions and taking her around barrels and to just about everywhere.  This horse is amazing.  She'd do darn near anything I asked, which means she's that good.  She a joy to ride. 

By the end, I felt as though the ride had come to an end too soon.  My star, Rocket, did wonderfully.  The trainers even commented how wonderful the horses looked and how good we had done.  Yep, I was feeling really good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scarlet and Rocket

12:03 PM
Well, we took the plunge and became horse owners this past summer.  After looking long and hard at various options for getting horses, I decided to adopt horses from a horse rescue here in Montana.  The rescue's name is Horse Haven Rescue and they have some of the most delightful people there.  I highly recommend them.  I chose to adopt rather than buy or look for a free horse (there are plenty in the paper), because I believe that there are plenty of wonderful animals out there going to slaughter (yes, people eat horses in Canada, never mind that the horses are treated with medications that should not go into food animals) and any horse I adopt is going to give another animal a chance.

We wanted horses for riding into the back country and for hunting.  The two horses we adopted were one from north of us named Scarlet and a horse from a very decent situation named Rocket.   Neither horses are particularly tall (about 14.3 hands). 

Scarlet is a half Morgan and half Quarter horse mare.  She's sorrel in color, which I think is more or less a fancy term for red.  The situation was pretty odd where the man who owned her lost his pasture because the family who let him board his horses were foreclosed on (this is the story I heard).  He had five horses.  One was a very green mare about 4 years old.  One was a huge thoroughbred about 17 years old with some severe back hoof problems -- either foundered or had ringbone.  One was a mare that was very beautiful, but Alpha (11 years),  and a 30 year old mare.  Then, there was Scarlet at 15 years. 

Scarlet's hooves were overgrown and she was very sore on them.  When we got the farrier out here, he remarked she had a hoof ball injury and might or might not have problems.  The vet we had evaluate her said basically she had been injured in the hip at one time and didn't extend her leg all the way.  Exercise would improve that.  Then, he mentioned that she might have arthritis in the back pastern because of the hoof ball injury.  So, she might need bute occasionally. 

She is lactating.  The vet says its a hormonal thing and she may need some supplement if her hair doesn't grow right.  According to the former owner, she had one foal (stillborn) but hasn't been bred since.  

I've put her and Rocket on joint medication and have been working them on the ground.  This week we may be riding them.