Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Calving Season


We're very happy with our cows' mass decision to hold their babies until after we got home from our fall hike.  The jury is still out on OUR decision to tag (and band, if necessary) the newborns as soon as we meet them.  The cows we know all seem to slip away from the herd and our sight as the birth becomes imminent.  Often, a week or more can pass before we glimpse the calf, and a few more days pass before mom and newborn are regularly together.   It isn't like we have flat, open pastures where we can easily spot the calves.  The ranch is steep and wooded and full of great hiding spots, so we are having a little bit of difficulty in our new plan. 

In past years we just waited until everyone had calved and rejoined the herd and invited them all to a tagging and banding party.  Easy.   The entire herd was shuffled pen to pen into a crowding alley and then one at a time into a chute for their individual attention; vitamins, minerals, vaccines, tags, etc.   Routine.  But... calves that are only a few days old are more calm and less affected by the handling than their older selves would be.  It is also considered more humane to band the little bulls during the first few weeks of life and the ear tags help us identify each calf as well.   So,  we will try to entice, cajole, seduce, or detain each newborn calf as soon as we view it. 

For those of you who haven't met a newborn calf up close,  they are dewy eyed, pleasant smelling, wobbly-legged emissaries of peace and love, with silky curly hair and innocence.    You just want them to know that they can trust you and that you, also, believe in the possibility of world peace.  

Raising calves for beef, and the goal of world peace seem to have a common difficulty.... too much testosterone.   With our calves, the males receive a shiny green rubber band.  (As to world peace, that is for others to decide.)   This brings to a point the tradeoff with handling newborns.   They are with their moms (and maybe aunts and cousins) in the open, in the woods, on the road.  We must somehow gain their trust long enough to get close enough to catch and hold them to apply a tag and perhaps a band.   Without mom sensing that they need defending,  without the calf deciding to flee (they are WAY faster than a human by day two or three)  and without any of the herd (some of whom just got this treatment) noticing that something is up.  Spycraft, I think.   Cowboying, Tammie says.   Whatever.  

We have so far successfully dealt with the first nine.  Most were uneventful.  One, the biggest, had to be carried and led back to his mom because he just seemed to wander aimlessly after the "treatment".   Another, a female, exacted her toll for allowing the placement of an earring by kicking with a strike like a cobra.   Tammie's jaw still works, just not without pain.    So,  we will see how this latest twist works out.  

 On the plus side, after the first week all of the calves have been treated, and all are still acting like the friendly, curious babies that we met.   



Saturday, September 19, 2015


Our Toyota Landcruiser came home from the mechanic's shop today and we made a little video of it's adventure along the way.  

Speaking of homecomings... I've been gone from this blog for a long time.

In August I traveled to the foreign land of Las Vegas, Nevada to help our daughter make a warm and inviting environment for her kindergartners.  She changed schools so there was a lot of work to be done.  We moved two pick up loads of materials to her new class.  We then  sorted and organized all her materials  plus the materials that were in her new classroom.  We also had all of the regular stuff of classroom setup:  tables, desks, rugs, bulletin boards, name tags, etc.  There is a lot a teacher must do before the little ones arrive.  I get great satisfaction organizing, so I totally got into it.  I also enjoyed all the time with my family there.  Then, I was off to my oldest son's place in the Central Valley for another great visit.  Then,  Mark met me and we headed into the High Sierra for another backpacking adventure.  You can read about it on our hiking blog

When we got home last week, we got the best homecoming gift ever.  RAIN!  A good soaking rain.  It washed everything clean and made the earth smell good.  We should soon see some green grass shooting up and the cattle and hogs will be excited about that.  We are especially grateful that it helped with all of the wildfires our lovely state has been having. 

Life is good. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chicken Harvest

My grandparents taught me how to raise and butcher chickens and we continue this practice for family ritual as well as for healthy eating practices.  We like knowing what we are eating and we like being responsible for our food choices. 

One of the more popular posts on this blog was a guest post  about me butchering chickens the way my granny taught me.   Check it out here.  In this post I will show you the new and improved way of butchering chickens.  This year we rented "Jr.", the chicken trailer from a local farm, Shakefork Farms.  In this trailer are all the needed supplies to butcher chickens, efficiently and cleanly.  With these supplies, and a short tutorial, Five of us butchered 40 birds in 3 hours.  This is a vast improvement over our previous times. 

First improvement:  Chicken cones.

 You place the birds in the cones and slice them on both sides of the neck.  No need for my old practice of cutting off the head.  (Although, it was kind of hard watching the life slowly bleed away.)   You let the birds bleed out for about 5 minutes. 

Second Improvement: Temperature Controlled Scalder

You dip the birds up and down for 1 minute in 145 degrees and it is helpful to put a few squirts of liquid detergent in the water so the water penetrates the feathers better. 

BEST Improvement:  Plucker

Place 2 or 3 birds into the moving plucker and watch those feathers disappear.  It took about 20 seconds.  By hand I was doing well if I got it done in less that 10 minutes!

Fourth Improvement: Not really an improvement.  You still have to gut the birds by hand.

But we did have a nice stainless steel table to do it on and you pushed the entrails into the hole in the middle of the table.  We had a garbage can underneath and all of the guts and stuff went out into the woods and fed a whole host of critters.  There were 3 of us gutting as this took the most time.  The other 2 caught the birds, bled them, dunked them and plucked them and were always ahead of us at the evisceration table.

Fifth Improvement:  Chilling Tank
This is a big water trough filled with ice and water.  I'm not sure why I never thought of this before.  This was a real quick way to chill the birds. 
Final Step:  Bag the birds
We took the birds from the chiller and placed them on the counter to dry a bit before bagging them.  Our son and wife took extra time to vaccum seal their half of the birds and I now wish I had as there birds really look good in the freezer.  I just double bagged our birds.
Final, Final Step:  Clean Up
All of the equipment has to be hosed off and then rinsed with a bleach solution, this did take about an hour extra, but we did have fun. 
We barbecued a split bird the other day and it was sure good!