Sunday, 3 April 2011

Oh, deer...

It's a busy time of year for us. I probably say that a lot, but it's true this time, honest. The weather is warming up and the mud is drying up. Milkweed has been harrowed to flatten out hoof prints. Early vegetables seeds are sprouting in the greenhouse, and the magnolia is in bloom -


The chickens love eating the fallen blossoms when I first let them out in the morning. It seems an odd choice for breakfast. I would like to think that the chickens know what they need to eat to lay the best eggs, but I've seen them eating Styrofoam so the jury's out on chicken logic.

I've finished netting over my expanded vegetable patch -

I'm nearly finished manuring and digging the two new beds now. A continuous fortnight of good weather has helped. I had to stop digging after I went to a Zumba class. The class looked like fun and I figured I could use the cardio to balance out my muscle bulk from activities like flipping sheep and digging. My sciatic nerve didn't agree and now I can't sit down without causing a shooting pain up my leg. I'm writing this post standing up at the kitchen counter, and my onions are definitely going to get planted late this year.

The upside of not sitting down is that lots of little jobs are getting done, where I would normally flop down in front of the television and squander that time watching re-runs of 'Columbo'. The dogs get extra long walks, and I even found time to slap a coat of fresh paint on the cupboards in the kitchen, which is also my temporary study until I get better.

The quail have started laying and I have to hunt for their well-camouflaged eggs hidden in the deep straw bedding -

quail egg compared to chicken egg

Susan is broody. I replaced her clutch with five Buff Orpington eggs -

I don't mind hatching a few more dual purpose chickens. A few days ago my neighbor Simon asked me to dispatch Trevor, his Buff Orpington cockerel.  He brought round a bit of the cooked bird for us to try last night. There wasn't a huge amount of breast meat but the legs were large and the bird was very tasty. A bit gamey even. Simon says that was probably a reflection of Trevor's personality. I won't mind so much now if a few boys hatch out in Susan's brood.

The pheasants have started laying in their pens, and we began collecting the eggs this week. There are 32 pens, each pen holds 65 hens and 8 cocks. I'll save you the math: 2,080 laying hen, 256 breeding cocks. The pens stretch the length of the field -

My sheep are currently grazing the grass on the laying field, and they follow me from pen to pen, watching me put eggs in a basket.

I think that the egg basket resembles a feed bucket, if you're a sheep.

Quincy is growing like a spring weed. Lily the chocolate lab has been an energetic and tolerant playmate for Quincy. The more they play together, the more Quincy learns and, more importantly, the less she chews my shoes.

Lily has started spending weekdays at her new home, with her new owner. We all look forward to seeing her back on the weekends. No one more than Spud, who gets stuck with puppy duties when Lily's not here. Spud spends most of her weekends recuperating -

On top of vegetable plots, egg picking, and dog wrestling matches, there are still deer to harvest. Thursday was the end of doe season, and Friday was the start of roe buck season. I still had one more doe to account for, and I went out every night this past week to try and bag her.

A deer ride through the woods - a good starting place
I don't think I've ever had such a dry spell. The first night I saw the back end of one disappear into the covert. The second night out, I saw nothing. Third night, I decided to take the dogs for a walk and didn't carry a gun. Of course, I saw two decent cull animals in range. The fourth night, I found this -

A fresh pile of deer scat, still warm (yes I touched it...) I walked on and hoped to run into the beast, but saw nothing. In desperation, I sat above a deer trail with good views and a good back stop (for the rifle bullet, should I miss). I sat until it got dark and the pain from sitting got the better of me -

You can just make out the path - look through the top centre square

Nothing. No does before the end of the season. I will have to tack that one onto next season's cull plan. I hope I have better luck with roe bucks this week.

I did find something else, something disturbing and unwelcome -

It's a home made ball bearing. I found it under a tree where pheasants roost. Poachers shine a light into treetops, to spot pheasants roosting. They use catapults to fire heavy ball bearings at the pheasants, knocking them off their perch, dead or close to it. No gun shot to give yourself away, and minimal disturbance to all the pheasants which can be noisy when alarmed. Poachers can develop frightening accuracy with a catapult.

We've found other ball bearings in the same area, so we'll be extra vigilant now. I'm happy to stand watch. Anything to avoid sitting down.


Paula said...

Sorry you've hurt yourself. I recommend a chiropractor, if you can find one and swing the fee; a good one is worth his or her weight in gold, believe me. Failing that, try a deep tissue massage. Your muscle is killing you because it's trying to protect the nerve.

Good luck busting the poachers!! And feel better soon.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Go on, for the kit tarts in the audience, tell us about your rig?


Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - I totally agree. I owe my ability to walk to my chiropractor. I've had so many accidents with horses that by rights I should be crippled. I don't even have so much as a bad back. I've broken my ribs alone 3 times.

I'm only assuming it's sciatica, from how others have described their pain, but I don't know much about the condition. I didn't even realise it was the muscle hurting so I'm grateful for the info.

SBW - It's a Remington PSS .308 calibre, heavy barrel (handmade) and 5-shot detachable mag. It's fitted with Schmidt & Bender 8x56 scope. I use Norma brand 150gr ballistic tips. And I LOVE the combo.

I love the term 'Kit Tart' too.

Kate said...

Wait. You raise quail? Did I know this? It's news to me. I've been mulling quail for a while now, so please, please, please write more about them, their habits and housing. Especially if you have any way of keeping them on grass/pasture.

A *homemade* ball bearing? Why would it be homemade? Do ball bearing purchases make people suspect one of poaching? It's kinda cool and all that someone has that ability, but it sucks that they're poaching your birds. Catapult - would that be a slingshot back home?

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - I'm no quail expert, so I guess that means they must be easy to keep. We keep common quail(Coturnix coturnix). My first batch were killed by rats, so I learned to house them on concrete. Someone else may know the best way to keep them on pasture. Perhaps if you put a wire mesh on the bottom of their pen on pasture, to keep anything from digging in?

In a small rat-proof pen, they're easy. Relatively disease-free. Easy to hatch (18 day incubation). Give them a litter tray filled with chinchilla dust and they're happy. They mature quickly but they're not prolific layers.

Not to encourage you to break your 'one new species a year' rule, but I'm sure you could make a success of it.

Catapult is a slingshot. Ball bearings are sand casted - I remember doing sand casting in shop class in 8th grade. It's simple and cheap. Poachers tend to be do-it-yourselfer types ;-)

Sara said...

And I thought 2 house cats were a lot of work. You literally have THOUSANDS of animals. I hope your sciatica clears up. My brother started getting the shooting pains and he helped it by easing up on his running regimen and doing more low impact exercise, including back muscle strengthening. It doesn't sound fun.

Kerry said...

I can't imagine a world where watching Columbo is considered a bigger waste of time than touching hot deer poop.

Bumbling Bushman said...

Nothing worse than a poacher. I hope you're able to discourage them.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Sorry about your sciatica -- particularly since I was just here, touting the benefits of exercise. But now I'm thinking about a Zumba class, just so I'll spend less time on my duff and get more stuff done.

I'm awed by the breadth of your pheasant-rearing operation. I don't know that you've posted pictures that give the full scope before. Damn that's a lot of birds. No wonder you attract poachers.

Speaking of which, are you allowed to lay in wait, and pepper them with rock salt or something? I'm sure you have the appropriate weapon for the job, given your kit tart tendencies. (SBW, I do love that.)

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

Your grass looks alot greener over there! We are still in the dregs of browness over here, seems like you are a month ahead of us at least.
On a totally unrelated topic, my husband has been reading a book called, The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall. We are intrigued by the chapter were poulty is hung "long-legged" which is butcher speak for hung with the guts in for at least 10 days in the U.K. Apparently this produces a more tender and tastier meat reccomended for outdoor reared birds. Do you do anything like that with your operation? Are pheasants hung like that as well? Do you have any experience with local butchers that practice this? This would never happen in Canada because the laws are so strict but we are sure intrigued by this and would like to get more information anyway. You are the only person I know from the U.K and thought I would pick your brain. Hope you don't mind!

Poppy Cottage said...

Can you text me if you are around for a cuppa on Wednesday. I could really really do with a black lab cuddle. It was two years on the first that Daz went. Started new job today!!! but the smell of freshly cut grass has made me question if it is going to be enough. Bugger needing money to survive and pay for you kids to go off to London (Jose got in!!)

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

See, all the more reason to abhor exercise for exercise's sake - it can hurt you. I'm all for outdoor activities, you know, the sort of exercise you get because you have to, but anything deliberate I'm convince is spawn of the devil. (This, spoken from someone clearly 30 pounds overweight...)
I think poaching would make me mad enough I'd be happy to sit out there in the dark, pain or no, and shoot the poachers. I bet that's probably not allowed? Too bad.
Kisses and snuggles to the puppy.

Jennifer Montero said...

Sara - Thankfully I'm not caring for the thousands on my own. And egg-picking is a great back strengthening exercise, and stretches my back at the same time.

Kerry - Hahahahaha...I want to live in a world that embraces both. I could have used Columbo to help me find those damn deer.

BB - I'm glad to say that, although we get the odd bird or deer taken, we haven't got gangs working this estate (not yet anyway) probably because of our location and the vigilance of the estate staff. And hidden cameras.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - I'm grateful for your encouragement, and your knowledge about health issues. Until I read one of your comments, I never knew how hard to push myself when getting fit. Now I know I should not be working so hard I can't hold a conversation at the same time.

I went to Zumba class again yesterday - hair of the dog and all that - and I feel much better.

Alas, no peppering poachers anymore. In the 'old days', keepers had the same power as the local constable. Keepers could set leg traps, and trip wires attached to alarm guns filled with live rounds. Keepers kept a large mastiff-type dog to take down poachers. There were shootouts between keepers and poachers, and losses either side.

It's a lot more sedate now, thankfully. I'd worry about Mike a lot more if I thought poachers were shooting at him every night on his rounds.

Jennifer Montero said...

HKS - Please ask anything. If I don't know, I can certainly ask someone who does and pass on the info.

Buying a bird long-legged means the bird is plucked but not drawn (guts still in). The butcher weighs the bird with guts in and charges you that price, but draws the bird once sold. The consumer is paying for everything but the feathers.

I would always hang my poultry to relax the meat and give it a bit of flavor. I find 3 days is enough for my taste, but you can certainly hang it for ten provided it's in a chilled environment, 4 deg celsius maximum (7 deg max for furred animals). By all means, experiment and see what you think.

Birds are now hung by the neck, but in earlier times birds were hung by their feet. The thought was that the guts are touching the meat and imparting a gaminess. Hung by the neck, it's supposed to make the breast meat less gamey; hung by the feet, more gamey. Perhaps other readers can comment whether it's true or not from there own experiences?

Peggy, the lady who teaches me butchery, was Hugh's pig lady and got him started keeping pigs at River Cottage. Ray, Hug's butcher now, used to work on our shoot.

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - text sent, and puppy here for cuddling anytime.

DHimC - I need to exercise because I love food and have little or no willpower to diet. I cut out alcohol to reduce calories and I'm finding that a terrible struggle.

I don't think anyone minds the odd bird taken for the pot, or even a deer. The big problem comes when we put partridges to wood. They have a lot of value as meat early in the season, and can be sold to a butcher or smokehouse. We have to do more night patrols then - well, the boys do anyway.

Jennifer Montero said...

HKS - I mean from THEIR own experience...sorry, I wasn't paying attention...

Laura said...

Thanks so much for the info! The U.K seems light years ahead of us in terms of artisanal meat. My husband is in love right now with Hugh's book and wants to change how we sell/age our meat.