Rock Creek Ramblings

What are Sika Deer? Raising Rosie: Part 1

Life and Adventures at Diamond W Ranch 

We purchased two sika deer last weekend. My fiancée, Tim, and I have always wanted exotic hoof stock, so when the opportunity arose to get them, we jumped at the chance. Rosie is a 6-week-old doe and Bruce is her older brother who is about 2. Since sika deer aren’t very common, I thought I’d share a bit about them and their attributes as additions to our farm.

bruce

Sika deer are the smallest members of the elk family and are native to parts of East Asia and Japan. They were first introduced in the United States in 1916. They are one of the few species of deer that maintain the distinctive white spots usually associated with fawns. They can range in color from sandy brown/red to dark mahogany. Most have a distinctive darker dorsal stripe. They also have a tail and a white rump, which they flare when alarmed, much like elk.

Sika deer are medium sized deer that can be from 20 to 43 inches in height at the shoulder. There are different sub-species that can grow to weigh as much as 240 pounds for males (stags), but the Japanese sub-species is smaller and usually grows to 90 to 150 pounds for stags and 65 to 90 pounds for females (hinds). 

Rosie licks milk off her nose

Stags grow antlers averaging 11 to 18 inches, and can grow to as much as 30 inches. Hinds do not have antlers, but will have dark bumps on their heads.

For the farmstead, these deer are fairly easy to raise. They do require special fencing since they are agile jumpers. We built ours 8 feet high just to be on the safe side. Sika deer will graze readily, enjoy browse and many weeds, and grow well with many commercially available feeds.

Sika venison is often compared to elk in taste and texture. Their smaller size makes them ideal for small farm use. They are adaptable, intelligent, and relatively docile. Sika are legal to own in my state of Kansas since they are not a native Kansas species. However, if you are interested in raising them, be sure to research the laws in your area first.

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Little Rosie is currently our house guest. She has a dog crate in our living room, and is convinced she is a dog. Our dogs have all met her and she loves being in their company.

Rosie loves the dogs

She follows them around, sucks on their ears, and carries a rope bone around like a puppy. She recently discovered dog food, which has become her favorite treat. The dogs aren’t sure what to think of her, but they all seem to get along just fine. She’s even pretty much house trained, choosing to use her crate as a toilet.

Charlie and Rosie

Bruce is learning the ropes at his new home. He is still nervous, but is getting more acclimated. We are excited for the future of our new venture into exotic livestock. Plans are underway to build more deer-safe pens for future additions!

Easily Peel Hard-Boiled Eggs

Life and Adventures at Diamond W RanchMy mom got an Instant Pot — an easy-to-use digital electric pressure cooker — for Christmas and loves it, so I’ve been thinking about getting one. But do I really need yet another kitchen gadget to clutter up my counter or take up valuable pantry space? She loaned it to me so I could see for myself if it was as life-changing as the internet bloggers would have you believe.

eggsinstantpot

Well ... it is. I’m pretty sure this is about the best thing to happen to a working mom’s kitchen since the crock pot. It’s better than my crock pot! Why? Well first off, you don’t need to put the meal in the pot before you leave for work. I usually return to find the meal very overcooked, the meat dry, and the vegetables near mush. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my crock pot, but it has its issues. It cooks just about anything you can think of in record time, even if the items are frozen!

The Instant Pot cooks in much less time and meats come out nice, tender, juicy, and full of flavor! But the best thing so far? INSTANT POT HARD-BOILED EGGS! I don’t know about you, but I have a heck of a time making hard-boiled eggs that I can peel without losing half the egg in the process. Especially since I have my own chickens and fresh eggs are notoriously difficult to peel after boiling. I’ve tried all the tricks they say to try online. None have worked very well.

The Instant Pot has changed that. You put your eggs in, set the timer, walk away, and return to find perfectly cooked eggs that the shell just slides off of! Here’s the how-to:

1. Place eggs in the bottom of the Instant Pot, on top of the metal rack that comes with it. You can put as many as you want in, just don’t stack them.

eggsinpot

2. Add 1 cup of water.

3. Place the lid on the pot and close the steam seal. Set the timer for 5 minutes, and that’s it!

The pot will cook the eggs and then let the steam release naturally after the cooking process is done, which takes about 5 more minutes. Then you can put the eggs in cold water and peel them.

eggpeeled

Simple. And the shells practically fall off, even from fresh eggs. These eggs were collected the day of and the day before cooking:

eggsallpeeled

So of course, we made deviled eggs. Yum!

eggsdeviled

Cleaning Antique Enamelware

Life and Adventures at Diamond W RanchWhile poking around the Kansas City Farmer’s Market last weekend, I discovered this beautiful cobalt blue swirl enamelware (aka graniteware) muffin tin.

Antique enamelware muffin tin in good condition

I have collected antique blue swirl enamelware for years and was THRILLED to find this piece in relatively good condition, and for a great price! The only problem I saw was that the underside had a thick layer of baked-on dirt.

Enamelware before cleaning

Enough that it obliterated much of the beautiful blue swirl pattern.

I wasn’t sure how to get the baked on gunk off, or if it was even possible to do. Enamelware is easy to scratch, can be cracked, and will flake off. I didn’t want to damage my find! My mom and dad have bought and sold antiques for years, and my mom has a penchant for kitchen antiques, so she has had her share of experience cleaning antique pieces. I called her for advice.

Her remedy was surprisingly simple: baking soda. Per Mom’s advice, I soaked the muffin tin in hot water first to loosen the greasy baked-on gunk. Then I sprinkled baking soda all over the back of the tin. Using a soft kitchen washcloth and warm water, I gently scrubbed at the gunk to remove it.

Cleaning antique enamelware

It came off surprisingly easily! The pictures show before and after. I think it looks pretty good so far, and will only get better the more I work on it! Thanks, Mom!

Looking better already

Perfect Bottle Calf Bottles

Life and Adventures at Diamond W RanchI have found (in my opinion) the PERFECT bottles for feeding bottle calves! I recently added a couple of bottle calves to my farm menagerie.  I’ve never raised calves, so this has been a learning experience for me. The internet has offered lots of great advice, but one issue I ran into was finding a good bottle.

At first, I just purchased the simple bottles found at farm supply stores everywhere. You know the ones … opaque white with burnt orange colored nipples at the top. There are two basic types, one with a nipple that just pulls on over the top of the bottle and one that the nipple is fastened with a screw on lid. I purchased two of the latter. They were inexpensive, which made me happy, of course.

However, one morning one of my calves pulled the top right off the bottle! I ended up with milk down my leg and pooling into my boots. I thought I must have mis-threaded the lid, so next time I was very careful to make sure the lid was on securely. I had the same result. I had to hold the tops on with one hand and hold the bottle with the other. Even then it was hard to keep the lids on. I tried switching lids and bottles, increasing the size of the nipple opening, making sure they were tight, everything I could think of, but to no avail. After taking a bath in milk replacer a few times, I was ready to try something else.

The farm store had milk pails for calves with nipples, so I tried those. Again, they failed miserably. They were difficult to handle, the calves had trouble sucking from the stiff nipples they came with, and when they butted the pails out of frustration, the milk flew everywhere. Now what?

I searched the internet for different types of bottles. I had seen one with a handle on it, but had passed on purchasing it earlier because it was more than I wanted to spend. Now, I took a closer look at it and decided to give it a try.

Speedy Feeder calf bottle

Let’s just say I’m in LOVE with these bottles! They are made by a New Zealand company called Shoof International. The bottles are called Speedy Feeders. They are 2.5 quart capacity and have sturdy screw on lids. The nipples are high quality Peach Teat brand nipples. They have molded handles, making it much easier to feed two calves at once! But the BEST feature of these bottles is the air valve.

Toggle switch to allow air into bottle to control flow of milk

The air valve is a toggle switch conveniently located within thumb’s reach just above the handle. Mine has three “speeds,” slow (0), medium (1) and fast (2). Switching this lever allows air into the bottle, which in turn allows the milk to flow easier. This also prevents the bottle from collapsing and lessens frustration on the calf’s part when they cannot get the milk to flow from a vacuum locked bottle.

The lid of the Speedy Feeder screws on tight

Speedy Feeder nipple and lid

I have found it works best to let the calves suck on the bottles for a few seconds before opening a valve. The milk can leak from the little vent hole, sending an arching sprinkle of milk all over the calves! Another thing I love about these bottles is the large opening. This has made it much easier to fill and clean the bottles. 

Speedy Feeding calf bottle in use

For negatives about this bottle, there aren't very many. The bottles are a bit difficult to keep clean because of the molded handle. I have a bottle brush, but it falls short in getting all of the curved areas clean without some real trial and error. Also, the nipples are difficult to clean. I have just been rinsing them with hot water and squeezing the nipple to expel the water to clean them. I have not found an easy way to remove and clean the nipples from the lids. 

What bottle calf feeding equipment have you tried that has worked well? I’d love to hear about it!

Goldfish for Mosquito Control in Stock Tanks

Life and Adventures at Diamond W RanchThe mosquitoes are terrible around our area this year. With the threat of West Nile Virus and Zika Virus lurking in the news and coming across my desk as a health department nurse, I am doing my best to be vigilant in protecting my family (and my animals) from getting bitten.

However, another thing we can do as livestock producers is to try to reduce the availability of breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes must have still or stagnant water in which to lay their eggs. Common areas around the home are flower pots, old tires, buckets, animal water bowls, tarps or swimming pool covers, and livestock tanks. It is fairly easy to control standing water in most of these items, but dumping and refilling large stock tanks is a big chore, and not very easy to maintain, especially since mosquitoes can go from egg to adult in less than a week.

The solution I have found is to employ goldfish. Goldfish are wonderful tank cleaners! They keep my tanks cleaner longer and they eat mosquito larvae! Every summer I go to the pet store and purchase a bunch of feeder goldfish, which are usually less than 20 cents each. I divide them among my livestock tanks and let them work all summer. The tanks I have are mosquito-larvae free!

Goldfish employees ready for work

I did this earlier this year, about a month ago. But I only purchased about 15 goldfish, and put them in two of my four stock tanks. The two tanks with goldfish were completely free of ANY mosquito larvae. The other two were disgustingly (and literally) SWIMMING with the little blood-suckers-to-be. I quickly went back to the pet store and purchased 30 more goldfish and divided them into the other two tanks. For less than $6.00, I have mosquito control all summer long. And, within 24 hours, the goldfish have the tanks almost 100% free from mosquito larvae already!

Goldfish into the tank

I do not have to feed the goldfish anything additional, they sustain themselves fine on what gets into the tanks. The tanks are still cleaned about every 3-4 weeks. When I clean them, I scoop some of the tank water into a bucket, dump the tank, rescue the goldfish and put them into the bucket while I clean the tank. I have never lost a goldfish doing it this way, except once, when one of the chickens beat me to one of my fishy employees.

The goldfish are an inexpensive, efficient, fun, and chemical-free way to keep my stock tanks cleaner and healthier for my animals.

Goldfish getting to work

Have any of you ever used goldfish in your stock tanks? What other ways do you control mosquitoes in your stock tanks?

Painted Christmas Sugar Cookies

Baking has always been a central part of my family’s traditions. I learned to bake from my Mom, and have been thankful for those skills ever since. I’d always loved looking at the beautiful cookies in popular magazines…you know, the kind that look too pretty to eat? How did they make that frosting so perfect? How fun to decorate those! I learned that the picture-perfect, beautiful magazine-cover cookies were frosted using something called Royal Icing. This type of frosting is made using meringue powder and it dries to a hard candy-like surface. It is very sweet, so I needed a cookie that would balance that out.

My mother-in-law has made and gifted wonderful sugar cookies for years. I always loved that when the shapes were cut out, the cookies kept their shape during baking, unlike the other cut-out recipes I had tried. She graciously gave me the recipe, and I had found my perfect cookie to decorate with Royal Icing!

The internet provided me with the rest of the necessary tools to learn how to make picture-perfect sugar cookies. There are all sorts of tutorial videos, blogs, and inspirational photos to learn every aspect of artful cookie decorating. Some of them are downright amazing.

This technique requires that the icing be different consistencies. First, the baked cookie is outlined with a stiffer form of the icing. Then, that outline is filled in with a more liquid consistency icing, so that it “flows.” More decoration can be done after the initial icing dries, using the stiffer consistency icing to pipe designs. Other decorations can be added as well, such as sugar crystals or various sprinkles.

I have made many cookies using the above techniques. This photo shows last year's cookie decorating project. Lots of colors, lots of time, hours of work. Past cookie project with lots of colorsThe results were very satisfying, beautiful, and….time consuming. Mixing the different consistency icings, in different colors, is quite a chore. So this year, I decided to try something different….I painted the cookies.

I made my sugar cookies as usual, then outlined and filled them all with just plain white icing. Filling cookies with flow icingCookies all filled with white icingThis meant only two consistencies of icing, making the project much easier. After the icing had dried completely, I painted different designs on them using gel paste food coloring.Finished painted cookies The results, I think, were awesome! Finished painted cookiesThe food coloring was painted onto the cookies using a regular paintbrush (brand-new, of course). I had so much fun, it was much faster, and the details I could produce were much better. It is a great project for kids, and I plan to take this to our family Christmas get-together this year for all the cousins to do. 

Anatolian Shepherd Puppies

Life and Adventures at Diamond W RanchWe have puppies! My Anatolian Shepherd dogs Brina and Silas are the proud parents of TEN beautiful, roly-poly balls of cute. They are, as of this writing, about 5-1/2 weeks old.

The puppies were whelped in a converted goat kidding stall in my old barn. There are two stalls side-by-side with a plywood partition between them that was in two pieces. I removed the top piece, leaving a section about 2 feet high that Brina could easily jump over. The puppies were on one side, and the other side was for Brina to be able to get away from them to eat and such. Just last week, they had gotten too big for that stall. So, I moved them across the barnyard to a fenced-in area with a small shed.

This fenced in area was previously used to house weanling goat kids. I have not had goats for some time now, and the pen had become overgrown with weeds.

Pen before clearing the weeds

The weeds were cleared by hand, by yours truly … I am still sore!

Pen after clearing the weeds

Since it is winter, and I live in Kansas where the weather can change in the blink of an eye, I plied the little shed with an entire bale of straw to make sure the puppies had a warm nest. More straw bales were placed along the sides of the shed to protect it from wind, and the windows were covered with plastic. After all that, the puppies prefer to bed down under the shed. Guess they know what is warmest.

Most of the puppies have already been spoken for and will go to their new homes in January. Anatolian Shepherds are in high demand as livestock guardians, and for good reason. They are very good at it. Mine are great with my poultry and sheep. Without them I wouldn’t be able to have poultry at all. Predators such as coyotes and owls have, in the past, wiped out any attempts at raising them.

These puppies are being raised with chickens, ducks, sheep, horses, other dogs and lots of socialization with people.

Learning to guard chickens

They will, I am certain, make fine guardians as well.