Grit Blogs >

Old Chicago Gal in the Northwoods

Weasel in the Henhouse and "Oops" Babies

Jean SilverThings have been unusually quiet and mild in the Northwoods. We didn’t have our first snow until November 19, and it really didn’t cover the ground. I haven’t started barley sprouts for the animals yet because there’s still green grass for them to eat. However, yesterday was blustery and cold. I’m looking out at what may be the last of the lengthy fall season.

The week has been rather unusual in more ways than just the weather. About three weeks ago, Fiona, my favorite Nigerian dwarf goat, suddenly had an udder. She’s always been very consistent in her pregnancies; two and a half to three weeks before kidding, her udder becomes obvious. I’ve read about goats that don’t develop an udder until the babies are here, but all of mine have been more accommodating and showed they were ready and producing milk.

It was pretty clear I was going to have a November baby or two fairly soon.

I had to be out of town part of that time, so I was sweating it. Laura, our critter sitter, was born and raised on a farm and knows more about the animals than I ever will, so I knew she could take care of absolutely anything. It’s just that I always want to be here anytime one of my animals gives birth. As I described before, Bambi probably wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t been here. But Laura updated me periodically, and Fiona stayed out of labor until after I was home.

Since the weather has been gorgeous and the grass and browsing so plentiful, I didn’t want to keep Fiona in the barn unless I had to. Therefore, I was checking her ligaments and eyeballing her morning and night, but letting her out with the others during the day. Then I put her and a companion in at night. By Wednesday morning, her tail was up and she had a heavy discharge. I had to be at work, though, so I couldn’t stay. I gave her fresh bedding, got her a lot of hay and water, turned on the nanny cam (appropriate name, isn’t it?) and waited. By afternoon, it was pretty clear she was in labor. She’d lie down, stand up, push her head against the wall, and talk to her abdomen. I was in a meeting — sneaking peeks at her progress — when I saw the first baby appear. It was pretty hard to keep my mind on work the rest of the day, but somehow I made it through.

In honor of the circumstances of their birth, I’ve named my new babies “Oops” and “Allie.” I’ve heard some experts say there’s no excuse for an unexpected kidding, however I simply don’t know when Fiona got out or the buck got in. Maybe they mated through the fence. None of the rest of the does looks very pregnant, so I really don’t know what happened. Regardless, I have a pair of twins, a boy and a girl, to add to my menagerie for the winter.

195

That’s not the only thing that happened this week.

Bob, my husband, took a picture of a weasel near the barn a few weeks ago. It was in its winter white coat. The picture didn’t turn out very well, so I’m not adding it here. But the outline was good enough to know what it was and to know it was one of the big ones: a long-tailed weasel. We set out live trap for it, but didn’t have any luck.

A few years ago, when we first started having chickens, I did what I always do: read everything I could find. Then I tapped the brains of neighbors and friends and just about anybody I could think of to tell me what I needed to know about keeping a live creature before I decided to take the plunge. Then we got some beautiful, fluffy, baby Rhode Island reds from Murray McMurray hatchery and watched them grow. I wanted to be sure nothing happened to them, so I looked over them just like a mother hen would do. I checked on them several times a day and worried if the sky was cloudy or I thought they might get wet. In short, those babies were spoiled.

Because I checked on them so often, I was pretty aware of anything that didn’t look quite right. One day I was standing in the coop door and saw a small rodent dashing back and forth on the roost. It was a bit dark, so I was having a difficult time visualizing it as well as I would have liked. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but too small. Too big for a mouse, but skinny, not like a rat. After a few minutes, it decided to make a run for it and darted out the door across my foot, between one of the little hens and me. Then I got a really good look. I went into the house and announced to Bob that I’d seen a ferret in the hen house. He looked up at me with a dubious expression and asked, “You sure it wasn’t a weasel?” The truth was, I didn’t know what a weasel looked like, but I had seen ferrets in friends’ apartments in the city, and this is what it looked like.

Anyway, I read up on it, found out that ferrets don’t usually run around in the Northwoods, and that what I had seen was indeed a weasel.

The evening after Fiona kidded, I was heading to the barn. It was dusk, so I was a bit surprised to see that a bunch of chickens were huddled together under a platform we had erected for the goats to play on. A little odd. By now they should be headed to the chicken house. I registered the strange scene but didn’t worry about it. I wanted to go see my babies. By the time I came out, it was fully dark and the chickens were still out.

Something was wrong.

I ran over, opened the hen house door, and came face to face with a large, white weasel. It hissed at me and made a high-pitched squeaking, snarling sound. I slammed the door shut, closed up the ramp the chickens use to go in and out, and ran to the house.

We dispatched the varmint humanely and surveyed the carnage: three dead, headless chickens and eleven hens running around the pasture in the darkness. It took nearly an hour to round up the poor, terrified birds, but we did and shut them in for the night. By the next day, they were coming and going as though nothing had ever happened.

IMG_0455

Down three hens and up two baby goats. If I add the dead weasel I guess we broke even.

How To Cook & Can Pumpkin and Live To Tell the Tale

Jean SilverI know pumpkins and squash are supposed to be a gardener’s delight, but this year’s harvest has been downright ridiculous. We have pumpkins everywhere. This is really putting my imagination to a test. I’ve been reading everything that I can about pumpkin recipes and what to do with pumpkins. Of course, if my imagination runs dry, the chickens and goats love to take up the slack for me!

edited pumpkin_edited-2

Sometimes it’s fun to just toss the whole pumpkin into the goat yard and watch them examine it. They push it with their noses. They gnaw at it a little bit. They may get bored with it after they fail at trying to take a really good bite and go someplace else. Once the chickens find it though, the fun starts. They’ll peck at it until they break through the rind, then try to devour it. When the goats see what’s happening, they move back in and take over, finishing off whatever they can find.

I like pumpkins a lot of different ways. We’ll eat them as soup. We’ll eat them as pie and pudding. Pumpkin bread is our specialty. And we’ll can a lot. As of writing this, it’s still not recommended to can pumpkin puree, at least according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I really trust what they say, and usually I follow their recommendations word for word — but not about canning pumpkin. I know people say all the time that they’ve been doing something since they were born, and you have to take things like that with a grain of salt. In this case, though, I really have been doing this since I was a kid. I give it to my children and grandchildren. I eat it myself. I use it in many kinds of foods. So I feel pretty safe in saying that puréed pumpkin, if properly pressure canned, can be quite safe to eat and use.

One thing I have to emphasize, though, is that this is absolutely not a canning bath process. I can’t prove (I’m happy to say) that water bath canning could be fatal, but pumpkin isn’t an acidic fruit by any means, and non-acidic foods should be pressure-canned.

I’m always paranoid about pressure canning. I’m constantly afraid that I’ll do something wrong. If the recipe calls for 10 pounds of pressure for 30 minutes, I use 15 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. It doesn’t seem to hurt the food quality, although I’m not a nutritionist. However, botulism is just not something that I want to risk.

It looks like I’m going to be canning a lot of pumpkin this year. As I get set to start, I’m going to describe the lazy cook’s way to prepare and can this wonderful orange squash.

Just like with apples, I don’t do all the usual — cut open the pumpkin, pull out the seeds, peel the pumpkin with a vegetable peeler, and then cook. Instead, I cut the top off the pumpkin.

pump cooked

If I’m going to dry or cook and eat the seeds, I pull most of them out because they just don’t seem to taste right if I cook them in the pumpkin. If I’m just going to feed them to the chickens and goats, they don’t seem to care, so I just leave the seeds where they are and spoon them out later, after the pumpkin is cooked. Then I put the top back on, put the pumpkin on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 F, and walk away. You do have to watch it. You can scorch the flesh. However, depending on the size of the pumpkin, within a couple of hours it will collapse on itself. If you take a fork and stab it, water will rush out and the skin will be pulling away from the flesh. At that point, I take the pumpkin out of the oven, let it cool, then literally peel the rind off or spoon out the flesh. No big hassle.

pumpprep2_edited-1

Any further preparation of the pumpkin depends on what it is I plan to do as an end product. I used to always put the flesh through a food mill before canning. However, my 10-month-old grandson dove into cooked, stringy, pumpkin pulp for dinner one night and seemed to love it. Since seeing that, knowing how good the fiber is, I can some of my pumpkin right off the rind. For pies and puddings and soup, I go ahead and put it through food mill so the texture is right for those foods.

The actual act of canning the pumpkin is like any other pressure canning process. For me, it’s 12 pounds of pressure for an hour for pint jars. I should mention that I love those reusable canning lids and use them a lot. For this, though, I just use the old fashioned metal ones. I feel safer that way. I don’t really have anything to show that the reusables would be a problem; I can green beans in the pressure cooker with these lids and think they’re wonderful. I guess the fact that the USDA doesn’t recommend canning pumpkin pulp in the first place is what stops me from using them. Anyway, it looks like the shelves are going to be loaded with pumpkin this year!