Mail Call: January/February 2008

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Living With Deer

“Deerproof Your Garden,” published in the July/August GRIT, hit a nerve. Not because I don’t sympathize with gardeners; finding ways to keep the deer away from our vegetables can be challenging. But just because deer enjoy tasty food doesn’t make them our “enemy.” On our farm, we take a much different approach. We call the deer in, not run them off.

Each spring, we plant a wildlife smorgasbord – sorghum, milo, millet, oats, sunflowers, foxtail, wheat, clover and chufa – a combination guaranteed to lure deer. Our refuge has become a safe place to make their beds and raise their young.

We feel lucky to be living alongside these beautiful creatures. A perfect example of grace and agility, they are poetry in motion as we watch them frolic and play. Nothing compares to the peace and quiet of an afternoon spent in our tree stands as the sun goes down and the white-tailed deer come out to feed.

Of course, we realize the deer population must be controlled, but there’s a right and wrong way. The most logical approach is through legal hunting.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, 122,000 deer were reported harvested in our state alone last season. Although we hunt and enjoy delicious fried tenderloin on occasion, deer bring us much more pleasure alive than dead.

Our goal is to keep deer where they are wanted and out of places were they are considered pests. When we create a natural habitat for them, deer are less likely to fall prey to busy highways and heartless poachers.

A lot of work and sacrifice goes into our efforts, but the rewards never end. We give to the deer, and they give back to us. Whether it’s a newborn fawn or a trophy buck, we never grow tired of watching them. For us, living with deer works.

Linda C. Defew
Salem, Kentucky

Farmer Phrases

In your December issue, the article “How to Talk Farmer” could’ve been taken verbatim from the widely viewed video program “How to Talk Minnesotan” by Howard Mohr. It was broadcast on PBS years ago and even has a comedy stage play built around it that is currently in local theatres.

I guess no matter where you live in the “rural outback,” traditions and cultural habits seem to prevail and follow a standard type of dialogue, namely understatement.

Garrison Keillor would probably blame it on Lutheran upbringing, but maybe that’s just in Lake Wobegon.

George Mayerchak
Long Prairie, Minnesota

I did so enjoy the article “How to Talk Farmer” in the November/December GRIT.

I was raised on a farm in Mercer County in western Illinois, and one phrase I remember is, “He died with his boots on.” That means the farmer was out working his farm up to the time of his departure from this life. It was highly desirable to be able to do that.

Thank you so much for your wonderful magazine.

Rebecca Twomley
Via email

Young Reader

I live in Wheeler County, 30 miles from the three surrounding towns. I’m in eighth grade and I’m writing this letter for my Workplace Readiness 8 class. I go to Chambers Public School in Holt County.

I live on a ranch. My family receives GRIT, and I like the magazine a lot. In the September/October issue, I particularly enjoyed In the Shop: “Build the Perfect Chicken Coop” and Country Tech: “A Few Cool Tools.”

I wish we could talk more, but I have to do another project for class. Thank you for your time in reading this.

Will Burtwistle
Ewing, Nebraska

Good to hear from you, Will. You did a fine job with the business letter. – Editors

Burma-Shave Memory

My mom subscribes to GRIT, and I was leafing through the July/August issue when I came across the article about Burma-Shave signs (“How Burma-Shave Saved the Family Farm”). My parents had told me about many of the signs they’d encountered in the East and Midwest, and we even had a book or two of the rhymes (probably still do).

About a mile or so from the ranch where I grew up (and where we live now) is a series of Burma-Shave signs in a cow pasture, reading “Goodbye, o verse along the road, so sad to know you’re out of mode. Burma-Shave.” These signs brought questions from my children, led to many discussions of the signs with my folks, and laughter at the “corny” rhymes.

Thanks for the article that brought smiles and memories to our family.

Jane Brown
Umpqua, Oregon

Handy Skill

I’m an avid GRIT reader; as a boy, I sold GRIT and logged many miles on foot in the mountains of West Virginia.

The In the Shop: “Build a Killer Barbecue” in the July/August issue caught my eye. This photograph is of a barbecue I built from heavy-duty discarded barrels. The fire box and chimney are one piece, with half of another barrel for the legs. The 22-inch grill has a long wooden handle for easy handling, and it swings in and out and is adjustable up and down. The chimney also has a 14-inch grill on top that can be used as a cooker or warmer, and it works somewhat as a spark arrester.

The firebox is designed to reflect the heat out, and it also complements the chimney, making it draw quite well. The excess metal cut out to make the firebox is added to the inside, adding to the life of the stove.

We use ours almost year round. I’ve made several for my children and neighbors. Thank you much for your wonderful magazine, and keep up the good work.

J.R. Simons
Winlock, Washington

Nice fabrication work, J.R. I bet you can cook up some delicious elk steaks with that setup. Your generosity is positively uplifting. – Hank

On the Road

GRIT is wonderful. I have finally found a magazine I can’t stop reading. The July/August issue was my first experience with GRIT, and I’m happy to say I’m hooked.

I especially enjoyed the article on heritage cattle breeds (“Ankole to Zebu: A Field Guide to Heritage Cattle,” July/August). I had no idea historic breeds were still available. As a result of the article, my husband and I are interested in being a part of preserving a forgotten breed. Are there additional articles planned to highlight other heritage farm animals?

Being away from home for weeks at a time, with my truck-driving husband, I make sure to have lots of reading material on board. GRIT is now a staple on the road. I have two issues waiting at home to replace the one I have literally worn out.

We both grew up in the country and still live in the country around livestock and farming, making it easy to relate to the articles in GRIT. It brings a touch of home to the long stretches of road. Thank you for a wonderful magazine.

Gina Schmitt
Big Flat, Arkansas

Stay tuned, Gina. We intend to cover rare and/or unusual livestock breeds fairly regularly. Keep the greasy side down and the shiny side up, driver. – Editors

Coop Question

I greatly enjoyed the article on building a small chicken coop (In the Shop: “Build the Perfect Chicken Coop,” September/October). This is exactly what I need to be able to have a few chickens in suburbia. However, I have a question. Can I use this coop with four hens during the winter? Will they be warm enough, or do I need to rig some type of heat lamp or insulation for the winter months? I live in southeastern Pennsylvania, USDA Hardiness Zone 6.

Thanks for your help.

Lois McNamee
Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Your chickens should be fine on all but the coldest of nights (select a cold hardy breed) as long as you make sure they are inside the doghouse and you close the openings. It will be important to keep the coop out of the wind. In South Dakota, I stacked hay bales around our coop or pulled it into the pole barn to help keep the hens “warm” when temperatures dipped to -25. If you decide to use a heat lamp, take care not to overheat the birds or set the works on fire. – Hank

Precious Ponies

As owners of three Chincoteague ponies here in Nevada, we want to thank you for telling folks about these precious animals (“An Island’s Living History,” November/December). They are exceptional in so many ways.

We have found the Chincoteague ponies are calm, loving, attentive and interested in all we do, and we would not consider owning any other breed at this point in our lives. We have two mares and one gelding who want to do whatever we ask of them. All three of our ponies are pinto in color and pattern.

We would like to talk with other owners of Chincoteague ponies around the country.

Shelly Moore
Rancho Trebol, Fallon, Nevada

Thanks for sending this lovely shot of your gelding Leeko. To communicate with Shelly, send us your contact information and we will forward it to Rancho Trebol. – Editors

Share your thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinion, send a letter (with photographs if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at