Mail Call: March/April 2008

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Drag Pen for Chickens
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I thought you might like to see this photograph. It was taken in 1936. I rode this pony to deliver GRIT in the country, and after two deliveries that pony knew the route as well as I did and would turn into the correct country driveways to deliver the paper. Joe Weller, Ramsey, Illinois

Sentinel Tree

Almost 20 years ago, I had the privilege of purchasing a 240-acre farm from an elderly woman who lived alone and could no longer care for the place. She had only one request for the farm where she had lived her entire life.

She told a story of the old ash tree, growing at the top of the hill. This tree was a landmark, marking the gravesite of the first owner of the property, an Indian who lived there during the 1800s. She requested that I not destroy the tree due to its special significance. Her family had protected the tree during their many years of stewardship, even though the original owner was known to them only by legend.

Although the original gravesite had long since been hidden by overgrowth, and the tree stands in the middle of an otherwise unobstructed field, I agreed to the request.

Many beautiful tall trees grow along a stream on this property: oak, walnut, elm and others. Yet, this gnarled old ash, sitting all alone at the top of the hill, has a special beauty of its own.

Not far away, in a hillside cemetery, the previous owner now rests in peace. Standing like an aging sentinel, the old tree is visible from the cemetery where she lies. From time to time, I look at the ash and imagine the previous owner is also looking, drawing comfort from sight of it still standing. She closes her eyes, reassured the sentinel ash continues to protect the first owner’s resting place as well as her own.

Richard Peters
St. Mary’s, Kansas

Continuing Canine Celebrations

As I always do, I certainly liked the current issue of your magazine – especially the feature “Celebrate Country Canines” by Jerry Schleicher.

But I’ll have you know the best country canine lived with me and my children. By accident of birth, she was a full-blooded Great Dane.

She was a gentle giant. She’d lie down and let my toddler crawl all over her, pulling her ears and her tail. When she’d had enough of that, she’d just stand up, lick the children’s faces, and walk off.

But if a stranger would come into our yard, she’d bark and immediately place herself equidistantly between us and the stranger. No way would any newcomer even try to argue with that great big dog I called Peanut.

She was the epitome of unconditional love. She saw me as the alpha of her pack, and she lovingly treated my children as if they were her own puppies. We all loved each other, and she knew it. All my life, I’ve had the company of some kind of dog – but Peanut was extra special.

Thank you, Grit, for being such a great magazine.

Liz Cole
Georgetown, Illinois

Cooking with Flour

I read your recipes in the November/December issue of Grit and wonder why folks add flour to pasta and potato recipes after draining the water in which they precooked, which contains pasta flour or potato starch.

Perhaps most cooks boil pasta and potatoes in more water than I. I stir during cooking and add boiling water if needed. Of course, I like pasta cooked beyond el dente. To me adding flour adds calories and carbohydrates.

Thank you for recipes.

William T. Frye
Anderson, Indiana

Thanks for the tip, William. Draining pasta sends quite a few vitamins down the drain, too. – Editors

Smoky Request

As I send in my renewal for Grit, I am also hoping you can answer a request. I would love to see an article on how to build a smokehouse, and how to use the smokehouse to cure meat. Actually, an article on all types of meat curing would be nice, also.

John Moore
Tallapoosa, Georgia

John, we have a Comfort Foods feature focused on smoking meats scheduled for our July/August issue, and the article will include barbecue recipes. We hope to have an article on building a smokehouse in 2009. – Editors

Another Species Heard From

It was with great interest that I listened to your article on country dogs. There is one statement that I have to disagree with and that is your reference to toy poodles. I am a toy poodle and proud of it. Furthermore, I consider myself a country dog.

When I was a puppy in the suburbs of California, I could sleep through loud traffic and sirens. After Mom and I moved to the country, our lives changed drastically. Yes, it is only 1/3acre on the edge of town (population 250), but it is rural.

My first few weeks here, I did act like a stereotypical poodle. Birds flying overhead scared me! But, I am now acclimated and in charge once again. This property is much safer because of me. Before I arrived, there was a wild turkey problem. No longer. My job is to chase them off the land. I am proud that I can make them fly away. They are bigger than me, you know.

I could do the same with the deer but Mom won’t let me. She feels I must stay on a leash, no matter how sweetly I look at her. OK, I have to admit to that time after dark when she had to chase me up a hill in her robe and slippers with a flashlight. It was funny, but I didn’t dare let her know. There are so many more jobs I could do around here if she would let me.

So, as you can see, toy poodles can be country dogs. If she would just let me off that leash, I could show her how much more valuable I could be.

Beau Ortman
Elkton, Oregon

Woof, woof. – Editors

More Farmer Talk

In the recent issue of Grit there was an article about expressions farmers use, and you invited readers to send in others. “If nothing breaks or bends” usually means “unless something more urgent or pressing comes up.” As in, “I’ll fix the roof on that shed tomorrow, if nothing breaks or bends.” It can also be used to mean that something is slightly uncertain, as in “My wife (or husband) is out of town now, but she/he should be back within the hour, if nothing breaks or bends.”

“Finer than a dog’s hair split three ways” means very fine, or excellent. Sometimes it is used as a reply to “How do ya do?” or “How’s it going?” on a particularly good day, or describing the condition of a growing crop. Or, a farmer might comment to his wife as they are getting ready to leave for church, “You’re lookin’ finer than a dog’s hair split three ways in that dress!”

Jeffery Goss Jr.
Billings, Missouri

My hubby has several sayings that are common around our area. He asked me to submit them to you.

(1) In talking about distance from point a to point b: “about two axle greasings down the road” (an axle greasing was good for about 25 miles before you had to jack up the wagon and oil the wheels to get rid of the squeak).
(2) When talking about a muddy field: “You could hang up a snipe with a shingle on each foot.”
(3) When bragging about his hunting dog: “Why, I’ve had him since heck was a pup.”
(4) On doing a difficult chore: “It’s harder than pulling hen’s teeth.”

Sue and Fred Essary
Mount Vernon, Indiana

Having Cake

Tried several of your cakes in the latest issue, and they turned out great. I have been looking for a mincemeat bundt cake since I make my own mincemeat and always have a lot of it. I just mixed the mincemeat in the batter, but I am sure it would be good in the center of the cake also.

I mixed up the MacDonald’s Special Cake (minus the rum) for my grandchildren, using chocolate pudding and apple juice instead of the alcohol – a very delicious and moist cake. I am planning the Angel Food Bavarian for my granddaughter’s birthday; she loves strawberries! Thanks for some great recipes that were easy and used readily available ingredients!

Diane Middleton
Battle Creek, Michigan

Ireland’s Cattle Connection

In the September/October Grit’s Mail Call, Lucille Redmond from Ireland wrote “Finding Neolithic Cattle.”

According to Celtic mythology, Ireland was first gifted with cattle when three sacred cows rose out of the sea and came ashore at Baile Cronin. One was red, one white, and the third black. Cows are mostly associated with goddess figures, such as Boann, who gave her name to the river and valley of the

Boyne in Ireland.

The Irish Cattle Raid of Cooley was written on cowskin and sung by dairy maids as they milked, for they knew that music increased the yield. To boast a bit, my great-great-grandfather was Robert W. Cooley, who was born in 1830 and died in 1889 in Ireland.

What I wouldn’t give to walk where my ancestors did, when the Firbolg were farmers.

Steven Clark
Carson City, Nevada

Free Ranging Chickens

I want to pass on a way to free range chickens while keeping them under control without expensive fencing. I credit a retired coal miner in Lonaconing, Maryland, with this idea; his name was Ed Shockey.

In the summer, Ed kept his chickens in a drag pen on his lawn. The pen was made with a light-weight wood frame covered with poultry wire and was open on the bottom. It had a plywood panel covering part of the top to provide shade and protection from rain. A waterer was fixed to a plywood shelf in the front corner. His pen housed six to eight chickens. Ed would drag the pen forward after several hours in one spot to give access to new grass. The advantage to this system is that the chickens have access to fresh grass while controlled, and in return they cut your lawn and fertilize it.

To get the chickens into or out of the pen, you just prop up the front with a stick in front of your coop or pen door and lead the chickens in or out with corn.

I’m sure this concept can be refined to suit the needs of others and may even have application for commercial growers if they can scale it up. I have attached a sketch of the pen that Ed used.

I used to deliver Grit when it was published in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I read your magazine when I visit my mother in Lonaconing; she is 93 years old and enjoys reading your publication.

Richard Ravenscroft
Pasadena, Maryland

Goat Milk Remedies

I enjoyed the article about raising goats for milking (January/February 2007). I milked goats this as a youngster on our small acreage on the edge of town. I noticed that there was no mention of the Toggenberg and Sannen breed that we had. The Nubian goats that we had seemed to be especially suited for fence integrity testing. We eventually culled them for this reason. The Toggenberg goats were great milkers, each often filling a 5-quart ice cream bucket in one milking.

This brings me to the point of this correspondence. In casual conversation with an older farmer who was a customer in my dad’s repair shop at the time, I learned of an old farm remedy for stomach ulcers. He reminisced that goat’s milk was a common recommendation by country doctors for treatment of stomach ulcers. We never had stomach ulcers so I can’t prove or disprove this.

We did enjoy the milk and the companionship though. We raised sheep and goats together, also sheared our own sheep. I even went to the sheep shearing classes at the University of Nebraska, with my older brother, to learn how. I may be able to help answer someone’s questions.

Eugene Miller
Via e-mail

Readers, please email your questions to or mail them to our office. We will pass the queries on to Eugene and/or publish them on our Web site. – Editors

Rural Air Still Fresh

Imagine my surprise on reading “Give the Children a Breath of Fresh Air” in the March/April 2007 issue of Grit. It refers to the Fresh Air Fund, which I did not know was still in effect. Way back when I was growing up we would occasionally see a child who someone would identify as a Fresh Air Kid. They always seemed a little mysterious to us natives. But, we knew why they were there. Wonderful to know the foundation is still operating and giving young people something to look forward to each summer.

I enjoy all of Grit. It’s informative and entertaining as well as educational. Everybody can benefit from it.

Edith Ireland
Chestertown, Maryland

A Simple Search

I am delighted to be writing to Grit for the first time. I recently discovered the magazine while grocery shopping.

I am a retired businesswoman who has always wanted to live in a log cabin in the country, and to live a simple, natural life. My early retirement has given me the opportunity to finally make my dream come true.

I would greatly appreciate information – particularly from Grit readers with their personal experience, know-how and wisdom – on living off the grid, building a home off the grid, maintaining an organic greenhouse year round, and farm animals that make good farm pets (gentle animals that won’t buck or kick you into the next farm).

Somehow just knowing that Grit readers exist gives me the courage to continue on to realize my dream.

Miss Clementina
Amelia Island, Florida

Email your responses to or mail your materials to our office, please. We will pass the information on to Miss Clementina and/or publish it on our Web site.-Editors

We Goofed

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