Mail Call: March/April 2010

1 / 5
Molly gives her little brown hen friend a lift around the barnyard.
2 / 5
Molly and her pal are close enough that the little brown hen hitches a ride around the farm.
3 / 5
Raising your own birds improves the flavor of Sunday's roasted chicken dinner.
4 / 5
Chokecherries hang heavy just before harvest.
5 / 5
Bushels of apples await transport to the local farmers' market.

The Molly Llama

We have a small family farm here in northeastern Colorado – 40 acres of heaven as far as we are concerned. All of our livestock and our poultry seem to get along well. We have a few head of cattle, some sheep and some goats and a bunch of different chickens, turkeys, guineas, ducks, geese … and one special llama. And then there are my wife, Kathy, and my two sons, Stuart and Aaron.

We have been on this place for almost five years. We wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.

Several months ago, we were given the opportunity to buy an older llama. So we did. I figured she would be a good guardian for our small flock of sheep and our goats. Little did I know just what we had gotten.

Since Molly arrived, she has become one of the central characters of our little farm. She took to us right away and has become a much-loved pet. She is gentle, loving and protective of our mixed herd/flocks of animals; and she has even begun taking care of some of the hens in our flock. One has become a special friend of Molly’s. She is a little brown hen that is getting on in age and has had trouble getting around, so Molly has taken her under her wing, so to speak. 

Molly carries the hen around part of each day, mostly in the late afternoon and at night. The little hen now roosts on Molly at night, and Molly watches over her and will carry her in the morning so the hen can get down and feed. She shares Molly’s morning grain along with several other hens, and Molly takes it in stride and makes room for them.

It’s one more example of totally different types of animals becoming friends when given the chance. 

Dennis James
Haxtun, Colorado 

Thanks for sharing, Dennis. Sounds like 40 acres of heaven, indeed. – Editors

Apple Genetics

Yesterday, I received my January/February issue of GRIT and was reading the letters to the editors. I would like to comment on the one with the caption, “Loving Jonathans.”

My husband and I used to own an orchard. Before we bought the orchard, we were customers, and one day my husband commented on the difference in the taste of the Red Delicious apples, stating that one time they tasted good and the next time the taste was “off.”

“Oh,” the former owner said, “the good-tasting Red Delicious are from the old trees. The ‘tasteless’ ones are from the newer trees.”

Seems that Mr. John Q. Public wanted a redder, crisper Red Delicious apple, so they bred out all the good stuff to give the public something that looked good, but no longer tasted good.

We have already noticed a difference in the Gala apple. When it first came out, it tasted really, really good, but they have begun to mess with that one, too … all because the public’s perception of a good apple is a red one. To heck with the taste.

If Mr. Eklof can find an orchard with an old, old Red Delicious apple tree, THAT is the one he should eat. He might change his mind about the taste.

Some of the qualities of old varieties are not as nice – for instance they may not keep for months. But many times taste is lost because the market demands something that will transport well and keep a long time. You are always better off to buy locally if you can.

Carol Coddington
Alexandria, Pennsylvania 

Red Rome Sounds Old

In the January/February issue of Mail Call, Paul Eklof says that Red Delicious is the most tasteless of all apples. I agree 100 percent. Any apple is better than that. I guess my pick would be the Red Rome.

Lavina Mack
Bakersville, North Carolina 

No matter the apple cultivar you choose, we certainly agree with Carol that you have a better chance at a tasty apple by buying local. – Editors

Thoughtful Reader

Just before Christmas, the GRIT editorial department forwarded a letter written to me by a subscriber, Doris Zankowsky in Norris, Montana, who’d read my article on chokecherries (“Pucker Up!” November/December). She puts up chokecherry jelly and offered to send me two jars of her jelly if I would supply a mailing address. I did, and last weekend, I received her package. I tried it on toast yesterday morning, and it was delicious! What a nice gesture. GRIT subscribers must include some of the nicest, friendliest people in the country.

Jerry Schleicher
Parkville, Missouri 

Now you know why it’s a pleasure coming to work every day, Jerry. – Editors

Monk Pan Pleasures 

For 35 years while living in Southern California, we had a minimum of 10 guests for breakfast during the four Sundays of Advent. We served æbleskiver each time. Of course, that meant using two or three monk pans to keep the guests’ plates filled.

Now in rural southern Oregon, the tradition continues on Sunday or weekday evenings because the distance is too great for people to get here, eat and get to church on time. In addition to the æbleskiver topping suggestions in your article (“Take a Bite of Danish Heritage,” September/October), my staples are blueberry and cherry pie filling, various sugar-free jams for diabetics, Danish pudding with berries (either strawberries or raspberries to match the pudding), and the most popular is Swedish lingonberries. I serve whipped topping, but my 90-year-old mother is more ambitious than I. She serves hers with ice cream balls. I also serve smokey links because they’re a big hit.

Barb Krieger
Jacksonville Oregon 

Grazing Land 

In the January/February Mail Call, Elizabeth Stephens asks what might happen if Americans cut their meat intake by half. She wonders how many million acres of farmland plus public grazing land on the Western Range could be freed up.

My question is – freed up for what? If farmland isn’t used to raise crops and rangeland isn’t grazed, what are we supposed to do, just watch it grow up in brush?

Alan Easley
Columbia, Missouri

You make an excellent point, Alan. Grasslands, in particular, rely on grazing and other disturbances like fire to maintain ecological health. – Editors 

Making Chickens Healthy

Gwen Roland’s article “Raising Chickens for Meat” (November/December) brought back a lot of memories of my first flocks of meat birds. It wasn’t too difficult for me to kill those eating machines (they would fall asleep with their heads in the feeder), but I wasn’t too happy about the dragging legs due to weak tendons, the broken legs, nor the shock of viewing a screech-and-flop as a sudden heart attack claimed the near-matured birds.

Running a stud farm at the same time, I knew that calcium to phosphorus ratios were important to foal growth development and wondered if the same might alleviate some of the birds’ problems. I tinkered with combinations and found that placing a flake of good, leafy alfalfa into the coop and supplementing with pigeon grit to help digest the hay and a daily handful of cotton seed meal started early in their life eliminated the aforementioned handicap and mortality problems. Further, the added protein they consumed accelerated the growth of the birds. I was able to harvest 8- to 12-pound dressed meat birds (we dubbed them “Thunder Chickens”), and it jumped my turkey crop a full month ahead of harvest schedule.

The taste of the birds was unbelievably clean and fresh, probably due to the purifying qualities of alfalfa.

Andrea Angwin
Henderson, Nevada 

Wow, Andrea, thanks for these tips on how to keep those fast-growing meat birds happier and healthier. We’ve noticed in our own flocks that giving the quick-growing hybrids access to “pasture” and lowering the protein content of their feed will help minimize muscle and skeletal problems. – Editors

Speaking of Animal Husbandry

I thought Gwen Roland did a fantastic job with her article, “Raising Chickens for Meat.” She was honest, informative and entertaining. In today’s world, where it seems being vegetarian or vegan has become increasingly more popular, Gwen’s article was refreshing. I could tell she is a real animal lover with her comments regarding an animal that lives well and dies humanely and nurturing those animals in exchange for their nurturing us. I could not agree more with her point of view. We raise our own cattle and pigs as well as chickens for food, and our ultimate goal is to raise the happiest and healthiest animal(s) possible. We hope we are an example for others, but it sounds like Gwen has influenced many to good animal husbandry. Kudos to her!

I have attached a photo of some of our Red Angus calves that I took this past summer.

Joni Denton
via e-mail

I recently ran across your website. I used to sell the GRIT newspaper in the 1950s when I lived in Appam, North Dakota. How nice to see your website and get reacquainted with your publication. I am 60, living in California, and will be retiring in two years to move back to the Appam area and settle on a hobby farm. Just had to let you know I had some great flashbacks as I recall selling your paper for a dime or quarter per paper to make some money. I will be subscribing to GRIT.

Dennis Johnson
San Diego, California 

Welcome back, Dennis, both to the magazine and to country living. – Editors


GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42ndSt., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail us at