Thursday, September 18, 2014

Armadillo Hunter

About a month ago, we noticed a few dead armadillos around the property.  Didn't think much of it as we have a bunch of them around here and didn't really mind as the buggers are constantly digging up the garden and rooting around the fruit trees.

But then we started noticing more.  And a few more.  As the summer wore on, our noses, not our eyes, were what alerted us to additional armadillo bodies.  Either that, or we'd just follow the circling vultures to their picnic of bloated and rotting armadillo flesh.

After doing some Hillbilly CSI on a recently departed (and not yet smelling so bad as to make one want to immediately wretch into one's overalls) armadillo carcass, I noticed that there were puncture wounds on either side of it's midsection.  It would have to be a pretty big mouth to get around that body.  And none of the carcasses were eaten (other than by the vultures and that was after the fact); they were just killed and left to rot.  It also seems that the perpertrator isn't killing because it's hungry (because he gets dog food with eggs & milk & meat on top).   It appears we have a Thrill Killer on our hands.  But without photographic evidence of the crime in process, I cannot positively identify the perpertrator, but I have a pretty good idea who it may be......
Don't let that sweet, sad, floppy face fool you.  If you're
an armadillo, you'd better run.
He's lucky that he isn't chasing down any of the livestock.  Not that I think he could actually catch a chicken unless it decided to roost right in between his big, club-like paws.  But apparently armadillos aren't smart enough to move away from him.  Have you ever happened upon an armadillo at night?  I've gone out in the woods at night to check out the strange rustling noises.  Normally when one goes to see what creature is making noise out in the woods, as soon as you get close, whatever it was sprints out of the area.  But not armadillos, and that's why I can usually tell what it is before even seeing it because the dipsticks don't bother to run away, they just keep digging through the leaves, and make quite the rukous while doing so.  I've actually poked a few of them with the tip of the shotgun.  Sometimes they get startled, other times they just trot off a bit and continue their grub hunting.

But it seems that they have not yet adapted to this particular ecosystem and the Giant Sloppy Dog that resides in it may make this particular group of armadillos extinct.  Maybe I can get to the carcassas early enough  that I can start making these things:

Wonder how they would go over as Christmas presents this year?  I bet my Mom would put it on her nightstand.

Or not.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Weather Report: Beautiful weekend under County Fair skies

We had a busy and fun filled weekend at the County Fair.  The weather was awesome.  There have been some years when the temps were in the 90's but this time we were blessed with low to mid 70's and partly cloudy to sunny skies.  There was a little bit of mist on the first day we went, but nothing that would have kept us at home.  The mild weather was perfect for the fair-goers, but especially nice for the livestock.

And you know, that's what the County Fair is all about.  The livestock.

I don't remember attending any County Fairs growing up.  Probably because we lived in suburbia and County Fairs were substituted with  Town "Fests", which were basically carnivals, food vendors, live entertainment and fireworks.  I think our town had brought in a petting zoo for some of the Fests, but that was about all you got in terms of animals.  To see honest-to-goodness livestock, one had to travel a couple of hours west to DeKalb County's Fair or go to the Springfield State Fair.

So when we moved out here, I was thrilled to be in an area where the County Fair was really a big deal.  I mean, you hear people talking about next year's Fair even before the current one is over with.  I suppose that's what happens in more rural areas, even nowadays.  I'm glad that we belong to a community that takes pride in their pigs, gets giddy with their goats, coo over their cattle and can literally talk turkey.  And that's just the livestock.  The displays for home canned goodies, homemade pies and other delectables was awe-inspiring.  The craft section was also a sight to behold with all the quilts, although I admit that I saw one too many of those crocheted toilet paper covers that look like southern bells.  I mean, do people actually use those things?!?  Anyhow.  It's nice to know that there are still people, young people at that, who take pride in being able to actually make something with their own two hands.

Rhiannon and I visited our Boer kids that were being shown by the local FFA group and sat through some of the dairy and meat goat judging.  Our goats didn't do bad, but neither did they get Grand Champion or First Place or whatever it's called.  I think we got a second & third place (although there were only five in that group, so that really isn't saying much), but we really weren't in it for the ribbons anyhow.  But come on, who wouldn't be just a little bit proud of a big ol' blue ribbon?  I was hoping to get a better grasp of how the whole show thing worked, but didn't get involved enough with the kids (goat kids or human kids doing the showing) so that was pretty much a bomb.  I'm hoping to get together again soon with our Ag teacher friend and pick her brain about it.  Maybe we'll sponsor goats again next year and I'll let Rhiannon show one as well.
After saying hello to our goats, we did the rest of the livestock circuit; cattle, pigs, rabbits, poultry.  And Rhiannon and Grandma got up close & personal with our newest addition:
The Ag teacher heard it through the grapevine that someone wanted to sell one of their hogs so she introduced pig-seller to potential-pig-buyer, we negotiated a price and I was suddenly the proud owner of a pig.  Just like that.  Really.  Just like that.  Dangerous, being able to just go up to somebody, give them $240 and you got yourself a 240 pound pig.  I didn't have a trailer with me and I didn't have a pig pen set up.  Heck, I didn't even know what to feed this thing.  I mean, I've read (and re-read now that I'm in this particular situation) Ohio Farmgirl's"Pigs" posts, but I still didn't have any idea what we were going to do with this porker.

Luckily for me, we were able to have it hauled to the Ag teacher's barn where "Bacon" will reside until the first cold weekend when we will haul it here and put that two hundred plus hunk o' meat into the freezer.  The Ag teacher (and most likely her student underlings) will take care of Bacon during the school week and I'll take care of him on the weekend.  Sweet deal, if you asked me.  We didn't have to make a last-second, half-assed pig pen and I only have to deal with the animal twice a week.  Of course, we intend on paying back the kindness with porky-goodness conveniently packaged in white butcher paper.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

She who cannot be left alone

My husband could give me a credit card and drop me off at Macy's for the afternoon without batting an eye.  Because he knows that I would'nt spend a flat dime.

But do you know what happens when you let your wife go to the County Fair with a couple of greenbacks in her back pocket?
That's what he gets for not coming with.

Details to follow.  Because even I still don't know exactly what the details are.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

She Who Cannot Make Cheese

Warning:  This post was originally started at 10:24 Thursday morning after having yet another batch of goat milk mozzarella turn out unsuccessfully.  To say that I was upset would be a severe understatement and any and all attempts to censor my obvious frustration have been ignored in order to provide you with the most honest and truthful account of what transpired that morning.  Pictures have been added (as well as this "Warning") after the initial writing, but none of the f-bombs have been omitted nor have I bothered editing it to provide a more fluid blog post.  So if you're a big stinking puss-puss and are easily offended by the occasional (well, a bit more frequent than occasional) f-bombs, come back tomorrow when I will have hopefully calmed down and will post pictures of our time at the County Fair.
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Why am I unable to consistently make a batch of mozzarella (or yogurt, now that I think about it)? It's not like I haven't tried.  And tried.  And then tried some more.  My mozzarella successes are sporadic at best.  Did my ancestors from long ago commit some heinous crime against the pagan gods and they and their future progeny were from then on forever cursed as not to be able to successfully make any type of processed dairy product?  I don't know why I even bother anymore.  It's like I either totally forget the clusterfuck that happened the last time I tried to make cheese (or yogurt) or I'm too stinking stubborn and think that this is going to be the time I make a good batch?

So, back to how it all began:  After I milked the goats this morning, I noticed that there was a backlog of milk.  There were six half-gallon jars of milk in the fridge and I was running out of room and running out of jars.  It's was still early, barn chores were done, Rhiannon was playing downstairs and it was raining so there wasn't anything I could really do outdoors.  Great day to make a few batches of Mozzarella, I thought to myself.  What a fucking moron I am.

So I grabbed four jars of milk and brought out two of my large pots and gathered the other necessary cheese making supplies; citric acid, rennet, spoons, measuring cups, measuring spoons, cheesecloth and colander.  Even though the utensils were already cleaned, I washed them up again and laid everything out on paper towels on the the just-cleaned-again counter top.

I followed the recipe that I thought was my new "favorite" and which I had successfully made two, maybe three batches of 30-Minute Mozzarella (30MM).

Oh, and since I'm pissed and ranting, you know what I think about  those 30MM recipes?  There's no fucking way it takes just thirty minutes to make this mozzarella.  Even on the best of days.  Somewhere on those "30 Minute Mozzarella" websites there must be hidden text in super-micro-fine-print that says this:

This 30-Minute Mozzarella will take thirty minutes only if the following procedures are adhered to:

You must have all items already set out and cleaned for you.
You must have all children, pets, or other distractions at either at grandma's house, immobilized or otherwise neutralized.
The Moon must be in the waxing phase and Venus must be in retrograde.
You must have someone else clean up the mess because there sure shit isn't any way you're going to get this all done if you include set-up and clean-up time.
It's Tuesday.

Apparently I am doing something terribly wrong.  What other excuse is there that I cannot, for the life of me, consistently make mozzarella cheese?  There could be some bearded ISIS wackjob with a machete held up to my throat and he could say "Make Mozzarella or DIE, infidel!  Yaah-yahh-Waa-Waa-Waa, Allah is great!" and I couldn't do it.  My severed and bloody head would be rolling on the kitchen floor and the cats would be jumping on it or chewing on my severed esophagus.

I have no other explanation.

Do I have maggots crawling around in my kitchen compost bucket?  Do I have cat turds on my counter top? Do I have rotting food sitting on my stove?  No to all three.  Although I do believe that there's still some partially dried cat vomit in the basement because I heard one of the furry shits yacking last night but never found the evidence.

But to disclose the not-so-clean aspects of our home farm: I do have cats in the house (cat hair occasionally seen floating around).  We do live on a farm (poopy shoes).  I do have a 5-year old child (sticky fingers everywhere).  And we do occasionally go out in public so may be inadvertently carrying some sort of bad bacteria on our clothes (summer flu anyone?).

But.......Have I cleaned the counter tops & cheese-making equipment with soap & hot water and even bleach?  Yes.  Have I done just about everything I possibly can to make this an environment safe and clean for making cheese?  I think so.  But I still can't get this fucking cheese to become "Cheese"!!  What the hell do I have to do?  Do I have to set my kitchen up like that scene from E.T. and buy a damned autoclave for sterilizing everything in my kitchen?

Humans have been making cheese for thousands of fucking years using the intestines from newborn, just-slaughtered calves, and I'm pretty sure they didn't have any bottles of 409 sitting around.  They even made different varieties of cheeses, without stainless steel pots and utensils, digital thermometers or even fancy-pants, scientifically formulated bacteria cultures.  I could be in a Cheese-Showdown with a Neanderthal and the ancient brute who knows nothing about modern hygiene (or modern plumbing) would make a better fucking cheese than me.  I'd have all the modern gizmos and he'd have a dead opossum, dunk it up and down in his goat skin bag filled with week old milk, then let it sit out in the sun and he'd get a smooth, creamy Gorgonzola while I sit there with a handful of white crap indistinguishable from E.coli laden vanilla ice cream cat vomit.

But I regress........All I wanted to do was make a couple of batches of homemade mozzarella to put on our pizza tonight.  And two hours - two fucking hours - later, I end up with a barely edible ricotta'ish cheese that I will more than likely hurl at the chickens in a fit of rage after I taste it again.

I followed the recipe to a T.  I waited for the curd to set.  Which it kind of did.  And that's when my blood pressure started to rise, because I knew that it was all downhill from there.  I let the curd sit for a half hour (even though it's only "supposed" to take ten minutes.....my ass ten minutes) and it still wasn't as firm as it should be, but I went ahead with the next step.  And downhill we continued, every minute that went by my tolerance for anything cheese or milk or dairy related plummeted.  I was swearing at the pot of "curds", I was swearing at the cats, I was swearing at the dishrag.

But, stubborn ol' me still tried to save this cheese-abortion.  I strained the non-curd mess through the cheesecloth, trying to save some - any - of the "curds".  After a solid fifteen minutes of screwing around with that, I put the mass into the microwave to heat it up again, hoping it would firm up so I could stretch it.  No such luck.  All I did was manage to give myself third-degree fucking burns from manhandling the blob of nuclear hot pseudocheese.  So I put it through the cheesecloth again and drained more whey out of it.  And when I say "drained" I mean I squeezed the shit out of it until little streams of molten hot cheese crap shot out of a tiny hole in the cloth.

So basically I now had a bunch of dry & grainy ricotta cheese.  If I had wanted fucking ricotta cheese, I would have made fucking ricotta cheese.  And it wouldn't have taken this fucking long either!  I would have simply stuck the milk in a pot, heated it on the stove, poured a glug of vinegar in the pot, stirred it & put a lid on it to cool on the counter top.  And then, hours later, I would have calmly taken the pot of whey/ricotta, poured it  through cheesecloth, hung it and been done with it.  No swearing.  No throwing of spoons.  No babying the milk temperature, no messing around with rennet or citric acid.

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I wish I could say that there was a happy ending to this all.  I really do.  But there isn't.  There just isn't.

We had Chinese for supper tonight.

And there wasn't an ounce of fucking cheese in it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

And she let out a horrified "Gasp!"

Ever read a part in book that says, "...and she let out a gasp and clutched her chest" or, "....she gasped at the dreadful scene".

I don't think I've ever (or at least in recent memory) *gasped*, at least not like they show in the movies or write in books.  You know, that authentic kind, where something really does take you by complete surprise and fills you with horror, and you let out that unique sound caused by the sudden sucking-in of air, and maybe even clutch your chest or your eyes instantly grow wide from taking in the gasp-inducing scene.

But this weekend, I gasped.  A honest-to-goodness gasp.  Because while I was yanking 100' of hose behind me to fill stock tanks in the goat / chicken pen, I saw this:
Now, if you weren't familiar with our farm and the recent daily rituals involved with working with our livestock,  you would probably say to yourself, "Oh, the door to the pen is open.  I should probably shut that when I get a chance."  But the scene before my eyes filled me with horror.  Because behind that supposed-to-be-closed door were our thirty-two, week-old Cornish cross chicks.

I didn't freak because I thought that the chicks could have jumped out; there's a 2x6 board across the bottom of the doorway so the chicks would have to really, really try to jump out of the pen.  And then I'd probably find them somewhere close by or more than likely, right on the other side of the pen, peeping away, trying to get back inside the pen to be with their brothers and the pan filled with chick feed.

What I was afraid of was this:

The goats are the biggest bunch of feed gluttons I've even encountered (including myself).  And they will do anything, ANYthing to get their maws on grain, or in this case, chick feed.  Every single one of them have this incredible, insatiable appetite for chicken feed, which is, by the way, very bad for them.  So I have to keep all feed, especially chicken feed, safely locked away from the marauding caprine horde.

Long ago, Nettie figured how to open every latch that barred her from gaining access to whatever munchies lay beyond said secured door.  I've watched her bump and nudge and jiggle and bang and mouth one of those latches for ten minutes until it finally shook loose.  So every door has a lock of some sort.  Including the pen that contains thirty-two future chicken dinners.  It appears that I latched, but failed to lock the pen last time I was in there.

The open door wasn't the biggest problem and the goats getting into the limited amount of chick crumbles wasn't that big of a deal either.  The problem would be the pushing and shoving and stomping and general ruckus that would ensue when the goats realized that there was a pan of chick feed up for grabs and would no doubt mean disaster for the tiny chicks.  So when I saw that open door (see picture #1), I dropped the hose and ran (yes, I actually ran) towards the chick pen, screaming obscenities all the way.

I found Chop Suey and Penny in the pen.  The feed pan was, of course, licked clean.  It practically sparkled.  I screamed at the goats in the pen and they (wisely) practically jumped over me to get out of the pen and as far away from my size 9 shoe as possible.  In the seconds between me seeing the open door and the moment I got into the barn, I had horrible visions of $80 and two weeks worth of work pummeled into the straw bedding, white feathers stained blood red mingled with pinkish chunks of chick flesh. But to my utter amazement and relief, not a single chick was dead.  The only casualty seems to be a chick with a sore leg.  I don't know how the chicks managed to avoid being beat into a fleshy pulp by sixteen or more pointy goat feet, but they did.

Remember that authentic *Gasp* I let out?

Well, it was followed by a bona fide **Whew!***.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Shake n' Bake Bunny


I know I used the above picture already, but I just LOVE it!  Isn't it grand having a sister that does desktop publishing for a living?

So, I made our first domestic rabbit for supper a few days ago.  Not being confident enough to even fry a chicken, I didn't want to screw up our first rabbit.  I thought about tossing it into the pressure cooker and having shredded rabbit and gravy or rabbit tacos (Kelly had my mouth watering when she said that was what she had for supper) or rabbit pot pie, but I really wanted to taste a somewhat unadulterated rabbit.  You know.  To find out if it really did taste like, well, chicken.

So I figured the easiest and most fool-proof way to cook up that sucker would be to do a "Shake 'n Bake".  But it wasn't like I could just toss the entire carcass into the the bag, so I had to cut it up.  Which I've never done before.  Enter the internet.  There were about thirteen thousand posts on cutting up a rabbit so I just clicked on the easiest looking one.  And basically, it's just like cutting up a chicken.  The only thing I changed was that instead of just cutting through the backbone, I de-boned it as not to have any more bones in supper than necessary.

I tossed a bunch of seasonings and a small glug of oil in a bag with a bunch of bread crumbs and proceeded with the "Shake" from my supper To-Do list.  I stuck the coated pieces on a greased baking sheet in the oven at 325 degrees for an hour.  The back legs definitely needed the entire hour (maybe even an hour & fifteen), but the rest could have done just as well at just under an hour of cooking.
Looks and tastes pretty much like, well, chicken. 
It tasted fine, although the front legs were a bit chewy.  Paul said he could take it or leave it.  Rhiannon had the back (i.e. meatiest) pieces and ate it without even flinching.  So all in all, it was a pretty good supper, but I think I'll pressure cook the remaining two rabbits and make rabbit & dumplings or rabbit pot pie.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Butchering Bunnies


By now, you all know what's coming when that ^ is the first picture you see; butchering pics.  Normally I would have gone with a Cat themed so-cute-you-wanna-puke picture, but I saw the bunnies and thought it more fitting.  In a sick and twisted kind'a way.

If you read my last post, you already know that we were the recipients of four New Zealand meat rabbits.  I didn't have cages set up, I didn't have feed for them, food bowls or water bowls set up for them.  Because they were not going to be staying for supper.  They were going to be supper.

Never having to dispatch a rabbit up-close and personally (they are usually dead via lead projectiles when I pick them up), we asked the man who we got the rabbits from how he did it.  He said a quick, sharp blow to the back of the head did them in instantly.  So we figured if he did it hundreds of times like that, we could do the same.  Although I did question if it was more humane to be cracked in the back of the head with a nightstick than getting a .22 in the skull.

Paul grabbed a rabbit out of the cage and held it up by it's back legs.  It kicked for a bit but once it settled down he took the nightstick and gave it a firm crack right between the head and the shoulders.  The rabbit was dead instantly.  There was a little bit of twitching, but no more than I would have expected had use used a firearm.  And this was obviously much safer.

Skinning & butchering rabbits is a cakewalk compared to just about any other animal and this is the main reason we even contemplate raising them for the freezer.

Once the rabbit was dead, Paul held it over the gut bucket (i.e. 5-gallon bucket) to catch the blood.  There was more than I had anticipated given we didn't slit it's throat to drain it, although subsequent rabbits' throats were slit because there was a little blood in the carcass of the first one.  After the blood stopped, he put it on the cutting board and started the skinning.

Rabbit skin is very, very thin.  If one were so inclined, I bet you could skin it without using a knife by just tearing a hole in the hide and ripping it off.  But we opted for using a knife.  Paul pulled the skin on the middle of the back and made a slice through the fur/skin.  Normally when we skin an animal, we'll cut through the hide up through the belly, but rabbits have very little muscle in this area and it would be very easy to cut right through the belly and into the stomach / intestine.  You don't want to cut into the guts and chance contaminating the meat.  So by cutting the back, we totally avoid any mishaps.
Slit made in the middle of the rabbit's back.
After the slice was made in the back skin, each of us grabbed a side and we both pulled, Paul towards the head and me towards the back feet.  When the hide got to the back feet, Paul used a pair of kitchen shears to cut the back feet off.
Grab a hold & pull both ways.
Hind legs coming off.
On the other end, when the hide got to the front legs, you just poke your finger or thumb through the armpit and peel away the skin.  Then you continue pulling the hide up to the skull.  Once we got to the skull, we used the shears to sever the neck and that was it!  The only fur left on the rabbit was the tail.

Is it just me, or does this remind you of Lady Gaga on stage?
I didn't get any pictures of the gutting, but it basically goes like any other disembowelment.  Make a slice through the abdomen muscle (Carefully!  It's very, very thin.) up to the rib cage, being very careful not to cut into the stomach or intestines.  Then cut through the ribs (we used kitchen shears) and shove your hand up in there and pull everything out, down towards the back legs.  Don't keep yanking though, because you need to make a cut around the tail and anus to release the intestine/colon/anus from the animal without spilling any of the contents (i.e. pee & poop) and contaminating the meat.

Once all the insides were outside, we cut the gall bladder from the liver and saved that (the liver, not the gall bladder) and the heart.  Liver for me, heart, kidneys, lungs for Charlie.  Gave the carcass a good hose-down and put it into a bucket filled with ice water.

After Paul finished the second rabbit, he asked if I wanted to kill one.  Well, I really didn't want to (not because I'm squeamish, but because I'm just generally lazy), but figured I should know how to do it.  I grabbed myself a rabbit from the cage and it almost kicked out of my hand.  It was deceptively strong and I almost lost it.  Charlie was disappointed that I held on as I'm sure he would have had a grand time chasing it down and munching on it.  After it stopped kicking, I firmly held the the nightstick in my right hand, held the rabbit in my left, raised the stick.....and totally missed the rabbit and cracked my lower shin.  Yes, I heard an audible "crack".

But you would all be so very proud of me as I didn't utter a single swear word.  Paul did say that I had a very pained look on my face.  As I would expect as when I handed the rabbit and stick over to Paul and ran my hand over the already black & blue area where stick met my shin, I felt a large divot where there was no longer any muscle, but an area of mashed tissue and possibly chipped bone.  Lesson learned?  Hold the rabbit up with your arm extended straight out, as in this picture:
Do NOT hold the rabbit close to one's leg, like this:
Paul says that the follow-through is also important.  Even if you have your arm extended, you may whack the rabbit, but if you continue the down stroke in a curve, you'll end up cracking the rabbit and your leg.  The remaining two rabbits were dispatched by Paul and butchered up.  While we were finishing with the last rabbit, one of Paul's fishing buddies pulled up to pick up his cooler.  This was the same cooler that was filled with Crappie a few days earlier.  And since he gave us his share of the Crappie, we gave him a dressed rabbit in return.  Pretty nice trade for both parties involved, if I do say so myself.

I weighed the four rabbits before I packaged them up.  Two weighed in at 2 lbs. 14 oz, one was 2 lbs. 12 oz and the last was 2 lbs. 10 oz..  In hindsight, I should have measured live weights so I had an idea what the live / butcher weight ratio was.  Oh well, maybe next time.

But I suppose that's the Big Question now.....will there be a next time?