Monthly Archives: November 2008

Poultry in motion

Turkey plucker in background. Fire heating scalding water in cauldron.

Turkey plucker in background; fire heating scalding water in cauldron in foreground.

Last week I butchered 27 roosters, 8 turkeys and 2 ducks and, until a few days ago, I was doing it all by hand (see Butchering day: turkeys for complete photo documentary of the process).  Several days into the planned massacre, I had a food security meeting at the hospital (it being the only venue in the valley with video-conferencing capability). During the meeting, my mind drifted back to all the work I had to do back on the farm. While I was agonizing about how often I was having to sharpen my knife, it occurred to me that I might just be in the right place at the right time. After all, a hospital is the place where they cut people, in particular their skin, open. Why not use a scalpel?

With that thought I was suddenly anxious for the meeting to end so I could get back to the business ‘at hand’. My mind began leafing through the possibilities of who might give me a contraband scalpel; I mentally listed off the doctors whom I knew well enough to ask and noted, sadly, that all were either out of town or recently retired. While I was lamenting the loss of fruitful connections, one of the nurses walked by as if on cue. Perhaps I would be able to buy one: “Sure, but you might want to consider buying an exacto knife instead,” the nurse replied, listing off the virtues of the exacto knife: they are probably cheaper, just as sharp, not made for one time use, more convenient  and would last much longer. Laughing, he rounded out his thoughts with, “Besides, a scalpel is made for making nice neat incisions that are repairable–not really what you’re after.”

Who knew they were made for one time use? As I left the nurses’ station, I had the good fortune of running into another neighbour who at one time owned a chicken plucker. Convinced I was suffering the preliminary states of arthritis, but suppressing my desperation, I asked him nonchalantly if he still owned the contraption and whether I could borrow it. “It’s actually a turkey plucker,” he said rubbing his chin, then added mercifully, “Sure you can use it.”

Holding his hands in the air and turning them from side to side, he provided me with a quick virtual demonstration of how to use the machine, replete with the final stages of turkey plucking–holding it by the feet and gently letting it roll away from you, careful not to let it go but moving with it as it bounced up and down on the imaginary rubber prongs–and finally we made arrangements for me to pick it up the next day. (I wondered what the other patients thought we were discussing as we stood there in the corridor!)

cutting table, scalding cauldron, and turkey plucker.

The sum total of my processing plant: cutting table, scalding cauldron, turkey plucker, guts bucket, hand washing pots and towels.

The next morning, he and my husband man-handled the great machine onto the brick patio which surrounds our fire pit, where I would be working. After they both left, I got myself organized, then got a chicken slaughtered, scalded and ready for the plucker. I plugged the machine on and it whirred satisfyingly to life. Doing my best impersonation of my instructor, I gently laid the chicken over the turning rubber prongs. With a rapid fire ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk’ (reminiscent of a playing card held on the spoke of my bicycle wheel by a clothes peg), the chicken throttled to life, leaped out of my hands, whisked itself through the plucker with nary a feather lost, and flew through the damp air, pure ‘poultry in motion’, before coming to an abrupt stop on the wet grass on the far side of the machine with an unceremonious ‘thwap!’

Turkey plucker almost winning!

Turkey plucker almost winning!

When I switched dance partners from chickens to turkeys, which are much heavier than chickens, the torque was several magnitudes greater, and once again I was caught off guard as the first turkey made one final attempt at flight. Determined to win, I hung on to his legs for dear life, bracing my gumboots against the machine in a desperate tug-of-war. When I thrust my body backwards in a final heave, the battered and torn turkey, still not exactly featherless, brought the whirling prongs to a momentary halt, and I retrieved my bird. If I’d been working alongside Kevin Costner, I would have earned the right (from the native Americans peering at me from the tree-line) to the name: ‘Dances with Turkey.’ While I lamented the loss of my first investment (battered and torn as it was), my dog Tui smiled smugly at the prospect of several gourmet meals.

Dances with turkeys.

Dances with turkeys.

After a few false starts, I developed a feel for it. Overall, it was a fantastic addition to my repertoire and sped up my processing operation almost threefold! Here are a couple of (not so great) photos of my ‘slightly more high-tech’ but still incredibly low-tech, little operation.

Hanging turkeys ready for killing.

Hanging turkeys ready for killing.

Cooling the meat down quickly after gutting.

Submersing the meat in cold water to cool it down quickly after gutting.

Final checking over for pin feathers and general good condition before bagging.

Final checking over of chickens for pin feathers and general good condition before bagging.

Bagging up final product ready for the freezer.

Bagging up the final product (chickens) ready for the freezer.


Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ducks, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Turkeys

Pressure canning meat and poultry

This post is at special request of Jo at Little Ffarm Dairy.

Chicken canned and ready for storage and winter use in soups, stews, and my favourite, curries!

Chicken canned and ready for storage and winter use in soups, stews, and my favourite, curries!

This past week and weekend, I completed a marathon butchering fest. In total, I butchered 27 chickens, 2 ducks and 4 turkeys which may not sound like much, but when you are doing it solo and without the aid of any modern day technology, it is a feat, to say the least.

In the midst of it all I also canned 8 chickens, all the stewing beef from our butchered cow, and am presently in the process of cooking two more turkeys and will can them later today. Having taken in the half a cow, I now have no room left in my freezer, so can I must! Food preservation is a juggling act at all times here, as we do not have much room in our wee house and we don’t have any form of cold storage… yet.

The following information includes recipes and methods for SAFE canning of meat, game and poultry which I have collected over the past few years:

Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning meat and poultry

Home food preservation must be done with care, to protect the quality and safety of the food. Jars or cans containing low-acid foods–such as vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood–must always be processed under pressure, to prevent spoilage or food poisoning. The bacteria which cause botulism, a severe and potentially fatal from of food poisoning, are not killed by using the hot water bath canning process.


All meat should be handled carefully, should be correctly slaughtered, and canned promptly or kept under refrigeration until processed. Keep meat as cool as possible during preparation for canning, handle rapidly, and process meat as soon as it is packed. Most meats need only be wiped with a damp cloth, though I make a habit of rinsing it in cold water (but that is just personal preference).

Use lean meat for canning: remove most of the fat, cut off gristle and remove large bones, and cut into pieces in a convenient size for canning. Pack hot meat loosely, leaving 1-inch head-space in Mason jars.

Prepare broth for filling jars: place bony pieces in saucepan, cover with cold water, and simmer until meat is tender. Cool liquid and discard the layer of fat that hardens on the surface. Bring liquid to a boil and use it to pack into jars packed with precooked meat (and poultry).

NOTE: Meat should not be browned with flour nor should flour be used in the broth to make gravy for pouring over the packed meat as the starch in the flour makes the sterilization process very difficult, and so this is not recommended for home canners. (Best leave this to Chef Boyardee and Heinz.)

Meats may be processed with or without salt. If salt is desired, use only pure canning or pickling salt (table salt contains a filler which may cause cloudiness in bottom of jar). I use 1/2 teaspoon salt to each pint, 1 teaspoon to each quart. More or less salt may be added to suit individual taste.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process meats according to the following recipes.

When canning food in regions less than 2,000 feet altitude (dial gauge canner) or 1,000 feet altitude (weighted gauge canner), process according to specific recipe. When canning food in regions above 2,000 feet altitude (dial gauge canner) or 1,000 feet altitude (weighted gauge canner), process according to the following chart.


Pints and Quarts
Pints and Quarts
1,001 – 2,000 ft. 11 lbs. 15 lbs.
2,001 – 4,000 ft. 12 lbs. 15 lbs.
4,001 – 6,000 ft. 13 lbs. 15 lbs.
6,001 – 8,000 ft. 14 lbs. 15 lbs.

Processing time is the same at all altitudes.


Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning meat.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process your game meat according to the following recipes.

CUT-UP MEAT (strips, cubes, or chunks) Bear, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal, and Venison
Remove excess fat. Soak strong-flavored wild meats for 1 hour in brine water containing 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Rinse. Remove large bones and cut into desired pieces.

Raw Pack—Fill jars with raw meat pieces, leaving 1-inch head-space. DO NOT ADD LIQUID. Adjust jar lids.

Hot Pack—Precook meat until rare by broiling, boiling, or frying. Pack hot meat loosely in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1-inch head-space. Cover meat with boiling broth, water, or tomato juice (especially with wild game), leaving 1-inch head-space. Adjust jar lids.

Dial Gauge Canner—Process at 11 pounds pressure – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts 90 minutes. For processing above 2,000 feet altitude, see chart for recommended pounds of pressure.

Weighted Gauge Canner—Process at 10 pounds pressure – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts 90 minutes. For processing above 1,000 feet altitude, see chart  for recommended pounds of pressure.


Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning poultry.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process poultry according to the following recipes.


Boil, steam, or bake poultry slowly to medium done. I tend to boil it and make the broth at the same time. If you have broth on hand you can precook in the concentrated broth for more flavor. Poultry is medium done when the pink color in the center is almost gone.

Cut poultry into serving size pieces and if desired, remove bones. I always debone the meat as it is my personal preference. I find it easier to use in recipes if it is done this way. Pack hot poultry loosely in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space.

Make broth from bones and bony pieces, neck, back, and wing tips and the gizzard, heart and liver if you have them. Pack hot meat in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1-inch head-space. Do not pack food tightly. Cover poultry with boiling broth or water, leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space. Adjust jar lids.

Poultry may be processed with or without salt. If salt is desired, use only pure canning or pickling salt. Table salt contains a filler which may cause cloudiness in bottom of jar. I use 1/2 teaspoon salt to each pint, 1 teaspoon to each quart.

Dial Gauge Canner—Process at 11 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts 90 minutes.
For processing above 2,000 feet altitude, see above chart  for recommended pounds of pressure.

Weighted Gauge Canner—Process at 10 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts for 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts for 90 minutes.
For processing above 1,000 feet altitude, see above chart for recommended pounds of pressure.


Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning rabbit.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process rabbit according to the following recipes.

Soak dressed rabbits 1 hour in water containing 1 tablespoon of salt per quart. Rinse and remove excess fat. Cut into serving size pieces. Boil, steam, or bake to medium done. Rabbit is medium done when pink color in center is almost gone. Pack hot rabbit loosely in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space. Cover rabbit with boiling broth or water leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space and adjust jar lids.

Dial Gauge Canner—Process at 11 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts for 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts for 90 minutes.
For processing above 2,000 feet altitude, see chart for recommended pounds of pressure.

Weighted Gauge Canner—Process at 10 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts for 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts for 90 minutes.
For processing above 1,000 feet altitude, see chart for recommended pounds of pressure.


Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Food preservation, Goats, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Preserving the harvest, Turkeys

Butchering days are upon us

I’m back from the hunting, but now engrossed in my ‘down-sizing’. Going to butcher a few ducks, some of the turkeys and all of the roosters over the next few days. Will get back to more regular postings next week. Gotta go light the fire!


Filed under Preserving the harvest, Turkeys

Food Security & Food Sovereignty: Tasty rhetoric, unpalatable realities

The Non-existence of Food Sovereignty in BC

The idea of ‘food sovereignty’ is an attempt to address the complex issues that directly impact the ability of individuals, families and communities to respond to their own needs for access to healthy, culturally adapted foods. The concept was developed by a global farmers’ movement La Via Campesina and was launched to the general public at the World Food Summit in 1996. While there is no universal definition of food sovereignty, the most common one referred to in the international community is as follows:

Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.

The concept of ‘food sovereignty’ is certainly on the media agenda here in British Columbia, Canada: position papers, new civil servant positions, news items, best-selling books. But what of the ‘ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate [legislation and/or policies]’ fitting a people’s ‘unique circumstances’? How is our government doing? Take the recent changes to the Meat Inspection Regulation (MIR) for example. It has put more processors and producers out of business than has created new processors;  consequently it has reduced the community capacity to produce meat, and reduced the quality of our meat (thanks to the smaller custom operators going out of business). It has created more dependence upon an already unsustainable and ecologically questionable food production and distribution system.

The overall result of recent legislation, then, is Food Insecurity, with food sovereignty obviously not even being considered: communities are more dependent upon a centralized food  production and distribution system (and all its ethically and environmentally questionable  and unsustainable practices) instead of a decentralized, locally controlled, economically diverse (and thus more stable and sustainable) system. Not only that, communities are socially unraveling due to the inter-dependency that is being lost as producers ‘throw in the towel’. The only recourse for consumers is to buy from an anonymous supply chain.

‘Culturally appropriate’ foods are foods which are grown in your area, or gathered from  the wild in your area. These, too, are becoming scarce: for example, wild stocks of salmon have been depleted due to the commercial fishing industry, while custom facilities that formerly handled the butchering, wrapping and packing of hunted game may no longer afford this time because of their financial responsibilities due to legislated upgrades.

Here is an overview of the Meat inspection regulation:

If the meat is intended only for your personal use, you have two options for the slaughter of your livestock:

1. You can take your animals to an abattoir for slaughter. This can be either a fixed or mobile abattoir. By September 2006, all B.C. abattoirs that produce meat for human consumption must be licensed.

2. You can slaughter your own animals. It is okay if friends or neighbours help you with this task, as long as nobody is paid or otherwise compensated. If you slaughter your own animals, you cannot sell any of the meat, nor can you use it in any transaction that is commercial in nature, such as regular trading or bartering for other goods or services. Nor can you sell products, such as sausages, or meals made from this meat.

What sort of schizophrenic logic is this? Meat that you slaughter yourself is fit for you and your family to eat, but not for the neighbours who helped you? (The same ill-logic applies to poultry slaughtering and milk products in B.C.) If you, the farmer, are able to decide whether or not the food you have just processed is safe, why shouldn’t your neighbour, who helped you, also be able to discern this?  Or a customer who wishes to buy directly from you? After all, isn’t your customer going to scrutinize your farming and butchering practices just as diligently as, if not more diligently than, the government inspector?

This legislation has effectively shut down ‘farm gate’ sales. Not only does it mean a loss to farmers’ incomes (and diversification of economy and skills), but also a loss to communities’ food security and food sovereignty.

Oh, and if you thought you might get around the legislation by doing it for free, they have that one tied up with the following note:

Note: if the slaughtering of animals is part of the ordinary course of somebody’s business, even if it is done for free, it would be considered operating an abattoir. So, a farmer who sold live animals to his/her customers and offered to slaughter them for the customers for free would need to be licensed as an abattoir.

While our government’s minions produce tantalizing feasts of rhetoric about such things as rural economic development, food security, and food sovereignty, their ‘one size fits all’ approach to so-called food safety legislation is the equivalent of a  Hostess Twinkie in terms of nutritional value. It undercuts the contemporary interests of British Columbia’s citizens, creates greater dependency on the corporate food production system,  and increases a community’s food insecurity.

Food (In)-Security in B.C.

How does this change affect people in B.C.? Some producers and processors are happy about the change. I have spoken to a beef producer near Quesnel who is quite happy with the change, because she can now supply people in Vancouver with her pasture fed beef. That’s because she lives within an hour’s drive of a licensed abbatoir.

Other producers are not so lucky. Many producers in more populated areas are used to having access to custom slaughtering, but now find themselves without a processor who is willing to do custom orders. Because of the Meat Inspection Regulation changes, many smaller slaughterhouses, who did the majority of the custom and specialized work, are now closing down (or already have closed). They simply cannot afford to make the requisite changes required to meet the new standards. (Two of these inordinately costly abut rerquired changes are: provide a separate office and bathroom facility for the Meat Inspector; provide an automatic, hands-free hand-washing system for the slaughterer/staff. See Plant construction and equipment guidelines for more information.)

I have to ask: If surgeons who cut you open can move washing taps with their elbows, why can’t someone who is butchering an animal? After all, the surgeon expects the body she is working on to live, whereas the butcher doesn’t. Further, I don’t have a separate office in my house for my own business, but I need to supply one for a government inspector. Is he/she planning on moving in? What does this separate office and separate bathroom have to do with meat safety?

There is still a third kind of producer and community that is affected entirely differently than the above two examples. Many rural/remote communities never did have a processor near them, and instead relied on doing it themselves and/or with the help of the local butcher or otherwise experienced and knowledgeable people. These communities are now without any facility to legally process their meat, and have no hope of ever having one because of the cost and lack of legislated economic viability.

Because of British Columbia’s geographically diverse topography and vastly dispersed populations, there are many communities which will no longer have the opportunity to be self-sufficient in their meat producing and processing capacity. Take Bella Coola where I live, for example: the closest provincially inspected slaughter facility for red meat is over 500 kilometers away (in Beaver Valley) and the closest poultry slaughtering facility is around 900 kilometers away (Chilliwack or Salmon Arm). In economic terms,  for the local farmer and his customers these facilities might as well be on Mars. This is without considering the environmental and animal rights concerns.

Not to worry, the new Meat Inspection Regulation has addressed us rural/remote folks:

Producers in remote and isolated communities face special challenges because they may not have access to a licensed slaughter establishment.  Some of these communities may need time to carry out feasibility studies before developing construction plans for new or updated facilities.  In these limited circumstances, a Class C transitional licence applicant can apply for an exemption from the requirement to have a construction plan. This will allow the applicant to continue operating and selling direct to the consumer until feasibility studies are done and construction plans can be completed.  As with all Class C licences, the meat produced must be labelled as uninspected and not for resale.

Transitional licenses are valid for six months, and renewal is subject to continued progress towards a fully approved and licensed operation.

In exceptional circumstances, in remote and isolated areas, the Minister of Health has the authority under the Meat Inspection Regulation to exempt transitional Class C license applicants from the necessity of getting an approved construction plan, if in the Minister’s opinion it is necessary to maintain slaughter capacity.

Well, thank goodness for small mercies. We don’t have to take any responsibility for our community and make the decision for ourselves; the Minister will decide for us whether or not it is ‘necessary to maintain slaughter capacity’! Five generations of my family have been waiting for the Minister to tell me if what we’ve been doing for 120 years is worthwhile.

What have we gained by this change in legislation? It has shut down local producers, put a stop to farm-gate sales, and put many small specialized custom operators out of business. Several producers have been driven underground–the only available option left to them. Larger producers now have huge debt for the upgrades and consequently can no longer ‘afford’ to do custom orders; as a result, small-scale, often specialized, producers have nowhere to get their meat slaughtered unless they contravene environmental and animal rights standards by shipping their animals huge distances. Further, these custom operators may now be overloaded.

How does this new regulation support food safety, or eating locally, or rural economic development, or food security, or food sovereignty? The answer is: it doesn’t.


Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Howling Duck Ranch’s own peas, pea soup

Dried Alaska peas for seed and soup.

Dried Alaska peas for seed and soup.

This year, in the attempt to achieve ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’, I decided to experiment with some legumes. I grew (or rather, attempted to grow) the main legumes we like to eat in general, and generally eat often.

Thus, I attempted to grow the following with varying degrees of success: lentils, cannelli beans, black turtle beans, garbanzo beans, broad beans, pinto beans, soya beans, and adzuki beans.

Attempting to become sovereign in legumes turned out to be an extremely educational experience: an utter failure on the one hand and a completely enlightening experience on the other. Not only were most crops a definite failure, (several varieties  barely made their presence known in the garden thanks to their penchant for warmer climes), but also of those that tried to participate in the project–through sheer will and determination–didn’t go the distance. They simply didn’t make it to the dry shell out stage of maturation before the rotting rains of our fall pounded them into a pulpy mess.

Despite the miserable failures, there were several key learning points along the way: I learned the growth pattern of lentils and, thus, why I won’t attempt to grow them again–too small, too difficult to hand thresh,  too little food value return for the work involved. I also learned which ones I will try  again next year, for example, black beans, but not for its dried shell out possibilities but rather to eat at the green stage–they are extraordinarily yummy as a green bean.

Peas laid out on my kitchen table drying.

Peas laid out on my kitchen table drying.

I did  have great success with was my Alaska pea crop. Upon realizing that most of the legumes I was experimenting with were simply not going to amount to much, I summoned the peas and insisted they rise to the occasion. I was planning to let some go to seed anyway, and already had enlisted a few exceptional plants–marking them for seed saving purposes for next year’s crop.

I had not been able to find any information on the subject of letting the regular garden peas going to the dried stage for soup and dahl making purposes, but throwing caution to the wind I decided, ‘why not?’

Another reason I decided to let some of the regular fresh pea crop go to the dry shell out stage was that the food value relationship versus time must be better at the dry shell out stage. It occurred to me one day while harvesting the fresh Alaska peas for dinner, I was conscious of just how long it was taking to get enough for two for dinner–a long time! So, I rationalized, considering it takes just as much time to shell out fresh as it does the dried, but as a dry bean, the protein and carbohydrate value has increased significantly, why not  let these peas turn into legumes? They may not be the right pea for habitant pea soup, but in terms of local eating, food security, self-provisioning, etc., they would have to do!

Here is the recipe I developed for my own pea soup peas!

Howling Duck Ranch’s Own Peas, Pea Soup

3 tbsp Olive oil (but any oil will do, and if I had access to beef or pork tallow/lard, I would use that).

1 large onion

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup diced zucchini

3 garlic cloves, sliced thin

salt, to taste

fresh ground pepper, to taste

Herbs to taste: thyme, savory, sage, parsley, oregano

Spices to taste: allspice (if using, cut back on pepper)

3 cups dried peas (soaked in 6-8 cups of water for several hours)

More water as needed for cooking soup

Soup stock: ideally use boiled salt pork or a ham hock.

If you don’t have access to salt pork then substitute with one of the following: ham flavoured stock, or bouillon cube, or home made stock from pork bones (in a pinch, I have even cooked bacon and used the drippings as the stock base), you can also make it vegetarian if you wish.


Caramelize the the veggies, cooking the onion first in oil, then carrot, garlic and zucchini. Add salt and pepper, and cook until veggies are soft. Add the soaked but drained peas, pour in enough water and stock to cover by an inch. bring to a boil. After bringing the peas to a steady boil, turn the heat off and cover for 10 minutes.

At this point, you can transfer the whole pot to a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Alternatively, keep boiling the soup until the peas turn to mush. Add desired herbs and spices, adjust salt and pepper to taste.

This soup demands to be dipped and dredged, so serve it with good, hearty, home made bread.


Filed under Food Security, How to..., Preserving the harvest, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Base camp

Here is the moose hunting base camp, the cabin at Louie Creek. It is where Clarence and his family moose hunt from. They have been hunting here for 42 years. The cabin was built by an Indian trapper many, many years ago and Clarence got permission from him to use it. Over some years, Clarence and his sons built many trails from the cabin up into the mountains behind. Since then, the old trapper has died and the cabin now sits inside a hunting guide territory. The family still has access to it and keeps it up through additions and repairs. Heading up again today. More on the hunting trip when I’m back, I may be here a while!

The cabin at Louie Creek.

The cabin at Louie Creek.


Filed under Hunting

Janey’s got a gun

Because I know next to nothing about guns, hunting or general bush safety, but was about to take a trip to Williams Lake to buy a gun, I  decided to call a friend, Gary Shelton, who happens to be an avid hunter, an ex-hunting guide, an international expert on survival techniques and bear behavior, a renowned author, and a bush safety instructor extraordinaire. Gary is an extremely engaging speaker and I love listening to him speak; my mind paints images as he guides me through the forest of his knowledge.

I asked him about guns in general, and what he thought I should get that would meet my needs. “What you’re going to need is something that will not only shoot a deer or moose, but also be a bear defense weapon,” he said, and gave me a couple of options in styles and makes that he considered suitable for my requirements.

We talked some more about safety issues, my requirements, and the types and styles of guns he recommended. One particularly helpful suggestion was that whatever I get, I should have its stock cut down to meet my diminutive size; he suggested I try out one of his guns that he had cut down for his daughter. (I would not have thought that a gun could be customized in this way.)

Then, being a natural teacher, Gary talked about things to consider when hunting in the bush with someone–all to do with safety. He told me how the landscape of hunting has shifted in the last twenty years and described to me some of the changes in the legislation with respect to hunting and culling of animals. The result of this is an increase in the numbers of bears, particularly in our area: we now have the largest population of grizzly bears anywhere in the world, right outside our doors. I know this! I see them, or evidence of them, on a daily basis.

Gary also praised the bushman skills and hunting prowess of my friend Clarence, and declared: “You and Clarence should have your bear defense strategy all worked out beforehand.” Pardon me, but did you say beforehand? As if the need for a bear defense strategy is part of a lunch list: like, don’t forget your sandwich, cookies, and to take with you some water. Oh, and remember to bring along your bear defense strategy–you won’t want to be without that, if you get hungry.

“The landscape of hunting has changed here in the last twenty years,” Gary reminded me. “Because of the sheer increase in bear population, your chances of running into one have also increased significantly. Not only that: there are far more of them who are no longer afraid of humans.”

I asked him what the ‘bear defense strategy’ should look like and almost regretted it immediately: one  of you should be the lead (this should be the more experienced person), while the less experienced person should be prepared to follow the lead person’s direction. The back-up person is exactly  that: the back-up, ready to follow the lead person’s orders.

In a bear encounter, the second person should move 90 degrees to one side of the lead person (about 6 or 7 feet), so if the need to shoot is determined, neither of you are in the other’s line of sight. The lead person will make the call if there is a need to shoot, when to shoot, and if and when the back-up person should chamber a round. In other words, the lead person will gallantly step aside, calmly watch the horror unfold, and after a quiet but complex calculation say, ‘When.’ Meanwhile, the other person has ‘moved into position’, ‘squared off with the bear’ and is poised to shoot, waiting only for the signal. Oh, and if necessary, shoot well, for the love of god, and accurately–the last thing you want on your hands is a wounded, and therefore even more angry, bear.

It is important that your plan is discussed before going into the woods. It is of no use to start the discussions once the bear encounter situation has begun. The lead person will make the decision as to whether or not there is a need for defense and be making this decision based on the behaviour of the bear. This is very important, because there will be bear encounter situations that never require anyone to shoot the bear.

Of course, each situation will be different, and just because you have a plan does not mean the event will unfold precisely how you imagine it. The above description is of course, the ideal (if you can call a bear defense situation, ideal). However, there may be a situation where you cannot move to the side. In this case, the back-up person will not chamber a round. Under no circumstances should the back-up person (or anyone standing behind another) chamber a round–that is simply too dangerous.

Oh. My. God. These are not things I had considered when I committed myself to learning to hunt, or when I wrote my first happy little post by that name. Nor were they things Clarence had ever talked to me about, not even when out on our first hunt together. Then, I had presumed that if we came across a bear, or any dicey situation for that matter, it would be Clarence’s job to deal with it. My job would be to try not to pee myself, faint, or become hysterical and run rough-shod across the forest, prompting a merry little chase in which the bear would, no doubt, participate lustily.

“So,” I asked Gary, not sure I wanted to hear the answer, “will the gun you recommend be sufficient for this?” He listed the various merits of the guns he was recommending, and why. As politely as possible, I pressed him for a more precise answer: “Well [for the love of God!], which of the ones you have suggested is better for the ‘bear defense situation’, then?”

“Let me put it this way,” Gary said matter-of-factly. “When a bear defense situation goes down, you’re going to wish you both had Bazookas.”

Mental note to self, talk to Clarence!

In the end, I decided upon a Remington 700 series .280 rifle. Last night, Gary ‘pre-approved’ my rifle. What is more, he told me a whole bunch more about the rifle and listed off various merits not even the gun store salesmen revealed. All together, I did even better than I had thought. Now, I’m equipped to go hunting–and will be off for the next week or so!


Filed under Animal issues, Funny stories, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Woman running fairly close to the wolves

The big 'bad' wolf leaves his tracks in the snow that we follow.

The big 'bad' wolf leaves his tracks in the snow that we follow.

My friend Clarence needed to go to ‘The Lake’, and by Lake we Bella Coola-ites mean Williams Lake–a 458 kilometer trip east of here, one way. Williams Lake has an approximate population of 14,000, and is the home of our nearest stoplight as well as all sorts of goodies that you otherwise cannot get in Bella Coola, like Tim Horton’s doughnuts. So for us, a trip to Williams Lake is a big deal. I asked Clarence if I could go with him. I wanted to buy myself a bigger gun, one that is suitable for deer and moose hunting and, if necessary (but God forbid it be necessary), for bear defense.

Another reason I wanted to join him was for hunting. With a near 1000 kilometer round trip through the best hunting territory in the province, I thought it would provide us with ample chance to hunt on the way back home. When I relayed my thoughts to Clarence, he corrected me in no uncertain terms. “What do you mean ‘on the way back’? My dear, we’ll hunt both ways,” and his thumb motioned away from the center of his chest towards the middle distance and then back again for emphasis, solidifying the plan right there in my driveway.

As it happened, we didn’t get away as early as intended, so the hunting on the way out was limited to looking for animals from the comfort of the vehicle. As we wended our way up ‘The Hill’, our eyes were fixed on the snow on either side of the road, searching for tracks. There were none to be seen, and this disturbed Clarence to no end. “I don’t like what I’m not seeing,” Clarence muttered over and over, speaking more to the goddesses of the ungulates than to me.

We drove along slowly, more intent on spotting some game and/or its tracks than actually getting to Williams Lake. Clarence repeated how he was puzzled by ‘what he wasn’t seeing’. There was nary a deer nor moose track to be seen. We did, however, manage to spot all sorts of predator tracks: wolf, coyote, fox, but no big game. Nor did we see anything ‘legal’, as he put it. That is not to say we didn’t see any animals at all. Before leaving the valley, we met a big boar grizzly bear at the usual ‘pee stop’ at the bottom of the hill–the precise place that I had seen a mother sow and two cubs several weeks before. While peeing, I watched the boar and wondered if he might be the father of the cubs of previous relief. Suffice to say, you learn to pee fast around here.

As we drove on, we spotted a couple of foxes along the roadside, making their way into the forest. There were numerous snow geese and other water-fowl, even a few beavers. The most exciting moment, however, came as we were approaching Riske Creek village. As a big cat came up the left hand side of the roadside incline, I saw him first and called out, “Cougar, cougar, cougar!” and watched it leap from one side of the highway to the other, touching down only once. It was a beautiful sight and only the second cougar I’ve seen in my life, the first being in my driveway early one summer morn.

I was anxious to see what the tracks looked like so we stopped the truck, got out and asked the earth to reveal the missing parts of the story. The cougar had crossed the road from left to right; the prints from his take-off position were clearly marked, and I had seen him touch down only once, almost perfectly, on the centre-line of the road. His landing spot tracks were just as clear, at the other side of the pavement on the right hand side of the road.  “Why that cougar was moving!” Clarence exclaimed, pointing at another set of tracks in the sand, “Look here! He was in hot pursuit of a deer.”

There were lots and lots of deer tracks on either side of the cougar prints, going both ways across the highway and back, and fresh ones right in front of his. As he made sense of the story, something palpable took hold of Clarence; he wanted to track the cougar. Next thing I knew, he was talking about getting his son and their dogs, about how the dogs would be on that cougar in a flash, about how cougars don’t have the wind to run very far, about how it would likely tree very quickly in this country, about where he would place a shot if given the chance, about how he’d placed other shots of cougars past, about how exciting it would be for him to see me ‘get my first cougar’–Oh. My. God!

The more excitedly he talked, the more worried I became. It  sounded like I was going to be hunting a cougar any minute and I wasn’t prepared, emotionally or otherwise. I wasn’t comfortable with the picture of myself running behind Clarence in pursuit of this cougar, struggling to keep up and maintain composure. I didn’t want to be walking deep into these rapidly darkening woods in the paw-prints of the cougar, knowing I may never seen Williams Lake again… let alone my husband… or my farm.

In the middle of my near panic-stricken reverie, Clarence finally worked his way around to sound reason: it was, after all, getting dark, his son was preparing for a moose hunt, he didn’t have his dogs, and he was on his way to Williams Lake to go shopping with a newbie, inexperienced greenhorn. “I might have to come back with my son,” he concluded finally. Thank goodness for small mercies.

While I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of spending the evening rummaging around the plateaus of the Chilcotin hoping to tree the cougar, it was, nonetheless,  interesting to have the earth give up the cougar’s secrets even if only for a short distance.

As we approached Williams Lake, safely nestled back in the truck, we finally did see some deer–all does. We stopped counting at fifteen.They were beautiful, but not legal. Nevertheless, where there are does, there are  also stags, as I was reminded by my hunting partner!

The next day was spent shopping. We had planned to head back to Bella Coola that day. However, over coffee and a Tim Horton’s doughnut, Clarence decided we should spend another night in Williams Lake. No sense in leaving late. No sense in traveling rushed. That will just cramp our ‘hunting’ style. That would be no good, no good at all.

We got away early the following morning and enjoyed meandering our way home, again in search of game. We covered a lot of ground that Clarence was very familiar with and then a bunch of ground he wasn’t. Once again, and even though we were well and truly off the beaten path, we found no sign of deer or moose. We spotted nearly everything but: fox, coyote, beaver, martin, muskrat, geese, squirrel, and more cougar prints in the snow. It was a great experience to find different tracks, try to identify them and have my guesses confirmed or corrected by Clarence.

While the whole experience was fascinating to me, Clarence didn’t really get excited until we came upon fresh wolf tracks. Suddenly, the raison d’etre of the hunt shifted–we were now focused on getting ourselves a wolf. He immediately stopped talking and reverted to sign language. “But I don’t want to shoot a wolf,” I whispered, and looked into the face of utter bewilderment itself.

Why not a wolf? proved to be too difficult to explain in sign language, let alone in a hushed, ‘we’re hunting now’ sound-byte. At that moment, I decided it would be easier to simply go along with the man and hope we didn’t catch up with the wolf–and in the end we didn’t.  But we did see enough of the story to be intrigued: we tracked one set of tracks alongside the road to where it peed on a sapling (three footprints around it), but close by we found another set coming towards us. There was clearly a reunion. We tracked both pairs for a while longer, until Clarence observed the dwindling daylight. I was more than content to stop tracking and take these photos, relieved it was not photos of an ex-wolf in my hands, instead of just my hand and the evidence of his. I only wished I’d taken them when we first came across them, as they were then very fresh and much crisper than is revealed in the photos.

Clarence is an old-time, true-blue hunter. He has hunted everything on legs and probably on wings as well. He is the consummate bushman, and a wonderful person to be with while learning new skills. He is experienced, and his ease with the natural world shines through. He has been our ‘cougar man’ for more than forty years. Whenever a cougar was spotted where it shouldn’t be (too close to a home, looking at children on a swing-set, found in a yard having killed a dog, and so on), it was Clarence that our community turned to.

He has a moose tag that is good for the next two weeks. He had taken the day off to bring his great-grand-son back to go to school tomorrow and stopped in on his way back up to camp. He asked if I wanted  to come up and see the country they are hunting in. Many of his family members will be there–several also have moose tags.  It’s a family thing, an inter-generational thing, a way of life for them–and I am privileged to be included.

Wolf track in snow, toenails showing.

Wolf track in snow, toenails showing.


Filed under Animal issues, Funny stories, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Poopy-bum patrol

New babies arrive!

New babies arrive!

I have just gotten back from a few days hunting trip, without my buck. While I was away, fifty new baby chickens arrived and were snuggled into the nursery part of the barn by the OTT. I got home later that evening and checked on them before going to bed. I thought two of them didn’t look very strong and by morning one was dead, followed by two more later that night. And then there were forty-seven.

A mild case of poopy-bum, they are often a lot worse if you don't catch it early!

A mild case of poopy-bum. They are often a lot worse if you don't catch them early.

You get so you can recognize the ones who likely won’t  make it. One of the things I noticed immediately (and check for this every time I raise baby chicks or turkeys) was that several of them have what I officially call ‘poopy-bum’. This is a condition where the feces form a pasty plug that covers the vent (anus). It is life threatening; the birds will die if it is not corrected quickly. The medicated feed is supposed to prevent this, but it doesn’t seem to be 100% effective so I always do poopy-bum patrol for the first few weeks of their little lives.

Today, I set to addressing the immediate emergency: I took a bucket of warm soapy water, a roll of paper towel and a stool out to the barn, and let the games begin. The game goes like this: I sit quietly, watching the little rear ends as they race by. When I spot a poopy-bum, I reach out and grab it, put it in a small box, and repeat the process until I am satisfied there are no more poopy-bums on the floor. Once I have all the bums-in-need scooped into the box, I wash them gently, one by one, in the lukewarm soapy water.

Carefully dunking just the rear end of the chick so as to not get her too wet.

Carefully dunking just the rear end of the chick so as to not get her too wet.

To do this, gently take the chick in one hand and immerse the rear end in the water. The water should be the temperature that you would feed a baby bottled milk, lukewarm to the wrist. Rub the poop between your fingers, being careful not to pull on it, as you might hurt the tiny bird. Eventually  the water will soften the poop enough for you to clean it off the feathers. DO NOT pull on the poop: you may tear the skin off the bird, or even pull its innards out if the poop is stuck to its colon. Either event is fatal. Be patient: the poop will eventually dissolve, leaving behind a clean behind. Before putting the chick back with the flock, wipe its bum with paper towel until as dry as possible so the chick doesn’t catch a chill. (DO NOT blow-dry with a hair dryer: this will burn the skin completely. Let your heat lamps do the drying.)

Freshly washed, now clean, poopy-bum. Notice the bird is only wet where necessary.

Freshly washed, now clean, poopy-bum. Notice the bird is only wet where necessary.

The poop is incredibly sticky. Whoever invented glue from horse/cow hooves obviously never tried chicken poop first! The whole ordeal for one poopy-bum cleaning may take a few minutes, thanks to the tenacity of the poop. It will come off eventually and you will have saved lives in the process. If you don’t clear the vent, the bird will die. I shudder to think about how many factory farmed birds suffer and die in this way.

Little wet, but clean, bum returned to her flock.

Little wet, but clean, bum returned to her flock.

I have noticed that I can reduce the poopy-bum rate by feeding fresh, ground up weeds from the garden. Since employing this tactic, I have reduced my losses of brought-in birds significantly.


Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, How to..., Turkeys

A green meme

I’ve been tagged by Dani of The Kitchen Playground for a green meme (1). The list of questions generated for me were not as interesting as hers, but I’m interested to see what gets generated for others! As Dani said, I’m interested in the possibilities this opens, for learning and generating discussion.

Lets wrap up the administrative side of things, here are The Guidelines:
1. Link to Green Meme Bloggers
2. Link to whoever tagged you
3. Include meme number
4. Include these guidelines in your post
5. Answer questions (erm – that bits quite important)
6. Tag 3 other green bloggers.

Green Meme #2

1. Do you use baking soda toothpaste or baking soda shampoo? If not, would you consider it? I use baking soda for all sorts, including toothpaste. Didn’t know soda shampoo existed! I would use it if it were at the Hagensborg Mercantile.

2. Do you make any home cleaning products? Baking soda for most things, I also use vinegar for disinfecting, and both together for drain cleaning.

3. What is your top green issue at the moment?
The politics of food: most green issues are represented and/or revealed in our food production and distribution system. This centralized system is responsible for a lot of the world’s environmental degradation, economic oppression of farmers and rural areas, the unraveling of our societal fabric, atrocious animal abuses, and a host of other problems. If we brought production and distribution of food back to our communities, raised the bar on relevant environmental issues surrounding food production and distribution, and created ethical guidelines for production and distribution (vis-a-vis animal treatment in particular), we’d solve a lot of things in one fell swoop.

4. Given unlimited cash, what is on your fantasy green wishlist? I would make my home completely independent in energy, water, and heat as we were when we built our home in New Zealand. Then I would build an dairy in the valley and employ lots of people, provide our community with good food and dairy products, and raise happy goats and cows on good pasture; I’d raise ‘salad bar’ dairy products and run a large mixed pasture raised farm (a la Salatin).

5. Have you implemented any new green act/behaviour/product this month? Dehydrating and canning more food, thereby using less of my freezer space specifically and being less dependant upon electricity in general.

And to learn a whole lot more, I’ll link to the following informative gals: Little Ffarm Dairy, Throwback at Trapper Creek, and Season’s Eating Farm.


Filed under Just for fun