Archive | May 2018

Rodent Adventure

I was mending some clothes and the cat was driving me crazing digging under the couch cushions.  Then I heard a squeak.  That could only mean one thing:  Kai had brought in a rodent and decided to play catch and release in the livingroom.  I lifted the couch cushion expecting to find a hapless mouse and discovered a chipmunk instead!

The critter took one look at the cat and me and shot out of the couch, across the room with Kai in hot pursuit, and under the buffet.  Now Kai and his brother Cary were both interested in capturing the escaped trophy.  I pulled out the bottom drawer of the buffet.  The chipmunk was hiding beneath a cupboard section that apparently had a space big enough to allow the rodent to evade the groping paws of two cats.  There was another squeak and a flurry of scrabbling as the rodent eluded capture again.

At this point I opened the cat flap wide, opened the door to the woodshed and braced the front door open a couple inches, hoping that if the little creature got loose again, it might make a break for daylight.

After a few minutes the cats began sniffing around the large, heavy desk for our computer.  There is about 4″ clearance from the wall.  I got a flashlight and spotted the poor chipmunk, cowering in the very dusty corner.  I put on welding gloves and got my largest fish tank net.  With help from the cats to keep the rodent cornered, I worked it into the net and pulled it out from behind the desk.

Just when I thought the ordeal of the rodent was over, it wriggled free and dashed for the light of the open woodshed door.  By the time I got out to the shed, the chipmunk had climbed the screen and was trying to figure out how to go outside.  I spoke quietly to it and inched to the door handle.  When I swung the door open, the chipmunk flung itself from a six foot height to bounce off the side of the house and slide down into the grass.  That was the last I saw of it.

I’m really hoping the cat didn’t puncture it too badly with his teeth when he caught it.  Cats have mouths full of bacteria that are lethal to rodents when injected into bite wounds.  If the little chipmunk were not so silly as to walk into the cats’ outdoor cage, it would never have been caught in the first place.  Phew, that was enough excitement for one day!

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Oxtail Soup

When we buy half or one-quarter of a grass-fed beef animal, the butcher shop always asks if I want any of the extras.  They mean do I want liver, heart, tongue, oxtail, soup bones or suet.  I always ask for 15 pounds of suet to feed the hungry winter birds.  Otherwise, no to the extras.  Yet, every time I collect my blast frozen beef, there is a free bag full of extras.  I must have 15 pounds of liver in the freezer, and only the dogs eat it.  Plus there is a heart, that I will have to thaw out and saw through (heart is a tough muscle) to feed to the dogs.  This last beef order came with a lovely package of oxtail, oh joy.

I thawed out the oxtail to feed to the dogs, then decided to make soup with it since it was a nice, meaty cut.  Tail meat can be stringy, it is long, well-used muscle.  It needs extended, moist cooking to be edible and makes very hearty soup.  Some cooks roast the tail before making it into soup, but that’s not really necessary.  It will be tasty and tender with this recipe.  People will not even realize the beef they are eating is from the tail, unless you tell them!

Oxtail Soup

3-4 lbs meaty oxtail, thawed or fresh, cut in half or thirds to fit a 6 qt stock pot

3 quarts water

1 quart chopped tomatoes with the juice

1 tablespoon powdered onion

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon each celery salt, black pepper, oregano, marjoram, basil

Place all in the stock pot, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat, simmer for 1.5 hours.  The meat should be starting to fall from the bone.  Remove the oxtail from the pot and set aside to cool.  While the meat cools until it can be handled, add to the pot:

4 large carrots, peeled and diced

4 sticks celery, diced

1 cup chopped spinach

1 cup pearled barley or farro

Remove the meat from the bones and cut into bite sized pieces.  Return the meat to the pot.  Cover and simmer for 45 mins to 1 hour until the veggies are tender.

Makes about 3-4 quarts.

Oxtail can be a fatty cut.  If it is desired to remove the fat, cool the soup in the fridge overnight and remove the hardened fat from the top.  Serve hot seasoned to taste with salt.

 

Fawns Achieve Maximum Cuteness

The baby angora rabbits are four weeks old today and they have achieved maximum cuteness.  All six are healthy and rambunctious.  Last night they came out of the pen and ran all over the barn for the first time.  Bunny paradise!  These friendly fawns enjoy cuddling.  It’s my onerous task to snuggle the little ones, accustoming them to being handled.  Sometimes raising rabbits is a tough job!

There are three white albinos with red eyes, and one each of chocolate, sable and color point.  I have not checked them yet for sex, but am hoping at least a couple of the colored ones are female so I can keep them.  I might even keep a white one since I’m down to just one adult rabbit with the loss of my buck.  He sure gave me some pretty babies.

The color point is such a lovely shade. It’s creamy with brownish-gray point. Even the little tail and feet are pointed, so adorable. The chocolate and sable are beautiful, deep shades.  And who can resist a red-eyed white fawn that loves to sit in your hand?

The babies eat like little piggies, taking in the nutrition they need for rapid growth.  Fresh dandelions, clover, wild carrot and grass are a daily treat they rush over to nibble.  Mama Moonstone is doing an excellent job raising her babies.  A really great mother bunny.

Since I have so few rabbits, it will be hard to let any of them go.  At least there is another month to enjoy their antics.  The ones going to new homes will be ready to leave at eight weeks of age.  I hope to also locate a young, unrelated buck for my rabbitry so there will be baby bunnies next year.

 

Passing of a Rabbit

My beautiful angora buck Marble passed away quietly this morning.  He was eight years old, a venerable age for a rabbit.  I will miss his silly brand of bunny humor, his friendly ways and his thick, lustrous coat of fiber.  I held him in my hand the day he was born, a tiny, warm, pink bundle.

He had been slowing down for the past few weeks and I suspected the end was nearing.  Over a year ago I felt some tumorous nodules on him and it is likely cancer got him in the end, as it does many rabbits.  Nature designed rabbits as prey animals who survive in the wild for just one to three years.  They were not intended to last long enough for cancer to grow.  As they age they are prone to tumors.

Marble spent yesterday outside enjoying a fine May day, eating grass and dozing in the sun.  That is the sort of day he deserved.  He was a wonderful rabbit and an excellent buck, producing several superb litters of fawns.  His last litter is just a month old now, the nicest little bunnies anyone could want.  I plan to keep several of his babies.  His legacy will live on.

Bridge Grafting Rodent Damage Part II

A couple weeks ago I blogged about the extensive damage done to our trees this past winter by an overpopulation of rodents.  A couple dozen apple trees and several ornamentals were chewed extensively.  Some were girdled.  To save the girdled trees, an emergency repair of grafting is attempted.  If the graft takes, the tree will be able to send nutrients back into the roots so the plant can survive.  Without help, trees that have had all the bark removed around the trunk almost always die.

In a normal winter, there is some rodent damage, especially to young trees.  That’s why I protect young trunks with tree guards.  By the time fruit trees reach forty-plus years old, rodents do not usually cause severe destruction as they gnaw on the inner bark to survive.  A little gnawing can be healed.  This last winter there were so many rodents, especially voles, present in the fields and orchards that they were forced to forage in unusual places to find enough food to survive.  Here is a somewhat grisly photo of a vole the cats killed.  The silly thing wandered into the cats’ outdoor cage.  These vermin are the main culprits in tree destruction.  They have rectangular shaped bodies with short legs, lots of teeth and stubby tails.  Voles can grow up to six inches long or more, not including the tail.

To perform the life-savings grafts, it is important to harvest a bunch of one-year-old scion growth from the same species and preferably the same tree as the one being grafted.  The scions are collected in early spring while they are still dormant.  They are closely wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge until grafting time.  When the trees begin to bud and sap is flowing, the bark loosens and can easily be slipped free of the trunk.  Budding time is when grafting is done.

When I collected the scions I also applied wound spray to the poor girdled trees to help preserve moisture, which is why the gnawed area is black.  Using a stout blade, I cut two parallel incisions into the bark above and below the injury.  The blade is used to gently work the bark away from the trunk, exposing fresh wood.  A flap of bark is left to protect the grafting sites.  A scion is selected and trimmed to the proper length.  Both ends are shaped to slightly sharpen and form a smooth surface of fresh wood.

The graft is inserted into the bark flaps of the tree, assuring the freshly cut surfaces press against one another and the tip points upward. Then I use a staple gun with 1/2″ staples to secure the graft to the tree and hold the bark flaps in place.  Over time the staples will rust and dissolve, leaving the graft to grow unimpeded.

I give the grafted scion a test tug to be sure it is held tightly.  The scion is placed with a slight outward bend so it can move with the swaying of the tree trunk as the wind blows.  This will help the graft to stay in place.  Then I thoroughly coat the entire repair including the scion with wound spray to seal out insects and disease and seal in moisture.  Any good tree wound spray will work for this procedure, I am not endorsing a particular brand.  I used up five cans of spray this spring.

These major injuries that remove the tree’s link between the roots and leaves require many grafts placed around the trunk to repair.  They can be placed every 2″-3″.  With so much work to do, the most grafts I managed to place on a tree were six.  If they take and the trees hold in there, I can add more this fall or next year.

As the grafted scion grows into the tree, it will gradually enlarge.  I’m hoping the tree will also grow bark to help cover the wounds.  Some of the damaged trees may not survive.  The rodents actually dug down to the roots and chewed the bark off the roots.  There is not much I can do to prevent or repair that damage.

A little research reveals that orchardists have success repelling rodents and rabbits by painting the entire part of the trunk and even the lower limbs that are buried in the snow or within easy reach of rabbits in winter.  So far I have not encountered any rabbit problems.  I plan to coat the tree trunks with white latex paint prior to this fall.  Maybe that will slow down the gnawing critters.


New Rabbit Fawns

Moonstone, my angora doe, had babies one week ago on 4/28/18. Six healthy, bouncing little ones make a nest-full.  The dad, Marble, is now 7 years old and still doing his job well.  Three appear to be albino, or pure white and their eyes will be red.  The other three are colored!  The darkest will likely be sable, the brownish one chocolate, but the grayish one is a new color for me.  It will be very interesting to see how the coat matures.

Mom is taking excellent care of her little ones.  They are plump and robust.  The eyes are still sealed shut, although I think their ears are opening.  They seem to be able to hear me when I get close.  They certainly can smell me.

Mama rabbit is doing well.  She is eating and drinking copiously to make the milk her fawns require.  The dandelions and grass have greened just in time to give her plenty of nutrients for rich milk.  I have to keep her well supplied with greens, food and water.

In the next two to four days the baby rabbits will open their eyes.  Then mama will be in trouble!  The fawns will follow her off the nest and try to sneak a milk snack whenever she sits still.  Until they learn to behave, she will be hopping around a lot to get away from them.  Rabbits only allow the babies to nurse once per day.  The milk is so nutritious that once a day is enough to grow a rabbit.  When the eyes open and the fawns begin to move around the cage, they start to nibble on hay, greens and pelleted food to supplement the milk.  Little rabbits grow very fast.Moonstone