Hunting

How I Do it All

A lot of people ask me all kinds of questions about what we do around here on the Schell Urban Homestead.  The question I get asked the most though is, hands down, “With three kids, how in the world do you do it all?”  The answer is pretty simple… I have a strong partner:

Happy Anniversary, Rick.  Nine years seems like a great start.

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Categories: Hunting | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

UH Boot Camp: Eating Well without Breaking the Bank

Yesterday I talked about the basics of making a budget.  For today’s urban homestead boot camp, I wanted to give you my best tips for saving money on your food bill while still eating well. Some things, to really save money, do take some investment up front, but the pay off in the long run is well worth it.  Other things are simpler, they can be started right away.  But first let me share what I think eating well means.

By “eating well” what I mean is eating real food.  Food that doesn’t come out of a box, that was raised and prepared with care.  Top Ramen is not eating well.  To me, sustainability is important, as is cost.  Eating sustainably means different things to different people.  To some, it means eating all organic, even if your bananas came half way around the world.  To others, local is most important.  And I know what it’s like when you have really limited funds.  Sometimes whatever is cheapest starts to look appealing.  For me, the most sustainable means locally grown without chemicals and pesticides.  An organic certification is optional.

So, how to get those things while not breaking the bank?

Things that take some investment upfront:

A freezer.  This is a tool that can save your bacon.  And beans.  And everything else.  You can freeze most things.  If you find a really great deal on some chicken, it makes sense to buy a little extra and put what you’re not going to use right away into the deep freeze for another day.  Freezers are pretty inexpensive and run more efficiently than most refrigerators.  Check craigslist or freecycle.  You can get a great deal.  Even our chest freezer from the 80’s runs more efficiently than our fridge did.  We have two.  Both were given to us; hand me downs from relatives.

Joining a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a “share” of a farm’s predicted crop before it is even planted.  You and the other CSA members front money for a farmer to plant and then, along with the farmer, share in the risks and rewards of the weather.  In my experience, this is an incredible investment.  The farm we’ve been with for the last five years has never had a bad year.  Of course you are betting on nature, a crop might be totally wrecked by hail.  But you are also sharing in the reward when things are good.  Some are bumper years for bell peppers or corn, while the beans didn’t make it.  But we always get WAY more than we paid for.  Local and organic.  Our CSA also sells optional shares of fruit, honey, eggs and meat.

Oh, and when you are getting way more than you can eat in a week, you can put the surplus in your freezer for the winter.  January is the time to call CSA farms.  Farms are filling memberships as I type this, so check around.  Some farmers will even work out a payment schedule with you if the fee is too much for you to pay all at once.

Hunting or buying meat in bulk.  Both of these methods do the same thing; receiving a whole animal at one time.  You better have a freezer first.  When we bought a hog a couple years ago we paid about $400 for the whole animal.  This worked out to about $1.33 a pound for bacon, hams, pork chops, shoulder roasts, pork loin, lard, everything.

Hunting requires a skill set, equipment, time and licenses.  It’s not complicated, but you will need to attend a hunter’s safety course and get access to land (and a gun) in the fall.  The cost is slightly harder to figure, but not counting the gun my husband already owns to hunt with, we spent about $360 on licenses and gasoline for various hunting trips.  We have an entire elk in the freezer to show for it.  Roughly $1.44 per pound of lean red meat, said and done.  Some years, it’s much less expensive, depending on success rates.  And some years, we’ve gotten nothing.

For either meat option, now is a good time to look into it.  Local farmers and ranchers are taking orders, and you need to buy hunting licenses in advance (April here in Colorado).

While I’m talking about buying in bulk, I’d also like to mention that once a year we drive to an orchard to pick peaches.  It’s a far drive, to the western slope, so we make it count.  We spend about $400 on 300 pounds of peaches, including gas.  We race home with the A/C blasting and then spend the next week slicing and preserving peaches.  The majority of them get frozen, though we jam and can some too.  But these peaches last us a whole year.  So investigate local U-Pick farms.  We do the same on a smaller scale for berries and cherries.

Things that everyone can do now:

Make a meal plan for the week.  I used to plan a month’s worth of meals at a time, but that can be daunting, and over time I’ve realized that weekly works better for us.

Plan meals that are in season.  This is easy with a CSA.  Apples are least expensive in the fall, strawberries are cheapest in the spring.  If you want asparagus in August, you’re going to pay a lot for it at the market (and it won’t taste all that great).   This puts us eating things that are in season the majority of the time.  In season means relatively inexpensive.  We pretty much don’t eat bananas.

Use up what you have.  Until you get into the habit, it’s easy to keep ignoring the beans in the back of the pantry or the sausage in the bottom of the freezer.  Get into the habit of planning meals the use what you’ve already purchased.  You’ll spend less at the grocery if you aren’t buying what you already have.

Plan to eat less meat.  Meat costs more than other forms of protein.  Use meat more like a side dish.  Try adding one more vegetarian meal to your menu per week than you normally make.  Try making chili with black beans or stir fry with eggs.  Over the last few years we went from eating meat at dinner every night to eating meat only three – four times a week.

From your meal plan, make a grocery list.  And stick to it. This keeps me from impulse buying.  Also, it cuts down on incidental/emergency trips to the store which end up costing a lot more over time.

If the store that I’m going to has a double ad day, I’ll go on that day, but I don’t usually plan my meals around the ads.  I just figure if I go on that day I double my chances of finding things on sale.

I don’t use coupons at all.  There are never any coupons for bulk rice or apples or pork loin.  I can’t recall seeing one for milk.  Coupons usually make me feel compelled to buy things that I would not normally put on my list.  They are always for things in boxes or bags, things with weird ingredients.  Things that are processed and full of chemicals…

Buy whole foods. Processed foods are expensive.  Potato chips cost more than potatoes.  Rice-a-Roni costs more than rice.  Pasta and milk is cheaper than a package of noodles with a powdered sauce.  Not to mention a billion times better for you.

Buy foods from the bulk bins.  When you buy a pound of rice or oatmeal in a box or bag, guess what.  You care paying for that box.  And for the marketing of that box.  It’s much less expensive to buy oats from the bulk bin.  There is no packaging to pay for.  No labels, no marketing, and no weird ingredients.  And if you buy or make your own reusable bags, there is no waste either.

There you have it.  Those are my big tips for saving money on food.  Between the meat in the freezer, the vegetables from the garden and the CSA, and eggs from the chickens, there are times I can spend $30 at the store for the week.  All I’m buying at that point is dairy and grains.  But it takes time to get to that point.  And I’ve already invested money up front.

What does your family do?

Categories: CSA, Food, Hunting, Menu Planning, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Top Five Reasons We Hunt

Rick is home from 10 days straight of hunting in the Uncompahgre national forest, north of the San Juan mountains with his uncle.  When he planned this trip, I sort of imagined that since I’d be alone in the evenings, after the kids went to bed, I’d have plenty of quiet, uninterrupted time to sit and write blog posts.  Boy was I wrong.  By the time I got dinner made (and to tell the truth I ordered both a pizza and Chinese take-out this week), got the boys in bed and the dishes done each night, I was wiped out.  I played single mom to three kids, and I don’t know how the military wives and real single mothers do it.  Hats off to all of you!

I had started this post before Rick left, and since this trip concludes four straight weekends of hunting for our family, I had planned to do some hunting themed posts.  I wanted to give updates on Rick’s trip as it happened, our hopes for the year’s meat and what strategies he used on the mountain.  But in all honesty I didn’t have the gumption to get on the computer and type.

Now that Rick’s home, I hope to get back on track.  You might even get some hunting morsels here and there as we process the game this week, if I can organize my thoughts to type it.  In the mean time, here are the top five reasons (in no particular order) our family chooses game meat.

  1. Sustainability.  In comparison to conventionally raised meat, wild game and the way it is harvested has very little impact on the earth.  You don’t get venison or elk from a CAFO.  Game is not polluting the land and waterways.  It is unlawful to hunt with lead bullets, so there is not a concern of lead in the meat or on the land from hunters.  Of course, it uses some gasoline to get up in the mountains, and we use plastic and paper or aluminum foil to package the meat in the freezer, but all of this is pretty much nothing compared to what it takes in those resources to get the same amount of commercially raised meat.
  2. Health.  Game meat is lean and high in protein.  It is antibiotic and hormone free.  It’s organic and needs no certification.  We know where it came from, how it was processed, what went into the sausage.  Plus it’s tasty.
  3. Cost.  Where else can you get 400 – 600 pounds of organic, grass-fed meat for the cost of a license, a tank of gas and two .30/06 bullets?  We can eat very well for a year from one successful hunting trip.  Butchering the meat ourselves saves us even more, and we get the cuts we want.
  4. Tradition.  Rick and his brothers were taught to hunt by his grandfather and his uncles.  He learned how to walk in the woods.  How to track a deer.  How to handle is gun safely.  How to shoot an animal so he wouldn’t ruin the meat.  How to skin it and butcher it.  And he is teaching these things to his own sons.
  5. Connection.  With the animal we’re consuming, the food chain, the earth, our creator, and each other. When we hike in the mountains, we feel a spiritual connection to the earth and God.  As we walk logging roads looking for Dusky grouse with our boys, or when they watch us cut an elk into steaks, they understand where our food comes from.  When Rick sits in a duck blind with his uncle or hikes a mountain with his brother, they grow closer. 

There are more reasons.  Rick would probably modify this list, but this is what is important to me.  Do you hunt?  Why or why not?  What value do you see in it?

Categories: Food, Hunting, Top 5 | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Mad House and Independence Catch Up

Is that February I see?  The first month of 2010 has FLOWN by!  We’ve had a hard time catching up since the holidays (as evidenced by my absence from the blog), but we’re looking at a few clear weekends, then a trip to the Tucson area to visit friends, and then a (hopefully) nice relaxing break from the hustle and bustle!

So in the last month, I completed my student teaching for my childbirth education certification, worked on the test, nearly finished the reading, and scheduled my last required observation.  I picked a business name (stay tuned for it, complete with links), and bartered a web design.  Yay!

Additionally, E is now up to six teeth, we had several dinners with friends, a game night or two, bartered hunting for mechanical work on the truck (hallelujah!), had to post bail to get Josie out of doggie jail (she made a break for Hampden and got picked up), and held a Mad Tea Party for Rick’s and my un-birthday!  The last was so fun, and I made an amazing hat thanks to a great tutorial, and a little friendly encouragement.

It’s been 37 weeks since I started tracking our family with the Independence Days project.  I use the term ‘tracking’ loosely, however, since I have not really kept good track for the last ten or twelve weeks.  This is what I can say for sure, from my memory.  Every day we collect three eggs from our five hens.  Pretty good since it is the dead of winter and we don’t give them a heat lamp or anything.

We have not planted or harvested any veggies whatsoever, but Rick did go make hamburger and sausage with his uncle and grandpa.  We used all the lard from the hogs (this years and last years) for this.  So we added about 30 pounds of ground meat to the freezer.  We also found pints of blackberries on sale for 77 cents each once, and bought like 20 and frozen them.  We should have bought more though, since we’ve eaten them all already (Rick went on a smoothie kick last month).

As I mentioned above, we bartered hunting for mechanics – and I say this totally falls under building community food systems.  Our friend is a mechanic and replaced the belts and water pump on the 4 Runner for us, with the promise that Rick would teach him and his family to hunt this year.  He saved us over $900!  I say we really got the better end of the deal in some ways because Rick loves hunting so much, and he is very happy for another reason to spend more time outdoors doing it.

We have surely been eating the food as well around here.  Most weeks all we buy at the store is dairy, bread, rice or beans, flour and sugar, coffee, peanut butter, maple syrup, and sometimes eggs to supplement what we’ve got from the hens.  And bananas, as I think Henry is addicted.  We’ve been eating veggies and meat from the freezer, our peaches, pickles and jams, frozen fruit – delish!

We’ve been talking about the garden a lot the last week or so.  I think that the sun coming up at 7:00am again is making us think Spring is around the corner.  We received the Baker Creek heirloom seed catalog in December, and have since been lustfully drooling over every page and variety since.

Alas – my writing time is up today – E is, shall we say, requesting – my presence.

More to come soon.

Categories: Chickens, Childbirth, Community, Hunting, Independence Days | 6 Comments

On Hunting…

Lookout, I’ve pulled out the soapbox.

Recently, I’ve come upon more than a few people who are expressing a general dislike for hunters and hunting.  It gets my hackles up right away, of course, being married to a very responsible, passionate hunter.  The arguments I hear are usually quite uninformed, and unfairly prejudiced.

Over the last month, I’ve heard about how *all* hunters are supposedly only after trophies, running around willy-nilly with machine guns, madly through the woods killing Bambi and any other living creature that crosses their paths with no respect or remorse, tromping over sacred wilderness destroying all that is in their paths.

Wow.

Many people are unaware that hunting is a highly regulated division of wildlife management.  Yes, management.  Hunters pay a fee to apply for a license in a specific area of the state.  Apply.  As in, they may not get the license they are applying for.  But the Division of Wildlife gets that fee no matter what.  The DOW gives out so many licenses per area (all the applications go into a drawing).  So many licenses are for males, and so many are for females.  How many?  Well, the DOW actually keeps tabs on the herds in all the areas of the state.  They determine how many animals can thrive on the land (all this counting, as well as the land management itself, is mostly paid for by those application fees from hunters).  The DOW  keeps track of how many licenses were filled the previous year, and how many weren’t.  They keep track of how hard the previous seasons were – was there too much snow for all the animals to find food? Was the summer too dry and the vegetation low?  They make sure that there are not more licenses given for an area than the herds in the area can afford to lose.

For example, in years past, Rick and his brothers and uncles and grandfather would all get licenses, usually at least one deer and one elk license each, for the area they hunt near Kremmling.  But last year (2008) hardly anyone had a license.  One person in their whole group had a deer license, and every one else got either one elk license or nothing.   The total number of animals killed last year for the family: zero.

This year, the herds had increased (due to the break they got last year).  Rick had two elk tags and a deer tag.  He filled his deer tag, and so did two other hunters in his group.  But a friend of ours, who hunts a neighboring area, got no licenses at all this year.  But he paid all the fees.

Also as with other applications in this country, you have to give information about yourself.  You have to give your personal information (like SSN, proof of residency, etc.), prove that you’ve taken and passed a two-day hunter safety course.  You can’t be a felon, and the types of guns/calibers used for hunting are regulated.  Not every one can just shoot a deer.

I encourage anyone to visit their states DOW website (here’s Colorado’s) and view the many rules and regulations surrounding hunting.

It is illegal to kill an animal without a license.  It’s illegal to kill a different animal than you have a license for.  It’s illegal to kill an animal outside of the season determined by the DOW (the seasons are one to two weeks long).  That is called poaching.   Hunters truly detest poachers.  Poachers steal and/or waste the meat, hurt populations, destroy habitat, and make hunters look bad.  They are generally selfish and hurtful to the image of hunters.  They are the ones people think of, running willy-nilly through the woods, shooting whatever they feel entitled to.

Poachers are not punished with a  simple wrist slap.  When they are caught, generally their guns are confiscated, their hunting privileges revoked for life, and they are saddled with huge fines and sometimes jail time.  My friend’s father (an avid hunter) helped catch someone poaching a bear near his home in Allenspark this summer.  The DOW awarded him $500 (he could have chosen instead to have Preference Points – points that give him an advantage in next years license drawing).

So what about trophies?  One of the recent argue-ers (unsolicited at a bookstore, after I made H put a video of  Disney’s Bambi back on the shelf) informed me of how terrible hunters were because they always took the biggest and the best animals, only hungry for trophies.  Well, as you can see with the license system, it’s harder to pull a tag for a male deer or elk than just wanting it.  And most “trophy worthy” animals (the ones with the big antlers) are older.   They’ve been around for a few years, spread their seed, and yes, hunters often look for them.  They have more meat because they are bigger. And killing the old male, and passing over younger fork-horns, will let those young bucks grow their own big antlers, and give them a chance to start their own herd.  The young ones are the ones that you don’t want to see on the table… like with beef, you kill the older, fully grown steer, and let the yearling grow up a bit.

But many hunters are a bit more like Rick.  They view the animal they killed to feed their family as the trophy.  The meat in the freezer is the prize after a few days hunting.  It doesn’t matter how big the antlers were (or if they even had any).  Having kids with full bellies all year-long is trophy enough for them.

Besides all of this, hunting is spiritual, sustainable, organic, natural, and an important tradition for many families.  Rick says ‘thank you’ to each animal whose life he has taken to sustain our own.  When he shot the grouse with H, we taught H how the grouse died so we could eat.  How to treat it with respect, and how the grace said at dinner means something…

The animals on a hunters table is free-range, organic, and healthier than anything commercially raised.  It’s sustainably “produced” by nature.  And thankfully most of America has overcome the greed that decimated the bison on this country.  Most hunters are conservationists.  Rick’s uncle loves to hunt ducks.  So he belongs to clubs and organizations that preserve duck habitat.  The DOW works with land owners to preserve and maintain wildlife habitat, as well as conduct outreach and education for the public, such as Georgetown’s Big Horn Sheep festival in November and youth hunter mentoring.  And, by the way, Rick is a volunteer for the DOW for these kind of programs.

There was a great short series of articles called Thoughts on Eating Venison posted on Field & Stream’s blog yesterday:

The Obligation
The Ritual
The Manifesto
The Plea
The Tribute

The blogs, along with the comments, can be quite enlightening as to how hunters around this country think.

For me, I sleep easier knowing that my food never placed a hoof in a feed lot.  There are no antibiotics or hormones to contend with.  I know it was slaughtered humanely, and processed in a clean facility.  And it’s quite tasty too.

What about you?  Thoughts on hunting?  Personal experiences?

Categories: Food, Hunting, Sustainability | 13 Comments

Independence Days – Weeks 23, 24 & 25

Sweet E - 4 monthsThree weeks on one post… sheesh!  Things have been crazy for me the last three weeks.  Rick has, of course, been hunting which has left me with my hands full with the boys and not a lot of time for sane blog writing.  I’ve also been working on my childbirth educator’s certification, and am very close… this weekend is my workshop, and then I should hopefully be able to take my test and be certified.  Trying not to stress about this, but I am getting down to the wire a bit.

Then, this morning I woke up to one dead chicken and one chicken missing.  I thought Lavender, our grey chicken, had flown the coop… I saw what I thought was her jump over the back fence.  When I went out to investigate, she was nowhere to be seen and still (as of 7:00pm) has not come home.  Unfortunately, we don’t expect her back, as one of her Rhode Island Red comrades was lying dead (and partially dismembered) in the yard.

FALLJosie was trying to help herself to chicken for breakfast, but we don’t think it was her that did the killing.  There are fox tracks all over the place and I had only just let Josie (who has never tried to attack the chickens before) outside.  I didn’t hear a ruckus of any kind, and she didn’t have any blood on her.  But you’ll not catch her saying no to a free chicken either.   :(

We’re a bit bummed on that front, as it means we’re back down to only five.  And oddly (or maybe not so oddly) I’m not too sad about the dead red-head, but I have a bit of heartache about Lavender… this is why you don’t name food.  She was one of the originals, and though she was meanest and leanest, she laid a white egg everyday and was fun to watch.

So anyway, here’s the dirt on Independence Days.  All in all, not the most successful three weeks since we’ve started this.

Plant Something –  um, none.

Harvest Something–  Rick successfully harvested a doe!  Eggs from just the young chickens, as the older hens are molting and looking quite pitiful.  A very large bunch of kale (and gave the Spicy Kale and Potato Soup a second – and much more successful- go ’round).

Preserve Something – venison and elk in the fridge, potatoes to the basement, carrots to the freezer.

Waste Not – I really think we had a big FAIL in this category.  The upright freezer door got left open a crack and we lost a bunch of food in the door.  The stuff in the body of the freezer stayed frozen, since it was full, but we had a mad rush to eat some pork chops and beef remnants.  The rest had to be tossed.  :(

Want Not/Prep & Storage - nothing new

Build Community Food Systems –  we were able to share a few veggies this past week, but I didn’t get to the last of the farmers markets to get those apples I wanted.

Eat the Food – mmm I.O.U. some recipes.  Not in the mood to type recipes right now, but I will say that we’ve been eating venison, practically finished the pork completely, enjoyed some tomatoes and chiles for a pot of home made green chile, eating potatoes, and peaches.  We did share a few of our preserves as well… mostly as gifts to my awesome bro-in-law, Dan.  :)

Categories: Chickens, Food, Hunting, Independence Days | 3 Comments

Independence Days – Weeks 21 & 22

Wow twenty-two weeks at Sharon’s Independence Days already.  It’s been fun and eye opening to track all these little baby steps each week and see how they are adding up.

We had the first frost of the year last week and therefore had a mass exodus of produce from the garden.  5 gallon size bags filled with tomatoes went into the freezer and lots of winter squash went down to the basement for storage.  There is a lot of damaged squash that we’ll be cooking up this coming week, turning it into puree for soups and bread recipes.

Look at the last of the garden goodies:

before the freeze

That of course doesn’t count the spinach, radishes, chard and kale that is still growing despite the weather.  I don’t think that the beets or lettuces pulled through though.  Next year we will have to put in those for winter a bit earlier so they can get better established.    Also, the potted herbs I brought home a few weeks ago bit the dust, besides the rosemary, which seems hardier and possibly strong enough to survive my kitchen gardening “techniques.”

Also, after the awesome compost class that Rick and I took in September, we’ve been working on the big compost remodel… first moving the chicken coop, then deciding on a plan for the space then collecting materials.  Rick was able to dig up some pallets from his work, so the biggest part of the bins will have cost us nothing.  Yay!

So down to the nitty gritty:

 

Plant Something –  none

Harvest Something –  all the acorn squash & butternut squash, the pumpkins, all the tomatoes & zucchini.  Eggs.  Also Rick & H got a dusky (blue) grouse, and Rick brought home a mallard drake as well.

Preserve Something –  Potatoes and winter squash to basement, froze tomatoes, froze the duck and a second grouse that Rick’s uncle gave us, made a double batch of curried carrot-leek soup for the freezer.

PalletsWaste Not – Lots of “new” clothes for me from my sistah.  Rick brought home some pallets from work to use to build our new compost bins. Also traded a large propane tank for a smaller one that will fit our gas grill.

Want Not/Prep & Storage - besides items added to freezer, nothing to add to this category.

Build Community Food Systems –  posted on craigslist for the Englewood Farmer’s Market.  Ordered the hog that we’re splitting with friends.  Checked out another market in Littleton, will be going back to get apples this coming week… refrained from buying honeycrisp apples brought in from Washington at Costco for only $0.50/lb, even though the Colorado ones are $2.20/lb at the farmer’s market.

Eat the Food – ate the grouse, used some frozen peaches for a tart (yum!), butternut squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini bread, pickles (they turned out!  Yay!), potato soup, potato-leek quiche… lots of yummy things these last two weeks.  Here’s an old Field & Stream recipe for awesome duck breasts:

Doug’s Grilled Duck Breasts
Marinade for 4-6 duck breast halves:
1 T olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T fresh sage, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
6 oz teriyaki sauce
1 oz +/- Jack Daniel’s
salt & pepper to taste

Place duck and marinade into a ziplock bag in refrigerator and marinade for 2-4 hours.  Heat charcoal grill.  Place duck breasts on grill when flame has died and coals are hot.  Cook for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes on each side until rare or medium rare.  Let rest 1 minute.  Serve.

*note that duck is a red meat (not like chicken), and can safely (and deliciously) be eaten rare.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Hunting, Independence Days, Recipes | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Dusky (Blue) Grouse

Click images for best view…

Be very verry quiet - we're hunting grouse Blue Grouse 1 Blue Grouse 2 Blue Grouse 3 

Blue Grouse 4

 Blue Grouse 5 Feathers 

Blue Grouse 7 Blue Grouse 8

Categories: Food, Hunting, Urban Homesteading | 4 Comments

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