Jilly D.

Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

Deer vision

In Grief, Off-The-Grid Memoir on May 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

AFCU Class Swenson & Cooper Work 20100521GHAs Sweet Pea matured into adulthood, I worried about Sam’s attachment to this wild Whitetail deer. Sweet Pea’s hooves grew sharp and her affections toward Sam grew more amorous. From our research we knew the real possibilities of injury and death from domesticated deer that turn on their human caregivers at any moment without warning.

Our dear deer continued to thrive. While somewhat confined, she got exercise, fresh air, sunshine, good nutrition and supplements. She wasn’t going to get run over by a car or shot by a hunter here. She was well protected from the threat of coyotes. Our two goats in the barn still had their horns.

Goats have horns for good reason. A year earlier Sam had walked into the barn in the morning. Blood and guts from floor to ceiling but the nanny goats were content, unscathed and eating. A coyote who ventured into the barn lost a fight with two horned goats.Ithaca NY May 29-June 9 2009 Trip 111

That fall we harvested field corn but Sweet Pea wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the crop as she had been the year before. Salt and mineral blocks went untouched in November.  We tried a sweet crunchy 16% protein feed with some molasses and beet pulp that seemed to stimulate her appetite.

Then I noticed she didn’t eat her carrots and apple. We didn’t talk about it, though we had noticed a shift in Sweet Pea’s behavior.

“Sweet Pea is blind in one eye. I think she may be losing sight in her other eye,” Sam said one evening before dinner in early December.

I dashed out to her pen. The iris in her left eye had gone a ghostly blue overnight. She seemed to stumble around. She turned her head so her right eye could see me. It looked cloudy. She sniffed my hand with her nose to make sure it was me.

I got on the internet at the library and started searching for information, if not answers. The University of Georgia-Athens had several experts on deer vision in their vet school with whom we consulted. We found other deer farmers and wildlife experts but no one had heard of such symptoms.

Sweet Pea wouldn’t eat. She paced back and forth, round and round, this way and that. Despite all the wonderful people who offered us advice, research, references and referrals our Sweet Pea went blind in both eyes within a week. She was wasting away.

Our farm vet didn’t know much about wild deer except how to hunt them. She tried her best, but Anne couldn’t save Sweet Pea. She’d run blood tests and examined her, but nothing obvious showed up and she’d called upon her resources at Cornell University and the large animal vet community.

Wild Whitetail deer do not tolerate anesthesia as well as other large mammals. The antibiotics and other drugs given to domesticated species are known to be poorly tolerated by wild Whitetail deer. We had to let Dr. Anne put her down to stop the suffering of our baby deer.

For 18 months Sweet Pea lived with us. Sam told me when he found her that he had heard growing up that a man who could catch and tame a deer would live forever. The day she died, Sam didn’t want to live another day without Sweet Pea looking him in the eye and nuzzling his moustache and beard. Living forever seemed like a curse.

Sam Warren


Sweat Pea liked corn silk

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, The Farm on May 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm

peasThe peas had sprouted in the field over the warm, sunny Memorial Day weekend. Their green leaves, shoots and vines appeared as the earliest of the summer row crops in the field as the month changed to June.

“Sweet Pea,” the fawn, slept between us for two nights in bed. Every breath she took I felt upon my cheek. She continued to thrive without incident.

Once she discovered how to move those legs it was soon time to move her to the barn where she was safe in a pen. So frail and wobbly on that third day, she’d move those legs in every direction at once. We didn’t want her to break a leg. She danced and pranced around the floors.

Those little hooves sounded like a herd of horses inside our little cabin. Clop-clop. Clop-clop. Sweet Pea quickly learned to gallop before she took a leap. She jumped into the bed. She jumped down from the bed. She jumped onto the kitchen table and off again.

We couldn’t let her jump off the table, counter, bed and wood stove. She wanted to spring off the walls. Then she hit the triple pane glass window and stopped in her tracks. Stunned only momentarily, she kept leaping and dancing until Sam picked her up in his arms. Then she calmed herself and bowed her head.

The next morning Sam started building Sweet Pea’s pen in the barn. Her neighbors were two Nubian goats. By mid-afternoon he moved Sweet Pea into her own stall with fresh hay and water. Sam warmed the milk replacer inside the cabin and took it to Sweet Pea out in the barn.

100_1030Four times a day he fed her. She got stronger and bigger. She ate hay right away. Once she started drinking water, he cut back to three times a day. By the end of July he gave her a quart bottle in the morning and in the evening.

We introduced treats into Sweet Pea’s diet from our garden. A handful of strawberries, some pea vines, salad greens and spinach proved tasty. Once the sweet corn tasseled, Sam cut down whole stalks for Sweet Pea to enjoy.

Deer love corn silk. They like corn, but there is something about the silk they are really passionate about. Deer can do an enormous amount of damage to a corn field, but they are largely in search of only one thing: the delicacy of tender corn silk.

Whoever devised the marketing behind corn silk as a beauty product must have been a city slicker. When you walk through rows of corn be ready to get gunky dirty. The pollen will cover you in a sticky dust and the corn silk is greasy and gets caught in your hair.

Corn silk is the “hair” that appears growing out of the top of an ear of corn. You know corn has been successfully pollinated when the ears begin to form and silk appears.

Because corn silk so resembles hair, I describe the early stages of sweet corn as “blonde.” This honey colored silk appears when the cob is first forming inside. Certain varieties of corn produce silk that turns to red hair before going brunette. When the ears are ready to harvest, the corn silk turns a dark brown, shrivels up and becomes dry and brittle. First blond, then red, finally brunette.

Sweet corn is ready to eat when the ears begin to bend away from the stalk, the silk turns brown and brittle and the end of the ear is rounded at the top. When I pick sweet corn I look for ears that extend toward me like a handshake. From a 45 to 90 degree angle, the ears protrude right into your grasp. I run my hand from the base to the tip. When the end is blunt instead of pointed, I grab hold of the ear and twist before jerking the ear loose. If it doesn’t come off with a single pull, it’s probably not ready yet. Twist and pull. Ears of corn ready to eat nearly pop off into your hand.

Sweet Pea loved sweet corn. She also liked field corn. She ate it off the cob, kernel by kernel all winter long. Sweet alfalfa hay and red clover bales kept her satisfied. Apples, pears, squash, carrots and beets provided winter sweet treats.

She grew into a yearling doe. Sam enjoyed a deep personal connection with Sweet Pea. In the mornings they would converse in some form of animal speak. Before dinner Sam would spend time with her again.

920443-R1-02-3ASam got his class B deer farm license and I got my Wildlife Rehabilitators’ license from NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation. We did research and built 10 ft. tall fencing to comply with upcoming state regulations in anticipation of dealing with the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease. We studied hard and did our best to keep this little orphan safe and alive while her mother still faced the risk of hunters and automobiles.

Sometimes Sam would encourage me to come out to the barn and spend time with Sweet Pea. One time she nuzzled my face and sniffed the top of my head. Then she took a big bite out of my ponytail. Looked like corn silk, but didn’t taste quite the same.

Fawn tames the wildness in us

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, Pictures and memories, Time and seasons on May 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm

205619-R1-12-13The end of May always marks the beginning of a new season in the wild. The baby ducks appear on the pond. So do the tiny new painted turtles. Nests of baby mice come to life in the hay fields. Skunks, raccoon, chipmunks, groundhogs and other mammals bear their young in the spring. Birds lay eggs and they crack open about now.

Cows, goats, sheep and pigs, too, have babies in the spring. This is the natural order of things in a habitat with four seasons. May is also when does deliver their fawns. We watched enough of them in the field tend to their young through the windows of the cabin.

One morning as we drank coffee we watched a couple dozen baby turkeys with three hens parade across the pond dike, not 10 feet away. We’ve watched our resident heron catch fish for breakfast. The antics of a mink, the slow crawl of a large painted turtle, the dance of morning songbirds in our pear tree, the prowl of a coyote, the scurry of a red fox, and the wild Whitetail deer who come daily for a morning drink from the pond provide us with daily entertainment at dawn.205619-R1-23-24

Most of the time the wild life stayed outside the windows. Sometimes the wildness was within. Other times it tamed the wildness in us.

Sam walked in the door and said, “Get a towel. Find the baby bottle. Where are the nipples? Make up some milk replacer. Boil water!”

In his arms Sam carried a newborn fawn. He gently set her down on the quilt on our bed. Slowly she stretched out her front legs in front of us. She bowed her head and then rose up onto all four wobbly legs. Plomp. She laid right back down. She curled up and put her head down; forming a tight circle.

Sammy Girl, the black Labrador, jumped onto the bed beside her. Sammy sat down and started to clean her up; licking her from head to tail. And that little tail wiggled with glee.sammy girl and sweet pea

I got the water on to boil while Sam supervised. Found a towel to wrap around her keeping her natural body heat tight to her. Retrieved the bottle and sterilized the nipples.

The recipe for milk replacer was easier to remember than how to get it just the right temperature. Every good feed store offers a variety of brands of powdered milk replacers for different kinds of baby animals. Raw Guernsey milk is one of the best milk replacers for cows, goats and sheep if you can’t milk the mother. You can’t legally sell raw cow’s milk anymore in New York State; although for many years our neighbors would let us slip in the barn and help ourselves. There was a money jar on the shelf and it was all based on a simple honor system which worked.

Goat’s milk is a suitable replace for most mammalian’s milk. None of our nanny goats had milk right then. If you want to have goat’s milk you’ve got to continue milking after the kids are weaned. We had lets our dry up that year.

Today Purina and Blue Seal are two of the leading producers of milk replacers; it’s just like powdered milk. If you can’t get raw Guernsey milk and you don’t have a milking goat you are stuck with the formula. Raw cow’s milk or goat’s milk can substitute or replace the mother’s milk for orphaned deer, rabbits, kittens, puppies or other small mammals.

One quart of boiling water to one cup of a powder.

Testing one, two, three on the inside of my wrist. Too hot, too warm. Perfect.

The fawn had lain in the middle of our driveway since dawn yesterday. Sam discovered her much earlier but kept the dogs away in hopes the mother doe would return. Memorial Day weekend we had planned a family reunion and picnic at the pond. Sam worried someone would hit the fawn driving down to the gathering.

766018-R1-00-1ADoes usually drop their fawns in tall grass fields. Born with spots, the fawns are naturally hidden as they resemble nothing more than sun dappling. At birth fawns have no scent. This natural defense protects them against predators: coyotes and dogs. But this natural defense is poor protection from the dangers of a farmer’s first cutting of hay.

The first four days after birth the fawn is relatively immobile. Fawns can rise to find their mother’s teat; however, they can’t stand long and can’t run. The fawn stays put while the mother doe forages away from her baby to keep it protected. She returns to the fawn discretely only to milk several times during the day. By the fourth day of life the fawn can jump and run faster than a jack rabbit.

100_1030When Sam brought this baby fawn into the cabin, he’d made a tough decision. If orphaned, the fawn wouldn’t live much longer without milk. If left in the driveway there was a greater risk she would die. If he brought her in and she wouldn’t take a bottle, she’d die too. He waited as long as he could before he moved her into the cabin.

Once I had the baby bottle ready with a clean nipple and filled with milk replacer, Sam coaxed the fawn nuzzling her nose with the sweet milk spilled wet upon the warm nipple.

“Come on, Sweet Pea,” I heard Sam say. Less than three tries at opening her lips and teeth and she was sucking hard.

Food in. Check off the number one concern. Getting the mother doe’s colostrum from the very first nursing is perhaps the most important indicator of a fawn’s success in life. Sweet Pea had clearly been fed at least once, but only once. Dehydrated and very hungry she took that bottle without any struggle.

Besides milk, the mother doe also performs diaper duty. Sammy Girl, our lab, became a surrogate mother to Sweet Pea in this respect. She couldn’t nurse the fawn, but she treated it like it was one of her own puppies.

The next step for Sweet Pea was to stand and urinate on her own. That’s really what the towel was for and thank goodness it was handy. It wasn’t long after she drank half a bottle full of milk replacer that she had to go. Sammy Girl made sure she defecated and the feces specimen strongly indicated the fawn had milked from the mother’s colostrum. The consistency and color of Cheese Whiz, her first bowel passed inspection and promised a good prognosis.

The Memorial Day family reunion picnic began. I headed over to the BBQ area at the pavilion at the other end of our pond.  Sam stayed a few minutes behind to keep an eye on Sweet Pea. When he left to check on our guests, he told Sammy Girl to watch over this precious baby. Sammy understood.

Less than two hours later our Sweet Pea was willing to taste a little more milk replacer. Every four to six hours after that Sweet Pea got bottle fed by Sam and Sammy Girl performed her maternal duties in the diaper department. At first I was amazed, disgusted and fascinated by this bizarre relationship between a dog and a deer and my dear.

Sammy Girl was Sam’s favorite dog. He spoiled her rotten. The first two years she was in his boot camp. As a female adult she was exceptionally friendly, loving and gentle. Every critter Sam brought in the cabin was treated with kindness and kisses by Sammy Girl. If Sam loved it, Sammy Girl did too. And so it was with Sweet Pea.

Spring dip

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on May 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm

20100521GH_270Ten days after plowing, it’s time to harrow the fields. Harrows are big curly metal tongs you drag through the plowed field to break up the clods and continue to smother the weeds with overturned dirt. Harrowing is very important to weed control. The longer you wait to plant after plowing and harrowing several times, the fewer weeds you will have in your field.

Plow, then harrow and harrow again. Then it’s time to pick rocks. Every year we pick the biggest stones out of the field. The frost heaves up a new crop every spring. I suggested a few years ago we market ourselves as a rock farm. We could be a u-pick rock crop farm. After harrowing each May, we could let people pick their own boulders and stones for their hearths and rock gardens. I thought we might even sideline in a fat camp program involving rock picking as a weight loss program. I was too busy picking rocks and planting to ever go very far with those ideas.

May is the month when there is nothing much left from last year’s harvest. The potatoes have all got eyes on them and will become seed next month. The onions sprout new greens. The few remaining carrots and beets seem limp and less flavorful. Nothing yet available from the gardens. The kitchen cupboards are bare. Only the herb garden has awakened.

Except asparagus and rhubarb. Both are delicious; just not mixed together. Each provides its own reassurance that a bounty from the farm will follow.

Asparagus and rhubarb are perennials. It takes several years before you can get a decent crop from a bed of asparagus. The same is true for rhubarb. They are a bit fussy to get started, but once they take root in your garden, you just have to harvest every spring. These are the crops I enjoy most. Nothing I have to do much except harvest. Foraging is fun. May is the beginning of good times.

Good times become better with the passing of time. I remember one May when the lawn needed mowing by the 20th. Charlie, Sam’s dad, drove his lawnmower down to the pond and he enjoyed the spring sunshine while he cut the grass on the pond dyke. I was busy transplanting broccoli and Brussels sprouts and Sam was repairing our boat.557054-R1-15-16A_016

I left for town to run weekly errands; banking, post office, supplies, hardware, laundry, etc. When I got home I looked through the glass window of the front door. There were Sam’s overalls, barn jacket, shirt, sweatshirt, socks and underwear hanging from the antler racks on the wall. On the floor underneath were puddles of water from his dripping clothes. His boots stood upside down next to the radiator. I started giggling.

It wasn’t funny yet.

Sam was furious. I couldn’t stop giggling long enough to find out why he was mad as a wet hen. He had just fully realized how close he came to drowning his father. He took his dad out on the newly repaired boat to see if it was really fixed. They paddled from one end of the pond to the other and everything seemed in good order. They enjoyed being out on the water together in the warm sun.

“Sam, we’re taking on water,” Charlie said. “Sam.”

Sam started baling water out of the boat with a bucket.

“Sam. We’re taking on water too fast,” Charlie said.

AFCU Class Swenson & Cooper Work 20100521GH“Dad, get on my end here,” Sam said. He reached out his arm to his father. As Chuck stood up to move to the other bench, the boat took on a lot of water quickly. The two of them tussled, hand in hand.

“Dad, hold onto me!” Sam said. They were only 10 feet from the edge of the pond but the bottom here was muddy and murky and above their heads. Both of them had on heavy overall farm pants with barn coats and heavy long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, and boots on. When wet the weight of all that clothing was tremendous. The water was cold — 43 degrees – and the air suddenly didn’t seem so warm at 62 degrees.

“Sam, let go of me!” Charlie couldn’t get upright as Sam grabbed hold of his father. Charlie was taller if not stronger than Sam. He broke loose of Sam’s grip to upright himself in the frigid water. The two of them thrashed about and both quickly got to shore.

Once Sam was on his feet, he grabbed the boat’s tie rope and jerked it with him to the pond’s edge. The two of them yanked that boat out of the water and fell onto shore. They got their boots off and emptied the water. Neither one of them said a word.

Charlie put his boots back on and got on his lawnmower and drove back up to the house. He hung his clothes in the garage. That didn’t stop Janet from noticing the mess and puddles in the garage when she got home and put the car away. Furious and scared, she wouldn’t let Chuck go down and play with Sam again that summer unless either she or I were home.

May or May Not: Blooms of Spring

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on May 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

20100521GH_281The first sure sign of spring is the Common Blue Violet, Viola papilionacea. Their heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges grow low to the ground. The five petal purple flowers burst forth on separate stems 

This North American wild flower grows in damp woods, moist meadows and along roadsides. You can find them underfoot almost anywhere outdoors in springtime.

Viola Papilionaceae is the most common of the violets. The Violet family is made up of 22 genera and more than 900 species throughout the world. Many species are cultivated for their attractive flowers; for example, pansies.

Violet leaves are naturally high in Vitamin A and C. Toss them into salads and make a seasonal companion in your bowl with the greens of dandelions. Violet leaves can also be steamed with a splash of vinegar and served sprinkled with toasted almonds.

The violet flowers can also be made into candies and jellies. Violet is the name of a flower, a color, a slight aroma and a distinctive yet delicate taste. When a violet blooms, the first few days its petals are the richest dark purple. If I gather the violet petals for edible creations, I have learned to pick only the newest blossoms. The more intense the color, the more concentrated the flavor.

Taking a stroll along the wooded lane, I can quickly pick more than the two cups necessary for a batch of violet jelly. Violet jelly isn’t purple at all. The color and consistency can best be described by a bygone ladies hair product from the 1960s called “Dippity Do.” The jiggly hot pink jelly tastes so delicate and refined it is best served with shortbread, saltines or plain scones. It’s delicious on hot buttered toast.

Sam tasted my homemade version of violet jelly once.

“Different,” is all he said. I’m so glad he doesn’t really care about it. More for me. More for tea parties with the girls.

Another way to use beautiful violet blossoms is to sugar them and serve them as cake decorations or on frosted sugar cookies. I dip the blossom first in a blend of one tablespoon of water and one egg white. Then I dust it in white sugar before placing them on a cookie sheet and into the freezer for 20 minutes. Once solid, I put them into an air tight container in the freezer until I am ready to use them to decorate sugar cookies or a special birthday cake.

Ever since Diana turned Ia into a violet to hide her from Apollo’s unwanted ardor in Greek mythology, violets symbolize modesty and shyness. Tiny, delicate and bowed in bloom, the violet is a common flower that deserves to be elevated in a forager’s elegant diet.

Violets are prolific spring bloomers. They are nature’s litmus. Violets will turn red in the presence of acid and yellow in the presence of alkali.

As I stroll around the woods and fields of the farm looking for more violets, I discover trout lilies, trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpits and Mayapples. The trout lily looks like a yellow violet. It is also known as the dog-tooth violet. Like the Common Blue Violet, the trout lily likes moist meadows, damp woods and its flower stands alone on its stem. The low to the ground leaves are speckled and shaped like a trout. They pop up through the old dry winter bed of leaves in the deep woods.

When the violets begin to bloom I start looking for Trillium. These white three petal rare wild flowers are exquisitely beautiful in their simplicity. I know exactly where to find them. Down along the lane there is a rocky wet ditch where the trillium bed continues to spread every year. To find them you need to crouch down like a deer and enter the scrub woods along their well worn pathways.

When the trillium blooms it is brilliant white in color. Within several days you will begin to see streaks of pink and red. The trillium was given its named for its religious significance. The Trinity is represented by the three petals but also the “blood” which appears after three days to mark Christ’s death and resurrection.

I have found Jack-in-the-Pulpits waist high. The first time I found such a monster sized religious icon I transplanted it to a spot near our root cellar. Every spring it stands taller and more magnificent in its purple hood. In October the plant displays a large poker with shiny red berries.

In the sugar maple grove, the rich woodland soil nourishes Mayapples that grow more densely every year. The beautiful expansive leaves nearly hide the little white blossom underneath the beach umbrella of green in May. Before the maple trees bud and leaf out, these foot high wildflowers soak up the spring’s direct sun.

492703-R1-20-21AMy bright yellow daffodils brighten up the farm landscape in early May. By the end of the month, Iris and peonies promise to open their buds.

Chives pop right up. Garlic greens get taller than the tulips. I pull all the straw off the strawberry beds the beginning of the month and start weeding and transplanting certain perennial herbs immediately.  Lemon balm is divided and replanted wherever I don’t want the deer, rabbits or other critters to tread. Before the end of May the plants are lush and starting to flower.

Just as my tulips begin to bud I transplant garlic greens around the plants. Tulips have no scent, but their color attracts wild deer that devour them in one swift bite.

Deer do not like the scent of garlic. Spread it widely around new tree saplings or spring blossoms. As soon as a Whitetail steps on garlic they sense an explosion of odor from the plant oil. Deer back right off and bolt away from the area.

By May, the deer, just like the wild birds, have enough food to forage; they don’t have to eat my special treats. Flowers are eye candy for the soul starved by a long winter.

Dutch tulip bulbs remain the best. The Dutch cultivated tulip bulbs in the 1800s and it proved extremely profitable. Tulip bulbs were more valuable than gold for some time; until an economic depression and the value of the bulbs returned to their use value. The Dutch dug up their precious bulbs, cooked and ate them to stay alive during the worst times.

20100521GH_270I am always so hungry for spring I can’t wait to get into the dirt and start planting. But there is so much of winter left to clean away that it’s a very busy time. The willow trees have shed their branches in the weight of winter’s snow and ice storms and the spring winds. Pulling away the dead leaves, weeds and dry mulch to find the soil underneath takes weeks of raking and filling the wheel barrow full of brush.

May is the month of plowing and planting. Sam gets to have most of the fun. The tractor gets tuned up and the old Allis Chalmers chugs under his command. Back and forth across the fields he plows under last year’s mulch and freshly spread manure. He won’t plow if the dirt doesn’t turn over just like cookie dough. Not too wet and muddy; not too dry and hard. It’s not as easy as it sounds. When the time is right to plow, it’s time to plow. Sometimes it’s late April. Usually not until May.

Chronic. Rain. Wasting. Dear. Rain. Deer.

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on May 1, 2014 at 2:04 am

966592-R1-01-2AWhen the state regulations for deer farms changed due to the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease, Sam had his hands full. The Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Department of Environmental Conservation both set forth new mandates and inspectors to our farm.

Because chronic wasting disease cannot be detected in live animals, the only way to determine if a herd is infected is to take sacrifice 10% of the herd each year so the vets can test the brain and lymph nodes. Sam was not eager to kill his animals to prove they weren’t sick.

The DEC officer, John Hill, arrived early. I put another pot of coffee on the stove. I noticed his weapon in his holster. Hill wasn’t sure what he was dealing with here; a couple of survivalist nuts who were friends to wild Whitetail deer?

The animal inspector for Ag & Markets, Kathy, arrived shortly thereafter. I invited them in for coffee while we waited for the vets. Dr. Nytch we had met before and they were sending a woman vet too.

100_1030After a couple sips of coffee they asked Sam a million questions. Where did that Whitetail buck come from? What date did it arrive here? How old is the animal? How many European Red Deer are on site? How many males? Females? Ages? In conjunction with New York State, the federal agencies pushed tagging all animals for a national inventory system.

Sam asked nearly as many questions as the DEC Officer, vet, and animal inspector. Sam spoke clearly and frankly; in short, he shared his negative opinions of these new policies and procedures. John Hill remained very calm and quiet. Sam stood up to get another cup of coffee and passed by his loaded shotgun leaning against the wall. I watched John Hill put his right hand on his pistol handle, slowly bending his elbow backwards. Sam went into the summer kitchen and retrieved the coffee pot and leaned over John’s shoulder and offered him another cup of coffee. Hill took his right hand off his pistol and waved no to Sam’s offer.

Sam had prepared for this visit for several days. He had to corral the animals and send them through the new chute facility he’d built. He’d obtained the set of steel poles, squeeze chute, gates and hinges from a young farmer who married and left the state. Erecting this contraption was an amazing puzzle to me but Sam had the pieces together in a couple days. These containment facilities are constructed out West where they use them in the national buffalo roundup and to cull animals from herds to be sold or sent to the butcher.

920443-R1-19-20AAnimals are spooked by certain colors, sounds, and shadows. No creatures like to be cornered. Sam considered the construction from the perspective of his animals. He erected the pens and gates on the western edge of a large paddock so in the mornings when the animals would enter, the sun would shine inside without shadows. The shed building constructed around the chutes and gates took the form of 5/8ths of an octagon. No corners.

Sam built a wide opening in the paddock fencing that led into the containment building and hung a gate that could be closed behind the animals once they entered. A series of sliding gates, like spokes in a wheel, could be opened and shut allowing one animal through to the next section. The passageway constricts until the last gate opens to the squeeze chute.

A black canvas curtain appears before the animal’s eye level. From either side the cushioned sides squish the animal and suspend them slightly off the ground. Just below the padded cushion is an  opening in the metal works. You can slide this drawer open and reach in to test or treat the animal without risk of injury to yourself or the animal. When the TB test is done, worm medicine topically applied and big plastic ear tags pierced through their lobes, the squeeze chute is released and curtain drawn back to release the animal back into the paddock free.

966966-R1-19-20ASam’s inventiveness in building this original containment facility also impressed John Hill, Dr. Nytch and Kathy, the animal inspector. Our neighbor, Pete, Sam’s nephew Jamie and Mike White, who we’d hired out of Addison, Pennsylvania, to dart our animals arrived to help corral the animals. First they had to knock the big stag out.

Mike White is a burly man with years of experience farming cattle and deer. He also had a federal license to secure the narcotics used in this unusual line of veterinary services. Mike walked the fence lines observing the herd of Red Deer.  He stopped when he had a clear shot. Ping. It hit but fell right off the big guy. It took another fifteen to twenty minutes of waiting and watching. Second dart stuck in his shoulder.

Nobody moved. We watched this massive stag suddenly swagger. He started moving toward the pond. If he fell into the pond he would drown. Too heavy for all these men to drag out and far too dangerous if he wasn’t fully under.  Jamie stood outside the fence nearest the pond. Standing 6 foot tall and about 200 lbs. Jamie raised his hands above his head and grunted loudly to deter the stag from his direction.

The stag stopped and swung his head to look at Jamie. Then he swung his head and turned his whole body around and took two steps forward. The third step was onto his front right knee. The left knee buckled under. His body plopped down with a thud.

“Wait a minute more,” Dr. Nytch said. “Don’t go in there yet. We have to make sure he is really out. Watch that he doesn’t roll on his side. His lungs can fill with fluids quickly and he’ll suffocate.”

Just then, the stag rolled over on his side like a dog getting comfortable on the hearth. Dr. Nytch, Mike White, John Hill, Jamie and Sam went into the paddock. Dr. Nytch approached the stag and watched. The rest of them starting to corral the hinds toward the gate into the containment facility. Sam got two in right away. He slid the next gate open when the two stayed. He’d put fresh green grass inside along the way for them to eat. Then he opened the big gate again.

Three more hinds and one of the yearling bucks entered. Sam let them into the next section with the first two.

Dr. Nytch called Mike and Jamie to help roll the stag over. At least 400 pounds of human exertion against the big guy barely rolled him so his head was upright.

Bull elk in full velvet“Watch your back,” Pete called out to the three of them near the stag. The other yearling buck was stotting fast, around and around in circles, heading their way.

Nytch, Mike White and Jamie all turned their attention to the stag and formed a line with arms outstretched between them. He went right into the gate to avoid them. Sam swung the gate shut.

The others then came in quickly. European Red Deer are herd animals. They do not like to be separated from one another. Where one goes, they all go.

Sam led each animal through the gated passageway to the squeeze chute with gentle precision as he slid open and closed the gates. Working together as a team, Kathy inserted the ear tags, Sam put the worm medicine on and Dr. Nytch poked them with the TB test. Within seconds, each animal was released back into the paddock.

When the procedures were complete, everyone sighed in relief.

“Good to go. See you in three days.” Dr. Nytch took his muck boots off and put them in the truck of his vehicle.

TB testing requires a re-check. It started raining and it didn’t stop for three days. The paddock was ankle deep mud from the torrential rains.

“This isn’t going to work,” Sam said to me on day two.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s too muddy. We are never going to be able to get them back in to re-test.” Sam thought aloud.

It kept raining. It rained all night. The path the deer had beaten around the edges of the paddock fencing were now ditches running with water.

Sam called the state officials and tried to get a waiver of some sort due to the weather. TB tests were scheduled for today. No one cancelled.

On a grey April morning the same cast of characters appeared with the exception of the DEC Officer. John Hill felt confident he wasn’t needed after working with Sam three days earlier. Pepe, the woman vet who never showed up, however, was supposed to be there in his stead.

Deer are not stupid and they have memories. Our deer were not going so easily into the chute based on natural curiosity. They knew what to expect and they were not anxious to repeat the stressful experience. Instead they slowly plodded through the muddy pasture and milled around together tightly.in the center of the field.

The men walked inside the fence lines and then towards the center. They could get only so close before one would dart out in any direction and all the rest would come thundering after. After several attempts, the deer were getting agitated. Then one bounced right into the chain link fence and the others quickly averted the steel mesh wall.

The next swing around the herd took headed straight for Pete. Pete backed up and crawled up the fence backwards. He flung his feet up in the air and a stag narrowly missed him; crashing into the fence instead.

“Get out of here.” Sam said loudly. “Go on, guys. Let’s all get out of here. We are going to have to let them calm down.” Sam stormed out of the paddock. The others followed. Everyone backed off and headed inside for coffee or to their vehicles

Sam got out his buckets and went in the barn for grain. All deer eyes were focused on Sam. He went into the containment facility and you could hear him pouring the feed in a line from the section just before the squeeze chute to the gate. He dumped the last of the grain in a small pile in the middle of the open gateway. Then he walked back and left the containment facility.

“I’ll have another cup of coffee,” Sam said as he walked in the cabin. He sat at the table, quietly. Poured creamer and sugar and stirred. Took a few sips. Then he went outdoors alone.

I heard the gate slam shut. A couple minutes later he came inside and told Dr. Nytch his coffee break as over.

All but three went in on their own to get grain. Didn’t take long for them  to get corralled.

Jamie was the “release” man; tall and strong and patient he was perfect to lift and move the squeezing mechanism. Dr. Nytch just needed a visual of the TB inoculation site. No reactions. Kathy, recorded the animals’ tag numbers, dates of tests and signatures.

The first two animals were checked and released. The yearling stag was next up. As Jamie let him loose, he bolted out into the paddock into the muddiest section. Snap. His front legs went into mud knee deep, but they didn’t come back out.  As his back legs came forward into mud, the involuntary movements broke his back. It took several seconds to realize what had just happened. The stag stumbled and collapsed.

Sam, Dr. Nytch, Jamie and Kathy kept going with their procedures; moving another animal into position. Didn’t they see what had happened? They were murmering. I wanted to scream. I ran inside the house where I could hide. There was absolutely nothing I could do that wouldn’t make matters much worse.

An hour later, everyone but Sam paraded into our little cabin.

“Now we are all done here for a full year. All the paperwork has been completed. It looks like we may have two down. You will call us tomorrow or the next day and we’ll be back for the brains and lymph nodes,” Dr. Nytch said to me calmly. Kathy distributed copies of all the documents to everyone at the table. I sat there stunned; my face all puffy and eyes blood shot red.

Sam finally came through the door. “Are we done here now?”

“Yes, Sam. We’re all done. Thanks and we’ll be in touch.” Dr. Nytch shook Sam’s hand. “That’s a beautiful containment facility. Works like a charm. You really built a first rate system here.”

When everyone was gone, I sat silently at the table with Sam.

“Get me a beer,” Sam said. He popped it open and guzzled half of it at once. “Pete has gone for his gun. He’ll be up shortly to shoot the two stags they killed with their silly insistence on doing this in the mud.”

I heard the shots. Just two. Pete skinned and gutted them. A highly skilled and lifelong hunter, Pete has killed and eaten most every kind of meat animal in North America. Pete got up on the roof of the containment building and used sharpshooting techniques to take out just these two suffering creatures.

Sam helped Pete hoist the carcasses onto hooks near the ceiling in the cool meat room inside the barn. Sam picked up the heads and put the severed lymph nodes into a bucket; storing them inside with the dry-aging meat.

Can’t legally sell the meat because our meat room is not a USDA facility; we don’t own a government approved stamp; there was no inspector present to report a humane slaughter. We eat our own meat. The government couldn’t take that.