The Chickens!

Back in November we decided that after a mere six months of country living, it was high time to raise chickens.  We visited Dare to Dream Farms in Lompoc so the kids could pick out three chicks to take home.  For months we fed our chicks in the garage until the day they were finally ready to face the harsh and unforgiving outdoor coop.  And then we waited.  And waited more.  And some more.

Cutie pie chicks, first day home!
Cutie pie chicks, first day home!

Finally, nearly six months after bringing home the darned freeloaders, there it was.  Our very first egg!  The earth turned, the heavens sang, and we cradled that egg in our hands like a raw diamond, examining its cut, color, size, and clarity.  For the next two days we debated what kind of food would befit our perfect treasure.  We had only one after all.  How can we showcase it best?  Crack it raw into a bloody mary?  Poach it? Fry it up with fried rice so we could all enjoy it?  At last, a simple fried egg was the winning answer.  And never has a fried egg tasted so glorious.

Since then all of our birds have become official layers.  And if they were a bit standoffish before they started laying, boy oh boy are they flirty and friendly now, nuzzling our legs with their tushy feathers!  They seem to love us as much as we love them…er…as much as we love to steal the fruits of their labor.

Meet our first prize winning layer- Jeffrey.

Jeffrey

Not to be overshadowed by Her Royal Highness- Rainbow.

Chickens-6

And of course, our shyest hen of the bunch- Fast Cloud.

Chickens-9

And now for the reward, FRESH EGGS!

Just Got Laid!
Just Got Laid!

The Wild Game

We had our first true “you’re in the country now” experience.  The other day Roberto, our ranch hand, generously offered us a cooler full of meat.  Wild boar meat, to be specific.  The boar in question was shot the night before.  By the time the cooler reached us the hog had been gutted, skinned, and fabricated into manageable but gigantic pieces.  And while I wasn’t exactly prepared to cook an entire wild boar, I graciously accepted the gift.

For a couple of weeks now on the ranch we had noticed the result of these destructive animals coming through.  Their presence can be both dangerous and a major threat to farmland and our vineyard so when they pass through the ranch hands sometimes hunt them at night.  It’s part of life out here.  But at least they don’t go to waste.

So what’s a girl with about 60 pounds of boar meat to do?  Cook carnitas, and ribs. Lots of it.   (Had I been prepared I would have made sausage too but alas, I didn’t have the proper supplies.)  Until now, I had cooked boar just once previously.  This was quite a different experience.  I cooked the ribs and carnitas simultaneously and my entire house smelled RIPE!  Picture yourself standing in the middle of a butcher shop that is itself in the middle of a hog factory.  Funky.  Though the smell was off-putting, dinner itself turned out pretty good.  We had boar carnitas with all the fixins’: queso fresco, salsa verde, chilis, pickled radishes (picked fresh from our garden), cilantro, red cabbage, and Cacique crema.  We invited friends over for taco night because we had enough meat to feed at least 50. We celebrated our score by having dinner al fresco overlooking our baby vineyard.

The ribs, on the other hand, I couldn’t manage.  A bit too off-putting.  I dry rubbed and roasted them low and slow the way I usually do with spare ribs, then added my homemade barbecue sauce. But all that work couldn’t mask their funky boariness.  I think we’ll try goat meat next.

The Ranch Pets

Along with the wild animals: boars, birds of prey, lizards, raccoons, skunks, and the occasional mountain lion, our ranch had two very cool working ranch cats– Suzy and Chucky.  The prior owners also had the happiest dog I’ve ever seen: a yellow lab named Lily that liked to jump in the pond to chase, but never catch, the ducks.  While Lily moved to her new home with her owners, Suzy and Chucky stayed on our ranch to continue their work culling birds, ground squirrels, and vermin, and displaying their kills to prove they were earning their keep.  They were both estimated to be over 20 years old but still fierce hunters.

Unfortunately, Suzy recently succumbed to cancer from her long days in the sun, and karma finally caught up with Chucky.  After years of slaying birds, our best guess is that an owl found Chucky prowling in the night and took his revenge.  We buried them in the quiet shade of an oak tree, explaining to the kids as best we can about the “circle of life” and the harsher realities of life on a ranch.  Yet without our two hunters, the vermin were having a field day (literally) and we needed to keep the population in check.

So when one of our vineyard employees mentioned he had a litter of seven kittens he found who knows where, we decided to take them all off his hands.  We invited our ranch manager’s children over so that his two children and our two could each choose their own special kitty.  As the kids were getting to know their kitties, the mobile vet got to work de-flea-ing, de-worming, and administering their shots.  We have Diamond, Rascal, Grave Digger (my son’s choice), and Chloe, among others.  The kittens have been getting used to their nighttime quarters in the barn, slowly exploring their surroundings until they feel confident enough to hunt.  Hopefully the kittens will grow to be as sweet but fierce as their predecessors.

On the canine front, we recently adopted a rescue pup.  At 14 weeks, Auggie is a little love muffin, showing strong signs of being a wonderful ranch dog.  His mommy we know is a cattle dog, and judging by the looks of his tail and his litter mates, we suspect his daddy was a German Shepherd.  Auggie has become my little buddy, following me everywhere.  It’s been about 20 years since I’ve owned a dog and I’d forgotten how sweet (but all-consuming) they are.  He plays well with the kids (though showing some signs of trying to “herd” my rambunctious daughter), and spends most of his day following me around and trying unsuccessfully to sleep at my feet when he thinks I’ll be stationary, though I never am.

Our new puppy Auggie

For now our expanded ranch family feels complete, until of course Auggie needs a playmate!