Above all, try something. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmastime at the Creek

Ah yes, the holiday season has, again, descended upon the Coyle household.
There are a few things I have started to love about the winter since moving to Montana. For one, we have taken to crafting our own, personalized presents, each year for Christmas.
And two, ski season begins!
A few months ago, while browsing the book section of a thrift shop, I came across a hardcover edition of a Ball Canning and Preserving book straight out of the 80's. It's pretty much awesome? Oh, and it was fifty cents. From there, I experimented with many different Jams, Jellies, Butters, and Preserves to gift out this year. So simple, so cheap, and so yummy!
My personal favorite was the Plum Apple Butter. Wow. Killer, folks.
As you can probably remember from my last post about the goats, we went through the motions of an attempted breeding this past November with our three female Nubians. The girls finally came home to Jack Creek last weekend, and Mr. Cheap Trick was utterly thankful to have his family back.
A goat's gestation period is a solid five months, with virtually no sign of pregnancy until the last few weeks or so. We hope that all three girls will have taken to Mr. Love Bones (above: what a stud, right? check out that sexy beard!), but honestly wont know a thing for sure until Mid-April or so. Jennifer informed us that a true sign of imminent Kidding is the udder development, so I will be keeping a close watch come spring, eager to have some baby goats running around!
Until spring, however, there will be little goat care for us besides daily hay feedings. The break will be cherished, as it will end abruptly in spring with possibly three milkings a day! Whew!

Here's a funny shot of the goats at the Boyer Farm on the day we went to pick up our girls.
So nosy!
Well....for those of you that follow my daily ridiculousness on facebook, you might have seen that a few weeks ago I decided that I needed to take some serious action on the fresh eggs threatening to overflow our fridge. In a little less than 24 hours, I made a large batch of egg noodles, a ginormous rice pudding (we will not be eating rice pudding again for at least another decade), and two quarts of pickled eggs. I went through about 45 eggs that day, and at the end of the day, had learned three new recipes.
Let me share my egg noodle discovery with you!
First of all, you only need three ingredients to make egg noodles: fresh eggs, flour, and salt.
Beat however many eggs you are using in a bowl with a pinch of salt.
Next, add as much flour as the eggs will absorb to make a soft dough.
I used about half-and-half white and wheat flour, which makes for a heavier noodle, but we're into that. We're also into using as much locally produced groceries as possible and Wheat Montana flour (above) is freakin' awesome stuff.
Use whatever type of flour you're into, and hey, if you make your own flour, you deserve a big hug because I LIKE YOU.
Once you have a nice soft dough, you can roll that baby out.
The flatter the better, folks, and feel free to get all creative with your noodle shapes. I went with the standard fettuccine and flat 'egg noodle' rectangles for my first batch, using a pizza cutter to slice those suckers up. Be sure to use lotsa flour on your rolling and cutting surface or you'll be sad when your dough sticks.
Once you have your noodles ready to dry out, you can hang them over the back of a chair or on a clean drying rack, whatever. I have read alot of people say they lay them on the counter, like on a dish towel or pan to dry, but from my experience that takes FOREVER. My hanging pasta took about 24 hours to dry out in our mildly cool kitchen air.
I actually then put them on a pan into a warm oven (150 F) for 30 minutes or so before bagging them, JUST TO BE SURE they were completely dried out.

Once dry, you can store your noodles in tightly lidded glass jars, or plastic resealable bags.

I threw my labeled zip-locks chock full o'noods right into our freezer.

To cook, I put my noodles directly from their frozen home into a big pot of boiling water.
They took about 25 minutes to fully cook, and were totally awesome in a big batch of chicken noodle soup. I honestly, can't imagine buying or eating store bought noodles again. What a waste of money!

Above are my two quarts of pickled herbed eggs.
Each quart jar holds at least a dozen hard-boiled eggs (no shells), plus pickling juices, and lots of herbs clipped from our household plants. I was a bit skeptical about how these would taste, but was pleasantly surprised last weekend after I chopped one up over my salad. YUM!

When we got this super duper 21 square foot upright freezer this summer from Ed's parents (so awesome, THANK YOU AGAIN), our goal was simple: fill that puppy with self-grown, or self-harvested foods. We are looking at Sustainability and Homesteading as serious issues to tackle while living in Jack Creek, and by god, we are getting there!
This freezer holds 50 pounds of venison, self-harvested, a dozen or so of our homegrown chickens, an elk (roughly 200 pounds of meat), self-harvested, some random summer garden herbs and veggies, home-grown and self-harvested (grumble grumble), and over 150 frozen eggs from our laying hens!
High five!!!
Next year, I would like to add two categories to this array of fresh freezer foods: Goat's Milk, and Pork. (This spring we hope to bring home a baby piglet or two to raise through the warmer months.)
Well, sorry this post really isn't too much about Christmas, but oh well.
We wish everyone a gorgeous holiday, where ever you may be.
We, however, will be at Big Sky, skiing if anyone needs us.
Awwwwwww YEAH

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Get Your Top Down!!!!

Careful, this blog post may change your life......orrrrrrr, you may be like, what is this guy writing about!

First off, it's snowing like crazy! As I write this, the "lights" are currently being turned on outside and exposing a gorgeous snow covered morning. Looks like there is another 4 or so inches on the pine trees this morning on top of all the snow we've gotten in the last week or two. Yesterday, Katie Rose and I went up to Big Sky and I'd say there was close to 3 feet at the base of the ski area. It's a winter wonderland up there. I'm gonna go for a ski this weekend in between chores I've been putting off, and the exciting Cat/Griz showdown. For those of you not from the area (which is most of you), that's Montana State(Bozeman) vs. University of Montana (Missoula). Montana State is currently in first place in the Big Sky Conference. We haven't beaten the Griz since 2005, and a win today will ensure their first conference championship since 2005.

I've recently discovered a new (old timey) way to start a fire in the woodstove. It's the way to go. On the campfire, I will always be a fan of the tipi. But not in the woodstove anymore. It's called a Top Down Fire, and here's how it goes, to the tune of The Hokey Pokey (What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it's all about???):
You put your big logs down
and then your kindling on.
Then you crumple up some paper and you get your matches out

The paper starts to burn and it sends the hot coals down

That's what it's all about.

It's genius! From now on, you won't put your fire out by putting a big ol log on top of your nice little kindling fire. Just light it and let it go.
I wish this blog post was exciting as the program we watched on electric eels last night. But I think the beavers may have eaten all the eels in Jack Creek. Which reminds me. Yesterday I came across some serious beaver activity in the creek below the house. This is pretty exciting and could mean a future blog post about the Castor canadensis.
Well, enjoy your Saturday. If you read this, let us know. We never know if anyone does and I'm starting to wonder if it's worth my time. Think Snow!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fart Eggs!

I advise everyone to just sit down and breathe. Three posts in three days. Shocking.

So, I mentioned yesterday that a few of our hens had recently graduated into the laying stage of life. Some of you may be asking yourselves, "How do you know which hens are laying which eggs?" And the answer is, unless you are paying very close attention to your flock through out the day, you won't.

Unless they have some sort of chicken Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, your chickens will lay in different places and at different times, with each passing day. Sometimes a hen might decide she prefers a certain nest or a certain time of day to lay her eggs, but unless you have enough nests for each hen to have her own at all times, she will SURELY change her mind eventually, or have it changed for her...

When a young hen starts to lay, her first few eggs are quite small as her body adjusts to the sudden changes. Sometimes they may be without a yolk or even a shell! No need to worry, she is just figuring it all out. These first, strange oddball eggs are called Fart Eggs!

*Yes, feel free to take a moment to laugh like a six-year-old, it's OK.

As you can see from the photo, the center egg is a Fart Egg, compared to the rest it is quite teeny. This has been the trend in our coop lately here at the Double F, so I can be assured that the girls are busy getting started with their laying stages. I am happy!

Something else you can notice from the picture is the color variety of eggs. Each differing breed of chicken, lays a different color of egg. We have all brown layers, but the woman that we care take for has several white layers, and even some "Easter Eggers" as some chicken farmers like to call them. Araucanas, or "Easter Eggers", a variety of hen originating from Chile, lay blue or green eggs! Next spring when I choose a few new types of chicks to order, Araucanas are first on my list. Not only do they lay fancy colored eggs, but they are gorgeous with their intricately colored feathers as well.

Although your chickens may lay eggs of varying shape, size, and color, they will all taste the same and look great on your plate when served! Enjoy your Monday.

Much Love, from Jack Creek

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Lonesome Buckling Blues

Must be winter.
As you can see, we're back on the horn. TOOT TOOT.
T'is true, the snow is a'fallin! And we are getting that old, giddy ski season feeling again.
Opening day at Big Sky Ski Resort is on Thanksgiving! Isn't that, like, next week?!
While we are spending our time adjusting snow plows, rifling through closets for matching mittens, and throwing logs on the fire, the goats are readying themselves for the upcoming season as well!
Just yesterday, Jennifer came to visit from the goat farm in Bozeman and picked up our three "Ladies in Waiting" while she was here. Goats go into heat every three weeks, and are most easily impregnated in the fall, sometime between Thanksgiving and New Years. Their gestation period runs a solid five months, so not only is this the optimal time of year to get the process started, but it also leads to spring kidding (or, for us Eskimos, a very late winter kidding) which we all know is Mother Nature's favorite time of year for birth.
Back at Farm 51, where our small herd originated, our three does will spend their time showing off to the rented buck of choice. They will stay in captivity with the buck for a solid three weeks, to ensure him a chance at each girl's heat cycle. How romantic. Janet is surely in heaven with all the attention. I hope she will come home someday...
Because Jennifer knows much more than I do about registered/unregistered, purebred/mutts, gene pools, ancestry lines, vaccinations, size, health and the general quality of Nubians, I completely trust her on pairing my girls with the right 'guy'. And because she rents her bucks of choice from a breeder, there is a fee associated with each doe averaging $25-35, depending on the line, that I am more than happy to pay for quality service.
Poooooooor Cheap Trick.
"MAAAAAaaaaaa!!!" a goat's pathetic bleat, has never held more meaning.
Left behind at the Double F, while his three buddies, Mom included, go off for a few weeks of Bozeman fun.
Sooooooo sad.
Goats are not meant to be alone, they are pack animals and become very vocal when upset or lonely. Needless to say, I hear ya buddy.
To add insult to injury, we started a week of fore casted heavy snow today. Goats and precipitation do not mix, hence he watches the road for any sign of goat buddies from beneath the lone tree in the pasture.
Little guy is gonna need some therapy in a few days. Penny?

Quite uninhibited by the snow, on the other hand, are those crazy chickens! Once one goes outside (usually Delilah Jones, my veteran barred rock, who laughs in the face of cold weather) they ALL go out, regardless of weather. Happily scratching around in the snow for any lingering grass or bugs that the freezing temperatures haven't gotten hold of quite yet.
My latest struggle has been to keep the water troughs (see below) from freezing solid. I haven't gotten into Bozeman since our 'real' winter has set in, where I can visit the feed store to purchase a floating 1500v stock tank heater. So each morning and evening, I traipse out to the iceberg ridden water containers with my shovel and smash the ice to bits. Dehydration can play a large role in winter illness among livestock, so I must be sure to keep all water ice free as much as I can.
The chickens get off kind of easy as they have unfrozen water containers in their coop, constantly kept warm by a heat lamp. In the last three weeks, a few of my young hens have begun to lay eggs! Generally, a hen will begin to lay between 16-22 weeks of age, and wouldn't you know it, they are 20 weeks old on November 15. Good job girls. Keep it up! To keep them interested in the nesting boxes, I have been keeping the heat lamp turned on 24/7. This allows the coop to stay warm, perhaps allowing the hens to sit on the nest longer due to warmth. Another reason to leave the lamp on this time of year, is that chickens respond best (their laying cycle, that is) to 16 hours of daylight. Once the days become shorter, if you don't supply supplemental lighting in the coop, they could be sent into a winter laying lull.
Hmm....No thanks.
Cheap Trick enjoys a stiff water on the rocks while my three veteran layers ham it up for the camera.

Snow! Keep it coming, MN. Ed is out plowing as I type this blog, in fact.

Well. That's all for now. You can be expecting lots more tooting to come in the next five months.
Hugs and dog hair from the crew at 807 Jack Creek Road.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Splittin Time

Blog it up!

It's been a long time since I sat at the 'puter and blogged it up. Things have been busy! We've had a beautiful Indian Summer here in Montana. The snow has just recently begun to fall and it's beautiful. I can't believe it's the middle of November already. I've been busy since the start of September hunting elk and deer. Most of my free time and thinking, has gone to chasing wild game. Just tonight (Friday, November 12), after 2 and a half months, my elk hunting season has come to an incredible end. When I put down the elk, the snow was falling gently on the pines as the sun was setting in the west. I couldn't have asked for a more unbelievable Montana evening. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to harvest such a beautiful animal. This hunting season has been very good to us, as I was able to harvest a white tail deer on my 32nd birthday as well. Many thanks to my folks, who got us an upright freezer for our anniversary. My parents are known to give all of us such special and thoughtful gifts. I love you guys and miss you dearly. The new freezer will now be stocked full of delicious and healthy wild game, as well as all of our 18 chickens that we raised and butchered in late summer. Can't wait to share it with all of you who come to visit us here in Montana!

Wood Splittin Time!

I knew this day would come. I've had the wood stacked in round 16" logs for about a month now, just waiting for me to either keep adding to it, or just get to splittin! There was no way I was going to split 12 cords by hand. Some people may be able to handle that, but they are not right in the head. My thought was to rent this bad boy for a coupla days and get after it:

It was a 25 ton hydraulic splitter that can be used horizontal or vertical. I decided to go with the horizontal splitting action, thinking it would be easier and more efficient. I'd like to shake the hand of the man who tinkered around till he invented this thing. It was amazing! She worked like a champ for 2 straight days, with no problems other than a flat tire.

Most of the credit needs to go to my incredible helper "guys". I strategically scheduled wood splitting day around a time when I knew Katie wouldn't be teaching, as well as when I knew my man Joe Difulgentis would be around to help. We were very efficient as a three "man" team and got all of the wood split that I wanted to. I kept 2 cords of lodgepole pine for me to split by hand. Here's Katie Rose and Joe (and Hattie the Dog) at work on the first snowy morning:

Most of the pine split pretty easily as you can see in the photo above. Other logs like the fir, were more difficult. I think our record was a total of 12 pieces of wood out of one 16" length of a log. It was a bit cold, so we made sure to have a fire on hand to keep our hands, feet, and backsides warm.

At the end of the first day we had split half of the wood. Katie set up the lanterns and we had headlamps on as we worked into the night. I did manage to snap a photo of the sunset though:

We worked hard for 2 straight days. It felt good to be done!

Having all that wood split and food in the freezer feels like money in the bank. It's been a long season and I'm happy things are slowing down. I'm very excited to have some time with my wife, pick up my banjo on a regular basis, and get to some skiing! We are really looking forward to a visit from my parents for Thanksgiving. My brother Frank is coming up from Idaho as well. It'll be so nice to have some family here for the holidays.
I wish you all a great holiday season, filled with laughter and love with family and friends. We miss you all, and can't wait to see you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Arrival of Fall at Jack Creek

Happy Labor Day everyone!

Katie Rose here.

*Sorry it's been a while since my last post, but I have a sneaking suspicion they will soon become more frequent with the change of season...

Tis true, we experienced our first hard frost on the evening of September first! We hit a low of 21 degrees up in Jack Creek, and not being adequately prepared for the season's early arrival, suffered a great deal of damage on our garden.

It was definitely a sad day on two levels. I hated seeing all of my beloved basil plants wither away, but the majority of our veggies were ultra-hardy, barely flinching at the shimmering frost covering their leaves for half the morning. I also came to the realization that my mornings of shorts, tank tops, and flip flops, were quickly dwindling...sigh.

I decided in the last few days, that instead of waiting until everything was fully developed and ripe, I should probably start harvesting while the gettin's were....thawed. This was my mistake with the basil, and it was NOT going to happen again! I'd be darned if any more of my veggies froze to death.

Out to the garden I traipsed a few evenings ago. It was 9 PM and a balmy 28 degrees. I wore a winter hat, wool mittens, a down vest, and a headlamp over my pajamas. I went equipped with bowls and scissors, and cut, picked, and plucked my way to A LOT of crisp cool veggies!

As you can probably spy on your own from our photos, I returned to the kitchen with no less than six thousand pounds of green stuff.

We had lots of red leaf lettuce, baby spinach, TONS of broccoli, a mixture of snow and sugar snap peas, rainbow chard, baby spinach, a few green peppers (wow, I know.), a few green tomatoes (tiny little guys whose plants died), and even a little zucchini! Okay, I guess not EVERYTHING was green...

Some of the things I left in the garden, feeling mildly safe they would survive any sort of arctic blast the next week or so could throw at them were: parsley bushes, green and purple cabbages, baby carrots (not so sure how those are gonna go...), radishes, potatoes, and onions.

Since we have never grown onions or potatoes previously, and I wanted to check the growth rate of each, I picked a couple sample plants from the earth and promptly jumped up and down with happiness at what I found!

Now to figure out how to properly store and save these veggies when we finally do choose to harvest them all....

In another photo above, you can see some of the seeds I have collected in the last couple of days. The top container is coriander seed, which can be used as a cooking spice, and comes from a flowered cilantro plant. yum-OH! The second container holds just a few spinach seeds....the rest seem to be drying rather slowly and probably wont be ready for picking off the bolted spinach plants for at least another couple of weeks.

Here's another fun part of finishing off a veggie harvest....

The goats LOVE LOVE LOVE the leftover plants!

Here's a quick look(from start to finish this took all of about 20 seconds for them to devour) at a broccoli plant demolition.

Enjoy and watch your fingers.

Speaking of the goats, how is that going?

Great, thank you.

No seriously, all skitzophrenia aside, they have really come around this summer. There is no lack of pocket nibbling, head butting, or furniture climbing around these parts. They are a trip!
Stay tuned for November, when we venture into the world of goat breeding.
Also in top news, the remaining 13 meat birds will meet their demise, and the inside of our new freezer (!!!!!!!) this weekend.

Hugs and dog hair, The Coyles

Monday, August 23, 2010

Home Made Chicken Plucker

I should probably start out with a warning about this blog post. It may be offensive to some. If you have a problem with plucking chickens, maybe you should wait for the next post about something more up your alley. There are a few photos that may not be totally appropriate for everyone.

The Long Story Short

You may have read some of Katie's previous posts about the meatbird chickens we've been raising since chicks. If not, you can go back and see. We got two different kinds of Cornish X when they were delivered in a box in the mail. One is meant to be a "broiler" or "fryer". Generally a smaller bird meant for using the legs, thighs, wings, and breasts in various recipes. The second is a "roaster". This bird is raised a few weeks longer, and is intended to be roasted in the oven fully intact.

This past weekend was the time when we needed to butcher the broilers. I know that when I have "chicken on the bone", I personally like the skin when cooked. This meant that the chickens were going to need to be plucked.

I did some research online about some fancy chicken pluckers. The one that came up most, and had plans to follow to build yourself was The Whizbang Chicken Plucker. If you search on Youtube, there are some pretty wild videos. They work extremely well in removing the feathers of a chicken after being slaughtered in seconds, instead of the painstaking process of plucking the feathers by hand.

Power Drill Chicken Plucker

I knew that I didn't want to pluck the birds by hand, and I also knew that we weren't going to buy that fancy Whizbang plucker. So I searched around online and came upon one that you can build using a power drill.

These are the supplies you'll need if you're interested:
4" PVC endcap
2 bungees
6" or 8" 3/8 bolt threaded all the way, nut, and washers (Mine was way too short but it was all I had. If it's longer, you won't whack your hand when you tighten the whole thing to the drill)

You'll need a 3/8 drill bit to drill the holes in the endcap

I drilled a 3/8 hole in the center of the cap and slipped the bolt through. The drill can grab onto the threaded end of the bolt. Put the nut on the other side and tighten it to the cap.

I drilled a bunch of holes in the side of the endcap about 2" apart from each other. Then I took the bungees and cut them into about 4" long pieces. I then sliced about a quarter of an inch off each side and left about 3/4 of an inch on the end, fully intact. This way you can slip the bungee through the holes and it will catch when it hits the larger part of the bungee. (See the photo below)

And there it is. Ready for plucking.

The next part of the process actually took longer than making the thing. I needed to strap and wire the drill to the table so that I could keep both hands on the chicken and have the drill going. I put a zip tie on the drill trigger so it was always on and I took a ratchet strap and some wire and fooled with it till it was pretty stable on the table.
At first, it was zip tied to full power. That was WAY too much. I eventually had it on at about 3/4 of full speed.

Feathers went everywhere. Wear safety glasses for sure. Feathers were in my face, all over the driveway, and on the dogs heads. I think the fancy tub pluckers keep all the feathers centrally located, but this one does the job. Here's a photo of the finished product, ready to go into the freezer or cut into wings, thighs, legs, and breasts.

Here's Katie Rose weighing the bird in at about 6 lbs.

Feel free to comment below and remember that you can click on the photos to enlarge them. Hope to have you over for chicken dinner!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Astrid Hardt kind of inspired me to write this with her recent picture and comment of Josh's firewood pile. She said he better get working on it. It kind of gave me a hot flash, and made me want to go collect some more wood. It seems as though The Hardt Family and The Coyle Family are often very similar, minus two awesome boys and a dog named Scout Racecar. I always wish we could spend our free time together, but it's probably best we live 2000 or so miles away from each other. I have a feeling Josh and I would not get the chores done we would need to be doing.

This will be the first year in the history of Katie and I, that we'll be heating our house with wood. We've had a fireplace in the past, but this is the first wood stove that we'll be relying on to keep warm through the winter. I recently asked the woman that lived in our house before us, how much wood she has gone through in a winter, and she said about 10 cords. Holy smokes, that's alotta work.

I've been going on nightly excursions about the same time when some of you are nestled into the couch with a book or TV. (Mostly because some of you are two hours ahead on the East). I've been taking the truck and my Stihl MS 260 Pro Chainsaw on a hunt for standing dead Pine and Fir trees. I understand that these two arent the best sources, but it's all we have. I'm learning all about this, and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. This is how the growing stash looks as of tonight. The pile on the right is stove length at 16 inches, the pile on left is twice that length, and the pile in the back is 4-8 foot logs. I'm thinking it's about 4 cords. What do you think? :

Cutting firewood is extremely hard work. I actually related it in my head the other night to building ski lifts for Doppelmayr. As close to slave labor as I can imagine. Every time I pull up to a dead tree right on the side of the road, it's always more work than I think, and takes way longer than I expect. But it's good work. And as sore and beat up as I may get, I truly do enjoy it. I feel I aquired that trait from my father, who has always worked hard.

I hope to update this post a few more times with photos of the ever growing pile of wood that is so important to us in keeping warm for the winter. Part of my motivation to do it now, is the fact that hunting season is rapidly approaching here in Montana (September 4th is opener). I am so psyched for my first season hunting with a bow.
My dog and one of my best buds, Pfeiffer, also known as PTD (Pfeiffer The Dog), loves to help me with all my projects on the ranch. However, his idea of helping, is hunting marmots, squirrels, chipmunks, and other critters. He recently found a mouse living in between the logs in the pile:

Here's a killer shot of the moon and Fan Mountain from the driveway. Some of you may get sick of this peak with all these shots of it. It's so dramatic, always in our face, and always looking so incredible. I hope I never get sick of it. The other night I got a look at a bunch of elk through my spotting scope, on that far right face in the sun, way up on the peak. So cool.

Here's a shot from a great ride with Katie last night up the trail behind our house. The horses are a whole other story in my life right now. I am loving the experience of being around these amazing animals. So much fun.
Life is great and we've been incredibly busy. I can't believe it's almost September already! We've been loving having all our friends come stay and play with us this summer. The fun continues next weekend when my buddy Panda comes for a day to float the Madison River. Looking forward to a day of chucking hoppers on the bank in hopes to catch some monster trout. Stay tuned and have fun.........