Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Year of the Rat in the Possum Trap

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Becky is going to write a proper Year of the Rat post, but I thought I’d get things off to good start with this post.

I heard our garage door move a little. I thought it was the wind. Then I heard a can fall over in the garage. Then plastic bag noise.

“What the !!!!” I mumbled as I grabbed my Maglite.

At first, I was thinking, “possum.” It was making far too much noise to be a mouse.

I opened the door that leads to the garage and peered in with my light.

A rat the size of a small cat looked back at me at eye level.

Before my interruption, it had been scaling the exposed wood of the house framing in the garage. Probably looking for a nice, cozy place to make a nest. It lept down onto the floor and scurried under some debris we have in the garage.

I closed the door.

I went over a few options. I looked at the mouse traps that I had handy. HAHAHA No way. Poison… Would take too long, and then the creature would manage to die inside a wall, or some similarly bad place. I gazed at the gun safe for a few moments—as I heard glass breaking in the garage. I thought, if I use the .22, I will manage to shoot a hole in the roof and the rat will somehow survive. No guns.

I opened the door again to see what the rat broke. It was a small jar of paint. There were rat paw prints on the garage floor now. I closed the door again.

“Ok, think!”

Shops in town were long closed. I couldn’t go buy a rat trap.

As I was thinking about how incredibly large the rat was, I chuckled about the possum guess not being too far off; and that’s when I got the idea to try my possum trap.

I loaded up the trigger arm of the Timms possum trap with an apple core and molded some cheese around it at well. I noticed that my outside bait station was empty, so the rat obviously liked the blue rat poison pellets. I flicked a couple of those on the bottom for good measure. (It was probably busily transferring all of those pellets to its new nest in the garage somewhere for the winter.) I drew back the cord on the trap and the kill arm locked into place, the strong springs resonating briefly. I set a large container of apple cider vinegar on top of the trap, to hold it in place.

In the morning, this is what I found:

Rattus giganticus norvegicus

You might be able to make out the paint on its paws and tail.

NOTE: I included the Timms trap in the picture to provide a frame of reference for the size of the rat. Becky gently reminded me that many readers (outside of New Zealand) won’t know how large a Timms trap is. Woops. The Timms trap is 25.5cm (10″) long by 16.5cm (6.5″) wide.

Wild Pig

Friday, February 1st, 2008


I apologize for taking so long to write this post. Even now, it’s not complete. I’m going to write the first two parts, and Becky is going to write the third.

The Far North of New Zealand is paradise for wild pigs. I have been here for nearly two years, but I only recently saw my first wild pig (alive). We have, however, seen evidence of pigs on our property, almost continuously. They root up the cow paddocks, bush areas and anywhere else that they might be able to find a feed.

So, I never actually saw one… Until, one evening, I was on my way to milk Coco when I happened to look up into one of our other paddocks. Rooting around, near a tree, was a good-sized, wild pig.

I dropped my milking buckets and quickly made for the house. I was so excited that I was a little bit out of my head.

I found Becky and said, “There’s a wild pig up in the paddock!”

“A wild pig!?” she asked, surprised.

“Should I shoot it?” I asked.

“Yes! Yes! Shoot it!” she snapped, “I want the blood and the lard, if it is any good!” Owen sucked away at her bosom, oblivious to the excitement.

With that, I unlocked the gun safe and removed our brand new Remington 870 Express Magnum 12 gauge pump shotgun. (Thank you, Farmlet and Cryptogon contributors.) I loaded the weapon with OO Buckshot. With four rounds in the magazine tube and one chambered, I was off to hunt the pig.

I stayed low and moved up the side of an embankment, so the pig couldn’t see me coming. I tried to move as quietly as possible. If I stood up a bit, I could just make out the pig through the tall grass.

When I was within about 15 metres, I tried to do a little review of what was about to happen. It was pretty simple, really, but I’d never done this before.

“Ok. I’m going to spring up into a firing position, aim for the head and pull the trigger.”

Wild pig, shot dead in our cow paddock with the legendary Remington 870

I have never shot an animal of this size before. Although I’d been shooting shotguns since I was about eight-years-old, it was always clays, paper targets, etc. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that there was strong potential for me to make a serious mess of the meat with this weapon and the selected load. That was the only thing I was really sure about.

With that, I stood up to see what I could see, and shouldered my weapon.

The pig that I was stalking was right before me, exactly where I expected it to be. “It” was a large sow. But that’s not all I saw. Up and to the left was another big sow! And in the middle were something like six piglets, gorging themselves on roots and grubs in the freshly turned over soil.

The sow I was after hadn’t seen me yet—neither did the other sow, or the piglets. For a couple of fractions of a second, I considered my options.

From a conservation perspective, the more wild pigs that are killed, the better. (See: Economic and Environmental Risks from Feral Pigs in Northland.) Pigs are an introduced species and they wreak havoc on the native habitat. I have seen the damage that they (the pigs, not people, ahem!) do in native bush areas and it is unbelievable. It looks like a maniac with a bulldozer cleared the surface of all plant life. (Again, I’m talking about pigs, not people, ahem!) Our paddocks are routinely turned over by pigs… Our neighbors up the road, who have spent twenty years regenerating native bush on their land, mercilessly slaughter wild pigs, and get pig hunters in to get the more elusive ones. Recently, there was a boar on the property with an estimated weight of 150 pounds. Our neighbors have seen him, but nobody has been able to catch or kill the creature. They actually built a macro scale pig trap, which looks like a good sized horse corral, to try to catch him. They planned to place a succulent, young sow in there with a bunch of stinky dead possums in an attempt to lure hogzilla in there. But with all the attempts to capture or kill this boar, he apparently moved on to more hospitable tramping grounds.

But let’s keep our priorities straight: I came up here to get one pig. I decided to take the sow that I had my eye on all along, and then I would try to get the other sow. After that, I’d think about what to do about the piglets.

That was about the time that the sow I was gunning for lifted her head and looked right at me. I had her dead to rights, I placed the bead on her forehead. For an instant, I paused. The thoughts were a mixture of:

If I shoot her head-on, I’m going to make a mess of the meat.

I don’t want to shoot her, because, I actually think pigs are pretty cool, even though they wreak havoc on the place.

Pull the trigger, before you blow it and they all get away.

BOOOOOOOOM! went the roar of my cannon.

The pig dropped to the ground.

I cycled the pump action and swung the weapon toward the other sow. She was off like a flash, back into the bush block. I got nothing like a clean shot so I didn’t fire. I had no idea how fast a wild pig could move!


They were slipping away into the bush, after the other sow. Maybe I could have shot some of them, maybe not, but I didn’t pull the trigger.

I walked to within a few metres of the sow that I just shot. She was down, mortally wounded, but not dead. In all of the excitement, I didn’t take my hunting knife with me! The custom would be to stab the pig in the heart to finish it off, and drain the blood. Instead, I aimed the weapon at her head and fired.

That was it. I killed my first wild pig.

I loaded another round and went off to chase the rest of the mob. Of course, they were long gone.

I returned to my quarry. By that time, Becky was into her gumboots and headed up to see me. She had Owen in a pouch and she carried a big knife and a steel pot in which she wanted me to collect some blood so she could make blood pudding.

“Wow,” I thought to myself, standing in the pasture with my wife, my baby boy, my shotgun and a dead pig at our feet, “We are a long, long way from Irvine, California.”

But there was no time for dawdling. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and I had to butcher this pig. Somehow…

Part 2: Butchering the Pig

My only experience with butchering a pig involved watching one of Becky’s cousins do it once. In other words, I had an idea of what to do, but it was going to be really ugly; even uglier than it would be under the best of conditions. Becky suggested calling her cousin, Paul, to see if he could help me butcher this pig. That sounded like an excellent idea to me!

I proceeded as if Paul wouldn’t be able to help, since he’s very busy on his farm (not a farmlet, but a high stakes dairy farm). I took a rope and managed to get the pig strung up in a tree, head pointed down. Becky wanted the blood, so I was going to try to get some blood.

I set the metal bucket underneath the pig’s head and then I slit the pig’s throat. Some blood gushed into the bucket, but, unfortunately, some of whatever the pig had been eating when I shot it fell out of its mouth into the bucket with the blood. Woops. Ok. That didn’t go so well.

Before getting into the main job, I walked down to the house to see if Paul would be able to help me. Becky said he would help and that I should go over right away.

I managed to load the pig onto the back of our ute and then I drove over to Paul and Claire’s farm.

I pulled up and Paul looked at the pig.

“That’s a good sized pig,” he said, approvingly. We guessed the weight to be around 75 pounds.

We decided to go with the hot water method of taking the hair off the pig. Paul had an old bathtub especially for this job. We filled the bathtub about halfway with hot water. Then, Paul grabbed one side, I grabbed the other and into the bath went the pig.

Hot water bath to loosen the pig’s thick hair

The hot water makes it easier to take the hair off the pig, but you don’t want to actually start cooking the meat. After about a couple of minutes of sloshing the filthy, bloody carcass around in the water, we set about taking the hair off with our knives.

Use the blade to pull the hair out, rather than cut it

With the hair mostly off, Paul began to gut the pig. He went in from the back and worked toward the front. This is where the real expertise comes in handy. I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to try to write about this part because I’m sure there are much better materials to read about this aspect of the job than what I could possibly express here. In summary, everything back from the heart and lungs came out in one mass. Then the other bits. Decapitation followed. (See: Living Green Farm’s excellent pig slaughtering post as well as, Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game by John J. Mettler.

Next, we butchered the meat into different cuts. Paul directed my blade for one of the hind roasts, but, for the record, he was the primary butcher. Helpful Tip: Make sure you have a saw handy to take the ribs off the backbone, should you ever need to do this.

Major surgery

Here’s what we were left with.

Roasts, chops and bits

* Phew * Wipe sweaty brow.

We bagged it all up and I took it home. Becky found room in the freezer for all of it.

Thanks, Paul and Claire, for all of your help, and for taking the pictures for this part of the story.

Part 3: Preparing the Feast

Kevin (Beloved Husband and Intrepid Hunter of Wild Pig) arrived home from my cousin Paul’s place very late on the night of that eventful day when he shot his first wild pig. He looked tired and grubby. He arrived carrying some dodgy-looking bags of meat product for me to fit into the freezer. Some of the bags seemed to be leaking on the kitchen floor. Something was smelling a bit gamey and musky. I was so pleased to see Kevin. I rushed over to give him a big kiss. “Don’t touch me. I stink!” he warned. On closer inspection, I decided not to argue with him.

The condition of the pork from Kevin’s pig was bound to be less than ideal for a couple of reasons:

* He couldn’t get exactly the angle he wanted, so there was a bit of shot in the meat.

* He didn’t have a knife with him to bleed the animal quickly after shooting it.

* We don’t have a suitable spot to hang the meat before butchering it.

Add to this the fact that wild pork is generally kinda hairy and gamey (Well, this is what I’ve been told by people who know and love it!!). As drips of wild pork blood leaked onto the kitchen floor and the musky essence of wild pig wafted through the house, I probed the limits of my optimistic imagination to envision the contents of the plastic bags as a tasty wild pork roast feast. It wasn’t easy!

“Oh god,” said Kevin, “What a mess. Do you think we’ll be able to eat it? Did Paul and Claire and I do all that for nothing?”

I looked up at my tired, smelly husband and smiled as confidently as I could: “Just you wait. It’ll be delicious. This will all seem worthwhile when we’re sitting down to a fine meal of wild pork.” I hoped my words would turn out to be true!

While Kevin was out at Paul’s place butchering the pig, I was busy at home. Once I’d put Owen to bed for the night, I got on the internet to do some research.

Blood Pudding? This was off the menu already, since Kevin hadn’t been able to bleed the pig cleanly. For the record, we couldn’t have made it anyway. You need to have all the other ingredients prepared in advance so that you can mix in the blood quickly before it congeals. I still want to try this when we home-kill our own beef, since blood is one of the best sources of vitamin D you can get. And I know blood pudding sounds a bit crusty to some, but it’s fine food to those who like it.

Lard? No way! Not from a wild pig. They are lean animals, quite different from plump domestic pork! The fat they do have is soft, gelatinous and undesirable.

I found lots of good information about soaking, marinating and cooking wild pork and other game — ways to make it less gamey and smelly, more tender etc.

This is what we did to prepare our wild pork feast:

1. Kevin cleaned a roast and made sure it had no shot left in it. He also skinned it, as it still looked pretty hairy.

Still hairy… Skinning did the trick

2. We soaked it overnight in milk (as per Paul’s suggestion) — in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the fridge.

3. We rinsed the roast and marinated it for 24 hours in this “Tangy Beef or Pork Marinade” . Kevin perked up when he smelled the marinade. “This stuff could make an old boot taste good,” he declared. I wasn’t sure about the old boot, but I was praying the marinade would have a good effect on our wild pork.

4. We baked the roast low and slow for about three hours. As it cooked, we basted it with leftover marinade mixed with extra maple syrup. A delicious, rich, meaty smell filled the house.

When my parents arrived for dinner, we served the roast along with roast garden vegetables and a sauce made by boiling down the leftover glaze and marinade. The meat was tender and full of flavour. Thanks to Kevin, we were all happy — eating a delicious meal in the best of company!

Wild pork feast

What happened to the rest of the meat?

* We gave a lot of it to a couple of kind neighbours who just love wild pork. One of them was horrified to hear that we’d skinned, soaked and marinated it. Apparently, he likes his pork boiled up with watercress — hair and all. . . but I suspect he has a stronger stomach than we do!

* We invited my parents to dinner again for another delicious roast, cooked in the same style as the first.

* I tried a slow-cooker experiment with some of the “chops and bits.” We skinned the meat and soaked it overnight in milk, as before. I assumed that we wouldn’t need to use a marinade if we were currying the meat in the slow cooker. I added lots of spices and yummy ingredients. Sadly, I must report that the result was repulsive! And the whole house smelt yucky for the duration of the cooking. Just as well we hadn’t invited my parents over to share this little number!

Will we be eating wild pork again in the foreseeable future? Maybe so. Kevin has seen signs that some of those wild piglets may still be in the area, and one of our neighbours is very keen to help with the butchering (and eating!) if Kevin can track one down and get a clean shot at it.

Creatures on the Farmlet: Live Ferments, Quail, Possum, Rattus Fattus

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The batch of sauerkraut made from the first of our red cabbages turned out well, and I’ve now got a second batch ripening in the kitchen. It is fun to make lacto-fermented condiments from our own vegetables. This ancient and ingenious method of food preservation actually increases the nutritional value of the vegetables, and the red cabbage sauerkraut comes out a fabulous purple-pink colour. These days, our kitchen sports a lineup of live ferments on the bench. As well as the fermented cabbage, we are making kefir and Caspian Sea yoghurt out of fresh milk from our darling Coco, and water kefir using lemons from the garden. A kombucha “mushroom” grows happily in the dark of a cupboard, producing a delicious drink for us. We enjoy having all these creatures living in our kitchen and sharing our food with us. I like to call them my pets.

Purple cabbage pet

Just outside the kitchen window are some more creatures with whom we are less happy to share our food. For the last few weeks, varmints have been raiding our lemon tree, and eating the skin off a whole lot of lemons. We suspect possums, and Kevin has been lurking around at night with the rifle hoping to catch them in the act. So far, no luck. These creatures are mighty stealthy. Kevin also set the possum trap under the tree. To our annoyance, the critters have taken little interest in the trap — apart from using it as a step ladder for reaching more lemons. Finally, a couple of nights ago, Kevin went out and saw the dead body of what he thought was a small possum in the trap. On closer inspection, he found he’d caught no possum, but a very plump and healthy rat: Rattus Fattus. We hoped this might be the end of our problems with the lemons, but the raiding continues (whether by rats, possums, or both) despite the presence of traps and continued forays with the rifle. Very frustrating! We had no such trouble last year.

Other creature trouble involves our newly planted crops of spring peas. We looked out the window one day to see that the marrowfat peas had been almost totally defoliated. I suspected snails, and was out in the garden in the rain that very night, trying to hunt down the culprits. Our search yielded surprisingly few slugs and snails, and we retired for the night feeling rather perplexed. We didn’t have to wait long to gain a better understanding of the situations. Looking out the window yesterday morning, we saw a whole family of fat little brown quail flocking through the garden beds, pecking and nibbling at the tender leaves of our greenfeast peas. We love watching these round little birds playing in the garden, but they are not welcome to trash our whole pea crops. After scheming for a while about inviting my parents’ cat out here for a vacation, or making quail casserole, we resolved to make row covers out of some salvaged marix cloth that we have stashed away in the garage. That way, we hope to continue sharing the garden with our little quail friends while protecting the young pea seedlings from their ravages. The peas look very sad and pathetic, and we hope they will recover from the attack!

AS WE GO TO PRESS: Kevin here. A little while ago, Becky called out and said that she heard a possum. I grabbed the .22 rifle and went outside. Locked and loaded, I scanned the trees with my flashlight. Maybe 20 metres from our kitchen window, there he was: Possum, destroyer of worlds, in a tall eucalyptus tree. He let out his call/bark for good measure.

“Tonight, you die,” I replied.

He won’t be getting any more of our lemons.

Creatures in the Long Grass

Friday, November 10th, 2006

Our front paddocks haven’t been grazed for a long time, and have become pretty overgrown. When we put our cows in one of the paddocks a couple of days ago, the grass was nearly over their heads! Fortunately, the cows take their job of mowing down the grass very seriously. We need to get the grass in those front paddocks under control and include them in the regular grazing cycle. Since the cows get most nutrition from the new growing tips of the grass, and don’t do so well on old rank growth, it’s better to graze an area reasonably regularly and not let the grass get so long.

Hungry heifer, Rosy

Before we could put the animals in the front paddocks, we had to pull away ropes of kikuyu grass that had grown over the electric fence. As I took a step forward to tug on an especially big rope of grass, something caught my gaze — something small and green and wonderful. There, on a big lush leaf sat a little green frog. I called Kevin, and we spent a good while admiring this fine creature. We have a stream and several boggy areas on the Farmlet, which should be good frog habitats, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen a frog here. We hope we’ll see more as time goes on. Since we’ve fenced the cows out of the stream area now, it should become an increasingly attractive wildlife habitat.

Green and Golden Bell Frog