Archive for the ‘Wild Animals’ Category


August 24, 2010

Earlier this summer we bought some snake videos for Moira, our resident herpetologist. I bought a set of four DVDs about reptiles, but she is really only interested in the two about snakes. One day we were watching the video that features Jules Sylvester. In this video he visits various places around the world, wrangling and rescuing snakes. The kids decided we should go outside and hunt up some snakes, so we went out to the garden. Aidan was getting a bit frustrated because he couldn’t find any. As I was explaining to him that you can’t just decide to hunt snakes and then magically find them, he magically found some. They were under a big piece of cardboard that was out in the garden area.

One snake was a good sized garter snake. I wasn’t sure what the other two were, but they were not any of the four venomous species found in Illinois. So the kids “played” with them. They carried them around, took them up to their dad and showed him, and had a great time. Until Aidan decided to see if one of the snakes had fangs and put his fingers in the snake’s mouth. The snake bit him, naturally. He was pissed and crying and bleeding a tiny bit and telling me we should cut the snake’s head off. I could hear Moira crying in the distance and I thought for sure that Aidan had done something to the snake and she was upset because she loves snakes so much. Much to my surprise, Moira was also in favor of cutting off the snake’s head (it’s times like this when I know they actually do love each other!). We did not cut off the snake’s head and I explained that I didn’t think a snake deserved to have its head cut off for biting a finger that was jammed into its mouith. The snakes were released and that was that.

Fast forward to yesterday. Aidan is mowing and he excitedly hops off the mower to tell us he found a snake. Before I can say anything or get over to him, he is picking up the snake. I told him to hold it properly by its neck so it couldn’t bite. At first glance it was not anything venomous. We shouldn’t have cottonmouths this far north. We probably shouldn’t have copperheads, either, but I think we might. Anyway, it was not a copperhead and I am 98% sure I could identify a copperhead if I saw one because they are very distinctive looking. I still wasn’t sure what it was, so we put it in a big, blue plastic tub and looked it up online. This is what it looked like:

A young snake

Picture of a snake we found in our yard

A snake we found in our yard

So I have no idea what kind of snake this is. I’m pretty sure it’s not venomous because it doesn’t have a “button” at the end of its tail. I know some snakes that it is NOT, but not what it is. We took these pictures and then released it down by the creek. So, any ideas? I’ve looked at pictures of snakes that live in Illinois and I can’t figure this one out. The problem is that snakes don’t all look the same, just like people. So one picture of a snake is not enough. I really need to find a naturalist or someone nearby to help us identify snakes.

UPDATED: My best guess at this point is that this is a bull snake.

*And just in case you are wondering, yes, we have talked about safety with snakes. But sometimes kids need to learn on their own. Aidan learned that snakes do have teeth and they will bite you, especially if you put your finger in a snake’s mouth.


Making jerky

November 20, 2009

Now, before I tell you all about our jerky making adventures and how to make jerky, I have to tell you that I didn’t really do much of the work. Unless you count mixing the seasoning together and leaving it on the counter for several days until it had to be thrown out because it was disgusting, had Asian lady beetles in it, and had a dirty towel land in it (shh, I don’t think I told anyone else that part!). Other than eating the finished product, that was my only real contribution. Tim did the rest, so I must give credit where credit is due.

This post is more about our learning how to do this rather than being able to teach anyone else how to do it. Keep that in mind, too. If you want to learn how to make jerky yourself, I suggest searching some other sites or good old-fashioned trial and error, which worked for us.

First, Scott the Farmer gave us some venison to turn into jerky. He has particular cuts of meat that he prefers for jerky. That’s all I can tell you because I am not wise in the ways of cuts of meat, especially cuts of deer meat. Second, he gave us the recipe he uses. I will post that and give him credit even though I am not sure where he got the recipe from. I suspect it is not from a cookbook or anything, though.

  • Two cups soy sauce (adjust to taste)
  • 4 oz. liquid smoke
  • 2-3 T worstershire sauce
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups honey

Whisk and let sit.

That’s it. Now there are some other directions Tim found on the Internet, but basically you slice the meat (keep in mind it will get thinner while drying, of course), soak it in the sauce as long as you like. Then put it in a dehydrator or an oven. We turned the oven on to the lowest setting, which turned out to be too high, really. The first batch was in the oven overnight and it was pretty dry. It was still edible, though. The second batch Tim made used more honey and we watched it more carefully so it didn’t get too dry. It was delicious!

The best thing about jerky is that it is a great snack. It keeps well in the car, even in the summer. It’s low in carbohydrates and fat, but high in protein. The problem with store bought jerky is that it is expensive and it almost always contains MSG! Making at home gives you more control over the ingredients you use. And I’m sure there are a ton of recipes for jerky seasoning and there are many stores that sell jerky seasoning packets. I have no idea what is in those, though.

I can say that making jerky was surprisingly easy and super delicious. We have more venison in our freezer that is good for jerky, so we will make some again soon.

Edited to add this link to Making Jerky in Mother Earth News.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade

Impressions of Puerto Rico (Part II)

November 9, 2009

This post is only about our most recent visit. It’s more a list of impressions rather than anything chronological. Though I admit that I cannot resist the compulsion to lump things together into loose categories! (Edited to add a link to a Picasa album with more pictures from Puerto Rico). Just click on the picture below:

Puerto Rico Trip – October 2009
  • coquis
  • little lizards hanging around the hotel
  • a big iguana near the pools at the hotel
  • city birds at the airport
  • sand fleas
  • mosquitoes
  • Moira collecting shells from the beach
  • sand
  • ocean waves
  • the beach
  • building sand castles with moats
  • Aidan in the ocean, riding the waves
view from the balcony at the hotel

View from the balcony at the hotel

  • coffee, good coffee
  • pig on a spit
  • amarillos
  • tostones
  • chillo asado (grilled red snapper)
  • flan de queso and flan de avellanas (hazelnut flan, super YUM)
  • music
  • dancing
  • loud (for the tired kids) music in the lobby of the hotel
  • women and little girls dressed up to dance to the music
  • painting nails with Moira
  • Barbies
  • Tom speaking Spanish (totally rockin’ the language, by the way!)
  • gifts from Eugenio, Tom’s step-cousin
  • dreaming often, of chickens and cats and especially Big Swirly
  • airplanes taking off
  • Isla Verde
  • Moira’s freckles
  • Aidan going down a small, but fast, water slide
  • refinery fire we could see from the plane
  • Asian lady beetles and possible ecological disaster?
  • Internet withdrawal
  • crazy driving, but everyone drives the same way so it works
  • phone calls at 6AM from the lady, Nana, staying with Tom’s dad at the hospital
  • hospital
  • security and police at the hospital
  • Tom’s dad looking like a pirate
  • relaxed
  • tired
  • worried
  • loving watching the kids in the ocean
  • laughing in the pool
  • speaking Spanish, ever so poorly (but I did it, dammit!)

Letter to a coyote

October 1, 2009

Dear Coyote,

Do not mess with a woman with PMS and a gun, even if it is a bb gun. Just some advice from a cranky mama who had a bad day. Please pass this on to any other predators of chickens and/or cats.

Cranky Mama


September 28, 2009

We heard coyotes Sunday morning. When I say we, I mean I heard them, Tim heard them, and so did my mom. They sounded quite close to the house. It was around 4:30 in the morning and that might be why Mo woke up, too. She thought she heard dogs and said she wondered where the owners were. I told her I didn’t think they were dogs. Anyway, the two of us finally went back to sleep, but I kept hearing some kind of scratching going on by the coops. When I looked for tracks today, I didn’t see any by the coop so maybe I was hearing things. I did, however, see something walking around on the sidewalk between the house and garage. I think that was a possum. I also heard something step on a snapper (not the fish, but the tiny bags of gunpowder that you throw on the sidewalk so they pop). I hope the noise scared it away!

The other morning I went out to let the chickens out and there was a raccoon on the ground, dying. It was not dead, it was dying. I say this because I told Tom it was dying, but he didn’t seem to understand. He was in the office telling me what to do and I told him he had to come see it before he started telling me what to do with it. So then he comes down, looks at it, and says, “Oh, it’s not dead.” Yes, I said dying, not dead. So anyway Tim ended up taking care of it. I didn’t hear the whole story, but he used a shovel and moved it somewhere else to let it die, so it wouldn’t die near the house. Apparently he somehow put it out of its misery, which is not something I could easily have done.

About two weeks ago we lost a hen to a coyote. Or most likely to a coyote. Our electrician was working on some outlets in the office (did I ever describe Tom’s super cool office with a view?) and said he saw a wolf by the chickens. However, we don’t have wolves in this part of Illinois, but we have coyotes galore. So most likely it was a coyote, in the middle of the day, coming for a snack. So far they haven’t been back, but the chickens do make a lot of noise if they see something. It almost sounds like the noise they make when laying an egg except much louder and they are all making the noise at once. That was what they were doing when the electrician mentioned the “wolf.” They did it again one morning, but were safely in their coop so i did not go check anything out. And we’ve heard that noise a few other times and gone out and not seen anything. I’m sure they saw something, though. Perhaps their squawking scared off whatever it was.

We also seem to have wild turkeys nearby. We hear them around dusk and I can only assume they are making noises and roosting at that time of night. I wonder if that is what the chickens saw one morning? I can imagine they’d be scared of a wild turkey. Shoot, they are scared of my mother-in-law’s Yorkshire terrier. Speaking of critters I had best go see what the kids are up to. Plus, it is almost time to get the chickens in to keep them safe from critters.

What I’ve learned about snakes

September 23, 2009

When we moved to the country, I expected to learn a lot about chickens and gardening, but not snakes. Thanks to Moira and her interest in snakes and all the snakes we’ve found around the farm, we’ve learned a lot. So what have we learned?

I’ve learned that there are indeed venomous* snakes in Illinois and throughout the country. Most people probably think of diamondback rattlesnakes when they think of venomous snakes in the United States. I know that was what first came to my mind. However, there are many different kinds of rattlesnakes and they are found in many parts of the country. For instance, there are timber rattlesnakes, pygmy rattlesnakes, and the eastern and western massasauga rattlesnakes. According to the Institute for Natural Resource Sustainability’s (INRS) Illinois site both timber and massasauga rattlesnakes are found in Illinois, with only the timber rattlesnake in my county.

There are two other venomous snakes in Illinois: the copperhead snake and the cottonmouth. Farmer Clayton claimed to have found a copperhead, but I find myself doubting that it was a copperhead for two reasons. One, it seems to me that someone who believes the only good snake is a dead snake is not likely to learn about them and learn how to identify them. Two, the INRS and this article do not have data about copperheads being in my county. That doesn’t mean they definitely are not in my county, just that it is unlikely. Cottonmouths are in Illinois, but only the very southern tip of Illinois. We went to a talk by a herpetologist and he said that many people will claim to have seen a cottonmouth, also called a water moccasin, but many people think that any snake found in the water is a water moccasin.

I have also learned that many snakes have very descriptive names. For example, copperheads have a coppery head and cottonmouth snakes have a white mouth. The black mamba, which is only found in parts of Africa, is named for its black mouth, though apparently its skin also turns black as it gets older. This brings me to the hognose snake, which seems to be what we have found most often in our yard. It is so named because the tip of its snout curves up a bit.

As I said, it seems that this is the kind of snake we’ve found a few times. Some commenters suggested the hognose when I asked for help identifying snakes. In fact, the kids found another snake the other day. I’m sorry to say it was squashed, probably by the bike.

Baby western hognose snake

Baby western hognose snake

The hognose uses its snout to dig around in the dirt and sand. It primarily eats toads and frogs, but will also eat rodents and insects. I read somewhere that it will act like a cobra and sit up and act like it will spit. Of course, I can’t find that linkn again, so maybe I am remembering it incorrectly. The hognose can also play dead, as evidenced in this cool video:

I’ve also learned that many snakes are threatened or endangered. Most snakes eat mice, rats, and other rodents. When you live on a farm, this is a good thing! Between the cats, owls, chickens, and snakes we have not seen any living mice. We won’t be killing any snakes on this farm, unless they are threatening us. Even if we saw a timber rattlesnake or copperhead, we would probably try to relocate it or find someone else who could relocate it. Copperheads are generally not that aggressive and mostly hunt at night, so they shouldn’t pose a problem, especially if they aren’t even supposed to be in my county. It would really be great if everyone learned a little bit about snakes, just so they know how useful they are and how endangered some are. Somehow it seems that animal conservationists focus on cute, furry mammals. Perhaps they get more money that way?

*Apparently venomous is the correct word for snakes, as opposed to poisonous.

Also, I’ve made a snake page that includes links to all the posts I’ve written, as well as really useful links.

Snakes – some background

September 19, 2009

Recently I posted a picture of a snake that Tim had accidentally run over with the mower. In this post I asked for help identifying the snake. I received some really helpful comments, but also heard from one angry commenter. The person was angry because he/she thought that we had deliberately killed the snake. The issue was resolved, but I would still like to give a little background into the snakes on our farm, as well as sharing what I have learned about snakes in the process. I want to do this both to clarify my stance and to possibly educate others about the benefits of snakes.

First, I have to confess that I never thought about snakes in Illinois before we moved. I knew there were harmless garter snakes here, but I honestly thought that when we left Arizona we left snakes and coyotes behind. How wrong I was! I’ve written about the snake Aidan found and in that post talked a little about the snake that Farmer Clayton found. Farmer Clayton’s opinion was is, “the only good snake is a dead snake.” I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I was nervous about the possibility of poisonous snakes being in our yard, especially with barefoot country kids running around.

A couple of days after Farmer Clayton found the snake under the stump, Scott the Farmer asked me if we wanted to kill snakes. He said he usually just moves them. At that point I didn’t know what to think or to say. I knew that I didn’t want to be worried about poisonous snakes, but I’m not really into killing things just to kill them (except maybe ticks). Plus, I really trust Scott the Farmer and I figured he knew more about snakes than I did, since I barely knew anything at the time. I didn’t really answer Scott the Farmer and I didn’t think much about snakes for a while.

Then a couple weeks later, Aidan found another snake. That’s when I wrote the post Aidan finds a snake. Tim caught the snake and gave it to Scott the Farmer to relocate it. We thought that one was a copperhead, but now I doubt that it was. We’ve seen other snakes, too, such as garter snakes and some kind of silvery snake near the garden. One of the silvery looking snakes got in the chicken coop once. Needless to say, that didn’t end well for the snake.

Anyway, fast forward a month or two and we went to the local library to see the Snakeman, aka Gary Liesen, of Quincy, Illinois. I learned a lot about snakes that day, and more importantly, so did Moira, who was fascinated by them! She kept “going to the bathroom” because in order to get to the bathroom, she had to climb under the table where the snakes were (some preserved in bottles). It was really cute. A few weeks later we found a snake book at the library. It’s for kindergarteners and has a few words, plus pictures and labels at the end. Moira loves that book. She loves it so much that when we were in Phoenix and she wasn’t feeling well, she would plead for me to read that book to her. In fact, it’s way overdue and we should probably just buy a new one to replace the library’s copy.

Anyway, that book has been terrific. We know what a lot of snakes look like now, plus it inspired us to look up more information about snakes. We’ve read and watched videos about flying snakes, anacondas, boomslangs, sidewinders, and more. What we’ve learned in the process is another post entirely, but suffice it to say that my initial worry is pretty much unfounded and we definitely will not be killing snakes on this farm, unless we are in imminent danger. I will write more about snakes, but in the meantime I leave you with this really cool video about flying snakes (which are not found in Illinois in case you were wondering!).

Is there a herpetologist in the house?

August 15, 2009

This is the snake Tim ran over with the mower a few weeks ago. It’s a little squashed, but it looks very similar to a snake Aidan found.


After looking through a snake book we got at the library (Moira is fascinated by snakes and knows most of them in the book), I have decided that these pictures are not of Copperheads, as we thought before. Copperheads are called that because they actually have a solid, coppery looking head. Both of these snakes we have found have markings on their heads and the banding doesn’t look quite right. I’m no expert, though. I cannot figure out what kind of snakes these are. I don’t think they are timber rattlesnakes. They could be milk snakes, corn snakes, or prairie kingsnakes, but I am not sure. Most milk snakes are very colorful, but I saw a few pictures that had similar colorings to the ones we’ve seen.

According to this site, the prairie kingsnake is not in my county, nor is the timber rattlesnake, the copperhead, or the milk snake. I suspect this site is a bit out of date.  Anyway, at least it isn’t a copperhead because they are dangerous. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to post them in the comments.

First egg

July 28, 2009

I found the first egg today. I am pretty sure it is the first one ever, but not 100% sure. I know that Lula Mae has been making noises for over a week now and that today she was sitting/squatting in the accidental garden, right next to the house. I went out to see what was up and possibly interrupted the egg laying process (is that possible to interrupt it in the same way that a woman’s labor can be interrupted by stress or danger?). All three chickens, including Chicken Joe the rooster, were making lots of noise. That was why I went out to see what was going on. I guess it was as big a deal to them as it was to me.

We also worked in the garden a bit today and picked a couple of tomatoes. One was eaten by the kiddos and one by the chickens when we left it unguarded. Silly chickens! Anyway, more tomatoes are turning red so that is great news. The sugar snap peas seem to be dying off int he heat, which I think is normal. The carrots are finally doing well, but Moira wants to pick one every time we go to the garden, so we don’t really have any to use in meals. I need to plant more carrots for fall and then remember to plant more next spring. The winter squash are taking over the area between the tilled area and the raised beds. I guess they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to spread into the tilled area? Silly squash!

I will post some pictures tomorrow, as soon as I get them off of my camera. I also have a picture of a dead, half-eaten copperhead snake that Tim ran over with the mower. We left it out and something ate some of it last night. It’s a lovely picture and I know everyone will surely tune in to see it once it is posted. Right?

Wildings and a visitor

June 20, 2009

You may have noticed that I find it hard to write a short post. So here goes (and yes, I scheduled this to post while I’m gone):

We have mulberries and gooseberries growing. So far, I’ve found two smallish mulberry trees and two big ones.





One day Moira said she saw a turtle. Of course, no one believed her right away (when will we learn to listen to the kids even when they say things that sound crazy?). Well, we did have a turtle in the backyard. Tim took these two pictures, by the way.

Turtle that visited our yard

Turtle that visited our yard

Top of turtle

Top of turtle

But just to show that I can, on occasion, take a good picture: