Fermenting Fruit and Animals

Every year a certain amount of fruit falls from our trees and ends up rotting on the ground. For some people, that would be the end of the story. A few others might clean up the resulting mess. However, we choose to leave it in place. The fruit actually ferments and produces alcohol. Even through many people don’t realize it, fermentation is a natural process that would happen quite easily without anyone’s help. In fact, some of the best tasting foods, such as sauerkraut, are naturally fermented (most sauerkraut you buy in the store isn’t naturally fermented and you’d be able to taste the different readily if it were).

It turns out that the animals in the area enjoy imbibing in a little fermented fruit. Our experience isn’t uncommon either—it happens all over the world. There is never enough fruit left over to make the animals terribly drunk (as happened recently to a moose in Sweden). Most of the time they appear to get a bit happy and go on their way. Until the other day, all I had ever seen eating the fruit were the rabbits and deer in the area. So, it surprised me a little to see our laying hens swaying back and forth on their way to the coop. It seems that they also enjoyed the fermented pears lying on the ground.

All of the fruit we grow (apples, pears, plums, cherries, and grapes) will ferment given time. You might wonder how the fermentation takes place. The easiest way to see the start of fermentation is to look at unwashed grapes, especially wild grapes. If you look carefully, it appears that they’re covered with dust. That’s not actually dust, it’s wild yeast. When the fruit is ripe enough and the yeast is able to breach the skin, fermentation begins.

If it’s so easy to create alcohol from natural sources, you might wonder what all the hubbub is about in buying yeast. Different yeast have different properties. When you rely on a wild yeast, you get varying results. Cultured yeast has known properties, so it works better when making bread or wine. The results are repeatable. In addition, using a cultured yeast makes it easier to stop the natural conclusion of the fermentation process, which is always some type of vinegar-like substance (more specifically, lactic acid).

At issue here is how much responsibility a landowner has to nature when it comes to fermented fruit. Because we pick the vast majority of our fruit, the animals in our area get a little happy and that’s about the extent of what happens. When you leave full trees of fruit to rot though, it could become a problem for the wildlife in your area, such as that moose in Sweden. If you can’t pick your fruit for whatever reason, try to find someone who will. Otherwise, you might find yourself trying to correct the errant judgements made by the wildlife in your area when it gets drunk. Let me know your thoughts about fermentation and animals at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Animal Control

Self-sufficiency involves a certain level of animal control no matter where you live. A weasel, raccoon, or opossum (amongst others) can make short work of your meat chickens, laying hens, or rabbits. Unfortunately, literature on animal control is lacking. Even when you review many self-sufficiency books, it’s as if the authors purposely avoid the topic. When you do find information on the topic, it’s often biased or outright incorrect. Our experiences when we first moved here were frustrating in the best of times because we lacked animal control experience. When the deer weren’t eating our trees, the raccoons were feasting on our chickens.

We do have some significant animal control issues at times because we live next to a relatively big wooded area. Even though the woods look empty quite a bit of the time, there are animals galore in it. Of course, we have many of the same animals that appear in city parks, such as squirrels. Except for chewing holes in our bird house and occasionally through the siding on our home, squirrels present few problems. However, there are other animals that are much harder to control and they can cause serious damage at times.

Many sources recommend live trapping animals and moving them somewhere else, which sounds like a fine idea until you consider the repercussions of such a decision. Of course, there are the consequences for the animal, who has now been made homeless and may be in some other animal’s territory. In some cases, moving the animal is a death sentence at the hands of a larger member of the same species who will simply do away with the interloper. The consequences for someone like me are also unpleasant because your problem is now my problem. In short, live trapping and moving an animal seldom solves the problem unless you can be certain that the animal will end up in a friendly environment far enough from humans not to cause trouble.

Generally, we try to shoo animals away when we can. If you make the animal feel unwelcome enough, it’ll go somewhere else. Some animals will simply ignore you. Skunks are an obvious example and personally, I stay as far away from them as possible (not that we’ve ever had a serious problem with skunks, except for the time our dog got sprayed by one). Opossums are generally inclined to ignore humans as well. However, a few nips from a dog generally convinces them to go in some other direction.

Sometimes shooing doesn’t work, so then we try barriers—either physical or scent. A fence around young trees or blueberry bushes will generally keep deer away. However, rabbits, mice, voles, rats, and other animals will simply burrow under the fence to get at the delicious young plants unless you bury the fence about foot or so deep in the soil. Scents also have a powerful effect on animals, but you must reapply them regularly, especially after a rain. Soap does work for deer, while human or other barrier scents work for rabbits much of the time.

Passive barriers might not work in all cases, so then you have to resort to active barriers. To get our grapes to grow, we actually stationed a dog next to the young plants one season. It was an extreme sort of barrier, but the dog seemed to enjoy the change in duty and the grapes have now grown so that none of the local animals have much interest in them. We always station a dog next to our chicken tractors because racoons and weasels aren’t easily dissuaded from enjoying a chicken dinner. Even with a dog stations next to the cages, you need a strong cage to avoid predation by hawks and other larger predators.

Most of our efforts at animal control involve deterrence of some kind. We’ll keep experimenting until we find something that that animal doesn’t like. Unfortunately, sometimes there is nothing else to do but to get rid of the problem by killing the problem animal. It’s always our last option and we do it with a great deal of remorse. The other day I encountered a situation where an opossum had chewed through our rabbit cage, partially eaten the rabbit inside, and was busily working at getting to the rabbit in the next cage. (The same opossum had eaten some of our eggs the day before, so it was a repeat offender.) Shooing the opossum didn’t work and it didn’t seem to want to play dead either (a state in which you can move the opossum out of harm’s way). So, I ended up killing it. We use the fastest, most humane method possible. I offered the opossum to our local fox at her den in the woods (wasting anything is against my personal beliefs).

Animal control requires experimentation and a good deal of thought. The animals aren’t pests; they’re simply trying to earn a living in the only way they know how. Deterrence is always preferable to killing, but sometimes you do need to kill an animal because you have no other choice. Let me know your thoughts on animal control at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Gift Deer

Our friends are amazing! They see something we might need or want and give it to us if they have it to give. Yes, we reciprocate when we can, but it isn’t as if anyone is keeping score. So, it wasn’t completely unexpected on Saturday when one of the nicest doe deer we’ve seen in a long time landed on our doorstep. However, such a gift is always appreciated, especially considering we were almost out of venison. Our freezer is now packed to overflowing thanks to our friend’s generosity.

Of course, the deer was still on the hoof, so I as soon as I purchased some ice to cool the meat as quickly as possible, I got out my knife and skinned it. I carefully removed the hide and set it aside. Later in the day, I took it to town to give to the local sportsman’s club. They collect the hides and sell them for processing. One good turn deserves another.

After skinning, I cut the meat into pieces and put them in ice water to cool. Rebecca and I set up the meat grinder and broke out the meat saw next. After that, I brought in one piece at a time. Rebecca washed it and then I started figuring out how to process each piece. Some of the meat ended up chopped into chunks for stew, some was ground into burger, we saved the tenderloins to make tenderloin medallions for Christmas, and the ribs will taste dandy barbecued this next spring. Overall, we received 63 pounds of some incredibly nice venison.

Not everyone would view a deer left on their doorstep as a gift. After all, it was a lot of work processing the deer. However, for us, it was pure heaven. We’ll eat well this winter because someone decided to be generous with us.

My point is that the unexpected gift given out of sheer cheerfulness is the best gift of all. My friends knew they would receive nothing more than our thanks for their effort, yet they gave us the deer anyway. Sometime I’ll give them something they need or want. Friendships should work that way, but I must admit that they seldom do. All too often the question beneath the surface seems to be, “What’s in it for me?”

When was the last time you did something for someone simply because it gave you pleasure to do so? I treasure each of these moments and I know that they only make my friendships stronger. Do something nice for someone today! Do it because you want to do it and without any expectation of anything in return. I think you’ll agree with me that the grin you wear the rest of the day truly is worth the effort .