Something new for dinner

My explorations into Namibian cuisine have taken another step.  You may not want to hear about it, but hey, if you read my oryx brain story, this one should go down easy. Ready?

Jay and I ate deep-fried zebra snake.

Seriously.

It went like this:

Our chickens were in a major brooding mood.  A few of them were just desperate to sit on some eggs, and we wanted more chickens, so we let them.  The first hen hatched 13 eggs, and with that we doubled our chicken herd.

The second clutch was a bit of an accident.  The hen hid her eggs in tall grass and before we knew it, she disappeared to sit on them.  In time, we found her and her eggs, and with a bit more time, 10 chicks hatched.

Back in the coop, we could hardly keep the hens from sitting so we let one more have a chance.  Eventually, 8 more chicks were born.

Doing the maths, we now had 31 baby chickens running around.

No matter where in the world they were, these helpless balls of meat would attract predators.  I knew better than to expect them all to survive to adulthood, but nevertheless, when they began to disappear, it was depressing.

The original thirteen stayed strong.  Either their mom was tough and kicked some ass whenever something tried to grab one, or they just got lucky.  The second batch of ten, though, had a newbie, slightly air-headed, mom, and within a week, they were whittled down to five.

Then, the third batch began to dwindle – one or two at a time, every few days.  We had a repeat offender on our hands; a nocturnal snake who knew he’d found the jackpot.

When a python took one of the thirteen, who were now pretty big, he was too fat to escape.  So we hauled him out the next morning and transported him far from the house.  But the chicks kept disappearing.

One morning, I found another of the thirteen unable to walk.  His leg had a clear snake bite on it, and he died soon after.  Now we knew we had a venomous snake – that ruled out another python.  And mambas being day snakes left only one other suspect: the zebra snake.

http://lh6.ggpht.com/4bg4hIj9USj_Bg2m3vXYujHdaZjILZaxrUtNn2dht0fFbzewxiqquaYLkKRJFCNd7lQ0fo-nQkihkCE3MfTcDA=s1200

Zebra snake. Photo courtesy projectnoah.org

We began fortifying our coops.  Normally, we use just one, but with all these new animals, we were using two old, non-snake-proof ones.  We fixed holes, cemented around the bases, put up extra mesh fencing, and rested better once they were done, thinking the chickens were safe.

Yet the next morning, two more of the oldest chicks were dead but not eaten, a third paralyzed, and one of the younger chicks gone and another half-eaten and then regurgitated.  It was frustrating enough having my chickens become snake food, but to have them killed and not be anyone’s food was even worse.

I declared war.

My grand plan of attack, as told to Jay: hang bells around the coop wherever a snake might enter and then sleep outside.  “Whenever a bell rings”, I told him, “I’m going out there, and I’m taking the shotgun.”

Jay assured me this wasn’t necessary (kindly brushing aside the fact that we own approximately two bells, one being strapped to a goat’s neck, and I have only a slim idea of how to work the shotgun which is a bit overkill, anyway).  His much more realistic plan: attach a spotlight to a car battery and set it near the coop.  We then set the alarm for 3 a.m. and go out there, well-lit, in search of a snake.

Right on schedule, the snake turned up the second night.  And we didn’t even have to set the alarm, he was in the coop before we went to bed.  Jay took the appropriate-sized rifle, I held the light, and a minute later we had a dead, meter-long zebra snake.

Doing my maths again, this one snake had killed 14 chicks.  To ensure that they didn’t die in vain, in my mind, there was only one thing to do: we had to eat the snake.

Our farm staff was as clueless as we were about how to prepare a snake, not to mention completely revolted by the whole idea.  So, we briefly consulted the internet, then grabbed a knife and chopped off its head.

headlessThe head contains the venom, so headless venomous snakes are safe to eat.  The next task was to remove the skin.  First, we cut the bits holding it to the muscle,

skin be goneand after that, the skin peeled right off.

skin removalThen, out came the guts,

gutsthat contained the last of the last baby chicken,

my chickand just like that we had innards to toss, meat to eat, and a skin to . . . do something with.

3 of a kindIn the kitchen, the meat was chopped up,

filetsbattered up,

bread crumbin'and fried up.

deep fryMost people say that snake meat, ironically, tastes like chicken.  Not being a big meat eater myself, that’s the best comparison I have for you.  Jay constructively noted that it tasted like snake. In any case, there was about as much meat as there was bone, making for a tedious meal.  I’m certainly interested in trying other, fatter species, though.

So, ye legless varmints beware, there be snake eaters on this here farm.

Farm baby pictures

It’s something like spring here on the farm.  The weather is nothing to judge it by, it does whatever it wants to; cloud poofs or clear blue sky, gale force wind or dead still.  But in between the meteorological absurdity, life is springing up around the farm.

Check out the new:

Donkey

Oranges

baby orangesPrickly pear cactus

baby cactusChickens

baby chickensPomegranates

baby pomegranatesFrogs

tadpolesAnd the cats abandoned by their mom on our yard

kittensOne died, but after a brief adjustment period, the other got the hang of life with humans.  This was the first time she purred.

purrAbout ten days old, she opened her eyes.  Soon she was creeping around.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m still not sure what to do with a fourth cat, an African wild cat, nonetheless.  Even if she doesn’t act like one.

bottle timeMaybe she’ll grow up and follow her instincts into the bush.  Or maybe she’ll help with mouse duty on the yard.  All I know is that life on the farm is one day at a time.

That, and the weather better get its act together and bring us some rain.

Sun

Winter with a bang

That line sure is fine sometimes.  Summer, winter.  Warm, cold.  Life, death.  One day, we’re wearing shorts and all is well.  The next we’re sheltering sick and struggling animals from near-freezing temperatures, as if Namibia was looking for a snack in the fridge and then someone shoved it in from behind and slammed the door.  It’s been a roller coaster week here on the farm.

The cats and Sniffel are unfazed.  They’ve been packing on extra hair for a while and the cold hasn’t interrupted their schedule of sleeping.  But four newly hatched chickens got a rough welcome to the world.  At least they have a fat and fluffy mom who takes pride in sitting on them.  The other six eggs were worse off – abandoned when they took too long to hatch.  Jay and I went in and rescued the two that were still alive, keeping them warm with a hot water bottle.  Only one chick survived the first night and though she’s wobbly, she seems eager to get going with life.  At first, I’d hoped her mom would take her in but her little legs don’t work too well (earning her the name Rollie, as in she rolls more than walks).  She couldn’t keep up with her siblings and would end up sleeping in the cold.  Now she’s living with us and eating infant bird food from a syringe multiple times a day.  Without a mom to teach her, she took the plate of corn meal mush I gave her as a new, very wet, napping spot.

Rollie, the one in the middle, hanging with her family.  Her mom accepted her at first then began pecking her on the head.  She stays in the living room now. 

The cows are giving birth as well and like every year, we’ve lost one or two or six newborn calves to predators.  The worst though is when they’re only bitten and not killed.  That means we have a calf on the yard, weak with infection from a leopard bite, like this week.  The holes in his neck made just breathing a struggle.  So to drink milk from the bottle I offered we’d have to stop often so he could haul in some more oxygen.  The rest of his body was rather helpless as well, he even needed help pooping (don’t ask).  But when he saw me coming with a bottle of milk, his ears, the only part he could move on his own, perked right up, as if ready to take flight.  But the little bit of food in his belly and the blanket over top of him wasn’t enough when the cold came.  Although I greeted him yesterday morning, rubbed his head and told him I’d bring him some milk, he left us before I returned.  The next calf has already taken his place.  Not because of a leopard; he’s just too weak to stand.  He’s now inside in the laundry room and sleeps with two blankets.  Luckily, he’s still a champ at drinking milk and hopefully we’ll get him out in the corral with the others in due time.

Calf number two enjoying the waning afternoon sun – assuming that’s a face of enjoyment.

Amongst the chaos, however, was an unprecedented event on the farm.  Jay’s cattleman flagged us down as we drove by the corral the other day.  He and Jay then commenced a conversation in Herero about something obviously exciting; the old, reserved cattleman was smiling.  A little later, Jay translated for me saying, “he’s never seen anything like it in all his years.”  With only that to work with, I was left hanging while they continued on for a few more minutes.  Finally I got another word and it was all I needed: twins.  One of the cows plunked down two heads, two hearts and eight legs, a lot to get out of a little hole.  Lucky for us they’re doing well.  Reading up on twin calves taught me that often one of them is neglected by the mom and has to be bottle-fed or one or both are underdeveloped and weak, also requiring a bottle, or a load of medicine when they get sick.  These guys though, both male, seem to be ok, relieving us of overtime bottle duty.

As the mom was not available for the photo, readers will have to take my word that these are in fact twins and not just two calves sitting next to each other.

I’m hoping from here on out we’ll all stay on the right side of the line, the warm and alive side, the all is well side.  But that’s a lot to ask of life, no matter where you are in the world.  At least we know Namibia will warm up again someday, returning to her blazing-hot ways.  And someday, surely, little Rollie will discover that the plate I give her is food, not a bed, and I will once again have that elusive thing on a farm called spare time.

Top 5 farm things I try to avoid

As much as I try to help on the farm, learn the five separate languages I might encounter, what this switch operates and what that button does, what each of the 13-letter-name medicines in the fridge’s butter cubby are for, and what to do when an angsty rabid kudu comes to the front gate, there are some things that I just do not gel with.  Here’s the top 5 I’ve determined that are best left to the professionals.

1. Genny the generator

Genny is, no doubt, an important part of the farm.  Since Nampower, Namibia’s state-run (and only) electricity supplier, decided our farm was too far out to hook up to the grid (even though all our neighbors are), this lady provides a lot of our power.  While we are trying to move more towards solar, she still carries a chunk of the load.  But to get her going, it takes a good couple swings of the crank, and take my word, the crank is, proportionally, just as big.  It ain’t for woosies, or otherwise meager-armed folks such as myself.  I’ve certainly tried, sweat and swear words flowing, but she just groans a little and lays back down, like my cats when I disturb them at nap time.  My main job in regards to Genny, therefore, is to turn her off when the batteries are charged and that’s no easy task either.  Just take a look at the accompanying circuit box:Indeed, to stop her thunderous revolutions, I first must enter the room and remind myself that she will not tear herself free of the concrete floor and chew me to pulp.  If I keep all extremities clear of her moving parts, I should remain whole.  (To this day, I have only injured myself once with this intimidating piece of machinery, and that was when my knee came to rest on a metal tube which I quickly learned was the exhaust pipe).  After that, I need only flip four switches, push a button, pull a thingy down until she stops her sputtering, and then disconnect her battery.  I believe that is as intimate as I shall ever be with the giant engine and her labyrinthine electrical box.  Any more than that and one of us will no longer work properly.

2.  Keys

A single key is harmless enough, but when they congregate, I prefer not to be present.

I know it’s a farm and all, we have doors and gates and things with locks, but I do not believe we have so many of them.  This isn’t even the only key bundle nor are bundles the only place in which keys are kept.  So, to avoid acute key anxiety, I do as I do with Genny, keep it simple.  I know the keys to the rooms which hold things important to the continuation of my life, and the rest I have absolutely no idea what they do or to what treasures they have access and I’d like to keep it that way.

3.  The slaughter shed

This is where animals go once they’ve been shot.  Normally, they are shot to feed the farm staff to prevent poaching.  Sometimes, hunters shoot them so they can put the heads on their walls.  Regardless, here, they are strung up by their hind legs, gradually reduced to pieces which includes the use of that handsaw on the back wall, and their blood and other excrement drains into the large hole in the floor.  I have actually helped in this process before, really only because there was no one else to do it.  And while the biologist inside me was sort of interested in this massive science project, it’s not something I look forward to.

4.  Water intersections

This is another one that seems innocent.

But one must know that water pipelines run throughout the farm, each one connected to the next.  If I close or open just one pipe, the water is going to go somewhere else and I never quite know where that is.  For example, if we pump water to the house, it can either go to the garden and water the orange trees, it can go to our reservoir so that we can shower off the cow poop at the end of the day, or it can bypass us and fill the workers’ water tank.  For each of those things, the pattern of open and closed valves must be just right or I’ll end up watering an oasis somewhere in the Namib desert. To make things more complicated, sometimes water is pumped to the house using the engine at the windmill down by the main road and sometimes it falls on Genny’s shoulders.  Sometimes they are both running and I don’t know who is doing it.  But if our reservoir is full and begins to overflow, I need to stop it.  Do I stop Genny or the engine at the windmill?  Do I need to open or close the valves at the house or the valves at the main road?  Do the workers need water?  Or do I need to fill the big reservoir that feeds the rest of the farm?  Answer quickly now, the water is a-wasting.  And these intersections are all over the farm. If any of the miles of underground pipe breaks then the water must be closed at one or more of them and who knows which one that might be.

5.  Saws

This last one is probably the most important for me to avoid for genetic reasons; I’ve inherited a calamitous gene which earned me my nickname “Disasterpants”, one that has caused countless injuries to me and my family for many years now.  As such, I stay as far away from this thing as possible:

This saw cuts our wood, wood that we use to heat our water, post our fences, or to otherwise build or burn, but why must it be so big?  Namibia is not known for its gigantic trees and even if it was, I would rather chop all my wood by hand than to have to come within slicing distance of Spikey here (although I may do just as much damage to myself with an axe).  If I have to gather some logs for the fire, even when it is not connected to a single watt of electricity,  I move quickly, deliberately, and then get the hell out of there.  I can feel it watching me.

Same goes for the handheld spinning blade, known as a grinder (enough reason to leave it alone):

And ditto for the meat saw:

This blade moves up and down very quickly and very loudly.  Some people on the farm saw their meat just fine with this thing; fast and smooth, no worries, no problem.  And that is why I call them the professionals and let them saw or slaughter or lock and unlock whatever they want and I go feed the baby chickens.

The world of chickens

Chicken-wise, the past couple of months have been a roller coaster here on the farm.  I never would’ve expected so much from such goofy birds.  But after the births and deaths, love, hate, and turmoil that came out of our coop recently, I have to say, I’ve grown rather fond of them all.

It began with the eggs.  Our chickens have worked out a system where only one lays eggs at a time so the others can focus on other important tasks, like, I don’t know, walking around.  This does not result in many eggs.  What’s more, if the on-duty chicken decides to abandon the coop altogether, we have to search for the eggs, as if every day were Easter.

In the recent case, the egg chicken hid herself and her eggs in some leaf litter beneath a low-hanging palm frond.  By the time we found her, we had no way to know how old the eggs were and so we let her keep them.  Everyday we fed her there as she warmed her clutch of 10 or so. Through rain and wind, night and day, diligently she sat.

Then one day, she was gone.  All that remained was a few unfertilized eggs, many broken shells, and three lifeless chicks.  What happened, we could only speculate.  Perhaps one of Namibia’s wild cats, maybe a civet.  It was a sizable loss; a new generation of chicks and a dedicated mother.  I realized how excited I had become to see those eggs hatch.

But on the way back to the house, movement in the old, abandoned chicken stall nearby caught my eye.  There was our chicken with two yellow fluffballs running circles around her.  Whatever had happened, she successfully defended two of her chicks and moved them to the shelter of the old stall.  It was truly heart-warming to see and I was probably more excited than I should have been.  We set them up with food and water and the stall became their new home.

A little later we got another new addition to the chicken herd.  A friend needed to get rid of a rooster and thought of us.  We figured we could use some new genes in the pool so we accepted it.  But this was no ordinary rooster.  It was the biggest, manliest, most spectacularly decorated rooster I had ever seen.  He made our old roosters look like pansies which they did not appreciate.  Retaliation ensued.

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New rooster finally came in out of the rain for a game of pool.  He was not at his manliest for the photo.

We had kept the new rooster separated from the flock for a few days to allow for acclimation.  So he roamed the yard alone, standing pathetically in the rain to emphasize his solitude.  Eventually, thinking all would be alright, we gave him a night with the others.  But when the door to the coop was opened the next morning, new rooster came shooting out, in a barrage of squawks and feathers with one of the old roosters right on his heels.  When the old caught up to the new, he leapt promptly onto his back and began pulling out more of his long, luxurious feathers.  The new, big, strong, manly rooster responded by attempting to hide in a patch of aloes.  I finally managed to break them up and the new rooster was again separated.

A farm worker advised that we should give the new guy a couple of his own ladies so that he could find a niche and regain his self-esteem.  So the two youngest hens were moved in to his bachelor nook.  One was indifferent, but one was in love.  From then on, they’ve cruised the yard as the new couple, eating, drinking, and sleeping together.  The old roosters still had their admirers and gave up their bullying.  Peace returned to the coop.  But not for long.

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The couple during an afternoon nap.

Mama chicken, still over in the old stall with her two chicks was found one night unable to stand up.  I picked her up and tried stretching out her legs but it only upset her.  Beyond that, one chick had disappeared.  Again, we could only guess as to what happened, but it looked like a snake had come for one of her chicks and she was bitten while defending them once again.  Not only did she lose the chick, but she lost her life as well.  She died that night in a box in our kitchen, her last chick still nestled under her wing the next morning.

As orphaned animals tend to do on the farm, the chick moved in with us.  She deserved whatever shot at life we could give her.  In honor of our last bird visitor, Spicy Chicken the owl, she was named after another popular Namibian spice, and became Barbecue the chicken.

Understandably, Barbecue was not terribly fond of us at first.  But being the trooper that she is, she came around.  In a few days, she discovered she could get free rides on our shoulders.  Shortly thereafter, she was eating with us, literally, straight from our plates.

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We’re hoping she won’t attempt to do this when she’s bigger.

Barbecue has now exchanged almost all of her baby fluff for feathers.  She is quite independent, yet doesn’t like to be alone.  Eventually, she’ll be big enough to join the tumultuous world of chickens.  It won’t be easy, but assuming that she is the woman we think she is, one day not long from now, she’ll be a mom herself, a very fine one, and bring in a whole new crew of these bizarre and charming creatures.