Sunday, October 28, 2012

Goat Camp Part II (or, Brooke the Cook)

The biggest surprise at Goat Camp was the cooking, but it also brought us together. Early Saturday afternoon. Tim and Kale (who's 6 1/2 months pregnant, more later) helped Sasha and me load our many bags from HQ to our sleeping quarters. Later on, Brooke (who is Tim's mom) showed up and invited us to the kitchen and asked if we knew how to cook because we would be cooking for camp. Do what? Brooke sighs. Didn't Suzanne tell you that you would be cooking? Nope. Well, someone start chopping onions.

And so we started our cooking odyssey. We sat in the farm kitchen at an eight foot table, slicing chopping, sauteing, stirring and cracking. When you cook as a group, a rhythm develops. While doing prep, conversation flows and we were no different, running the gamut from where ya from, to what's your sign, how goat-y are you, and what do you do. Brooke was an Arizonan who had lived in Okinawa, Sasha was from Ohio, but had lived in Austin a few years before returning to her roots, and me, well, just your basic Texas woman.

While Sasha and I chopped veg and meat, Brooke cooked rice and did a little stir fry for dinner. She gave us some info on OCR and Suzanne. We sous chefs also learned we would be in charge of breakfast as she would not arrive at the ranch until after finishing her bus route. Oh, boy. Waking up that early had not been part of my plans. But I was grateful Sasha was the other sous chef as we plotted how early we needed to get up to cook migas for 60, have it ready and at the classroom by 7:30. Early.

Rayne and Tim
Tim and Kale asked if we'd like to 'ride pastures,' so Sasha and I hopped in the back of the Kawasaki Mule and off we went. Each evening, someone rides pastures to check the perimeter fence, look at the goats to spot any sick or injured, and get a general sense of putting the ranch to bed. On a 250+ acre ranch, it takes a while to transit through all of the pastures, opening and shutting gates, but it was exhilarating, out on the Texas plains, with the gentle sound of goats bedding down, stars in the sky and plenty of fresh air. Tim and Kale are newlyweds, with a baby on the way. They have lived in the ranch house for under three months, but have known Suzanne for quite a while as momma Brooke has worked for her off and on in the past few years.

And so our days were bookended with cooking. Up at 5:30 or so, then class with some morning cooking and then serving of lunch, then class, the cooking at night til 9 or 10. Brooke and Bonnie were there from about 8:30 to 2:30 each day (between their school bus driving duties), and then Brooke would return after finishing the afternoon bus drop off.

We did not have a set menu, just tons of ingredients, plus Brooke brought us more stuff from the store nearly every 20 mile trip from Brady. Input from the sous chefs was always appreciated, and we found ways to use and repurpose everything that was left over or over-bought.

Monday breakfast: migas, banana bread (some with nuts, cranberries and other yummys)
Monday Lunch: chili with pork, black beans, and corn, romaine salad with Sasha's homemade ranch and Italian dressings, Sasha's green chile and cheddar corn bread, angel food cake, fruit.
Tuesday breakfast: Breakfast bread pudding with leeks and fontina cheese, banana bread
Tuesday Lunch: Shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches, Brooke's coleslaw, and pinto beans (Brooke thinks that Texans eat beans with everything). First sighting of pico de gallo.
Wednesday breakfast Oatmeal cooked all night, with various toppings, fruit, and egg and cheese sandwiches (cheddar or mozzarella, white or whole wheat)
Wednesday lunch: King Ranch Chicken (prepared by moi), corn, banana pudding. More pico.
Thursday breakfast:   Breakfast tacos, with grilled peppers and onions, bacon, cheese
Thursday lunch:  Beef and chicken fajitas, bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapenos, all the standard fajita toppings, MORE PICO. Peach cobbler and Peach Crisp for dessert.
Friday breakfast:  French Toast Casserole,white and whole wheat bread mixed together. One pan was plain and one was topped with a pecan/walnut caramel sauce. Biscuits, homemade syrups (peach, plum or apple). Syrups were made with leftover snack fruit or cobbler. Delish.
Friday lunch:  Grilled chicken and veg kabobs, with calabazos, onion, tomato, bell pepper, pineapple. Served with Japanese rice. Topped off with super brownies and even more banana pudding. Oh. Pico.

Yes, pico was consumed in mass quantities. We made about a gallon each time and they emptied the bowl. That's choppin' a lot of tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and cilantro. Bonnie was our jalapeno expert and remembered to wear gloves (important safety tip). One night, Tom came down and helped chop, too.

From the first day, campers kept asking if we had a cookbook they could buy and they all assumed we had known one another for years. In fact, they were shocked when we said we had met just a day or two before. Guess that's what shared work and creativity does to a group of strangers-- makes them a team of friends. And that cookbook? Well, it's in the works.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Goat Camp, Part I (or, the Adventure Begins)

I spent last week at Goat Camp, an annual educational event held at Onion Creek Ranch (OCR) near Brady, Texas. I stumbled onto Goat Camp last summer when I was browsing for goat information. A week-long opportunity to hear from experts of all types on breeding, feeding, kidding, and selling. The price for the conference was reasonable, but I would also have to stay in a Holiday Inn Express for five days, plus take a week of vacation from work. Pretty pricey.

But wait!  I re-read the course description and noticed the last paragraph: 
  • The GoatCamp™ Intern Program is now accepting applications for a limited number of Interns; interns receive free tuition in exchange for helping with the work at GoatCamp™. If you are interested please send your resume to onioncreek@tennesseemeatgoats.com. We'd like to know a little bit about your experience with goats (or lack thereof) and why you'd like to become an Intern.
Well, why not?  I sent a lengthy email, along with my resume. Within a few hourss accepted! In addition to not paying tuition for the course, I would also receive food and housing. I could afford that!

An adventure! I left home on October 20 and drove the 250 miles west, arriving at the ranch about noon.  I joined my fellow interns in the classroom and Suzanne Gasparotto, ranch owner,gave us a briefing on (most) of our duties for the week, the first of which was to clean and set up the classroom. 

The Great Grasshopper Invasion of 2012 had descended on OCR. A couple of dozen 8-foot folding tables were stacked on their sides in a corner of the room and covered in grasshoppers, and the room was filled with the stench. I looked at my fellow interns: two tall, retired gentlemen with silver hair, a woman in a very cool powered wheelchair, and a 30-something woman with dreadlocks and tattoos. 

Tom was a long-time Goat Camper, having attended/interned at least 7 or 8 times. He knew the ropes and got us organized and we dispatched the dead arthropods in short order. I made my first mistake then, letting Suzanne know that I was familiar with technology of many types. Thus, I was also tasked with setting up the sound system and wireless mics, replacing the toner in her printers, and changing the batteries in her indoor/outdoor thermometer. Oy.

Suzanne took hippie girl and me to the original ranch house, a two-toned green rectangular building, much like thousands across the plains. The young couple who work on the ranch lived in the house, but it had a small attached apartment and a bed in the living room. Our home away from home for the week. Sasha took the living room, leaving me the apartment at the end of the building. My quarters had a bathroom and a mini-kitchen, which Sasha would also use. A very odd configuration but we'd find out more as the days went by.




Did I mention the ranch is beautiful? 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

33-1/3 rpm

What a week. On Thursday, we finally signed the paperwork for an additional 14 acres which is adjacent to El Rancho. So we have more than 33-1/3 acres now.. Lots of room! Where it's marked "Approximately 14.12 acres" is the area we are calling Danny's Wedge.  This is where the well is located, as well as a derelict trailer house-- talk about creepy! He got busy clearing things up right after closing. He's got some great ideas for a homesite, garden, and septic.

On Friday, the guys did some work out at the ranch, but went to Houston to (hopefully) buy a grapple! Dan picked up a part at WCTractor which will convert his front end loader into a skid steer quick attach. A big grapple is like teeth on the front of the tractor. It should reach into the brush and drag it out! This will be useful at the ranch and at the current house in South Brazos. They drove off to Houston with the big trailer in tow. I called the seller and got directions, found a nearby bank where they could get money if they bought it, and off they went to East Mt. Houston and Loop 610 in Houston. Smooooth sailing.


Well, whatever grapple the man was selling (he had a few) was not what Dan was looking for. Too wide for one thing. So, they got back in the truck to come home. On Friday afternoon in H-Town traffic. Things went from bad to worse when Dan had a tire go flat. It took quite a ways to get off the freeway and quite a ways to find a place to pull over and change the tire (with the trailer still attached). Joy.

Yesterday,  I took Dan's truck into Discount Tire in Bryan and got him a new tire, a rotation, and damage certificates for all four. Took 30 minutes! Love this store, it's so much roomier than the College Station one. Then a quick oil change and full gas tank (ok, some kolache from Slovacek's) and I was out to the rancho.

Uh, oh. My sweet donkeys were not so sweet to the Dans or the neighbor dogs, George and Kopper. Now, I had seen George charge the donkeys on Friday, but thought we had smoothed that out. Now everyone knows tht dogs are better than people and make the best friends. The donkeys have been put on notice that there will be no chasing and terrorizing of dogs. I spent a good bit of the afternoon socializing the canines and equines and believe I had some success.
Kopper
George
 The donks kept wanting to get closer to the dogs and the dogs just wanted out of there. George followed me around the fence line as I checked for missed wire ties or loose wires. I don't know if he was protecting me, or was sticking with me as the chief dog, but it was nice to have a friend along. I haven't had a dog in over four years and having George hang out is nice. Kopper is a rabbit chasing fool, baying at the top of his lungs, warning his potential prey. George will often hear him and go out to see what's up, but I'm not real worried about the rabbits and squirrels at the ranch!

Today, the Dans finished putting up all wire, both goat and barbed, on the original 19+ acres. Danny thinks they should have driven in a 'golden staple', but we didn't have one. Ah, well, a celebratory event nonetheless. About that time, my good friend Kristi (who just happens to be an equine vet tech), came for a visit from Fort Worth with her husband, Jack, who is one of Dan's best friends, too. Kristi and I were determined to vaccinate the donks for all manner of things, including West Nile I picked up vaccs at Coop and Tractor Supply). Simple, right?

Well, the first sign that things were going south was when Fiona, my sweetheart, got all stupid and got away. They ended up getting all wild-eyed and pissy and what should have taken 45 minutes, tops, ended up taking all afternoon. The three guys sat around the trucks, talking. Kristi and I had a donkey rodeo, with bucking and twisting going on, and even a clown (me) who fell on her ass at one point.  I ignored the calls of "Hey! I missed it! Could you do that again?"

Amazingly, Molly went first and really acted well. Food is an amazing tool! At that point, the others trotted off and our real work began. Next, we caught Fancy, my big brown adolescent. Kristi schooled her and let her know in no uncertain terms that Kristi was, in fact, in charge. Pretty sure the term "Whoa!" was learned today. No ifs, ands or buts. Done. Whew, the only one left was darling Fiona, who had unfortunately decided that we were going to murder her. This brought out the latent bucking bronco in her. Kristi let her rodeo in a circle, moving her ever closer to a tree. Once they arrived at an oak, she promptly snubbed her up close. Fiona realized she could unwind herself, but Kristi stopped that with a rope reversal. Shots done. Yep, Fiona and Fancy will be tired and sore tomorrow.

Well, they need to have their second round of shots in 3 to 4 weeks. Think I'll get four panels and build a quick working pen, like Kristi suggested. Would come in handy for lots of uses with donkeys and goats and could be moved to different spots around the ranch.
Karen and Fiona

Who's lookin'?