A typical morning this time of year finds me donning a heavy jacket, muck boots, and a pair of work gloves, heading out in search of browse for Daisy and Holly. Yesterday I felt a little more urgency to gather a stockpile of plant life from the woods and weeds from my strawberry patch. The forecast for today is heavy rain, and tomorrow night brings on our first winter storm. The prediction is for 3 to 7 inches of snow. With this kind of weather on the horizon, the northerner in me kicks into “survival” mode. I get busy making sure we are prepared for a few days of roughing it. Rain and snow will keep me indoors more. Daisy and Holly will have to make do feeding on alfalfa hay and deer pellets for a few days. And of course there is the daily apple. An apple a day keeps the veterinarian away!
I was fortunate this year in being able to supplement Daisy’s diet with plants and vegetables from the garden. The scorching sun and lack of rain brought on a drought where plant life barely survived. While I watered daily, in some cases it just wasn’t enough for the more fragile plants to hang on. Other plants, like the tomatoes, were quite delayed in setting on fruit. A late frost killed the fruit tree crops. The blackberry, raspberry and strawberry plants that did produce only managed scrubby, small berries that the birds, foxes, racoons and other small mammals scarfed up before I could get outside to pick. Many mornings I discovered the previous days crop of berries completely vanished! The saying, “The early bird gets the worm” seemed appropriate. I am the early bird around here, but I can’t compete with my winged and four-legged friends for the rights to the berry patches.
Early August I gave up on the vegetable garden, opening it up to Daisy for feasting on spent bean plants and the last of the cucumbers. The celery was a pathetic-looking crop, but Daisy enjoyed ripping the stalks and crunching them. I had an abundance of carrots left in the ground. Daisy nibbled carrot tops and each day I dug up and cut fresh carrots for her. Later, after I dug up sweet potatoes, Daisy was able to hoof at the ground and dig up the tubers I missed. She could smell the roots, and pretty soon the dirt was flying! I was proud that my girl instinctively knew how to locate and dig her own taters! She nibbled on my raspberry plants which were, unfortunately, along the fence of her pen. I got a free package of cape gooseberry seeds with a seed order, but only two plants of about 20 seeds grew. However, they produced hundreds of golden berries that Daisy (and the dogs) loved to snack on! And, much to our dismay, we discovered those irresistible berries acted as a laxative for the dogs. After that discovery, a keen eye was kept on all 4 dogs during any outing! A bird had evidently left droppings in the garden that produced an odd plant that we eventually realized was a milo plant. We allowed it to grow and Daisy harvested the small grains from the heads. While the tomato garden set on fruit in the fall after the cooler temperatures arrived, it was too late to produce any kind of a crop for freezing or canning. But Daisy LOVES tomatoes, so before the first big freeze, I found myself pulling all of the green tomatoes I could find and transporting them to the house for ripening. I still have trays of tomatoes as colorful window decor all around the house.
As food sources dwindled, I looked to reference books to discover what deer eat in the wild. Wild cat brier seemed to be her favorite, and heaven knows we have a lot of that growing in the woods. It’s thorny and grows up into trees creating a tangled mass of vine that is not at all easy to extract, mind you. She also loved nibbling on various weeds that are prevalent here. Even this time of year I can find healthy, green weeds where the soil is good. And for a time while the trees still had leaves, I trimmed branches of various trees so Holly and Daisy could nibble the leaves. This fall we had a bumper crop of acorns and most days you could find me under the red oak tree at Mom’s house picking them up for the girls. The wild deer came up to feed on acorns at night and I had to vie with them and the squirrels for what dropped during the day.
On days when the weather is inclement, I take advantage of store-bought favorites and thawed goodies from the freezer. Fresh carrots, celery stalks and bright-red Washington apples are cut up for snacks. A particular new brand of potato that we raised and ended up not liking, was harvested and put away for winter for Daisy’s needs. A friend donated cherries and cranberries that had been in the freezer too long.
It is fairly evident that Daisy deer has been fed well. It’s almost embarrassing to compare Daisy to Holly, who grew up roaming free and wild, not having access to fine fruits and vegetables, nor high-protein deer chow that she gets today. Holly was slow to try the deer pellets but she is enjoying them now. She’s still not into most fruits and vegetables, but she does seem interested in apples. I am quite sure all deer love apples!
I suppose I make the morning walk through the woods cutting the wicked cat brier, carrying my bucket for pulling weeds along the way, because I love what I do. In a little more than a month, Daisy and Holly will be roaming the woods on their own, nibbling and sampling hundreds of plants. They will always have access to a couple of deer plots we planted a short distance off in the woods in an open area. We have a deer feed and watering station just below our house. We try to be deer-friendly here, though other critters like the foxes, racoons, opossums, skunks and squirrels take advantage as well. I think I will miss my motherly chores, selecting wonderful browse from the woods and store-bought yummies for my girls. I hope I’m not like those doting mothers who cannot let their children alone to discover the world. I do not want to be the nosy mom out roaming the woods looking for her girls, yelling for them to come, carrying a basket of goodies to lure them home for a visit. I think I will carry an apple with me just in case though… you know, in case I get hungry myself, of course!
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…