Field Dressing and Butchering Deer

Field Dressing and Butchering DeerDepending on where you live and your weapon of choice, you may already be getting ready for deer season.

If this is your first hunt, you probably should peruse a copy of Field Dressing and Butchering Deer: Step-by-Step Instructions, From Field to Table by Monte Burch first. This handy book contains clear instructions and a plethora of illustrations demonstrating how to shoot, dress, skin, and butcher a deer that you will enjoy eating. Safety tips are also included to help you avoid the diseases that deer can carry.

Particularly valuable are the cooking directions and recipes. Besides learning how to keep your venison from drying out while cooking, you’ll discover that this lean meat is far more versatile than you would have expected. This is just a sample of the foods that you can make with the aid of this book:

  • Jerky.
  • Sausage.
  • Stew.
  • Chili.
  • Roast.
  • Burgers.
  • Fajitas.
  • Lasagna.
  • Stroganoff.

A must for the first-time hunter, and a good choice for someone looking to diversify their venison cooking options. Very useful book!

Mushroom Rock State Park

Mushroom Rock State ParkAs the many etched names attest, Mushroom Rock was an object of interest long before it became part of a state park.  Native tribes met there frequently, and explorers ranging from John Frémont to Kit Carson probably passed by on their travels.

On the heels of the explorers came the groups of covered wagons.  The Smoky Hills Trail to Colorado, a route used by prospectors and stagecoach drivers, passed by not far to the south.  The curious often wandered from their camps to see the geological marvel and carve their names into the rocks.

The Kansas Pacific Railroad gave Mushroom Rock, then called Pulpit Rock, broader notice.  As survey work progressed, many surveyors grew interested in the unusual formation, drawing it and writing about it in magazines.  Scientists examined its structure and submitted reports.

For many years, however, Mushroom Rock was hard to access.  The only trail was rough and led across private land.  In 1963, Ellsworth County constructed a road to the unusual rock.  The county historical society also purchased five acres straddling the new road to showcase the geological phenomenon.  This land was donated to the state and dedicated as a park on April 25, 1965.

Although located in the smallest state park in Kansas, Mushroom Rock gets its fair share of visitors.  In recent years, it has been voted one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography.

 

Directions

  1. Take Kansas Highway 140 east out of Ellsworth for about 9 1/2 miles.
  2. Turn right onto 25th Road and continue for a mile.
  3. Turn left onto Avenue K and continue for about half of a mile to reach the parking lot.

 

Nature

Located in the Smoky Hills region, the landscape in and around Mushroom Rock State Park is just what you would expect—mostly prairie.  A nearby creek, however, has permitted a few trees to grow, as well as some poison ivy.

Reptiles love sunning themselves on the rocks.  Watch out for snakes, but also keep your eyes open for the more friendly collared lizards.

The highlight of the park, of course, is the geology.  The rocks are primarily sandstone held together by a sort of lime-based “glue.”  Each of the formations is unique, some resembling mushrooms and another a shoe.  The interesting shapes were probably caused by erosion.  In the case of the mushrooms, the bottoms are believed to be softer than the tops, thus eroding faster and creating the top-heavy hallmark shape.  Over time, soil has built up around some of the boulders, leaving only parts visible.

Mushroom Rock State Park
© 2015 Homestead on the Range

Hunting

Hunting is not allowed at Mushroom Rock State Park.

 

Fishing

Fishing is not allowed at Mushroom Rock State Park.

 

Trails

Mushroom Rock State Park Trails: Short paths on either side of the road lead you to the unique rock formations.  Feel free to do a little climbing.

 

Other Opportunities

Mushroom Rock State Park is for day use only.  Take some time to enjoy the scenery.  Bring your camera and a picnic lunch.

This tiny park is managed by nearby Kanopolis State Park.  In fact, Mushroom Rock is one of the stops on the Kanopolis Lake Legacy Tour, a self-guided auto tour of the region.  For more information, see our guide entry on Kanopolis State Park.

 

Helpful Resource

Mushroom Rock State Park
Information to help you plan your trip.  A brochure is also available for download.

 

Complete Series

Kansas State ParksKansas State Parks

 

An Egg of a Different Color

An Egg of a Different ColorPerhaps before you started raising chickens, you always bought the cheap carton of uniform white eggs at the grocery store. Then somewhere along the line, maybe you became more health-conscious and upgraded to the carton of brown free-range eggs.

Even after you started keeping your own flock of laying hens, a little bit of color prejudice might have stayed with you. It happens to most new chicken keepers for a time. We seem to feel that somehow the brown eggs are healthier than the white eggs, even if they come from the same backyard flock.

Rest assured, however, that research has yet to reveal that white-shelled eggs are any healthier than brown-shelled eggs, all other factors being equal. If your Leghorn and your Rhode Island Red receive the same care and opportunities to forage, their eggs are probably of equal nutritional value.

With that in mind, there is no reason to choose only hens that lay brown eggs. In fact, there is no reason to limit yourself to just brown and white eggs. Chickens are actually capable of laying eggs in a wide variety of colors. Consider some of these unique egg hues:

  • Pink: Laid by some crossbred hens.
  • Blue: Laid by Araucanas, Ameraucanas, Legbars, and some other related crossbred hens.
  • Green: Laid by hens that come from crosses between blue- and brown-laying breeds.
  • Lavender: Laid by some crossbred hens.
  • Plum: Laid by Croad Langshans.
  • Chocolate: Laid by Marans, Barnvelders, Welsummers, and Penedesencas.

Note that each individual hen will lay eggs of a slightly different color, and that eggshells tend to lighten as the laying season progresses.

If you like unique breeds and want some distinctive eggs in your refrigerator, consider some of these chickens. Finding that blue egg in the nesting box can be a special treat!

Gator Cases

Gator CasesThere’s peace of mind in knowing that you have a good instrument case.

So what makes a “good” instrument case?  It has to be sturdy and reliable.  It needs to have a hard shell that will hold up to bumps and shocks.

There are some incredible indestructible cases out there, but the nonprofessional musician sometimes has to look for a compromise solution—a case that can hold up without breaking the bank.  One outstanding option is Gator.

We have always been satisfied with Gator cases because they don’t cost an arm and a leg, but they are still plenty rugged.  They latch tightly, they don’t come apart at the seams, and they seem to be impervious to everyday wear and tear.

Please note that Gator makes lighter foam bags and cases, but we strongly recommend purchasing a hard-shell case for most instruments.  The extra protection is well worth the extra money.

Hard-shell cases are available for:

Gator also makes cases for keyboards, electric guitars, brass instruments, etc.

Be aware that not every case is one-size-fits-all.  Shop around, check the dimensions, and make sure that you are getting the right case for your style of instrument.

Milford State Park

Milford State Park
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Republican River has had a long history of floods, dating back to the time of the Pawnee Indians.  As white men settled and developed the area, however, the floods became more and more devastating, as property was damaged and lives lost.

The last straw was the Great Flood of 1951, which swept through Topeka, but also caused extensive damage around Fort Riley and Junction City.  This led to a push for the creation of federal dams for preventing such catastrophes, and the Flood Control Act was passed in 1954.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a dam northwest of Junction City in July 1962.  The project was not without a cost to the smaller communities in the vicinity, however.  Homes were torn down and roads rerouted.  Whole towns were even moved or destroyed.  With so much preparation to be made, it was January 1967 before the new reservoir began to fill with water.

Milford Lake was soon to become the largest manmade reservoir in Kansas.  As the waters rose, one of the locals came up with an ambitious idea to match the scale of the lake.  In his basement, he began the construction of what has been called “the big, big boat.”  This enormous paddleboat became so large that the man had to deconstruct parts of his house to move it out of the basement and into the empty lot next door.

The lake was dedicated in May 1968 and named after a small town that it had displaced, but no big, big boat ever paddled across its surface.  After the boat was completed, the man had it moved to the marina and evidently lost interest in it for a time.  It caught on fire and was destroyed before he could try it out.

The first real test of the reservoir’s ability to control floods came in 1993, when torrential rainfalls across the entire Midwest brought many rivers to flood stage.  The dam held the water back for several weeks, but before long the Army Corps of Engineers realized that it could not bear the strain.  The dam gates were opened wide, keeping the lake full, but allowing new water to rush out without spilling over the top.  This created new dangers, however.  The escaping water washed roads away with it, and crews had to breach a culvert on State Highway 57 to save U.S. Highway 77.  Repairs were needed, but most agreed that things could have been much worse.

In 2001, Milford Lake earned a new distinction as construction began on a wetland area.  Wetlands were once common along the Republican River, and many conservationists were eager to see this type of habitat preserved in Kansas.  After some fundraising, the Army Corps of Engineers completed the third largest wetland area in Kansas.

 

Directions

  1. Take West 8th Street westward out of Junction City.
  2. Turn left to get onto northbound U.S. Highway 77 and continue for almost 6 miles (follow the Milford Lake signs).
  3. Turn left onto Kansas Highway 57 and continue for a little over a mile.
  4. Turn right on State Park Road to enter the park.

 

Nature

Located in the northern Flint Hills, Milford State Park showcases some scenic prairie views.  Near the water, however, you can still find red cedars and other trees.

Since grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands intersect here, the wildlife is particularly abundant and diverse.  Watch for a wide array of reptiles.  Besides the usual mammals, ranging from beavers to deer, also keep your eyes out for elk in the direction of Fort Riley.  Birdwatchers will want to see the great blue heron nests on Rush Creek, as well as the interesting birds in the wetlands.  Species include the elusive green heron.

 

Hunting

Milford State Park
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Milford Wildlife Area has earned a nationwide reputation for some excellent hunting.  Waterfowl is abundant, turkeys large, and the deer trophy-quality.  Those interested in furbearers, rabbit, squirrel, or upland birds will also be satisfied with Milford State Park.

 

Fishing

Milford Lake has justly been named the Fishing Capital of Kansas.  This large reservoir has provided a great variety of habitats suitable for fish, ranging from brush to rocky coves to mud flats.  Try your luck at crappie, walleye, catfish, wiper, white bass, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass.

Interested in some serious fishing?  The lake hosts many fishing tournaments.  At the other end of the spectrum, children might enjoy some more relaxed fishing at the ponds on the road to Prairie View Campground and along the Tallgrass Nature Trail (see below).

 

Trails

  • Wildlife Viewing Tower and Trail: Located in the state park, this is really more of an opportunity to view your surroundings than a trail.  However, you will need to hike or bike almost a quarter of a mile one way.  Scan the food plots for wildlife, or come in the evening and do a little stargazing.
  • Wild Acres Trail: This quarter-mile walking path at the Kansas Landscape Arboretum on the northwest side of the lake is known for its beautiful display of wildflowers.
  • Meadow Willow Trail: A half-mile walk showcasing seven bridges.  Located at the Kansas Landscape Arboretum.
  • Pipeline Trail: Nothing remarkable, just a half-mile path connecting the campgrounds in the northern part of the state park.  Hike, bike, or ride a horse.
  • Waterfall Pond Trail: Hike or bike on a quiet loop, just over half a mile.  The trail starts near the first pay station in the state park and features a man-made waterfall.
  • Woodland Trail: The longest path at the Kansas Landscape Arboretum, this mile-long walking trail loops through the woods before circling a pond.  A bird sanctuary is featured.
  • Old River Bluff Trail: Just short of 1 1/2 miles, this linear path connects the Eagle Ridge Trails to the Riverwalk Trail.  Hiking, biking, and horseback riding allowed.
  • Tallgrass Nature Trail: This trail is a loop of 1 1/2 miles, although a shortcut offers a quick half-mile walk.  It starts at Milford Nature Center, winds through woods and over prairie, and passes by a pond.  Bring your fishing poles, and watch for wildlife.
  • Crystal Trail: This interesting loop is a little over 2 miles long and starts in Walnut Grove Campground.  Hike, bike, or ride a horse through fields and woods to see wildlife.  Another feature is the old quarry.  Rockhounds should be prepared to hunt for geodes.
  • Riverwalk Trail: Junction City has provided visitors with a trail just over 4 3/4 miles long following the Republican River between Outlet Park and Fort Riley.  Hiking, biking, and horseback riding allowed.  You are also welcome to use a snowmobile when conditions allow.
  • Eagle Ridge Trail: Most visitors agree that this meandering 8-mile trail system is one of the most scenic in the park.  Prairie, woods, and lake views—it’s all here.  Enjoy it from horseback, or hike or bike.  The trailheads are in Eagle Ridge Campground.
  • School Creek ORV Trails: On the west side of the lake, a 287-acre portion of School Creek Park has been set aside for off-road vehicles (mountain bikes also welcome).  The many trails offer something for all skill levels, from the complete novice to the truly expert.
Milford State Park
© 2015 Homestead on the Range

Other Opportunities

If you love watching nature, you have come to the right park.  One of the many opportunities to learn more about the local flora and fauna is Milford Nature Center in Outlet Park.  The exhibits are considered particularly well done and include impressive artwork, taxidermy displays, and a seasonal butterfly area.  The live animal exhibits include reptiles, birds of prey, and even a bobcat.  You will also find a good place to see bald eagles outside.

Near the nature center is Milford Fish Hatchery, the largest state hatchery in Kansas.  Some of the fish-raising practices are unique, so consider arranging a tour to learn more.  However, you are also welcome to walk around the outdoor facilities at any time.

The Kansas Landscape Arboretum on the northwest shore of the lake is a peaceful spot devoted to plants, some native, others not.  For a leisurely stroll and some opportunities to see gardens, trees, and birds, be sure to stop by.

Another good nature-observing opportunity is the Steve Lloyd Wetlands, north of the lake and west of the Republican River.  A viewing area is provided, offering some scenic vistas and a prime location to spot water-loving birds.

 

Helpful Resources

Milford State Park
Information to help you plan your trip.  A brochure is also available for download.

Milford Nature Center
More information on the nature center, its work in wildlife rehabilitation, and the many educational programs offered.

Milford Fish Hatchery
A bit of history, along with some details on the unique intensive system used at this hatchery.

 

Complete Series

Kansas State ParksKansas State Parks

 

What is Kobe Beef?

What is Kobe Beef?
Kobe beef

Many direct marketers like to have a distinctive edge, something that sets their products apart from the rest. In the home-raised beef realm, distinctiveness can take many forms. As pointed out in How to Direct Market Your Beef by Jan Holder, direct marketers can stand out by selling beef that is anything from gourmet grassfed to lean and healthy to premium Black Angus to just good old-fashioned flavorful.

Every once in a while, an adventurous agripreneur looking for a really unique image asks a question about Kobe beef, a distinctive and rather controversial food hailing from Japan. And then some of us just want to know how a piece of meat could possibly be so expensive.

So what is Kobe beef—and what is it not?

Real Kobe Beef

The starting point for authentic Kobe beef is genetics. Kobe, pronounced Ko-bay, is a large city on the southern part of the main island of Japan. The region surrounding the city is home to a broad category of cattle known as Wagyu (which literally means “Japanese beef animal”). Wagyu breeds are genetically predisposed to some unique meat characteristics. For one thing, they have far more fat marbled throughout their meat than Americans are used to seeing. For another thing, their meat has a relatively high ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat. The specific breed of Wagyu used to produce authentic Kobe beef is the Tajima.

Not all Tajima cattle are candidates for becoming Kobe beef, however. They must be born and raised in the vicinity of Kobe to be eligible for Kobe status. Only steers and virgin heifers are accepted. They also must be processed at one of a handful of slaughterhouses to be true Kobe animals.

Farmers take great pains with their cattle to make them suitable for Kobe beef. Contrary to popular belief, most of the cattle do not consume alcoholic beverages for appetite enhancement, but enjoy a combination of grain, grass, and fodder, all grown in the Kobe area without chemicals (exact rations vary and are typically regarded as trade secrets). No antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed. The cattle receive frequent health examinations. Unlike the average American beef steer, slaughtered at around 18 months of age, Kobe cattle are fed for long periods of time, being butchered as late as 32 months of age.

At the time of slaughter, the beef is carefully inspected for proper quality and marbling. The end result is startlingly fatty, but unbelievably tender, partly due to the unique low melting temperature of the fat. Kobe beef is renowned for juiciness and excellent flavor. However, because so few cattle can qualify, supplies are limited and prices are steep.

Real Kobe beef is typically eaten as sukiyaki or steak. It must be seared quickly and cooked only to medium rare because the unusual properties of the fat would cause the meat to melt if overcooked. It is eaten in small quantities because it is so rich.

American Kobe-Style Beef

Ranchers in the United States have replicated Kobe beef in a meatier form more palatable to most Americans. Most cattle used for this purpose are of crossbred Wagyu/Angus lineage. This blend of breeds still has an unusually high level of unsaturated fat, but offers a heavier, meatier Angus-type carcass. A small percentage of producers use purebred Wagyu.

The diet of the average animal destined to become American Kobe-style beef consists of various proportions of grass, grain, and fodder, similar to the rations fed to Japanese cattle; a few ranchers take pride in raising 100% grassfed Wagyu, however. Antibiotics and hormones are typically foregone, but that is up to the discretion of the individual producer. Like their Japanese counterparts, nearly all American-raised Wagyu cattle are fed longer and slaughtered later than average beef steers.

While the quality of Kobe-style beef is not standardized and regulated to the degree that real Japanese Kobe beef is, American producers take pride in creating a top-notch piece of beef. Most of the cattle grade Prime—the highest USDA designation—although many feel they could easily reach higher grades if there were any.

American Kobe-style beef is very different than true Kobe beef. While well marbled, it contains more meat and less fat, giving it an appearance, texture, and taste closer to a Prime Angus steak. It is not as rich as real Kobe, which means that a person can comfortably eat more at one sitting. It costs less, too, although still well within the gourmet price range.

A Tough Sell

Kobe beef has become controversial because of the way that American Kobe-style beef is often marketed. Simply put, it is not always easy to determine whether or not you are buying real Kobe beef. Authentic Kobe beef can only come from one place—Japan. However, in the United States, anyone who orders a Kobe steak at a restaurant may very well end up with an American Kobe-style steak. Many feel that the practice of selling Kobe-style beef as Kobe beef is misleading.

Because of the geographic distinction involved, direct marketers in the United States can in reality only produce Kobe-style beef. The question is, can they sell it? Riding on the Kobe image and being a gourmet product in its own right, American Kobe-style beef commands a hefty price. Upscale restaurants would be the most likely buyer for this product. An affluent customer base, something that not everyone has access to, is necessary to sustain a Kobe-style beef business.

Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America

Storey's Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North AmericaToo many horse breed encyclopedias neglect the breeds that have originated in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.  They are thorough enough, containing numerous foreign breeds that most Americans will never see, but they overlook the amazing and useful horses right under our noses.

If you want to learn more about the horse breeds found on our own continent, both common and uncommon, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America by Judith Dutson may be the book you are looking for.

The history of each breed gets the spotlight in this book.  Ample information on the origins, historical uses, and rise or fall of the breeds is provided, along with beautiful photography.  Both popular and heritage breeds are included, as are donkeys and mules.

If you are trying to decide which breed is right for you, this book can serve as a starting point for further research.  The uses and unique characteristics of each horse breed are summarized.  For this purpose, however, you might find the book most helpful when used along with other resources (see below) that give more details on temperament, health concerns, and maintenance requirements.

For an understanding of the fascinating history and origins of the horses of North America, from the Thoroughbred to the Spanish mustang, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America is hard to beat.  Probably one of the best horse breed encyclopedias available to Americans.  Highly recommended for all horse lovers!

 

Helpful Resources

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to some of the horses covered in this encyclopedia.  Includes health, temperament, and pros and cons.

Getting Your First HorseGetting Your First Horse
One chapter in this helpful book covers the pros and cons of several breeds discussed in the encyclopedia.  Read our full review.