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Recycling on the Farm

Feb 16, 2016 01:00PM, Published by Jake Gentry, Categories: Lifestyle, In Print, Today

By Ronnie Garrison

As I was putting away my Christmas decorations, I came across the deer tail tacked to my office door with the sign “Don’t look for Rudolph this year.” This recycled deer tail reminded me of how growing up on a farm taught me to use everything available. We recycled before it became popular. The claim “we used everything about the pig except the squeal” was pretty accurate. We had the usual pork chops and ham, but also souse, tripe, head cheese, and pickled pigs’ feet. Nothing went to waste, including all parts of the wildlife we killed while hunting. If we shot it, we cleaned it, cooked it, and ate it—all of it.

Shoot a squirrel, clean it, and put the meat in squirrel and dumplings. And don’t forget to add the heart and liver! Take out the brains to scramble with eggs for breakfast.

Fried doves are fantastic, and giblet gravy made with their tiny hearts, livers, and gizzards adds to the flavor. Folks who just pop the breast out and throw the rest of the bird away miss a lot of good eating.

Shooting a deer is something of a dilemma for me. A shoulder shot, one of the most efficient for putting the deer down fast, wastes way too much good meat. My 7 mm Mag would destroy both shoulders with that shot, and I am not a good enough shot to shoot the deer in the neck or head except in a few cases. So I try to shoot the deer just behind the shoulder, hitting the lungs. The only danger with that shot is I often hit the heart and liver, two parts I want to save. I love to slice the heart and liver and fry them. They make great gravy and are one of my favorite meals.           

While growing up I tried to tan hides from squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and other critters I killed. My tanning method was to scrape all the meat off the hide and salt it down. I was never able to get anything useful from the tanned hides, but I kept one fox hide I salted for almost 20 years before I finally got rid of it. 

I still have the hide of the second deer I shot. I sent it off to a commercial tanner, and that hide, with hair on it, still covers a chest in my office. I shot that deer in 1968 and the hide makes a good memory of that day.

Our recycling didn’t stop at food. If we pulled a nail out of a board it was not thrown away. Instead, the bent nail was put in a coffee can—another recycled item—and saved for later use. I got real good at using a hammer to straighten out bent nails on a concrete block. I was allowed to use those old nails for my projects, like rabbit boxes, tree houses, and huts. I don’t think I ever got to drive a new nail until I was out of college!

 Old boards were stacked carefully for future use. That sticks with me today. When I bought my house in 1981 there was a big tree house in the back yard, and I tore it down and used the wood and tin for my first woodshed. 

After a fire last March I had to rebuild the woodshed, and I used fire-damaged boards from the house as much as possible. And to rebuild my doghouse I used a big wooden packing crate given to me by a fishing buddy, but also some wood that goes way back.

 Daddy worked as a summer ranger for the Corps of Engineers on Clarks Hill Lake for several years before he retired as a school principal, then he went to work for the Corps full time for a few years. One year the Corps built new bath houses in all the campgrounds, and they were planning to burn the old outhouses. If you camped at Clarks Hill back in the 1970s and ‘80s, you remember those outhouses. They were about four feet square and eight feet tall, with wood shingle roofs. That size was just right to be constructed from four sheets of plywood.

Rather than burn all those outhouses, Daddy got permission to dismantle them and haul them off after his work hours. He tore down about 20 of them, getting four sheets of plywood from each. All that plywood and the two-by-fours framing them were stacked under the trailer at Raysville Boat Club for future use—and he used a good bit of it, for everything from skirting the trailer to building a small shed.

A couple of years after he died I realized termites were getting into the wood, so I took it all out. I had to burn about half of what was there but brought home about a dozen sheets of plywood. I just used some of that plywood that Daddy recycled over 30 years ago to finish building my doghouse!

My wife says if I don’t stop recycling things I will soon be a hoarder, but it is a great feeling having what you need and not having to run to the store every time you need something!


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