Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sleds! Sleds! Sleds!


Over the past couple of weeks  the dogs and I have been enjoying having enough snow to run with sleds instead of the four wheeler. Temperatures have been pretty mild over all mostly hanging around 0f, but we have had a few days that dipped down as low as -30 and -40f.

Last weekend we enjoyed the company of Ryne Olson and her team from Ryno Kennel in the white mountains. We took both of our teams out for their first camping trip of the season. We ran the dogs into the Moose Creek cabin, spent the night and then ran back out to the trucks the next morning. I am pleased to announce that all of the dogs did very well and seemed to enjoy themselves.

We decided to extend our training together and take the dogs on another camping trip this Friday(november 29th) we took the teams out on an all day run. We started by running them for 20 miles then camping on the side of the trail, which involves giving the dogs straw to lay on and feeding them, and then letting them sleep for a while. This is good practice for later in the winter when we are racing and doing longer trips and the dogs will be  camping a lot more. You don't have to teach a sled dog to run, but you do have to teach them to rest. After resting for a few hours we ran the dogs another 20 miles back to Rynes kennel. It was amazing to watch the dogs work, they seemed to get stronger the longer they ran. We took the dogs out on a short 8-9 mile run Saturday just to let them have fun and stretch their legs and then we will do another 20 or so miles with them Sunday.

Enjoying the wonderful snow of Two Rivers.


Out on a nice long run in the Chatanika River Valley.

Doing some passing training in the White Mountains with Ryne and her team. Being able to and learning to pass other dog teams smoothly is an important part of any good training program.

Running in the White Mountains with Ryne and her dogs.
The team enjoying a quick meat snack during the first run before fridays camp out.

Running at night after the camp out, the team is still crusing towards the end of the second run.

Enjoying a short but brisk run in Two Rivers on Saturday.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Let It SNOW!

 
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, is the song we are singing here at the kennel. There is about a foot on the ground and more beautiful white flakes in the forecast and falling. Training is going well here with some welcome snow on the ground excitement is in the air. We have using the four wheeler to train the dogs so far, but we just got enough snow to start running sleds, so as of tomorrow we will be on sleds.

My oh my, this fall has been a busy one, but then again they all are with so much to do in preparation for the coming winter. Sorry for the lack of blog posts lately, I will now do my best to catch you up on the happenings at the kennel this fall. Back in mid September I took all of the race dogs to Eagle for a week to do some fishing and dog training. With the help of some friends and their fish wheel we were able to put up over 800 chum salmon for the dogs to eat this winter. Salmon is an essential part of the dogs diet, it is not only full of good nutrients, omega 3’s and energy for the dogs it also has a high concentration of water in it and when fed raw and frozen along the trail it helps to keep the dogs hydrated. I hung most of the fish on my fish wrack in Eagle to dry a little before trucking them home. I also filled a freezer with fish so that they’d keep all of their moisture for feeding the dogs on the trail. The fish that were hung on the rack will be cooked into a fish stew with rice and poultry fat this fall and winter for feeding to the dogs while at the kennel.

I returned home from Eagle with the dogs in late September after a week of fun training, fish gathering, visiting family, and friends and even making some new friends. And then in early-mid October Robert and I made a quick overnight trip into Eagle (roughly 8-10 hours of driving one way) and picked up all the fish and brought them home to Fairbanks. Once back in Fairbanks we put all the fish in what we call a “fish crib” which is a covered structure that keeps the dogs, ravens, foxes, and other critters out, but allows some air flow and keeps the snow off the fish. They will remain frozen in the crib all winter and as we cook batches of salmon stew up every few days for the dogs their numbers will diminish and the goal is to use all of the fish up by spring or they will start to smell.

We cook the fish out side using a special type of cooker made from the barrel of a washing machine and an old grill grate. I build a small fire inside of the barrel (it is important the fire stays small otherwise it will burn the fish and then the dogs wont eat it) and set the grate on top. I then place a metal bucket with 4-5 fish and a few gallons of water on to the grate to boil and cook, when the fish is almost done I add the rest of the ingredients, and wha-la there you have it, fish stew.

The fish have been one of the more major projects around here lately, but not the only one. Running the dogs daily is fun and time consuming. There is always firewood to work on and water to haul. The rabbits also need daily attention, and with fall comes butchering season for both the rabbits and wild game. I am happy to say that along with rabbit, ptarmigan, and grouse we will also be eating caribou this winter.

In early October we got two more of our male dogs neutered and five more of our females spayed. Leaving us with only two intact males and four intact females in the whole kennel. By only keeping a few of our best dogs not altered we are able to better prevent unplanned breedings, and give the dogs a healthier life. Spaying a female eliminates the risk of her getting a pyometra (uterine infection) and also reduces her chance of getting breast cancer. Also altered dogs fight less and tend to be more relaxed with each other overall, and they tend to require less calories to keep ideal weight. All seven dogs went through surgery smoothly and have recovered completely and are running with the team again and on schedule for the upcoming race season. 

Training runs have been getting longer and longer every week with the dogs and soon we will start doing some mini camping trips where we will bed the dogs down on the side of the trail and feed them, then let them rest a few hours before continuing on with the run. This is training and practice for later in the winter when we take our longer trips and do some races.

Speaking of races this winter is shaping up to be a busy one. The team and I are now officially signed up for two 300-mile races, the Yukon Quest 300 and the Copper Basin 300.  These two races are known as some of the toughest 300-mile races in Alaska. The Copper Basin 300 will start January 11th, in Glenallen Alaska and the Yukon Quest 300 will start February 1st in Fairbanks Alaska. We also plan to run the Solstice 100 in Two Rivers, for the third time in mid December. And The Two Rivers 200 for the second time, it starts March 7th. And maybe we can fit some other races in there as well.

Until next time, happy trails.

Roughly 800 salmon hanging on the rack in Eagle.

Salmon and Eggs shortly before loading them onto the trailer in Eagle.

Out enjoying the new snow on a lovely November afternoon.

Ah, Sunshine!

The fish cooker at work.

A run with a view.

Going for a run in the beginning of last nights snow storm, we easily got 6-8 fresh inches from this storm.

Matrix and Tramp enjoying the snow.

The fresh snow in the dog yard as of this morning.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall Training Is Going Well

Matrix and Adidas leading the team on a beautiful October day.

Late afternoon sun shines through the birch trees and slowly melts away our new snow.

The dogs enjoy a run through a fresh dusting of snow.

Enjoying cooler temperatures and beautiful autumn leaves.

 

Introducing another young potential musher to the sport.

While there still isn't enough snow to switch to the sled from the four wheelers yet, we are still enjoying the beauty it brings and we are looking forward to a wonderful white winter.

As you can see from the photos above our fall training is progressing well. We are getting the dogs out regularly and they are getting stronger with each run. The weather is very nice for this time of year, we are experiencing mild temperatures with intermittent snowfalls. The light snow falls don't last to long and the snow only sticks around a day or two, but soon it will be here to stay for the winter.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fall Training

Fall training has begun here at the kennel. We have been taking teams out now for a few weeks in groups of 6-12 dogs. We started with really short runs of 2 miles and have now worked our way up to about 6 mile runs. We will continue to slowly up the mileage by about 2 or so miles per week until they are conditioned for races. Below are a few pictures of training so far.

Enjoying a run through the early morning fog.

Enjoying the view on a beautiful September morning.

Strange and Chaos enjoy a post run drink.

In addition to fall training we are working on projects around the kennel. And we are always trying to improve the kennel in one way or another, and this fall we made and put up name plates for all of the dogs. Here Matrix is showing off hers.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Its beginning to look a lot like fall

It is beginning to look a lot like fall time around the kennel. The leaves are turning yellow, the temperatures are cooling, and we are getting lots of foggy mornings. There is a lot to do in preparation for our first dog run, which with fingers crossed will be Monday. I am working on the finishing touches of painting the dog box. Here is a sneak peak of how its coming. Thanks to Hanna Marie in Eagle for designing our new logo.


I have also continued with that never ending chore we call fire wood. We are only about a chord away from meeting my goal and I am so excited. The feeling of knowing you have enough fire wood to make it through the winter is a good one. Fire wood to us is like money in the bank. Of course reaching my goal for this winter doesn't mean we are done, it only means that the wood we will be gathering will be for the following winter.

We have already had a few nights that were to chilly for our garden, we have lost all of our food producing plants except for a few of the herbs and one really stubborn lettuce plant. Luckily I predicted the cooler temperatures thanks to a heads up from a friend, and I was able to bring our harvest in before it was to late. My sunflower plant that wasn't looking to hot this spring and given my history of failure with sunflowers is surprisingly thriving. Its in need of being re-potted, but at this point I am not gonna bother, it could succumb to these cold nights at any time. But just the same I am still hoping it blooms. Here is a picture of my hardy sunflower with  Bandit to give you an idea of how massive this previously grim looking plant has  gotten.






I have also been on a quest to fill our freezer with caribou, grouse, and maybe even a black bear. So far I haven't succeeded, but I am going to keep trying. We also have lots of rabbits to add to the freezer this year and the number just keeps growing, we had a nice healthy litter of seven born last night. Here is a picture of me and my friend Hollie caribou hunting in the White mountains.


Excitement is in the air at the kennel and I am not sure who is more excited me or the dogs to be training again. My next post should be about how our first dog run or two went.

Until next time happy trails.



Friday, August 9, 2013

Life at the Homestead Part 2



Today I would like to talk a little about where our food comes from. We currently raise rabbits for meat, hunt, gather berries, fish, and grow a small garden. We are no where near being completely self reliant in the food aspect of our life, but we are working on it. It is my goal to one day only depend on the super market for staples such as flour, salt, and some fruit since we live in Alaska and about the only “fruits” that grow nicely this far north are blueberries, and some other types of berries. I like to harvest from the surrounding wilderness or grow our food because I am not big on the idea of genetically altered foods, or meat pumped full of growth hormones, and vegetables drenched in pesticides and grown in unnatural fertilizers.
 
I started raising rabbits several years ago with the goal of supplementing our meat supply with a very protein rich, low fat and cholesterol meat. I started out with 3 rabbits and now have roughly 30 in my rabbitry. I chose rabbits over chickens, cows, sheep, and goats because they tolerate cold really well, are a very healthy form of protein, a single breeding pair can produce a lot of little bunnies, and they produce more meat per pound of food you give then than any other “livestock” animal. A rabbits gestation period is only 31 days and rabbits go from birth to butchering size in 8-12 weeks making them efficiently fast producers.
Three 7 week old rabbits eagerly awaiting more food.

We house the rabbits out side in wire hutches built into shepters that provide them with protection from the wind, sun, and predators. Rabbits tolerate cold really well and do just fine in our cold winters I can proudly say that I have never lost a rabbit to the cold, even in temperatures as low as -50f. The only addition we add to the hutches in the winter time is a small rabbit sized ply wood shelter with straw or hay as bedding that protects the rabbits from the wind and allows them to hunker down inside and stay warmer.
A rabbit enjoying his "house"

We feed the rabbits a simple diet of locally grown oats and hay which is supplemented by grasses and leaves in the summer as well as vegetable, fruit and garden scraps when available. I have found one of the rabbit’s favorite foods to be apple cores. We also supply them with salt licks and fresh water in the summer by bottles and in bowls in the winter.
One week old bunnies.

One day old bunnies.

Besides meat the rabbits also provide us with two of what we call useful by-products. The first being beautiful and soft fur pelts for making warm clothing out of. And the second being a high quality manure that is great for the garden and does not require a composting before use like other manures such as horse or chicken. You can just throw the little brown pellets right into your garden when ever.

This year I have a small container garden planted which I hope to expand it into a huge raised bed garden in the near future. Currently I am growing lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, chives and other herbs, peas, pumpkins, broccoli, carrots and a small assortment of flowers. In the record warm summer we have been having my tomatoes, lettuce and other warm weather crops are thriving while my colder weather crops that generally thrive in the cooler Alaskan summers like broccoli are not doing well and instead of producing are bolting and going strait to seed. I have been using a blend of rabbit manure, fishmeal, and alfalfa pellets on my garden this year as fertilizer and the plants seem to be loving it. 
Lettuce and Tomatoes.

Pansys

Basil

Pumpkins and flowers.






With a beautiful harvest of wild blueberries this summer I am finding myself in the berry patch quite often, I have been picking as many as I can around firewood and other homestead chores. These delicious wild treats will be made into jam and other goodies as time allows. The next berry harvest will be high bush and then low bush cranberries…I can hardly wait. The low bush cranberries and blueberries seem to carpet the woods in this area. 


Harvesting Wild Blueberries.

This fall and winter I will be doing some grouse, moose, and caribou hunting to hopefully add some more meat to our freezer. I also hope to do some salmon fishing in the Yukon for chums to help supplement the kennels diet this winter.

Until next time, happy trails.

Life at the Homestead Part 1

It has been brought to my attention that through out my posts I have mainly focused on the team and the trips we go on and the races we run and that people would also like to hear about our unique lifestyle living in a yurt off the grid with a bunch of huskies. So over the next few posts I am going to try to give you a better look at just where the dogs and I live and more importantly how we live.

Our kennel is located about 20 miles north of Fairbanks Alaska on a beautiful forested hillside near the Chatanika River valley. We choose to live “off the grid” or in other terms with out any outside wires coming in. We also do not have any running water or plumbing. Our “restroom” is an out-house which we use year round and at all temperatures warm or cold.

I currently haul all of our water by hand in five-gallon jugs from a nearby spring. We use roughly 15-25 gallons of water a day so this one chore can become quite time consuming. Despite the extra work hauling our water the spring lets us enjoy some of the best tasting cleanest water Alaska has to offer. On the brighter side not having plumbing means that we don’t have to worry about pipes freezing or any of those other pesky problems that plumbing in Alaska often brings.

We don’t live in a “typical Alaskan log cabin,” but instead in a  yurt. A yurt is in other terms a glorified tent in the shape of a circle, which has a wooden frame and fabric skin. Our only source of heat is a wood stove on which I do most if not all of our cooking in the winter time. There is a bit of a learning curve to cooking on the wood stove, but once you get it down it can be quite enjoyable. I’ll post more about wood stove cooking at a later date.

In order to feed the wood stove we need a lot of firewood, I split and stack our wood in the spring and summer so that it can dry for winter time use. Trees naturally have alot moisture in them and it is important to properly dry or season your wood to get the most efficient heat and burn time from it. I plan to have over seven chords of wood split and stacked by the end of August or mid September at the latest, and I am well on my way to reaching that goal.

There are three main types of fire-wood in interior Alaska; Birch, Spruce, and Aspen. Birch and Spruce are the most common, but we use all three. Aspen burns fast and hot and produces a lot of ash in the process which means you have to clean out your wood stove fairly often if not daily while burning this easily obtained wood that grows through out the interior almost as thick as weeds in places. Spruce also burns hot, and relatively quickly, but not as fast as aspen. Birch in my opinion is some of the better firewood out there for keeping your fire burning for a longer period of time. It is a really nice semi hard wood that burns slower than aspen or spruce while still putting off a good amount of heat. We really like to load up the stove with birch at night and when we leave the yurt for longer periods of time during the day such as training runs.

For our electricity our needs are simple and currently met by a gas powered Honda 2000 generator. The generator powers a few lights in the yurt and also charges our laptop computers for us from time to time. We try not to run the generator every day and will often go a day or two between uses in the winter time and some times up to a week in the summer. The generator will power the power tools we need and is small enough to be easily transported around the property to where ever it is needed at the time. One day we hope to add a battery bank to the homestead for energy storage and maybe some solar panels or wind turbines for alternative energy sources. And in order to use the internet I have to find a place in town with Wi-Fi,  and that is the biggest reason these posts are often few and far between.

Well that’s enough for this post. I will post more on gardening, the meat rabbits we raise, and other aspects of the homestead later.

Until next time, happy trails!


Here is a view of our Yurt, this picture was taken in mid April of this year.  
Here is the yurt under construction, note the wood lattice structure.
Getting started on our wood for the winter.



A nice start to what will soon be several large woodpiles in preparation for the coming cold.