Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caribou In The Bathtub

Um, Peg, there's a caribou in your bathtub." A nonchalant comment made by a dear friend after she used the bathroom. Now there wasn't actually a whole, live caribou standing in my bathtub contentedly contemplating whatever it is that these herbivores think about. No, rather there was the frozen hind quarter of a caribou thawing in my bathtub. Where else would you put a 50 lb chunk of ice-encrusted meat, hide and hoof? The bathtub seemed logical then and it still seems logical today. That particular piece of caribou was later skinned - and yes on the bathroom floor - and fed to both me and the dogs. I think I received the best parts but the dogs may differ in opinion there. There was a minor skirmish over bone marrow until I discovered that the marrow tastes much better when the meat is fresh. So, am I grossing you out yet dear reader? I hope not for you see, this is a big part of being a dog musher. Sled dogs, particularly hard working ones, need more than just kibble. Ours enjoy a smorgasbord of caribou, moose, salmon, halibut, beef, chicken and just about anything else that we either harvest ourselves or that people will donate to our kennel. Last year an old mule named Daisy was donated to our kennel and she went on to nourish our crew all season. That's the way of things here in Alaska. It didn't make sense to her owners that after 36 years as a good, honest working pack mule that she be put to sleep and buried in the ground. So we took her, put her down quickly and humanely and used every last bit of her. In a way she carried on working through our dogs. Just two weeks ago a fellow musher sold off a bunch of silver salmon for 40 cents a fish. She had purchased it way back in the fall but climbing temperatures and lack of freezer space meant that the remaining stock had to be unloaded. We bought 160 fish and I'm still cooking up 7 or 8 every night for the dogs. The fish is mixed with their kibble and I swear that some nights the stuff actually smells pretty good!

160 Silver Salmon

In early August I put an ad in the paper for freezer burnt meat people will donate hundreds of pounds of food to our dogs. And then during moose season we get whatever can't be consumed by humans. There was a point last fall that every time I pulled into our driveway there were moose legs, ribs, spines and even a head or two waiting for me to cook up for the kennel. This fall I also got a bunch of moose hearts from the Anatomy teacher but I'll spare you the pictures in case you're eating! Needless to say our dogs are fat and happy.

A ton of kibble - literally

Now I bet some of you are wondering if the cooking goes on in the house. Rest assured we are not that primitive! Like many mushers, we've taken a 55-gallon drum and cut it in half. The bottom is left as is where a fire can be built in it. Then the top is turned upside down and place on a sturdy screen welded to the bottom. And there you have a dog food cooker. Feeding dogs is a serious subject and mushers will either tell you everything they know or will keep their routine and recipes to themselves - particularly if they're trying to win prestigious races like the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod. Me, I will talk about dog food all day long. And don't even get me started on one of the by-products of food - and that is poop. But we'll save that for another day!