Our Acres of Clams

May 5th, 2011

We’ve been getting lots of comments on our clam chowder at the pub. Folks have appreciated not only the flavor, but the uniqueness of getting whole, in the shell clams in the popular dish. To add to that uniqueness, the clams we use are produced locally and sustainably.

Doesn’t that make it even better?

Thankfully, our recent partnership with Baywater Shellfish allows for the Pub and Pegasus to confirm our commitment to local fresh food. The clams in our steamers and chowder are grown on the west side of Hood Canal, less than 25 miles away from our restaurant.

Baywater Shellfish is a family business. In 1990, then graduate student Joth Davis and his wife Karen found their own slice of paradise near Thorndyke Bay. The road down to the beach where the shellfish thrive is riddled with ruts and shrouded in overgrown vegetation. Remnants of an ancient homestead pepper the property and as the beach gets closer, it feels like slipping into a different world. The air feels fresher, time seems to slow down. Eagles nest in the trees above, coyotes and cougars leave footprints in the sand, black bears occasionally make an appearance. Preserving this pristine place and making little impact on the environment around it were priorities when the family found the land and continue to be today.

Davis, a fisheries biologist, immediately put into practice sustainable techniques for growing shellfish. Everything is done by hand. No chemicals are used. The bags for the clams are recycled.

The rows of clam bags are revealed with the outgoing tide. Manila clams are grown from seed (which are produced locally at the Taylor Quilcene Hatchery) in bags placed into the substrate. It takes two years for the clams to grow, and when they’re ready, the bags are plucked from the muck and placed on shin high racks, where the water flows over them. With the rise and fall of the tides, the clams clean themselves out. When they’ve flushed all the sand out, they’re ready to go to market.

In addition to their availability at our establishments, Baywater Shellfish are sold at the Bainbridge Island Farmer’s market every other week during the market’s season.

We’re pleased to have a positive relationship with a company as dedicated to our community as we are. And, of course, we’re grateful that they provide the key ingredient to our unique clam chowder.

The first day of May 2011 dawns frosty and clear skies with light ground fog.  Mt. Rainier visible prominently to the east dominating the horizon covered nearly entirely in snow presents an entirely white promontory majestically overseeing the lands below.  I do wish I could report a warmer beginning to May Day as frost tips all the grasses and fencing.  Promises of a warm afternoon present a welcome alternative to the days dawning.  Slowly the drying of the fields can begin with some warm sunshine and the stream corridor can even more slowly reduce flood levels and get back within its banks.  Springtime finally begins to get a foothold and start the movement to summer and our dry season.  Not any too soon for us here on the ranch.

Chores start the day shortly after sunrise.  Back to the ranch house to thaw-out and get breakfast.  We stayed in the house for a bit today to let the outside air warm a touch and let the horses finish their hay before heading out, me to saddle my cowpony, Bucks, and Mark to the gator with supplies for use at the corral in the back and dogs tied in.  The day’s planned cattle tasks started by moving all the cows with young calves up to the corral from a bottomland pasture quarter of a mile distant for sorting into two herds for spring breeding that prepares for winter calving 2012.  Mounted on Bucks we headed to the pastureland and push the cattle ahead of us, 25 cows, 7 yearling heifers and 24 calves, to the corral system next to the barn.  Then out again to bring up the finishing yearlings (10) and slaughter cows (4) for separation and distribution into new grazing/feeding fields.  I desired the slaughter cows go to a barn pen for hay and barnyard grazing awaiting more aggressive Spring forage growth elsewhere before returning to pasture, while turning out the finishing yearlings to lush green grazing.

The sorting of cattle went smoothly but is not a fast chore with each cow needing ear tag reading and proper herd placement (in the correct corral pen).  Then the calves must be sorted next to stay with their mother in the breeding herds, an even more arduous task as the young stock jump about and dart away at every opportunity, not knowing what’s going on by we people walking about among them in the corral pens.  Cows and calves reunited properly leaves the heifers to be bred for the first time to be added to the proper herd.  Each of these yearlings first requires ear tag replacement from calf tag to cow tag.  So these girls are run through the chute and squeeze for this necessary herd identification task.  Not hard, but time consuming job.  Some heifers need a nose clip to hold them necessarily still for the removal of the calf tag and placement of the shiny new cow ID tag.  No daughter of bull Wrangler will go in his breeding herd, but in younger bull #55’s group of females, each bull getting 16 head total to breed.  I record the numbers carefully in the herd file.

The bulls are moved in with their cows next, one bull/one herd at a time.  The necessity of keeping the bulls at least two fences apart, well respected.  The boys, you see, are anxious, eager and jumping for joy, quite literally, to get in with the girls!  The younger bull gave some terrific cavorts in the process of being moved from the mare-foal paddock just to the east of the ranch house where he’d been wintering, to the main lane to join his herd girls and babies.  Amazing how quickly and agile Bucks can move sideways and backward when avoiding a snorting, charging bull!  The bulls and their herds moved easily from the corral system to pasture once united.  No real problems getting these cattle put out.

Mark and I decided then to get the feeder calves (26 head of 8 month old recently weaned calves) off the reach of Muck Creek to the east of the bridge, a good half mile of stream reach.  They needed booster vaccinations and new pasture.  A June 20, 2010 calf among them, she’s old enough to be coming in season, so I couldn’t have her next to bulls, needs separating.  As it turned out the feeder calves were freaked out by Bucks, something I’d not anticipated.  Bucks and I ended up having to ride the entire reach to the east line fence pushing some ahead of me, through swampy overflow, flooding and all.  Then at the east line fence area, Mark on the south side of the creek in the gator, the calves proceeded to charge, leap and scramble through the mud, flood and streambed to from the north bank area to the south.  One can never trust moving calves to be a straightforward or predictable endeavor!  Bucks and I were left with no calves and so we followed by fording the rain swollen stream too.  Horse and rider, we then proceeded to move the herd of 26 calves to the west where we wanted them, the entire half mile plus of the creek pasture.  However, I believe, Bucks, decided he wished to give the calves a good run for demonstrating their already crazy behavior previously and was belligerent the entire way as we rode along behind the calves.  All the time, you understand, my restraining him properly, he became most annoyed.  Bucks’ frustration meant he spent nearly the entire ride bucking here and there for the complete generous half mile distance.  Not really trying to unseat me, you realize, but saying, “Let’s get these monster little cattle a good chase!”  Whoa!  And so we bantered the whole way.  Mark was most amused as he drove behind or next to me in the gator.

Bucks and I managed to “cut-out” the older heifer in the Oak Mott Watering Pen, we needed to accomplish.  Sorted out, we moved her to a holding place in a watering lane pen and ran the remaining feeder calves in an adjacent small field.  That part of the work was perfect.

Back up to the corral system to finish putting out those fat finishing yearlings and slaughter cows out to separate pastures.  The two finishing steers and one pregnant cow grazing in the front pasture needed bringing in to the corral system too.  As I loped across the field between the ranch house and the road, my hay dealer, Daryl, drove by, empty, undoubtedly heading over the pass again for hay.  He gave a big blast of his Kenworth diesel’s horn and Bucks acknowledged this salute with a nice buck.  Daryl will give me heck for this next time he sees me!

So by 2PM and lunchtime, all were placed, well, and happy.  Bucks returned to his paddock for a good roll in the dirt, Mark and I in the house for a bite.  Tomorrow we will booster vaccinate those weaning age feeder calves before moving them to a larger lush pasture for grazing and growing.  After lunch we must get to some fencing repair before nightfall.  Later that evening as we checked the herds, the young bull had as many as 4 ready females!  What a show that presented!  He’ll not settle them all!  The other older bull had one heifer he was following about.  So the business of spring begins on the Camas Prairie Ranch.