The Kilcher family on the Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier is doing what one always seems to be doing in Alaska: preparing for winter.
There is bascially no time to enjoy the spring. The snow-free (well, almost, on some spring days) are just too few to take any of them for granted.
So, as the snows melt away, the Kilchers begin driving cattle to summer pastures.
It’s certainly a challenging lifestyle. The Kilchers do hunt and fish, to remain self-sufficient.
They garden in the short days of summer. And, they raise chickens and cattle.
As Otto has gotten older, he has conceded that hunting is something he would rather do without, so he raises cattle.
“I have cattle, so I don’t hunt,” Otto said. “Cattle are pretty important for my economic livelihood … it’s a pretty arduous, never-ending job. You’re either feeding cattle or putting up hay for cattle.”
“If you raise cattle in Alaska, hay is a big part of it,” Atz Sr. explained. “Sometimes you have plenty of hay, sometimes it runs out. Usually you have about enough to make it through the winter.”
Part of raising cattle on the Kilcher homestead is growing hay, which they do on their meadows and harvest themselves.
During this part of the cattle-raising cycle, the cattle are moved from the meadows to a summer range at the head of the bay, where they can graze at leisure.
But, the move is hard and dangerous, and there are typically losses during the drive and/or over the summer, whether to sickness, injury or carnivorous predators.
Not all are able to make the trip, particularly pregnant cows that are too far along. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sentimentality.
“I cannot send the white one up there,” Charlotte, Otto’s vegetarian wife, said, “because it’s my favorite cow.
The last time I sent a white one, it got eaten by the bears. … She’s really my friendliest cow that I want to have as my future milk cow.”
Otto felt that the cow—Willie—should go, but he agreed to let it stay. “I’ve learned to take the hint early on, as a smart man should,” he philosophized to the camera.
Getting those cows to pasture takes a lot of planning and hard work, and really underscores what goes into living a subsistence lifestyle.
No Veggies = Scurvy
Also this week, Atz Lee explained the importance of keeping vegetables in the diets of the homesteaders.
“Carrots, beets, cabbages, broccoli,” he listed. “Something you can put in the root cellar and will last all winter long.
Just good hearty vegetables. As a kid you never really understand the importance of vegetables, you’re just told that you gotta eat them.
But evidently there’s a lot of vitamins and minerals inside the vegetables, which I figured out in my own personal experience, one winter where I just kinda got stuck into a red meat, dairy kick and ended up with scurvy.”
To that end, Atz Lee is hoping that his new greenhouse will give him at least an extra month of growing time this season.