The reality of farm life: it ain’t all sunshine and roses

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that we are still relatively new at this farming/homesteading thing-only a couple of years.  Most of the time, we are blessed with happy and healthy animals.  But, as with everything else in life, it’s not always that way.

Enter in Wilbur, one of our barrows.  Wilbur was one of the piglets we brought home late last year and raised to full weight.  He was a happy and healthy pig…until he wasn’t.  When we fed the animals on Sunday morning, he wouldn’t get up to eat.  By the time we came home from church on Sunday, he seemed worse and died within minutes of us arriving home.  Maybe he was waiting until we got there to say bye?  Yeah, I’m not quite that sentimental, but it did all happen really fast.  My immediate fear was the PEDv going around, but he didn’t display any clinical symptoms..and frankly, the way we farm and the few people who are invited onto our land mean that we have pretty strict biosecurity procedures naturally.  Upon further research, I found that it’s not terribly uncommon for pigs to die without obvious physical symptoms and the only way to confirm cause of death is with an autopsy.  Seems a little too CSI for us, but I’m sure that makes perfect sense to a “monoculture” farmer with thousands of pigs to protect.  We immediately moved him from their yard and took him a good distance away from all livestock for disposal.  Some have asked why we didn’t just butcher him and sell/eat the meat.  There are so many reasons why we wouldn’t do that.  One is that for a pig to be butchered commercially (ya know-not by your uncle Fred behind the garage), the butcher or his/her agent has to witness the killing.  Two is because we didn’t know or even suspect what killed him, we did not feel good about selling (or even giving) that meat to anyone.  We may not know everything there is to know about raising pigs, but we know our own values and we will never sell meat we wouldn’t feed to our own Blueberry girl, so with his death, it’s a total loss.

As to the future, our remaining gilts/barrows seem to be doing just fine.  They do not love the high heat, but do love the baths I’m giving them every day.  We have made some tentative plans around what we want our future to be with raising pigs and I think it’s the right decision.  We have been thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly!!!) enjoying the hand cured/smoked bacon, amazing chops, delicious steaks, and incredible sausage from these Berkshire piggies, and for that, we are grateful.  If it’s up to us, we will never, ever go back to what we now recognize as inferior quality pork from the local mega mart.

Until next time, happy homesteading Blueberry Acres Fans!

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Quickie: Garden is coming up roses…

….and strawberries!  We had a late start on our gardening season this year at Blueberry Acres, but we’re so excited to report that we have sprung seedlings in all kinds of beans, beets, broccoli, swiss chard, pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon, spices and more.  The slugs have found our strawberries, but that just means I can treat them all to a beer.  Careful use of organic Neem oil is going to be our good friend as well as organic food grade DE, if we can just get the garden to dry off a little bit from all of these rains.  We also moved plants around in an effort to stave off some of the effects of our arch nemesis, the squash bug.  We also worked to eliminate all of our raised beds (except for the strawberries) and have taken everything to a row configuration in an effort to better control weeds.  I’ve heard lots of gardeners extol the virtues of raised beds, but it was a beating for us and we’re excited about this new set up.

What do you have in your garden this year?

Berkshire bacon is on the way!!

Well, several of our registered Berkshire pigs are going to the happy hunting ground later this week.  We will be offering some of this pork for sale to friends, family and other foodies like us.  We’re excited to see the results of what has been absolute hours and hours of work on these crafty, smart and enormous animals.  If you follow our blog (as infrequent as it may be), you already know a few things about how we raise our livestock, but if not, here’s a quick overview:

Organic…to be or not to be!

Being certified Organic is an incredibly expensive and time-consuming process that a lot of small family farms don’t undertake.  While we could certify once we have been on our land for 3 years (we’re not quite there), we don’t feel like it’s worth the thousands (upon thousands) of dollars to invest in this governmental certification, so instead we try to be transparent with how we raise our animals.  For our pigs, they are raised in a large pen with access to some forage.  We supplement their feed with commercial feed that is antibiotic free when we can get it.  Yep-that’s a big problem-that feed is not always available, but we do our best to avoid the antibiotic feed that many commercial pig operations feed exclusively.  In addition, our pigs receive zero additional medications during their life here with us.  So, I feel honest in saying that our pigs are sorta organic.

Registered?  Papers?  I don’t need no stinking papers!

But, really you do!  Our stock is registered and more importantly they are from registered blood lines found at a well established, well-respected family farm.  We can trace the lineage of our pigs and are happy to report that there are no “Uncle Daddys” among our boys or girls.  As we move forward with our breeding program, we will continue to ensure this clean genetic line by introducing stock from other family farms thereby keeping everyone pure Berkshire and not genetically compromised.

Butchering…learned it on youtube?

As a small family farm, we do a lot of things ourselves.  However, there are a few things that we absolutely will not do and one of the things at the very top of that list is butcher our own large animals.  We do not have the facility, training or equipment for it and we prefer to turn that over to trained professionals in established facilities whose cleanliness is inspected and maintained.  Do you really want me butchering your pork chops next to my coffee pot while running my dishwasher?  Yeah, I didn’t think so!

I’m your mother’s cousin’s sister’s friend twice removed…..you can cut me a deal on the price, right?

We love our friends, family and mother’s cousin’s sister’s friends and would be happy to give anyone who wants a large volume of meat a volume specific price.  However, please remember that these are Registered Berkshire pigs.  Do a quick Bing search for Berkshire pork and you will see that prices range from $15-$40 per pound from commercial producers who make no effort to raise organic.  In Japan, apparently the prices can go even higher!  But…we’re not in Japan and we’re not looking to extort money out of other pork loving foodies.  As we take this batch to butcher, we will sit down and calculate a fair price based on our cost that is reasonable. You will know the price per pound of the cut you want before you have to commit.  But, I’m just going to say this…if you want grocery store prices, ya gotta go buy grocery store pork…capice?

You don’t have to be a local yokel to enjoy these piggies

If you aren’t near us, we can ship to you!  Just contact us through our site and we can work out shipping, etc for you to get your little piggie products.  We may be country but we do have FedEx/UPS!

Speak now or forever hold your peace..

This is hopefully not a one time deal.  We will have other pigs available for purchase later this spring/early summer.  From there, our focus will be on our breeding program so that we always have a supply of yummy, delicious berkshire pork available.  If now is not the time for you to buy humanely raised, sorta organic, deliiiiicious berkshire pork, you will have other chances!

 

Thanks to everyone who helped, supported and educated us as we started this process of learning about pigs.  Now let’s go make some bacon!

Step away from the canned pumpkin!

Nothing says the start of my favorite time of year like pumpkins.  Our little Blueberry can sniff out a hidden pumpkin patch the way some kids know where you hide the candy in your handbag!  There are 7 large pumpkins clustered in the middle of my dining room table right now as a result of multiple trips to pumpkin patches.  If you are anything like me, you have a hard time saying no to buying yet another interesting looking pumpkin for fall decorations.  But instead of decorating them and forgetting them, think ahead and plan for reusing those pieces of decoration for your baking!  If you are thinking about trying to be a little more conscious with your food, finding fresh local produce from small farmers like us is a fantastic way to not only get to know your neighbors but it’s also a smart way to help your kids better connect with the food they eat.

To start, pick out some midsize pumpkins. If you have a choice, I recommend sugar pumpkins. They are typically easy to find and available both at farmer’s markets and your local mega mart.

Slice off the tops and then scoop out the interior. Once clean, bake flesh side up in a 350 degree oven for 20-35 minutes. Some recipes will suggest oiling them or seasoning them. I like to just roast them dry.

Just keep an eye on the pumpkins after 20 minutes to ensure that they don’t burn. A little bit of carmelization is a good thing but you don’t want them to look like the crazy tanning lady…

Once they have cooked and cooled, you can scoop out the flesh and just discard the skin, or if you are like me, make some happy little Berkshire piggies happy by giving them the leftover pumpkin.

Just because I love looking at their little selves.  Smoochie smoochie!

Just because I love looking at their little selves. Smoochie smoochie!

I just love those piggies and will use any excuse to show pictures of them: Wilbur, Spot, White Fur, Stinky and Hubert (he’s French), our baby barrow Berkshire piggies. I love them. And yes, I will eat them too…but I digress.

From there, you can freeze the flesh or use it right away. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of gal, so I made muffins with my freshly cooled pumpkin. And when I say muffins, let’s be honest…I mean cupcakes that I call muffins so I feel a little better about myself:

Blueberry’s favorite Pumpkin Muffins

For the muffins:

1 cup room temperature butter 1 to 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 cups brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt

1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground clove 1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground ginger 3 large eggs

1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 2 ½ cups AP flour

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (see above) ½ to ¾ cup instant rolled oats

For the topping:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar 3 tablespoons AP flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, sugar and pumpkin together with an electric or stand mixture. Then add eggs and mix until thoroughly incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients. While you can absolutely buy pre-ground spices, I strongly recommend that you invest in one of these cool little things:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic3

I cannot tell you how much I love this little grater. And if you are wondering what the heck that is in my needing to be manicured hand, its nutmeg. Once you have smelled freshly grated nutmeg, you will want it on and in everything. The little plastic jars of spices cannot hold a candle to this. In addition, this little grater can also help you discover the joy of freshly grated cinnamon:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic4

I was trying to be so cool and give you an action shot here of me grating fresh cinnamon into the mix. However, shortly after I snapped this, I managed to grate about half of my finger into the mix. You will note that I didn’t include that in the ingredient list. You are welcome.

After you have mixed your dry ingredients, slowly incorporate them into your wet mixture. The dough should be wet but not overly wet..think cookies versus cake. From there, scoop into muffin cups-about 2/3 full. From there, mix all of your topping ingredients in a separate bowl and spoon generously on top of your muffins before baking for about 20-25 minutes.

I’ll be honest; this isn’t a great shot of the muffins. By the time I took this, I had downed several of them…in the name of research, of course! However, all of that sugar made me a little jumpy. Sigh. The things I do for blogging…

Now, what I really love about these muffins is that they are idiot proof, and frankly, living my life, I need more things that are idiot proof. The first time I made this recipe, I forgot the baking soda and powder but they still turned out like rock stars…or rocks, but at least tasty rocks. If you wanted to riff on this recipe, you could substitute applesauce for some or all of the butter. You could also swap out whole wheat flour for AP flour. In addition, you could omit some of the sugar. Bottom line is that there are many ways to make and remake this recipe..just get in the kitchen and bake!

 

Here piggy piggy! A curly tale about getting pigs

Well, he went and did it!  Sheldon went last week to pick up our “couple” of pigs…except the maybe 3ish pigs turned into 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 very large boar.  For those of you playing at home, that is 9 pigs….who need to go into an enclosure that was designed to hold 6 at most?  Not only that but the gilts that we picked up are not quite at the farrowing (the baby making stage for you non-pig people) stage, so we need to keep the boar away from the ladies a bit longer.  Have you ever tried to encourage a lonely 200ish lb pig of anything?  Yeah..it ain’t easy.  Gripety gripe gripe gripe.

Ok, so let’s reboot and start this post again.

thCANBX0K1

Yeah!  We were blessed to be able to afford 9 Registered Berkshire pigs that will enable us to begin our pig farming (on a tiny scale) but will also help fill our freezers with high quality, pasture raised pork for the winter.  While the plan was to start with a smaller amount of piggage (I made that word up, don’t bing it for accuracy, ok?), Sheldon just became so enamoured of the piggy potential that he decided to up the ante by starting our pig endeavors with 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 ginormous boar. 

Hush little piggies don't say a word...mama's gonna buy you a big pile of food

Hush little piggies don’t say a word…mama’s gonna buy you a big pile of food

3 out of the 4 older pigs.  I didn't want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

3 out of the 4 older pigs. I didn’t want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

And so I don’t make you go on out to Wikipedia, I will tell you what all of these words mean:

Boar: a male pig of breeding age.  Some people refer to this as an “intact” male.  Our boar is named Shoot after his sire, Shoot to Thrill and he is very very intact.  Like I cannot look directly at the back of him intact.  Like we had to have a biology lesson with The Blueberry intact.  Ok, you get the picture.

Gilt: a female pig of breeding age who has not yet had a litter or maybe has only had 1 litter.  Our gilts are named Charlotte, Hey You and Other Pig (ok, so we are a little behind on the naming) haven’t yet had any babies and should be totally ready to go later this fall/early winter. 

Barrow:  a male pig that is castrated at a young age before he hits puberty.  Yes, pigs get pimples and act awkward too, except they don’t..but of course they do go through puberty.  Barrows are often prized as feeder pigs because many people think that the lack of testosterone in their systems means their meat has a superior flavor.  We have 5 barrows named Hubert (he’s French), Spot, Skunky, White fur and Wilbur.  Of course we have a pig named Wilbur!

And just for fun

Stag: this is a male pig that is castrated at a later age.  We didn’t get any of these, but when I saw this term in my pig books, I had to laugh…next time your husband talks about going to a “stag party” you can laugh with me…

Now here is where it gets a little more intensive.  Because we had built the pigmahal and pig yard, we thought we would be set on pig buildings for a long time.  It took Sheldon a long time to finish the pig house because that man built it out of concrete blocks with mortared in concrete blocks.  No ramshackle pig house for our pigs! 

Butttttt…because our girls aren’t quite ready to get pregnant and our male is very ready to make everything pregnant, we are building him his own little bachelor pad with an adjoining “birthing house” next door so we will be able to lead the appropriate pig to the appropriate place when the time is right.  In addition, because we ended up with some little piggy barrows, we didn’t feel good about putting them in with the big kids, so they actually went into a temporary enclosure until we get Shoot moved this weekend.  Ironically, they went into a chicken yard that I had just finished.  This means that we are delaying moving around some of our chickens, but we thought it was better that than have Shoot step on them all in his excitement to get to the ladies.  Once Shoot is settled in, we will move the barrows into the run with the gilts and then the chickens can finally get rearranged.  Whew.  It’s like musical chairs but with a lot more poop.

It’s been about a week since they have been here and while it’s a heck of a lot more work in the mornings, I’m really enjoying them.  They all have personalities and I really enjoy being in with the barrows because they are such goofy little things.  The big pigs are fairly docile but are interested in Sheldon and have given him some love nips a couple of times.  While we don’t think they are about to eat us, they do seem to be naturally curious.  We’re keeping them very well fed, so we don’t think we are going to end up as one of those horror stories of a farmer getting eaten by his/her pigs, but still..I prefer not to get love nips from someone who could eat me.

I’m looking forward to trying out all manner of pork recipes with these Berkshires, but for now, they are just eating, pooping, mess making machines.  Enjoying it all the same!  What’s new on your homestead?

 

 

2013 summer growing season is well..sucking.

I think I’m a little bummed about this first year garden here at Blueberry Acres. We did a lot of things wrong this year that frankly, we knew better than to do. We started late..partially because of the ridiculous May snowfall but also because we were just overwhelmed with animal activity. We also didn’t set up our garage greenhouse to start our seedlings. We started some in our kitchen (epic mistake), some in the living room and some went right into the ground as seed. Sheldon didn’t believe planting the seeds directly in the ground would work in our soil, but God proved him wrong and these little boogers grew like mad.

Then (and if you could imagine the song “Flight of the Bumblebee” here for effect) came the invading hoardes. Squash bugs, grasshoppers of all shapes/sizes, slugs, lions, tigers, bears…oh my. It was enough to make an organic gardener want to find some agent orange and blast those *%@(&$ to oblivion. Alas…we did not. We continued to manage our pestilence through DE, Neem Oil, beer (for me and the slugs), chicken buffets (Lana, our head chicken is very good about catching grasshoppers) and good old fashion squooshing.  However, I can’t be naive..we’ve been decimated.  Sheldon said that we were hit this hard once in Texas, but I don’t remember it.  I have been researching/studying/praying for ways to better manage the pests so they don’t turn into plagues for next season, but I think it’s going to take a major overhaul.

For one, I’m going to eliminate all of my raised beds save for one.  While I don’t think this contributed to my pests exactly, I can say that we had a hard time keeping up with the grass/weeds around the beds and I think that contributed to more bugs.  I think also having to spend time on the weeds around the beds meant less time for the beds themselves…ergo, more bugs.  Beyond eliminating the beds, I’m planning on razing the existing garden to the ground outside of the strawberry plants.  Every time I say this, Sheldon laughs as if this is just the insane ramblings of his crazy wife.  Butttt, no.  I plan on burning this thing down to nuthin if I can help it.  Why allow the little buggies somewhere warm and rich to live over the winter?  I plan on burning what I can, and destroying what I can’t.  When I’m done, I hope to be able to expand the width/length of our garden fence to include a garden that is about double in size of what this year’s garden is.  We haven’t had any trouble with bunnies eating our crops, but it’s fair to say that our area is absolutely loaded with bunnies, so we have taken no chances with a bunny and deer detering fence.  From there, I will plan on putting in proper rows covered in weed fabric and hopefully prelaid with soaker hoses prior to the next planting.  We have rain barrels that are cut and almost ready to go for some hose manifolds to help feed the watering needs.  I figure it’s going to take me the better part of the fall/winter to revamp the garden, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.

Well, the turkeys, chickens and dogs are in tucked in.  The cats are on patrol for some wild rabbit (sorry bunny lovers!) and I have a little more paid work to do before I call it a day.  Hope you all have a fantastic evening!

Updated: DANGHOLSTEIN!: The final chapter

For those of you who have kindly been following along with our cow follies, today the DANGHOLSTEIN! chapter of our journey comes to an end when Sheldon drives her to the happy hunting ground (aka the butcher who will process her) in the sky.

courtesy of soda head

courtesy of soda head

After she is dispatched, the meat will age at the butcher for a couple of weeks and then we will be able to pick up our cuts.  We have sold half of the cow for zero profit (should be at least break even) and will probably sell/trade a little bit more of her.  Since this was our first endeavor and not the breed that we are making a long term run with, our goal was just to fill our freezers up with grass fed beef for the winter.

While DANGHOLSTEIN! isn’t anyone’s automatic choice when it comes to beef cows, we have learned that it’s not uncommon for a Holstein to go to processing after her milking days are over.  Plus, we believe that the benefits of a grass fed cow are so incredibly strong, we have a hard time being anything but grateful for the meat that she will provide to us.  We anticipate the meat to be sweet-probably sweeter than what we have had in grass fed Angus and/or Belties, but we shall see.

We have talked candidly to the Blueberry about today’s event.  In fact, she has started licking her lips when we drive past DANGHOLSTEIN! in the pasture.  Something that creeps me out to no end if I’m going to be honest….but, I appreciate that my little pragmatic farm girl can take such a matter of fact perspective on this process.

Today in about an hour, our family will gather together to say a prayer over DANGHOLSTEIN! to thank her for her blessings on our family and wish her a speedy journey into the happy hunting ground.  For animal lovers, this may rankle, but our perspective is that we have probably provided her a much better life than she ever would have gotten in a commercial feedlot, plus her meat will provide for our family (and other families)-her life will not be wasted.  So, I guess in the end, she will not be DANGHOLSTEIN! at all, but despite the frustrations of learning to raise cattle, she will instead be known as ThankyouHolstein in our family.

UPDATED:

We heard from the Happy Hunting Ground (aka Cloud’s Meat Processing) that TYHolstein’s hang weight was 570 lbs.  While we didn’t know her live weight at time of butchering (she wouldn’t fit on my weight watchers scale…), the average percentage of hang weight versus live weight is typically between 60-63% with some range up to the high 60’s.  Taking this into account, she either had a big roll of quarters in her pocket or she lost weight from the time we purchased her to the time we took her to process.  We learned some things along the way from this, the purchase of our first feeder cow.  If we have to buy another feeder cow (hoping our #Beltie herd will be built up before that is necessary), we won’t do it during the height of summer.  Lands were dry, grasses were puny and while the cows had plenty to eat, it wasn’t the grass-a-palooza that we saw early this spring.  We also learned that we aren’t buying another heifer unless she is going to be used for some baby makin’!  For some reason, TYHolstein didn’t like our existing herd and ran like proverbial hell to get in our neighbors pasture with his Angus heifers.  Not sure why, but she never looked back and once a cow is committed, well, I think she is like a stubborn old woman-no changing her mind.  We think had we bought her younger, she would have had more time to acclimate to our herd.  I’m sure as the months/years go on, we’ll figure out what else we did wrong this go around, but at least for now, we remain forever grateful for her gifts.

Found on these blog hops:

found at www.modernhomesteaders.net.  Go check 'em out!

found at http://www.modernhomesteaders.net. Go check ’em out!