Surprise Vegetable of the Year

October 23rd

The humble turnip is the winner. Fern and I have been married a little over three decades, and we tried turnips at least once a decade. The first time, when we were in college, we were financially poor. One day at the grocery store, we bought a turnip. We took that thing home, cut it up in little chunks, boiled it up like you would mashed potatoes, added butter, salt, and pepper, took one bite, and that was it. That was basically how it went for three decades.

A couple of years back, a man brought a bunch of turnips to church, fresh out of the ground. That was the third decade. So, we basically came to the conclusion that turnips, to our palates, offer an undesirable experience. 

But, one day while at the local feed store, the owner was out planting turnips in his pasture. Never having been shy in the

October 7th

question pool, I asked him why. After getting that look, that you normally get when you realize you have just asked the most unbelievably stupid question, he told me that his cattle would eat the greens all winter long if he would rotate his pastures. Okay. I’m a big city boy, but I’ve been around cattle on and off now for about 30 years, and I’m used to that look from these all-knowing country fellows. But I had still never heard of what he was talking about. So, Fern and I did a little research and found that this was a common technique from days gone by. You see, he uses techniques that were used before every farmer had their own hay equipment and a 500 gallon diesel tank. But it works for him and he doesn’t buy, bale, haul, store or use the diesel to produce hay. He rotates pastures and grows turnips. Well, actually he doesn’t grow turnips, he grows the greens.

Well, at the same time, since Fern and I have a pretty good idea what’s coming in the future, we have been looking into different forms of feed for livestock when the commercial grain is gone. Interesting as it is, we humans have very short memories. People did feed their animals before commercial grains came along. Most livestock are more than happy to eat turnips, rutabagas, beets, sunflower seeds, carrots and a large variety of things that we don’t take the time to produce anymore because grains are so cheap. But the fact of the matter is, these animals stomachs are not designed to process grain. They are designed to process not only the greens from these vegetables, but also the vegetables growing in the ground themselves. 

To make a long story longer, when we were putting our garden to sleep this year, we decided to plant some turnips, carrots and beets on an experimental basis to see if the livestock would eat them. I’m going to focus on turnips here. We are still feeding our chickens turnip greens which they love. We are also starting to feed them the turnip itself, which they happily devour. We also grew and dried some corn this year. You give the chickens dried corn and a turnip, the corn will sit there and not get eaten, but the turnip will be gone.

Now, onto the goats. They will happily consume the turnip greens, and if we chop up the turnip itself, some of our goats will eat them and some of them won’t. But they also know that a bucket of grain is coming, too. It’s kind of like feeding a child, you make the child eat what you want them to eat, then they get desert. Having read the history of goats and turnips, I have no doubt that when the grain is gone, they will be happy to eat turnips. On a side note here, if your goats are expecting babies, be careful changing your feed ration during gestation.

November 23rd

Now, on to the crux of the story. I have always liked turnip greens, Fern has not. There is a lady at church that fixes up a big batch of turnip greens once a month at our potlucks. I get a big scoop, and now, Fern does too. What has caused this change and revelation? Well, one day we decided to cook some turnips, and we got the same results we have gotten for three decades now. Fern mentioned it in the post The Nutrition of Turnips, and a reader posted a very interesting comment. They said we needed to peel all of the outer layer off and it would remove the bitterness from the turnip. “When you peel the turnip be sure to get the translucent layer about an 1/8 of an inch under the skin. The peel will be about 1/4 inch thick. The translucent layer is what has the bitterness in it. Then slice and eat raw…no bitterness. In a stew the turnips now take on the taste of the gravy.”

Look at the line just beyond the knife tip.

We tried it. It is easy to see the line between the outer peel and the inner core, which had escaped our recognition up until now, because we were not looking for it. Now, I know this is comparing turnips to oranges, but imagine eating the peel of an orange, while you’re eating the orange. Now we peel the turnips, and they are actually a very pleasant vegetable.

November 23rd

That tells us that we can grow a much larger plot of turnips to feed chickens, goats and humans, not to mention the pigs coming in the future, but that’s a different story. The turnip is a good food, the greens and the bulb are highly nutritious, and we eat them very similar to potatoes. Soups, stews, and guess what, mashed with butter, salt and pepper. But it was that one comment from a reader that changed our perspective, and relationship to the turnip. This causes us to ponder the possibilities. Are there other things in life that could, with a very simple modification, affect the way we live and do business daily? The possibilities are endless.

December 21st

Fern talks about learning something everyday. We asked a couple of our friends if they knew that they could peel a turnip and remove the bitter part. Neither one of them had ever heard of it. So, how many other products are out there that we don’t consider or would never consider, that with just the smallest change on our part, could become an integral part of our lives? No pun intended here, but it’s certainly food for thought.

January 12th

I guess the reason that this is important to us is we have had at our fingertips for years, and didn’t know it, the ability to feed our livestock, but most importantly, feed ourselves. Yes, I know it’s a turnip, so what’s the big philosophical deal? The big deal is that this has opened up a new window for us. There may come a day someday, maybe someday soon, where that turnip may save our lives. We are excited to have learned how to grow this plant successfully. I can see where it’s going to be a major addition to our future lifestyle. It’s easy to grow, very few pests, really easy to harvest, it will provide us with greens, turnips, eggs, chicken meat, milk, butter, cream, red meat and cheese, all from the humble turnip. And in the future, it may provide us with pork chops and lard. Of course, don’t forget beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and cowpeas. It’s opened our eyes and minds.

We’ll talk more later. Frank

The Nutrition of Purple Hull Peas

Purple Hull Peas are easy to grow and packed with nutrition for both man and beast. It, along with crowder and black eyed peas, are commonly called cowpeas. I have found that the chickens will eat the seeds, and the goats will eagerly eat the pods alone, or the pods with the peas intact. When we shell the peas, I always keep the pods for the goats. They’re funny, especially One Stripe. When she sees me coming with a garden bucket (metal instead of the black rubber ones we use to feed the goats), she runs over to see what I have in store for her. She will generally eat whatever I offer, whether it is beet greens, carrot tops or comfrey. But she really gobbles down the pea pods. Because of this, and the common usage of cowpeas for animal feed, this nutritional post will include the types of nutrients the animals receive from this versatile vegetable, as well. 

Cowpeas are a legume and will grow well in hot, dry climates. They are utilized all over the world as a valuable food source. Another benefit to the home gardener is the ability of cowpeas to fix nitrogen in the soil. If you have a new patch of ground you are gardening, plant cowpeas or another legume the first year to build up the nutrients in the soil. It will benefit other crops the following year.

The nutrition data listed for 1 cup of cowpeas (blackeye, crowder, southern), boiled with salt is:

  • protein 13.2g
  • carbohydrates 33.5g
  • dietary fiber 11.1g

  • sugars 5.6g
  • Vitamins A, K
  • folate
  • choline
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • sodium
  • zinc
  • selenium
  • flouride
  • omega 3 & 6 fatty acids
  • calories 198

Overall, cowpeas are a very nutritious addition to the diet. They store well when dried or canned, it is easy to harvest seeds for subsequent planting seasons which remain viable for several years (I planted four year old seeds this year), and they are prolific producers in our area.

The differences between cooked peas and raw mature seeds is quite dramatic. Here are a few of the differences.

  • protein 39.3g (26g more)

  • carbohydrates 100g (66.5 more)
  • dietary fiber 17.7g (6.6 more)
  • calories 561 (a whopping 363 more)

Eating the peas raw, or feeding them to livestock raw will provide a much greater nutritional benefit. This is just another example of why we need to consume the water, broth or juice from the vegetables we cook. There are a tremendous amount of nutrients cooked out into the liquid.

I have been happy to discover that the chickens will peck at the dried pods to get the seeds out of them. That is a plus, since we won’t have to shell them for chicken feed. The goats will eat the dried pods whole, seeds and all. They are like kids in a candy store when it comes to cowpeas, and I am very glad. It’s an easy to grow crop that produces for about four months here. This will allow us to grow a very nutritional vegetable for both man and beast. 

Other benefits of growing cowpeas include the ability to grow a lot of plants in a small space. When my friend Grace saw my pea patch she asked, “How are you going to pick those? They have all run together.” Good question. I just walk where I know the rows once were. I like to utilize all of the ground in the garden, and this worked out well. If you prefer a garden with nice neat rows you can walk down and tend to your vegetables, my garden will drive you crazy. I plant everything very close with the goal of covering all of the available dirt in vegetables. If they kind of invade each other’s space and overlap, that’s okay with me. It gives me a few more meals instead of trying to deal with the grass and weeds that always take over empty spaces. And I have enough grass and weeds now, even with my overcrowding.

If your climate allows, I would recommend some type of cowpea for your garden. It is a great producer loaded with nutrition and it will help build up your soil. And even Frank the carnivore likes them. I think I will grow an even bigger patch next year.

Until next time – Fern

Goat Q & A

There have been some good questions and comments about milk goats that we wanted to combine into an article. We hope these answers will help out, or at least give some food for thought. 

From Mrs. T over at Redeeming the Time: I am hoping that dairy goats and cheese making will be in my future next year. We have a good friend nearby who raises dairy goats, so we may be able to purchase some in the spring. It looks like you milk them all by hand, rather than machine, true? If so, how long does it take you? I am willing to hand milk one or two does, but I’m not sure if I can handle more than that.

Fern: Yes, I milk by hand. The time it takes to milk a goat varies. It depends on the size of the udder, the size of the teat, how much milk you get with each squeeze, and the experience of the milker. I find that I am much faster than I was the first year I milked. It’s like driving, after a while it kind of becomes second nature, but it takes a while to get there. On average, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to milk a doe that is in full milk production. If I milk before I go to work, I don’t take my time. After work is another story. I can easily take an extra 15 minutes because I am not on a deadline. For maximum milk production you need to milk twice a day. But, you can also milk once a day and get less than maximum. A lot depends on you and your personality, and the personality of the goat.

From Mrs. T: I know that secure fencing is very important to contain goats. Could you please explain what type of fencing you use? Also, how many bales of hay do they go through in a winter? Forgive me for all the questions. In my part of Canada, they would be on hay from October to May, I believe. We harvested 21 round bales of hay (5 ft. diameter) from our few acres of pasture. Ideally, we would like to produce all of their food right here on our homestead, but I’m not sure how many goats that would feed. Thank you for your patience with my questions! 

Fern: Fencing is very important. We don’t have any problems with our goats getting out and that is due to good fences and plenty of pasture to graze. We use field fence that looks like this (some people call it by different names). It is a woven mesh. We also put a strand of barbed wire on the ground to discourage animals (like dogs) from digging under the fence, and two strands of barbed wire across the top (shown in the picture) to discourage animals from going over the fence (like dogs or our goats). 

Something to consider. A couple of years back we decided to let our goats grow horns because it is more natural and they can protect themselves better. Well, there are two trains of thought here – goats with horns, goats without horns. Even if an animal is not doing anything malicious, it can still turn it’s head quickly, jump upwards when it is scared, and easily result in a serious human

injury. Second, goats with horns have a tendency to get their heads stuck in the fence. You know the old saying, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?’ Well, that is true. We have never lost an animal because it’s head was stuck in the fence, but it could easily happen. So, now we burn all baby goats horn buds. It is a disgusting and revolting procedure, but one that we feel needs to be done. So our answer to the question, horns or not horns? We are a not horn place. But they do make great handles.

The amount of hay you would use in Canada would be vastly different than how much we use in southeastern Oklahoma. It is much colder there and your animals would have different dietary requirements just to keep warm, so I do not have any valid information for you on that question. Maybe there will be some readers from up north that can help you out. Also, ask your neighbor that has the goats how much they use. We use hay primarily for bedding. On those extended periods when it seems to rain everyday, the goats do not like to forage in the rain. Then we do put out hay in a manger in the barn. 

We know someday there is the possibility that commercial grains will not be available. We have been experimenting with other crops that livestock animals used to eat before the introduction of mechanized farming. We have and are experimenting with rutabagas, beets, turnips, carrots and these types of crops. Rutabagas and turnips at one time were the primary source of feed for livestock in this country. We have a neighbor that grows turnips in his pastures. He rotates his cows through these pastures when the turnip greens are ready to be harvested, in this case, the cows do the harvesting. He uses this method in place of hay. There is always something new to learn. There are commercial varieties of rutabagas and beets that are not used for human consumption, but for livestock feed. Cool, huh?

One thing we do for winter forage is leave one pasture growing most of the summer. This is what we call our ‘standing hay’. We brush hog each pasture about every other year. It helps keep down the really noxious weeds, the type with three inch thorns that cause abscesses. We let the natural weedy plants grow since that is what the goats prefer over grass. It is a more natural source of dietary fiber which keeps our animals healthier. We use no herbicides, pesticides or any chemicals on any of our pastures, or our garden for that matter. But there is the occasional homicide on butchering day. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!) Pasture rotation will also help prevent overgrazing and parasite build up. We supplement our goats’ diets with grain we purchase. There is a post about our feed mixing ration that explains the how’s and why’s.

Our herd is small. We are keeping four does this year. We will be butchering our wethers soon (that’s when the homicides occur) and our buck will be going to the sale barn. So far, four does seem to be a good number for us. This summer when we were milking three does we were swimming in milk, so even though we have kept four does, I don’t know if we will be milking all of them.

From Sandra over at Clearwater Farm: I have been lucky to only have one or two goats really give me grief about milking. I do have a Toggenburg now that does great until she runs out of food. When she is out, she flips the feeder onto the ground, my cue that the kicking will commence. If she isn’t getting anything out of the deal, neither am I. 

Fern: We will tolerate a certain amount of obstinate behavior from an animal, but after a while, either the animal comes around or leaves. We find that attaching the feed pan to the milk stand has worked out well. Our first milk stand had a place to put the feed bowl, but I like this set up better. I have also had a few goats that would let me milk for a while then start kicking and sometimes putting their foot in the milk bucket. I have found that after a few corrections with the back of my hand, they usually come around and stand nicely until I am finished. Not always, but usually. The other thing I have finally figured out is to learn the body language of the goat. If the doe is standing, relaxed and eating while I milk, then they are not going to kick. It’s when they have a subtle shift of the weight on their back legs when I know a foot is getting ready to come up. I can usually pull the bucket back out of the way in time, but again, not always! Then that milk turns into supper for the dog or the chickens. Chickens love milk!

From Kathi over at Oak Hill Homestead: I completely agree that raising your own is the best way; they are just easier to milk. I can’t wait till we have milk again, it’s been two years now, but my three current does are due in December, all first-fresheners. (I lost my entire herd in a barn fire last year. My current girls came to live here as tiny bottle babies, I hope they won’t give me any trouble.) 

Fern: Kathi, I am sorry you lost your herd in a fire. I can’t imagine. That would be really hard. It’s too bad you have been two years without milk, too. We are so used to it, I would hate to do without. On occasion, we buy store bought milk, and I’m glad at this time that we can. It sounds like you are expecting kids soon. Have you started training your does to the milk stand? Since they are bottle babies, they should be much easier to handle. I only have one ‘first-timer’, Copper, in the picture above. She was a single when there were no other kids to play with, and she is One Stripe’s daughter. One Stripe is very sweet and easy to handle and I am grateful her daughter is following suit. I can’t wait to see what kind of mom she will be. But you know what? I can’t wait to have baby goats again! I just love baby goats. So I look forward to hearing about the progress yours make. We handle our baby goats a lot, everyday, from the minute they are born. This makes all the difference in training. So your bottle fed babies should train comfortably.

Raising goats can be an experience full of wonder, frustration, heartbreak, laughter and food! There are many types of goats to be had. We have always had Nubians, well, except for one Boer goat we bought. She was okay, but turned out to be somewhat of a bully to the other girls. So we ate her. Some of you will think that is mean and some of you will think that is funny. It’s just the way it is here. If an animal works into our scheme of things, they stick around for a while. If not, they either get sold or find their way into the cook pot. 

Besides the fact that we really like how Nubians look with their long, floppy ears, the primary reason we chose them is because they are warm weather goats. Other milk goats have characteristics and features that are made for more northern climates. Do some research, look around, talk to people experienced at raising goats in your area. Milk goats are not real popular, so it may be difficult to find what you are looking for. You might need to drive a few miles to find some quality animals. Don’t forget Craigslist. A good source to help find just about any animal is your agriculture teacher, and don’t forget the vet.

All of the animals have a job to perform. The goats provide us with milk and meat, and we hope someday they will also provide us with hides or leather. But that is a ways down the road, if ever. Our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, is a great protector for the goats. She is a jewel. The cats are for varmint control. The chickens are for meat and eggs. It’s the nature of things and it works well for us.

We will continue to share the adventures of our animals. They teach us new things all the time. One Stripe will soon have her fifth set of kids. She is getting ‘big as a barn’. She is one of these goats that gets just about as wide as she is long. I can’t wait! I love baby goats!

Until next time – Fern

Mixing Feed for Animals

We buy commercial feed for our goats and chickens. Our goal is to grow feed for them, but we haven’t made that transition yet. The feed we buy is pretty basic and we mix it ourselves.

The chickens get a mixture of two parts laying crumbles and one part sweet feed. We also give them scratch grain which includes corn, sunflower seed, milo and wheat. 

We buy the feed in 50 lb. bags and unload it into trashcans for storage. The only pest problem we have this way are the fire ants. They have really become a problem in our area during the last few years.

 Our recipe for the goats is eight parts chopped corn, four parts sweet feed and one part alfalfa pellets.We chose these ingredients for simplicity and nutrition. We even left the alfalfa out for a while, but discovered a good reason to include at least a little. 

The first year we had goats after we moved back from Alaska we used about 1/4 alfalfa in our feed mix. That year out of about 10 kids born, 8 of them were bucks. We had never had that kind of ratio before, so I got out my books and read and read. In Pat Coleby’s Natural Goat Care, I found if the ratio of feed contains too much alfalfa or similar feed, it will result in a high percentage of buck kids. So at that point we just left the alfalfa out. 

A few months later when we  had another batch of kids, there were more does and all was well until…….we had quite an outbreak of pink eye, which we had never had before. Standard triple antibiotic ointment will clear it up, but we couldn’t figure out why we had it in the first place. So, back to the goat books I went and in Natural Goat Care I found the answer. In eliminating the alfalfa all together, we had lowered the vitamin A content of our feed ration to the point that the goats were susceptible to pink eye. We made a second adjustment to our feed ratio and we have never had pink eye again.

When we mix the feed we measure it by the scoop……

Then mix it by pouring it from one trash can to another….

a couple of times.

Now we have feed again for a few weeks.

This is an example of something that is more work and takes more time than buying something already prepared and ready to go. We would rather grow our own feed without any chemical process involved, but we aren’t to that point yet. This is the next best thing.

The same holds true for our diet – we eat as simply as we can with the most natural products. But sometimes, a bag of potato chips sure is good!

Until next time – Fern