Fern’s Farmhouse Special

This is one of those meals that needed a name, so we just made it up. Most people would think ‘Food’ was a strange title to a blog article, so Frank named this dish for us.

There is really not much special about this dish, it’s just something I came up with since we have limited our carbohydrate intake. It’s healthy, tasty and I make plenty of it. It’s not particularly attractive, as in a pretty dish, but we don’t care. What’s neat about it is that almost all of the ingredients came from our farm or homestead. We know how the meat was raised, the milk produced, the cheese made, the vegetables grown and how all of it was processed. This is what makes this meal a ‘Special’. We’ve almost come to take our homegrown food for granted, but not quite. Anytime the food on our table constitutes a homegrown meal in it’s entirety, we take note, and enjoy every bite that much more.

Okay, on with the meal. The first ingredient is ground goat meat or chevon. About half the time I think I spell it wrong and put chevron, so if you run across that somewhere in this blog, sorry about that. I season the meat with sea salt and fresh ground peppercorns, then brown it with about half of a large onion (store bought) and any sweet peppers we have on hand. I just picked these peppers from the plant I transplanted into the greenhouse.

When the onions and peppers are starting to brown, I add two heaping spoonfuls of our canned garlic and a pint jar of our canned

yellow squash and let it heat up and blend in with the other flavors. By the way, I strain the liquid off of the squash into the pig bucket. I do this with any liquid we aren’t planning on using in cooking. I even rinse out milk and kefir jars and put this milky water in the pig bucket. I really like using these liquids to increase our meat supply instead of pouring it down the drain like I used to.

While the squash is heating, I grated a little cheddar cheese and got out the salsa and fermented jalapenos. I haven’t told you about the jalapenos yet. I fermented two quarts of jalapenos in the same kind of crock we use for sauerkraut. I inoculated the peppers with kraut juice when I started them, then left them in the crock for about three weeks. They taste great, still very tangy and stayed crunchy. Thanks to the reader that recommended we try them. I have four pint jars of peppers stored in the refrigerator now along with the usual four quarts of sauerkraut.

Now that the meat and vegetables are ready I dish them up, add some salsa, peppers and cheese. 

This type of meal has the possibility of endless variations, the only limitation is your imagination. So go create your own ‘House Special’ with whatever ingredients your family enjoys. After you do, see how many of those ingredients you can produce or store for the long term. The uncertain, difficult days ahead of us, will require good, healthy, home cooked meals for comfort and much needed nutrition. Practice now while you can.

Until next time – Fern
 

Homestead News, Volume 13

Life on the homestead continues unabated, sometimes it’s like running full steam and sometimes it’s more like a walk in the park. Lately we have been surrounded with steam. Here’s a look at what’s been happening.

Isn’t this a beautiful ditch? You’re probably thinking I’ve been in the ‘steam’ too long, right? Well, the ditch itself may not beautiful, but what it represents is very exciting. Emmet has returned to barter more labor, for radios this time, a few evenings after he gets off of work. Weekends are devoted to his family, which is as it should be. Emmet found many, many more rocks in this ditch than any of us were planning on, so it will take longer to accomplish this task that we first thought. This ditch will hold the conduit, that will hold two strands of wire, which will connect this building to the house. Why is that exciting? Because these wires will soon connect our radio shack and house, to a battery bank and solar panels. We’re not sure just how soon, but sometime in the not so distant future.

Yesterday while Frank and Henry installed storm doors on the house, which are great, I butchered a goat. Frank dispatched him for me and brought him down to the garage in the bucket of the tractor. I have to tell you, though, I did not take one picture yesterday. It was a long, long busy day. The goat provided us with about 45 pounds of meat, 10 pounds of dog food and some soup stock.

Dressing out an animal really doesn’t take that long. Processing the meat does. We only kept two partial hind legs as roast. The rest of the meat was deboned, ground and frozen. I wrapped the ground meat in one to one and half pound packages and got them in the freezer at about 7:45 pm, just a few minutes before our second Survival Radio Relay Net. After the digging, Emmet stayed for a cup of coffee, and to see how Frank ran the net.

As I removed the meat from the bones, I kept looking at all the meat left on the bones. In the past, I have always just thrown these bones away. The longer I looked at them, the more I knew I needed to boil them and make some soup stock. So I did. I cooked them for several hours as I worked on processing the meat.

The net went very well with most people from the previous net returning and some new additions. Not long after the net we received a phone call from a man that joined for the first time. I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes when life is really busy and we wonder why in the world we are ‘putting ourselves out there’ and possibly increasing our danger factor, we get a phone call or a comment that lets us know we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. This phone call was one of those. I almost cried. Not because of the content of the phone call, but because of the unmistakable message that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. So, I guess I’ll keep writing here for the foreseeable future.

We finally had supper at 10:00 pm in the midst of a very messy kitchen. I actually left this tub of dog scraps and many, many dirty dishes overnight. I had totally run out of steam for the day, and 6:00am would come very soon for the start of another day. I also forgot to bake the bread I had made this morning. I just shook my head and hoped it would taste good when I baked in in the morning. It did. Frank thought it was some of the best sourdough bread we have had so far. It sat for 24 hours after I made the dough and before it was baked. Interesting.

 

This morning it took me a couple of hours to clean up the kitchen. I returned the pots of stock to boiling, made rolls from the bread dough and left them to rise while I fed and milked the animals. Frank and Henry got to work early on the framing for the outdoor kitchen floor. Here it is today, but tomorrow these forms will hold a new concrete floor for the kitchen. We will keep you updated.

Frank worked over the lid and top edge of the All American Canner that wouldn’t seal well enough to reach adequate pressure and we tried it again. It still doesn’t work so we will be sending it in to see if the company can fix it at our expense.

 

It’s now 6:00 pm and there are two canners of soup stock on the stove with more left in the pot to go. So far we have 21 quarts of stock and we will put what’s left in pints. It looks like the last one won’t be finished until about 10:00 pm. Update. It’s now 8:00 pm. The last seven quarts will be ready to take out of the canner around 9:00 pm. I just put the pressure weight on the canner with 13 pints, and it has to come to 10 pounds pressure and stay there for 90 minutes. We won’t be finished by 10:00 pm, but we’re happy with the amount of soup stock we’ll have to put on the shelf.

 

We have one more incubator full of eggs hatching as we speak. At first I took this picture to share with you, but before I could finish writing and publishing this article, they started hatching. That means I need to butcher and can the last 12 or 13 chickens out there from our last hatch. They are a too old for fryers, and we wanted some chicken meat on the shelf anyway. Looks like that’s a job for Friday because tomorrow is mozzarella. The refrigerator is over run with milk again.


There have been several questions and comments about the greenhouse since we put this picture up on the header. It still doesn’t seem quite real that we finally have a greenhouse, and we have already decided it’s not big enough. 

 

We were asked if these barrels hold a back up water supply. The answer is yes. We don’t plan to use the water very often unless it is needed. We hope to have other sources of water connected and ready to use before long. But since we do want this water to remain potable, we treated it with bleach as we filled the barrels. We did a search on recommended amounts of bleach and came up with 5 teaspoons per 50 gallons of water. Five teaspoons is approximately one ounce, which is easier to measure when you’re trying to pour it out of a new gallon jug.

 

After we filled the barrels and got everything placed where we wanted it, Frank added some brackets to the back of the ‘table tops’ to hold them in place. We brought them an inch and a half away from the studs to allow room to place two trays side by side. This will allow us to use the space more efficiently. The bus tubs, there was a question about them, are the same ones that restaurants use to clean or ‘bus’ tables. Sam’s Club has them with the restaurant supplies. They have been great, but the sun just kills them and makes them very brittle. We will build our own before long and fit them to the trays. I hope they hold up better in the sunlight than the bus tubs did, we’ll have to wait and see about that.

The purpose of the water is for thermal mass. We are hoping it will help even out the temperature in the greenhouse. On sunny days when the outside temperature is in the 80’s, it quickly rises to 100*+ inside. The first day we moved the seedlings off of the porch and into the greenhouse was before we added water to the barrels. I didn’t water them enough, and in the afternoon, a few of them cooked, even with the fan Frank had installed. Since then, I have tried to make sure the tubs are watered very regularly, and we do think the water in the barrels makes a difference. Even if the thermometer is registering 100*, the plants don’t seem to suffer for it. I plan to dig up some strawberries and comfrey and bring them in for the winter and see how they do. That will be interesting. I also have kept the mandarin orange and lemon tree idea in the back of my head that someone mentioned a while back. 

I brought these two black peppercorn vines, piper nigrum, in to the greenhouse. They have been growing on the porch all summer. I also brought in a preying mantis with them. I hope it sticks around and helps with the bugs that may show up.

 

I planted more seeds in more tubs, but there’s not much to show for now. There are carrots, turnips, muskmelon, squash, lettuce and spinach coming up. I also planted some onion sets that I bought in the spring and never planted. Maybe we will have a few onions to eat this winter.

Tomorrow is another busy day, cheese and concrete. If you’re interested in radio communications, stay tuned. We will have new antenna towers going up soon. This will increase our ability to reach the folks in our area which is critical. The solar panel project will also help insure our ability to communicate. The radio shack will be the first thing to go ‘on line’ once we have the 12 volt system connected and functional. We really look forward to that day. Meanwhile the water storage tanks at the barn are still on the docket for completion. We need a few more supplies and some more ditches dug before we can proceed.


There are days that it would be easy to quit, days that we’re tired and worn out. There are some days that we just don’t want to get out of bed and tackle the day. But we do. There is much to complete and time is short. Our pace seems to quicken a bit more each day. When we get out of bed, we pour a cup of coffee and check out the news of the day including the blog. There is usually another comment telling us what you’re doing to prepare, full of encouragement, and we know we’re heading in the right direction. Make sure you are too.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 11

Outside of butchering seven of our ‘teenage’ roosters a couple of days ago, there isn’t much new to report. We were glad to get five of these roosters in the freezer since our meat supply is literally down to nothing in there. We have quite a bit of meat walking around on the hoof or foot, but the freezer is looking very bare. It reminds me of stories about folks that went out and grabbed up a chicken when meat was needed for a meal. It was killed, dressed and cooked for that day’s food. Refrigeration has really changed the way we are able to live. I have given quite a bit of thought to what it will be like to live without refrigeration again. It sounds much more difficult and not near as convenient as we have it now. Something to ponder. How will you keep things cold or cool that need refrigeration to prevent spoilage and extend the life of your food?

We’ve had a nice little rain today which has helped cool things off. We had planned to butcher the last seven teenage roosters today, but it was 96* by 11:30 this morning. This evening we will have a cold front come through that will make the temperatures much more comfortable, thus it will be easier to work outside.

Our dear friend Faith, that bought some of our goats, took a very bad fall last week. She will be undergoing some reconstructive surgery to her face this week and we would appreciate it if you would keep her and her family in your prayers.

Frank and I have had many conversations about how to set up the greenhouse and all of the possibles that go with that process. As the temperatures start to cool down, it will be easier to work in there. It’s very interesting to see how quickly the temperature rises once the sun reaches over the tree tops and touches the walls. Very interesting. 

We have had a question or two about the exterior sheathing on the greenhouse. When Grace came to visit after we had the sheathing up she looked at it, looked at me and said, “What are you going to put over it?” She explained that she wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it was something more than what it is. The exterior of the greenhouse is a product called Tuftex. Frank did a lot of research on this product before we decided to use it. The type we chose is called Poly Carb which is described on their website like this: “TUFTEX PolyCarb corrugated panels are our toughest building panel. Made with a polycarbonate thermoplastic polymer in an octagonal-wave profile, TUFTEX PolyCarb corrugated panels are 20 times stronger than 5 oz. fiberglass corrugated panels and are designed to withstand a wide range of surface temperatures: 270° F to -40° F.” Lowe’s carried some Tuftex, but we had them order what we needed to have enough of the right type, colors and lengths. We used the translucent white on the roof and clear on the sides. Until we put the barrels in there, from some angles you couldn’t tell the walls were up. It will be very exciting to look at it and see plants inside, especially when we get it full of plants! I know I have said this before, but it will be a real treat to walk out there in the winter and pick something to eat. I think I will be worse than a kid in a candy shop.

It’s about time to make cheese since the frig is filling with milk. It will be mozzarella this time since the cheese frig is full of cheddar. We still haven’t tried to make cottage cheese again yet, but we will. It’s about time to make bread, too. I have set out the whole wheat sourdough starter to feed and lower the acidity level before I use it. Now days after I feed the starter for a few days, I pour half of it into the pig bucket instead of the chicken bucket. The chickens never did like it much, but you know what they say about pigs, they’ll eat just about anything. Except jalapenos. They don’t like them very much. Or really big, hard okra pods. Either they don’t like them, or they are just too hard to eat, I’m not sure which.

Since I tried our milking machine and didn’t like what it did to the goat’s teats, I haven’t tried it again. What I have done is really pay attention to my milking technique. Over the years I had developed a certain rhythm that was comfortable and seemed to be effective. Now I pay more attention to making sure I get as much milk out with each squeeze as I can. This is causing me to slow down some, but requires fewer squeezes per doe. I don’t know if this has made a difference with the arthritis in my hands or not, but I do know that I can straighten my bent finger out more than I could without working on it to do so. Interesting. I have also been told I have trigger finger on the same hand and same finger. Does anyone know of a natural way to deal with this? Grace told me her sister had it and wore a finger guard for a week and that fixed it. I haven’t tried that yet.

I have also started drinking apple cider vinegar with the mother in it, with local honey in warm water. This should help some of the sinus issues I have been having, as well as the arthritis. I hope. I used to do this everyday for years until it made my teeth hurt. The vinegar I used back then didn’t have the mother in it, though. This time I will make sure I rinse my mouth well with water after I drink it to protect my teeth. I’ve even thought about adding a bit of the canned garlic we have to the mix. Vinegar, honey and garlic are all very good for the body, so it couldn’t hurt any. I don’t mind the taste of vinegar and honey at all, I’m just not sure how the garlic would taste with it. Probably pretty good if you ask me.

We continue to eat our sauerkraut everyday. The portions are bigger than they used to be, and if there is a day we don’t have any, we miss it. When we first started eating it, there were several people that commented about how our taste preferences would change and that we would really enjoy fermented food. You know what? You were exactly right. We do really enjoy the sauerkraut and the health benefits it provides as part of our daily diet. 

We will be starting another project later on in the week that I will be showing you before long [it’s not the outhouse]. It is very exciting to have so many long term plans coming together. There is also a feeling that time is short to get some of these things completed. Frank and I talk about making plans as if there isn’t a collapse coming also, just in case. But at the same time we know it is coming, so we have to plan for that eventuality. Like I said last time, wishing won’t make it so. Just the other evening as we were getting ready for bed I asked Frank, “So where are we going to put the outhouse?” Another one of our recurring discussions. We still haven’t decided on a location.

Hello everybody, Frank here. The immigrant issues that are happening in Europe will soon be knocking on our doors here at home. There have been mass forced immigrant movements all through history. One of my grandfathers came to America around 1900 as a very young boy. His family was forced out of Russia. It has happened for centuries, and it could happen here just as easily as it has happened there. It’s easy to be cynical, but the fact is, people are being dislocated and they are willing to die or drown to escape wherever they are. It has to be horrible. Don’t kid yourself that it can’t happen right here. As we speak, there is a quiet exodus from the drought ridden areas of California. Towns there are shutting down. No joke. We are about to see many people, many more than are already coming here, from the areas affected by this forced relocation. It’s just one more thing that is happening. Is it a diversion? Could be. You decide. But you’d better get prepared. Frank

Now take Frank’s commentary and apply it to a collapse scenario where thousands of people are trying to escape the riots and starvation of our major cities. People that are desperate for water, food and shelter for themselves and their families. What happens when there are hundreds of them walking down the road where you live? I see the pictures of the Syrian people walking through Hungary, and that’s what I see. Hungry people, desperate to escape the carnage behind them, with hopes of assistance awaiting them at their destination. In a collapse situation there is no assistance awaiting them. I really think some people in smaller towns will actually go to the cities in search of government assistance. We’ve all heard the stories about FEMA camps and the rounding up of people to ‘keep them safe’. Don’t get on the bus. 

What I keep seeing when I look at the Syrian refugees are groups of people at the gate demanding water, food, shelter and assistance. There is no way we can feed them. We’re far enough off the beaten path that there probably won’t be many folks walking down this road, but I can see it happening all over the country. What are you going to do if a group of demanding people show up at your door or gate demanding the things you have prepared for your family? If you turn them away angry they will just come back with reinforcements. It is something Frank and I discuss regularly. If you feed one group they will tell the others and the next day there will be 10 groups, then 20, then 40, then 100. Before the last group arrives you will be out of food and desperate yourself. Then what? We can only pray we will never be faced with this situation. But part of being prepared, probably the most important part, is being mentally prepared. You need to have an answer to that question. What are you going to do?

Frank will be doing another article before long that will address some of this mental preparation. What he will discuss is a very difficult topic that will require very difficult decisions and actions from all of us, but one that should be discussed and thought about. Do all you can to have your family ready for what is about to befall us all. Remember, we would rather be prepared fools than unprepared fools. One minute too late, is just that. Too late.

Until next time – Fern

Pig Tales, Volume 1

Guess what? I think I like our pigs. Really. They’re funny and not one of them has tried to bite me or chew on my shoe or anything scary. You know what else? I’m a pig catcher. Yep. I can catch a little pig, but they are fast little buggers. I’ll tell you more of my pig catching story in a minute.


We kept the pigs in the stock trailer in the barn for about three and a half days. That was a very good choice. They were enclosed, protected from the weather, and kind of in the middle of all of the barn activity. This gave them the opportunity to hear the other animals along with Frank and I when we were there doing chores. It also allowed us to observe them closely without worrying about escapees.


By day two, I was scratching everyone on the back while they ate. The largest boar likes touch the least, but he is finally coming around as well. The gilt had been handled much more than the boars and she doesn’t mind being scratched at all. One of the smaller boars, which will probably be our breeder, is becoming quite friendly, too.

While they were in the stock trailer, the pigs were introduced to cabbage leaves, comfrey, carrot peels, green beans, goat milk and whey, canned okra and some old squash and tomato relish we need to replace from the garden this year. They weren’t really sure about the leafy fare at first, but now seem to enjoy it. They don’t attack it like they do the grain or whey, but 

they are eating them. We have also been giving them the corn and sunflowers we grew and dried last summer. They are really enjoying chewing the corn off of the cob. One thing we have already noticed is how quickly they put on weight. We weren’t exactly sure how much to feed four little pigs, so we are cutting back on their portions. At first we    

gave them more grain to help tame them down, but now we will be giving them a green bean can full each day and that is all. We don’t want them to be too fat, which can cause problems. I’ll be talking more about that in a minute. Even in the stock trailer, I sprinkled the grain around on the hay for them to root around for.

By the end of day three, the stock trailer was getting rather stinky and the flies were getting thick, so it was time to move them into the pig pen. We have our doubts that our original pig pen will hold these small pigs. It is made of stock panels that have two rows of smaller openings, about 2″ by 6″, on the bottom rungs, but then it expands to 6″ by 6″ for the rest of the way. They can probably still squeeze through that third rung for now, so we chose to put together the other pig pen. You may be wondering why we have two pig pens, but no pigs. The original pen was built to house two feeder pigs about four years ago. They didn’t even get large enough to produce bacon before we took them to the butcher. I hated them. I was afraid of them. But this was their pen. We never considered letting them out to graze like we are these pigs. So that’s why we call this large pen the pig pen, even when we use it to wean baby goats.

 A number of years ago we bought a pig pen that was made by the students of one of the local agricultural programs. It is made of 2″ by 4″ heavy stock panels, welded to square metal tubing to create four panels, one of which has a gate on one end. Putting it together is kind of like a tinker toy puzzle. The puzzle is which ends fit together. Each end of each panel has a hinge of sorts that long metal rods fit through to hold them together and create a corner. The pictures will show you much better how this works than I can describe. After trying to put the first two panels together and realizing it was a little more complicated, Frank measured each end, had me write down the measurements, then we compared the numbers to determine which ends would fit together. The panels were a little heavy, but we maneuvered them into place without much trouble.


After we had the pen constructed, we hitched up the trailer and pulled it out into the pasture by the pig pen. We’re glad we brush hogged the grass and weeds down by the pen, it is so thick and tall, it’s hard to walk through. So, now it’s time to catch the pigs in the trailer and move them into the pen.

Remember, up until this time I had only caught one pig in my life, four days earlier. Since I had that experience, I now knew to carry them by their back feet. Well, one little boar was nice enough to just walk up to me. That one was fairly easy. Next, the gilt, she wasn’t difficult either. I had put a little feed in their pan to draw them together so I could grab a back leg. Of the two that were left, one of them kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we bought them. I wanted to try to catch him while he still had company, but they are fast little pigs and it took me a while. Frank recommended I catch the other boar first, since he 

would have been much easier to grab, but I kept trying until I finally got the one I was after. I had to stop and laugh a couple of times at my efforts and their speed. If you had been able to watch, I’m sure it would have been quite comical. But now, I am a pig catcher, since I have caught all of five pigs in my life. One of Frank’s recommendations was to catch them by the front legs since they tended to face me to watch what I was doing. But that goes back to my fear of pigs. I was afraid they would try to bite me since I would be grabbing them. I opted to wait until a back leg presented itself.

 

 

After the pigs were placed in their new home, Frank backed the trailer up to turn around, and so we could clean out the hay and ick it contained. That tall, wet grass and weeds? Yep, he was stuck. The tires kept spinning on all that vegetation.

  
Now, out comes the tractor. We hadn’t had to do this before, but with Frank’s instructions and me behind the wheel of the truck, he had us out in no time. Ladies, this is one of those things I mentioned recently about having a good man by your side. Putting the pig pen together, I couldn’t picture in my mind what Frank was seeing, and how it would work, so I just followed his directions and it went great. The same thing happened with pulling out the truck. We tweaked a few things according to his directions and everything went fine. There is no substitute for having a good man. None. It’s the way God intended it.


While Frank had the tractor out, and I was cleaning out the stock trailer, he brought several loads of dirt into the corral to place in a low area under the gate that leads to the pig pasture. We will be adding some rocks to fill this area in, which will prevent the pigs from coming into the corral once they have free rein of the pasture.

Now, we have a pig pen within a pig pen. The pigs will stay in the smaller pen until the grass is gone, or we are comfortable letting them have access to the larger pen. We will eventually dismantle the interior pen, reassemble it next door to the original pen, and use it for farrowing when we have litters of piglets. This will prevent the boar from pestering the gilts when they birth. Well, that is the plan for now anyway.


Speaking of the gilt, her name is Liberty, by the way. The man we bought Liberty from had two sows give birth this spring. Liberty’s mom had four piglets, but two of them were dead. The other sow had two piglets, but one of them was dead. The breeder has raised pigs most of his life, but didn’t know why this happened. He was also disappointed with the low number of

piglets in the litter. This sounded a little odd to us, but we took him at his word. After we got home and had time to think about this and discuss it, we have come to the conclusion that we need another young gilt, just in case Liberty’s genetics don’t lend to becoming a healthy, productive sow. The vet was here this afternoon and we asked him what he thought about Liberty’s probability of being a good sow. He told us that if a pig has less than four fertile eggs developing, it will reabsorb these eggs and breed again. A sow will always have a minimum of four piglets. So we have some questions about the gentleman’s story. There is another breeder in a different area that we have been in contact with that has a litter of piglets that will be ready to wean around June 1st, so we will be adding one more piglet to our herd. By the way, I looked up the names for groups of pigs. When the pigs are grown, I can call them a passel of pigs. I like that one, it’s funny. I hope five pigs will constitute a passel, because that many adult pigs is more than enough for us.

The vet and his wife work together which I think is great.



While the vet was here, he cut the piglets teeth. Because we are keeping three boars, two to eat and one breeder, we have chosen to have their teeth cut to prevent injury if they chose to fight over food or the gilt at some point. It may not have been an issue, but we would rather prevent a problem at this point until we know more and have more experience as pig herders.

 

This whole tooth came out. They are very small at this age.

 

Of the three boars, we were planning to choose one of the two smaller ones to keep for a breeder. Lance, the largest boar that kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we were loading them up, was going to be the first to grace our dinner plates. But after we talked to the vet about growth rate for producing meat for the table, we chose to castrate the two smaller boars and kept Lance for our breeding boar. I will just have to work with him a little more to get him to be as tame as the others.

 

For now, our pigs are doing quite well. Once they calm back down and quit running away from me again since we have moved them, then cut their teeth, and castrated two of them, I think they will work out fine. We’ll keep you updated with further tales from the pig pen. Now it’s your turn. Not necessarily to get pigs, per se, but to seek out a new experience that will benefit you and yours in whatever situation you find yourself. Be it homestead, city lot, apartment, where ever you are, you can learn and develop skills that will increase your chances of survival in the coming days, weeks, months and years. We would have never even considered getting pigs if we didn’t know that

great changes are upon us and that we will probably have to fend for ourselves. Pigs have never been part of our equation until now. Are we comfortable with this new venture? No. Are we working at it diligently? Yes. That is why I said in the previous article that I have decided to like, and not be afraid of pigs. It is a conscious decision I have made to increase our food supply. The article I wrote about women and survival indicated my belief that one of my major responsibilities in a collapse scenario will be to keep food on the table. These pigs are part of my efforts in that direction. Frank supports me and helps me when I need it, with anything at all, but his role when the time comes will be different. He will be our protector, community

communications leader, and will be working at making sure the infrastructure of our homestead is functioning well. All of these things will allow me to concentrate on food, clothing, and maintaining the hygiene we need to be healthy. We have been blessed with the natural inclinations of a man and a woman to perform those duties that will support a safe, productive home, and we chose to fulfill those roles. 

Until next time – Fern

Getting Ready For Pigs

We spent part of today getting ready for the arrival of our American Guinea Hog piglets. The original plans included doing some of this work yesterday while the sun shined, but a relative’s unscheduled hospital stay, changed our plans. We were glad we had the opportunity to visit him for a while. So today before the rains arrived again, we rearranged some of the goats, brush hogged down some wet, wet, tall grass and weeds, and got ready for the pigs. Well, not really before it rained, because we got some light showers shortly before dawn. Thus, the grass was extra wet, but sometimes these things just can’t be helped, and you make do with the circumstances you’ve been given.

American Guinea Hogs. I had never heard of them until I read an article from Leigh at 5 Acres and a Dream last June. I had no idea a pig could grow so small. That is what captured my attention and started a slow,

gradual bit of research that has landed us in the current predicament, the adventure of becoming not only goat herders and chicken cluckers, but pig farmers as well. We can only pray it is not the misadventures of becoming pig farmers. If you have read here very long you have probably run across a statement from me saying something like this. “I hate pigs.” And I did. I just hope I don’t anymore. Part of that sentiment is because I am afraid of pigs. I think they will bite me. It’s kind of like being afraid of dogs. It’s just a fear that I have decided I want to get over, because the benefits of raising American Guinea Hogs can far outweigh this fear.

I am including a number of links throughout this article so you can see where my research has taken me. The first thing that captured my attention when reading Leigh’s description of her new pig was that they only grow to be about 200 to 250 pounds full grown, even the boars. I was very surprised. I had never seen anything about pigs being less than 800 to 1000 pounds or more full grown, and I didn’t want anything to do with animals that large. So I read the link she provided and thought it was very interesting that these pigs are naturally small. They aren’t miniatures, dwarfs or midgets of any sort, they are just naturally smaller than most commercial pigs.

Then I started looking up more articles, and found that another characteristic of these pigs is their docile, friendly nature. Well now, how is

a person that is afraid a pig is going to bite them going to handle a pig that wants to run over and be petted and scratched? I’ve decided I’m going to treat them like a dog. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But if a dog does something that is unacceptable they get corrected and trained to exhibit behavior that is acceptable. I plan, or hope, to do the same things with the pigs. I’ve read that they may try to jump up on you like a dog, but are easily trained not to, so their friendly personalities are another plus.

The next major plus from my perspective is that these pigs thrive on pasture and do poorly if they are confined and only fed grain, or fed too much grain. That’s great! We have been trying to produce more and more of our animal feed, and if these pigs are healthier and happier grazing in

a pasture, then wonderful, we have plenty of room for them to graze and grow. Another example Leigh has given me is that she feeds very little grain, and what she does feed, she sprinkles on the ground for the pigs to forage and root. I thought that was a great idea and will be doing the same. I will also now have another bucket to take to the barn at feeding time. The pigs will get whey from our cheese making projects as well as garden scraps and other kitchen waste. For instance. Today at lunch I emptied a jar of beets, and told Frank that after the pigs arrive the water from the beet jar will go into the pig bucket instead of down the drain. They will get all of the scraps that don’t go to the chickens or dog, and that will be great.

When I realized how small these pigs grow, I like to think of them as small, even though a 200 pound animal isn’t really very small, I thought about having another source of meat on the hoof. That’s how I think of our

goat wethers. They are just meat walking around in the pasture waiting to make it into the freezer. Frank and I can handle butchering a 150 to 200 pound pig, and it would be another great source of meat. But not only that, Guinea Hogs are well known for the quality of their lard, like some old heritage breeds used to be. These hogs will not only provide us with meat and lard, they don’t require a lot of feed to do so. The lard will provide us with a natural cooking oil, and we hopefully will also be able to use it in our goat milk soap recipe. The smaller carcass of these pigs will mean less meat to preserve before spoilage if we live in a grid down situation, as well. Just like with our goats, I view a smaller carcass to be to our advantage.
 
The breeders in the area that I have talked to all agree that these pigs are healthy, friendly, easy to manage and very productive. They don’t require vaccinations or worming, even in our area that is known for wet years that are very conducive to the worm population, like this year. Guinea hogs will have litters of six to eight piglets about three times every two years on average, according to my research. This is yet another benefit to raising this small, heritage breed pig.

These are the reasons why we are embarking on the adventure of adding pigs to our homestead. These animals don’t grow very large, they thrive on pasture, they are naturally healthy, friendly and easy to manage, the meat and lard are well known to be of excellent quality and we will be able to butcher them ourselves. A concern I have, and will for a while, is if they will stay in their pasture. Our fencing should hold them just fine according to all I have read, but this is my biggest concern so far. We’ll see if more arise after their arrival.

Friday, if the weather cooperates, we will be bringing home two boars and one gilt. This is new vocabulary for us. I had this vague notion that a male pig was a boar because you hear of wild boars being hunted in these

parts, but that was about it for my pig vocabulary. One of these boars will become a barrow when we have it castrated to raise for meat. We will keep them both intact for a while until we decide which one we want to keep for a boar. The gilt, or young female, will become a sow when she has her first piglets. We have debated back and forth about whether to get one gilt or two, and actually thought we had been able to line up two boars and two gilts that we could pick up all in one trip from two different locations. Then when I called to make the arrangements, I found that one of the gilts had been injured, so there was only one available. I don’t know if you ever have these feelings, but I felt like that was an answer to our question. God answered our question by only having one available for us at this time. It’s interesting how things happen sometimes.

I hope to have a report for you Friday or Saturday, with pictures and hopefully no mishaps. I freely admit we are entering this adventure with a little trepidation and doubt, especially on Frank’s part, but entering it we are. Fear is a powerful thing. It can control nations, it can preclude success, it can tear down dreams. But only if you let it. There is a quote somewhere that says something like, courage is fear in action. Maybe that would be a good name for a pig…… I wonder what the goats and Pearl are going to think. That should be interesting.

Until next time – Fern

Chicken in the Freezer……Finally

We ran out of our chicken meat some time ago. You see, just like Frank tried to explain yesterday, things don’t always go according to plan, even when you’ve been homesteading for 30 years……

We followed our regularly planned, annual production run of chicken meat this spring, i.e. hatched and purchased baby chicks, with birth coinciding for ease of housing and raising them all together. Everything went according to plan…..until Frank had a serious upper respiratory infection. The chicks stayed in the stock tank brooder much longer than we planned, but finally made it out to the chicken house. They made the transition to a lot more room just fine…….for a while. Then the cannibalism problem cropped up, and in greater proportion than we had ever had. At the first signs of it, we doctored and separated as needed, just like we always had….but it didn’t work. We lost about six or eight birds in a couple of days. We had never seen anything like it. Finally, we killed all of the roosters, which appeared to be the major culprits. That’s what happens to major deviant behavior, it has to be removed. Maybe our world leaders should take some notes. Anyway……

Because of the problems that batch of birds had, staying in the brooder too long, then cannibalism, we decided we would not keep any of them in the long run. We ended up with 15 hens that managed to behave themselves long enough to make it to laying age. That’s where we are now. They are just starting to lay. But our long term plans to get rid of them are still in place. So, back when we made that decision, we ordered 25 brown egg layers which are now three months old. We found some folks that wanted some new layers for winter, so we sold them eight of the problem batch, keeping six for our own layers until the young ones are old enough. Then the final six will go as well, or that is the plan for now.

That finally brings us up to butchering time. We thought about selling the extra young hens, but they aren’t bringing much and we didn’t know anyone else that wanted them. So we decided to butcher them. We don’t usually butcher hens, but this time things changed…..again. You see, things don’t always work out the way you plan, and in a survival situation that can be very critical. If at all possible, redundancy can mean the difference between life and death. Other options for food, clothing, protection, water, heating, and shelter need to be thought about, if not prepared in advance. If you can. Just in case.

We received 10 white hens in our batch of 25, which is a large proportion. The thing is, we don’t like white birds. They are pretty enough, but white is the first color human and predator eyes notice. White is not a natural color for birds in nature unless they change to white for the winter up north, like the Ptarmigan or Snowy Owls. We prefer all of our animals, chickens, cats and goats to be a more natural color to blend in with nature. The exception is our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, and we would actually prefer she be another color, but after all, she is a Pyrenees.

Before we decided to butcher hens, we talked about not having any chicken in the freezer, and we only have one lonely jar of our canned chicken left. We still wanted a supply of chicken. So we ordered 25 day old, mixed heavy roosters. Just for meat. Well, if there is a stunning rooster in the bunch we may keep him and replace our Barred Rock rooster, we’ll see. These chicks arrived a couple of days ago. They are all named variations of Drumstick. The hatchery even sent a couple of Turkens in this batch, and they sure are ugly! 

When we looked at all the hens we had, there were just too many birds. So we sold 8, butchered 11, got down to 21, then got 25 in the mail, and ended up with more than we started with. Hmmm…..that is just how it goes sometimes. Things don’t always go according to the best laid plans. Prepare for that.

Butchering the 10 hens reduced our flock to 20 hens, 14 of them young. Having 2 roosters, would then be too many, so we picked one to stay and one to eat. That made 10 young hens and one six month old rooster to butcher. The morning we chose to butcher, Pearl came up with an eye abrasion that necessitated a trip to the vet. We had already been doctoring it with triple antibiotic ointment, but it wasn’t doing the trick, and that morning, it was much worse. Things don’t always go according to plan. Once we got her home and situated, it was time for lunch and our morning butchering session had been moved to the afternoon. We had gathered the chickens up the night before and put them in a pen. They had a longer wait than usual, but it couldn’t be helped. We do this to help their intestines empty out somewhat. It makes them easier to gut without leakage into the body cavity.

If you do not want to see some of our butchering process, please do not view the following pictures. The choice is yours.

We choose to use an ax when butchering our chickens. This routine has been tweaked over many years and many, many chickens. Initially, I would hold the head, and Frank the feet, as he chopped off the head. He was uncomfortable with how close my hand was to the landing of the ax, so we devised a simple noose to hold the head, which works very well and increases our safety. When we begin this task we always thank the animal for the food it is providing, and say a prayer of thanksgiving and a request for safety.

Since we had not butchered chickens in a while, we had forgotten a few details of the routine, like Frank’s gloves. The very first chicken, once we had relieved it of it’s head, curled up and started ‘pecking’ Frank on the wrist with it’s neck. Yuck! It managed to ‘get away’ and not land in the trash can we use for them to bang around in until their muscles quit jerking. So, you know that old saying, “Running around like a chicken with your head cut off.” That’s what happened. But we caught it by stepping on it’s feet. Interesting. Then it happened again with the last bird, the extra rooster. He managed to escape the trash can as well and bounced off the side of the garage and both vehicles leaving blood in his wake before we had him caught and safely ensconced again. This required a quick session with the water hose before cleaning the carcasses could commence. It just wouldn’t do to have the blood drying everywhere the rooster chose to decorate. Things don’t always go according to plan. 

As birds age, they get harder to skin. We don’t pluck them, we skin them, which is much easier and faster. It is one thing we will change when the SHTF because the skin is another source of food. And unless we plan to can up a batch, we won’t be butchering this many at once then. The six month old rooster was much harder to skin than the three month old hens. The connective tissue that attaches the skin to the muscle needs to be cut away in many places slowing down the process. If we had very many older birds to butcher, we would only do about five at a time. You can easily skin and dress out 10 young birds in the time it takes to do five older ones. This rooster will be baked slowly like a turkey, otherwise it would be very tough. The young hens make great fryers. 

I always use a knife with a guard to prevent slippage and injury.

We dressed out the birds on the tailgate of the truck, replacing the saw horses and plywood of the past, which works well. I did the rooster first, because I knew he would take much longer. I wanted to end up with the hens which were much quicker and easier. 

After they are all dressed, rinsed and soaking in a sink of cold water, we do the final washing and get ready to package them for the freezer. When we first started butchering our own chickens, we froze the carcass whole. This took up more space and allowed for freezer burn due to the airspace. We know many folks that use a vacuum sealer for all of their meat and vegetables. We have looked into them over the years, but in our effort to remain frugal, have never invested in one. The replacement bags have to be kept on hand and cost more than we care to pay.

Now we cut the birds up into these pieces, nest the parts together to allow for as little airspace as possible and double wrap them in plastic wrap. This box of wrap came here with us from Alaska six years ago. I don’t remember how many years we used it there before we moved, but it seems to last forever and is very inexpensive. Then, we wrap them in newspaper we save, seal with masking tape and mark it with the date. The rooster gets a circled ‘R’ for roasting. The rest are left with just the date to indicate fryers.

We really enjoyed our meal of fresh, homegrown fried chicken. It has been a long time since we were able to sit down to this meal. If you have never had homegrown chicken, you will be surprised at the difference in the taste and texture, and once you get accustomed to eating homegrown, store bought just doesn’t hold a candle to it.

The weight of a twelve week old homegrown bird is about half of a six week old store bought bird. That is because of all of the steroids, antibiotics and genetic engineering of production birds. We feel much better about eating our own meat that is fed a different ration from our recipe along with daily meals of comfrey, turnip greens, kale, other garden scraps and fresh goat milk or whey. They get to scratch around in the dirt and eat the passing bug. Once we make a few more modifications to some gates, they will also be able to range and increase their natural intake even more.

L to R: Two 3 month old hens vs. 6 month old rooster


We wanted to share our chicken story to help folks realize it is very possible to raise your own meat and eggs, but also to let you know that even after raising chickens for 30 years, things don’t always go according to the best laid plans. And when they don’t, there needs to be alternative plans that can accomplish the same goals in a different way. We all need to have the flexibility to change plans in midstream when the need arises. It won’t do to run around like a chicken with your head cut off yelling the sky is falling. Not if you want to survive.

Until next time – Fern

P.S. Fiona, over at Confessions of a Crazed Cattlewoman has started updating her blog. She and her husband, Ralph, are sharing the process they are going through to locate and set up a new homestead. Please take a look and share in their adventures.

A Meal With No Name

There have been several meals I have given some kind of name just so I could post them here on the blog. This time, I’m not coming up with any particular kind of name, so it doesn’t have one. Most of the meals I cook are just a combination of ingredients that sound good. I may have gotten the original idea from a recipe some time back, but most things come from pondering the ingredients we have on hand and coming up with a meal that will utilize those ingredients in a way that tastes good, hopefully. Of course, that isn’t always the case, sometimes it’s really good, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not anything to write home about, and sometimes it’s not something we ever want to try to replicate again. This time, since I’m sharing it with you, it falls into the good category. And, actually, a couple of days ago the first time I made it, it was better than this time.

A few days ago when Frank asked the proverbial question, “What’s for dinner?” I looked around at all of the fresh garden produce and said, “Potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes and meat.” He gave me a very dubious look and asked how I was going to cook it. Here is what I described.

Start off with some olive oil and potatoes, frying/sauteing them first. I always salt and pepper the potatoes.

 
After they are off to a good start, add the onion. We really like onions cooked this way so I used 1 1/2 onions sliced rather big.

 

Give the onions a bit to cook until they start to clear up, then add peppers. These are sweet peppers and cook up very well. Add as many as you like.

 

Once the vegetables are about two thirds cooked, take ground meat and drop it around here and there. These pieces are about rounded tablespoon size. I mixed salt and pepper in with the meat beforehand. I space the pieces of meat apart so they will cook individually and end up like weird shaped, small meat balls. After I space them out on top, I turn the entire mixture with a spatula to put the meat at the bottom against the skillet. Then I put another batch of ‘meatballs’ on top. In all I used about a half pound of meat. Let everything cook, turning as needed, until the meat is done.

 
For just the last few minutes, add the peeled, diced tomatoes and only cook until they are heated through. This time I cooked them too long and they had blended away into a sauce. The first time I made this, the tomatoes were still in chunks, had a more distinct flavor and Frank liked it much better. But this step is easily adapted to your own preference. 

The only spices I added were salt and pepper. This dish would be good with many different spices, it’s just that what we wanted was the flavor of the vegetables. The meat takes on a nice subtle flavor from the vegetables, especially all of the onions. This is another one dish meal that is easy to fix and utilizes some of the yummy, fresh vegetables from the garden. The variety of combinations is endless and only limited to what is growing on hand. This dish would be good on a bed of rice, or wrapped in a fresh tortilla, or on a smaller scale, inside of an omelet. 

Grow what you like and eat what you grow. It’s another example of using your food storage. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff that is advertised as easy to fix and nutritious in the event of a disaster and stick it under your bed or on a shelf and never eat it. Because if you end up needing it, you may find out that it is just not palatable, or that it makes you sick because you’re not used to eating that kind of food. The same goes for gardening and food preservation. Last summer I finally grew a semi decent crop of lima beans. I had been trying to grow them for three years and was thrilled with my success. But, you know what? After all that time and effort, we found out we don’t like them! They were really yucky, so I will not be growing anymore. I’ve also experimented with a lot of different peppers and have settled on jalapenos and a sweet pepper. The verdict is still out on green beans and corn. 

It takes time and effort to fine tune what grows well, preserves well and tastes good. Use your time wisely. The events of the world are a complicated cause for concern. Keep your eyes open and your mind sharp. Don’t put off doing what that still small voice is prompting you to do. Listen and act. It’s important.

Until next time – Fern