farming, Homestead Rescue, homesteading, pigs

Homesteading Lessons When To Call in The Experts

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The truth is you can never be prepared for, or know, everything.  After years of learning through both study and trial and error, I am often reminded of how little I know.  We all like to think of ourselves as an apex predator, as someone who can get the job done.  We fix our own equipment, and we work tirelessly to keep our homesteads running.  But every once in a while its time to call in an expert.  It is so hard to know when to call in the Calvary, in fact most of us probably push it too far.  This week we not only called in an expert, we learned a few valuable lessons about the difference between real farmers and what we do.  It all started several weeks ago when one of our pigs developed what we thought to be an abscess on its belly. img_3678

As we usually do, we researched treatments and causes.  We asked friends with more experience, but still were unsure of what we were dealing with.  We toyed with the idea of lancing it ourselves and as it grew, so did our stress level. We did not have the knowledge of a pig farmer, who probably would have culled this pig as it was 100lbs or so and could have been of some use.  This was the moment that we realized that it was time to call in the expert.  We are fortunate where we live to still have a real country vet.  A small but important side note: It also helps that his daughter and our son will soon be married.  Doc Caucci from Orson Corners Veterinary clinic took time out on a 90 degree Saturday to come down and take a look at our pig named “Olive”, with the mystery swelling, Yes, we know, we should not name our food, but somehow it brings us peace when the “appointment” day comes. img_3775

When doc arrived he was ready for business,  we had only seen him work on our cat before, and in all of our time spent together at BBQ’s and family functions I had never seen this side of him.  He gathered his tools as a master carpenter would and went to work.  First it became very apparent that Olive, our most skittish pig of course, would need to be sedated.  Doc jumped into the pen like a veteran boxer and went to work.  After several attempts, and with all hands on deck, we were able to corner Olive with some plywood boards.  Luke, our younger son, was instrumental in this process.  After she was sedated, we removed her from the pen and placed her on a clean tarp.  Again having a strong 17 year old son was a blessing.  As Doc plied his trade, the truth was revealed.  It was not an abscess, but in fact, a hernia.  It was at this point that I was very happy I didn’t try and lance it by myself.  Doc, wearing his blue vet’s coveralls, went to work.  We placed olive on her back in a chute that we constructed.

Luke and I held her legs as Doc went to work.  The confident ease with which Doc worked was astounding.  It made me think of a great guitar player, how their fluid movements make it look so easy, until you pick up the guitar and realize it isn’t.  Within minutes Olive’s muscle layer and skin were stitched up.  As we stood looking down at her I was again thankful for both Doc and my decision not to take matters into my own hands.

We then placed Olive in isolation in her own house with fresh hay to recover.  It struck me how drained we all were after this experience, except doc, who disinfected his boots and looked ready for another round.  I guess when you flip cow stomachs and deliver calves, a little hernia surgery is no big deal, but for us it sure seemed like a miracle.  After several days she was back with the other pigs.  I’m not sure she even remembers what happened.  Homesteading  blesses us with challenges, and teaches us solutions.  It never is boring or just the same old thing over and over.  So many people ask us if we think it’s worth it, or if it’s fair to the animals, but when was the last time you gave your pork chop surgery, or misted her tongue with refreshing water as she recovered from anesthesia?  We care about these animals and give them a great life full of pets and treats. I am certain they are happier than any factory farmed pigs.  We are also not naive, we know that there is no way everyone can live this way, but we are thankful that we can. The decision to call in an expert is never easy, and when we need to it doesn’t make us weak or any less, it makes us human.

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backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading, meat chickens

Raising Meat Chickens, you will never go back to store-bought again!

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If raising chickens for eggs is the gateway to homesteading,  then raising them for meat is stepping through that gate with both rubber boots.  Once you have raised your own meat, and see the difference from what you buy in the store, you will never go back.  We finally decided to raise meat birds after a few years of raising laying hens.  We decided to raise Cornish Crosses because of their excellent feed conversion rate.  You get one pound of meat for every two pounds of food you feed them. We also wanted to start with a bird that we were used to eating, and these are the same birds that the U.S. poultry industry uses.  Cornish Crosses also only take eight weeks to raise.  This would enable us to raise more than one batch in a year.  We ordered 25 chicks from Meyers Hatchery,  as this was the minimum number to receive free shipping.  Every dollar counts when you are homesteading.  We set up an eight foot diameter brooder, and we chose to make it a circle to keep chicks from getting stuck in corners and accidentally killed.  Finally our long awaited chicks arrived by mail.

They were so cute and fuzzy, and we wondered how we would ever eat such cute animals. We immediately realized that these chicks were much different than laying hens.  They ate almost non stop, and pooped almost as much.  We gave them unlimited food for a few days but quickly cut back to two feedings a day.  We learned with our research that they will eat themselves to death if you don’t restrict their feed.  After only a week, they had more than doubled in size and became something less than cute .

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In another week they were even larger and began to resemble a store bought chicken with legs.  They were a little stinky, so we were looking forward to getting them outside.

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We constructed a run with a place for them to get out of the sun, and waited for them to get their feathers so we could move them outside.

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They really didn’t move around much and were very happy to just eat and drink all day.  As they grew, we looked forward all the protein they would provide our family.

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They were also eating a ton of feed.  They truly had a one track mind.

We checked their weight regularly and soon they were ready for their big day.

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We read up on butchering, and watched videos.  It’s a really is a simple process.  The biggest issue is plucking, so we would recommend borrowing or buying a plucker.  We still don’t own one, but plucking 25 chickens takes two people most of a whole day, so we plan on purchasing one this year. Once the feathers are removed/plucked they begin to resemble the chicken we are all used to seeing in the store.  It only takes a few minutes to butcher and eviscerate (remove the innards) a chicken,  and then they are immediately cooled in ice water.

Once they are cooled, we wash them thoroughly and we place them in shrink bags which are inexpensive and easy to find online.  They are cheaper in bulk, so buy a few year’s worth at once to save a few dollars, again every dollar counts.

The first time we butchered chickens it was a few days before we felt like eating one.  We were nervous and unsure if we would enjoy them.  The first thing we noticed is that they took a little longer to cook.  They are not injected with broth like the ones in the store.  They also were not slimy and didn’t need a diaper like store bought.  When  you finally taste one you know that all of your hard work was worth it.  Guess what? They taste like chicken,  they are not bland and have a wonderful flavor, and they also do not taste like salt like the ones from the store.  The second time you butcher chickens you will have one for dinner that night, in fact I get hungry when I butcher them now.  So if you have ever thought about raising meat bird, pull up your rubber boots and jump in.  You will be rewarded for your effort in legs and breasts, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

Meet our rooster Little Wing

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Little wing is our resident rooster.  For several years we have maintained a flock of laying hens.  We had no desire to have a rooster and were quite happy with our little flock.  But as is often the case in homesteading, opportunity knocks and an adventure begins. These are my favorite times. Research is done, plans are put in place, and then bam! everything goes haywire.  Little wing’s story starts with one broody hen.

IMG_9782 She is not Little wing’s mother but she liked to sit on eggs and wouldn’t move when we collected them, so we decided to try and take advantage of this.   We contacted a friend who had fertilized eggs and were able to trade some homemade pickles for a few eggs.  Next we marked the eggs so we knew which were the fertilized ones.  This way we could still collect the others for breakfast. We then placed the eggs under the broody hen.  Everything was going well and we waited the 21 days for the eggs to hatch.  By the time they were ready we had lost a few eggs (I’m still not sure where they went).  But one day I went to check the eggs and laying on the floor of the coop was a poor abandoned little chick with a wing that looked broken. Although the broody hen was good at sitting on eggs she was no “mother”. We quickly put the chick into a brood box with a heat lamp, food and water.

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He would peep and seemed healthy but his wing still looked funny so we began to call him Little Wing.  After a few weeks of growing Little Wing began to stand tall and try to kick us when we brought fresh water, this was the first sign he was not a hen.  We never really wanted a rooster but we had become attached to him. (a huge danger in homesteading)  After 8 weeks we put him outside with the big girls.  This is usually a tough time as chickens have a pecking order and can be brutal to each other.  To keep the abuse at a minimum we have constructed two separate runs each with a coop. The runs share a fence and there is a door between them. Little wing spent the first few weeks in one run while the girls had the other.  They could see and smell each other and even peck through the fence a bit, but we find this keeps the new ones safe and allows the big girls to get used to new chickens. After a few weeks we opened the door between the runs.  This is when we were almost sure Little Wing was a rooster, instead of getting chased and pecked he stood right up to the girls.  They accepted him quickly and he became part of the flock.

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One day while feeding the girls in the morning Little Wing approached me.  He looked at me and made the most pathetic noise.  He looked as if he was vomiting.  I then realized that he was trying to crow.  We finally had definitive evidence that Little Wing was a rooster.  After a few weeks he figured out how to crow and now wakes us up at dawn.  He is a good rooster and does not crow much.  He does crow when anyone goes out to feed him, which is music to our ears.  It finally sounds like a homestead around here thanks to Little Wing.  Sometime in the future we plan on hatching some of Little Wing’s and the broody hens eggs. We have tried it with our ducks and were successful, but that is for another day.

farming, homesteading, Uncategorized

ADVENTURES IN RAISING PIGS

Meet Fred and Ethel our first pigs.  The decision to raise pigs took us many years to make.

It never seemed like the right time but this year we decided to take the plunge. We contacted our friend who raises pigs and he came through with these two beauties. He referred to them as blue butts which after some research turns out to be a mix of Hampshire and Yorkshire pigs. Once we knew the date we would pick up our piglets the work of getting their living area ready began.

Pigs are very smart and we knew that we would need to keep them inside their area as we live on the edge of a village and could not have our pigs getting out.  After some back and forth we decided to use a 3′ field fence ($175) with a two strand electric fence around the inside. We were able to get the field fence in a 330′ roll which was enough for the whole enclosure.We then purchased a solar fence charger we went with the parmak magnum solar pak 12 low impedance 30 mile charger. it was more expensive($275) than most of the others but it has kept the pigs in and the bears out of my bees . In the corners we used wood posts and along the runs we used t posts. we attached the field fence to the outside and then used the proper insulators to put the electric on the inside. i used insulators that kept the electric fence 4″ from the outside fence to avoid shorting.   Next we tackled a shelter which we simply made from used pallets and a few pieces of galvanized steel roofing.

Getting set up

Next we built a pig feeder out of scrap we had around the garage . It worked very well when the pigs were small but as they grew they started to flip it over to get the feed out but once we secured it to the pig shelter it was fine though we could hear them at night flipping the lid occasionally. Lastly we needed water for them we started with a bowl but pigs love mud and love to make it and would constantly flip the bowl over and have no water.

Our solution was a cattle waterer that we connected to a blue rain barrel. It was a very inexpensive solution and the pigs figured out how to get their water almost immediately

 

Getting the pigs settled, feeding and establishing trust


At first they were very skittish and would not let us near them. They bumped into the electric fence for about 15 min but soon learned the boundaries. They are so smart after a few days they were like putty in our hands belly rubs were always appreciated.

Then we made a choice to name them Fred and Ethel which in the end made it much harder come butchering day. We gave them love and apples which they loved. We fed them all they could eat for the first week but then cut the feed back to two pounds per pig per day we fed them twice a day. for each month old they got 1 pound of food a day up to 6 lbs each.  The feed conversion for pigs is 3 to 1 for every 3 pounds of feed you get one pound of meat.

They were always together and seemed to like to sleep head to toe

we also gave them a shady area to beat the summer heat. To say that they became my favorite part of the day would be an understatement.Pigs are fun and funny as soon as i came out the door they wanted to see me or get sprayed with the hose on a hot day. We also gave them a kiddy pool to lay in.

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Pigs do funny things all the time these guys were always up to something. They would run around like maniacs when i ran the mower or as older pigs would roll over onto your leg for belly scratches which is fun when they are 200 pounds.

 They grow very fast and turned the whole area we had for them into mud very quickly once they were 100 pounds or so. we purchased a pig tape to keep track of how big they were getting and wormed them once a month. The wormer was available at the local feed store. We also found that their prices  were about 4 dollars a bag cheaper than tractor supply. Plus it was from locally sourced corn and grains. If you do the math at three months they are gaining a pound a day and at six months it is two. It is important to find a butcher very early to schedule a date because they book up quick especially at county fair time. We chose a local gentleman because we didn’t want to trailer them too far. Also pigs love beer so if you need drinking buddies they are perfectly suited for it but buy the cheap stuff  because they chug it down haha.

 

Growing and growing

Growing and Growing

As summer came to an end Fred and Ethel were gaining weight at an incredible rate. We used the measuring tape and figured out when they should go to the butcher based on the rate they were growing. We made a date for them to go, but our first butcher over booked so we had to scramble to find a new one, all the while our little pigs were getting larger. They even outgrew their pool. To keep them cool we would make a mud wallow for them to cool off in which the loved.

When fall arrived we had a bumper crop of apples so the pigs would get a bucket full every day , they couldnt get enough. We knew the time was coming for them to go and although we were sad, (in fact I had some sleepless nights leading up to that day) we had to remember why we raised them. We wanted to know where our food came from.  It was time to get ready at this point they were in the 300lb range how would we get them to the butcher ? I had a small trailer and an idea.

 butchering day and some vodka

The idea for trailer transport finally took shape and using our tractor supply trailer we were able to make a very usable pig transporter. After the pic above we decided to add 2x4s between the 2×6 so they couldn’t squeeze out.  We also added pasture fence to the top so they couldn’t jump out.  Now it was time to get them on the trailer.  We skipped their last feeding the night before and lured them onto the trailer with feed laden with vodka.  As soon as they ate they just wanted to lay down and nap.  They were calm for the 30 min ride to the butcher.

We chose our cuts and left.  We were sad to see them go they had almost become pets.  About two weeks later we received the call to pick up our bounty.   333 pounds of meat was the final tally and we filled our freezer for winter.  The bacon was amazing and the pork chops were divine. Once the meat was home and cataloged so that we could keep track of what we had we felt so much better.  We were happy that our food was loved and healthy. We couldn’t wait until next spring. But wait there is more.

Meet Houdini and dottie.  These pigs found us. One day we saw on Facebook that a pig was running loose in our village. We helped corral this spotted escape artist and helped his new owner put him in a dog kennel. It became apparent that he didn’t have the facilities for him. I offered to buy him for what he payed. In the meantime he escaped again earning his name Houdini.  Houdini seemed sad and depressed so we decided he needed a friend we found a farmer with some fall piglets and went and picked up Dottie she is very cute with her floppy ears. Houdini chased her around at first and after they both got shocked by the fence several times they decided to be best friends.  They sleep under the hay tucked in together.  Now we would need to work on making their shelter winter ready. Stay tuned and watch them grow.

 

farming, homesteading, vineyards, winemaking

The Vineyard

This past summer we decided to let the chickens and ducks do the fertilizing for us in the vineyard.  We have 50 marquette vines and have made wine for the last two years along the way we have learned many lessons.  This summer we learned that ducks make great lawn mowers so we hatched 14 ducks from eggs that our mating pair laid.  Not only are they great mowers but excellent fertilizers.  In the very early spring we will be pruning the vines in the vineyard and we will post a blog about it so stay tuned.IMG_9551