Blogging for Grit

If you are interested in homesteading, and if you are reading this blog than I bet you are. I’m proud to announce that I’m now blogging for Grit. My posts here will continue, but will direct you to the post on the Grit blog site. 

I hope that you will take the time to meander over to the Grit page to read my posts. The first few will be similar to what I have already written as I catch up any readers from there, and soon after the content will be entirely new. We’ve had some recent changes here and new ideas, so definitely keep up to see what is going on. 

And finally, we have a Facebook page where you can discuss the most recent blog post and any other thing that is happening. I will try to be a much better picture taker and post those there as well. You can find that page at https://www.facebook.com/DinnerTimeFarm

Dinner Time Farm is the original name we decided on for our farm when we moved to the country. 2 Acre Homestead is where we currently live, but it won’t be where we always live and farm, so I decided to move everything under that Dinner Time Farm umbrella.

Thank you all for being loyal readers of this blog, and read the new blog post here! http://www.grit.com/farm-and-garden/do-it-yourself/in-the-beginning-dinner-time-farm.aspx

Doing what you are good at!

We live in a time and place where we don’t necessarily need to be skilled in a bunch of different areas. I will be the first to admit (and my wife will certainly back up) that I am not a person who you would call “handy”. I am not good at building things, fixing things, or diagnosing problems. And that is ok! I know people who are, and I know where to take things to get fixed if I need to.

This same principle applies to homesteading. I’ve discovered that I am just not cut out for milking animals. I don’t have the passion for it and I also don’t have the time I thought I would for it. Again, that is ok! There are plenty of people out there who are good at it and who do have the passion for it and those are the people I need to align myself with.

There are things that I AM good at, and one of those things is raising animals for food. Maybe that just means I can keep things alive, but either way I’m good at it! So how do I bridge this gap between wanting fresh milk (but not milking myself) and using the skill of raising animals for food? I find someone who is skilled at milking and who wants fresh locally raised meat.

You know what else this does? It cultivates relationships. I have someone relying on me to provide meat for their freezer and I’m relying on that person to provide milk for my fridge. Together we are helping to provide for each other’s families. Because I now have that relationship with this person, I can call upon them in times of need and they can do the same with me. This type of relationship becomes much more meaningful then a one time purchase of an item with cash.

What does that mean for our little 2 Acre Homestead? It means that dairy goats are probably on their way out (a couple have a new home already) and that potentially opens the door for something new. Raising lambs in the spring and harvesting in the winter is an option. Not adding anything new is also an option. We’re about to welcome another calf to the homestead and we’ll have some decisions to make on what to do there dependent on the sex of the calf.

With limited space, I’m beginning to feel that the best use is to bring in animals that can be raised in a short amount of time before harvest. The only animals that might be here on a permanent basis could be the Dexter cows for our beef supply and the chickens for our eggs. We would bring in the pigs for 4-5 months, lambs for 8-10 months and meat chickens for 6-10 weeks. I’ll have some thinking to do on what it is that I do best and how to fit that into our overall vision here.

For now, I’m glad that I found a source of fresh milk to trade for as that was a definite goal to have for my family.

What is it that you are good at? Consider focusing on that and finding someone who is good at something you aren’t as good with. I think if you do you might just make a new friend!

Barn Cats

If you are a homesteader, and you have animals and grain, you are going to attract some nefarious characters in the form of mice and rats. These guys steal food, eggs, chicks and can carry diseases. They are definitely not things you want to have around. But how do you get rid of them in a natural way? Poisons can affect other species of animals and can adversely affect the environment. I would have you consider a more feline approach, the barn cat.

Several weeks ago I noticed that there was a large number of mice and rats that had moved in underneath our shed. This shed is where I store our food (in galvanized garbage cans) and it also serves as the backside of our goat/cow shelter. I knew that I needed to get rid of them, and I knew that I didn’t want do use poison.

I turned to the internet and did a search for barn cats. This brought me to a few local sites, one of which was the humane society in my county. After doing a little research and sending an email to the person in charge of the program I was soon brought two cats, a black female and an orange and white male. They also provided all the equipment needed to confine them for a period of three weeks. This confinement period is to allow the cats to get used to the area that we want them to stay in. The cats were also neutered or spayed, given all their vaccinations and rabies shots, and a clean bill of health. They also had their ear tipped to signify they were feral cats and a micro-chip with the humane society address that they came from. This is to allow the humane society to identify cats that may have wandered from where they were placed.

During the confinement period I had to be very careful to feed and water the cats and to clean their litter boxes without letting them out. We didn’t want them out too early as they might not stick around.

It’s been a couple weeks now that our barn cats have been let out and they have made themselves right at home. They moved underneath the shed where I noticed the rat and mice activity and cleared them out! I’ve seen them several times out hunting and have seen several dead rats on the property as well.

This has been a win/win situation for us. We love helping out animals in need and providing them with a home. These cats would have otherwise been euthanized as they were not fit to be adopted due to their feral nature. They were also provided to us free of charge, we only had to provide food, water and litter. Now, they get to live out the rest of their lives without fear of wondering where their next meal will come from, without worry of finding water and with shelter from the weather. In exchange, they help keep our property free of mice and rats.

There are so many cats that are in need of homes and many of them are what would be considered wild cats and not fit for adoption. Do you have property and no outside cats? Consider calling your local humane society and see if they have a barn cat program. There really is nothing to lose, and so much to gain.

How much meat from a pig?

Last week we got the call we had been waiting for! The butcher was all done with our meat and it was ready to be picked up. This is the culmination of the past 4 months of work we had put into these animals and it was now time to reap our rewards.

So, what exactly did that get us? First, there are many different ways to cut up a pig, so depending on if you want more roasts, or more sausage, big hams or little hams, bone in or bone out, all will have a bearing on what you get back from the butcher. Keeping that in mind, here is what we came home with.

Meat from one whole pig.

Meat from one whole pig.

  1. 4 hams
  2. 5 packages ham steaks
  3. 4 pork roasts
  4. 2 packages Spareribs
  5. 2 packages soup bones
  6. 5 packages ham hocks
  7. 19 packages pork chops (2 per package)
  8. 10 packages ground pork (1 lb packages)
  9. 10 packages breakfast sausage (1 lb packages)
  10. 3 packages jowl bacon (1 lb packages)
  11. 9 packages bacon (1 lb packages)
  12. 8 packages pepper bacon (1 lb packages)
  13. 6 packages cottage bacon (1 lb packages)

I didn’t weigh everything, but my guess is that there is about 125 lbs of meat in all of those packages. It took up about half the space in our freezer. Now we’ll have to make sure to make all of that meat last for a year until we start the process all over again.

Many of you I’m sure are thinking, well that’s great and all, but how does it taste? And I can definitively tell you that it tastes great! Here is a picture of the pork chops we cooked up the very next night after we picked up our pork.

Pork chops

These had an excellent flavor, nice and tender and best of all, we knew what these pigs ate the entire time they were here! They were given no growth hormones, no unnecessary antibiotics and had plenty of room to run around.

We’ve also had a package of cottage bacon (comes from the pork shoulder, smoked and sliced) and it was amazing! It went well with breakfast and also with BLT sandwiches. I love pulled pork, but I may consider an extra roast done up in cottage bacon.

If you were still hemming and hawing about raising your own pigs, or buying from a local farmer I truly hope that this will be the post that gets you over the hump! It is truly an investment that is worthwhile.

Pork by the Numbers

Last week we sent our pigs to the butcher and this week I’m able to dig into all the numbers. First let’s just get straight into the expenses and income.

Expenses:

5 piglets @ 70.00 each – 350.00

Straw – 5.00

Hog Weight Tape – 5.99

Slaughter Fee @ 60.00 each – 300.00

3200 lbs of food – 891.38

Total Expenses – 1552.37

Incomes:

Sale of 3 Pigs: 1749.5

Deposits: 350.00

Total Income – 2099.50

Total Profit – 547.13

Not included in these numbers are a couple of different things. The cost of the shelter, waterer, fencing, and the fence charger is not included in the expenses. I didn’t include them because I will be able to use them again in the future. If I were running this as a true business, then I should amortize these items for each pig over a period of years I expect to be able to use the equipment. I also did not include the time that I spent with these animals. Over the course of 164 days, I spent about a total of 32 hours feeding, watering and taking care of them. Again, if I were running this as a business, I would also need to pay myself a wage. Since we are doing this to put meat on our table, and to take the profits and put them back into the farm, I’m less concerned with adding a wage line in the expense column.

My takeaway from this is that raising a few pigs can pay for the one or two that you keep for yourself. You do of course need to be able to feed the extras you have before you sell them, but if you can do that, then you can pay for your pig from the profits, allowing you to basically eat for free.

Now, we’ll take a look and see how well the pigs grew for us.

I estimated the pigs at 30 lbs each when we got them on January 31st and that they weighed a collective 1,365 lbs when they were harvested. 1365 – 150 lbs means that they gained 1,215 lbs in the 164 days that they were on our property.

Let’s do some math, shall we?

1,215 lbs / 164 days = 7.40 lbs gained per day. We divide that by the 5 pigs and we get 1.48 lbs gained per day per pig. This number is a little misleading, as we were also raising a runt that came in about 65 lbs lighter then the other 4 pigs. The other pigs probably grew at a higher rate then 1.48 lbs per day.

That’s a pretty impressive number if you think about it. Every day that they were here, they gained almost one and 1/2 lbs of meat!

I’m sure I’ve bored you all by now, so I hope that you take away this. Raising your own pigs can be a great way to quickly put meat in your freezer, and if you raise some extras, it can be a great way to quickly put meat in your freezer for free.

Emotions Before a Meat Harvest

First, I don’t like the use of the word slaughter. When I think of the word slaughter, I think of war and taking the life of an animal to provide for my family is not war. It’s a harvest. For the animal, it’s a sacrifice.

Our pigs were harvested yesterday. They went peacefully, they were not scared, they were not in an unfamiliar area and they were not alone. This post is not about them though, this post is about us.

This was our first meat harvest on the farm. We had spent the last four months of our lives, everyday with these animals. We knew their personalities, we knew their likes and their dislikes (they were not fans of brussel sprouts or asparagus, but they loved cake!). We had watched them grow from 30 lb piglets to 275 lb pigs.

People always say, don’t name them, don’t get attached. I think that if you are truly raising your animals in a manner that respects them for being a living thing, then it is only natural to get attached, and that is a good thing! Having empathy for another living thing is an emotion that we need to instill in our children. They need to know to respect and care for these animals. If they don’t, how are we to expect them to respect and care for each other?

My wife and I had a great conversation the night before the pigs were harvested. We talked about the sadness we felt. We honored their memories by remembering things about them. How they would run away from us as fast as they could when they first arrived here. How they would race around the corners of their pasture as if they were in a race. Their contented grunts as they passed by our bedroom window in the morning on their way to the water. How much they loved playing with the hose on a hot day or being sprayed with water.

We discussed the future we want for our son. We want him to care about others, to care for animals, to respect and understand nature. It’s up to us to teach him those things, to teach by doing them.

I gave the pigs a treat of apple slices, as I did so many times before. But this time, I thanked them and told them they did a good job. And they did.

Nearing a Goal

In just three days we will be accomplishing part of a major goal that I envisioned for us when we first moved here. We will be taking our first batch of pigs to the butcher and be one step closer to providing the vast majority of the meat that we consume right here on our land.

In this day and age, it takes a concerted effort to produce and eat 100% of anything from your own property. Eat out at a restaurant just once and there goes your 100%. And I love to eat at a good restaurant as much as the next person, so I know that producing 100% of the meat that we consume just isn’t possible. I do think that we can get to a very high percentage though, 95% perhaps?

The pigs are the first step, they are a relatively small time commitment with a fairly large output. We’ve invested 4 months of time and energy into these animals and they will reward us with about 120 lbs of meat in the freezer per pig. By choosing to raise more then what is required for our own use, it allows us to sell the extra to friends and family and others who would like to have home grown meat in their freezers. By doing so, it also gives us a small profit to further invest into our farm by purchasing hay or other equipment that might be necessary.

The pork that we will be putting in our freezer should be enough for us to last a year, when we will have another pig to harvest and fill our freezer again.

What does 95% of our meat consumption look like? In addition to the 120 lbs or so of pork, my plan is to raise 25-30 meat chickens each year and to have a Dexter steer to harvest at least every other year. I also have a goal of harvesting 35 lbs of salmon as our fish source for the year as well. Living so near the Pacific ocean as we do here in the northwest, fresh fish is readily attainable for those willing to put in the effort.

Pig 4 Pigs

Look for a future blog post with our total expenses and income and what our rate of gain was for the pigs. Our goal has always been to be as transparent as possible and we want to help other people who are interested in raising their own meat as well. Hopefully the information we can provide will be the inspiration that someone else needs to start their own home production.