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Today is slicing day. I’m slicing coppa, guancialle, fiocco, and ham (for sandwiches). Of course, we make sure it’s all good as we go. That’s a more important step than one may think. After hanging for some time, the pieces ideally have some mold on them. This helps impart desireable flavors and keep the meat safe–if it’s a good white mold. Green and black mold are BAD. We’re constantly patrolling the hanging room for good molds and bad molds, and I also check as I’m slicing to be sure a given piece doesn’t contain an unpleasant surprise. When we see green or black mold it gets treated with apple cider vinegar. If it’s just a small spot, a spray from a spray bottle usually does the trick. Larger areas require some scrubbing and rinsing in the shop with the vinegar and water. Then the piece dries and hangs in the shop a day or two to make sure it got cleaned thoroughly before returning to the hanging room. Mold spores are airborne, so when I find a little mold on a piece I mist the floor and general area lightly with the vinegar as a precautionary measure. Last year we had more trouble with mold, but this year these measures have worked well.
Another lesson learned this year is that seasonality is an element in the quest for good vs. evil molds. The reasons for harvesting hogs in the fall when the nights are cold include the fact that the cooler temperatures retard mold and allow the pieces to go through the initial cure, when they are most moist and therefore most vulnerable, with greater safety. When the more humid summer months come the pieces are either done and in use, or have a protective layer that is dryer and less conducive to mold growth.
There are many other reasons to harvest pigs in the fall and many other ways to control molds in your hanging room. We discuss them in the classes, which are now all updated and available. Check out either the Saturday classes to jump into the process that interests you, or come to the weekend class to get an intensive experience!
The Hog Harvest classes are coming up! Here’s a cool video a friend of ours did about our pigs:
In the last week we’ve had an explosion of our pig population. Through the recent yucky, springish wintery snowy rain weather the sows decided it was time for piggin’, or farrowing. Here are a couple videos Mark made talking about this process in a pasture system:
Yesterday the little ones were following their mothers around, napping in the sun, and just enjoying being alive. You’ll be able to see them, plus everything else we do, when you come for a class. You get a whole farm experience with a focused learning topic. They’ll still be little and cute for the April Pastured Poultry class!
Last weekend was our first Hog Harvest class.
Day one saw everyone busy taking the pigs from the field to the cooler.
We saved the internal organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, and brain. Here Mark is showing how to separate the caul fat from the spleen.
Day two was cutting the halves of the pig into pieces.
Day three is the yummy step: starting the curing process and making sausage.
This is a hands-on class, and everyone got their hands into every step. Along the way we ate great food and stayed up way too late discussing the world. Students remarked that it helped to see how the pigs were raised, and to see them as part of the bigger picture of the whole farm. They left ready to tackle raising and/or processing a pig or two. That’s what it’s all about!
Remember: Anyone Can Farm (and that includes you).
This past weekend we had a group of folks from Indiana who ordered pork and sent two families to pick it up. The benefit to the Ritzmans and Baughmans was some OJT (on -job-training). They got to help us to kill, scald, and scrape one hog, and pitched in to cut and package the 4 hogs they took back with them.
As we looked at the different cuts, we talked about various ways to prepare and preserve the parts of a pig–especially the not-so-commonly used ones, like the head, trotters, and brains. Actually, we enjoyed the brains scrambled into an omelet for breakfast. They end up being about the same consistency as the eggs and can pass unnoticed.
This is the thing we do that led to Anyone Can Farm. These folks did not get the benefit of a full-blown class. This was a utilitarian, get the job done session. Learning happens when hands are put to work, and that’s what Anyone Can Farm is all about. Plus, we solved the world’s problems, ate good food, and parted hoping to do it again next year.
We have two opportunities coming up for you to join us for a weekend and learn the whole process, from in the pig pasture to putting meat on salt to cure: October 25-27, and November 1-3.
We will be processing pigs through the fall and into December. If you’d like to purchase a half or whole hog and help butcher your pig, let us know! OJT is a great way to learn.
Chop together in a bucket: rotten apples, sour milk, a couple of chicken carcasses, cracked barley, assorted vegetables.
Allow to sit for one to eight hours to allow the ingredients to soak and blend.
Dump over fence into feeder.
This is the recipe for our baby pig starter feed. Which only goes to show pigs will eat anything. Plus, a heritage breed pig can even grow on it. One of the reasons pigs have been historically popular on farms is that they can eat the refuse that other animals can’t or won’t eat and can convert it into food. Pigs are omnivores, so they can eat vegetable, dairy, meat, and grain food stuffs. They are not particular, either, about the condition of the food.
Our pigs get a large variety in their diet. Mark plants fields with an assortment of crops, including field peas, turnips, rye, mangals (fodder beets), corn, radishes, and the occasional sunflower. Radishes, buckwheat, field peas are spring food as they don’t mind cool soil and are ready quickly. Turnips and fodder beets are good crops to plant mid summer for fall food as the turnips need to freeze a bit before the sugar sets and the pigs like them. Mark plants turnip and rye to serve as early winter food. Rye is a very cold tolerant grass and the pigs will dig turnips out of frozen ground.
As omnivores, pigs need protein. Most grain rations use soy to meet this need. We use the refuse from our chicken processing (heads, feet, hearts, livers, gizzards) to supplement their feed. We haven’t found that this makes them more prone to hunting their own meat as the chickens sometimes help them clean up their grain. We don’t separate the meat and other scraps (including coffee grounds and egg shells) from the kitchen as the pigs enjoy and convert it all. When we had a couple of beef processed we asked for all the scraps and discard stuff. The oxidized cover fat and large joint bones were great feed supplements!
We have used scraps from the prep table at a restaurant and high quality sourdough bread as feed sources. Bruised apples, unsaleable or uneatable produce, seconds potatoes, etc. are all good sources for pig feed. Creativity can find lots of pig feed. Be sure that what you find is of good quality to begin with. Free Wonderbread is still Wonderbread and the result will be Wonderbread pork.
What you can feed pigs is only limited by your imagination!
Among other things, Mark tells you on this video why the Hog Harvest class is for you!
This week we moved the smaller feeders out into a fresh pasture. That brought to mind an important topic for anyone considering adding livestock to their repertoire. One of the most crucial factors to the success of raising animals of any sort is having the appropriate fencing. We say this from hard experience. In the range of difficulty, goats are by far the most difficult to fence, with cows and horses being about the easiest.
Because we use our pastures for multiple species, we’ve invested in a woven wire perimeter fence and then use electric to protect the fence and subdivide the fields as needed. Electricity is the essential ingredient for all fencing. You can fence just with electric, but we’ve found that the combination is a good guarantee of positive neighborly relationships. Here is how the pig fence is set up:
The standoff electric fence is about 6-8 inches off the ground–right about where the pig’s nose snuffles along. We make a point of “electric fence training” them before they go out into a bigger field. You can subdivide a field using the wire at about 6-8 inches and another at about 14-18 inches. We’ve used various types of posts and insulators over the years. We came into some fiberglass pipe recently and it works really nicely for electric wire. Pigs have a great respect for electric fence, but are contiually checking it and will sometimes figure out that they can run through it. That’s why we use a woven wire fence to back up the electric. Note the yellow insulator up high. When we have cows in this pasture we can run a wire at the top to keep them from leaning over the fence.
The key to a good system is a good fencer. Plug in fencers are great. They are powerful and reliable. We use several of them near the barn. Solar fencers give you the flexibility of containing and moving your animals anywhere you need them. You don’t have to buy the most expensive fencer, but don’t buy the cheapest either. A good quality fencer that is more than adequate for the space you’re electrifying is a worthwhile investment. This fencer has an insulated “hot” wire running to the electric fence and is grounded on the woven wire fence. Be sure that your fence is grounded well. We’ve chased animals back in (especially goats) more than once only to discover the sand around the grounding rod was bone dry and not working as advertised.
This is one example of an easy way to pasture birds. Turkeys, hens, ducks, geese don’t like the confinement of a “chicken tractor.” They need to roam, but can do a lot of damage to gardens and flowerbeds if they can wander anywhere they like. The feathernet fencing keeps the birds in and predators out. It can be electrified, which is a very satisfying way to convince racoons to leave your hens alone. You just need two fences: one in use, the other set up around the next section of grass so that you just shoo the birds into the next net, close it up, and leapfrog the first net to the next section of grass.
Then, there are always the ones that won’t cooperate and find the alfalfa is higher on the other side of the fence. However, our sheep doesn’t stray far from her herd mates, the dairy cows, who are on the right side of the fence. Plus, since we have the whole pasture woven wire fenced, she won’t be eating the neighbor’s daffodils. This fence does work really well on the cows and horse. A single strand of electric fence on a step post contains the animals and is easy to move using the same leapfrog method as with the feathernet. With the dairy cows, someone goes out to move the fence and open up new pasture while the cows are up at the barn to get milked.
Being able to put your animals on grass is the key to utilizing your resources to the maximum. Weeds become feed, which in turn yields to you the most nutritious food possible, whether it’s eggs or steak.
I recently came into some back fat from one of our pigs. The loin had so much fat on it that Mark trimmed half of it off so the chop would have a balanced amount of meat and fat. I’ve been using a good share of lard lately, so I decided to render it. Last fall we met a lady from Maine, Debra Evans, who introduced me to a different way to render. She puts the well chilled fat through the largest plate on her grinder and then uses a double boiler to render it. The double boiler has the advantage of keeping the fat at the low end of the proper temperature. Temperature is very important in rendering. Too cool and you won’t get the fat out of the lard in this century. Too hot and you can scorch the lard pieces and infuse the protein into the fat, making your lard smell and taste like roasted pork. That’s OK for frying eggs, but makes a blueberry pie taste funky. I’m not convinced that the double boiler is better than my wok/lard pan method, but it is easier to manage in a busy kitchen because if I forget it for a while or have to run to the bank it just keeps on safely doing its thing. For the purposes of a homestead hog harvest situation this is invaluable. Maybe this fall we’ll get both pans going and do a methodology comparison.
How can you use lard?
- Fry eggs.
- Make baked goods. Leaf lard is better for this than back fat, I’m told, but for not-so-discerning palletes, either works well. The consistency of your baked goods is lighter if you mix the lard 50/50 with butter.
- Pop popcorn. Dorothy loves a late night snack. She even uses the greasy cracklin’s, which get nice and crispy while the corn pops in the pan.
- Top dress steamed veggies with some real sea salt and garlic. Anyone will eat those beans or broccoli!
- Mangalitsa lard can be whipped and then used as a spread in place of butter. Add some real salt and herbs and you will be hooked.
- Test your imagination!
Remember: Fat is flavor. Fat is your friend. (Thanks to Brian Polcyn for that mantra!)
Fat is flavor. Fat is your friend.
Our pigs are fat. At Hog Harvest, we will show you that fat has flavor and is a dish of beauty.
Besides rendering hog fat for lard, we will be making “lardo.” Lardo is simply cured fat. The thicker it is, the better the cure works. The result is a sliver of glistening, salty, herb flavored (or not) deliciousness. After trying our lardo and loving it, a friend shared this article with us:
We recently had a Celebration of the Farm here, hosting around 230 people. The bunkhouse was full, the campground was nearly full with tents and various other campers. It was an exciting fulfillment of a vision.
Part of the Celebration was a Hog Harvest Demonstration. People watched and helped with getting a hog from the field, scalded and scraped, split, and in the cooler. Folks really appreciated the opportunity to participate in procuring their food.
Part of any stay of the farm is experiencing the whole farm. You can collect the eggs for breakfast, milk the cow for lunch, and, depending on the time of year, browse the garden for dinner.
We’re are into planning for the Hog Harvest classes this fall. The pigs are fattening. We’ve refreshed our skills. We have the housing ready for those who want to stay with us (at no extra charge). You, too, can milk the cow, collect the eggs, and learn how to make fabulous lard, bacon, and ham! Hog Harvest: coming soon!
That is an excellent question and it strikes at the heart of basic pig husbandry. A strong immune system is the key to prevention.
2) Make sure your feed is separated from their dirty little feet as much as possible (they are pigs and can’t help it!).
3) If in doubt our first line is biochar (which Joe makes for us), which acts like activated charcoal and provides a double good when we’ve innoculated it first so that its full of good bacteria that strengthen the immune system.
The other thing to look at is your breed of pig. Heritage pigs of any strain have stronger immune systems than the hog house white pigs. They resist parasites and diseases that the others simply aren’t bred to resist anymore. It’s the difference between a layer hen and a broiler chicken.
Come learn more about good hog husbandry at Hog Harvest Days!
We felt successful in our processing training this fall in at least three cases.
Case one is Penny Kriebel from the OK CSA in Traverse City. Penny attended the chicken processing class with the MSU Organic Farm students. Penny has raised laying chickens for years, but never had ventured into the last purpose of her birds. She told us a week later one of her neighbors called and asked if she’d help put their few layers in the freezer and Penny was gratified that she had the knowledge to do that. That’s what it’s all about!
Case two is the daughters of a friend of ours. Our kids had been bugging and teasing the two girls for some time about coming to help and learning to process chickens. The girls raise about 100-150 birds every summer as a job, and our kids think it’s funny they won’t have anything to do with the end of the game. Finally this fall the girls mustered their courage and came along with the birds on processing day. I don’t think they learned Joe’s job at the cones (frankly, that’s the one job I don’t/won’t do either), but they participated in everyone else’s station. A weekend or two later Dorothy answered the phone thinking she’d have a nice chat with her good friend. The question, however, was, “How hot does the scalding water have to be, again?” There had been a couple of ne’erdowells left at home and the girls felt they could do the job themselves now. They told their parents, “That’s not so hard!” So, with their Dad’s help, they used their new knowledge and processed the last few birds themselves! Success!
Case three is a farmer who raises heritage hogs and markets them direct to the consumer. They also value making their own food and edible products. They do cheese and yogurt with their goats’ milk, can and pickle their garden abundance, and wanted to expand into preserving their own pork. To that end, they killed one of their hogs, loaded him into the pick-up, and brought him down. We spent a day of private tutoring to scald and scrape, seam butcher, and begin curing their big guy. He really was big–tipped the scales at 340 pounds without his insides! The bonus part of any Anyone Can Farm training is after-class consultation. So they called us the next morning with a question as they prepared to brine the two hams and were able to make sure they were on track. The other upside to our day with them is that I got to show them how to prep and use the internal organs. When you process your own animal you have access to parts that are very difficult or impossible to get back if you let the government ensure your safety. They have to make rules to cover animals that you really DO NOT want to eat the liver, spleen, lungs, or kidneys out of. If your animal has been raised properly, outside, and is strong and healthy, these organs are vitally full of trace minerals and vitamins your body needs. This was a part of the other chicken and hog processing classes that people appreciated also.
An interesting side note: Saturday we custom processed a hog for a Hungarian family who lives in Chicago. They took home extra lard and were thrilled to be able to get it. They told us that Illinois regulations dictate that the fat must be cut off pork and may not be sold. It apparently contains cholesterol and contributes to obesity. Yep. For real. Last year this family (and extended family–it’s a huge affair), made their sausage without any extra fat, just lean pork from Meijer’s. They were so disappointed with the result they could barely eat it. They were thrilled to be able to come here, harvest the pig and bring home some really good pork for this year’s sausage.
Part of the mission of Anyone Can Farm is to train people to be able to feed themselves and their neighbors. It’s old knowledge that’s been lost in our push away from the dirt and into an industrial system. We want to see people processing their own and their neighbors chickens. We want to see people raising, processing, and safely preserving their own meats and preserving the artisinal farmer heritage.
The weekend started out Friday afternoon with students arriving in 1′s and 2′s. They were dressed in warm clothes but excited to see what was in store over the next 2 1/2 days. It was a sunny day and the temperature was in the low 40′s. Perfect weather for what the day was going to bring. After a briefing and a get to know each other time, we discussed what each student wanted to get out of the weekend. With smiles and excitement, we moved over to the farm and started the process we were there for.
The day continued with the group processing 2 Hogs and walking through the steps to harvest, scaled, de-hair and prepare the animal for cutting up.
Dinner was wonderful with everyone sharing stories and tasting the wonderful farm raised foods that everyone brought and prepared. That night, some stayed at local hotels, some right there at the Anyone Can Farm Lodge, and a few brazed the elements and camped outside.
Saturday we proceeded to learn more about how to cut up the hogs from a chef. The chef had a hog half and each of the student groups got a half to cut up also. It was a time of learning and experimenting on how to best part up the hog so that the best cuts of meat could be used for charcuterie. The students also got to see the farm and how everything works to prepare the specialty hogs for charcuterie.
Saturdays meals were fantastic. Jill and the kids prepared a wonderful selection of vegetables and meat with everyone full to the brim after a hard days work.
Sunday was another beautiful day with the sun shining and the temperature perfect for preparing the charcuterie and specialty sausages. The chefs taught everything from how to sharpen the knives, to which part of the hog is best what pork product, to the fine art of charcuterie.
As the day progressed, everyone would make comments about how much they learned and how awesome it was to listen from these incredible chefs. At the end, a collective realization came over them as they realized that “Anyone Can farm”.
Hugs to all those that attended Hog Harvest Days. Great times and memories.
This entry will be a bit long–just an upfront warning. A long time ago I read Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (Scribner, 2005), in which Mr. McCourt describes his experiences as an English teacher in inner New York city in the 50′s and 60′s. One character in particular jumped out at me and I’ve waited all this time to be able to tell this story here. I’m going to quote a couple pages of the book, but it applies to the concept of “anyone can farm.” Grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy:
Charcuterie is the art and science of preserving meat. Pork is especially suited for this purpose. This is your chance to learn how to process a heritage hog from oink to ham with Mark Baker, farmer, and Aaron Butts, Executive Chef of Joseph Decuis restaurant where he has been turning Mangalitsa pigs into fabulous charcutered products. At this hands-on offering on our working farm, you will have the opportunity to learn:
*How to feed and care for a hog for optimal charcuterie processing.
*How to slaughter a hog on-farm, including scalding and scraping.
*How to use seam butchery techniques so you won’t need a huge meat saw.
*How to utilize many of the organ meats.
*How to make your own lard and sausages.
*How to cure your own bacons, hams, and other cuts.
Take home meat and some tools available for sale.
Cost: $250/person for this 2 1/2 day event, with lunches and dinners provided.
Date: November 2-4, 2012
Get more information or RSVP by calling 231-825-0293 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, anyone can farm
Welcome to Anyone Can Farm! Our firm belief is that anyone can grow food to feed themselves, to one degree or another. What is lacking is the know-how-to that will ensure our food security and independence for the future. Anyone Can Farm’s mission is to provide hands-on learning opportunities to overcome that barrier.
October 28, 29: Chicken processing
This class starts on Sunday evening with dinner, then you’ll be in the thick of it with the crating of the chickens for processing the next day. Bright and early on Monday, you join our crew in the butcher shop. You’ll get to rotate through all the positions so that at the end of the day you’ll be able to fully process a chicken. The afternoon will be spent learning how to cut and pack chickens, focusing on utilizing the whole bird. Cost is $75.00 and includes Sunday dinner and Monday lunch. Please e-mail email@example.com or call 231-825-0293 to sign up for this event.
November 2-4: Hog Harvest Days
The goal of this class is to provide you with the ability to kill, scald and scrape, cut, and preserve a whole hog. It will be taught by farmer Mark Baker, who has been farm killing hogs for over 10 years. He raises these hogs in a specific manner to enhance their quality for charcuterie, which is the art and science of meat preservation. He will walk you through the slaughtering process, including scalding and scraping the hide so that the rind is preserved. Mark will also be teaching you how to seam butcher a pig to prep it for making cured meats and sausages. He will be teaching you how to use all the parts of the pig, including the internal organs, sausage making, and an introduction to curing bacons and hams.
Class starts at 1:00 on Friday November 2nd. We will be jumping right in, so come dressed to be outside and get dirty. On Saturday, the 3rd, we will be cutting the carcasses into primal pieces and working with the internal organs. Sunday, the 4th, we’ll be focussing on making sausage and curing the larger pieces.
Dinner will be provided Friday, lunch and dinner on Saturday, and lunch on Sunday. Sorry, we can not provide housing, but can assist you in finding lodging in McBain or Cadillac.
Cost is $250.00 for the three days. Please use Paypal or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 231-825-0293 to reserve your spot.
Pork, tools, and books will be available for sale.