Hog Harvest 1

Last weekend was our first Hog Harvest class.

Day one saw everyone busy taking the pigs from the field to the cooler.

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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.

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Day three is the yummy step: starting the curing process and making sausage.

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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).



Mark tells you about the Hog Harvest classes coming up:



Dan boning meat for sausage.


Mike grinding pork for sausage.

Mike grinding pork for sausage and lard for rendering.

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.





Piggie food

Chopped apples, sour milk, and barley: Yummy in a pig's tummy!

Chopped apples, sour milk, and barley: Yummy in a pig’s tummy!

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.

DSCN1438Our 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.


Field peas, tunips, sunflowers make a tasty menu for a pig.

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!


Hog Harvest

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.

Part of the Solution

We spent an interesting weekend in Staunton, Virignia this weekend.  We were at a Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund fundraiser at Salatins’ Polyface Farm.  It drew folks from the Weston A. Price Foundation community and the Paleo (“diet”) community.  It was great to see two groups with a similar, non-conventional approach to food and farming come together to support an organization that works legally and legislatively to keep food choice legal.  Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund has supported many career and hobby farmers in their quest to grow and provide wholesome food.  It’s a great organization to belong to whether you buy your food from a farmer’s market or buyer’s club, have a small garden in your front yard, or are a full fledged food producer.  They defend your right to obtain the foods of your choice, to exercise your Constitutional rights in this area whether you are a farmer or consumer.

Saturday evening we went to a showing of a screening of Kristin Canty’s (Farmageddon)  new film series “Rockin’ Farmers” featuring Daniel Salatin, and a viewing of American Meat. “Rockin’ Farmers” was a great short about an up and coming farmer, and his unique niche in the family farm: rabbits.   We’d add American Meat to our recommended viewing list.  It was great to hear the maker of that movie, Graham Meriwether,  who spent a great deal of time with the conventional farmers he featured, comment on why he felt those farmers had signed their Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods contracts.  He pointed out after the movie that the industrial farmers were often times caught in the system.  Even though they all recognized that large chicken and hog barns aren’t the best way to do it, they felt it was the only way to make a living (admittedly “of sorts”) at farming.  He differentiated between the individual men he filmed and the larger system they were part of.  The film presents a compassionate and balanced perspective on the tensions between industrial and non-industrial agriculture. It was telling that one hog barn farmer maintained that his conventional barn paid out best, but he ate pigs out of the “compassionate” barn where he feeds organic feed and the pigs have significant outdoor access because the pigs taste better.  One of the things brought out in the panel discussion of the movie was the great need for more small, regional, non-industrial farmers. Most people felt there is demand. There are challenges to overcome, but America has the land mass to feed itself and export some food without round-up ready corn and concentrated animal feeding operations.  What we really lack is people with the know-how to do it.

turnipsThere are solutions to that problem.  Internships and apprenticeships are one solution.  There are some colleges with programs and courses on sustainable farming.  Anyone Can Farm is another solution.  A weekend training program can give you the tools to get started growing food for yourself and your family and neighbors.  The best thing is what we recommended to one couple we talked to: just do it!   Do something, whether it’s replacing one flower bed with nasturtuims and sweet peas or tomatoes, or getting 5 layer hens.  Don’t wait till you have a 10 year plan and have researched everything and all possibilities.  It’s great to be a part of the solution!


Lard rendering in a double boiler.
Lard rendering in a double boiler.

Lard rendering in a double boiler.

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!)



A plate of Mangalitsa goodness--the best of fat and meat and spices put together.

A plate of Mangalitsa goodness–the best of fat and meat and spices put together.

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:

How to Make Lardo

Lardo and sausages hanging to cure after last year's Homestead Hog Harvest class.

Lardo and sausages hanging to cure after last year’s Homestead Hog Harvest class.

Hog Harvest

Mark and Joe demonstrate how to process a hog.

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.

Scalding and scraping a hog.hog harvest





Mark and Joe demonstrate how to process a hog.

Mark and Joe demonstrate how to process a hog.

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.

Cooking up heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and tongue.  You can't say "no" till you've tried it!

Cooking up heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and tongue. You can’t say “no” till you’ve tried it!


The sign says it all!

The sign says it all!







Milking the cow by hand.

Milking the cow by hand.

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!

Tips on chickens


Multi-modal learning means leaning with all your senses.  That’s what an on-farm class is all about.  Here are a few snapshots from our last class and the tips being the students learned with their eyes, ears, nose, hands, etc.:

Joe showing Remi how to pluck a chicken.  The scalding water (to loosen the feathers) is about 140 degrees.  The bird is completely dunked for about 20 seconds, then checked.  Ideally the feathers pull out easily and leave the skin intact.


Jadwiga picked up quickly on cutting the back side of the bird open prior to gutting.  We start about halfway between the vent and the breast cartilage, cut a slit down and around the bottom of the vent.  You should have an opening big enough to stretch and allow your hand in to pull out guts, but not so large that the rear end looks skinned.  The vent should come out with the guts.  The tricky part is in not nicking the intestines.  If you do, rinse with clear water quickly.


How to brood a brand new chick is not too hard, but requires a bit of know-how.  They need 90 degrees and dry bedding for the first several days, and the temperature can back down from there.  Brooding in July and August is, of course, much easier that in early spring or winter, but proper equipment and a well set up brooder can make all the difference.  People can brood chicks in almost anything (and do!), but the key is to be able to expand it as the small day old chicks grow exponentially.  Another trick is to shape the brooder, or add wedges, to make it have rounded corners.  Chicks “pile” in sharp corners and simply rounding those corners discourages that tendency.


Assessing the health of your birds is important.  Examining the manure for rusty or red spots is an easy way to catch coccidia before it overwhelms the bird.  Coccidia is a protozoa that burrows into the intestinal lining, causing bleeding and scarring.  It impairs the intestines ability to function and, therefore, the bird’s ability to gIMG_1432-001ain nutrients from its food.  When you process your birds, the quality of the carcass and the conditioIMG_1613n of the internal organs can also tell you about the health of your birds.  Here the class looks at a not-so-healthy liver and a vibrant liver.  This was the only poor liver we saw, so likely the bird was just not as constitutionally strong as the other birds and its liver had to work harder.  Because it was the only one in the bunch, the birds were a healthy bunch overall.

Everyone’s favorite part of a class is dinner!  You are invited to eat with our family for the weekend, enjoying lots of chicken and learning how you can utilize the whole bird at home.


There’s a Pastured Poultry class coming up July 19-21.  We hope to see you there!


Pastured Poultry

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens in last year's class.


Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Our Pastured Poultry class in June featured an international flare.  Two of the students had come all the way from Poland to learn how to raise animals on Pasture.  Remi and his wife Jadwiga have worked with SAND International  to learn vegetable production for many years.  Now Remi wants to expand his hilly 9 acres on the edge of a small Polish town to include pastured chickens and sheep.  They chose to attend an Anyone Can Farm class because we are located on about the same latitude so farming conditions will be similar.  Remi faces other challenges that make sustainable farming appealing: his land is pretty much all fairly steep hillside, and gas is about $8/gal. so gas powered implements aren’t an economical option.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi soaked in everything about chickens he could.  A lot of the lessons were firsts for him!  He had never slaughtered an animal before, never handled many of the power tools used to build the chicken tractor in class, and has never seen a diversified farm that strives to make everything compliment the whole.  Remi already composts vegetable matter on his farm, so the compost piles and how we use the animal wastes to build compost that then makes better animal feed was of interest to him.  He also made a point of discussing the pigs and the rotationally grazed cows with Mark.  He even helped Mark move the cows on Saturday.  He felt he carried enough information away from the weekend to start at home with his large plan for his small acres.  The weekend was a success!

Hosting folks from Poland, as well as their American hosts who had experience in India, Liberia, and Poland made the class an educational experience for us, as well!

We hope to meet YOU at the next class, July 19-21.  You can still sign up!  The next weekend class is Hog Harvest Days,

In this video, Mark explains what a Pastured Poultry class involves:


DSC02991“So what are your thoughts on this, Mark? What can simple small pig farmers do to keep our porkers safe from contracting this virus?”

Outbreak of Deadly Piglet Virus Spreads to 13 States

That is an excellent question and it strikes at the heart of basic pig husbandry.  A strong immune system is the key to prevention.

1) Make sure they have space, fresh air, good bedding, dry ground as well as a wallow. A heritage breed sow farrowing outside in straw.  Everyone's healthy!

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. ThBioCharey 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!

Fun with chickens

Chickens are fun!  Not only can you watch them chase bugs, scratch in the dirt, dust bathe, and fight over a juicy worm, you can “hypnotize” your chicken.  The boys’ preferred method is to put the hen’s head under her wing and then swing her in as large a circle as your arms permit (don’t spin your body, just turn your arms in a circle in front of you), the bigger the better.  After about 15 circles you can set her gently down and she’ll stay there.  The length of time varies, but she’ll be there a few minutes at the least.  Once the hen sat overnight on a fence post!

Here’s a funny article I came across on the same topic.  It’s a fun read and might help you occupy those long, lazy summer evenings with your birds.

How to Hypnotize a Chicken

Hypnotized Chicken.jpg


“How to raise an animal” isn’t just for the people who want to raise them.  The class is also for people who eat them and just want to know more about the meat they eat.  A Pastured Poultry class coming up!  You can find out how to raise a few little ladies in your own yard, or you can figure out how to ask intelligent questions of your farmer and know something about the answers.  One of our Hog Harvest attendees shared that that was the advantage to her: she could tell the processor how to cut her hog (purchased from someone else) and really know the cuts and what she wanted.

Here’s the skinny (411) on the Pastured Poultry class:

Pastured Poultry

Frequently Asked Question: What kind of chicken should I raise for meat?

There are a few options now:


Broiler chickens (Cornish cross) in a chicken tractor.

Broiler chickens (Cornish cross) in a chicken tractor.

Broilers.  These are a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed (Vantress, White Mountain Rock, etc.).  They grow quickly, 6-9 weeks depending on how big you want them and how you raise them.  They are not as hardy and need more careful brooding than the other types of birds.  They are messier and smellier.  They are not as efficient on pasture and do require grain feeding.  That’s the downside.  The up side is that they grow quickly so they are come and gone in just a couple of months.  They do produce a nice, meaty carcass.  They can be pastured (we have ours out), and do best in the contained “chicken tractor” because they are babies their whole lives.


This is a Buff Orpington rooster;  Known to be dociile, good egg layers, and tasty eating.

This is a Buff Orpington rooster; Known to be dociile, good egg layers, and tasty eating.

Layer chickens/heritage birds.  Roosters make great eating.  There are “heavy” breeds and “light” breeds.  You want a “heavy” breed like a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Black Sex Link, Black Australorp, or Rhode Island Red.  Down side: roosters take about 24 or more weeks to reach a nice butchering weight and are not usually as fat or meaty as a Cornish cross.  They don’t make the boneless, skinless breast type of cuts.  They can be chewier or tougher than the Cornish cross birds and need a little different cooking technique.  Up side: They have more flavor in the meat.  The meat can be fairly tender if cooked correctly.   They are better foragers and can grow well on alternative feeds and grasses/bugs/etc.  The rooster chicks are often cheaper than the broiler chicks.  These fellows

like to “free range” and can be contained in a tractor but prefer an open house situation.

3) Freedom Rangers.  This is a new hybrid.  They look like a layer rooster but grow quicker like the Cornish cross.  Most people we know who have raised them have done so in about 12 weeks.  They forage well and can grow on forage and also need some grain.  They don’t get as heavy as the Cornish cross, but still have a nice double breast.  They are a little more difficult to find as chicks but are becoming more available.

That’s the quick answer.  We do have a Pastured Poultry class coming up soon: June 28 – 30.  Some scholarships are available, so let us know if that would help you be able to come.  Here’s Mark’s intro to the class:



a bit of press

Here’s a quick story from Peace News Network reporter Derrick Freeman:

There are two errors: 1) the hearing set for July 12 is at the Missaukee County Courthouse in Lake City, MI; 2) the place to donate to our legal costs is at Baker’sGreenAcres.com.  Thanks for your support of Mark and Baker’s Green Acres!

Please do check out Anyone Can Farm.  It’s our positive response to the punitive and restrictive actions of state governments to control what you and I can eat.  The best answer to all the nonsense is to grow as much of your food as you can.  If your lawn feeds you rather than eats your resources, what a great thing.  If your window sills grow herbs and edible flowers, you come out ahead.  For this season, Anyone Can Farm is focussed more on animal production, but while you are on the farm we can talk about and tour the biochar, permaculture activities and beds, compost, and gardens we have on the farm.

This just in…

If you are interested in a class, but the cost looks daunting, we have a couple scholarships.  Contact us if this would help you out.  We’d love to use these scholarships and get you “growing your own!”

We are looking forward to a great permaculture weekend!  Next weekend is “Pastured Poultry,” covering chick to freezer. Hope to see you here!



Here is anDSC03160other example of how the first permaculture principle can play out with animals:

Anyone who’s raised animals very long can tell you that sometimes things go wrong.  They aren’t really “Acts of God.”  Things were designed to work a certain way and when it goes wrong it usually involves nature, as in “the nature of the beast” (literally).  Animals have a way of looking at the world, and when they become difficult it’s usually because we aren’t understanding their viewpoint and meeting their needs. (Temple Grandin is a proponent of this if you want to read about it elsewhere.)

Last night was a case in point.  Our youngest group of chicks is about 3 weeks old now.  They needed to transition out of the brooder, but Joe didn’t have space until Monday and needed to let the next pen dry off before he moved them.  They had sustained a couple of losses, but were generally doing well.  Then, Tuesday morning, Keith came rushing in: “I have a BIG problem!”  Apparently the thunderstorm the night before, or the humidity of the storm, or something caused these easily stressed birds to panic and they “piled.”  They climbed on top of each other seeking comfort, suffocating the ones on the bottom.  It can be ugly, but it’s their nature.

This started out as a group of 600 chicks.  By the time Joe and Keith got it sorted out and various ones had revived once rescued from the pile, Keith counted 169 dead.  Ugly doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

They cleaned up and Joe moved the chicks into the next pen.  The chicks had been very stressed by now—big storm, moving, new and unfamiliar surroundings.  Then dark descended.  By their nature, they wanted the comfort of their big, solid walls and low ceiling.  This big, open pen scared them.  So they started to do what they do when looking for comfort.  They started to pile again.  The “Act of God” was that Joe, contrary to his nature, decided to check on them again after he was nearly in bed for the night, and came back over at 11:30.  We lost about 10 or so birds, but that’s all.  We gave them walls and a ceiling and rigged a heater.  That was all they wanted, after all.  We put more wood shavings over top of them once they settled in, shut the lights off, spread the last few who were determined to pile out to the edges, and said goodnight.  By their nature, they don’t move much during the night.  We’d provided the security they desired, with a little extra warmth to boot.  That was all we could do.

I’m happy to report that we lost zero chicks during the night.  At 6:30 this morning they were running around, chirping happily, drinking and eating and dust bathing.  They were in and out of their security area and generally looked very happy with life.  It doesn’t take much to be happy when your brainstem is bigger than your brain.  Those of us with the cognitive capacity just need to slow down sometimes and consider the nature of things, and go with it.

Now, Kimi the bull-who-climbs-through-small-holes-in-the-wall is a story for another day.

Intro to Permaculture and Soils, this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  Come learn a new way to look at your “farm.”

Permaculture Principles

Even though we’ve used many of the practices of Permaculture on our farm through the years, I’m just learning the formal principles.  “Permaculture” itself is a bit tricky to nail down.  One of the best, simplest descriptions comes from PermaculturePrinciples.com:

“Permaculture is a design system inspired by nature which is based on ethics and design principles that can be used to guide you, your household and your community ‘beyond sustainability’.”

In a nutshell, we observe and study nature and seek to use the natural systems we see to sustain ourselves now and in the future.  Nature, be it a woods, prairie, or neighborhood is designed with unique interactions that perpetuate the system.  Our job is to figure out how to do it purposefully.  That’s where the Principles of permaculture offer a road map to set up self perpetuating systems.

In the Intro to Permaculture and Soils class Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf will give you all the principles and you will get to work through a project with them.  Here is the first Principle:

Observe and Interact

Mullein plants indicate a "sour", low pH soil--a good place for blueberries.

Mullein plants indicate a “sour”, low pH soil–a good place for blueberries.

This first step is the key to opening the door of permaculture.  Joel Salatin was the first person we heard express this concept.  He recommended taking a five gallon bucket out to the field and sitting for a while, watching your chickens, turkeys, pigs, etc. to see what made them happy and content.  Do it at different times of day.  Do it on different days.  Then see what you can do to make your animals happy.  Happy animals (not necessarily spoiled, though) are productive animals.

Lambsquarter is a healthy addition to a salad since it's a member of the spinach family.  It may also show you a great place to plant squash.

Lambsquarter is a healthy addition to a salad since it’s a member of the spinach family. It may also show you a great place to plant squash.

When you want to put in a garden or a new bed, consider what you want to plant.  What soil conditions does it like?  How much light does it need?   How hot or cool does it tolerate?  Sit and observe your yard, considering these things.  Look for which weeds thrive–they can give you a clue as to what kind of soil you have.  For example, if you see mustard or chickory, you likely have a “crusty” soil.   Broccoli, cabbage, and vegetables of that family will likely do well there.  Differing sources suggest various remedies, or you may consider using a permaculture approach and find out what likes that soil and would thrive there anyway.  Observing and beginning to interact with the area will help you make decisions about what to plant where.   The goal is to develop a system that will thrive with as little maitainance energy from you as possible.

I can tell you that this is a process.  For example, the weeds got away from me one year in between the rows in the garden.  I decided just to mow them so they wouldn’t go to seed.  What I learned is that the mowed weeds helped hold moisture so that the vegetables did better in between waterings and needed less water.  The next year I planted in beds rather than rows and Mark planted clover between the beds.  This worked fabulously.  The clover kept the weeds choked out and made a nice thatch that held water and protected all the worms and other soil life.  The next step was mulch.  Craig Schaaf, our Soils instructor, is the fellow we learned this from.  We rearranged the garden into wider beds with a narrow walkway.  We mulched the beds (learning a few lessons about that along the way, too–like how quickly a hen and 7 chicks can deconstruct the carefully strawed rows of potatoes) with straw and put cut grass from the lawn on the walkways.  This was even better as the mulch brought the water retention right to the plants and provided cover and food for the soil dwellers.  We’ve observed and learned that nature doesn’t leave soil uncovered.  By imitating that one concept in the garden we have improved our soil and gained better harvests.

There are 11 more principles.  A fun site to explore them is www.permacultureprinciples.com.  A couple of sites where I read about weeds are: OrganicGardening.com and Everyday Gardener.  However, there is lots of information on both topics if you google them.  Penny will be sharing all the permaculture information and she and Craig will walk you through applying it in the Intro to Permaculture and Soils class.  You get practical experience with your book learning!  Hope to see you there!


Picture 081

Picture 081Last night we attended a seed saving class taught by Craig Schaaf.  In all the seed information, Craig slipped in some great soil information.  As a seed saver, the mineralization of his soil is very important.  A well mineralized plant is one that is grown in soil with plenty of trace minerals–not just the potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus that concerns most gardeners or farmers.  A well mineralized plant is healthier, more disease and pest resistant, and produces a stronger seed.  It’s fruit or produce tastes better and will keep longer.  He recommends testing your soil through a lab like Biosystems: Soil testing and consultation services, who can do a trace mineral analysis for you.  Trace minerals are the minute but essential nutrients a soil needs to have healthy flora (good bacterias and funguses) and fauna (worms, nematodes, etc.) that in turn help plants to grow strong, resilient, and productive.Kelp is Craig’s recommended all-purpose amendment.  It contains about 60 trace minerals, all of which are readily available to the soil life and your plants.

One mineral tip Craig shared concerned heavy, clumpy clay soilssoil types_0.  Michigan has clay areas interspersed with sandy stretches, so this is an issue here.  When we were in Montana we encountered “gumbo.”  That’s the heavy, clumpy soil that defines such soil.  It is the stuff that gives you platform shoes on a rainy day.  What this soil type is strong in is magnesium.  That is a binding mineral.  Calcium is the antidote mineral.  They have the same polarity (and therefore attractiveness), but calcium is stronger and therefore limits the binding action of the magnesium.  This is an example of how knowing the mineralization of your soil can make a huge difference in your garden.

Thought for the day:  “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  Elbert Hubbard

Remember, Anyone Can Farm!


Mark brought home the first installment of bunkbeds for the Bunkhouse.  The guys set them up this morning and they look great!  We are excited to have people come and stay with us.

Keith and Mark putting together a bunk bed.

Keith and Mark putting together a bunk bed.

Joe and Sam finish another bed.

Joe and Sam finish another bed.








Finished product, ready and waiting for guests!

Finished product, ready and waiting for guests!




Joe and Sam got all tired out!

Joe and Sam got all tired out!


Sam and Joe would like you to think that they worked so hard setting up the new bunkbeds that they had to nap.  They report the beds are comfortable and those who stay in the Bunkhouse will appreciate them.  Especially after a hard day of making biochar, working in soil, or building a chicken tractor.  We still have room in the Biochar, Soils and Permaculture, and Pastured Poultry classes.  The Hog Harvest classes are a ways off, but it can’t hurt to plan ahead as that’s a popular class.  Sign up today to get your spot!

Chickens (and more)

Wondering what the Pastured Poultry Course is all about?  Mark tells you here:


Sign up today! Share the word with your friends and food conscious groups.  Classes are coming up soon and we want to make sure we get everyone in.

Chicks for sale

Ready to raise your own chicks but needing the birds?

mottled java

Tomorrow (April 30) we will be receiving a handful of layer chicks.  If you are interested in any of them, please give us a call or e-mail so we can reserve yours for you.

We will be receiving broiler chicks at the same time.  If you can get them same day or next day, we let them go for $1.40/bird.

Our scalder should be fixed by the end of the week, so we’ll be back in the processing mode again very soon.

Let us know how we can help you!


Picture 120



The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Picture 120


“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
Bill Mollison (from the permaculture.net website)

I’m learning what permaculture is.  This is a course that will be taught by someone else (Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf), so I have a functional knowledge, but not the technical knowledge needed to teach it.  In many ways, it seems to me that permaculture is what our great grandparents did, whether they lived on a city lot or an 80 acre farm.  They studied their situation, which included the land, the climate, their social situation (this was important in the water sharing west as well as the urban areas), and their total resources.  They figured out the best way to get the most production, both food and financially, that their situation would allow.  They sought to work with the land as much as possible because they didn’t possess the petroleum means (tractors, fuel, fertilizer) to force their will.  This is, to my understanding, the essence of permaculture.  It’s the construction of a productive system that uses the components to benefit and sustain each other. 

A row of chicken "tractors" marching across a field.  The birds leave behind well fertilized forage for the next grazers.

A row of chicken “tractors” marching across a field. The birds leave behind well fertilized forage for the next grazers.

On our farm, we graze animals to build the soil to grow healthier plants to have food to graze the animals on.  For our efforts we get meat, milk, and eggs.  Plus, the animals provide the raw material for compost to enhance the soil of our garden so we have good vegetables.  Any organic “waste” from the butcher shop or milk processing (such as whey when I make the family’s cheese) goes back into the system one way or another.  This is one example of permaculture.

Since soil is the key to growing anything, it is a critical component in building your permaculture system.  Craig Schaaf is an experienced farmer and respected teacher of this kind of agriculture.  Craig has modeled his farm on Eliot Coleman’s work, focusing on soil building to achieve amazing harvests from small spaces.  Craig will be teaching us how to use what’s naturally available to us to build a well mineralized soil that can support intensive planting.

turnipsThis is a class that I anticipate will be of great use to beginners who just want to know where to start.  I recommend it as the starter class if you’ve never grown a thing in your life. Permaculture ideas provide an umbrella for you to understand sustainable, organic type farming.  Soils are the foundation of all growing.

I also anticipate that this class will be full of information for those of us who have been growing all sorts of things for most of our lives.  There is a lot to know about permaculture and soils and building a sustainable system.  Your farm or garden will benefit from your time with Penny and Craig.  We will be inside learning the basics, but also out in the field applying what’s in the books.  In this class you can learn:

  • Principles of permaculture – your guides as you observe and plan.
  • Ethics of permaculture – how to apply the principles to your land and your life.
  • Soils – applying permaculture to the foundation of all that you will grow.
  • Design – Planning your food growing enterprise with permaculture principles and ethics in mind.

Hope to see you here!  Introduction to Permaculture and Soils

Planter ideas


Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon in Cadillac, sitting by the lake, chatting with passersby.  It was the kick-off for Transition Cadillac’s “200 Yarden Dash.”

DSC03389-001I saw a couple clever ideas I thought I’d share.  Vickie Purkiss was demonstrating this modified raised bed.  It’s made from hay, although she said straw was recommended.  She added the dirt and compost mixture a couple of inches deep.  Then she planted the cabbages into the dirt.  The plants were wilty because they were in a cold breeze and weren’t used to the outdoors, but she said she’d had good success with this method before.

DSC03387-001These are very basic outdoor plant beds.  One lady I talked to lives in an apartment, but wants to grow more of her family’s food.  They have a small yard and are going to have a few rabbits and use one or two of these beds for vegetables.  They won’t have to dig up the yard for their garden, and the beds are easily mobile when they move.

The class that seemed most appropriate for many people just starting out was the Soils and Permaculture Class.  Soil is so basic to any food enterprise, whether it’s vegetables or animals.  It’s important to learn about managing it well no matter what you want to do.  Permaculture is a fancy word for getting an overview of your property/area and figuring out how to manage it as naturally as possible.  This class is a good overview and basic skills primer for all the other classes.  Plus, you can see how we use it with both plants and animals and can figure out how, say, 5 layer hens in your backyard can be used to benefit your lettuce and beans or begonias.  It’s a great beginner class, but I’m looking forward to it as well.  You can follow the link to learn more about it, and sign up with “buy now” button.

Hope these ideas help spark some thoughts on how you might “farm!”

Little farmers

Happy "farmers!"
Happy "farmers!"

Happy “farmers!”

Jim, almost 4 years old, announced last night at 9:00 that he wanted a plant.  He wanted a pot with dirt and a plant for his room.  I convinced him to wait for tomorrow with difficulty–4 year olds live very much in the moment.

Today Rachel helped him make a planter.  They put some bean seeds in the dirt and watered it.  Jim couldn’t be patient, though, so his obliging sister got some basil and sage from my planters and fixed his up.  He was happy.

We just hope his beans sprout quickly!

Anyone Can Farm–even 4 year olds.

The Life of the Soil

Biochar made from a cow bone.

BioCharSoil is the foundation of any farming venture.  Soil is the building block of life.  Dirt is where we started and it is the source of what we need to keep going.

A well tended soil can boast a million species of bacteria in one gram–and that doesn’t count the fungi, molds, worms, and other creepy crawlies.  This is a “living” soil.  All these small inhabitants perform myriads of functions that maintain or grow the soil itself, feed plants, and exchange, sequester, or release nutrients and atmospheric gasses.  These functions are all crucial to us.

Unfortunately, the folks who have developed our agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides since the 1950′s looked primarily at the plants growing on the surface.  They got very good at feeding plants, killing weeds, and annihilating creepy crawlies.  They neglected the life under the crust, to the great detriment of the soil.  Farmers and gardners are facing the need to use more and more fertilizer and pesticides to get the same results because the soil is dead or dying and unable to truly nourish the plants, leaving them weak and vulnerable.  Some weeds are even beginning to show resistance to Round-up.

All is not lost, though.  You can grow soil for your plants, whether it’s lawn, flowers, or vegetables.  There are two things to look at in a shovelful of dirt: minerals (the building blocks of life) and living creatures (the vehicles and factories for moving, storing, manufacturing, and making the minerals bioavailable to plants).

Chicken manure and bedding makes great compost.  This pile is being turned/aerated and is steaming hot.

Chicken manure and bedding makes great compost. This pile is being turned/aerated and is steaming hot.

You can have your soil tested for mineral content by special labs, but keep in mind that different plants like different things.  If you want high production from your garden plants (as a market gardener would), this is worth the investment.  For a home gardener it can be simpler.  The answer is compost.  Compost is decomposed organic material.  It is full of the vitamins and minerals from the material it was made from.  You can add certain amendments, which we’ll cover another time (and for sure in the Soils and Biochar classes), but compost all by itself can be complete enough for most gardening.  Compost is becoming easier to find all the time, but it’s also easy to make.  We’ll cover that in class, too.

How to encourage “life?”  Compost actually comes with the biology that made it.  It is usually already alive with the decomposers of the soil.  In addition you can add worms, leaf mold (a great source of nutrients and fungis and molds), and a 5 gallon bucket (or lots more) of dirt dug from a woods.

Biochar made from a cow bone.

Biochar made from a cow bone.

Biochar provides the perfect environment for encouraging a living soil.  Charcoal in various degrees has been used by native cultures and third world farmers for centuries.  It was discovered in the Amazon and provided the native tribes a way to grow food for a huge population on  what is otherwise very poor soil.  Biochar is the carbon carcass or organic material.  Usually it is from wood, but can be made from bones, plants, or anything dense and organic.  It is produced at high temperatures (much hotter than your woodstove or grill) so that the impurities and toxic gasses are consumed and what is left is very pure.  The flora and fauna of your soil love to take up residence in the millions of apartments comprising the biochar.  Nutrients can be stored and slow released as plants need them.  The char will also act as a sponge for water so that the effects of drought are mitigated.  This is most obvious in poorly nourished, arid soils.  In good soils, you should find you need to add less compost or other amendments over time.

Corn without biochar on left, with biochar on right.

Corn without biochar on left, with biochar on right.

Here is a photo of our field trials with biochar.  This was sweet corn planted in the field.  It didn’t get water other than rain and dew.  The yields were better from the corn on the right – bigger ears, better filled out.  The biochar corn stayed green longer into the fall, making the earless stalks better fodder when we grazed them off.   The beds were treated the same other than the biochar.  This wasn’t an exactly scientific study, but it provides good anecdotal evidence for the effects biochar can have.

Soil is a living thing, not just dirt.  You can have soil that will grow nutritious vegetables with the addition of compost.  Plus, by adding biochar you can supercharge your soil.  We can show you how!

References: National Geographic: A Cubic Foot

You can also read more about biochar on Baker’s Biochar.

More on Soil

Here are some facts and thoughts on soil from the National Association of Conservation Districts:


Is soil an important ingredient in your every day life?

The answer is yes, and here are a few reasons why:

  • Last night you slept in a building built on soil.
  • You drink waterthat flows through soil and is cleaned by the soil.
  • You breathe air that comes partly from plants growing in the soil.
  • You even wear clothes made from plantsthat grow in the soil.

Soils make our lives possible. We build on them, play on them, drive on them, eat food grown in or raised on them, take medicines from them, wear clothes we wouldn’t have without soils, drink water that wouldn’t be clean without soils, breathe air we wouldn’t have without the plants and trees growing in soils. The entire earth—every ecosystem, every living organism—is dependent upon soils.


A Few Facts about Soil

  • Soil makes up the outermost layer of our planet.
  • Topsoil is the most productive soil layer.
  • Soil has varying amounts of organic matter (living and dead organisms), minerals and nutrients.
  • Five tons of topsoil spread over an acre is only as thick as a dime.
  • Natural processes can take more than 500 years to form one inch of topsoil.
  • Soil scientists have identified over 70,000 kinds of soil in the United States.
  • Soil is formed from rocks and decaying plants and animals.
  • An average soil sample is 45 percent minerals, 25 percent water, 25 percent air and five percent organic matter.
  • Different-sized mineral particles, such as sand, silt, and clay, give soil its texture.
  • Fungi and bacteria help break down organic matter in the soil.
  • Plant roots and lichens break up rocks which become part of new soil.
  • Roots loosen the soil, allowing oxygen to penetrate. This benefits animals living in the soil.
  • Roots hold soil together and help prevent erosion.

Information provided by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service and listed on the Environmental Protection Agency website at http://epa.gov/gmpo/edresources/soil.html.



Pastured Poultry Course Intro

Wondering what you’ll learn about Pastured Poultry?  Check this video out: