pasture raised hogs

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Mold in season

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!

Piggin’

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!

Piggie food

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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.

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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!

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Fencing

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Lard

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!)

 

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:

Pigs

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!

Anyone Can Farm – Why Anyone Can Farm Video

ACF Video on IGG

Welcome to Anyone Can Farm.  Listen as we discuss why and how you can learn to farm and grow your own food.

Anyone can farm…

Farmer Stuart Kunkle learning an essential skill in hog rearing.

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:

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