Monday, September 26, 2016

Home Raised Meat

In a few days we will be sending 6 rabbits and 8 chickens to freezer camp. I say "freezer camp" because it gives the impression of "fun." Because some readers don't like the thought of how my critters go from my yard to my plate. Although I'm not going into details of the actual process, I'm going to talk about the WHY of it today.

"How can you eat something you raised?" It's the question of the hour. Not only has it shown up in blog comments but it's been the topic in conversations with friends. I have tried to steer the chatter to less intense subjects but mentally I'm always answering with a question of my own, "how could you not?" I don't voice the thought out loud for one very simple reason: I used to wonder how someone could do that myself. Although I had eaten deer and rabbit and squirrel, I hadn't been in on the raising of those critters. They weren't "mine." The thought of eating an animal I had fed and cared for was somewhat repulsive. My eyes were firmly squeezed shut. I got to where I am now via a process of awareness. Small steps of realization like filtered light through the cracks in my eyelids brought about the change.

 First, we got chickens for eggs. Before that happened I would read the labels on egg cartons and wonder what difference it made. Free range, vegetarian, cage free, brown shell, or white... an egg is an egg, right? But I'm a mom. And one thing moms know is a big player in the health of offspring (the egg) is the health of the mother (hen.) So, were some types of eggs healthier? And if so, how about the chicken that produced it? Was it healthy? Did it suffer? What happened to it when it could no longer lay?

Then there was a recall. I don't remember what it was (hamburger maybe?) but I had to throw it away. What really struck me, though, was the recall notice. It listed so many states that the product had been sent to. So how far away was my meat source? And how much was wasted because of just one, or a few, sick animals? I would drive past a lot full of turkey barns every day and wonder about the lives of the turkeys inside. All I could do was wonder as the barns were closed up and not a single bird was ever allowed outside. This led me on a quest to get information about feed lots. About the time that someone was getting in trouble for trying to make undercover videos in an industrial feed operation, I was looking for answers as to how those animals were raised, slaughtered, and processed. And I was getting all kinds of mixed messages, depending on the source. Who could I trust? Who was telling the truth? One massive recall and my thoughts were sent spinning!

I decided I wanted to take control of the food we ate after the second recall. Enough was enough. But could I raise an animal only for the table? How did people even do that? The thought sent shivers down my spine. Then one day, at the grocery store, I picked up a package of whole chicken and saw it for what it was, a dead animal. And I forced myself to think about what it was before the feathers were plucked and it was shrink wrapped in a plastic bag. I tried to imagine its life...and death. I thought of my own birds at home, snatching bugs in the grass and waking me up at 4 in the morning. And I was horrified. It struck me right there in the grocery store that I was paying money for a life that I hadn't insured was healthy. I trusted someone I couldn't even talk to was feeding and cleaning and caring for my food. The responsibility of that was the game changer. How was buying an animal that someone else raised any more ethical than providing my own for the freezer? Did it make me a better person because I paid for it with money instead of food and shelter? Did the grocery store chicken suffer before it became a product on the shelf?

Gradually we have learned to raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and goats for eggs, milk and meat. We've studied and learned how to dispatch animals quickly and humanely. We've learned to APPRECIATE the life (and all that went into it) that provides our sustenance. We haven't reached the point where all of our food is home grown, we probably never will. But we are doing the best we can to keep our food local and improve every year. Are there hard times? Yes. Sometimes an animal worms its way into our hearts. Or one gets injured and must be put out of misery. And the cost can be prohibitive. It's usually cheaper to buy processed hamburger in a tube than to raise your own meat. But we've come to realize that the cost is nothing compared to the peace of mind of having healthy, homegrown food.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why We Raise Dutch Rabbits

There are a lot of different breeds of rabbits and many are good for meat production. We did a little research and tried an assortment before we finally chose to raise Dutch exclusively. Here's a look at what we found:

1. Dutch are the perfect size for our family of 2. 
  On average we get a 2 pound carcass when they are dressed at fryer age. The meat to bone ratio is really good. One fried rabbit is plenty for a meal. At this age a stewed rabbit will also make 2-3 good dinners (such as rabbit stew, noodles, pot pie, etc...) There is no need to continue to feed a grow-out past this point.

2. Dutch are cheap to feed.
  We buy a 50 pound bag of rabbit pellets about every 5-6 weeks but we never let the feed barrel go empty so I can't say exactly how much they eat. Every morning I grab a few hands full of hay left in the goat hay feeder (that would have ended up on the ground) and distribute it between the rabbit cages. I also supplement with some yard goodies- clover, plantain, dandelion, etc... This is all we need for the breeders (2 does, 1 buck) and the grow-outs.

3. Dutch are easy keepers
 By the second breeding a Dutch doe has usually got the mothering thing down. Except for the occasional loss from nest box escape, ours have done a really good job of raising offspring to the weaning stage with no help from me. We don't treat our rabbits like pets but none of the Dutch have ever shown any signs of aggression. 

Those are the main reasons we really like our Dutch rabbits. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Finding Like-Minded Locals

Do you have trouble finding local friends who share the same interests as you? I've been struggling to meet homesteading types for a while.

I sat in on an hour of the small animal auction last night even after I discovered there were no guinea eggs or keets up for sale. Yes, it's late in the year for them but I was hoping to get lucky. It was nice to rub elbows with people who dress like me and talk like me. Unfortunately, for me, it's hard to make any kind of lasting friendships at a place like that. Most of the folks had traveled over an hour to get there from every which direction.

Social media has been great for online chatting and sharing ideas and encouragement. I think I belong to about 8 homesteading groups on Facebook. And I really appreciate all the friends I've gotten by blogging. Just by commenting on a blog I was able to meet a local-ish lady who is teaching me how to spin. I was thrilled! Her homestead is beautiful and I got awestruck both times I visited. But she's also a 45 minute drive away, not someone I can have an afternoon cup of tea with.

I'm not the kind of person who hides how I live or what we do, but I usually get odd looks when I talk about it. Trying to barter for anything is like speaking a foreign language. I'm smack dab in the middle of farm country but the owners of the soybean and corn fields surrounding me all live miles away. The occupants of the few farm houses I can see plant their crops and then return to their other jobs until harvest time. They're not homesteaders, though.

I know there must be others out there- I'm not the only one buying chicken feed and bee equipment at the farm store. So where is everyone? If you're networking with like-minded locals, how did you find them?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Prescription for Homesickness

For those who don't know- my DH is a traveling worker. He's on the road for weeks at a time and is home for a few days a month. He makes a good living and his income is what makes it possible for me to stay home full time to tend critters and bake bread. But sometimes I get the feeling he is missing home more than usual. It begins with the more frequent "I miss you" texts and snowballs from there. I'm pretty sure the amount of time it takes to get homesick is directly related to the amount of time it takes to forget how busy he was the last time he was home. So I've been working on a cure for the next time the malady strikes and I think I've come up with the perfect one. I call it "HoneyDo." I'm working on the dosage instructions right now. Here's the rough draft with a screen shot of the current formulation:

Dose: Open and meditate on one full dose of "HoneyDo" on the day the memories of home cooked meals and goat kisses start to overshadow the memories of sore muscles and empty billfolds. Repeat as often as necessary.

I'm pretty sure the homesick gene will mutate quickly so the strength or formulation may need to be adjusted frequently to prevent a lack of resistance. Fortunately this homesteader is fond of natural remedies and will enjoy the research and development aspect of new "HoneyDo" remedies.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cries of Distress

I sat down to type this post 15 minutes ago but had to get back up to find what was making the racket in the back yard. The noise from the vacuum cleaner and dryer had been blocking out all other sounds so when I got a peaceful minute to type, I was a little worried about this noise I was hearing. It sounded like (I would imagine) a sick goose with a microphone would sound. As I rushed out the back door, in my sock feet but fully dressed for a change, I discovered...not a sick goose. Nope. The source of all the racket was 2 very loud love-sick buck goats blaring strong, emphatic, lusty cries. On the other side of their fence was a (seemingly) coy doe who was wagging her tail and batting her eyelashes in tune to the cries of the guys. Oh brother.

I'm not planning on breeding Ronnie til next month. Until then I'm not looking forward to the buck serenades and praying the fence holds. Last year the connecting gate broke and the unplanned breeding resulted in a game of "who's your daddy?" What a nightmare! Our whole goat plan had to be put on hold for another year to ensure our next milking doe has a dairy father. If things don't go as planned or we only get bucklings this time around, I'm going to have to buy a doe. (I might do that anyway just so we can have goat milk this year.)

In the meantime, anyone have an extra set of earplugs?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Save the Food!

Right after I got all stocked up with food and a meal plan for the week, I got a canker sore. OUCH! If you've never had one, thank your luck stars because they hurt like the dickens. I am one of those people who gets 4 or 5 of them a year. I try to avoid acidic foods and don't use commercial toothpaste but a little bit of extra stress will pop one up no matter how careful I am. I'm also dealing with some trapped fluid in my ear- on the same side of my face as the canker sore. Swallowing is a nightmare and chewing is done very cautiously!

I've been trying to keep myself busy so I have less time to think about the pain. The sores usually heal up in 7-10 days so all the food I have that won't keep that long has to be preserved. That's one of the ways I'm keeping busy! Instead of the honey glazed rabbit I had planned for 2 meals, I boiled it up and made rabbit stew with drop dumplings. I froze the excess broth and shredded meat for another day. I also stuck the ground sausage crumbles that were supposed to be in my breakfast tacos this week in the freezer. The apples that are nearing the end of their shelf life are sliced up in the dehydrator along with the grapes that I picked up on sale.

I think that scrambling to find ways to preserve this batch of food has been good practice for all types of scenarios where food preservation is necessary...power outage, broken fridge, grocery store strike, etc... So, I might be miserable physically but I'm feeling pretty proud of my ability to sustain my food stores. I know it would have been better to have pressure canned the meat but I don't have a pressure canner. What I DO have is an awareness of how it could have been done- that's progress!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Easing Into Fall

The humidity dropped for a couple days and it was heavenly! It's heading back up (along with the temps) this coming week but the little glimpse of fall weather makes it bearable, especially since we are spending our Labor Day weekend laboring.

Remember the moldy hay problem a few weeks ago? DH is busy cutting back the tree limbs that caused the roof to leak and then he will be patching the roof. It's been one of those jobs where nothing has gone the easy way. Right now he is in town picking up a new chain for the chain saw. He found out he needed one after he spent hours getting it to start. Hopefully the chain will be the last of the obstacles and the repairs will go smoothly from there. (I'm stocked up with a bunch of "there, there" and "sorry, dear" platitudes in case it doesn't.)

Once the roof is fixed, the next project will be rebuilding the buck shed. It has to be done about every other fall to provide winter protection. The bucks are little destructive forces on their shed so we automatically put material costs and time for repairs into our budget and calendar.

I've got a pretty good idea of how I'm going to rig up a rabbit manure catchment under the hutches. I've got to find a few more supplies and then I'll be putting it to the test. If it works out, I'll share it with you. If it doesn't, I'll still share it with you. Hey, everyone could learn a lot from my mistakes!

This morning I lopped off several maple saplings that were overtaking the blueberry bushes. They're like weeds around here. Anyway the goats were thrilled to get them. Tomorrow I'll have to pick up the limbs in the goat pens and carry them back to the brush pile. It's worth it though, to have happy goats!

Tomorrow I'll also be picking everything that's left in the garden. Hopefully there will be enough green tomatoes for a batch of chow chow. If there are enough cayenne peppers, I'll start the last jar of fermented pepper sauce for the year.

A late freeze last spring got most of this year's apples. So we're slowly savoring the last of last year's applesauce and watching for apple sales to stock up. I was hoping to make a lot of cider vinegar and pie filling.

It's time to stock up on straw for animal bedding, too. We usually get 10 bales to start the season and if we run short, we'll replenish with bales from the farm store since they carry it all winter. It costs a little more but our storage space is limited and if the winter is mild we won't need it.

So busy times ahead, easing into fall. Mowing will turn into raking. Grilling will be replaced with baking. (And muscles will still be aching.)