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Confessions of a Cracked Egg


New Recipes for the New Year

Another Christmas has come and gone! This weekend Andrew, the kids, and I got our tree and decorations all packed up just in time to ring in the New Year with my parents and little sister. We had two weeks of cold, dreary, and wet weather that kept us indoors much more than we would have liked. So, what’s a girl to do over the holidays when stuck inside? Experiment in the kitchen of coarse! 

  Cooking Supplies 

Every year we try to do an assortment of cookies and sweets for our family gatherings as well as a few plates for friends who may need a little holiday cheer. Our usual spread includes chocolate chip cookies, chocolate fudge, sugar cookies, pumpkin bread, banana nut bread, and the occasional pie or cake. This year, I wanted to try something a little different.  

Andrew and the kids LOVE peanut butter. I myself, not so much! However seeing as it is the season for giving, I decided to try a new recipe for Buckeye’s just for them. Andrew spent some time with me in the kitchen for this one, just waiting for a bowl or spoon to lick I think… but he asked a very good question. “What is the difference in a Buckeye and Peanut Butter Balls?” Hhmm. Well I am not sure how these actually came about, but here is my theory. Some time ago, a newlywed tried to make Peanut Butter Balls for her love. After many failed attempts to completely cover her peanut ball with chocolate her husband arrives home and asks what she is making. Embarrassed that her Peanut Butter Balls were not perfectly coated, the new bride thought quickly as her eyes wondered out the window and landed on a buckeye tree. “They’re Buckeye’s!” She exclaims. And they lived happily ever after. So whither you decide to call them Buckeye’s and leave an un-coated spot, or fully coat your balls in chocolate and call them Peanut Butter Balls, here you go! 

Buckeye Balls

½ cup butter, melted
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ cups peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 6 squares chocolate almond bark 

Combine butter, sugar, peanut butter, and vanilla in mixing bowl and mix well. Refrigerate at least one hour, or until firm. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on waxed paper.  

Melt the almond bark on low heat, just until fully melted. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent scorching. Using toothpicks, dip each ball into the chocolate and turn to coat all but one small uncovered area (so balls resemble buckeyes). Place balls on waxed paper. Smooth over toothpick hole with finger or spoon. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm.  

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  These were a big hit with my crew here. I even tried one, and then realized I still don’t like peanut butter!  

  Buckeye Balls 

So after pleasing the rest of the family I looked for something new to try for me. I like sugar cookies, and have a favorite recipe for these which I use every year. This time though, I wanted to try something new. So I reached for a jar of our homemade peach preserves, and turned the sugar cookie dough into “cups” for little Peach Tarts! The baby and I really enjoyed these, and once the big kids and Andrew finished off the Buckeyes, so did they! 

Easy Fruit Tarts 

1 ¼ cup white sugar
1 cup butter
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 ½ cup all purpose flour
 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
½ teaspoon cream of tartar 
Jam, jelly, or preserve of your choice 

Preheat oven to 350 degree. Cream together sugar and butter. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Lightly grease mini muffin tin. Indent centers and fill with jam. Make sure to use a thick jam or jelly, as loose or thin ones will cause the centers to settle more. Bake for 11-14 minutes.  

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 Peach Tarts 

With two new experiments, it was time to add some tried and true recipes. We chose to do chocolate fudge, tree shaped brownies, and pumpkin bread this year. Our pumpkin bread has won blue ribbons at the fair in two different counties, and is a crowd favorite on the holidays. If you are a pumpkin lover, it is definitely a must try! This recipe makes 5 mini loaves, so it is perfect for sharing! This makes a very moist bread, be sure to cool for 10 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan so as not to tear it.  

Pumpkin Bread

5 eggs1 ¼ cup canola oil 
1 can solid pack pumpkin (or 15 oz. Fresh prepared pumpkin) 
2 (3oz) packages cook and serve vanilla pudding mix 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
2 cups all purpose flour 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
2 cups sugar 
½ teaspoon salt  

Beat eggs until well blended. Add oil and pumpkin then blend until smooth. Combine all remaining ingredients. Gradually beat into pumpkin mixture.  

Pour batter into 5 greased mini loaf pans (5 ¾ in x 3in x 2in). Bake at 325 degrees for 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Place on wire racks to cool.  

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So with our two new experiments and a few tried and true recipes, we were making great progress on filling our trays! Only one more treat left to do.  

For many years my husband’s grandmother Mary made Snowballs for Christmas. Mary passed away in 2010, and there have not been Snowballs since. As fate would have it, both Andrew and his sister Amanda had recently asked me to make some. Only problem was her recipe had been lost. I did remember seeing them at Christmas, but had no idea what was in them. As we all discussed what we remembered tasting and seeing in them, I put together enough ingredients to look up some recipes. What Mary called Snowballs my mother called Danish Wedding Cookies. Before long, I had a plan!  

Snowball Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
 
¾ teaspoon salt 1 cup finely chopped pecans 
¾ cups sifted powdered sugar 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 baking sheets, or use parchment paper. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla together until fluffy. Sift flour, mix flour and salt into butter mixture. Stir in pecans. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes. Roll hot cookies in powdered sugar. Cool for 15 minutes then roll all cookies again in powdered sugar.  

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The recipe was a success! Our kids loved them, and so did our nephews. A little birdie told me they may even be better than the other recipe! Definitely make sure to roll them twice, both hot and cooled before serving. This makes them delicious!  

 Holiday Cookie Trays 

Our trays turned out quit nicely this year I believe. The white Snowballs, brown and chocolate Buckeyes, and colorful tarts added color and variety to our usual fare. Paired with Christmas tree brownies, chocolate fudge, and pumpkin bread there was something for everyone. Next time you find yourself stuck indoors, try your hand at one of these recipes. You may find yourself adding it to your next holiday line-up!  

Follow us on Facebook at “Ans Farms.”  

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Ans-Farms/209450377937?fref=ts 

A Trip to Bethlehem

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 

 Luke 2:1-7   

Every December we read the Christmas story to the kids and pull out our symbolic collection of children’s tales related to the season. We love One Winter’s Night, the story of a young cow wondering cold and alone in the snow that accidentally wonders into the same manger to give birth along side Mary. The Pine Tree Parable is another of the kids’ favorites, when a small child shows a farmer’s wife the true meaning of the season. The kids love candy canes, and we read the story of the candy cane maker each year to remind them of why we celebrate Christmas. And of coarse, our family favorite is the story of why the Jerusalem donkey has a cross on it’s back. 

William is now five, and Macey just turned seven. At this age, they now remember the stories and know that Mary rode a donkey, Jesus was born on Christmas, and he slept in a barn. Beyond that, they haven’t been able to grasp the finer details such as why were Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and what must their world have been like at the time? When we saw an ad in our local paper this past week for an upcoming “Walk through Bethlehem” we thought this would be a fun way to make the story seem a little more real for them. Friday evening we headed out to the Smithville Church of God with three kids in tow.  

When we first arrived, we were escorted into the sanctuary where we were seated in groups to await our turn to Bethlehem. Meanwhile, ladies of the church treated us with beautiful Christmas songs. Cierra really enjoyed this part! Soon it was our turn to head outside with our guide, who lead us along side Joseph and Mary riding on her donkey towards Bethlehem.

Just outside the city, the kids were thrilled to see a huge camel resting from his journey! This camel was so large, the kids could have walked under him but we didn’t try it… instead they settled for petting some of the other donkeys grazing next to their shepherds.  

 Bethlehem Camel 

Now, here is where things got interesting. We ran into the tax collector at the entrance to the city. He demanded our family name and count, so we could pay the right amount of taxes. Once we settled up with him we began to make our way into the city. William, our usual rambunctious and loud little boy suddenly became unsure of himself and tucked in close to my side as he eyed the Roman soldiers roaming the streets. He was so worried about them that he passed up a free sling shot from one of the market peddlers! He did take a moment to check out the local fisherman’s fresh catch.

  Fishermen 

Macey made friends with a local toy maker who gave her and Cierra some new rag dolls! They were so happy with their new toys, but their joy was cut short by a disturbance at the produce stand. Apparently, the shopkeeper had not paid his taxes! What a scuffle that was, the soldiers were rough as they grabbed him up and carried him away to jail.      

  Roman Soldiers 

We quickly left the area, in case the soldiers came back. As we wondered through the marketplace looking at potters, incense, and crafts a shop drew my eye. A beautiful assortment of scarves and woven items were offered, while the shopkeeper sat weaving on her newest project.  

  Weaver 

Not long after looking through the weaving shop, we found a local wood carver. He was working hard whittling away on a new project. I decided to stop by and introduce myself. 

  John the Wood Carver   John and His Chair     

This talented wood carver’s name was John. “Just John” said he had been working all day on a new chair. He got it out to show me, boy was that thing heavy! See that staff in the background? It was beautiful! John truly has a talent for his art. 

As we made our way past the busiest part of the marketplace, we came to the kids’ favorite part. The chicken lady! And not far past the chicken lady were the stables where the soldiers kept their horses.  

   The Chicken Lady  

As the kids stopped to pet a friendly horse, Andrew wondered over to the tannery. There the storeowner was hard at work tanning and stretching all sorts of hides.  

  Tanning Hides  

After our adventures in the marketplace, we left the city and began the journey back home. On our way, we wondered upon a barnyard. Not just your average barnyard though. Sure there were sheep, llama, cows, but then… a baby? Right there in the middle of the manger was a young couple holding a brand new baby. Watching over them stood shepherds and a trio of wise men.  

Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Luke 2:12 

 Manger Scene 

These shepherds had a beautiful pair of working cattle, and a large gentle bull tied near the manger. They were so striking; we had to ask what they were. Andrew found out that they were Corriente. This breed is originally from Spain, and most recently imported from Mexico into the United States. We want to find out a little more about this breed, and possibly consider it as future additions to our own farm.  

  Corriente Cattle 

Once again on our way out of Bethlehem, we joined fellow travelers for some quick refreshments. The kids enjoyed Christmas cookies and candy canes while we all sipped on apple cider and hot cocoa. The girls played with their dolls, while William was sad that he had been to scared to get a slingshot. Jeff Armstrong, pastor of the Church of God, overheard Will and offered to go all the way to Bethlehem and bring him a slingshot. What a nice thing to do! So we waited for Mr. Armstrong to make his journey, and then headed back to the car with our new dolls and slingshot.

When we got home, the kids asked to read One Winter’s Night again for their bed story. This time, instead of sitting quietly through the story, they began talking about the things they had seen in Bethlehem, how busy it was, and how noisy. William said the soldiers were scary, and Macey thought baby Jesus was better off in the barn than in all that noise.

We were thankful the kids got to witness just a little bit of what life may have been like for Mary and Joseph all those years ago. It was a nice reminder of what is important during the Christmas season. Not the shopping, presents, and decorations. It was a lesson I don’t believe the children will soon forget. And evidently it was an experience that got them thinking beyond material things.

Two days after our experience in Bethlehem Macey asked me a question. “Mom, what is the one thing we can’t live without, the most important?” Thinking this through scientifically I say “oxygen, we have to have air to breath or we will die.” Macey responds with “ What else?” I think about this a moment and answer “water, we can go several days without food but must have water.” Macey looked at me funny for a moment and asked, “what else?” By this time I am wondering what her point is, “Food I guess. You need food for energy.” Macey sighs really loud and walks over to me. “No Mom” she says as she places her hands on the sides of my face. “Family. That’s the most important thing Momma. We need family.”  Thank you Bethlehem.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. 

Proverbs 22:6 

Celebrating With Mother

I had the best of intentions to write this update several weeks ago. We had just returned from the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA and I was so excited to write all about it! Then life happened, as it usually does. For the last several weeks it seems we have just tried to keep up with all that has been going on. Add our entire family of five getting sick together and my laptop hard drive going out to our normal hectic lifestyle and … WHEW! So here I am, a month late but still excited to share our experience! It would take a book to describe our entire weekend, so here are a few of our favorite highlights! 

Andrew and I have wanted to go to the Mother Fair for several years. There has always been one reason or another why we couldn’t go. This year, the Seven Springs, PA fair fell on the same weekend as a very special event. Andrew and I both turned 30 the 3rd week of September! What better way to celebrate than with a trip to the Mother Earth News Fair?  

Now don’t go thinking this was all just fun and games. We had another agenda. The last few weeks before the Fair, we reviewed all of the seminars and read the details about each segment including the speakers. As much as we were looking forward to having fun, we needed to learn as well! Andrew and I are planning to add bees to the farm next year. Beyond that, we want to construct a hydroponics green house complete with stocked fish tank. We are also raising a pair of young milk cows, with plans to make our own milk, butter, and cheese in the future. Many of the speakers attending this year’s Fair were speaking on these topics. Not to mention my farm hero, Joel Salatin was giving several seminars! I would have made the entire trip just to hear him once.  

So September 20th rolled around. The day of my 30th birthday! We spent nearly 14 hours in the truck driving up to PA. On the way through Abingdon, VA we just couldn’t resist a stop at the Heartwood Gallery. My Mom had told me about this place on her last visit through the area, and I am so glad I got the chance to view it myself! 

   Heartwood Gallery  

The Heartwood is a beautiful gallery full of many different types of art. Woodworking, quilts, paintings, weaving, and even musical instruments, it’s all there. Here are a few of my favorites.  

  Strutting Turkey  

Quilt  

Hoffman Bowl 

Our first full day in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Bright skies, warm weather, and lots to see and do! We arrived early so we could spend some time walking around to vendors before starting our seminar experience. There were around 220 vendors there that week, farther than the eye could see outside as well as inside the resort.  

    Mother Earth News Fair 

Our first seminar was given by William Woys Weaver on heritage seeds. I was interested in hearing him speak, but I really did not expect to enjoy it so much. Instead of just a generic run down of heritage stock, he wove a wonderful history of food, people, and how “seeds are the common heritage of all Mankind. They are the hope of our shared destiny.” Mr. Weaver highlighted the many benefits of heritage stock. Such as the higher nutrient content, ability to reproduce like offspring, and multi-use crops like the sickle pea which can be used fresh or dried as well as having edible leaves.  

One of the things I appreciated most about Mr. Weaver’s speech was his attention to the difference in nutrients found in modern commercial vegetables vs. their heritage counterparts. He mentioned this could play a big part in our modern obesity problem. “You have to eat more of empty foods to feel full,” he said. Organically raised heirlooms have as much nutrients in one pound as one and a half pounds of the commercial option. This is not only important for your waistline, but your pocket book as well! 

Later in the evening Friday we had our first opportunity to hear Joel Salatin. In his “Can We Feed the World?” seminar he covered the major reasons why our current food system just isn’t working. I believe his major point he wanted to make was that we have broken the natural biological cycle. This began with the invention of cheap N,P,K chemical fertilizers in agriculture. Then evolved into cheaply produced commercial monoculture agriculture. While N,P,K chemical fertilizers were originally hailed as the solution to the problem of poor soils, they are actually making the problem worse. These fertilizers are temporary, chemical and non-renewable replacements for what we should be using; manure. Manure not only contains N,P and K but also an entire host of both macro and micro minerals required for healthy plants and healthy people. Unlike chemical fertilizers, manure also provides a layer of organic compost which builds the top soil.    

 Joel Salatin 

Joel went on to say that yes, it is possible for us to end hunger and feed the world. However the problem is not a shortage of food, but an issue of distribution. Until our mindset and behaviors change towards agriculture, we cannot feed the world. Here’s why… 50% of the food produced here is trashed. Why is all of that food trashed? For starters, consumers only want pretty food. All of that bruised or blemished produce goes to waste. Then there is the issue of transportation. When food has to travel 1500 miles before making it to your shopping cart, there is bound to be a substantial loss since fresh fruits and vegetables are perishable.  

“Commercial agriculture stands on the shoulders of devastation,” Joel said. If instead of contributing to this cycle of chemical fertilizers, mass production, transportation, and tasteless tomatoes more people would choose to eat local and eat sustainable we could change the world. He gave many examples of how to do this. Including pruning and fertilizing cropland with animals and their manure. Using electric fence to “mob graze” pastures was one way he suggested to keep pasture healthy, fertilized and productive. For this session, Joel ended with a quote which stuck with me “Nature responds to our touch and our care far more than to chemicals and corporations.”  

Now, somewhere between William Weaver and Joel Salatin we got hungry! In our search for food we ran across something we had never had before. A hempzel! Yes, a pretzel made with hemp. Who would have thought that would actually be good? 

hempzel 

Now Friday evening was busy, but it wasn’t extremely crowded. We managed to get to each of our seminars we were interested in. So back in our rooms Friday evening we laid out our plan for Saturday. Saturday morning arrived, not at all like Friday! Cool, wet, and overcast. Once we arrived to the grounds an hour early we were shocked at the crowd! Our first seminar for the day was “Pluck a Lotta Chicken” where standing room only was an understatement! There were people sitting in the floors with others standing over them.  

 Joel and David 

In this seminar with Joel and David Schafer from Featherman equipment there was an actual live demonstration of processing chickens. They literally did four chickens from kill cone to finished in less than five minutes. Amazing! What we wouldn’t give to have the featherman processing equipment! Ah, well. At least I came home with a new kill cone for our chickens. Here you can see Joel demonstrating the proper way to clean a chicken. He moved so quickly, I could not keep up with what his hands were doing. The man standing over him had a video camera that broadcast the whole process onto large screens at the front of the room.  

    Cleaning a Chicken  

Now, I already mentioned how much more crowded Saturday was. It only took us a few hours to realize we had a problem! With so little time between seminars, it wasn’t possible to get from one location to the next and still get a seat. This wasn’t a problem on Friday, with a smaller crowd and pretty weather we could just stand around the edges of the outdoor tents and most of the rooms. However, once we got to the seminar outside on beekeeping with top bar hives, there were no seats and the standing room available was not sheltered. We decided to do some more walking around instead of braving the weather way in the back where it was hard to see and hear. We ran into this problem again later when it began to rain, hard! Of coarse when it started raining we were standing under the edge of a tent, right where the water was falling. So we did miss a few seminars that day where we just couldn’t arrive soon enough to get a seat. Even when we skipped one to get to the next in time, we couldn’t get seats together. Apparently everyone had that same idea at the same time! 

We split up some for the afternoon sessions. I was determined to see the Gardening with Chickens seminar outside, and by that time it was very wet and cool outside. So the others headed indoors where it was warm and dry. I am so glad I battled the weather! Though the blowing rain did prevent me from getting pictures of “Oprah Henfree” the gorgeous hen on display. The topic of using animal manure as compost and fertilizer was at the forefront here too. The point was again made that hybrids, GMO’s and factory meats actually cause nutritional hunger. They are developed for fast growth, looks, and easy growing instead of nutrient value. For instance, broccoli grown in 1950 had a calcium level of 13mg per serving, now that level is only 4.4 mg! But it sure looks pretty on the grocery store shelf.  

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to increase biomass in the soil, improve fertility, and grow bigger harvests is by incorporating chickens into your gardening program. This idea is not just an American one. In Flounders, Belgium the solid waste department had a serious issue with to much garbage. Regrettably, a large percentage of the waste being produced was scraps and edible waste. So the authorities began a program that gave any family who enrolled in the program three free chickens to use for garbage disposal! What a concept. Imagine, if the city of New York gave a pair of chickens to all of its citizens? How many tons of waste would be spared from the landfills daily? 

Another great example that was used is the Vermont Compost Company. They operate a waste pick up program for restaurants, prisons, and schools. They collect all edible wastes, and dump them by the truckloads onto a five-acre property. Here they have 1200 composting chickens and a handful of livestock guardian dogs. None of these animals have to be fed any additional feeds, because they consume the food waste. They are capable of consuming four TONS of waste in one year! There are three benefits to this:

  • 1)Less garbage sitting in plastic bags in landfills
  • 2)Compost produced as a by-product is available for farmers and gardeners
  • 3)1,000 dozen (yes, 1000 dozen!) eggs are produced each month

Wow! How impressive is that? This program is something that every county, in every state of America could easily do. Imagine being able to create that many eggs in a month, and that much compost for FREE as by-products of a garbage collection system.  I also picked up several great ideas on how to use chickens to prepare raised beds as well as using them in traditional gardens for weed and pest control. 

We wound down our Saturday evening with another session with Joel Salatin. This one, “Folks This Ain’t Normal” was informative, funny, and spot on. Here he basically reviewed the topics covered in his book by the same name that I was actually reading at the time of the Fair. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I would definitely recommend it!  

We did manage to catch a few other seminars, but these were my favorite of the weekend. Of coarse we didn’t just sit in seminars all day! There were so many vendors to see it took the entire weekend to explore them all! We came home with shitake mushroom logs, new angled hoes, kill cones, shirts, books, and magazines. It will take me until the New Year at least to read everything I came home with! I definitely see an entire blog update later on Joel Salatin’s books. He really has the same outlook on commercial agriculture as we do. 

While driving back to the hotel one evening, we ran across a really neat place called Fletchers Farm Market. This family ran market was established in 1949. They grow all sorts of seasonal produce, and at the time of our visit they were stocked full of a variety of pumpkins, gourds, apples, and peppers.

  Flechers Market 

This is what actually drew our eye at first to them. The pumpkin on the bottom weighed in at 891 pounds. The big guy on top was 1050 pounds! And to think, I thought my 8-pound pie pumpkins were big this year!

Pumpkins 

We came home at the end of the weekend so tired, but also so excited! The knowledge we gained on this trip was definitely worth the 14-hour drive! I also came away with a sense of calm and contentment knowing that there are others out there just as crazy as we are! So many times we get that odd look or the question “why?” from those we know. Why bother with all this trouble? Why spend so much time on animals, grass, and gardening when we could be having fun? Why stay here instead of going out and taking vacations? This trip provided the encouragement I needed to know that we are on the right track for our family! 

We are really hoping to be able to attend again next year. There is a rumor that in 2013 Mother Earth is adding a new location that is a bit closer to us! Regardless of where it is, I know we will go back. Maybe not next year, but we will be back. It was just to great not to! 

Want to see more pictures of our trip? Check out our Facebook page at "Ans Farms."

 

Fact or Fiction? Barnyard Myths Exposed

Just when you think you’ve heard just about every farm myth imaginable, someone goes and gets creative. Between our own farm and those of our parents, we have just about every “common” barnyard critter imaginable, and a few not so common ones. We love getting inquiries from those on the brink of starting a farm, those with an incredible desire to get back to a more self sufficient lifestyle but without the knowledge and confidence level to take that first leap. Through the years we have helped people interested in chickens, pigs, sheep, alpacas, and turkeys begin their own operations. Our philosophy has always been to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The good, bad, ugly, stinky, and totally disgusting truth. Anything less would not be fair to these people depending on us for “real” knowledge. Not the prettied up, well dressed, rose scented version of the truth that may guarantee us a sale. The great side of this is we sleep well each night with a clear conscious. The down side is we do occasionally walk away without a sale. Even then we manage to leave those we have talked to with more knowledge and skill than they came with.

It should be the goal of every person involved in an agricultural practice (or any industry for that matter) to do the same. Occasionally however, bad information gets thrown into the mix. This isn’t always done purposely or with malicious intent, but the effects are no less devastating. We have heard some good ones lately, and I’d just like to share a few now.

Poultry There are several things I commonly hear or get asked about poultry that just aren’t true.

You have to have a rooster to get eggs. We recently had a woman tell us how badly she wished she could keep some backyard chickens. I asked her if they were not allowed in her area, and she said that roosters were restricted. She had been told that meant her family could not keep chickens for eggs because hens had to have a rooster. This is simply not true! Hens will lay eggs regardless of a roosters presence. However without a rooster they will not be fertile, meaning no baby chicks. But by all means folks, buy you a few hens! Everyone should have at least a few hens in their back yard to eat their kitchen scrapes and make nutritional eggs for the family. Why buy nutritionally lacking grocery store eggs when you could raise your own nutrient packed eggs from a beautiful backyard flock instead?

   Americauna Rooster

If you raise turkeys with chickens they will all die. We raise turkeys, chickens, guineas, ducks, and are starting with geese. It amazes our visitors that our turkeys, chickens, and guineas are all raised together. And it simply blows their minds that they are all raised in a pasture, scratching and scavenging amongst sheep. Why is this so shocking? This is how it used to be done! Over the last 50 years though we have migrated away from integrated livestock and entered a world of monoculture agriculture. This is true for fruits, vegetables, and livestock. When we first got started with turkeys we were told be several seasoned farmers to absolutely NOT let our turkeys get near our chickens or they would all die. I was terrified! Apparently it is a common belief that mingling turkeys with chickens will lead to an almost immediate outbreak of disease quickly followed by death. I am well aware of the Black Head disease. And I do not doubt that it is a deadly disease that strikes turkeys. However, it is possible to successfully raise healthy chickens and turkeys together. I don’t think this, I know this. We have proven it, and others like us have done so as well. We have never had a single turkey drop dead after a rendezvous with a chicken. On the contrary, we have had the most success with our young turkeys when they are hatched and raised with several chicken friends. Chicks are smarter than turkey poults, plain and simple. While chicks figure out the feed, water, heating, and bedding system rather quickly turkey poults will still be cocking their heads from side to side trying to figure out what these things are. As the chicks go about their normal chicky business, the poults will observe and copy their behavior. The result is fewer dead poults from stupidity. We always leave these few chicks in with our poults as they mature. The result is adult 40 lb. turkeys roaming around the barnyard with their little 6 lb chicken friends side by side in harmony. Fighting or picking on the chickens does not occur to our turkeys, because they see them as buddy’s instead of intruders.

  Narragansett Tom

You get eggs from egg layers and raise meat birds for meat. Guess what people? Chicken is chicken is a chicken! I guarantee you if we lined up 5 samples of fried chicken from a traditional egg laying breed (say, Barred Rock) and 5 samples of fried chicken from meat birds (lets use Jumbo Cornish) they will all taste like… chicken! Diet, age, and processing method have far more to do with the taste of your chicken than breed does. Now there are differences in the amount of breast meat, size of the carcass and age at slaughter amongst the breeds but I guarantee you they all taste like chicken!

Alpacas My parents brought home our first alpacas in 2000. Since that time we have actively participated in breeding, raising, training, and showing these majestic creatures. My mother trained in the fiber arts and is now a skilled weaver. I myself entered into the AOBA judging program to become a certified judge in 2007. There isn’t much between us that we have not experienced first hand with alpacas. In the past few months I have both heard and seen in print inaccurate information regarding these animals. While I believe most to be honest and un-intentional there is one in particular that I feel has been created for the sole purpose of increasing the sales market of alpacas. It does make me angry when I hear this as I feel some buyers are being taken advantage of so lets start with it.

  Gillian

Alpacas make excellent guard animals. This is perhaps the most ridiculous claim I have heard in more than a decade of being in the alpaca industry. I will not sugar coat this in any way, Alpacas are most definitely not guardians! Lets think this one over. An alpaca is not a fight or flight animal, they are hard wired towards flight. This means when a predator says BOO they scream “Run away!” Alpaca’s average 150-180 pounds of fluffy softness carried on four split toed feet on soft pads. They completely lack upper teeth, having a hard bony palate on top and teeth on bottom. All alpacas hum and males orgle as well. What exactly is an alpaca supposed to do while guarding a flock of sheep, chickens, or goats? Hum softly to the predator while they attack it with their bony palate and cute fluffiness? When you know the physical and behavioral characteristics of alpacas you soon realize this is just common sense! Keeping an alpaca with a flock of chickens or other poultry can deter winged predators by simply being there as many birds of prey will avoid attacking in close vicinity of a larger animal. However these creatures are just not made for true predator control. They would simply be an easy target for a pack of neighborhood dogs, coyotes, bear, bobcat, or any other significant threat. I actually heard a man say to a woman today that having an alpaca in with her chickens would distract her predators and draw them away from her flock. What a cruel suggestion! Not to mention a costly one. 

Alpacas do not spit. I have to laugh at this one. Anyone who has spent any time around alpacas on breeding day or shearing day will tell you this is not the case! While alpacas do not typically spit un-provoked, this does not mean it is a rare occurrence. Beyond breeding and shearing time they will spit for many different reasons. Females will spit at their cria while trying to wean them. Bred females will often spit at other alpacas who get in their “space” during late pregnancy, young males will spit at each other during play and while vying for position in the herd. Try to dose one with oral medications or administer shots and see how quickly you are covered in green, sticky, smelly, half-digested cud! Try telling a halter show judge that alpacas don’t spit! You will most definitely be laughed at as these poor people frequently get the honor of being a human target while inspecting animals in the show ring.

  Clarice Female Alpaca

Alpacas don’t have to be shorn. Unfortunately most people do not discover how false this is until they find their alpaca dead in the field from heat stroke. This is a miserable way for an animal to die, and the greatest tragedy is it is totally preventable! Unless you are in the most northern and coldest corner of the United States, then yes your alpacas most definitely need to be shorn at least once a year. This summer a woman just down the road from us was telling my husband how she really was thinking about having her “guard alpaca” shorn. She has kept one alpaca with her goat herd for several years here in middle TN, never once having him shorn. My husband gently encouraged her to do so quickly, as the temperature in May was quickly climbing. In August when they next spoke again, she told him that her guard alpaca had been found dead next to their pond in the middle of their un-shaded field. He was still in full fleece. Temperatures that month broke historical records, with several weeks of highs reaching over 105 degrees.

Pigs Andrew and I were hesitant to get started with pigs. Several people we know, including his own father, told us this was something we just didn’t want to mess with. Pigs are smelly, dirty, nasty creatures that are hard to keep up and stupid they said.

Last year, as many of you know from our “Plowing With Pigs” blogs, we were so desperate to clean up our horribly over grown garden spaces that we brought home a pair of pigs to plow the area after reading a GRIT article by Hank Wills. We soon discovered that everything we thought we knew about pigs was completely false! One year later, we have one garden currently occupied by 7 feeder piglets and 3 other pig pens containing adult breeding stock. Our pig pens in fact are not pens, but tracts of wooded acreage fenced off by a simple 2 and 3 strand electric wire system. Our females give birth outside, pasture farrowing in simple huts with pig rails. They are not closed up, kept in close quarters, or locked in birthing crates.

  Hog in Electric fence

Pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures. They are not dim witted, stupid, and dirty. In fact, pigs happen to have pretty good hygiene when given enough area to roam freely and not wallow in their own muck. It is true that pigs will find a low and soft spot to wallow out a mud hole. This is not done to be dirty, it is simply how they cool themselves. See pigs do not have sweat glands. Imagine it being 105 degrees with 90% humidity outside and you can not sweat! How would you cool yourself? A dip in a cool pool perhaps? A mud hole is the pigs version of a swimming pool. Covering themselves with mud cools them as water evaporates from the surface of their skin while also acting as a sunblock to prevent their skin from burning. As soon as the temperatures go down, those muddy pigs will seek out a source of water. Pond, stream, or yes even the water trough will do. They will bathe and emerge squeaky clean! They will stay that way to, at least until the next heat wave.

   Pig Taking Bath
There is a learning curve to every new adventure you under take. Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned the hard way. Those with experience and knowledge in their field should do their best to portray their industry in a truthful light. Integrity is far more important than a sale. When something doesn’t work for you, share your opinion and experience with others honestly without coloring the facts. And when it does work, share that too! Perhaps you can help train the next generation of farmers. Without them, our country is in serious trouble indeed.

Estate Wars: How to Get Great Deals

The time has come for me to admit I have an addiction. They say that admittance is the first step towards recovery right? Some are addicted to drugs or alcohol, cigarettes, shopping, or even texting. I am addicted to estate sales. In the grand scheme of things I figure this is a pretty safe addiction, as it has paid off pretty well for us this year.

Last fall there was an estate sale at the end of our road. Andrew and I didn’t have any plans for the weekend, and we were curious as to what goes on there since neither of us had ever been to an estate sale before. We are big fans of Auction Kings, Storage Wars, and Pawn Stars on A & E, History and the Discovery channel. It is always amazing to find out that the smallest, and often the ugliest, finds are so valuable. So we headed out with the kids not really knowing what to expect.

Our first auction experience that day taught us a great deal. We didn’t buy much that day. Just two simple lots of glassware. The first lot contained a soup tureen that I fell in love with. The auctioneer lumped it in with what I considered to be an ugly vase and a hand-painted urn. Neither of which caught anyone’s attention. We won the bid at $5.

  Soup Tureen 

Later in the day a lot titled “contents of garage shelf” came up for bid. We had noticed this shelf contained old canned goods. I was desperately needing canning jars, so we bought the lot for $5. Little did we know what our meager $10 investment would be worth.

At the end of the day we had cleared off over 200 pint and quart size canning jars off those shelves. We left at least that many more “off brand” jars on the shelves for the new home owner. Hiding among the regular jars were four blue ball jars, one was a highly collectable #13 with the original zinc lid.

  Blue Ball Jars 

On a lower shelf we found a nice set of 8 dessert bowls and a small tea set. As we looked further, in the very back of the lowest shelf we found a part of history. A 1928 Cory model double boiler percolator sitting next to a brand new similar designed 1931 Pyrex Silex model made famous by Norman Rockwell in the Saturday Evening Post. Now, being big coffee fans this was pretty exciting!

Andrew survived the emptying of all those jars. It was looking pretty doubtful there for a while though. Imagine what 200 jars of 15 yr. old beef stew, canned onions, and other un-identifiable foods smell like on a 100 degree day. After several rounds of alternating hand washing and dish washing they were all finally clean! My tureen was displayed nicely on a shelf, the coffee pots were cleaned and shiny, but what to do with that vase and urn? My sister fell in love with the vase, so guess what she got for her birthday. After only two days of advertising the urn online I sold it to a woman for $50. She was thrilled and so was I! Our $10 investment made us $40 in cash and all of this years canning jars! Not to mention the value of the items we kept.

Shortly after this exciting first experience into the world of estate auctions we had our third child. It wasn’t until late spring that we were able to attend another sale. Our next attempt was on a 105 degree day with all three children in tow. That was another learning experience! Shortly after that I began going to the sales myself to do the bidding and business part of things. Then Andrew comes along with a truck (and trailer when needed) to collect that days finds. This system is working quit well for us lately, and we have been able to get some really good deals on things we otherwise would not be able to afford on our meager budget. Some of our best recent finds are a Craftsman wood chipper ($120), yard sweeper ($70), utility tilt trailer ($75), Woods 5’ bush hog ($30), and a Singer commercial sewing machine ($37.50).

  Tilt Trailer  Woods Bush Hog 

 Singer Sewing Machine 

Some items we have even managed to get for free by selling other items from the lot before we even leave the auction! Andrew now has two sets of saw horses, I have several pieces of carnival glass, and moving boxes full of books, screws, hand tools, and such that were all free after others at the auction purchased things they were combined with.

We haven’t been at this very long, but I am already addicted! The energy level, fast pace, and great deals all add to the excitement. Our goal is to be able to purchase enough “extras” with the things that we need to sell and cover our expenses. We are well on our way to that goal now.

If you are interested in trying your hand, and your luck, at some estate sales in your area there are a few things you should know before you go. Hopefully these tips will save you some time and money!

Is there a buyers premium? Check with the auction company in charge of the sale before the sale begins to make sure there is not a buyers premium. A buyers premium is a fee added to the final sale of an item by the auction group. These fees may only be a few percent, but on large purchases they can add up! You don’t want any surprises when you go to pay.

Get there early! Make sure you arrive in enough time to look over everything up for auction BEFORE the auction starts. Often times personal belongings, small tools, garage items, and such will be boxed together and sold in lots. You will not be able to check the contents of these boxes once the bidding starts. Many of our best finds were purchased in $2.50 lots of several boxes. If you do a lot of yard sales, flea markets, or e-bay sales these are your money makers!

Be prepared. Most auctions occur in the late spring, summer, and early fall. The day can be long, hot, and dry. Take along a folding camping chair since the chairs that are provided usually go quickly. Pack a snack and some bottled water as well. Sometimes a vendor will be there with food, sometimes not. Nothing is worse than being ½ way through an auction with tired feet, a hungry belly, and dry mouth! Check the weather. Be sure to wear appropriate foot wear and take along a rain jacket or umbrella if there is the slightest chance of rain.

Set a budget before you go. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to take cash along instead of a check. When you know exactly how much cash is in your pocket, you are less likely to spend extra on impulse buys. Take a notepad and pen with you. Use your time before the auction begins wisely by writing down the items you are interested in and what you are willing to pay for them. As the auction progresses, be sure to write down what you have spent. That way, if you have come in under budget on some things and you just HAVE to have a special item that has gone above your intended “target” price you will have a little more money to spend on it!

Beware of bidding wars. I am bad for doing this! It is very easy to get caught up in the action and bid higher than you intend to. The pace is so fast, you’re really wanting the item, and that other person just keeps upping the bid on you! Be strong, don’t give in, and stick to the budget!

Be willing to walk away. Even if the item is beautiful, perfect, and one of a kind you have to be willing to walk away. Most likely you will never win every item you are interested in. Just remember your goal is to pick up the steals, not pay retail price for used items!

 SOLD! doesn’t mean it’s over. So you lost the bid. Perhaps you were wanting one item in a grouped lot. Don’t be afraid to seek out the winning bidder and make an offer on that item. We have done this several times, usually paying less to the new owner than what we had been willing to bid to begin with. Only once have we ever been turned down. In most cases they were not even wanting the item we were interested in to begin with, but like us were bidding on the entire lot to get something else. This way, everyone wins!

Protect your new investment. Winning the bid is only ½ the process. Now the auction is over, you have settled your bill and must now face the mountain of new goodies you have acquired and somehow manage to get them home. Many auction groups will have people who can assist you in loading your items. I would recommend you load what ever you can yourself, and then supervise the loading of everything else. I recently left my purchases in the care of two young men to load. Once I arrived home, my beautifully conditioned antique sewing cabinet had a four inch gash in it from resting against a miter saw and four saw blades! My other purchases included a lot of 7 blankets, had I been more active in the loading process that cabinet could have easily been protected with those blankets. An expensive way to learn a lesson!

Make sure you have proper transportation. This is a big one. If you arrive at the auction in a sports car, don’t be buying bush hogs and bedroom furniture if you don’t have a way of moving those items home within a few hours time. Most auction companies will only remain on the auction site for two hours or less after the auction. After that time, if you haven’t taken your items home they will remain on-site outside with you responsible for their safety. It’s a good idea regardless of what you drive to either take a trailer with you, or have one on stand-by. You never know when you’ll luck up on a super cheap piece of equipment!

Estate sales are a great way to spend some time with the family outdoors on the weekends. There is usually something to offer for people of all ages or tastes. There may be some times when you don’t find much at all, or the prices are just simply to high for some reason. Don’t be discouraged! The next one may have everything you have been looking for at insanely low prices.

Now, go on and watch a few episodes of Storage Wars then try out some Auction Kings and Pawn Stars to brush up on hot collectibles and prices. Then look up some local auctions in your area and be prepared to save a bundle! If you need me, I’m headed to another sale!

Enjoy our blog? Check out our daily happenings on our Facebook farm page at  ANS Farms. We frequently update our page with news and photo's!

Our First Sausage Making Experience

Our family loves sausage. Breakfast links, kielbasa, brats, snack sticks, you name it we eat it. One of the many reasons we chose to start raising pigs was a desire to start making our own sausage. Getting the pigs, fattening them to slaughter weight, and bringing home fresh pork was only ½ of the equation. Now it was time to turn Sausage the pig, into sausage on the table!

  Sausage the Pig 

We then had to decide what all equipment was truly necessary for sausage making, which we needed right away, and what could possibly wait until later when we found more room in our budget.

We weren’t sure exactly how to make sausage, but knew we wanted to do so in the most natural way possible. That meant using natural casings and finding recipes free of nitrates or chemical additives. In regards to equipment, well, we didn’t have any at the time. After doing a bit of research on all the many ways of making sausage, we set to work on our “must have” list. To start with, a good grinder would be needed so we could use larger pieces of meat. This grinder needed to be compatible with a stuffing attachment to stuff the casings. A good “how to” book with plenty of details and recipes was definitely a must. And then we must pick out sausage casings and spices.

Christmas was rapidly approaching and our sausage making plans got put on a back burner as we prepared for the holidays with our recently expanded family. As luck would have it, we received a grinder and sausage making book from a dear friend of ours all the way from Germany! This prompted a new eagerness to embark on our sausage experiment.

  Meat Grinder 

An online shopping trip to Cabela’s yielded more than we expected. We were mainly interested in purchasing some natural hog casings to make medium sized sausages. While browsing through their current sales, I ran across a commercial dehydrator with ten wire racks. We have dried veggies and fruits for the last several years. Our frequent use of our small plastic dehydrator has resulted in cracks on most of our drying racks. This dehydrator seemed perfect for our family! So into our shopping cart it went. Once we get good at making fresh sausages, we plan to start working on natural snack sticks using the dehydrator.

 Commercial Food Dehydrator 

We chose to begin with a natural hog casing in a medium size. This is the size typically used for brats and kielbasa. I am not sure what exactly I was expecting, but when we first opened the pack and Andrew reached in to pull them out my first thought was…. Intestinal worms! That is truly what they resemble, shriveled and dry, long white stringy things that really remind me of Animal Science classes in college. Not a very appetizing thought! 

Natural Hog Casings 

Hog Casing Worms 

On sausage day, the first thing I did was gather our “required supplies.”
-Meat Grinder
-Stuffing attachment
-(2) large bowls for meat
-Sausage book “Home Sausage Making”
-Hog Casings
-Spices
-Weigh Scale
-2 ½ pounds pork butt
-½ pound pork fat

  Sausage Making Supplies 

We chose a recipe from our new “Home Sausage Making” book.

Northern Italian-Style Sweet Sausage

3 feet medium hog casing
2 ½ pounds lean pork butt
½ pound pork fat
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

1. Prepare the casing. For this, you should follow the instructions on the packaging of your casings. Most casings should soak and rinse for 45 minutes or longer.
2. Cut the meat and fat into small cubes and place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes. This makes it easier to grind.
3. Using a coarse disk, grind the meat and fat in a meat grinder.
4. Combine the ground meat, salt, coriander, black pepper, and garlic. Mix well with your hands.

  Mixing sausage ingredients 

5. Slowly feed the casings into the end of the sausage stuffer being careful not to rip.

 Prepping the Casings 

6. Fill sausage casings. Prick any air pockets to release air and twist sausages into 3 inch lengths.
7. Cut sausages apart using a sharp knife.
8. Refrigerate links, covered, for a few hours (or overnight) to meld flavors. Use refrigerated sausages in 2-3 days or freeze and store for up to 3 months.
Cook to an internal temperature of 160 F.

Our first attempt at sausage making yielded some very tasty, but perhaps not the prettiest, sweet sausages.  

Our First Sausage 

We will now work on making them prettier as we experiment with several other recipes in our sausage book. Soon, we hope to buy a jerky gun and drying racks for the dehydrator so we can start experimenting with beef jerky! 
 

Plowing With Pigs: Woodland Edition!

Roughly ten months ago we embarked on a new journey into pig ownership. Our first gardening attempt on our new farm quickly turned into a colossal failure. Our chosen garden spot had been a well fertilized cattle pasture for twenty years. The rough winter turned into a wet spring, and an even wetter early summer. Then drought hit, and the few veggies that had survived the tremendous weed growth during the flood finally gave up. We were left with a horribly embarrassing garden full of weeds and dead plants. About this time I stumbled upon Hank Will’s article on plowing with pigs. He had wrote about his experience tilling and plowing his garden area with heritage hogs. The idea stayed with us, and we began researching hog breeds and looking for nearby breeders.

Within a month we found a local breeder of Poland China, Chester, and Yorkshire hogs. Our initial purchase of two piglets got us started, but we had four gardens plus a melon patch to weed! Our two became four and then six, and thus our journey into plowing with pigs began. For more details on our garden plowing experience, check out our previous blog titled “Pig Power! Using Pigs to Prepare a Garden.” Below you see our first two piglets, Bacon (gilt) and Pork Chop (barrow).

Pigs First Day

Our gardens are now growing beautifully, with very few weeds to deal with. Another benefit to using this method is the free fertilizer and composting material that gets worked into the soil by the pigs feet. Straw bedding and manure make for excellent soil after a few months of being trampled under pig feet! Below you can see just how bad the garden area was. Just a few short months with pigs on it and it is hard to believe the difference!  

Garden Before Pigs
Here we are just three months after putting the piglets in the garden.

Pig Plowed Garden

Last month Andrew and I were lamenting about how over grown our wooded area behind the house had become. When we first viewed the property two years ago, it was very park like and pretty after years of cattle grazing away at the undergrowth. Since the previous owner removed the cattle before our purchase, it has sat vacant without being tended to. This 3.5 acre section of land sits directly behind our home, and separates us from our hay field. However it is the first thing you see when you park in the drive, or look out any of our western facing windows. How nice it would be to see a clean and tidy space! Our plan has always been to clean it up by removing the numerous dead trees and underbrush, fill in parts of the shallow ravine that run through the center, and sow it in pasture grass to make it a workable piece of land. Unfortunately, there are several fallen trees, tree stumps, and holes hidden by the undergrowth that made it nearly impossible to tend to with a tractor for fear of damaging something.

In February we took our two barrows to slaughter, leaving us with a trio of girls and one boar. Our four breeding piglets now all grown up, were still occupying parts of our garden area. On this particular day, we were also discussing just what to do with the pigs since we needed to plant the gardens. The best solution it seemed to both of our problems was a new plowing adventure! Why not turn the pigs onto the wooded area, and let them clear all the underbrush for us? Then we could come along to cut the dead trees and remove the stumps without having to wade through a sea of waist high weeds and brush to do so.

Woods Pre Pig

As you can see, our wooded area had gotten quit grown up. The worse part was the thistles, poison oak, and the ravine (more of a deep ditch really). I have read that some pigs can develop allergic reactions to poison oak, much like a human. I worried that our pigs may have problems with this as literally every tree trunk in site seemed to have fallen victim to the climbing vines. 

We already had an electric fence box that had been running our fencing around the garden areas for the pigs, as well as the remainder of a roll of electric wire. So all that was needed now was more step-in posts. Off to Tractor Supply we went, we purchased 45 step-in electric fence posts four foot tall. We also needed another 7 t-posts to secure the corners. The new pig pens are not equally divided. Instead, one side is roughly 2/3 the size of the other and both are in a triangular pattern to follow the lay of the land instead of in common square or rectangular dimensions. That is the beauty of temporary electric fencing, it is much more easy to follow the lay of the land than permanent fencing does. How many times have you spent hours trying to find a good way to enclose a ravine using wood posts and woven wire? It is very difficult to do so accurately enough to contain pigs. Not the case with electric! The entire system took in 1.3 acres and was up in a single afternoon. 

Now going back to the design, why did we not make equally sized pens? Well Bacon (my parents gilt) and Boss Hog (our boar) are the oldest of the bunch. They were bred three months ago. So we should soon have our very first litter of piglets! Bacon is growing quit large, and needed her own space to prepare for her piglets. So we have Daisy Duke, Ellie Mae and Boss in the larger section and Bacon alone in the smaller side. When Bacon’s litter is near weaning age, we will move them into the “common area” and move Ellie Mae into the smaller section. She was bred in April and will deliver our first litter of registered Poland China’s. Daisy Duke, the smallest and youngest of our girls, will take her turn soon after Ellie.

Now that the pigs were moved, we had a problem. While our DIY pig shelters constructed with t-posts, two stock panels, and a large tarp were perfectly adequate for just hogs, they didn’t make for safe or secure furrowing areas. I hit the internet in search of the ideal furrowing arrangement for a pasture based system. We do not want to contain any of our livestock in stalls or man made shelters. Instead, we choose to allow them to graze freely and grow naturally outdoors. We ran across a company selling “Port A Huts” and found a dealer a few hours away from us in Lafayette, TN. Andrew drove down to pick up a small hut with pig rails. The pig rails are designed to give the piglets a little space between the Momma pig and the wall to prevent piglet deaths from being laid on. These huts are specially designed to be durable, light weight, and easily mobile for relocation from pen to pen. Perfect for our operation! Port-A-Hut farrowing pen is pictured above in Bacons pen.

So here we have Bacon set up in her new wooded pen with her Port A Hut. She’s a very happy porker now! We have her situated just inside a grove of trees, easily visible from our kitchen window. This way, I will easily be able to watch her and our first litter of piglets!

Bacons New Pen

As for Boss, Daisy and Ellie they will still have their DIY stock panel shelter. Not that they use it, they have been much happier lounging under the trees even during rain storms and heat waves. They seem much happier in the woods than they were in the garden. All the trees make wonderful scratching posts, and their mud holes they have already wallowed out last much longer in the shade than they did in the garden areas.

The pigs have now been in their wood pens for nearly four weeks. It only took about a week for the trio to root up nearly the entire pen. I was surprised at how quickly they did this, and to see that they did not eat what they rooted. They reminded me of steam rollers going as quickly as possible destroying everything in site. However, I was more surprised to watch their behavior after this initial demolition. After first knocking down all of the brush, scraggly shrubs, and large undergrowth they attacked the weeds and what little grass there was growing. When this was done, they stopped rooting the entire area and began selectively rooting around areas where they dug their mud holes and an area to bed down at night. With this accomplished, they continued rooting around the outer most sections of the pen while leaving the center alone. After that initial week of rooting, grass began growing back in the center of the pen. They have not continued to root in this area, instead they now graze on the grass there while keeping the remainder of the pen rooted clean. 

In just a few short weeks this area has gone from an over grown mess to a clean and clear work space. Now you can clearly see every stump and fallen limb, and the dead trees are easily accessible by tractor. Better still, the ravine that previously ran through the center of the large pen is now just a shallow dip thanks to our four legged wonders.

Here are a few pairs of shots for comparison. Each pair shows the area before the pigs moved in, and the other three weeks after the pigs. 

Shot 1:  Before and After
 Woods Before 1Woods After 1

Shot 2 Before and After 

Woods Before 2Woods After 2

Here you can see all four pigs that make up our current plowing team. Bacon in the forefront in her pen, and Boss, Ellie, and Daisy in the background.

The plowing team

Boss, Ellie, and Daisy are very friendly. They come to you immediantly when they see or hear you expecting treats.

The Plowing Team 2

We will leave the pigs in their current location for several more weeks before moving them. At that time, we will rotate them to the neighboring 1/3 acre section of the wooded area. Our plan is to separate this area into three rotations with our last rotation being completed at the end of summer. As the pigs are moved off of one section and in to another, we will come in behind them with the tractor and pull up stumps then cut up dead trees and sow seasonal grasses. Hopefully by next spring our rough woodland will resemble a new and improved park like setting!

Here we have their next plowing project, the adjacent 1.3 acres.

Next Pig Project

Once Fall arrives, we will leave our breeding stock in the woods. Our plan is to keep a pair of piglets from this summers litters to move onto the gardens for fall “plowing.” In this way, we hope to always have breeder pigs in the woods, feed pigs in the garden and then in the freezer, and a healthy and bountiful garden grown with natural (and free!) fertilizer. Eventually we hope to use this same system for the woods on the back of our property to truly make the entire farm clean and productive. 

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