This is a short video on the newest addition of our hoop house for chickens, Hen Hoop House 2.0. You can see the original in a previous post. This version has several new modifications that make it even better!
We have been reading a fantastic book by Ralph Moody called Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers out loud to the kids. It is fantastic, and I highly recommend it. Lots of great nuggets of wisdom, including this passage about killing hogs:
As we came near our house I could see what looked like three big white sacks of grain hanging from a crossbar at the back of our barn. I jumped off while the bays were making their circle in bur yard, and ran around the barn. Our three biggest pigs were hanging there dead, with all the hair scraped off them. It kind of startled me at first, and I guess Father noticed it. He came right over and bent down on one knee beside me. Then he put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “There isn’t a thing to be afraid of, or to feel bad about, Son. The only time to feel sorry for anything— or anybody—that dies is when they haven’t completed their mission here on earth. These pigs’ mission was to get big and fat so as to make food for us. They have done a good job of it and their mission is completed. And I do want you to know this: they didn’t know what was happening, and they weren’t hurt a bit—they didn’t even squeal.” Father could always explain things like that so I’d understand.
Ralph Moody, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers 135 (1950). With all of the pigs who have recently left the farm and went to the butcher and returned as vacuum-sealed packages of meat around here, this passage was very timely!
Here is a picture of our chicken hoop house that we recently built. I guess it is really a hoop hen house, as we plan to use it for chickens that we will free range during the day. (So, it will contain some hens, a rooster, and a few guineas.) You might say that it is Wolf Hill Hen Hoop House 1.0.
It originally had a green tarp, but we ordered a red tarp to match our barn, front door, and the buckets we made into nesting boxes. I have also (since taking this picture) hung the waterer and feeder from the cattle panels. Accordingly, I guess we are technically up to Wolf Hill Hen Hoop House 1.2.
The above video is of me discussing this our first try at building a hoop house. There are lots of plans on the Internet, but we used the plans found on the Kentucky College of Agriculture website here.
Our plan is to put these in strategic locations around the farm where we want chicken and guinea activity in the fields and then move them around only occasionally. We plan to build at least a couple more, and I have some ideas to improve the design. So, I will post again soon with Wolf Hill Hen Hoop House 2.0!
I love this painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. It is idealized, but it captures something of how we Americans feel about how our Declaration of Independence, and therefore our nation, came into being. Three great minds, (from left to right) Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, gathered around a table hashing out the ideals upon which the nation would be founded. It didn’t exactly happen this way in history, but it certainly feels that way to us.
That said, Jefferson is not one of my favorite founders. He can be great at times, and at other times he is simply awful. I think so much attention is put on Franklin and Jefferson nowadays because these were about the least religious of the founds, not because they were the most important. But, I digress. That is a topic for another post. The point of this post is following Jefferson’s advice, as least as it pertains to guns.
In a letter giving advice to his nephew Peter Carr dated August 19, 1785 (which is well worth the read in its entirety,) Jefferson writes this about exercise:
Give about two of them [Jefferson is writing of his free hours] every day to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.
(Yes, that is how Jefferson spelled enterprise and independence. You can read it for yourself here.) So, bad news for all the Jefferson-loving yet anti-liberty folks out there, but Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t appear to have been much of a fan of modern gun control measures.
I own some guns that have been given to me as gifts when I was a child (receiving a shotgun and/or a rifle as a gift is a normal part of growing up in Appalachia,) but I did not, until today, own a handgun. Today, at Gander Mountain in Roanoke, that all changed for the better! I bought a Ruger LC9 9MM. It is an awesome gun, and I can’t wait to go fire it. It is a good feeling knowing that if someone did try to break in here, etc. to harm me or my family that we could defend ourselves. Jefferson is right. A gun does give one boldness, enterprize, and independance!
We got the first of our all-natural, non-GMO, soy-free pastured pork back from the butcher the other day. It is delicious. We have already eaten a lot of sausage and pork chops. We fully expected to like these cuts.
However, we were a little concerned about the bacon as it would, of course, be fresh, i.e., uncured. We talked with the folks at the butcher and people have processed lots of their own hogs, and everyone said “it won’t be like bacon you get from the store” with a tone that sounded as if it were meant to give me a warning. This sounded ominous, and we took it to mean “it won’t be as delicious as what you get from the store.”
That made me sad. Bacon is one of those things that we really don’t get enough of around here. There are ten of us, and we all love bacon. Three pounds of bacon doesn’t really get us started, so, if we ever decided to just have bacon sandwiches for a meal or even a snack, we would need to take out a small loan to do it. So, I was disappointed a bit to think that my bacon would not be as good as store-boughten bacon. After all, a big part of raising our own pigs was to have delicious meat for us to eat and sell to folks in Bedford, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and the surrounding area.
All of that said, you might be wondering about the picture above. That picture is of a slab of pork sidemeat, also known as pork belly (not to be confused with pork stomach) or midlin meat. Or, as it is more commonly known in its most famously delicious form–bacon. Bacon is simply cured pork sidemeat, belly, or midlin meat. My parents and grandparents always called it midlin meat. So, I often call it that as well. Big Pig weighed about 280 and produced two slabs this size of midlin meat.
Wanting to get the most out of it, I got it fresh and tried curing some at home with a salt cure. I then had some scrap pieces that I had cut off before I did the curing, so I decided to just fry it in a cast-iron skillet and try it. And . . . wow, they were right, it is not like store-boughten bacon! Instead, it is even better! It was astoundingly, unbelievably, wonderfully better than store-boughten bacon.
Then, we tried some of the bacon that I cured, and we came to the same conclusion. It was the best bacon that I have ever had in my life. I ate two big sandwiches of it. But, honestly, I thought it was just as good not cured but just seasoned with a little salt, pepper, and other seasonings right in the skillet and cooked over medium heat until desired crispiness. Honestly, it was unbelievable how good it was.
We also tried some of the pieces I had trimmed off in some green beans to flavor them and wow, they were delicious as well. (My wife put green beans, cut up potatoes, some trimmings from the midlin meat, and a few other seasonings in one of our big cast-iron dutch ovens. I wasn’t even hungry because I had eaten way too much bacon already, but they were so delicious with that midlin meat in there that I ended up eating a huge heaping plate full!)
So, now that I know what people mean when they say that midlin meat, or side meat, or uncured bacon is just not like bacon you get from the store, I am having the butcher slice the midlin meat and vacuum seal it in about one pound packages so we can have it whenever we like. Just thaw it out, throw it in the skillet or in whatever dish we want some delicious flavoring in along with a little bit of seasoning, and enjoy! And, we should be getting our first pig processed under inspection back very soon, which means we might well have non-GMO, all-natural, soy-free, outrageously delicious pork to sell this weekend!
P.S. If you were looking for a great recipe for cooking uncured midlin meat, unfortunately, this is about the best I can do. This is about the best I can do in telling you how to cook uncured pork belly or bacon because: (1) I don’t cook anything except meat in our house (my wife is too good of a cook for me to mess around in the kitchen much) and (2) I just eyeball how much seasoning to add to meat when I cook it. I don’t follow recipes, and therefore I can’t really give you one. So, the recipe is add some fresh midlin meat slices, salt, pepper, and some other spices to a greased cast-iron skillet and cook it until you think it looks about done. That is all it takes to prepare the most delicious “bacon” ever!
This is one of our pastured pigs. He is a Hampshire with just a wee little bit of Yorkshire in him. We had just had a thunderstorm the night before, and he is looking around in the pasture for something yummy to eat and anticipating the all-natural, non-GMO, soy-free, whole-grain concoction that I am about to bring him.
We have been blessed to sell chickens to folks from all over Central Virginia including Bedford, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Rocky Mount, Blacksburg, and many other localities. We have even had one customer drive from Morganstown, West Virginia! We are looking forwarding to selling our all-natural, non-GMO, soy-free pastured pork to folks in these areas as well. We just got the first of our pork back from the butcher just the other day, and it is delicious. Here is a picture of some of the sausage:
You can see the huge “NOT FOR SALE” label plastered on it. That is because we are planning to eat this meat and give it away, etc., and therefore we did not pay extra to have one of the servants of our “benevolent” government overlords oversee the slaughtering process. So, this meat is not safe. But don’t worry, the pork we plan to sell will be killed under inspection and therefore will be safe. I am so reckless that I am going to feed this unsafe (because it is uninspected) meat to my wife, my eight kids, and my friends and family.
(In case you didn’t catch it, the last several sentences were very wry and dripping with sarcasm. There is very little about the modern food tyranny that is run by the government and supported by big agriculture that has anything in the world to do with real concern over food safety. It has much more to do with keeping smaller farmers like me from competing with the big boys. After all, if it were really about food safety, then why would I be allowed to give this meat away, feed it to my kids or a passing troop of preschoolers, or cook it up for a bunch of kids at Vacation Bible School? (All of which is perfectly legal, but, if this pork really is dangerous because it has not been inspected, it should be just as much of a food safety concern as my selling it.) Regardless of how you feel about non-GMO and locally-sourced, etc., every American should be for real liberty, which includes the freedom to buy and sell without the government being a party to every single contract, and every American should oppose the type of crony capitalism that has made most farmers into little more than serfs working for big agriculture. All right, enough ranting. I will get back to the post now. But, before I do, and before you think my rant is all that bad, imagine what that guy from Central Virginia who made that speech about “give me liberty or give me death” might say if he found out the government wouldn’t let him sell his pork without having it inspected!)
Now for something more peaceful. Here are some more of our hogs enjoying the pasture:
In addition to four more of our Hampshires, this picture shows you some of our Duroc / Yorkshire crosses. (It would show it better if they weren’t rooting up around my feet wanting me to give them something yummy to eat. It is hard to get pigs to pose for a picture!) For those of you who remember, these are some of those same five little pigs that started the porcine portion of our farm adventure way back in January. Just click here and scroll down to see how they have changed! Our pig herd consists of the following breeds to varying degrees: Hampshires, Yorkshires, Durocs, and Tamworths.
As you can see, pastured pigs are happy pigs. They spend their days roaming around the pasture, grazing and rooting about for food, and lounging in the shade or playing in the creek. They grow fat at it too. They are extremely healthy, and we don’t have to use antibiotics, etc. on them. And, you might not believe it, but they don’t stink either. With the room they have to roam, and the feed we feed them, they just don’t smell bad.
In addition to being happy pigs, pastured pigs make great tasting meat, which we will have for sale very soon!
This is a picture of what we feed the pigs, or at least what we start with. It is a mix of four all-natural, non-GMO, locally-sourced, soy-free whole grains. We use whole corn, whole oats, whole field peas, and whole soft white wheat.
Of course, the pigs are also pastured, so they are free to eat whatever they find in the fields, which includes various grasses, plants, shrubs, roots, grubs, cow manure, etc., etc., etc. Pigs are omnivores, and, given the chance, they will have a very, very varied diet. (For example, you will notice that the list includes cow manure. Sounds gross, right? First, I don’t make them eat it. I couldn’t stop them from it if I wanted to do so. Second, a good friend of mine who raises pigs all naturally and has put a great deal of study into the matter recently told me that they actually get just about all the nutrients they need from it. So, whatever you feed them above and beyond that is just bonus! Third, it is part of how they earn their keep. They are spreading the cow manure so I don’t have to.)
Now, if you know a bit about the digestion of whole grains, you are probably thinking that my pigs can’t prosper on this stuff because they won’t be able to digest it. And, you would be right. If I were to feed it to the pigs just as you see it above, they won’t be able to digest it. It would pass right through because pigs and hogs have only one stomach and can’t break down the grains in their whole form as shown above, at least not very efficiently. (Actually, animals with multiple stomachs only do a little better at this. If you just feed whole corn to your cows, you will find a lot of it in their manure in a virtually unaltered state.)
So, I put about 13 pounds of the above mixture in a five-gallon bucket and fill it to about two inches from the top with water. Here is what it looks like at stage two:
Some of the oats and the wheat berries will float to the top, as you can see. The corn and field peas tend to remain completely submerged at this point. I then cover the buckets of my grain and water mixture and let them set anywhere from 24-48 hours.
The above is about one day’s feeding for my current herd of hogs. (We have fifteen right now.) I feed them two buckets in the morning and four buckets in the evening. I feed them more in the evening and less in the morning because I want them to be active in the pasture during the day foraging about for food.
Once the 24-48 hour period has passed, I take the lid off and feed the concoction to the pigs. Here is what it looks like after “curing.”
You can’t tell it from the picture, but it is bubbling on its own. Some of the grains start to sprout and/or ferment. All of them are broken down so that they are more digestible and their nutrients are more available to the pigs. It actually smells sweet, and the pigs love it. They drink the liquid off of it just as fast as they can, and then they wolf down the soaked, fermented, and sprouted grains just as fast as they possibly can. The only thing they like better than this mix are the table scraps we sometimes give them. Here are some of them enjoying it in a little trough I made:
It is a little extra trouble, but this method lets me feed them an all-natural, non-GMO, non-Soy feed that they love. (As you can see in the picture above!) Further, it allows me to do it cheaper than buying it already mixed. At current prices, the pre-mixed soy-free, non-GMO, all-natural pig feed is $0.29 per pound. My mix is $0.235 per pound. I don’t know for sure, but I think it takes about 900-1,000 pounds of feed to get a pig to slaughter weight in our system. If so, that saves me about $49.50 to $55 per pig. And, we just got our first pork back from the butcher yesterday, and this feed produces a pork that tastes absolutely delicious. It was the best sausage-biscuit that I had had since I was a kid eating the pork my grandparents raised, slaughtered, and processed themselves all right there on their own farm! (And, in about two weeks, we will have some for sale!)
Right now there is a lot of discussion and debate regarding which is better: grass-fed and finished beef or grain-finished beef. The beef industry, lead largely by the big meat companies that control about 80% of America’s meat production, brilliantly marketed Angus and USDA Grain-Fed to the public, leading many people to conclude these are the gold standards for good beef. On the other side, local and sustainable agriculture advocates, such as Joel Salatin, have done an incredible job of raising awareness about feed lots (CAFOs) and related industrial agriculture practices and marketing naturally-raised, grass-fed and finished beef as an alternative.
Our cattle are grass-fed. We only give them a bit of grain as a treat and to get them to do what we want them to do (for example come into the stanchion or relocate to another field if they are reluctant or follow me home if they get out, etc.) Grain is a tiny fraction of their diet. We are trying to decide how to best finish them. I lean toward grass-finishing because they will be happier not penned up eating only grain, etc. Further, I have some fields with Johnson Grass. The cattle love Johnson Grass, and they really get fat on it. So, I may try finishing them on it.
Now, all of that said, a Christian should care what the Bible says about every topic. The Bible is the authority for our lives. Therefore, a Christian should be interested in what the Bible says about grass-fed v. grain-fed beef.
The older members of our family who can read well have started what we hope will become an enduring tradition of reading the Bible through together each year. My wife and kids did it last year, and I joined them this year. It is a wonderful practice. And, right in the midst of our Bible reading recently, I found Solomon’s answer to this question. We are not told that the Bible supports or requires one or the other of these methods of finishing. So, I don’t have a biblical answer to that extent. However, we are told about Solomon’s table and what it contained. Therefore, to that extent, we have Solomon’s answer to the question. (And, remember, Solomon was the wisest man to ever live.) Here is what 1 Kings 4:22-23 (LEB) tell us of Solomon’s table:
22 The food of Solomon for one day was thirty dry measures of choice meal and sixty dry measures of flour; 23 ten stall-fed oxen and twenty pasture-fed oxen and a hundred sheep, besides deer and buck gazelles and roebucks and well-fed fowls.
I chose the Lexham English Bible as I thought it captured the Hebrew best in this instance. I will let you look that up for yourself. Still, a few comments might help. First, oxen and cattle are basically the same thing. The difference only comes from how they are used–oxen are used to pull plows, etc. In other words, they are trained to work while other cattle are not. There are not separate Hebrew words for oxen and cattle, but rather the context tells us which it should be. In this passage, I am not sure that oxen is the best choice, but I do not quibble with it much given what I just said.
Second, the Hebrew word translated “stall-fed” here is the Hebrew word for “fat.” The question is how do you get these cattle so fat. The answer chosen by the translators here and in other versions is that they were stall-fed. A reason for this choice is that the very next phrase sets off these “fat cattle” against “pastured cattle.” Thus, it is reasonable to assume that “fat cattle” and “pastured cattle” are not the exact same thing or they would not be listed separately side-by-side in the list as if they are separate things. It would just read “thirty cattle.” Thus, I think the translation here best catches it: ten stall-fed (probably grain-fed and hay-fed and whatever else they could come up with to fatten up cattle not on pasture–you know, sort of like the fattened calf other places in Scripture) and twenty grass-fed and grass-finished cattle (i.e., kept on pasture instead of in a stall, which gives them more exercise and makes them leaner.)
In conclusion, Solomon’s answer seems to be that a table with great bounty and blessing on it includes a marvelous variety of food. A part of that marvelous variety is stall-fed beef and another part is pastured beef. Both seemed acceptable and desirable to Solomon.
So, what are we going to do?
Well, we might try both, but right now we are going with grass-fed and finished. We have lots of grass and hay for free, and we feel sorry for our animals when they are all cooped-up because they don’t like it. But, I would be wiling to try grain-finishing one as well. (I would just have to buy the grain and pen the steer up, which would be less fun for me and him. Thus, again, the preference for grass finishing.)
I guess if it is good enough for Solomon’s table, it is good enough for mine!
Death is a regular part of life on a farm. No matter how many times we lose an animal it still is painful. Yesterday we lost a Black Australorp hen. The day before she was normal. That evening she was lying in a strange position. Today she is dead.
This is the second time that has happened in nearly two years of having chickens. Certainly, we have lost others to predators, but this is only really the second completely inexplicable death. Undoubtedly, there IS a cause of death. We just have NO IDEA what happened. Notably in each instance no other chickens were sick or died.
(Incidentally, we love Black Australorps. Others must love them, too, because they always sell well. They are beautiful and extremely gentle.)
All this to sadly say…chickens come and chickens go. Why did your chicken die?Unless it is self evident or unless you want to pay for an autopsy, you may never know.
Chickens are both surprisingly resilient and yet sometimes surprisingly delicate. It is sad to lose one because they are such useful pets, but expect it. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up. You are probably doing a great job…it just happens.
We just read Ecclesiastes 1-6 this morning which was very timely. To everything there is a season. A time to be born and a time to die. It will not be that way for ever, but for now it points us very vividly to the Fall. It reminds us that everything is not right on Earth. Death cries out for Redemption, Resurrection, and a Savior.
And that is just what is happening in the world. Slowly but surely.
Redemption, Resurrection and Salvation.
And that is exciting.
We drove to Sunrise Farms, Inc. in Stuart’s Draft, Virginia today to get feed. All of their feed is all-natural, non-GMO with no added medications, hormones, etc. So, our animals are now eating all non-GMO feed! Further, in addition to avoiding GMOs, etc., we are also avoiding soy for the pigs, so their primary diet is pasture and fermented oats, corn, and field peas. I guess we’ll see how it goes.
It is a long drive, so we took the big wagon and got 1.25 tons of feed! (And, since it was about 95 degrees today, it was a hot day to unload 50 50-pound bags of feed!) We also stopped along the way at one of our favorite restaurants for a little human feed.
Sunrise Farms, Inc. is a quality operation. If you want great all-natural, non-GMO feed and supplements, I would suggest you check them out.