Though I don't actively practice any religion, this past Friday I did seek peace and comfort in the one prayer I know, minutes before our pigs got killed. Probably mostly for my own sake; I needed peace and comfort, they just wanted breakfast.
We kill our pigs right in their pen. With the right kind of gun and confident aim we ensure an instant and painless death for our pigs without hours of transport and fear. We also stay in control over the whole process taking care of the meat and can use the odd bits that otherwise would go to waste. Like the brain, for example, that we fried up for breakfast the next morning and spread on bread, or the heart, big enough for several meals.
We shoot them between the eyes, and cut the throat to bleed them out. When the pig is dead we attach a gambrel to the tendons by it's rear hoofs and with a rope and pulley we hoist it up and lower it into a barrel with steaming (160F) water. This is to scald the skin so we can scrape the hair. Usually the pig is too big to be submerged so after scraping the front half, we attach a hook in it's lower jaw and hoist it up to dip the rear half. Once clean we cut the head off and hoist it up again to take the guts out and hand saw the animal in half from top to bottom.
We use some old and tried techniques for how to process the meat, like curing and smoking the big cuts so they'll keep without being put in a freezer. The ham, shoulder, bacon, back fat, tenderloin and loin along the the jowls and the trotters (feet) get rubbed down with a sugar and salt (1:4) mix to cure and preserve them. We keep the pieces in plastic tubs and as water drains from the meat and accumulates in the tub we empty it out to keep the meat as dry as possible. Since the hams are so thick they are the hardest cuts to dry. We put weight on them, a board and some bricks, to press more liquid out of them. In a few weeks we'll get our smoke house going to seal the cure and add flavor by smoking them.
Not too long ago in the west livestock was too valuable not to use every bit of it, and still is, in many parts of the world. It's inevitable that some of the animal will always end up buried in our garden, or as bone meal fertilizer from charred and crushed bones or boiled down and fed to the chickens, but we're constantly striving to learn new, mostly old ways of utilizing and preserving more of the pigs for our own consumption.
Headcheese has nothing to do with cheese, but is usually enjoyed the same way, on crackers or bread. We make it by cleaning the head (taking out eyes and ears) and boiling the meat off the bones together with the tongue. After boiled until it's tender and well broken down, the meat is packed in jars or molds and covered with the gelatinous broth created while cooking. We also make confit, which is an excellent way to use the small bits of meat that accumulates while cleaning up bigger cuts. We chop the meat fine and put it in a Dutch oven with rendered lard and let it boil for a long time until all the water is gone. The mix is put in jars and cooled and covered with a layer of fat, as a preservative. Both the headcheese and the confit we keep in our root cellar during the winter. We make soup stock by boiling off all the bones thoroughly and saving the liquid in jars, and we render the fat to make lard that we use as cooking grease, skin lotion and to rub down our leather boots and mittens.
Still, we have much left to learn. The liver is a substantial part of the pig that could be processed and eaten, and the blood could be used for blood pudding and blood sausage. We'll try our hands on salami one of these years and we've already saved the ears and the tail for further processing and fearless eating experiences.
There is no more Louise and Clark, at least not out in the pen. Our pigs become part of our lives and daily routines but as with all life and death; we know the end will come, still we're so poorly prepared for how strangely deserted the yard suddenly feels. But to say that the pigs are gone is an ill-conceived statement, our pigs will live on, through us, in the many abundant meals they'll provide.
Have you ever read a homesteading blog where the writer brags about all of his or her great accomplishments and where all of the projects always work out great with no problems? Well that’s not this blog!
Do you ever watch the nightly news and when they show people who live in tornado-prone areas but haven’t built a bunker and you say to yourself, “If I lived in Tornado Alley, I’d be better prepared.” I used to think that way too, but I’ve mellowed over the years. I’ve come to understand that human inertia sometimes prevents you from getting stuff done even when you know you really should do it. It’s amazing how many excuses you can find for not accomplishing an important task.
I had one of those events during the last week of November. I had been looking forward to the fall hoping that I could start slowing down after running the CSA until October. But there has been a steady stream of tasks and projects that have kept me occupied. You can tell that the list was overly long because for the first year ever I was hard-pressed to find the time to get my garlic planted, despite the fact that I planted a fraction of what I have planted in the past. I actually dodged a bullet too because I had a fair amount planted when the ground froze up but I wanted to get more in. We got a thaw, which allowed me to finish it.
One of the tasks on my never-ending “TO DO” list was to upgrade the greenhouse to deal with the snow load. I knew that since I’d used PVC pipe for the ribs it might not be as rigid and strong as I’d like. If you built your greenhouse with steel ribs you don’t have to worry about this. I had found the plans online somewhere and whoever had provided them might not have had to worry about the weight of snow, but I knew I would have to deal with it.
About mid-November I started on the project because there was snow in the forecast. I went out to the scrap woodpile to grab some pieces to build some supports to put down the center of the greenhouse. Then I remembered that I’d like to build benches to put our CSA boxes on next year. We’d like to get the boxes off the ground to help our backs so we’re not leaning down as we fill our boxes. I knew I would need a fair amount of wood for this project. And I knew that once my piles of wood got covered in snow I wouldn’t be able to access them and this is one of my winter CSA projects. So I spent some time finding the best pieces of wood and moving them to some shelves, up off the ground. This got them in one place so that I’ll be able to brush the snow off to access them later in the winter.
I should mention that we often don’t get snow here until the end of December. So far the Fall has been below the seasonal average in temperature. During the last week of November Michelle took the train to London, Ontario to visit our daughter and they had just received 70 cm (28 inches) of snow. But they’re in a snow belt where snow comes off the Great Lakes. We don’t usually get a dumping in November. But one thing lead to another and I let myself get distracted with building the scrap wood shelves and sorting through the wood piles to get the best stuff and low and behold I didn’t get back to working on strengthening the greenhouse supports.
I kept an eye on the weather forecasts and one day we were on the leading edge of a storm but it looked like we might even miss the snow altogether and just get rain. Can you hear the rationalization in my voice?
It got dark that day and so I postponed the greenhouse support project for another day and I hoped for the best.
Overnight we got a dumping of snow. Wet, heavy snow. The next morning things were not good. The greenhouse had collapsed in the middle. Many of the PVC pipes had snapped and broken and not in good places. This was not a “Crazy Glue” kind of repair job. This was a big mess. And it was my own fault. It doesn’t look quite so bad in the photo once I got the snow off, but when I first looked at the greenhouse in the morning it was only about two feet high in the middle.
There was a time in my life when I would have become very angry about this. In fact I would have cursed a blue streak and found the biggest hunk of wood I could find and smashed whatever I could find to smash. I’m not proud to admit this, but that’s the way I would have dealt with this. I guess I’ve been living in the country too long because while I was angry that I’d let it happen, I didn’t find it that big a deal. I figure it will take a couple of days to fix and I’ll just tack it on to my job list, which never seems to get any shorter anyway.
It kind of was a “perfect storm” type of event. It was a really heavy snow, and was way more snow than I ever remember getting in November. Normally I think of snow just sliding off the plastic of a greenhouse but the plastic I used on my greenhouse is really old (a friend of mine bought replacement plastic for his greenhouse and so this was his leftover, used piece of plastic) and I didn’t have it strung saran-wrap tight, so the snow stuck to it.
My friend Hans the architect was over one day and the first thing he said when he saw my greenhouse was, “That’s where you’ll support it” and pointed from one side of the barn foundation to the other. It all sounds so easy when someone else suggests something like this, in the summer. I did take him up on his suggestion, just a little too late, that’s all. I have strung some heavy gauge wire around an old horse wagon axle draped between the concrete door on one side and then through the greenhouse and around the rock crib I use for rain barrels on the other side. And I built some supports that kind of look like oil wells for inside.
I know, I know … you’re saying, “Well if you had the time to do this after the fact, why didn’t you just do it before it collapsed?” I know. I get it. I agree. I should have. I wasn’t lolly gagging though, I promise. I guess it’s just human nature. There was a possibility of this bad outcome, but it seemed kind of remote. We don’t usually get snow like this in November. The snow should have slid right off the plastic. That PVC is probably pretty strong and should handle some snow. I should be fine. Yup, it could handle a couple of inches, maybe even half a foot. Unfortunately, we got more like a whole foot of snow and it was heavy and it didn’t slide. Lesson learned. Smarten up Cam!
And life goes on. I’m healthy. My family is healthy. The sun still rises and sets on Sunflower Farm each day. The holidays are coming. The to-do list just got another item. Life is good.
I’ll be honest, the first thing about a Warre hive that caught my attention was the absolutely charming appearance. Any beehive, whether it’s thrown together with spare materials, a beautifully crafted cedar hive or a simple white Langstroth is wonderful to my eyes. Long before I began keeping bees I was tempted to pull over on the side of the road at the sight of a beehive to stop and stare. That being said, there really is a unique beauty to a Warre hive and it’s not all superficial. After some experience keeping bees in our own Warre hives I have gained quite a lot of respect and appreciation for not only the trials and errors of Emile Warre but his ultimate design.
A Warre hive is sometimes described as a vertical top bar hive but it’s not quite as simple as that name would imply. It has several unique features including a quilt box at the top lined with sturdy cloth and filled with wood shavings or straw to help control climate and moisture. Also, the roof is vented which helps to promote favorable conditions inside the hive. The bars that go across the top of the hive boxes for the bees to build their wax from have no sides or bottoms and use no wax foundation. Some beekeepers use wax foundation strips but we just melted some beeswax and painted some onto each bar which worked great. Because the bees obviously need to move up and down through the boxes, the top bars do not rest end to end as they do in a horizontal top bar hive but with space in between them more like a Langstroth. New boxes are added to the bottom.
While our Warre hives have observation windows which I love, I find that I know less about their week to week or even month to month activities. Warre hives are to be opened once a year for harvest after the main flow and really no more than that unless there’s a good reason or you’re adding a new box. Let me share with you a few things I have noticed about our Warre hives though:
As I see steep population booms and drops throughout the season in my Langstroth and some of my top bar hives I’ve noticed a slow and steady rise of the population in the Warre’s.
During the hottest months when I see significant bearding (bees hanging out on the front of the hive) I see very little of it on our Warre hives.
They seem to have a greater population going into fall and slightly larger stores (possibly because of the moderate population during hot months).
A couple of weeks ago at the end of November, I saw many drones still coming and going from a particularly active Warre. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve seen a single drone in any other hive. They must have plenty to share!
Regular hive inspections aren’t part of the deal as this architecture is supposed to promote ideal conditions for bees to thrive with minimal intervention from the beekeeper. This makes Warre hives ideal for gardeners or farmers who are interested in pollination, people who want to keep bees but have little time to commit to regular maintenance, or people who just want to help the honey bee by keeping a beautiful hive or two in their yard and enjoy watching the comings and goings of these amazing insects (as if some fresh, sweet backyard honey on your toast every morning isn’t enough reason).
There are plenty of websites that sell Warre hives but if you’re on a budget you can find even more websites that have free plans to build one yourself. Also, if you’re interested in the philosophy of Emile Warre you can find his entire book “Beekeeping for All” published many places online. It’s not only a fascinating read for anyone interested in bees but serves as a sort of manual for keeping bees in a Warre hive.
The brief overview I’ve provided here is just the tip of the iceberg so if you’re intrigued, I urge you to explore further by taking advantage of all the free information out there. Even if we all just learned a little more about bees it might drastically improve the future outcome for this amazing little insect that (whether or not we know it) we all rely so heavily upon.
Lindsay Williamson is a stay at home Mom to two beautiful boys and keeper of several hundred thousand (bee) girls. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, baking, sprouting, and brewing at her home in North Carolina that she shares with her partner Vance and their children.
Photo by Vance Lin and Lindsay Williamson
After our goats spent many summer months with only a small shed for shelter, we decided it was finally time to build them a real barn. Winter was quickly pressing upon us, and it would soon be followed by kidding season in the spring. Also, our bossy new Alpine doe made it necessary for us to provide more space for the others to get out of her way, especially since they would soon be pregnant. So, using a continuous supply of homemade apple pie as a bribe, and we got a crew of a few family members and friends and got to work.
The blueprint was simple and rather small, but it would provide sufficient space for our needs. The structure would be a 12x24 lean-to, which would be divided into an 8x12 feed room and a 12x16 area for the goats. The goat side would then be divided into three 4x6 kidding stalls and one 10x12 open area. The feed room and goat section would each have a large, 6' sliding door. The plot for the barn was situated on the crest of a hill about 70 yards from the house, which was also on a hill. Unfortunately, the tops of hills were the only flat areas on our property.
Construction began early on a frigid, drizzly day in mid-October. We rented an auger for digging the post holes, which proved to be a worthwhile investment; clay soil and abundant tree roots would have made manual digging nearly impossible. The first half of the day was spent digging the holes and pulling out a tree stump. Meanwhile, I stood by pointing fingers, sipping hot coffee, and asking obvious questions — like any good foreman. By the end of the first weekend, the posts, framing, and rafters were complete. Although the majority of this progress should be attributed the brilliant engineering mind of my uncle and the tireless labor of my husband and step dad, I am sure at least a portion was due to my superior directing capabilities.
Of course, I assumed this project would take two full weekends at the most. We had the determination and the laborers, fueled by caffeine and pizza. Also, I was feeling the crunch of breeding season and pressure from Ms. Bossy. Every night I was jamming a temporary divider into the small shed to protect my small Mini Mancha from the Alpine's big ego. Most evenings were spent in frustration trying to herd, and keep, goats on the proper side of the divider, while most mornings found the divider disdainfully knocked to the floor. So, it was with a certain measure of unease that I watched weekend after weekend pass without the goats able to use the new structure. My husband was working ten hour days on the barn during the few days he had off of his regular full-time job, and immense progress was being made. However, the scope of the project was simply beyond my rather limited estimating capabilities.
After three weeks, the feed room was complete. At this point, I reached the end of my rope as a night-shift goat referee. So, I decided to lock the goats in the feed room at night. It was larger than their current shed, and allowed my Mini Mancha the room to escape if need be. Within another week and a half, the other side was finished and the fence was moved to allow regular access to their new home. Hooray!
Finally, our barn was complete. It looked a little patchy; temperatures suddenly plummeted below freezing before I could finish painting it the stereotypical Barn Red, but it was fully functional. It was with overflowing enthusiasm and thanksgiving that I quickly regained my sanity, my husband reclaimed his weekends, and my goats frolicked a little more gleefully around their pasture. Most importantly, my claim to be a farmer was slightly more legitimated by the fact that I now actually had a barn.
It’s been about two years since I first got my goats, so when I learned about the Yule Goat (or buck), I was intrigued. It appears that goats have been a part of Scandinavian Yule tradition longer than Christianity and have been incorporated into Christmas celebrations. Yule was basically — and still is with neo-pagans — a celebration of the winter solstice. Scholars think the Yule Goat (Jul Bukk or Jul Bock), may be a nod to Thor whose chariot is pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.
The Yul Bukk is also the last sheaf of grain from harvest. Imbued with magical properties, I suspect farmers looked at the Yul Bukk as being lucky. Having enough of a harvest to where having sheaths of grain in Scandinavian countries probably was lucky.
By the Christian era, the Yule Goat became the symbol of Christmas. Young people walked around caroling, playing pranks, and acting out plays that would often feature the Yule Goat. Singers would receive fruit, nuts and baked goods for their songs — presumably in bad times, it was a way for the needy to get food.
The Yule Goat occasionally showed up as an invisible critter who wanted to make sure that Christmas preparations were done properly. Over time, the Yule Goat morphed into a bundle of straw bound with red ribbons that stood in the shape of a goat. People put their Yule Goats on their tree or someplace where it can enjoy the festivities.
My goats seem oblivious of Christmas or the Yule Goat festivities. Even so, they are pranksters and would appreciate the lighthearted sentiment of the Yule Goat if they understood it. And while they’d rather eat the current Yule Goat than admire it, I think it’s only fitting that goats, the oldest of the domesticated farm animals be part of the winter celebrations.
To you and yours, have a Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, Merry Solstice, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, or whatever you celebrate, or don’t celebrate. And have a very safe and Happy New Year!
Living at 9.750’ in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains means that encounters with wild life are going to occur on occasion. As we humans spill over into their habitat it is important that we live in harmony with wild animals. When you reside in their habitat there will be encounters and how you handle those encounters is important. We have made a conscious effort to not disrupt their lifestyle but peacefully co-exist with them.
We have black bear, elk, deer, coyote, bobcat, lynx, grey wolf and mountain lion in our area. We have managed to live respectfully with all of them throughout our 16 years. In the process we have learned much about these animals and have had numerous encounters with them. We have been inches from bear and within 8 feet from a mountain lion and are still here to write about it. We have found that wildlife is generally respectful of our space and we in turn are respectful of theirs. Encounters are sometimes sudden and unexpected but by staying calm and not panicking we survive safely. We opened the back door once and standing there inches away, with only a thin pane of glass separating us, was a bear. By remaining calm and taking advantage of the bears surprise we closed the door, waited a few minutes and allowed the bear to depart. Most encounters have occurred just this suddenly and unexpectedly.
Understanding Wild Animal Behavior
We have found that wild animals are far more predictable and respectful than many people we know. Many of the stories we have been told and read are far different from what we have actually experienced. We are never careless around wild animals and do not encroach upon their territory. Most often wild animals go out of their way to avoid us. I hope no one interprets this to mean that wild animals are your friend because that is clearly not the case. They are wild animals and will do what wild animals do but if suddenly encountered and you keep your head and stay calm you will most likely walk away from the incident unscathed. Understanding what the animal is telling you by its behavior and body language is imperative to staying safe. A close encounter with a mountain lion where the cat was coiled on the ground, ears laid back and snarling was its way of telling us that we had invaded its safe zone. We slowly backed up and made no menacing gestures, remained calm (not always easy) and it finally bounded away much to our relief.
I hear people espousing how dangerous wild animals are and in fact they can be dangerous, but usually they only want to retreat to safety. Our numerous experiences reveal that if we are caught in a situation with a wild animal when we stay calm and be respectful of their space that most of the time the incident will favorably resolve itself. I would never suggest that when you encounter a wild animal that you try to get closer for a photo or better look. That is clearly inviting a potentially disastrous encounter.
Our personal experience is that when you encounter a potentially wild animal that you first and foremost remain calm and not make any aggressive or sudden moves that would threaten the animal. Quickly assess your situation and if possible slowly back away from the potential threat. If you choose to live in their habitat you will have encounters and it is how you handle those encounters that will largely determine the outcome.
Common Sense with Wild Animal Encounters
Not all people should be exposed to wild animals outside a zoo. Some seem to lack the common sense to handle the situation properly. A good example would be the time we were camping in Custer State Park where buffalo roam free. A totally wild buffalo was resting by the road when a car pulled up and out jumped two adults and two small children. The man directed the woman and children over to stand in front of the buffalo so he could take a photo. Then he directed the woman to put one child on the buffalo for a photo - which she refused to do. People with this approach to wild animals should not expose themselves to wild animals. They are tempting fate that potentially could end with disaster.
While bears are very curious, trying to get close to one in the wild would be a major mistake. I have witnessed them lift a large rock with one paw that I would have trouble moving with our tractor. They are tremendously strong and nothing to be trifled with. Equally careless would be jogging in a mountain lions habitat. They see something running and their prey drive kicks in and they pursue and attack. Even though we have mountain lions around we still see people jogging down our road with ear buds and music in their ears just inviting a potential attack.
When you live in predator habitat you need to constantly be aware of your surroundings and conduct yourself properly. When you do have an encounter, remain calm, check for an escape route and find a way to extricate yourself from the situation. If that is not possible look for a weapon to defend yourself. We once had to back away slowly from a persistent bear and circle about a mile around to make sure we stayed safe. If you have dogs it is best to have them well trained so they will not show aggressive behavior toward a wild animal. A small dog or any dog that barks incessantly or challenges another animal will certainly pose no threat to a bear or large cat but in fact may provoke the wild animal. Dogs running off leash need to come when called as they are no match for a bear or cat. Coyotes tend to lure them off into ambush. The most important part of an encounter is to stay calm and not panic. We have walked away from many encounters simply by following the above suggestions.
Photo by dreamstime.com.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to blog about bees and beekeeping! I must confess, I’ve never blogged before, but it should be fun telling you about the wonderful world of the honeybee. I’m very enthusiastic about these little ladies and, as you get to know me, you’ll understand why. But here’s a little bit of past history:
Here in the original Down East they call me “The Bee Lady,” but you might call me the “accidental beekeeper,” because I had no intention of becoming so involved with these sweet golden buzzers — I was a gardener first and foremost but found when I moved here from New Jersey, by way of the Turks and Caicos Islands (that’s a story for another time) there were no pollinators for my squash! The sad little squashettes were just withering on the vine! The thought of hand-pollinating gave me shivers, so I figured, “What the heck. Get a couple of hives.” Well, let me tell you, these little girls are addictive! Once you take a peek into the workings of a hive, you’re hooked.
Bees and beekeeping have become my Crusade, and it is on that note I hope to seduce you into the world of the honeybee. To pique your curiosity about these lovely ladies, let me give you a few honeybee facts:
Did you know that honeybees are not native to the US? English colonists brought German bees, or "dark bees," to the New World in 1621. And in colonial NC taxes could be paid using beeswax!
The average colony contains between 30,000 and 60,000 bees: one queen, a few hundred drones, and the rest workers. While a queen can live as long as 5 years, a worker bee will work herself to death in 45 days. She can fly as far as 3 miles and at speeds up to 15 mph (a 4-minute mile!). In her lifetime, the average honeybee visits at least 650 flowers and produces only ½ tsp of honey! So, if you dip honey with a spoon and don’t lick the spoon, some poor honeybee’s lifetime production is for naught!
You should know, too, that honey is one of the safest foods in the marketplace. It has many qualities that resist or reduce bacterial contamination. It is very important to never refrigerate honey! It will crystallize and you’ll think it’s gone bad (it hasn’t. . .you can restore it by placing the jar in a pot of hot water for a couple of minutes—or better yet, just put it on your dashboard in the sun for a day). The best way to store honey for a period of less than a year is at room temperature. For longer periods (who has honey for more than a year?), freeze it.
As for pollination, did you know that it takes 12-18 honeybee visits to a cucumber blossom during a 15-hr period to produce a well-shaped cucumber? I gotta tell you, these girls have their work cut out for them!
So far I’ve given you the good news. But you all know there’s bad news, too. Honeybees—and all pollinators—are having a dickens of a time lately. Losses of thirty percent are not uncommon and I—for the first time in many years—lost hives over this past winter and then had trouble re-queening this spring!
The possible reasons are many and I plan to cover all the possibilities in future blogs. But to sum up, beekeeping is a fascinating hobby, and we need more beekeepers if we plan on keeping the world in good nutritious food. I hope this bit of trivia has whetted your appetite to know more about our honeybees and maybe start keeping your own hives! If that’s the direction you’re going, I’ll be happy to help you along the way. And if you’re just here to help the honeybee, Welcome! We all need to work together. Hope we get to bee good friends.