For thousands of years, pigs have been the quintessential biological recyclers, foragers, and grazers. They love to eat almost anything they have access to on pasture: grass, clover, plant roots, broad leaf plants, and even thistles. They do, however, do best when they have access to additional protein, specifically lysine, which they need in order to be truly healthy and happy.
In modern CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations), lysine comes from soybeans that are roasted, ground, and incorporated into their feed but for small homesteader pig operations the best source of cheap, clean, lysine is often outdated milk products. Outdated milk is an especially good alternative to soy-based feeds for farmers who want to avoid feeding GMO’s to their herd. While verifiably non-GMO feeds are often expensive and hard to find, outdated milk is available for free in virtually every town in the country.
In the United States, somewhere in the range of 1 percent to 2 percent of all bottled milk goes out of date before it is sold. This usually occurs while the milk is sitting on the shelf at the store and the milk distributor typically has an agreement with the store to pick up and dispose of any milk that is not sold before it goes out of date. Once it is picked up, it is then returned to the central milk distribution facility where it is disposed of. This is a real blessing for the small-time pork producer wanting to take advantage of old waste milk because this means that the milk distributor is gathering all of the milk into one place for easy pick up. It would probably not be cost-effective for the farmer to drive from convenience store to grocery store to supermarket all day long, just picking up one or two gallons at each location but, with the way the current system works, the milk can usually all be picked up in one central location.
Not far from where I live in rural Virginia there’s one milk distributor that collects about 100 gallons of milk from the stores it services every business day! And that’s just one brand of milk. A quick Google Maps “search nearby” of your town for keywords like “dairy” or “milk” will usually pull up a long list of potential sources. Keep in mind that disposing of the milk is costly for the milk company so if you can convince the folks in charge of that particular distribution point to give you a chance they will be grateful for you and your pigs in the long run.
By far the most critical part of taking advantage of this would-be wasted milk is building a good relationship with the manager of the distribution facility. Be completely straightforward about why you want the old milk and make sure that you offer to bring a pack or two of sausage by from time to time. Usually the biggest concern that the dairy company will have is that they get all of their reusable milk crates back in good condition. Don’t bring them back smelling like pig manure!
When done right, you can reduce your feed costs by up to 75 percent - even after taking your fuel costs into account. The time you spend pouring the gallons, ½ gallons, quarts, and pints out into troughs for your pigs will not be insignificant, but it’s time well spent. If you feed them enough milk you won’t have to feed them any grain at all (as long as you manage your pigs well in a pasture-based rotational gazing system). Pigs will happily drink fresh un-curdled milk but you may find that it’s worth your time to “age” your milk in barrels for a few days before feeding it out. This will help the pigs digest it more efficiently.
David Maren is a husband, father, farmer, and co-founder of Tendergrass Farms. Tendergrass Farms is a cooperative-style online grass fed meats shop that exists as a bridge between the often geographically isolated family farmer and committed grass fed meats enthusiasts like yourself. The Tendergrass Farms vision is to sustain family farms through making it easy for you to purchase their meats by taking advantage of appropriate technology and ultra-efficient transportation models that enable their meats to be shipped to fans all around the USA.
If you’re not already a huge fan of Tendergrass Farms, you’re missing out: Go bookmark their site, like their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter, and check out their blog!
My yard is being claimed by colonies of miniscule creatures. Fire ants make gardening and even simply walking in my yard miserable. They are more than just a minor annoyance, however. Each year, Americans pay 6 billion dollars for skin treatments, hospital bills, fire ant killers and property damage. Not to mention, many small pets are even killed from the venom.
In spite of the amount of money spent on getting rid of fire ants, their presence continues to grow tremendously each year. They have already spread into 15 southern states from as far north as Virginia all the way to California. Even in my own backyard I could easily notice the difference. This year the nests are bigger and more densely populated than ever. If I don't find a solution soon, my backyard will become completely unusable.
So why can we not control these insects? Part of the answer lies in where they came from and part of it lies in their survival instincts. The more we can understand these creatures, the better chance we have to reclaim our property.
Fire ants were originally only in Brazil until they were accidentally brought to the US in the 1930s. Unlike in Brazil, there are very few natural predators to keep the fire ants in check in the United States. Only to make things worse, many fire ant killers are not specific to fire ants and often kill off the few natural predators that the fire ants have making the problem worse in the long run. I’m fortunate to have my chickens that help a bit, getting rid of a couple fire ants here and there, but still they could never take out a whole colony when they had a whole backyard to explore.
In addition to having few natural predators, the ants have a colony formation that makes them almost invincible. The mounds we see are only a small portion of the real nest. In my yard, the fire ant mounds vary greatly in size- from a little lump to a foot-high mountain of sandy material. If all the ants were above ground, that would make getting rid of them a lot easier, but unfortunately, more than 2/3 of the mound is deep underground. The queens (There can be up to 2 or 3 in one colony—with some variants having over 200) are the only female fire ants in a colony that can reproduce. These egg-making machines are the most protected fire ants in the colony and lie nestled deep below ground around 20 feet away from the rest of the nest. Therefore, entire colonies prove nearly impossible to reach with poison under any circumstance unless you're planning on digging up your entire backyard 10 feet deep and covering it an effective ant killer. Not practical!
Since most of the fire ant colony is actually underground, using pesticide on visible mounds only affects part of the actual colony. While it may seem a partial victory, killing the fire ants in part of the nest can actually make the problem worse. When a fire ant is killed, a signal is sent out to the queen and then she begins to produce even more fire ants to make up for the lost population. Before I was knowledgeable about fire ants, I had drenched nests with boiling water. This seemed to be somewhat effective because it would kill piles of fire ants. Now I'm practically kicking myself for doing this, since I was sending the queen’s egg production into overdrive.
Since direct killing of fire ants, using either toxic or non-toxic means seems impossible, we need to find a way to deliver the poison to the queens. Perhaps a poison-laced tasty treat the other ants carry right to her—let the ants do the work.
Several commercially available fire ant baits use Spinosad as an active ingredient. Spinosad is created by fermentation and approved for use in organic gardens. Unfortunately, it is not specific to fire ants and will also kill off their natural predators. That’s where bait comes in. The goal of the bait is to attract fire ants while limiting intake of their natural predators and other living things.
Although some fire ant killers are often proven to be effective to attract and kill fire ants, the queens can sense even the smallest vibration created from footfalls as well as when the bait placed on the mound. So if the bait is not light enough, they will not accept it.
I struggled with the decision to use one of the commercial baits, but this spring brought buckets of rain. After long nights of heavy rain, I would come out the nest morning to find enormous nests built where there had been nothing before. The fast growth of the nests continues to baffle me. Even though there are so many ants, it seems unreasonable that they could have even created something so large in so little time. I now realize that in that hard packed clay soil, it certainly would take much longer to build a nest of that size when it was dry. My fire ant problem was out of hand.
I finally broke down and bought a spinosad containing organic fire ant bait. Spreading it on all the nests I could find, I checked on them each day but the nests remained very alive. The white crumbs remained on top of the nest and the ants appeared disinterested. After a couple weeks passed by, I realized that it was of course, too good to be true and worked close to nothing. It was a frustrating failure as there were many good reviews on this particular bait. One possible reason it may not have worked is that the oils in the bait had gone rancid. I guess even fire ants have their standards!
While at a store, I found an organic fire ant killer that appeared to be very similar to the type I had experimented with just weeks before. It looked like big white crumbs and contained spinosad as the active pesticide. I was hesitant, but everyone in the store assured me that it worked, so of course as desperate as I was, I purchased it. According to the instructions, I spread it over every nest I could find. My backyard looked covered with tons of big white mounds, not exactly the prettiest thing, but to be honest, I'd easily sacrifice the looks of my backyard for a while to get rid of fire ants. At least the white crumbles made it easier to see and avoid the nests.
Minutes after I placed down the new bait, the insects swarmed around the food in a frenzy of fire ants.
To be continued ...
I am a young farmer and photographer committed to growing food organically and protecting the environment.
I am one of those few people who had never purchased a lottery ticket. That is until recently so I would have an actual ticket to photograph and use with this article. I have no hope of winning anything but at least now I can say I’ve purchased a lottery ticket. Like most people I sometimes dream of having an abundance of money and what I would do with it. While dreaming is fun actually I am already happy and cherish what I have and my lifestyle. A large chunk of money would not tempt me to change anything as I feel I am already rich in those things I experience every day. Sometimes riches come in forms that do not have dollar signs attached to them. Before readers think that I am crazy, let me explain.
Living on a mountain where the air is clean, the water is pure and the sights are spectacular we are already surrounded by riches. We are visited frequently by assorted species of wildlife from the predator size to the small type that scamper around. Our well water is abundant and delicious. We don’t filter or treat our water since it comes from a depth of 215’ below the surface of the ground and has already gone through a natural filtration system. It has no impurities in it and tastes like pure water should. Our well driller, a geologist, informed us he could have provided us water at 145 feet but instead went deeper to tap into an aquifer that runs the length of our mountain where truly pure water comes from. We are extremely glad he made the extra effort to seek the best water for us. Having lived in places in the past where our water was cloudy, had a smell, or sometimes had sediment in it we really appreciate crystal clear non odoriferous water directly from the depths of the earth.
We have clean air to breathe which seems to be getting more and more rare now days. At 9,750 feet elevation we enjoy fresh air all the time. When we go outside and take a deep breath we are not inhaling vehicle exhaust, factory smells, street smells or the other various smells usually associated with city living. Having grown up a few blocks from a drop forge I am well acquainted with the noise and smells associated with industrial endeavors. Having previously lived in other cities across the country I vividly recall the smells and noises that I once wrongfully assumed were normal. It took significant adjustment when we moved to the mountains because when the birds stop singing and go to roost at night it is SILENT. I certainly don’t want to offend those who live in cities either by choice or by chance but there is a certain pureness to living in the mountains that can’t quite be equaled. Of course living in the mountains means we lack the amenities found in a city however we are willing to for go those for quiet peaceful living. It has been our observation that people like to visit the mountains on weekends for the freshness of the air and the primitive desire to get back to nature. Here in Colorado we have plenty of National and State parks that facilitate frequent visits and rejuvenate yourself.
Unfortunately we have found that mountain living can’t last forever due to aging and the strenuous lifestyle required living full time in a semi remote area. Living as we do is clearly not an easy lifestyle. Cutting, splitting 9-11 cords of firewood a year, shoveling snow throughout the winter, always walking on an incline, heating with a wood stove and a host of other tasks that keep us healthy and fit also ultimately take a toll on feet, knees and hips. We are therefore presently going through the 10 step process to sell our homestead and move to a less demanding area. When we built our home and moved here we failed to take into account the aging process and joints slowly wearing out. We are presently cleaning out ‘stuff’ that we have accumulated in the last 16 years to throw away or give away. We believe that it is time for someone else to enjoy our paradise and we will take fond and happy memories with us where ever we go as we seek to establish a new homestead.
So would winning the lottery and having an abundance of money make us more happy? I actually don’t think so. Instead I believe that would require that we change our lifestyle and give us an additional burden of using it wisely. So like millions of other American’s we can derive some happiness from dreaming of riches but still knowing all the while we have an excellent lifestyle and wealth beyond measure. Happiness can’t always be measured with financial wealth. Those who live similar to our lifestyle know exactly what I am talking about. So I may buy a lottery ticket again just to dream of riches but knowing all the time that I have true wealth that can‘t be measured in dollars. I have to admit that dreaming of mega bucks is a lot of fun though and I’m sure most non winners like myself would agree.
It was me versus the greasy white lump at the bottom of the jar, and the greasy white lump was winning. Armed with only a spoon, I hacked away at the coconut oil, carving shreds off of its stubborn surface. If an intruder had broken into the house at that moment and grabbed me, I would have slid out of their grip like an eel.
Despite that, making your own skincare products has its perks, like comfort in your self-sufficiency, the knowledge that no evil things like sulfates or dimethicone have sneaked into the things you’re putting on your face, and the freedom to customize.
Grandmothers, read no further: Like I wrote about a few months ago, I’m making skincare products for my grandmothers — this time for Mother’s Day. Instead of hard lotion bars, I made “Key Lime” body cream, although this was a less original idea: I didn’t make up the recipe as I went along, but took it from elsewhere, the only difference being that I quadrupled the recipe.
Into our mixer went not only two whopping cups of hard-won coconut oil, but olive oil, aloe vera gel (which was extremely hard to find), and lemon and lime essential oils. Then I attached the wire whisk and set the mixer on its highest setting.
I took a moment to clean the kitchen, and when I returned to check on my concoction, it already looked different. Instead of being disparate lumps of this and that, it resembled whipped cream (the edible kind), with a slight greenish tinge. Fascinated, I pressed my face up close to the mixer, watching as the whisk beat air outward like a fan. When I had added the essential oils they had smelled like — well — lemon and lime essential oil, but they blended into a mild, pleasing scent that did remind me of Key lime pie.
According to the recipe, I was supposed to whip my body cream for three to seven minutes. I found about five to be enough. When the cream was suitably fluffy, I then had the challenge of manhandling it into the glass jars we had bought for the occasion. This proved somewhat catastrophic — I was greased almost up to my elbows — but it was worth it to know that I had made the contents of the six slippery glass jars sitting on the counter.
Now I am the proud creator of six glass jars of fluffy Key Lime body cream, five of which shall be given away around Mother’s Day. If you’d like to give body cream to your loved ones for a holiday, here is the recipe.
Key Lime Pie Body Cream
Please note: my mother stored this recipe away on her computer but does not remember where she originally got it from. We don’t know where she got it from, but please understand that we don’t own this recipe. Makes about 1 cup of cream.
1 cup coconut oil
1 T olive oil
2 T aloe vera gel
20 drops lime essential oil
20 drops lemon essential oil
Place all ingredients in a mixer, using a wire attachment. Don’t melt the coconut oil or it won’t whip properly. Any other kitchen tool, such as a blender, will not whip the mixture.
Turn the mixer on its highest setting for 3-7 minutes. When the cream is fluffy enough, store it in glass jars.
The term, egg miles, is simply how far an egg has to travel from a laying hen to your table. Another way of expressing egg miles is from “point of lay” to “point of consumption”.
Knowing how far your eggs travel is a useful and environmentally meaningful indicator. You could think of this distance as indicitative of an egg’s carbon footprint. Egg miles help you estimate the associated energy requirements needed for production, packaging, refrigeration and transport of the eggs you eat. The attached diagram helps visualize egg miles in various egg sheds systems.
Egg miles are easy to calculate.
• Family flocks are the easiest egg miles to calculate. Just measure the distance from your coop —to your kitchen — usually in yards (excuse the pun).
• Local producers put their address, and phone number, are on a label attached to an egg carton (often recycled). Use your GPS or Google maps to estimate the distance from the producer’s address to your point of purchase, and then add on the distance from your purchase site to your home.
Click here to see an enlarged version of this chart.
• Commercial egg producers rarely print an address or phone number on their egg cartons. Commercial egg cartons usually have: ”Produced and distributed by XYZ Egg Farm(s)” with the city and state listed. Go on the Internet to find their street address. Calculate the distance from the egg farm to your point of purchase, and then to your home. This will give you a semi-accurate egg miles estimate.
• Factory egg farms are more challenging to estimate the egg miles. Their (always new) egg cartons list the location of the distribution/packing facility, not necessarily the producer. What will be listed are one, or more, packing license numbers, often for multiple states. For example, Simple Truth™ eggs are distributed by a major grocery chain and lists packers/distributors from Texas and Indiana.
To estimate the egg miles for factory farm eggs, get the packer/distributor’s phone number by contacting the state licensing board. Once you have this number, call the packer/distributor and give them the code printed on the carton end (usually aligned with the “best used by” date). The packer/distributor might tell you the location of where the hens laid the eggs. But chances are high they will tell you this is proprietary information — so the closest address you end up with is the packer/distributor, and not the point of lay.
Now do the math. Starting at the laying hen location, go to Google Maps, or your GPS and plug in the addresses and get the mileages from and to:
• The producers (point of lay) to the packers (point of carton),
• The packers to the distributors (point of filling cartons)
• The distributors to your grocery (point of purchase), and
• Your grocery (point of purchase) to your home (point of consumption).
That total mileage will give you the factory farm egg shed miles to your table.
Knowing the egg miles, and the source of the eggs you consume, gives you (and us as a culture) insights about the sources, distances, production models and energy requirements in bringing eggs to your table.
It’s possible to do a similar exercise for other food sheds, for example a pork shed or tomato shed. All food has carbon footprints. An Egg’s carbon footprint is especially useful to know because it contains some of the most highly nutritious, easily digestible forms of protein in the world. The less distance eggs travel in your egg shed, the lower is both your — and the egg’s — carbon footprint. Eggs, especially local ones, can be environmentally friendly protein.
Eggs and hope spring eternal!
May the flock be with you!
There are as many books about gardening as anyone could ever want, still I have yet to read one on how to deal with the homesteaders' weak nerves. There's no hiding it anymore – I'm a nervous-souled gardener. Some days I even find myself wishing, in secrecy, that the whole season would be over only so I'd know everything went all right. The spring is so full of promises – promises about sun ripe tomatoes, juicy strawberries, wonderful flower arrangements and sweet, sweet carrots. But so many obstacles lies between now and then – not until the harvest is secure in our cellar, in jars, boxes and on shelves will I know I outsmarted the slugs, kept ahead of the weeds and timed my actions with the sun, the rain and the frosts. If I take it too seriously? Oh, yes, but I believe I have reasons to. Our organic gardens grow our food for the whole year, saving us from having to earn the food money elsewhere. Our economy, and our life, is closely tided to a successful garden.
My lack of experience is definitely a key factor for my fretting. A while back I planted several beds of carrots and it took almost a month for them to sprout – meanwhile I went from hope to despair to hope. Could it really be that all the seeds were bad? The cold April? Was it too dry, had I planted the seeds to deep, fried them in my generous doling of compost? Anyone with more than 4 years of doing this would know to wait patiently and it would all be all right.
My high ambitions might be what keeps me going – I want every garden year to be the best, across the whole range of crops – but they certainly also keep me on my toes. Sometimes people say things like “Oh my God, look at your Brussels Sprouts!” and I'm thinking “of course they look like that since I spent a full day hauling manure and turn it in, another day spreading seaweed, several mornings of being up at 4:30 am picking slugs and at least three nights awake wondering when to cut the tops.”
There are so many decisions to make – when to start the tomato seeds, how many plants to grow, when to plant them outside and where to put them. And why do they have to wrinkled leaves, don't they seem a bit yellow, what if it rains the whole last part of May and did we really have a cold enough winter to kill off the bugs? The thoughts are rolling in my mind, over and over. In my mind I see my old neighbor at our summer house in Sweden, the only farmer left in the village. How he walked the fields just as like generations before him walked the fields, looking at the sky and the hay drying on the racks. Isn't that what they say; that for a farmer it's always too warm or too cold, too wet or too dry?
But maybe, at the end of the day, I am just a person with weak nerves doing something that depends on so many unknown factors – the weather, the bug population, the quality of seeds and some plain ol' luck. Perhaps I can settle one day; I'll have the experience, I can better balance my ambitions and I'll have grown stronger nerves. Perhaps I'll have to eat lfewer carrots that year but still might get as many beets. I know you can have a wonderful garden with half the ambitions, none of the worries and all of the sleep. I just need to learn how to cultivate that.
Anneli blogs for MOTHER EARTH NEWS about her insights and ideas from a handmade, DIY-everything homestead and hostel on Deer Isle, Maine.
Photo by Fotolia/Xalanx
It’s been a one-step forward, two-steps back, kind of week here on the farm. The electric poultry fence gave us fits for most of the week. Actually, it gave me fits; everyone else handled the shorts, shocks, and the process of working out the bugs just fine. So far, Will’s been shocked by the fence, our neighbor has been shocked by it, our dog Sirius has been shocked by it twice, and I’ve been shocked four times, though it was only the last one that was strong enough to make me yell out loud. But the fence works at last. Good, time to move on.
But not so fast. A hawk started hanging around within two days of our free-ranging the chickens in the pasture. I was looking out our second floor back window, wondering why all the chickens were in their tractors — save Little Red Hen, who is a bit of a loner anyway — when the phone rang. It was my neighbor, who was shocked by our shorted-out fence just the day before. “Do you see the hawk in the tree back there?” I couldn’t. “Walk back behind the fence where the chickens are, on the path. You’ll scare him away if you get close enough.”
I carried the phone with me as I walked. “He’s really beautiful,” my neighbor said, with admiration in his voice. Suddenly, big black wings appeared before me as the hawk took off from the top of a tree about 20 feet ahead. “That’s him!” my neighbor confirmed through the phone. The hawk flew a fair distance and settled in the branches of one of our towering Douglass Firs. It really was a magnificent bird.
Back at the chicken ranch, three hens braved the outdoors and were happily dust bathing in the dirt when I returned. These, too, are magnificent birds, so full of energy, spunk, and personality.
Sweet Pea, the Buff Orphington with very little neck, who has always been the hen to greet me, allow me to pet her, and makes a special “heeeellllllloooooo” sound in my presence, now attempts to follow my every step as I get fresh water and feed for the chickens. She wants to follow me right out of the fence and into the house, it seems, so she can be with her flock, the people.
There’s Little Roo, our rooster without tail feathers thanks to the larger rooster, Cecil. Both the same age, it’s a blessing that Little Roo is smaller, and thus less inclined to fight to the death for dominance in this small flock of fifteen chickens. He struts about, a truncated version of his former self, but is still very much alive and seemingly happy about it.
Then there’s Miss Peggie, the Light Brahma, who sports a black ring of plumage around her neck on an otherwise white body, with white feathers on her feet. She’s our fanciest chicken, named after my fancy friend, Miss Peggie, who was the Pecan Queen of Brenham, Texas, or “the Queen of the nuts,” as her father affectionately called her. Ironically enough, Miss Peggie the chicken may end up eating her fair share of acorns from our White Oaks (see my post on acorns), which would make her a "Queen of the nuts" in her own right.
I could go on, as could any small-scale chicken-keeper about her birds. But the point is this: no matter how magnificent the hawk, we had no choice but to commence with Operation Save Our Chickens.
The chickens did not like being on lock down one bit after the appearance of the hawk, now that they had a taste of the great outdoors. Sweet Pea rushed me at the door of the chicken tractor not one, not two, but three times yesterday as I tried to change their feed. The last time I caught her by the feet, cutting my left index finger on her sharp toenail and leaving blood all about me. And while it could be my imagination, the tone of the chickens seemed angry -- squawky, accusing, hemmed in -- whenever the sun peeked out between Oregon downpours and yet they remained inside.
One week after moving our chickens, there now stands a chicken “duck and cover” shelter for them to dive under in the event of a hawk attack. It’s not perfect as a strategy, and the hawk may still get a chicken or two. But these magnificent birds crave a greater measure of freedom than they have in their chicken tractors, and I aim to see that they get it.
Happiness and quality of life mean so much more than longevity, not only for chickens, but for us people as well. One of my favorite authors, Byron Katie, has a saying, "Don't be careful, you might get hurt." That's not to say that I don't have my moments of wanting to keep these chickens, and all my loved ones, tucked away inside somewhere, under lock and key. In the end, though, we are to choose sunshine, freedom, and the way of things for all the magnificent birds in our lives, including ourselves.