Jordan takes time to give Raspberry a scratch.
Listen to this post! Audio is available from the Jo of the Woods Podcast.
The move to a piece of rough and rugged bush land to develop a homestead for myself and my son was a big undertaking. (Read my first installment for how we came about finding our land.) I had no money to speak of, and no experience to depend on, but I fully believed that this was the right thing to do. I asked God how I should live and was given the word “simply”. That is how this journey began.
When we look at how long humans have been on this planet and compare it to how long electricity and gas engines have been around, we are forced to recognize that the majority of humans have gotten along just fine without them.
I have now been living without electricity for 20 years, and the most popular response is, “I don’t think I could do it.” But I’m hardly a pioneer. When I need something, I jump in my vehicle and drive to the hardware store — and in a moment of weakness, I might grab a coffee and a cheeseburger along the way. I am a far cry from living off the land, but that is my destination. I want to not only learn how to survive, but how to live well. I am getting there by taking one small step at a time.
Clearing the Land with Pigs
The first step was clearing the land. This was accomplished by a combination of me with a set of brush-cutters, men with chainsaws, and pigs. Pigs are natural roto-tillers. Unlike cows or goats that compress the land under their feet, pigs will dig up and loosen the top foot of soil and remove tough roots.
I remember our first pig, whom my four-year-old son Jordan, named Raspberry. I put Raspberry in her new pen and brought her a big pan of clean water. She walked a couple of feet away, picked up a piece of dirty old root, dropped it in the pan, and looked up at me as if to say, “I am a pig. Thanks for the clean water, but I enjoy mine with a bit of mud.”
To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with pigs. At feeding time, they make a heck of a lot of noise. Pigs also require solid fencing. Failure to do so will end in mayhem. Pigs are smart and useful, but they are always busy looking for more food and, if possible, adventure. They are perfect for digging up tough root systems and undesirable plants. They will also tear apart your lovely flower gardens or turn over the neighbour’s front yard, if given the opportunity.
Fencing Challenges with Pigs
I have used a variety of types of fencing to contain my pigs: log fencing, page-wire fencing, and solar-electric lines. Their long, fat, sausage-shaped bodies limit their agility, so they don’t tend to climb fences but they will certainly attempt to borough underneath.
I learned the hard way (as usual) that electric fencing cannot be used along a stone ridge. The pigs must be grounded in order to experience the electric shock that keeps them within the boundaries. If they are standing on rock, the fence line is nothing more than a bit of string. Once they know they can run through it, it will be a challenge keeping them in.
Our pigs cleared tough land enabling us to establish gardens.
Transporting Pigs to Slaughter
The many pigs we have had over the years resulted in some great stories, many hours of fun for Jordan (who attempted to ride a few of them), nice, loose, rich soil, and pork chops for friends with freezers. Some of my pigs have been harvested on my property and some have been driven to slaughter houses.
I once drove three pigs that were 150 to 225 pounds each to my buddy’s butcher shop in the back of my small pick-up truck. I didn’t have a ramp, so I walked them down the road where a small hill had been cut into. I counted on them being hungry to make this plan work. I forgot about the neighbour’s dog, chained to a tree, along the way. After eating his dog food, they happily followed me with their food bowl into the back of the truck.
I had put together a simple barricade with 2-by-2s to keep them in. The simple frame-work was just a visual boundary line. I wasn’t attempting to keep them in with solid construction; I was depending on prayer and trust. It would be fun. Why on earth would they want to jump out?
They had plenty of food and straw in the truck bed, and I continually shouted encouraging words through the open window. They seemed to enjoy the 45-minute ride. The scene in my rear-view mirror changed every 15 minutes. First it was three happy faces, then the broad-side of a fat pink body, then three wagging, curly tails.
As I pulled into the yard, my buddy came out, shaking his head in disbelief. He recounted a story of a customer attempting to deliver pigs under the canopy of a fibreglass truck box cover. Upset pigs are a nightmare.They bolted right through the fibreglass, and he was left trying to round up his injured and extremely distraught animals. Served him right. He had forgotten about the love part of the equation.
My pigs had considered their country drive as an exciting outing; they never felt threatened. The butcher shop building I parked beside was clean and empty, so taking them off the truck was without incident.
Raise Meat Animals with Love and Gratitude
On other occasions, when my pigs were processed on my property properly, they never felt fear. They even lined up for the baited food trough. If you are going to raise or hunt animals for food, do it with love and gratitude, and get the ugly part over with quickly; for you and for them. My pigs had a great life. The pigs that provide the pork in the grocery stores have a completely different story to tell.
Living off the land isn’t all roses and whippoorwills. If you raise animals for meat, you can at least make sure they have a great life while it lasts. I raise my animals in surroundings they enjoy and thank them for their lives upon the ending of it. The result from raising my own meat is that I eat much less meat. I know what’s involved — this is a good thing.
Life here in the back woods is an ongoing educational experience. I am always looking for ways to do things better. I look back to our forerunners, the natives and the pioneers. I am grateful to be able to combine their knowledge and skills with our many tools and conveniences. I thank my lucky stars for the era I am living in. For me, learning to live simply is a choice. Thank God, I have that choice.
Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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