We sent our two pigs off to freezer camp a week or so ago. We estimated them at roughly 350 lbs. each. As in the past, they will fill our bigger freezer with about 400 lbs of meat. At that stage of the game we are usually ready to see them go. While pigs are friendly, they are very strong and become a potential hazard to their handlers. I was having Zina take out a cattle prod with her to zap them away if they took to rubbing on her too hard.
We thought we would be done with pigs for the winter, anticipating more arrivals next spring. That would make WAY too much sense and be WAY too logical for us! A break? We don’t need no stinkin’ break!!
We had done some searching for information on pigs that don’t grow to be such massive bull dozers. There are Kunekune’s, Potbellies, miniatures, etc. On a random You Tube video we ran across American Guinea Hogs. I did some research and discovered that they were once the most common homestead pig in the South East but due to agricultural changes, moving to large scale production, they had gone almost extinct. In recent decades they have made something of a come back. They are slower growing than conventional breeds and have a bit more marbled meat. Our traditional hogs were always very lean, and in this climate made the meat a bit dry. They also don’t get as big as a typical pig. They are very docile and make very good parents. Even the boars are easier to be around. They are unique in that they aren’t big grain eaters. They like grass, alfalfa and all the table scraps one can muster. For minerals, they get a little bit of pig feed, but mostly they will roam around grazing.
So last weekend I checked into the American Guinea Hog Association and actually found a breeder here in Colorado. She indicated that she had some piglets so we decided to take the plunge. It was one of the more unusual trips to pick up livestock. They are a retired military couple living at 9000 feet way back in the hills west of Colorado Springs (About a three hour drive).
We picked up a registered female (Who we have named Petunia) and two little boys. They are 6 weeks old and are about 5 lbs a piece. They will reach breeding age at around 6 months. Gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. So it will be about a year before we have actual bacon seeds from Petunia.
So once more into the abyss. Our thinking was that if we bred our own, we could eliminate the roughly $300.00 a year just to acquire new piglets, save some money on the ton of organic feed we had to buy every year, and have a breeding pair should the African Swine Fever that is currently decimating the Asian hog population find it’s way to the U.S., which seems inevitable.
New pets, new pigs, crazy farmers, wouldn’t trade it. In fact, the trip out there to pick them up, which took me through rush hour and the city, reminded me of how high my constant base line stress levels were when I was still working. No wonder my blood pressure has come down. I was so happy to get back home. At least with farm animals you know where you stand. People, I find, not so much. Donovan is honking as I finish writing this: “Get off your butt and come feed us!” Predictable, and peaceful. Gotta go milk as well.
So we are at the end of week three of our farm stress test. The goal of which to assess how both the farm itself and it’s inhabitants could manage should an LCE (Life Changing Event) require us to sequester ourselves here. I am happy to see that most of it has been positive; however, because this has caused us to look critically at the whole system, it has revealed some issues that need to be addressed.
The Off-Grid Infrastructure:
I see little issue with our off grid systems so far. We are on a well and that will be supplemented with water catchment and diversion systems. We have several water filtration techniques so unless we see both the well dry up and have a massive prolonged drought (which could certainly happen – we live in the western end of what was engulfed by the dust bowl) we are as good as we can get at this point. We need to add some more water tanks, but we already knew that. Our septic system has been checked out and is running as it should. We are contemplating a composting toilet system as well. The solar electric system continues to amaze. Should the grid fail, I don’t see much of a problem. Should the solar system fail, we also have a dual fuel generator to back that up and it is even more powerful than the panels. A weaker point has to do with heat and hot water. We are completely dependent upon propane. While there is no shortage of the stuff, it will not be getting any cheaper. I find it frustrating to no end to have to depend on a guy with a truck who may or may not get to us during an LCE. I would like to see us install a solar hot water system and a wood stove. While this wouldn’t eliminate our propane needs, it would drastically reduce it to the point where we’d be able to manage. We have multiple ways to cook, including solar. We know that if the grid goes down our electric range and oven will not function unless hooked to a generator (which can be done) but other than the oven (which would be replaced by our solar oven), we can do anything the stove can do via alternative means. Transportation would need to be drastically curtailed due to fuel scarcities and costs. I will not be getting a horse and wagon. I do too much already.
Off farm emergencies:
Well folks, you’d be on your own. Ironically, as I posted previously, we had the perfect storm of events that tested this issue. What a fiasco. Our farm hand had surgery, Zina had to leave town and I sprained my hip and could barely walk. It was touch and go as to whether or not the chores could get done. Had it been as serious as my back two years ago, this would have been an epic failure. This turn of events has spurred me on to really get a community together. We have a few folks that we can share tasks with now and I hope to expand that. You feed my goats, I’ll hay your horses, etc. However, in an LCE, if you can get here just don’t show up unannounced, we likely would do anything possible to not have to leave in the first place.
Our food storage and our ability to grow food made this a solid foundation for us. So far this has been a no brainer. Between purchased dry goods, freeze dried and dehydrated food storage, vacuum sealed and bucketed items, canned and jarred preservation and pre-made meals, we could survive for a very long time. That, and knowing how to cook creatively and on a multiple of different sources, is a skill set to be valued. As long as we have our chickens, breakfast is made for us daily, thus taking some of the burden off of our pantry. BUT! That leads us to another discovery that will be leading us to a more in depth plan of action.
Food For Our Food:
If you have only been watching the corporate infotainment channels, you are likely pretty uninformed. Those corporate mind numbing displays of faux news have likely not let you know that we are on the cusp of some pretty serious food shortages and price increases due to the massive flooding this past spring and the freak freezes of the past month. This is likely to continue. If you think food prices have gone up a lot lately, hold on to your shorts. Between grain shortages and a massive swine fever in Asia that has destroyed close to half a billion hogs, this is going to get interesting to say the least.
If we can keep growing our own vegetables and greens, and as long as we can raise our own meat, eggs and dairy, we are in good shape. But that, itself, has a weak link too. We are incapable of growing the feed needed to keep breakfast miraculously appearing every day. While we won’t be fighting the insane citiot crowds at the grocery stores, hay and critter feed are the same sort of weak link as depending on the propane dude to bring us highly pressurized, explosive gas. We don’t have haying equipment and simply can’t afford it. A stout system to hay out our back 30 acres would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000.00. So we need to constantly be on the look out for sources of Alfalfa/Grass bales. Secondly, we can’t grow enough grain in diversified enough quantities to feed our turkeys and chickens year round. There are ways to make or purchase cheaper feed , but currently we feed all organic and that isn’t always easy to find. We are going to be switching to a new breed of pig that can be raised mostly on hay, which will bring down our feed costs, and we do have ways to mix our own chicken feed from bulk purchases, so we do have some alternatives. However, just as we rotate our food pantry to continually cycle the older food and replace it with newer, we need to do that with feed. We also need to fence in an additional pasture so we can take advantage of the grass we do have without having to bale it. We will be spending a tidy sum here to get about 6 months of poultry and hog feed stored and then rotate through it (Grains that have been milled and mixed have about a 6-8 month shelf life). From there, we will simply start at one end and back fill to replenish as we go. Because hay is a local search and we are prone to drought, not only will we keep the barn stocked, as you can see in the photo above, we will be stacking it and tarping it under the barn awning as well. If kept dry, hay can last about 3 years. This should help keep the eggs, meat and cheese flowing. Lastly, I need to do a better job of seed saving. I do some, but I need to be more diligent at it. Plants adapt to their environment over time and that gets passed on to through their seeds. That is important out here given the poor soil quality and hard water. Lastly, we are an hour away by vehicle, to the nearest hospital. We have ample first aid supplies, but I’m thinking that some improved herbal knowledge couldn’t hurt.
So this experiment has been fun. It has let us play the SHTF game, do some thought experiments, experience some of it in real time, and map strategy going forward. I would highly recommend that you give it a try in your own world. It can be an eye opener. I hope this also gives you some ideas as to what we could be facing and help you to develop some sort of plan of action. Don’t work panicked, work smart. The 7 year anniversary of purchasing this place happens in three weeks. It takes time. Do the best with what you have. To quote a friend: “It’s one Step at a time, one Thing at a time one Day at a time (STD), just don’t procrastinate.
I did a solar and battery back up total grid shut down test yesterday. Passed with flying colors. The panels generated all of our power all day. The batteries switched over to the critical loads at night. It powered the well pump, furnace, 3 freezers, refrigerator, a sleep machine, Internet and about 800 watts of lights. They hit 50% of capacity draw down around 5:15 this morning before the controllers shut them down (this is a pretty size-able load). By 11:00 am this morning the panels already had them recharged to 95 %. I’ll take it.
As the biggest power draw was the blower on the furnace, that can be alleviated and allow for more power usage from the battery bank. Potential improvements: Install either a wood burning stove or cook stove in the basement or a pellet stove. This would keep the batteries from having to power the furnace. That, coupled with a solar hot water heater would make us almost completely energy self-sufficient……. sort of. It would certainly trim back the load on the batteries in power down situations.
After a week delay due to snow, the bacon harvest has finally happened. We planted these bacon seeds at 3 pounds and they went off to freezer camp this past Friday at roughly 350 pounds. That should put close to 450 pounds of pork in the basement.
I am getting around a bit better. My hip is still pretty weak and stairs make me nervous, but I can get things done. Thanks to all who volunteered to help. It was very much appreciated.
Now that Zina is back, this weekend became turkey weekend. We needed to get chicken wire over the turkey coops because we were sick to death of putting them to bed and waking up the next morning because they’d “Flown The Coop”. Turkeys like to roost up as high as they can. We had some shade cloth over parts of the coop, but when their clipped flight feathers grew back they sat atop of the chainlink fence. They would hop down in the morning and some would go in the coop and a bunch wouldn’t. So we fenced in the cover and so far we have had no escapees. Turkeys are big strong birds and not the brightest of creatures, so it had become kind of an annoying challenge to keep them together.
Today was turkey harvest. We want to get back down to just our breeding stock. That consists of two Toms and six hens. We will use them to hatch out next year’s crop. So today we processed 4 big Toms. It came in close to 50 lbs. all plucked, cleaned, shrink wrapped and frozen. The two really big ones are for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
After I get to Cabela’s tomorrow to get our new meat grinder (I was burning out my Kitchen Aid mixer with its grinder attachment), the remaining hens will become burger. Didn’t everyone become a meat processing plant this weekend? If anyone feels generous I would love a meat processing band saw. Santa? LOL!
In addition were the usual chores and hay hauling and feed bag slinging. Zina was snoring at 7:30 tonight. Tomorrow, off we go to the big Shitty – Zina to a day of meetings at work, me to a Weaver’s Guild meeting and then off to hunt and gather. Our month of November challenge proceeds on as well. Have there been any new news stories other than the usual corruption, celebrity gossip and political bickering? I doubt it. So far our hiatus has revealed that we need more than one farm hand back up. We have too much plastic storage junk and want to switch to glass with glass covers (seem to be hard to find) we need to start freezing the goat milk in Ball jars instead of ziplocks. We are going through way too many of them. Also, we need to keep up on our off season indoor greens production. We found that salads are a quick go to so we need a more reliable source of lettuce. We are doing it hydroponically, but it seems we need more and we need to keep it staggered so we don’t end up with it all maturing at the same time. Easy fix, just need to do it. So it was a pretty busy week. Snow tomorrow and then back to the 60’s. It hit 78 here on Saturday after a foot of snow the week prior. Things are getting funny but there ain’t nobody laughing.
A JAZ Farm truism:
It took a lot of grit and determination to create this life murdering colossus we call civilization. We extolled its virtues and named it progress. For we the people who have rejected this, tried to revive the old ways and live a life in the Shire, when you are virtually alone, the work required is just as arduous and is almost a super human endeavor. The forces are conspired against you. Be dedicated. Be driven. Rebel.
The TFL tear has put me out of commission for awhile. I did my first look in the mirror since Monday when I felt it give and was met with this lovely softball sized bruise. I dug out the old crutches and ice packs and began what felt like an old familiar routine. I spent many a month on the floor on Basil’s Orthopedic dog bed prior to my back surgery. Today it put me in the best position to apply pressure and ice. I have to admit that I’m pretty sick of being injured. The past three years have been a few for the books. Even the dogs seemed to remember the old routine: Icing, staring at my pad and puppy piles. Gotta let this one heal up good and then strengthen it. Time to change farm directions.