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Up On The Ridge With The Hogs

Wonderful writing from a cherished supporter of The Beartaria Times.



Photograph by @ameliaameliorate on Instagram

In the middle of the winter of 2018, a humble plate of pork sausage and fried eggs blew my mind. It was a game changer, as this was our first homegrown pork. Pork from a hog nurtured here on our land, by our own hands, from birth to harvest. We’d been enjoying the wonderful fruits of our hard fought garden for a few years, but this felt different. Not to veggie-shame at all, we cherish every bite of those too, but you know, it was just different. The gratitude I felt, and the gravity of the moment was overwhelming. What a crazy feeling! How on earth could a couple of former city dwellers, with no animal agriculture background, figure out how to raise our own meat? And why in the world did we choose hogs? Well, I’ll tell ya!

A couple years before that awe-inspiring plate, we had made the decision to uproot ourselves from the nonsense that had been brewing in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long, long time. We were done living like sardines, around people we couldn’t relate to. Our dreams were much bigger, including producing food for ourselves, on our own terms, without being regulated and scrutinized to death by people who had never raised so much as a tomato. So we set out, and just kept following the road North, as if we were being pulled in that specific direction. I’m guessing our shared Northern European heritage had activated some deep down ancestral magnetic pull to a land of harsh winters and endless challenges. Somewhere where we’d have to really earn that bountiful life, but when we did, it would be so, so sweet, and so worth it. Eventually we were guided to our little high desert oasis in southern Oregon, under the towering pines in the rural mountains above alfalfa country. Bingo. Home sweet home.

It’s not an ideal piece of farm land, by any stretch. It’s dry as a bone, hotter than heck during the summer, snowed in during the winter, with nutrient poor volcanic sand soil and only a roughly 90 day gardening season from frost to frost. No matter though, because it’s flat, it already had a well and a little house, and enough trees had been cleared to give us good sunlight and enough room to build. We decided the potential for what it could be outweighed the challenges of what it was. We planted ourselves, and declared we were going to bloom!

Mapping out the garden plot and chicken coop was first. It was the end of Summer already, but we’re not great at sitting still and wanted to get a jump on the next year. That first plot ended up being bigger than the footprint of our house, because hey, priorities. Within a week we had our first load of compost trucked in, and with the addition of a 100% necessary 8’ deer fence we were off and running for planting in the Spring.

The first step in animal husbandry, the obligatory chickens, came next. It took a few months for me to get up the nerve to actually commit to purchasing the first 6 little fuzzballs from the feed store. Like more prodding than it took to get me to OK our 2 Great Pyrenees puppies. Those little peeps were just so fragile looking and I was nervous, truth be told! We aren’t able to free range, though, given the amount of flying and digging predators, so the coop and covered run we had built were constructed like an impenetrable fortress, making my concerns just a tad overblown. So, that first little box of chicks came home, lived indoors in a makeshift brooder until they were fully feathered out, and all was well.

1 month after biting the bullet on the pullets, having built up the confidence that we could successfully care for livestock, the first 2 little female piglets were purchased. Just like that, we were hog farmers. The girls, a spotted one and a red one, were 2 month old, cute as a button little “weaner” piglets from a local family. Their breed mix is Red Wattle, Berkshire, and Duroc, which are all Heritage breeds. They’re a bit different than the common lighting-fast-growing pink or white pig you think of when you think commercial hog farming. Heritage breeds grow slower, and are more specifically bred for either higher quality “bacon” or “fat”. Lucky for us, the breed mix of the girls are suitable for both needs. A baby boar from another family was added to the mix about a month later, and all of a sudden we had all the necessary biological components of a small-scale homestead pork production operation.

The first 3 hogs quickly outgrew the first shelter and fenced off area we’d built for them. For a short while, we’d be woken up every morning to the sound of our quickly growing little boar jumping over the 4 foot wooden wall that was supposed to keep him inside his pen. Kind of blatant a sign that we needed to expand, so expand we did. As hogs get bigger and start breeding, it quickly becomes a matter of safety and comfort to be able to have separate areas for sows to give birth and to raise their piglets, away from the other adults. More and more fencing was installed, more specific areas defined, more shelters assembled. You end up getting to be an expert at those funky little wire clips that hold fencing to t-posts, rather quickly!

Piglets are magical little beings, like the cutest little velvet covered things ever. Definitely a bonus because they tend to show up on the coldest snowiest night, around 2 or 3 am. They have this innate ability to crawl out of their birth goo and find the life-sustaining nipple within a minute or so of being born. It’s really an amazing thing to watch. They’re fighters from the start and are ready to sustain themselves independently from Mom within a few weeks to a couple months. Over the years we’ve been able to sell off most of the almost 60 piglets born here to people in our community, but we’ve also kept a few who didn’t sell before the off-season, meaning our sheltering configuration has grown and changed numerous times. Flexibility and adaptability has been key.

Hogs sound like a ton of work, so why do it, you may ask? Good question. It’s quite a leap to go from a small feathered animal that can survive off the land if need be, to a small herd of behemoths that require significantly more input in the form of food, housing and and attention. We initially made that leap in faith, not really knowing what we were getting into, and have learned quite a bit since! Hogs aren’t cheap, they can be pretty destructive, they require a lot of room, and they will figure out every single weakness in that fence you thought you’d repaired faster than a gifted kid solving a rubik’s cube. All valid concerns, and all things we figured out through trial and error. So, what are the pros?

I’d have to say the number 1 factor in choosing hogs is the amount of meat you get from 1 animal, and the versatility of that meat. From the same hog, at butcher weight of about 280-300lbs, or 6-8 months old, you can plan on having 180-200lbs of meat, fat and stock bones. That’s enough for a couple, for a year. 2 hogs, which are easier and more fun to raise than 1 since they’re buddy-buddy type animals, will probably feed your whole family, for quite some time.

I can tell you, we haven’t bought meat from a grocery store in years. The myriad of different cuts of meat you get from a hog keeps us creative kitchen types constantly coming up with new dishes. Of course you have the delicious standards of bacon, ribs, hams, and chops, but there are also steaks in there, roasts, and endless, literally endless varieties of sausage. There’s a type of sausage, or ground pork, for almost every culinary whim, and every meal of the day, thanks to the worldwide variables in spice blend mixtures. Then you start thinking about things like pulled pork, schnitzel, meatballs, cured meats…ok, now I’m getting hungry.

What else? They’re hearty animals. Feed them well, including natural pest and parasite control measures, and health is almost guaranteed. Give them shelter with enough straw during the winter and a cool mud hole during the summer, and you’ll have a very happy hog on your hands.

They have great personalities! They’re goofy, and I’d argue they’re smarter than dogs. Now, that may be a deal breaker if you can’t bear the thought of butchering an animal like that. An animal that trusts you. Fair enough. You can also raise them at arms length and you’ll still get way better pork than you’d find at the grocery store. For us, though, it’s a much more comforting feeling knowing the animals we’re raising, with the ultimate purpose of harvesting, were given the absolute best life possible, with joy we’ve personally witnessed. And to know that for sure, we have to be very involved. Even up until the very last minute. We’ll be by his side and can say with certainty that there was no fear in his eyes. That means we harvest here on site. No shipping off to a final destination, alone and afraid. I can’t even imagine that. We feel that’s the least we can do for that hog as a thank you for the overwhelming abundance of nutrition that animal will provide us.

To get to that place of peace with the cycle of life and death wasn’t just an overnight thing. We worked up to it, for sure, and there’ve been many ups and downs. We’re currently over 3 years in, and on our 7th litter, which have been the most time-consuming and challenging to date. That’s a story for another time. That’s the thing, though. There will always be ups and downs and challenges. Do you give up? No. Giving up doesn’t even enter your mind at this point. You embrace those challenges, and you become stronger for it. Raising your own food is an entirely different thing than walking into a store and picking out packages, and it requires a whole new mindset. Or, maybe ironically, a return to a very old mindset. Cooking every single meal from scratch, and nurturing the ingredients you’re using for those meals, becomes multiple full-time jobs that you become happy to show up to day in and day out. Freedom really does require an incredible amount of responsibility! It’s hard, dirty, and sometimes unpleasant, but the rewards are worth it. Your first plate of homegrown sausage and eggs will definitely prove that!

@ameliaameliorate on Instagram


How to Tan Fur on Hides With a Note on Making Leather

This is an art. Learning takes time, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The hide is very forgiving. 



By: Salt & Stone Bear

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

More and more folks are learning how to keep and butcher their own animals, so comes the need to learn how to tan hides. Tanning used to be a very common skill that has since been forgotten with modern textiles. Fabrics printed in China contain some nasty chemicals and the environmental impact is devastating. Buckskin pants were once as common as blue cotton jeans today, worn by people of all socioeconomic status. Currently, it is estimated that roughly 6 million deer are harvested annually and only a very small percentage of hides are ever used to make leather. Now add the endless numbers of sheep, goats, cow and even pig skin that could be used for a variety of applications. If you do not keep animals, not to worry, contact your local butcher and they will likely tell you to help yourself to whatever they have. It’s a favor to them as they do not have to pay to dispose of them. 

Disclaimer: there are lots of ways to tan, this is just how I do it, which would be called fat tanning or brain tanning. I do not like using chemicals, as they are unhealthy for the tanner, environment and less sustainable. 

  1. Skinning 

If you are starting with a whole animal, there are plenty of online tutorials on how to do this. Mainly you just want to make sure the hide has not been “knifed up” which will leave marks on the leather. The ultimate goal being no holes or knife marks in the skin, as it will be more difficult (but not impossible) in the tanning process. 

  1. Salting

I use pallets that have hardware cloth stapled on them so that when the hide is laid out, there are no sagging or drooping parts as there are big gaps in a pallet. You could just lay it out on a tarp, but I think the air flow under the skin is helpful. Once the hide is laid out flat on the pallet, spread a good layer, about an inch of white canning salt or sea salt (no iodine) on all parts of the hide, being careful to get all the edges. Leave for 2 weeks or up to a few months if you don’t have the time. I prefer wet salting (the salt stays damp) to dry salting as it makes a nicer finished product. But if you live in a very dry climate that dries out the salt, it will still be fine. 

  1.  Fleshing

For this step, you will need to have a fleshing beam and fleshing knife. You can purchase them from a trapping outlet online or make a beam out of a very smooth log. Flip the salt from the hide into a rubbermaid tub or barrel as it can be used again. Then give the hide a good shake in the driveway or woods (probably not your lawn as it can kill the grass) to remove excess salt. I highly recommend watching a YouTube video on how to do this. You want to hit the right angle so you don’t cut the skin. 

  1.  Apply tanning solution

Once the hide is fleshed, lay the skin back on the pallet and apply the tanning solution. I like a brain/egg solution, but you can use just brains or just eggs. Or even Spinal cord fat/fluid. One brain will do one hide, but adding an egg and a splash of water will bulk up the solution, which I find to be very helpful. For a single hide, in a designated blender, combine brain(s), one egg and a tablespoon or two of water. Rub in the solution over all parts of the skin. Then, three options- cover with plastic wrap/ fold in half on itself or sandwich together with another hide if you are doing more than one. Allow to sit overnight- one day. 

  1. Stretching & Drying

You will need to build a frame that is a little larger than the hide you are working with. 2x4s are great for this. If you are doing something very small like a squirrel or rabbit, you can use a board with tacks to achieve the same results. Some will also bend a limb into a circle for a very small hide, or if you are doing a very large hide like a moose or cow, an old trampoline frame is great. You just have to innovate with what you have available. With a very sharp knife, carefully puncture the edge, 1/2” or so in on the skin. You don’t want it too close to the edge or the twine will rip out. I really like to use butcher’s twine as it holds a good knot. Start at the 4 corners of the hide, then fill in-between. Give a good pull on the string, but not too hard, stretching the skin very flat. Tie to the frame. You can go back and re-tighten the strings that become loose as you go along. Allow to dry. A dehumidifier is really great in helping this process along, especially for large hides. 

  1. Scrape

Once the hide is completely dry to the touch, you can start scraping off the tanning solution and the layer of skin. You will need a scraping tool from a trapping outlet or you can sometimes find tools to do this at antique shops. Just nothing too sharp, more blunt. Scrape with good force, but not too hard. The skin will turn a beautiful white as you do this. It takes time. I like to give a good push on the hide with my hand as I scrape to aid in softening and stretching those skin fibers. You will know you are done when the leather is very soft. Cut the strings and remove from the frame. 

  1. Smoking

This is where tannins from wood and bark seal and finish the hide. Cut an old pillowcase in half long ways or some kind of fabric and pin on the bottom/ very edge of your hide. Then fold the hide in half long ways and use the existing holes and butcher’s twine to temporarily sew it together. Make a loop at the top to hang. Go back and pin together the fabric at the bottom to essentially make a stove pipe. Collect rotten wood and bark that is wet from the forest then make a fire with dry wood until it gets down to coals. Add rotten/ wet wood and bark. Attach the fabric side to your stove pipe with a rubber band and smoke for 2-4 hours. You want to be VERY careful with this part. Do not leave unattended as you only want smoke NO fire. If it breaks out into a fire, it can scorch or burn your hide. Ruining all your hard work. You want cold-warm smoke only. Periodically check the color of the skin inside, you want a nice deep amber color. Take it down, bring inside and allow it to sit for a day to more thoroughly absorb the tannins. 

Then rub in a finishing sealer. Lard is really perfect or a homemade mix of Lard, tallow and a little beeswax. 

  1. Finishing touches 

At this point, you can carefully hand wash the finished hide with soap and cool water, but do not soak for too long. Try to be as speedy as possible. A designated washer is great for this stage. Run it on the spin cycle only to get the water out or shake out very well and dry. 

With a razor blade, cut off the edges, about where your puncture holes are. Brush out the fleece or fur. Then celebrate haha. 

If you want to make leather without fur, dry scraping can be done at the point the hide is stretched on the frame. You can use a razor blade to carefully remove the fur, then scrape and apply tanning solution/ plastic wrap, similarly to how you did the other side. Scrape it down again. Smoke both sides in the same fashion. 

This is an art. Learning takes time, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The hide is very forgiving. 

If you have questions, feel free to reach me on the Beartaria Times app – Salt and Stone Bear or Instagram @salt_and.stone 

Happy Tanning! 

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Micro Greens – Macro Benefits

Having good nutrition is important, sure, but that’s just scratching the surface of the benefits growing your own greens offers.



By: BalanceBear (aka @johnny.greenleaf)

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

Microgreens, as the name suggests, are small by nature, but the benefits they offer are quite the opposite of their size.

What are microgreens and what exactly do they have to offer? Microgreens are vegetable greens harvested just after the cotyledon leaves have developed (7-10 days after germination for most varieties). The benefits? Well, they are countless. We’ll get to many of them, but a few of the biggest advantages of growing microgreens over traditional vegetables are their space efficiency, time to harvest, & ease of getting started. Just because you don’t have a yard, doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food. With as little as a shelf in an apartment, and a few supplies, you can start sewing seeds and reaping the benefits of these nutrient dense greens in no-time. I was introduced to the world of microgreens this past year by the legendary Urban Farmer, Curtis Stone, and in just a matter of 8 months they have already had a profoundly positive impact on my life, and my community.

Now how could something so small offer so much? It’s been theorized that the reason microgreens are so nutrient dense compared to the leaves of their mature vegetable counterparts is because they are harvested shortly after germination, when all of the nutrients they need to grow are there. Regardless if that theory holds true as to the why, nutrient tests have shown that microgreens contain 4-40 times more concentrated levels of various nutrients than leaves in the mature plants, depending on the variety & specific nutrient (i.e. red cabbage microgreens contain 40 times more vitamin E than mature red cabbage). Buying microgreens from a store can be significantly more expensive than normal mature vegetables, but growing them yourself, especially when you consider the time from planting to harvest, is much more affordable. Furthermore, when you buy anything from a grocery store, the vitality of the food has already been severely diminished due to the fact that it takes so much time for the product to be packaged and shipped off to the store. From the moment a fruit or vegetable is harvested, the nutrients begin to break down. This vitality can actually be measured. Realistically, the freshest produce you can get from a store is 4-7 days post harvest. The total time it takes to get from planting microgreen seeds to harvesting the greens is 10-14 days total (for most varieties), which is right up there with the nutrient density when it comes to the best benefits microgreens have to offer. When you compare that to typical times like 2-3 months for a mature plant to bear fruit, it’s quite astonishing that the microgreens pack such a dense nutrient punch, and when you grow them yourself, you can eat them living, which means you don’t lose out on any nutrients like you do when you get already deteriorated greens from a store. 

Having good nutrition is important, sure, but that’s just scratching the surface of the benefits growing your own greens offers. One of the biggest benefits I have personally experienced since becoming an urban farmer, is the community connection that has come from it. I believe that food and community are two of the biggest sources of energy in this realm, and when you grow your own food, and further when you exchange it within your community, the energy boost is multiplied. Picture a closed-loop energy cycle; that’s what you get to experience when you buy, sell, or trade locally within your community. First, you get an energy boost from growing your own food, you then experience an additional energy boost when you exchange your food to someone in your community, because you see the joy it brings them, and you know that it will nourish them. They receive that same energy boost when you buy or trade for their food, and thus the communities’ overall energy goes up by a multiple factor, and the energy loop remains closed. When people in your community buy food from a corporation, especially one that’s not local, energy gets siphoned off into the ether, rather than being kept in your community where it can continue to cycle & recharge.

I’m speaking from experience here, as I have felt a tremendous difference since buying, selling, & trading with local bears at our Southern California Bartertaria Meetups, as well as exchanging my greens for fruit from my neighbors’ trees.

Even if you live in an apartment in a city like I currently do, microgreens can be a great starting point for you to tap into that energy cycle. Furthermore, if you’ve never grown food at all, consider these greens as a great micro-step to start the journey that is gardening/farming.

I won’t go too much into detail about the equipment you need to get started, as there are plenty of great resources online and on YouTube for that (seek and ye shall find), but I will tell you the basics of what you need to get started, and a few good online resources to look in to if you want more details. You will need some kind of tray or container to put the growing medium in (I use 10×20 trays from Bootstrap Farmer), seeds (I get mine from TrueLeaf Market), a growing medium (I use an organic potting soil from ProMix), and lights (I use 4’ Sunblaster Fluorescents) if you want to grow indoor, otherwise you can obviously use sunlight if you have space and want to grow them outside. That’s basically it. Anything else will just upgrade your operation. A few of the best online resources which helped me along my journey, from setup, to growing, all the way through harvesting are: Curtis Stone’s From The Field TV, Donny Greens on YouTube, and OnTheGrow who have great experiments on YouTube & an ebook.

So, whether you just want to add some nutrient dense greens to your smoothies, juices, salads, or dishes as a garnish, have some sunflowers to snack on, take a micro-step towards learning to grow food, or go big & contribute to the energy cycle of your local community, the macro benefits of microgreens are there for you.

“To a man’s heart it brings gladness to eat the figs from his own trees, and the grapes of his own vines”, and to your heart gladness can come from eating the microgreens of your own stem.

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Using Hay to Import Fertility and Feed the Pastures

A recent study I read indicated that pastures responded better to feeding hay directly on the field verses hauling manure and compost from the barn.



By: Mohawk Farmer Bear

When we took over the farm in 2015, the fields were constantly being cropped and hayed. Modern agriculture focuses on production at the expense of soil health and fertility. While we have good soils here, it’s obvious that fertility is low, and the pastures are nowhere near as productive as they have the potential to be. This winter, rather than feeding the cows down by the barn as usual, I focused on rotating them around the pastures and feeding the hay directly on the pasture. By the time grazing starts in May, I will have fed 200 round bales of hay or 50 to 60 tons of hay onto the pastures. That’s a lot of manure, organic matter from wasted hay, and fertility to spread on 50 acres. A recent study I read indicated that pastures responded better to feeding hay directly on the field versus hauling manure and compost from the barn. More fertility is captured with winter bale feeding on pastures. So, this summer, I’ll get to see it. Either way, 50 tons of hay (5 tons to the acre) should have a huge impact on the pastures. More fertility means more grass, which means more beef.

Unrolled hay bale. It spreads the fertility around the pasture and gives all the cows access to the dinner table. 

In early February, you can see where the cows have been without snow. I covered this part of the farm well. 

The farthest and highest point on the farm. Typically the hardest to get manure spread on, but I fed a ton of hay up there this winter. It’s a pretty good hill, so even with heavy baleage, I start at the top and push the bale down the hill to get it unrolled.

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