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Farming

Up On The Ridge With The Hogs

Wonderful writing from a cherished supporter of The Beartaria Times.

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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!

-Breanna
@ameliaameliorate on Instagram

Farming

Building a Beartarian Homestead

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow.

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By: Mohawk Farmer Bear

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

There’s something romantic about homesteading. Thinking about building a chicken coop, or milking your own cow. Making butter, cream, and cheese with that milk. Raising a few sheep and pigs that you slaughter yourself and put in the freezer. It all gives you a wonderful homey feeling as you daydream about all the possibilities of building your own homestead and growing your own food while reading homesteading books by a warm cozy fire with snow gently falling outside.

But then comes the daunting task of making it happen. Pounding that fence post into the ground or putting up dusty, scratchy, hay in 90 degree weather… all of a sudden it doesn’t seem as romantic as that homesteading book made it feel. Truth be told, it’s not romantic at all. But it is good, and it’s extremely rewarding.

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow. Raising animals requires building infrastructure and dealing with living animals, weather, and predators. There’s a huge learning curve that usually takes years. So don’t try to do everything at once. Start slow and work into it. Get good at raising chickens before getting a pig. Likewise get proficient at keeping a few pigs or goats before adding a milk cow. As you learn how farm animals behave and what is required to manage them, you will become more confident with keeping larger animals.

If you try to do everything at once… chickens, pigs, beef cows, milk cows… you’re going to be overwhelmed. So take it slow, start with some chickens, and work up from there.

As you build your homestead there are a few things you should strive for.

Functionality

Remember, you are growing food to feed your family. While we do want to properly care for our animals, we also want to keep our costs down as much as possible. The goal is to grow the best food we can at a very affordable price. Don’t let money be your go to solution for everything. When faced with a project or a problem, challenge yourself to think of solutions that don’t require spending money.

Animal housing and infrastructure should be primarily about function, not looks. The chicken coop needs to keep the chickens comfortably out of the elements, give them a clean place to lay eggs, and keep the predators away. You can have an attractive chicken coop, just figure out how to do it without spending a boat load of money. If your homegrown eggs are costing you $50 per dozen, you probably overbuilt your chicken coop.

Efficiency

If you just got into homesteading, You’re probably still working a full time job. That means everything you do needs to be efficient. Daily chores should be under an hour per day. Right now I have 11 cows, 1 milk cow, 5 pigs, 70 chickens, and 3 sheep. My daily chores usually take 45 minutes. Mostly this boils down to just a few things.

Sturdy reliable fencing, You don’t want to be chasing animals that escaped. Good fencing is a must and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Accessible water. Hauling water is a pain and very time consuming. Black plastic pipe is cheap. Run some over the ground to where you need and pump the water instead of carrying it. During the winter, keep the animals close to a central watering point so you don’t have to carry buckets very far. Automatic feeders and waterers are a must. There’s tons of options out there but the main thing is to always have clean fresh water available to your critters.

For Chickens I like the Poultry Bell waterers. They can be gravity fed from a 5 gallon bucket with a float valve filling up the bucket. All you have to do is check daily to make sure the water is flowing into the waterer. For pigs I like the Brower 85gallon field drinker. The weight of a full tank keeps the pigs from tipping it over and a float valve keeps it full. 

If all you have to do is collect eggs, add a little dry bedding here and there, do a walk by inspection to ensure feeders and waterers are working properly, then your daily chores won’t take hardly any time. Occasionally you’ll have to clean out the coop or load pigs to go to the butcher, but your daily chores will be minimal. 

Forgiveness

Don’t get discouraged when stuff happens. Things will go wrong from time to time. You’re dealing with living animals, nature, weather, and seasons. A Pine Marten will massacre your chickens, your sheep will get out and eat your garden, drought will dry up your pastures. Whether your toddler steps on a chick, or your goat gives birth to stillborn kids, don’t let the emotions overwhelm you. Life and death is all part of homesteading. Take a moment to ponder what happened, learn from it, and move on. After all, the other critters on the farm still need tending to. Just pray that God would give you the wisdom to learn, prosper, and crush despite the challenges. 

Homesteading is about continually building, refining, getting more efficient and more self-sufficient. It’s the journey that makes it so much fun. Enjoy the building process as you build your homestead. 

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Farming

The Subtle Power of Growing Food

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food.

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By Volgadeutsch Bear / Zachry Smith

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

I live in Evans, Colorado. It is a town with a population of around 25,000 people. It is a food desert. There are a smattering of excellent hole in the wall restaurants. There are a bunch of gas stations with crappy food. There are a couple of small Mexican grocery stores and that is it. Granted, Evans is a suburb of Greeley, which has all your normal food places and grocery stores and you can easily fulfill your needs by going to Greeley. Like most places in America, the people of Evans and Greeley are dependent upon an external system of supply chains for food. But I wonder; is it possible for the town of Evans to become food independent? What about Greeley and Evans, heck, I wonder if it is possible for all of Weld County to become food independent? What would happen if the people of these communities realized the vulnerability of the existing food system and decided to send significant resources and energy towards becoming food independent on a local level? Is it possible for any community, regardless of size, to make food independence a fundamental pillar of the communities existence?

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food. My property is basically divided into three sections. A one acre field with rich soil, the park section shaded with trees where my house sits, and another ¼ of an acre field with beautiful soil. A few of my neighbors and I joined forces and by the third year on the property we created ‘Empire Gardens’ and had an operation growing a little over an acre’s worth of vegetables and herbs. From July through October, Friday through Sunday we created a farmers market in the front yard. We did this for two years when unfortunately my neighbors inherited land in Tennessee and split. The energy explosion and the wisdom revealed in those two years was remarkable. We built real community connections as the farmers market became the place to be. Neighbors got to know each other. Powerful discussions about health, food supply chains, what is value, debt slavery and the trajectory of the education system are examples of the depth of topics discussed. People were learning about nutrition, saving seeds, and preserving food. Many people within the community suggested that I run for mayor. I would jokingly always ask, “is it possible to be mayor without running for mayor?”

My buddy Jayson is a seventh grade biology teacher at a middle school in Hastings, Nebraska. Like Evans, Hastings has a population of around 25,000 people. Jayson spent a few days at Empire Gardens one summer during the peak of its operation. That experience and our conversations planted a seed in his mind. He envisioned the power of growing food and providing the opportunity to do so for kids. He went back to Nebraska and spearheaded the creation of the largest school garden in the state of Nebraska. This is where it gets interesting. One year in the late winter I drove out to Hastings to tandem teach with Jayson for an entire week. We hijacked a week of school to work on one project with the kids.

We asked them; Is it possible for the town of Hastings to become food independent? The kids quickly came to realize that the majority of the food they consume does not come from the vicinity of Hastings even though Hastings is surrounded by farmland.

By the end of the week, kids were presenting solutions on how to create and make available more food on a local level. One kid began mapping underutilized open spaces where food could be grown. One kid searched properties for sale to build an interconnected network of food stores that could be conveniently accessed by foot from anywhere in town. Kids realized we need people who can do stuff. We need growers, processors, marketers, lawyers, leaders, programmers, communications, money and so on. The more we contemplated building food independence for Hastings the more gaps kids realized needed to be filled. That became the game, ‘Fill the Gap’, who is interested in filling the gap? What will it take to Fill the Gap?

Kids can be the catalyst to build more harmonious, cohesive and resilient communities through food independence. What if part of the curriculum of growing up was to be a part of building food independence? Imagine if a team of kids presented to a bunch of investors a plan to make the town of Evans food independent? What if a team of kids ran the math equation, found a few ranchers outside of town and developed a method to provide a quarter of a cow to everybody in town? What if a team of kids ran a media operation with the intent to show the current state of food independence within the town by describing what is currently being produced, what gaps exist, can those gaps be filled, what do people want to eat, what should people eat, we have this need/who wants to help? Empire Gardens is simply the process to create food independence on a local level. Food independence is fractal. It begins with the individual and has the power to radiate from family, to neighborhood , to town, to county, to state, to country, to the world. We all know high quality, nutritious and energetic food when we see it. We all know that that kind of food is a fundamental pillar to achieving our best selves. We all know that a direction through food is a way for harmony to restore. What if we as communities utilize the energy of generation next, the wisdom of elders, the infrastructure that already exists and the super lofty goal of food independence on a local level as a mechanism to create a new trajectory for the good, true and beautiful?

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Farming

The Butler Family

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying!

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

Hi! We are the Butlers party of seven. Our family is nestled on 80 acres in the hills of West Virginia. Our homesteading journey began in 2014 when we decided that we would build our current 750 sq ft cabin and sell our 2,500+ sq ft farmhouse. My husband Bobby’s job as a coal miner was undependable and made things difficult.  It took us three years to finish but all the costs were out of pocket. Finally in 2017 it was complete and our farm house sold! We were mortgage free! The first night we stayed in the cabin was surreal! The thoughts of our five homeschooled children getting to make memories on the farm where Bobby grew up made all of the long, hard days of work well worth it! We would get to see our children not just live but thrive on the land.

Our first spring on the farm we purchased our flock of feathered friends. They were and still are a mixed breed of both brown and white egg laying hens with one handsome Red Leghorn Roo. We collect around a dozen eggs a day that go unwashed into egg cartons then into our refrigerator. Eggs contain a coating that is called bloom. The bloom keeps the pores on the eggs covered and reduces the risk of bacteria from entering the eggs. We don’t leave the eggs out on the counter since our eggs are fertilized. You can though! We’ve read that chickens are the gateway animal. That may have some truth behind it!

We had constantly talked of becoming more self-sufficient on the farm. We’ve always had a large garden and canned, but 2021 felt and ended up much different. We experienced some food shortages in our area but God always came through! We were never without! We knew we needed to make changes if we were serious about becoming more self-sufficient. Spring of 2021 we set our goal to jump full in! Meat, dairy, garden, all of it!

A reliable meat source for our family was important.  We are a hunting family, so every fall our shelves and freezer are usually full of venison. That only lasts our family a time and hunting season on deer isn’t year-round. We wanted a meat that would quickly add to our food storage, be timely to manage and wouldn’t take from our pasture. Meat rabbits were our focus. Good friends of ours had already started the rabbit journey and supplied us with three New Zealand doe’s from their farm. To complete our warren of rabbits we purchased a Lilac Silver Fox Buck and a Blue Silver fox doe. Silver Fox rabbits are a dual-purpose breed, raised for their meat and fur. Their fur coloring trait is found in no other breed and resembles the pelts of the silver fox from the Arctic. They are also a heritage breed. We have had three successful litters so far. One of the litters we have already butchered for the freezer and sent their furs to a friend to tan for us. Be on the lookout for some fun fur items to come!

The next add on to our farm that spring was Honey Bees. I mean why not? Who doesn’t love raw honey?! We purchased a package of Italian honey bees from a local bee shop. A package of honey bees includes about 3 pounds of bees and one queen bee. Three pounds of honey bees is estimated to be 10,000 bees. They toss those three pounds of bees into a mesh box and add a boxed queen bee. She has to be left in her separate protective box for several days after placing the bees into their new hive. This gives the colony time to accept her as their new queen. If she was released into the hive without their acceptance the colony would kill her. Honey Bees are so cool! If you ever get the chance to be present during a hive inspection, do it! Those little creatures are so neat to watch!

The first year of beekeeping, honey usually isn’t collected. The goal is to get the colony strong enough to survive the winter with enough honey to feed them during the months when they can’t forage. A month later, after getting our package of bees set up, a friend called about a swarm of bees that had landed in a peach tree of theirs.

We were excited! What an awesome opportunity! We jumped on the chance to catch the swarm and bring them to the farm as our second hive. We closed up both of those hives for the winter a few weeks ago. If everything goes as it should they will be ready to produce honey for us in the spring.

In between getting our farm ready for our rabbits and bees we expanded our garden. It is roughly a quarter of an acre and was jam packed this growing season! Gardening is such a forgiving sustainable option, in my opinion. We not only use ours to grow our fruits and vegetables for the season but we also have several herb beds that we use for medicinal purposes. We started some from seed and purchased some from local nurseries. A small list of some that we have are: Comfrey, Feverfew, Jerusalem Artichoke, Motherwort, Elecampane, Marshmallow, Anise, Hyssop, Arnica, Lovage, Pearly Everlasting, Bee Balm, Catnip, Sweet Annie, Wild Licorice, Goldenseal, Solomon Seal, Wild Ginger and several different mint varieties. We dried a lot of herbs this year for teas. They are such an easy way to boost your immune system or add as treatment to a condition. 

While we have plans of adding a few other creatures to our farm, we feel that our Jersey Cow, Momma, is the staple to our homesteading life. We did a lot of research and searching before finding her. We knew with the size of our pasture that we wanted a medium sized cow but also one that produced a lot of cream to increase the number of food products that we would be able to make from her milk. A Jersey was the perfect fit for our farm. 

In preparation for her arrival all of the old fencing that enclosed her pasture had to be torn out and replaced with new. The old fence was in rough shape and would not keep in a cow. Along with the fencing provisions we didn’t have a barn to milk in. The same friend that gave us a jump start on our rabbits came to help square up and set the posts for our milking barn. We are so grateful for that help! The milking barn is currently under roof and about fifty percent covered with rough cut. That wood was cut from downed trees from our farm on our saw mill.

Momma requires to be milked & fed  twice a day now that her calf, Guapo, is weaned. She is currently giving us about 2 gallons of milk a day. That adds up quickly! We spend lots of time in our kitchen! We make mozzarella cheese, butter, chocolate milk, ricotta, and yogurt several times a week. Just this month we made our first hard cheddar cheese! Hard cheeses have to age from three to twelve months unlike soft cheeses that can be eaten right away. There is something so special about the bond you form with your animals. We spend hours with Momma every day and she has made such great improvements since coming to us. She is expecting and it’s  due to calf this coming June 2022! 

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying! There are so many ups and downs but this way of life is so rewarding! We tell our kids that there is such satisfaction in a hard day’s work! To be able to sit back and look at your accomplishments, how far you’ve come and the amount of priceless knowledge that you gain cannot be matched!

If you would like to read these articles when they are first printed, you can purchase the magazine here: https://magazine.beartariatimes.com/

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