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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

Business

Bear Trail Beef

One of those businesses with a crushing 2020 year is Winter’s Farm owned and operated by Jordan and Hannah Winters.

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For many businesses 2020 was a year of hardship, struggles and loss. For the businesses in this community however, it was the best year ever. One of those businesses with a crushing 2020 year is Winter’s Farm owned and operated by Jordan and Hannah Winters. Jordan and Hannah both spent their youth farming and started their current farm in 2015. They have provided grass fed and finished beef to their local community and have now added pasture raised pigs to the menu again. 

In late 2020 however they made the plunge and started Bear Trail Beef! Supporting our community is what we do best in the bears and like many we simply couldn’t wait to purchase a package of meat from their farm. No strangers to mail order beef we jumped on the chance to place an order excited to support a small scale farmer and family. When the package arrived even the kids were excited to unbox it! We ordered the Beartarian Basics- Mixed beef bundle It was delivered promptly, well packaged and included a lovely family photo as a thank-you.  Included in the box was 10lbs of ground beef, 2 Tenderloin Medallions, 2 Delmonico/Ribeye Steaks, 2 NY Strip, 2 Sirloin steaks, 2 Roasts of their choice (we got a chuck roast and a shoulder roast). Each vacuum sealed package of beef was a stunning deep red color with beautiful marbling. 

We have been purchasing grass fed beef for some time now and even just by the color you can see the difference between the beef from Winters Farm and the beef we had purchased. The steaks cooked beautifully to a wonderful rare to medium rare with ease. The ground beef was phenomenal and appeared more natural and unprocessed than any other ground beef we had tried yet. Everything was delicious and nourished our growing family well. The best part of the deal was knowing these animals lived a good life and that our purchase was helping to support a family like ours that was out there providing bears an essential service.

Their main goal and focus with Bear Trail Beef is to bless families with tasty, healthy, and nutritious meat, in order to grow strong heathy families and to provide access to homegrown food outside of the industrial food system. Here at the CameraBear household we would say they are absolutely crushing those goals! They are shipping to the contiguous US and you can order today at www.beartrailbeef.com . We are sure you will not be dissatisfied. 

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Farming

Fancy Pants to Overalls

It’s not all fresh carrots out of the ground and based moments in Beartaria, there is struggle. As each seed needs adversity to grow, the more it struggles the stronger it becomes.

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I had a dream, that one day little seeds will germinate as we procreate, this dream led the Bolar clan to pack up and leave Los Angeles where I was born and raised and take a leap of faith to move to middle America. We relocated to the rural part of a town of 8000 in Missouri. The laws are as based as they come in Babylon, the land is cheap and available, and only a victim mentality would be frightened by the stereotypes that the coasts and the cities of Babylon have to say about the area we decided to settle.

My wife and daughters had done some very small-scale gardening in our backyard that was mostly about fun for the kids and a cucumber or two to actually eat in about 2 sq. ft. I’m not good with following the advice I would give to all of you; start small, be realistic, and have fun with it. No one is having more fun than the bears, whether crushing in the culture war, in the development of our faith, or with our hands in the dirt. We did have fun but going BIG or going home is how I’ve always rolled so we went from 2 sq. ft to about 150 sq. ft, raised beds, a chicken area, coop, and chicken run around the garden for free ranging and bug protection. Mind you I work in Babylon and have no building skills or experience in gardening. We dove into the deep end and came out on the other side of our 1st growing season with as much success as lessons learned.  

We were successful in growing about 2/3rd of our crops but only successful in putting one third to good use. I have enough pickles to share with every bear across this realm but Brusselsprouts, corn, and a few other stables in the household were stillcoming from the grocery store.

 

Be thoughtful in what you plant; do you like it, will you eat it, how will you store it, when will it be ready for harvest, will it all be ready at once or spread out, and about 33 other things we should have figured out first.

Gardening is easy and complex at the same time and there are master gardeners amongst the bears that will be the 1st ones to tell you there is still a lifetime of learning in front of them. That’s part of the fun; as bears we are meant to crush, and crushing takes effort and challenging yourself to grow; pun intended. Growing your own food is not just fun and great for your family’s physical health but for your mental and family health as well. Sitting around watching a family movie can be fun, but watching your kids be a part of what your building for them and their future is priceless. Turn in their iPad and iPhones for some soil and seeds. Endless family bonding and growth will not only make your insides healthy but the health of your family as well.

It’s not all fresh carrots out of the ground and based moments in Beartaria, there is struggle. As each seed needs adversity to grow, the more it struggles the stronger it becomes. Think about what challenges you have. Not just bugs, dry spells, or flooding but are you and your wife on the same page, your kids, are you being realistic with yourself? Just as many lessons in this arena as when battling the squash bug without roundups “help”. Babylon is a heck of a drug and just because you have dreams and new ideas for your future, doesn’t mean you can or will want to leave it all behind. 

Being realistic is the best place to start.

It may not be too hard to take a week off and get your garden or other aspects of your homestead up and running. Have you thought about who is going to and how you are going to water, keep out pests, weed to stay away from Babylonian poisons? If you’re going even further who will feed these chickens and milk the goats and keep it all up and running daily. The Homesteads that fail have big dreams that don’t match their reality or reality of your Babylonian magic square standing.

Its great watching the Smiths Crush it, but that’s a lot of hard work and going from zero to Ursa Manor overnight isn’t in most people’s reality.

It wasn’t in Owens reality, one fence post at time, one garden bed, one goat, it was a process and if you’re like me the process can be overlooked. In hindsight that is the point, the process. The journey is the point that will lead to your destination and if you lead with logos in your heart and in your intention you may not get to where you planned but you’ll get to where your supposed to be.  

This is not intended for the green thumb bears; this is intended for the droves of bears inspired by the crushing of our tent post and fellow bears. Crushing isn’t always easy, but someone’s got to do it. Approach this with love, not fear of supply chains failing. If you’re going full homestead start with chickens, they are easy, and you don’t know what real eggs taste like until they’ve come from the backyard. We’ve all spiraled and gotten caught up in some nonsense Babylon is currently perpetuating, so don’t be so hard on yourself. But approaching anything including your 1st or 33rd growing season is so much better and sustainable when its about a lifestyle and not a toilet paper shortage. 

Keep Crushing Bears, this is just the beginning…

Bolar Bear  

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Farming

Why We Prepare

So it’s 9pm, I have a sick cow, and all the stores are closed at that point.

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About a week ago my Jersey cow Maple finally birthed her calf. A beautiful little brown heifer calf. I could see that she was laboring so I stuck her in the milk barn by herself. By evening it was clear she was working hard. The calves feet had been poking thru for the last hour but no progress had been made. So I helped pull the calf out and within 10 minutes all was good. A strong healthy baby and a happy mother. Usually that’s the end of it. But as the evening went on it was clear that Maple had a mild form of milk fever.

When a cow has her calf and starts producing milk, there is a heavy demand for calcium. Sometimes a cow has trouble mobilizing enough calcium from her body and she starts to go down.

The cow will get weak, her ears will get icy cold, and eventually she will die if not treated. The good thing is that milk fever is super easy to identify and treat. Subcutaneous injections of calcium gluconate usually fix the problem and the cow will be back to normal in no time.

The problem I had was that I didn’t have any calcium on hand. I knew that milk fever could be a problem, I know how to treat it, but I wasn’t prepared for it by being stocked up with some extra supplies. With everything else happening on the farm I just hadn’t thought about it.

So it’s 9pm, I have a sick cow, and all the stores are closed at that point. Maple was doing ok so I opted to wait till morning. I had to head to work at 4 am but I could call a vet then and get her treated.

At 4 am she was still ok, just a little weak. By the time my wife checked on her a little later Maple was starting to go down and a problem I was running into was I couldn’t get a vet out. Because I rarely ever need a vet, none of them wanted to deal with me.  My cow was dying for lack of a $5 bottle of calcium and I couldn’t get one vet to stop by the farm and I was hours away at that point ( I drive truck).

Thankfully my neighbor is a semiretired dairy farmer with plenty of old time wisdom and experience.

He gladly came over, dosed Maple up with a full bottle of calcium and offered to help out again if needed. By late afternoon Maple was back up on her feet and doing well. All was good.

It’s funny how nothing ever happens to the people who “prep”. They look ahead and prepare for all kinds of catastrophe but then nothing ever happens. The fact is, if I had “prepped” by having a couple bottles of calcium on hand, I wouldn’t be writing this article. I would simply have dosed Maple up and not given it a second thought. Instead of my cow nearly dying, there never would have been an emergency to begin with.

And that is why it is important to look ahead and prepare. Imagine if everyone in Texas had a months supply of food, an alternative heat source and knew to run their faucets to keep the pipes from freezing. There would have been way less pain and suffering.

We are seeing our civilization being stress tested. I don’t think it is intentionally being done to us. Rather, it’s the natural consequence of people choosing a life of ease over responsibility. Why would a civilization be strong and antifragile when the people who live in it are weak, reliant, and unprepared?

Start thinking about the weak links in you life. Do you have backup heat, running water, some basic medical supplies, and even a few weeks of extra food? That will go a long ways. Also, build your community, know your neighbors. You are never going to be prepared for everything. It’s impossible to anticipate every problem. But just like my neighbor was able to come thru and save my cow, your neighbors may be prepared in ways you didn’t account for. Prepping and community. That’s the future.

Mohawk Farmer Bear

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