Pastured Pork Pros and Cons

We’ve had a few seasons of raising pastured pork and are starting to understand the pros and cons. We aim to share them here for those who really want to understand some of the potential blessings and hardships associated with raising pastured pork.

We love Joel Salatin. It was largely his videos on pigs raised in the forest that got our feeble minds thinking we could do this. Nevertheless, an hour or two of his videos don’t adequately portray the months of experiences one will have raising pigs in a forest, meadow, field, or pasture. Joel Salatin makes it look easy! It isn’t super hard, but it’s not super easy either.

First, the pros…

If you have a good docile breed, your pigs will be very happy in a pasture or woods vs a concrete slab (a common approach). Pigs are intelligent animals that enjoy exploration, space, community, and movement. Pastured pigs enjoy these in abundance.

If you plan on eating these pigs, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they lived a very happy life (except one day).

Your pigs will taste better than the average pig (assuming you feed them good food). Remember, you are what you eat and you are what you eat eats!

They’ll clear your land of more or less all vegetation minus large trees.

They’ll fertilize your land and any land downstream from your land

If you intend to sell them, there is a potential market for pasture-raised pork.

Your pigs will taste better than any pork you could purchase at the store.

Pigs -especially piglets- are fun to watch and be around.

Pigs don’t require much infrastructure. If you get them young enough to train to an electric wire/fence, you can house them for very little. This is a huge plus compared to other homestead/farm animals. Only rabbits are simpler.

Pigs will make good use of your quality garden and kitchen waste. More of the calories you purchase or grow will end up feeding you if you have pigs.

Example. When we buy bushels of peaches to can, we skin them, can the fruit, then run the skins through a juicer. This gives us peach juice to freeze, can, or use in smoothies, and then some skin pulp and pits. The pigs will eat the skin pulp and the pits, leaving us with zero waste!

Now, the cons…

If you raise pigs in a field, forest, meadow, or pasture, that is where they’ll most likely be when you go to round them up for slaughter. This is NOT an easy task in many cases. Many YouTubers, movies, and bloggers have idyllic photos and videos of homesteaders and farmers frolicking with their pigs. That may be true for about 5 minutes, or on days when you and they have nowhere special to be. As soon as you roll up with a trailer and they see you salivating at the thought of eating them as ham and bacon – you’ll soon find out how belligerent a pig can be!
A pig is a like an impetuous 300lb bodybuilding two-year-old. Catching them requires work and ingenuity. It might also take some nerves. A caught pig makes a lot of unsettling noise. If you have to deliver a live animal to the butcher, it’s going to take some effort. On average, it takes us 70 minutes per pig to gather and place in a trailer. Oh, and that is for 4-5 strong and fit men (over the age of 16)!Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you, and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.

Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pastured pigs take longer to raise (potentially). You can’t go by books written for commercial or economical pig-raising. Pigs raised on a 16′ square of concrete who cannot forage or root are going to fatten up much faster than a very fit and active pig galavanting throughout the forested glen or meadow.

Pigs that are being raised in the cold will dedicate some of their calories for staying warm rather than growing larger. This means it takes more feed. If you’re raising pastured pigs, you’re most-likely using quality feed, which means you will need MORE of it. All around, this makes for a more expensive pig. That’s okay! Just be realistic about it.

Pigs we start in October are ready in May. Pigs we start in July are ready in late Fed/March. This is a slower approach than most approaches geared toward solely economics. If you’re buying pastured pork, keep this in mind and don’t haggle with your farmer over the price. Pastured pork is more resource-intensive to raise to maturity

The majority of people who might want to buy your pork are used to grocery store prices. Most of those people will not understand and therefore purchase your more expensive pork. All most consumers will think is that the sale paper pork is way less than yours. Ah, but you say you can raise them cheap!  If your feed is entirely free – maybe.Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs cannot always be butchered when you need them to be. Butchers have busy schedules and many butchers have seasons they do and don’t butcher pigs. Getting your butchering done when you and the pigs are ready might prove challenging. Select your butcher and understand their schedule before bringing home your pigs.

All in all, raising pigs has been a great experience – one that we intend to keep doing. However, it’s not without its challenges and knowing these beforehand can be helpful. Have a question or comment about raising pigs? Chime in below!

Preserve Razors: Good for the environment and cheap too!

We’re constantly surprised just how much disposable razors cost. They must be made of gold and silver given the prices of the blade refill packs! In our opinion, the pricing structure really encourages consumers to keep buying the razors anew since it’s usually less expensive than buying the refill packs. So much for re-use!

On a recent trip to our favorite grocer – Wegmans – we discovered Preserve Razors and refill packs. These razors are made largely from recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups! Aside from being made of recycled materials, these were far cheaper than any leading brand we could find. We were able to pick up a tripe razor with extra blade for $4.99. We even found 4-pack refill packs for $5! It would appear that these razors cost 50% less than the major disposable razors.

They work much better than the cheap disposable razors (although they’re not so cheap anymore) – the ones that come 6-8 in a pack – the one piece deals.

This might not sound like big news to living simply, but it’s one more way to make a positive difference for the planet and the pocketbook!

Harvesting Broccoli

Today we pulled our first head of broccoli out of the garden for our dinner. We thought it would be a good topic to cover.

Broccoli Ready To Harvest

Broccoli Ready To Harvest

Knowing when the broccoli is ready
There are a few ways to determine when broccoli is ready to harvest. First, it must have a head of broccoli of course! Second, the florets (the smallest part of the broccoli that you eat) should be about the size of a match head. Lastly, the color of the florets should be a dark green. If the florets are mostly yellow, your broccoli is either not ready to eat, or it has a nutrient deficiency or disease. If the rest of the plant looks healthy, assume that it’s just not mature yet. The picture below shows what a “ready to eat” head of broccoli looks like. We had hoped for larger heads of broccoli, but we’ve had a weird growing season and our soil was not in prime shape.

Cutting the head of the broccoli

Cutting the head of the broccoli

How to harvest
Harvesting broccoli is very easy. With a sharp knife, make a quick clean cut 5-6 inches below the florets where the stems gather into the main stem of the plant. We like to have an inch or so of the main stem  on the cut piece. This makes it easier to handle and store until used. Once the head of the broccoli has been removed, you’ll likely notice that the remaining stem is hollow. This is normal.

The remaining broccoli plant

The remaining broccoli plant

What do to with the remaining plant
Some might assume that the remaining plant has no further use. Others might assume that the remaining plant will re-sprout a new head of broccoli. Neither is exactly accurate. Assuming favorable conditions (sun, water, temperature), the remaining plant will sprout additional smaller heads of broccoli from the side of where the main head was removed. These are perfectly edible and make a fine addition to salads, or cooked as a side item. These generally will not be very large.

Cabbage Worm hidden among the florets

Cabbage Worm hidden among the florets

Things to watch for
In our neck of the woods, we have to deal with Cabbage Worms, which are actually not a worm at all, but a caterpillar. These are the larvae from cabbage moths which are actually not a moth but a butterfly. Confused yet? Anyway, we could spray for those I suppose, but they’re just as easy to pick off the plants (this is referred to as “mechanical” pest control). We take the worms and feed them to the chickens who despite not liking broccoli, enjoy these pests! We like this because we use the worms to our advantage to keep the chickens happy and healthy.

After you harvest your broccoli, check for cabbage worms. They’re easy to spot. They’re dark green and contrast well with the stalk of the broccoli. Just pluck them off. You could also try filling a bowl or pot with water (a little at a time) and inserting the head of broccoli upside down into the water. This should make the worms climb up the stalk where they’ll be easier to remove. If you do this too fast, you’ll just drown the worms and then they’re harder to get off. Of course, you can also look for them after cooking, depending on how you cook. That’s admittedly not such a nice experience ;-).

Emergency Preparation: Water Strategy

A friend and reader recently posted a comment regarding our recent post, “it’s more than just flashlights and duct tape” asking how we handle securing/storing water. Here’s the comment:

“I’m assuming you have a well. Any advice on stockpiling for those of us who have city water? Water jugs?”

As we pondered our response, it seemed fitting to address this as a new blog posting since this is a practical issue that many people might find worth considering.

While it is nice in some ways to have a well, common domestic wells require pumps which in turn require power. Because of this, those who have wells are often more vulnerable to power-related emergencies than most people – at least in longer-term emergencies.

All that to say that a well is not necessarily the best source of water in an extended emergency – at least not the way North Americans use wells. Having a well does not necessarily aid in emergency preparation, especially if you have no way to produce electricity. In fact, it could actually be detrimental to have well water as a single source of water in an emergency.

In an extended emergency (ie. 14 days or more), a person or family is likely going to require more water than can be realistically stored by the average citizen. Stored water should only provide for your immediate water needs for the first days of an emergency until a plan for a sustainable water source can be implemented. A good preparedness plan should entail a sustainable means for acquiring potable water for as long as necessary (within reason).

At present, we have a multi-tiered water strategy consisting of several elements. Most of this is just common sense and should be tailored to meet the needs of your family. It’s based on a strategy we developed in general about preparation (which we’ll post later on) where we plan for emergencies from an immediate to long-term need. The triangle below represents how we apply this principal to our water strategy.

Progressive Water Strategy for Disaster Preparation

Progressive Water Strategy for Disaster Preparation

Water Storage
We start with storing enough water to maintain life (drinking and essential personal use, not stuff like laundry, coffee, etc) for several days for our entire family. We do that by keeping 7-Gallon containers ( these exact ones ) filled with water and stored in our home – one per person. This gives us at a minimum 1 gallon per person per day for 7 days. We have additional water stored in 55-gallon water drums, should we ever need them.

It’s important to note that clean water in an appropriate container does not go bad. That is, if you have water free of contaminants stored in containers that don’t leach anything into the water, it should not develop problems. It might end up tasting flat, but that is usually rectified by aerating the water.  Keep this in mind when choosing containers and the source to fill them from! Start with good, solid, and sealable containers and then fill them with the clean water. Never let water sit in open containers. This will invite disease and further devastation in an emergency.

Water collection and treatment
Some may have no hope of keeping enough potable water on hand for a long emergency or disaster, our strategy includes measures for treating non-potable water to make it potable. This means water found in streams, lakes, and other outdoor sources. The problem is, the majority of the surface water in the world, including North America, contains viruses, bacteria, organisms, etc. These can cause sickness and discomfort ranging from mild to severe/life-threatening. In an emergency, that last thing our family wants is the trots! We suggest handling this problem through expending effort and resources to do the following:

  1. Maintain the knowledge of where to look for and locate treatable water in the immediate area.
  2. Maintain supplies to boil water.
  3. Maintain supplies to chemically treat some water if necessary (not a good long-term solution – not sustainable).
  4. Maintain supplies to filter water and how to use them.
    In our case, we purchased a Katadyn Vario Microfilter and several replacement cartridges. We do not use this filter for leisure or recreational use but maintain a separate water filter for those sorts of uses (which also serves as a backup).  This too is also not a good long-term strategy since it’s not sustainable if/when the equipment fails. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable!
  5. Maintain the knowledge of how to primitively filter water with natural, or readily available materials. Books like “When Technology Fails“ are an excellent resource for this sort of thing. Make sure you read and understand this stuff as much as possible before you need to know it!

Long Term Water Strategy
One needs a long-term strategy for the collect and storage water. For those in suitable climates, this could be from rain and snow (plentiful in the northeastern United States where we live).  We’ve pondered that next time our roof requires replacement, we’ll replace it with a suitable metal roof then build a cistern to collect this roof runoff, then an additional methodology to filter this water. If you have an occassion to erect an outbuilding, consider a metal roof for this added benefit.

Two books we intend to get are “Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use” and “The Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store, and Conserve It“. These books discuss how to use a variety of materials and methods to collect and store water.

Is it worth the investment?
Consider this… in the right emergency context, water would be worth more per ounce than gold! When without water, no other resource abundance matters. Water is fundamental to life, and yet despite this when we were considering these issues, there was plenty of hesitation to spend resources to help us store and secure water!

Much of what has been recommended here can be done for  $250 or less. That is for a water strategy (books, storage containers, filters, etc) which would provide a family with thousands of gallons of potable water.

We consider that a pretty good investment into the health and welfare of our family in the event of an emergency or disaster. This is one area you don’t want to skimp or depend on others!

Adding kitchen waste to your garden without composting – should you do it?

We’ve seen many people skip the compost process and place their kitchen waste directly into their garden. While this won’t kill your plants, there’s some things to consider when taking this approach.

Among other things, one of composts’ benefits is providing nitrogen (N) to the plants in your garden. The process of composting is actually one of micro-organisms breaking down the decaying material. Here’s the thing – these micro-organisms require nitrogen for this process. Until the process is finished, the composting process will TAKE nitrogen. If this is happening in your garden rather than a properly constructed compost pile, your plants will suffer from a lack of nitrogen to the decaying waste in the soil rather than receive from it. This must be overcome with additional nitrogen. What value then is there in doing this? Personally, we think it’s best not to put non-composted material onto your garden unless it’s mulch which will not have this same effect. Unless you generate a LOT of kitchen waste, it’s not likely that it’s really acting as mulch.

That doesn’t mean you cannot add this waste to the garden before it’s composted, but one would wonder what is the benefit since you’ll need additional nitrogen to compensate for what’s used in the break down process? Until it’s composted, the waste will not provide many benefits. Rather, it will take longer to decompose into valuable nutrients than if it were in a compost pile and could also attract all manner of undesirable pests and critters to your garden – not to mention it will likely smell. Not to mention, who knows if things like Salmonella would easily transfer from kitchen waste onto your otherwise fresh veggies 😉

Save yourself the trouble and build a compost heap or pile. You’ll be able to receive benefits faster this way and with far less hassle.

Using dandelion roots as a coffee substitute

We’ve had a growing interest this summer in foraging and the use of wild edible plants. While cleaning up the garden today for the upcoming fall/winter, we decided to use some of those pesky weeds that have infiltrated our vegetable garden.

Roasted coffee substitute, here we come!
We thought about pan-frying or sautéing the dandelion roots, but roasting them and making a drink out of them sounded a bit more fun. We gathered about 3/4-1 lb of dandelion roots for this process. It’s important to note that we have not treated our lawn with harsh chemicals or fertilizers that could cause health concerns when using these weeds as a food source.

Dandelion roots prior to roasting for coffee alternative

Dandelion roots prior to roasting for coffee alternative

Preparing the roots for roasting
The first step was to prepare and clean the dandelion roots. This was done by removing the leaves where they meet the roots and inspecting the roots for rot, damage, insects, etc. It should be kind of obvious where the “joint” between leaf and root is – that’s where you cut. We then took the cut roots and sloshed and soaked hem in a large bowl continually replacing the water with fresh water until the water was clear.

Chopping the Dandelion Roots

Chopping the Dandelion Roots

Next, we took the root pieces and using a hand-chopper (a food processor would be another way to do it), we chopped up the roots into smaller pieces. We left the stringy roots as is – they’re no problem.

Once this is done, we rinsed the chopped pieces again using a strainer until the rinse water was clear. This is not something you need to be super careful about since roasting will likely kill anything harmful.

Preparing dandelion roots for roasting on cookie sheet

Preparing dandelion roots for roasting on cookie sheet

Once rinsed and as clean as we could get them, we spread the pieces out on a cookie sheet and placed in our oven at 250℉ for about two hours, gently agitating the pieces every 20-3o minutes or so during the roasting process. The roots smell pretty nice while roasting – something akin to roasted sweet potatoes. The final result will be much smaller than what you started with.

The finished roasted dandelion - about enough for 8 cups of brewed drink

The finished roasted dandelion - about enough for 8 cups of brewed drink


Ready to brew!

After the pieces cooled off, we placed them in our coffee grinder and ground them to a fine powder, just like we would for coffee. These roots are not as potent as coffee, so for every tablespoon you would normally use in coffee, plan on using two tablespoons of the dandelion roots. The ground roots are quite pale in color compared to coffee when ground. It was almost a khaki color.

Here's the ground roasted dandelion roots, just before brewing. Notice the color!

Here's the ground roasted dandelion roots, just before brewing. Notice the color!

While brewing, the dandelion drink gives off a rather pleasant, earthy aroma. It looks very much like coffee in the coffee pot and in the cup, unless you are accustomed to dark-roasted coffees.

Down the hatch boys and girls!
When finished brewing, we added cream and sugar to taste as we would coffee and enjoyed our new drink. Our whole family tried it (ages 4-37) with everyone thinking it tasted fine, just a tad bitter (like coffee). If you’ve every drank Cafix, this drink is not far off in flavor, although we enjoyed it more than we have enjoyed Cafix in the past.

Happy campers enjoying the caffiene-free roasted dandelion drink

Happy campers enjoying the caffiene-free roasted dandelion drink

Why are we doing this again?
We did this primarily for the experience of doing so, and to share with others. However, if circumstances of life were to place us in a context where coffee was unavailable, knowing this little process would provide us to come pretty close to our normal routine of starting the day with coffee. Additionally, there are plenty of nutritional and medicinal reasons to know how to use dandelions to our advantage (read on). Lastly, why work hard to eradicate dandelions when they offer useful benefits? It’s always good to know how to use our resources to their full advantage.

A bit about nutrition…
According to our trusted standby “Prescription for Nutritional Healing“, dandelion has the following useful chemicals and nutrients: Biotin, Calcium, Choline, fats, gluten, inositol, inulin, iron, lactupicrine, linolenic acid, magnesium, niacin, PABA, phosphorus, potash proteins, resin, sulfur, vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, E and P, and zinc. Apparently, it also has many useful medicinal uses. Since providing medical advice is beyond the scope of our blog, we’ll leave you to look up the specifics and determine if it’s an appropriate means for your needs.

It’s more than just flashlights and duct tape!

For the non-militia member too!
We have some hesitation about writing the topic of emergency preparedness because of some long-held stereotypes people have. As followers of Yeshua, homeschoolers, Pennsylvanians, etc. some people would just naturally expect us to also be of a survivalist or militia mindset. We can assure you, we don’t belong to the NRA (not that we have objections to them), we don’t have a backyard bunker, heck – we don’t even own gas masks! Nevertheless, we do see some value in being prepared for uncommon or exceptional events.

Are you really prepared?
Plenty of people would call themselves “prepared” for an emergency ranging from a few hours to a few days. Several months ago, we began to be challenged to consider whether or not we were prepared for “the long emergency” – that is, longer-term disruptions to food, medicine, public services and utilities, etc. Perhaps to some, this sounds apocalyptic? Maybe, but there are plenty of non-apocalyptic reasons to be considering these sorts of scenarios.

Prepared for what?
We live in an age of increasing natural, political, and ecological turmoil. Is it really beyond reason that an event such as a large hurricane, solar flares, political unrest, or God forbid, a larger terrorist attack could substantially disrupt life as we know it for weeks or months? Ask those victims of Hurricane Katrina their experiences and you’ll see how desperately ill-prepared most people were.

What’s needed?
To weather these sorts of long emergencies requires more than flashlights and duct tape – it requires advanced planning and preparation of both your mind and your resources. It requires having the resources in advance that will permit your family to survive and thrive during these times, should they come. Your family will never find harm in having 1-3 months of food stocks on hand, or from owning a generator, knowing how to garden, hunt or forage, etc. Emergency preparedness offers only benefits since the skills and resources required will benefit any family.

Preparedness builds community
We’re not personally interested in a “survival of the fittest” way of surviving an emergency. Rather, we’d prefer to be in a place of blessing others with the knowledge and resources we’ve gathered to prepare for such a time. When prepared, families are in a position to help others rather than fearing for their own survival. Should the situation never arise, there’s still benefits to your family and community. Working together with your friends and neighbors to acquire resources and plan for these possibilities deepens relationships and strengthens your community.

Where to find information?
There are thousands of resources online that outline good strategies for preparing for such an emergency. We’ll leave that info to those who excel at such. One such resource that we have found to be extremely helpful to our family is a book called “When Technology Fails“. Every family should own this book! This book covers a wide range of topics covering all the basics of food, water, shelter, medicine and then some. It’s also a primer on alternative energy sources, gardening, foraging, food storage, etc. It’s not a survival manual like you’d expect to find in an Army-Navy store, but more like a manual for the average joe to hold up for a while in an extended emergency. We cannot recommend this book enough. If you can only afford one book on the topic of preparedness, this would be it.

When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency

When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency

Hopefully, you and your family and community will give this topic some serious consideration. It could mean the difference between life and death for you, your family, or anyone else whom you’re able to help. Remember – prepared families make for good and strong families and communities! Please give this topic your careful and prayerful consideration.