Humble Garden

ReSkilling for future food independence

Archive for August, 2009

Meat, its whats perplexing

Posted by Nika On August - 26 - 2009

Porcine Rembrandt

(I have been debating with myself about which blog to post this at, this garden/homestead blog or my peak oil blog, Peaknix. I decided to cross post it to catch both audiences)

Over at Kathy Harrison’s wonderful The Just In Case Book Blog, (Kathy wrote “The Just In Case” book on the practical aspects of preparedness in the home) a post today “How much is too much?” has some great comments (all of her posts do).

One of the commenters wonders about how to chose the “right” meat to store. Should one focus on low cost “low quality” meats grown in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) so as to maximize the ability to buy a lot of meat on a limited budget or buy and store organic pastured meats. Its an important question and one that will impact your health. One can ask the same about any part of their food storage.

Meat, thinking about it makes me wax philosophical, angry, perplexed, confused, hungry.

It will require several hands too.

On the one hand meat is what we in the US are raised to eat, lots of it too. Its the main attraction. It means satiety. It defines it.

Without meat, your snacking, your nibbling, your waiting for supper.

For lots of us, that goes a step further and its a meat/starch combo that really signifies a filling meal. I was raised on rice and meat (rice being hugely important to Colombian cuisine, pork being THE meat).

On the other hand, in terms of climate change, meat is a curse to our ecosystems in MANY ways and it endangers the futures of our children.

Swine Flu

On the other hand, thanks to swine flu, pork has NEVER been cheaper and when you are on the financial edge, that is deeply welcomed.

On the other hand, the low prices are killing the US pork industry.

On the other hand, we are talking CAFOs here, and they really are the infectious disease problem in terms of being GINORMOUS viral bioreactors.

Its at least 2 fold:

  • massive use of antibiotics and growth hormones to make it possible to grow pork flesh in the CAFO setting – that inevitably leads to the breeding of antibiotic resistant strains and meat doped with hormones that ruin our metabolism
  • then there is the issue that porcine genetics and anatomy are such that their lungs represent a unique environment where flu viral particles from MANY species can be harbored (and without significant lethality for the pig), side by side, leading to what is called reassortment. The viral genes are swapped back and forth such that new strains arise that can be pandemic in nature, case in point – this is EXACTLY how H1N1 Swine Flu arose in the Smithfield CAFOs in Mexico.

By not supporting this industry through buying their meat products, you the consumer vote against the many dangers that this sort of capitalism generates. Its very simple.

I know that people’s livelihoods depend on CAFOs. Things change and change can be painful. Take for example, my grandfather who used to farm and raise pigs for market in Illinois. He left farming in the 1950s or 60s exactly because of these CAFOs. I have a certain perspective, if you will. After leaving the farm, he never again found a job and sank into alcoholism and died at 61 from congestive heart failure and untreated diabetes.

On the other hand, even just FINDING pastured healthy meats can be quite difficult. It will also be more expensive.

Being raised in a natural setting their immune systems will be INTACT and thus will not require 24/7 vets to pump them full of antibiotics.

More importantly to this discussion – living this way means that the pigs do NOT ingest GMO and species inappropriate feeds that leads to meat and fats literally poisoned with the transfats you thought you were avoiding.

You can eat the fat of pastured animals (beef, pig, lamb, chicken) and receive health benefits. You will not when eating CAFO meats, the reverse is true, you will be eating toxic fats.

Thats just the basic truth of the matter.

organic tamworth - heritage breed

(This little guy is a CSA tamworth pig, sold by the Many Hands Organic farm in Barre, MA. See more photos about Many Hands at this flickr set link.)

Now, after all that, I have really run out of hands.

I have a certain bias after thinking on all of this for a while. I do not ascribe to simply storing away a few months or years worth of store bought dried foods. I have never had the money to do that and I dont think I could feed my kids that either.

My sort of preparing is building self-sufficiency so that these skills are passed on to my kids (as this blog has covered at length!) and part of that has been about growing and raising protein.

As The Smiths and the runner duck on “Babe” say, Meat is Murder. Meat requires the death of an animal. Until you have killed your own chickens or pigs for you to eat, you simply do not understand meat.

Now, I am not saying to not eat meat.

I am saying that long term self sufficiency requires serious thought about meat. The health issues mentioned above will ebb away as one raises and butchers their meat. This will be a Good Thing.

The need for meat to be the starring attraction on the dinner plate will likely also change to a more vegetable diet that is accented by proteins that meet the needs of the body not just the corpulent mindset.

I know from personal experience that if I have to go out and kill a chicken to have meat my worldview shifts. My mind runs a calculation – does my body really need the meat or can more vegetable do the trick. If I had no children I would likely be 100% ovo-lacto vegetarian because my calculation really is weighted more to the NO side in terms of an answer.

But when I think about the bodies of my kids, meat gets a big thumbs up! I know that is absolutely my own bias and that many people raise their kids as vegetarians. To each his own, especially in this aspect.

None of us asked to be born in such complex, conflicting, and confounding times. Its not our fault that our world is filled with about 5 billion too many people (WELL over its carrying capacity). Its also not our fault that a guy at the beginning of the previous century figured out a way to use the technology created to make chemical bombs in the first world war and apply it to the making of artificial fertilizer – leading to the profound shift in our food production systems and a mortal link to non-renewable fossil fuels that has a significant impact on the global climate.

It is said that without that innovation, making artificial fertilizer from fossil fuels, 3/5ths of the people alive today would not have been born.

These are all facts of our modern world. How we weather the changes or how we prepare our children to weather the changes will be important, even if its a small choice between CAFO meat or organic pastured meat (supporting small farms who value their land) or if it means eating less or no meat at all.

Homestead lessons

Posted by Nika On August - 10 - 2009

Humble Garden 2008: Old English Game roosters

Two days ago we noticed a pile of feathers on the grass around our house. Then we saw some on the driveway. We knew then, upon inspecting the feathers, that one of our old english game hen roosters had met a bad end. I think it was the rooster on the left in the photo above.

We then found another pile of feathers closer to the chicken tractor where all of our layers were kept. In the photo below you can see two downy feathers.

Humble Garden 2009: sad end to rooster

The chicken tractor is not predator safe by any means so I decided as soon as I saw the feathers above to bring an end to the pastured chickens for now and have all the girls in with the roosters in the hen house.

Humble Garden 2009: empty chicken tractor

I made sure to patch all the holes in the hen house run and now they should be all set for a while.

Here are a few shots of the chicken run.

Humble Garden 2009: communal chickens

Humble Garden 2009: communal chickens

Humble Garden 2009: rooster

Humble Garden 2009: communal chickens

That rooster that we lost, he had been loose a few days and in that time he visited with one of our small chicken hens and now she has gone broody. She laid her eggs in this broody house we had made up in years past and has been sitting on them. So, even though we lost this rooster, his genetics were passed on. I dont know if these chicks will hatch or make it, but the hen is working hard on it.

Humble Garden 2009: protection for broody hen

I have the fence there for her protection. According to my daughter, the broody hen really only wants off for about 30 minutes a day to run out and “use the facilities”. My daughter opens the fence and takes the hen out for this time. Then she closes it back up. We learned the hard way that the other non-broody hens and roosters will smash the eggs under a broody hen and then if chicks hatch, they will kill and eat them. Broody hens and chicks need to be protected.

Humble Garden 2009: broody hen

I have learned that “old wives tales” and old sayings like “Dont count your chickens before they hatch” and “No use to crying over spilt milk” have a real profound meaning when you are caring for these animals. Not counting the chickens before they hatch is a guard against putting too much planning and intent into a delicate process (such as gestation) so that one can deal with the inevitable losses that WILL come.

The other day we were milking by hand in the morning because I didnt want to have to drag the milker out twice that day. We had just finished a load of milking and then, poooof, the goat lifted her leg and splashed her filthy hoof down into the pure white milk.

It made me white hot angry – all that work and all that lovely milk – but I was able to let it go quickly and cool off. The moment that hoof touched the milk, it was no longer useful. There is no halfways about it. No ambivalence. I just had to let it go. Thats what the saying “No use to crying over spilt milk” is all about, you have to let it go because it is 100% irretrievably lost.

Here are a few shots of the cucumbers that are WAY behind (like the whole garden) but which are coming along. I think they will have time to bear before the frosts!

These are pickling cucumbers

Humble Garden 2009: pickling cukes

Humble Garden 2009: pickling cukes

And these are lemon cucumbers (which I thought had died!)

Humble Garden 2009: Lemon cukes

Our milking habits

Posted by Nika On August - 2 - 2009

Humble Garden 2009: milk

I have been quite blocked on all of my blogs (technology, weather, misalignment of stars and muses, who knows) but I am hoping that I can start to dig out here.

In my last post you saw how I was having early blight. All 60 tomato plants are now history. I pulled them a week ago but it has been raining steadily and at times torrentially so I have not been able to burn the plants and stakes yet. The dead wilting vines are taunting me.

Today I am going to share a snapshot of our homesteading life and I hope it entertains on some level.

Lets do a census first. Amongst the humans, we have 2 adults, one 12 yo, one 5 yo, and one 2.5 yo. We have 5 cats who kill but do not eat rodentia. We have something like 35 chickens who are threatening to go into molt because of this hideous weather. We have one llama who is hitting the upper limits on tolerating said hideous weather. We used to have 18 goats but we FINALLY sold 6 kids (they were literally eating us out of house and home) and now we are down to 12 goats, 7 of which we milk on a daily basis.

These goats like hay. They dont eat every bit so some of it ends up on the ground. The hay acts like a sponge once it hits the mud. We have an enormous amount of urine/manure/hay/mud that we need to muck out and every day we get more torrential rain that makes this mess even worse.

Humble Garden 2009: hay over unmentionable yuck

Humble Garden 2009: unmentionable yuck

We live with it and await a time (sometime?) when the rain will stop and we will be able to make some headway.

Goats are strangely prissy when it comes to the rain, you would think they feel actual pain when wet. They will do just about anything to avoid it (although that doesnt keep them from laying down in wet muck and soaking their teats in filth right before I need to milk them).

Needless to say, our goats are as close to the edge about all this rain as I am, I promise. I worry we might be getting to a point where pharmaceutical interventions might make sense! (winks)

Our Days

So, some of the does in milk still have their kids so every morning 2 of us have to go out into the knee deep slipperiness that is the goat enclosure and separate the moms from the babies. The momma goats are catching on and come willingly on some days, other days they run away, down the hill (slippery) and we have to track them down.

So, with that done, we feed them all hay and top off water. A bit later we give them some grain, more water, more hay, etc.

In the afternoon or early evening the DH drags out the portable milker which consists of a 50 pound pump and a slightly lighter set of milking claws and reservoir (stainless steel).

Humble Garden 2009: pump

Humble Garden Goats: whole set up

My 12 yo and I do the milking alone. She fetches the girls one at a time and on some days, when the caprine-oriented planets are aligned and the goats are hungry enough, they come running to the stanchion. Other days, the goats will make a break for the garden or the forest and we have to go after them.

Getting the 12 yo to simply use a rope every time seems to be more difficult than herding the goats.

My milking experience is one of dual frustrations; between early adolescent misery and goat toddler-with-hooves misery.

Humble Garden 2009: How to milk a goat

Humble Garden 2009: How to milk a goat

Humble Garden Goats: on the goat

When a goat gets on the stanchion I use wet paper towels to clean her teats and then I dry them. I then turn on the pump and put the teat cups on the teats. I stand back, massage my old aching back and watch as the milker extracts the milk. I also watch the goat for signs that she wants to kick the cups off or jump off the stanchion. If she tries to make a break for it, I grab her and HOLD her in place until her udders are empty. One goat, Oaty Goaty, seems to love me ok but HATES to be milked so its always a struggle with her. I can not take my hand off her leg or she will kick the teat cups off (into the yuck).

Since removing her babies, Rye the goat – henceforth called “Emotional Rye” – is fighting the milking process from the gate to the stanchion and back to the gate again. I dont understand why. We have to be consistent and not give up because if we did then it will only continue or get worse.

SOMEONE’s will WILL be broken, just hope its not mine is all.

During this entire process, the baby goats (who are now 5-6 months old, adolescents really) are peering into the milking shed or just making the worst sort of bleating sounds that I am convinced neighbors miles away can hear. The 6 we sold were SO LOUD I feared that the neighbors would call the police or board of health for animal mistreatment. The silly goat babies would stand in the middle of their enclosure, unmolested in any way and with bellies filled with hay and grain, and bleat at the top of their lungs. So very glad they are gone.

(remember, we have this circus every day)

Once all the mommas are milked, my DH will lug it all back into the house, into the kitchen, where I decant the milk, filter it and put it in the fridge or add cultures to make cheese (mostly chevre right now). These days we get about 2.5 gallons a day, which we mostly drink and we drink it raw.

Humble Garden 2009: 2.5 gals/day milk

Labeled and ready to go in the fridge.

Humble Garden 2009: milk

Now the work really gets started.

Now I have to clean the milker and this takes as long as the milking (an hour or so).

Humble Garden 2009: cleaning tubes

First I rinse everything with a cold spray (including the inside of the milk pail) and then I fill the red pot with cold water and flush the cold water up through the tubing into the milk pail.

I dump all that and then flush the lines with hot water that has a special cleaner that removes milkstone (a build up of calcium and magnesium that can really mess up your machinery).

I then scrub the interior of the milk pail and everything else and then dump all that and then flush/wash everything with even more hot water.

By the end my arms are exhausted and I am usually soaked head to toe.

Mind you, this is every day!

As I type this and hit post, I am getting ready to go out and milk. The sky is dark, its sprinkling, and the goats are cowering in the murk. I hope the sheeting heavy rain can hold off until we are done. If not, it will be like most other days around here.

Homesteading isnt easy kids. Being a goat mistress is not easy either. Being a goat mistress with pissy goats, grumpy pre-teens, teething toddlers, and obsessive 5 year olds who want to help but mostly cant – its almost more than any three women can bear!

About Me

We are a family of 5, including Nika, Ed, Q (14), KD (7), and Baby Oh (4). We garden 1024 square feet of raised beds plus assorted permacultural plantings. We also have 13 LaMancha dairy goats, 40 chickens, and one guard llama.



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