Showing posts with label Self Sufficient Homestead. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Self Sufficient Homestead. Show all posts

Seasonal Eating (Key To Cutting Ties to the Grocery Store)

Eating seasonally on the homestead for improved health and cutting ties to the grocery store! #homesteader #gardener

One of the best things about growing your own food is eating seasonally!
I have always liked to cook, like to can, love to bake, but doing it seasonally was really challenging for me at first!
We are a country of people that eat what we want when we want... no matter the season. That was me all the way!

That's a nice thing but the problem is the veggies and fruits are often tasteless and sometimes from other countries that allow way more dangerous chemicals sprayed that we do. Maybe those veggies and fruits can hit a craving but they don't do much for our health.
Which is why a lot of people want to farm, healthy and tasty foods!

So if you're thinking you want to grow your own food??
Better start thinking outside the box when it comes to cooking and start eating seasonally! It's not hard just a different way of thinking about the food you prepare!

Like everything else on the farm, it was a learning curve for us. One well worth the time and trouble!
When things don't come in a package or on demand you have to cook by the seat of your pants and use what's on hand.
The things I grow aren't always in my recipe books ( ground cherries!) 
Then there are things I get in great abundance that I must use or preserve if possible! ( mustard greens)

Learning to love tomato or green bean salads in the summer instead of lettuce salads (lettuce dies in our heat here) Substituting an in-season ingredient for an out of season ingredient in a recipe...
Some people have a problem doing this but once you get used to it I promise you will not want to eat any other way!
It's fresh, healthy... and tastes better than anything you can buy out of season or in a package!

Different Season New Cuisine!

Winter Eats

Here in zone 7 TN, we have 4 lovely seasons. I like to think each season has its own cuisine :-)
In the winter I did a recipe challenge on the 5 days of cushaw and it was fantastic! 
Winter squash is a major food for us in the winter... summer squash, except what I dehydrated or froze for baking is long gone. 
Winter cuisine is a mix of home preserved foods from summer and foods that store well. Fresh vegetables are cold hardy plants I grow in my winter gardens under low tunnels.

I get asked all the time... doesn't canning destroy the nutrition in the foods?
Well, certainly not all the nutrients are destroyed! It's not as nutritious as fresh, but my naturally grown, no preservative canned foods I say are a lot more safe than fresh out of season veggies from another country!
Preserving foods for times when not much grows is a way to survive and has been for centuries!
Having preserved homegrown food is a blessing and a treasure in the winter. I also dehydrate and freeze, although I prefer not to have too much of my vegetable and fruit supply for winter dependant on the freezer.
The four-season garden can only do so much. Preserving the bounty from your farm needs to happen unless you live somewhere with no winter.
Spring, summer and fall cuisine, except for relishes, our grain corn, and pickles, can pretty much all be fresh foods for our climate here.
Eating seasonally on the homestead for improved health and cutting ties to the grocery store! #homesteader #gardener

Spring Eats

Spring brings greens and snow peas! Breakfast for me is often a green smoothie of some kind this time of year using frozen fruits from previous harvests and whatever is ready in the garden! Spinach, kale sometimes young mustard greens do the trick.

Lunch is salads with raw snow peas and fresh lettuces! 
Dinner can be snow peas (again!) but cooked in bacon grease along with sauteed greens or maybe a quiche with lots of chopped greens and fresh herbs from the garden that are starting to pop up!
Spring is a lot of fun for seasonal eaters!
Eating seasonally on the homestead for improved health and cutting ties to the grocery store! #homesteader #gardener

Summer Eats

Right now we have a few new potatoes, beans, leeks, garlic, basil, an abundance of summer squash and cucumbers... starting to get into tomato season and okra is coming...
we have plenty of eggs, have slaughtered 10 ducks and a hog so we also have a good bit of lard and duck fat.

Average summer dinner....summer herbed sausage pattie with pepper relish (canned from last years garden).. sauteed green beans and asparagus beans with fresh garlic in lard,,,,
duck hearts and livers sauteed with leeks in lard...  roast new potatoes in duck fat,, fresh slices of yellow pear tomato.
We even serve seasonal foods to guests ..why go to the store for products not as good as what you've got...entertaining with a fresh from the garden menu is so nice! And actually pretty easy... 
.. for summer entertaining we may have green bean salad, a flatbread made from my homemade cornmeal, zucchini and duck eggs... topped with heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil,,,
grilled pork chops, a dessert made with fresh berries wildcrafted or cultivated.

Breakfast .... never has it been the most important meal of the day for me... until I farmed!

Average summer breakfast.... duck eggs, summer squash rolled in cornmeal and fried in lard, slices of fresh tomato .. maybe an herbed sausage pattie. In the winter we still get eggs but the veggies would change from squash to fresh greens, sauerkraut and maybe a piece of bacon.
I believe in veggies for breakfast... and every meal really!!!!

Fall Eats

We tend to have a long fall here. Peppers are still plentiful but grain corn and winter squash are coming in! 
Homemade pumpkin spice everything! Pumpkin breakfast smoothies! 
Fresh ground cornbread and country ham for lunch! Maybe winter squash and bean tacos for dinner! Topped with fresh sauteed peppers of course!

We did not eat anything like this before we grew our own food but now we wouldn't want it any other way!

Grow Variety for Food Security

We were having a hot June and going into July it's wet... rabbits have had a field day with some of the things in my garden which make me rely on the things that they didn't want to eat! This is all an adjustment when you're growing your own food..... I was counting on provider beans... the rabbits ate them all,, thankfully my dragon tongue beans did well in a more protected area so they have been my go-to bean for eating and canning this summer.

I do get discouraged by the failures, like this season...the rabbits eating all my provider beans... the excess rain washing away my mulch making way for weeds! Things like my peppers are not doing as well this year as last..... cracked tomatoes from to much rain....artichokes looking like they are not going to work out again! I could go on.....

 I have to adjust the menus and focus on the fact that even though all is not perfect in the garden or barnyard... I still gathered a whole bushel of vegetables today!

Eating seasonally on the homestead for improved health and cutting ties to the grocery store! #homesteader #gardener

Roll with the Punches!

Being flexible in what you 'think' breakfast, lunch or dinner should be is a must here...
Some things I used to love just can't be grown in TN... so I have had to learn to love the things that can be grown here even more... and I do!
 Different ways of preparing and substituting what's available have been a key in our success in cutting our ties with the grocery store.

Sorta like learning to love the livestock that's productive here... not hold onto the livestock that couldn't cut it in this climate or can't be grown organically here! 

I canned 6 pints and 4 half pints of wild blackberries and have a dehydrator full of tomatoes and ground cherries...
I ate breakfast, lunch, and snacks today, ALL things grown on my farm... and my husband and I will sit down to a dinner all grown right here.... in-season vegetables and recently slaughtered meats from livestock we grew..maybe from an animal I had never planned to grow in the first place.... but if it's what works....

Accept it, learn to cook it and love it..... keys to homestead success
and abundant blessings... never forget to Praise the Lord for the things that work out!

Heritage Lard Hogs

Heritage Lard Hogs and their role on the modern homestead for a more self sufficient lifestyle! #homesteader #heritagepork #pasturedpork

What was old is new again! Heritage lard hogs are quickly becoming more popular on small farms again! For their excellent red meat pork and silky lard, they are niche pigs with great potential! 

Heritage 'unimproved' Hogs

 The picture you see above was a drawing in a book my wife found in a used book store. She loves to find "old school " wisdom in out of print books!

The drawing depicts a typical "Red Berkshire Hog" circa 1881. To keep that date in perspective America was only 16 years removed from General Robert E Lees surrender at Appomattox (still a dark day to my beautiful southern-born wife) and only five years from George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn. So we were not talking about a feed store grain fattened hog here. 
The Book The Compleat Farmer was compiled in 1975 and was a collection of reprints from the periodical "American Agriculturist" (established 1842) spanning over 50 years of its publication.

 As a former breeder of American Guinea Hogs and now Meishan Pigs, both 'lard' hogs, I was very struck by the portly profile of the Berkshire pictured above. He looked way more like the America Guinea Hogs I used to raise than the common "improved" carcass hogs I have grown all to used to seeing. 

While Berkshires are the oldest registered hog breed and today are constantly referred to as a "heritage breed" I was struck that I never recalled them looking so short legged or frankly so fat. So I did a Google Search on "Berkshire Images". What I found confirmed my initial recollections.

The Modern American Hog

Yes, this is a very representative image of what I found. Hmm, obviously something had happened between The Little Big Horn and today's "New White Meat". But this blog post isn't about the Berkshire Hog. Today it is still touted as one of the most popular breeds to cross with commercial breeds to increase the intramuscular fat content and improve the dry wallboard texture (my opinion not a stated industry standard) of most commercial pork. I will assume it has become what its breeders, and what livestock show( 4H, FFA, County Fair, etc) judges wanted them to become. I do chuckle when its touted as a hog representing its "original" heritage, however.

The Lard Hogs Role On a Homestead

No, this post is about the role of the heritage lard hog on older small holding farmer operations and if that role is still applicable today in the "modern" homestead. How that traditional role affected its growth rate, fat to meat ratio and final size requires understanding its role on those farms. And if those traits, if retained, can make it an ideal addition to the modern small homesteader. Also, a fuller understanding of what the lard hog was and it will help us as lard hog breeders to celebrate and maintain the breed in its true "heritage" form. 

 In the discussion of the "old time" southern homestead, I have a unique and rich resource to get impressions of what role the farm pig played in smallholder operations. My wife was raised on a 100-acre farm in Athens TN. More importantly, she grew up knowing not only her grandparents but two of her great grandmothers. This was a resource that stretched back to early 1900s and before. Their impressions and statements have been very revealing in the search to define the role of the "pig" was on their farms. Her two branches of the farming family tree were a bit different. Her one paternal great grandmother owned 100 acres of rich creek bottom land. That grandfather raised cattle, had raised hogs, raised hay, grew all of his finishing grain (corn) and had large gardens both with cash crops and home usage crops. He had a smokehouse, corn crib, and a full working sawmill to utilize his woodlots. In addition to all those endeavors, he held down a full-time job at the postal service.

 Her maternal great grandmother was a Cherokee Indian (whose family refused to report to the reservation) who owned 80 acres of a rocky mountaintop. She bought calves and raised them for sale(never eating something so valuable herself) and raised a feeder pig which she fed with the table scraps she was allowed to bring home from her waitress job in a local diner. Ironically in those times, the 80 acres and 100-acre farm were considered small (or medium at best) farm operations of that day. I think both farms were very representative of post-depression smallholders in the southeast.

 Farming was a big part of their income but after the economic devastation of the depression not deemed reliable enough to be the sole source of income. These people had an incredible work ethic to work and farm at these scales. Every family member had their role right down to the pre-teens. My wife's grandmother commented the other day "Your grandfather wore me out over THOSE gardens!".

The pig in those situations was bought as an early feeder in the spring. It was raised on pasture and its omnivorous nature made it the perfect garbage disposal when kitchen garbage was more likely to be pumpkin rinds and chicken entrails than plastic wrappers. Corn was reserved for late finishing of both the cattle and the hogs so the pigs had to be able to forage and live through lean times and thrive and fatten in better.

 Every year like clockwork the day after Thanksgiving the hogs were slaughtered. This was done then because typically the onset of cooler weather in the southeast lent itself for less risk of spoilage and contamination of the meat and fat. It also signaled the end of rich pasture and in those days overwintering a feeder animal was a fool's exercise. The next day the families women (of all ages) gathered to render the fats into lard. That lard had the wonderful trait of being able to be stored without refrigeration. And refrigeration capacity was in short supply or nonexistent in those days. Too much meat was more difficult to cure and waste was not an option. That precious lard was put into Mason jars and sent to the root cellars of the household. That lard would be the cooking oil and baking shortening for the entire next year. Olive oil was in Italy not the home farms of Tennessee. 

Meishan Pigs are the perfect small farm lard hog with the most excellent craft pork!
Meishan Pig, The perfect Lard hog for us
The cracklins that remained were fried crispy and devoured like modern junk food or put into cornbread. Some pork was consumed on the spot and the rest was sent to the smokehouse where it was smoked for the preservation not just for flavor. In fact, in those days the homestead hog was a dual-use animal. Those purposes were as a source of meat and FAT. It can be argued that the hogs ability to produce a storable fat source was even more important than its role as a meat source in a culture that was more likely to dine on a pot of beans than a cut of meat. 

So in review, the ideal 'farm hog" would grow to butcher size (typically 150-200 lbs) in 8-10 months and would easily add back fat and lard without graining. It had to be docile and for those retained for overwintering and breeding a medium size. Raising a feeder hog had many advantages. When you look at that farming model you can see why the American Guinea Hog, as a lard hog, became the most popular hog in the southeast. And why the Meishan, also a lard hog, was so prized in China!

The Modern Breeding of 'lean' Pork

Meishan Pork! Not your typical pork!
Meishan Pork Roast

Flash forward 80-100 years. The 80 hours work week smallholder has given way to a society returning from World War II  and Korea that invented the subdivision and found the reliability of the factory paycheck much more attractive than the grind(not the "simple life as some romanticize it today or in 1975 )of farm life. Those households found the chest freezer as readily available as the telephone or the light bulb. This society needed cheap quick and convenient food sources. Those farmers who stay behind on their acreages found it more profitable to focus on fast-growing cash crop hogs and use the additional money to fill their other homestead needs at these new "Supermarkets" popping up in even small towns. 
Lard? Well, that was quickly replaced by margarine and Crisco heralded by Government as a superior "healthier alternative". And quickly the medium lard hog like the Guinea Hog was an anachronism. 

Unable to be "improved" to modern standards and USDA grading systems which put the highest price on pork with the "leanest" qualities. Lard hogs fell out of favor and dangerously close to extinction.
Today lard hogs like the Meishan are enjoying a remarkable resurgence! But even as the new "homesteaders" and those who seek to become genetic repositories for the breed begin to acquire these pigs I fear that we are losing sight of the true "heritage" of the heritage hog. 

Don't raise a Lard breed if you want Lean Pork!

As new farmers and breeders from a fat averse society obtain the breeds like the Meishan I am always struck by those who try to breed and grow the Meishan or other lard breeds as "lean". That wring their hands over how quickly they become "rotund". I am already seeing AGH bloodlines which look more like the second picture above and not the first. You see being "rolly polly" is their heritage. They are LARD hogs. There are few true lard type hogs remaining. They were raised and bred to easily add precious fat, be ready for slaughter in 9-10 months, be docile enough to be a "yard pig", not attack your chickens or your children!
 To raise the hog so as to minimize fat, accept growth rates ( or to make inadequate pasture or supplemental feed available) that result in pigs that take over 12 months (some up to 2 years!) to reach 100lbs is not the preservation of the heritage of the breed. Its just maintaining human-modified gene pool. But as I make this case understand I am not a museum farmer. I do not keep animals on my farm simply because they are "heritage".I do not begrudge those who do. But my animals must be low input animals that provide excellent efficiencies in both growth and utilization. 
No hog fits that better for my farm than the Meishan as a TRUE lard hog. 
Other posts about Meishans and how they improved our farm 

Lard helps us achieve a Self Sufficient Homestead 

We celebrate and render the fats. The succulent and sweet fat makes the meat superior to what we can find from Krogers to Whole Foods. The reasonable(if slower than some breeds) growth rate of  9-11 months to `150# plus weights fits into our plans to butcher our own hogs in the fall and to smoke and can their meats in cool weather. For our application the Meishan is not heritage, it is superior. 

Lard Soap! Great Homestead business!
Lard Soap

My wife utilizes those lards along with other farm-raised products to produce an entire skin care line including soaps, lotions, and shampoo bars. We no longer buy cooking oils or butter as we bake, cook and fry in lard. We would be lost when faced with a "lean hog".So before we as a community lose these qualities I would refer you to a quote from the introduction of The Compleat Farmer:

"The Compleat Farmer is an indispensable guide to good country living. It is, as its subtitle suggests, "a compendium of do-it-yourself, tried and true practices for the farm, garden, and household" 

But it is more than that. It is the sage sound salient advice of the nineteenth-century American farmer and his wife, selected, edited, and arranged for its practical use today.....these serviceable, interesting ideas from America's past speak directly to America's present. All are immediately applicable to a society bogged down with energy and cost problems, wanting to cut back, wanting to live a simpler less costly life, but not knowing how or where to begin"

Those words were written 40 years ago in 1975. I would argue the simple life those evenings I work past dark and peel off my manure stain jeans. But there is much wisdom in those old small farming methods. Do they ring true for you too? In closing, I offer that if you choose to raise a Guinea Hog, Mule foot or a Meishan always consider raising it true to its "heritage". 

For if you do and if you learn to treasure and celebrate those wonderful fats its value to you will be more than just a museum piece. It will be an indispensable part of your homestead and possibly a niche business as the fats are becoming trendy amount certain healthy dieters as well as for high dollar charcuterie plates.

American Guinea hogs
American Guinea Hog 

Heritage Hog Breeds

For more info on Heritage hog breeds, including lard breeds check out the Livestock Conservancy

You can also check out the American Meishan Breeders Association

If you want to know even more about Meishan pigs and how they are the perfect homestead pig for us and our homestead business you can sign up for the list for regular updates on the breed and the press its been getting! 

Sign up for the Meishan Tales Newsletter and get all the latest info on this amazing pig thats perfect for many small farmers! #pasturedpork #heritagehog

Farming For Profit: Then Its a Business

Farming for profit can be a hard business model. You need to know farming skills and business skills! But it can be done! #farmingforprofit #homesteader

When the Homesteading Honeymoon is over

A few years ago on Facebook, several of my friends and fellow "livestock/agriculturalists" have been sharing an article called "Quitting Season: Why Farmers Walk Away From Their farms". It is a very well done article about the economic realities that drive individuals out of smallholder farming for profit. It is one of the few articles or blog posts that even touch on the stark brutality of smallholder farming economics.

Farming for Profit is a Business, while Homesteading might not be

It is important at this point for me to clarify my definitions of the difference between, farming for profit, subsistence farming, and hobby farming.
Please understand these are my definitions and you may disagree with them.

  • Farming for profit is a conscious decision to provide the bulk (or at least a major portion of) your income from livestock or some form of agriculture. It is an agribusiness model most likely smack dab in the middle of the US food supply chain. Whether that be raising breeding stock, meat, milk,  eggs, or homegrown plant products for animal feed or human consumption. 
  • Subsistence farming is an all-out attempt to grow the maximum percentage of your nutritional needs. This was our starting goal which you can read about here Investment in the Homestead LifestyleThis can be health, dietary or agenda driven. It requires a conscious realization that whatever your goals that your life requires an income not based on your property(day job, investments, etc). Although in the ideal scenario there are cash flows to offset the cost. Your net feed /grocery store bill goal is that it is at, or under, your pre-farm grocery bill level. 
  • Hobby farming is just that. You may want a few vegetables or meat sources or a great "lifestyle" environment for you and your family. Very often it is an agenda driven moment where the hobby farmer can declare revolutionary independence from the decadence of the food supply chain in between boxes of pasta or Chinese take out. 
farming for profit

Today, unfortunately, all three are blended into a "club" that is growing in popularity, social acceptance call the "Homesteading Movement".  And in some cases, the siren song of "Homesteading" is a scam being perpetrated on the idealistic optimism of would be new small business people by a conglomeration of feel-good magazines and bloggers.
Look I am not trying to be judgmental here. My point is only that before you can know your limitations you need to know who you are. And knowing why you are who you are is the best way to recognize potential bad decisions based on your own emotionalism.

Farming for Profit IS a Business and the same rules apply

 But returning to the subject article. At the end of what I think is a very good article up to that point the author comes to the following conclusion "When farmers call it quits it is not because they have failed—it is because our archaic food and agriculture system has failed them. One thing remains for sure: if, as a society, we don’t prioritize the health, well being, and financial solvency of our farmers, we will lose them by the droves—along with all of their precious resources, talent, and skill—and the kinds of food only a farmer who loves his work can provide." 
It is at this point that the author drops the ball in my opinion. I am sorry but the failure of any business can usually be traced to the preparation, skills, and resources of who stares the owners in the mirror every morning. Notice I said small business. Not small farmers. Because for some reason when you use the term farmer some people think the rules of small business are magically dissipated by some Norman Rockwell image of a "food and agriculture system" that is duty bound to support inefficient or noncompetitive business models.

 For the past 29 years, I have been self-employed in a series of small entrepreneurial start-ups. In each case, I founded or co-founded startup entities. Those businesses include a recreational boat dealership, an event marketing business, a used car dealership/ asset value recovery firm and today our little 38-acre subsistence farm which eventually led to our small farm Meishan Pig Business.

farming for profit

Know Your Competition

Some businesses I ran were mildly successful, and some were successful for a period of time. But some just existed in a constant state of an extended terminal disease! I am not a business genius. I am just a small business survivor.

So how does this relate to the article? It's quite simple. If you are going to walk into a bar and take a swing at the biggest worst dude in the joint you better be ready to get your butt whipped. That is unless you have a weapon, skill or secret invulnerability he doesn't have. Another way to paraphrase this is to suggest that you better make a pretty good sandwich if you are going to open a sandwich shop in between a Panera bread and a Subway. Its gonna take more than Mommy's old world mayonnaise. Because in small business the only unforgivable sin is to run out of money. And your competitors will be more unmerciful than a Mongol hoard when you stumble. As I said earlier the smallholder agricultural model in many cases(including those in the cited article) are within the US food supply chain.
Our U.S. food supply chain is a multi-billion dollar supply chain dominated by very large and very powerful competitors. And they got that way because they supplied the public with EXACTLY what they demanded. Which is:

  1. That is food that is convenient.
  2. Uniform in appearance
  3. Targeted at the lowest common denominator pallet 
  4. Most of all the majority of the public wants low-cost food in relation to the products supplied by smallholders. 

Sad but true... We have "Big Ag" because we demanded "Big Ag". We have "Big Ag" so we can spend more time and money on our I-phone than we do in the kitchen.

Small Farming for Profit can be done!

 So does that mean its a hopeless endeavor? No, but I think the problems with many failed smallholder "farmer" attempts is to ignore the fundamental realities of all small businesses.

The first is you have to be everything. You have to be the CEO, CFO, brand manager, advertising manager, customer service specialist, expediter janitor, laborer and bottle washer. If you are going up against Kroger and Purdue understand they have entire departments to do each function and that function only.  They pay those managers 6 figure plus salaries to do those things. Then give them resources you just can't imagine.

Unless you are very special they are better at each function than you are. They became better at it while crushing other competitors, much larger and much better funded than you. They are the biggest worst dudes in the bar. If you are going to play in this arena you need a niche so specialized, so new or so small as to remain below their radar. If you are raising the same breed of chicken, hog, beef, or commonly available vegetable as the big guys and expect people to pay double because you are nicer to the animal you better be great at branding (Joel Salatin) or have direct access to a demographic nobody else is servicing.

The broiler chicken that can be slaughtered in 6 weeks was developed for the "Big Ag" guys. If you think raising it in a pasture makes you invincible then just look at how many before you have failed. And before you go reaching for your keyboard and tell me how Joel Salatin does it please research how much land, how much equipment and infrastructure he has! How many employees and interns he has and what his revenue from speaking is! Then tell me how you as a small startup compare.

More Product does not always equal more $$

The second fundamental rule of business is that you can't sell at a loss and make it up in volume. In the cited article one farmer realized (well into the endeavor) that he was losing money selling beef. That his ground beef had to go from $8 a pound to $11 a pound. He tried to make the jump in one week. Failure ensued.

In what business do you even begin without a clear cost analysis/product price analysis? Who waits until they are going broke to calculate these things.? Rookie farmers do! Part of the issue in this segment is that for many it is the first foray into a small self-owned business. I can tell you that there are no manuals or feel good magazine articles that come close to capturing the brutal reality of small business for profit.
And rookies, like I did when I was a small business rookie, find out quickly the complexity of accounting, regulations, waste, cost of goods sold, marketing, branding, etc will humble you. If you are competing against the big guys when the realization hits you are already a dead farm walking.

Worse yet farming and the "make money while living your dream" homestead business fairy tales being overly romanticized by a host of feel-good publications are just not accurate. These BUSINESS'S are focused on increased circulation and not reality. Worse yet they breed a plethora of small startups who flood the market with the product below their costs thinking it will all work out if they are "good stewards' etc etc.
My advice to any farmer whose cost analysis puts them at $11 for ground beef or pork(when its $4.99 or less at Kroger )would have been to look at value-added functions for their beef or pork. For example, rather than sell ground pork, sell custom sausage. For a few cents in herbs, you can get dollars more in price. Or just quit it. You cant make it up in volume.

farming for profit
Donkey Milk soap is more profitable than the over-saturated market of goat milk soap for us.

Know Your circumstances and Work that Niche!

If you look carefully and research the "successful" smallholder farms you often see a common thread. Their products are very niche oriented. Microgreens not carrots, Heritage red meat pork not the breeds raised more efficiently in confinement. We choose our 'niche' business to be Meishan Pigs which you can read about how we came to choose them here The Heritage pig breed we had never heard of
But know that niches can have a definite shelf life. Today's trendy rare meat can be tomorrows oversupplied commodity. It can be done but you will make a lot less than your day job for a long time before you make more.
And that brings me to the "Homesteader" make money off the land, doing whatever you want myth". I can't tell you how many times I have heard this scenario'

 "We just bought three acres. Now we are going to raise all of our food and sell livestock so we can quit our jobs and live the good life of an independent farmer."

Really? Well, be advised that its a tougher gig than you think. In most cases, people woefully underestimate the land required, the livestock or crops suited to their land, the cost structure inherent to their business, and the form of indentured servitude a small business owner must endure is lost on the uninitiated. Worse if you try to warn them because then you are being negative. So be it. The hardest thing about good advice is to know when you are getting it.

One Goal at a Time!

So for us, the first goal was the subsistence model. We have progressed over almost 8 seasons of growing 90% of our own food and nutritional production. Our livestock sales contribute to reducing the cost of growing them. It is our chosen path and while its hard work we accept the stress in exchange for the benefits. We do now have our 'dream' homestead! It wasn't easy but once we knew who we were and set goals we got on the right track. You can read about that on this page Building our Dream Homestead
Once we had our first goal accomplished we looked to a niche market to move the farm to a small business model while not sacrificing the other gains we have made. Which we accomplished with our Meishan Pigs. You can take a look at them here if you like on our business website Meishan Pigs. As part of our farm business, we also started a registry for these rare 'niche' pigs A.M.B.A Meishan Breeders And if we fail it will be on us. Not because the "food and agriculture system failed us".

farming for profit
Above all enjoy the journey

Be blessed. And happy homesteading!

Join the Homesteaders Journey

Livestock Farming :Searching Outside the Box

Livestock farming doesn't have to be cows, goats and chickens! We looked to other alternative livestock to find what fit our dream homestead! It can be a deeper learning curve but when the perfect livestock works it just brings you closer to your dream! Worth the effort! #homesteader #livestockfarming

Livestock farming can be hard in the beginning! Finding the perfect animal for your climate, land, and needs when there are so many choices can be confusing. Often an animal may work out ok but they don't fit in with the personality of the farmer. Something that is rarely talked about but just as important! Your dream homestead isn't going to be very 'dream like' if your animals make you crazy! 😒

Sometimes things just don't work out

We've been through the livestock. Just about every breed of goat available in America, 5 breeds of sheep,, so many chicken & duck breeds, different breeds of hogs, many breeds of rabbits and so on! Sometimes it was the 'breed', like with hogs for us. Hogs work for our climate and our land.  My husband enjoys taking care of them because, for the most part, they are lower input than most livestock. The AGH didn't fill our needs after a while though. We needed a hog that had larger litters with more income potential so the Meishan fit perfect! More about that here The Heritage pig breed we had never heard of that fit our farm perfect!

But with Goats, it was a different situation. They fit our land, filled our needs for meat (and milk before I became allergic) but didn't fit our climate very well. Nor did they fit my personality. They drove me insane with their high input deworming needs and other health issues. The smell of the buck really interrupted my 'dream' homestead. I need to walk outside and smell fresh air, flowers, horses! Not a musty buck stank 🤢

We were searching for the right animals and/or breed to fit our land and climate with the lowest input possible and greatest use of available natural resources. We started looking outside the box. Just because it is no longer a popular animal to raise as livestock doesn't mean it won't work for my small farm!  Again, some things worked, but somethings just didn't due to no fault of the animals themselves!
Livestock farming! Raising pigeons for meat

Livestock Farming and Searching Outside the Box 

Meat Pigeons, I wish they had worked!

There are many pros to keeping meat pigeons! And Of course cons like any other livestock. But overall they were pretty great! I was introduced to the meat when I worked at a Moroccan restaurant in Atlanta. It was called squab. I had no idea at the time that it was a pigeon and I didn't care! It was the most delicious meat I ever ate! When I found out what it was I did not care! It was SO good! I knew if someday I was blessed enough to have a farm I'd want to try to raise my own succulent squab meat!

So why didn't they work out?

The number one reason they didn't work is I suspect my breeding stock was highly inbred.
I got them from a breeder who had just let them mate over the years without tracking them. They had babies that grew up, paired up and mated no matter if they were brother and sister or not. He did not leg tag them so there was no telling how related they were.

I normally wouldn't have bought breeding stock from someone who bred like this but I was desperate! I had been looking for breeders within 4 hours of me for years!
They had problems being good mothers and laying consistently. The babies were sometimes very weak and didn't live at all.
Utility meat pigeons are extremely rare and their genetic base is very small. They are not cheap livestock to buy but if you can find good breeding stock you will have some of the nicest meat you can produce! 

Raising Pigeons for meat

Raising Pigeons for meat is nothing new!! Squab meat has been raised for centuries! It's been a meat served at high-end restaurants for many years! Here is an article dated 1970 from Mother Earth News about raising meat pigeons Raise Pigeons for Meat

They are very low input! They don't need a lot of room but they do need to be able to fly and exercise. The parent pigeons do all the work! They brood and raise the babies themselves. They start another nest of 2 eggs before the others are kicked out. If you have good breeding stock!
livestock farming pigeons for meat

Pigeons tend to be very prolific in the spring and summer. Eggs take 2 weeks to hatch, then squab is ready to eat in about 4 weeks. They are super fast to process!

They don't eat a lot. But they are seed eaters. Meaning none of my natural resources or gardens could feed them except my grain corn crops. I would have had to grow some other grains to feed them from our farm.
I might have done that if my stock had been more prolific.

I really liked them! I do admit I miss them...I really miss them! Their cooing and bathing .. Such beautiful birds! Birds I searched for years to purchase,,, it was a little heartbreaking for me to let them go. But I can't keep ALL the livestock animals. I have to focus on the animals I get the most out of and I can raise the most efficient way. Which for me means I can raise them without a feed store if I had too.

I won't say I'll never try these again if I could find quality breeding stock from someone raising for meat and keeping records.

There isn't a lot of information about meat pigeons online. I found this website and her ebook to be helpful, although she states that her pigeons ate vegetable and greens. Mine never would. Different breed maybe?
Pigeons for Meat

Donkeys Work and Took the place of 2 common animals that didn't! 

Donkeys took the place of 2 animals we had here on the farm that wasn't working out very well. Goats and Livestock Guardian dogs. 
This saved me a lot of money and time. Donkeys are much lower input and economical than lgds and dairy goat for us personally.

Replacing LGD's 

I was really tired of LGD's that killed poultry or ate baby lambs! If they didn't kill adult birds they usually killed chicks if they didn't kill chicks they still ate my eggs! Or escaping the fencing to roam! I even had several LGDs develop a taste for other animals feed so then they wouldn't allow the animals to eat their food! Sometimes they would guard the shelter and not let them inside during bad weather.

Lgd's are used by many but for me, they cost us a lot of money and caused a multitude of problems on my farm! They also clashed with my personality. I'm used to highly trainable obedient dogs like Dobermans and Poodles. None of the lgd breeds are very smart compared to the dog breeds I love. 

Donkeys don't eat eggs or newborn baby animals! It's easy to feed them separately if I have too. They won't tear through a fence to steal chicken food! Nor, do they break out of fencing and roam the area. Leaving my stock at risk and risking damage to a neighbors property. They are more trainable than an lgd! Yes, the stubborn donkey is more trainable than an lgd! For me anyways.

I did do my research and got an older trained donkey to start. Donkeys and equine are a bit different than most livestock. Not harder by any means, but they have different needs. 

Replacing Goats

Ok, Let me get this out of the way. My donkeys didn't take the place of goat's used as meat! Although donkey meat is sought after in China, Italy and many other parts of the world, equine is not on my menu! 

But Donkeys did take the place of goats for dairy, weed eating and manure for the gardens!

Donkeys For Milk

Equine milk, such as Mare's milk and Donkey milk, is nothing new either! The domestication of donkeys has been around for hundreds of years and so has the practice of milking them and using the milk as a food, a beauty product and medicinally!

I had been having some health problems for years and it sounded like donkey milk could help. I seriously didn't know how much longer I would be able to farm or do much of anything! Long story short donkey milk helped and got me on a road back to health! They will always have a special place because of that!
It also revived my soap and skin care business. Goat milk soap has become over saturated in the market. Donkey milk, which is actually better for mature and allergy prone skin allowed me to not only revive the business but raise my prices because donkey milk skin care products are rare in the USA.
Plus it is absolutely the best-tasting milk I've ever had. I'm not a milk drinker and That's saying a lot! I've had raw jersey cow milk, sheep milk, all breeds of goats milk and even camel milk. Donkey is lite and sweet! It's actually refreshing! A word I would never use to describe any other milk.

Donkeys do not require the higher quality legumes and grain most goats need to be productive for milking. They do not give as much milk as a full size improved dairy goat but my small standard donkey gives me a quart a day on my dairy management program. That's plenty for us!

Donkeys for weed control

My brambles and unimproved pastures work great for donkeys! They actually do a better job at weed eating than goats. They also never get their head caught in the fencing and other non-sense goats did!

No animal will eat ALL of the weeds! Donkeys did better than goats, but Icelandic sheep cleared the land the best of any animal I've had. So if pasture improvement, clearing brambles and wood lots are a goal for you get a few Icelandic sheep and a guard donkey!

Donkey Manure for gardens 

It wasn't until donkeys that I could finally stop trucking in compost and manure for my gardens. All the poultry and ruminants we had through the years never produced enough to feed my vegetables and grain corn. The mass amounts of manure they produce is amazing for my ever-growing 4 season gardens!
This was an important part of our homesteading goal. Producing all the compost we need right on the farm to feed our gardens!

Donkeys other uses

They have other uses too. Riding, working, packing! You can read more about their uses in these 2 post What are donkeys good for?
and Other Products Donkeys Provide on a farm
If you think donkeys may be right for your farm read my ebook before you bring one home! It will prepare you and let you know what to expect.

Replacing 2 high input animals with 1 was huge for our farm!

Lgd's and Goats are great useful livestock for the right people and farm!! Just not this farm!

Turkeys didn't work for us unfortunately 

And I come to turkeys! Though not an uncommon livestock farming animal. They aren't very popular on small modern farms.

The turkeys are wonderful, interesting, beautiful birds to watch like pigeons. Back and forth I went on keeping them. My husband even really liked them! And he's not really into the poultry at all!

We tried 2 breeds. We preferred the Midget Whites. They ate less and weighed about the same at slaughter time as the Bourbon Reds. They are both rare heritage breeds.
You can read more about the Midget White and Bourbon red history on Slow Food USA
and Livestock Conservancy
livestock farming turkeys

They were actually easy to process for a large bird! Extremely delicious unlike any turkey I've ever tasted they were worth growing! Except...

Why didn't Turkeys work out here?

First, they were a bit delicate to raise as poults. For the first time ever I had to buy medicated food. I've raised many breeds of ducks, chickens, geese, and quail and I never had to buy medicated feed. But these guys just started dying and that was the only thing that saved them.
They ate a lot of grain. A LOT of grain! So they were way more input that I like to mess with.

Ultimately they couldn't' stay because they kept getting into my gardens and before long they would have been getting out of fences with no donkey to protect them. I'm not into feeding the local coyotes. And that was the end of that!
Turkeys must go :-( 

If I was ever to raise Turkeys again it would be the Midget whites and I got them here Midget White Turkeys

Livestock Farming Outside the Box

I've learned so much by looking outside the box when it comes to livestock farming and the gardens too!

Sometimes trying a little known breed can work out nice like
Silkie Chickens for productive homestead poultry!!
or the very rare but quickly gaining popularity Meishan hog! These hogs, domesticated over 5,000 years ago were exactly what our homestead needed when 3 other breeds didn't work out. Here is more info on them Meishan Pig Info and a video!

So yes, I'm sad turkeys and the pigeons didn't quite work out for us personally. But thankful I discovered one outside the box livestock experiment works like a charm and replaces 2 that didn't make the cut!

As always, Its a Journey!!
Have a blessed week and happy productive Homesteading! 

3 EASY Unusual Fruits to Grow!

3 EASY Unusual fruits your can grow on your homestead quickly! #gardener #homesteadgarden #homesteader

My garden has certainly has had its fair share of uncommon vegetable experiments over the last 9 years.
I have my staple crops down and the varieties we like that get planted every year. Tried and true performers of green beans, sweet potatoes, okra, winter squash, cucumbers, corn, southern peas... finally just this year I've narrowed down the best varieties of tomatoes for our zone/climate. I do like taking a little space to devote to a new vegetable or fruit every year. You can check out my experimental Snow Pea Variety Trials here Growing Snow Peas!
When you plant from seed a whole big world gets opened up to you and all these varieties call to you! 
Figuring out the best fruits and vegetables for homestead is as hard as figuring out which livestock works best! But once you have it figured out it's so incredibly nice!

Fast Fruits!

These 3 fruits are super easy to grow and give you fruit soon! I know when we first moved here I wanted my own fruits ASAP! Most fruits take so long to establish though. These fruits helped curb my usual impatience!

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

I know many people call a tomato a vegetable but technically it is a fruit so I've added it here. This particular variety is sweet!!!!! They are delicious to eat alone, on salads and make an absolutely amazing sweet tomato jam that's perfect for sweet potato fries or any fries! Really nice sweet/savory combo.
They also dehydrate quickly!

There are 2 other things special about this variety.
  • They seem almost immune to mold and fungus diseases that bring down tomatoes in the humid southeast!!! 
  • The reseed easily every single year! 
Huge bonus from the garden that took no input from me to grow. I like that!

I got my seeds here. Matts Wild Cherry Tomato

Ground Cherries

Ground cherries(AKA Husk Cherries) have been an amazing addition to our garden!  Wow! are they good!!! At first bite, I wondered why they aren't offered commercially. They keep incredibly well and why doesn't everyone who gardens grow them!!
Midseason I can see why... they are huge sprawling plants that can be a pain to harvest!!!!! they are good and very worth the effort !!!! They are extremely productive Plus they fill a very big void for us. They take the place of raisins!
We grow muscadines, a type of grape but they can't be made into raisins. We love having a dried fruit in the winter to sprinkle on cobblers or hot cereals.
Ground cherries are actually better than raisins to us! They dry beautifully. I think I have a plan on how to plant them for an easier harvest... we'll see next year if that works!

They are delicious raw too! Great in desserts. Ground Cherry cobbler, ground cherry preserves, ground cherry ice cream. They can be used anywhere you would use any other berry.

Growing Ground cherries is basically the same as tomatoes. Here's a link for more information on growing Growing Ground Cherries

These also reseed themselves easily if you allow them too.
I've grown both these varieties. Both productive and very good. I like the Cossack maybe a little bit better.
Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries
Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries

ground cherries
Dehydrated Ground cherries on the homestead!
If you decide to start these seeds do Check out my Free Seed Starting Workbook! No matter if you start seeds inside or out keeping records will help in your gardening success! 


Elderberries are a fruit that is also used medically. I ordered elderberries from Stark Bros and actually got a tiny harvest the first year! 
Year 2 was very nice and productive. I was able to make my own syrups, tinctures, wine, freeze and dehydrate many quart bags! I used them in muffins and pancakes too.
By year 3 there were so many Elderberries from those 4 little scrubs I think the birds even got tired of eating them!
Later I found wild elderberry scrubs on my farm so I'm overrun with them every year now. Its a good thing to be overrun with!
Can't recommend them enough for a homestead. Many uses for these awesome little berries. 

One word about elderberry scrub though... Invasive! Plant them where they can't take over other trees or plants. I dig up many little new elderberry trees every year and sell the extras. They are also easy to propagate from cuttings. 

Hope you try one or all of these Fast, Easy Unusual Fruits!

It was so nice to have these fruits on our homestead those years before the grapes and pears started producing. They filled our fruit void and helped us stay out of the grocery store! They continue to be a well-used staple on our farm now. Very little input for high output fruit! Who doesn't like that!

Here are some other Homestead Gardening posts if you are interested Four Season Gardening

Have a blessed day :-) and Happy Homesteading!
Psalm 35:1

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