Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Small area livestock for meat

OK this is a very controversial subject so turn your head or browse a few other blogs while we talk about livestock for meat. 

There are a lot of ways to provide your family with meat.  You can go to the market and buy it prepackaged and ready to cook, you can even buy it already cooked and just pop it in the microwave.  Those are options and choices we all make on a daily basis.  I grew up on small and large farms and ranches.  Livestock and even wild meats were all a source of food protein that no one would have ever thought it odd to eat.  I luckily and happily ate anything my parents and grandparents put in front of me.  I was to say the least not a picky child.  (Not that it would have been tolerated anyway). 

Today people tend to look at livestock as something like a pet.  PETA has instilled this thought that it is inhumane to eat animal protein.  One only has to look at the workings of PETA to understand them.  They have NOT given money to any shelter, animal conservatory or program.  They have in fact given money to finance lawyers representing those people who have bombed university labs that used rats for testing purposes and killed human beings in the process. They have given money for legal fees of persons arrested for assault and battery (throwing paint and physically hitting women and men wearing what they thought was real fur)   PETA is promoting a way of life that is vegetarianism and no other agenda that I can see. 

I personally feel that God gave us humans dominion over the animals to use them to our needs.  Clothing, food, footwear, homes etc.  He charges us with their upkeep and their humane treatment right to the second death claims them.  When we have raised happy, cared for animals to provide ourselves with food and other items' then we have accomplished what God has set before us. Our animals have accomplished the job God has set before them. 

Here we do not name our future dinner.  If there is a name assigned to the particular animal as a way of differentiating between it and another animal then it is a name like Chops, T-Bone, Taco or a milk heifer might be called Buttermilk or Biscuit..  Many people have made pets out of livestock and that is their prerogative but our rabbits were for eating, our chickens are for eggs and eating, our ducks are for eggs and eating and our goats are for eating and breeding.  Once a lady at the feed store was getting some rabbit food as was I.  When I asked for " 200 lbs of Meat Rabbit pellets "  she almost threw up.  She very angrily said to me that she was glad she wasn't one of my rabbits.  I told her "rabbits are livestock and they have provided food for the human race for thousands of years".  I felt badly that she had to face that fact but it is true. 

Rabbits are probably the easiest livestock to raise as food for your family.  One buck (male) and 2 does (females) can provide your family with rabbit dinners once a week for a year.  They are easy to raise and easy to butcher.  My own grand kids were a bit reticent about eating them so grandpa told the littlest ones that it was a special 4 legged chicken so everyone could have a drumstick.  The older ones didn't want to eat the cute little bunnies so I just made a recipe that was a rabbit simmered in gravy and didn't tell them.  They all loved it so I told them what they had eaten and reminded them that they "loved" it.  It has never been a problem again. 


Rabbits require a few things for successful breeding and raising.  We did not raise litters in the summer as there seemed to be a higher failure rate for birthing.  Rabbits do not tolerate heat well but they tolerate extreme cold very well as long as their needs are met.  Our rabbitry was a large one with 32 breeders.  Summers required a canopy around the rabbits so I bought one of those big canopies that people use to park their cars in, I also had misters hung inside the frame works to keep it cool inside.  On extreme days of over 100F I also put 2 liter bottles I had filled with water and froze inside the individual cages so the rabbits could lay against them.  Even with all that I would sometimes end up with a  dead rabbit.  One year we even hooked up an old swamp cooler to keep them cool.  Winter months they had to be protected from rain but cold was not a problem.  Males and females have to be separated or there will be fighting.  The female will only tolerate the male for so long..LOL!  When the female has her kits she will only go to them to feed them.  Usually that is once a day.  If it is hot she will move them to the front of the box and if it is cold she will move them to the back of the box and she will pull more of her hair to cover them with.   In just a few weeks the kits will jump out of the box and she will jump on top of the box to get away from them.  At about 4 weeks they can be weaned and then put in a separated cage with females in one side and males in the other.  They should be ready to butcher in just a few months.

Chickens are also easy, you can buy day old chicks directly from a hatchery or from your local feed store.  I have hens that sit on eggs and hatch them but the hen raised chicks have a higher mortality rate than the ones I raise.  Sometimes I take the chicks away from the hen and put them into a home made brooder till they are ready to turn out into the coop. There are breeds that are great egg layers and breeds that are strictly meat birds.  Some are both meat and egg.  I like to keep a few of both on hand. I keep them in coops where they have enough room to chase bugs, run around and be chickens.  I do not put them in small cages where they can't do anything but eat and lay eggs.  I find that cruel.

                                                                  Chicken Coop

Goats for meat and milk is as old as civilized man.  Goats are easy birthers often having 2-4 kids at a time and they can produce kids twice a year.  It takes 5 months from conception to birth, 2-3 months to wean and they are often pregnant before weaning.  They convert feed to meat easily and are easy browsers.  They like a little of this and a little of that.  A young male kid is called a buckling, a young female kid is called a doeling by the way and they begin trying to breed as young as 2 weeks.  You will see them mounting each other before their belly buttons fall of.  This is why it is imperative to have them weaned and the bucklings separated from the dams (mothers) and the doelings by 3 months of age or you will have them impregnating their dams and or their siblings. 

Goats need quality food, which means good nutritious browse and or a good quality alfalfa to gain weight.  The more muscle the more meat so it's also important to give them plenty of water, plenty of room to exercise and good food.  Goat meat also called Chevon, tastes like a mild deer meat or some say lamb.  I find it like a combination of the two.  It is lower in calories than white chicken meat, lower in cholesterol than beef, chicken  pork or rabbit and very lean.  You can make a wonderful sausage from it, jerky, salami and of course all the regular cuts of meat like chops, stew and roasts.

Meat Goats - These are Boers

Milk goats have some different requirements but not many.  The milk will take on the taste of the food so you don't want to feed them something strong like cabbage!  You need to milk them twice a day or some people do only milk once a day.  Milk goats will put out as much milk as they have to in order to keep up with the demand of milking.  Some goats have a 'goaty' tasting milk and other goats milk tastes like whole cows milk.  Different breeds of goats produce different amounts of milk and with different percentages of fat content.  I personally like the Saanen's.  I like their personality and the milk out put is huge.  We got close to 2 gallons a day from our girl.  I froze it in 2 liter bottles for later use as goats milk freezes very well, I also made cheeses from it.  (Both soft and hard cheese)

Milk Goats
Goat Cheeses

 You may find you only need a little milk and want to have a dwarf variety.  You might get a big breed like a Nubian or a Togg but whatever you get remember goats are very hands on and not like the cartoon goat that stands on top of the garbage heap and eats tin cans and mouldy hay (which can kill a goat quickly) .  Another thing you can do with goat milk is soap!  Goats milk soap is one of the nicests things you can do for yourself and it isn't that hard to make. 

 There are other types of small farm livestock like ducks, geese, pigeons, etc and all will provide food one way or another for your family.  I have hit on the major small farm meat producers for those that have just an acre or two.  With an acre or two you can feed your family very well from what you grow and what you raise, and a lot more healthily than store bought, hybrid raised food. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's Talk about POTATOES!

Last summer about July-ish I decided I wanted to try to grow some potatoes.  I love potatoes, I love white potatoes, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, purple yams just about any kind of potato you can think of, I love.  I even love vegetables that look  like potatoes, for instance Taro and varieties of Taro.  So when I decided in the middle of summer to attempt to grow some, my husband said it couldn't be done.  "We don't have the right kind of dirt", he said... I take words like that as a personal challenge. 

I read a few bits of information on the Internet, then I looked up some videos on You Tube.  I decided I could just "wing it" on the russets but I had an idea from You Tube that I wanted to try.  I made my area for the potatoes ready by adding a lot more llama pooh and some composted hay and shoveled that in pretty good.  I made some wide rows and cut some store bought potatoes making sure I had an eye in each cut piece.

  I did not dip them in rooting hormones or anything fancy, I just put them in the dirt about 4-6" down.  I really don't know if that is the correct amount or not but that's what I did.  The green shoots started coming thru the dirt about 2 weeks later. 

While I was waiting for the shoots to come up I started reviewing more information and videos about sweet potato's.  I ended up buying two medium sweet potatoes and putting them in a jar of water.  I changed the water about every other day.  They started sprouting in about a week or 10 days.

 When the sprouts were about 6-8" long, I snapped them off and put the green shoots in water and waited for them to develop roots.  I continued to let the potatoes develop more shoots in case my rooting green shoots failed.  When the green shoots developed roots at about 2 weeks and grew to about 2-3" long, I took them out to the garden and planted them about every 2-3 feet.  Most of them made it just fine but I did have my back ups just in case.  The shoots below are a picture from the Internet and do not show the roots.  I read that you can skip that step but I wanted to insure success since it was the first time I had attempted planting.

I live in an area that has very long hot summers and it often stays hot into October and is still warm in November so about the end of September I noticed the regular potatoes were dying off after blooming.  We dug a few smaller plants up and there were some 2-3 inch tubers but not anything to brag about which could be because I used store bought potatoes not seed potatoes.  About the middle of October I dug up the rest of the potatoes and there were some decent sized potatoes but a lot were anything from marble sized to lemon  sized.

 I don't feel this was a failure.  It was a learning experience that I will try again.  I am going to plant earlier this year and I will plant from store bought potatoes again just because I am stubborn and I think it can be done.  However, I am going to talk to my cousin's husband Johnny who grows potatoes in his garden and they were much bigger than mine! 

Our sweet potatoes were still going strong long after we harvested most of the garden so I let them be.  About mid November my son went out and dug them up.  What a surprise!  They were all very decent!  Some were small, some were big, and some were everywhere in between.  I figured we harvested about 30-40 lbs of sweet potatoes from those two single store bought sweet potatoes - and I could have planted twice as many if I had planted more of the shoots.  We washed them and laid them out on the counter top to dry then I layered them in a bin to "season".  I read somewhere that sweet potatoes should season for a week or so to develop flavor and harden the rind for storage.  The sweet potatoes below are from my own hands, my own garden and for my own family.

We harvested the sweet potatoes just in time for Thanksgiving and had them on our Holiday dinner table.  It was so wonderful to have all our vegetables and side dishes come from our very own garden and from our own labors.  It is so awesome to really feel the empowerment that comes from knowing you can dig, plant, grow and harvest what you need to feed your family! 
The mashed potatoes came from the garden, the sweet potatoes came from the garden, the Swiss Chard came from the garden, you can't see it but the tomato salad came from the garden.  The biscuits were yeast biscuits and made from  scratch, the ham and the apple ciders were store bought...hmmmm, this gives me ideas for next year...

Try to remember even potatoes can be planted in a small area or in containers as long as you have sun and water you can grow something to feed your family and it can be a family project.  Involve the kids to encourage them to eat what they grow and to help develope a love for growing.  So to wind it up, I will plant earlier, plant more varieties and I will also try some tire planting, hay planting and other ways that are supposedly good ways to plant potatoes.  Stay tuned for progress reports!

Growing potatoes in stacked tires

Growing potatoes in contractors garbage bags

Growing potatoes in a grow bag. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Time to think about planting!

It's time to start thinking about what you're going to put in the ground this spring that you can put in your mouth this summer!  It's also the right time to consider those early varieties of cool weather crops like peas, lettuce, some bean varieties, broccoli, Brussels sprouts etc. 

I like to get some seed catalogs sent to me so I can kind of plan what I want to plant even if I don't buy from the catalog company.  I like to buy heirloom seed and heirloom plants when possible.  Heirloom seeds are different from regular seed because regular seeds are usually hybrid.  Hybrid means you cannot save the seed and use it again and get the same kind of results.  Some people have issue with hybrids and genetically modified or altered produce.  Heirlooms go on and on from saved seed.  You get what you plant year after year from a single seed saved. 

One way to get started with heirloom seeds is to buy heirloom vegetables and try them.  If you like them buy them again and save the seed to plant the following year.  Its fun and it makes your seed saving worthwhile.  Some things that are heirloom cannot be procured through the fruit or vegetable itself, you must get the seed then let at least one of the plantings go to flower then seed can be saved.  Like collards, chard, basil, etc. 

Store bought heirloom seeds:

Whatever you decide to plant, set your seed in containers of composted earth indoors in about February or March depending on your zone.  Keep it moist and put it in a sunny location.  As soon as the days are sunny you can set you containers outside during the day and bring it in at night.  As soon as danger of frost is over you can set your containers out all night to harden it off before planting in the ground. 

Whatever you decide to plant remember don't plant more than you will preserve for a years needs and don't forget to include the amount you want to give to family and friends, eat fresh and I always try to remember that not all my plantings will survive transplant or maybe will die mid season from some unknown issue. 

Where to plant is always something to consider.  I plant in a large tilled area that is enriched every year with livestock manure, hay/straw and compost.  I have areas of my garden that do not produce as well as other areas of my garden so I concentrate on enriching those areas particularly.  However, if you do not have an area that can be used in a traditional garden you can plant enough vegetables in planters, flower beds and even pots to supplement your diet and lessen your grocery bill. 

Some folks have really been inventive and planted vertical beds by using all kinds of things. Here are some two liter bottles hung with twine !  A few cup hooks conveniently put in a 2X4 mounted on the side of a house or hanging from your balcony for a beautiful herb garden! 

Below is a variety of containers but most noticeably are the buckets stacked one on the other and growing large variety vegetables, what a great idea!  That would be suitable for a balcony, patio or smaller back yard.

Square foot gardening for those that have some room but not a lot can be the answer.  You can get so many vegetables from such a small area that you just can't imagine!  Here are some examples of square foot gardening.

Here is a sample plan:

Some areas have restrictions on planting so you really have to get creative to include food in your flower beds, but it can be done.

Whatever type of garden you feel meets your needs and your personal preferences you will have the satisfaction of knowing you planted, weeded, watered, watched the progress and finally were able to pick the fruits of your labors.  The first time you sit down to the dinner table and realize that every bit of the produce (and maybe even the protein) came right out of your own garden you will get the most satisfying feeling you have ever had!  Knowing that you can provide for your families food needs is really something that makes you feel good.