Why I am Not Vegetarian: A Homesteader’s Perspective.

Lets start with this.  If I couldn’t raise my own meat or source it locally and sustainably I would be vegetarian.

Why I am Not Vegetarian

I have been attacked many a time by readers who say I can’t claim to be “green” when I eat meat.  Hold it right there.  Since when does the definition of being green have anything to do with eating meat?  I found a good definition of green:

What is the definition of green livingGreen living is a lifestyle which seeks to bring into balance the conservation and preservation of the Earth’s natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity with human culture and communities.
-sustainablebabysteps.com

Does it say anywhere in there that green means not eating meat?  It does not.  That said, I don’t actually like the term “green” anymore… it doesn’t seem deep enough, or meaningful enough.  Anyone can recycle their garbage and use safer cleaning products and be considered “green”.  And really, is that actually very green?  Or is that just our everyday responsibility in today’s world?  Lets go deeper, and get far beyond green-washed consumerism.   I prefer the term “sustainable living”.  And I also like Wikipedia’s definition of it.

Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual‘s or society‘s use of the Earth‘s natural resources and personal resources.[1] Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportationenergy consumption, and diet.[2] Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s natural ecology and cycles.

That’s a loaded definition and one worth working towards.  It also, incidentally, does not say anything about being vegetarian.

As many of you already know, and the rest of you now know, my aim is to grow food to supply my family with most of the food we need for a year. ON MY PROPERTY here in Canada.  Not from California or Mexico or Peru.  Right here, were I can see what is going into it, how it is handled, and how it is prepared or preserved.  I fall short of that year after year, but come closer every year.  The last year we have had more than enough meat to eat, produced right here on my property.  We raised meat birds and pigs, which filled our freezer. This year as well as raising meat, my canning cupboard has been filled with local, unsprayed produce and my own food.  My two freezers and extra fridge are stuffed full of meat, fruit and vegetables produced on my property.  Full to the point of considering buying another freezer.

Canning Shelves 2014b watermarked
If sustainable living is partly defined as reducing your carbon footprint by altering your diet to include mostly food produced on your own property, then I think we are pretty well covered.  Most grocery stores in my area are filled with fruit and vegetables brought in from California or further.  The carbon footprint to bring that food to Canada is huge.  My carbon footprint is tiny in comparison.

Kidney beans in a jar watermarked

Actually, my big discovery as to WHY I could never be a strict vegetarian (ie. vegan) occurred this fall.  I discovered that I can’t reasonably grow enough protein on my own property to supply my family of 5 without raising meat.   I grew kidney beans from my own seeds from last year.  I expected to grow enough to have a year’s supply.  I planted them in a section of my garden that was about 6 feet by 8 feet.  The plants grew and produced.  I allowed them to dry out on the bushes and I collected them to dry further in the house.  Then I shelled them and put them in a jar.  My total of beans for the year, from that size of space, was a 1 L jar full of kidney beans (as seen pictured above).  Now, I am not sure how many meals that would provide for my family but it isn’t very many.  Of course, I could have grown a larger field of beans.  In fact I could have grown an acre of beans and finally had enough to supply my family with enough protein to feed them.  If they didn’t understandably kill me first after feeding them only beans for the year.   I don’t actually own enough land to grow an acre of beans, but you get my point.

 


Joel Salatin quote
Now I see nothing wrong with living on beans.  Or lentils, or quinoa, or nuts, or any of a variety of these protein-high products, especially if they were grown in your garden or locally.  But in comparison, the amount of land I would need to grow enough protein to supply my family, when compared to raising meat is incomparable.  In fact I don’t truly believe I would be able to grow and harvest enough vegetables and grains on my 1.9 acres of land, most of which is forested, to provide my family with a balanced diet.  In Canada we have a smaller growing season, a cooler climate, and we are limited to how much protein we can grow.  I don’t even know where I could supply myself locally with enough non-animal protein for the year, from other farmers.  Lentils and quinoa, dried beans and nuts are just not grown here very much, because they require space, commercial harvesting techniques and equipment, and longer, hotter growing seasons to be even remotely efficient.

Pig

I can, however, provide meat for my family which in turn provides protein.  Lots of it.  So a zero mile diet, complete with lots of fruit and vegetables, and some meat, is doable.  And we are doing it.  Our chickens are free ranged and fed GMO-free feed.  Our pigs are fed exclusively on scavenged and organic bread, whey and vegetables.  Our goats provide us milk.  Our bees provide us honey.  Our garden provides us with lots of vegetables and fruit.  We source Canadian organic wheat berries to grind for bread.  We eat well, our animals are happy, and we know where our food comes from.  Right here in our back yard.

I live in Ontario, Canada and during the winter the only local vegan foods left to eat are frozen berries, carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips, turnips, yams and other root vegetables. Sustaining on those foods all winter would be impossible.  So you start importing coconut oil, gojis, cacao, maca, avocados, green salads, etc.  I realized that driving half a mile down the road to buy some eggs is a better option ecologically than buying all these expensive imported “superfoods.”  And when you do the research, the pastured, local egg has more nutrition than any of the superfoods I was paying 10 or 20X more for.  So after awhile I felt pretty counterproductive and hypocritical in my vegan stance.  -from Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Kaleigh Mason, an 8 year vegan. 

There are lots of different arguments on both sides of the coin.  And there are lots of different reasons for eating the way we do.  And I respect (almost) everyone’s decision.  I have found studies that show the world can live entirely on a vegan diet.  I have found studies that show that we can’t.  I have found articles calling vegetarians hypocrites for eating plants because they are alive too.  I have found articles condemning meat eaters because they are taking a life.  I certainly can’t solve the world’s hunger issues, neither can I solve climate change or any other environmental issue.  But I can make a difference by sourcing my food sustainably, and teaching others how to do so themselves.  And before you tear a strip off me for not being green, I challenge you to take a good long look at your own food sources.

It’s not that vegans are right and vegetarians are wrong, or vegetarians are right and omnivores are wrong, or omnivores are right and carnivores are wrong – it’s about where we each choose to draw our line. Better still, to return to the arrogant view that ‘man’ thinks he is at the top of a food chain, Keith concluded “I’m not going to draw a line. I’m going to draw a circle.” We are part of the circle of life, just as any other animal is. They and we need to live and die to give back to the land, so that birth and death can continue. – The Vegetarian Myth

If you are not eating meat because you don’t think animals should be killed, that is your choice.  If you don’t eat meat because you don’t like how commercial meat is produced, and can’t raise it yourself, I applaud you.  If you choose to eat meat and source it sustainably, fantastic.  If you eat meat produced commercially in large factories where animals suffer horribly, may you learn something.  If you eat meat but don’t think you could ever kill an animal for meat, let me teach you.  Just PLEASE don’t be that person who just told me today that she feels sorry for the chickens, thinks she should be vegetarian, and then goes home and cooks up a commercially produced chicken that she didn’t have to see when it was alive.  That is too hypocritical for me.

So back to the beans.  I will continue to grow them and use them as an alternate source of protein but they will go hand in hand with the meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruit I grow to provide my family with an adequate supply of healthy, low carbon footprint food.

More reading:

Interview With An Ex-Vegan

The Vegan Myth

Fertile Soil Needs Animal Agriculture: Joel Salatin on Integrated Farming.

 

 

 

Raising Pigs for Free: How to Scavenge Food For Your Pigs!

Bacon. Ham. Pork chops. Sausages. Pastry. Lard. So many great products from one animal.

My husband and I have been raising our own animals for meat, dairy, eggs and honey for the last few years. Up until last fall, the only meat we had produced ourselves was chicken. And farm-raised, free-range chicken is unbeatable. But you can’t make bacon out of chicken, and while we aren’t huge pork eaters, we do appreciate good quality pork on occasion. The problem was, I couldn’t find organic pork locally, and if I could, we would be paying a horrific price for it.

We are huge supporters of local, pasture-raised meat. We are also huge fans of certified organic products to avoid GMOs. We soon discovered that it was going to be impossible to find these products locally, and so if we were going to eat it, we would have to produce it ourselves. Bring on the pigs.

As usual, we jumped in. Sink or swim… we have learned to swim. And with pigs we learned fast.

We had a secure location for them, a nice, small barn, and… three bags of organic feed. We picked up 2 Yorkshire female piglets, age 6 weeks. They were just starting to get past the cute stage… a good thing. And they loved to eat. And eat. And eat. At $24 a bag for organic hog feed, we learned pretty quickly that we would have to come up with a better solution for food. At the rate we were going, our pigs would cost their weight in gold!

Pigs can do really well on pasture. They root up everything, eat weeds, roots, shoots, greens… everything. If you have an area you want cleared, as long as it is properly fenced, they will clear it for you and you won’t have to buy much food for them. If you DON’T have a secure field for them, you will have to provide a lot of food. LOTS of food. We live on just under 2 acres, and much of it is heavily treed. We really are only using about an acre, if that. Fencing is very expensive and our property is challenging to fence. So we knew that, at least this time, our pigs would be relying on twice-daily feedings of good, quality food.

In my opinion, hog feed isn’t awesome. In our area, the hog feed that is available, even the organic feed, is chock full of corn (pig junk food), and soy (cheap protein). Unless it is certified organic, both ingredients are likely to be GMO products. (Unless you are raising them on your own corn). Corn isn’t great for pigs… especially exclusively. It makes for a lot of fat, and not so much meat. Hog feed also generally contains vitamins and minerals, which may or may not be sourced naturally or GMO-free. And it is dry. I honestly can’t think of any mammal that would enjoy eating dry food its entire life. Or any mammal who would benefit from it. We don’t even feed our dog dry dog food. (She gets raw, frozen dog food).

Everyone knows pigs will eat anything. We needed to come up with something that was healthy, easy to source, and cheap. And everyone knows that it is who you know, not what you know. We raised our pigs on stale certified organic bread, and all the vegetable trimmings they could eat, provided from a local produce store. We also produced the best tasting ham, bacon, pork chops, and roasts you can ever imagine.

Sourcing free food:
Bakeries
Most bakeries have extra, stale bread that they need to get rid of. I found several local bakeries that gave away their stale bread. And stale?? Not really… more like, not sellable. 2 day old stuff won’t sell if there is fresh stuff. Phone around, talk to the local bakeries, and see if you can find one who will give you stale bread. And if you want organic, you might get as lucky as we did. We found a bakery that produces certified organic sourdough bread, and that would give us their extra. BIG TIME SCORE!

Produce Stores
Here is where you might have some issues. Don’t go to the big box stores, unless you know someone who can pull some strings for you. Go to the smaller, independently owned ones, and ask the owner or manager. We have connections with a small grocery store with a large produce section, and they gave us bags and bags of vegetable trimmings and fruit that was no longer sellable. Those pigs got everything from kale and chard to strawberries, watermelon and pumpkins! Their favorite, believe it or not, was kale. They didn’t like whole potatoes, eggplant, peppers, or citrus peels.

Milk Products
Pigs loooooove dairy. If you are so lucky as to have a cheese-making business nearby, ask them for their leftover whey. Pigs drink up whey like I would (like to) drink chocolate, and they benefit from the protein in it. Again, whey is a by-product and companies like to give it away rather than pay to dispose of it.

Bedding
Another tip… pigs need clean bedding. They are messy eaters, and they tend to get their bedding full of potato peelings and banana peels. If you don’t get wood chips delivered by the ton (and we don’t have storage for that kind of thing), then you know that wood chips by the bag are expensive. Head out to your local high school. Chances are they have a wood chipper and all their wood ends go through the chipper. I get bags and bags of wood chips for FREE from a local high school. Occasionally I drop off a dozen eggs for the teacher who lets me in, but that trade is worth it! The schools in our area have to bag it up and put it in the trash otherwise, which costs more to dispose of, so they are usually very willing to give it away.

We brought our pigs in to be processed almost a month ago now. We had the butcher package up the ground pork, roasts and chops, and the rest they gave us back fresh, uncured, unsmoked, to do ourselves. We spent the better part of 2 weeks curing 4 hams and 35 lb of bacon, then smoking it all on the BBQ. It wasn’t hard, although it was time consuming. But WORTH IT! Oh man was it worth it!

The flavour, the texture, the richness, made it worth it. Knowing that we raised our own pigs for our own meat in a humane, healthy environment, was worth it. Even the hard work made us feel good. We knew every mouthful of food that went into those pigs. We knew exactly how they were raised. We were happy to say that up until the very last moment, where they were killed humanely and efficiently by a local butcher, they were in our hands and well taken care of. Hard work pays off! In the end, we sold most of one pig, and kept the rest for ourselves. The cost of the butchering and packaging was paid off by the meat we sold. The benefit of having a local butcher do the processing was that the meat was inspected and so was legal to sell. And everyone wanted some! I think if we had raised 10 pigs we would have had no trouble selling the meat.

Thank you pigs. Indeed, it was your life for ours; we are very grateful.

 

 

 

 

Inside Our Chicken Coop: Lessons learned, Key Features and Tips

Our homesteading adventure began 4 years ago with 5 hens and an old shed-turned-chicken coop. We now have over 50 hens and we sell our extra eggs. We have learned a great deal from experience, from other’s experiences, and from information shared online. Our newest coop is a combination of lessons learned, advice given, and experimentation. So far, this coop has been a big success.

Our biggest issues we have had to face to date have been predators, mites, food spillage (and waste), production and cleanliness. This new coop takes each issue we have had to deal with into consideration, and, as with all homesteading experiences, attempts to keep us one step ahead of the problem!

Raise Your Coop!
Our most destructive predator to date has been mink. A cousin to weasels, they are small, smart, and exceptionally destructive. Once they have made their way into the coop they can wipe out an entire henhouse, one bird at a time, overnight. They are small enough to get into even rat or mice holes, and vicious enough to keep even you away. They attack, generally at night when the hens’ vision is practically nil, suck the blood out of their prey, and then often sever the head. One good way to tell if it is a mink attacking your hens is that the hens’ combs will be almost white, for lack of blood. Our first coop was an old shed, and full of rat holes. The only way to deal with a mink in a coop like this is to trap them or kill them, and this will be AFTER they have already killed, since you won’t know they are there, otherwise. Prevention is best, and the key to keeping them out is to have your coop raised above the ground, with no holes for entry. Our latest coop is 5 feet off the ground and very secure. While you don’t need to have it this high, higher is better. This will prevent a number of predators from getting in. It will also help keep mice, rats and other pests out.

Your bedding will remain drier if the coop has air flow underneath. This will help prevent mold, ammonia issues, and pests like mites and ticks.

Water Drip System
The best way to keep your hen’s water sanitary is to use a drip system, also known as a nipple system. The chickens peck at and drink the drips that hang from the nipple once it has been nudged by the chicken. This method is what commercial chicken producers use because once it is installed it is virtually maintanence-free, and pretty much the only truly sanitary watering method. I highly recommend investing in this kind of system. Contact a local commercial poultry supply warehouse or check online. if you only have a few chickens, you can even buy the nipples individually and install them in the bottom of a hanging bucket.

Our water system is fed via a large food-grade barrel purchased from a barrel company. At present the drip system is fed from this large barrel, and we need to fill the barrel about once a month from a hose. Our future plans is to convert this system into one that would collect rain water from the roof to full the barrel, and then supply water to the nipple system. One of our older coops functions well this way.

Large, Deep Feeder
We feed our hens certified organic layer mash. The convenience of pellets is lost when you switch to organic since the product they use to bind the feed into pellets is not organic, so the organic feed is all mash. We had a great deal of trouble with our original feeders because the hens would peck out what they liked to eat, leaving the parts they didn’t like, and scattering it all over the coop. Eventually the bedding seemed to be nothing but old feed. Our final solution was turkey feeders, because they are large, and much deeper. The hens are able to peck the feed, but unable to pull it out of the feeder and scatter it around. This results in the birds eating ALL of their food before we fill it, which results is better quality eggs, since their feed is “a complete meal”. (Of course they free range all day as well). These feeders hold a 50lb bag of feed and last 30 hens 3 days or so before we have to refill the feeder. Hang your feeders to keep them off the ground. This helps keep them from filling up with bedding as the chickens scratch.

Oyster Shell feeder
We provide all of our hens with free choice oyster shells to help promote strong, healthy shells.


Poop deck

“Fondly” referred to by us as a poop deck, all of our coops now have a deck beneath the roosts that are lined with old feed sacks, which we roll up and compost in the manure pile every week or so. This keeps the bedding MUCH cleaner since they sit and poop on their roosts all night. It also provides a rich manure for the compost pile! Whatever you do, make sure you change the papers once a week or as needed, because the poop will eventually breed flies and other pests. This poop deck method has saved us a lot of time and keeps the coop so much cleaner and nicer smelling, especially using the deep litter method.

Deep Litter Method
To save time, to keep the coop warm in the winter, and to make a rich compost, you can add a foot or so of white wood shavings to the bottom of the coop. The chickens turn it over by scratching in it, they use it for dust baths, and the manure that starts to compost in the wood chips keeps the coop warmer in the winter. If used properly, this method is good for months without cleaning, and is an accepted, safe method of maintaining your coop. We do a complete cleaning of the coops once every 4 months or so.

Lights On!

In the long Canadian winter months our chickens will come to a complete production stop, will molt, and will not start laying again until mid spring. This can mean up to 6 months of almost zero production, and since we are raising chickens to sell their eggs, this will not allow us to meet our costs. By keeping one single lightbulb lit in our coop for 12 hours we will be allowing our chickens 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness to sleep. This is enough to keep our chickens producing, and while they will molt and stop producing for 6 weeks or so, they will start up again and continue as before. Chickens are native to Central America, and are not meant to be in the dark for 16 hours a day, sitting on roosts for 16 long hours, which is what we would be putting them through in the middle of our Canadian winters. While I don’t advocate 24 hour lighting, I do recommend 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness in the winter months. There is a minimal daily

Dust Bath!
One of the worst pests chickens can come up against are mites. They can destroy a chicken’s health in a short period of time. Chickens’ natural defense against mites is to dust bath. Dust will cut up mites and smoother them. You will notice free-ranging chickens finding the most perfect (to them) locations to dust bath… namely, in your flower garden, in the sand box, or at the base of trees. Providing your hens with a box 3/4 full of diatomaceous earth will give them an opportunity to dust bath and keep the mites in control while they are locked in their coop. Keep it free of manure and wood shavings.

Nesting Boxes
It is recommended that a coop has at least 1 nesting box per 5 hens. We use old milk crates, turned on their sides, and filled with clean hay. Make sure you change the hay regularly to keep the bedding and eggs clean. We cover our boxes with a “roof” now, simply a board on an angle, to prevent any hens from roosting on top of the boxes where they will poop into the nesting boxes.

Windows/lighting
We have a large window in the front of our coop that we found free on craigslist. It allows daylight in which makes electric lighting unnecessary in the spring/summer/fall months.

Entry/Exit
Keep your trap door for the chickens up above the ground. Chickens can fly, and some predators can’t. The chickens will quickly learn to fly back up into the coop if your trap door is a few feet above the ground. One of our coops’ doors is about 5 feet up, and while most of the birds can fly in and out, the heavier ones can’t, so I recommend 4 feet above ground. This helps keep pests like mice, mink and rats out (although they may eventually find a way up) and predators like dogs and coyotes out. We use a simple trap door that hinges at the bottom, and provides a “landing spot” for the hens when they fly up to the roost. Once the trap door is closed, we simply latch it shut with a piece of wood.

Free Ranging
Our chickens free range all day, every day. We have lost a few occasionally to coyotes, but for the most part, our dog keeps the coyotes away, as well as bears, mink, raccoons, and stray dogs. Free ranging gives chickens access to a more natural environment including scratching, dust bathing, and fresh greens and bugs which enhances the nutritional value of the eggs, and keeps the chickens healthy.

An Extra Tip:
One thing we should have done when we first built the coop was to paint the walls and floor. Paint helps keep mites down since mites will burrow in the walls and come out at night, attacking the chickens. Paint seals the walls, and also makes the walls easier to clean off when you are spring cleaning the coop.

Our coop is by no means perfect, but we have been working on improving our coops for years now, and have come up with certain things that work, and others that don’t. Learning from others’ experiences has been highly beneficial to us, and I hope that sharing this information will help you on your homesteading journey. Please take a moment to comment and let me know what has worked for you in the past, and what hasn’t. Online information through sharing with others has been a valuable resource for us. Thanks!

This article has been linked to From The Farm Blog Hop and The Homesteader’s Hop #19.

A Goat Is Born! Homesteading With Nigerian Dwarf Goats and Video.

Homesteading with Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Meet Lulu, our senior Nigerian Dwarf Goat. Lulu is a seasoned mother. At 4 years old she has produced six beautiful babies for us, and more for her previous owner. Our experience with her has been amazing: she is a fantastic mother, kidded quadruplets last year with no trouble and nursed them all exclusively, has a wonderful, laid-back temperament and is an easy milker. To date, she has passed on her good temperament to all of her babies with us. Currently Lulu is supplying us with 1.5L of rich, creamy milk a day.

Homesteading generally involves raising your own animals for meat, eggs or dairy. We chose Nigerian Dwarf goats as our source of dairy because of their compact size and yet surprisingly good milk production. We don’t have a large piece of property so we needed a dairy animal that was small, efficient, and friendly. The Nigerian Dwarf goats fit the bill. Bred to provide impoverished African families with milk, they don’t eat a lot and still have the capacity to produce up to 2L of milk a day. They stand no higher than 23 inches tall (buck) and 21 inches tall (doe) and babies weigh about 2lb at birth. Nigerian does are well-known as easy birthers, and to date we have not had to assist in any labors. We have only had 3 kiddings yet though, so I am sure our time will come.
Nigerian Dwarf goat milk is one of the highest in milk fat for any breed of goats, at around 8%. They also have the sweetest flavoured milk, with no hint of “goat-y flavour” noticeable in their fresh, raw milk. (Milk that is over 2 days old will take on a slight goat-y flavour, and pasteurized milk also takes on a stronger flavour.) The result is a very rich, creamy, healthy milk that is incomparable in flavour to any other milk, goat or cow! Raw Nigerian goat milk makes a fantastic cheese and yogurt as well.

This year Lulu delivered twins in June on an evening when I was home, and able to watch the birth. We have a web cam that connects us to our barn from our computer in the house, and I was spying on Lulu who had been acting uneasy all evening. Sure enough, she went down at about 10pm and I ran outside. By the time I got there the first baby, a little black buck was already born and she was busy licking him off. I called my son and my husband to come watch, and we were able to record the miracle of the second birth, another strong buckling, to share with you. I love the mothering instinct that comes naturally to Lulu.  When she began to deliver her second baby, she continued to talk to her first-born.  The miracle of life is beautiful!  <3

Anyone who is considering raising goats for dairy should definitely take a moment to watch a birth, just to get a feel for what will happen. This birth, as I said, was straight forward, quick and perfect. I did not have to assist at all, and Lulu knew what to do when the babies were born. Just like humans, not all goats make perfect mothers, so it is important to be around for delivery.

For all information on raising goats, please refer to Fiasco Farm website, a complete guide to goat care.

Please enjoy this beautiful miracle, and one of the best rewards of homesteading life!  Click on the links below.  They will direct you to our youtube videos.
*Warning! The video is graphic. I find birth beautiful, but others might not.

This post has been linked to From the Farm Blog Hop, The Homesteaders Blog Hop and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #87.

And for fun, a video of the babies frolicking, as only goat kids can, just a few days old.