Monday, November 17, 2014

6 reasons to add American Guinea Hogs to your homestead

If you've decided to add pigs to your homestead, the next question is, "which breed?" I am partial to the heritage breeds because they do well on pasture. Initially we raised Tamworths, which we purchased from a breeder in the spring. We'd raise them through the summer and butcher them in the fall. For a variety of reasons, I decided I wanted to start breeding my own pigs, although I was very intimidated by the size of full-grown Tamworths and other breeds of pigs that I'd met.

Introducing ... the American Guinea Hog! Its history is as mysterious as they come, but one thing is clear -- it was the homestead hog of choice in the southeast U.S. during the 1800s. Less than a decade ago, it was almost completely extinct with less than 150 breeding animals known to exist! Today it is enjoying renewed popularity, and its numbers have been rapidly growing over the past few years. Why?

  • It's less than half the size of most hogs! While many breeds of hogs can get up to 800 or even more than 1,000 pounds, the AGH adult weight is usually in the 250 to 300 pound range. This small size was one of the reasons it almost became extinct. It definitely did not fit into the factory farm environment. However, that small size is exactly what makes it attractive to homesteaders and small farmers.
  • Chickens with our AGH boar
  • It has a sweet personality! Pigs have a reputation for being vicious omnivores, killing and eating chickens that are unlucky enough to wander into the pig pen, and some have even been known to kill people. Guinea Hogs, however, have a very calm, docile nature. While this may not be important to huge confinement farmers, it is very important for small farmers who will be working closely with their pigs and who have other animals and don't want to worry about the pigs killing them. Of course, there have been a few Guinea Hogs that were not so docile, but most breeders are quick to send them to meat locker and not use them for breeding stock, ensuring that the breed as a whole continues to have a great personality.
  • It grazes! While some heritage breeds of pigs will eat grass when on pasture, the AGH love grass and gobble it up as voraciously as if it were eating chocolate truffles.
  • It has lots of lard! Although the average American consumer began to reject lard after the invention of Crisco, many people are beginning to realize that they were duped by marketing and that lard can play a role in a healthy diet. If you are interested in self-sufficiency, having pigs is the easiest way to produce your own cooking fat. Although you could grow sunflowers, corn, or soybeans, extracting the fat is a big project. Rendering lard can be done in a slow cooker or in your oven without purchasing any fancy equipment.
  • It has outstanding flavor! Chefs have begun to sing the praises of the Guinea Hog from South Carolina to Chicago. One chef called it the Kobe beef of pork. It is especially popular with chefs who want to use the whole pig from snout to tail, and it makes excellent charcuterie.
Confused piglets trying to nurse from our boar while he's napping!

Because of all the unique strengths and benefits of the American Guinea Hog, they are easier to sell than other breeds of hogs, which is a sixth benefit for those of us who can't eat all of the pork that our pigs produce. Their small size makes them more attractive for urban dwellers to purchase as a whole hog, which is the easiest way for a homesteader to sell a pig. You simply have to find one customer who purchases the pig from you, and then you take it to the processor as a courtesy to the buyer. You get paid for the pig, and the buyer tells the processor how they want the pig cut up and processed and pay them directly. Because you are not selling meat -- you sold a live animal -- you don't have to deal with getting a license to sell meat, nor do you have to have an expensive freezer for storing meat, waiting for individual customers to come buy it, one pound of bacon and one ham at a time.

When we raised Tamworths, a lot of people would only want half a hog because they couldn't wrap their brain around the idea of having 175 or 200 pounds of pork! With the AGH dressing out at half that amount, the number of customers is greater.

Of course, the four reasons I gave for having pigs on the homestead a couple of weeks ago is also true for the AGH. That means there is a total of ten reasons to have American Guinea Hogs on your homestead!

With the number of registered AGH in the US now well over a thousand it is much easier than it was a few years ago to find breeding stock, although if you are just planning to raise them for meat, you don't have to buy registered pigs. And if there are not any in your area, piglets can be shipped by air just like dogs and cats, so you can find a breeder in another state and have the pigs shipped to you. Since you are charged by weight or kennel size (depending upon airline), it's a good idea to buy pigs that have just been weaned, so you can save on shipping costs.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The London Dispatches: Apple Day at Borough Market

I’ve profiled Borough Market before, but my visit on this occasion had a strict purpose: a harvest festival!

Well, more specifically, an apple festival with some traditional harvest festivities mixed in. There is an Apple Day there every year, but since it is celebrating 1000 years this year, Borough Market is rather pulling out the stops for all of its festivities. This year’s event featured a number of traditional British elements that were wonderful to explore, and cleverly combined agriculture and tradition with our modern world.

Tasting stations were available at the market entrance so that visitors could sample slices from dozens of apple varieties. There was an “orchard” area set up with pillows and blankets for children to participate in events and storytelling, while demonstration and learning kitchens (market regulars) put on exhibitions ranging from peeling apples to preparing the fanciest of puff pastries with them.

The tasting stations.
Varieties of apples grown in London over the years.
 In the middle of the market was a theatre production featuring traditional British and English human and animal characters from folklore, as well as more storytelling (a British pastime) and games. One of the players handed out conkers, horse chestnut seeds strung onto strings, and everybody from children to Morris Dancer groups took part in playing the traditional game of trying to knock your opponent’s off its string by whacking it with your own as hard as possible.

Putting on the most British of plays, the "Tales of Robin Hood."
One of the players hands out conkers.
Playing conkers.
 The most traditional elements of all were the “Corn Queen,” an effigy made up of fruits and vegetables to signify bounty, and the “Berry Man,” a figure of British folklore that probably dates back to pagan times. He is arrayed in the fruits, flowers, and vines of the season and is thought to symbolize rebirth and fertility (evergreen leaves are often associated with him to imply that even though fall has arrived and the grimness of winter is around the corner, Spring and planting season follow). Long after Christianity arrived in Britain, this natural and agricultural character could be found in texts, religious carvings, and local festivals like the one Borough was recreating. Clearly, tradition is here to stay!

 The more modern part of the market display featured a very clever installation that the designers called “The Real Apple Store,” to mimic and tease the tech company. But you won’t find iPads here! Though laid out to look like an Apple or Mac store, this display featured 1000 different species of apples (one for every year of the market’s existence), with several varieties highlighted and their history explained. Apparently, the first apple to be recorded as brought to the UK was the variety known as Court Pendu Plat—and it is delicious!

The apple appears in almost every culture in the Old World, and rapidly colonized the New once the Columbian Exchange kicked off in the 16th century. It is riddled with symbolic meaning, litters our idioms (“An apple a day…” or “As American as apple pie…”), and is one of the most widely cultivated fruits today. In other words, it’s well worth celebrating.

Harvest and fall festivals aren’t just to be found in Britain. Are there any local events or festivals in your area that you use to celebrate the season? What personal traditions signify fall to you? And what food item are you harvesting now in your gardens or orchards? Let us know in the comments!

Cadence Woodland is a freelance writer, editorial assistant, and marketing coordinator. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: The American Way of Eating

Although I am not usually a fan of books in which the author decides to live a different life for a year, I was intrigued by The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table because I really wanted to know what happens in large commercial farm fields in California, which supplies most of the country's fruit and vegetables. Based on what I've read in the past, it didn't sound good.

The book chronicles the experience of author Tracie McMillan, who spends a year in various jobs in the food industry. She starts in three different jobs in farm fields, first picking grapes, then peaches, and finally "cutting garlic," which means harvesting it and cutting off the roots and stems. The whole experience was sad to hear, but it confirmed what I'd heard from Illinois fruit producers who have a very hard time finding people to work for them. Because McMillan is white, people usually did not even believe her when she first showed up and said she wanted a job. She had to concoct a story of being down on her luck and wanting a job where she didn't have to deal with customers or think. Even then, people were always suspicious of her. When she left one job, she told some of the people her true identity, and they said they knew that she had been lying about her background, but they had been thinking (perhaps hoping) that she was a spy from the government investigating working conditions.

Because McMillan "has papers," meaning she is a legal citizen, other workers kept telling her that she would get minimum wage, but she was normally paid about $2 per hour, which was the same or less than the illegal immigrants with whom she worked side by side. Laborers are generally paid by the piece, so more experienced, stronger, and faster workers get paid more. However, as McMillan quickly discovers, no one could work fast enough to earn the equivalent of the minimum hourly wage. When she goes to work for one company that has already paid big fines for labor issues, she sees that her paycheck misrepresents the number of hours she worked. The company paid her based upon how much she picked, but they divided the total they owed her by the number of hours it would have taken to earn it at minimum wage. So, on her paycheck it said she was working about two hours per day, when in reality, she was working eight or ten hours per day.

McMillan chose to work at Wal-Mart because it's the largest grocery store chain in the country, and she chose Applebee's because it's the largest casual restaurant chain in the U.S., which means they sell food to a huge percentage of Americans. Her experiences at those places were not nearly as interesting to me, although other readers might think differently. I was saddened to hear that she never received proper food handling training at Applebee's but was coached by other workers to claim that she had, when questioned by the corporate person who came in to evaluate the restaurant. The few training meetings she attended, she didn't get paid for, even though she was told she would be paid. Although she did receive great video training on food safety when working in produce at Wal-Mart, the store where she worked did not always follow company policy. For example, when a bird got into the store, managers refused to call a professional to catch the bird because it would cost $10,000, which they said corporate wouldn't like.

I wish that more people knew where their food came from. When people like Michael Pollan say that you vote with your fork three times a day, they aren't kidding. As long as people want cheap food and keep buying food based upon price, the food industry will continue trying to deliver the cheapest food possible, which means they'll continue to employ illegal aliens and neglect to do anything that will increase expenses, such as provide paid training for employees or get birds out of stores.

If you eat, you should read this book (or listen to it). As I so often do, I purchased this book on audio so that I could listen to it on my iPhone while milking goats or driving my car.

Monday, November 10, 2014

7+ healthier, ecothrifty sandwich ideas

Luncheon meat was one of the first things I cut out of my diet when I started to learn about nutrition. Cured meats contain sodium nitrates and nitrites, which have been associated with stomach cancer. They also tend to be high in fat and salt and low in protein and nutrition. And when you do the math, processed meat is expensive per pound, especially when you realize how little nutrition it contains.

American cheese is not cheese, and it is not as nutritious as real cheese, such as cheddar or gouda. It contains a lot of ingredients, including emulsifiers and preservatives, that you don’t find in real cheese. The label usually says it is a processed “cheese food” or a processed “cheese product.” You may even see some labeled as Swiss or mozzarella, along with the word “processed,” which means it is not a true cheese. Processed cheese tends to be softer than real cheese, and it is often sold in a can, a plastic container, or individually sliced and wrapped. Like most processed foods, it is cheap but not especially nutritious.

Natural peanut butter, which is high in protein and inexpensive, can be part of an ecothrifty sandwich, but read the label to make sure the peanut butter does not contain partially hydrogenated oils. When made from real peanuts, the oil will separate as the peanut butter sits on the shelf, which is why many companies remove the natural peanut oil and mix partially hydrogenated oil back into the spread. Partially hydrogenated oil contains trans fat, which leads to circulatory problems and heart disease.

The least expensive and most nutritious sandwiches are those that simply contain real food, such as sliced meat (turkey, chicken, beef, pork), real cheese, natural peanut butter, vegetables, and beans. Choice of bread is also important. I usually prefer sandwiches on a roll made from my French bread recipe, but for a change, I enjoy sandwiches on flat bread, wrapped up in a tortilla, or stuffed in a pita. Homemade bread baked in a traditional loaf pan is especially good for sandwiches when it is a day old. When making sandwiches to take to work or school, be mindful of the fact that you won’t be eating it for a few hours and don’t include ingredients that will turn the bread soggy, such as tomato slices.

Sandwich Suggestions:

  • Avocado slices, alfalfa sprouts, crushed garlic, sliced cheddar
  • Grilled button mushrooms, sweet bell peppers of various colors, caramelized onions and goat cheese or brie
  • Grilled Portobello mushrooms and goat cheese
  • Mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and pesto or fresh basil
  • Red bean spread with shredded cheddar cheese (Ecothrifty, page 88)
  • Sliced meat, lettuce, and tomato with garlic mayonnaise
  • White bean spread with alfalfa sprouts (Ecothrifty, page 88)

Savings: A sandwich at a national chain restaurant in my area costs $5-$7, compared with a homemade sandwich, which costs less than $1 per person.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann

Friday, November 7, 2014

Antiquity Oaks hashbrown casserole

This casserole is great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, and unlike so many recipes out there, this ecothrifty recipe is made without canned soup!

2 pounds of frozen hash browns or shredded potatoes
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whole milk (goat or cow)
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Keep in mind that frozen hash browns have actually been pre-cooked, so this will cook much faster with them than with the fresh shredded potatoes. However, if you can't find hash browns without unpronounceable ingredients in your store, it's better to shred your own fresh potatoes!

Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish that has been liberally buttered to avoid sticking. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes or until bubbling and browned. If you use freshly shredded potatoes, it takes a lot longer to cook, so use 350 degrees F for an hour, and keep the casserole covered for the first 40 minutes. Sprinkle with bacon bits (or veggie bacon bits) before serving, if desired.

Based on a total of six servings.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do goats need grain during pregnancy?

Every winter, when most dairy goats are pregnant, someone will post a link to this study in an online group and ask if they should be feeding their does grain during pregnancy. After all, they don't want a bunch of dead kids in the spring, which is what this studies says will happen if you don't feed your does grain during the middle of their pregnancy.

Although this is a legitimate study, it is not a good study. First of all, 15 is a VERY small number of goats. I have more goats give birth here on my farm in a single year than the number of goats in the study. The ultimate conclusion of a study like that would be to say that more studies need to be done to validate the results in other environments. After all, this was in Africa, where conditions are very different than North America. One should not take the results of that study and change your feeding program.

Second, there was something seriously wrong with the whole picture because their feeding plan does NOT explain why kids were dying. I don't feed my does grain when they're pregnant, and I don't have 45% of my kids dying or being born at 2.3 pounds. I completely disagree with the conclusions drawn by the author of this study. My conclusion would be that the feed contained supplemental minerals that were necessary for fetal development, and by not giving the goats that feed, they were mineral deficient. If you've read my story of copper deficiency problems (here or in my book), you know that we used to have all sorts of problems with goats not getting pregnant, aborting, miscarrying, and giving birth to kids far too early for them to survive. I'm not saying that the goats in this study were necessarily copper deficient, but they were deficient in something that was vital for not only growth but vigor -- possibly selenium?

We've had close to 500 kids here now, and I have seen zero correlation with kids dying when they're smaller at birth unless they weigh less than 1.5 pounds. This study is saying that 2.3 pounds is "underweight," which I disagree with. I did learn this past winter that kids that size can't maintain their body temperature at below zero temperatures, but other than that they're as healthy as the 3-pound kids. (And I'm sure they were not dealing with sub-zero temperatures in the African study.)

The fact that they had goats requiring c-sections with kids under 4 pounds also makes me wonder about the overall health of the does. Keep in mind that the study was done in Nigeria, where many environmental factors are also quite different than in this country -- and it was done in 1992 when no one knew anything about goat's nutritional needs. Back then, everyone still thought that goats were just like sheep and they should have NO copper in their diet.

Another problem with the overall health picture of the does is that African goats in the U.S. tend to have multiples, so if these goats were well nourished they should have had more than two kids per doe average. Each group had 9 kids born, which is less than 2 kids average per doe. The fact that each group had the same number of kids tells me that there was something equally missing from all of their diets. When we corrected our copper deficiency problem here on our farm, our average number of does per kid went from less than 2 to more than 2.5 every year and more than 3 some years! We have almost no singles any longer and lots of triplets. We have quite a few quadruplets and have even had three sets of quintuplets -- and only one of those 15 kids died.

As I say in my book, you can feed grain to goats until they are overweight, but it will not necessarily correct a nutritional deficiency. It is not simply a matter of calories. Nutrition is what's important. When we had a copper deficiency problem, our goats did not look underfed. More grain would have simply made them fat.

So, do my goats need grain during pregnancy?

It depends. (Yes, that's usually my answer to everything.) Assuming that you have a good quality, high protein hay available, and your goats don't look underweight, then they probably don't need grain until the very end of pregnancy. Keep in mind that you really should not breed a doe that is underweight, in the first place.

The following protocol is what I follow, based upon my twelve years of experience with these goats on this farm. It may or may not work for others, depending upon their goats' genetics and the hay or pasture available for them. It is merely meant to be an example ...

As long as a doe is being milked, she gets grain on the milk stand, so she will probably be getting grain until she dries up during the second or third month of her pregnancy. Once she is no longer milking, she doesn't get grain until a week or so before her due date. Then I start her on a very small amount -- like 1/2 cup -- so as not to upset her rumen. And in most cases, I am only starting to give her grain to get her rumen adjusted to having it again, so that when she freshens and starts producing milk, her body won't get thrown out of whack by increasing the amount of grain too quickly.

I have found there are some good reasons to avoid giving it to some does. Feeding too much grain at the end of pregnancy can cause kids to grow too large. When a doe doesn't need the extra calories, they go straight to the growing babies. If a goat has a history of giving birth to large kids, I don't give her grain at the end of pregnancy. If I have a first freshener who is not looking very wide, I usually worry that she has a single kid, which tends to grow much larger than multiples, so I don't give her grain. Yes, some does are great at hiding kids, but the worst thing that has ever happened is that a doe gave birth to a set of twins that were 2 pounds each. They were on the small side but super healthy, and they grew up big and strong. I'd rather have that than a yearling trying to give birth to a 4-pound single kid, which has happened and is not fun.

So, what's a new goatherd supposed to do?

My number one rule of raising goats is to always listen to the goats. Are they well-muscled and healthy? Do they have a coat that gets fluffy in winter and shiny and slick in summer? Has their coat started to fade? Do they get pregnant easily? Do they stay pregnant for the full term? Do they give birth without assistance to healthy kids? And look at what you're feeding them. Is their hay green? Do you have a legume hay, such as alfalfa or peanut available for the last month or two of pregnancy when their calcium needs are increasing?

It sure would be easy if we could just give everyone the same "perfect" feeding plan, but that doesn't work because everyone has different pasture available, and they are dealing with different genetics. Some goats are simply easier to keep than others. But if you know what your goats need, and you know the symptoms of deficiencies, you can figure out what works best for your goats on your homestead.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Recipe: Spiced Pumpkin Pudding

We are entering that time of year when all common sense towards food starts to go out the window. But, you can have treats that don't send you into a sugar high, and this pudding is one of them. It has half as much sugar as most homemade puddings and much less than store-bought. Plus, you can pronounce all of the ingredients in this one!

3 cups milk
1 cup cooked pumpkin puree
   (or canned pumpkin)
4 eggs
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all of the ingredients into a blender jar, except for the vanilla. Blend until it looks like everything is mixed up. Pour it into a 2 quart sauce pan and stir with a whisk until it boils. This will take about 10 minutes. (Your arms needed a little exercise, right?)

When the pudding starts to feel thick, stop stirring for a few seconds to see if bubbles start to rise up in the pudding. If so, add the teaspoon of vanilla and whisk in.

Now it's ready to be poured into individual dessert dishes or a large bowl.

Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. However, it is perfectly acceptable to scrape the sauce pan clean and eat the pudding warm!

Nutrition Facts assume six servings.

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