Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Upcoming homesteading events

For those of you who are in Illinois or fairly close, you'll have a chance to visit our homestead, Antiquity Oaks, as well as four other farms within a few miles of us on Saturday, August 17. We will be participating in the Second Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl. Admission is free, but we ask that you get tickets here so that we'll have an idea of how many people to expect. In addition to visiting and seeing our animals and visiting with us, you will also be able to buy things that we have available for sale. In our case, that means goat milk soap made with organic oils,  as well as Shetland sheepskins and wool that is available as raw fleece, roving, or yarn. We will even have a variety of books available on homesteading. Some of the other farms will be selling produce, honey, and other homegrown items.

On Saturday, August 31, we're sponsoring the Second Annual Mid-America Homesteading Conference, which will again be held at Joliet Junior College on Houbolt Road in Joliet, IL. During each of the six, one-hour sessions, participants will be able to choose from three different tracks: livestock, gardening, and do-it-yourself. Livestock covers everything from bees to chickens to cattle, while gardening takes you from the beginner level through advanced ideas like extending the growing season and companion planting, as well as composting. The do-it-yourself track will include demonstrations to show you how to can, make mozzarella, and make soap.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You deserve the best

You deserve a break today, so get up and get away ...
If you were alive in the 1980s, you know the tune, and you know the advertiser. That jingle was voted as the most effective jingle in advertising in the 20th century. And it was brilliant! Don't sell people on the product. Sell them on the lifestyle. You deserve to have what you want, when you want it. You're busy! You don't have time to do things like cook. And when you watch the following TV ad, you can see that McDonald's painted its customers as healthy, popular, and good-looking.

Those same kids that grew up eating fast food in the 1980s now comprise the largest group of human beings ever to live on this planet who suffer from unprecedented levels of obesity, high cholesterol, type-II diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer. And it's no secret that much of it is caused by the food that we are eating, as well as our sedentary lifestyle. But I'm not going to talk about the food today. (I talk about them at length in my first two books, and if you didn't know that there are more than two dozen ingredients in almost every fast food item, most of which you cannot pronounce, check out the online ingredient lists for your favorite.)

Most people know that fast food is not good for them, so why do they keep eating it? Other than the fact that it is highly addictive, it is also about attitude. Anyone who is willing to sit in a drive-through lane behind six other cars cannot honestly claim that they don't have time to cook. It takes less time to grill a fish filet and steam some broccoli than it does to get take-out. In listening to people over the years, it is pretty clear that they eat fast food because they feel they deserve it. They shouldn't have to cook. When people start talking about their food choices, it obvious that many of them feel they are making a choice between enjoyment and deprivation. They don't want to deprive themselves of something that tastes good. They don't want to deprive themselves of being catered to. "Have it your way!" Remember that one?

And I don't think anyone has ever permanently changed their way of eating as long as they had those feelings. Unfortunately there are billions of dollars of advertising devoted to making sure that you continue to feel that you deserve to eat out; you should have it your way! It is a well-known fact in advertising that many purchasing decisions are made based upon emotion. As long as you feel like you're depriving yourself by not eating fast food, there will always be that voice in your head telling you that you deserve a break today.

But do you really want to be consuming a hundred or more ingredients in every fast food meal you eat? Do you want to eat a bunch of things you can't pronounce? Do you deserve a side serving of high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease along with your lunch?

I write this as someone who used to drink two liters of soda a day and went through college eating convenience foods and fast food burgers ... and was sick all the time. I did not give up the fast food or soft drinks overnight. Over the years, I gradually drank fewer and fewer soft drinks, and now I don't think I've had one in several years. I have not set foot in any fast food establishment whose claim to fame is hamburgers in at least a decade. (Yay for Chipotle when I'm traveling!) Do I feel deprived by not drinking soda or buying fast food burgers? Absolutely not. In fact, I feel quite the opposite.

The longer I went without those things, the less I wanted them. Sounds just like any other addiction, doesn't it? And in fact, today, I have absolutely no desire at all to have a soda or fast food burger. Rather than feeling deprived when I choose not to eat some artificially-colored and flavored food item that I come across, I feel repulsed. Why would I want to put that in my body?

Rather than thinking no, no, no all the time, I'm thinking I only eat and drink things that are nutritious and good for me. I recently went on a cruise, and the average person gains a pound a day, but I gained nothing. How? I made conscious choices when faced with the dizzying array of foods and asked myself, will that nourish my body? when deciding what to eat. It is not about depriving yourself; it is about loving yourself and taking care of yourself. Because that is what you deserve!

Friday, July 12, 2013

What is natural?

A few months ago I was giving a talk and brought up aquaponics as a good way to grow vegetables during times of drought. Aquaponics is growing fish and plants together. It could be outside or in a greenhouse or even in your basement, but the beauty of the system is that the plants take up the waste products of the fish, and the fish thrive by having the plants clean their water. It's a great way to raise fish and plants organically. But one person in the audience made a face and said, "That's not natural."

She felt that because people were putting the fish and plants together, sometimes inside a building, that it was a bad idea because it was unnatural. I explained that aquaponics is mimicking the example that we see in nature, such as plants growing along a stream where fish live, but she was skeptical. I understand where she is coming from because I used to be in her shoes. I felt that humans really did not need to do anything special to grow our food. And as testament to practicing what I believed, our first garden yielded a handful of tough, stringy green beans because I thought we merely needed to plant seeds and come back a few months later to harvest dinner. Seeds grow, right? They've been doing it since the beginning of time!

Well, yes, seeds grow ... most of the time ... and if you've ever had a successful garden, you know that if you want things to grow where you choose to plant them, and if you want an abundant harvest, you need to put a little work into it. Some people argue that this isn't natural. They say that the day we went from being hunters and gatherers to becoming farmers, gardeners, and ranchers, we started altering nature.

It is true that few domesticated animals (or plants) live a truly natural life, but if you insist on letting nature take its course 100% of the time, you will find yourself with little to eat. Nature does not think we humans need to eat any more than predators and parasites, so if you want to be totally "natural," you'll have to take what is left after the coyotes and raccoons have had their share of chickens. Luckily, nature also is inherently redundant. After moving out to the country and starting to raise our own food, I quickly realized that the number of offspring an animal had was directly related to that baby's chance of survival. In some cases the chance of survival is limited by the fact that the animal is meant to be lunch for another animal.

Birds that live on the ground like chickens and turkeys have a dozen or so babies every year if they go broody. (Unfortunately, a lot of breeds today have had broodiness bred out of them, but that's a topic for another post.) They have to have a lot of babies in their life to simply have one pullet grow up and reproduce and serve as a replacement for its mother. By protecting them from predators, odds are quite good that the cockerels will survive a few months and make a great chicken dinner for us, and that the pullets will grow up and become layers for us. And in spite of what the factory egg farms would like us to believe, it is possible to protect chickens by giving them large fenced-in areas in which to roam outside and providing them with a chicken house in which to roost at night.

In some cases you might also need to provide nutritional supplements for livestock. Although our chickens are incredibly healthy, our goats need supplemental minerals, especially copper. Someone once asked me, "Who puts out supplemental minerals for them in nature?" Mother Nature does! Goats were never found living wild on the Illinois prairie, and there is a very good reason for that. This area does not have what they need to thrive. Goats are found living wild in deserts and mountainous regions. Cattle, on the other hand, which are more closely related to bison, do just fine on the prairies with little additional inputs. If you happen to live in the mountains or a desert, you will probably have a much easier time raising goats than I do.

Unfortunately, Big Ag companies claim that what they are doing is not any more unnatural than what an organic farmer is doing. I disagree. The farther away you get from nature, the more problems you are causing, which means the more problems you have to fix. All of the high-tech and inhumane fixes in factory farming are created to solve problems created by factory farming, such as needing to debeak laying hens that are given only half a square foot in which to live. (I'd get crabby and try to kill someone too if I didn't have more space than that!) Hens don't try to kill each other when they free range on open pastures.

But even in a seemingly natural farm environment, we may have some human-caused problems that didn't exist 100 years ago. Today's selenium-deficient soil grows selenium-deficient forage. Water pumped up from 100-foot deep wells may be high in sulfur or iron, which can bind with copper and selenium, causing deficiencies. So sometimes we have to supplement animals to fix the problems that we are causing in their environment.

Unlike the Big Ag companies, however, I don't think we need high-tech, expensive answers. I believe that nature has the answers. By attempting to mimic nature as much as possible -- rather than fight it -- we can raise livestock and grow gardens "naturally" without the use of synthetic chemicals or confining animals in filthy conditions.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Livestock and hot weather

With record breaking temperatures hitting many parts of the U.S. this week, anyone with livestock has probably been anxiously watching them to make sure they are surviving the heat. So, here are a few tips:
  1. WATER! Keep cool water available at all times!  Dehydration is the main killer in hot weather. If you find an animal unable to stand, pinch its skin, and if it is not as elastic as usual, it could be dehydrated. Offer it water immediately.
  2. Keep the water trough or bucket in the shade so that it does not get heated up by the sun. In addition to keeping animals hydrated, drinking water can also help cool them down if it is cooler than the air temperature.
  3. Keep an especially close eye on older animals or those who might be slowed down by a heavy parasite load or other illness. If they are not particularly energetic, they may not make enough trips to the water trough and wind up getting dehydrated.
  4. Make sure animals have access to shade. 
  5. Don't leave animals in buildings that get hot. This is especially a problem with metal barns. Whenever temperatures are greater than 90 degrees on our farm, we make sure no one is in the barn because the temperature in there is always much higher.
  6. If you have pigs, make sure they have a mud hole. Because they don't sweat, they need to have an external source of cooling off, and mud seems to be their favorite. We've offered ours a sprinkler in the past, but they never ventured into it. They love laying in the pond however!
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