Friday, June 29, 2012

Gardening This and That

Our garden at Third Days Farms is really taking off!  As this was our first year with a garden here, we were not sure what to expect.  I'm pleased to report that (so far) the garden has exceeded my expectaions.  Our hard work and hours of planning are paying off. 

The garden is about 145 x 30 feet, adding up to about 4,300 square feet of garden space or just shy of 1/10 of an acre.  There are 26 raised beds in the garden, each one about 4 x 16 feet, surrounded by straw covered pathways.  My previous garden at our old house was 200 sq feet - to say we expanded is an understatement!  However, we're discovering that we are able to manage the space quite well.  After a few weeks of intensive weeding, the weeds have diminished greatly and are not really a problem.  I should be spending about least 30 minutes out there each day, preferably an hour, but lets be realistic.  I have a three year old.  Enough said.  Hopefully, next year I'll be able to get my time in.

Part of the garden - raised beds with straw pathways

Despite my lack of labor in the garden (and the fact that we have recieved no rain for 4 weeks - it all keeps missing us), the plants seem to be doing quite well. We've been having to water often, but as the plants grow larger and shade the soil, the need is lessening. One of the goals of raised bed gardening is to fill the bed with tightly growing plants.  By packing the plants close together, weeds are choked out and watering demands are reduced.  Raised beds are also more productive than growing plants in rows.  In the same amount of space, over twice the amount of produce can be grown in raised beds, versus rows.  Also, when growing in raised beds, the soil remains deep and roots are able to penetrate well, creating stronger and more productive plants.  Every time you step on soil, you are compacting it, which makes it difficult for plant to grow well.  By created raised beds, you eliminate compaction and there is no need for tilling.  My children have heard this too many times, "NEVER step in the bed!!!!  That's why we have pathways!"  The beds are 4 feet wide, so produce is easily accessable from either side.  Raised beds are more work initially to construct, but I think in the long run, they are much easier to manage - weeding is a snap and no more tilling each year. 

Raised bed with "Royal Burgundy" Bush Beans on the left, "Yukon Gold" Potatoes in the center and Tomatoes on the right.  

The spinach went bad about 3 weeks ago, when the weather turned hot and dry.  I've been pulling it out and feeding it the pigs.  This past week, the Sugar Snap Peas and the Shelling Peas puttered out.  Those plants were also pulled and fed to the pigs (they are handy garden garbage disposals!).  After spending many an hour shelling peas (not an unpleasant task, mind you, especially when done sitting in the shade chatting with a friend), I'm pleased to have about 6 quart bags of peas in the freezer.  That should last us until next year. 

Most of the lettuces turned bitter and bolted  in this heat, all except the Romaine Lettuce - we're still harvesting beautiful heads of Romaine each day. "Bolting" means the plant starts to suddenly grow tall and lanky, instead of forming a nice tight head of lettuce.  It also gets bitter and the leaves will produce "milk" when you cut them.  Plants bolt when it's too hot and there is not much you can do about it (tear it out and feed it to the pigs!). Lettuce likes cool weather.  I may try growing some more in the shade of the tomato plants and see how that works. 

I have about 40 broccoli plants and they are beginning to form nice heads.  Soon, I'll be harvesting the center heads and preserving them for the rest of the year in the freezer.  After giving the heads a salt water bath to kill the sneaky cabbage worms that hide in the broccoli (don't skip this step!!!!  Trust me, it's not cool to bite into your broccoli and discover you just ate half a worm.  Simply boiling or steaming the broccoli won't make them fall off), I will blanch and freeze as much broccoli as I can.

The Swiss Chard is looking lovely and like always, I have WAY too much of it.  To be honest, I grow it simply because it's so beautiful - green leaves with bright red, orange and yellow stems.  I just don't know what to do with all of it... my family does not care for cooked greens no matter how I prepare them, and though they go well in egg dishes and soup, I can only make so many egg dishes.  Suggestions for using up Swiss Chard would be appreciated!    Or just come over and take some!

"Bright Lights"  Swiss Chard

Over my years of gardening, I've discovered I prefer pole beans over bush beans.  Anyone who has ever picked green beans know that the bending over is for the birds.  Pole beans grow up and are super easy to harvest - no bending over!  As I pulled the spent peas off the trellises, I planted pole beans to take over.  When I ran out of trellis, I got the idea to plant pole beans and sunflowers in the same bed at the same time.  Not sure if it's going to work, but I'm hoping the pole beans will simply climb up the sunflowers.  So far, so good!  The sunflowers will reach 6-8 feet, which should be tall enough for the pole beans.

Sunflowers with Pole Beans growing up on them

And look!  My first tomato is ripening!    I have over 50 tomato plants in the garden (yes, I'm crazy) and it won't be long before we're swimming in a sea of red.  Again, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all of them.  I hope to can at least 100 jars and fill several freezer bags, but we're thinking we may need to set up a roadside stand. 

"Stupice" Tomato, an early ripening variety

There are lots of other exciting things going on in the garden, but I won't bore you with all the little details.  The garden is such a magical place.   It grows by leaps and bounds each day.  Each day, it fills me with delight, as I walk around checking on my "babies", rubbing my hands in glee and excitement.  Come on over and take a walk with me.  I'd love to show you around so that you can taste and see that the Lord is good.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Meet Toro

It all began innocently enough.  For some reason, I decided to check Craigslist for "goats", you know, just looking, nothing serious.  What's this?  A cute baby goat for sale?  And he's located in our town?  Hmm, maybe we should check this out.  And.... 5 hours later, we had a claim on a goat.

Toro, our little Alpine wether

Turns out the little goat for sale was living at a farm just 1 mile from our house.  Ever since we moved in here, we've admired their farm and always wanted to meet the family, but simply never got around to it.  And it turns out they had been watching us too!  The homestead we purchased had been owned by the same family since the 40's and the elderly mother lived there until she passed away a few years ago.  As you can imagine, with a single elderly woman living here, there was not much activity.  Since we moved in last year, things have been changing left and right.  Several of our neighbors have commented that they enjoy seeing this place come back to life and they are always curious to see what we are up to next. 

So we went to go meet our prospective goat and the lovely family.  I will be completely honest that we are quite clueless about goats.  The mother, Renee, was extremely kind and informative, telling us everything we needed to know about raising a goat, making sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into.  One look at that little goat and he had me.  I'm such a sucker.

I must admit that goats always scared me a bit.  Not exactly sure why, but I remember walking through the goat barns at the county fair and starting to freak out.  Maybe it's their odd-looking eyes?  Their outgoing mannerisms?  It's strange - I feel completely at ease around horses, cows, sheep, pigs and other farm animals.  Why did goats make me so nervous?  I believe I may have even muttered "Why in the world would someone want to own such a creepy animal?"

I'll tell you why we wanted to own a goat.  They make a fantastic self-propelled lawn mower and weed whipper.  After observing Tacori (the goat we are borrowing from a farm down the road) attack all the weeds in the pasture, we were amazed.  They eat everything the cows won't eat, leaving a neat, cleanly mowed pasture.  That is reason enough to own a goat.  After having Tacori around, I actually started to like goats.  They are friendly and personable.... much like having a dog with hooves instead of paws.  Now I can see why so many people have them simply as pets or companion animals.  After calculating the cost of feeding and caring for a goat, we discovered it costs less than a dog. 

We did not bring our baby goat home the day we met him.  Since he was so young, we decided to leave him with his mother for a few more weeks until he was being weaned from her milk.  We decided on a name for him - Toro, like the lawn mower.

My husband John with Toro - we brought him home the day after Father's Day and I joked with John that I bought him a lawn mower for Father's Day.

Last week, we finally brought Toro home with us.  Toro is an Alpine goat (that's the breed) and he is a wether (which means he is casterated).  Many wethers are actually sold for meat.  In order for a dairy goat to produce milk, she must be bred so she can have kids (baby goats).  If the kids are female, they can be sold as dairy goats as well.  If it is a male and has good bloodlines, occasionally it will be left intact to be raised as a breeding buck (males are called bucks and females are does), but most males are casterated and sold as meat animals or perhaps as a pasture companion.  Remember, most animals do not like being alone.  It's not uncommon for people to purchase goats as a companion for their horses.  Toro's main job is to weed our pastures, but he will also be our resident farm animal/companion animal.  We plan to gradually purchase steers to raise for beef and this way we will always have Toro around to keep the steer company if we have to butcher one and leave one on the farm.

Toro (left) and Tacori (right)

After settling in for a few days, Toro seems right at home.  We are thankful that Tacori is living with us so he could show Toro the ropes and help him feel more at ease.  Toro follows "Uncle Tacori" around all day like a little puppy dog.  My children are delighted with Toro.  He is very playful.  My 5 year old son spends hours out in the pasture playing with Toro. I'm thankful they get along so well - we don't have any human playmates nearby for my son, so a goat will have to do.  They climb trees together and my son likes to build "obstacle courses" for him out of scrap wood.  We're going to work on leash training him next.  I'd like to teach him to walk on a leash so we can bring him in the yard with us to play.  He does quite well so far.

My son and Toro climbing trees

So far, we are really enjoying our experience with goats and now I understand why people speak so fondly of them.  They are such playful, curious, affectionate and entertaining creatures.  I hear they can also be one of the most frustrating animals in the barnyard, as they have a tendency to constantly push their boundaries, testing fences and finding ways to escape.  Thankfully, Tacori respects the fences and seems content to stay put.  We're hoping his good manners rub off on Toro.  Welcome to Third Day Farms, Toro.  We hope you like it here!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Pig's Life

Our new pigs have been home for about a week now and are settling in nicely.  As I watch them from my kitchen window, I can seem them rooting around in the dirt, napping in the sunshine and frolicking in the grass.  I cannot explain to you how this fills me with joy.  It brings me such happiness to see animals allowed to live the way they were intended, fulfilling their God-given roles in the animal kingdom. 

Nedry, Rose and Pearl, chowing down on spent pea plants I pulled from the garden

The day we brought the pigs home, my husband and I sat outside the pen for a long time, simply observing them.  After a few moments, John said in amazement "How about that!  God created an animal with a shovel on the end of it's face!"  And it's true.  Those pigs tore up their small temporary enclosure in about 2 days.  We loved watching them do just what they were created to do.  They are astonishingly efficient rototillers!

After a few days, we opened the gate of the small enclosure and allowed them to roam into the pasture area.  They have been living the high life since then, rooting for bugs and plant tubers, sleeping in the mud wallows we create for them, wandering about happily.  When we come over to visit, they run over excitedly and greet us with a chorus of grunts and snuffs, looking for food and a scratch behind the ear.  It makes me grin every time.  They are the picture of contentment.

I had the hardest time getting photos of them relaxing in their enclosure- they kept running over to the fence to greet me, grunting and snorting in glee.  If you have never seen a pig run, take it from me - it's hilarious.

Contrast this to the lives of pigs living in confinement situations or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).  These unfortunate creatures are stuffed into a barn with a concrete floor, sometimes up to 10,000 pigs in one building, never to set foot (hoof) outside or feel the sunshine on their bodies.  Imagine how horrifying this must be - constantly crowded by other stressed-out animals and standing on concrete all day (YOU try standing on concrete all day and tell me how you feel... and for the record, I also think it's cruel to keep a dog in a concrete kennel/run all day too).  Imagine the stench of 10,000 pig's feces and urine on concrete.  Imagine being denied your most basic desire, the purpose for which you were created - rooting in the dirt. Can't root when you live on concrete.  Imagine having  your tail cut off because other stressed pigs are chewing on it.  Imagine having no stimulation, no change of scenery, nothing (remember, pigs are the 4th most intelligent mammal, preceded by humans, apes/monkeys and dolphins - try to fathom how bored they must be.  I think I'd go insane.).  I can only imagine this must be a living hell for these creatures. 

In order for these pigs to reach a slaughter weight, they are constantly fed antibiotics to keep them from dying of disease and infection.  I don't even want to enter into the whole scary realm of "anti-biotic resistance" - you can do the research yourself.  The question is, do you want to be eating animals that are sick, their symptoms being masked with heavy doses of drugs? When my son was a toddler, we discovered he is allergic to certain antibiotics.  It occurred to me one day that if I was feeding him meat from animals raised in these conditions, he was almost certainly getting small doses of anti-biotics whenever he ate the meat.  This made me furious.  I was done.

Please know that I'm not trying to make out the farmers to be the bad guys here. They are simply trying to make a living and the swine industry told them that if they built a big barn with concrete floors, they could raise pigs more efficiently and make more profit. Concrete is more sanitary, they were told. Well, perhaps it is but I have 2 problems with that - One, just what DO they do with all that poop and urine that collects on the concrete? Manure lagoons? Good grief, do you know how toxic manure lagoons are? God never intended for so much animal manure to collect in one spot - humans have managed to take something that can be useful and life giving, and have transformed it into a toxic substance that pollutes the land and waterways. Two, I simply cannot get over the fact of raising an animal on concrete for it's entire life, especially an animal that was designed to dig in the dirt!!!! I'm sure there are lots of great farmers out there who truly care about their animals, who are doing their best to provide a good life for their livestock. But raising animals (any animal) on concrete or in small cages is far removed from the way these animals were intended to live. It's like preventing a chicken from scratching or a cow from eating grass (which happens all the time in confinement operations).

A few months ago, I was rummaging in the "free magazine" drop off basket at the library and I fished out an issue of Time magazine from 2009. I truly think God placed it there for me. Why else would a 3 year old magazine be in there? The featured article was "The Real Cost of Cheap Food" by Bryan Walsh. Please, please, please, take the time to read this article. It's a sobering read about how the horrific living conditions of animals and how it is effecting human health.  The author makes a convincing statement about we can't afford not to choose sustainably and humanely farmed food. 

If you are purchasing your meat at the grocery store, you should automatically assume you are eating animals that were raised in CAFOs, unless it specifically says otherwise ("organic", "pastured", "grass-fed", "free-range", etc.)   However, even these labels cannot assure you that the meat was raised in the manner you assume - there is a lot of wiggle room in the regulations.  You've got to dig deep.  Call the company and ask questions.  Do your research.  In the face of these difficulties, I understand why so many people have chosen to give up meat altogether.  I probably would too, if I had no other options.  But there ARE options.  Remember, if something is important to you, you will find a way to do it. 

A good place to start is a local butcher shop.  All the choices there may not be perfect, but at least you can talk to the manager of the shop and ask them questions directly.  If they cannot meet your needs, chances are they know someone who can.  A Farmer's Market is also a good place to look.  Here in West Michigan, I know that Crane Dance Farm and Woodbridge Dairy Farm sell at the Fulton St. Farmer's Market.  Even though this sounds sketchy,  Craigslist can be a fabulous tool for seeking out "safe" meat.  There are several small farms advertising on Craigslist that are raising animals that you could purchase and have custom butchered at a USDA inspected slaughter house (by the way, buying a whole animal or part of an animal is the way to go if you want good meat at a reasonable price).  Ask if you can come out to the farm and see the animals.  If they say no, then move on.  Farmers need to be fully transparent - if they are trying to hide something, then you don't want what they have.  When you visit the farm, don't expect everything to be pristine.  Animals poop.  A lot.  All day long.  Even the cleanest operation is going to have a lot of poop.  What you are looking for is to make sure the animals look comfortable, that they are being raised in a manner you see fit.  Get involved - know where your food is coming from.  Nicolette Hahn Niman offers some great suggestions about how to avoid factory farm food in this article.

This past spring, I read the book "Righteous Porkchop" , also by Nicolette Hahn Niman, which is the story of the author's discoveries as she delved into the world of factory farming.  I'll admit, I cried.  I am not an animal rights activist.  As much as I love animals, I still feel that human rights and issues should be first and foremost.  But this tore me to pieces, to see how we humans have twisted our calling in life, the call in Genesis to be stewards of God's creation.  Instead, we torture animals so that we can have "cheap" food.  We abuse them and call it "advances in technology and efficiency".  And now, we are discovering that human health is suffering as well because of the way we treat these animals.  This is what happens when we deviate from God's design - ugliness, destruction, death. 

We need to get back to God's design.  We need to step back and observe these creatures, look for their strengths and use those to our advantage.  Sustainable farming pioneer Joel Salatin  (sigh... my hero...) uses pigs to aerate and turn over the soiled bedding that cows have been on all winter.  Genius.  He utilizes their natural rooting abilities to benefit the farm.  When the pigs are done, he is left with a barn full of compost, ready to go out onto the fields to make crops grow.  We're using our pigs to "rototill" some unusable land, so we can convert it to usable pasture.  Other farmers plant crops for the pigs and  use strategically placed electric fences to turn them loose in the fields little by little - the pigs feed themselves and then rototill and fertilize the field as they go. We need to embrace the qualities of these animals, not prevent them.  Historically, farm animals were used to do work on farms - cows mowed the pastures (spreading manure as they went), pigs rototilled the fields, chickens spread the manure and kept the bugs at bay.  Now we use machines and chemicals to accomplish these tasks instead, confining the animals  that are are no longer needed... and look what has happened as a result.  Sick animals, sick land, sick humans. 

Pearl grazing in the grass

I urge you to consider your role in this problem.  With every item of food you buy, you have the ability to promote health and healing or sickness and destruction.  I know that sounds overdramatic, but it's the truth. And I know it's overwhelming.   Don't expect to overhaul your entire diet and lifestyle all at once.  Be gentle on yourself.  No one is perfect - it's not all or nothing. Start with one small step.  What could you do to support sound farming practices?  Maybe you start eating less meat in general -think of meat as garnish, not a main entree.  Maybe you stop purchasing meat at the grocery store and start seeking out sustainable farmers in your area instead (a good place to start is checking out farms that supply  West Michigan Coop).  Maybe you choose organic produce over conventional.  Maybe you stop consuming fast food.   Maybe instead of buying the next latest-and-greatest cell phone, you spend the money on purchasing a 1/4 of a grass-fed beef from a local farm.   Little choices can make a big difference.  Just some food for thought...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting Personal, Part 3

In my previous two posts (Getting Personal, Part 1 and Getting Personal, Part 2), I shared with you why I made the switch to natural products and started to discuss which items I tweaked.  Here are a few more personal care products that I have been researching and slowly changing.

Deodorant -  One of the first body care products I ditched was antiperspirant, most of which contain aluminum.  After reading about the risks of using it (there are some scary links between aluminum and Alzheimer's) and thinking more about how antiperspirants work, I decided that clogging my pores with heavy metal was not a good idea.  How do you think your body rids itself of toxins?  One way is by excreting them from the pores.  Ever heard about people being so drunk you can smell it on their skin?  It's because the booze is oozing from their pores. Or have you ever noticed how your whole body smells like garlic if you eat a lot of it?  I wanted to allow the toxins in my body to come  out, not stay inside me. The antiperspirant went in the trash and I began to seek out a new solution.

At first, I tried all sorts of "natural" deodorants.  Deodorants do not clog the pores.  They do not prevent you from sweating.  All they do is mask or neutralize the smell.  I tried the crystal rock kind and the Tom's of Maine brands.  They all worked ok, but the crystal ended up giving me an itchy rash and the Tom's of Maine made me feel slimy... not a good feeling.   My husband aptly describes the feeling as "swampy".  

After some trial and error, I finally decided to try making my own deodorant.  It was a success!  The recipe is made with coconut oil, so it can be stored in a jar and applied with fingertips or poured into an old antiperspirant applicator and used that way.  However,  since coconut oil has a melting point of 76 degrees, the deodorant must be stored in the fridge in the summer - it's not as weird as it seems.  I place it next to my coffee creamer in the fridge so that I can apply my deodorant as I make my morning coffee.  Ok, maybe that is weird.  To each their own.  Here is the basic formula.  I'll add a dedicated post someday with step-by-step instructions for those of you who are interested.

-2 tbsp baking soda
-2 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch.... but that irritated my skin)
-2 tbsp coconut oil, softened but not liquid
-Essential oil of choice - I prefer tea tree oil because of it's anti-bacterial properties and it's clean scent, but you could choose any oil that appeals to you

Simply combine and stir together the first 3 ingredients and then add 2-3 drops of essential oil.  Store in a small jar or refill an old deodorant container.  One batch will last me several months. 

This formula works well for me - I have been antiperspirant free for 2 years and will never go back.  Again, it does not prevent me from sweating, but I really don't have problems with soggy armpits and believe me,  I'm a sweaty gal.   The baking soda does a nice job keeping me relatively dry.  As for odor, I think I have way less BO using this as opposed to the antiperspirant.  I also love how my arm pits feel clean and fresh, instead of gunky and waxy like they did when I used regular antiperspirant.

My husband used the Tom's of Maine brand for a long time, but recently has switched to using just plain baking soda.  I bought him a powder brush and he simply dips the brush in a small jar of baking soda and applies it with the brush, usually just after he showers, when his skin is still damp.  It must work well for him because he never stinks!

Finding a natural deodorant that works for your body may take some trial and error.  I understand that some people are not willing to do this, for a variety of reasons.  As a stay-at-home mom, it doesn't matter to me if I happen to have slightly sweaty armpits, but if I were still teaching it might be a different story.  I think of all the times I was sitting in close contact with students, helping them with a problem - I would have been really self-conscious about sweaty pits.  I guess what I'm saying is, you have to do what you are comfortable with and if ditching antiperspirant makes you nervous, then don't sweat it!  There are other ways you can lighten your toxic load.

Skin Care - Here's an easy one.  After reading the ingredient lists on the back of most body lotions, I was disgusted.   Instead, I started using coconut oil as my body moisturizer.  It works great - goes on easily and absorbs quickly.  It does not leave you feeling greasy or slimy.  There are two kinds of coconut oil you can purchase - refined or unrefined.  Refined coconut oil is odorless if you don't care for the subtle coconut smell.  Unrefined has a very mild coconut smell and is the healthier choice if you are also going to use your coconut oil for cooking.  That's right, you will usually find coconut oil in the baking aisle with all the other cooking oils.  I usually purchase coconut oil in large half gallon containers and transfer a small amount to a separate container to use for body care.  Coconut oil also makes a fantastic massage oil and is great for removing eye makeup.  I love having such a multi-use product! 

Sunscreen - This is a personal care item that I feel needs a major overhaul in my life and anyone else who has small children.  Infant and children's bodies are less able to detoxify themselves, so we must be extremely careful what we put on their skin.  Many sunscreens are full of toxins and more and more studies are discovering that some sunscreens are actually contributing to cancer development, instead of preventing it!  So what do you do?  Is it more dangerous to wear sunscreen or not wear it?

Fortunately, there ARE safe choices out there.  If you have about 10 minutes, it would be extremely helpful to read this post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship.  In her typical, uber-thorough fashion, Katie has personally tested many natural mineral sunblocks and has rated them in an organized fashion.   I'm so thankful for her dedication and diligence in testing these products and sharing her results with the rest of us.  When it comes time to purchase my next bottle of sunblock, I will surely be re-reading her recommendations and scoping out the suggestions on Skin Deep.  Remember, it's ok to look to others for advice, but ultimately, YOU must do your own research.  We must take responsibility for our own choices, not depend on others to do the thinking for us.  Right now, we are using Lavera brand Sunblock, which gets a "3" rating on the EWG Skin Deep site - I'd prefer a product with a score of "1" or "2".

 Most of us are used to using sunscreen, which is absorbed into the skin (and the bloodstream) and is easy to spread.  However, many sunscreens are full of toxic ingredients.  Making the switch to sunblock (usually has zinc oxide as the main ingredient), which sits on top of the skin, instead of being absorbed is a little tough, I will admit.  It's messy, can be hard to rub in/spread and can stain dark clothing.  But it works.  And usually they are a safer choice.  So I choose mild inconvenience over toxins.  I know parents all over are groaning inside "You mean that spray-on sunscreen is no good? That stuff is a life-saver!  Do you know how hard it is to get my kids to stand still to put on sunscreen?!?"  Yes, I know. I feel your pain.  I used to use that stuff too and I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Now that I know what's in it, I can't bear to use it anymore... and it makes me sick to think I put that on my kids for years. 

I was asked the other day about my sunscreen philosophy and to be honest, we avoid using it as much as possible.  Of course, I don't want my kids to get sunburned.  However, after much reading and researching about epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in this country, I'm reluctant to slather my kids with sunblock every day.  We NEED to get some sunlight on our skin, every day if possible.  It doesn't need to be much, even 20 minutes will suffice.  I want to make sure my family is getting their vitamin D.  Thankfully, our backyard has lots of shade mixed with sunshine, so my kids naturally get a good balance of sun and shade while playing outside.  We tend to avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day.  If for some reason, we are in direct sun during peak hours, of course we are going to use sunblock and hats.  For more info about the importance of vitamin D, click here.

I've also been doing some reading along with the vitamin D deficiency that suggests one of the reasons people get sunburn is because of lack of adequate amounts of Omega -3 fatty acids (check out a post about it here). Vitamin D needs to be paired with fat in order for our bodies to fully absorb and synthesize it.   Omega-3 fats are fats such as cod liver oil or fish oil, flax seed and oil, olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, etc.   Interestingly, the meat (and fat) of pastured animals contains significantly more Omega-3 fatty acids, as opposed to the Omega -6 rich conventional, confinement raised animals.  Our bodies need both types of fats, but the ideal ratio is 3:1 of Omega-6 to Omega-3.  The average American consumes a ratio of 15:1, due to our over consumption of corn, soy and canola oils (check out the ingredients list on processed foods - almost all contain one or more of these oils).  Some say that this imbalance of fats is also contributor to rises in cancer, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, depression and a host of other problems. I think more research need to be done before I'd totally promote this idea, but in the mean time, it makes good sense to make these changes in diet anyway... and if it helps to prevent sunburn, it would be a total bonus!

In my next "Getting Personal" post, I will share the rest of the personal care items I have changed... and I think that will be the end of this series!  Have you made any changes?  What items do you love to use???  What are your thoughts on sunscreen/sunblock?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This Little Piggy...

... about gave us a heart attack.  Notice my tag line for the blog - "Our adventures and misadventures as we journey towards a simple and self-reliant life".  This episode most certainly falls into the "misadventures" category.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the beginning.

Rose, Pearl and Nedry, left to right

Earlier this year, we decided we wanted to purchase a few hogs to raise for meat.  Most people who want to do this purchase "feeder pigs" in the spring, which are young pigs about 40-50 pounds.  These pigs will be raised over the summer and by autumn, they will weigh about 200-250 pounds, which is the optimal butchering weight (after this weight, they put mostly put on fat instead of muscle/meat).  Since they are butchered in the fall, there is no worrying about feeding and caring for them over the winter, which sounded ideal to us.  It still blows my mind that they can gain around 200 pounds in 5-6 months.  Pigs are amazing converters of feed. 

As you know, my husband has been working feverishly the last few weeks to get the pig enclosure and yard/pasture securely fenced in.  We'd done a lot of reading about fencing options for pigs and decided that electric high tensile fencing would be best for our situation.  Our property had a treeline that needed to be cleared because the majority of the trees were an invasive species called Tree of Heaven or China Sumac.  These trees are nearly impossible to kill.  We've cut them down and used the logs to make the beds in my garden.  The logs have been cut down for 3 months and those suckers are still sprouting new growth like crazy.  It's insane.  They refuse to die.   Instead of dousing the whole tree line with toxic chemicals, we decided to turn the pigs loose and let them do what they do best - root and destroy!

The pig yard/pasture

When the pen was finished, my husband started seeking out pigs to buy and we were amazed how difficult it was.  Farmer after farmer told us they had sold out of their pigs earlier in the season.   Apparently we're not the only ones who have been reading about the deplorable conditions of many commercial pig operations and have decided to take matters into our own hands.  Finally, we were able to locate pigs from Maple Valley Farms in Coral, MI (which, by the way, is a really great farm - check them out.  They're hardcore, off-the-grid folks who bought a 40 acre Amish farm).  Maple Valley Farm practices sustainable farming, which is important to us.  All the hog books recommended buying pigs from a farm that has similar practices to the ones you hope to implement.  As we plan to pasture our pigs, we wanted to find pigs that were bred to do well on pasture, instead of a confinement operation. 

The big day arrived.  John drove our Tahoe to Maple Valley Farm.  He lined the back with a giant tarp and then laid down straw to make a cozy bed for them.  We prayed that there would be no projectile poop incidents on the trip home. 

Back of the Tahoe, ready for transporting pigs

When John arrived with the pigs, he backed the Tahoe into the temporary enclosure we had set up for the pigs.  The entire pig yard is about 30' x 180', but we created a small enclosure in the corner that has hard sides and gates, in case the power goes out or if we need to contain the pigs in a smaller area.  One side of the enclosure has electric wire and we planned on the pigs being in this enclosure for a few days until they learned to respect the electric fence.  Once they figured out the fence, we were going to release them into the larger pig yard.

Unloading the pigs

John opened the doors to the Tahoe and started unloading the pigs.  I know it looks cruel to carry a pig upside down by their legs, but apparently this is the way to handle them.  Pigs are incredibly difficult to catch and restrain, so this position offers the most control.  My friend Jenny and I watched as John gently carried the pig over to the pig house and then went back for number 2.  After unloading the second pig, the fun started.  As John was unloading pig number 3, number 2 slipped through a small gap in the gate and found herself in the larger pig yard.  We started panicking a little, but figured "Oh, she'll be ok.  The electric fence is on, so she can't get out."  WRONG.  She had no concept of the electric fence, so she just ran right through it.  Oh crap. We've got a loose pig.  Then we notice pig number 3, who is smaller than the other two, wiggling under a gap in the fence. Well shit.  Another loose pig.  And then we realize that with all the excitement, we forgot to close the other gate.   That's right.  We have 3 pigs loose.  3 pigs that have no idea what electric fence is and are running all over creation. 

Jenny and I were able to herd the 2 terrified females back into the enclosure, but the male pig took off down the busy road adjacent to our property.  Our neighbor saw my husband running after the pig and joined in the chase.  With the other 2 secure, Jenny was able to help herd the male as well, while I kept on eye on the other 2.   Now, I can laugh about the picture in my mind of them chasing this little pig, but at the time, we were freaking out.  How would we ever catch him?  Would he get hit by one of the cars whizzing by at 60 mph?  It soon became apparent they would never be able to catch him, so instead they started herding the pig back towards home.  After about 15 tense minutes, they managed to direct the exhausted pig back into the pig yard and finally, into the small enclosure.  Poor pig.  He was so tired, we thought he might keel over and die. 

Looking back, we realize that chasing the pig was probably foolish.  Pigs are social creatures and they want to stay with their friends.  If we had been able to contain the 2 females, he probably would have come back, desperately trying to get back "home".  In fact the breeders that we bought the pigs from instructed us to not to worry if a pig got loose.  They assured us the pigs would want to come home.  But it was hard to remember that when we had a loose pig on our hands that had no idea where home was. 

That evening, after the pigs had settled down from all the excitement, we started "treat training" them.  I've been reading in all the books that pigs are highly trainable, with an intelligence level greater than dogs.  So we decided to train them to come for treats, figuring that next time they get loose (because let's just be realistic - they will escape), we will be able to call them back with treats.  They were eager and fast learners,  snorting and snuffling happily as they gobbled up the treats (watermelon, raisins, whatever we have on hand).  After a few minutes, they warmed up to us and allowed us to pet them.  We laughed when the male enjoyed the attention so much that he plopped his butt down and sat there grunting in pleasure as we petted him.  

Me with the piggies

The kids are really enjoying the pigs and so are we.  My husband was incredibly excited to get pigs and loves being out there, just watching them root around.  We're hoping most of our pig "misadventures" are over for this season and that we will be able to look forward to a summer of watching our happy pigs grow fat and plump!

John feeding the pigs, while Joseph looks on in delight

Soon, I'll post more details about the pigs, such as what we feed them and how we contain and pasture them.  The more I learn about pigs, the more I like them.  They are truly special creatures!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Get Your Goat (and Cow)

Exciting news here at Third Day Farms.  Our pasture mowers have arrived!

 My husband has been working diligently for the past month getting the pastures fenced and ready for animals.  Fencing in the pasture was a more expensive and time consuming project than we had anticipated.  After crunching the numbers, we have decided it would not be wise for us to purchase our own calves to raise as beef steers this year.  It would mean buying lots of hay for them to eat over the winter and we don't have the cash for that , since we've spent all our money on fencing.  But in the meantime, we had these lovely pastures full of grass that needs to be mowed.  Since we're cheap and didn't want to spend the gas money mowing with a lawn mower all summer, we contacted a family down the road and asked if we could "borrow" their animals for the season.  It was a "win-win" situation.  They desperately needed more pasture for their animals (they didn't have enough grass to support their animals, so they were having to feed them hay) and we needed our pastures mowed and managed. Everyone is happy.  

Last weekend they delivered their calf, Babette, to be fattened up.  She is a Jersey/Angus cross that they are raising for meat.   Her mother Lucy is a Jersey (a dairy breed) that they keep as a milk cow.  In order to get milk from a cow, she needs to be bred and have a baby - I know this seems pretty obvious, since all mammals only come into milk when they have babies, but there are plenty of people out there that think all cows have milk, all the time.  Anyway, Lucy was bred with an Angus (a meat breed), so that her offspring could be raised for meat.  Babette is over a year old now and will likely be butchered this fall.  Most meat steers/cows are butchered before their second winter, since it's so expensive to feed a steer hay over the winter. 


Babette was raised by a family with several children, so she is very tame and well socialized.  She is halter trained and easy to lead around as desired.  Whenever we walk over to the barn, she comes over looking for attention and affection.  She is very sweet.  My kids are delighted with her and I'm thrilled to have such a gentle, patient animal to work with as I train my children how to interact with large animals.  They are learning how to be calm and quiet around animals, how to give them adequate space and respect. 

My son learning to lead Babette - note I said "learning" - he's walking on the wrong side

My son and niece hanging out with Babette

As thrilled as we were to have Babette, she was not happy for the first few days.  She was one lonely cow.  Cattle and many other herbivores are herd animals and do not do well on their own.  Poor Babette would moo mournfully whenever we left her sight.  She would only eat if we were present, otherwise retreating  to the barn to sulk.  We called up her family and asked if they could spare another animal.

And so we came to acquire a buck goat named Tacori.  He is the breeding male at his farm, but since all the female goats have been bred for the season, his services are no longer needed until fall.  Tacori will be taking a nice little vacation at Third Day Farms for the summer, where he can graze on pasture all summer long, instead of being confined to his separate buck quarters.  He is a funny character, very chill and laid back.  I expected more shenanigans from a goat, but he seems pretty dignified... if a goat can be dignified.  His awesome beard makes me chuckle every time I look at him.


Babette and Tacori come from the same farm, but they have never been pasture mates before.  There were some tense moments as they literally butted heads, trying to figure out their pecking order.  Tacori doesn't seem to realize that Babette outweighs him by a couple hundred pounds.  They've slowly come to an uneasy truce, with Babette as head honcho.   Every once in a while, they have to duke it out again - I think Tacori secretly enjoys it.   

Butting heads

We have our pasture divided up into 4 smaller paddocks.  As the animals mow down one pasture, they will be moved to the next fresh pasture.  This method, called rotational grazing, helps to improve the growth and quality of the grass, while also helping to reduce parasites in the animals.  Most parasites have a life cycle of being ingested by their host, living in the host, then laying eggs in the host that are expelled in the host's manure.  When an animal is grazing on the same pasture day after day, they are continually consuming the parasites eggs and reinfecting themselves.  By rotating pastures, many of the parasite eggs will die before the host animals makes it back to that pasture.  Rotational grazing is healthier for the grass and animals. 

So far, Babette and Tacori have been doing a good job mowing the pasture.  Babette, the cow, is a grazer, so she eats the grass.  Tacori, the goat, is a browser, so he eats weeds, shrubs, woody plants - pretty much everything the cow won't eat.  It amazing to see how they work as a team to complete their jobs!  Now if I can just convince more chickens to head over there and scratch up the manure.  They were designed to scratch and consume bugs, helping to keep flies and pests to a minimum by eating the larva in the manure. 

It really is beautiful to observe these animals working in harmony with each other.  God created each one with a specific task that complements the other creatures it interacts with.  He really knew what He was doing!  I like to think this is how animals praise God - by doing what they were designed to do.  And isn't this true of humans as well?  We best glorify God by doing what He created us to do - love Him, praise Him, tell other about Him.  I never knew that I would learn more about God by observing farm animals... He truly is Lord over ALL parts of creation, big and small.  No little detail is too insignificant for Him.  I can't wait to see what other lessons God has to teach me as we continue on our journey.