November was a big month for progressing our meat self-sufficiency. However, we also did well on the veggie front.
November is nice and warm, and sometimes has some decent rainfall. That can be good and bad. On the bad side, we had a huge storm that dropped a giant limb from one of our big gums.
On the good side, our veggie patch was going great guns, with everything coming along in leaps and bounds.
We also tried freezing our own spinach for the first time, and it worked well. We sometimes use frozen spinach out-of-season for things like cannelloni, and with a little planning we should never have to buy it again.
I bit the bullet and bought some corn seed online. For several years in the suburbs I’d been saving the biggest cobs and drying the seed for the following season. We had managed to get a smallish crop of corn when we first started our backyard veggie patch here, and I’d carefully kept and dried half-a-dozen cobs. The problem was that I was getting a germination rate of maybe 10%. In the suburbs we’d get over 90%, but something went wrong here. I did manage to get a few dozen plants going between my hothouse and the backyard veggie patches, but I needed, quite literally, several hundred.
It took me a good 2 months to admit defeat and buy some seed stock. November is later than I’d normally start my corn, and we had about 500 to plant. We had discovered early in 2012 that we could plant corn right through to the end of January here though, so I modified my plan to include staggered plantings over 10 or 12 weeks.
November was also good for frugality. To be honest, I suck at being frugal. However, from a self-sufficiency point-of-view I need to modify my behaviour to make sure we make use of the most cost-effective solutions. To me “self-sufficiency” means these things eventually paying for themselves. For example, we breed pigs, sell our surplus, and that in turn pays for their feed, making them cost-neutral. Subsidising the entire venture out-of-pocket, to me, is wrong. I have no desire to make money from this, but working it up to the point where it pays for itself satisfies me philosophically.
I’d started my frugality paradigm shift in September by sourcing some super-cheap posts for the pig run. In November I continued the trend in a couple of ways. Firstly, we found a couple of sources of cheap feed. One was a fodder store at Mallala, where they make their own cow/pig/sheep feed blend for $10 per 25kg bag. This stuff is awesome too. It’s a mix of cracked cereal grains, peas, chaff, bran, and pollard, and isn’t the over-processed stuff you normally get where you can’t tell the ingredients without reading the pack.
Another was our neighbour, Farmer John. We were able to get some green barley from him that he was going to dump.
At the same time we organised to source some retail-quality grain at wholesale prices. We couldn’t get it in November, but we organised barely at around $200 a tonne. That’s 20 cents a kilo, where processed store-bought food can cost easily 5 and 6 times that much.
We’d looked at things like the professionally built feed and water troughs, which can easily cost several hundred dollars each. Dad found a place that sells cheap food-grade drums, which we modified as stock troughs. Rather than $500, we paid $5.
We started the pig runs early in November. They are probably our largest project to date, and actually extended into January. That was partly because our plan evolved as we went, but also because we had some very warm weather that kept us from always making the progress we wanted.
We started by ripping down the crappy old farm fence between the southern end of our orchard area and the back paddock. We then made a large rectangle, basically creating a single yard.
The plan was to create 5 yards. A larger one for when the breeding pigs cohabitate, then enough to split them out when the girls are pregnant, and to keep any excess stock. All the while remembering that we’d be free-ranging them over the back paddock for about half the year.
We originally planned to use a post-and-rail design, but ended up going for wire panels. These will in no way hold back a full-grown Large White pig; however, we plan on using electric fences to contain them. We’d seen this used to good effect in the first place we went to buy pigs. Our plan is to train them to the electric fence, after which the wire panels are almost redundant. They certainly do respect the electric fences, and are more than intelligent enough to be trained to them. We’ll have to wait to see if our theory works though, after which we may very well need to spend some time modifying our runs.
We actually made more progress on the pig runs than we’d expected for November. We got most of the runs done, the electric fence in place, and some recycled shedding set up. I’m not sure I can overstate just how much work went into this, which explains why it ended up taking a full two months and part of a third to finally finish them.
The pig run plan includes a race across all five yards along the southern boundary. Basically, each yard will have a gate into a 1200mm wide corridor that runs east-west along one end of them. This means that at one end we can set up the stock-ramp and load them into the trailer, and at the other I can have a gate into my veggie patch where I can contain the pigs with electric fences and have them clean out my veggie beds. It also means that we can move them from run-to-run without ever having them outside the yard complex. It sounds complicated, and this plan changed several times, but the underlying theory is sound and I was really quite excited to see it in action. Especially because up to now our stock loading procedure has included a lot of running around, swearing, and herding stubborn animals. The race didn’t eventuate in November, but the plan was tied down.
Our meat self-sufficiency progress wasn’t all about the infrastructure. We actually managed to grow our furry family significantly too.
Early in November Linhda and I went to see a milking goat. We’d found one advertised on gumtree, had done some research, and decided to go meet her. As I’ve mentioned before our five year plan ended in pigs and a milking animal. We had the pigs, so it only made sense to fast-forward the milking plan.
A milking cow wouldn’t fit our lifestyle right now. We’d looked at Dexters, and though they were tempting, they still produce 10 litres of milk a day and need to be milked twice daily. The excess milk isn’t a huge problem when you have pigs, but with my travel and Linhda’s work schedule we couldn’t commit to twice daily milkings. However, we found that you can milk goats just once a day, though you get less milk than if you milk them twice a day.
The girl we went to see is half Saanen. The people we bought her from bought her mother, a full Saanen, when she was pregnant. They weren’t sure what breed the father was. Dairy goats need to be pregnant every year or three to bring and keep their milk in, which explains why the mother was pregnant when purchased.
My experience with goat milk was… unpleasant. To be honest, I’d found it to taste a little rancid. However, I had tried a lot of goat cheese that I liked. I was conflicted when we went to meet this girl, but the guy who owned her was awesome! For one, he was building the straightest, most professionally built fence I’ve ever seen, which means nothing when it comes to goats, but did manage to impress the hell out of me. For another, he was super helpful and answered all of our noob questions. He even took us back to his house to show us the milking stand and let us taste the milk. The milk was fantastic! It was rich and creamy, without any aftertaste at all.
The goat was gorgeous, though much, much larger than we expected. Saanen’s are the largest dairy breed, but you don’t realise just how solid they are until you’re up close-and-personal with them. She was a sweety though, and tasting the milk sealed deal. We left her there to hang with the buck so she could get pregnant, planning to go back a month later to get her.
We were facing a bit of a crisis when it came to our crop. Our initial plan was to have a small breeding flock of either sheep or goats, which was part of the reason why we’d bought both breeds to feed-on earlier in the year. We’d settled on sheep, and in the middle of the year had looked at breeding stock online. However, our pig plans had changed all of that. With pigs and their potential to give us many, many surplus babies every year, we no longer needed a breeding flock of sheep. However, the wheat was too ripe to cut for hay, not that we had the equipment for that anyway. Reaping it was an option, but we didn’t have that equipment either, and the amount we’d get made hiring somebody to cut it uneconomical.
Our only real option was controlled grazing. With that in mind, we went looking for the right stock, and managed to find Friesian steers. Friesian is a dairy breed, which makes most of the boys good for only meat for obvious reasons. The lady we bought them from worked at a dairy farm, and had managed to score 8 or so of the boy calves. The problem was that she’d bonded with them, and couldn’t bring herself to eat them. She’d managed to have two of them processed by having a neighbour help her and split the meat, but she couldn’t eat it. Apparently she gave it away to family, but literally couldn’t eat a bite of it. Add to that the fact that she had 18 sheep on the property that were in the same “pet zone”, as well as a Shetland pony, and her place was a dust bowl. She was desperate to sell most of them on.
Friesian’s obviously aren’t a meat breed, but from the research I did they’d been selectively bred over the years to increase their meat quality and are really quite good for beef. They cost me $130 each, where the pure beef breeds seem to sell for between $500 and $1000 each, so I figured they were a good introduction to beef stock as well as a good solution to our crop eating needs.
The boys were 7 and 5 months old. The lady we got them from said they’re ready to slaughter from 10 months, at which time she’d gotten around 90kg of meat each from them. At 10 months they’re only just starting to fill out though, so our plan is to keep them until 18 months or so.
Being hand-raised is a good news/bad news situation. It really does make them easier to handle and transport etc., but it also means they won’t leave us alone.
Oh, and I named them “Fillet” and “Steak”. 🙂
The cows turned out to be perfect for controlled grazing of our crop. We rigged a stand-off fence which we can move as required. The back paddock is basically L-shaped, which means we can step the fence along and gauge fairly accurately how much they’ll eat and how far we have to move it.
The cows are fascinating to watch too. Unlike the goats and sheep, they don’t bite their food off with their teeth, but rather use their tongues. When let into a fresh area of the crop they walk around and use their tongue to strip the heads from the wheat. Once the grain is gone, they eat the rest of the plant. That means we don’t move the fence until the straw is just about entirely eaten down. If they were left uncontrolled on the entire 2 acres, they’d do nothing but eat the grain from the wheat, make themselves sick, and potentially die.
We weren’t done with the cows though. Browsing gumtree, which became a nearly daily ritual, I found some people selling 4 Large White entire males. They were maybe a little over an hour north of us, and wanted $250 for all four. We paid $150 for the first Large White male we bought.
We needed a baby daddy for our girls, and had been tossing up the idea of artificial insemination (pun fully intended). There’s a pig farm close by where you can buy semen, and there’s apparently a half-day course that teaches you how to use it. While the thought of buying semen makes me giggle, it doesn’t quite sit right. This is our breeding program. We’ve chosen to breed pigs over sheep and goats etc., and buying in the male portion of that, be it a temporary animal or his semen, just doesn’t sit right with me. That might be peculiar to my mind-set, and may not be entirely pragmatic, but I wanted to own and have a relationship with the boar that was going to sire our babies.
We really only needed one boy, and my plan was to go meet these 4 boys and choose the largest/best/friendliest. However, when I rang the lady told me that they were coming down past my place the following day, and they were that cheap price if you took all four. Basically, I could get all four delivered for barely $60 each. That was too good to pass up, so I took them all.
Our plan was to keep them a while and choose the best, which probably equates to the biggest, and eat the rest.
I’m not sure these boys are Large Whites. Or at least they’re not pure Large White. Our original babies are apparently “Large White with a touch of Landrace”, as explained to use by the people who bred them. These new boys have more than a “touch” of Landrace in them I think. They’re a couple of weeks older than our original pigs, but have always been significantly smaller. Their ears are also floppy, which is a sign of less Large White and more Landrace. That’s not entirely a bad thing though. We want a bore that’ll give us babies that’ll grow quickly and large, but we also need one that won’t be too big to serve the girls. These boys seem the perfect compromise. Fingers crossed…
Our bearded dragon also came back for a visit! I found him perched on one of the fruit tree stakes in the orchard, sunning himself and generally looking healthy and happy.