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Biggers Farm

Vineyard Planting and House Progress

Samantha BiggersA lot has been going on at the farm. It has been a long time since I have blogged. Something I have promised time and time again to dedicate more time to. As many of you experience, time is all too short on a homestead. Since my last post a good bit has changed on the farm.

 

Dexter Steer

Dexter Cattle

After several years of raising Dexters and dealing with how highstrung they are, we made the decision to switch to Black Baldie and Hereford cattle. This required selling a lot of our cattle herd. We learned a lot raising the Dexters but found that a lot of things that people say about them barely scratch the surface. The bull we had would not stay in a fence. Nor would the steers. If we tried to move them, the cows would move just fine, but the bull and steers were just too much. Chasing horned cattle through our neighbors' fields and lawns was something we got tired of really fast. It was just too much. We decided that it was best to have a breed of cow that would not get out every time we were gone for an afternoon.

The Dexter bull we had was very aggressive towards the neighbor's larger bull as well and quite dangerous with his horns even though he was about 1,000 pounds instead of the 2,000 pounds of the Hereford bull next door. Also the Dexter breed has gone more towards beef production and less towards milk. I suspect the breed has been diluted with Angus blood as well because of the larger sizes and aggressiveness that I have seen in the breed. Breeders continuously breed to bulls that are much too large. The breed standard for a Dexter bull is 1,000 pounds or less but some would weight as much as 1,500 pounds. If you want a cow that large, just get an Angus and be done with it.

If you want milk, be very careful what type of Dexter you are getting. They can test to see if they carry the gene to be a good milker but even that is no guarantee. Since you can only breed Dexters to very small cattle, you have to be careful and make sure she does not get bred by too large a bull. Another disadvantage is that many of the people who breed Dexters don't cull animals when they should. There are several reasons for this that I can think of. One of them is money. You can get a good price for breeding stock. Another is that they get too attached to the cattle and cannot bear to butcher them off. That being said, the Dexters did provide excellent beef and we still have a few steers that we are butchering off when the time comes. Although it was a good learning experience raising the cattle, I do wish that I had just got Baldies to begin with.

Vineyard and Blueberries

Vineyard

At this point in our lives we have come to the conclusion that the best use of our land is to graze a few cattle but mostly produce fruit. There is not enough acreage to make a good living on grazing it. We live in an excellent area for grape and wine production though, and wine consumption is on the rise. Last year we planted 110 grape vines. Of these vines, 75 are Catawba, 10 are Villard Noir, and 25 are Concord Seedless. This year we are adding 240 vines, which will give us a full half acre under vine. Next year we plan to plant at least another 750 vines, which will put us up to 1,000. This is a very exciting project. I feel that we have found “our thing”. The land is good for grapes and what cannot be planted in grapes is good for blueberries.

Currently we have about 40 Blueberries and hope to add more soon. Both of us have been reading a lot on viticulture. It is incredibly fascinating and I cannot wait to have acres in production. Luckily in North Carolina, it is pretty easy to get your winery permit and you don't need much of a building to have a legal winery. In fact there is one not too far from here that is only 300 square feet.

At 3,000 feet in elevation, our farm can be a bit cold so we are growing grapes that can handle the cold temperatures of USDA Region 4 or 5. Also we are only growing American or American-European Hybrids with no grafted stock. Some larger wineries try to grow vinifera varities of grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, ect.) and they just don't grow around here without a lot of spraying and hoping the weather cooperates. We don't need that kind of stress and I refuse to make wine that has a bunch of junk in it. This area grows some great grapes so long as you grow the ones that are right for the climate. I like wine from vinifera grapes but I am not going to put that much time and money into something that I have to fret over all the time to get even a meager yield. This vineyard is a very exciting project for us and I can't wait to get this years vines in the ground.

House Progress

As many of you know we have been building our own house for quite some time. It has taken awhile because we had to learn all the skills necessary to complete it and we are still not quite done but very close. Generally with the wood work we have found that we split the work up with Matt doing the actual carpentry and me assisting with cutting and ripping boards when needed, and then sanding and varnishing. The finish work is fun and we get more done splitting the work up that way. We have been getting some furniture completed but I will save that for a future post.

After years of keeping house without a kitchen, we finally have one. I am glad that we waited so long to complete it because it gave us a chance to get better at woodworking and finishing. If we had rushed then I am sure that it would not have turned out so good. The cabinets are solid Red Oak inside and out except for a few shelves that we used scrap cherry. The countertops are Black Walnut with three coats of Glaze or “Bar Coat” epoxy on them. Still have a bit of touch up work to do on the countertops but really happy with how they turned out. Black Walnut was half the cost of Corian countertops even when you count the Glaze coat.

The heat shield behind the range is actually a solid copper ceiling tile. Although we considered hammering our own copper sheet, in this case it made sense to just order a tile made by an American company for $49 plus $16 shipping because of its odd size and how it had to be packaged. Although that cost is not bad at all for a heat shield, I cannot imagine anyone paying that much a square foot for a ceiling! The pictures below are from before the epoxy was put on the countertops and before the cabinet hardware was installed.

Kitchen

Kitchen II

Hearth

While we planned on doing the hearth soon, we had to do it a lot sooner because home insurance companies are pretty picky about how your woodstove is surrounded for fire prevention. Matt did this using black granite and Italian ceramic tile. It was a messy job since he had to use a wet tile saw to cut the granite. Of course cutting granite is time consuming as well since it is so hard. We still have to put up the wood trim but it is good to see it this far along. I need to paint the woodstove one good sunny day when I can open all the windows.

Underpinning

Wow, this was a big project but this previous Fall we underpinned the house with concrete block and filled all the chambers with concrete for insulation. We plan on putting stucco over the block this summer when we get a chance.

Calf

We had a little half Dexter and Baldie heifer born and named her Bandit. She is an energetic little cow.

Bandit

Bandit II

New Dog

Leroy Brown

Brown Hound

Although we really didn't need a third dog, we got one. Leroy Brown is a Mountain Feist/Lab Cross. He is about eight months old now. We got him when he was 4 to 5 weeks old. He keeps all the other animals on their toes because he is very high energy and likes to taunt them a lot.

Homebrewing on the Mountain

Squirrel out in our woods

Blackberry wine and Rye Pale Ale fermenting in the sun room at Biggers Farm

Samantha BiggersAh, beer. Something I realized I hadn't talked about in the blog at all even though brewing and fermenting are regular activities at Biggers' Farm.

Matt and I have been brewing beer together since we got together at Warren Wilson College near Asheville in 2004. Matt had finished WWC but I had a year left. Our friend was renting a trailer nearby with a small shed attached to it where we set up the brewery. We used glass carboys back then which could be a real pain to clean. All of our beer was bottled by hand. This was made possible by Warren Wilson College's recycling program. We would go and raid the glass bottle recycling dumpster for reusable bottles. To clean them we would soak them in a bathtub of highly concentrated oxygen cleaner for 10 minutes ( we found a brand that was the same thing as Straight -A cleaner sold at brew supply shops but available at the grocery store and much cheaper). The bottles were rinsed and most of the time the oxygen cleaner had took the labels right off. (Note if you use oxygen cleaner, use the type with no scents in it. This is very important.) The washing job fell to me a good portion of the time but I always had help if I asked. It took 150 bottles washed every time we did the weekly beer making. Often we would make beer and bottle previous runs at the same time. I never did the math at the time but we were producing 11 barrels a year. Not too shabby.

We had a pretty good idea of what would make a drinkable beer but some experiments turned out better than others. One of our favorites included a pale ale made with a generous amount of Cascade hops and light malt. Amber malt would do if the brew supply shop was out of light. We could make this beer for a cost of about $15 per 5 gallons. Now it costs about double that. We did some seasonal beers as well. When the weather started turning cold we made our infamous Chocolate Stout, using several packages of Bakers chocolate. One time we added cocoa and the result was a chocolate beer with a thin layer of chocolate at the top! At the end of this post I will include a few of our current favorite recipes.

After college Matt and I went up to Ketchikan, AK to work. The nearest microbrewery was in Juneau, AK and there was no homebrew stores. Beer was very expensive up there but due to the shipping weight of brew supplies we really thought we would have no choice but to buy the expensive beer in the store. Luckily we found a great brew supply store called Homebrew Heaven near Seattle, WA. They had good shipping rates and we did bulk orders. This was the point when we started using Cornelius kegs because we just didn't have the time to bottle beer when we were both working 40 or more hours per week. From there on we have used kegs almost exclusively. We bought a temperature regulator and a used chest freezer and used that set up for a kegerator. We could only fit two 5 gallon kegs in the freezer but that suited us just fine.

When we moved back to North Carolina we did not brew for awhile because of our living situation. Some of you might remember me talking about living in a camper with no running water within a few hundred feet for 18 months. That was not conducive to brewing. When the house was far enough along we started making beer again and have continued to do so except when prevented by forces beyond our control. Although we do buy a little bit of beer if we get a hankering for something we don't have, the vast majority (90%) of the beer we drink is that we make ourselves. It is really easy to build brewing into your weekly routine as it is an activity you can do while doing something else. It's kind of like cooking a big pot of something. You have to check it at various stages and times and do stuff, but most of the time is waiting for boiling and cooling. Another way that making beer is similar to cooking food is that you can add ingredients to change the flavor. The same pale ale recipe is going to taste different if you add a pound or two of a different type of grain or malt or several types of hops instead of just one. At this point I will define the main beer ingredients that almost all beers contain.

Hops 

Hops can be thought of as the “spices of the beer”. Hops are grown a lot in the Pacific Northwest of this country. There are many types of hops to choose from this day and age. Here is a short list of some of the varieties we see at our local brew supply store: Cascade, Nugget, Amarillo, Saaz, Northern Brewer, Hallertau, Sterling. Hops can be grown in many areas. If you plan on brewing a lot, you can save a lot of money growing your own. A one ounce bag of pelleted hops costs $2.50 in our area and you need at least two of those to make 5 gallons of beer. 

Malted Barley 

Malted Barley comes in concentrated powder form, whole grain, or liquid. It is usually classified as Extra Light, Light, Golden, Amber, and Dark when in powder or liquid form. Whole grain barley comes in a dizzying number of varieties. Usually this is ground for you at the shop your purchase it from.

Water 

This might seem like a no brainer but I think it is important to mention the role that water quality and properties has in the taste of your brew. If you are brewing in the city where water is chlorinated, fluoridated, or both, filter it using a Brita filter or similar. Water is chlorinated in order to kill microorganisms and yeast is a microorganisms. Not to mention the taste that occurs in water that has been chlorinated.  

Yeast 

Oh yeasties how I love thee! Yeast is one of the neatest little animals. There are thousands of strains of yeast and the variety you choose determines various qualities of the beer you produce. These qualities include head (the amount of foam when poured), alcohol content, flavor, and fermentation rate. For example ale yeast can work off in a week or less at 60-90 degrees but lager yeasts take several weeks at a temperature of no more than 55 degrees. Yeast can be cloned if you want to culture your own from a mother culture to save money. There is a lot of info out there online about cloning yeasts and many excellent homebrewing books that help explain the process. On a side note I have always wondered if you could drink beer and still be considered “vegan” since you are consuming yeast which is an animal? I am curious to hear others opinions on this.

Advantages of Homebrewing Versus Store Bought Beer 

– Beer in the store is taxed heavily depending on what state you are in. If you homebrew you pay taxes on the supplies and ingredients you buy but not on the finished product. We find that by making our own beer, we can save at least 60% over store prices plus the taxes we would be paying on the added cost. For every 12 pack of beer that retails for $12.99 on sale in North Carolina, you pay over a dollar in additional taxes! That can add up.

– If varies by state how much homebrew you can legally make per person of age in your household. For North Carolina it was 200 gallons a year per person last time I checked.

– You control what goes in your beer. Homebrewing is cheaper than drinking Budweiser and I can guarantee you the quality of ingredients is going to better.

– Unfiltered beer. There is some argument to be made that drinking unfiltered beer gives you some health advantages over filtered.

– Convenience. We have beer on tap all the time on the farm. Usually we combine picking up brew supplies with other things needing to be done. This drastically reduces running to the store to pick up a six pack when we want a beer. This can save a substantial amount of gas and time for even a light drinker. If you want you can even put a tap in your kitchen. This is going to be one of the luxuries we have in ours when it is finally finished.

Getting Started Brewing  

If you are a beginning brewer and don't have access to someone to show you how to brew, it might be advisable to start with a beer kit or take a simple beer recipe from a book and order the ingredients. Some brew supply stores offer starter sets to aspiring brewers. These usually include a primary fermenter usually in the form of a 5-6 gallon glass carboy or a food grade plastic bucket, airlock, and other supplies you need to get started. Starter sets vary a lot based on who you buy from but just about any place will have an option for what you want to do.  

Those that live close enough to a homebrew shop might consider taking a class on homebrewing. At our local store, you can take a homebrew class and meet others that are learning the brewing process for $45. That is not much money to learn a new skill that can save you a lot of money. Plus you get to take home a 6 pack of the brew created in the class. Usually classes meet twice. Once to brew and once to bottle. If you have a friend that homebrews, usually they don't mind showing others or answering questions to help get you stared. We are very close to a lot of breweries and there are a lot of homebrewers in our area. If you live near town, there might be a homebrew club near you that can be a great resource in getting started. Plus many meet once a month to sample each others creations. 

All Grain Brewing Vs Brewing With Liquid or Powder Concentrates 

While brewing just using malted and cracked grains is a lot cheaper, it takes longer and requires a larger pot. Since we are working on the house still and don't have complete kitchen facilities required for all grain, we use powdered malt. Liquid malts used to be a bit cheaper so back in college we used those. With prices rising a lot in the last 9 years plus living in Alaska and dealing with shipping costs, we never used liquid malt anymore. In addition we use a bit of grain as outlined in the process below. This is not required but we think it makes a better brew. 

Below I am going to outline the basic beer making process that we use. This will vary a bit depending on what recipe you choose to follow. 

– Fill a 7 gallon stock pot with about 3 to 3 1/2 gallons of water for 10 gallons of beer or a smaller 5 gallon stock pot can be used and only 1 3/4 or 2 gallons added for 5 gallons 

– Fill muslin or cheese cloth with desired supplemental grains and place in water.  

– Bring water to 150 degrees. This is slightly steaming. Steep grain in bag for 45 minutes. 

– Add starting hops and bring to a rolling boil. 

– Add malt and corn sugar if desired. 

– Boil approximately 30 minutes for pale beers and 45 to 60 minutes for dark beer. 

– Turn off heat and let cool until 150 degrees. You can use a wort chiller here to speed up the process but we are just patient about it. 

– Add finishing hops and give 15 minutes to dissolve or steep.  

– Sterilize airlocks and fermenter with hot water and non scented oxygen cleaner or other approved homebrewing cleaner. 

– Pour wort (beer that has not been fermented yet) into the fermenter. For glass carboys you will have to sterilize and use a funnel. 

– Add cold water to bring the level up to 5.5 gallons or so in your fermenter. Note: This is only if you have exceptional water quality. Technically with making beer all the water that goes into it should be filtered if chlorinated, and sterilized by boiling and bringing it back down to a temperature of 150 degrees. I will leave it up to you to determine your water quality. 

– Place the airlocks or stopper and airlock on the fermenters and add water to the fill line. 

– Ferment for the desired time. 

– Bottle or keg and enjoy after aged out.  There are a lot of good directions online on how to bottle beer. There are several types of bottle types. 

Bottling Versus Kegging  

Bottling is good for the beginner but kegging is much more time efficient and convenient for the serious brewer. Kegging also allows you to drink beer sooner. The flavor can benefit from a week of aging in the keg though. 

Making Wine 

When I was a little girl I used to help my dad make wine. Since them I had not made it until Christmas Day 2012. Matt and I had to clean out my Grandmother's freezer and we discovered enough Blackberries to make 10 gallons of wine. All picked around the family property including our place. We hope to make more in the future as we are planting 110 grape vines this spring. A mixture of Catawba, Concord Seedless, and Villard Noir. It is pretty easy to get a winery started in North Carolina so we will see where this leads in the future. At the bare minimum we will have grapes in a few years to turn into all kinds of products like jam, jelly, juice, wine, etc. 
 

A Few Of Our Favorite Beer Recipes 

Cascade Pale Ale 

For 5 gallons: 

3 to 4 lbs Extra Light Dry Malt Extract 

1 oz of Cascade Hops to Start and 1 oz to Finish 

Add a pound or two of corn sugar if desired to boost alcohol content. You can also achieve this by simply adding more malt 

American Ale Yeast ( Any will do) 

Rye Pale Ale 

This came about after trying Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye IPA .

1 lb of German Rye or Similar Whole Grain Malt in a Muslin or Cheesecloth Bag 

2 lbs of Amber Dry Malt Extract 

2 lbs of Gold Dry Malt Extract 

1 oz of a Low Alpha Acid Hops such as Cascade 

1 oz of a High Alpha Acid Hops such as Nugget 

Corn Sugar if desired 

For both beers let ferment for a week if the temperature is in the household range. A few days longer if it is colder where you are fermenting. 

Always remember that like any skill, you will get better at brewing the longer you do it. It will become like second nature if you do it enough. If you mess up a 5 gallon run try to figure out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again.
 

Oh and does it seem like Spring anywhere else around? We are having a week of mid to upper sixties in the middle of January in the mountains. The squirrels are out and about and it is way to warm for a regular coat. The buds are appearing on a lot of plants around here.

Updates from Biggers' Farm: Piglets, Calves, Fishing, Etc.

Gerties pig shed
Gertie and family

Samantha BiggersA lot has been going on at Biggers' Farm since my last post. In August our sow, Dirty Gertie had an astounding 16 piglets in her first ever litter. Little pigs need it to be about 90 degrees in their nest when they are born so we used a heat lamp even in August. Sadly she had the piglets before I could put up a board, so she smashed a few lights after a few days. The lights worked their magic though and kept the pigs warm. We let her have them in a shed that was closed in on 3 sides. She successfully raised 12 of the piglets who turned out to be super healthy. I did learn that sows will sometimes snap their piglets and I think this is what led to the loss of 2 of them. One has to understand that 16 piglets is a huge litter for a first time mother and she only has 14 teats. I suppose if we had intervened and stole two of her piglets away and bottle fed them we might have saved one or both. It can be hard to make that call thought when you have no idea how many she has with her and you cannot disturb her for fear of exciting her and smashing the piglets.   

What was also amazing was the demand for piglets. We had so many calls and people wait listed. I heard one old farmer say that people were going back to the old ways and raising hogs and such. Matt and I were both surprised that half of our piglets went to be breeders instead of being raised for meat. Apparently there is a shortage of piglets around so folks are having to breed them up. Hopefully we will get Gertie bred in the next month or two and get more piglets.

Late summer saw us getting back into trout fishing. We had been meaning to for quite some time but always seemed to be too busy with building the house or running the farm. After going hiking and camping for a few days we found a spot where the fish were just jumping like crazy so we came back with poles and caught some nice stringers of trout. This Spring is going to see us doing more fishing because sometimes you just have to take the time regardless. With local trout being $13.95 a pound at the grocery store, it doesn't take much for your fishing license to pay for itself.

Trout Fishing 

Another exciting event of late summer was our Dexter bull going over a fence and beating up the neighbors much larger bull. Of course he them proceeded to breed some of the neighbors cows. As a result Hank is in his own special field fence lot that will soon have an electric wire around the top. The odd thing is that these two bulls had been fenced next to each other at different times over the last 2 years or so. If he had not come home we were seriously catching him up in a trailer and taking him to the stock yard. Hank didn't act up again after that incident so we have kept him. Of course we have new calves this year. The day after Christmas, Bessie gave us a bull calf. We would like to sell him as a Registered Dexter Bull for someone to use as a breeder rather than raise him for beef but that really just depends on demand. 

Bessie and her new calf born December 26 

 Bessie and baby 

At the moment we are just trying to get through with the house building. This summer we had some delays related to family members health and saving some money up to continue. With the holidays over we can now focus on the house, farm, and writing. The coming weeks will bring about the butchering of our 2 year old Dexter steer. I hope to preserve the hide with the hair on and plan on rendering beef tallow as well. Unfortunately I ran out of lard because we didn't raise a large pig this year due to just having too many things going on at once. I am also excited to finish my novel enough to turn it over for people to read. Over the last few months we have released a homesteading guide on chickens and one on cattle. The cattle one was a lot of work and research. It took a long time to get photos of 30 different breeds.

I realize that this blog has not been updated for a long time. I appreciate those of you that continue to read even thought I have been anything but reliable in the frequency of posts. The last year has been particularly hectic but things are beginning to calm down and I hope to get on a regular blog posting schedule. Perhaps every Friday after this post? Let's just say that for now.

June Bug the Dexter and her large friend Panda the Baldy

Hope everyone had a good holiday. Now let's look forward to spring and bountiful gardens.

New Entry Way on the Small House, Geese, Bringing Gertie the Pig Home, and Our Recently Published Pastured Pig Book

Samantha BiggersIt seems like I am always saying this but it has been darn busy on our farm. It has been one of those spring/early summers where it just seemed like everything happened at once. We are also still working on our house. Hopefully it will be 100% done by the end of this winter. Finish work is just so expensive! I would still rather just do as we have so far and pay for it as we can rather than taking on a loan for construction cost. Right now we are working on the bathroom and digging our footers for under pinning. There has been a bit of work going on in the sun room as well. Since we ran a bit short on Hickory flooring planks, we decided to do a 4' x 6' foyer or entry way using 12” x 12” black granite tiles with a Red Oak border. The picture below is before it has been grouted and without all the polyurethane on it so please excuse the white specks. We still need to put a waterproof coating in it as well since on a farm the foyer will be experiencing some moisture and mud. We are going to use the same black granite behind our wood stove instead of fake rock.

Tile Entry to the Cabin

This spring we have reconsidered what we are doing with the farm flock. We ordered 25 Speckled Sussex pullets to keep in the backyard with our Great Pyrenees so we don't lose them like we have in the past. During the day we can turn them loose and then they come back to their chicken house at night.

Biggers' Farm has also acquired the start of a flock of Emden geese. After getting these guys in the mail and raising them up for the last few months, we are pretty crazy about geese. I think a lot of what people say about them is a bit more negative than it should be. Our geese seem to enjoy people a lot. On a recent visit, our 2 year old neice went right in with our geese and they were letting her touch them and eating food out of her hand. I think what happens in a lot of cases is that people don't spend enough time with their flock so they don't get used to people as much as they should. I was amazed how fast these geese grew and what a miniscule amount of grain they eat. In previous years we have grown Cornish Cross Broilers and butchered them. With the rising cost of feed and how much work goes into them, geese are a much better option. On mostly grass, our geese grew to be the size of an 8 week old broiler in a mere 4 weeks. We plan on raising a lot of geese in the coming years. There is a demand around the holiday season. Biggers' Farm is looking forward to grazing geese while feeding them a diet of milk and a little sweet feed. Certain times of the year we plan to graze them under our blueberry bushes. Late in the winter we will be planting about 175 Muscadine grape vines. In the future at the end of grape season we will graze them under the grape vines so they can get any fruit that has dropped and trim bottom leaves. I am hoping a milk and blueberry or grape fed goose will be a tasty addition to local family's holiday tables.

Emden Geese Enjoying the Sun and Grass

Emden Geese on

Our Dexter cow, Linda Lou, should be giving birth within the next 3-4 weeks. I have said it before but I'll say it again “cross your fingers for a heifer”. My bull has had two bull calves sired from him so far. If it gets up to 4 or 5 without a heifer we are going to seriously considered replacing him. He is the nicest, sweetest, little bull but I just can't keep a bull around that never gives me heifers. At this point it is just to early to tell. If the next 3 calves are bulls then we will consider our options.

Hopefully within the next few weeks we will get a lot more done on the house. There have been a few hard places the last little while on the farm. My father had to be admitted to the veteran's hospital and I had a severe allergic reaction that put me out of the picture for a few days. My father is doing a lot better and making exceptional progress though and should be able to come home within the next month or so and I am on the mend as well.

We got our brood sow “Dirty Gertie”back from the neighbor's. Apprarently she got bred on the 26th of April so we will be expecting piglets in late August. We are super excited about this. She is such a big baby. She was pretty tame before the neighbor's got her but they really babied her and now she grunts along to her name. She really likes to be called “Big Pig” as well and get patted on the head. A lot of people don't keep such a large sow anymore. Quite a few folks were skeptical when I told them how big she is. A pig's weight can be very hard to judge. After seeing what a 250 lb pig looked like I realized just how must I was under estimating live hog weight. Since discovering my error I would say that Gertie is easily 600 lbs.

Gertie right before we turned her back out in her pasture after her time visiting the neighbors boar

Even with all this going on we have managed to produce the first book in our “Biggers' Guides to Homesteading”series. The first volume is on Amazon.comwith Biggers' Guides to Homesteading Volume I: Raising Pastured Pigs on Kindle. We cover all aspects of raising pastured pork from picking a pig breed to raising piglets, breeding, butchering, curing, smoking, farm recipes, clearing land and more. Matthew did all the photography except for where noted. This book includes a lot of full color photos from many farms as well as our own. Hopefully this book will help others learn about a great way to raise sustainable meat for their family and the local food market. The next volume in the Biggers' Guides to Homesteading” series will be on heritage breed cattle. Hopefully that volume will be available sometime this summer if all goes well. If you raise heritage breed cattle and are interested in contributing photos that showcase your breed, please contact me at samantha.biggers@gmail.com. All those that contribute get a photo credit in the book and there farm contact and website info listed in the back of the book.

I hope everyone out there has had a wonderful spring. May the hay be cheap and everyone get some heifers and huge tomatoes!

Floors Down in the Cabin, Baby Cows and Ducks, and Biggers' Farm Enters the Pig Rearing Business

Samantha BiggersWell it has been a long time in between blog posts, but that has been because we have simply been so busy on the farm. Spring came early to the mountains of North Carolina, so we really didn't get much of a winter break.

We have been working on the house a bunch. Most of the light fixtures are in, but the biggest news is that we have a brand new hardwood floor now. We went with locally milled #2 Hickory in 3-, 4-, and 5-inch widths with Southern Cypress in the bathroom. Neither of us had ever put down hardwood before, so it went pretty slow. Hickory is the hardest domestically produced wood for flooring, so the cheap hardwood flooring nailer we used jammed a lot. A whole lot. Our best day we put down around 150 square feet, which is about half the rate of a professional. About as good as we could expect to do. The Southern Cypress was very easy to put down, as it is much softer. We chose it for its superior water and rot resistance.

 Living Room Hickory Floor 

Hickory Floor in the Loft 

A few weeks ago, we bought 4 jersey/holstein cross dairy calves. I know I have said before that we were not going to do that again. I wish I had heeded my own advice. We lost 3 of the 4 to E-Coli. Matt and I spent over a week tube feeding and giving large doses of antibiotics to no avail. This was one of the most heartbreaking times I have had farming. We did absolutely everything we could, but it hit so fast. A calf would be fine one day, and the next morning unable to take milk. I found it interesting that the youngest calf was the one that made it. We got him off the farm when he was hours old, while the others were at least several days old. I have a theory that the ones that were at the dairy longer simply had more time to be exposed. The scary thing is how antibiotic-resistant things like E-Coli have become. Dairies use antibiotics in almost everything they feed a calf, so when they actually need them, they simply don't work or provide little relief. So, lesson learned. Commercial dairies are never getting any calf business from me again. I took too much of a loss, and the suffering and loss of life was too much.

Lucky The Holstein 

On the bright side, we sold off two of the older Jersey/Holstein steers and bought two nanny goats and their four kids, and a 5-month-old Black Baldie heifer we have named Panda. Hank the Dexter bull is very curious about the new lady in the pasture. Unfortunately, we have her put up in a pen until she is weaned. We got her from a neighbor whose fence line adjoins ours. The first time he delivered her, she ran through five fences and back home to mama. We are going to leave her in there for a few weeks with all she can eat until she is fully weaned and eating out of our hands.

Jeb and his new goats 

Panda the Baldie Heifer 

Bessie the Dexter had a bull calf back in December that has grown off really well. Unfortunately, during the time we were dealing with sick dairy calves, Bessie sprained her ankle and gave us quite a scare. We put her up for awhile, and she got over it, but it was really stressful to have my boss cow hurt like that. I was relieved it wasn't broken. Dexter cattle are such happy little cows that even if they are heavily pregnant (thankfully she wasn't at the time), they will run downhill doing the happy cow dance. There isn't much you can do about it, but it scares me that they will hurt themselves to a possible fatal degree.

We are going into the pig raising business this year. Gertie is over 500 pounds now, and we will hopefully be taking her over to the neighbors to get bred really soon. I tried to sell her because I didn't think I would have the time to fool with piglet raising this year, but I have folks calling me and saying they can't find piglets anywhere and offering $75 a piece!

Back on the house front, we are ordering our solar panels next week. We are getting two panels for a total of 460 watts of solar power. Since all our light fixtures are 12 volt LEDs, even if I have every light fixture turned on, we will only be using slightly more than 100 watts. We still have a few expensive things to buy for the solar, like the battery bank and charge controller, but we are getting there. All told, counting the solar hot water set up, we will have about $1,800 in our solar set up, including some 12 volt outlets in the house. Our television is going to be 12 volt, and I will be able to use the system for my laptop and tablet as well as charging batteries and the cell phone. It will be nice to have some back up power for the chest freezer as well. In a grid down situation, it will at least give me some time to pressure can what is in the freezer. Also, we can have backup power for the electric fence and such.

Oh, and other good news includes a hatch of baby ducks and three or four more ducks sitting!

Baby ducks out on patrol
 Bessie and Curly 

Farm Update: Interior of the Cabin, Butchering Chickens and a Run-in With a Skunk

Samantha BiggersA lot has been happening on the farm and with the house building. A couple of weeks ago we received our special ordered pine planks for our 600 square foot cabin. We finally have walls and and ceilings. Unfortunately we had some trouble getting the planks initially. We were told that we could get 1/2” dimension planks anytime, but a year later when we were actually ready to start putting up the walls, we discovered that we could not get the planks without special ordering them, and they were going to cost $1,000 more than we thought they would.

Sometimes building a house these things just happen. Costs can change greatly from one year to the next so if you are building your house as you can afford it, you need to over budget a bit for when these things occur. The planks have gone up pretty easily with a nail gun but definitely have taken longer than dry wall or panels would have. At the same time this cabin is supposed to also be a farm house and I think that if we had gone with drywall we would have wound up with it looking bad really quick and the repairs over the years would have been very time consuming. I don't think I am careful enough with chairs and objects to not put holes in it, especially during canning season. We still have some planks to put up since we have not been able to dedicate all our time to the house.

Our Future Kitchen 

The loft of our Roughly 600 sq ft cabin 

 This time of year there is a lot of winterizing and harvesting duties to take care of on the farm. Last week we butchered 30 Cornish Cross Broilers. Most of the birds (21) were deboned and canned. I cooked down and canned chicken broth with what was left. The broilers got butchered a little younger this year. They were also cockerels and hens. This is the first year we have tried raising the straight run birds. The mortality was higher this year due to the intense heat we had this summer. Cornish crosses can be really sensitive birds.

Our Broilers At 5 Weeks or So 

Chicken canned the day of butcher   Broth was canned after it was cooked down for at least 12 hours 

A few weeks ago we acquired a full blooded Jersey bull calf to raise on a bottle. This was the youngest calf we have ever gotten to bottle raise. We got him at just two days old from a grass fed dairy near us. It was great to get a calf from a farm that doesn't use antibiotics unless they truly need them and that lets the calf get 2 days of colostrum. We had no problem with scours with this guy whatsoever. He did have a bit of a cough so we gave him a few antibiotic shots because we were afraid it was going to turn into pneumonia. A cow can die of pneumonia really fast at any age but it is even worse when they are really young and have such a small lung capacity. He seems to be doing really well now though. We are going to have to make him a steer soon. Next month we will be getting another Jersey calf to raise on a bottle. Not sure if it will be a heifer or bull. If it is a heifer I will keep her for a milk cow if at all possible.

Jersey Calf at Feeding Time Sucking On My Thumb 

On September 21 we had a scare with what we think was a rabid skunk. First I need to give you some background on the skunk issue on this mountain. The whole mountain had a huge skunk population when we first moved up here. Part of this is the fault of my illustrious uncle and cousins feeding the darn things for years before I moved up here with Matt. They even had the things named. After losing my baby rabbits to one I was not thrilled about the prospect of sharing the mountain with Myrtle and Fred and all their skunk kin. The population has dropped a bit since the beginning, but we still have our fair share of pole cats.

Today we were working on putting up some of the pine planks inside the house. It was rainy all day so we were inside most of it working. I hear my husband say “Oh my God! Oh no!” The first thing I thought was “Oh no one of the animals has come in hurt.” Then he said “A skunk just walked right under the truck. It is daylight, they are not supposed to be out. Not unless it's sick. Sure enough the skunk was walking sideways and acting really out of it. All signs of rabies. Matt went to get the gun because we were afraid to just let it go. Our pigs are nearby and we were not sure if pigs could get rabies at the time.

Matt didn't want to shoot it in our driveway due to the horrible odor it would cause so he let it walk down the road a ways. At that time Ruby Pearl our Great Pyrenees decided that she would jump out of the pasture and come home to the house. So here she was ambling up the road as the skunk wobbled down the road. The skunk jumped around taunting her and sprayed her right on the head. Matt followed the skunk but could not get a good shot with all the animals around and without leaving the neighbors with a present in their driveway. So for now the skunk just ambled off into a neighboring cow pasture so we are going to have to be on the lookout for it.

Ruby Pearl got sprayed down with a product called “Skunk Buster” to help neutralize the smell and has been confined to outdoors for a few days until the smell fades, and she gets a complete bath. If you live in the country and have dogs or cats “Skunk Buster” is a must. It has helped us survive 3 major skunkings. You can also wash clothes in it that are really smelly. It was only about $8 or so at our local hunting supply store. I had to spray the cat down with it as well because he and Ruby are best buddies, and he is always playing and rubbing on her so he got skunked by association. Later on we looked it up and were horrified to learn that pigs can get rabies. I am so glad that the skunk did not go in the pig lot. We could very well have lost everything we had invested in the pigs if that skunk had gone in there and had a confrontation with them. Below is a photo of Ruby and Felix right after the "Skunking".
 Ruby Pearl and Her Cat Felix     They are best buddies 

The Shiitakes Have Been Fruiting 

 

Canning, Milking the Dexter and Sun Room Windows Plus Funny Farm Stories

Samantha BiggersHarvest season is always a very busy time on the farm. It can be hard to keep up with the canning and everything else up at the same time. We have also started on the journey of keeping a family cow. Actually I suppose it started when we first went to visit Linda Lou when she was 8 weeks old. Now she is a grown cow and just had her first calf. He will be our first Dexter steer that is raised for beef. He is a very beautiful calf and would make a good herd sire but there is only so much demand for Dexter bulls.  We need to get some better pictures of him.

Walking Linda Lou Back from Being Milked 

New Dexter Bull Calf 

Just out walking the cow 

Linda Lou in her milk stock 

We have been canning a lot. I have used about every jar I can find at my house and my father's. So far we have done 41 quarts of pickles, 60 quarts of green beans, and 65 pints of jam all from the farm! We also have about 100 pints of pasture pork canned back in April. I still have to can tomatoes, apples, and chicken and broth this year. Thankfully those can all be done at different times. Tomatoes take me the longest because of the process I use. I take 100 lbs of tomatoes and Matt and I cut them up and run them through a food strainer to make sauce. We then cook this down for about 24 hours before canning it. That means each pint of marinara sauce contains about 3 ¼ lbs of tomatoes. I like to cook the water out because it takes less canning jars and less pressure canning plus you don't wind up with a big puddle of water at the bottom of your plate when eating pasta. Tomatoes are good sources of antioxidants and vitamins so I think it is good for Matt and I do consume the equivalent of 1 ½ lbs of tomatoes each at a meal in the winter. I get about 26 pints out of 100 lbs of tomatoes.

The dairy steers we have been raising are growing. We are going to send them to market in November so all we will have left are Dexters to overwinter. We have all our hay in for the year but we are going to pick up another few rolls in case we acquire more cows over the winter. I plan on purchasing several Jersey steers or heifers, a Dexter heifer, and possibly a Dexter steer or two in the Spring. We just want to be prepared for more cattle at anytime as we are not sure of availability. Some of the money we get from the dairy steers will go towards property taxes and growing our cattle herd a bit. We simply need more Dexters cows as now we only have two, one of which is currently pregnant and the other is Linda Lou who is not ready to breed back quite yet.

This week we are getting started on our house again. Unfortunately we are going to have to tear down our stair case and rebuild it so we can underpin our house. Never hire anyone to work on your house that is not a licensed contractor no matter how much experience. All the major mistakes on our cabin that have set us back in time and money were done by someone else whom we paid good money. No one cares about your house like you. Lesson learned. No one is ever going to work on our cabin but us ever again except for the licensed gutter installer and the septic installer. The good news about our house is that we got the windows in the sunroom and will begin putting the wood up on the inside walls within the next week or so. I can't wait to everything is done and I can grow vanilla orchids in the sunroom. Matt has went through and added a bunch of 12 volt outlets to the house. All of our lights are running off of solar power and we are using LED light bulbs. The cost of LED light bulbs has come down a lot. When all the lights in our house are turned on at once ( which they never will be) we can completely power them with one 110 watt solar panel! We are going to have more solar panels than that though. When we buy a LCD TV we are getting a 12 volt model. They are only about $20 more than a 110 volt model and one with a 22” screen burns 35 watts compared to our 17 inch 110 volt version that burns 150 watts. The solar hot water system might not get completed to later in the winter or very early Spring. The whole solar system is going to be much cheaper than what one would think when reading a lot of the literature on solar. Our whole darn house furnished is only going to be about $45,000 when totally completed with the solar systems and all.

Inside the Sun RoomWindows Up in the Sunroom 

 Side view of the  sunroom and front of the house Got to get the accent siding up this week 

Last blog post I asked folks to send me their funny farm stories for a chance to win a Flip 4 GB Video camera courtesy of Purina. Folks must have been busy because I didn't get a lot of entries. The winners of the cameras were chosen by random drawing. The winners are David Bentz (Nebraska Dave) and Mary Carton. Below are the funny farm stories that I received. Thanks to all who entered. I wish I had prizes for everyone. Hope ya'll enjoy their stories as much as I did.

Mary Carton 
http://rosedalegardens.wordpress.com/
Some days you should roll back over and get 20 winks more

Today was one of those days I shouldn’t have gotten up. First thing this morning I put on a cup of coffee on my cup at a time coffee maker and when I came back I had a cup of hot water with some grounds that missed the filter Friday. The oriental lilies and the late blooming day lilies and the re-bloomers are in bloom.  Allison and her husband were due to come after some day lilies I was eliminating from my inventory. I told her I was going to dig them now and she said that they would be out in an hour. I got sidetrack taking pictures, especially of a yellow swallowtail butterfly, that the plants were still in the ground when they came. I lost my camera lens cover again and later I found it. I got the tractor out and plowed up the garden area where I plan to transplant iris and daylilies from the driveway. Then it was down along the creek to dig up an area for oak leaf hydrangea. I thought the under ground fence and water line were up against a blue bird box. As I put the tiller down I looked back and there was a piece of hose sticking out. The underground fence wire is in the same trench tied to the water pipe, so I knew its fate.

I promised Mom Friday night I would pick up her grass clipping from her lawn today. My Mom is the type of person that when she wants something done, she wanted it yesterday.  As I walked back to the house for another piece of wire I could feel her asking when are you going to pick up my grass? The garden area is like a dust bowl, so after patching the wire, I had to wash off the John Deere. It wasn’t green any longer. Finally to pick up the grass clippings and worked at weeding the beds in front of the house. Weeds sure can grow after a good rain. After cleaning I’ll get some newspaper and mulch down topped with pine needles. The water line repair will need to wait for another day.

P.S. – The rescue I adopted my 3 hooligans Border collies from started me on ProPlan. It's a great food.

Nebraska Dave 

Every farm worth anything had to have a few pigs when I grew up.  Now back then pigs were not confined in buildings until they were market ready. They had the run of the pig yard and pasture.  We were raising organic pigs and didn't even know it.  I was a bit of an adventurer in my early years and always tried to imitate the bigger kids.  It so happens that every hog yard usually had a big waller hole that was filled with water, mud, and whatever pigs like to waller in.  This one was about 10 feet in diameter and maybe one to two feet deep of stinky pig waller.  The pigs absolutely loved it on a hot day.  One the big kids of the neighbor's family where this story takes place, decided to hop up on top of a wooden fence to survey the pigs in their cool waller pool.  I suspect maybe I was about 4 years old at the time.  Climbing up the fence provided a challenge but I made it up to the top of the fence and felt quite proud of myself.  The owner of the farm and father of the kid I was trying imitate said, "Dave you be careful up there and don't fall in the pig pen."  As I turned to respond to that comment, I slipped and fell backwards head first into the pig waller pool.  I not sure about what happened next but my next memory was being washed down in the horse watering tank.  I'm not sure what the horses thought about that.  The clothes I had on, ah, well, I think they burned them out back in the burn barrel and gave me some old clothes from the bigger kids of the family to get home.  I don't think they ever let me climb that fence again.

Barbara Burg
Serendipity Farm

My favorite, and "queen" of the flock chicken, Thelma, has trained me well. She runs to my car whenever I come home to check for any raisins I might have found on my journey. Often I have 'found' some and as I open the box for her she is so happy to gobble them from my hand. If I happen to leave the car door open, she is eager to jump in to check to be sure any possible raisins are found.

One afternoon I left the back hatch open when I was unloading items from the car. When I realized this later in the day, I closed it and proceeded to go inside after evening chores.

In the morning I had the two dogs with me to ride in the car to run errands. As I opened the side door to let them in there was a great squawk-squawking from inside the car! There was Thelma ... she must have been in the car when I closed the back yesterday and had been inside all night. Oh great, what was I going to find ... yes, there was poop on the back passenger seat where Jake, my golden, was about to jump. Oh boy ... what was my seat to look like? I let dear Thelma out ... to her great pleasure, and Jake jumped in. Then I opened the driver's door to see what I would have to clean up before we left. There, right in the middle of my seat, was one great big brown chicken egg waiting ... a beauty, for sure. Such a relief! And such a nice gift from my girl Thelma.