Dinner Time Farm

Planting the Pig Pasture

Gavin DinnelWhen you raise pigs, you have to be prepared for them to tear things apart. Pigs love to root in the ground for things to eat, and they do it to make cool beds to lie in and wallow when it is hot. They will take your lovely green pasture and turn it into a barren dirt field in no time at all.

How do we take this negative and turn it into a positive? For me, my goal was to find something that I could plant that would provide a nice green cover, would provide nutrients to the soil, and could provide feed for the sheep for a couple of months and for the next batch of pigs that will come in January.

And what miracle plant is it that I decided on? Turnips! Yes, that favorite root vegetable of kids and adults alike is what I planted in our pig pasture. Specifically we decided on Appin Forage turnips from Welter Seed and Honey out of Iowa. These turnips have a large amount of leafy material and grow quickly. They are also multi-crowned to allow for quick regrowth after grazing.

Young Turnip Seedlings

We have been very happy with the turnips, and with the growth of all plant material in our pig pasture overall. As you can see from the pictures below, it is very green and there is a good variety of plants. There are a couple different volunteer squash and several volunteer tomatoes. Clover, grasses, barley, and of course some weeds are all interspersed in the area.

Turnips and Grass


The sheep have been enjoying the evenings that I let them into this paddock to graze the variety of plants. This is a great way for us to utilize all of this space that would otherwise go unused and provide more feed for the sheep.

Sheep Grazing Turnips

Seeding this area was easier than I expected. Using a hand seeder commonly used for lawns, I waited for the forecast to show a strong chance of rain. Before the rain moved in, I broadcasted the seed throughout the pasture and the rain pushed the seed into the ground. That was all I did. There was no disking, tilling, or any other work involved. The pigs did all the hard work, and I just had to throw the seed. We had excellent weather for germination and, just a few days later, saw thousands of sprouts across the ground.

Take a look at the before and after pictures to see exactly how much this area has changed in just 60 days. The investment in the seed and time is minimal, and the rewards are plentiful. I highly recommend anyone needing to seed an area for grazing to consider turnips!

Torn up Pasture

Green Pasture!

The Case for Cornish Cross

Gavin DinnelToday’s post is going to be on a controversial subject. The dreaded Cornish Cross chicken; this chicken has been called a Frankenbird, genetically modified and a freak of nature. I know that I won’t change everyone’s minds but I’m hoping I can change a couple.

The Cornish Cross is what is considered a hybrid. It is the result of decades of specific breeding that has brought about the current meat chicken that we are all familiar with. This specific breeding is no different than the hybrid tomatoes you buy at the nursery, or the commercial breeds of pigs that have been selected for their length and quickness of growth. There is no genetic modification at work here, only selective breeding.

The reason that many eschew the Cornish Cross, is that it doesn’t “act” like the backyard chickens we are used to. Those chickens are slow growing, better foraging and look prettier. I’ll definitely agree with all those points, but we must keep in mind that we are raising meat chickens and not laying chickens.

Cornish Cross also require more management. A chicken tractor that can be moved at least daily will help keep chickens clean and provide them more grass and bugs to eat. Chicks must be monitored often to make sure that they are kept sufficiently warm or cool as necessary. Feed should be removed for periods of time to prevent overeating and encourage foraging.

If you are willing to manage these birds properly, you will be rewarded with a quick growing bird that is healthy, hardy and most importantly, tasty.

We recently took in our first batch of Cornish Cross to the processor. We ordered birds from a local hatchery, Jenks out of Tangent, OR. We purchased 30 birds and were shipped 32 (as is normal practice). All 32 arrived safe and sound and were immediately placed in the chicken tractor on pasture! That is unheard of on most farms!! Most brooding operations are conducted in buildings, on a hard surface covered with wood shavings. We wanted our birds to be on grass from the very first day and to prove that these Cornish Cross could be raised outside from the very beginning.

Our chicks were surrounded by a draft guard for the first week of their lives, and then after had the whole run of the chicken tractor. We would move the tractor as necessary to provide fresh grass and a clean environment. Our birds were not vaccinated, nor were they on medicated feed at any point in their life. We had one preventable loss, as I accidentally stepped on one while changing out feed.  That means that there were no losses due to health, weather or management.

Our chickens loved when I moved the chicken tractor. They were all at the front waiting for that fresh grass to eat. I’ve seen them catch and eat bugs; properly raised these chickens thrived.

Eating Grass

What did that all get us? Those 31 chickens, at 7 weeks of age, provided us with 101 pounds of meat to put in our freezer. That is an average of 3.26 lbs per bird at just 7 weeks of age! And what did that cost us? We fed them non-GMO feed, and of course all the grass and bugs they could catch, and our final cost was $3.62/lb. I challenge you to find farm raised, non-GMO fed chicken at a cheaper price. In our area, the cheapest you can find for all that is $5.00/lb.

Freezer Full of Chicken

If you are willing to put a little work into the Cornish Cross, they are willing to put some meat in your freezer. I definitely recommend raising them for yourself.

As always, please visit us on Facebook at Dinner Time Farm. We would love to hear from you!

Harvest Week at Dinner Time Farm

Gavin DinnelSending animals to the butcher is always a bittersweet time on the farm. These are animals that have been a part of our lives, whether it’s a matter of months or a matter of weeks. They have been here each of those days and we have cared for them. Harvesting an animal is not easy, and it should never be easy. I think that is partly how we ended up with animal feed lots and factory farming. People stopped caring and the animals are the ones that ended up suffering.

Here at Dinner Time Farm, we take the time to honor these animals for the sacrifice they are making. They are filling our freezers and nourishing our family. They deserve the utmost respect the entire time. We always take time the day before to reflect on their time here. We remember how little they were when they first came, and how big they are now. We remember their contended grunts as they pass under our bedroom window in the morning for a drink of water. We think of our neighbors who stop and admire them, of the bus driver who stops so the kids can look at them. We give them their favorite treats, and give them scratches (the pigs enjoy this, the chickens not so much).

Pile of Pigs

Most of all, we thank them and we say a prayer. A prayer that they were happy the entire time they were here, that we hope they didn’t want for anything and that they enjoyed being able to be pigs and root and play and eat and drink. A prayer thanking God for their health and growth and being able to teach our son how to respect animals and people, and for filling our freezers with meat for the rest of the year.

We’ll have a lot of really great and interesting posts in the coming weeks as both the chickens and pigs are going to the butcher this week. But for now, we’re going to take the next few days to reflect and remember.

As always, you can find us on Facebook at Dinner Time Farm. We would love you have you follow along with us on our journey of raising these animals and putting meat in our freezer and we hope to encourage you to do the same!

Lambs from the Creamery

Gavin DinnelDid you know that in order to produce all the wonderful dairy products that we enjoy dairy animals need to have offspring each year? For some of us, it’s a concept that we know and understand well. For others, where the milk and cheese in their fridge comes from is very much a mystery.

A dairy only needs to keep a small percentage of the animals born each year to replace aging animals, and often they don’t need to keep any males at all. This creates an opportunity for the homesteader to pick up quality animals at a good price to raise for their own meat supply. It is time consuming and costly for a dairy to keep these animals for any length of time.

This year we went to a local creamery that specializes in making cheese. They have hundreds of lambs each year and it was a great opportunity for us to pick up some lambs for our freezer this year. We purchased three 8-week-old and two 6-week-old lambs that were out on grass and growing very well.

We haven’t raised lambs here before, but we decided to move our two Dexter cows to another farm and that left an acre of grass that needed to be eaten. The nice thing about the lambs and the time of year that we went to get them (March) meant that the grass in our yard was about ready to be mowed and there weren’t a lot of other plants or trees yet up to tempt the sheep away from the grass. We were able to use the sheep to help mow our front yard before moving them into their one-acre pasture. The lambs were very appreciative and made sure to greet us at the front door to give us thanks.

Lambs on Porch

The lambs will stay here for about 6 months before they are harvested in the fall. If the weather cooperates, they will have fresh grass to eat all summer long. After the pigs are harvested in the spring, their paddock will get reseeded and hopefully grow some yummy greens for the lambs to eat in the fall as well.

It really doesn’t take much grass to raise a couple of lambs, and I bet if you did some research you could find a local dairy or creamery where you could pick up a couple and put them in your yard. Lamb is making a comeback in this country, wouldn’t you like for it to grace your dinner table this fall?

Lamb on Grass

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We would love to hear from you and hopefully encourage you to raise your own animals for your freezer.

You Should Raise Pigs

Gavin DinnelWhat a great response to our last post about our pigs arriving on the farm! I had a lot of questions about how we take care of our pigs here at Dinner Time Farm and so I’m going to tell you all about it! There are many different and great ways to raise pigs, but this is how we do it!

Brown and White Pig

Take the time to sketch out where you want the pigs to be. There are things you want to think about ahead of time. Where is their water and feed going to be? How am I going to contain them? And here’s one that doesn’t get thought of until it’s too late: how am I going to load them to take them to the processor — or where is my slaughterer going to be able to get to these pigs? To be honest, that last one wasn’t one we thought about until our mobile slaughterer showed up ready to take them in. Luckily, our gate was positioned in a place where they could back right up to it.

Now that you’ve sketched out where you want the pigs, and where your gate(s) will be positioned, you can start to think about how to contain them. We use a physical barrier (fence) and a psychological barrier (electric). This gives us peace of mind and also some symmetry, as our other pasture uses the same woven wire fence but no electric. We use the Red Brand woven wire fence typically used for goats. It’s 48 inches high and looks really good. We just used T posts to attach it to. On the inside we ran two levels of polytape. When the pigs are full grown the lower line will be right about their chest and the upper will be right at their head. We have a double ground rod system and a plug-in fence charger. The pigs learn that the polytape is not something to be touched very quickly.

Fence and Poly Tape

Food and water are up next. This is one that can be easily overlooked as well. Pigs love to push things around, and if you are trying to water out of a tub, they’ll have it turned over in no time. We like to use pickle barrels and convert them into a water station. It’s pretty simple! Find your barrel; get something that is food-grade and didn’t have chemicals in it. Pickle barrels are perfect since they had vinegar and cucumbers in them. We bought 1/2-inch water-tight electric conduit hubs at our local hardware store and after drilling a hole into the barrel we connected those two pieces together. Doing this makes it really easy to attach the water nipple. Just a little Teflon tape and screw it in nice and tight and you are done! We love the tap adapter style nipples as the water will flow a little better.  We use the double lid hog feeders. Each one holds around 150 pounds of food. I really recommend this style as it can be hung up a little bit and holds plenty of food so you don’t have to feed them every day. We free feed our pigs up until butchering day.

Pig Water

Pig Demonstrating Proper Water Use

And the last piece of the puzzle is shelter. Pigs really don't need much, just a space to stay dry and that is free of drafts. We built a simple shelter with some pallets, t posts, cattle panels and a tarp. We also hang our feeders in here so the food stays dry as well. 

Pig Feeders and Shelter

And there you have it! It really isn’t that hard at all and if you have a little space I hope that this inspires you to raise your own pork this year. You can have fresh pork that you raised yourself in your freezer in as little as 4 months!

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The Pig Arrival

Gavin DinnelPig arrival day is always an exciting day here at the farm. It is the culmination of hard work that goes into getting our pig pasture ready for the new batch of pigs and it is always a humbling thought to be responsible for the future pork that will end up on people’s plates.

Pigs in the Pasture

There are a lot of little details that go into making sure we are ready for their arrival. We have to make sure that the grass is trimmed so as not to interfere with the maximum efficiency of the electric fence. We need to make sure that the electric fence is tight and not sagging anywhere and that it is connected to all of the insulators. The water barrels need to be working properly and attached to a fixed point as pigs love to push things around and would certainly knock them over if given the opportunity. Feeders need to be in place and ready with feed.

Pigs in the Shelter with Feeders

Once the pigs are here we observe them and make sure they are aware of where everything is. We bungie cord the feeder lids up the first day so they can find the feed easier and will be able to lift the lids up with their heads when I remove the cords. Occasionally we need to teach them how to use the water nipples on the barrels. Pigs are very curious and are able to pick it up pretty quickly. And finally, we have to make sure that the electric fence is working properly and that they learn what that means. We have found that the natural curiosity of the pigs during their exploration will lead them into the electric fence several times each, and after that they usually figure out that they shouldn’t touch it.

Pigs at the Waterer

Pigs are relatively easy to raise. They are hardy, grow quickly and taste great! A pig can reach butchering weight at only 6 months from birth! Have you thought about raising pigs? Are you ready to take the plunge? Feel free to like and follow my farm page at Dinner Time Farm to join the discussion and feel free to ask any questions you have about raising pigs! Your question might be featured in a future blog post!

Eating Local Meats

Gavin DinnelOne of the goals I’ve had ever since we started here at Dinner Time Farm was for 95% of our meat consumption to be raised here on our farm, caught by us, or traded for from other local producers.  

That seems like quite a lot, doesn’t it? It certainly was a little daunting at first, but now that we are into our second full year of raising animals I feel much more confident about us being able to reach this mark. But what does 95% of our meat consumption look like? What do I need to shoot for?

For us, we enjoy eating a variety of protein and we want to have a freezer full of different types of meats to meal plan with. This year I really think we can get very close to meeting this goal and this is how I plan on doing it.

The main way we will meet this goal is raising pork. Pork is the mainstay of our meals and the mainstay of our farm. It is the one thing we’ve done here that pays for itself and we are able to use extra pigs that we don’t sell to trade for other local food and meats to meet our goal.

Dinner Time Farm Pork Chops

This year we set aside two full pigs just for trades! So far, we have trades set up for canned salsa, canned spaghetti sauce, green beans, juice and jam. Forty pounds of rabbit and monthly loaves of bread and milk! We of course also have one pig set aside for ourselves, and that should be around 120 pounds of meat in our freezer.

Let’s take stock so far of what we should have this year of just meat.

120 pounds of pork

40 pounds of rabbit

Definitely a great start, but we like variety and we’re missing a couple other options. One of those is of course, chicken. My wife and I do a great job of cooking whole chickens and using that for several meals but we don’t get the opportunity to do it often because we haven’t raised them ourselves and haven’t found a trade partner. This year I hope to be able to raise 20-25 chickens for our freezer. That would provide us a couple chickens per month for our meals. At about 4 lbs per chicken, this would be an additional 80 pounds of meat in the freezer.

I also will be raising some weaner lambs this year with the goal of keeping one for our own freezer. I can probably expect about 30 pounds of lamb to be able to put in there as well.

So that would put our total at 120 pounds of pork, 40 pounds of rabbit, 80 pounds of chicken and 30 pounds of lamb.

There is still one very important piece of protein that many Americans enjoy eating, and that would be beef. I don’t yet have a plan for providing our local beef, other than the ground beef we buy from the people that harvest our animals and take them to the butcher. We bought 30 pounds of ground beef from them last year, and I’m hopeful that I can find a trade partner in the future to trade pork for beef. For now, I’ll calculate the 30 pounds of ground beef that we buy.

I also wrote at the top of the page about eating food that we catch. One of the great things about living in Washington State is that there is a great salmon fishery here. We love having fish on the menu and we definitely want to catch it ourselves. This year we were able to have about 20 pounds of locally caught salmon on our menu.

If we add up all of those different types of meat we end up with 320 pounds of meat! I did a little research online and discovered that according to the USDA, the average American eats 132 total pounds of meat per year. That would be 264 pounds of meat for two adults. That number is probably higher as the USDA does not take into account vegetarians.

I think we can do it! The majority of the meat we eat can be locally raised or caught! We love to provide hams for our holiday dinners, and to have friends and family over so I know that even if we did have this much meat for the year, there would be no issue with it being eaten.

What are some things that you can try to source locally? Perhaps getting your honey from a local beekeeper? Finding a local farm for your annual supply of root vegetables in September? It may seem impossible at first, but I hope I’ve shown that it can be done!

Please visit us and join the conversation on our Facebook page at Dinner Time Farm. We would love to hear what you would like to get from local producers this year!