Category Archives: Critters

My bacon has nipples, how about yours?

Wait – whuut??

Ok, let’s back this up a bit…

Two weekends ago we slaughtered our first pig, complete with traditional dip-scalding and scraping to remove hair and pigmented skin. We had lots of help, which is good because it is a lot of work!

The belly slabs and the jowels were liberally rubbed with a cure of 50/50 salt and sugar and stored in a cold animal-proof place. As the week progressed, the moisture drawn out would get discarded and more cure applied as needed. At the end of the week, the cure is rinsed off and the slabs are dried and wired-up for hanging.

Meanwhile, two hams, some hocks, and trotters were all immersed in a brine of again, about 50/50 salt and sugar and left for the week. As this was a bit long for brining the small pieces (too salty!), after the brine was poured off, we soaked them in fresh water for an hour or so to draw some of the salt back out. Then all pieces were dried and tied for hanging.

Hanging where, you ask? In our smoker! Our goal was to cold-smoke these pieces to get the flavour and to be able to freeze them and then thaw and cook at a later time.

We dug a bit into a hillock and built up three sides of firebrick reclaimed from an old chimney. There is a monstrous 20″ x 20″ paver as the base, the firebrick is dry-stacked (as this is a “temporary” setup), and a matching 20″ x 20″ paver on top. We shaped a few bricks for the terracotta pipe vent to direct the smoke out the back.

smoker firebox
smoker firebox
smoker firebox built into hill
smoker firebox built into hill

We filled in around the bricks and overtop the terracotta pipe with a clay-heavy soil. The front of the firebox was closed up with an old electrical panel cover – door opens to add more damp shavings; whole panel comes off when we need to dig out ashes! A bit of scavenged flashing helped to keep smoke from seeping out where the panel meets with the top paver.

The smoker box is several frames of wood stacked on each other. In the top frame we drilled some holes to slide electrical conduit through, from which we hung the meats! The lid is a full plywood pallet upsidown. Hard to see, but we inserted a long-probe brewing thermometer in the side to keep an eye on temperatures inside the box.

hillside smoker
hillside smoker

We initially made a hot fire of dry wood to have a good bed of coals and to ensure the pipe was warmed up so we would get an adequate draw – four feet of flame says our draw was too good and the temperature in the box was over 300 degrees F! We cooled the fire down by adding damp alder shavings and restricting the air intake. We cooled the smoke box down by wedging one of the frames up a bit to let some cool air mix in and by rotating the lid to let more smoke and heat out. There was plenty of smoke passing through so we weren’t missing out on the whole reason for this setup.

Those tweaks did the trick and we landed right on target of 75 deg F. About 5 or 6 hours of smoking has left a very nice smokey flavour in the bacon – not subtle and not overpowering, I don’t think it get’s much better than this!

Bacon slab, skin on, with nipples!
Bacon slab, skin on, with nipples!
Bacon slices, nipple skin removed.
Bacon slices, nipple skin removed.

Best. Bacon. Ever. xD

What have we been up to?

… or what have we NOT?  (That might be a shorter list)

Here’s a short photo-tour of the happenings this spring:

First bunny harvest.
We lay in the foundation for a workshop and covered meeting space.
EPIC work party installs vast amounts of fencing.
We get a transformer box to go with our power, with our very own Lightning Guy.
Our new building takes shape.
A cow-watering solution that works for longer than three days without rain! There was great rejoicing.
Bacon seeds arrive. So cute!
Fencing runs to the greenhouse, preventing the goats from eating all the rhubarb leaves (argh!), and allowing us to put in a garden. And have a place to eat lunch without being mugged by chickens or goats. Again, Much Rejoicing!
A duck, with Too Many Legs. (ok, so they’re baby ducks. SO CUTE.)
Baby ducks got older.
WE FIXED THE POND!!! I hope to write in depth about this later.  It was pretty simple to do, and involved cow poop.
Canela had a baby! This is Zeus, born over Easter. He’s a couple of months old in this picture.


That’s it, pretty much.  We’re growing bunnies, ducklings, piglets, and a calf, besides our regular posse of children.  Babies all over!

Rabbit experiment

We are experimenting with rabbits.  We bought two lovely does from a friend near Nanaimo last spring, and have been alternatively smothering them with fresh grass and attention, and ignoring them completely.

They survived, thankfully.
They survived, thankfully.

At last, in November, they were old enough to breed, and we acquired a lovely enormous meaty white buck to introduce them to.

A month later, BUNNIES!!


We keep them at the farm, but a storm soaked our bunny cage, so we had to bring them home to dry out.

The kids had a great time decorating them.
The kids had a great time decorating them.
The eventual fate of the babies was a hot topic of discussion.
The eventual fate of the babies was a hot topic of discussion.

We currently keep the rabbits in hanging cages, which is a standard way of doing it, but not our ultimate goal.  We hope to form a rabbit colony, in a large enclosed space, that will allow happy cage-free (or cage-limited) foraging for 5-6 adult rabbits and their not-yet-weaned offspring.  Once the babies are weaned, we’ll have another space where they can get fat on grass, garden goodies, and a few pellets if they feel the need.

To that end, we took a 40’x40′ space, and laid galvanized stucco mesh on the ground.

So much poky wire!
So much poky wire!

And then, we covered it in soil.

Hurrah, Jasmine's Big Truck!
Hurrah, Jasmine’s Big Truck!

We’re going to fence it into 6 or 7 small pastures, with a home space on one edge that the rabbits will always have access to.  Each pasture will be available for 4-6 days, and then the next pasture will open.  We hope that we can make the plantings lush and abundant, and the rabbits won’t eat everything down to nubbins immediately.  The plantings are mostly planned – next, we move the rabbits’ hanging cage contraption out, run the internal fencing, plant, make some little shelters and nesting areas, and wait for it to grow in.

Rabbit paradise, or a predator gorefest.. we’ll see!

Chickens are Delightful

When we embarked on this adventure, I knew that we were going to have animals, but I had no idea which ones I would like.  Ducks?  Goats?  Cows?  Chickens?  I had no idea.  And I do like them all, but nothing beats chickens for bringing a space to life with efficient, effective work.  Really.  If anyone wants anything scratched around, just throw a handful of chicken scratch on it, and it’s done.  Poop on the floor of the chicken house?  Scratch it into the deep litter.  Barn litter needs fluffing?  Chicken scratch.  Cows pooping on the field?  Chickens will peck out the yummy larva, and scratch the bejeezus out of it (ALL the bejeezus.  There is NONE LEFT.)

Chickens, on their first day here.

Initially, we planned to make a temporary chicken coop and then over the course of a week or so, butcher all the chickens.  As soon as they arrived, however, they started laying a BAJILLION eggs, and very quickly paid for their feed and the meagre price of acquisition ($2/ea).  With eggs like that, chicken soup started to look less appealing.

Sometimes it amuses me to picture the chickens as tiny velociraptors.  Especially as they steal bits of my lunch, or swarm towards me when I call them in for food.  If they knew that it was what I wanted, they’d probably do headstands for cheese.  They adore leftover scrambled egg, and I imagine their chickeny brains saying, “WOW!  This is exactly what I need to make eggs!!”.  The chickens are only slightly skittish, and are very food-motivated, and it’s lovely watching them out muttering to each other, singing their morning egg song, and doing their busy chickeny stuff.

Our chickens come from a more production-oriented organic farm to the west of us, which fed chickens well but for management reasons kept them inside.  Initially, fearing the twofold doom of all-chickens-eaten-by-predators and chicken-poop-everywhere, I started building them an outside run.  I thought it would take a day to get it put together, but stopping every thirty seconds to help kids do things really makes one’s work take longer.  On the morning of the second day, hearing the chickens muttering about their inadequate inside space and looking at the beautiful green stuff outside in need of scratching, I shrugged my shoulders and let them out.  It’s been at least two months, and we have lost one chicken to ?exposure?, but otherwise have our full compliment.  And though we do have a  fair amount of chicken poop, it mostly goes on places that could use a bit of chicken fertility.

Happy outside chickens, scratching in the broom
Happy outside chickens, scratching under the broom

The problems with free-ranging chickens do not end with the aforementioned twofold doom, however.  If we want our chickens to earn their keep in non-scratching ways, we have to be able to find their eggs.  Despite their ample compliment of nesting spots in the coop, our chickens find creative spots to keep their eggs.  For a little while, their preferred spot was inside a tent filled with hay.

Giant Nest!
Giant Nest!

This made finding eggs relatively easy.  Once the tent was emptied, the chickens found a lovely spot in the straw inside our hay shelter.  We assumed that the expected winter laying slowdown was upon us, and resigned ourselves to fewer delicious chicken-presents, until someone noticed that there were eggs on the floor of the shelter, and that there were so many eggs in a little cubby in the hay that the chickens could no longer fit inside.  Now, laying has slowed again, and we’re wondering where the eggs will pile up next.

Our rooster, named Cocktail by one of the kids, is a bit of a sorry beast.  He roosters most diligently:  he watches for predators, takes care of the hens, and makes sure that there’s some fertilized eggs in the mix.  His tailfeathers were all pecked out by the hens at his previous home, though, and have not grown back despite a serious reduction in pecking.  About a week ago, I crept with a flashlight into the coop and slathered his poor red bottom in Bag Balm (recommended by our Cow Mentor), and today I saw little poky pinfeathers coming out.  Perhaps in a month or so he’ll have a glorious tail, but here’s what he looks like now:

Perhaps in a month or so, he'll have a glorious tail again, but here's what he looks like now.

The kids have been naming the chickens, and I have no clue who “Blueberry” or “Glorious” are, or any of a number of other names that have been given.  ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Featherless’ I remember, due to roosterness or descriptiveness, but the others are all Little Brown Hens.  The kids have asked that, if we end up eating any chickens, we eat Glorious first because she pecks people and steals lunches, so we’ll see how that turns out.

So far, despite our plans, we have yet to eat a single one.