5 Acres & A Dream {Book Recommendation}

5 Acres & A Dream is one family’s tale of starting their homestead, from the dream phase to making it happen.

You won’t find a how-to here. Rather, it’s a personal account of the ups and downs and lessons learned along the way. Storytelling like this can be really valuable if you’re dreaming of your own homestead. You can find a lot of the bare how-to online, but getting into the mind of someone who’s been there helps you really understand the process.

5 Acres & A Dream covers lots of topics, including:

  • Food self-sufficiency, gardening, food preservation, and foraging
  • Raising goats, chickens, and guineas
  • Cheese making
  • Permaculture
  • Spinning, weaving, and knitting
  • Sewing and quilting
  • Soapmaking
  • Farmhouse renovation
  • Water self-sufficiency
  • Energy self-sufficiency

From a family who’s been there, you will learn a lot about the homesteading journey. 5 Acres & A Dream is 262 pages of inspirational words, along with 156 photos and diagrams.


Welcome Baby Bunnies!

My mama bunny, Barley, has a new pile of babies! They’re hard to photograph because they’re so tiny and still so fragile right now. There are about 10 of them, which means I need more bunny housing ASAP!

I snuck one out of the nest for a photoshoot. Here’s a 3 day old Flemish Giant baby.

newborn bunny 4 newborn bunny 3 newborn bunny 2 newborn bunny

Plus one little nose and paw peeking up out of the nest!

newborn bunny nose in nest

Getting Started Raising A Pig

So you’ve decided to raise a pig! You can do it! Just five years ago I made the same choice. I was a suburbanite, but that didn’t stop me from moving to the country and buying some pigs!

I learned almost everything I needed to know from books and the Internet. How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs are two excellent choices for comprehensive books. (Those are affiliate links. If you buy through them, it doesn’t cost you a thing to support another small pig farmer.)

I have had several seasons of successful pig-raising. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how to get started, let me break it down for you.

How to Raise Pigs #hogs #homesteading #farming

Reasons to Raise a Pig

Some people use pigs to clear an area of land or till in preparation for gardening, but the primary reason to raise them is the delicious meat they turn out. If the idea of hams, bacon, sausage, roasts, ribs, and pork chops gets you going, you don’t need ME to tell you the benefits of raising pigs!

They’re great composters. Our pigs will eat almost anything out of the garden, the kitchen, and the rest of the barnyard. Pigs are a machine that turns food waste into bacon. Hard to go wrong there!

Pig personality is another reason. They are friendly, social, fun to get to know, fun to watch, and are as cute as can be. Because of their social nature, when you decide to raise one pig, you’re deciding to raise two or more. Unless you are devoted to spending hours a day with your pig, you need more than one.

Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs #hogs #homesteading #farmerTypes of Pig Raising Operations

There are three basic types of pig raising operations, and you need to decide early on which one you are.

Farrow-to-finish – Farrowing is a sow birthing a litter of piglets. In this type of operation you are in for the whole process – breeding sows, farrowing sows, and raising piglets to market weight. This takes the longest time commitment, largest amount of upfront investment, and biggest space and equipment needs.

Farrow-to-feeder – Breeding sows and selling the weaned piglets is called a farrow-to-feeder operation. This type of operation requires the most labor and rises and falls with piglet demand.

Feeder-to-finish – This is the most common type of operation for a new pig farmer. You’ll buy feeder pigs at 30-60 pounds and raise them to finished size, around 225 pounds. You don’t have the extra complications of dealing with adult pigs and breeding. You will have fewer costs and space needs since you don’t need to maintain multiple sows. Your time commitment is less since you can finish your pigs in 6-7 months.

Space Needs for Pigs

Pigs need space to sleep that is protected from the weather if you will have rain or cold. They need space for eating and drinking. They need space for defecating – pigs will create a “bathroom” area of their pen. They need extra space for frolicking about. Yes, pigs frolic.

100 square feet is a good starting amount per pig. More pigs will need less space per pig because they will mostly be together. Pigs tend to sleep all in one pile, for example, especially if it’s cold.

If your pigs will be in an enclosed space like a barn stall, you’ll want to muck out their waste. If you’re housing them outside and have some extra space, you might want to rotate them through different areas to limit their exposure to their waste.

Pig feederFood for Pigs

Commercial pig feed is available from feed stores, or you may have a local farmers co-op that will have pig feed. Pigs can be supplemented with kitchen scraps, garden scraps, and pasture. However, especially as a first time pig farmer, you should provide your pigs with a commercial feed. This feed will have the proper nutrients to help your pigs grow at a good rate and give you a baseline for pig growth if you choose to alter your feed choice in the future.

You can feed your pigs at set mealtimes, or you can free feed. Free feeding produces more feed waste and requires more equipment, but it requires less labor.

For free-feeding, you will want to build or buy a feeder.

Water for Pigs

Pigs need access to clean drinking water at all times. You may want to build or invest in a nipple waterer to prevent pigs from constantly tipping their water over. If you provide open water, you will need to check on it frequently to insure that the pigs haven’t knocked it all onto the ground.

Pigs appreciate open water and mud to keep themselves cool and clean. Especially in the summer they will enjoy and open bin of water, a mud puddle, or even sprays from a hose. My pigs have always loved running in and out of the spray on a hot day.#homestead #hogs // LoveLiveGrow

Pig Health

There are a variety of health concerns that could arise in your pigs, from skin conditions and parasites, to serious diseases and injuries. The supplies you need to treat health issues are probably available at your local farm store or co-op, including dewormer and antibiotics.

Identifying health needs early is important, so that you can treat problems early and cull if you need to. Most pig raising books will have a section on common pig health problems.

Don’t be shy about talking to local pig farmers or consulting an online farming or homesteading community. Other people who are experienced with pigs can help you troubleshoot a concern before it becomes a crisis. The Pig Site has an excellent section on pig health.

Pig Processing

Finish weight for pigs is approximately 225 pounds. This is around the size where a pig starts to put on more fat, so your feed to meat ratio becomes less than ideal. You can approximate your pigs’ weight by measuring their length and heart girth. Length is from between their ears to the base of their tails. Heart girth is measured around the whole body right behind the front legs. Heart girth times heart girth times length will give you a reasonable approximation.

Unless you are processing your pig at home, you will need to find a local processor well in advance. I have to drive two hours for my processing, because small processors are hard to find these days. Check with any of your local places that take deer and other game. Ask other farmers in your area who they recommend. Check out your farmers markets and ask anyone selling meat where they take theirs.

Check out my article How Much Meat From A Pig to understand how much and what kind of meat you’ll be looking at.

Jumping in Head First

There’s a lot of information you need to get started raising pigs, but there are a lot of resources out there to help you. You’ll find the experience rewarding and the meat the best you’ve ever tasted.

Check out How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs for more information, and let me know what other questions you have as you start out in your pig raising adventure!



Inherently Impermanent

By Joshua Bardwell, originally posted in June 2010 at Jack-Booted Liberal

Gardening is filled with such extremes of emotion for me. Successes really fill me with joy…

First batch of cucumber pickles is sitting in the fridge…

Yellow squash and zucchini are producing really a ridiculous amount of fruit. Say what you will, you can always rely on squash to outgrow your garden beds and outproduce everything else on the planet. It’s too bad that, somehow, I ended up with about four yellow squash plants to every one zucchini. Zucchini is really much more delicious IMO, especially breaded and fried.

The butternuts are starting to set fruit. It’ll be a loooong time before they’re ready to harvest, but it’s still nice to see.

But then the setbacks just crush me. We had a big windstorm roll through yesterday and then again today. Just amazing gusts of wind knocking tree limbs down and damn near capsizing our baby walnut tree.

The corn got mowed down. I’m leaving it alone to see if it manages to recover. The roots seem to be mostly intact and the stalks, for the most part, don’t seem to be broken, but it’s just heartbreaking.

And then there’s some kind of fungal disease or another eating at and rotting away at least some of damn near all my plants. I swear, sometimes I want a do-over so bad. As if next time I’ll get it exactly right. But of course, that’s not how it’ll go. Next time there’ll be some other problem to solve.

A lot of energy in modern life is spent trying to get rid of undesirable outcomes. Really, most of you readers, and myself of course, live in an extravagantly refined environment that nearly-instantly caters to our every whim. Temperature and humidity are controlled. Food of any sort is at our reach, whether it’s a frozen treat, a cold glass of milk, a bowl of cereal, or a tropical fruit. Want to see a movie or talk to a friend? Television, cell phones, home entertainment systems, and the Internet are here to serve. From this perspective, the unpredictably catastrophic nature of farming is completely alien—which is not to say that the same, “cater-to-your-whim,” attitude doesn’t exist in agriculture. For every fungus or insect you don’t like, there’s a chemical from Dow or Monsanto to treat it, but in trying to garden simply and organically, I’ve decided to try other approaches first.

And so I accept that, maybe, despite my best efforts, I’m going to lose every stick of corn I planted to a wind-storm. Maybe that harvest of beans was the last one before fungus turns the plants to mush and I have to pull them out of the beds and burn them to keep the spores from propagating in the compost heap. Maybe I won’t get a single tomato because they’ll all get blossom end rot or early blight or who-the-hell-knows-what other of the thousands of maladies that can afflict a tomato plant. And you know what else? Maybe my house doesn’t have to be 72 degrees 24-hours a day (well, it’s not, because we’ve decided not to use central air).

This outlook seems very consistent with my participation in burns. We build an enormous effigy every year only to light it on fire and burn it to the ground, and I see that as an incredibly subversive act in a world that attempts to preserve everything—youth, money, status, possessions—indefinitely. It’s not wanton destruction to me. It’s a statement that nothing in the world is permanent, and the things that we value most can be taken away by sheer chance, without our consent or participation or culpability, and that’s okay. It has to be okay, because it IS. And acting as if what IS is not is a sure way to bad outcomes.

Things I’m Not Saying About Correlation

I get a lot of fat-related comments and emails that I don’t publish here or publicize. Some of it is really hateful, most of it is just dumb.

Most of it is boring, too, because people repeat the same things as one another.

Some of the arguments people make demonstrates that they have not read what I wrote or they are arguing with someone who is not me.

Here’s one sentence from a recent comment:

There is tons of research that shows a substantial link between obesity and chronic health problems.

This person went on to proclaim that if I weren’t so stupid and would do just a simple search I, too, could find out this astonishing fact.

Except here’s the thing: I’ve never said otherwise. If you can find some place where I disagree with the statement that some health problems are correlated with being fat, I will apologize and edit the offending post.

I HAVE said things like:

Fat and health are two different things. You can be fat and healthy. You can be thin and unhealthy. You can be signing the praises of fat from the rooftops AND ALSO be promoting healthy lifestyle choices. You can “get healthy”, but it won’t lead to weight loss for most people.

And I’ve said a lot of things about the social and moral issues invented around fat people. Health is completely irrelevant to the discussion of whether fat people deserve clothes that fit them and seats they can sit in, and, you know, JOBS.

I’ve also said a lot about how the health correlation is kind of useless if we don’t know how to prevent people from getting fat and how to turn fat people into skinny people.

But, apparently I’m just running around saying that there are no correlations between fatness and health. How about that?



Cured With This One Weird Trick

That’s an ironic title, of course. I think. I went over several possibilities for titling this post. Another one I considered was:


Because I kind of feel that way. I have celiac friends, and I don’t think they’re full of shit, but I’m talking about this seemingly sudden, ubiquitous avoidance of various food parts for vague and yet miraculous-sounding health reasons. Call me a skeptic, I guess.

(Note: this post discusses diet modification to address health concerns.)

I have had increasingly debilitating back pain for the last two years. Lower back, left side. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t really stand for more than 5 minutes. Cooking a meal, grocery shopping, or other mundane life tasks were getting more and more difficult to manage. I could barely walk sometimes.

My doctor was a little mystified about my pain because it doesn’t shoot down the back of my legs, and it also stopped when I sat down. An xray showed nothing. She gave me a month-long anti-inflammatory prescription hoping it was just some kind of inflammation. After a month, no improvement. At my last appointment with her, we scheduled an MRI.

On another note, we also discussed my PCOS. In part to address my PCOS symptoms, I decided to try eating low-carb. Like, really, really low carb. I’m keeping it under 20g a day.

I’m not sure what I expected to happen or when, but I did not expect that three days later my back pain would be gone. 100% gone. Not lessened, not “better”. Cured.

I no longer have back pain.

This is more like what I'm eating now. Except not so many tomatos because they have too much carb.

This is more like what I’m eating now. Except not so many tomatos because they have too much carb. Photo by dollen // CC BY 2.0

It’s sort of a big WTF for me. Is is the gluten? The wheat? Sugar in general? The mother of all coincidences? But excruciating back pain doesn’t just vanish in a single day! It’s the fucking gluten. My little skeptical self is sure it’s the fucking gluten, just to spite me.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I’m never eating carbs again. I love carbs, don’t get me wrong. All of them. But I also love being able to stand up. It’s pretty nifty. It’s been 14 days, and not a single twinge of back pain. In fact, the soles of my feet kind of hurt because I’ve been having a really, really good time standing up as long as I fucking want to.

I have absolutely no advice for you, because this is all kind of weird to me. Maybe it’s some kind of conspiracy? To get me to blog about going low-carb? Because trust me, I had no intentions of mentioning it when it was just about treating PCOS.

But now I feel like I have to say this at least once as some sort of PSA. So there ya go. Quit carbs; cured my back pain.

It’s Okay for Kids to Watch TV and Play Video Games

No! This image is bullshit! Click on through for an alternate view of children's television watching.No! This image is bullshit! Click through for an alternative view of children's video games playing.

I’m going to keep hammering away at this problem, because I think adults as really messing up here.

Look, kids like TV. And video games. Computers. Cell phones. Are you mad about that? Do you think of these interests as harmful obstacles to real life?

Then what you’re really doing is alienating the children you ostensibly care about and making yourself irrelevant.

TV, computers, video games, and cell phones are real life. When you go to battle with these objects and activities, you’re battling real people and their real lives.

You sound dumb, too.

Both of those little quips in the images are wrong.

At least for me.

My grade-school childhood was in the 80s. It was before personal computers and way before cell phones. Our video game system was an Atari.

Best day of television?

I remember looking forward to watching Disney Sunday Night movies as a family pretty much every week. Thinking back, The Return of the Shaggy Dog was probably my favorite.

That means November 1st, 1987 was my best day of television.

Making memories playing video games?

My grandma had an Atari and loved playing Pac-Man. When I was staying at her house, sometimes we would play for what seemed like hours. She was so good! I got better and better, but I don’t think I ever beat her. Pac-Man for hours with my grandma is one of my favorite childhood memories. Not just favorite video game memories. Favorite childhood memory!

There. How hard was that? How surprising? It shouldn’t be. If you think kids aren’t really enjoying these things, you probably haven’t asked them. Maybe you should start there.

One of those pictures is of kids jumping off a sand dune at the beach. The other is kids fishing at a lake. Those are wonderful activities, and I have all sorts of memories like that in my childhood, too.

Maybe parents feel guilty about not offering those activities to their kids. Life is busy, money is short, and all that. I get that.

If guilt is the reason for recoiling from TV and video games, then I suggest an alternative: trying to support the things you do want instead of criticizing the things you don’t.

There’s room enough in a child’s life for all kinds of activities. My 3 year old has his own phone, and he’s on it a lot! On the other hand, right now he’s outside playing with trains in the pool, earlier this morning he was digging in his garden box, and yesterday we did a long trek along a river bed to go see some waterfalls. All of those things have benefits. For example, when he’s on his phone we’re usually snuggling. We both love to snuggle, and it’s really important to me to share a lot of nurturing touch. We can’t do that on a hike!

If you are critical of children’s use of phones, computers, and TVs, are you willing to reconsider? What stands in your way of supporting children in their own interests?