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So you think you are prepared to feed your family?

Maybe you haven’t thought about it before.  What will you do if the country dives into civil war, North Korea launches a nuclear weapon on North America, or a lethal virus knocks out the vast majority of the earth’s population?  Even a natural disaster…   If you think it can’t happen, your head is in the sand. And good for you….more food for me.  I like food and have a plan to feed myself and my loved ones in an emergency.  Do you?

Its not as simple as stockpiling food and water.  Those stocks, no matter how much you put away in a bunker or your pantry, will run out sooner or later.  Not to mention that your hungry neighbors will likely try to steal those stores from you at the first opportunity.

A friend, a Patriot, recently told me that he would have to barter his skills in security to get food for his family.  That’s fair.  If you have skills of value to people with food, you might do ok.  Particularly in a Zombie Apocalypse or a government take over….  So get your tactical shit together, if that’s your plan.

I’m a food preserver.  I like to can, freeze, dehydrate and stock up on high calorie staples.  But more than that, I am a farmer and understand the value of sustainability.  It’s about building resources into your life that a catastrophe can’t take away.  So lets start….

  1.  Water.  An adult needs a gallon of water a day to survive.  That includes drinking water and cleaning themselves (this does not include a shower) and their food, if careful.  So figure out how many people you need to keep hydrated and for how many days.  Even if you have space to stockpile a month or 3 of water for you and your family (which I recommend), what happens when that is gone?  Think of natural sources of water near you.  Maybe a stream or pond, even the ocean.  How will you make sure that water is drinkable?  Check out this link.  Rain water is a great resource, but might be subject to the above purification methods.  A medium size house can generate hundreds of gallons of water in a thunderstorm from its roof and gutters, so invest in some rain barrels…and learn how to build a water still, in case of contamination
  2. Staples.  Yeah, its a good idea to stock up on grains (flour, barley, lentils and, if you are particular, risotto and such) as well as rice. They are hard to grow and will make your apocalypse more enjoyable, for sure.  Store in an airtight container or ten.  But you will have to get used to not having your favorite bagel or pasta dish if the shit his the fan.  It will be a luxury item.  Sorry.   Salt should be stockpiled as much as possible.  Not only does it make food taste better, it can be used to to cure meat and fish….  There are some naturally occurring sources of salt.
  3. Food in general.  Yes, you can stock pile MREs and buckets of freeze dried foods.  And I suggest you do, but do not rely upon them for long term survival.  Lets be real…
    • Plant a garden.  The bigger the better.  But a few pots of veggies will help.  Don’t forget herbs.  They make stuff taste good.
    • Save seeds.  Many organic veggies bought at the store have seeds that can be saved.  Squash, pumpkins, peppers, even tomatoes.  What would the world be like without fresh tomatoes…sigh.
    • Learn how to preserve those veggies.  Can, dehydrate, freeze dry.  God I want a freeze dryer….you can freeze dry just about anything…even ice cream, though I still haven’t figured out how you would rehydrate that into anything but a milkshake.
    • Permaculture.  Plant berry bushes, perennials and fruit trees in your yard in stead of stupid ornamentals.  Flowers are great and some ARE edible, but please….they won’t feed you.
    • Meat.  A few chickens, ducks, Guinea hens or geese, especially if you have a reproducing flock, will provide much needed protein, sustainably.  Most birds subsist on bugs and grubs and only need help in cold weather.  Rabbits reproduce quickly and I’m told taste like chicken.  Small animals are easy to relocate to a bug out location, if that’s your plan, but if you in a remote area and have some security, a herd of cows or pigs are even better.  A dairy cow would be a great source of milk and cheese (I know how to do that, maybe in another post), so eat the bulls first.  Remember that your starving neighbors will be ready to do anything to acquire your food.   Just FYI, for my peeps, for now my horses are not on the menu.  They have other skills…travel, manual labor, such as plowing, dragging and wood acquisition.  But who knows what the future holds, right?
    • Hunting and Trapping.  Of course if the power is out, you will have to learn to smoke and cure meat or only hunt what you can immediately eat…
    • Wild meals.  Hook up with your local mushroom or wild edibles club.  They exist and will give you the knowledge you need to forage for important foods as well as medicinals.  Many common weeds are not only edible but have healing properties.  Remember, your pharmacy won’t be open….
    • Nuts.  They are simply the best food.  I feed Chia seeds to my horses for Omega 3 fatty acids (good for people too).  I have a great source for it in bulk.  Whenever I buy a 25 lb box, I add on another box of cashews or almonds or whatever.  It doesn’t take long to have a good store of a good source of protein and healthy fat.  Easy to store as well.  Nut butters are another good investment and store forever.  Granola bars and trail mix store well too.  Just make sure they are in rodent proof containers.  Mice will chew their own arm off for nuts…
    • Canned goods.  This might be the closest thing to ‘fast-food‘ you will have in the end.  Aldi’s and Dollar stores are a great place to get cases of ready to eat meals.  Spam, soup, Chef boyardee, mac and cheese.  Great comfort food.  Of course, canned veggies and fruit are a great addition to your food stores too.  Just remember you need to be able to replace these foods once they are gone.

So that’s a starting point.  Get your shit together, brothers and sisters.  More to come later…

A Word on Guinea Hen parenting….

Guineas7.27-3Well, its about time I got the Farm Blog going again…so lets talk about birds.

I’ve been raising fowl on the farm for years.  Most would agree they have an idyllic life, free range and plenty of space to enjoy their social life, while providing us with fresh, yummy eggs and controlling insect pests well.  Occasionally, a hen will get broody and sit on a clutch of eggs, then bring new life to the flock.  Chickens, in general, though less likely to get broody, are great mothers and I have had to intervene very little.

This year I have a pretty large flock of adult Guinea hens.  In the past, our guinea population has been small…6 or so, with only one female.  This year, thanks to a neighbor who needed to relocate her flock, we have a larger, more diverse flock.  I’ve enjoyed watching these little, flighty prehistoric creatures and their antics.  I am realizing, though, that they have a pretty interesting social structure.  We’ve had two broody guinea hens this year.  The first one laid her clutch under a prickly black raspberry patch, and hatched out one chick.  I found her and her ‘boyfriend’ showing the new arrival around the barnyard.  They, then seemed to abandon the baby, leaving it to peep loudly in complaint.  I rescued the little tike and then stole the rest of her eggs after finding a dead chick near her nest.  We successfully hatched out three more healthy chicks and they live in the brooder now, until they feather out and can be released to the barnyard proper.  Despite what I thought was an appropriate decision….Guineas are reported as ‘bad’ mothers…the momma Guinea was inconsolable for about 24 hours, looking for her babies.  Maybe I made  a mistake?

The second broody Guinea hen is still on her nest and hatching should start in the next 7-10 days.  She laid her clutch in one of my raised veggie beds and the babies will not be able to get out without help.  So I have decided to leave them with mom…an experiment of sorts…to see if she will, or will not be a good momma.  I have realized over the years that there are often many misunderstandings, people develop about animals, just because they don’t understand their behavior.  Something happened this week that made me rethink all the reports about Guinea’s bad parenting skills…

I have a flock of juvenile Guineas this year.  They are about 2 1/2 months old and have been out of the brooder for about a month.  They stay close to the barn and together.  They are a mix of white and lavenders, so they are a distinctive group, compared to the adults.  My neighbor reported last weekend that the juveniles were out in her meadow, nearly a quarter mile away.  I thought….’That’s crazy!  They never go that far out…”.  Well the other day on my morning rounds I noticed an older male Guinea leading the juveniles around the yard.  As I watched, he would pick up and drop a  worm or large bug, then make a weird noise that brought all the youngsters running to his spot, where they would fight over the prize briefly.  Then he would move on to a new prize.  This went on all morning.   Since then, that male bird has been their inseparable guide.  He is clearly teaching the young birds to forage.  That’s wild and amazing….they aren’t even his kids!  I’ve named him Uncle Morty…

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I’ll post about my findings with the remaining broody Guinea.  Should be interesting and I hope everyone is wrong about their parenting skills.  They are a lot less domesticated than chickens and survival skills may be a more important skill for their youngsters to learn early.  This might change what parenting looks like for them.  I also suspect, now, that the males participate in parenting much more than we might expect….

Equine Nutrition, part 2. Mineral Interactions…

So some good questions have sprung up from my introductory post on minerals for horses.  What do we do about excess iron in well water?  I have excess sulfur in mine…what about that?

There is a highly prevalent idea in recent equine medicine that equine supplements are unnecessary.  I think there is good proof that many supplements are a complete waste of money.  But I also know that our modern horses faces many dietarychallenges in their environment…poor forage options, limited grazing, isolation, static diets of grains and limited quality hay.  Obesity and lameness are common.  Insulin resistance and Cushings disease are epidemic.  I’ve read that excess iron causes laminitis and poor foot health, and excess copper can cause anemia.  Lack of selenium causes tying up.  The list goes on and on.  Its clear that minerals are important and that they need to be provided in an ideal amount….not too much, not to little.  So how do you know what your horse needs?  Is there a mathematical formula?  Nope.

So lets look first at minerals in general.  What are they and how do horses (or people for that matter) assimilate them?

Periodic tableMinerals are rocks, for the most part.  Yup….not fit for eating as they are.  Horses and other mammals (predator and prey animal alike) assimilate minerals through vegetables and for those of us who are omnivores…from meat, who ate the previously mentioned vegetables.  Many, most really, mineral supplements are simply ground up rocks.  Not easy to assimilate and hard on the system.  One of the things that sold me on Dynamite products 15 or so years ago was their practice of chelating their minerals with amino acids.  This is what plants do.  Plants grow in soil, and chelate minerals from the soil to create their green parts, flowers and fruit.  Mammal eats plant or fruit and assimilates minerals.  Simple, right?

Well, it turns out that God or whoever is in charge of mineral biology created interactions that…on the surface….complicates the picture a bit.   Go here to review an article written by Judy Sinner from Dynamite Specialty Products many years ago about mineral interactions.  You can cross check the information via Google if you have that type of mind, but you can also trust me (and Judy) that its accurate.  So, many minerals actually block the absorption of other minerals.  How absurd!  Really?  Why on earth?

OK, here is where it becomes FASCINATING!  Lets take Iron as an example.  Iron blocks the absorption of copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  All of these minerals, by the way, are completely toxic, life-threatening, actually, in excess, but important for normal bodily functions at normal levels.  The reverse is also true…these minerals block the absorption of iron. Interesting, yes?   So I know, nothing in nature is an accident.  Does anyone else see a safe guard here?  Yes, a horse on a limited diet who is drinking iron overloaded well water will develop iron excess and potentially become sick.  That has been documented.  But a horse who has access to phosphorus, copper, zinc and/or potassium, either as a free choice or in their feed, is protected from the iron…and vice versa.

At my own farm, the barn well has a lot of sulfur in it.  It was turned off because of fear of sulfur overload before I moved in.  I turned it back on…happily.  Sulfur is a great adjunct to fly control and is a natural anti-inflammatory.  It DOES, however, block absorption of selenium..an important mineral in regard to muscle function.  So all I do is provide selenium as a free choice or as an add on in the diet.  Poof…I get the benefit of both minerals…without the worry of overload or deficiency.

So while others worry about interactions and excesses of minerals in their horse’s diets, I see a beautiful checks and balances….as long as the horse has access to what he/she needs to maintain the balance.  Its egotistical and entirely shortsighted for people/feed companies/supplement companies to believe they know what your horse needs….exactly.  I prefer to set it up so the horse chooses and has the opportunity to correct my feeding mistakes and the irregularities in their environment, known or unknown.  So I don’t do water sampling or hay analysis or hair mineral analysis.  Just not necessary…

As a last thought, a word about reading labels.  I would not concentrate on how much of one mineral or another is present in a supplement, and how that affects the mineral bottom line, so to speak.  Focus on the quality of the minerals and their bioavailability and on the philosophy of the company providing it.  Someone asked about excess iron in Dynamite Specialty products main equine supplement.  The ppm of iron has to be considered in the context of how diluted the supplement is in regard to its feeding volume.  So if you have 6000 ppm iron in an ounce of supplement, that gets diluted by whatever the volume of feed your horse eats.  So if your horse eats free choice hay and a small amount of grain/concentrate, that ppm gets diluted to a minuscule amount.  If you find a supplement that has no iron, you are probably buying a purely synthetic (reads not natural) supplement as iron is in everything natural in the world.  As long as you have the balancing minerals, it doesn’t matter.  I plug Dynamite products for a number of reasons, but the foremost is that the products are thought out and produced by people I know, respect and care about.  That’s important to me.  There are lots of good supplement companies out there and I will not denied that.  But choose your horse’s minerals with your heart and intuition, not math.  More on this in my next post…

Equine Nutrition…Minerals, part one

So a friend recently asked me for advice about how to help her older mare with suspected Cushings. So I thought I would take the opportunity to describe my approach to equine rehab.

Leilja.injuryPart one…Equine Nutrition Basics.

Its a huge discussion and I start at the same place for any horse, Cushings or not. The photo attached is of obese Leilja, two years ago. Although not Cushings related, her weight put her at risk for hoof problems and tendon injuries. So an ideal weight is really important for healthy horses. The first thing most people do with obese horses is to withhold food or feed poor quality hay and nothing else. This doesn’t work well and although horses might lose weight (many don’t with this approach), the trade off is mineral deficiencies that cause disease. The truth is completely opposite. Horse are created to instinctively eat for minerals. If they don’t have access to the minerals they need, they will overeat whatever is in front of them…be it hay, wood, rocks, etc. So they simply get fatter and more mineral deficient. That leads to all sorts of medical problems, Cushings, IR, immune deficiencies, etc, etc…

So the very first thing I do for any horse needed rehab, no matter if it is weight loss or an injury, is to pump them full of minerals and probiotics. I generally start by providing free choice minerals and probiotics to get the GI tract back into assimilation mode. I put these out in bins and I keep the bins full allowing the horse fill their tank as they see fit. It can be startling sometimes to see a horse down several pounds of one or the other, but its what they need. Not only does this method replace minerals, it does so without adding calories to the diet. To read more, check out Dynamite’s Blog on the topic: http://dynamitesblog.com/winter-conditions-free-choice-min…/

More on minerals later…

Bogie needs a tune up….

So this tuesday, I admit….I got distracted again.  I just HAD to get my veggies planted and build a raised bed and mow the pasture.  Its gonna rain tomorrow after all and this stuff just HAS to get done!

But I stuck to the plan to play with Bogie.  You remember him….he dumped me last week, when his saddle became unpredictable.  Anyway, we warmed up with some hindquarter and forequarter yields….he is soft as butter. Then I tested out our friendly game…which is broken.  Alot of crazy running and drunken sailor behavior from me, only to softly rub him.  He got it pretty quickly, since we have done this before.  Horses need to remember that ‘not everything means do something’.   Then we played around with squeezing over a jump.  Note here:  Bogie has never jumped anything that I am aware of.  I made a gap for him to walk through…after all, it wasn’t about jumping…it was about problem solving.  There are several parts to the squeeze game….send (to the ‘problem’), allow (them to try), turn, face and back a step (to await further instruction).  I was simply looking at the parts to see what was working and what wasn’t.  This was more of an evaluation session.  All lights were green.  Of course….. he jumped the barrel….on his own, bypassing the escape route I had left him.  He was very smug about it.

Next, I added a 22 foot line (along with my lead) and swung the 22 over his neck/back on the off side.  As I asked him to move around, carrying the 22 foot line, it became apparent that he was totally unconfident about simply having a rope over his back.  Duh…no wonder riding him feels like a crap shoot.  So I simply moved him around flipping the 22 around over his back.  He responded by moving his feet, first faster and faster, then he experimented with walking calmly…..hmmm.  Is this a trick?  We ended our session with him carrying the rope over his back at a walk, with his head down.  It seemed such pitiful progress, given I had been roping cattle off this horse last fall, but it IS WHAT IT IS…..he is the horse he is today.

One thing I am really paying attention to this year is his state of mind.  Slowing things way down…..waiting for him to process, by licking and chewing or yawning.  I am really intrigued by Martin Black’s work “Evidence Based Horsemanship”, and I think this might be the key to his long term retention of some of this work.  Its easy to get fast paced with an extroverted horse.  But sometimes they are physically extroverted and mentally introverted, like Bogie…so the feet move before the brain kicks in.  If you don’t wait for the thinking part to show up and process, you miss the learning opportunity (and they just learn to move their feet).  I will continue to work toward driving him, though doubt I would ever hook him to a vehicle.  The stepping stones to driving will, however, make him a safer riding horse and a problem solver….which is all I ever want from my horse partners.

Photo is from last June.   Taken at Ladd Farm, by Coco….I love the picture, as it captures my intent to communicate with this horse.  It takes timing and feel and concentration.  I get it wrong more than I get it right…

Bogie.1

Should have stuck to the plan…

Yesterday was to be my first Tuesday Driving Day.  But I got off track.  It was hot and buggy.  I brought the horses into the barn for the afternoon with the plan to trim feet and work on some ground work in preparation for driving.  I got distracted by unpacking some remaining boxes in the barn and moving the wagonette to the arena, where I want to use it with Ripple.  Soon I was hanging hooks and pictures in arena and barn.  Soon after that, it was 4pm…

Disgusted with my distractability, I pulled Bogie out to trim his feet.  He was surprisingly good.  Calm and cooperative.  Not his typical distracted self.  So when my boarder, Pam arrived and asked if I wanted to go for a short ride, I agreed and saddled up Bogie.  I haven’t ridden him since last fall.  I restarted him under saddle last summer and he is a fun ride, but can be alittle tense.  I didn’t have any serious concerns yesterday but did think to grab my helmet.  Well his calm, relaxed manner evaporated when my featherless frizzle chicken popped out of the chicken coop as I was mounting.  The saddle slid over and Bogie proceeded to buck like a bronc.  I had not a hope in the world of staying on, having never really been completely ‘on’ in the first place.  Laying on the ground, I was grateful for the forethought of the helmet. 

I collected my horse, re-evaluated his state of mind, cinched him up and remounted.  We ‘enjoyed’…..I use the word euphimistically….a short trail ride.  Long enough to restore our confidence, but short enough to stay out of trouble… and then I traded him in for a bareback ride on Manny to unscrew my tense back muscles. 

Once I felt my sanity and relaxation return, I dismounted.  Manny followed me out of the arena for some grazing and I went into the barn to prepare dinner for the horses.  As I called Manny in for dinner, Pam commented on the wonderful relationship I have with Manny…how harmonious it is and how we obviously ‘get’ each other.  As often happens when I think about the long road Manny and I have traveled, I sighed and wished Manny and I could stay young forever so we could enjoy this peaceful relationship, now that we had finally acheived it, for longer.  Then returning my attention to Bogie….now pacing his stall looking for his buddy….I sighed again and wondered if I had the stamina to forge another working relationship with this young horse.

I had a plan for the day.  Its hard to know if I erred  by deviated from it.  Sometimes a day just takes on a life of its own.

manny and bogie

Tuesdays are now ‘driving’ days here at the New Resting Heart Farm

We are finally settling into our new home in Danby, Vermont.  Lovely new facility and farm.  I’ve just returned home from Ladd Farm in Bridgewater Farm where we have conducted our fourth driving workshop in two years.  Its always inspiring to see how much progress horses and their humans can achieve in  just a few days.  So inspired I have committed to my own driving goals for the summer…..1.  To get the basic driving foundation on my saddle horses, Beaugart, a ASH/arab cross (who has issues with ropes in zome 4 and 5) and my aging anglo/arab Manny.  2.  To get Ripple, one of my Percheron rehabs comfortable driving as a single (this makes him anxious) and 3. to bring a new horse along…foundation, to ground driving to driving a cart. 

Moby

So, Tuesdays are my days off.  Never had one of those before! 

Tuesdays are now driving days at the farm.  I welcome visitors, teamsters, friends, family and anyone interested in learning to drive to come on out to the new farm and get involved.  Our first driving day will be Tuesday, May 21st.  We’ll start around 10am.  Go here for directions.