Dad's Gateway Drug... er, Animal
Let me begin with some background on how we got started at producing our own food. Initially, we bought a country property so our children could grow-up in a wholesome place. We, like most people in a first world country, knew nothing about farming or where our food came from or what it took to produce it. As we learnt about food production we realized that the industrial food chain, with its predominance of corn in various reincarnations, its use of chemical additives, its links to obesity and chronic illness, and its environmental and ethical costs, was not something we could accept as normal any longer.
When we first arrived, our property was a mix of lawn, perennial gardens (well beyond anything we had seen before, let alone planted ourselves), and some buildings. The transformation of our property over the course of six years is what I want to tell you all about. But first, I want to point something out: the idea of a gateway drug and how that concept applies to our food production. The concept being something simple that entices a person to go much deeper into a world they never thought they would be a part of. In our case, vegetable gardens were the gateway into the world of farming and home grown food.
It all started with adding a few raised beds. We put in three and started to grow our own carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes. Then, as we toiled away maintaining all the lawns and perennial gardens, we started to realize just what the vegetable gardens gave us in comparison. So, we added another raised bed (after learning that crop rotation works best with four sections), and planted asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries (perennial vegetables) in our field. This idea of growing some of our own food was exciting and we were eager to try something more. The children liked to search out whatever was ripe and there always seemed to be something that made them check the gardens daily for snacks. We got hooked on homegrown veggies fast. The advantages and benefits coming from the vegetable gardens far outweighed those from the lawns.
This was all just the slow and steady early days. The veggies kept growing, we kept trying new crops and varieties, and we tried to keep up with production by freezing and canning the surplus. But this got us wanting more. So, the next step was obviously animals of some kind. We got ourselves a small flock of laying hens. This was the gateway animal for us. It went crazy from there. And without us even realizing it.
We went through three different chicken breeds until we settled on the productive Red Sex Link variety to give us nice brown eggs with rich, orange yolks. Our interest in eggs led us to search out hens that laid eggs other than the common brown and white. We found someone selling Easter Eggers and bought eight hens and one rooster, which we used to start our own breeding flock. Now we also have green, blue, and pink eggs. Next, we found someone else selling fertilized eggs for Black Copper Marans, which are a chicken breed that lay dark chocolate and sometimes bronze colored eggs.
So where is this all going? Well before we knew it we had to move our Red Sex Link flock out into the chick-shaw to make space for the 24 Easter Egger chicks and eight Black Copper Marans that we succeeded in hatching. On an impulse, we picked up 15 other chickens, including a few Silver Laced Wyandottes. Lastly, we picked up our order of ten broiler birds and six turkeys to graze in the orchard within the confines of the Turkey Tractor I designed and built only a few weeks prior.
See where this is going now? We went from one flock of egg layers to eight chicken breeds, five locations, and at one point, seven waterers and feeders that needed filling daily. We had really gone chicken crazy. But through it all, I keep thinking: how do I get the right fencing at the right price so we can start doing lambs, goats, pigs, or a family cow?
I also admit that without my lovely wife working so hard every morning and night on the chickens this all would have failed horribly. So, before we move on to other livestock, we need to scale back to two flocks of laying chicken by this fall, that is, after we process our turkeys. After that, well, then we can consider other animals.
One last note... after learning about what goes into making the food we eat, I really do want to have more control of what is feeding my food; what is my food’s food? Whether it’s the nutrients for my fruits and veggies or the feed for my meat. I’m disgusted by CAFOs, how horribly they treat the animals, how they pollute waterways, how they depend on antibiotics, cheap oil, and global markets… I could go on… But on top of that, the fact that people advertise ‘Corn Fed Beef’ blows me away. Cows, given a choice, would never feed on corn. They’ll take grass over corn any day. But no one asks the cow. CAFOs grow them fat and they grow them fast and that means they feed them corn. The animals are slaughtered before their bodies collapse from the consequences of a corn fed diet. Oh yeah, then we have the problem of chemical fertilizers derived from crude oil applied to conventionally grown produce - that’s really isn’t appetizing either. Let’s get back to the natural way and replicate nature at its best.