When Healthy Eating Backfires

I visit various areas of solicitude when my mind wanders. When I reflect on our state as a society I come across several areas of concern, one of them being society’s attitude and handling of food. The need for instant gratification combined with a lack of knowledge–or caring in some instances–on where food actually comes from in today’s world creates a battleground full of controversy and ill-informed decisions made with good intent.

Ask a young child where food comes from and, for the most part, you’ll find the answer revolves around a grocery store. Further probing may reveal that the child knows meat comes from animals, eggs from chickens, milk from cows and goats, fruit and vegetables from plants, etc. And even the ones that know this, may not understand this. The two don’t always coincide, even with adults.

Ask a young adult where food comes from and they answer with a little more confidence, truly believing they understand the whole concept of a farm growing produce and raising animals. Because really, the image they have of a farm probably reflects our farm on a larger scale.

In reality, the majority of our food comes from factory farms. Clever advertisements on some of the products these companies sell depict houses sporting the stereotypical farmhouse or fresh green pastures. Happy animals are seen on logos, sometimes outside in said green pasture imagery.

Visit a chicken factory farm and you find close quarter living arrangements. Chickens end up with little room to wander and forage as nature intended, which also means chicken waste ends up on other chickens and in their living space. This results in birds that suffer from respiratory infections caused by injured mucous membranes. Injured mucous membranes (caused by the ammonia the chickens can’t escape) makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter the chicken’s lungs and air sacs. Chickens poo everywhere. It’s not so much of an issue if there isn’t overcrowding and they’re pasture raised. Take a factory farm setting where there’s barely room to move and you get some pretty sick poultry. Which is why we see an increased level of antibiotics being used, overused, and misused. It’s more profitable than to house chickens correctly.

Some factory farms are partaking in “movements” by opening windows to the barns the chickens are housed in, or making sure the lights are out at night. That’s a start, but the birds need to be out. It’s in their nature to scratch and forage for food. That brings me to another “improvement” where many companies boast about their feed. Again, great, but access to fresh grass and produce is vital, too, as well as bugs. I’ve seen my chickens eat small snakes even.

This is not something that can easily be done. The demand for food is partly responsible for the birth of the factory farm. So even large-scale farms don’t have the room. Be wary of your labels; if it says free range, that’s SOME outside time–in pens with several other chickens. An improvement, yes, but still unacceptable.

All of our birds are pasture raised and are socialized with people. They are not afraid of were they live and have access to forage all day, take dust baths as they see fit, and socialize. Yes, the birds socialize. They have their own group of friends they even hang out with. This is how domesticated chickens (and other birds) should live.

This background information leads up to my actual rant about food contamination. These birds are living in the very thing that is responsible for outbreaks of salmonella, Listeria, and e. coli. Poop. Your meat chickens are living in it. Your egg laying hens are sitting in it. Our chickens naturally do not lay eggs where they use the bathroom. They have the space to lay, roam, forage, and do their business.

The big foodborne illnesses we hear about on a consistent basis lives in the gut of these animals. If they’re not allowed the space to respond to nature’s call, contamination and harsh cleaning processes take place, neither of which are beneficial for anyone.

Dairy and other cattle factory farms are not much different. Antibiotics are the response to overcrowded living conditions instead of happy, healthy environments. In fact, over half of the antibiotic use is for agricultural purposes. The antibiotic use is abuse (I understand that’s technically my opinion) because it’s used as a preventative, which is not the intended idea behind the antibiotic. So even families who actively make it a point to avoid overusing antibiotics for something like the common cold, are still being exposed to the overuse of antibiotics into their systems. Cows are also given Bovine Growth Hormone to produce even more milk (even though the cows are kept pregnant, birthing, or milking with little to no break in between).

We do not have a cow (yet). Once we expand more we will be looking into getting a cow. Right now, we do have have a herd of miniature donkeys and mixed breed goats. They are pasture raised as well. We have grown to have two males for breeding and two different milking pairs. One pair will be pregnant and lactating, while the other pair will have a break so their bodies can recover. Antibiotics are only used if the animal is sick (we wait for it to be out of their system before milk is used) and no growth hormones are added. They’re social animals so they’re also allowed the right to socialize, grow, and spend time with their family (human and animal alike). This is how it should be.

With all of that information, it’s no wonder we get so sick. That’s not the surprising part though. What’s surprising is more foodborne illnesses come from fresh vegetables. I think this is a really big eye opener for how our food is handled. Our meats are exposed to the same contamination (Listeria, salmonella, e. coli), but the antibiotic “preventative” and harsh cleaning procedures hide this. You’re eating dirty meat that has been washed with chlorine.

So, why vegetables? Well, in an attempt to be healthier many people are seeking fresh produce. Makes sense as quite a few veggies are healthier when consumed raw and salads are a great way to pack in essential nutrients when you’re being health conscious and are short on time. It makes sense. I get it. Although fresh produce is also washed with water and chlorine, the leafy greens you’re hearing about on the news likely wasn’t cooked. Because who cooks their lettuce? Water that is contaminated and used to wash vegetables could be a source for foods carrying these bacteria, especially if it’s exposed to any fecal matter or fertilizers. Which also means water used to clean your chicken could also be contaminated, but heating foods to proper temperatures can sometimes help with that nasty fact.

A clean environment is the best preventative to these illnesses. Our hydroponic produce is separated from our animals and clean water is used on them.

It is near impossible–unless I’m not seeing it–to break free from this. Growing your own food and raising small family homesteads is becoming a lost art and we can’t let people starve. The best way to avoid this is to have your own garden and your own meat, but that’s not a viable option for everyone. Your next best bet is purchasing locally, a little easier to do with produce than meat. Check out local markets and talk to vendors. There are smaller establishments that make sure their animals are living healthy and happy lives.

We’re not meant to be cooped up, although many people force themselves to live like some animals on these factory farms: eat, sit on the couch all day, stay indoors, sleep. It’s not good for us. It makes sense that it’s also not good for these animals and it affects our food. Factory farms are in this for profit and to fill that high demand. People don’t realize that’s where their food comes from. And it gets worse. Any meals, canned soups, processed foods you purchase at the store get their meat and produce from these factory farms.

Grow more edible plants at home if it’s possible. Shop local. Take baby steps. We’re trying our best as well. We just got to where we have a pretty steady meat source for us. I cannot remember the last time we went to the grocery store for meat or produce. What we don’t grow, we purchase or trade from local farms. We’re taking baby steps, too, but we’re getting there.

What steps do you take to truly know the source of your food? What do you recommend for other people looking to educate themselves in food handling and appropriate animal raising?

Leave comments below and remember to follow us to get updates on our blog and/or meat processing that we do. Thanks for reading, everyone.

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Meet the Crew!

When we first moved out into the country, I was more excited about the idea of NOT being a part of an HOA than building up a homestead. Before moving out here, we already had a decent hydroponics set up and I was perfectly content with just improving our produce.

We began buying local farm fresh eggs from other homesteaders. If you have never tried a fresh egg versus a grocery store egg, you simply have no idea what you’re missing out on. And if you are anything like me, eggs are life. Fresh eggs turned into fresh eggs AND raw dairy products. Fresh eggs and raw dairy products turned into fresh eggs, raw dairy products, AND homemade goat’s milk soap. You get the idea. When we would go to the market to purchase these weekly needs, we would stop by the local Tractor Supply.

Well, one day they had chicks and ducklings. I HAD to have ducklings. my husband wanted chicks. You had to buy a minimum of two ducklings and/or a minimum of six chicks. We went home, talked about it, then built a brooder for future babies.

Fast forward a couple of years and we went from two ducks and six chickens, to processing meat birds on a consistent basis, ten ducks, several free range (REAL free range) laying hens, a few roosters, four geese, eight goats, and two miniature donkeys. Each animal has a purpose (other than being loved). Here are just a few of our lovely farm members:

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The geese and their new goslings.

This is Brownie. She is around four years old. We had originally bought her daughter when she was two hours old with the understanding that her daughter would be coming home with us at 6 months old. About a month later, the farm contacted us saying the mother would be for sale and we could go pick them both up that day. We really liked the idea of keeping them together so we picked both of them up that weekend.

This is Merida, Brownie’s daughter. Although she is calming down quite a bit now, she has the complete opposite personality to Brownie’s. Brownie is very reserved, but seeks the attention of those she knows. Merida is very curious about everyone and everything. That may change as she ages, but everyone loves it right now.

Donkeys are sentry animals. Their purpose on the farm is to protect everyone else. Their presence is enough of a deterrent to dogs, coyotes, and bobcats. We haven’t had missing birds since we got them.

And they FREAK out over mice… every mouse the donkeys have seen has been squished.

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Some of our birds. This is their favorite hangout place.

Jerky McJerkface Jaime. Jaime and I have a love and hate relationship. This is our oldest accidental rooster. We got him and his sister from a 4H group. He was just done with physical rehab. He actually would have died if nature was allowed to take its course, but the kids were bonded so they tried everything they could and he made it. We were told they were both hens. So, we named on Cersei and this one Jaime because of the limp he had (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones lost his hand and “Jaime” is unisex, so it was perfect). Jaime turned out to be a boy. One day he started crowing. Jaime has these humongous spurs. Around once every three months he bats his wings at me and charges. I just kind of kick him back and he backs up. One day he got me and I responded like I always do. I was irate so I swore a bit and kicked him back. Our normal. Until I started to walk. It’s comical now thinking back on it. I was by myself and when I took a step I wobbled and I said aloud, to myself “That’s not right” and I fell. I looked at my leg and there was a giant pool of blood. I went into the barn and took a minute to mentally prepare myself for what I was about to witness, immediately thinking of all of my first aid equipment I was going to need (it was really starting to hurt at this point). I pulled back my pant leg and it was such an embarrassment. I had the tiniest hole in my knee. He stabbed me! Long story short, it never got infected and I couldn’t alternate steps on the stairs for a month. He is the best rooster for our girls though. I have seen him chase off snakes and squirrels for them and he respects all the other roosters and our male goose. I’m sure part of it is because no one wants to mess with him, but he really is a good jerk rooster.

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Meet some of the goats!

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This is Lyris. She was one of our first goats and is a Nigerian Dwarf. She loves to nibble on everything, but is very sweet and loves everyone.

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This is Sally, our first goat who is also a Nigerian Dwarf. She is very calm and loves nothing more than to be close to the people she loves.

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I love my Lulu. She is a mini Lamancha (Lamancha mixed with Nigerian Dwarf). She rubs against me and gives me kisses. She is also my best dairy goat. She has a grace with everything. She kids quickly, has never had health issues, has no issues letting people handle her kids. She is great and we love her dearly.

This is Darth Vader, Lulu’s son. We are keeping him for breeding purposes so we don’t have to have some of our girls travel for breeding. He’s very sweet and loves to cuddle.

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This is Pixie-Rey, Lulu’s daughter. Our daughter named her Rey (from Star Wars), but I felt like she looked very spritely so she got the name Pixie-Rey. She is dainty, quiet, and loves to be held. She will also be staying with us so we can have alternating milking pairs.

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This is Buttercup and she doesn’t sit still for pictures well. She is a mini Nubian (Nubian mixed with Nigerian Dwarf). She is one of our dairy goats, though Lulu has her beat in milk production. Buttercup is more reserved until you’re alone with her on the milk stand. Then she really kind of opens up to whoever is handling her. She loves to have her head scratched.

This is Leia, Buttercup’s daughter. We’re keeping her for future milking. This girl is very attached to me. She cannot stand the others getting love from me and will make every effort to get my attention any chance she gets.

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This handsome boy is Snoopy. He is another one who is very attached to people and he will follow my husband like a dog. I love his coloring and he will be used for breeding as well.

Some of our ducks. Ducks eggs are actually great for baking.

A teacher at my kids’ school hatched eggs and needed to find a new home for her chicks. We took them home.

We love our farm life and I especially love coming home to “work” with the animals. It may be a lot of work, but it is very therapeutic as well.

 

New Additions to the Farm!

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Hi, everyone!

This Spring weather has been insane! I moved to Florida when I was 6 years old and I just loath the cold. I understand it is much more bone chilling elsewhere in the country, but I just can’t.

So naturally, being the wimp to cold that I am, I was pretty worried about our first time mama geese. I was initially unsure if they would even go broody to begin with, but they did. I wasn’t sure if they could actually keep their nests warm enough to hatch though. One day it was 80 out, the next day was 60. I understand that it is colder other places. I also understand that geese still hatch eggs in colder weather than ours. I couldn’t shake the Floridian feeling though. I mean, I bring a sweater to Disney World in the summertime because I freeze inside shops and restaurants (don’t judge me).

My husband, who moved to Florida at a much older age than I, laughed at me. It was uncalled for. Rude.

Anyhow, after being ridiculed for voicing my uncertainty, I came home from work and heard that glorious gosling beep! My excitement was soon followed by panic because I knew hearing any baby animal from this distance was a cry for help. I ran to the back of the property and nearly died laughing. This teeny tiny gosling, it appears, imprinted on one of our goat kids. The kid was completely unaware and just kept running and playing around. Whenever this gosling came near one of our ducks, the ducks would run in terror. Papa goose, from afar, just kept watching. He was being such a good daddy (the fathers aid in rasing the babies). I have seen this goose pick up our largest rooster and throw him. He is the sweetest goose towards humans food givers, but he protects his whole flock of geese and ducks. Unless he’s being fed. Then he’s like What flock?

I went to grab this little guy, thankful Goofy (our male) didn’t mind me handling his son. I brought the little one back to the females. They hissed at me. I told them to cut it out. Then I noticed a sister hiding with the females. Two goslings when I expected none. I was happy and excited. Geese are some of my favorite animals.

We have only ever hatched young from an incubator. So, I was like a paranoid first time mother, checking on this nest every couple of hours. I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t ready to see how well my geese trusted me with touching the goslings, but we do have a pond. Believe it or not, ducklings and goslings do drown. Watching it is terrifying and I’ve seen people watch it unaware that it’s happening. They are babies and they do get tired. If they don’t know how to escape the water, they drown. If the water is cold enough, their bodies stop working almost instantly. One year, we had ducklings find the pond in 60 degree weather. I watched one duckling just stop and start floating around the pond like a dead body, calling for help as best as she could. I scooped her out and put her in the lid of a small cardboard box. I boiled water and put two mugs of hot water beside her and made a tent out of a dish towel. At this moment, she wasn’t making any noise. After thirty minutes, I heard her chirping. I gave her some food and a little bit of cayenne in water. Within two hours she was up and escaping from her heat tent, so I returned her to her brothers and sisters.

My side story has a point. I promise. Because the day after our goslings hatched, I came home and the boy was missing again. I found him in an area our goat kids often play in and his neck was caught in the fence. He wasn’t moving and I was certain he was dead. Upon closer inspection I saw he was breathing, trying to call out, but no noise could be produced. I initially thought it was because he was caught in the fence. But he was breathing without struggle. I was still certain there was a neck injury. My husband got the gosling out and told me the neck actually looked fine. Holding the gosling, he informed me boy was very cold. I recreated the same heat tent and within 45 minutes, he was beeping and moving his head. No apparent neck injury. I told my husband we have to bring them in. I wasn’t risking losing them while at work, knowing I may still lose the one fighting for his life.

We set up a heat lamp and brooder in the barn. We put the male in and I put gloves on and went to fetch his sister. The female geese nipped at me, but the gloves helped. They stopped biting when they realized it wasn’t doing much good and I was taking the baby anyway. Goofy, our male, didn’t even hiss at me. I brought the girl in to be with her brother. Within two hours, both were up and happy. We are very thankful.

It’s certainly never a dull day. We were exhausted ourselves when everything was said and done. The most common response I get when I replay these stories out loud with people is, “I don’t know how you can deal with all this.”

I would never willingly give up this lifestyle.

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Medicinal Herbs

Happy Monday, everyone! I want to start this post off saying my intent is in no way to discredit modern medicine. I understand and fully acknowledge its place and importance in society. Advances in medicine have been, in large, beneficial and I am not going to claim otherwise.

We do see however, a sort of abuse in the use of medicine. One of the most baffling for me is the overuse of antibiotics. If you have a viral illness, the antibiotic doesn’t really work anyway. Longterm overuse of the antibiotic can result in the development of resistant bacteria.

I always highly encourage others to do their own independent research, and I recommend this article to start with.

What makes the general public so quick to seek out those prescriptions are the discomforts experienced during colds and other viral illnesses. We especially don’t deal well as parents if our children become ill. We want fast solutions to our problems. The sad fact of the matter is, the best option is often to let the illness run its course.

So with this in mind, the goal we should have is not to grab that antibiotic, but to find ways to alleviate the symptoms as much as possible. There are several herbs that can help with symptoms and be of further benefit to your health in other areas.

I use colds as an example frequently, but truly there are herbs for other ailments like different types of pain, chronic issues like allergies, focusing, fatigue, sleep aids, digestion issues, etc.

We began a medicinal herb garden. Here is a small list of some of the herbs we have so far:

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This picture shows our spearmint, peppermint, and lemon balm. We have them growing in our hydroponics.

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Lavender, also growing in our hydroponics.

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Vicks plant. Bet you can’t guess what this smells like…

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Comfrey. This plant is amazing.

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Sage.

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Rue.

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Feverfew.

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Rosemary.

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Mugwort.

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Mullein.

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Yarrow.

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Calendula.

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Eucalyptus.

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Wormwood

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Passionflower.

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Valerian.

I dabble in homemade salves, tinctures, infused oils, and essential oils. I would like to do homemade goat’s milk soap in the future. There will be future posts on each individual herb in this garden, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out if you have a question about any of them. We will add posts as we add to our medicinal garden as well.

Anyone else here work with herbs?

The Hydroponic Garden

So, we have covered some baking, essential oils, kefir, and solar portions of our farm; we have not discussed our hydroponic garden. We do grow some produce traditionally in the dirt, but one of our biggest features on the farm is actually the hydroponic deck we have installed.

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For those of you new to hydroponics, the plants and produce are grown dirt free. The plants are grown in baskets filled with clay pebbles (the photo above is of zucchini, by the way). The roots are exposed to running water underneath the baskets. Many of our planting sites are inside a raised deck we installed. These plant sites often contain various tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers. We have done broccoli, cauliflower, and different melons in the past.

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Other sites, like our green beans, are in smaller baskets. Instead of being in the actual deck, they are in vinyl fence posts.

Growing our produce hydroponically is how we got into being aware of where our food came from, around 8 years ago. My husband and I were in our first place, a duplex, and our son was only a few months old. We grew a few plants in a very small space hydroponically. We had various drip systems that started off looking very unorganized. Our set up has evolved quite nicely as we increased our space. We learned quite a bit from trial and error.

We have a reservoir that holds around 400 gallons of water, nutrients, and pump. Nutrients are checked often and adjustments are made as needed. Our reservoir is actually underground. We learned in the past that hot water can kill plants. At one place we lived, before moving out to the country, we had such a hot summer that our plants began to fail. We actually had to buy a water cooler for the reservoir. So, our reservoir is now underground to help regulate water temperature. It works and saves a lot of space.

The water that goes through the system is recycled and reused.

But now to the fun part… what we’re actually growing in our system.

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These are some of our tomatoes. The netting you see is for cucumbers. It is very gorgeous once the plants start climbing it.

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The left is spearmint and the right is lemon balm (with peppermint being squished in between). We use these very frequently in our still to make hydrosols and essential oils because they grow back quickly and smell amazing.

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This is our lavender. It’s the first we’ve grown successfully, I would like to add. It’s flourishing and smells amazing. We have a favorite buttermilk and lavender bread we use the leaves for (flowers too, if available). It also makes a calming tea.

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More tomatoes. Because tomatoes are great. We use tomatoes frequently raw, in cooking, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and salsa. We produced over 300 pounds of tomatoes a few years. That’s a lot of canning. The process is not my most favorite thing in the world, but I love food and the taste is worth the effort. We also try not to waste as much as possible. Canning helps in this task.

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We have been growing tomatoes for years and seeing the first fruit is just as exciting as the first time. We have this tradition/ritual, where we harvest the first ripened tomatoes of the season and feast upon tomato salads and sandwiches for dinner. I like to use mine on homemade dark rye bread.

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It’s no secret that my family and I adore salad. My seven and five-year old children love it. We all particularly like homemade Italian and ginger dressings. We have a large variety here. Our favorites are romaine, chard, spinach, kale, and arugula. We eat salad on a nearly nightly basis. I bring some into work and often use our own chicken eggs as my protein source (I have nothing against eating meat; I had a difficult time eating meat during my second pregnancy and I never fully recovered).

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Cucumbers are another favorite. Last year we did 52 quarts of pickles on top of the cucumbers we ate and shared with our animals.

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At the end of the season, when we clean our hydroponics up, we often drop seeds into the ground and we get nice little surprises like these under the deck (tomato and lettuce). One year, we fed tomatillos to our chickens. Well, we use their waste as fertilizer. We had a random tomatillo plant growing in our yard. Up front I even have some random lettuce growing from birds dropping seeds.

Does anyone else grow their produce hydroponically? We would love to hear your opinions and experiences!