Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ye Olde Blogge

So I've been doing Decityfied for about 19 months now, and I think it's done a great job of documenting our move from the city to the country. Of course, I always wish I could write here daily, but I'm working on it! :)

Since we got the farm legal and running last July, I've been focusing on making a professional, yet approachable brand for the business, so I've decided to include a blog over at the main site.

No, this doesn't mean that I'm doing away with this blog, but the focus will be shifting a bit. I'm going to save this blog for the more personal stuff like how the family is doing or my beliefs on living a simpler life. That dumpster diving post from the other day? That's what I mean. Something like that wouldn't be ideal for a business website, but it's something I still like to write about.

In the meantime, posts about farm projects or those directly relating to the expansion and improvement of the farm will go over on the White Ivy Farm blog. I may cross post a few, like I did with the hog house post earlier, but that's how it will mostly break down.

Oh, by the way... we got a new puppy!

Building a better hog house

For the last ten months or so, our two Yorkshire hogs had been living on an acre pasture, after they ceremoniously defeated our neglected garden earlier in the year. Since then, we've butchered one and the other got lonely so she escaped under some field fence to go play with the donkeys.

We originally put them in a quarter of the acre plot, held in with only 4 strands of barbed wire and some electric fencing that I could never get to work because we have sandy soil and the grounding never worked. We knew it was a gamble, but it was our first year with hogs so we were experimenting. They told us not to just used barbed wire and electric wire. They told us that hogs will bust through just about anything. We didn’t listen, but that’s a re-occurring theme with me, as I’m sure you’ll see.

So yesterday, I gathered up some pallets I collected from a friend (and scavenged) to build a real hog pen that would be cheap, sturdy, and functional.
This sketch shows my initial plan. I measured the length of each pallet and figured out how I was going to fit each one together to make the closest thing to a 10×20 pen. See, all pallets aren’t created equal, and when they’re free, you have to take what you can get. I used the pallets I used last year for my small hog house and made that the one end, while I knew I’d still have to create three more walls and a gate. The entire pen would be created with only pallets and 5 and 6 foot t-posts to hold each pallet in place. I also used a post pounder and a t-post puller, mainly to remove the posts I had set up from the old pen, but also to pull out posts when I put them in the wrong spot.
 I started by placing the first pallet exactly where I wanted it, marking where the t-posts will go with small pieces of cement block I had within reach. Then I’d move the pallet out of the way and pound the t-posts in with a post pounder. The pallets easily slide over the top of the t-posts, making each piece of the wall very secure. Last year the hogs would put all of their weight against these walls to scratch themselves and they never came close to falling over.
 I repeated this all the way around and connected the whole thing on the opposite corner. As you can see from my sketch, the measurements aren’t exact because of the differing pallet sizes, but I got it as close as I could with what I had, so one wall is 11 inches shorter than the other; not really a huge deal to me.
 On the left side, the gate is nothing more than a 38×36 lightweight pallet that can be lifted off the shorter t-posts for entrance or exit. In fact, any of the smaller pallets can be lifted to make a gate. I plan to utilize that fact when I expand by making another pen coming off of this one. It’s a completely modular design that is easily changed or even moved with multiple possibilities for gates. Plus, I can easily add barbed wire to the top of the shorter pallets with t-post clips. Hopefully the hogs will never jump over 36 inches, though.
 If you have any questions about the design or the process, let me know in the comments or our contact form. I’d be happy to go over anything in more detail.

Now to move that hog into her new home…

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My foray into dumpster diving

Sunday night, I fired up Netflix for a movie that had been in my queue for months. The film is called Dive! and it's a documentary all about dumpster diving and why it's important. I've read through forums and specialty sites that showcase these wonderful "dream dives" where people find autographed Brett Favre rookie cards or a first edition Catcher in the Rye, but this movie focuses on food. It explains just how much food is wasted each day by grocery stores that toss it all out on the date of expiration, which is actually an arbitrary date that doesn't mean as much as you think it would.

Excited by this film (I often get so pumped up from these documentaries), I went out to our local(ish) grocery store, looking for a dumpster full of discarded food to feed our animals.

Yeah, sorry. I mean, I really don't have a problem with eating this stuff myself, but I was being more realistic by planning to nab it for our farm animals. With the price of feed skyrocketing more each day, this would be a great solution.

See, dumpster diving is something that I've done on a smaller scale since I was young. My best friend and I used to walk through the alleys of our neighborhood and find all kinds of exciting treasures. Even though we were far from rich (or even middle class), we didn't do it for the value of the treasures, but more for the thrill of the discovery. I felt that thrill again when I jumped in the car and headed into town to see what I could find.

Most of the larger grocery stores and strip malls had either locked dumpsters or trash compactors, which I didn't even attempt to infiltrate. Not only is that extremely dangerous, but it's illegal if you breach a lock.

I finally found a smaller local grocery store with a good old fashioned blue dumpster, ripe for the pickin'. Inside, I found boxes of discarded cabbage, oranges, tomatoes, broccoli, and more. On one side, there was a pile of probably 20-30 still-wrapped bread loaves. I looked around one last time to make sure I was alone, and reached in for those boxes. I could only fit two of those wax produce boxes in the small car's trunk, but I figured that was still a helluva find. I leaned in and grabbed four loaves of bread and an interesting wooden shipping crate that was probably two feet wide. It's not very sturdy, but I thought it looked like something I could use for something down the line. Plus, I was still hopping on adrenaline, so I wanted to get out of there.

Next to the grocery store, a Little Ceasar's pizza joint was closed for the night. I figured it couldn't hurt to pop my head in their dumpster as well. Bingo! You would not believe how many in-tact boxes of pizza were stacked neatly (and some not-so-neatly) in that dumpster. I began opening a few to check the status of the pizzas, and every single box held an entire pizza. There were cheese, pepperoni, ... ugh, I'm making myself hungry. So I only grabbed three boxes, knowing that this probably isn't the best food to be feeding my animals, but I had to give it a shot since there were so many just lying there. I figured the dog might at least get a kick out of them, right?

Once I got home, I tossed one of the pizzas to our outside dog, Smokey. He suspiciously sniffed the pizza for a few minutes and proceeded with his strange ritual of chasing away every single other animal to a safe 50-foot buffer zone before sitting down to enjoy the strange-smelling new food possibility (he does this every single time we feed him dog food, too).

Then I grabbed the two boxes of produce and dumped them into the pig's side. Last week, our darling little pig broke through her fence (she's an expert now) to hang out with the donkeys, so I figured she had to hurry before those guys came running over. It was dark out, so they were all sleeping in the barn still.

The hog nuzzled the produce out of the way to get to those other two pizzas. Apparently she liked those the best, although I won't think about the fact that one of them had pepperoni on it. She devoured the bread next and finally started in on the cabbage and tomatoes.

The next morning, the chickens were pecking through the bits of scrap (the hog isn't fond of onion peels) and I imagine within a few hours, there will be absolutely no trace of any food left.

This whole adventure has made me beyond happy. I was able to grab enough food to apparently make a 200-lb pig full (for a day) and all for probably $2-$3 in gas. Granted, that gas money was mostly spent scouting the area for an hour, so I'll spend much less going straight for my new favorite grocery store's dumpster next time.

Oh yes, there will be a next time.