What I Wish I Knew Before Butchering Pigs

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Warning: I’m trying to keep this blog as accurate to our lives as possible. That means posting sad things and mistakes we make. This is not a pigs going easily to the farm in the sky post. This is a hard lessons learned butchering pigs for the first time post.

I learned something the other day. Pigs are not easy to kill.

There is a lot more that goes into butchering pigs than other smaller animals. Up until now I’d only raised meat rabbits and chickens that I’d butchered myself. So in the process of butchering our pigs we made some mistakes. I wish I could say they died a quick easy death, but neither Kyle nor I have ever killed anything as big as pigs before. We thought we knew enough and had the right tools. We used a .22 rifle on one (which was not big enough), and Kyle missed his first shot with the .45-70 on the second one.

I’ll just say it. It sucked.

Seeing an animal you raised suffer is not a good feeling, even if it wasn’t for long. Part of raising our own pigs was that the whole process was supposed to be humane. Because of this experience Kyle doesn’t want to raise pigs to butcher again, though I still do. Next time we’ll have the experience to do better. And we’ll borrow the right sized gun if we don’t have one.

Anyone who wants to raise pigs for meat should be prepared to get attached to them.

They are surprisingly like dogs. Ours came when we whistled, were happy to see us, and just kind of ran with our pack of huskies. I’m so glad we don’t have neighbors so we can experiment with free ranging! Pigs are notorious for getting into (or out of) places they shouldn’t. Ours had space to explore and fresh ground to nose around in. Happy pig life? Check! I will say though, I did not enjoy pig poop in random places.

As for the rest of our butchering process?

After dispatching the pigs everything else was pretty easy. We watched Youtube videos to figure out how to properly gut the pigs. It wasn’t any harder than butchering chickens. Just bigger! I did get a little confused around the tail. On a chicken you can cut the whole thing off. Turns out that is not easy on pigs, so its better to just leave the tail on and cut in at the base.

Because we have so many predators in this area, we took the parts we weren’t going to eat down to the lake. Bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes, lynx. No reason to call our carnivore neighbors right to us!

Once that was done we left the pigs outside in a chicken wire cage to finish bleeding out. We wanted to make sure our dogs and the magpies didn’t get to them. We ended up having baby back ribs a few nights later for dinner, and they were amazing! We also traded some ribs and pork chops to our neighbors for moose.

Cutting up the pigs probably would have been easier if it wasn’t so cold outside.

The carcasses froze before we actually got to separating cuts of meat. We needed to wait for cool weather because we don’t have refrigeration. We’ve actually lived without a fridge for almost 2 years now! But I imagine skinning and separating cuts wouldn’t have been so hard. Not to mention working with frozen meat meant having cold fingers wielding sharp knives.

So what do I wish I’d known before raising and butchering pigs?

  • I wish I’d known that you pretty much have to be an expert to kill them on the first shot. Neither Kyle nor I have done much practicing with our guns. That is something we will need to change for next time, or before going hunting.
  • Did you know pigs are loud? Ours have been so quiet out here I didn’t realize how piercing they could be. Chickens and rabbits don’t make much sound being dispatched, so I never even thought about the pigs being loud.
  • It would have been nice to know how much like dogs they were before we got them. It’s more than a little hard to kill something that is so friendly. If we raise pigs again I’ll make it a point to be a bit more standoffish with them.
  • I think next time we’ll separate them even if we are butchering more than one at a time.
  • Because our pigs were free ranging, our plan was to lure them into a small pen so they couldn’t take off. I wish I’d known how smart pigs are! Even with food in the pen, they knew something was up. Next time we’ll take our time and get them in the pen to dispatch them.

I really think pigs should be a staple of our self sufficient lives out here. They provide us meat and fertilizer, as well as tilling the soil and eating vegetable scraps/waste. I am disappointed that this processes didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. We can only do better from here.

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Best Of Sled Dog Slow 2017

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 Best Of Sled Dog Slow 2017

Last year I did the top 5 posts at the end of the year. This year I wrote a lot more, so I wanted to share the top 10. Here is the best of Sled Dog Slow 2017:

1. How To Hack A Chicken Killing Dog

Definitely a go to post if you’ve had trouble integrating dogs and chickens before. This is a tried and true method for me, that I’ve used on multiple dogs over the years. Hopefully you never need it, but its better to be over prepared than under prepared!

2. Why A Homestead Often Looks Like A Junkyard

This post was shared a lot by my homesteading friends. Quite a few thanked me for giving them a good excuse for the junk piles everywhere!

3. When A Hen Is A Rooster Is A Hen

Did y’all know a hen can “turn into” a rooster? Neither did I until I had it happen in my flock! Now, you won’t be getting any fertilized eggs out of these gentlemen, but they will crow, grow spurs, and protect your ladies!

4. Pros And Cons Of Tiny House Living

Not sure you’re ready to make the leap from 2000 to 200 square feet? This is the post for you!

5. How To Raise Chicks Without Electricity

When we first moved out to our little piece of Alaskan paradise it was raw land. No driveway, no cabin, no power. So our first batch of chickens I ended up figuring out how to raise without electricity. I actually used these methods for our second batch too because it was more convenient than starting the generator or using up all our solar with heat lamps!

6. Building On A Budget – The Alaskan Way

When you need a shed built now but won’t have money until later. This is how we managed out here.

Building On A Budget, The Alaskan Way

7. Six Reasons We Homestead In Alaska

There are a lot of places we could have chosen to homestead, but trust me, Alaska is one of the best places in the USA for this kind of life! There are plenty of reasons we chose to live here, but these are our top six.

8. 5 Risks When Living Life By The Tides

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that our access isn’t easy. It’s seasonal, and can be sketchy year round. In summer we can’t get anything bigger than a 4 wheeler to our place, and we come and go depending on the tides. There are a lot of risks involved with having our access regularly cut off. Just read the post to see what happens if you don’t follow the rules!

life by the tides

9. Three Surprising Places To Find Cheap Homestead Goods

Homesteading is expensive. Here are three places to find the things you need a little bit cheaper.

10. Canning Salmon

How to can fresh caught salmon, as I learned from a dear Alaskan friend.

Bonus round anyone?

My favorite post of all time is: Appreciation For The Small Things. This is pretty much the post where we realized just how different our lives where really going to be. I love how well I captured our awe and appreciation of that moment!

How y’all are finding us: Most of our views come from Pinterest and Facebook. Feel free to follow us in both places and share our stuff 😉

The most searched items to get to here are: “What to do on a homestead in Alaska in the winter” and “Hauling water for an off grid cabin”. I guess I know what I should write more about!

My favorite purchase we’ve made this year: Definitely our instant hot water heater. Being able to take a shower when I want, for as long as I want, has been such a ridiculously nice thing to have! We do also have an amazing wood splitter, and that would be #1 except it was a gift from my Father-in-law, so we didnt buy it!

We’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned quite a few lessons in our second year out here. I hope you’ll keep up with our adventure in the coming years.

Thanks for reading friends!

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Homestead Goals For 2018

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Homestead Goals For 2018

Wow, rereading our goals for this year sooooo much has changed in what we wanted to do for 2017, vs our goals for 2018. We accomplished a few of our goals, but have also figured out a few that don’t actually work for us. The longer we spend living this way the more we learn. Need vs want, idealism vs reality. Living this far out is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

Our goals last year were:

Getting Kyle a crew fishing license so he can salmon fish with our friends

Kyle did fish with our friends, although they decided not to fish the whole season. We did get enough fish put away for winter, and he made a little money. Our fishing goals for 2018 include getting our own permit and boat. That way we can fish as often as we want.

Installing a water system

Done! This is our first winter with this system and we’ve already had to make some adjustments. So far we’re managing, fingers crossed there are no catastrophic failures!

Spending more time hunting/fishing

We just got too busy with other things to do much besides Kyle salmon fishing. Next year we’ll hopefully be approved for subsistence hunting and fishing.

Preserving more foods (and shopping less) 

Between a cold summer being bad for gardening and not spending much time hunting/fishing, we still depend a lot on the grocery store.

Getting equipment out here and clearing more land 

We didn’t manage this as it didn’t fit our budget this year.

Finding our property markers (or having our land surveyed) 

As it turns out, finding property markers under 40+ years of growth is not easy. We’ll need to pay someone to survey our property in the future.

Fencing animal pastures 

Without knowing the borders of our land this wasn’t something we could do. We did create a pig pen though.

Getting 2 goats for milking

We did get two goats, and then we gave them to friends. Without fencing they got in to everything.

Building a bigger chicken coop and getting more birds 

We did build a bigger coop and get more birds. However, we have figured that chickens aren’t the direction we want to go here.

Planting a large garden

We did this, but then… The chickens got in and scratched about. They thoroughly mixed everything up. Then once things sprouted the goats broke into our greenhouse and ate everything they could. Hence us giving them away. After all that, this was a very cold summer. Last year I wasn’t prepared for all the rain, this year I wasn’t prepared for a cold ‘warm’ season. Between all that we didn’t manage to harvest much.

Planting pasture 

This wasn’t possible without clearing land first.

Building a garage

We didn’t manage this, but we did build a wood shed. Our friends did drag an abandoned trailer here that we plan on turning into a garage. So I suppose if we get that finished in the next month or so we can count it as done this year.

Building a root cellar/pantry for food storage

We didn’t build anything specifically for storing food. We did however, cover our porch and added a door. That allowed us to store food where it was cooler. The porch is our fridge/freezer this winter.

Expanding our solar set up (we have this one)

We did add 2 more batteries to our solar set up. It doesn’t sound like much, but we can store twice as much power now!

Building a shower/sauna 

We did build a shower. It works fantastic, and I enjoy it so much better than last years camp shower. We use this instant hot water heater for our showers now.

Purchasing a sawmill

Done! We’ve used our sawmill to mill shelves and steps. We also milled wood for our cabin, wood shed and pig pen.

Purchasing a second 4 wheeler

We did buy a second wheeler, but we also sold it. The one we got was more comfortable for riding, but was not really designed for the work we needed it to do. Back to one wheeler now (though we do have 2 cars again!)

After the many things we’ve learned this year, some goals have changed and some will be expanded. Our homesteading goals for 2018 are:

Purchasing a fishing permit

This is our #1 goal for next year, and will allow us a source of income and food.

Spending more time hunting/fishing

Next year we might be approved for subsistence hunting and fishing. That will extend some seasons, as well as areas we can hunt in. Getting a moose will be high on our list.

Preserving more food

More hunting and fishing means more putting food away for the winter.

Getting equipment out here and clearing land

With rental prices and the time it takes to get equipment out here, we’re seriously considering buying a rig for this. Then we could potentially barter it’s use to our neighbors as well.

Finding our property markers

Since we can’t seem to find them, we’ll need to find a remote surveyor and pay them to do it for us. It’s something we need done before we can expand much.

Getting a high tunnel

This will allow us more control over the temperature in the garden. Next year’s garden will be ah-mazing. Third times the charm, right?

Purchasing a beach truck

We need something that we can drive on the beach that’s cheap so we won’t cry if the tide takes it. The dream is to get something lifted, with big tires and a winch. Then we might even be able to drive all the way to our place in the summer.

Cut and mill lumber in preparation for building our cabin

We expect to work on this for a few years. After all, how fast can two people build their dream house? Especially with a toddler under foot! We’ll be living in our 250 sq ft cabin until the dream cabin is complete.

As you may have noticed, there are fewer goals for next year.

We have 8 goals for 2018, vs the 17 we had for 2017. Part of that is a large scale back on certain projects. As it stands right now, we don’t have plans for animals next year. We discovered this year that getting animals and figuring ‘we’ll make it work’ later isn’t a sustainable plan. Pens, pasture and fencing all need to go in before we try adding animals again. We do have to roll with the punches out here, but that doesn’t mean we can just toss the rule book!

We’ll also be dedicating a lot more time to building infrastructure out here. Having tools is great, except when you don’t have anywhere to store them. And working on vehicles is not fun if you don’t have a place to do it. There are a lot of little projects, like wood carving, that our current cabin is just to small for. The mess from carving a spoon doesn’t seem that big until it takes up your entire house!

One of the biggest things we learned this year is that winter comes fast.

Compared to Washington seasons, there is almost no time to get the big projects done here. And some things are multi season projects. There is a lot of finagling when building has to be done in the summer, but materials can only get here in winter. Putting less on our plates to start with will relieve some of the stress we’d felt this year. It also means that any extra projects we get done are just a happy surprise! We completed 9 of our goals this year, even if some didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. I think 8 is a good number of starter goals for 2018.

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Building On A Budget – The Alaskan Way

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Building On A Budget, The Alaskan Way

As anyone who has read my previous post about our finances knows, we are on a serious budget out here. But just because we don’t have money doesn’t mean work on the homestead stops! With winter fast approaching we knew we couldn’t let our water reservoir freeze. Last year we hauled all our water in 5 gallon buckets from a nearby creek, but this year we have running water in the cabin and we pull from our reservoir for that. So how to keep it from freezing? We thought about burying it, but it’d need to be 8 feet down and that is a lot of digging by hand.

We decided we would build our reservoir its own cabin.

There are 3 natural materials we have an abundance of out here: trees, moss, and clay. We started by felling trees, limbed and cut them to length, then moved them to our building site. We ended up using about 60 logs for the entire process. We cut some of our work by joining the water shed to our existing cabin.

Kyle notched the logs and stacked them just as he did when we built our cabin addition, with the exception that we left space for a door rather than cutting one out later. It may have made things a bit trickier, but we needed to be able to work from both sides of the logs. We used timberloks to attach the logs together and make sure the walls are sturdy.

We also timberloked the water shed to our cabin for stability.

After the walls were up, Kyle continued falling trees for the roof. The baby and I picked moss and packed it in all the gaps in the walls. B was a big help picking out pieces to hand to me. Then she went up on the roof with Kyle and helped him add a layer of moss there. After letting the moss dry, I added a layer of clay to fill any other gaps.

Due to the strict budget, we couldn’t afford to purchase much for the shed.

Instead of buying new roofing we bartered with our neighbors for some extra tin roofing they had. Kyle milled them stairs for their cabin in exchange. He also put together the most adorable door from lumber we have milled as well. Our sawmill has more than paid for itself in milled lumber! We also found a free wood stove and installed that into the water shed.

The end result is an “old school” cabin as our water shed.

We’ve already had our first snow here, and have spent several days in the low teens. I’m happy to report that our water shed has not dipped below 35°. We usually only light one fire before bed, but on especially chilly days we’ll light another in the morning. Every time we go outside we check the temperature in the water shed. If it’s below 40° we light a fire. We only have about 200 gallons in our 1100 gallon reservoir, so once we fill it the water shed should be even warmer.

I’m so glad we didn’t need to go back to our bucket system and gravity filters this winter!

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Winter Prep On An Alaskan Homestead

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Winter Prep On An Alaskan Homestead

Winter is nearly here in our little slice of Alaska. Trees are barren and we’ve already had our first frost. Seeing as winter is our longest and harshest season, we use the rest of the year to prepare for it. So what does preparing for winter on an Alaskan homestead entail?

Firstly, we heat with wood.

This means a lot of cutting trees, hauling, splitting and stacking for drying. Last year we stacked wood under a tarp. This year we built a wood shed to store it in. We’ve also upgraded from an axe to a hydrolic log splitter. It makes this chore go much faster! We also collect birch bark because it makes fantastic fire starter.

Our second biggest concern for this winter was keeping our water system from freezing.

We put the system in this summer so this winter will be the big test for it. We built a little mini “cabin”, complete with its own wood stove, around our water reservoir. This should keep the reservoir and pipes around it from freezing. On super cold days we’ll keep a fire going in there.

 

Speaking of fires, we also replaced to wood stove in our cabin for a bigger one.

Our old stove was a bit undersized, so replacing it means we won’t need to get up at night to build fires any more. Our cabin should be a more steady temperarure this winter. We’re also finishing the flooring in the loft, so more of the heat stays on the lower floor.

We also have more animals to consider this year.

Last year we kept our two dogs inside most of the time for winter, but this year we have FOUR dogs! So building dog houses for everyone and stuffing them with straw is a must. We also have a smaller chicken coop for the chickens. The old coop is big and airy. Great for summer, but not so great for winter. A smaller coop will help keep the birds warm with body heat, especially since we don’t suppliments heat in the winter. We’ll also be building a pig shed and filling that with straw for our pigs.

Another part of winter prep is putting up food.

I canned a bunch of salmon this year that Kyle caught fishing with our friends. Our first goal for next year is to purchase our own permit and fish all next summer. Unfortunately our garden was a bust except for potatoes, so those need to dug and dried for storage. Next year we will use what we’ve learned and have a much better garden.

This will be our second winter on our Alaskan homestead, and we’re ready for it!

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