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  • Ask Farmer Pete - Farm Dogs

    Have you always used dogs on the farm? Not really. We’ve always had dogs on the farm, but we haven’t always had working dogs. In the past, they were more of a pet instead of someone who could help with the work. I used to have Jack Russell Terriers when I used to get paid to hunt groundhogs. My dad did it too. The dogs would run down into the hole and either push the groundhog out the other side or drag it out the side they came in. But as far as working dogs on the farm now, it’s just something that I recently started messing with. I did some research and a couple field runs and figured it was something that I wanted to try. I thought it might take some of the work off my hands How many dogs do you have? I have two dogs right now. They’re both heelers. One is male and one is female. The female is my worker. Her name is Pup. The male’s name is Holdem and he’s just for show now. He’s old and well past his prime as a working dog. He prefers to lay on the porch now. Sometimes he’ll run after us when we take the Razor out into the fields. But he mostly lays on the porch and watches the house. He’s our guard dog. He’s got some allergies that are especially bad right now because of all the pollen. I think he might be going deaf too. But he’s a good watch dog. Pup is my real worker. She’s a Red Heeler. She responds to my voice and whistle commands. She’s always by my side if I’m working with the animals. Where did you get your dogs? Pup was given to me by the Amish. They just wanted to get rid of her. I don’t really know where Holdem came from. He was my brother’s dog and I think I took him when my brother couldn’t take care of him anymore. My advice for finding a dog would be to find a good breeder first if you want a good dog. Ask him what the traits are of the dog. If you find a well-known breeder, they’re going to be well-known for a reason. After that it comes down to training and nurturing. You could get a mutt dog and turn it into an outstanding work dog. The bloodline helps, but it’s really about putting enough time and effort in. You have to train them without overdoing it so they don’t get bored. What do you use them for on the farm? I use them for anything really. They’re good for putting an animal or a flock or herd where you want it to go, without having to chase them around. Pup can do it in a quarter of the time it would take me to do the same task. If you can teach them to respond to voice and whistle commands, as well as gestures, the dog will do what it’s supposed to do. One thing I use Pup for every morning is to help me move the chicken pens. With the rotational grazing program, we do this at least once a day so they have fresh ground. While I’m pulling the enclosure, she’s at the back, keeping the chickens from getting caught in the back end when it’s moving. Every once in awhile, a chicken will get caught and break it’s leg. They’re pretty much useless after that. They won’t grow and they can’t compete with the other chickens. So Pup is really helpful in that situation because she keeps that from happening. She’ll bark or jump and do whatever she can to keep them in line. Sometimes she does this little mouth snap thing, which is funny to watch. She makes that task a lot easier for me though. What are some other advantages to having them work with you? She is able to help me with a lot of my daily work. It saves time, which in turn saves money. When animals get out of their paddocks, she’s on the job. If you whistle and tell her to get over there, she’ll circle the animal and push it back towards you. The cow knows the dog isn’t a real threat, but it still wants to get away anyway. She’s not always 100% and she doesn’t always get it on the first try, but she does what I need her to do most of the time. I love working with her. I like working with livestock in general, so if I can use livestock to help maintain other livestock, it’s a win-win for me. It’s a crazy ability that some of these dogs have. Are there any disadvantages? I don’t think so. I guess there’s always the possibility that you could get a dog that’s no good and doesn’t want to learn, or one who’s just irritable. It can be frustrating, the whole learning curve. Sometimes the dog might do something you don’t want it to do and that just causes more work. You have to go out and fix a fence or chase down a cow. But the pros outweigh the cons if you have the time. That’s the important thing - putting the time in. Pup works every day, so I don’t have to set aside the time. I’m out there every day anyway. But if you aren’t out working your dog every day, make sure you set aside enough time to spend with them. Otherwise they aren’t going to turn out like you want them. How did you train them? I got Pup when she was already a year old so I didn’t get to start training her as early as I would have liked. When you get a new puppy, it’s important to start training from day one. From the very beginning, you should start teaching them basic commands. I just started with sit and stay. You should train them that when they eat, they have to sit first before they can get any food. They should grasp this concept within two weeks. Then I started training her to walk along next to me. After that, you can start teaching the dog voice commands for the tasks you want them to know. For me, I taught her “out left” or “out right.” She knows that means to circle to either side and push an animal back. Dogs aren’t good at driving with you. It’s in their genetic makeup to circle an animal. Anything you can teach them is going to be better for you. After the voice commands, you can add whistle commands to that. Pup knows three whistles - come, which is a typical standard whistle, slow down or stop, which sounds like a train coming to a stop, and go, sounds more like a dog yip. Do you have any tips for someone trying to train their dog? Like I mentioned before, it’s important to start from day one. Start young and reward them often, but train a little bit at a time. You want to start as soon as it’s born but you don’t want to overdo it. Training then becomes monotonous and the dog gets bored. It’s important to establish dominance early on. It shouldn’t be in an aggressive way. Just lay the dog on it’s back and scratch their belly. If an animal is on it’s back, that is their way of submitting to you. If you roll them over on their back and pet them, they’ll understand that you’re in charge. If the animal respects you, that goes a long way. But you have to respect them too. You have to be in tune with the animal, you want to be on the same page. If something’s going on, you don’t want to get too excited. Animals can pick up excitement really easily. If you get too excited or mad or angry, animals will sense that. Then you get even more angry because they aren’t doing what you want them to do. Good communication is key just like any other relationship. Consistency is also important. Don’t mix up your words. Everyone has a their own vocabulary but you don’t want to use the same word in different commands. If you use “go by” to turn left, you don’t want to use the word “go” in another command. The dog can easily get confused. Use clear commands and clear gestures and remember to reward them when they do well. Then you can get excited - a good excited. They grasp the concept. Don’t overwork or over teach them. Work with smaller reps and don’t use corporal punishment. Actually, avoid too harsh of punishment in general. You want to rule with confidence, not with fear. You are working together with the dog, you aren’t dictating. If you rule with fear, you aren’t going to get as good an animal out of it. Animals look to you for advice, they look to you for what to do. It’s important to have a mutual relationship of respect. Do you think they enjoy working with you? I know they do. Pup is ready to go every morning when I walk outside. Every morning she’s just as excited as the day before. It’s like play to her. She’s excited to go out and run the animals. I definitely enjoy it too. It’s a working relationship. We get the job done together and it’s fun. Even though she’s a dog, it’s still fun. We hang out together every day and we’re always accomplishing things together. You have to make a connection with the animal. Pup and I have that connection and we have an understanding of each other. It’s important to be on the same page. That’s what’s so fun and cool about it. Animals understand what’s going on. You’re teaching the dog and working together, but you’re also learning together. I really enjoy it. And I know Pup enjoys our morning and evening routine every day. Have they ever gotten into any trouble? Not really. The worst thing that can happen is that they get too excited and run through a fence. That’s about as bad as it gets. Dogs aren’t naturally vicious. They aren’t trying to hurt the beast when they’re working. It’s play to them. We call it working but they’re having fun. You can’t run into too many problems. They could accidentally run an animal off the property. That’s something we obviously try to avoid. It can get frustrating if they aren’t on the same page but you just have to keep your head together and set the tone. Again, the dog shouldn’t be too worked up or excited or afraid. They have very conductive minds, they’re aware of their surroundings. They get a feel for how you’re feeling just by the way you’re talking. But mine have never really gotten into any serious trouble. What do you feed them? They get the best food in the world and it’s mostly raw. We do give them dog food when we don’t have any extra parts, but most of the time they’re eating fresh, raw leftovers. We give them chicken hearts, livers, gizzards, feed, heads. They’ll eat all of it and they love it. Basically we give the anything that we have leftover after butchering. It’s the best thing you can give a dog because it mimics what their diet would be in the wild. It makes them happy and it gives them a healthy and clean coat too. What plans do you have for the future? I’d like to be able to start training at a younger age. It really is best to start from day one. I’m looking for a better bloodline and that will lead to better discipline. It’s fun for me when I get a new one, but I’m not looking for a new one anytime soon. I’ll work with Pup until she’s much older and can’t do it anymore and then I’ll eventually get another one. But having more doesn’t necessarily make it better at all. It’s better to have one good working dogs than three average dogs. I like relating it to kids. Farmers think that they’ll have a bunch of kids and in turn get a bunch of workers but that’s not always true. Instead, you end up with some below average workers because you didn’t put enough time into them. The same is true with working dogs. One is all you really need. It’s important to focus on that one and make it the best, most disciplined animal it can be. You have to spend a lot of time and energy with it. If we got a larger herd of beef, I may think about getting another one. But not right now. Right now, it’s all manageable with one guy and a dog.

  • Curing Meat with Farmer Pete

    What does it mean to “cure” meat? It’s basically just dehydrating the meat. You’re just rubbing in salt and drying it out. The meat absorbs the salt and the salt helps prevent any botulism in the meat. It helps prevent any bacteria that may get into the meat. You can do a wet brine or a dry brine. The difference is just what it sounds like - the wet brine involves water. The process is a lot faster if you have a tumbler but we don’t have one. So I do everything the old-fashioned way. What is a tumbler? It’s exactly like it sounds. It’s a big machine that keeps the meat and the salt inside and keeps it rolling all day long. With a tumbler, you can cure meat ten times faster, but we don’t have one so I turn my meat once a day by hand. It takes a lot longer but you get the same result. What ingredients do you use? The main ingredient is salt. You have to have salt or else you can’t cure your meat. Other than salt, it just depends on what you’re curing and what you prefer. When I cure our bacon, I like to sweeten it a little so I add some brown sugar, thyme, and ground black pepper. It really is up to you what you use. But whether you do the dry or the wet brine, you have to have salt. Does it matter what kind of salt you use? A lot of people use cure salt. It’s mostly called pink salt actually. It’s just sodium nitrate. But using it is what makes the bacon or ham have that nice pink tint to it in the store. It also helps make sure there’s no botulism or bacteria. Personally, I just use regular kosher salt. I don’t see the pink salt as necessary. I actually like the color of the meat I cure. It’s a mix between gray and a dark maroon. It doesn’t sound too appealing, but I think it’s beautiful. The pink salt isn’t expensive, but it can be harmful and considered a carcinogen in large quantities. So I just don’t really see it as necessary when the regular kosher salt works just fine. How do you cure your meats? I use a dry brine. I just would rather not deal with the extra hundred pounds of water weight that comes with a wet brine. With the wet, the meat has to be completely submerged in a salt water solution. I prefer the dry so you don’t have to deal with all of that. So with our beef, I put the dry rub on it, pack salt around it, and put it in the fridge. Once it’s in the fridge, I turn it over once a day. I also pack more salt in there if it looks like most of it has been absorbed. The movement of turning the meat helps move the process along. It could take anywhere from a week to a month for the meat to be completely cured. Once it’s done, you can put it on the smoker. Turning the meat every day and packing more salt in is what’s most important. What are the benefits of using a smoker? I like it because you get that smokiness in the meat. It gives it a nicer aroma and flavor. In my opinion, I think smoking the meat helps keeps flies off it too. But you’re really just preserving it. The smoke smell is an extra bonus and tastes good if you have the right wood. You have to get a cherry or an apple wood to add good flavor. Smoking is really simple. You’re just letting the smoke touch the meat all day. It’s usually only 80 degrees in the smokehouse. You aren’t actually cooking the meat, you’re just adding extra flavor and preserving it further so that there’s no chance of bacteria growing. Using a smoker isn’t necessary though. You can just brine the meat and hang it in the refrigerator at 45-50 degrees and let it dry out that way. I prefer the smoking because of the extra flavor. How long does the meat last once it has been cured? It depends on what it is, but with the proper refrigeration, it should last at least a month. After you’ve cured and smoked it, you can get a good month out of it before it starts to turn on you. If you freeze it, it will last even longer. A lot of people get weirded out about frozen meat and I don’t understand why. If you freeze the meat right after it’s butchered and cut, it’s the same exact thing when you thaw it out. Freezing your meat right away is actually the best thing to do to ensure it stays fresh longer. Don’t be afraid to freeze the extra cured meat. We do it all the time and it’s nice to pull it out in the middle of winter. Is your process something that someone can replicate at home? Absolutely. It’s not a hard thing to replicate. All you really need is a food-safe tub and the mixture. Anyone can look up a recipe for wet or dry brine. That’s pretty easily accessible. The only thing that may limit you is your access to refrigeration. Everyone should have a deep freezer. But if you don’t have access to a lot of refrigeration, then you can’t do it on too large of a scale. But it’s definitely something you can do at home. It’s fun. It’s a form of art and you get a great product at the end of it. And the smoking can be as primitive as possible. You can literally just make a fire, let the coals burn down, and let the smoke it gives off touch the meat. It’s doable and accessible and I definitely recommend doing it at home. It doesn’t take a lot of time, there’s a bunch of different things you can do with it. Be creative. Add your own touches. In your opinion, what is the importance of preserving meat? I think it’s crucial. Knowing how to preserve anything is huge. That’s the way it always used to be. People had a working knowledge of these processes fifty years ago. But nowadays, food is so convenient and we take it for granted as if it’s no big deal. In our region of the country, we should be able to feed ourselves and part of that is knowing how to preserve. When you have a bountiful harvest, you should save some for the winter time. It seems like we’ve lost that knowledge somewhere along the way and we have to try to get that tradition back. Does this go beyond food for you? It does. It’s not even completely about food. It’s about coming together and working together. We shouldn’t be shipping “fresh” strawberries across the country in the middle of winter. We should be able to feed ourselves. There’s no reason for tractor trailers to be polluting the air on their way to give us a luxury that we don’t need. You gain a lot of knowledge through preserving things. Togetherness is important. It takes many hands and it makes you feel united, like you’re part of something. That’s hard to find in a world where most people’s greatest sense of belonging is Facebook. People want to belong and it’s hard. Get down in the trenches with us and we’ll make you part of it. It goes much deeper than food.

  • Farmer Pete Goes to the Big Butler Fair

    Have you ever been in a milking contest before? No I have not. Not a cow milking contest at least. I milk our goats every day. That’s always a contest. Everything’s a race. A little competition gets the job done faster. Maybe that’s not the best strategy to have, but it’s always worked for me. How were you feeling before the contest? I felt really confident. I figured since I have the milking experience from working with our goats, it would be pretty easy. I actually felt right at home. In the first round, I got the cow I wanted - Jackie. She had the nicest teats and I knew I could win with her. But then when we weren’t allowed to choose her in the second (championship) round, I guess I got a little nervous. Overall though, I felt good. I didn’t know that there were going to be other farmers in the competition. I understand you and winner Chet Welch have some history. Can you explain? We’ve known Chet for awhile. He was my mom’s friend and he became a friend of the whole family. We definitely know of each other. He raises beef cattle. I think he has Highlanders. So we’re in the same line of work. He was on a few episodes of the show with us. People also may know him because he was on Survivor. After Farm Kings ended, Chet had a show called Farm Queens on the same network, Great American Country. How did it feel to come in second to Chet? Well when I saw Chet, I knew he was actually going to be some competition. Going into the contest, I didn’t think I’d have any real competition because I didn’t know there would be other farmers competing. But when I saw Chet, I thought ‘Uh oh. He’s gonna be a tough competitor.’ He’s had his hands on some udders before. I was a little bummed to come in second but Chet picked the right cow in the second round and I didn’t. So that’s the way it goes. It’s just my competitive nature I guess. It’s definitely on the lower end of worries for me, but I had higher expectations for myself. What is the biggest difference between milking cows and milking goats? It’s really the exact same thing except cows have four teats and goats only have two. I just picked one that looked like it would milk the best. If you’re ever milking, just look for one with nice big udders and nice teats. Whether it’s a cow or a goat, that’s how you’re going to get the most milk. Have you learned anything from this experience? Make sure you choose the right cow. I guess that’s the lesson from this whole experience. It all depends on the cow you pick. As far as milking though, I didn’t learn much. I was confident in my milking ability and I still am. I figured cows would be similar to goats and they were. It just killed us that we weren’t allowed to milk Jackie in the final round. What are you going to do to prepare for next year? Practice. I’m going to get some more goats to milk. Even if we don’t need the milk, I need the practice. Honestly, I probably won’t do too much. I had a good strategy and Chet just picked the right cow in the last round. If I do it again next year, I’ll still have the same strategy. It was a fun thing to do so hopefully I get invited back. Pete’s Goat-Milking Guide It’s just like a pastry bag. You have to squeeze all the milk out, then release your hand to let more milk fall. A lot of people in the competition were just squeezing because they were trying to go so fast. But when you’re constantly squeezing, you’re not letting the milk fall down into the teat. You have to let that milk fall or you aren’t going to get much after the first squeeze. You can feel the milk with your hand. So you just squeeze it out and then release to let more come down. It’s pretty simple.

  • Ask Farmer Pete - Grilling

    You’ve become famous for your grilled meats. What is your best grilling tip? Don’t be intimidated. People tend to get scared when they think about grilling. But really, the worst that can happen is - well, nothing bad is going to happen. It’s not something that should be too stressful. It’s about trying and practicing. If you try something and it doesn’t turn out the way you like it, just try it again. Don’t rush it. You have to wait for the meat to be ready. The slower you cook it, the better it’s going to taste. The whole point is creating an atmosphere and that’s part of the fun. Grilling is really what Freedom Farms is all about, coming together and celebrating food and fellowship. I’m certainly not a pitmaster yet but I have a feel for it and I enjoy doing it. You just learn as you go. What’s your favorite thing to grill? I think it’s definitely pork. I just really like barbecued pork. It’s delicious. The skewers that I make are making my mouth water just thinking about them. My skewers are uncured pork belly. Once I’m done with them, they really melt in your mouth. What’s the hardest thing to grill? I guess chicken can be tricky sometimes. But nothing is too hard. It’s all fun for me and if the chicken presents a challenge, it just makes it a little more fun. The fire is the really challenging part. It’s not about the meat or the cut of meat, but the controls and variables in using a real fire. I love the flavor of the cherry wood and smoke in general. But when it’s rainy or cold, it makes it hard to keep track of the temperature of the fire and the meat. Weather and wind are huge factors when you’re cooking over a fire. But I prefer it. It’s something fun and different. I don’t know too many people who use fire to grill. Can you explain a little more about grilling over a fire? I use a dry, dry cherry wood. You start with those dry chunks of wood and make sure the fire is nice and hot. The cherry wood works the best when grilling meat. It gives the meat a little extra flavor. Once you get a good fire going and start grilling, I like to flatten it out a bit, but still keep a good flame. Then I start shoveling coal into the roaster. I use the same fire to grill the meat and to fuel the roaster. You can buy charcoal and get the same result, but it can get expensive and it’s not really necessary in my opinion. What’s your favorite thing to use for flavor? I really can’t be too biased. I like thyme for chicken and rosemary for beef. I stick to the sweeter flavors for pork like brown sugar and apple cider. If you ever have leftover apple cider, take it and use it on the pork. That’s what I do. The combination of flavors makes the pork great. And you have to have that diversity too. Do you ever grill at the market? Yes, we grill every Saturday at the market during the summer. I like to do chicken halves, ribs, and my pork skewers. It’s a really good time. You get some smoke and some smells going and people start to get excited about food and about summertime. Again, it’s all about creating an atmosphere. I get to talk to people and tell them all about how our product is the best around. They see it and smell it while I’m grilling and it makes them want it. Any final grilling thoughts? My grilling guide is not real. It’s not specific. You just have to roll with it. Use what you’ve got and make do. That’s the farming mentality. Just work within your means and don’t try to be too fancy with it. I like using all homemade. It works just fine. Great, actually. Our meat is dark red and marbleized. It’s beautiful. I’ve seen the difference in commercial pork. If it’s white, it means the pigs weren’t raised outside in a good environment and then it’s not as good of a product. Of course, I get to use the best raw product, so it makes it a huge difference in the final product. Guide (disclaimer - all on open fire) Pork Favorite cut: Ribs Average prep time: For ribs, I don’t marinade. I just put a room temperature piece of meat on the grill. So I guess prep time would be however long it takes for the meat to defrost. You don’t want to put a piece of meat on the grill right out of the fridge. Average cook time and directions: I use a two step process. I let it touch the flame or sit in high heat for maybe 5 minutes at the most on each side, until it crisps up on the outside and is a nice brown. I’m talking 400-500 degrees. I use apple cider or vinegar to keep the meat moist and to keep the flame down. That will end up crystallizing on the meat. I like to season it as it’s cooking, before the smoker. After that, I take it off the heat and put it in the smoker over coals at around 250-300 degrees to slow cook it. We have a 250-gallon fuel tank that we converted into a roaster. I leave it in there for an hour, maybe two sometimes, until the meat is nice and juicy and falling off the bone. Flavors that pair well: Brown sugar, black pepper, paprika, cinnamon, garlic, onion Chicken Favorite cut: Halves Average prep time: As long as it takes you to halve a chicken Average cook time and directions: Chickens are easier. You just cook them on high heat. As long as you keep turning them, you can get them done in an hour. Flavors that pair well: Vinegar, olive oil, garlic salt. I don’t do a lot of marinades, but those pair well. Marinades are a lot of extra work for not that big of a difference in the end. Beef Favorite cut: Steak Average prep time: Same as the pork. As long as it takes your meat to defrost. All meat should be placed on the grill at room temperature. It lets the meat b reak down better and gives you time to get the fire going. Average cook time and directions: A steak takes about 5-6 minutes on high heat. 3 minutes on one side, three minutes on the other side and you’re done. I season a steak when I pull it off the grill and then let it stand for five to ten minutes. I like mine crispy on the outside and rare on the inside. Flavors that pair well: Sage, rosemary, garlic, salt, black pepper. I don’t season my steaks ahead of time.

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