You Need Fat
Let’s start with the basics. You need fat. Without it your body ceases to function properly. There are vitamins your body cannot get or process properly unless you have fat. It is also a necessary source of calories. Right now you don’t think you need calories because our country has a weight problem. It can be hard to wrap your head around the whole nation scrambling to get enough food but it is amazing how easily things can shift when the sun is not with us.
Fat Will Be Hard To Come By
As a general rule fat takes more effort to come by when growing seasons are difficult. Why? Well that one is simple. When we are short on food then there is also less food for animals be it wild animals or farm animals. In both cases animals will be in short supply and they will have less body fat. The end result is more people competing for a less available substance. Shortages and other problems will result along with increased prices.
Vegetable oils are the standard oil most people are used to buying but producing your own is not that easy. Meanwhile buying vegetable oils will not be an option when stores no longer have them available because of shortages due to crop losses.
Fats do not store well. They go rancid and are harmful to your body. You can store ghee and coconut oil longer than most fats but they don’t last forever either. This is especially true if you lose electricity and do not have refrigeration. In other words you need to prep your fat in living form.
Prepping Living Fats
The obvious answer to a fat shortage is to grow your own. You can get fat from almost any meat producing animal. This varies only in the amount and quality of fat the animal gives. The exception to this rule is rabbits. We had rabbits for a while and they are an excellent source of meat but they are a horrible source of fat. Yeah, they are the ripped body builders of the farm world. You wouldn’t think that will all the soft fur but underneath there is lots of muscle but no body fat worth mentioning.
In the end prepping living fats means you need to store feed and provide pasture for animals that produce fat. What you can and should do depends upon a number factors. These include the number of people depending upon you, your level of experience with animals, how much land you have and how much feed you can store. In addition it is important to consider how you will store the fat as most fats require refrigeration to store properly but there are ways around that.
Butter And Ghee
Some sources of living fats are better than others. Dairy animals can give you plenty of fat in their milk allowing you to make butter. Cows give lots of milk and it separates easily allowing you to make butter with less trouble. Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized so it doesn’t separate quickly and an off taste can develop in it if you let it sit too long waiting for separation. None the less, having had both, I like goats better as a dairy animal for small farms and suburbanites. Not only are they easier to handle, they also are scalable. I can produce more milk in summer when food is readily available and store it as cheese and then dry out all but one doe for the winter when feed costs are higher. If you choose to keep a dairy animal you might want to consider buying Manual Cream Separator- Kitchen Centrifuge, Hand Cream Machine for Turning Raw or Whole Milk into Cream and Skim Milk, use with Sheep Milk, Goat Milk, or Other Dairy, a U.S. Solid Product
Raw milk and the products made from it give you more than just fat. You can live on milk alone. When I was struggling with the worst of my health issues I found the raw milk diet (meaning fasting on just raw milk) to be highly effective. It cleared up a lot of issues. This is not something you can do with store bought milk. Pasteurization and homogenization ruins the nutritional content of milk. Manufacturers then put synthetic vitamins into the milk to compensate but the result in not the same. Milk is a living food and needs to be consumed as such if you want the medicinal value to be the same.
The big plus to butter besides its delicious taste is that it can be stored at room temperature if you gently cook it down to make ghee. I will need to explain the process in another post but the general idea is you cook out the parts of the milk that can go bad leaving pure oil. It is delicious and I have stored homemade ghee in mason jars on my kitchen shelf here in Virginia with no problem for months. Ghee still tastes like butter. You are not giving anything up in the processing.
Milk doesn’t have to be made into butter to give you fat either. You can drink it straight, use the cream fresh or make cheese from it. Depending upon the type of cheese you make it can be stored for years. If you are planning upon keeping a dairy animal I strongly suggest buying this specific book The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses Why this one specifically? Because he tells you how to make cheese without the ability to order supplies online. You need to know how to go old school. Frankly, even if you are not planning on having a dairy animal in the near future I would suggest buying this book. You might need it later.
Grass fed butter is extremely healthy as is butter from raw milk but there are risks if you do not know what you are doing. I will get into this in further blog posts but for now you need to know that milking a cow / goat / whatever will stand still for it. It is not as simple as picking up milk from the store. If you are sloppy you can make yourself and your family very ill or even kill them.
Tallow means hard fat. Some animals produce hard fat and others produce soft fat(lard). Hard fat stores better without refrigeration. It can also be used to make soap and candles with better results than lard. You can get tallow from cattle, goats, sheep as well as deer. Tallow gives food a delicious umami flavor. If you are old enough to remember the french fries from the 70’s before fat became “evil” you know how good it tastes. If your source is an animal that has lived its life eating grass then the fat will be extremely healthy for you. As an added bonus if you have the pasture to feed an animal and butcher it when the grass gives out in cold weather you save a huge amount of money and effort in feeding it.
Next to rabbits dairy animals are the worst source of body fat. They are the equivalent of that girl in high school who could live on ice cream and hot fudge sauce without putting on an ounce. Their metabolism is geared towards making milk not storing fat. Sure they will put on fat but not as efficiently. In other words they have a poor feed conversion ratio.
However, for each dairy animal there is also a meat producing variation. There are also animals that can bridge the gap between meat and milk. The problem is they generally cost more to feed in relation to how much milk they give so you need to eat the offspring to compensate.
Your main source of lard would be pigs. If you hunt and have a chance to kill a bear it will also give you lard. Basically lard is a softer fat. You can still burn it but you would need to do so using a bowl to hold it. You can also make soap out of it but again it would be a soft squishy soap. When it comes to cooking lard is excellent for frying.
There are three kinds of lard. Leaf lard comes from fat around the pig’s kidneys. It is considered the highest quality lard and doesn’t impart a pork flavor when baking. Back fat is the body fat of the pig and it does have a wonderful meaty taste that you will love when cooking vegetables. Caul fat is the fat that comes from the fat around the pigs intestines. Basically the caul is a lacy membrane that encases the digestive organs. There is not enough fat there to bother with rendering but in French cooking the caul is used to wrap lean meats and in sausage making. In rough times you use what you can get but this is not a fat to be sneered at by any means. I am going to do a separate post on rendering fat to avoid making this too long.
People have a lot of weird ideas about pigs. Pigs don’t stink if they have enough room. Actually they can be very fastidious creatures. Some pigs are dangerous and others are as gentle as dogs… frankly they are also much smarter than dogs too. That can be a problem as containing a pig can take effort. Luckily they are very food driven and that makes them fairly easy to catch if they do get out.
If you have a way to keep the meat frozen (freezer or just consistently below zero winter weather) then big pigs are wonderful. If not there are smaller breeds. Currently we have both.
Dirty Harry and Rosie are our breeder pigs. We just bought them recently and are awaiting a litter. They are Guinea Hogs. They are smaller and thus easier to butcher and care for. They are also easier to feed because of their smaller size.
Euphemism is going to be with us a few more months until she reaches butchering size. We have arrangements with a neighbor down the road to get 4 more piglets next week when they are weaned. That is far more than my family of 3 needs but we have to think in terms of feeding dogs and cats as well as friends and family of the 2 legged variety.
We could breed larger pigs but the smaller ones are just easier. Guinea hogs generally top out at around 300lbs. Now Dirty Harry is a fat old boy. The man we bought him from had Harry and Rosie in together and Harry was stealing all the food so he grew too fat. His wife, Rosie, is much thinner. It is all in how they are fed. You can get good lean meat from a lard type pig just do not over feed it. Even a bacon type pig is going to give you plenty of fat for a normal sized family.
Pigs can be dangerous. My great uncle Johnny was a moonshiner and he also bred hogs. I am not sure but I think the hogs were in large part just to scare people off. They were big red Durocs that were half drunk most of the time from eating left over mash and I lived in terror of them as a child with good reason. An adult Duroc weighs in between 600 and 800 pounds depending upon gender. Pigs will eat you and they develop tusks. Thus I like my smaller guinea hogs better unless I am taking a pig to the butcher.
Pigs can be raised economically. If given scraps and garden waste they can do quite well on pasture. As I write this, corn and beef booster are still cheap and they make good pig food. Euphemism gets both along with whatever is leftover here on the farm – spare eggs, whey / excess milk, scraps and other odds and ends from the garden. In addition she browses on grass and other plants along with whatever meat she can find in the lower pasture. She eats better than a lot of people but it is mostly food that would go to waste otherwise. If you can get ahead of the price increases that are coming you can store corn indefinitely and right now both corn and beef booster are around $6 for a 50lb bag.
The proper term for the rendered fat of a chicken, duck etc. is schmaltz. In my opinion the best of all the fats for a small homesteader. Ducks are an exceptionally good source of fat as they have a thick layer of fat just under the skin. There is a trick to cooking duck properly but if they are prepared correctly the meat is absolutely delicious. In addition you get a great deal of fat from a duck. A single duck can easily give you a pint of duck fat. That is equal to 4 sticks of butter and it is far healthier for you. Of course, nothing is perfect. You have to butcher far more often with ducks than you do with pigs and other large animals. On the flip side you do not have to worry about refrigeration with ducks.
Ducks are excellent foragers. The grow quickly and fatten nicely with minimal input from you. As meat sources go they are fairly easy to kill and butcher but it is easier for a woman to butcher poultry because we have smaller hands. Reaching inside the abdominal cavity can be hard for a man. It is important to get all the organs out (hopefully without tearing them) when butchering so we ladies have an advantage. I advise getting a killing cone to make butchering easier. Here is a nice one Liss Chicken Duck Poultry Killing Medium Processing Restraining Cone Funnel Stainless Steel It works nicely for ducks, chickens etc. When the bird is placed in the cone it stops struggling making the butchering process much easier.
We stay away from the larger animals. I had two of the most lovely Jersey cows but this spring I sold then for far less than they were worth and bought goats. Why? Cows are larger and harder to feed. You cannot downsize and keep half of a cow. You can however thin out a goat herd or keep only one in milk through the winter to make sure you still have milk.
We have chickens for eggs. We do eat the chickens occasionally but my main interest in the is the eggs and not the meat. Why? Because I prefer to eat ducks and my family is not into duck eggs. The vitamin K2 in the duck fat is a big selling point for ducks. It reduces the risk of heart attacks, osteoporosis and numerous other illnesses that plague modern Americans.
We have the larger hogs just for this season and after they are gone we will be eating the offspring of the guinea hogs. Why? They may be small and slower growing but they are good foragers and their small size is actually an asset because the meat can be kept fresh on the hoof instead of our needing to figure out how to butcher and can / cure and smoke excessive amounts of meat at one time.
The goats will all be kept in milk through the months when grass is available but only one will be milked through the winter. My goats give a gallon per day so that is more than sufficient.
It is a simple and pragmatic plan that will keep us fed and in good health.