Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Expired When *I* Say It Is

The other day on Pinterest a graphic popped up that listed all the foods you could ever hope to store, along with their "expiration dates" and a chirpy little reminder to pin it to your pantry door so you knew when to "throw away" unused food.

It's a recurring theme on every survivalist/prepper minded board I follow. "How long will XXX last and how do I store it?" You know the answers. Mylar, O2 absorbers, food grade plastic buckets, gamma lids if you have the scratch. Fail any of that and you'll have massive bug infestations and ruined food, guaranteed.

To that I say, Great Value quick grits. "Best By 08 12 12", which was over six months ago. It's spent the last two years in the cabinet by the stove, unsealed, no O2 absorbers or crushed DE or anything. By all reports it should be dreadful, but it cooked up just fine other than the yellow color.

Just kidding, that's Hoosier Hill Farm cheddar cheese powder, and a marvelous cheese powder it is too. Found it on Amazon.

"Oh whatever," you scoff disdainfully. "Six months is nothing, plus that stuff has no nutritional value. It probably has the lifespan of a Twinkie."

Ok. Then I raise you one bag of Arrowhead Mills whole wheat choco chip pancakes. The date right there sez March 10, 2011. That's a month shy of TWO YEARS out of date, and on whole wheat pancake flour to boot. Again, stored in the cabinet, half open actually.

I took a photo of the inside but it doesn't really show anything. Trust me, nothing is moving.

I made pancakes with this yesterday morning. They were on the heavy side but I think that about all whole grain pancakes. So two years out of date, and still just fine.

Shall I keep going?

That's a box of lard. September 9, 2010 was it's expiration date. Today is Jan 31, 2013. I hardly ever use lard, mostly for pie crusts and refried beans. I made refried beans on Friday. The stuff is still snow white and smells the same as it ever did. It's SO white, it's hard to tell it from the white paper it comes wrapped in.

I also have a can of Crisco, exp date March 2011. Same thing, stuff is as good as new, and trust me when that stuff goes bad it reeks to high heaven. I could list stuff all day long, not just one can that I got lucky with but dozens. After all, I've been doing this since '98. I've gone through cans of evap milk that were a year out of date, and rice that was stored every way but the "correct" one but still came through with flying colors eight years later.

For those of you new to prepping, it's great to do things "the right way" right out of the gate, but if finances are a struggle, don't get overwhelmed and discouraged by the cost. I'll do another post here in a bit about the cheap way to get started, because you can always upgrade your stuff on down the road.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fodder Feeding for Rabbits

I have rabbits.

I have chickens, and in truth I should have stopped there. It isn't as if I didn't know what I was getting into when I got the buns. I had them in high school, a matted mess of an Angora and a foul tempered New Zealand with a taste for my blood. I still have scars on my hands from that mean bastard.

I live in Texas, which is like saying I live on Hell's front porch and am unable to take advantage of its air conditioning. Keeping rabbits here means keeping them cool 8 months out of the year, which means mister systems, fans, pop bottles filled with ice, and panic. The chickens find a shady patch and spread out, panting in the heat but otherwise fine by their own devices. Not so rabbits. Anything over 80.. which is every day between May 1 and Oct 31st... and it's a scramble to keep them cool. In July-Sept, when the mercury hits 100F by 10 am....

But it isn't summer, it's February, and I have nine inches of snow on the ground. Yes, it snows in my part of Hell. The gauge on the chicken coop reads a balmy 22F and the rabbits are warm and happy in their fur coats while I turn blue trying to refill their water bottles.

I had to have rabbits.

One of the dubious joys of rabbit breedership is the sourcing of quality food. After all, if they're going in my mouth I wanna be dang sure only good stuff goes into their own. Finding rabbit pellets where I am is hit or miss, with options being limited to Walmart (overpriced and underquality) and a feed store that has rather dusty, crumbly pellets. The other feed store doesn't carry rabbit pellets, saying I should just put them on alfalfa pellets and call it a day.

wheat grass fodder at seven daysInstead, I've taken to growing their food in my laundry room, because nothing says organization like a bunch of greenhouse trays scattered over the washing machine, dryer, countertop, and dog kennel. I first saw the system in the Farmtek catalog. FodderPro, a hydroponic system for sprouting barley or wheat or whatever. They call it fodder. I call it friggin genius.

The first system I made consisted of the bottoms of a bunch of plastic gallon jugs, and despite so many warnings of mold, rot, and total failure, it worked like a charm. Best of all, the rabbits go crazy for their new chow.

Everyone seems to use barley seed. I would too, but I can't find it here and I'm not spending a fortune shipping it in. Red winter wheat seed runs $12 per 50# here, and it doesn't waste time growing either.

I put three small handfuls of wheat into a mason jar full of water to soak 24 hours, then into the plastic container. A good, cold water rinse a few times a day and before I knew it, I had wheat grass.

Once I got the hang of it, I upgraded to greenhouse flats, four in all. As I only need a half a flat to feed all the rabbits, the fodder is ready in 7 or 8 days, depending on which half I'm pulling that day. I grow a mix of mostly wheat, with some BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) and corn tossed in for variety. This summer I may try some sorghum just to see how it does, but since it's a warm weather sprouter it'll be more of a pill to get going.  This has almost completely replaced the pellets, though I still feed them hay, grass clippings, and various shrub trimmings.

Next month I'll be converting part of the chicken run to a fully enclosed, insulated rabbit house with air conditioning (because nothing says off the grid self sufficiency like a rabbit house with lights and air conditioning), and I'll be setting up an automated fodder system in there that will use the "used" water from the grow beds to flush the rabbit crap trays, all of it going out to a settling tank that can be siphoned over to the garden. In the meantime, here's the beginner system, which costs nothing but the cost of a bag of seed and is a good way for you to give it a whirl without any investment.

Left: Day 3                              Right: Day 4


Left: Day 5                                      Right: Day 6

Left: Day 7         Right: Cut through root mass, looking inside

Cut to feed in early days when I was switching over from pellets

Feed fodder @3-5% body weight (I go with the 5%). The gallon jug bottom weighs around a pound so one half will be enough for a 10 pound rabbit each day, plus hay.