e71. Sow the Land with Jason Contreras

In this episode, Jason Contreras, shares his inspirational journey from being diagnosed with cancer to becoming a homesteader in North Carolina. After his diagnosis, Jason and his wife decided to pursue a healthier, more self-sustainable lifestyle, which led them to leave their city life in Los Angeles and start a small scale farming operation. They began by raising chickens and gradually added more livestock, such as pigs and steers. Jason discusses the complexities of his new lifestyle, sharing insights on various farming practices and techniques. He also emphasizes the determination and resilience required for self-sufficiency and healthier living. This episode provides valuable insights for those considering a similar path, making it a must-listen for aspiring homesteaders.

Social media:
Facebook: Sow the Land
Instagram: @sowtheland
Website: https://sowtheland.com

Books/Resources Mentioned:
Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin
Management-Intensive Grazing 
by Jim Gerrish
Quality Pastures 
by Allan Nation
Stockman Grass Farmer


These transcriptions are automatically generated. Please excuse any errors in the text.

0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode 71.

0:00:05 – Jason Contreras
It’s so hard to have patience, especially for, I think, most people in this space. We’re go-gainters. I try to remind myself that the grass is not going to heal overnight.

0:00:15 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer and their operation. I’m your host, Cal Hardidge. On today’s episode, we have Jason Contreras. He is from so the Land. You may have caught him on YouTube. He is working with Small Acreage and introducing grazing animals to it, so we’re going to talk about what animals he’s grazing and how it’s going on his Small Acreage. It’s a great show.

But before we get to Jason, let’s do 10 seconds about my farm. Right now I’m kind of busy because I did not manage my Sarissa very well with these very well. In fact, you know, michael Vance, in the last episode, said something about if there’s not some part of your farm you’re embarrassed about, you might need to talk to someone else. Well, I’m pretty embarrassed. My Sarissa has gotten out of hand and nothing wants to eat it, so I am mowing it down partly. I don’t like doing that at all because I just think driving a tractor over brush hogging is just not the way I want to do it. Anyway, but that’s what I’m doing, and then I plan on planting a few cool seasons. I like to do a few each year. Still not have mastered that, but I like to do it and I feel like I get some benefit from it. I mentioned Michael on there. We had a wonderful episode last week on episode 70 with Michael Vance. If you didn’t catch it, you need to go catch it.

And also we have the grazing grass community on Facebook. We had a question or two about last episode and Michael jumped on there and answered those. It’s one of the great benefits of the grazing grass community. You got a question for one of our guests. Most of the time they are on there and if you are an international listener, you know a few months ago we tweeted out we had been downloaded in over 100 countries.

I have another exciting milestone to share with you in just a moment. But lately we’ve been focused kind of on one of those countries. Our guests for the last few episodes have all been from the United States and we are working hard to get some international guests on and that will be happening soon. So that will go with the few countries we’ve had guests on. We’ve had guests on from Canada, mexico, brazil, australia and we hope to expand that soon. So if you’re not a member of the grazing grass community on Facebook, we encourage you to go over and join it. You can get there from the link on grazinggrasscom or just on Facebook search for grazing grass community.

Also, I mentioned we had an amazing benchmark or milestone hit. We passed and you may have seen this on our social media channels we passed 100,000 downloads for a lifetime of the podcast, which is just amazing to me and in fact before I got on here I checked where over 101,000 already. Thank you for listening. I really appreciate it and there’s no way we could have got here without you and, just like you found the podcast by someone sharing it with you or you searching for it came across it. Would you share these episodes with someone you know that may get a benefit from them, but I really appreciate it. I never dreamed we would be at 100,000 downloads. That’s just an amazing feed in my mind and we are moving quickly past it and greatly appreciate you. Enough of all that, let’s talk to Jason. Jason, we want to welcome you to the Grazing Grass podcast. We’re excited you’re here today. Yeah, thanks for having me. Jason, get started. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation?

0:04:21 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, currently it’s me. My wife and I have a 11-year-old. We live on 14 acres in the mountains of North Carolina, western North Carolina, and we’ve just been here, maybe a year and a half, and it’s an old horse property that we’re trying to develop into our I guess you could say our family farm. We’d mainly grow food for ourselves and this is our homestead and we didn’t start out here. We’ve been in this area for seven years and prior to that we were living in the Los Angeles area and just outside of LA, and that’s where me and my wife were born and raised and never lived anywhere else and wasn’t around farming until we moved here seven years ago. And so what started? All that was when. I see it’s been geez, I didn’t know how long. I was 30 years old and I got diagnosed with cancer and that really started changing our way of thinking, started looking at labels on food and started figuring out like what should we be eating and not eating? And we had the standard American lifestyle, standard American diet, and it was around that time I did six month of chemo and that was it. I lost all my hair and I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it was during that time where we were trying to figure all this out and a lot of questions started popping up. As soon as we started questioning the way we lived and no way our diet was, we started talking about growing our own food Because we thought if we’re really going to know what’s in our food, we need to grow it. But we’d never done that before. We didn’t know what that looked like. I don’t think I even knew a single person that had a tomato plant in their backyard. I didn’t know anybody who had chickens, nothing. I mean, we’re just outside of Los Angeles so there wasn’t like any land around. We had a house, four bedroom house, nice house, and we had a little backyard. And so that’s what we started doing. We bought some plant starts at the local hardware store and just planted them.

After you grow in that first tomato plant, all of a sudden we felt like farmers. So there’s something very satisfying of growing something from a seed to harvesting it, to cooking it with your family and eating it at the dinner table. We fell in love with that, and so from there it was just. We started joking around Like, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we went and found some more land so we could maybe grow, have chickens, maybe we could grow our own meat. But it became kind of it was like a joke, like haha, that was never happening, because it was just because we lived in that area. All our family was lived in that area, like grandma lived next door, on the next street over. All our family was pretty much within an hour from each other and that’s where we grew up. And so we thought, well, if we were to find land, it definitely wouldn’t be in this area. So in us leaving the area, it’s just not going to happen. That was already our thought.

So over the course of six years, it was all that time where we started to question more things like my job, my wife’s job. She had a career in the fashion industry. I had a office nine to five job. I worked in the architectural engineering side of things and I did that for 17 years. We started questioning those things of like, what makes us happy? Are we happy at our jobs? And I started not to be happy. I didn’t want to be in an office anymore and my wife, after I was in remission of cancer, she became a stay-at-home mom. We had our daughter and she got tired of driving three hours in traffic every day and all these things are coming at the same time. And also we started to live more minimally Got rid of one car, went down to one car, got rid of our TV.

We started to develop this I mean, looking back at it now, it was this homestead mindset in the city, which I don’t think that was a thing that we thought about at the time, but now I can say that and we started to figure out how to grow our own food, even when we did it in some raised bed, a square foot gardening. Try to figure out how maybe we could can some pickles. So we started to develop that mindset and slowly getting rid of stuff in our house and still joking around that hey, we’re going to go find some land somewhere. And so at one point we had got rid of almost everything in our home Couches were gone, nothing was on the wall. We had our kitchen table that was left over and we said, ok, pretty much the only thing left that we have is this kitchen table. And if we sell this kitchen table, I think this is not a joke anymore, I think we’re serious about this.

And so we sold the kitchen table and shortly thereafter we sold our house and the plan was that that year we moved in with mom. That definitely felt like we were taking a step backwards After going to college, buy the house, have the child, and that didn’t make sense. But what we wanted was some land, even if it was one acre, to grow more food, and so we took the whole year off of trying to get out of debts and figuring that out, what that looked like. And so we just moved in with mom and we looked at various places of where we can move. We were more so on the West Coast that we looked, but at the same time I had this comfortable nine to five job. I didn’t know how to get out of that. And so we had vacationed out in the Asheville, north Carolina area and we felt a lot with it. We felt like a good tent of homesteading community out here and a lot of local small farms type things.

And it rained. You know California didn’t get a whole lot of rain. These were it was green, there was trees, you know fresh air, it was not smog and we really found love with that. And so we felt like this is where we needed to be. You know, I went back home and we thought, well, if we’re gonna really know if that’s where we need to be, I need to go look for, look for places.

And so, in the end of 2015, I went down by myself. My wife trusted me to go by myself and find some land, and so we found. I found a one and a half acre. It was abandoned for a year, no one lived there and it was a single wide mobile home run down mobile home. It checked everything off the list that we wanted. It had a creek running in the back and it was fairly flat. So we bought it and, as far as my job, I didn’t know how to get out of it, and so what I ended up doing is just quitting. We just left and with no job and we had no friends or family out here.

But the thing that we wanted was to be together as the family, grow as much food as we can and try to be healthy and to figure out how to work for ourselves. I did not wanna go back to a nine to five office job and we would figure it out On paper. It made absolutely no sense. It like how is this gonna work? Like you need to. You need to work, like you know, but I had no connections we felt really drawn to this area, where we need to be, and so that’s what we did. We left and we had sold most of our stuff in the six years. At the time we had a four year old Though me and my wife, my four year old and we left and we’ve been here ever since, and ever since I’ve never been back to an office job and we outgrew the one and a half acres in six years which we felt like we were ready to take the next step on raising larger animals. That’s what we moved to our 14 acres that we are at today.

0:13:05 – Cal Hardage
That was quite a leap of faith to go across the country and embark on your new journey.

0:13:12 – Jason Contreras
Yes, it was just hoping that if this was meant to be, it would all work out.

0:13:19 – Cal Hardage
Oh, yes, yeah, and before your diagnosis of cancer. Was this even on your radar at all? Not at all.

0:13:27 – Jason Contreras
I mean, I really do think I thank God for cancer every day because I don’t think that I would even know that this whole other life would be out there for us if I did not get cancer. I really think if I didn’t get cancer I would still be in my office job or we would still be back in LA like just doing our thing, not knowing that this whole other life exists for us.

0:13:53 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah, cancer has a way of opening your eyes. So, what’s important? We just went through a cancer deal with my wife that we completed a year ago and everything’s going good and I trust that everything’s going good with you and that’s a blessing. Yes, when you moved to North Carolina, you got your acre and a half. I assume you went to planning everything you could grow.

0:14:20 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, I mean I had read some books and stuff and this was, I guess, kind of pre-YouTube. I mean I feel like you could look at a lot of YouTube videos and they could kind of learn from that. But this is kind of before that, before that started really getting big. So we read some books and some blog posts and stuff like that and documentaries, and so they all told you to don’t do anything for at least a year. Right, but that’s so difficult because we moved out there. We moved out here.

I was like the reason why we’re here is to grow food. That’s what we’re doing. And so, yeah, I rented a tiller and I just tilled up a spot and we just started from there, and from there the garden grew and grew every single year. Also, what we wanted to do is raise our own meat chickens, broilers and so I built a movable coop because I had read when I was in my office job I would like Google stuff like terms started popping up that, as we did more research on healthy food, like pastured poultry started popping up.

I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know what pastured poultry was. I didn’t know what grass-fed beef was. This was in 2015. So I remember, typing in what is pastured poultry, joel Saliton’s name was the only thing that would pop up. Oh yeah, like polyphase farm, like that was the only thing that would pop up, really. And so I thought, wow, it’s just like because we wanted to buy a pastured poultry but there was nothing in our area that had it.

But then, right before we left, primal pastures popped up and they started selling some stuff. Now they’re one of the top pastured poultry farms out there and they actually taught us how to butcher a chicken, because we took a workshop before we left California at their farm. That opened up our eyes on like hey, we could do this. It brought it down to our level because I’m like these are just normal guys. They’re not farmers, they didn’t start off as farmers and in my mind I was expecting Old McDonald with overall, but they were not that, and so that helped us bring it to our level and say, okay, we can do this too. And so we started with broiler chickens on our one and a half acres in a movable coop, started with 25 chickens and started moving around, you know, smag layers and garden, and we kind of just went from there.

0:16:56 – Cal Hardage
At the time where you just raising for your own consumption?

0:16:59 – Jason Contreras
Yes, that was just the goal. But it’s funny, you know, like when people somehow the word gets around that you farm or you have these animals, and somehow people get the word and they like find you and they start asking you questions. Or you started getting like emails and phone calls. Then I remember a chef contacted me. He was a chef in town and he was like I hear you raise pasture poultry and I was like yes, but it’s for ourselves. You know, like I’m not selling it. But he’s just like I don’t care, I want to buy it. He didn’t, it didn’t matter to him, like he was just like he just knew I raised it and how I raised it. And so that’s kind of funny how that works out. But yes, it was mainly for ourselves and seeing if we can do it.

0:17:44 – Cal Hardage
Through that first experience of raising those pastured poultry, those broilers, get that R and all those letters in there. How’d that go for you?

0:17:54 – Jason Contreras
So the first. So yeah, so there was a local farm that was raising broilers, but they were raising a heritage breed, Bardrock, and they were dual-purposed, they were slower growing and they were pretty much our neighbors, a neighboring farm. And I thought, well cause, initially I was like I want to raise the freedom rangers. And then I saw this farm next to us that was raising these for meat and I thought, well, they’re next to us, let’s just buy it from them. And so we bought 25 chickens from them and, not really knowing anything about them, I knew they were slower growing but I figured it’d be like the same as a red ranger or a freedom ranger.

You know they are slower growing, those Bardrocks. They ended up taking like 18 weeks. I fed them on all organic diet and I was buying at the time I was buying 50 pound bags of feed at the local feed store. It was very expensive. 18 weeks, they were so slower growing. By the time we butchered them they were maybe three pounds. I probably even I shouldn’t even butchered them. I should just keep them for egg layers. But that’s I didn’t know. You know, I think I did the math and it cost me like something like $30 to raise one chicken. I thought this is not. It Like, this is not, this is not working.

You know we had to figure something out, and so let’s go back in the you know, let’s start with the Cornish Cross and go from there, you know, and so so that first yeah, that first go around was a little tough, cause I didn’t think it was worth it at all raising them. The rain here, compared to like Southern California, sometimes it pours like crazy right. And so I remember one time one night it started pouring and I got so worried about those chickens I was. I was running out there, I was grabbing the tarps extra tarps, you know. I was throwing them over the coop and I was like, oh my gosh, they’re gonna drown. That was not the case at all, but looking back, I thought it’s funny to think back now, cause they were totally fine. It was just me, I was not used. I was just not used to that rain, and so it was just kind of funny.

0:20:10 – Cal Hardage
Now, since that time, you mentioned going to Cornish Crosses. Is that why you’re continuing to raise?

0:20:17 – Jason Contreras
We have been alternating between Cornish Crosses and the Red Ranger bird. Now it’s really just about a time thing like so we could fit in, cause we don’t raise them all year long, you know it’s basically spring, summer so that we could fit in. You know, cause you can’t beat the, you know, eight week turnaround for Cornish Cross Versus the 12 weeks for a red ranger. So we all took we’ve been alternating, like every other one of the Cornish cross so that we could fit in more birds, but I Like the red ranger bird a lot better, then the Cornish cross, because they’re. They just look more healthier. Yeah, they’re not.

0:20:59 – Cal Hardage
So Frankenstein, ish Tough question for you when they’re on a plate, can you tell their the freedom ranger, a red ranger from the Cornish cross?

0:21:09 – Jason Contreras
Now I did do a blind taste test on my YouTube channel and the red ranger did win. Oh, okay, I’ll have to look up that video but for the most part it pretty much tastes the same. I guess it gets the red ranger. I would say it’s a little bit more Juicier. I’d say maybe a little bit more, a little more darker meat, but I mean yeah.

0:21:31 – Cal Hardage
They’re all good. You know, I’ve tried tons of things and I raised pasture poultry one year and I used Cornish crosses and we just raised them for ourself and I wanted to see how much money it would cost. And go through it I don’t know if it was my feet or what my wife, just she’s like I thought they would be better tasting. I’m like, well, we know what’s all in them. They’re, they’re so much better than the store. But also, when I figured the finances on it, it was pretty expensive for us to raise those and and that’s going to be on Me my first time doing it and I keep thinking I’ll do it again when I have time. It’s just a matter of finding time.

0:22:15 – Jason Contreras
Oh yeah, if we’re gonna buy that chicken anyways like, Well, first of all we raise it on organic feed, organic pasture, raised poultry you can’t really find that and you’re able to buy organic feed locally.

0:22:29 – Cal Hardage
Yes, well, I have it shipped.

0:22:31 – Jason Contreras
We buy it for organic farm with the feed that. We buy it from there about four hours away. We have it shipped here or local and I go pick it up. But I buy it in bulk now I buy it in the big totes, which makes it more cheaper. But you know you can’t find organic pastured poultry, even at the local farmers market. You really can’t find it. If we’re gonna buy that, it’s cheap. It is cheaper. It is cheaper for us to grow it ourselves than to buy organic pasture raised poultry at Another farm.

0:23:05 – Cal Hardage
You know that’s how we think of it, as I think I know the answer to this. You’d mention it, but you all process your own chickens.

0:23:12 – Jason Contreras
We started doing that on our one and a half acres right away. And Over the years, I mean, people started asking us like, hey, can we come over and show me how to do it? And it was really just people that we’d meet in the community, neighbors and stuff and and and they would. We would like, yeah, sure, if you guys want, we could use the help. Sure, you know. And we started to. Every single time it was like somebody knew, somebody knew. And so after a while we’re like, oh, I wonder what it would have look like, you know, if we open it up to not just our neighbor but people that say watch us on YouTube, you know our social media if we posted it on there. And so that’s when we just started to having workshops where we people come.

We started doing that one and a half acres when we have like maybe five or ten people Come out. You know they pay for a workshop and we teach people that way. And so now I mean this is probably our fourth year, fifth year teaching people how to butcher a chicken. And then so over the years we we got, you know, you get better at it, more you do it, and Now we, like last year, I think we had 50 people here not not at one time, but individual times of showing people how to, how to be more self-sufficient and and do it that way and then, and then we also have our online course that we developed For people that can’t come to a hands-on workshop, but they can buy online course if they wanted to. Very nice Now with the chickens.

0:24:48 – Cal Hardage
You got started there on your one and a half acres with chickens. Did you all add any other livestock it through those years or do you add some when you went to the 14 acres? When we’re still in our one and a half acres? We?

0:25:03 – Jason Contreras
were comfortable with the chickens and so about I would say, a year four of being there, we got to regular feeder pigs and we raised them on the one and a half acres and we we butchered them there also ourselves. You know, that’s when, after after, we started raising the pigs, that’s when we said, okay, I think we’ve kind of outgrown what we’re doing here and we wanted to get even maybe I wanted to get like something like that Even maybe I wanted to get like some steers Raised, some beef or some sheep or something like that. So that’s one of the reasons why we sold that place and got the 14, because as soon as we got the 14 we got two steers. You know, we raised. We raised them for about a year and then we butchered those guys ourselves and then kept on doing with the pigs and then turkeys. You know we got every, pretty much every animal besides sheep. We haven’t done sheep yet.

0:26:06 – Cal Hardage
So these other species you’ve got, you’re feeding your chickens organically. Did you feed them organically? Did you try and finish? Did you grass finish your steers?

0:26:18 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, they were raised on a hundred percent grass with no grain. And it’s one of those things right mentioned before, like all of a sudden, people know that you do these things. Oh, you’ll start to get like random phone calls like hey, I got, I got a milk cow, do you want them? You know, you know like they. Just you start having people handing you animals and like it’s hard to say no Because you want to like. Yet you want to do it. All you know, but it’s important to like. Hey, let me calm down a minute and let’s think about this.

But when we first got our, we had just came, we just had just got this 14 acres and you know we’re very excited, but it was a still a overgrazed horse property. It wasn’t very great pasture area but it still was a 14 acres of stills, a lot, and I would say more than half of it is Pasture. So I got a phone call From a friend of mine and he’s like hey, there’s this local farm. They’re a pasture raised organic farm. That was local to me, for me close, and they were going out of business. So they were selling everything pigs, pastured pigs, steers, chickens, like that mean it was a huge, huge farm and so I ended up buying two steers from them and they were already a year old and they were already trained to a single wire.

I think one of them was a Angus Jersey and the other one was a Angus. But you know, I figured well, this is a good opportunity To get my feet wet on raising some beef, and it was. It was a, it was a huge opportunity and and we did it and we only raised them for a year. But looking back, I mean, our Pasture area was not Good. You know, like we, I feel like we didn’t have enough. I mean, I was buying hay and this was just me, this figuring it out, you know, of how to raise these animals when I think about horse pasture and when I’m thinking my neighbors or whoever around, when I see horse pastures.

0:28:28 – Cal Hardage
For the most part, and I I hate to lump everyone together because I know not everyone does this, but some of the horse pastures are some of the worst Carried for pastures because those horses just love to nibble it down and then you’ve got it’s graze to the ground and the weeds are just going crazy. So it takes a While to repair that. So you’re still in that phase of repairing your land but you’re still able to utilize livestock and get some value out of it.

0:28:59 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, I mean I, I raise them and I move them around Often. You know it was only two, but you know I learned a lot. You know they taught me a lot. Yeah, and you know like where, and water, water to like water. We didn’t have water up on our Higher parts of our property, so you know running hoses, all that it was. It was difficult but it was just a learning experience and I knew that, like these, these two steers that I bought were just there to teach me a lesson. Teach me, you know, like this is it I’m. This is such a teaching opportunity for me and it was. It was great in that aspect, but I’m glad I did it because it really opened my eyes on what my land really needed.

0:29:49 – Cal Hardage
Now, one thing you mentioned about your pigs and your cattle. You butchered your own animals. How did that go to me? Just second, I’ll give you a little bit of back history. I grew up on a farm. We always butchered our own chickens, so I know about that. I can handle that. I can remember one time my dad and grandfather grandfather, I use, he called him grandpa and my grandpa Butchered a hog, and I don’t. I was really small at the time and I only remember a little about little about it, but it seems like to me that’s a huge undertaking that I would be low anxiety about going through and doing.

0:30:33 – Jason Contreras
For sure there’s definitely. Yes, it’s not easy at all, but, you know, over the, you know, since we’re a had lived out here, you know we met some good people in the community that were we’re doing that. They were butchering their own hogs, their own steers, you know. So I would always try to hey, do you need help? Like I just want to come and just look, I just want to come and just be around it. And so, you know, for five, six years I Tried to be there at least once a year around it. You know, and that helped me with my mind of like getting over that fear of the, of, of that you know, to be more comfortable butchering an animal, like a big animal, like that. And so when it was time, I was like I want to do it for myself, like I just wanted to try it and see if I liked it. I don’t think anyone enjoys it really, but you know, just just to be more comfortable and confident that, hey, I can do this Probably better for the animal if I do it. You know you don’t have to, it’s less, they’re less stressful, I think, on the animal. You don’t have to load them up in a trailer and then haul them an hour away or something, and then they stay in another facility and somebody else does it. I feel like it’s probably better for the animal if I do it.

Luckily, we don’t have a tractor. I’ve never had a tractor before. That’s another obstacle, because you start to think of different ways to do things. And so luckily we have a big 16-foot-tall horse stall the horse barn. So I tied up an electric winch to the opening of it, and when you don’t have a tractor like, say, whether it’s a pig or a steer we’re always moving them around the property. So by the time they’re ready to be butchered, we have moved them down towards the barn where we want to butcher them, so that way we don’t have to drag them or pick them up. So we drop them right where the winch is and then we hoist them up there, so there’s no dragging.

And then, honestly, you could watch all the YouTube videos and read all the books, but there’s nothing like getting your hands dirty and just doing it and getting your mind over the fact that this probably will not look like meat that you buy at the grocery store. Get that out of your head. It’s not going to look like that. In the end, you’re putting meat in the freezer for your family. You’re not carrying what it looks like and so I think, when you think about that, then OK, I can do this. It’s OK if it’s ugly. In the end, if it’s super ugly, you could turn it into hamburger meat. It’s just a matter of doing it and it was great it turned out. I mean, doing the pigs have been good. We’ve done, I think, five, six pigs in the last few years. We did both of our two of our steers last year and you invite people to in the community or invite your friends over that helps too.

0:33:56 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah, the justification there that the animal it’s a better case scenario for the animal than going to a processor and I love the idea of that because I love the idea of self-sufficiency and being able to do it yourself. My wife loves the idea of meat coming from the supermarket wrapped in plastic and stuff. It took her a while she did not grow up on a farm and somehow she married me and quickly learned our beef doesn’t come that way and she’s adjusted to that. But she is nowhere to the point that I think she could handle me doing the processing. I don’t know, maybe I’m not giving her enough credit there, but how was your spouse? Was she on board with this? Did it take some time?

0:34:50 – Jason Contreras
Yes, I mean from the beginning. This has been her dream just as much as my dream.

0:34:55 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah.

0:34:56 – Jason Contreras
I mean, we’re both on board from the get-go and honestly, I think that’s important. Maybe we wouldn’t be as successful doing this if it was her dream or my dream you know not both and so I think that’s important for someone to. If the couple is looking to do something like this, you kind of have to be both on board. Now, I know it’s not always like that. It’d be a lot easier if you both were like 100% all in.

0:35:27 – Cal Hardage
My wife is fully supportive of having more natural meat, better quality, you know, grass finish. She’s all in favor of all that. She just would prefer me to do the hard stuff.

0:35:39 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, like I’m the killer in the family, but with my wife she loves the piecing out, like the actual butchering, the processing. She’s in there. I mean she went in there with a half a hog or half a steer and she’s in there breaking it up and she’s like that’s her thing and so that’s great. I mean that’s a good team, a good team there. You know, like somebody has to be the killer, unfortunately, but she’s likes doing the viscerating, you know the piecing out, which is which is awesome. And then our daughter too. I mean she’s 11 years old now, so she’s grown up in this lifestyle, she’s in there with us and she’s not afraid to get dirty either.

0:36:23 – Cal Hardage
Very good, Jason, We’ve we’ve gone through what your journey and what you’re doing there really quick and we didn’t touch on a lot of things, but we do need to move on a little bit. But before we move on, can you tell us maybe about a challenge that you didn’t anticipate?

0:36:41 – Jason Contreras
Leaving a nine to five job to start this homestead lifestyle. That has been a challenge of working for myself. I mean, I know it’s not necessarily about farming really, but it’s just trying to figure out an income for myself and for our family that will, I guess, will allow us to live this lifestyle. That has been very difficult. I mean, early on it was a lot of yeses. I would say yes to everything because I didn’t want to go back to an office job.

I was a handyman, I was, you know, a woodworker, you know whatever it is that was there. I was ready to do it and at the same time, working on growing a YouTube channel. That has been something that is not all we do now, but one of the main things of how we’re able to live this lifestyle is creating the content that we do. It’s not something that happened overnight and not sure if I would do the same, like just leave a job like that, knowing how hard it would be, you know, like I don’t know if I can do that again because it’s so difficult and I was not used to that. I was always used to working for somebody. So that has definitely been one of the biggest challenges that we’ve had to face and continue to figure it out, and we’re still, you know, we’re still figuring it out, but for whatever reason we’re able to make it work.

0:38:12 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, that is a challenge, you know I would. I still have my nine to five job and it’s a passion there for me and I really enjoy it. But at times I think, boy, I’d love to just spend all my time on the farm and that’s something my wife and I’ve talked about. I don’t have an answer for it yet, because I do enjoy my. I feel like I work in education. I think education is a passion of mine as well, as farming partly leads to this podcast, so, but it’s, it’s a conversation we have about that nine to five and leaving it would be be kind of scary about where’s that money coming from? How are we going to survive? Yeah, Right. Now one more thing before we jump to the overgrazing section. You’d mention you haven’t got any goats or sheep, but you have tried a lot of others. What do you think the next type of animal you’ll get that you haven’t got? Are you good where you are?

0:39:14 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, Currently we have we just butchered our last brother chickens of the year. Currently we have 11 turkeys and seven coonie coonie pigs. Those are grazing pigs, by the way. Like they are amazing pigs, they do not root up, they do not make a big mud hole, they graze like steers. But I feel like the next thing I do want to try is a sheep. Right now I’m trying to get my perimeter fence reestablished at the horse fence. It has a single, like horse, single wires, high tensile, which was already there but it’s been neglected. It was way overgrown or like trees growing in it. So I’m trying to establish that perimeter fence first before I get any other animal, like big animals, Even though you know we haven’t. You know we use the electric netting, which has been super helpful and allowed us to do a lot of the grazing. I think I pushed my luck getting the two steers without having a perimeter fence. I’m trying to do things smart now.

0:40:20 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, Now of course, I’ve got one more question before we get to the overgrazing how does the coonie coonie pigs taste? I don’t know.

0:40:30 – Jason Contreras
I’ve never tasted one yet. Here everyone tells me that they are the best like Kobe beef of pork, you know, like they’re like a red meat that’s what I hear because they’re merely a lard pig. So that’s something that we’re going to have to figure out. And now I bought a breeding care from that same farm that I got the two steers from last year and so they had piglets for us, and so I’m hoping you know they’re going to be good for us to put in the freezer. But we’ll see, I don’t know. We’ll see what they taste like and that’s going to probably be the ultimate test if we want to continue to raise them.

0:41:08 – Cal Hardage
Right, I’ve talked about getting a few pigs just to raise for our own. So we have that pork that we raised. The consideration has been coonie coonie pigs. I just don’t know. I haven’t tried their meat and I love their dispositions and the grazing ability of them. I just that the most important thing is, if my wife doesn’t like it on a plate, then we probably won’t do it. So I’m interested to see how they go for you and that’s a great segment into our overgrazing section, our overgrazing section where we take a deeper dive into something you’re doing on your operation. You were talking about a deep bedding system for them.

0:41:51 – Jason Contreras
So previously you know, when we’re just on our one and a half acres, I didn’t want a big muddy hole of a mess with the pigs. And that’s what always, you know a smelly mess, because that’s, you know, typically when you think about the raising. Raising pigs, I guess going to smell, my neighbors are going to hate me, you know. Like all these things, you know people started telling me all these things and then, and then you know, I started reading more about, like kind of Joe Stouton, how kind of he raises pigs in the winter. He raises them in a structure. At the time I was, I had helped my friend Justin Rhodes build his pig shelter. He had raised a carport. I had built a carport at his place and he raised a couple pigs in there just to kind of Show people that you could raise pigs in a smaller scale. And so after that I was like, okay, I think we could raise two pigs. And so what I ended up doing was kind of taking Things that I had saw other people do and I built a high tunnel like a greenhouse and it was about 12 foot wide by 40 feet long and I Enclosed half of it, which I put a wall out, a two by four and then put a couple door and gate on them and I Covered the parts where I had the two pigs in with hog panels around the high tunnel and also corrugated metal roofing so they couldn’t get out. And then I raised the two pigs in there In a deep bedding system of wood chips, and so every time that they would poop I would cover it with wood chip, and that’s usually like in the morning when I fed them, or and then in the evening when I went back in there check up on them. You know I trained them to a water nipple water, like with a 55 gallon barrel of water, and I put that in there with them, and so I just kept covering the wood chips.

Now I only raised these pigs for about seven months. They’re just a fast-growing pig and then so, being on the one and a half, eight, one and a half acres, I still had some grass. I had grasses there and I had some areas that I did want them to till up, and so I would move them in and out of this structure throughout the seven months and they would maybe only be in a spot on grass maybe two weeks, and then after two weeks I’d move them into the Back into the structure and they’d be in there for like another two or three weeks. I fed them and they were fine. You would never know that I had pigs because nothing smelled. There wasn’t like a big muddy hole Everywhere and I just moved them in and out of there throughout the seven weeks and after we had put them in the freezer I had this big pile of wood chips, composts from their manure and the wood chips, and so then I scooped up all those wood shit, put them in the garden like a big pile of them.

At the time we have meat chickens, broilers, and they were not cornes crosses, they were the Red Rangers. The Red Rangers are more. They’re more willing to scratch and pick. I would release them on this big pile of wood chips and they would just continue to scratch and pick at it and Continue to break down the wood chips. And then I would cover it with a tarp throughout, and this is I will do this at the like fall, beginning of winter or end of fall cover it with the tarp and then, throughout the whole winter, have it covered and then by the time Spring time comes and it’s ready time to almost to plant in the garden.

I spread out all that wood chips in the garden and it’s basically, you know, fertilizer for your garden, and so I was able to do that and that that grew our, our produce and what we had in our garden like two times as much. And it’s just by using yeah, just by using all that and putting it back to the earth and yeah, and it was. It was great. I mean I plan on doing that same thing here on our forking acres, just for the compost aspect of it. I mean we have more space here to move them, move pigs in, and that time we did it, but here we have more space so I don’t have to do that. But I enjoyed having all that compost material because that’s gonna help our compacted soil that we have here and it’s gonna help our garden grow over the years as we do that.

0:46:27 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah, I can see a huge benefit for your garden by doing that. It just gives you that ready supply of fertilizer to get out on it. Well, Jason, it’s about time we move on to our famous four questions. Same four questions we ask of all of our guests. Our very first question what is your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?

0:46:51 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, I would have to say I mean early on. I think my first one that I read was the pastured poultry for profits by Joe Salatin, and really pretty much any book that he writes, and that Probably one of the first books I read like all the way through and I read it in like two days or something. Hey, because I was so excited about it, you know, just starting our journey, and that kind of got me pumped up to raise her own broilers. But since then I got, you know, I think, by like like Alan nation, jim Garrish, I think, once management intensive Grazing, so I think I have it sitting out here somewhere. Quality pasture Any one of these books, one of those, but one of those guys I mean, I think, or stockpain, anything from stockpain, grass farmer, the publication, I mean, any one of those are great all excellent resources there.

0:47:38 – Cal Hardage
Actually on this, joe else, joe Salatin, are you using his type of chicken tractors or using a different type?

0:47:46 – Jason Contreras
No, I, when I had my office job, I would do, I would do research on chicken tractors because I knew I didn’t want to do. You know, again, I didn’t really didn’t know much about that, about them, about how to do it. So you know his, I think his hold like 75 chickens and I felt like that was too much for us, like I only wanted to do 25, and so I never have never have done his style of coops. And plus I heard you know you needed like a dolly to move it and so I felt like it was heavy. You know, I thought like I really wanted my wife to be able to move it, you know, if she had to, also now my 11 year old. So I started doing the Johnson scovitch style chicken tractors when you could walk into it and they’re a lot lighter, they’re smaller, so I do those type of chicken tractors now our second question what is your favorite tool on the farm?

I would say two of them. Two of them are definitely the the premier one heading and the solar Chargers. Even though the solar chargers are, you know, they could be kind of hit and miss sometimes, but you know they, they do what they have worked for us. You know they allowed us to be able to, you know, rotate all over animals. You know her steers I had her two steers and a on a solar charger, you know and in our pigs, our chickens, you know everybody and without that, you know we wouldn’t be able to do that. And then another one is the tool to build something which is a battery operated circular saw. I mean, I’ve built so many things just with that one tool. That’s all you need really, and and and I wouldn’t be able to do like all that stuff, and it’s remote, you know, I don’t have to have it courted. So that’s gotta be my favorite tool to build stuff with you know I love battery operated tools.

0:49:39 – Cal Hardage
It’s just shocking to me how much power they can put out. And yeah, I love my battery operated tools. Our third question, jason, is what would you tell someone just getting started?

0:49:52 – Jason Contreras
I would say it’s so hard to have patience, especially for I think most people in this space we’re we’re go-gangers, you know, like we are doers and we want to get out there and start doing stuff and it and it’s so difficult and that’s that you can’t do stuff.

But like, just be patient and like I try to remind myself of that, you know, when we bought our 14 acres, is that you know the grass is not gonna heal overnight and at the same time, if anything, get 25 brother chickens and put them in a movable coop, even if you you don’t have the the means to get cows yet or steers or or sheep or anything like that. But if you build a movable coop and it could be so simple to build and just put 25 meat chickens in there and Move them around as often as you can, because they poop a lot and they will fertilize your land like so much faster than anything, and if you could do that like, move them around on the grass, move them around and Keep doing that over and over again, I think eventually, yeah you’ll get there excellent advice.

0:51:02 – Cal Hardage
And chickens you run them over anything it’ll grow good grass, it’s. It’s amazing what chicken manure will do. And lastly, jason, where can others find out more about you?

0:51:14 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, you can find us at our website, so the land calm, and we Documents everything that we’ve done here and we continue to do on our so the land YouTube channel and you can find us there on Instagram and on all those social medias, and we just document what we’re doing and sharing, our Sharing what we learn and continue to learn, and because whatever we learn, we’re gonna share it with everyone else.

0:51:37 – Cal Hardage
Well, jason, thank you for coming on. We really appreciate you sharing with us today.

0:51:41 – Jason Contreras
Yeah, thank you, it’s fine, it’s nice meeting you, you know.

0:51:43 – Cal Hardage
Thanks for having me on you’re listening to the grazing grass podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and Every episode features a grass farmer in their operation. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and want to keep the conversation going, visit our community at community dot grazing grass calm. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the grazing grass podcast on Facebook, twitter, instagram and YouTube For past and future episodes. We also welcome guests to share about their own grass farming journey. So if you’re interested about the form on grazing grass calm under the, be our guest link. Be our guest link until next time. Keep on grazing grass.

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