Getting back to the basics of homesteading By Susan M. Bautz

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz These Mulefoot piglets have freedom at Pop’s Old Place to browse a pasture and live in shady woods until they are ready for market. Heritage farmer Darlene Goehringer passionately believes they deserve the best possible life “while they’re here and I feel fine about consuming something that was raised humanely.”

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
These Mulefoot piglets have freedom at Pop’s Old Place to browse a pasture and live in shady woods until they are ready for market. Heritage farmer Darlene Goehringer passionately believes they deserve the best possible life “while they’re here and I feel fine about consuming something that was raised humanely.”

HURLOCK — Homesteading! The word conjures up images of Conestoga wagons rattling to the American West and the much admired self-sufficiency and toughness of the early pioneers. Or, the much filmed Alaskans who live in the wild bush. But Dorchester County has a pair of “nearly homesteaders” as well and they have a Hurlock address.

Pop’s Old Place on Skinners Run Road is a delight. Darlene Goehringer, owner of this Century family farm, beams when she describes farm life. She and her husband of 22 years, Arthur, not only manage their farm but work full-time jobs. “I have a very willing partner,” she says. “If I have to leave the farm, then he does it. If he’s working late and I’m home, then I do it.” And work they do. In one day the pair built a loading chute, a stall, and some fencing for a new pasture.

Darlene craves fresh milk for her family. She has no milking cows yet but when a chicken coop morphs into a milking stall, the cows will come. “Also, we’re building one more storage building this year and then I’d like to be done for a couple of years,” explains Darlene.

It may be a slight, very slight, exaggeration but Darlene, who loves her animals, says “Everything that gets born out here gets kissed on the lips.” Asked how she copes with raising them and then butchering them, she smiles, “The deal is that everything here is for consumption, except for the dogs.”

Showing visitors two large breeding sows and 17 tiny piglets, she explains she does get attached to her breeding stock. “But, we give them the best life we can while they’re here and I feel fine about consuming something that was raised humanely.” Darlene does admit, “There are times if I really thought about it I could get pretty soft-hearted but I’m going to eat meat and I don’t want to eat meat the way most people raise them.” Factory farms keep sows in small crates where they gestate, give birth, and return to crates for re-breeding.

This farm breeds and sells meat from Mulefoot pigs. “They aren’t the ‘other white meat.’ They’re a red meated hog with a lot of marbling. You can’t overcook the meat and you’ll have a marvelous eating experience.” As current chair of the American Mulefoot Association, Darlene works with Livestock Conservancy to gather data and increase the breed’s numbers which are now down to about 300.

After much research the Goehringers found a breed that produces flavorful meat, has won prizes, and would thrive in this situation. “They’ve never been wormed, they’re not on antibiotics, the feed is all non GMO, and they browse and do well. The genetic pool is so small we have to make sure the breeding stock is not too closely related.” She says, “Pigs are very smart and of all the animals that should not be raised in confinement it’s a pig.” Her Mulefoot pigs are generally docile, but, even they can be dangerous. If they come after you, Darlene says, “You just run.”

Currently there are five “feeders” in a 2 acre woods with 8 additional wooded acres planned. No animals are raised in confinement crates. The “Mommas” go wherever they want, a 450=pound boar lives with them, and they co-nurse the babies. “Everybody lives in harmony,” says Darlene.

The pigs are processed at 250-275 pounds when they are 7-9 months old. If they get bigger they put on more fat. How do you weigh a pig? It is easier than it sounds. You put portable fence panels around a scale, put an apple on the scale, and open a panel. The pig enters, stands on the scale to eat, and bingo – gets weighed.

After raising her first pig for 3 years she finally tasted the meat herself. “I cooked it, ate it, and realized ‘this is a $10,000 pork chop!’”

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz Darlene and Arthur Goehringer, owners of Pop’s Old Place farm on Skinners Run Road. This pair operates a unique farm with an emphasis on homesteading.

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Darlene and Arthur Goehringer, owners of Pop’s Old Place farm on Skinners Run Road. This pair operates a unique farm with an emphasis on homesteading.

The pigs, cows, and sheep are sent to slaughterhouses, cut into sections, frozen in packages, and sold or used for personal consumption. The farm uses a ‘community supported agriculture’ (CSA) model where members receive a variety of meat and poultry products on a regular basis. Darlene explains that at least 80 percent of what her family eats is grown on the farm. She raises chickens for eggs and to avoid the flavor or texture of those “big white birds.”

Freedom Ranger chickens have smaller, juicier, less fibrous breasts with legs and thighs proportionate to the body. And “free range” they do. All 40 of them. But they never leave the property and instinct sends them back to the barn at dusk. Broilers, bought as chicks from a vendor, are housed in a barn on a large grass pasture.

The state and federal Departments of Agriculture do yearly inspections. The farm must maintain extensive logs of all chickens that die, breeding numbers, etc. The farm’s survival rate is extraordinary. Of 200 birds this year only one died and it was accidental. “The chicks we get from Freedom Ranger are very healthy and start out strong.

The chickens are processed on the farm using an “Arthur-built” mechanical chicken plucker that removes over 90 percent of the feathers from the 250-350 birds butchered yearly.

The Randall Linebacked cattle are beautiful and rare! In the 1980s there were only 15 in the whole country. This multi-purpose homesteading breed comes in #1 in numerous taste tests. These animals are ruminants, so they and the sheep are all grass fed only. The farm is just on the verge of either going bigger or staying really small. “I’d like to process about 5 beef a year,” says Darlene, “so I’d have to have at least 16 on pasture all year.”

While the cattle are not aggressive, things can go bad in a hurry so visitors are not invited to mingle with them. The Katahdin sheep are safe to visit. The breed is hardy, low maintenance, and sheds its coats in the spring. One ewe is just a pet. When the ewe’s pregnant mother was dying, Darlene was determined to save the baby. So she performed an “on the spot” C-section. The lamb wore a diaper, was bottle-fed with colostrum, and lived in the house for 2 weeks with the family dogs.

“I like to know how to do stuff. I’m not going to pay a vet to castrate my pigs. I watched somebody do it, I came home, and we did it.” With fingers crossed!

The farm life? “I really enjoy it. Sitting on a beach … I would almost rather have my teeth pulled. But, oh, I love the homesteading. I go out of my way to do everything 100 percent by the book. I’m planning to live here until I die and I don’t ever want to do anything to jeopardize this. As long as I’m physically able I plan to continue doing this.”

Arthur, Darlene’s husband of 22 years has been most supportive. “I can go to him and say ‘so, I think I want to get pigs. We need to build a pen.’ He’d say, ‘alright, well have you already bought them?’ And I’d say ‘well, the lady knows I want them.’” For Darlene that means “yes.”

“We have an open door policy. We make certain claims and are glad to show we’re really doing what we say we’re doing.” She opens the door to visitors, including 4-H’ers and University of MD agriculture students who sponsor urban children to dig potatoes, feed the pigs, and gain a hands-on experience. Recently, some Talbot County plein air artists spent the day painting bucolic scenes.

Darlene’s great-grandparents bought the land in 1909. “They had a pond, an orchard, and raised their own food. I love the idea of replicating that. But I really like my modern conveniences, like my lawnmower and rototiller.”

Darlene embraces what is important to her after years of denying her passion. “This is just who I am. When I didn’t want to eat commercial bread any more I thought, ‘why not just grow my own wheat?” Bread tastes great with honey; so, now there are bees at Pop’s Old Place. And that’s Darlene.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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