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Keeping pigs and chickens for self-sufficiency

Pig butcheringWestmacott explained that gardening practices of slaves in the American South were almost as diverse as those in Africa.  Slaves unlucky enough to live in upland regions tended to be worked from sunup to sundown under the heavy thumb of an overseer --- they usually had no time to tend their own garden, and were seldom allowed to keep livestock for their own consumption.  The "luckier" slaves on large plantations along the coast were often given a daily quota of chores to pursue at their own speed, and if they were fast and hard-working, they could make time to grow their own vegetables and keep a hog and chickens.  The families craved this bit of self-sufficiency, which could mean the difference between malnutrition and relative health.

A focus on pigs and chickens as a path to meat self-sufficiency carries through to the modern day in the African-American families Westmacott interviewed.  Many of the families had either hogs, chickens, or both, and hog butchering stations in nearly all of the yards showed that the families not currently keeping pigs used to.  Despite the daunting size of a full-grown pig, about half of the families still slaughtered their own hogs, explaining that butchers won't return ears and chitterlings, which the families like to cook with.

Pigs and chickens (and mules, nearly all of which have been replaced by tractors and rototillers) made the traditional Southern, African-American family very self-sufficient.  Families used to feed their food scraps and excess produce to the animals and get meat and manure in return.  This homesteading feature is quickly disappearing, with purchased fertilizers and grocery store meat now cheap enough that families see little need to keep their own livestock.

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This post is part of our African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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