Category Archives: How To

Articles about how to enjoy a more sustainable lifestyle without deprivation

Chicken nest box from salvaged lumber

A year or so ago, I got a truckload of free seconds from a friend with a sawmill…nice stuff, but too knotty/cracked/warped to charge top dollar to a client for. Excellent for building livestock equipment, though!

This box is for a friend who gave us our beautiful new chickens. It’s very similar to the one I made for us, but went a LOT faster and is a bit more refined. Total investment: about 1 hour and $1 worth of screws and such.
Nesting box for chickens, made out of salvaged lumber

Day in the life: goats

This is the first of a series of posts documenting the mundane activities that we (usually) find so magical. We both really enjoy reading accounts of typical days on homesteading blogs, and want to share the random little things we’re learning.

Our Daily Goat Routine


[ ] all gates secured, fencing intact
[ ] open East door, North door if it’s warm
[ ] refresh water
[ ] refresh hay if necessary
[ ] clean and fill mineral feeder
[ ] scatter clean hay over old bedding


[ ] check water for goat-berries
[ ] check minerals for goat-berries
[ ] give grain/snacks in double feeder OR mineral feeder + separate bowl to reduce fighting, or a flake of alfalfa in small hay rack


[ ] refresh water
[ ] refresh hay if necessary
[ ] clean and fill mineral feeder
[ ] scatter clean hay over old bedding
[ ] get goats inside their house (if they’re reluctant, throw something into the snack bin, like a handful of sunflower seeds)
[ ] close gates

Weekly in warm weather, and maybe once or twice during winter:
pitchfork out the old bedding, take it to compost, scatter a bit of baking soda and fresh straw on floor.

Every month or two:
convince goats to let you trim their hooves. It’s not easy, sometimes painful. In a milking stand is the preferred method, but we haven’t built ours yet so it’s a two-person job.


  Photo by Teri

Next year we expect to produce all of our own milk, cheese, and eggs here on the property, in addition to a much larger portion of our fruits and veggies.

It’s also likely that we’ll raise chickens or turkeys for eating, so a while back I volunteered to help with the chicken “processing” (killing and cleaning) at a friend’s ranch, as much to take measure of my own determination as to learn the skills involved. The skills have already come in handy!

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was perusing the local Craigslist, and found someone offering two free Bronze turkeys. They were aging (the larger domestic turkeys don’t age well), and she didn’t want to kill them herself.

The turkeys lived with chickens in a nice place just outside of Eugene. I liked the woman and felt that she cared about their welfare and was a fellow aficionado of “clean food”. These were turkeys I’d feel OK eating…well, one of them. The bigger one was a tom (male), and blind in one eye because chickens can be really mean. He was enormous and healthy, and ended up being our Thanksgiving bird. His name? Thanksgiving. That’s him at the top of the post.

The other bird…she’s a sad case. “Improved” (intensively selectively bred) turkeys become so heavy so fast that they are often crippled just by their own weight. “Gimpy” isn’t as big as Thanksgiving (who must’ve been 30 lbs), but she has a deformed right leg and can only get around with a lot of lurching and flapping. The chickens saw this weakness, and began to peck her to death. They removed maybe a quarter of her feathers and left her with a multitude of raw wounds by the time she came to live with us.

Our accidental pet turkey looks pretty unhappy in this picture taken the day she came home, but she’s perked up now.
  Photo by Teri

“Gimpy” originally escaped the butcher block because she just didn’t look healthy enough to eat. But something happened; as our neighbor put it, she “seems to want to live now”, so she’s a resident here for as long as she is satisfied with her life, though determining a turkey’s quality of life is guesswork for us. Away from the hectoring hens, she’s become more bright-eyed and energetic, and every morning we transport her by wheelbarrow from the predator-proofed henhouse to a grassy pasture where she can lurch about, eating bugs and grass and frustrating the hell out of our dog by her inaccessibility.

The rest of the post will be about butchering the big male turkey, and you have to click “more” to see it. But here’s how it turned out – home-processed turkey, homemade cranberry sauce and squash from Teri, fresh baked bread, and (of course!) a pumpkin pie brought over by a dear neighbor who we shared the holiday with. Note the “store boughten” beer – something we’re working to phase out, but if you have to buy them, the Deschutes Brewery ones are all really good.
  Photo by Peter

If you’re a vegetarian, you might find the rest upsetting. If you’re not…well, this is the reality of meat, and it’s far more humane and hygienic than what happened to that “free-range organic” supermarket bird you probably just ate.

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How to breed dairy goats

It’s that time of year; the leaves are falling, the garlic’s about to be planted, and goats are going into heat.

Most does (proper term for female goats) have about a two-day fertile period every few weeks from September – December. In other words, they have two fertile days, then three weeks off, and repeat that for several months. It can be difficult to be sure when’s the right time; in general, does in heat will “talk” more and tend to elevate and wag their tails. We noticed Drama Queen was doing all of this yesterday afternoon, and decided to test her.

How do you do that? With what’s called a “buck rag” – an old rag that’s been rubbed over the extremely fragrant body of an uncastrated male goat. I brought out the buck rag (kept carefully sealed inside a plastic container) yesterday, and Drama Queen got very excited, wagging her tail and trying to eat the container. Aberdeen seemed interested too, but less so.

Koko may have been interested, but for various reasons we’re unlikely to ever breed her.

Our good friend and goat-breeding expert from down the road came by with Valcor, a carefully selected male. We are unlikely to keep any intact males around ourselves; they are the source of that infamous “goat smell”, which largely comes from their habit of constantly urinating on themselves. They’re also bigger, fence-jumpier, and will attempt to breed with pretty much any female regardless of age or close relation.

Now we get to the how to part. It’s very complicated: put the male goat in with the females.

Here’s an instructional video:

Randomberry jam

There are a lot of blackberry bushes around here – I foresee picking gallons of the things in another week or two. In order to take full advantage of this sudden bounty and others, Teri and I are learning about canning and other methods of food preservation. Between a yard sale and the Salvation army, we got a boiling canner AND a pressure canner for $10, and we already have a load of jars Teri spotted on freecycle =)

berriesYesterday I picked about a quart of blackberries (left) and another of black raspberries (right), which are probably the most delicious fruit in the known universe.

Made mashed berries out of them…

Boiled the mashed berries with added fruit pectin, stirred in sugar…

And finally put the tops on the jars and submerged them in boiling water for ten minutes, because we don’t like botulism around these parts.

…and the final product! A few hours after the first batch, when it was barely jelled, Teri and I ate almost a whole jar of it. It is berry crack whether on bread, crackers, or the end of a spoon. Sure will be welcome in the middle of the winter!

Local, fresh food just tastes so much better – I almost don’t miss the incredible variety of ethnic foods back in NYC.

We haven’t bought a loaf of bread in months – because we found a freecycle bread machine and have been doing all kinds of experiments. Our staple bread is whole wheat with a bit of rye, local blackberry honey baked in, dry goat milk for the milk part and coconut oil for the shortening.

Teri’s been making soymilk, but that’s a bit time-intensive so we still buy some from the store. But unsurprisingly, hers tastes much better and costs a small fraction of the price of the stuff in the cartons.

Next year, chickens.

Next post, maybe one or both of us will try to explain where we’re going with all this “Grizzly Adams” stuff…