Tag Archives: Sustainability


  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:

Raw milk, pastured goat meat, and free-range eggs

This evening I stopped in at a nearby farm to pick up an order of drug-free, hormone-free, etc. goat meat. Deck Family Farm is a beautiful place about ten minutes* from us, with lots of happy looking cows, chickens, sheep, ducks…I’m pretty sure I saw a bison there too, though it may have been a big muddy brown cow from a distance. I didn’t see the goats…I was tempted to ask, but didn’t want to impose and delay what must be a zillion chores on such a large (for one family) farm.

I ended up leaving with a half-gallon of fresh, raw cow milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of stew goat, a pound of goatburger, and a 3-pound goat roast. This is the kind of thing that excites me these days. Yes, I am almost 40.

If we ever buy “supermarket” eggs again, I will have to do side-by-side photos; pastured, free-range eggs from our neighbors have bright orangy-yellow yolks and make the store-bought kind look and taste pretty much like cardboard.

The goats we’re preparing to get will be a dairy breed, but I’m an inveterate carnivore and would like to eventually produce my own meat, so buying the goat meat is sort of an experiment to see how I like having goat as a primary meat source (though we’re planning on keeping chickens, too). If it works out, we may at some point consider getting some meat goats (different breeds from dairy goats).

[edit] The more I think about it, the less likely it seems that we will want meat goats, for practical and sentimental (ie, they’re too darn smart and cute) reasons. Looks like we’re gonna be eating a lot of chicken! Rabbits are another very good smallholder meat animal, but suffer from the same “how do you eat a pet” problem as goats. I don’t think I’d have any problem eating chickens, though they do have a lot more charm and personality than I knew before [/edit]

I feel that if I can’t bear to put the bullet into the back of its head and cut up the carcass, I really don’t deserve to eat meat. We’ll see. But for now, we have a local source for clean, humanely raised meats =)

Of course, the moment I got home I had to try the milk side-by-side with some “whole” milk from the supermarket. A sip of one. A sip of the other. Remaining supermarket milk goes back into the bottle for emergencies, and I pour another glass of the rich, delicious raw milk. It’s on the left in the photo below

Raw, fresh milk from a pasture-raised cow (left) and anemic-looking supermarket milk

* Ten minutes on normal roads. On the way back, I decided to try a “shortcut” involving steep, twisty logging roads. It was a nice 45 minute drive; fortunately the van has a refrigerator to keep our food from spoiling.