Friday, August 1, 2014

Plastic free - wrap up

This July Pete and I took up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July. Throughout July I have shared with you our progress, and lots of tips and ideas, and its been great to see you all join in. Now its time to look at our dilemma bag of plastic that we ended up with in spite of all our good intentions, and think about ways to improve.  If you are going to post about your dilemma bag too, please link in the comments, it would be great to see what everyone learnt from joining in with Plastic Free July.



In Week 1 I wrote about food shopping and food storage, and for Week 2 the topic was rubbish and recycling, the next week I wrote about plastic in the bathroom and finally, last week was plastic free cleaning.  I offered a giveaway sample bag of soap nuts, which is a plastic free option you might want to try.  The winner chosen at random is:


Email me on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery....

I hope you all took advantage of the great discounts offered by Biome and The Fregie Sack in July!

What's in out dilemma bag?
I feel like we did worse than last year.... the photos don't show every piece of plastic, but it is a representative sample of plastic that we ended up with in July....




Things that are rubbish or recycling:
  • Lots of packaging!  Ironically I bought a bag of plastic pegs made from recycled plastic - in a plastic bag.  Most of the thin packaging I can at least take to my local Coles for recycling.  
  • A few things that I should avoid in future - Cadbury chocolate is now all in plastic wrappers, there are plastic free options that I should choose instead (given that chocolate is an essential food group)
  • Ear plugs!  We usually wear muffs, but sometimes plugs are more practical and you can only reuse them so many times, if you work in heavy industry, this may be a tricky one, especially if you need double ear protection... I hate to think how many are discarded every day around the country
  • We bought a new lap top and it came with some packaging, although at least it was LDPE (low density polyethylene) rather than polystryrene, and can be recycled (and doesn't make such a terrible mess).

Things that I can reuse:
Not everything is a dilemma if you can think of another use for it.....
  • Small plastic bottles are useful for freezing water to use in cool bags over summer and to put in animal water buckets on very hot days
  • Berry season was a massive challenge for me!  obviously I'm going to have to grow my own in future, but for now, I can reuse the containers for seeds and produce
  • Bailing twine - I didn't put all our twine in the dilemma bag because we end up with an awful lot of twine at the moment... we try to reuse it where we can, but ultimately we would like to organise our pasture so that we don't have to buy hay.  We are also very lucky to buy our cattle and chicken food from a local farmer who reuses the bags.
  • Those stretchy string bags use for fruit and vege packaging are good for taking back to the supermarket, and I keep other things in them too.
Even though Plastic Free July is over for another year, the challenge now is to integrate some of our new habits into every day life and keep planning to make plastic free possible every day.

How did you go? What's in your dilemma bag and what do you need help with? What did you learn and what tips do you have to share?


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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One Straw Revolution - natural farming - book review

One Straw Revolution - An Introduction to Natural Farming was published in 1978, a collection of Masanobu Fukuoka's writing translated into English by Larry Korn, who had spent time on Mr Fukuoka's farm.  The most recent edition (2009) also includes an introduction by Frances Moore Lappe, and preface by Wendell Berry.  (Excellent podcast interview with Larry Korn about One Straw Revolution here, in which he explains that natural farming is complimentary to permaculture, but not the same thing)

(photo source)
One Straw Revolution describes Mr Fukuoka's invention and practice of what he calls "Natural Farming", or "do-nothing farming".  The basic concept is to work with nature rather than against it, but not to abandon it completely to the wild.  Natural farming has only four rules:
  1. No cultivation of soil
  2. No chemical fertiliser or prepared compost
  3. No weeding by tillage or herbicide
  4. No dependence on chemicals
If you are starting from either of the alternatives - traditional farming or chemical farming, as Mr Fukuoka calls them - this list can seem daunting, so I'll try to frame it in the positive so explain how Mr Fukuoka farmed his rice fields and his citrus orchard, rather than how he didn't farm them:
  1. Use natural biological and chemical processes to improve soil fertility, aeration and water holding capacity.  Cultivation destroys microbiological, macrobiological (worms) and insect life in the soil as well as exposing the soil to oxidation and causing erosion and compaction, and so gradually destroys fertility.
  2. As above....  feed the microbes using mulch and manure, but compost is too strong.
  3. Cultivation exposes weed seeds, poor fertility also gives the weeds an advantage, so if you do number 1 and 2, you don't have as many weeds.  Use self-seeding cover crops to suppress weeds.
  4. If you return to natural systems and use biological pest control (encourage diversity and predator insects) chemicals are not required.

I do speak from experience here, because at some stage after reading One Straw Revolution the first time, a few years ago (and finding it very confusing), not exactly consciously and possibly because I read about all these things in other books as well, I started using natural farming in my garden.  Do nothing gardening....

I persuaded Pete to park the cultivator, and I very rarely dig more than a small hole to replant a seedling and now my garden soil is full of earthworms.  I never use any chemical fertiliser, but I do use compost, made from the weeds and self-seeding herbs and vegetables in my garden.  I don't use any pest control, not even natural chilli or garlic sprays, I do encourage beneficial insects by planting plenty of flowers.  I also started just letting the vegetables go to seed and come up when and where they naturally will, so then I don't have to worry about when to plant or thinking about succession planting, everything just appears when its ready.  This is a technique that My Fukuoka used in his orchard.

It does get a little bit philosophical for some farmers (photo source)
Natural farming has been more difficult to apply to a larger scale, and we are still thinking about our approach to growing forage for cattle.  Its only been difficult because it requires us to think more creatively, and we will figure it out eventually.  Mr Fukuoka does not discuss management of animals, apart from a small section on cage-egg chickens, however its clear that techniques such as Joel Salatin's Mob Stocking are compatible with natural farming.  I think the other difficulty with One Straw Revolution for farmers is that it strays into philosophy rather than sticking with the practicalities of farming, although it does get into details of growing rice and citrus.  The philosophy is important because not many farmers do just grow rice and citrus, so its the only way to extend the method to other crops and situations, but it can go a little deep if you are just looking for a how-to guide!

Mr Fukuoka writes about thinking "what if I DO NOT do this?".  I think is has been a really useful concept and together with close observation, much can be learnt by not doing conventional farming techniques and testing the consequences.  For example, we left our forage sorghum crop in the ground after summer, to see what would happen, (What if we DO NOT plough our summer crop before winter?) and as our cultivation is above the frost, the sorghum survived and regrew the next year, it was good to know that was possible and maybe we can plan to take advantage of that in future.

my do-nothing garden full of self-seeded parsley, mustard, and asian greens.
If you are interested in natural farming or gardening methods, I recommend that you read One Straw Revolution.  Don't give up if it seems a little strange at first, come back to it later and it might make more sense to you, I have certainly enjoyed it more on the second reading.  It is a big change in thinking and might take a little bit of getting used to.

Have you read One Straw Revolution?  Any thoughts?  Do you practice do-nothing farming? or gardening?

(If you buy One Straw Revolution from my blog site I get a small percentage referral fee as Amazon credit and you don't pay any extra, this helps me buy more books!)



See Youtube video about One Straw Revolution here




Monday, July 28, 2014

House cow milking schedule

I am often asked if we have to milk our cows twice a day, everyday.  I don't think we could handle that kind of schedule, so thankfully the answer is "no"!  Sure, if you want a lot of milk, and you have the time, you can milk your cow that regularly, but we only need a few litres of milk a week.  We use the calf as a share milker as soon as its big enough, and I've written all about it over at my house cow ebook blog...  Click here to read the rest...


Molly with baby Ruby

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia.  There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog.  If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com and I can arrange to email it to you instead.



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Friday, July 25, 2014

Plastic Free - cleaning products

When I occasionally walk up the "cleaning" aisle of the supermarket I am baffled by all the different products, gadgets and essential items required to keep our house clean!  I have never made a secret of the fact that I don't particularly like spending time cleaning the house.  I have much more interesting things to do in the garden, but I do try to keep in to a minimum standard (and to be fair, Pete is the chief toilet cleaner).  We don't buy any cleaners from the supermarket these days, but we do occasionally clean the house.... more on this in a minute....

This July Pete and I have taken up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July. Throughout July have to shared with you our progress, and lots of tips and ideas, and its been great to see you all join in. I have one more giveaway, so join in, share your ideas and have a chance to win some plastic-free products this July!

In Week 1 I wrote about food shopping and food storage, and for Week 2 the topic was rubbish and recycling, last week I wrote about plastic in the bathroom and offered to giveaway 2 bars of my homemade soap for you to try.  This week I have a sample of soap nuts to send to one lucky reader, see below.

Well, I didn't get many comments last week, clearly you didn't want my soap!  The only two comments were from winners of the Fregie sacks for the week before.  If you two do want soap, just let me know, but I know at least one of you makes your own :)

Throughout July you can also get some great plastic free discounts.

Biome are offering a 15% discount on their lunchbox range.  To claim the discount, just enter FLLBC15 "Voucher Code Box" all through July 2014.  

The Fregie Sack have a 15% discount for their clever light-weight bags through July 2014.  All you have to do is enter the code MYDEAL when you order.  

Instead of buying multiple cleaners, we have come to realise that all we really need is vinegar, baking soda and plenty of reusable cloths.  A while ago I made citrus vinegar by packing a jar full of lemon peels and topping up with vinegar, we are still using this to clean just about everything, including bench tops, wiping out the fridge, cleaning the bathroom and cleaning the windows.  I filled several spray bottles and they are in strategic locations around the house.  

The soap shaker arrives from NZ (opened by customs)

For the dishes, we use homemade soap in a soap shaker, but we do keep some detergent for really greasy dishes and for cleaning the milking machine.

In the laundry, I have been using soap nuts, and recently I also made some soapwort liquid.

a bag of soap nuts

There's really not much more to say, except that I think all the different cleaners are a scam, most of them have very similar ingredients and different packaging.  If you try using vinegar on most things, and a baking soda paste on anything really stuck on (then spray with vinegar and watch it bubble), you will find that it works to clean most things.



Giveaway *now closed*
This week I'm going to giveaway:

1 sample bag of soap nuts

To enter, all you need to do is comment on this post and tell everyone how you reduce plastic when cleaning, or any other plastic-free ideas. I will draw the two winners at random.  Australian postal addresses only please (but share you ideas in the comments anyway, just let me know where you're commenting from).


I will announce the winner next Friday, and start the next giveaway - I will not contact you, so you have to remember to come back and contact me if you won, so it might be a good idea to follow Eight Acres - the blog on blogger, bloglovinFeedlyfacebook, or pinterest, so you don't miss out.  I've set up a pinterest board for plastic-free information, so follow along if you need some inspiration.

Good luck everyone and keep thinking about plastic!  I'll be back with more next Friday.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Growing and eating chokos (chayotes)

Cooking chokos (not be confused with another post about cooking chooks) has been the subject of a few questions on my blog lately, so here's some more information for you.

 A choko on the vine
Chokos - also known as Chayote, christophene or christophine, cho-cho, mirliton or merleton, chuchu, Cidra, Guatila, Centinarja, Pipinola, pear squash, vegetable pear, chouchoute, güisquil, Labu Siam, Ishkus or Chowchow, Pataste, Tayota, Sayote - is a vine belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with pumpkins, squash and melons, with the botanical name Sechium edule.

The choko vine growing over the garden fence
Leaving chokos out to sprout
Here's one that started sprouting in the kitchen,
the others have been outside, but starting to sprout slowly
This is how I plant them, I don't know if its right, but it works.

The choko contains a large seed, like a mango, but if you pick them small enough it is soft enough to eat.  If you leave the choko for long enough it will sprout from one end and start to grow a vine.  To grow the choko, just plant the sprouted choko and give the vine a structure to climb over.  In summer, the vine will produce tiny flowers that will eventually swell into choko fruit.  The vine doesn't like hot dry weather.  And it doesn't like frost either.  Its a little fussy, but when the conditions are right, it will produce copious amounts, so you probably only need one vine unless you really like chokos.

Choko flowers
Double choko!
Actually we don't particularly like chokos.  They don't really have much of a taste and just a mushy texture.  They are ok mixed into casserole or curry, or steamed with other vegetables, or cooked in butter and garlic (I don't peel chokos before I cook them, I just slice them thinly.).  We eat them when they appear in the garden, but we don't love them.  Cheryl the dog does love them and the cattle and chickens eat them too.  We grow them because we value diversity in the garden, and plants that produce a large amount of food for us and animals in a small space.  Chokos have their place in our garden, but I'm glad we don't have to survive on them!

chopped choko - I don't peel them and the seed is soft, so doesn't
have to be removed either - now just steam or sautee
Do you eat and/or grow chokos?  Do you love them?


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Monday, July 21, 2014

Making a dressmaker's dummy

For a while now I have believed that the main barrier to me doing a better job of sewing my own clothes was my lack of a or dressmaker's dummy (aka dressmakers form or mannequin).  When I last investigated the cost of  a dummy, they seemed too extravagant, so I looked for a way to make my own.  There are a few methods around, using plaster bandages, using paper packaging tape, and finally, the one I chose, duct tape!

Not only is making your own dummy very cheap, if you are careful, you end up with a form that exactly matches your own body.  Well its a lot closer than an expensive adjustable dummy anyway.  All you need is a few rolls of duct tape (at least four to be safe), and old tight-fitting t-shirt to wear (and cut up) under the duct tape, a spare 2-3 hours and at least one person to help (pick someone that you don't mind smoothing duct tape over your upper body, I used my husband).  The first element is the easiest, the others can be more difficult, when I got the bag of duct tape out of my sewing cupboard I found the receipt - I bought it in 2012, so it took 2 years for us to get organised to actually make the dummy!  (And in the meantime, my sewing has suffered, imagine what I could have made in that time!).

Here's me with my dummy Betsy

The actual process is very simple.  Put on an old t-shirt and have your helper wrap you in at least 2 layers of duct tape, the smaller the strips the better so that you get a nice smooth finish.  Use plastic wrap around you neck, and any skin not covered by the t-shirt that you want to be part of the dummy.  The time it takes will depend on the patience of your helper, Pete is a perfectionist, so I was feeling a little claustrophobic by the end of the process, while he was getting it to look "just right".

When you are happy with the fit and have enough layers, simply cut the duct tape form along the spine and extract yourself from the form.  Next you need to carefully line up the back seam an stick it together (the challenge being keeping it all straight).  Then stuff the dummy with newspaper, foam, any leftover fabric, but don't stuff it too full or you could distort the shape.  As you work, keep in mind that the dummy is supposed to be the same size and shape as you are, so aim for firm, but not over-stuffed.  As you finish stuffing, you can tape over the arms and neck to finish them.  After you have stuffed the dummy, its easier to make adjustments to the back seam, I sat in the sun and peeled back some of the tape to line it up better and smooth it out, I think this is the main advantage of using duct-tape, its easily adjustable, but I don't know how well it will last.

We decided to mount "Betsy" on a metal stand (guess who wanted to use metal! although he was very clever to find an old candelabra stand at the tip shop), so she needed a wooden base.  The difficult part is making sure you get the right balance of belly and butt when you make up the base.  I got Pete to measure me from hip to hip (standing with one hip against the wall, Pete held a long spirit level up to my other hip and measured from the wall to the level, did I mention he's a perfectionist?).  Then I could use that hip width to make sure I had squished the dummy's hips out enough, as it naturally wanted to get rounder rather than an oval.  I used cardboard to make a template, and when I was happy with that shape I cut the shape from a scrap of plywood (yes, I cut it myself using a handsaw, Pete was busy welding something).  Then Pete helped me to square up the bottom of the dummy (as she was on a terrible lean) and we inserted the board and taped over it.  Finally Pete attached the stand to the board using wood screws that we can remove to transport Betsy.

Some people finish their dummies with fancy duct tape, or by sewing a neat cover.  I decided to leave her silver (rather, I couldn't be bothered doing anything else with her!).  Its quite a strange feeling to have a dummy in exactly your shape and height standing in the corner of the room.  I'm still getting used to Betsy.  We haven't made anything yet, but I'm sure its going to be great to have her to help me fit clothes.  Soon as I finish some more knitting....

What do you think?  Does a lack of dummy prevent you reaching your sewing potential?

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Plastic Free - Personal care, toiletries and other euphamisms

I often forget how much plastic is in a "normal" bathroom.  Bottles, tubes and tubs of shampoo, conditioner, bodywash, deodorant, hairspray, hair gel, hair dye,  moisturiser, cleanser, toner, eye wrinkle cream, make up remover, make up containers x a million, toothpaste, tooth brush, toilet paper packaging, razors, shaving cream etc.... more on that in a minute....


This July Pete and I are taking up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July. Throughout July I am going to share with you our progress, and lots of tips and ideas, so I hope you will join in too. I have a few giveaways as well, so join in, share your ideas and have a chance to win some plastic-free products this July!

In Week 1 I wrote about food shopping and food storage, and last week the topic was rubbish and recycling, with a giveaway of 5 sets of Fregie sacks from The Fregie Sack.

The randomly drawn plastic-free winners of the giveaway are: 

Crunchie's Mum from Cockatoo Dreaming
Michelle Sherrif
Lila (Eat Bake it Love) from Farmified
and Linda from Greenhaven

Email me on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.




Throughout July you can also get some great plastic free discounts.

Biome are offering a 15% discount on their lunchbox range.  To claim the discount, just enter FLLBC15 "Voucher Code Box" all through July 2014.  

The Fregie Sack have a 15% discount for their clever light-weight bags through July 2014.  All you have to do is enter the code MYDEAL when you order.  

This week I'm going to giveaway two of my handmade soaps, they're nothing fancy, but if you're wondering what homemade soap turns out like, here's your chance to find out!

And now back to all that plastic in the bathroom....

What's plastic-free in my bathroom?
Homemade soap (details here and here)
Homemade deodorant (recipe here)
Homemade skin salve (recipe here)
Damadi moisturiser (made in Australia, packaged in glass jars that I reuse for the above)
Shaving stick and brush

homemade salve
What's still plastic?
Toothpaste (Miessence organic, in a plastic tube, something I should make, any suggestions?)
Toothbrushes (just the normal supermarket version, I tried the bamboo ones and I just wasn't happy with it)
Disposable razors for me and Pete, but he does use a brush and shaving stick instead of a can of foam (again, any suggestions)

What's missing?
I don't wash my hair, so I don't use any products in it either, and I don't colour my hair.
I don't wear makeup

Too much information? *Women Only Zone*
One last source of plastic waste in the bathroom is the copious amount generated by by menstrual products, both the packaging and the products themselves.  I used to hate throwing away all that plastic, until I got a reusable cup and reusable fabric pads.  Here's the whole story for those who want to find out more.  And if you want to buy some, please use the affiliate link to Rad Pads on my webpage so I get a small contribution.



Giveaway *now closed*
This week I'm going to giveaway:

2 x bars of homemade beef tallow soap

To enter, all you need to do is comment on this post and tell everyone how you reduce plastic in your bathroom. I will draw the two winners at random.  Australian postal addresses only please (but share your ideas in the comments anyway, just let me know where you're commenting from, ditto if you don't want the soap!).

I will announce the winner next Friday, and start the next giveaway - I will not contact you, so you have to remember to come back and contact me if you won, so it might be a good idea to follow Eight Acres - the blog on blogger, bloglovinFeedlyfacebook, or pinterest, so you don't miss out.  I've set up a pinterest board for plastic-free information, so follow along if you need some inspiration.

Good luck everyone and keep thinking about plastic!  I'll be back with more next Friday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Plastic rainwater tanks - neutralising drinking water

I realised that the rainwater in our new plastic water tanks was acidic when I wanted to test our garden soil pH and I couldn't get the pH meter to work properly.  I thought it was broken.  I recalibrated it several times, and still it was reading below pH 5 on water from the tap.  After some research, I realised that the pH meter wasn't broken, our rainwater really is that acidic.

the water before treatment
You've probably heard of acid rain.  Rain absorbs gases such as suphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which creates sulphuric, nitric and carbonic acids respectively.  In concrete water tanks, the acid dissolves the lime in the cement and returns the water pH to neutral (7), but that's why concrete tanks usually end up leaking.  Evidently a similar reaction occurs in rusty metal tanks, probably with the iron, as our water used to be pH 7 in the old tanks.  In plastic tanks, there is nothing to react, so the water remains acidic.  We live near a power station, which is a major source of these gases, so our water may be worse than others, although apparently it can be as low as pH 3 in heavily polluted areas.

The main problem with acidic water, is that it can start to dissolve the copper pipework in our hot water system.  To correct the pH, we needed to add some calcium to neutralise the acid.  This is typically in the form of limestone or shells, that can dissolve gradually to correct the pH.  When I posted this on facebook, I was warned about too much calcium causing deposition in our hot water system!  When did rainwater get so complicated?!  Fortunately, we have the pH meter and a conductivity meter (measures dissolved solids), so we can monitor the water and remove the calcium source before it could cause problems.

If you are really worried about calcium deposition, you can use the Langelier Index.  This says that deposition occurs at a pH equal to the equation A+B-C-D, the constants are in the link above.  A is a constant for temperature (around 2), B depends on total dissolved solids (TDS is 0 in rainwater, so B=9.7), C and D are also the minimum of 1 for rainwater.  That gives me an answer of pH 10.  So as long as we keep the water below pH 10 we won't have calcium deposition.  This did make me realise that we need to be able to remove the limestone when the pH is just above 7, so it doesn't keep creeping up.

It took me a little while to find limestone.  Eventually I went to the local landscape supplies centre and asked for a few scoops of "white rock" which I was pretty sure was limstone.  To check if I bought the right rock, first I sprayed a rock with vinegar, and it bubbled, probably limestone.  Then I put a bag of the stones in a bucket of our water and tested the pH before and after 24 hours.  The pH changed from 4.9 to 9.7.  So I was pretty convinced that I had limestone.  You can use these tests to check if you can't be sure what you're buying.

"white rock" from landscape supplies
the rock fizzed when I sprayed it with vinegar

The water pH increased quickly after I added some limestone
I then put some stones in onion bags, tied them up with bailing twine.  Pete helped me to hang one in each tank.  Pete then tested the pH of the water each day and watched it gradually increase.  We agreed that we would remove the bags when the pH reached 7, as there was no reason to let it increase any further.  Three weeks later, the pH is gradually increasing, but still not quite 7 yet.  When we get there, we plant to put the bags in the strainer so that the rainwater washes over the limestone as it runs into the tanks.  We will continue to test pH after big rain events and put the bags back in the tanks if it gets low again.

Do you collect rainwater?  Ever thought to test the pH? 

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Cooking old chooks

We usually keep around ten to twenty hens for eggs.  Unfortunately, as hens get older, they lay less frequently, and that's an awful lot of hens to feed if they are not producing eggs.  Every year we cull the older hens, but they don't go to waste.  If any are really skinny or unwell, we bury them in the garden, but the rest of them we butcher and cook.  Sure old hens can't be cooked the same as a young rooster, but you can still prepare some delicious meals from them. We don't buy chicken meat, so any opportunity to eat chicken is a rare treat for us and we don't waste anything!

Roast hen - you can roast the hens, but they need to cook for a long time, several hours, in a closed roasting dish with liquid in the bottom so they don't dry out.  I season with herbs and garlic.



Minced hen - we also like to mince the breast and leg meat and make meatballs, this avoids the stringy texture.


Chicken stock - I fill the slow cooker with as much wings and feets as it will fit, top up with water and a splash of apple cider vinegar, squeeze in some onion, garlic, carrot, celery and herbs and cook for at last 24 hours (more slow cooker ideas here).


Don't waste anything - old hens usually have ample fat, and I keep this separate and render it to use for cooking.  I also keep the livers for making pate and I scrub and peel the feet to add to stock.




Do you butcher your old chooks?  Or let them die of old age?  


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