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Learn To Make Soap, Part 2: The Terms and Tools

Hopefully, after reading Soap Making, Part 1: 7 Myths and One Truth about Soap Making, you either got curious about soap making or found your passion again. But, as with any skill, there is a little base knowledge you need to successfully follow a recipe.

saanens and soaps

First we will begin with some of the most commonly used soaping terms found in recipes. After that, I have compiled a list of the more essential tools and ingredients you will need. This way, when I guide you through the recipe in the next blog, you will have everything on hand.

I have listed the soaping terms in alphabetical order for easy look-up. If you are interested in delving deeper into this subject you can find more information at and among others.


Alkali Sodium Hydroxide a/k/a Lye is an alkali. It is a substance (in soap making it is also called a base) with a PH greater than 7.

Base Oils Oils or fats such as olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, lard and others which are used to mix with your lye solution and which react with the lye to make soap.

Cold Process Method A simple method of soap making that only requires heat to melt the base oils unless they already are liquid at room temperature such as Olive Oil.  You do not have to cook anything or put anything into the oven. The only heat generated is that during the saponification process when the lye reacts with the base oils. This reaction generating heat is also called an exothermic reaction.

Curing After the milk soap has saponified and has been cut into loaves and bars, it needs to rest (cure) for a minimum of 4 weeks. Water based soaps don’t need quite as long. This resting time allows the soap to dry and harden for a longer lasting soap.

Essential Oil A fragrant oil that has been obtained from a plant for its scent, flavor or therapeutic properties.

Fragrance Oil These are synthetic imitations of essential oils and other scents. Look for phthalate free and paraben free fragrance oils. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in personal care products; however there is growing concern that they might be linked to breast cancer incidents.

Gelling Once the base oils have started to react and combine with the lye (saponified), the soap batter will begin to heat up. This happens as it reaches trace, continues while the batter is poured into the mold, and for up to 48 hours afterwards. When the soap reaches a temperature hot enough, it will undergo a change, it will gel. It will become translucent and very soft. At this point the soap batter is still very caustic so do not touch it under any circumstances without gloves. Most water based soaps are supposed to gel, many soap makers do not like their milk soaps to gel as the soaps stay a lighter color if they do not gel, but either way the soap is fine and perfectly useable. I for one do not mind if my milk soap gels.

Glycerin Glycerin is a byproduct of the saponification (turning into soap) process. When the lye and oil/fat molecules grab onto each other to create soap, a glycerin molecule is released. Handcrafted soap contains the glycerin, commercial bars do not. In commercial bars the glycerin has been removed to be used as a valuable moisturizing element in cosmetics. The presence of glycerin in handcrafted soap is what makes those soaps so much more moisturizing and less drying.

Lye Discount Lye discount means that you are using less lye in the soap recipe than is needed to turn all of your base oils into soap. Most soap recipes recommend using about 5 to 8% less lye than oils. This is done for safety so that a small error in measurement does not create soap with too much lye (lye heavy). This would be very drying to your skin. Way too much lye could have some unintended chemical reactions including something that is called a volcano. A volcano is fascinating to watch, but a horrendous mess to clean up. Lye discount usually also means that there is extra oil left over in each soap bar (not visible as it is such a small amount), which adds to the moisturizing effect of the soap. The term “to super fat” means something very similar, only it refers to the extra amount of oil compared to the amount of lye, and in many cases the terms of lye discount and super fat are exchangeable.

Lye Calculator A soap making calculator is often called lye calculator, since the main purpose is to calculate the amount of lye needed to achieve full saponification. It calculates the amount of base oils, fragrances, liquid and gives you lots of other valuable information about your soap. Always test a new recipe with a soap calculator. Don’t just take the author’s word for it.

M & P Melt & Pour refers to the soap kits that I mentioned earlier in the blog. These are pre-made soaps (originally using lye), which just need to be melted and repoured into molds. This is a good soap making starter for kids since the lye has already reacted with the oils and is no longer caustic. Adult supervision is still strongly suggested due to the melting process.

Melting Point This is the temperature at which the base oils become liquid. Olive oil for example is always liquid, 76 degree Coconut Oil starts melting at 76 degrees Fahrenheit and Palm Oil starts melting at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Each oil has its own melting point. Palm Oil also has the unique characteristic that it must be stirred well after melting since its components separate and if not stirred you will have Palm Oil misbehaving and it will bomb your soap.

pH This is a really important term for soap making. pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A substance with a pH value greater than 7.0 (alkaline) is a base; with less than 7.0 (acidic) is an acid; and a pH of 7.0 is neutral. Your skin has a pH of around 7.0. Goats Milk has a pH of around 7.0, which makes it such a favorite and gentle ingredient in handcrafted soaps and why so many people with sensitive skin are able to tolerate goats’ milk soap even if they have trouble with other soaps including other handcrafted ones.

Ricing This is a dreaded word and experience, however I’ve only ever experienced it once and that was with a water-based soaps and it was a fragrance oil. The soap batter will resemble rice pudding and looks like it has little rice grains in it.  It was a small batch and it still looked presentable at the end.

Saponification This is a term you will hear and use often. Saponification is the exothermic (creates heat) chemical reaction between the alkali (lye) and your base oils or fat (lard) to create soap and lasts about 24 – 48 hours. In simple terms: one lye molecule combines with one fat/oil molecule and turns into one soap molecule while generating one extra glycerin molecule.

Seizing When this happens, it usually means that you bombed your soap. When your soap batter seizes, it has solidified so quickly that it is stuck in the pot or on your stick blender (hence the term “soap on a stick”). It can have different causes, but usually it means there was too much lye or too little base oils due to an error in measurement. Sometimes it can also be caused by a misbehaving fragrance oil, although here soap usually goes to a very heavy trace very quickly and is still salvageable by “globbing” it into the mold.

Soap You have soap at the end of the saponification process, about 24 – 48 hours after pouring the batter into the mold. Most commercial bars are no longer soaps; they are detergents because they are not created with an alkali or lye. The definition for soap is the reaction of a fat or oils with an alkali. If it was not made with lye, it cannot call itself soap.


Soda Ash This is a powdery white residue that sometimes forms on the surface of soap. It is just aesthetic and can be wiped off with a damp cloth. It is a sign of a handmade soap and I don’t worry about it if it occurs. I found it happens more on small batches than on larger batches.

Sodium Hydroxide This is just another word for lye, the alkali or base in the soap making recipe.

Super-fatting The excess oils left in the finished soap which have not reacted with the lye during the saponification process. This extra amount is intentional for safety reasons and contributes to the moisturizing qualities of soap. Exchangeable term with lye discount in most cases.

Trace Trace is everything in making soap. It is the point in soap making where the lye and oil molecules are reacting with each other so they won’t let go again. The temperature rises and the batter begins to thicken so that your stick blender will leave a trace behind when stirring or will leave little indents when drizzling drops onto the surface. There is thin trace, medium trace and heavy trace and each has its place in soap making. The soap is fine to pour at thin trace, this is good for large batches; at medium trace, good for smaller batches or mixing in colors; and at heavy trace, good for layering soap colors for example.

Water Discount This term means using less liquid (in most cases water, but can be beer, wine, milk, tea or any combination) than the generally recommended safe amount. Any soap/lye calculator will automatically put in 38% as the amount of liquid used as a percentage of the amount of oils used. Less water can be used to create a harder bar, which can be desirable in soaps with a lot of olive oil or soaps that contain clay. Using less liquid is a bit of a gamble because it will speed up the chemical reaction and will not give you quite as much time to mix everything together. Experience will help you here until then it’s probably a good idea to stay with the standard 38%. I have made bars with 30% water just for experimentation and I really didn’t like the feel of them.

Tools and Ingredients


soap mold with a lid. This can be a wooden box, a silicone mold, a (clean!) milk carton, a pvc pipe. For our recipe, the mold should hold 4 pounds of soap batter.
freezer paper. This is the liner for the mold. Shiny side out.
gallon freezer bags. These are to store 16 oz of frozen goat milk.
disposable or long plastic gloves to protect your hands when mixing lye.
safety glasses to protect your eyes from lye splashes.
immersion stick blender to stir the lye into the base oils and to bring it to trace. Hand stirring will take hours.
scissors. Scissors are always handy and used to cut the freezer paper to fit the mold.
accurate scale to measure the ingredients exactly.
silicone spatulas (2), one for the oil and one for the lye. I don’t use wooden spoons because the lye eats the wood.
small glass measuring cup for the essential oils. Easy to clean and some essential oils eat right through the plastic.
medium to large measuring cups for the lye/milk mixture.
stainless steel pot for the soap batter (no aluminum). A large glass container such as Pyrex would also work.
thermometer to measure the temperature of oils, milk and soap batter. I use a laser thermometer, but a glass or stainless steel candy thermometer will also work.
sour cream or similar plastic container to measure out the lye.
old cookie tray or something similar to store the soaps after cutting them into bars
large knife for cutting the soap into loaves and bars.
newspaper to cover your work area and the floor J (you never know).
recipe to follow and a pen to write notes.
tape to tape the liner to the mold.
towels to wrap the molds.
an apron and old clothes.



frozen goat’s milk in a freezer bag.
food grade lye powder
pure or grade-A olive oil
coconut oil 76 Degrees
palm oil (organic sustainable)
essential or fragrance oil suitable for cold process soap making (not candle making)

Note: Running water to neutralize lye burns. And here is another semi myth: to use a small splash of Vinegar to neutralize a lye burn. While vinegar does that if used in sufficient quantities, you would need to rinse the lye burn for 15 minutes with vinegar to get enough of the vinegar liquid to neutralize the burn and get the lye off your skin. If you don’t use enough vinegar, the vinegar will react with the lye and add a heat burn to your lye burn. Sufficient quantities of running water are much more readily available: just flush your skin for 15 minutes under the faucet. This is easier and much more realistic and accomplishes the same thing, removing the lye from your skin. If a lye burn is more extensive or in the eyes - call 911 immediately, and keep rinsing the lye burn with water if possible, until professional medical help arrives.

 Looking forward to continuing this journey with you. If you are curious to find out more about our farm, here is a great little video shot by film students from West Palm Beach in Florida. Julia


Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, host to  WWOOFers, and is the home to  dairy goats, 12 Black Angus cattle, 100 laying hens, 3 horses, 2 cats, 5 house dogs, 8 livestock guardian dogs, and 2 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Backyard Chickens: A Website for Poultry Lovers (BYC as it is more frequently referred to) is a large website that is filled with information for anyone who is interested in poultry! What began under inspiration from a child’s class project in 1999, the site is now owned and managed by a man named Rob Ludlow. Mr. Ludlow is the co-author of many books, including Raising Chickens For Dummies, and, Building Chicken Coops For Dummies. 

According to Ludlow, “There is definitely a huge growing trend towards owning backyard chickens, and is on the forefront of this movement. Hundreds of thousands of people are realizing the wonderful benefits of raising a small flock of backyard chickens-  the pets that make you breakfast!”


The website is quite successful, and you can see a healthy growth and level of participation by all members through some basic statistics.

Over 2 million unique visitors (people) monthly.
An active site with over 450,000 current members.
Members are posting about 7,000 times daily (on average there are more than 5 posts every minute, of every day, 24/7).
Over 3,000 user-submitted coop designs and 274 breed information/review pages.

There are many different areas of the website that make it perfect for beginner and expert poultry lovers alike. There is a learning center, forums, coop designs/plans, and breed review pages that all provide not only the chance to learn, but the chance to share your own experiences as well. These different features rely on submissions from the great members of BYC!

The Learning Center is a place where people can learn the basics of chicken care, along with more advanced topics such as incubating and hatching eggs. Here you can find information on the costs of raising chickens, rare breeds, or even articles on other fowl such as turkeys and quail. There is even a special section here for recipes, with over 500 yummy ideas to choose from.

If you visit the Forums of BYC, you will find that almost every sub-forum is posted in on a daily basis. There are so many knowledgeable, welcoming folks here that are more than willing to help new members get started. Here, you can socialize and have fun with other owners from all over the world! After introducing yourself, you can ask questions about breeds or even check out what poultry or equipment people have for sale. Currently, the 8th Annual BYC Easter Hatch-a-long is still taking place, and the forums are flooded with pictures of adorable baby chicks, ducklings, and more. If you've missed it this year, check back next Easter to join in on all the fun!

If you’re new to chickens or just looking for an upgrade, the Coops section is for you. Small, medium, and large designs are available here, as well as ideas for “chicken tractors” and handmade feeders. It’s interesting to know that these plans are user-submitted, and feature photographs of the building process along with information on the costs and time involved.

For honest reviews of different poultry varieties by site members, make sure to visit the Breeds page. Here you’ll find great photographs and information on each person’s experience with the breed (including the pros and cons). You have the ability to sort breed pages by categories such as egg productivity, breed purpose, size of the bird/egg, and even comb type.


I’d like to point out that I have not been sponsored at all to write this article, however, I do have permission from the owner to share Backyard Chickens with the readers. I wanted to shine the light on this wonderful website, because I was introduced to it around 2008, and have found a great deal of help here myself. In my personal opinion, this is the #1 go-to place for all things related to chickens, ducks, turkey, guinea fowl, quail, geese , and so much more. Please visit Backyard Chickens for yourself, and see how this site can benefit you and your flock!

Affiliated Websites

Backyard Herds

• The Easy Garden

• Sufficient Self

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They have recently completed building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, with the help of their antique tractor. Along with raising chickens and ducks, they are making the switch to planting all heirlooms in their garden this year. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Dealing With Predators

Originally written as a letter to Mother Earth News

As long-time chicken keepers, we have had to deal with predators of all kinds - foxes, dogs, cats, birds of prey - you name it. It seems that anything would love a bite of juicy chicken.

We free range, which of course exacerbates the losses to predators, but the overall pros of free ranging are so evident that I truly believe it's the only practical way for us to keep chickens. Not only do we save a bundle on feed as our chickens forage and find their own food, but we get the benefit of a pest free yard and can get away with a smaller coop - it's OK for chickens to be a little crowded some of the time if they mostly have the whole yard to themselves. 

Having said that, however, we do need to balance our losses so that we still have a growing, self-sufficient flock, with enough replacement layers at the end of the season, and hopefully some extra birds to sell or trade. So what do we do about this? 

First off, one needs to know one's local predators. I know we have foxes in the area, generally speaking, but they don't all swarm to our coop at once. From my experience, usually a fox will come a few times to check out the terrain, and if I'm vigilant and listen to the alarm sounds our chickens make, and go and shoo the fox away, more often than not it will give up eventually. Foxes are clever animals, and if they see free dinner is not to be had around here, they will try for easier prey somewhere else. 

Chicks raised by broodies sleep on the coop floor during their first weeks of life, and are therefore especially vulnerable to snakes. Due to constraints of time and budget, our coop has a dirt floor, and therefore it's almost impossible to make it snake-proof. What I did last year was take the broody and chicks inside in a cardboard box for the night, every night, until the chicks were old enough to find their way up the perch. It was a hassle, but it dramatically improved our survival rates.

The funny thing about chickens is that when it comes to the garden, they turn from prey to predators. Chickens are well-known garden destroyers - even if it's something they won't eat, they will dig in the garden bed, dust bathe, throw the soil out of the bed and uproot the plants. So we saw two ways out: either we fence in the chickens or the plants. We chose to cultivate our herbs and vegetables in small, concentrated protected areas (as you can see in the photo). Fruit trees coexist with chickens quite well, from our experience.


A patch of herbs fenced in against destructive chickens. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Putting Homegrown Chicken In Your Freezer


Chicken is highly regarded as a healthy part of the American diet. It is a good source of protein with low saturated fat. It also contains 8 essential amino acids, and is a good source of vitamins B3, B6 and B7. It is rich in zinc and iron, and also low in sodium. I had to wonder however, how healthy is that store bought chicken really? I dove into the subject, and what I discovered was alarming to say the least.

Poultry manufacturers chemically treat their chickens to reduce the bacterial count before routine inspectors test them. The testing solution used by inspectors neutralized the chemicals used by the farmer, but the use of several new chemicals at high concentrations has resulted in those antibiotics continuing to be active in the testing solution, killing off the offending organisms before the sample reaches the lab. This is resulting in false negatives, and the manufacture’s are getting a clean bill of health when harmful bacteria is present in their birds.

In addition to the faulty testing process I was also concerned about how these mass produced chickens are being raised. They live in very small quarters with little to no light, fresh air, or natural food. They will often peck one another, so their beaks are cut to prevent that. At the time of slaughter (usually around 60 days) many have damaged legs, eyes, and lungs from their cramped living conditions resulting in a high likelihood for contamination and disease. In an attempt to ward off disease the chickens are pumped full of antibiotics, and many are vaccinated.

They are also pumped full of salt water, and fed growth hormones in their feed. The sudden weight gain from the artificial feed they are given makes many of them unable to stand. They are slaughtered in mass numbers, increasing the likelihood that contamination from their living conditions will taint the meat. To clean the dressed chicken before packaging them they are dunked in a chemical solution to kill off germs. So I had to questions again, is store bought chicken really a healthy choice, and why on earth am I feeding this to my growing children?

We decided to raise our own meat chickens, and see to it that they were raised as cleanly as possible, fed as naturally as possible, and slaughtered with high standards. We started with Red Rangers chicks, although there are faster growing chickens that can be purchased for meat purposes. The Cornish Cross are also a great meat bird. We kept the chicks under the heat light in our garage until they were fully feathered, and then they were moved outside to a lawn tractor.


The tractor was wonderful, because we were able to move it around several times a day, ensuring that they had clean ground, and plenty of fresh bugs, worms, and grass to eat. The beauty of the tractor is it allows a free range experience while keeping the chickens dry, and safe from predators. They were also fed garden scraps, flock raiser pellets, and given fresh water daily. We raised the chickens for 14 weeks, and when they were around 7 pounds it was time for the freezer. 24 hours prior to dispatching the chickens we pulled their pellets to eliminated feed in their digestive tracks, and crops.

Dispatching can be done in a number of ways, but we choose the good old fashion chop to the neck. Instead of having headless hens running around the yard we mounted a traffic cone to a tree, and cut off the skinny end to fit a chicken’s head. To use the traffic cone method hold the bird upside down by the legs, pull the neck straight, insert into the traffic cone, and pull their neck out the bottom hole. When upside down the chickens become very calm due to the blood going to their heads. One wack with a sharp axe is all it took. We let them bleed out for about 2 minutes.


Once the chicken had bled out we submerged the entire body to the leg feathers in 170-180 degree water for about 40-50 seconds. While counting we swirl them around to get the hot water into all those feathers. After 40 seconds we tested the feathers to see if they would easily rub off. If we had to tug on them, then we dipped for another 15 seconds, and tested again. If the water is to hot or they are submerged to long it will damage the skin, liquefy the fat, and begin to cook the bird.


When the tail and wing feathers were softened up we moved to the butcher table to remove all feathers. We started with the legs, moved to the belly, and then spun it around to get the back and wings. Once the bulk of the feathers were removed we rubbed our hands all over the chicken to remove any left over feathers. We then dunked the birds in clean water to remove everything unattached, and to reveal any pin feathers that were missed. Once the bird was clean of all feathers and pins it was time to eviscerate it.


We started with the neck by flipping the bird onto it’s back, and making a straight line cut to the chest. Then the membrane was detached from the neck meat, and the neck skin was removed & discarded. The necks can be saved to make soup stock. We reached into the chest cavity, found the crop (little bag in their throat where they begin to digest their feed), and loosened that so it would pull out the other end easily. We removed the neck, and esophagus, and trimmed the access skin and fat from around the neck cavity.


Each chicken was then flipped onto it’s belly, and the oil gland was removed from the top of the tail. This is done by starting at the base of the tail, and scooping upwards to remove all the yellow. This gland is used by the chicken to oil it’s feathers, but if left on will go rancid. The entire tail can also be removed, which will take care of the gland as well.


We then spun the bird around, belly up, and removed the innards. The most important part of gutting a chicken, is to take care not to puncture the gallbladder or intestinal track. If these are punctured then the meat is contaminated. That first cut must be made very carefully. We made the first cut by measuring about 2 fingers width down from the chest bone, and cutting outwards so the knife didn’t go to deep. The first cut was only the layer of skin. We could then see the membrane, and were able to make a small 3-4 inch slit to reveal the inside bag of the chicken. Using our hands we tore the opening wider. We then cut carefully down along the vent of the chicken.


The next step is similar to cleaning a pumpkin, a very warm pumpkin. We inserted our hand along the top, palm down, and scrapped all along the top cavity, sides, and front to release the membrane. In one giant scoop we pulled outwards removing all the guts at once. We then carefully cut the bottom free from the vent, and tail area. This step must be done with care as not to rupture the intestines.


Once all innards were removed we had to reach back in to pull out the lungs. They are a very soft, and hidden up inside the ribs of the chest cavity. The innards were then spread out so we could inspect the overall color and health of the organs. If there are any spots or discoloration on the liver then your bird was sick. In our case all livers were a deep red, and so we kept them to batter, and fry up. Livers are also excellent on the grill. The heart looks like a thumb, and can also be eaten, although we didn’t save the hearts.


For each chicken we made sure to find the little bag that had a greenish color to it. This is the gallbladder, and contains the bile that we did not want on our meat. If this is ruptured then the bird is no longer edible. They were all intact so we discarded them with the rest of the innards. The gizzard is a large hard almost fist sized bag. It looks like a big muscle. That is where the chicken breaks down it’s food by grinding it with sand, and small pebbles. If you cut this open it will reveal what the bird has been eating. In our case it will filled with sand, and grass. The kids found this very interesting. Some people clean out, and fry gizzards as well.


Once the cavity was cleaned out we rinsed each bird off well, including the inner cavity, and placed them in a salted ice bath for 24 hours. This allows the meat to rest, and the salt also draws out any blood left in the meat. After the 24 hour bath we rinsed, patted dry, and bagged each bird. We used heat activated shrink wrap bags that can be purchased at a number of online shops. You save a lot by buying these in bulk, and they will preserve your chickens much better than a ziplock bag that allows air inside.


To seal the birds we placed them feet up, inserted the plastic straw into the chicken cavity, and tightened a zip tie around the portion the bag & straw. Dip each bird completely covering all but their feet into 160 degree water for 5 seconds. Each bird was then removed for 10-15 seconds while the air escaped through the straw. The straw was then removed while the ziptie was pulled tight. All excess bag and zipties were trimmed, and our chickens were ready for the freezer. Each chicken weighed 4-5 pounds full dressed.

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The entire process of chick to freezer is incredibly rewarding, and ensures good clean meat for our family. My children helped with caring for the chickens, and we made sure to remind them that these birds were livestock, not pets. When cull day arrived they had no problem with the process, and felt proud of filling the freezer with meat that they helped raise.

Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows plums, apples, pears, a variety of berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Organic Farming and Sawmilling in the Swiss Alps


“My name is Heini Hutter. I live on Mount Rigi in Switzerland and run an organic mountain farm with goats, cows and sheep. I have been here for 10 years now. The farm is unique, because you can only get to it by taking the mountain railway or by hiking up the trail.”



“On the mountain, I have 3 hectares (7 ½ acres) of my own forest, but without any road access, I was limited to only producing firewood from it - until now.” 


In order to interview Mr. Hutter, we packed all our gear onto the train and began the ascent of Mount Rigi. Known as a “cogwheel” train, the train rests on tracks like any other, but has an additional gear that is attached to a cogged track between the two smooth ones. The gear locks into this cogged track, pulling the train up the steep mountainside railway to the summit of Mount Rigi.


Mr. Hutter’s only option for supplies and timber to use on his farm was to arrange for it to be brought up by the train. The train, full of tourists from all over Switzerland, Europe, and beyond, would accompany his timber to his farm, the timber would be unloaded, and then the train would continue to the top of Mount Rigi.

“I always need lumber here. The stables and the old house always need repairs and improvements. I looked around at a few different sawmills, got a good price for this LT15 and bought it.”


Now Mr. Hutter no longer has to obtain timber from the town below and arrange for transport. He can sustainably harvest his own trees according to his needs.


“Sawing was something completely new for me. I have always found it fascinating. Whenever I saw a sawmill running, I enjoyed watching. Just the smell of fresh sawn timber is amazing.”


“When I first bought the sawmill, I had no real knowledge about sawmilling. It has been an excellent investment for me.”

“I live alone here on the mountain, and town is a ways away. I need that distance. I have a beautiful panorama and I can see the whole world, and the same time I have some distance away from it. I really enjoy that. I don’t feel like there are many disadvantages to living here – otherwise I wouldn’t be here, right?”


The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs, and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Since 1982, the team has brought portable, personal sawmills to people all over the world who want the freedom of sawing their own lumber. Find Wood-Mizer on their websiteFacebookInstagramYouTubePinterest and TwitterRead all of the team’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Avoiding the Pitfalls Of Failing as a New Homesteader


A couple weeks ago I created  a video about the unfortunate reality of when people fail at homesteading and get to the exhausting point of throwing up their hands and exclaiming "I'm done."

 My good friend Patara Maslow of Appalachia Homestead was the first one who addressed this topic in her neck of the woods of Tennessee. We both discussed the subject at length. As a successful homesteader off the grid, I recognize the key to a  self-sustainable walk starts with being acutely aware of what you are diving into. This then involves keen preparation, planning and a assessment of your own weaknesses and strengths.

You will need to look at your homestead in a manner that asks yourself "What do I need to live, what do I require to be less dependent on others and more independent on myself? What can I do to plan for success, avoid failure and avoid saying "I'm done!"

So lets address what you as a newbie homesteader can easily implement to get you kick started in the right direction for a successful journey.

Source Of Heat

Heat is a priority for homesteads. For many who want self sustainability wood becomes the preferred method. With that said going out and buying a wood stove , a rocket stove or having a fireplace will not simply create preparedness for your heating needs nor make you a expert.

What will is keeping these key tips in mind.

1. Ensure you know where you can harvest your firewood. Get the proper permits and maps. Scout out the areas paying attention to such key elements as "how you will get there" and "how you will haul the wood home."

2. Figure out the time it will take to cut, split and stack your wood.

3. Estimate how much cord wood you will need for a winter or two.

4. Carefully plan where you will store your wood. Consider such particulars as the weather and how it will effect you hauling the wood into the house from point A to point B.

5. Ensure you know how to use and maintain all the equipment properly. Chainsaws, snatch blocks, cables, sharpening the chain.

6. Have a back up plan in case you experience injury or sickness

Source Of Electricity

Off grid life can appear very inciting. But the reality of using a alternative source of electricity for your home is that sacrifices will have to be made and a solid understanding of its use researched.

So before you dive in ask yourself honestly how alternative energy fits with your family needs? 

Consider this:

1. How much electricity are you currently using? Would you be able to use less once off the grid?

2. Is the whole family willing to consume electricity differently and have a more basic approach to their electrical needs.

3. Read books, talk to people who actually have their own systems before you go off grid. Become familiar with every aspect of using solar energy. Don't learn as you go!

4. Go online and use a solar calculator to size your array and give you an idea of how big or small you may need to go.

5. Is grid tied with solar back up a feasible option if you find your needs to demanding?

A Source Of Food

From gardening to farm animals to hunting fishing and foraging, all of these resources are options for the new homesteader. How you utilize these opportunities will be of the utmost importance. Many people fail in the homesteading world because they take on too much. They go too big to fast. They want it all. Small baby steps will ensure success. So think about this list:


 1) How many mouths will you be feeding?

2) How will you preserve the food (Canning Dehydrating? Freezing)

3) Consider the time and effort that may go into your garden

4) Consider things that can affect the garden, pests, drought, weeds is the method you chose able to handle all of these things

Farm Animals

1. Consider time effort and cost.

2. Consider housing required, the room they need to roam, fencing, predators.

3/ Think about the time investment and responsibility of farm animals.  If you want to go on vacation how will that happen? Plan ahead. Maybe less is more?

4. Are you able to care for a sick or injured animal?

5. Is  hunting a alternative option?

By researching planning and careful consideration the risk of failing on a new homestead will lessen dramatically. Remember also that one shoe does not fit all and you will have failures. Think of them as learning opportunities. And do not compare what you have to others. Each homestead is unique. The foundation needs to  be carefully established, but after that the skies the limit.

For more  avoiding IM DONE tips check out Starrys newest video here!

Starry Hilder and her husband, live off-grid on a 13-acre self-sustaining homestead in the stunning mountains of Northern Idaho. Unique in their approach to homesteading, they rely on working with nature and utilizing their skills and knowledge with a back-to-basic outlook. From hunting and fishing, to gardening, composting, canning, and trail running, paddling, and hiking, there is never a dull moment on their property. Starry enjoys sharing her journey and all their life skills on their YouTube channel. Read all of Starrys' MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Dairy Goat A to Z: Breeding, Kidding and Milking


From Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

Most dairy goat breeds have a clearly defined breeding season and will go into heat during the fall and early winter, generally from August to December-January. Gestation period lasts around 20 weeks, so kids will be born in late winter and early spring. If you have several goats, you can schedule breeding so that, for example, some of your does are bred in August-September and some in December-January. This way the milk production of your herd will be a lot more consistent and you’ll have milk practically year-round.

The natural breeding pattern for goats is to kid once a year and, though some people breed their goats twice a year, I don’t think it’s good practice or healthy for the doe.

Whether or not you keep a buck is a decision depending on the size of your herd, your facilities, how much you’re ready to handle and what other breeding options you have. I wouldn’t advise new goat owners to keep a buck, as they can be very rambunctious and difficult to control, especially during rut.

In fact, I’d say that ideally, people just starting out with goats are best off with getting 2-3 does that have been bred or are already in milk. This will give you plenty of time to grow comfortable around goats, learn to milk and handle them, etc, until the next time they need to be bred.

If you are new to goats and buy does that need to bred, you might miss them going into heat, as the signs might sometimes not be very obvious. I know it was very difficult for us to tell when our goats are in heat when we first got them. Luckily, we had a friend who had a larger herd, kept a buck, and was accommodating enough to house our goats with his for a couple of months until it was obvious they were pregnant.

If you have several bucks to choose from for breeding, shop around and keep an eye out for qualities which you think will improve your herd (bigger size, docile temperament, nice udders in the buck’s offspring, etc.).


We were lucky enough to never have had trouble with kidding. In fact, our does had kidded so quickly and easily that I never even arrived in time to see the entire process. Once I thought there was still some time to go and decided to quickly dash inside and wash the dishes; when I got back, fifteen minutes later, I saw the doe already taking care of her new kid.

While goats normally kid easily and make good mothers, I’d advise you to have the number of a trusty veterinarian on hand, to call in case of any trouble – and, if you are up to this, do some reading and get some hands-on learning done so you’d be able to assist the birth process as needed.

Also, once the kids are born, make sure that their mother has accepted them and that they are suckling. It is advisable to provide a private stall for the new mother and the little ones in their early days, though this isn’t something we did personally, as we only kept two does at a time and had a large barn. Our goats were quite comfortable around each other and patient with each other’s kids.


Some goat breeders have a practice of taking the kids away from the mother soon after they are born and bottle-feeding them, but personally I find this heartbreaking as well as unnecessary and labor-intensive. I believe it is best for all parties to have the kids raised naturally, that is, with their mothers, and this is what we had done.

It is extremely important for the kids to have all the milk they possibly can during the first two weeks, and it is inadvisable to begin milking before that.

As we had does who tended to have one kid at a time, we had plenty of milk to “share” with the kids and didn’t need to take any special measures to prevent the kids from getting all the milk. Other goat owners might separate the kids and mother overnight, milk in the morning and then let the kids remain with their mother throughout the day.

It is best to establish a trusting relationship with your goats well before you begin milking them: spend time with your does while they are pregnant, pet them and hand-feed them treats. This way, they are a lot more likely to trust you around their kids and let you milk them without giving you trouble.

Here is an example of an easy milking routine:

In the morning, walk out to your goat pen/house with your milking pail and a bucket of grain, a bowl of kitchen scraps or some other goodie which will keep a goat quiet and occupied for some minutes.

Let out one doe at a time to prevent other goats from vying for her treats and interfering with milking.

Once you are done milking, lead the goat back to the pen and let out the next one.

Refrigerate the milk as soon as possible.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.