Author Archives: thiswesternlife

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

Ever wonder how to make your own apple cider from apples you have picked? Well this quick 1 minute video gives you the quick run-down, but if you want more detailed instructions keep reading…

List of supplies:

Now the process:

  1. Get apples… Do I need to explain?
  2. Wash Apples (you do not need to be perfect in washing them, but that depends on what your level of “grossness” is)
  3. Cut apples, if necessary (we use small apples)
  4. Pulverize apples. We use small apples, so we just can just throw a whole pile of them in the vitamix and pulse it a couple times. However, please be careful on how hot your vitamix will get. I accidentally overheated mine, it doesn’t kill it, but it will put you back about 30 minutes until it cools down.
  5. Set up your press: make sure it has a tray as the apple cider is extracted and can flow into a pot or something that easily can catch the apple cider.
  6. Put apples through the press. If you buy the Tabletop Fruit Press 1.25 Gallon it’ll be pretty self explanatory instructions. You can go cheap if you make your own press, but you need to have access to a hydraulic press or find a way to press the apples extremely hard.
    1. Make your own press: Get a clean five gallon bucket and drill small holes all over the bucket.
    2. Put as many extra long twist ties in between each row of holes.
    3. Put a pan underneath the bucket to direct apple cider flow to your pot.
    4. Put a paint strainer in the bucket so that the apples do not plug up the holes.
    5. Put bucket in the press. We cut a circle shaped board that covers the apples so we can easily press the apples. Add wood blocks into press as it gets more compressed.
  7. Catch the apple cider! Drink right from the flow!
  8. You can either keep your cider plain or spice it up! (if you are worried about e coli or other diseases boil cider at 185 degrees. We have never had issues with sickness and it kills lots of good nutrients and bacteria so we personally do not do it, but you make that decision).
    1. If you spice your cider, put it on the stove and bring it up to a hot temperature. Place cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract and cloves in (do is based on how much you like each spice).
    2. Let it simmer for about an hour so that the flavors get fully incorporated. Stain out the spices and then drink warm or cool.
  9. Poor cider into jars and keep in refrigerator, can the apple cider or take gallon sized freezer bags and poor it in there and freeze them (that’s what we do).
  10. Enjoy all your hard work!

Natural cider has plenty of sediment in it, so make sure to leave the bottom of the cider after it is chilled.

Premium Beef Video

I’ve decided I’m better at doing a vlog than a blog. I can’t write, but I can create videos about our life, which is more fun for me and you, so I introduce to you my first video about our ranch. This short 1 minute video is about our premium beef and how we raise our beeves. Enjoy!

Raising Free Range Cornish Cross Chickens

This was the first year we tried raising Cornish Cross chickens for our customers. To say that it was a success, would be an overstatement, but to say it was a total failure would be… Well, almost correct, but it was not a complete loss, we at least broke even, but in a business, “breaking even” is not quite what you are aiming for.

The first batch of chickens we started with 200 chicks and ended up with 107 successfully making it to harvest. The second batch of chickens we started with 200 chicks and ended up with 134 successfully making it to harvest.

A little background on Cornish Cross chickens will give you a little bit of a better idea why they are so difficult to raise. Cornish Cross chickens were developed for confinement chicken houses, they are designed to be on a steady diet of antibiotics, have a perfect temperature at all times and have the perfect protein ration diet. By 8 weeks of age they go from weighing almost nothing to an 8-10 lb chicken that develops heart and leg problems due to the unnatural rate of growth in that time.

Now you are probably wonder why we even tried raising these birds in particular and not go with another breed. Well, there is literally no other breed that gives you that much return in such a short period of time. They are also double breasted bird, which means their breast as twice the size of any other chicken, this is the chicken you buy at the supermarket, and no one is used to the “old style” thin breasted chicken anymore. All other breeds of chickens take at least 12-16 weeks to get to full size and their full size is typically 5-7 lbs and dress out at 2-3 lbs, compared to the Cornish Cross which will dress out at 8 weeks between 4-6 lbs. If you let them go for a few more weeks they can dress out close to 8-11 lbs (hello, small turkey?)

Obviously, with a bird that gains so much in such a short period of time, there’s bound to be problems, and we discovered almost all of them. These birds do not handle outside stresses like a standard chicken does, so temperature fluctuations, timing in feeding and the amount of chickens in space can affect their growth.

We bought our first batch way too early. They were in a brooder in our shop, but we think since they were in a smaller confined area, it was too cold for little chicks. Drafts were not an issue, but just the air in general was very chilly. We lost around 30 chicks in the first 3 weeks in the brooder.

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

chicks keeping warm under heat lamps

By the 3-4th week the chicks we getting big and the brooder was difficult to keep clean, so we decided to turn them out in the movable pens. However, it was clearly way too cold at night (we live at 4000 ft elevation, so it gets very cold at night). These chickens do not handle temperature swings well. If it was 70 during the day, it would be around freezing at night. Remember, most people raise these chickens in confinement housing their entire life so they can’t handle unstable temperatures. Chicks started dying all over, so we put heat lamps in and turned them on at night. Well, then they would all gather together under the heat lamp and several would get suffocated in the night. At this point we did not have enough space to put them back inside, they had to make it outside at this time.


Our movable chicken coops

Every night my husband would go out and put a piece of cardboard over the entrance of their movable coop so they would stay in and keep warm. Eventually their deaths started to slow down, but we consistently lost 1-2 chickens a night. When we brought them to chicken processing the owners suggested that we probably lost most of our birds due to a disease called “water belly.” Sure enough, it sounded like that was the problem with them, the main cause? Temperature fluctuations and elevations over 3000 ft. At higher elevations available oxygen is lower, and these birds are known for respiratory problems, so thinner air is very difficult on them.

The second batch of chicks had difficultly at first as well, due to the cold temperatures, but it warmed up by the time we needed to turn them outside and it wasn’t freezing anymore at night. It was amazing how much better they did outside. We maybe lost a total of 5 chickens from the time we turned them outside, compared to losing 1-2 every day with our first batch. So, we learned the warmer temperatures are critical for these chickens. However, on the other end, they do not do well in temperatures over 85 degrees, so we are thankful that our chickens were processed this last week when it was still in the 80’s compared to this week which is scheduled to be in the 100’s.

Cornish Cross around 4 weeks old.

Cornish Cross around 4 weeks old.

Pasture raised chickens are so much healthier for the birds and for those consuming them, but since they are not necessarily designed for outside lifestyle you must factor in death loss and difficulties that those who raise them inside do not have to deal with.

Will we raise them again? Well, it’ll depend on whether we can get someone at lower elevation to raise them for us, because it is very difficult to successfully raise them at 4000 ft elevation, and when the weather is good to raise them, it’s a short period of time before it becomes too hot.

A beautifully finished pasture raised Cornish Cross chicken.

A beautifully finished pasture raised Cornish Cross chicken.

Spring 2015!

I believe my last post was in the fall of 2014. Sorry for the delay. I just don’t like to write, but it’s time for an update.


Look at all the green grass! Is it May already?

After a fairly mild winter we are having an unusually early and warm spring. We’ve had weeks so far that it has not frozen at night allowing for the trees and flowers to think it’s April instead of March. Down in the Treasure Valley the orchards are already blooming, so I feel like it’ll be a miracle this year if they don’t have a crop failure due to hard frosts.

Daffodil's in March?!

Daffodil’s in March?!

Here on the ranch everything is alive and turning green! It’s such a fun time of year to see so much life springing up everywhere. Our cows are calving and turned out on the federal range and next will be our sheep and pigs.

Pigs sleeping in their hay

Pigs sleeping in their hay

Speaking of pigs… We bought a sow (mother pig) in January with hopes that we would have piglets by now, but unfortunately, we don’t know much about pigs and we got gipped. The “pregnant” pig we got was not pregnant, so she is now going to be sausage for our family. So we went out again and bought another “pregnant pig”. This momma truly does look pregnant this time and should be having piglets at the end of this month. Keep your fingers crossed because this might be our last chance to get good piglets to raise for pork this year.

Our newest addition meat chickens

Our newest addition meat chickens

Our newest addition to our meat business this year is meat birds! Currently we have 197 Cornish Cross chicks growing rapidly. Hopefully in less than 8 weeks we will have nice sized birds for your freezer. But with every new enterprise comes a steep learning curb, which is why we are not taking orders at the moment until we have a better idea of how many birds are going to make it to harvest!

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

Taking a drink

Taking a drink

We look forward to the 2015 season and will be in touch with you all very soon!

Garden = Done

This is my favorite way to end my season of gardening!DSC_2740

Turn in the sheep! My sheep clean everything up, leave a little manure behind and then go on their merry way.

Some people tell me that this is a bad idea and that sheep will get sick on certain things in my garden, but I have yet to have sick sheep. I’ll continue to let them help me in my end-0f-the-season cleanup.

We are happy to welcome fall. End a very generous growing season and prepare for winter.DSC_2741

Reuse It: Building a Root Cellar Out Of an Old Refrigerator or Freezer

Another “reuse it” episode. If you thought making a smoker out of an old freezer was neat, wait until you see this next little project. Building a root cellar out of an old refrigerator or freezer.

First off, what would you use a root cellar for? Despite modern technology, some things are just better the old fashioned way, and root cellars are one of them. By using the ground’s natural temperature (55 degrees) you can keep certain foots for long periods of time in tip-top shape. The name behind “root” cellar is because most of the products that store well are root type plants: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, etc. However, you are not limited to just root vegetables: winter squash, fermented vegetables and several other things store well in a root cellar. If you have a naturally cool and damp basement then you probably can make do with storing things down there, but for us, we don’t have a basement and there is no place in our house that is consistently cool enough to keep certain things from spoiling. Which brought us to building a root cellar.

The house that we live in used to have a root cellar in the backyard at one point in time and after several decades it eventually wore out and fell apart, but pretty much all the old homesteads had a root cellar at one point in time. Refrigeration was expensive and it doesn’t do the same job that a root cellar could do, so everyone had one. In fact, my father-in-law rebuilt his root cellar and I must say that I am quite jealous of it’s nice walk-in space and nice shelving. He did a nice job!Old root cellar

But when time and options are limited, you make do with what you’ve got. This is how we built our small, but handy refrigerator root cellar.

***Word of Caution*** Placing a refrigerator in the ground can be dangerous for children. It is your responsibility to make sure that there is a large and heavy top OVER the refrigerator to make sure children cannot get into the fridge.

1. Find an old or broken refrigerator or freezer.

2. Take all working parts off of the refrigerator or freezer, this includes stripping the backside of it off and removing the mechanical parts. Leaving you with just the shell of the fridge.

inside the fridge3. Once you have the shell of the fridge you need to start punching holes in the back side. We used a drill bit attachment to our drill. Worked pretty well, but don’t be too worried if the plastic breaks. The holes are absolutely crucial. This allows air flow from the ground into the root cellar. The air in the ground stays around 55 degrees which keeps your vegetables from getting frozen during the winter.

4. Place a bug netting over the holes. Even though you will be deep in the ground, you don’t know what time of creepy crawly bugs can get into your root cellar.

5. Make a hole at the top and bottom of the fridge. Once again, this is about air circulation. This allows the air from the holes on the bottom to be sucked out through to the surface. Don’t worry, this will not allow the cold air to enter if done correctly (enough circulation).
IMG_0186 IMG_0185 6. Put pipes at both ends of the fridge. The length of the pipes is going to depend on how deep your going to place your root cellar in the ground. Our pipes were about 3ft out of the ground. We also put vents on the top of the pipes so that water and dirt would not fall into the pipes, thus going down into the root cellar.

7. Dig a big hole. Once again, all depends on the size of your fridge and how deep you want it, but it needs to be at least 3-4 ft deep to get below the freezing level. Some heavy duty machinery really helps this part go faster, Sean dug the hole with a backhoe, but not everyone has a spare backhoe laying around…

Sean in the holeIMG_01888. Make a level stack of rocks or bricks underneath the fridge. This allows better airflow.

9. Place the fridge in the ground in it’s final rest spot. Make sure to leave enough space (if you are placing it next to a building) so that you can open the door without too much trouble.

10. Start filling in the dirt.

IMG_019611. Leave a space around the fridge. As you can see here we placed a board next to the fridge and made a small box around it. This is because we didn’t want to be kicking in dirt when we opened the fridge and also we wanted to put a large and heavy cover on top of the fridge. We put a top on it for two reasons. 1. We have small children. No need to make an accident happen.

2. When it gets to the middle of winter, it gets cold! We laid insulation on top of the refrigerator and put the cover over the top. This lessens the amount of cold wind blowing over the top of the fridge causing it to freeze.

12. Make a cover to go over the fridge. As listed above it is important to make this large and heavy top. It is cumbersome but it absolutely keeps the fridge from getting extremely cold.

13. Fill the fridge with your root vegetables and winter harvest! This is the best part… Reaping the fruits of your labor.

Our experience: Everything has a learning curb. We placed a lot of potatoes, apples and winter squash in our freezer and all was well, until it started freezing extremely hard. One day I went out there and all our winter squash and some potatoes were frozen solid. Oops. The squash was done for, but the potatoes survived.

Even with the proper planning it still did freeze, but I was too lazy to simply put a temperature sensitive plug in the fridge that would turn on a light bulb when it reached freezing. A simple halogen light bulb can keep your fridge from hitting freezing and when it increases above freezing it’ll turn off. Simple solution, we’ll see how much better it does this year.

Also, this fridge has a hard time staying below 55 degrees during the summer. By May it’s best to have most of your vegetables removed, plus, they probably would be rotting at that point anyways.H

Have an experience of your own? Feel free to share!


Real Food, Real Cheap.

Real food is affordable. Real food is better for you. Real food will make you feel better and live a healthier life.

What is real food? Well, in my world, real food is food that has not been adulterated or processed. It’s recognizable to your great grandparents and most likely doesn’t come in fancy packaging.

Today people think that real food only comes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but this is just another marketing hype to keep people in the grocery stores. If you want real food for your family that you can afford, you need to leave the supermarket and return to the farm.

I’m not talking about driving 3 hours outside of town every week to go get some eggs, meat and milk (though some people are willing to do it). I’m talking about finding someone who grows good quality food, close to home that you can personally trust.

CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), food clubs and drop points are a great way to get good food for your family. Local Harvest is a great website to find your local agriculture.

We are apart of a CSA. We buy a half share, which is around $300 and we get a box of veggies for 30 weeks. That’s right around $10 a week. Can you afford a box of organic vegetables for $10 a week? How much would that same box of veggies run you at the supermarket? Probably at least $50 considering it’s all organic. It’s fresh, right out of the garden and a local neighbor gets a little extra income for the hard work they are putting into a beautiful garden.

So that’s one way to get vegetables. How about beef?

Once again, there are several options for affordable, high quality beef from a trusted source. At Cunningham Ranch we sell beef in bulk quantities. This is a HUGE savings for the consumer. It’ll run you between $4.50-$6.50/ lb but that’s for all the cuts! High quality steaks, roasts, ground beef, all for the same price. We get a small premium on our beef compared to selling it at the sale yard and you get high quality beef in your freezer. (interested? Order Beef now!)

Other beef suppliers offer different methods. Some will let you buy smaller quantities of beef over a period of time (pickup point every week or month). You can go to the farmers market, but you are going to be paying more of a premium for their services of coming to you. But the biggest savings is when you buy in bulk.

To wrap up this post. The cheapest way to buy high quality real food, is to go directly to a local source.  I forgot to mention, it’s also the safest method to.

Support Local Agriculture. It’s good for the community, the farmer and for you and your budget!

Celebrating Good Fats! Lets Make Lard!

It’s about time the fat myth got busted.

Wall Street Journal Article

Time Magazine Article

Now since all these fabulous sources say it’s true, now we can believe modern medicine… Right? Well, animal fats have never been bad for you, regardless of what Time and the WSJ tell you. But now since it is “officially” busted, it’s time to return to those once forgotten, good-tasting fats. Let’s celebrate with making LARD!

What is Lard?

Lard is what you get from pig back fat once it is rendered by cooking it down to excrete the fat into a liquid form. Once it cools it returns back to it’s solid form.

The first thing you need is pig back fat. You can get this at your local butcher shop or if you order a pig from a farmer you can request it from the butcher to be put in a sack for later use. You can freeze the back fat and then unfreeze it and render it.

This is back fat from a pig we butchered ourselves. It's not as pretty as it would be if you got it directly from your butcher.

This is back fat from a pig we butchered ourselves. It’s not as pretty as it would be if you got it directly from your butcher.

The next step is cutting the lard up into tiny pieces. The smaller the better (even smaller than this if you can).

The next step is cutting the lard up into tiny pieces. The smaller the better (even smaller than this if you can). Your hands will hurt by the time your done.

Load all the little back fat pieces into the slow cooker and tun on "low." You can also do it on the stove-top on a low setting as long as you watch it carefully.

Load all the little back fat pieces into the slow cooker and tun on “low.” You can also do it on the stove-top on a low setting as long as you watch it carefully.

After a couple hours your back fat will start to render and it'll become very greasy. Stir often and don't let it burn! Once it's burned it'll ruin the whole batch of lard.

After a couple hours (3-4 hours) your back fat will start to render and it’ll become very greasy. Stir often and don’t let it burn! Once it’s burned it’ll ruin the whole batch of lard.

Once your back fat has let out more fat then remaining back fat then it's time to strain it

Once your back fat has let out more fat then remaining back fat then it’s time to strain it

What you will have remaining is cracklings. You can try to render them down even further, but I find it just ends up with burned lard.

What you will have remaining is cracklings. You can try to render them down even further, but I find it just ends up with burned lard.

Ta-Da! Lard! This is what the lard looks like after it's settled and hardened. We just keep our lard right next to our stove and use it for cooking!

Ta-Da! Lard! This is what the lard looks like after it’s settled and hardened. We just keep our lard right next to our stove and use it for cooking!

Lard is extremely good for cooking at high temperatures and deep frying. Get rid of the Crisco for the good of your health and replace it with high quality animal fat!


  • Put the slow cooker outside! Lard can have an unappealing smell when it’s rendering, not to mention during the summer it makes your house really hot, so put it out on the porch and let it cook out there.
  • I normally pour the rendered lard into a bread pan. After it cools in the refrigerator I run hot water over the back until the lard falls out and cut it into smaller squares. I then wrap it in cling wrap and put it in the freezer. It keeps in the freezer almost indefinitely, which is where I keep it when I’m storing it.
  • Burned lard is not appealing at all, so make sure it doesn’t burn when rendering.
  • Be prepared to get greasy, lard making is not a clean activity.
  • We leave the lard that we are currently using for cooking on the countertop for all cooking purposes. If lard is rendered properly it should not spoil at room temperature. It usually takes us 1-2 weeks for us to go through one of our small blocks of lard for everyday cooking.
  • (Back Fat Lard) It’s great for frying your morning eggs, greasing pans, deep frying, and roasting things.
  • (Leaf Lard) Perfect for pastry cooking, it’s what people used before nasty Crisco was invented.

Reuse it: Old refrigerator or freezer turns into a smoker

Update: This has been the most popular post I have written, so I have gone back and updated a few things and added links to get products you need to make this project possible.

Refrigerators can be a pain when the burn out. Their big, bulky and have Freon, which is apparently bad for the environment, thus making it difficult to get rid of an old freezer or refrigerator. However, there are some thrifty ways to reuse an old fridge, especially if you enjoy smoking meat 🙂

A friend once told us that you can take an old refrigerator or freezer and turn it into a smokehouse. We were skeptical at first, but a couple weeks later our freezer burned out, so we decided to give it a try. Without much construction, we had a beautiful smoker.

Old freezer

…beautiful isn’t the word.

Functional is more of the word we are looking for. It was pretty simple. All we did was take off all the Freon contaminating things on the back (took that to the recycling plant) and put the freezer in a location that was accessible. (Maybe keep it away from structures in case of the off chance it catches on fire).

We use apple wood chips. You can use whatever type of wood you would like.

We use apple wood chips. You can use whatever type of wood you would like.

We cut a small slat at the bottom so we could run an electrical cord into the freezer for the hot plate. We bought a basic cheap hot plate at a consignment shop for heating the wood chips that was placed at the bottom of the freezer, I mean, smoker. We cut a coffee can in half to place the wood chips in, then placed that on top of the hot plate.

Hot plate, or element... Whatever you would like to call it.

Hot plate, or element… Whatever you would like to call it.

tent over the can of wood chips

tent over the can of wood chips









We also made a small little metal tent that covers the element and can with wood chips in it. The reason we do that is because whatever your smoking can sometimes drip and you don’t want that going into your wood chips.

You don’t have to worry about making any openings on the freezer. The seal on a freezer is not air-tight so the smoke will go through the seal of the freezer. NOTE: Keep an eye on the temperature if you can, we let it go overnight one time and got so hot that it melted the plastic on the inside door and totally cooked the bacon. Not a huge problem, but just check it every hour if possible.

The next thing we do is load the racks up with… BACON. Smoked bacon is amazing. However, it’s not limited to bacon. Smoke whatever you would like: Fish, hams, roasts, etc.



We soak the wood chips a couple hours in water, then when we are ready to smoke we just turn on the hot plate and wait for the magic to happen. Within a short period of time you’ll start to see smoke pouring out of the top of the smoker, and then you’ll know all is well 🙂

hmmm, smoked bacon

hmmm, smoked bacon

There you have it. The most simple thing to do with an old refrigerator or freezer.

Enjoy your smoking! And remember… Eat lots of bacon!


How to Make Apple Cider Out of Fresh Squeezed Apple Juice

In my first post: How to press your own apples to make cider, I explained how to extract apple juice from apples through a press. Now this follow up post is how to make hot, delicious apple cider out of the apple juice extracted from the pressed apples.

Here are things you are going to need for making apple cider:

  • 1 gallon of fresh squeezed apple juice (this is not a recipe for store bought apple juice).
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cinnamon sticks
  • dash of Allspice

This is an extremely simple recipe and can be modified in any way, go for it!

Here is my fresh squeezed apple juice. I let it sit in the refrigerator over night so that the sediment falls to the bottom.

Here is my fresh squeezed apple juice. I let it sit in the refrigerator over night so that the sediment falls to the bottom.

Pour apple juice into a large pot (more than 2 gallons)

Pour apple juice into a large pot (more than 2 gallons)

watch for the sediment that'll try to run out. You'll use a little bit of apple juice, but don't worry you don't want the sediment in your cider

watch for the sediment that’ll try to run out. You’ll use a little bit of apple juice, but don’t worry you don’t want the sediment in your cider

Add 1 gallon of water for every gallon of apple juice you use.

Add 1 gallon of water for every gallon of apple juice you use.

Add a handful of cinnamon

Add a handful of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Allow the cider to steep overnight. Then just warm it back up again and you have a lovely, warm, home-grown apple cider.

Allow the cider to steep overnight. Then just warm it back up again and you have a lovely, warm, home-grown apple cider. Enjoy!