Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Karen Sanchez

Mentor: Carleton Schade


Title: Backyard Livestock Homestead


This past summer, I spent a month trying to live in a completely sustainable environment. I spent long days under the sun and built a platform tent, maintained and harvested a vegetable garden, traveled 15 hours in one day to Rome, NY to pick up 2 milking goats, chased 8 chickens in a field of thousands, tried to barter for goods, biked everywhere, lit fires in the rain and at night, and learned a surplus of life experiences. Among these were milking goats, using a magnifying glass to light fires, how to compost effectively, how to kill and prep chickens, the value of survival, what we really need, and most importantly, that no matter how much you read about something, it will never be enough preparation for the real thing. These adventures and memories affected my life enough for me to never want to forget them. This led me to create and publish a graphic memoir capturing these lessons and experiences.


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PowerPoint Presentation


For as long as I can remember, I have had a very strong passion for wildlife and the environment. I grew up outdoors through hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and camping, therefore I developed a very personal relationship with nature. Backyard Livestock Homestead, the title of my book and project, is about living locally and sustainably, developing a relationship with and benefitting from livestock, volunteering within communities in exchange for goods, and using a minimal energy as possible. I chose this project because it was an opportunity for me to explore my personal interests even further. I had always wanted to live outdoors in a self-sufficient environment and this project provided a hands-on exploration of this desire. I also had the opportunity to study, interact, and develop a relationship with my natural surroundings. My product gave me the chance of running through publication process of books, which is something I had always thought about doing in the future.

            For the month of August, Sylvia Channing, Patricia Milligan, and I built a platform tent as shelter and pens for our livestock, biked and used public transportation everywhere, produced our own food, raised and cared for two goats and eight chickens, and explored our the environment around us. All out hard work and determination paid off by turning the project into an experience. The exhibition tried to help the viewer feel like they were there with us for the month through many mediums. Everything is set up on the table and chairs that we used in our tent. Underneath the table is our wood basket, on the side is a bucket and broom, and on top is the pitcher I used to milk the goats. The video I put together from clips of August is playing in the background and my book is on display on the table. Next to my book is SylviaÕs very realistic 3-D model of our homestead and her paper.

            My product and goals changed constantly all through the project. I had originally though about composing an original flute piece on the sounds around me and a scientific study on the livestock. But once we moved into our new lifestyle, I lost sight of what I was trying to get out of my project and subconsciously drifted away from the idea of a product. Towards the end of the month, I realized that everything we had done so far was an experience and I needed to take as much away with me as I could so that I would later be able to come up with something to show for it.

            Everything was a process and had processes within its. I started off by researching on were to get goats and chickens from, but continuously had no luck. I read a lot on the behavior of animals and how to communicate with them. I learned a lot of handy survival skills from books I came across and found that Backyard Homestead was exactly what I needed. Finding and getting the chickens at the Garden of ever was a very dirty and exciting process because I had never had chickens before. I never ended up finding the goats because they found me. We drove to Rome, New York, there and back, in two day to pick up two milking goats because they were the only goats available. The process of learning to stop and think on my feet was also a long struggle because the problems we faced could not be put aside and had to be resolved with urgency.

            Like process, everything had its challenges that we had to overcome. Building a tent was one of the ones because it was a project within itself, but I learned that I enjoy building and working with tools. Getting the animals was the longest challenge because the solutions were not available right away. Building an outdoor fire did not prove to be easy, but we learned how to do with many methods, including a magnifying glass. Fishing was difficult because I had never done it before, but I ended up learning how to catch, gut and cook fish. Milking the goats was very stressful, hard, and challenging because not being able to do it made me feel like a failure in the project, but once I got it down I never forgot how to. At one point we also lost the goats. This was extremely hard for me because they were essentially my responsibility and I lost them, thus I failed everyone. I was faced with a surprising challenge when I couldnÕt pull the neck after having learned how to kill and prepare a chicken from scratch.

            Writing my book turned out to be harder than I thought it would be because I had intended to write stories, but continuously wrote memoirs. I also got very sick because I like to manage my work by doing it all at once instead of dividing my time. I ended up staying awake and working through five days straight to write over 80 pages of text. The layout of my book completely changed once I finished the stories because I didnÕt want it to take away from their significance. By the time I knew exactly what I wanted my final product to look like, it was too late to send in for a rough print so I had to make sure it first and only would be my final.

            All throughout I discovered many new things about others, my surroundings, and myself. One of my biggest discoveries was realizing that books do not teach experiences. I found this out the hard way after reading countless instructions on how to milk a goat, but every time I tried I couldnÕt get the milk out. I then knew that even though I knew what to do I did know how to do it because I didnÕt have the experience required yet. The importance of community was a discovery that was reinforced during the month because I relied on my family and friends to help me through hard times and make my experience a success. Although we all subconsciously know this, I was forced to believe that living is hard. Getting the essentials, such as food, water, and shelter are really difficult to come across in the natural world. One of the most valuable discoveries was figuring that losing track of time is not a waste of time. Everyone needs to put their busy and fast pace lives on hold once in a while and appreciate life itself because it really is grand.

            I also proudly walked away with several new skills from the experience. The biggest accomplishment was learning how to milk a goat. The second was learning how to kill and prep a chicken with only my hands and a knife. I also learned how to edit my own work, be consistent in my style, and appreciate my writing. A very reward was learning that I really enjoy working with graphic design and have a big interest in continuing to do so. Lastly, although my method of time management has changed, I am aware that it is impractical and unhealthy.

            In conclusion, what I want people to take away from my project is the many discoveries I made and implement them into their own lives. The most important is the value of experience and how you will never succeed unless you get out there and do what you want to do. Another is to not lose sight of our innate relationship with Earth and animals. With our advancement as a race, the majority of human has lost touch with the natural animal instincts. By doing these things people will most like learn the remaining lessons, which are the importance of community, appreciation of life, and the quality in simplicity, not quantity.

            As a result of my project, my life plans and decisions were reassured. I know that I will pursue a career in wildlife veterinary and zoology. My love for animals was constantly reinforced and I know that as an advanced species, we can largely help the animals in need. In addition, I discovered that I love agriculture and will more than likely spend a majority of my life living sustainably in a yurt, off the land, with many animals, farming, and trying to be as holistic with the planet as possible.

Works Consulted

Damerow, Gail. Your Chickens. Vermont: Garden Way Publishing, 1993. Print.

Damerow, Gail. Your Goats. Vermont: Garden Way Publishing, 1993. Print.

Deming, Dick and Barbara. Back at the Farm. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982. Print.

Gardner, Frank. Traditional American Farming Techniques. New York: The Lyons Press, 2001. Print.

Hatkoff, Amy. The Inner World of Farm Animals. New York: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2009. Print.

Hatkoff, Isabella, et al. Owen & Mzee. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006. Print.

Haynes, Bruce. Keeping Livestock Healthy: A Veterinary Guide. Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, LLC, 2001. Print.

Kamma, Anne and Linda Gardner. If You Lived with the Hopi. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1999. Print.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

Lishak, Antony. Global Warming. Minnesota: Smart Apple Media, 2008. Print.

Madigan, Carleen. The Backyard Homestead. Massachusetts: Storey Publshing, LLC, 2009. Print.

Masson, Jeffrey and Susan McCarthy. When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. New York: Dell Publishing, 1995. Print.

McNab, Chris. Living Off the Land. Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2007. Print.

Nesbitt, Paul, et al. The Survival Book. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1959. Print.

Peck-Whiting. Farm Animals. Washington: Fox Mtn Publishing, 2002. Print.

Pollan, Michael. The OmnivoreÕs Dilemma. New York: Penguin Group Inc., 2006. Print.

Community Member (Details)

Tom Jawin- edited my stories and gave feedback on my book many times

Carleton Schade- my mentor and was my final seal of approval for everything

Wonda Miller- librarian at the Lower School who I met and exchanged ideas with

Carla Riccio- Writers Workshop director who advised me in my writing process

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht- Outside consultant who helped with everything

Katherine Neill- Published author who edited my book a couple times

Catapano Dairy- Help with the goat finding process

Garden of Eve- Provided the eight chickens

Bob the Farmer- Provided Flora and Little Bit

Urban Reininger- helped with my presentation technical difficulties