Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

From Corporate Drones to Organic Farmers: Putting Our Plan into Action

From hatched plan to landing on the island of Puerto Rico to buy a farm took us about a year. There was the usual tying up of loose ends in California that had to be done. A necessary first step was for us to decide what we had accumulated during the 10 years as a couple and 40+ years as individuals we would keep and what we would donate, sell on eBay, or leave with friends.

This took several months, which brought us to mid-January. In that 6-month period, we took several strolls through our neighborhood. So much had changed since we bought our home in the fall of 2001.

Photo credit:

Children playing with their dogs and their neighbors’ kids, and grown-ups sitting on front porch rockers had been replaced with For Sale signs that sat for weeks and months. Once in a while, one would be swapped out for a Foreclosure sign.

Selling a House During the Great Recession

The excitement we had between the summer and fall of 2007 gave way to pessimism and even fear. As we accepted that we were amid the worst recession the U.S. and the world had seen since the Great Depression, our hopes of reinventing ourselves looked bleak.

I confided to one of our neighbors that we feared we’d be stuck in this home, jobs we no longer loved, the lifestyle we wanted desperately to escape because we’d never be able to sell our house. What I really feared was that if we didn’t leave, my doctor’s prediction that I wouldn’t live to see my 45th birthday would come to fruition.

My neighbor in turn revealed that she and her husband had quietly sold their house before a For Sale sign was ever placed on their front lawn.

She gave me the name of their real estate agent who’d successfully sold their house in less than a week. How could this be when there were houses in our neighborhood that sat on the market for weeks and in some cases months, as well as a few that had already foreclosed or were short sales?

I could barely get through the door before I told Paul about this discussion and he gave me the “yeah, right!” look, but agreed to call him.

Complete mess

The next day we took off from work to clean our house and tidy up. Things were in such disarray with boxes packed, color coded tags on everything that indicated its fate: to donate, to sell, leave with friends and the little that would come with us — assuming we could pull off a miracle.

At 5:00 that evening, Ray Galvez walked in our home and said he loved what he saw. We figured he told this to all his potential clients. We showed him around. He had a bunch of questions we hadn’t expected to be asked:

“Who did your tile work?”

“Who came up with the color scheme for your walls and who painted them?”

“Who designed your front and backyard?”

“Who does your landscaping?”

Expecting a different answer to each question, he was pretty surprised to hear the one word response for each one was the same: “We did.”

Front yard

back yard

Even more back yard

“I can’t make any promises but I think I could have your house sold pretty quickly.” I am from New York City and we’re famous for spotting scammers pretty quickly and calling them on it.

“Please don’t blow smoke up our butts. We’ve seen the numerous For Sale signs all over the place. What’s different between our house and all those that are sitting on the market with no end in sight?”

“That’s a good question. I already know that you owe considerably less on your home than it’s worth.” Paul and I looked at each other and then back at Ray. “It’s my job to do my homework before I consider whether a house can sell or not.”

“I can think of half a dozen people who will fall in love with your house and make an offer before the week is out.”

It was Wednesday. I gave him a raised eyebrow.

Maybe this guy was blowing smoke up our butts and maybe he wasn’t, but all we could do was think about our neighbors whose house he sold before a For Sale sign was put out.

We signed a contract and as he walked out the door, he called someone. “I found your dream house. Can you meet me tomorrow at 2:00?”

We hired Ray not just because he was a good great real estate agent—which he was and still is. As a pillar of the community in our small town of Fillmore, Ray spent years building relationships with Fillmorians long before he started selling homes. As a result, within 24 hours and before our house was even on the market—just like our neighbors’ home — we had three legitimate and respectable offers.

Paul and I owe a debt of gratitude to Ray Galvez. I would not be sitting here writing these blogs had he been unable to sell our home during a major recession. 

6 Months to Spend With Family and Decompress

Rather than leave immediately for Puerto Rico, knowing it may be a while before we would see our families again, we spent six months on the east coast so we could be close to them. We rented a house in upstate New York (outside of Woodstock).

Our nephew's graduation summer 2008

We lived half an hour of my brother and some of my cousins and within a five-hour drive of Paul’s sisters and their families. Although we were anxious to get started with our new life, we’ll never regret our time with family. And honestly it was nice to decompress.

20+ years in corporate America had taken physical and emotional tolls on us both. We couldn’t have just jumped in to our new life.

'Bienvenido a La Isla Del Encanto': Assimilating to a New Life in Puerto Rico

We arrived to Puerto Rico on September 17, 2008. We rented the same house we’d rented for 2 weeks during our last stay on the island. Our hope was to put in an offer within six months but not sooner. We needed to familiarize ourselves with the area first, integrate ourselves as quickly as possible and learn Spanish.

To the extent that two Americans who’d been in the corporate world forever, who spoke only ten words of Spanish between them, who moved to an area where there were very few English speakers (intentional for many reasons), whose fashion choices and mannerisms made them stand out like sore thumbs, we managed to make friends very quickly. We have always been quick to apologize for and poke fun at our “beautiful Spanish,” which was and still is disarming. It immediately drops people’s defenses and breaks down barriers.

Integrating ourselves as quickly as possible was critical for two reasons: Ex-pat depression is very real. Having known only a handful of people before we moved to Puerto Rico, we had to gain a foothold in our new community to avoid feeling isolated, which can lead to depression.

One of the biggest reasons people return home when relocating to a new country is that they set themselves apart from their neighbors (usually subconsciously). And let’s face it, that’s the easy thing to do. The language is different, customs are different, the food is different, the music is different, and so on. So many differences, it’s easy to allow those differences to convince people that it will never work. The older people are when they relocate, the risk of being unable to assimilate or at minimum integrate increases.

The other reason was that we wanted to let people know why we moved. Because we never allowed our differences to overshadow our similarities and our common goals, we made friends quickly (many of whom we have to this day) and people were happy to tell us about properties they knew might be for sale.

Learning a New Language in Your 40s

Ain’t easy! It has improved greatly from our first few months here but that’s not hard when we started from nothing. We continue to improve and moreover, we continue to make fun of ourselves and ensure people it’s our problem not theirs.

Within two months of arriving here, we saw a farm that we fell in love with. It turned out to be in what’s known as herencia (pronounced airenceea). This means the owner or owners have died and the property has been willed to the heirs. Unless all the heirs have agreed to sell the property, move on. It could be years, even decades, before that property will sell.

Yum Yum (left) and Gigi)

While we didn’t buy the farm from this family, we ended up adopting two of their German shepherd dogs.

We continued looking and while many were nice, they weren't for us. By February 2009, we found another (potentially) perfect piece of property, ironically the next farm over from the one that was in herencia.

The old house

Buying Land in Puerto Rico

15 acres on paper, but likely closer to 18, 1,500 feet up, the 750-square foot house was about 400 feet from the road. We made an offer and it was accepted.

Another reason we needed to integrate ourselves quickly is so people saw us as locals serious about buying a farm to work not as rich retirees who were unaware of property values.

US Census taker

The day we closed on the property and we took the keys, we drove up to see it. No sooner did we open the gate and right behind us was a census taker. We always wondered whether it was odd timing or if he had been sent there.

A complete OMG! moment! Nearly two years after we’d made the decision to change our lives and reinvent ourselves, Paul and I were the owners of a farm on Puerto Rico. The first order of business was to expand the house so we could live in it.

Sarah Ratliff and her husband, Paul, abruptly quit their jobs after 20 years into serving a lifetime sentence in corporate America, moved to the interior of Puerto Rico, and bought an 18-acre farm. The goal with their farm, which they namedMayani Farms after one of their two “starter” goats, is to be self-sustaining (versus selling anything). Sarah is a freelance writer who recently published the book Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide. Follow Sarah on Facebookand Twitter, and on her website, Read all of her 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.

Self Sufficiency and Sharing Resources

Lettuce garden box

The garden box looks like it is ready to fall apart. That is due to a bear walking on top of it. 

Most homesteaders seek what is referred to as "self sufficiency." I have blogged on this topic in the past, but there are so many facets to the subject that writing could be extensive and exhaustive. Being able to grow your own vegetables is personally rewarding and provides a source of food that you know hasn’t been washed in something or treated before you get it. Gardening is the most often used term when talking about food self sufficiency.

Our personal garden is still producing well into the fall season. It is a small garden, but then it only has to provide for two people. Insects are not a problem in the mountains but rodents are a major problem, which is why we grow most of our vegetables in an aboveground garden box totally encased in hardware cloth (photo above).

Beyond producing your own vegetables, there are other aspects of self sufficiency. Having livestock is not allowed in our community due to deed restrictions, so that is not something I can intelligently write about. Raising livestock and fowl is another aspect of being self sufficient and before you purchase property, it is wise to make sure you can have livestock before you invest your time and resources in the parcel of land.

Rural Law Enforcement

There are multiple aspects to self sufficiency that are not always so obvious. Where we live, at the outermost end of our county with a low population density, we don’t have an abundance of law enforcement personnel or wildlife officers. In fact, our one wildlife officer covers several counties and on the rare occasion I have called law enforcement, the only officer on duty was many miles away. If you have someone breaking the law and the response time is slow or non-existent, you may end up having to deal with the situation yourself.

If you have not been trained or have had experience in dealing with a poacher, vandal, or thief, the situation could easily escalate if you end up having to deal with it yourself. These types of people don’t usually just say "darn it, I was doing wrong and got caught." They will fight back or get belligerent. If you are not capable of handling a situation like that, it is best to do what you can from a distance and not try to resolve it on your own, because the consequences could escalate and turn dangerous.

Having an idea of what you would do ahead of time is important so you are not left to reacting to the moment. Our nearest neighbor is almost a mile away and while we have a manager for our community, I have seen a mob mentality suddenly spring up in our community and that is a recipe for disaster. My plan would be twofold: If they were on our property and posed an imminent threat, I would take any necessary measures to protect ourselves and our property. If they were not on our property or posing an imminent threat, I would take photos and wait for law enforcement to arrive even if it was the next day.

From my observations, seeking self reliance is not much different than the numerous examples we witness each and every day. Our politicians don’t talk with each other but instead talk about each other. Our community leaders don’t talk with the people they represent but close ranks and wait for problems to come to them. In short, people don’t seem to talk or interact with each other very much any more.

Building Community to Share Stories and Resources

One good aspect of self sufficiency is that there are blogs like this where people in different communities and different parts of the country can have meaningful dialog with each other, if desired. People striving for self sufficiency seem to want to share successes and failures with each other and having a place to do that facilitates dialog. Unless people talk with each other on a meaningful level, obstacles will remain in place and our society will continue to be divided and fearful.

I have been around for ¾ of a century, and when I was young, my family and our neighbors all had gardens and we shared within our community with each other. It wasn’t called self sufficiency back then — it was referred to as exercising good common sense.

One neighbor had a cherry tree (my mouth still waters when I think of those tasty cherries). We had a peach tree, another had grapes, and another had an apple tree and all fruits were shared. On our street, the houses mostly had a front porch and during evenings, the neighbors would sit on front porches and talk to each other or just walk around the block to say hello to each other.

I just recently saw on the news a shooting because one person thought the other person looked at them wrong. We seem to have lost our ability to communicate with each other and that leaves many fearful and untrusting. Even though there are numerous social media sites, we don’t connect with each other anymore on a more personal level and hence, have become divided and polarized over issues that are hardly worthy of our attention.

Self Sufficiency Means Community Development

We need to learn to talk with each other once again, whether it is over self sufficiency or another topic. We should not be forced into self sufficiency due to an economic downturn, but instead be prepared in case it ever does occur again.

Self sufficiency doesn’t mean isolation. It means being more reliant on ourselves for some of our basic needs, but it certainly doesn’t imply eliminating others from our lives. A group of self-sufficient people can work together to form a community like I recall in the post-depression years described above.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS 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.

A Dignified Look at Chicken Butchering Day

In case you hadn’t heard, Farmstead Creamery & Café is closed on Mondays. We call it the “barn-muckin’ chicken-pluckin’ hay-balin’ day.” Well, today was one of those days in the chicken pluckin’ department — aka, chores-reduction day.

Preparing for Chicken Processing Day

It really starts the day before, when you skip feeding the tractor (movable pasture pen/shelter) of chickens that have grown to maturity, which usually leads to a grumpy reception from the plump, white bodies with bobbing, red heads. “Excuse me, chores-ster, didn’t you forget something?”

Skipping feeding for the day isn’t about me being stingy with the grain. There’s still plenty of grass and clover with the twice-daily chicken tractor move, as well as bugs to chase and catch. Withholding feed is the poultry version of GoLightly treatment before a colonoscopy. It helps get everything cleaned out, which means much less messiness on their big day.

That evening, the lightning flashes, the thunder crashes, and even the National Weather Service calls our house to warn about the storms that rage in a ragged band across the state in a line that reaches all the way down to Texas. Of course, always, right when you first introduce those 4-week-old chickens to life in the tractor (vs life in a more protective coop), something happens with the weather. But now, here we were, one night away from butchering, facing the grips of another storm.

Fortunately, the cooling effects of the Chequamegon National Forest sliced a window of green in the radar rainbow of yellows and reds, and we passed unharmed. No trees snapped in two and no power outages to keep us up all night. The chickens by morning were still eager, dry— and hungry. Sorry about that part, kiddos.

Gathering Processing Equipment

The preparation is almost the biggest part of butchering day. There’s the hoses to round up, and the extension cords. There’s the scouring and placement of tub sinks, prep tables, and buckets. There’s putting up the canopy and tacking drum liners into place. And then there’s the cantankerous scalder.

Now, our chicken butchering methods have taken great leaps and bounds from 15 years ago, when we butchered the first 27 Cornish Cross meat chickens. Back then, we had a hatchet, a stump with two nails, a large pot of water boiling over an open fire, and our fingers.

These days, we have a cone system (like Joel Salatin uses in the documentary “Food Inc.” and during his MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fair demonstrations), a propane scalder shared with another farmer, a drum plucker, and a lot more experience. If you’re feeling a little lost in all this jargon, don’t worry, Spellcheck has no idea what most of these words are either!

Let’s walk through the butcher station system in a friendly way. We actually encourage folks who order chickens from us to come and see the operation and learn how it’s done. Most who are brave enough to take us up on the idea whip out their cameras, pull the kids out of the backseat of the car, and wonder at the humanity and science of the affair in comparison with the nightmarish trauma of commercial poultry processing. It’s important to take ownership of where our food comes from and how it is produced. If you’re not ready for this story, though, I’ll see you next article.

The Chicken-Processing Process

Catch pen. First, there’s the catch pen. This is where, after taking a ride in the back of my utility golf cart, the chickens lounge about in the shade of a balsam, pecking at the grass or watching for bugs. At this point, life is still pretty nice in the land of chicken. If they do understand what is happening beyond the world of their catch pen, they don’t exhibit any signs of distress or anxiety.

Kill cone. I catch a chicken, place it head-first into the upside-down road cone, and Grandpa removes the head with a knife. No running around headless, since the bird is confined within the cone like a tight hug. This also prevents bruising of the meat. After the bird has been sufficiently bled out, it’s time for a hot bubble bath.  This is where that renowned scalder comes into play.

Scalding. Here’s the science part: Feathers don’t want to come off a chicken — they’re there to protect the feathered beastie from cold, heat, wet, and dry. If you’ve ever tried to pluck a bird without any treatment after death, you’ll know it’s not easy! Therefore, to get that nice, clean, creamy-colored skin everyone likes to see on their chicken, it’s necessary to shock the pores of the bird’s skin. This is accomplished by dunking them in hot, soapy water (about 145 degrees Fahrenheit) for close to 50 seconds, followed by plunging the chickens in a bucket of cold water.

The soap cuts the oils on the chicken’s feathers, allowing the hot water to penetrate (scalding), while the quick change from hot to cold prevents the skin from cooking. Now the feathers will pull out easily.

But if the water is not hot enough, the feathers won’t come out, and if it’s too hot for too long, the skin will start to cook and tear easily. Trying to maintain a standard temperature over an open fire proved to be near impossible and more liable to melt the toes of our shoes as we leaned precariously over the pot to dunk soggy chickens. It’s amazing how much they weigh when soaked in soapy water! This is why a thermostat-regulated propane scalding tank works considerably better.

Getting the poultry jacuzzi to light can sometimes be an interesting ordeal, laying on the ground with a lighter while holding the magic (though very hidden) red plastic button to ignite the pilot light. But once it gets going and regulated (even if that means wrapping the scalder in insulation on freezing butcher days), the scalder is one of the most important tools in the process.

Plucking. The next phase is the plucker. That used to be us. Originally, it was optimistic to do four to five chickens an hour when everything was by hand. Tail and wing feathers are the worst, and must be tackled first before the bird cools too far. But today, with the drum plucker Grandpa made from a Whizbang kit, we finished 50 birds in a couple hours.

Two birds at a time are placed inside a half-barrel lined with rubber fingers. The bottom disk spins on a motor, and the chickens bounce around inside. The rubber fingers pull at the feathers and the centripetal force flings them out the bottom between the rotating disk and the side walls. When the scalding is just right, there’s only a few pin feathers and a little on the tail that needs hand picking. It’s amazing!

Butchering. Mom and Kara are experts at the leg and neck trimming as well as evisceration. Knives whirl, hoses spray, and the hearts and livers are saved for the giblet bags.  Then we all chip in on pin feathers (quality control), while the birds chill in tubs of cold water.

Packaging and freezing. Then they’re bagged, weighed, labeled, and tucked in the fridge while the whole system is scoured and put away for another day.  The catch pen is empty, but in its place are 50 beautiful, clean frying or roasting chickens for folks to enjoy at their table — real food from a real farm where the chickens had real chicken lives.

So, if you really did make it to the end of the article and didn’t “chicken out” at the title, here’s a pat on the back for you. For those of us who choose to eat meat, being knowledgeable and responsible about how it is raised and prepared should be part of the noblis oblige of life as an omnivore. When we own and respect it, then there is dignity. When we ignore or divorce ourselves from it, that dignity is lost, and we can easily become pray to corporate manipulation. When was the last time Tyson invited you to their butchering day? See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. Read all of her 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.

Hatching Chicks Using Incubators vs Broody Hens, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed several points comparing the relative benefits of using incubators for hatching chicks vs. doing things the natural way — that is, assigning the job to a broody. Today I am going to cover some more factors influencing the chicken owner's decision on this matter.

Newly hatched baby chick

Hand-raised chicks often turn out more sociable and friendly as adult birds.


Because our coop is small and we rely heavily on free-ranging, the brooding area we have for mother hens and newly hatched chicks is very confined, and so by necessity, the young chicks are introduced to the great outdoors quite early — especially if the enclosed space is needed by another new brood. Now, of course the young ones are protected by their mother, but still, there are unfortunate incidents in the form of stray cats, dogs, birds of prey, and objects in the yard that might fall and crush chicks (though we do our best to “chick-proof” the surroundings).

Another challenge is when there are several broods around — over-protective hens might be dangerous to another hen’s chicks, up to the point of pecking them to death because of some imaginary threat to their own offspring.

When we operate our incubator and rear the chicks ourselves, they remain indoors much longer. I gradually introduce them to the flock under my supervision, starting from only several minutes each day. Eventually they are ready to mix with the flock unsupervised, and finally, as pullets, they are moved to the coop full-time.

I do have to say that, theoretically, we could use the broody hens just for hatching, and then take the chicks away and safely raise them inside the house ourselves. However, it seems unfair to us, after the mother hen had done her best by diligently sitting on the eggs for three weeks, not to let her raise the chicks. We could also confine the mother hen and her chicks at home, but we found that it causes stress to a mature adult bird that is used to free-ranging.

In an ideal world, we would have a bigger coop and several larger enclosures for mother hens and their broods. However, this isn’t an option right now, so we make do with what we have and do our best to work around our practical limitations.

Ultimately, by making the choice to free range our chickens, we became mentally resigned to the fact that there would be more losses than if we kept them confined all the time. We pay the price, and reap the benefits in lower costs of chicken feed, less muck in the coop to clean, a yard nearly free of insects, and eggs richer in valuable nutrients. However, other chicken keepers might have different considerations and different choices.


From our experience, a broody hen can comfortably cover up to a dozen eggs, depending on her size. However, smaller hens will cover fewer eggs, usually 6-7. Out of those, suppose 5 prove fertile and hatch — 4 chicks survive to adulthood (realistically speaking from past experience), and out of those, two turn out to be cockerels, which we give away or sell very cheaply. This means that a hen might go off laying eggs for a considerable period, to hatch and raise a comparatively small number of replacement layers.

Incubators, on the other hand, come in different sizes, to fit varying needs. An incubator can allow you to hatch a bigger batch of chicks and so increase efficiency. Our small homemade one can hold about twenty eggs.


You can turn on an incubator whenever it is convenient for you; a hen, on the other hand, goes broody according to her whims/biological clock. You can try to break broodiness, you can try to encourage it, but ultimately nature will decide.


Fun is an important part in raising chickens; practical considerations aside, we wouldn’t keep our flock if we didn’t enjoy it. Now, when chicks are hatched in an incubator and raised in an indoor brooder, it’s a lot easier to handle them and play with them, due to the absence of an aggressively protective mother hen. From our experience, chicks raised by us grow into tamer, more docile birds which are more convenient to handle as they mature, too.

Bottom line: Both broody hens and incubators have their place on the modern homestead, and chicken keepers make different choices that work for them. Personally, if I plan to receive a batch of valuable eggs from pure-bred chickens, I probably won’t trust them to a broody and will choose to hatch them in an incubator and raise the chicks myself, the value of the chicks making such a venture cost-effective, despite the extra work involved. If, on the other hand, the eggs come from any old chicken and can be easily replaced, I’ll trust to nature and place them under a broody.

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. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blogRead 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.

Wild-Food Foraging and Harvesting Beneath September's 'Apple Moon'

Can you feel the change in the air? The cool mornings and evenings, the stirring of a season, the slow shift as we bend away from summer and into the fall. For Natalie Bogwalker and her crew at Wild Abundance, the shift in seasons represents a change of pace.

“In the fall we harvest, we start to settle down, we offer our gratitude, we feast with our family and community,” says Natalie.

Here in the Appalachian Mountains, it’s time to focus on harvesting sweet pears and wild apples. It's a time to start closing the garden beds, to select a winter cover crop and secure against the cold season that swells at the beginning and the end of the day.

Here is a guide to making the most of this harvest season, compiled by the life experiences of Natalie Bogwalker with contributions from Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman.

The Blue Ridge

 Wild and Woodland Harvest

• Harvest feral apples and pears

• Prune ginseng leaves to circumvent poachers (use leaves for tea and medicine!)

• Check on persimmons, autumn olives and paw paws to see if they’re ripe

• Keep looking for mushrooms

• Begin to collect black walnuts; fruit/outer layer for dye and medicine, nut for food

• Find wild beaked hazel groves and harvest when nuts are ripe

• Begin harvesting air potatoes

Annual Garden

• Clear areas where you are planning to plant next year, sheet mulch or cover crop them

• Dig holes for squash mounds before ground freezes and hunting season begins

• Plant cover crops.. Austrian winter pea and winter rye

• Harvest winter squash before first frost (when skin cannot be broken with fingernail and pressure

• Harvest sweet potatoes before first frost

• Select and/or secure garlic seed stock

• Set up winter covering if you choose to do so (row covers, hoop house, etc.)

• Harvest field corn when it is dried down in the field

• Harvest sorghum cane for pressing molasses

Eat Apples

In the Orchard

• Harvest lots of apples and pears

• Harvest some varieties strawberries and raspberries

• Harvest cultivated filberts and chestnuts when ready

Food Preservation

• Press cider to drink, ferment, freeze, can

• Dry apples, can applesauce and butter, bake pies

• Dry pears; make pear sauce

• Make mead, cyser, and pyser with excess fruit and honey

• Start sauerkraut and other winter veggie salt-based ferments

• Cure winter squash and sweet potatoes in warm, dry place for several weeks

• Press sorghum cane and cook down juice into molasses

Apple Abundance


• Buy straw for winter apple and garlic storage

• Practice shooting

• Begin thinking about/finding breeding stock for dairy animals

• Don’t forget to create an Earth altar, in honor of all that we receive. Adorn it with sunflowers, with goldenrod, with apples, grapes, and offer it back with humility and gratitude.

• Wild Abundance will be hosting two fall workshops on hide-tanning and scared animal slaughter. To find our more about these weekend intensives in Asheville, NC go to

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a writer, student of permaculture design, and is an organic topbar beekeeper in Asheville, NC. Read other articles featuring the work of Natalie Bogwalker and Wild Abundance, published by MOTHER EARTH NEWS 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.

How Cows Make Milk

Properly fed cows enjoy diets rich in hay and grass. Both are rich in cellulose. This alone is remarkable because cellulose is very difficult to digest. Humans lack the ability to digest cellulose but the digestive systems of cows have evolved specifically to digest it. A diet that includes plenty of grass and long-stemmed hay is critical for keeping cows healthy so they can enjoy good, long lives. We graze our cows on wooded pastures, for example.

Cows Eating Hay

The Four Cow Stomachs

Cows are ruminants, which means they have four stomachs or four stomach compartments. Other ruminants include goats, sheep, water buffalo, etc. Each one of the four stomachs plays a different role in digesting food and making milk. 

The rumen is the cow’s first stomach, where the partly chewed grass initially enters. Upon arrival, it is mixed with water and partially broken down by stomach juices and microbes. The rumen can hold over 25 gallons of the mixture.

The grass then passes into the reticulum where it is further softened and made into small wads called cuds. The cuds return to the cow’s mouth one by one where they are chewed 40 to 60 times, which takes about one minute per cud. Cows enjoy chewing their cud and seem to get lost in peaceful thought while doing it.

The chewed cud goes to the omasum where it is pressed by to remove much of the water and is further digested. 

The cud then passes into the abomasum where the digestion process is completed. The digested milk then enters the cow’s small intestine where the nutrients contained in the grass and hay are absorbed by the cow. The abomasum can sometimes cause problems for both the cow and farmer. It can fill with gas and actually float out of position in the cow’s body and become twisted and blocked. The condition is called a Displace Abomasum or DA and is fairly common.

When this happens, a cow will stop eating and become lethargic. If not treated soon, her health will go down hill quickly. Usually the condition can be corrected surgically. Sometimes it can be corrected, at least temporarily, by rolling the cow.

Anatomy of a Cow

Though a DA usually occurs shortly after a cow calves, due to the shifting of the cows internal organs, after the calf is born, I have found that DAs can be reduced, if not prevented, by a diet rich in grass and long-stemmed hay.

The Udder

Once the grass, hay and other nutrients have been absorbed into the cow’s bloodstream, they are delivered to the cow’s udder where more magic happens. A cow’s udder has four quarters or compartments. Each quarter has its own teat or nipple where the calf nurses and the milk exits. Inside, each quarter is full of mammary glands, called "alveoli," and a milk cistern where the milk drains before it enters the teat cistern. Every good farmer has a reliable teat dip on hand — we offer a package that has all the essentials here.

The alveoli are tiny balloon-like milk making machines that are fueled by nutrients carried to them by the cow’s blood stream. Cells lining the alveoli produce milk, which is then released into the interior cavity of each alveolus called the Alveolus Lumen.

When the udder is stimulated by a nursing calf or by being prepped for milking by the farmer, the cow releases oxytocin into her blood stream, which causes the alveolus to contract and release the milk, which then travels down to the milk cistern and teat. The process is called “letting down.” If it's your first time milking a cow, you may want to read our How to Milk a Cow blog ahead of time.

Sometimes, first calf heifers (young cows) being milked for the first few times will have problems letting down. Frightened or injured cows may have problems letting down as well. Usually those cows eventually relax and milk out just fine. However, in some stubborn cases the farmer may decide to give the cow a small injection of oxytocin. Doing so on a regular basis should be avoided, because a cow can become “addicted” to the injection. Massaging the udder can be an excellent alternative.

For more tips and tricks on the proper handling of a cow, read on.

Back of a Cow

Managing Cow Udders

The conformation of a cow’s udder can make or break the cow. Some cows can produce 100 pounds or more of milk every day. If they are milked twice a day the udder may contain 50 pounds of milk or more when she is milked. That is a lot of weight. A cow’s udder is held in place by suspensory and lateral ligaments. If those ligaments are weak or fail, the udder can hang too low where it can be injured or pick up bacterial infections called "mastitis."

We have a blog post on how to keep your dairy animals clean when milking, that's proven to be very helpful for fellow farmers. Also, milking a cow with a big udder hanging low can be difficult and unpleasant and can end a cow’s career. Ideally, a cow’s udder should be tucked up nicely between her rear legs and her teats should not extend below her hock joints. Remember to have your livestock care and supplies ready to go before starting this process.

In my next posts, I will discuss the various ways cows are milked on small herd dairies. I will start with The Basics of Milking Cows.

Steve Judge is a long-time dairy farmer and micro-dairy expert at Bob-White Systems. Driven by a passion for the Slow Food movement and a desire for communities to enjoy locally produced, Steve's goal is to create appropriately scaled dairy technology and equipment that will give small-scale dairy farmers the opportunity to sell safe, farm fresh milk and dairy products directly from their farms to friends and neighbors. Read all of Steve's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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