Mother Earth News Blogs >

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

Pampered Piglet

piglet

Our 12-hour traveling companion under his heat lamp.  Behind him is a stuffed sock for companionship.  

It isn’t hard to see that the animals on our farm have it pretty good.  During inclement springtimes, baby chick brooder boxes are often setup right in our walk-out basement, bottle lambs get their start in a stock tank in the kitchen, and many a runty piglet has lived in a tub in the house until big and strong enough to fend for itself in the barn.

This tendency to give struggling baby animals some extra TLC to help them through the difficult time has led to many an epic adventure.  One bottle lamb named Edelweiss lived in a cardboard box next to Kara’s bed and traveled in the minivan with us on trips to Ashland and Madison.  She thought she was one of the dogs in the house and would gladly walk in the front door if you’d let her, well after she was full-grown.  The smallest of triplets, Edelweiss’ mother had rejected her and stepped on her abdomen, which would usually spell the demise of a lamb.  But with careful attention, lots of patience, and extra care, Edelweiss became the grandmother or great-grandmother of many of the sheep in our flock today.

On another occasion, three bottle piglets had to ride in the car on another long trip.  Feedings must be regular, and if no one is at home to attend to the needy little ones, well, they have to come along.  These pigs were about football-sized, and in the “screaming demon” stage.  They quickly learned that when we stopped, they got fed, so every possible stop was a chance to loudly voice their hunger—every stop light, every stop sign, every halt in traffic.  Our ears rang for days, but the piglets grew up healthy and vigorous.

This week was another one of those long trips, taking all of us off the farm (which is a rare occurrence).  We’d thought we’d planned the appointment well—no lambs, no baby chicks, all the animals in their winter quarters, the fish in a fairly stable spot in their life cycles.  Everything was pretty wrapped up for our leaving.  The two pregnant sows had farrowed, so no immediate expectancies to accidentally miss.  It was looking like clear sailing for our haul to Platteville for annual dental work!

But then, a few days before the trip, Kara woke at 4:00 am with one of those strong premonitions livestock owners learn to heed.  She had to go out to the barn, she had to check on the sows, she had to look for the one runty piglet.  Out she zoomed, throwing on coat and boots.  The pigs all appeared to be contentedly sleeping, but no runt to be seen.  Not anywhere.  She dug around in the bedding, no pig.  She tried reaching around the sides of the sow, no pig.  She checked with the littermates, still no runt.  Then, getting very worried at this point, Kara rolled the sow onto her back, and there under her belly was the runt, squished entirely flat, white as a ghost.

Picking it up, Kara began rubbing its side in stimulation, like you would a newborn piglet that isn’t breathing.  A few scary moments passed, and then, GASP!  The piglet miraculously came back to life.

Hemmingway Moves Into the House

That’s when he moved inside and was named Hemmingway after “The Great Gatsby”—or “The Great Gaspy” as we were calling it.  At first, Hemmingway lived in a large pot on the kitchen counter, fed with a needle syringe to help him perk up.  His head was bruised and one eye got infected for a while, but the tender care brought him back to his perky self.  Soon, he graduated to a rubber feed pan, surrounded by protective cardboard and a clamp-on heat lamp to keep him warm.  Feeling lonely by himself, the piglet needed companionship, so a stuffed sock became his new littermate and cuddle friend.

But then there was this trip, and we’d likely be gone 16 hours.  There was no way little tiny Hemmingway could make it at home alone and with no food that long, so he was going to have to join us on the journey.  I was not terribly excited, especially remembering the screaming demon pig trip.  We were planning to all squeeze into Steve’s Prius, since it had the best gas mileage of our vehicle collection, and I already had 120 skeins of wool yarn we were packing into the car to drop off at a dye artist along the way.  How, oh how, were we all going to fit…with a piglet???

It was pretty cramped quarters when we loaded the car at 5:00 am, after quickly doing morning chores in the dark and wind and spitting rain.  The piglet rig was too tall to fit in the trunk, so we had the back packed with the yarn, a marine cell battery, and an inverter to plug the heat lamp into.  The pig went on the bench seat between Kara and I (the pig had most of the room, really), with Steve and Mom up front, with the lunch cooler taking up most of the passenger foot room.  It was a tight squeeze!  Plug the lamp into the inverter, and we had our portable porcine palace.  Great…here we go for 12 hours of driving, cramped, sitting a bit sideways, penned in.  This pig better be a nice traveler!

And he was, really, keeping very quiet except for little, expressive grunts when he got hungry.  No screaming squeals, no climbing out of the pen.  Of course, Hemmingway was about the size of three candy bars bundled together, but most of the time he was asleep, enjoying the light jostle of the ride. 

Keeping Hemingway Warm

So it wasn’t the pig that was the problem during the trip…but it was keeping him warm that caused most of the adventure.  We were over an hour into the trip when his light went out.  We thought, well, maybe it was the bulb, since it was an older light, so we stopped and bought a new bulb, after checking in a couple of places that had fluorescent lights only.  While those might be nice for the environment, they won’t keep a piglet warm!

No go with the light, so then we thought that, well, maybe the lamp had a short.  It’s an old lamp Grandpa had around, and the cord looked a bit iffy, so we stopped at a hardware store for a new clamp-on lamp.  Steve was trying to explain to the hardware store folks what we needed in order to keep our piglet alive because, well, how many chances do you get to say that to customer service?

Got the new lamp assembly working, and then it died again.  It would work a little, then die again.  So then we thought it must be the inverter going bad.  So the hardware store folks directed us to a truck stop station that would supply inverters, and we were off again.  The piglet was expressing his concern at having no heat lamp, and we had his little abode all covered up with towels, trying to keep him warm enough until the issue was resolved.

Off to the truck stop, got a new, more powerful inverter, which worked for about two minutes, then showed an error.  The battery was low!  “Gotta save the piglet,” Steve sighed, at this point feeling rather frustrated at how this was unfolding.  We’d pretty much replaced all the parts of the assembly at this point, chased down packaging that was blowing away in the rainy gusts, and stopped in three towns.  He went back to the truck stop and bought an inverter that plugged directly into the Prius, and we stuffed all the rest of the paraphernalia we’d purchased into the back.

After that, the light worked fine, and the pig was quite satisfied…until he got hungry again.  At the dental appointment, Kara had to ask if she could bring him inside to use an outlet to keep him warm since the car would quickly cool to the 40-odd degrees it was outside.  So there we were, four folks and our piglet, in the waiting room, and then finally back into the car for the next 6 hours north to home.

At least there was no more heat lamp drama for the return trip, the yarn got delivered, and we had a little more leg room.  But, most important of all, that pampered piglet is alive and well and getting bigger every 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 www.northstarhomestead.com.


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.

Happy Homesteading?!

 

Hello homesteaders and future homesteaders!  Almost 16 months ago I wrote a Mother Earth News blog for the very first time and I loved it!   I wrote how my family and I were going to embark on a journey to become as self-sufficient as possible.  I do not want to rely on anyone, especially the government, to provide for me the things that I can provide for myself with using the resources that our good Lord gave us!  This was all supposed to go hand in hand with starting my all-natural farming/gardening business!  I was going to write, grow, raise, and help others do the same thing I was doing.  Sounds like the perfect plan, right?  It was, except I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain. When we first started doing this we were and still are renting, and even though our landlord is great, we are still limited in what we can do. 

We didn’t get off to the start I was hoping for and I was excellent at finding the excuses I needed to keep my dreams from becoming goals and my goals from becoming reality.  I mean, how can you be self-sufficient living in someone else’s house?  I couldn’t cut up the gutters and install rain barrels, I couldn’t put up a wind turbine or solar panels, and I couldn’t purchase any cows or pigs and put them in my back yard!  I was able to have a garden and raise some chickens for eggs, but even with that I was too involved in why things wouldn’t work and throwing myself several big pity parties! 

My garden would get some weeds growing in it and insects would invade it so I don’t have to tell you that it was a big waste of effort, time and money.  My garden spots would just become big weed and insect breeding grounds and resembling nothing even close to a relaxing place to think and provide for my family while I was working in it and enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of God’s creation.  My chickens would either fall prey to predators or, for whatever reason, would quit laying and not only would I lose food for my family but I would also lose paying customers. 

With all of this happening, plus throw in a few computer issues for a guy who’s not very good with computers to begin with, I would get upset with myself and began beating myself up for being a failure and not being able to supply my wife and children good healthy food and a paycheck. Yeah, the excuses and pity parties would start to be more accessible and more often.  So, why am I even writing about this? Other than this journey starting with the goal of becoming self-sufficient, this blog I am writing now has nothing to do with self-sufficiency, does it?   Well, in all parts of life we have lessons to learn and failures aren’t failures if you learn from them and make the needed corrections in order not to make the same mistakes again, so I thought I would go ahead and write this for that person out there that has faced some failures with their goals and is questioning if it is worth it to continue.

The funny thing about throwing those pity parties for myself is that I was the only one attending!  No one else really cared. It wasn’t affecting them so why should they?  When I finally realized that no one else cared and all I was doing was hurting my family I decided that this is it!  I have had ENOUGH!  Now that I finally got my head on straight and decided that to succeed I need to take care things on my own, I just realized that we are heading in to winter.  How in the world can I make this happen in winter?  I have already started putting my garden to bed and with fewer hours of daylight the chickens are going to be laying less anyways.  I began to look around and noticed my fireplace that did not get  used very often last winter, so that is one thing I can write about.  My younger hens have just started laying, I did end the garden season on a high note with several discoveries that I will be able to build on for next year, so I can tell you about all of them.  I also hope that I can be a positive influence on somebody out there and show them that no matter what you can work through it.  I will be talking to you real soon and until then, Happy Homesteading!


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.

Feeding the Fire in December

As the daylight wanes and the nights grow longer, colder and darker, we draw our energy in. Instead of the labor of summer, we begin to curl inward, focusing on our internal landscape, on reading, writing, journaling, on feeding the fire, stacking and chopping wood, while cultivating our vision for the seasons to come.

December is a time to slow down, to gather with family and friends, to reflect and nurture the body and soul with warmth from the fire, with simmered stews, hot herbal teas and early nights. 

"Winter brings introspection and observation," says Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance, a primitive skills and permaculture school in Barnardsville, North Carolina. "It’s a time of receptivity, a time for planning the year to come, for walking the land an envisioning.”

Wild Abundance Eco-Homestead Winter

On the medicine wheel, the seasons each have their own direction, describes Frank Salzano, a partner at Wild Abundance. Winter is the North, representing the evening and our elderhood, a time for deep reflection and hibernation. “It’s a time for deep psychic recharge and peace,” says Salzano, “when we’re reworking everything so our vision for spring is more honed. It forces us to slow down, and there is a mystical space that happens when you enter into that darkness.”

In the winter, and in the north on the seasonal wheel, there is less work to do on the homestead, and the quiet time of rest should be welcomed, for the work of the summer is not possible without this season of introspection. 

In honor of the energy of the season, here is a December to-do list for the homestead, written and created by Natalie Bogwlaker, with contributions from Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman. This guide to permaculture through the seasons was recreated with the southeastern bio-region in mind.

Wild and Woodland Harvest

Cut and stack wood for next year.

Make wreaths and baskets out of invasive vines like honeysuckle, bittersweet, and kudzu.

Split and gather kindling.

>Coppice autumn olive and willow for basket-making materials.

Annual Garden

Take a break!

Eat winter peas, chickweed, and kale out of hoops.

Don’t forget to keep feeding any crops that are still green with urine and ashes or liquid seaweed fertilizer.

Winter Pea blossoming (1)

Food Preservation

Periodically look through stored food. Be sure to remove and eat anything that is beginning to spoil.

Feast with Family

Go out of your way to enjoy the company of friends, family, and neighbors! For this is a time to feast with those we love!

For more information on Wild Abundance and to learn more about upcoming classes including Wild Food Foraging & Cooking, Permaculture Design, Primitive Skills, Ladies Carpentry and Natural Building, check out wildabundance.net.

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a student with Wild Abundance, a writer, gardener and beekeeper in Asheville, North Carolina. Check out her other articles written 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.

Bringing Home a Maremma Sheepdog Livestock Guardian Dog

We recently brought home our first Livestock Guardian Dog: a Maremma Sheepdog we have named Stanley. Stanley is not a house pet, but an important part of all of our farm animal’s protection. Livestock Guardian Dogs are alternatives to hunting and patrolling for every predator on the farm, and they can save a farmer many headaches as long as they are properly trained.

IMG_2072

We chose a Livestock Guardian Dog for a variety of reasons, knowing that we would have to add extra protection for our animals when we moved to our new, rural farm.  We have always had dogs, and recently lost our last pet, so an LGD sounded desirable right away.

Our geese help to deter smaller predators from approaching our chicken flock, but geese can still be victims to larger aggressors. For this reason, and to help protect our goat herd and property, we knew we needed a serious guardian animal. Other options included a llama or donkey, but the bonds that LGDs form with their flock and people was very appealing to us.

Bringing Stanley home starts a long process of teaching him about the goats and other animals, obedience training, and general puppy care. While the training process is not the same as it would be for a house pet, it is equally if not more rigorous.

IMG_2071

Livestock Guardian Dogs require firm and consistent training, as any new puppy would. They need to be taught that the animals around are for them to protect, not playthings or prey. This begins with giving them a safe space in the barn that is within view of the goats but doesn’t allow them to do more than touch noses.

Puppies naturally want to chase pretty much anything that will run away, so training an LGD pup requires a lot of patience and constant vigilance when they are out with their herd. We are keeping Stanley on a leash with the goats most of the time, allowing them to touch noses and mingle but quickly correcting him to sit if he starts to chase them. The goats, who started out wanting nothing to do with the puppy, have warmed up to being almost completely comfortable around him.

IMG_2342

The Maremma Sheepdog will take two years to reach maturity, during which time they’ll require careful training and grow to be over a hundred pounds. Thus far, our little bundle of joy has been nothing but perfect, interested in the goats.

Every day, Stanley goes on numerous walks with us around our fields, getting to know the perimeters of his property. He will still master the basics of dog training like “sit” and “come” and learn how to walk well on a leash and not jump up, but he will always sleep in the barn with the goats. This might seem cruel, but Maremma’s thick coats mean they are rarely cold, especially when snuggled up with goats, and sleeping together helps him and his herd for their important bond.

We are looking forward to Stanley being a good friend and important part of our farm. Adding a Livestock Guardian Dog is sure to be a new adventure for our farm.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog 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.

Grappling with the Morality of Livestock Slaughter

20131222_114838

I remember when we first got chickens; a relative of mine had been given more than she could handle, and was happy to gift us our own starter flock. We had a beautiful mix of Barred Plymouth Rocks, but a few Cornish crosses as well. Not fully understanding how rapidly the latter variety grew, we let them mature well beyond pullets, and as they grew, we noticed they became more and more unwieldy.

We had an aging flock of meat birds that weren’t really designed to live past their butcher date, and far too many roosters to our hens — it was time to cull. I remember how nervous I was — it was intimidating enough to care for something and work so hard to keep it alive, and it went against a lot of my instincts to do the opposite and methodically kill them.

I knew it was a necessary part of running a homestead, and I knew these animals were living a far better life than those in the factory farms that wound up on so many grocery store shelves, but it was still a heavy concept for me to get my head around.

After a lot of research, watching YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts, we finally set a plan in place and began. We weren’t very good at it at first, and we’re still learning faster, more effective ways to dispatch animals with as little pain and fear as possible, but we had to start somewhere.

If Slaughter Makes Us Sad, Is it Wrong?

A lot of people think that the unpleasantness of killing an animal is an indication of its immorality, that because it feels bad, it’s wrong, and it’s as simple as that. I can’t argue something as deep as the ethics of killing another living thing for survival, but I can say that that thought has certainly occurred to me before. If it’s this emotional, if it makes me this sad, is it wrong?

I told my husband about my concerns one day, pondering the morality of slaughter, and with wisdom beyond his years, he told me this:

“When you kill an animal, you should feel something. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.”

In that simple statement, I realized he was perfectly right, and that I was (once again) referring to emotions as a form of weakness, when in fact, it was just a human part of me - a normal part — and nothing to be ashamed of.

The fact is, killing an animal is a highly emotional experience — especially when you raise it. You’re taking a creature that you’ve walked out every morning in the bitter cold to check their heat lamps, sourced the best food you can for, and then you’re turning around and killing it, and that’s a hard thing to get your head around.

I look at it this way, though: By whatever powers that be, I was given (supposedly) higher consciousness and self-awareness. I have this intellect that allows me to empathize with and understand what creatures go through in the sacrificial process of feeding me.

In some ways, I’m just like a bear — omnivorous and opportunistic in my approach to eating. But unlike the bear, I have this brain that knows it probably isn’t pleasant to be violently eviscerated, so I can choose to be kinder to my prey. Maybe most of us just aren’t seasoned enough to death, like the skilled bears are. Most of us don’t slaughter nearly as often as a bear does, and so maybe for that reason, our brains still have a hard time processing it.

Lucky for us though, and the animals we choose to dispatch, we’re able to think through the process, and make informed, conscious decisions about how we go about this harvest.

Showing Respect to Livestock and Prey

1908050_10202080720919142_8958617824707273782_n

I’ve read a lot recently about hunting rituals, and ways in which various cultures honor the sacrifice made by their kill. In some European countries, a small ritual known as letzebissen, or last bite is performed, in which a sprig from a preferred species of tree is pulled through the animal’s mouth from one side to the other, as payment of respect in the form of a sort of “last meal”.

Many other cultures have their own hunting rituals, the Native Americans putting a pinch of tobacco onto an animal’s body as a sign of respect, the plant having been believed to connect beings to the spirit world.

Though much of modern homesteading and hunting has forgotten these rituals — not as chest-beating signs of superiority, but as tributes to the sacrifice made by the animal so that we may thrive — it’s my belief that there is nothing more human than using our gift of intelligence to understand and respect what is given for us when we cull.

So no, I don’t feel bad for slaughtering my chickens — if our positions were reversed, I would be understandably upset, but appreciative of the fact nonetheless, that my predator had the decency to give me a peaceful and almost painless dispatch.

In our time raising chickens for meat and eggs, I’ve learned that in this moment, the greatest thing you can do for the animal is to send them off without fear, and as quickly as possible - but never rushed.

As we cull, I often sit with the chicken that’s next up in my lap, gently but firmly hugging its body, which helps to slow their heart rate and calm them, and talking to it in a soothing manner. I don’t care how crazy it makes me look — the chicken’s muscles inevitably relax, they’re no longer looking for a means of escape, and by the time they’re ready for what happens next, they’re entirely calm.

Paul Wheaton did a really great video with a woman named Alexia Allen, who showed him that there was a gentle approach to culling chickens, and that it could in fact be, quite an emotional experience. I remember watching this remarkable video, and though it was sad (and even Alexia herself was a bit emotional), it was sort of beautiful how much care she put into this process. Paul talks about the video quite a bit in this podcast, so if you’re not sure if you’re ready for the video, you get a feel for it in this episode.

The Farmstead Meatsmith and Other On-Farm Slaughtering Resources

The Farmstead Meatsmith is another great resource for information on respectful animal harvest. Their videos are highly inspirational, detailing their processes from start to finish on ‘the art of thrift’, and in using every single part of the animal. Most notably though, I find their respect in the way of killing their livestock the most profound - there is no padding to this content, nothing to diminish what is being done — only respect for the animal that is at the other end of the gun.

Paul Wheaton also interviewed Brandon Sheard of the Farmstead Meatsmith in this podcast on his butchering methods, and did a bit of a Q&A with folks down at the forums of Permies.com — there’s lots of great information there if you’re a bit squeamish about just diving right into the videos (though I highly recommend you check them out - they are beautifully done, and so informative).

 Preparing to cull a particularly unruly rooster

If you’re reading this as a person who has never butchered an animal before, and are nervous about it, I’m here to tell you — I get it, we all do. It’s an intimidating thing, as it should be, and taking responsibility for the peaceful death of an animal is almost as great of a burden as it is to keep them healthy and comfortable while they’re alive.

Take your time with getting to know the animal’s anatomy and creating as stress-free a method as you can — something that works well for you both. Get as familiar and comfortable with the process and you can, and take the burden of that responsibility seriously.

Destiny Hagest is personal assistant to Paul Wheaton, founder of  Permies.com and RichSoil.com, as well as a content curator and freelance writer. You can catch Destiny hanging out in the forums at Permies.com quite regularly, and visit her LinkedIn profile, and follow her on Twitter. Read all of Destiny'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.

Choosing a Milking Goat

goat

Goat coming out to be milked.

Many assume that a “good milker” means an animal with high milk yields. In fact, the milk yield forms only one part of the milker quality equation, the other two parts being the state of the goat’s udder and teats, and the animal’s temperament.

A Tale of Two Does

To illustrate this, there was a time when I was milking two does, one of whom was the most sweet-tempered, patient goat imaginable - and she gave plenty of milk, too. However, she had a pair of teeny tiny teats which were extremely uncomfortable to handle, and my thumb muscle would be completely seized up by the time I’ve finished milking her. Milking took a long, long time, too, and if this goat hadn’t been obliging enough to stand calmly and patiently for me until I was finished with her, there’s no way it would have worked out.

The other doe had a very nicely shaped udder and comfortable-sized teats with large orifices. I could finish milking her in a couple of minutes – if she stood still, which she never seemed to be ready to do, even with a bucket of grain in front of her. She was skittish, nervous, and jumpy, and a kicker into the bargain. Eventually, with lots of petting and treats, her personality evened out a bit, but she was still a lot of work, and if it weren’t for her wonderful udder, I wouldn’t bother milking her at all.

Ideally, of course, a good family milking goat should combine all these benefits: an easy temper, a nicely shaped udder and teats, and a high milk yield. But personally, as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have a goat that isn’t a super-high-yield milker but is friendly and easy to milk and handle, than a goat that produces a lot of milk but has a faulty-shaped udder and a nasty temper.

How to Choose a Milking Goat

So practically, when buying a milking goat, how do you know if you’re getting a good bargain?

In a goat that has already kidded, look at the shape of the udder. A good udder has a firm, round, symmetrical shape and is positioned close to the body. An udder that is hanging low indicates faulty connective ligaments and is a problem. It is prone to injury and makes milking, or even suckling for the kids, inconvenient.

The teats should be long enough for convenient hand-grasp. The size of the orifice matters too – it determines milk flow and, therefore, how fast milking will go.

If possible and if the goat you are looking at is "in milk", request to milk her and see how it goes. Keep in mind that if a goat is skittish around you, it may be because she doesn’t know you and this can be overcome in time.

If this is a doe that hasn’t kidded yet, ask to take a look at her mother and sisters and evaluate their udders. A good breeder will always be upfront and open and willing to provide any information you request. If you encounter a goat breeder who is evasive and defensive when you ask questions, run for the hills, even if the price is tempting. The quality of your livestock is everything – animals with problems are worse than no animals, and it makes sense to wait until you can purchase the best quality available.

The post above was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self-Reliant Projects for Independent Living.

Anna Twittos 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 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.

Using a Smart Splitter for Splitting Firewood Logs

woodSplit-closeup_4928

Leave it to the Swedes to help take the backache out of splitting wood.

With great success, we’ve been testing out the Smart-Splitter designed and manufactured by the Swedish company, Logosol Smart Products, and distributed in the US by Lucky Supply America. We found it simple to use, effective on most logs we tried, zero-energy, zero emission and definitely safe.

We first came across these handy units at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, and had to know how well they worked on our elm and knotty logs. Sure, the Smart-Splitter handles 13-inch long, 10-inch in diameter, well-seasoned logs of maple, oak, locust and black cherry. But how about stringy elm, or logs with multiple limbs or those that are unevenly cut? This is our first hand experience.

Wood Splitting Made Safe

As homesteaders at our wind and solar-powered Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B, we’re always exploring efficient ways to meet our energy needs without using much — or any — fossil fuels. We heat our farmhouse with wood from downed trees, readily available and free for the taking in neighboring woodlots, on our farmstead or in our community. To the extent we can — in how we heat our home, generate electricity or grow our food (organically) — we strive to turn back the clock on climate change and build resilience.

For evenly cut, seasoned 13-inch-long and 10-inch-in-diameter logs without limbs, the Smart-Splitter worked like a breeze. Lining up the splitting wedge with existing radial cracks in the log usually allowed us to split the wood in less than six thrusts downward with the roughly seven-and-a-half-pound striking weight.

 woodSplit-action_4935

Unless you have lots of practice with a maul, or “splitter axe,” and the strength to heave the maul over your head for hours, the Smart-Splitter does the work quicker, safer and with less effort. It’s a tool that the whole family can use. Both my wife and teenager son, neither of whom would normally be found splitting wood, embraced the Smart-Splitter thanks to its safety and relative ease of use.

Generally speaking, the number of downward thrusts of the splitter’s striking weight increased in proportion to the type of wood logs we were splitting, their length and/or their diameter. While we followed the directions to use only well-seasoned and dry logs with lots of radial cracks, elm required the most effort — upwards of eighteen slams for a couple pieces. Others logs, like maple, oak and hickory, were split within six to ten thrusts. Impressive, for the little amount of physical energy we actually expended. We did encounter a few logs with limbs or knots so twisted that we were forced to set these aside to cut in half with a chainsaw later. The shorter the logs and straighter the grain, the less likely any issues.

No Wood Log Balancing Act

Like many homesteaders, we don’t get every log cut perfectly straight. This leads to an uneven log, logs with a slight angle to a cut side. If you perch these uneven logs on a splitting log to split with a maul, it can be a very frustrating balancing act. With the Smart-Splitter, however, this is less of an issue, since the splitter holds the wood upright. Just line the splitter edge up with the radial cracks in the dried log and you can safely split away. And you’re guaranteed to hit the wood in exactly the same spot until it’s split. That’s not to say you want to split uneven logs; it’s just a bit easier and safer to do so with the Smart-Splitter.

Once you get this tool set up, there’s no learning curve or eye-hand coordination. With the Smart-Splitter, it’s just a matter of lifting up the weight with both hands and thrusting it downward. No more deflections or bouncing the maul head off the side of the log.

Knots can be a challenge, though. If you get the splitting wedge lodged into the log, as we did on more than one occasion, there’s a stop nut on the bar to reverse thrust the striking weight to easily remove the wedge from the log. We’d then reposition the splitting wedge on a different radial crack and try again. The bigger the log, the more the effort, regardless of the type of wood. For those who like to get a little exercise while stacking up cordwood, you’ll get that too, just in a much safer way.

Making Kindling

You should never try making kindling with a gas-powered hydraulic splitter, lest you want to tempt fate with your fingers. Swinging a hatchet can also take a bit of practice. But the Smart-Splitter also has a kindling blade so that small pieces of firewood can be cut safely and quickly. We’re going to keep our splitter set up inside our shed for when we start running out of kindling near the end of the winter (which we usually do).

To set up the Smart-Splitter, you’ll need hardwood log base at least 12-inches in diameter and about 10 to 20-inches high. A steel supporting rod is inserted about 5-inches into the hardwood base; a drill bit is provided for this initial setup. Once done with the base, we could set-up our splitter in less than thirty seconds.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Salethe award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographerIvanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient LivingThey live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John'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.