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

Book Review: Off-Grid & Free: My Path to the Wilderness


When Ron Melchiore decided he wanted to live a life different from the day-to-day routine he was beginning to fall into, he kicked off what he describes as a "fortuitous series of events" which eventually led him (and later his wife) to an off-grid homestead.  Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness if Ron's book that charts their journey toward this way of life.  This book was the featured read for the Summer 2019 Homesteaders' Book Club, and I'm pleased to share our review of this book by a fellow Mother Earth News Writer!

In my opinion, the most important thing to ask yourself if you are considering picking up this book is "Have I ever imagined what it would be like to live off the grid?"  If the answer to that question is "yes" then there is something for you in this book. 

That "something" might be the way that you can relate to Ron and Johanna's story of trying to find their final destination.  Or maybe it’s the tips and tricks of the trade that Ron uncovers as he outlines his strategies for achieving an off-grid lifestyle.  It might just be the ability to read about someone who struggles with the same things you do, and brings a sense of humor to that lifestyle. 

Whatever you take from this book, it is going to relate a lot to where you are in life and what you want to get out of it.

Take me.  I am a part-time homesteader with a small plot of land but my husband and I both still work out of the house.  We have kids who are connected to their friends and community and wouldn't be happy if we picked up and moved to the wilderness.  But our suburban homestead has echos of the off-grid lifestyle, like solar panels, composting, and a big garden that supplies most of our vegetables.  As we get more and more settled here, we are finding more ways to be self-reliant. 

Off Grid and Free helped me to confirm that I do not want to live on land accessible only by float plane, but it also inspired me to find ways that we could integrate more self-reliance and less "stuff" in our current way of life.  From how we heat to how we supply our wood, or just what we can live without, the book got me thinking about new ways to align our lifestyle with our values.

Members of the Homesteaders Book Club agreed, stating that the book was enjoyable to read, inspirational, and felt like talking to a friend.  

Melchiore has a friendly, next door neighbor, way of telling his story.  He is open, honest, and gives away all of his homesteading secrets, much like he does in real life!  If you are looking for a book that allows you to get to know the author (and an author who would gladly read your email and answer your questions), this is the book for you.

Join the Homesteaders Book Club by requesting membership in our Facebook Group.  Each season, we choose a book (sponsored by a publisher) and do a virtual discussion group as we read together, plus a giveaway of a free copy!

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger at The Happy Hive Homestead and Homestead How-ToShe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston,Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’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.

How to Keep Chicken Waterers from Freezing this Winter

chickens in winter 

Do you keep chickens and live in an area where you'll get freezing temperatures this winter?  Have you started to dread making numerous trips each day back and forth to the coop to make sure that your flock has drinkable water?

For more in depth information about chicken water in the winter, check out 20+ tips for keeping chicken water from freezing this winter here.

Waterer Design Matters

When you're thinking about waterers, remember that the larger waterers will stay thawed much longer than the smaller ones.  The more water there is in the waterer, the longer it takes it to freeze.  If you have a small waterer, like a mason jar waterer, you might want to up grade to a larger one.  (You can also heat a small mason jar waterer using Hothands or other handwarmers, but keep in mind that this will only give you heat for about four hours.)

Plastic and metal waters will freeze much faster than rubber waterers or bowls.  Galvanized metal waterers will freeze exceptionally fast.  If you've got a plastic or metal waterer, you might want to put it inside of the coop so that it will last longer.  Keep the waterers out of any bedding that may be in the floor of the coop.  The chickens will get shavings in it almost immediately if it's close to the bedding.  Then you'll have a big slushy mess to clean up.

If your coop isn't heated, it may be a good idea for you to get a large black rubber water tub and place it in an area of the coop that gets sun.  The black rubber will absorb sunlight and warm the water up.  The rubber will hold the heat longer, helping to keep the water from freezing. 

Cheap Ways to Keep Water Thawed

You can use a little ingenuity to keep your chicken's water unfrozen longer. 

Do you put shavings down in your chicken coop?  Take a few sealed bags of shavings and use them to circle your waterer.  They will act like insulation and keep the air around the waterer warmer.  Don't use loose shavings; your chickens will make a mess of this and won't be able to drink the water, even if it isn't frozen.

Use an old tire to hold a water bucket.  Lay the tire on the ground and drop the water bucket down into the hole.  The air inside of the tire acts as a layer of insulation for the water.  Place the tire waterer in the sun so that the rubber on the tire can absorb sunlight and warm up the water in the bucket.

Fill up an empty plastic bottle with salt water.  Use a 2-liter bottle or gallon jug for larger waterers.  Put the salt water-filled bottle into the waterer.  Salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water and will help to keep the water in the waterer unfrozen longer.  A word of caution though- make sure that you don't put the salt water directly into the waterer.  If your chickens drink salt water, it will dehydrate them and can lead to serious illness, even death.  Check the lid of the bottle before you put it into the waterer.

It's easier with electricity

It's much easier to keep your chicken's water drinkable if you have electricity at your coop.  If you don't have electricity at your coop, don't worry!  There are so many ways that you can keep your chicken's water from freezing.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of Shelby’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 Tulip Poplar on the Homestead

tulip poplar leaf from stump 

Closeup of a large Tulip Poplar leaf, growing from the stump of a previously cut tree.  

I am a firm believe that part of being a good steward for your homestead, farm, or even a backyard in town lies in being aware of the plants and animals that call the area home as well. When you learn to identify local trees and plants, it leads to awareness of the wildlife that consume or make their home amongst them. When you understand how all animals interact with nature around you, it can lead to a deeper appreciation for this beautiful planet and all who inhabit it.

On the Eastern side of United States, a common hardwood tree called the Yellow Poplar serves to benefit not only wildlife, but people as well. Yellow Poplar, also known as "Tulip Poplar", is not actually in the same family as other Poplar trees, and is however more closely related to the Magnolia family. Learning to identify this tree properly can be beneficial, as it makes for sometimes colorful lumber, a readily available woodworking source, and food for different species of animals.

Planting Tulip Poplar for Wildlife

Last Summer, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of the older doe that frequents the land with her young fawn. The fawn bounded away from her mother often, not too far out of sight, nibbling here and there on leaves. I made sure to pay particular attention to what each of them browsed on, and noted that the mother and weaned fawn were both mainly selecting shoots of Tulip Poplar that were growing from stumps of previously cleared small trees. Another benefit for wildlife is seen in the yellow and orange flowers, often visited by hummingbirds while in bloom, providing them a nectar source in the late Spring to early Summer.

Crafting Projects with Tulip Poplar

Depending on the resource you look as, it is generally not recommended that this particular wood is used in major building projects. This is mainly because trees harvested for old-growth heartwood have been found to have a resistance to decay, but most younger trees you encounter that are mainly sapwood do not have the same durability. However, the lumber is great for small woodworking projects while branches and smaller logs can also be used.

We frequently make simple walking sticks from small Tulip Poplar branches, or smaller cleared saplings, as it is easy to peel and they are quite lightweight when dried properly. We've also used saplings to put together very simple hide stretching frames, by connecting four long poles together with small notches and lashing or nailing them together to keep it from flexing too much. Wood slices cut from small branches also make for beautiful coasters and Christmas ornaments that are suitable for wood burning and painting after they've been sanded. Even the peeled bark makes for useful cordage, which I enjoy using to display our bone needles with.

cordage from Poplar

Tulip Poplar can be used to make cordage, shown here.

From logs that are not quite large enough to fool with putting on the sawmill, a sturdy fleshing beam can be made for larger hides you wish to tan. Our first fleshing beam was made of debarked Poplar, however I did not have space at the time to put it in the shop, and so it sat outside after that hunting and trapping season. The elements took their toll on the untreated logs, and though it held up for another season, the damage had been done and the wood began to rot. Because we had room indoors the next time, my husband built a much sturdier beam that can withstand the pressure and weight of fleshing even a full cow hide. Because of this experience, I recommend keeping any form of untreated Poplar for crafts indoors.

Larger Poplar logs that are suitable to be milled can be used in a variety of woodworking projects, though at one point in time the logs themselves were used by Native Americans for the building of canoes (again, keeping in mind these may have been old-growth trees that were more durable than today's trees). Uses from the lumber include indoor trimming, toy making, cabinets, furniture, jewelry boxes, and much more. Yellow Poplar is also commonly hauled off for pulpwood during the clear-cutting of land.

tulip poplar fleshing beam

A large fleshing beam made from Yellow Poplar, suitable for large hides such as deer and cattle.

Tulip Poplar for Firewood

When you are looking for firewood to heat the home, each wood is evaluated for its BTU (British Thermal Unit) which tells you the energy the fuel (your firewood) has, in turn helping to determine which wood will help you stay warmer for longer. In our area, different species of Oak and Hickory are commonly sold for firewood, holding a BTU value of anywhere between 24.6 to 27.7 depending on the type of tree. By comparison, Yellow Poplar is valued at only 16.0 and is preferred for getting a fire going or mixing in with other firewood that has a higher BTU. It is not recommended for use as the main fuel to heat the home for this reason, but would be suitable for a small outdoor fire pit.

I have found great use in this particular tree for walking sticks and fleshing beams/stretchers for my hide tanning projects. Though we don't burn it in the wood stove or mill the boards for major projects, we still find ways to use what is cut down during any land clearing that we may be working on. In conclusion, Tulip Poplar may not be a favorite for firewood or lumber for construction purposes, but it is still valuable for use in crafting and attracting your local wildlife.

Resource List

To learn more about Yellow "Tulip" Poplar, please visit the following websites:

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Find Home Kitchen Savings in Local Foreign Food Markets

Filipino Cookware rivals the best of Cast Iron in some respects 

People who live out in the country, whether they are homesteaders, farmers or preppers, or even people seeking out nothing more than a simpler, more natural lifestyle, tend to be both prudent and keen regarding matters of the home. A part of this is searching for the best deals not only on food, but on condiments, kitchenware and other amenities. While working with one particular client, the author happened to need to make a stop to pick up a few items. What was not expected however, was the reaction of the client and the realization that then occurred. While it may be a foreign concept to many people living off the grid, those little foreign markets can be an excellent place to shop for certain items — even if it may be something of a foreign concept — so to speak.

At the time, the shop in question was a small, Asian store where a few select items needed to be picked up in preparation for the arrival of a guest. The client however, was quite intrigued with these purchases and wanted to shop around some and look at some of the many items that he had deemed to be “of interest” and indeed they were, and for a good reason. There are a great many bargains to be had for the prudent shopper, including many items at substantially cheaper prices than can be found in those stores that offer bulk purchases, often without the bulk discount price.

Sugar. Among the most pleasant surprises for many homesteaders are very inexpensive options for two of the most important natural preservatives known to humankind. The sugar industries are not generally subsidized overseas, certainly not in the Philippines at least, and brown sugar was available by the kilogram (or two point two pounds) for less than the cost of a single pound of the processed sugar in the regular supermarket. More amazing still was the fact that sea salt was available in kilogram weights for less than the iodized salt in the regular grocery stores.

While further negotiations did take place under the circumstances, ultimately a deal was worked out to allow the homesteader in that case to make regular purchases for the creation of his own salt and sugar cures — not minuscule purchases — or savings for that matter.

Dry cooking without burning the pan and no need for curing the aluminum

Vinegar is also another preservative that was available at a substantially discounted price, though this is generally sugar cane vinegar which is actually very nice for both pickling and in cole slaw, baked beans and a host of other dishes — including home made barbecue sauce. Some may even prefer the banana ketchup available in the Filipino markets, though this, like many new and interesting products, may have to be experienced before any new favorites will be discovered.

The vinegar however, available in one liter bottles, may also come with a one liter bottle of soy sauce. While it may not be obvious at first, there are actually a number of creative ways to use soy sauce without having to make a salty mess out of any rice dishes, thus, these items may be purchased together for even bigger savings.

Cookware. Even the women folk around these parts know better than to mess with the cast iron cookware of the house cook, but the Filipino and other Asian cookware can rival that same cast iron in some respects, while at the same time requiring substantially less care and maintenance … and being much more affordable. The two primary cooking pots in the Philippines are the Kawali and the Kaldero. The Kawali is akin to the wok for those who may be familiar with these devices, though with the addition of either one or two handles. The rounded bottom is ideal for a gas-top stove, but may not be so ideally suited for an electric burner without the addition of a base ring.

The kaldero is more along of a saucepan, generally used for cooking rice or boiling water, soup or other items. These may be the same or different than the kaserola depending on the store, though locally the kaserola is made from much lighter material, more like a standard aluminum pan. The traditional kaldero and the kawali however, are made from machined aluminum, generally around one eighth of an inch in thickness. The pans are well suited for everything from dry-frying chili peppers and other seeds such as cacao or even coffee beans, or for more standard cooking. They never require curing, can be scrubbed hard with the steel wool if necessary and will generally last for a very long lifetime of service.

Dry goods. Twenty-five and 50-kilo bags of rice are readily available for the price of a few pounds of rice in the regular stores. The Thai rice or Butterfly rice is comprised of large, full kernels of rice much the same as can be found in the stores. The Filipino brand rice on the other hand, tends to have smaller kernels, looking almost broken … and while it may not be as appealing to the eye, it does seem to do a better job of sticking to the ribs and not leaving one feeling hungry an hour after eating a full meal.

In order to avoid feeling hungry after eating a large portion of rice with the meal, try mixing anywhere from five to fifteen percent of the clean, white corn grits in with the rice. Not only will this help to keep the person eating more full, but it also adds a very subtle but pleasant flavor to the rice.

Remember the discussion about having to scrub out the cookware? While it is not often necessary, it can be a chore — especially with regular liquid dish soap. The Filipino dishwashing paste … yes, that is what it is called … is an absolutely amazing soap that will allow for the glasses to be washed even after all of the greasy pans and plates have been cleaned in the same water … and not even leave water spots on the glasses. The dish soap comes in a small tub, very similar to car wax in shape, size and appearance. This product makes an amazing grease-cutter as well, making it ideal for a great many additional uses … including polishing some metals.

Unique and less available foods. Some markets also have a selection of fish that will be available for much lower prices than they tend to cost at the regular markets and grocery stores. The same holds true for shrimp and crabs, though user discretion would be beneficial in terms of shellfish when they cannot be guaranteed fresh. It is quite common for these foreign markets to carry not only the local varieties of fish, but many of the more common and popular international varieties as well, including fresh salmon and sometimes tuna.

To give the soy sauce a little variety, try adding a touch of citrus to the soy sauce. Key limes are the ubiquitous favorite in the Philippines, but lemons work just as well. Use a small side dish, pour in a small amount of soy sauce and then add lemon juice to taste. For a spicier variation, break apart or finely grind a chili pepper of choice and add this to the mix.

Granted, not everyone is going to be comfortable going to these small foreign markets to shop. Smells, sights and other sensory alerts may be triggered by new and unrecognized scents and scenes. However, while it may be both literally and figuratively something of a foreign concept to most homesteaders, those small, foreign markets offer some incredible experiences and even more amazing savings for the prudent shopper.

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of  Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. 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.

Using a Black Mouth Cur On a Homestead

Black Mouth Cur

If you have any livestock on your land, we’re pretty sure you’ve considered bringing a working dog home, whether this is to protect your animals or herd them when necessary.

Whilst Shepherds are often a firm favourite, we can take some top tips from those in the Deep South. The Black Mouth Cur is a renowned farm-dog. They are intelligent, fearless, energetic and loyal. So, what roles can the BMC take on a farm and how do you train them to do so?

We’ve put together some top tips for using a Black Mouth Cur on a Homestead, specifically for herding, guarding and retrieving. Your research into the BMC may have shown you that puppies are often described as hunters or herders. This is because their bloodlines have largely specialised in these tasks.

It’s not to say your herder can’t hunt or vice versa, but if you have a particular job you want your BMC to do, it’s best to share this with the breeder so they can advise whether one of their puppies is likely to suit.

Hunting Dogs

On the whole, males are generally better at hunting. They are bigger in size so therefore more intimidating. They can also be more laid-back.

Homestead Dogs

Females are better house dogs, so may serve to be better protectors of the home. Whichever role you are asking of your BMC, it’s important to start training as soon as possible.

Training a Homestead Dog

When they are puppies, work on the basic commands, like sit, stay, down, stop and so on. Your working dog should also have infallible recall. You want to be confident that he will return to you whenever you need him to.

Puppy Homestead Dog

To teach recall, lure your puppy towards you with a treat or toy. Label the behaviour as he comes to you. Slowly, increase the distance between you and puppy, before asking a helper to hold their collar whilst you increase the distance further. Progressing, you can add in distractions, including other people and other animals.

Teach Targeting

Some working dogs respond well to being taught direction. You would first teach targeting. So, asking your dog to touch a post-it note on your hand initially, or set up a traffic cone with a treat underneath.

As soon as your dog touches the target, reward the behaviour. Repeat. Once he has figured out the targeting, set up two traffic cones (with post-it notes attached, if you have used them).

Ask your dog to touch either of the cones by pointing to them. Alternate between the cones. Once your dog is touching the cones from signal, add the direction – the cone that is to his left, label left, and the same for the right. Remember to use his left or right and not yours!

Training Your Dog To Herd

Direction can come in handy if you will be asking your BMC to herd. If you are going to ask your BMC to retrieve, you need to introduce retrieving from puppyhood too! Start with toys before moving on to decoys.

Throw the toy for your dog at a short distance, they should be that interested, they instinctively pick it up. Call them towards you (this is why recall is so important). With a chew or treat in your hand, offer it to your dog. They should drop the toy or decoy they have retrieved to eat the chew or treat – label the behaviour, “drop!” Repeat.

You can also add hand signals; pointing to the floor as he drops too. Then from a distance, providing your dog is focussed on you, you can still ask him to carry out tasks.

Training From a Young Age

Most historic worker dogs will show typical guarding or herding behaviours from a young age. They may start circling other animals or small children. They may also start alerting you to noises from a young age. If they aren’t showing a predisposition to working behaviour, it could be worth arranging to see a behaviourist who specializes in working dogs.

They may be able to advise on the best course of action to re-train your dog. The most important thing with any working dog is to be observant – watch for the behaviours you want them to demonstrate and reward them.

Even just the slightest advance towards a behaviour. Teaching impulse control is also essential for working dogs so brain games and command work should be a part of your daily routine. Above all else, never introduce your dog to livestock until they are safe to do so.

BMCs have an incredibly strong prey drive. When it’s channelled, they are superb workers, when it’s not, they can be problematic. If at any point you are struggling with your training, seek the advice of a qualified professional.

David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog, Log Cabin Hub. Connect with him on Facebook.

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

Drying Off Dairy Goats

Drying one
Milking season always comes to an end eventually.

When it comes to raising dairy goats there comes a time when drying them off for the season is needed. Drying goats off does not have to be painful for you or the girls. Our milking season is rather short due to our weaning process and drying process. However, we get plenty of milk, cheese, soap, and lotion during this time to make it through the off-season. While everyone chooses their timing and method here is what we do at Miller Micro Farm.

When We Dry Off Our Girls

We choose to dry our goats at least a month before we breed them. Since we typically breed in November, December, and January we aim to have the girls dried off in October. We are often asked, "why do we dry them off before breeding rather than a month or so before kidding?". We believe it gives the girls time to relax and put all the nutrition into their bodies before becoming bred once again. October also saves us from having to milk during the cold Ohio fall and winter seasons.

drying two
The udder before the drying process begins is full and tight.

Our Drying Method

1. We start by cutting grain portions for two weeks before any drying off begins.

2. Then we only taking half their milk supply per milking.

3. Next, we take them down to once-a-day milking for another week or two.

4. Followed by only taking half their milk supply for three to five days.

5. All the while still cutting their grain portions.

6. After that, we go to every-other-day milking for a week or so.

7. Then milking every three to four days for another week or so.

8. Subsequently, then stopping altogether.

The amount of milk each girl provides has a lot to do with how long it takes to dry them off. First Fresheners (FF's) often take less time than high producing seasoned milkers. We have one girl, Mabel, who is an extremely high producer taking more time to dry off than the others. She also requires the use of teet tape when we move her to once-a-day milking. The teet tape is not only used to control leaking but helps to keep bacteria from getting in and causing Mastitis. The teet tape is typically only needed for a few days as her production begins to slow. 

drying three
As the process goes the udder begins to shrink and becomes less full.

Taking the time to let everyone slowly dry off seems to keep the stress down around the barnyard. The girls thrive through the process and enjoy their much-deserved break before breeding season once again commences. We also take the downtime to do our semi-annual herd check. Everyone gets their fecal and blood-work done to ensure their continued health and happiness. Any additional supplements that are needed are also added at this time, it helps them ready for the breeding season.>

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Website, and Twitter, Grit Magazine, Mother Earth News Magazine, Community Chickens Blog, Homestead Hustle Blog, Chickens Magazine, Hobby Farms Magazine, and The New Pioneer Magazine.

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.

Newborn Mimicry: Persuading Farm Mothers to Adopt Orphans

The author with newborn lamb. 

Assisting a newborn lamb. Photo by Jackie Klar

An unavoidable problem for animal husbandry is the management of orphans, or of mothers who have lost young but are still in milk. In both cases, animal health, profits, and time management improve when a newborn can be bonded to an unrelated lactating mother.

Obviously, different methods are employed in various circumstances, and for different types of livestock. Sheep, for instance (despite their reputation as stupid), are particularly sensitive to adopting young not their own: shepherds around the world will resort to skinning a ewe’s stillborn lamb and tying it onto a needful imposter. The ewe’s milk is utilized, and mastitis risk reduced: the lamb gets colostrum and natural milk at the perfect temperature and times, maximizing growth rate while minimizing human labor. Worth skinning the lamb carcass, if the plan works…

Cows are a different matter. If separated from her calf too long, a cow won’t accept her own -- we once had to hobble a massive Hereford cow in a head stanchion daily to get milk for her own calf when she wouldn’t accept it after a separation. Farmers do get orphaned calves to graft to unrelated cows, but the wary cow is not much easier than the ewe. The skinning and cloaking method is an old cow trick too, but some modern farmers instead employ low doses of tranquilizers (for mother), coupled with commercially available “bonding” powder which attracts the cow to lick the treated calf. 

The porcine category of mother is a different breed indeed. Sows are notoriously mercurial at farrowing, and are known to eat or kill their young. Farrowing pens or bumpers are used to prevent sows from unintentionally crushing their piglets, which (in mom’s defense) are generally numerous and boisterous. The farmer too must be careful around these moody mommas -- they are smarter than other animals, quick, and extremely rugged. And new sows can be notoriously ugly, especially in the first three days after farrowing.

But that excess of piglets can be employed to advantage. The method is simple: separate the sow’s own piglets out, mix in the orphaned piglets, and spray or rag them all with cheap perfume. When they rush in hungry to mom, she will instinctively flop on her side and feed the lot -- distinguishing her own from the newcomers is hopeless. 

An unnecessary but intriguing twist is to have mothers share babies. I once bred two (sister) sows who farrowed within 24 hours of one another. Celia had 11 piglets, all survived: Petunia (nicknamed the more olfactorily-descriptive “Tuna”) had 12, and was at first utterly terrified of each and every one of them. I housed the 400-pound sows in adjoining stalls, separated by a grid of 2x6’s that had been the sidewall of a flatbed truck -- with 6-inch spacing that permitted the young piglets to scramble back and forth between their respective mothers and aunties. The mothers worked in shifts -- as did the insatiable swarm of 23 piggies. 

It is frustrating to lose young that can be adopted by other available animal resources: perseverance and creativity reward the resourceful farmer.

John Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operated an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. You can connect with John on Facebook.

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

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