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


Tanning: A Valuable Skill to Learn

 tanned raccoon hide

A finished, tanned raccoon hide. Photo By Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestead

For people who may not be familiar with tanning, the word itself may bring thoughts of the Native Americans with beautiful buckskin clothes, or old mountain trappers of days gone by. However, tanning is still alive today through the people who want to go back to the basics, and put raw hides to good use. We have been tanning hides for going on five years, and though I do not claim to be an expert by any means, I personally believe it is a valuable skill to pick up for anyone harvesting wild game or culling livestock. There are a multitude of beneficial reasons for tanning, but I have highlighted four that really stand out.

Reducing Waste

When an animal is harvested, for instance- a deer that has been taken to a processors, there is a lot of leftover waste once the animal has been cleaned for its meat. Included in this waste is usually the hide, considered a raw or "green" skin. Typically, individuals will bury the hides or leave with other remains for scavengers on their own land (or in another area with permission). While this may not seem like a waste, consider that a hide can be essentially given a new life for years to come by tanning it. Learning to tan could enable a hunter to gain experience, and one day display his or her own prized hide within the home. It also enables those who may cull groups of meat animals to re-purpose the bulk hides without putting them all to waste.

Responsibility

I am a firm believer in respecting a harvested animal by accepting responsibility afterwards to put every part of it to good use. This includes taking the time to clean and carefully tan hides, even for small animals like squirrels or rabbit. In doing so, I found that animals such as squirrel were great practice in moving up to larger hides. Learning to tan encourages you to be hands-on with your harvest, meaning you are even more involved with the processing of the animal after cleaning it for meat. Another aspect to this responsibility is to study the proper methods for handling the hides and tanning them, taking notes on what may have went wrong and how you can improve it. It may seem discouraging when first starting out, but it truly does take practice to get better at what you do.

Extra Income

An important thing to note when considering selling tanned hides is that you should always check your state's laws first. Especially with Chronic Wasting Disease being an issue among deer, caribou, and elk- regulations for the sale of their hides may be very strict where you live. It is also important to note that your state may require a trapping license in order to sell the hides of fur-bearing animals (raccoon, possum, nutria, beaver, muskrat, mink, bobcat, fox, and coyote among some of those animals considered to be fur-bearers). Once these things are considered and researched, you'll also need to factor in the initial investment for your supplies (tanning chemicals, skinning knives, fleshing knives, aprons/gloves included). For animals you may already be raising, like domestic rabbits or cattle, there are markets for these tanned hides too.

Crafting Supplies

If you or someone close to you has a passion for arts and crafts, the possibilities for finished hides/furs are limitless. Suppose you've tried to sell part of your tanned collection, but have not had luck with it. There are still many ways to make things that may be more appealing for upcoming crafts shows.

A skinned deer hide goes through the hair-removal process to become buckskin, and is later turned into a vest. If the hair is left on, you can display a prized deer hide as a rug or wall hanging.

You've just processed a group of meat rabbits and tanned the furs, and sew them together to make a large blanket or throw.

After culling a cow, the hair-removal leaves you with a large piece of leather that could be turned into wallets, belts, or bags.

A small squirrel hide is trimmed and attached to become the soft, new handle for your walking stick.

A nuisance raccoon that was trapped and dispatched can be skinned/tanned, then made into a hat.

If these points have gained your attention, and you are interested in getting started with tanning, there are many ways to begin learning. I've discussed different methods for taking on new skills such as this in a past article called Learning on the Homestead, including visiting books or videos for reference. Remember to use patience, and take notes as you go along, so that you can learn from any possible mistakes and grow in your tanning experience! Happy Tanning!

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.

Tips for Raising Baby Chicks

 

Raising baby chicks is a fun process.  If you've ever held a baby chick, you know they're super soft and super cute.  In order to raise them to be happy healthy chickens, you need to be prepared.

Supplies Needed

One of the most important things that you'll need is a brooder.  A brooder is simply a box of some sort that holds bedding, food, water and heat for the baby chicks.  Brooders also prevent the chicks from being exposed to drafts or predators, both which can be deadly to chicks.  You can create a homemade brooder from boxes, old livestock water troughs or large plastic totes. 

The sides of the brooder should be tall enough to prevent drafts.  They should also be tall enough that your chicks cannot easily jump out.  The brooder floor should allow the chicks ample space to move around.  You don't want them to be crowded around their food, water or heat.  If chicks are overcrowded, they will trample one another.

You'll need a chick feeder with multiple holes.  When starting young chicks, I prefer the long feeders.  These long feeders have more holes for the chicks to access feed than the upright feeders.  The chicks lower on the pecking order don't have to wait as long to eat from the long feeder.  You'll also need a waterer.  Elevate the food and water for the chicks if you can.  If you can keep the food and water off of the bedding then they will stay clean longer.

Young chicks need ample heat.  Day old chicks require their brooder to be around 90 degrees.  A heat lamp or brooder heater can be used to keep the chicks warm.  I recommend a heat lamp. They are cheaper, found easily in stores and they can be moved slowly out of the brooder to reduce the amount of heat.

Feeding the Chicks

You can purchase chick crumbles at most feed stores, especially in the spring and summer months when chicks are found in stores.  Chicks cannot swallow the larger pellets that adult chickens eat.  If you're in a pinch and cannot find chick feed, you can feed chicks layer crumbles.  Pelleted feed can also be ground up to give to chicks.  I've used my kitchen blender in the past to grind up pelleted feed. 

Make sure that the chicks have constant access to feed.  Plan on checking their feed 3 times per day.  It helps if you put out an extra feeder.  You always want to have feed available.  If you feed once or even twice a day, the dominant chicks will eat and the more submissive or smaller chicks may not get their fill.  If you notice their feeders are empty, refill them.

Once the chicks have their adult feathers, you can start offering them pelleted feed or scratch grains as a treat.  If they seem uninterested, remove the feed and continue feeding the crumbled feed.

Eventually, the chicks will require grit.  Chicken stomachs use small rocks and hard materials to grind up their food.  Oyster shell can be found in feed stores.  Oyster shell provides grit and calcium, which is necessary for egg production.

Purchasing Chicks

Plan on spending about $2.00 per chick.  Rare breeds or heritage breeds will cost more.  You can purchase day old chicks through the mail from several large hatcheries in the U.S.  If you want purebred chickens, consider ordering them.

Feed stores usually carry chicks in the spring and early summer.  You can usually purchase purebred chicks from feed stores as well.  You can also find chicks at local farms.  Many people that raise chickens hatch their own eggs and sell chicks.  Depending on the farm, the chicks may or may not be purebred.  If you're simply raising them for eggs, the breed doesn't matter.

When buying chicks, keep in mind the chicken's purpose.  Do you just want eggs and pest control for your yard?  Any chicken breed will do.  If you want to raise chickens for meat, then you'll want to look at heritage or dual purpose breeds.  Chickens like the Cornish cross make excellent meat birds.  If you want chickens that are friendly and cute to look at, consider silkie breeds or Cochins.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on Farminence.com or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.


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How Much Meat Can One Pig Produce?

 

The ideal market hog size is 270 pounds.  This means that your pig will ideally weigh around 270 pounds when you butcher him/her.  (If it's a him, make sure that you castrated him at a young age.)  Research has shown that after 270 pounds, pigs tend to put on more fat than muscle tissue, so unless you want a ton of lard, feed them out to 270 pounds and don't spend any more money feeding them.

Up to 270 pounds, they put on both muscle and tissue.  So, your pig weighs 270 pounds and you take it to the slaughterhouse.  You can expect to get about 57% of your pig back in edible cuts.  When you do the math, that's about 154 pounds of meat.

Some people choose to take their pigs earlier at around 250 pounds because the meat may be slightly more tender than it would at 270 pounds.  In that case, you could expect to get about 144 pounds of meat back from your pig. 

Keep in mind that all pigs are slightly different and are going to vary slightly as to the pounds of meat that you'll get back but these numbers should give you a good idea.

How much of each cut can I expect to get from one pig?

For the sake of this portion, let's assume that you take a 250 pound pig to the slaughterhouse and you'll get somewhere around 154 pounds of meat back.  So how can you get that meat? Let's break the pig down into cuts-

2 hams per pig- You can get these processed into fresh hams, cured hams, smoked hams, ham steaks or even ham hocks.  Expect about 28 pounds of meat.
2 pork loins per pig- Get these processed into country style ribs, pork chops, center cut chops, boneless pork loins, tenderloins, butterfly pork chops and baby back ribs. Expect about 23 pounds of meat.
Fresh side bacon- Process the sides of the pig into bacon, salt pork or fresh sides. Expect 23 pounds.
Spareribs- These aren't really processed further.  Expect 6 pounds of spareribs.
Boston butt- These cuts actually come from the pig's shoulder, not butt.  Process this into pork steaks, Boston butt hams or roasts, or smoked shoulders. Expect about 9 pounds of meat.
Fresh Picnic- These cuts also come from the shoulder.  Process the shoulder into a fresh picnic, pork shoulder, smoked picnic and get smoked hocks. Expect about 12 pounds of meat.
Feet- The feet usually come cleaned and fresh.  All four feet will give you about 3 pounds of meat.
Head- This is often optional, but can be cooked and eaten.  It can also be trimmed up and added to sausage.  The head lends about 5 pounds of meat.
Backfat- This is the fat that lays on top of the loin along the back. This fat is trimmed off and can be kept as lard or added to sausage.  Expect about 23 pounds of fat.
Jowl- The underside of the neck, or jowl,  can be smoked or cured similar to bacon.  Expect about 3 pounds of meat from the jowl.
Trim- After the pig is processed and all of the cuts are taken off of the carcass, there will usually be about 10 pounds of meat that can be trimmed away from the bones.  Trim is used to make sausage.

You will be given the option to process your pig any way that you want.  Keep in mind that many cuts are from the same area on the pig, so you may have to pick and choose which cuts you want.  For example, if you want two smoked hams, then you won't be able to get ham steaks.  If some of these cuts don't sound appetizing, then you can always choose to turn that cut into sausage.  Your butcher should be able to walk you through the various cuts and how to best utilize your pig for your family.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living.  You can read her most recent posts on Farminence.com or follow
Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.


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What to Expect When You Are Expecting Baby Goats

Early 

Each year hundreds if not thousands of new goat owners wait impatiently for their first baby goats. Knowing the signs that the time is near can help in being prepared for the joyful occasion. While each doe is different these are the guidelines I have found personally to be most accurate. I find it helpful to have a notebook for each doe, I write all her signs and changes as they happen. It helps me know what to watch for the following year. It is also a great place to keep track of breeding dates, vaccines, doctor visits, hoof trims, and when supplements are given. 

Early-pregnancy

They do not go back into heat.

Sleeping a bit more than normal.

Becoming protective over their baby-side (right-side) during roughhousing.

Appetite increasing.

Mid-pregnancy

Appetite continues to increase.

Water intake also increases.

A baby bump may begin to show.

Some does become more affectionate others become standoffish.

jj

The month before delivery

Mucus discharge (mucus plug) may appear off and on

Udders may begin to develop

Vulva begins to swell and open

Baby bump grows

Fast hard breathing when laying down

cami1

Emanate Labor 12-24 hours

Fast breathing

Become extremely uncomfortable (Pacing)

May stop eating

Significant mucus discharge

Becomes more vocal

Some contractions

Udder typically becomes full and shiny

Tail ligaments loosen causing the tail to hang off side

Hips become extremely sunk in

cami2

Labor

Vulva becomes floppy and open rather than swollen

Breathing becomes even faster

Contractions become painful (back will hunch and tail will be straight up)

Laying down, standing up, laying down…repeat

Vaginal discharge increases

Biting at or talking to baby-side

Pawing at the ground

Screaming in pain

Squatting

Begins pushing

camibaby

While you will be scared and fearful of possible problems, most births go perfectly fine and will not require any intervention. You will, however, need an emergency vet on call or a goat mentor for possible problems. Stay calm! From the time the second bubble sack appears it should roughly take about 30 mins for the baby to be delivered. You should first see two hooves through the second bubble then a nose and tongue. It typically takes the longest to deliver the front half of the baby then the rest just slides on out. While it's OK to help mom dry off the baby and clear the nose do not take the baby away if you plan on her raising it. Let her bond with the baby by cleaning and licking on it. The placenta should deliver within 24 hours but typically comes within a few hours from delivery. While absolutely disgusting be aware that most mothers will eat the placenta. The sound this makes is nauseating! I take this time to go into the house and clean myself up, especially if it is late at night or early in the morning, I simply cannot stomach it.

What to expect after the delivery

Emmylou

Mom will bleed off and on from her vulva for days or even weeks. She will need increased nutrition for body condition and milk production. Mamma may also seem a bit restless for a few days. She will clean the baby(s) a lot, drink the urine, chew on the umbilical cord, and clean any poo. My does become very affectionate requiring extra attention and care. They also become more vocal as they talk to their babies. Watch for a lopsided udder, babies have a tendency to favor one at the beginning. You may need to milk the other each day to keep her from getting uncomfortably full or from acquiring mastitis. 

The baby will sleep a lot the first day or two, they have been through a lot. The first poo or two will be black and tar-like. The poo will eventually become light brown/yellowish in color and a bit thicker than pudding. You may need to wipe their little bums from time to time. It will take a few weeks for the umbilical cord to dry up and fall off. The baby will become more active and playful within a few days. They may begin nibbling on grain and hay with mamma within a few days even occasionally sneaking a drink of water.

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


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How to Sell Farm Produce Directly to the Public

 

Today’s small farmers are finding it difficult to financially survive in the world of corporate food. Some are now attempting to increase their profits by selling directly to customers instead of going through other businesses or corporations. As with selling herdshares for their farms’ milk, selling farm produce requires both building a customer base while following legal requirements.

Legal Aspects:

We only sell seasonally excess produce from our homestead, but some small farmers depend on produce sales to keep their farms financially viable. Whether in small or large amounts, selling produce directly to customers puts us in the world of “cottage food” sales and we come under both federal and state Cottage Food laws. The Cottage Food Laws, as well as the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, can give the required preparation and labeling of produce for each state. As long as our produce-labels include the required information, they can be made as artistic and personalized as we wish.

The most successful farmers begin small and grow their skills and workload as they increase their customer base. Some farmers may begin by selling produce seasonally at a local farmers’ market or road-side stand. This allows them to meet supportive customers who then become the basis for a CSA (community supported agriculture). As the CSA gradually grows, having a designated “farm-market” building at their farm allows goods to be sold to an even larger customer base. This may require larger both financial and time commitments, but small farmers have a better chance of remaining on financially secure ground when they’ve grown to this stage slowly--slowly enough to keep things financially manageable, but also slowly enough to keep their lives enjoyable.

Selling a larger variety of food involves a larger variety of laws. Fortunately, most states’ Cottage Food laws agree that it’s legal to sell “non-hazardous” foods that are produced in our kitchens. These usually include jams, jellies and baked goods that don’t require refrigeration. Before you begin, check online or with your county’s extension office for what’s required in your state.

Selling Meat:

Selling meat is a bit trickier, but not so much so. As with all produce, there are both federal and state laws governing meat sales. If your farm is small and you know customers ahead-of-time who want to buy meat, steers can be butchered at a facility that is USDA inspected and approved, but that doesn’t have an inspector on site. This meat is sold to customers once the animal is butchered and the weight is known. When you receive their money, customers become the “owners” of the meat. They are then responsible for picking their meat up from the butchers and paying the butcher’s fee. Because this meat is marked “NOT FOR SALE,” with the owner’s name on it, it cannot be resold.

The above method is called “custom slaughter.” It works well for small farms that know their customers and have only one or two steers to sell each year. However, when the goal is to sell meat to the general public, a “fully-inspected plant” is necessary. To use Ohio as an example, there is an inspection program that results in each package being marked to allow it to be re-sold anywhere in the state, including directly from the farm. We found it easiest to unravel which facility does what by going to the nearest meat processing plant and letting them advise us where and how to proceed.

Selling meat from chickens has fewer rules than red meat and allows butchering to be done on the farm. For example, Ohio allows processing up to 1,000 birds without an inspector, processing in “open air” and selling directly to the consumer—all without a license. Joel Salatin discusses his method of butchering and selling poultry on the farm in his book, Pastured Poultry Profits. Having a dedicated team and a mechanized chicken-plucker sure does help when processing that many birds!

Long-term success:

The above guidelines on selling produce and meat directly from the farm is about keeping legally safe. It’s equally important to enjoy what we do in order to persist and to be profitable.

Both enjoyment and profit are directly related to the size of each operation. If small farmers grow too quickly or too large, profits will actually decrease along with their enjoyment. It amazes me that well-meaning folks—usually those who have never done the work of farming—have so many suggestions for what else we could be doing! We’re wise if we don’t take the bait. Growing slowly along the path you’ve chosen is necessary for success.

Every farm family varies in their interests and resources so it’s logical that there’s a wide variety of farm-sale models. After just warning you not incorporate every suggestion you’re given, here’s a suggestion I can’t resist sharing; when displaying your farm’s produce, consider increasing your customer-base by enabling other small farmers to sell their home-produced items at your farm. You might agree on receiving ten percent of their profits, for example, for displaying their beeswax products, jams and jellies. At the same time, the increase in your inventory brings you more customers. It feels like a “win-win” if you can effortlessly increase your profit-margin while helping neighbors.

A final part of being successful when selling produce directly to the consumer is getting a fair profit. It’s obvious that we can’t compete with the corporate food system on prices; it’s that system that is bankrupting small farmers. We’ve learned that it’s best to let well-informed customers will come to you. They will appreciate the improved nutrition and flavor of your products as well as your humane treatment of the animals that provide their meat and eggs. There’s no need to apologize to these customers that a fair price, which includes your labor, is higher than the supermarket’s.

The survival of many small farms may depend on our ability to keep both legally safe and long-term enjoying what we do when selling produce directly to the public. Small farmers today have the knowledge, ingenuity and work ethic to succeed. Your success in a world of corporate food allows consumers the choice of healthy food. Your success also preserves the land, knowledge and genetics that will make small farms possible in the future.

Mary Lou homesteads with her husband, Tom, south of Columbus, Ohio. Her book, Growing Local Food, can be bought through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482.

Photo by Gwen Lauren of Fayette County, OH


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A Home Remedy Tale: Bloat in Horses

Percherons Ellie and Chi

When my wife and I began farming, we learned to raise calves by buying newborns at the local livestock auction (now closed) in Orleans, Vermont. Dealing with illness, various injuries, and scours (calf diarrhea), we routinely consulted our vet or supplier for prepackaged electrolytes and other needs. In time we learned to make our own, much less costly, concoction for treating scours -- salt, baking soda, yogurt, an egg; maybe some molasses if we had to use a feeding tube. We also raised sheep, pigs, horses, and cows -- there are home remedies, old-time methods, and innovative contraptions to surmount all form of husbandry hurdle, unique to different breeds and circumstances. But generally they share a demand to “make do” either by spending less money, saving time, or both.

While we are very fond of our vet, we try to do what we can ourselves, and often we learn from experienced farmers. We were blessed while we worked our farm in Barton, Vermont with a neighbor named Henry LaBrecque, a retired dairy farmer who was always pleased to stop by and teach me how to make hay, fix a machine, winch cedar, or overcome a milking problem.

One of our draft horses suffered a case of bloat. Reflexively, I phoned Henry (instead of the vet). With no hesitation, he began to recite an old home remedy. “Oh, let’s see now….” he said:

2 tablespoons turpentine
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons ginger
½ cup milk….

When I heard “turpentine” I paused in my napkin scribbling. Suddenly Henry’s “remedy” sounded like animal abuse -- I had no intention of pumping turpentine into my horse. I politely thanked Henry for his counsel, and engaged in some discussion of the weather I think.

After hanging up with Henry, I called our veterinarian and explained about the horse with bloat. “Sure, I have a recipe that will help!” he offered. I took up my pen and napkin, and he began:

2 tablespoons turpentine
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons ginger
½ cup milk

This time I wrote it all down. Then I protested to the good doctor: “John, I can’t believe turpentine would be a medicinal ingredient! I called Henry and he gave me the same recipe and I figured he was cracked, so I called you.”

His response: “Well, I’m pretty sure that’s where we got the recipe from, and it works better than anything else…” (By this I think he meant the doctor from whom he’d taken over his practice, who would have obtained the valuable recipe decades earlier from Henry LaBrecque.)

So, yeah, we made up the crazy brew and it worked like a charm -- probably saved the animal’s life.

There is a wealth of home knowledge that has been too lightly abandoned with the advent of new technologies and modernity. And sometimes things that sound fantastic turn out to be quite sensible. In the case at hand, our veterinarian (now retired) later explained how the mixture worked. The turpentine is key, acting as a defoaming agent to reduce gas. The pepper “moves things along.” The ginger is soothing. The milk prevents the turpentine from burning the esophagus and digestive tract. (Note: it is illegal to administer turpentine to food animals.)

In recent years, a number of Amish families have purchased farmland in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Our doctor tells me of this potion that “The Amish have a lot of horses, and they love it!”  I guess they keep some turpentine on hand….

Photo by Jacqueline Klar)

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.


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Grandma's Apron

GrandaMa's Apron

This amazing piece of cloth was one of the most important tools of the rural homestead. I don’t think most “fast food micro-wave” kids today know what an apron is. They should.

Grandma's apron protected her dress because she didn’t have many clothes. It was perfect for drying children's tears, and for cleaning out dirty ears.

The apron was used for carrying eggs and harvesting the garden. When company came, aprons were ideal hiding places for timid kids. In winter, it was her scarf. Aprons wiped many a perspiring forehead, bent over the hot wood stove. After the peas had been shelled or corn husked, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen. When dinner was ready, she waved her apron when it was time to come in from the fields to dinner. It was also a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

Grandma’s apron was a symbol of comfort, love, calm, family and that everything would be just fine… tomorrow.

I think folks are not all that confident about tomorrow these days. Our world is not calm and doesn’t seem very secure. Maybe what we need is just a lot more aprons these days.

Watch Michael's TV special Songs of Rural America with the Ohio Valley Symphony on the RFD-TV Network Friday February 22, 2019

Among the throngs of artists in the music world, few have elevated “dreaming” to such a high art form as folksinger Michael Johnathon. He has a successful career as a touring songwriter, author of four published book, playwright of the Walden Play performed in 42 countries, composer of the opera, Woody: For the People, organizer of the national association of front porch musicians called SongFarmers, and as the host of the live audience broadcast of the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour with a radio audience with over two million listeners each week on 500 public radio stations, public television coast-to-coast, American Forces Radio Network in 173 nations and now on the RFD-TV Network nationwide. His latest album release is DAZED & CONFUZED and his fourth book will be released June 2019. Visit: MichaelJohnathon.com, WoodSongs.com, WaldenPlay.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.







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