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

The Bovine Telos: Animal Welfare for Today's North American Beef Cattle

Angus Steer on Pasture

Photo by Steve Maxwell

Telos was a word originally used by Aristotle to describe purpose. Animal scientist and philosopher Dr. Bernard Rollin wittily adapted the term for the animal behaviour field. To Rollin, the telos of an animal is its innate nature: its personality, its desires, likes, and dislikes. One of the greatest parts of studying animals is becoming familiar with the unique telos of each species you work with. I got to know cattle in my teens when I started working for Jim and Birgit Martin, owner-operators of Pure Island Beef, a northern operation centred around a natural lifestyle for the animals and a high-quality product. Birgit and Jim are industry leaders in Ontario agriculture, and I was lucky enough to connect with them over zoom to chat about beef cattle welfare. You can watch the entire interview on YouTube:

The Bovine Telos

What do cattle want in life? It’s easy to anthropomorphize and imagine that animals desire the same things we do. Part of the study of animal behaviour is giving up personal bias and letting the results of controlled experiments speak for themselves. Like other farm animals, beef cattle are motivated to perform specific behaviours rooted in their wild ancestry. As Birgit put it, “cattle aren’t necessarily the most ambitious animals.” My experience and current literature suggest that social contact in a herd, mutual and solitary grooming, opportunities to lie down comfortably, and exercise are the most notable desires of cattle outside of the basics. 

The North American Industry

In North America, the life of a beef animal begins on a cow-calf farm, where breeding and early growth is the focus. Most animals are then trucked to larger growing and finishing operations called feedlots, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. On many cow-calf farms, animals enjoy a pseudo-natural lifestyle on pastures or ranges. This production style caters well to their telos. Feedlots are confinement facilities. Although they maximize efficiency, it takes more knowledge and consideration to run a feedlot profitably while also maximizing animal welfare.

Too Much Transport?

Although Jim praised the progress that has been made in animal comfort on Ontario feedlots, he didn’t hesitate to express his qualms about the structure of the industry. Across North America, animals are transported in trucks multiple times over their lifetime, moving from farm to farm, sometimes at very young ages. Although producers are highly experienced with loading and trucking animals safely, conditions during transport and the change of surroundings are major stressors for these animals. 

Improved Welfare on Feedlots: A Win-Win? 

When I brought up the subject of animal welfare in feedlots, Jim told me that “It doesn’t pay to not do it well.” When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about the words of professors who’ve taught me that high productivity often isn't linked to good welfare. After reading some literature however, I found that recent experiments are suggesting that Jim is right when it comes to beef feedlots. A 2020 review from Texas A&M compiled results indicating that feedlot cattle who are provided with more space, softer floor surfaces, and the opportunity to lie down on straw not only have better welfare, but also show superior performance from a production standpoint. 

Changing an Industry: Top-Down or Ground-Up?

Despite the fact that ‘doing it well’ may be in the best interests of beef producers, the reality is that best practices with respect to animal welfare are not the standard across North American beef industry. I’ve often thought that the obvious solution is legislation - make best practices law. Jim and Birgit’s perspective as producers challenged my position. As Birgit put it, “if it’s legislated from the top down, the cost is entirely borne by the producer. If it’s an industry initiated change from the grassroots up, the cost can be spread across the supply chain.” Jim added that he’d sooner like to see more widespread education for new producers before new animal welfare legislation.

What Can Consumers Do?

Support Progressive Producers. I believe that reducing your impact on animals is crucial, but of equal importance is putting your dollars in the right place when you do purchase meat. When it comes to beef, the North American industry involves a lot of live transport, and not all feedlots adhere to best practices, but that doesn’t mean that producers moving in the right direction don’t exist. Pure Island Beef is just one example of an operation committed to providing animals with a semi-natural life that starts and ends under the management of the same people. The welfare labeling programs that I mentioned in my introductory article are a great tool, but they’re not as effective as personally connecting with the people behind your beef. Research progressive beef producers before making a purchase. Look for the farmers who run a pasture-based operation and raise animals from start to finish without transporting them across provincial, state, or national borders.

Don’t Take ‘Local’ at Face Value. My province of Ontario is home to the largest urban population in Canada, but comparatively few cow-calf farms. The result is that the beef bought by Ontarians can be advertised as ‘local,’ but most of the time this means that cattle were born in the west before being transported for hours or days on highways to feedlots in Ontario where they were finished. If you can’t find a progressive producer in your immediate area, become more open to beef born, raised, and finished in a distant province or state. As Birgit put it, “It makes sense [for animal welfare and the environment] to transport the product in a refrigerated truck rather than truck the live animal to the market.” 

Be Open to all Perspectives. In the animal welfare debate, producers are often demonized or pushed to the sidelines. I was incredibly lucky to open this conversation to Birgit and Jim and learn from their perspective. I’ve come to believe that sustained improvement to the human-animal relationship won’t be accomplished by argument or iron-fisted rule making. It seems to me that the best path forward is for each side of the debate to thoroughly understand other perspectives so that animal-based industries can move forward with cooperation, focus, and harmony.

Jacob Maxwell is a biology student and veterinary hopeful in Ontario who divides his time between animal biology coursework and hands-on experience with veterinarians and animal researchers. Connect with Jacob on his blogA Try-Hard's Guide to Having Fun, and on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn. Read all of Jacob’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.

Home, Garden and Orchard Layout

Cleared and Staked Out Area
Cleared and staked out area.
 Photo by Ron Melchiore

The Off-Grid and Free series recounts one homesteading couple's journey to build a new homestead in Nova Scotia.

The last time we corresponded, we had cleared out a section of property, flagged out the location of house, garden, orchard, well, septic and solar array and were ready to do the nitty gritty on the house.

A Quick Personal Update

But first a bit of house keeping. As many of you know, we moved from the wilderness of Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia to start our third and final homestead build. It was my intent and desire to write occasionally to bring you along on the journey and share some of what we’ve been up to.

To be honest, I’m still finishing the “eternal house,” have just started building our greenhouse, am working on getting ahead on firewood etc. and I’m simply maxed out. But we still have the pep to get things done; in fact, part of the last year was taking some of that pep and training for sprints to compete as an old guy. I used to run sprints as a younger man and then gave it up for about 35 years. I paid a high price last year in terms of time and pain (torn quad, gimpy knees, torn hamstring) but I set the Provincial records this winter in my age group. I have no desire to toot my own horn and I mention it to offer encouragement to all that no matter your age and aspirations, it’s never too late to follow your dreams, including living a more self-reliant life.

In regards to this self-reliant life we’ve enjoyed, a little over a year ago, we were asked by a publisher to write a book about self-reliance. That book, The Self-Sufficient Backyard: For the Independent Homesteader took an enormous amount of our time to write. We compiled 40 years of experience and knowledge into one comprehensive book and we can now breathe a sigh of relief that it is on the market and we can get back to building our homestead. I’ll provide a link below for anybody that cares to check it out. Now let’s get back to our post.

At the time we had the roadwork done to access our small clearing in the forest, we also had the excavator dig a well to confirm we had a viable water source here. Based on the positive results, we installed the well and staked the house location properly in relation to that well.

One of the reasons we chose this exact location is because the view of the ocean is directly in front of the house which faces south. Perfect! We want the house to face south and having a view of the ocean as well is a bonus. With my properly set compass and 100-foot tape measure, I set out to locate the corners of the house.

Compass and Declination

I should mention that it is important at this stage to have a compass set with declination factored in. In North America, you might be off plus/minus 20 degrees from due south if declination isn’t taken into account.

In a nutshell, the earth’s core is molten iron and it creates a magnetic field that is slowly migrating around. The fields created by this molten iron core are in a northern “zone”. This is magnetic north which is what your compass will point to whereas the axis the earth spins on is true north. Depending on where you live, true north might be east or west of magnetic north. Declination is the difference in degrees between true north and magnetic north based on your particular location. There are websites dedicated to showing declination for all areas and then it’s simply a matter of finding your particular area with the amount of declination and adding or subtracting those degrees from magnetic north (what the compass points to) to find true north. Once you have true north, 180 degrees from that is due south. Most compasses have a way to modify and set the declination and many modern GPS units do so automatically or have a user entry.

House Layout

Getting back to locating the house, I drove a stake in for the back corner (NE corner) of the house. To be the most accurate, I then set my compass right on the top of the stake and used that as a stable platform for siting the next corner (SE corner) due south. I didn’t pound any stakes in too deep since they will need a bit of tweaking. I ran my 100 foot tape measure and measured the appropriate length for the house and set the southeast corner. I repositioned the compass on top of that stake and repeated the process with tape measure and compass to find the last 2 corners. In my case corner 3 was due west (SW corner of the house) and corner 4 was due north which was the northwest corner. I then took my tape measure and measured both diagonals. The idea is to make those two measurements exact. By doing so, I know I have a perfectly square outline.

It may take some tweaking to get a perfectly square shape. If the diagonal measurements are unequal it means I have a parallelogram. The idea is to turn that parallelogram into a rectangle or square which will be the ultimate shape of our house. Equal tape measurements signify we had right angles for all 4 corners. Now we knew exactly where the house would sit.

We needed to make sure the solar array was also facing due south and we needed to consider if the nearby trees would shade those panels on the short days of mid-December when the sun is at its lowest angle. It’s easy to overlook that when you are laying everything out in summer and the sun is high in the sky. It will be a huge problem if one sets the solar array and doesn’t take potential shading in winter into account. It is deceptive how low an angle the sun can track in winter especially the further north one lives.

Our greenhouse would be attached to the south side of the house. We needed to clear and make sure trees would not be a shading issue there as well.

Garden and Orchard Layout

The garden and orchard were the next areas to tackle. Johanna researched the proper spacing for the various types and quantities of fruit trees and fruiting plants we wanted to grow and using graph paper laid out where everything was to go. To start with, we wanted to plant cherries, peaches, plums, apples and pears along with grapes, blueberries, currants, strawberries, black berries and raspberries.

Once again using tape measure, stakes and sledge hammer, we tentatively pounded stakes in where every tree was to go in a logical, orderly manner. The corners of plots where asparagus or strawberries were to go were marked out as well. Each row of fruit trees was staggered from the previous row so that the sun had the best chance of reaching each tree once they were fully grown.

The Start of Our New Garden
Photo by Ron Melchiore

When the excavator was finishing the driveway, we also had the man rip out the roots from some of the orchard and garden sections and rummage around for any boulders it could find. And it did find numerous boulders which were piled off to the side. The excavator saved us weeks of back breaking work by wrestling with stumps and rocks in both the orchard and garden areas. As it was, we still wrestled with boulders and rocks every few feet while tilling. Slowly but surely, we have lugged or dragged them out one at a time and tilling is becoming easier with each passing season.

Boulder Wrestling
Boulder wrestling.
Photo by Ron Melchiore

By the time the excavator had plucked rock and roots out, we were well into June but decided to try planting a small garden. It was a pathetic garden since the soil needed some serious work but it still gave us a sense of accomplishment to have a small harvest by summer’s end.

The last thing we used an excavator for was to dig out the basement. It was our intent to only have a partial basement that would house a few supplies and be a cool area for our root cellar. The rest of the area under the house would be more of a crawl space. We figured this would save us money on building costs. Less concrete having to be poured for the basement floor; less digging with the excavator which charges by the hour. But at the suggestion of the operator, he advised us it would be easier in the long run to dig the whole area out for a full basement and in hind sight, it made the job of laying out the footings a much easier task.

We ended up only pouring concrete in one area of the basement while the rest was left with a vapor barrier and foam insulation as a floor finish. Now we have lots of room for storage as well as our root cellar.

Frost level in our area is 4 feet so our excavated hole was 4 feet deep. We had to make a split second call on taking the advice of the operator since he suggested digging the whole thing out after he had started. But in hindsight, I wish we had given it a little more thought. I would have only had him dig down 3 feet and then all the fill taken out of the hole could have been banked up around the house which would have made a good grade for water drainage. Additionally, and this would apply to anyone, being a foot higher would have lessened the chance of water in the basement. Less digging also would have saved some money.

Next time we get together, we’ll discuss why we chose a dug well over a drilled well and why we chose a new construction technique of ICF (insulated concrete forms) as opposed to traditional wood framing.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna are currently building a new homestead on the coast of Nova Scotia. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ron and Johanna are the authors of The Self-sufficient Backyard: For the Independent Homesteader. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Prolapsed Uterus in Sheep: How to Use a Pessary

 Ewes with lambs

Of the various unpleasantries that can accompany sheep farming, the prolapsed uterus is a particularly unwelcome trouble. Fortunately, a pessary can successfully permit farmers to prosthetically secure the uterus, even through lambing, until a veterinarian can surgically address the animal’s condition. 

Pessaries have been used for womankind for millennia: The first mention of a device to assist with symptoms of female pelvic disorders was described by Hippocrates in 400 BC. Women experiencing pelvic organ prolapse (POP) could be inverted on a ladder-like frame and vigorously shaken to move their organs back into place.

Modern pessaries have evolved from such ancient ladder-like contraptions, and are available in varied forms. In sheep, these are used either for the vaginal placement of hormones via an impregnated sponge, or as a “prolapse retainer,” as discussed herein.

lambs in spring

Ewes suffering from a prolapsed uterus require prompt attention. Only the largest of sheep farms is likely to keep pessaries on hand, so a veterinarian is likely the quickest source to secure one. If time allows, pessaries can be purchased online affordably.

Exposed tissue should be cleaned gently with warm soapy water; the moisture also assists reinserting the uterus. After the uterus is pushed back into position (no vigorous shaking required), the pessary is inserted to hold the uterus in place. The pessary has a small arm on each side, intended to be woven into the sheep’s wool as anchor. In practice, these arms can untangle and release, necessitating a rewashing and replacing of the uterus. It is thus recommended that the pessary arms be further secured with string (that leftover string from grain bags works well!).

Tip: When pushing the uterus back in, it is helpful to position the ewe over a square bale of hay. If she fights, she can’t collapse to the ground. It also helps to prevent her from spinning or running off.

The condition of prolapsed uterus is a distressing experience in sheep farming, and often ends very badly. But if a pessary can serve to get a ewe through lambing, it’s worth every effort to try.

In farming, as in life, something always seems to go awry…. If animal husbandry was easy, it wouldn’t be worth learning. (For a recent video of me with my sheep in Vermont, visit youtube).  

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. Connect with John on Facebook, and watch his farming videos on YouTube. 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.

Wall Tents and Spike Tents Provide Simple, Temporary Shelter

Spike Tent

We’ve been homesteading for five years now. Fortunately, our homestead came with a house we could live in while we fixed everything up and made it livable — this is not the case for many starting their homestead.

An RV or other camper is a decent option. As an RV owner, though I don’t like that option. Living in a camper is sort of like living in a narrow hallway. There isn’t much room to move around and it feels very claustrophobic. RVs are also very expensive. You could rent a home nearby but that is also costly and with all the work required it would be nice to be on site.

Spike Tents

For these reasons, when we buy our land and start building our log cabin and homestead, we are going to dig an outhouse and live in our new 14-by-14-foot spike tent. What is a Spike Tent you may ask? Well it is very much like a wall tent — a thick canvas tent built to last — only it has a built in floor and uses more traditional tent poles. Our spike tent has poles around the edges and one in the center and one over each door.

The thing I love about our spike tent is that it is like a portable tiny house. You can have a bed, woodstove, a kitchen table, and room to move around, unlike a camper. It is also a lot less expensive compared to a camper. Our spike tent has a front and back door, both with screens as well as two windows. It’s nice, because the tent is completely enclosed with a built in floor so you don’t have to worry about any mice getting in and causing trouble.

Wall Tents

Dave Whipple (of the History channel’s ALONE TV show and someone who knows a thing or two about shelters) owns a wall tent and over the last 20 years, along with his wife has bought land in Alaska and Upper Michigan and lived in a wall tent each time as a temporary shelter while building up their log cabin homesteads.

Dave Whipple

I’ve owned a wall tent for several years and we love it. We built a permanent platform on our 20-acre homestead for it and we often camp in it during the winter. We recently decided we loved the wall tent so much we wanted to try a spike tent, something a little larger and a bit more portable so that we could take it out on camping trips (and leave our wall tent on the platform). We also will use it when we buy our land while we build a log cabin.

In conclusion, if you are building a homestead from the ground up and need a place to live during the process, consider a wall tent or spike tent. I am not trying to sell you a wall tent, it makes no difference to me. But on our YouTube channel, one of the top comments we get from   people are  “where did you get that tent from?" The answer is from, a veteran-owned company in the US.

Here is a video I did with my daughters camping in our new Spike Tent in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at -17F! It was one heck of an adventure and a great test for when we buy our land.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest,  Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’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.

Meat Rabbits as a Sustainable and Affordable Protein Source

TAMUK Composite Rabbits

In the spring of 2020, we decided to venture into meat rabbits and stop raising meat chickens.

One of the reasons being rabbits are much more sustainable: you don’t need to order meat breeds from a hatchery or try and breed and/or hatch with low success rates in some of the more traditional broiler breeds.

We bought a breeding trio consisting of two does and a buck. We decided on the TAMUK Composite rabbits bred out of Texas A&M as they are a mix bred for heat tolerance. With our 100°F+ summers, that was important for our area. Rabbits do not tolerate heat well and are sometimes known to die in temperatures over 85°F. We make sure each rabbit gets a frozen 2 liter bottle on any day over 85°F to snuggle up to cool off.

One of our does took three separate breedings for have a successful litter, the other was successful on her first breeding. Both proved themselves to be great first time moms, both having litters of five their first time. The litter size should increase with subsequent litters. At about 8 weeks old I was able to successfully sex the kits and separate by gender so as not to have any unplanned pregnancies. At 16-17 weeks old they were harvested.

Their dressed weights {cleaned and gutted} averaged 5.5 lbs per rabbit. Once I knew the weights, I calculated that it cost me $1.25/lb to raise the rabbits. Of course this doesn’t account for their shelter or any accessories such as water bottles, or my daily time spent caring for them, but those types of things can be used for many years and so I did not factor in those costs. Just pure feed costs. I didn’t account for hay as I feed them what my goats waste, and supplement them with lots of forage from around the property and greens I grow in my garden.

Miners Lettuce forage for rabbits

Miners Lettuce forage for rabbits

This was a lot less costly than I was expecting and proves to be a very affordable, high quality meat! We built a wooden hutch with three compartments, one each for the breeding trio members. We later purchased a metal triple stacking hutch for the grow-out rabbits. DIY builds are almost always cheaper and higher quality. Rabbits are also extremely quiet and can be raised in small spaces such as a suburban backyard, no huge farm required.

And the garden gold they gave us! Rabbit manure is considered a cold manure, meaning it can go straight into your garden to fertilize plants. We had a lot of manure! The garden will be fertilized for months to come, thanks to the grow-out rabbits. Their pelts were saved to be preserved and tanned at a later date, their fur is some of the absolute softest you’ll ever feel. Pelts can be made into vests, throws, pillows...whatever you like.

Rabbit pelts

Processing the rabbits was very quick, each one took me approximately 15 minutes from start to finish. The organ meats were saved for a delicious liver, heart and kidney pâté. In case you’re wondering why eat the organ meats, organ meats are the true super-foods and have some of the highest nutrition around.

To continue for years to come, when it’s time to retire the breeders, you can hold back another trio from the offspring to pickup where the older ones left off. No hatchery or delivery service needed. Transitioning to meat rabbits was a great choice for us, one I recommend trying if you are looking to add a sustainable meat source for your family. 

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then, she has run California-based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs and pastured poultry, and to sell goat's milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook, and 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.

6 Best Dog Breeds for Families Living in the Countryside

American Labrador Dog 

American Labrador

Homesteading is becoming a popular choice in modern America. People are slowly shirking the city and moving into the country for a simpler life. A key part of homesteading is choosing a dog to keep you company but will also do a key job for you. There are many key elements to consider, but there are a few important factors to making your homestead dog friendly.

Understanding your dog’s prey drive is very important as it will factor into what kind of animals you can keep. Equally, your dog’s desire to stay in range of the farm will be a key factor as to how far you can let them roam. Finally, it is important to note that these are not blanket recommendations. Each dog is an individual and will have variances in their personality and temperament meaning that there is no guarantee the puppy you bring home will be a perfect fit. These are our best recommendations.

American Labrador

American Labradors make fantastic dogs for potential owners who live in the country. Their love of the outdoors combined with their happy go lucky personalities makes them a great match for the homestead lifestyle.

Though they have a love of chasing, Labradors make a great homesteading dog as they have a very low chase drive. This means they are incredibly unlikely to chase and injure your animals. This being said, they are very intelligent as a breed and are often able to learn to heard and help out around the farm.

Their shorter coats are naturally water resistant and require very little grooming. This makes them a fantastic low maintenance dog for life on the farm!


Mastiff Dog

Though they are not as agile as some of the other breeds on this list, having a Mastiff on your homestead can act as a deterrent for others.

Research shows that having a large, intimidating dog around your property reduces the likelihood of poaching significantly. Providing a shelter for your mastiff-type dog to stay outside with your animals will cause any poachers to think twice before entering your property.

The scent of a large dog on your property is also likely to deter any natural predators such as wolves or foxes. 

Despite their scary appearance, Mastiff type dogs are often gentle and cautious dogs with lots of love to give. This makes them a good match for families with young children about!

Australian Shepherd

Aussie Shepherd

Contrary to their name, the Australian Shepherd is actually an American breed, bred by cowboys to help them herd cattle.

These brave and intelligent pups make a great match for those looking to get back to their all American roots.

If you are planning to keep larger animals on your homestead, then having a shepherd dog to help you control them is a must. Australian Shepherds are quick, light on their feet and highly intelligent. This rapid intelligence also makes them excellent at trick training, if you ever want to branch out and teach them to do other things!

Despite their herding instinct, Australian Shepherds can do very well around smaller animals and so are less likely than other breeds to injure your chickens!

Jack Russel Terrier

Originally bred as ratters, the Jack Russell Terrier is an excellent breed for anyone looking to control vermin on their farm. This little but mighty breed gained popularity and traction in England, bred as a hunting dog to help bring down rats, rabbits and other small species.

These tenacious and clever little dogs may look small, but their bite is very much worse than their bark when it comes to rats!

If you are planning to bring home a Jack Russell Terrier, you will need to have excellent management around your farm. For example, if you are keeping poultry, they will need to be behind well reinforced fences to deter a Jack Russell! Alternatively, putting excellent training in place, such as an emergency stop, will help to protect your poultry!

Despite their ferocity around small vermin, they are a loving and genial breed, doing very well in homes with young children. When they’re not off making lots of noise or chasing anything they please, a Jack Russell Terrier is often found taking a nap in a sunny spot of their homestead.

Great Pyrenees

The Great Pyrenees might be the ultimate homesteading dog! Originally bred as livestock guardians in the Pyrenean Mountains, these dogs have found a new lease of life as a homesteader.

Due to their heritage as mountain dogs, they have long, slick double coats. Their naturally water repellent coat needs very little maintenance beyond daily brushing and is all weather for whatever the day brings you.

As a breed, they have a very little desire to dig and so your vegetable patches are safe. Equally, they have little desire to chase, and so your livestock are safe. Instead, their favorite pastime is to find a sunny spot and watch over their livestock. Their naturally protective nature means they are happy to work as guard dogs, protecting all there from poachers or predators.

Despite their large size, the Great Pyrenees is a naturally patient and kind dog, making them a great match for budding families or homes with already established dogs.


Though it may sound like an odd choice, a pug can do very well on a homestead. Their goofy nature can make them a great laugh when you are out and about on your farm.

They have a short, no nonsense coat that requires very little grooming. While it is on the shorter side and they may need a coat in cold and/or wet weather, their naturally sunny personalities mean they are happy to go along with it. Bred as companion dogs, these happy go lucky pups have no desire to dig or to chase – they are happy plodding about and smelling the roses. Naturally playful, these dogs are generally happy playing in a field with their friends while you work.

It is also important to note that while they don’t have natural homing instincts like the Great Pyrenees or the Australian Shepherd, Pugs have a natural desire to be close to you. This means they are unlikely to stray far from the homestead and get lost!

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. Read all of his 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.

Beating the Reptition of Daily Homestead Tasks


In our almost one quarter of a century living at 9,800-foot elevation, with our nearest neighbor close to one mile away, we have learned some valuable lessons. One of the lessons we have learned is that remote homestead living is a never-ending learning process and it has been filled with repetition.

Heating During Long Winters

Life at this elevation comes with considerable repetition, especially when it comes to the tasks required to heat our cabin. Each year, we need to cut, split and stack between nine to11 cords of firewood since our primary heat source is our wood stove. We recently added two Electric Thermal System heaters (ETS); however, our primary source of heat remains our woodstove. The ETS heaters keep us from having to get up at night during real cold weather to feed the woodstove. They also keep it warm so when we get up in the morning we don’t have to get the wood stove going immediately.

Firewood: The Never-Ending Task

Getting our firewood for each winter is repetitive and time consuming. We try to get it early each year but depending on the weather it sometimes takes us most of the summer to accumulate a sufficient amount of firewood. Since we enjoy the radiant heat we continue to use our wood stove as our major heat source. As can be seen in the photo we are not the only ones who enjoy the radiant heat.

Shoveling Snow

Another repetitive task is shoveling snow. When we bought our property 40+ years ago the HUD report said that our average snowfall was 264 inches per winter. We have received less than that amount for the past few years and weather patterns seem to be constantly changing. We are getting more wind now and less accumulation of snow. We seem to be repeatedly clearing snow from either storms or drifting. This condition appears to be the new pattern for 6 to 7 months of the year. 

Tree Growth Rings Reveal Past Weather Patterns

A changing weather pattern can be evidenced by the growth rings on the trees we cut for firewood. There may be 10 to 20 years of tight rings where there was little growth due to less moisture. Then there will be several years of more rapid growth where the growth rings are spaced out further. Some trees are up to 100+ years old or more, so we have a good indication that weather in the mountains runs in cycles. 

Snow and Fine Dirt Wears Finishes on Structures

While snow removal and gathering firewood are repetitive and consume much of our year, we also have other tasks that are equally repetitive. High elevation weather/wind can be hard on outdoor finishes on structures. Even when using top quality exterior stains and sealers they need to be applied more often than in less environmentally harsh places. This is all repetitive work that must be done more often to preserve our homestead’s value and protect exterior finishes. It seems that when we don’t have a snow shovel or chainsaw in our hands we have a paint brush or paint roller. 

Senior Homesteading

Maintaining our lifestyle is hard work in this environment.  I wouldn’t have it any other way and am thankful for each day we have. I believe our almost quarter of a century proves it can be done even in senior years. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. We love our lifestyle and the effort it takes to maintain that lifestyle, plus it keeps us healthy. 

Didn’t See That Coming

Many of these repetitive tasks were unforeseen when we planned to retire in the mountains. Coming here from city life, we could not imagine this much snow and wind, and dealing with it. The reality of life in the mountains has to really be experienced to understand what it is all about. Repetitive tasks are good for us as, over time, we have become more proficient at them. We had some skills when we embarked on this unique lifestyle but we have acquired many more over the years.

Learning Challenging Skills

Adapting to this type of lifestyle takes perseverance, willingness to learn and dedication. Prior to our marriage I’m sure Carol would never have imagined that she would get so excited over a walk behind snow thrower or new chainsaw. She has not only learned how to use both safely but also how to properly maintain them.

A Lifetime Of Learning

It has been an ongoing process and the more quickly we were able to learn, the faster we were able to successfully acclimate to this lifestyle. Anyone desiring to live a similar lifestyle as ours should learn all they can beforehand and be flexible enough to adjust their goals as realities are revealed. Going back to the earth is enticing and once the routine job tasks have been mastered it is extremely rewarding. Our reading of Mother Earth News over the 50+ years helped us to be more prepared by learning from those who went before us.

A Totally Transformed Lifestyle

If you don’t care for repetitive tasks, you may be disappointed as that is a very large part of remote mountain living. If you are prone to jumping right into a task without thinking it through, you may be putting your safety in peril as remote life does have some inherent dangers. If you master the obstacles along the way, you will most certainly be rewarded beyond measure. We have not regretted for one moment choosing this lifestyle, especially with this recent pandemic as we were already isolated.

Photo provided by Bruce McElmurray

Bruce and Carol live in their small cabin in the S. Sangre de Cristo mountains of S. Colorado with their two German Shepherd Dogs. They live remotely and heat their cabin with a wood stove. For more on Bruce and Carol visit their blog site. You can read all of Bruce'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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters