A while back, I wrote an article called “Survival Skills Your Great-Grandparents Knew.” It turns out that it was one of the most popular articles that has appeared in Off The Grid News, which got me thinking. What other skills have we lost — skills that were part of our ancestors’ day-to-day lives?
Personally, I think we’ve got to hand it to our grandparents and great-grandparents. They managed to do everything they needed, and they did it without smartphones, YouTube and Google. They were much more prepared to survive than you and I are, simply because life demanded it of them.
Here’s a few more skills that were common years ago:
1. Hitching a team
What are you planning on doing for transportation if there’s a disaster and the gas pumps are down? For a large part of our country’s history, the horse was the main motive power used. Not only did people ride them, but they hitched them to wagons, carriages and plows.
Of course, the first problem is finding the horses, but even then, how do you put that horse to work? I seriously doubt you’ve got a set of harnesses hanging up in the garage, and even if you did, would you know how to put them on the horses? We’ve lost the art of saddle making, harness making and even the knowledge of how to hitch a team up to a wagon.
2. Shoeing a horse
We tend to think of taking a horse to the blacksmith to get it shod. Blacksmiths, or more correctly, farriers, did shoe people’s horses in town. But on the farm or ranch most people did their own. It took too long to ride into town just to get your horse’s shoes shod. Considering that it needed to be done about every six weeks, it was easier to learn how to do it yourself than to keep interrupting your work.
Shoeing really isn’t all that hard and only takes a couple of specialty tools. Most farriers use factory-made shoes. The first automatic horseshoe-making machine was invented in 1835, but factory-made shoes predated that. Shoes could be bought at the local feed store and most horse owners kept a couple of sets on hand.
3. Birthing a calf
Most animals give birth pretty well on their own. After all, when a baby decides it’s time to come out there’s not much you can do to stop it. But what happens when the baby isn’t coming out correctly? Just like with people, calves and colts can be turned the wrong way, causing the equivalent of a breach birth.
When that happens, you’ve got to know how to go in and turn the calf or colt around, and you’ve got to do it quickly. If the baby isn’t turned, it may not be able to come out, causing it to die in the mother’s uterus. That usually causes the death of the mother, too.
4. Felling a tree
There’s a true art to properly felling a tree. If it’s not done correctly, that tree can end up landing on your chicken coop or your newly restored ’57 Chevy. Not only that, but you want to do the job in such a way that you waste as little wood as possible. Felling a tree incorrectly can actually cause the tree to split, damaging much of the wood you were hoping to harvest.
5. Turning that tree into boards
Felling the tree is one thing, but turning it into usable lumber is a whole other thing. If all you want is firewood, that’s not such a big deal. But if you want building material, you’ll want to be able to turn it into boards.
Today, just like 100 or even 300 years ago, it’s the job of a sawmill to turn those logs into boards. Before sawmills or in areas where sawmills weren’t available, people used wedges to split the tree’s trunk, making boards out of it. The boards could then be cleaned up with an adze. The adze also was useful for squaring logs into beams or flattening the top and bottom surfaces of logs, making a tighter log cabin.
6. Milking a cow
This one might not seem like a big deal, but it’s amazing how many people today don’t know the right way to milk a cow. It takes more than just pulling on the nipples. You’ve actually got to first close off the nipple with the thumb and forefinger to keep the milk from flowing up into the udder, and then squeeze the nipple to force out the milk.
7. Making butter and cheese
Fresh milk is great, but it doesn’t keep long. Our forefathers and especially our foremothers solved this problem by turning the milk into butter and cheese. Since one cow gives more milk than the average family can use, this was a great way of preserving that milk in other forms.
It was not uncommon for families who owned a milk cow to churn butter once a month and have cheese aging pretty much all the time. Both are fairly easy to make and retain nutrients from the milk. Butter and cheese can both keep for an extended time without refrigeration, although keeping them cool does help them to last longer.
8. Weaving fabric
What are you going to do when your clothes run out? Make more, right? But what if you can’t find fabric? Can you weave it? For that matter, can you make thread or yarn from natural fibers so you have something to weave?
Few people have any idea of how to use a spinning wheel or a loom. Even fewer know how to build these machines.
9. Sewing clothing
Sewing clothes – or even making repairs to clothing – is fast becoming a lost art. A generation ago, all girls grew up learning how to sew. Today, few people even have a sewing machine, let alone know what to do with it.
When you consider how fast children grow and how many clothes they go through, the ability to make your own is a valuable skill.