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

Tips for Beginner Chick Care (and the Best Chicken Breed for Backyards)

Boy With Pick Up Chicks Shirt 

The shirt read: How to pick up chicks, with a cartoon stick figure bent down to pick up a baby chick and hold it. Now, once my son, Fletcher, and I stopped laughing, I snapped a picture of the T-shirt to post on my Facebook page.

The family and I were at our local farm-supply store to pick up a few new poultry feeders and waterers for our new baby chicks. And, of course, that meant we just had to take a look at the troughs of chicks and ducklings the store usually has during the spring.

Those cute, little, peepin' fuzz balls scurried in the red glow of the heat lamp, causing all kinds of havoc among their sisters. It's always fun to watch, no matter how many chicks we've raised over the years. (So many, in fact, that I've since lost count.)

Choosing the Right Breed

Fast-forward a few weeks to the preschool pick-up line, when a mom friend stopped to tell me that she had bought a few chicks from the farm-supply store. (I have since realized that I have a reputation for poultry advocacy among the preschool moms and teachers.) She was very excited to tell me all about her experience buying and caring for the chicks, and I couldn't be happier that my passion for poultry was spreading among the pick-up line.

"So, what breed did you get?" I asked my friend.

"Golden Comets, Barred Rocks, and a Cornish Jumbo," she replied.

Well, I must have made a facial expression because she instantly added a concerned, "Why?"

"You know that the Cornish will be ready to process in eight weeks, right?" I asked. I explained that that particular breed is raised for meat production, and that once mature, it would risk dying of a heart attack or suffer from broken legs from its heavy weight if it weren't butchered.

I could see other moms turn around to listen to us discuss the fate of the Cornish chick she had purchased.

"I had no idea what to buy," she said finally. My friend seemed deflated.

I felt like a jerk. Here I had been talking up my chickens and turkeys to the suburban moms at preschool, not really thinking that they would be so inspired to buy their own. I had to think of a way to build her confidence back up.

"Just keep caring for your chicks. You've got eight weeks to decide what to do, whether sell it, process it, or just get rid of it (wink, wink)."

On the way home, I started thinking about other people who are just starting a flock for their families and purchase chicks from the local farm-supply store. They, too, may have limited knowledge about raising poultry.

Tips for Beginning Backyard Chicken Keepers

So, if you have no experience raising poultry, but would like to give it a whirl, here are a few easy-to-follow tips to help your flock thrive.

1. Prepare a brooder before you buy chicks. A brooder is a small box or crate heated to maintain a constant temperature. I've used a cardboard box, a plastic tub, a fiberglass tub (removed from a bathroom remodel), and my father-in-law's antique metal brooder. All have worked, and whatever you use will work, too. Just be sure to purchase a heat lamp, which you can find online or at a farm-supply store.

Line the brooder with wood shavings to absorb moisture from the chicks' droppings. A dry bird is a happy bird.

2. Buy feed that is formulated for chicks. You may feel overwhelmed by the choices of poultry feed, because, let's face it, there are a lot of options. The feed you want will say Chick Starter, and is usually medicated. I have always used medicated chick starter for both layer chicks and broilers (meat) chicks, and usually switch to a layer or broiler pellet by five weeks of age, three weeks for broilers. It suppresses poultry illness, which is especially important if you have other poultry on your property. A healthy bird is a happy bird.

3. Finally, decide what purpose you have for raising chicks. Do you want chickens for eggs, meat, pest control, or companionship? Do your research on chicken breeds before going to the store. Many breeds can be selected for each of these purposes, and I've had a lot of different breeds over the years, but I find one breed is best for beginners: The Golden Buff (and the angels sing Hallelujah).

Best chicken breed for backyards. Also called Golden Comet, Red Sex Link, or Cinnamon Queen, the buff is by far the best chicken to get your flock started. Easy-going and gentle, buffs are perfect for families with young children. They are early maturing, usually laying at just 16 weeks, versus 20 to 22 for heritage breeds. Buffs will lay six to seven eggs a week, and will continue to lay into the darker months of the winter. Every layer flock I've had has included buffs, and I can't recommend them enough.

So, if you want to raise poultry, please consider these tips before you purchase chicks. I will be posting more advice on poultry care in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned.

Corinne Gompf is a producer for farmer’s markets in rural Ohio, where she raises pastured poultry and Boer goats, grows organic produce and educates her customers on sustainable agriculture. Connect with Corinne on Facebook at Heritage Harvest Farm.

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.

A Homestead Hog Watering System that Works (for Us)

 Black Furry Piglets In Sun

After all the years of dreaming and planning, when the moment comes and you step out onto your first homestead, it is an exhilarating moment. You can’t believe that all this is really yours, whether “all this” is just one acre or 100 acres. It is easy to go wild, which in our case was “hog wild”.

We had a list of the heritage breeds we wanted to start with, gleaned from years of reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS and other hobby farm and homesteading journals. A quick internet search revealed an American Guinea Hog breeder just 45 minutes away, so into the van we piled on a cold November day. We thought we were being reasonable and circumspect. We would check out these pigs, build a pig tractor, and wait to pick them up until January. How’s that for planning and preparation?

Never mind that we were living at a rental property because the house on our homestead was uninhabitable. Forget the fact neither of us had ever raised pigs and knew nothing about managing them, and that life with livestock is always about the unforeseen serendipity that makes for very funny/gripping farm stories.

It turns out American Guinea Hogs deserve their good reputation. They have been a great introduction to raising hogs and we have slop buckets of funny/gripping pig stories now.

Developing an Effective Hog Watering System

One of the most important things we have learned from raising American Guinea Hogs is how important water is for pigs. There is a lot of information online about hydration for commercial hog operations and for pet pig “parents” but less about homestead scale pig production, though it does show up on homesteading discussion boards. The bottom line is: Pigs need water. This is not surprising, yet creating an effective watering system can get lost in the shuffle, especially if you are overextended as a new homesteader.

Rubber pans. We started out with rubber pans for feed and for water. These work fine, especially when the pigs are small and you have only a handful of them. However, ratchet up the numbers and the pig size and the rubber pans become sludgy, mucky messes that get flipped over and suctioned into the mud.

Plastic barrels. We moved to small, 15-gallon plastic barrels cut in half for feed and rubber pans for winter watering. In winter the ability to pull the pans out, flip them over and dislodge the ice is a necessity, because we don’t have a heated water system.

PVC pipe with nipple. The summer water setup has been developed with even more trial and error. We read online about using 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe capped on the bottom and wired to the pens. By drilling a hole and siliconing in a metal pig-watering nipple, you could have an effective watering option. We built three of them and promptly began hating them.

I found them too difficult to adjust and move around on the pens since there were no handles and they don’t stand up on their own. After we filled them with water, they were too heavy to allow us to easily move our mobile pigpens. Additionally, we bought high-pressure pig nipples which only work when attached to a pressurized water system, not a gravity flow set up like we had built (oops).

In the end, the pigs were thoroughly disgusted with the waterers and wouldn’t touch them because they couldn’t suck anything out of them. The PVC got slimy and gross and eventually I got so frustrated with the things that I just unscrewed them from the pens. That was an expensive mistake (times three) and those waterers are sitting in the garage waiting for inspiration on what to do with their useless PVC carcasses.

Orange Bucket Livestock Feeder

Discovering a Hog Watering System Solution

So back to the rubber pans we went, but in the hot weather we needed to be out re-filling pans three times a day to ensure that the pigs had water. There is nothing so aggravating as watching two thirsty pigs vying for a water pan, step on the lip and flip it over and lay in the mud while waiting for you to get them water to drink.

At some point that summer, someone explained the difference between high-pressure and gravity-flow nipples wow, that was a game-changer for us. However, I had no interest in wrestling with the PVC monstrosities hiding in the garage to change out the nipple. Instead, during a moment of inspiration, we grabbed a flat-sided, 5-gallon horse bucket from our barn, drilled and sealed a gravity-flow pig nipple into the flat side of that bucket and tried to hang it on the pen.

It took about a week to figure out how to seat it low enough on the side of the pen for the pigs to easily reach the nipple and allow the 2-by-4 frame to support the bucket.  While we were jiggering around with placement, we used two short bungee cords to hold the bucket in place.  We also discovered that if we hung the bucket along the back edge where the roof overhang drained the rainwater, the buckets could magically refill themselves with just a tenth of an inch of rain.

It was brilliant — and our pigs ignored them. They remembered the useless PVC waterers that didn’t work so they decided these wouldn’t either. We coated the nipples with honey, with peanut butter, with cream cheese and then in a final moment of desperation, I told the kids, “It’s cloudy today, they have plenty of mud to wallow in, don’t fill their pans just yet.” By that evening, you could hear the sounds of happy, slurpy sucking from across the yard.

Hog Watering System Lessons Learned

The system worked wonderfully until winter when we stored the buckets in the barn until the next spring.  The process illuminated a few key lessons that have held true across the board for all of our livestock endeavors. First, no matter what you see or read about, keep trying until you find a system that works for your needs, since what works for someone else may not work for you (and also maybe build one before you build three).

Next, if you try something and it’s not working at all, there’s usually a good reason — don’t get discouraged, get curious. Keep asking questions until you feel you understand what went wrong (and be prepared to keep learning, your first theory may be wrong or only partially correct).

Finally, we realized that we inadvertently taught our animals a “bad” lesson. If so, you’ll have to patiently persist until they re-learn what you need them to know.

Ultimately, the goal is to minimize the time, energy, and frustration that daily chores can involve. A good system is one that is working for you, meeting your animal’s needs, and doesn’t break the bank. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade our early experiences for anything.  I am glad we went “hog wild” and took risks but I am also glad we have learned a few things since then.

Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who has taught internationally and in her home state on a range of sustainability topics, including green cleaning. She and her family raise heritage-breed livestock on their 22-acre, restored Singing Wren Farm. Connect with Nicole there and at Smoldering Wick.

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 Build your Own Chicken Hut

The reward of designing and building a chicken coop for your hens from scratch is immense. This past spring, I decided to take a break from building log homes and built a couple of coops for my hens.

In this article, I share with you how to build a chicken coop and also some lessons learned from trial and error. I have broken this coop build down into two phases: Planning & Building.

It all Starts with a Plan!

When building a coop, you must start with a well-recognised design. This ensures you learn from mistakes other coop builders have made whilst having a design which is practical for your hens (e.g. enough space) and functional for your environment (e.g. well ventilated).

Backyard coop plans come in many different styles and sizes so it’s important to zero down on the style, size and purpose of your coop is. The coop I built was a traditional coop with an open-ended gable roof. Building a chicken coop can be a very fun DIY activity.

Finished Chicken Hut

My coop was built for six hens with a purpose of egg laying so I built a 24 square feet coop with one 6 square feet nesting box. As the variety of coops is large, the easiest way to design your own is to look at designs and plans of existing coops. Once you have browsed different styles, take the best components (e.g. nesting boxes, coops, tractor runs, styles, perches etc…) and make your own.

Not too fast! You should make sure that your coop satisfies the following rules:

1. Four square feet per hen

2. Twelve linear inches of roosting space per hen

3. One square foot private nesting box per hen

Building Your Coop in Five Easy Steps

5 Stages of Building a Chicken Coop

Start with the Frame

The frame is the structure for your coop. The frame is made in two stages. The first is by fixing together the side battens and vertical battens together. This makes two exterior frames which are then connected together with side connecting battens to complete the frame.

Attaching a Roof

Attach to the top of your frame roof trusses made with 45-degree triangles. The roof trusses are fixed into the vertical battens of the coop frame. Then, a ridge rail is installed in-between the trusses to complete the exterior of the coop.

Panel the Roof and Frame

The frame and roof make the exterior skeleton of a chicken coop. Panelling the root and frame with Oriented Strand Boards is very quick and easy. You will need roof, side, floor, entrance and front panels making for your coop. These boards are simply screwed down into the coop.

Roof Felt

Take a roll of traditional roofing felt and nail it every 10 inches into the panels of your chicken coop. Make sure to cover your roof and ridge completely. 

Interior and Exterior Finish

The final stages are to now fix coop doors with hinges and a locking bolt (to prevent unwelcomed guests!). The fixtures and fittings for your coop should include; nesting box(es), coop perch(es), coop access door, coop ramp, ventilation hole and hardware cloth. You can then paint your coop whichever color you desire; I went for blue and white.

You should now be able to build your own chicken coop! Below, I have included a few bullet points on pieces of advice and lessons learned through my own mistake.

Lessons Learned

1. Make sure you have 1 nesting box per hen in the coop

2. Use 4 square feet per hen when designing the size of your coop

3. Have a roosting perch of 12 linear inches per hen

4. Build a secure door and make sure all openings are predator proof

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.

Must-Haves for a Successful Farmers Market

Whole Booth & Tent & Banner 

It’s been quite a few years since we went to our first farmer’s market with one folding table, one cooler and a few fliers, all transported in the back of an SUV.  Nowadays we arrive in a box truck with an average of seven coolers, 3 tables and many other miscellaneous items that we can’t do without. During all this time we have added items that we thought we needed, forgot items that we really needed and discarded items that just took up space.  From our experience we put a list together of Must Haves of what to take to market that we thought would be helpful to pass along to you for a successful Farmers Market event:


Folding tables are best; they take up less space for transport and are easy to carry. Keep them the same size for consistency.

Table cover:

You need a table cloth, preferably one big enough to cover the table top and down the front and sides to hide storage under the table. The table cloth needs to be clean and shouldn’t have holes in it. Burlap isn’t expensive, can be bought at any home store and comes in many colors. Colors draw people in, darker colors look cleaner, and a nice beige, brown or green always makes a great earthy backdrop.


To look the part and keep your hard earned money safe, you need a cashbox. A basic black metal cashbox can be bought many places for as little as $20. Most have a tray and storage underneath where you can keep pens, notes etc.


Cash and Change:

Keep plenty of change on hand. Quarters, and many singles, fives and some tens.  The busier the market, the more change you need to take. So many times have we been approached by other vendors who needed change so they wouldn’t lose a sale. Keep a set amount of cash in your cashbox and restock it after each market. A consistent amount of change will also make it easy to count your earnings after the market.

Credit Card Payment:

At today’s Farmers Markets probably 70% of all customers pay with credit card. You need to be able to accept credit cards and debit cards if you don’t want to lose out on sales . There are several very easy credit card systems out there that are free to sign up and you only pay a small percentage like 2.5 % per transaction. Your sales are deposited in your bank account the next day. One that we particularly like for credit cards on the road is They work great with any smart phone or IPad and even work when there is not internet or wifi available through a special off-line mode.

 square box

Calculator (if it’s not in your phone)

If you handle cash and money and you don’t have a smart phone, you need a calculator to check your math. Especially when a booth is busy, math mistakes will occur and you definitely don’t want to make a change mistake that will cost you money or will make the customer mad. A good practice by the way is to keep the bill a customer gave you in your hand until you hand over the change. Any misunderstanding about what kind of money was given is quickly resolved that way.


Bring enough inventory and product so that you have at least something to sell for the duration of the market and definitely bring enough to make your booth well stocked from beginning to end. Customers are drawn to a fully stocked table.

Sign/banner and a way to hang it up neatly:

A sign will catch a passing customer’s attention. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be a black board with chalk, but it should state your name and the products your sell. A banner can be a great addition for any display, but you need to have a way to hang it up behind you or fix to the tables. As long as it’s neat.  A banner that is too long and hangs onto the ground looks shabby, not planned and is a safety hazard for the customers to step on.

Farm Sign 

This sign was painted for us by Jill Wetzel, one of our fabulous wwoofers.


Coolers are a must have, especially if you sell food or other perishable items. Make sure the coolers are in good repair and are very clean. Most coolers are white and food offered out of dirty coolers is not very appealing. Wipe them down with bleach before a market and pressure wash them every once in a while.

Fliers/literature about your product:

This is important so you can give the customer something to take home. It can be as simple as a favorite recipe for a vegetable or other product, or a copy of an article about the product you sell.  Explanations on different cheeses or ingredients.

Business Cards:

They don’t have to be expensive but will need to be clean and simple and give an idea of who you are and what your business is.

Miscellaneous Might Need:

Sign-up sheet for emails and a newsletter
Carry bags for your product
Paper towels/wet wipes
Dog ones for your customers with dogs
Tape/blue painters tape
Tent if the market is outdoors
Dolly to move your coolers
Broom and dustpan

And here is one more tip:  once you have everything assembled that you need, make sure your set up is clean, neat and tidy, and not cluttered. You want a smooth booth, one that is attractive to your customers, and so will help you make a good first impression of your farm on any potential customer that will pass by your table.

Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four and eight WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to a small herd of dairy goats, 14 Black Angus cattle, 70 laying hens, 3 horses, 2 cats, 4 house dogs, 7livestock guardian dogs, and 1 duck. Read all of Julia’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.

Mother Earth News Fair Highlights, Part 2

There are four more Mother Earth News Fairs coming up this year: Frederick, MD (June 2-3), Albany, OR (Aug. 4-5), Seven Springs, PA (Sept. 14-16), and Topeka, KS (Oct. 13-14). Potential fair-goers will have a challenge deciding between workshops. I certainly did when I attended the Asheville event in April.

With over 100 workshops to choose from and only nine workshop slots over the course of the two-day Mother Earth News Fair, a sustainable living devotee can get frustrated. When I printed out a copy of the schedule and began highlighting the workshops I wanted to attend, I saw that I needed to clone myself. My biggest conundrum was whether to attend new-to-me workshops or revisit some of my favorite speakers and topics. As usual, I did a little of both.

The Old

After seeing Niki Jabbour extol the virtues of year-round vegetable gardening several years ago, I’ve kept my fingers crossed every year that I’d see her name on the agenda again. My wish came true this year, so you can bet I attended both her workshops. I wasn’t disappointed. Niki always inspires me to try new vegetables in the garden. Chickpeas are next on my list. 

Niki Jabbour gardening

Niki Jabbour shares her favorite varieties of vegetables, many of them unusual and intriguing. Photo by Carole Coates

Likewise, I was delighted to listen again to Shawna Coronado (secret gardening hacks—lots of tips on being good to your back in the garden), Jessi Bloom (using permaculture techniques to increase garden resiliency—she makes it understandable and doable), and Alan Muskat (wild food for free—what could be better). There’s always something new to be learned and it never hurts to be reminded of something you learned before and maybe lost sight of in the day to day. 

weeds and water

Jessi Bloom offers practical and easy-to-employ tips on incorporating permaculture techniques to improve garden productivity.  Photo by Carole Coates

secret gardening hacks

Even though I'd heard her before, I learned new gardening hacks this time around from the ever-effervescent Shawna Coronado. Photo by Carole Coates

The New

Clauda Lucero did a fascinating demonstration on making non-dairy cheeses, preparing two right before our eyes and then letting us sample her product. Yum! She generously shared a copy of the basic recipe and gave the audience a number of tips on variations. I can’t wait to try my hand at non-dairy cheese making at home. 

Claudia makes cheese

After attending Claudia Lucero's non-dairy cheese-making workshop, I couldn't wait to get home and practice myself. Yum! Photo by Carole Coates

I was a little iffy about attending John Wood’s workshop on growing potatoes and sweet potatoes. They’re pretty straightforward crops, after all. What’s to learn? Plenty, as it turns out. Wood’s sharp, energetic, quick-witted presentation was the perfect way to end the weekend. And I’m eager to put these two practices to work: planting potatoes above ground and sweet potato slips in mounds. If I have anywhere near the luck growing these crops as he does, I’ll have enough of both crops to eat throughout the winter and still have plenty to give away to all my family and neighbors. 

growing sweet potatoes

I hadn't planned to grow either potatoes or sweet potatoes this year, but after John Wood's inspirational talk, I decided add both to this year's garden. Can't wait for the results! Photo by Carole Coates

Because of a conflict, I was only able to take in the last part of Lisa Zieglar’s talk on the benefits of growing flowers in the vegetable garden. I won’t let that happen again. She was so engaging, informative, and downright personable that she’ll be tops on my workshop list next time. She had the audience in her thrall. 

But Wait—There’s More!

This year’s fairs feature two relatively new workshop events. Hands-on workshops for an add-on fee of $15.00 each give participants a smaller venue, hands-on experience under the watchful eye of an expert, and a finished product to take home.

What I’ll call “Lunch and Learn” are half-hour mini-workshops during the much-needed lunch break. Most of them are very informal question and answer sessions which give participants a chance to ask burning questions that weren’t addressed in the more formal sessions. Ask a Gardener, chickens, homesteading legal issues, and renewable energy are a few examples of these sessions at this year’s Asheville fair. I checked out a couple of them and was thrilled to see the enthusiastic give and take.

Good luck to future fair attendees as you figure out which workshops you want to attend. There are so many choices, you’ll need it!

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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.

Farming Rule #5: Successful Farms are Successful Businesses

This post is Part 1 of Forrest Pritchard’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog series 5 Important Rules Every New Farmer Should Know. Forrest’s latest book, Start Your Farm, debuts September 2018, and is available for preorder here.

I grew up on my grandparents’ beautiful Shenandoah Valley farm, free to explore the rolling hills, orchards, and ramshackle barns dotting their two thousand acre operation. During my summer vacations, I pruned apple trees, picked sweet corn, painted fences, and gathered eggs, memories that will last a lifetime. With so many invaluable experiences, I eventually felt like I had enough knowledge to become a full-time farmer. And so, when I graduated from college in 1996, brimming with optimism, I pursued my dream of running my family’s farm.

That first year back was a complete disaster. Following conventional wisdom, I sprayed my pastures with herbicide, and converted the farm to GMO corn and soybeans. When autumn arrived, the harvest yielded a pitiful twenty dollar profit. I barely did better the next year, changing course and selling loads of firewood, hay, and straw, but still only making a few thousand bucks. Even after switching to organic livestock a couple years later, I’d often make a paltry fifty dollars selling sausages at the local farmers’ market.

What had gone so terribly wrong? Regardless of my prior experience and my heartfelt passion, I had never learned how to run the farm like a real business. Sure, I might be good at raising cattle, or constructing an equipment shed with my own two hands. But did I know what it truly cost to raise a steer, or build a barn? How did I really know if these expenditures were profitable? And when would I make enough money to actually pay myself? The hard truth was, I had no idea how to answer any of these questions.

Yes, I had a willing spirit, and hard work didn’t frighten me. But in my headlong rush to become a farmer, I had neglected to learn the intellectual nuts and bolts of finance. I had convinced myself that if I simply grew enough food, the money would magically sort itself out. In hindsight, this was a huge mistake! My ignorance cost me years of lost time and profit. And if it wasn’t for a few lucky breaks along the way, I might very well have lost the farm, too.

Farming Is a Business First

This leads us to our first rule as new farmers: Follow your farming dream, but first learn to run it like a successful business.

Bob Dylan once wrote, “You have to get up near the teacher if you want to learn anything.” Farming is no exception. Making a profit in agriculture is famously difficult, so a smart new farmer should seek out profitable farms, and glean the hard-won wisdom of an experienced producer.

Surprisingly, this important investment in your education doesn’t have to cost you a dime. How can this be? When it comes to farming, zero-dollar learning opportunities abound. They can occur in a dozen different ways, once you know how to find the right opportunity.

Farming internships. The most pragmatic way is through a farming internship, or better yet, via a multi-year apprenticeship. To be sure, these positions should offer more than just endless hours of farm work, or repetitive drudgery. They should give you access to the farmer as well, and offer transparency into how the business is run.

Ask the right questions. And ask lots of questions. How does the farmer market her products? How does she account for daily, monthly, and annual expenses? How much does she pay herself? Does the business make enough to replace the cost of her land investment? Most importantly, is she happy? These are the critical answers you’ll need to know for your own farm someday.

Take paid positions. And to be clear, this should always be a paid position — don’t settle for anything less. Think about it: Why would you want to work for a farmer who’s unable to (or chooses not to) pay his own workforce? From my experience, if someone relies on free labor to run their farm, it’s usually a red flag.

CRAFT. There are dozens of other opportunities to get up close to the farmer, costing little more than your time and some gas money. Most local Extension Services offer annual farm tours, and programs such as CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) provide amazing farm field trips for a nominal membership fee.

WWOOF. If you’re an adventure-seeker who’s willing to volunteer your time, WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) can offer a fascinating glimpse into some fairly exotic locations. And of course, you can always hire on as a farmhand on a successful farm, and learn under the tutelage of an experienced manager.

Every new farmer should be a dreamer at heart — it’s one of the most beautiful parts of farming. But to nurture your dreams, learn from a teacher who knows the ins and outs of the farming business, and has succeeded.

Next month: Rule #4, “Don’t Worry About What Other People Think”

Forrest Pritchard is a full-time farmer and New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, Start Your Farm, debuts September 2018, and is available for preorder here.

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

Using A Misting System


What Is A Misting System?

Most people invest in a misting system to cool off in hot weather. A misting system will decrease the temperature by up to 30 degrees through a fine water mist that cools as it sprays over you. Misting systems are popular at theme parks, community parks and other social events where people will be outdoors in the heat and need to cool down. Misting systems are reasonably priced for the individual home/land owner also. A pressurized system can be more costly and perhaps better suited for commercial users.. A home misting system takes water from a garden hose with normal domestic pressure and forces water through  ⅜” tubing and then out through the misting heads which further reduces the water to a mist where it disperses in the air. Misting systems can run as low as forty dollars or for the more sophisticated pressure systems several hundred dollars.

Other Uses

A few years ago we had a wildfire audit by a professional wildfire expert who noticed in other parts of the country he had encountered homes that survived wildfires by using a misting system to keep wooden exposed parts of homes damp. They are not a fail safe or quick fix system nor do they replace the conventional means of protecting structures like removing any combustible material a safe perimeter from the structure. They are a device that will dampen combustible exposed wood if conditions are right. Most wildfires are amplified by wind and wind will also blow mist way from its intended purpose so if a mist system is used the possibility of wind should be considered. The nozzles in the system we have are adjustable and allow for a fine mist or heavier mist.

Is A Misting System Practical? 

When the misting system was described to me I immediately saw the practicality of such a system but recognized it was just one tool in what needs to be a full arsenal in wildfire protection. Due to circumstances or application it may or may not work but I concluded that it was a reasonably priced tool that should be available if needed. I am told that a wildfire can send hot embers up to a mile ahead of the main fire. A misting system that is adjustable in volume and direction may help in such an  event as long distance embers. The system we selected can direct mist up or down and also the volume of water or mist emitted.

Other Benefits

A misting system once installed only needs minimal maintenance. The actual misting heads are easily removed so when the temperatures turn cold they can be removed and stored inside. Also a misting system does not drain a well of its content because it uses less water to operate. I have heard others say they will use their garden hose or a water sprinkler to fight a wildfire. While that may work it will exhaust the domestic well content much faster than a mist system. A mist system will run for days turning very little water into a mist, therefore using less water and providing longer protection. If left in place the mist heads need to be soaked in a lime dissolver like white vinegar if your well has any minerals in it before it is used each year. If using the water hose system the lines should  also be flushed out before use each year to eliminate debris in the lines or insects that may have made the lines their home. Since water - even mist - is heavier than air we installed our line 7’ from deck level to wet the house front and also the deck.


I have concluded that any tool respective of how effective is worth having if you live in a heavily wooded area remotely. We have a backup system wherein we keep two 55 gallon drums full of water with a hand pump on each if needed. I would not recommend a mist system as a primary deterrent to a wildfire but consider having one installed as an excellent supplement to assist in keeping embers from sparking new fires. It also can be used on very hot days to cool off in the refreshing mist. The photos included in this blog are photos taken by myself of our system.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle in their small cabin in a remote area where they live with their three German Shepherd Dogs go

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