Homesteading Urban Farming

How To Harvest & Wet Process Your Own Natural Clay

My soil contains an astounding amount of clay. As I dig new vegetable patches or perennial flower beds, it’s usually cause for much grumbling. But, lately, I’ve seen my clay-heavy soil in a new light. As it happens, harvesting and processing natural clay is actually pretty fun.

Whether you have your own kids—or you’re just a big kid yourself—you might want to give it a try. Just don’t expect to end up with a perfect set of dinner plates or other finished, food-grade wares.

My natural clay isn’t fancy, and I haven’t fired it in a proper kiln. It is, however, perfect for kneading, modeling and just playing around.

Unearthing Real Clay

The clay from my garden looks reddish-brown, but, depending on its origins, yours may range in color from a darker red to whitish-gray. You can find natural veins of clay along streams or riverbeds—or areas where these once existed.

If you have slow-draining, heavy soil, odds are you’ll find clay in your own backyard.

In my case, I only had to dig a foot or two down to find the motherlode. I could plainly see orangey striations of clay set into darker, more crumbly soil.

To make sure it was clay, I pinched off a chunk and rolled it into a ball. It held its shape well.

Next, I added a little bit of water and shaped it into a snake. Again, it behaved like clay should—remaining relatively smooth and pliable as I manipulated it. This is just what you’re after.

Read more: Rainy days got you down? Make all-natural mud paint!

Getting Started

To wet process clay, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • two clean, five-gallon buckets
  • a large stirring stick
  • an old window screen or screen material
  • old pillowcase and bit of rope (optional)
  • piece(s) of scrap wood

Think you’ve found a good vein of clay? Dig some out and place it in the bottom of one of your five-gallon buckets. Separate and remove any obvious rocks, sticks and similar debris as you go.

Now, fill the bucket with water and mix well. Initially, I used the stirring stick. Later, I used my hands to break up any thick clumps of clay. (This part is every bit as messy as it sounds, so wear old clothes!)

You should be left with a thick clay slurry.

Next, top the second five-gallon bucket with the window screen or screen material. Slowly and carefully pour the clay slurry through the screen and into the bucket. The screen should catch any small stones, twigs, or other impurities.

The Waiting Game

For the next couple of days, allow the bucket of strained clay slurry to sit undisturbed. (I topped mine with a loose-fitting cover to keep mosquitoes, falling leaves and any other debris out.) Eventually, you should notice the clay has fallen out of suspension.

That means you’ll see a layer of clear water floating on top.

Carefully pour off this clear water. Then, let the contents of the bucket settle and separate once again. Pour off more clear water, if you are able.

Finally, you can either wait for most of the remaining moisture to evaporate on its own or pour the contents of the bucket into an old pillowcase. If you go with the pillowcase, use a bit of rope to securely tie it shut.

Next, hang it somewhere warm and dry. In time, the excess liquid will drip off of the bottom of the pillowcase. You’ll be left with a thick, sticky mass of clay.

Read more: Make homemade clay planters for your herb garden.

Final Steps

To help evaporate a little more moisture out of the clay, I spread it out on a few long, flat pieces of scrap wood. I checked on it every few hours to make sure it wasn’t drying out too much.

As soon as the clay seemed workable, I gathered a few handfuls of the stuff and combined them into a ball. Then, I slowly shaped and kneaded it until its moisture content and consistency were just right.

Once you get your clay to this stage, you can store it in an airtight, plastic bag. (If it begins to dry out too much, add just a touch of water to make it workable again.)

Depending on your clay’s degree of purity, you might be able to successfully glaze and fire your own clay creations in a kiln. But finding a commercial kiln you can use on a temporary basis isn’t easy.

And if you do find one? You’d need to create and test fire some clay tile samples to determine your optimal glaze type and firing temperatures first.

Feeling extra-experimental? You could always try pit-firing your finished pieces instead.

Animals Poultry

How To Show Your Chicken At A Poultry Exhibition

On a brisk November day more than 170 years ago, hundreds of breeds of poultry were all gathered at the Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Carriages passed by on the streets, and electricity was in its infancy. A booming city that was a pillar in establishing the United States of America was also the home of the first identified poultry show. 

At least 10,000 people attended, and 1,423 birds were shown. Another show was held in 1860 drawing in even more people and nearly 12,000 birds. Commonly known breeds were grouped together, but lesser known breeds were exhibited indiscriminately.

There were so many people that judging the birds was difficult, and organizers decided not to judge the poultry. The poultry show ultimately failed in exhibition. But it certainly harbored the public’s interest.

Judging birds fell to the opinions of the persons established to judge. This led to confusion and tension among poultry enthusiasts. In 1867, a copy of the English Poultry Club Standards was printed, and modifications were made.

As judges proceeded with the Modified English Standard, judging became fairer. Poultry fanciers increased in number. 

Seeing a need for a governing body, in 1873, William Churchman of Delaware helped to establish a committee, and the American Poultry Association was born. One of the first things that the APA accomplished after being organized was establish an American Standard of Excellence. This blended attributes from the English Poultry Club Standards and characteristics from the birds available in the U.S. 

The Standard of Excellence was later changed to the Standard of Perfection (SOP). These standards then became what judges based their pointing systems off of and what poultry fanciers strived for with strenuous breeding practices. 

Read more: Show off local chicken coops with a “tour de coop!”

Finding a Beauty

While the SOP still exists, it has been revised numerous times to reflect changes in breeds over time. The most recent SOP is currently in its 44th version.

The very first thing you need as an exhibitor is a copy of the most recent standard. This will let you know all the characteristics the judges look for when judging your bird and eligible breeds accepted by the APA. 

If you already have the poultry you wish to show at the exhibition, compare it to them. If you don’t have your beginning stock yet, look for birds that match the SOP as closely as possible. You can start with chicks, but look at what confirmation and body type both of their parents had. 

Finding a breeder who is already established with the APA and is an active exhibitor is good practice. I have learned so much just by buying stock from APA members. Usually, they happily pass on their knowledge to you regarding the breed they are selling. 

The age of the fowl you plan on showing will also play a role. Poultry under a year old are in a different exhibition category than those over a year old.

A female younger than one year is referred to as a pullet, and a male is referred to as a cockerel. Hens and cocks are birds older than one year are judged differently from younger birds. 

chicken show shows
Paul Wishart/Shutterstock

Getting Ready

Whether you begin with grown hens and roosters or chicks, get your birds used to handling. Judges have to handle each bird. Having a calm bird during this time helps the judges see the bird’s conformation and attributes easily. 

Also work with your birds so they feel comfortable being in a small place for a period of time. This is referred to as coop training.

Birds who have no experience with this are more prone to causing a large disturbance the first time they are in one. Your birds need to be calm and know that they won’t be hurt because they’re in a small area.

You can easily do this with a travel cage or a small to medium dog kennel. 

Seek out Shows

Once you believe that you and your flock are ready, start looking for shows. Join local poultry clubs, look online and check out the APA’s website to find an exhibition. There are also youth shows available.

Most times, agricultural fairs will also have a club hosting a show. Each poultry exhibition may have a different way to register. 

Check your SOP to see what category and/or variety your bird is included in. Do you have a bantam or large fowl? What color is your fowl? These are just two out of very many questions that you will answer on your entry form for the show. 

Practicing good biosecurity will also help expedite your way into the show. Some shows will have a veterinarian on site to test your bird for certain transmissible diseases, but others won’t. You will have to show that your bird has been tested and is in good health within a certain amount of time before the poultry exhibition.

When the organization that’s hosting the show announces the poultry exhibition, many times they’ll have other articles of information that will relay all of this information to you.

Read more: Not sure what birds to pick for your farm? We can help!

It’s Show Time

The first day of the show may or may not be open to the public. It may be just a drop-off day. When you first arrive, you’ll most likely need to go to a check-in desk. The organization will already have assigned you a pen area where you can drop off your bird(s). 

Arrive early to the poultry exhibition. Almost all shows that span over one day provide the bedding, water and feed while you’re at the show. Some shows also have representatives to ensure the food and water cups stay full.

A one-day show may not offer this. With waterfowl, they may or may not be provided a large container of water but a small cup. Take a larger container with you just in case. 

The day of the poultry exhibition, I carry a small bag full of items to touch up my birds before a judge comes through. I keep petroleum jelly for their legs, wattles and combs. Cotton swabs and water are handy for nails and earlobes if they get dusty while penned. I also clean their nostrils with a cotton swab before they are judged. 

A clean cloth and a toothbrush are useful if birds get their legs dirty. For fancy breeds such as the Silky, a toothbrush can help brush out any shavings or debris they get in their feathers. Some exhibitors use silk cloths to add sheen to their birds feathering.

You can also use baby oil in place of petroleum jelly. 

Once your birds are all set up and comfortable, explore! Many shows have vendors and educational booths available. With your first show, nerves will be on edge, but try and enjoy it.

Make some contacts, talk to club representatives and volunteer. 

Don’t miss your birds being judged. Watching your bird being judged is a great way to learn. If you can catch the judge afterward, ask him or her how they think you could improve. 

chicken show shows

Everyone’s a Winner

After your bird is judged, the pen they are in will have a card on it. You may see some abbreviations on it. Besides the variety and breed of your bird, these abbreviations could be for the club.

But they also set the space for awards. 

Just a few of the abbreviations are:

  • BB (Best of Breed)
  • BV (Best of Variety)
  • RB (Reserve of Breed, aka 2nd place)
  • RV (Reserve of Variety)
  • DQ (Disqualified)
  • Cham. (Champion)
  • Res. (Reserve, aka runner up) 

After the show is over, you’ll see these abbreviations on your coop card. If the show has a ceremony, stick around to claim your awards. 

Even after the show is over, you need to take some precautions. When you get home, inspect your bird. Ensure that they don’t have external parasites present. You’ll also need to quarantine your bird for 14 days after the show.

Watch for any signs of illness before you return them to their regular pen. While birds are tested, shows don’t test for all illnesses, and maintaining biosecurity is important.

With that, all that is left is a hearty congratulations!  

Sidebar: Rub-a-dub-dub

About three to seven days before your show, you’ll need to wash your bird(s). This will help bring out their true feather colors and make them nice and neat for judging.

The first time you bathe your fowl, be patient. After their first few, most birds come to enjoy it. (Or they’ll tolerate it, at least.) 

You’ll need to shampoo, rinse and allow them to dry. I have known some exhibitors to blow-dry their birds to speed that process up and give extra volume to the feather base. Other exhibitors just let their bird air-dry. 

After they are dry, your bird will preen and restore its feathers to their natural shape. You can also add a little petroleum jelly to their wattles, combs and legs afterward.

This will help those areas shine and not look so dry when they are judged. 

Keep them separated from the flock and in a very clean cage from this point until your show. With waterfowl, letting them bathe in clean water will suffice.

I often get the question about shampoos. Some exhibitors use Natural Enzymes chicken shampoo, others use Johnson’s baby soap (I don’t recommend this). I, personally, use Messy Mildred’s chicken shampoo.

Sidebar: COVID-19 Impacts 

The pandemic shut down many poultry shows. Some do remain standing, with mask mandates and social-distancing precautions. COVID-19 hasn’t, however, negatively impacted poultry enthusiasm. If anything, it has driven poultry enthusiasm to a new record high.

Once the shows open back up, many new members will be joining the world of poultry exhibition. And to that I say, “Welcome!”

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.


How To Help Chickens Deal With Heat Stress On Hot Days

North America has experienced an onslaught of extreme weather these past few months. From torrential rain causing severe floods to record highs causing shellfish to be cooked alive on Pacific-coast seashores, Mother Nature has hammered at us almost nonstop. Most of us humans have the option to retreat to the comfort of an air-conditioned, dehumidified home. But our chickens aren’t as lucky when it comes to heat.

Sunny’s Bad Day

Case in point: my friend Kara contacted me last week, asking for help. One of her neighbors, a friend who had started his backyard flock earlier this year, has a hen, Sunny, who was acting sick. Of course I bombarded her with questions to pass along:

  • Was Sunny isolated from the rest of her flock?
  • Did anyone else exhibit symptoms?
  • Was she eating/drinking/pooping/laying normally?
  • Was there discharge from her nostrils?
  • What did her throat look like?
  • What behaviors was Sunny exhibiting?

From the answers: yes, isolated; no other chicken was ill; no discharge; throat clear; not laying; just sitting alone, ruffled, droopy, not really eating/pooping/laying, and actively gasping.

After a quick check at the forecast in Kara’s part of the country, I concluded that poor Sunny was suffering from heat stress. That’s the chicken equivalent of heat exhaustion.

Mind you, I’m not a veterinarian. But I have raised chickens for a long time and have seen for myself what happens during the often sweltering Michigan summers.

Heat stress occurs when extreme heat and humidity make it almost impossible for chickens to regulate their core body temperature. If left untreated, it can result in death. If your chickens exhibit symptoms of heat stress, consider taking the following four steps.

Read more: Here are some more tips for keeping chickens cool in the summer heat.

Isolate the Symptomatic

Many chicken illnesses manifest the same symptoms:

  • droopiness
  • fluffed-out feathers
  • listlessness

For the sake of the rest of your flock as well as for your ailing bird, isolate your sick chick. Use a kennel, a hard-sided animal carrier, a chicken tractor, even a large cardboard box inside a cool area of a barn or garage and give her plenty of clean shaving to nestle down in.

To encourage rest and to buffer her from disruptive sights and sounds, drape her temporary quarters with a large towel or sheet. In the evening, when it’s cooler, offer her a small bowl of layer crumbles or a warm mash, which will be easier to eat than pellets.

If you have an old stuffed animal — not a scary one! — put that in to keep her company.

Offer Electrolytes

Provide your bird with cool, fresh water mixed with poultry-specific electrolytes. These are available at your local farm-supply store or through online sites such as Amazon. Follow the instructions carefully to offer the correct dosage for the amount of water.

Electrolytes replenish essential minerals such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus and magnesium, which chickens lose when suffering from heat stress. Continue offering her electrolytes for several days.

To be safe, offer the rest of your flock cool, fresh electrolytes on—or right before—days of extreme heat and humidity to help protect them from heat stress.

Increase Ventilation

Being out of the heat will make a big difference in your ailing chicken’s condition. Should she not show any signs of improvement after 24 hours, check the air temperature and humidity inside the building temporarily providing her shelter.

You may need to open windows to create air flow and add fans to get the air circulating. Evaluate the air flow in your chicken coop, too. You may need to add more ventilation to help dissipate the heat and humidity inside the henhouse.

Read more: Help your chickens avoid stress to keep them happy and healthy.

Add Additional Shade

Take a long, hard look at your chickens’ run … and at your yard, should you free range. Are there any shady spots in which your birds can seek relief from the sun? An easy way to add shade to a run is by planting shrubs or trees within or outside the enclosure.

A weighted table—one that won’t blow over on a windy day—is another alternative.

Several of our chickens escape the heat by snoozing under the table in their run, which doubles as a shelter for their feed. Shade can also be created by securely attaching a small tarp or wooden panel to the run’s fencing.

Just make sure you are not interrupting the flow of air when you install these.

Kara reported back a few days later that my “prescription” worked and that Sunny is back to her old self and back with her flock, which was great news! We’re not even halfway through summer, however, so I hope Kara’s friend —and all of us chicken owners — will be prepared for more weather extremes to come.

Animals Equipment Poultry

Electric Fencing Can Protect & Contain Your Chickens

Whether you keep chickens in the city or the country, your primary role as chicken caretaker is to keep your flock safe. This (sometimes difficult) task often means keeping them out of trouble and protecting them from predators. Though there are myriad predator protection methods, one of the most popular methods involves using electric fencing to protect chickens. 

For an electric fence to function properly, the solar charger (or “energizer”) must provide voltage that is powerful enough for the shock to jump from the charged wire to the animal’s skin. The shock travels from the energizer, down the fence wire, through the body of the animal, into the ground through the animal’s feet (or hooves), to the grounding rod and back to the energizer. This completes the circuit and shocks the animal, causing its muscles to contract. 

How the animal receives the shock depends on three things:

  • animal’s bodyweight
  • amount of the shock
  • length of time it lasts 

Electric Advantages 

The exact predators your flock faces depends on your geographic location. But, regardless, electric fencing is a popular predator deterrent, and it also helps contain chickens.

These fences can be plugged into an electric outlet to receive their charge. Or you can hook one to a solar charger, commonly used when chicken coops and runs are far from a building or electric box. 

An added perk: Electric fencing is generally simple to set up as well as to move, should you wish to rotate your chickens around the farm or yard. Additionally, the cost of a movable electric fence is significantly less than more permanent fencing options. 

There are three primary types of electric fencing that can be used with chickens:

Single Strand

Single strand is typically strung about 5 inches off the ground; this type of fencing is generally good predator deterrent 

Double Strand

Double Strand is generally placed and 5 and 10 inches off the ground; this type of fencing is generally good for both deterring predators and keeping chickens in one specific area


Netting, also called poultry fencing, is flexible and easy to install with multiple strands of electrified wire. This type of fencing is helpful for many types of predators (it’s more visibly substantial) as well as for keeping wandering chickens contained.

chicken electric fencing fence
Sarah E. Coleman

What You’ll Need

Once you’ve decided on the type of electric fencing you’ll use to protect your chickens, you can begin gathering your materials. You will need: 

  • Fence, either wire, tape or netting that is long enough to enclose the area you wish to use
  • Solar charger with enough strength to electrify the length of fence you’re using. The batteries on a solar charger must be completely charged before the charger is asked to power the fence, and it must be in the off position while charging. Be aware that obtaining a full charge can take up to three days; check the model’s manual for details. 
  • Metal or wooden posts (even when using netting with built-in step-ins, a few posts may be necessary)
  • Grounding rods (typically between two and three), which are often made of galvanized steel and should be at least 4-feet long. No matter what material you use, that the same material should be used for the ground rods, wire and clamps
  • Grounding wire, properly insulated for the amount of electricity you will be using
  • Grounding clamp
  • Connectors if using electric wire or tape
  • Sledgehammer, posthole digger or T-post pounder
  • Voltmeter

Read more: Here are 10 tools you need when installing or repairing an electric fence.


Solar chargers utilize a panel to collect and convert sunlight to energy, which is stored in a battery. The battery supplies the current to the charger. A wire connects to the fence wire and to the grounding rods, allowing one pulse of electric current per second to travel down the fence.

An electric fence doesn’t need to hook back to itself to work effectively.

To begin, clear the area.

Before installing the fence, it can be helpful to mow a path or drive around the perimeter of where the fence will go. This can help ensure that lines are straight and that no vegetation will touch the wire or netting, which can affect its ability to provide a shock.

Determine the best location for the solar charger.

A crucial part of fence installation is ensuring that the solar charger is placed in an area that is not completely covered in shade; the solar panel should face the sun when it is directly overheard. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is due south. 

Lay out the fence posts and fencing near the track.

For poultry netting, this will mean untying the ties that hold the roll together. Then you’ll unclip the metal clips to release the roll.

Install end and gate posts using a sledgehammer, posthole digger or T-post pounder.

If you’re using tape or wire, install corner posts as well. These can be metal stakes or heavier-duty, wooden posts depending on how permanent the fencing is meant to be; if the fencing is permanent, using wooden posts that are at least 6 inches in diameter and placing them at least 3 to 4 feet in the ground will help them endure the added stress in these locations. Additional bracing may be necessary. 

Corner posts may also be necessary with poultry netting to prevent it from sagging as it turns the corner. You can tie netting step-ins to these stronger posts with any nonconducting material. If you’re planning on using wooden or metal posts, ensure there is at least 2 inches of space between the netting and the post so the fence can remain electrified. 

No matter which type of fence you choose, if you’re using any permanent posts, it’s imperative you contact utility companies to have the lines marked before any fencing begins. 

Put up the fence posts if using tape or wire.

Posts are generally spaced about 12 feet apart. But they may need to be closer together if the terrain is especially undulating. 

Mount tensioners and insulators for wire and tape on the wood or metal posts.

Installation instructions will vary by brand. If you choose to use more than one strand of tape or wire, start at the top. Work your way down the posts so the wire or tape doesn’t get in your way. 

String the wire or tape as tightly as possible.

Multiple tools are available to help tighten both electric wire and tape. If you’re using poultry netting, simply stand it upright and use the step-ins to install it. If you need multiple sections of fence, simply tie the ends together with the provided ties (connect the electric components later).

It’s important to keep the tape, wire or netting from sagging—especially important if there is vegetation in contact with the fence as well. This can affect the amount of electrical output the fencing can produce and potentially endanger your chickens.

Mount the fence charger.

Mount the charger on on a wooden post or wall by placing a screw or nail through the hanger hole. The charger should still be in the off position.

chicken electric fencing fence
Sarah E. Coleman
Install the grounding rods.

The majority of electric fences need between two and three grounding rods, which act as a large antenna. One rod should be placed within 20 feet of the fence charger. All the rods should be 10 feet apart from each other.

You can install these rods with a sledgehammer or T-post driver. Place them as deeply in the ground as possible, with just a few inches sticking out of the soil on which to clamp the wire. 

Hint: Placing the grounding rod at a 45-degree angle is easier than installing it straight up and down if you have rocky soil. Additionally, if the ground is hard and dry, pouring water on the area where you will install the rod can ease installation. Ground rods should not be installed near telephone lines, water lines or utility grounding rods as each of these can pick up stray voltage. 

Connect the grounding rods.

Connect them to each other (but not to the fence) using wire and clamps rated for electrical fence use. Most solar fence chargers include wiring harnesses that include this wire. 

Attach the negative wire (black) to the end grounding rod closest to the charger and the positive post of the fence charger. Attach the positive wire (red) from the fence charger to the fence.  

If you’re using poultry netting, you’ll attach the lead wire from the fence terminal of the energizer to the top clip where the netting begins. Attach the ground wire from the ground terminal of the energizer to the grounding rod.  

Connect two rolls of netting together, if using more than one roll.

Always connect the top clip to the top clip and the second clip to the second clip. These will easily clip together. At the end of the netting, attach the clips back to their respective wires (positive clip to positive wire and negative clip to negative wire). Don’t let them simply hang.  

Turn the fence charger to the on position.

Read more: Take your chickens off the grid with a solar-powered coop!

Test the fence

To test that the fence is working, select the DC current setting on your voltmeter. Attach the black lead to the grounding rod and the red lead to the electrified portion of the fence. (Note that the specific pieces of fence that are electrified may differ depending on the brand of fence.) 

Voltage on a newly installed fence should exceed 3,000 volts. It should never drop below 2,000 volts, or the fence may not keep predators at bay.

It’s important to regularly check fence lines to ensure that no tall grasses or objects come into contact with the fence, which can markedly decrease its shock value or even short out the fence entirely.

Each spring, it can be helpful to turn the fence off and take apart the ground rod connections and scrub them with a wire brush to remove corrosion. Corrosive buildup can also reduce the ability of your electric fencing to conduct a charge and leave your chickens vulnerable to attack. 

Sidebar: Choosing Fence Energizer Size

Most electric fence energizers are measured in joules generated. A joule is the international term for a unit of energy (similar to the kilowatt-hour).

A joule equals 1 watt per second, not 1 watt per hour. So the smaller number on fence chargers should not be a turnoff. A solar charger that produces 2 joules of energy can electrify many miles of fence. This shock will prevent predators from visiting your fields. 

Remember that the number of joules a company says its energizer creates comes from ideal laboratory conditions, not out in a field surrounded by animals and objects. Check the voltage a fence produces regularly to ensure your flock stays safe.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.

Equipment Farm & Garden

Why Your Farm Needs A Rain Gauge (& Where To Install It)

Did you know a rain gauge is one of the simplest and most practical tools a farmer can have?

A rain gauge is exactly what its name suggests—an instrument used to gauge rainfall. While rain gauges come in many different sizes (and even designs), the simplest rain gauge is a glass or plastic tube adorned with the marks of a ruler to indicate just how much rain has fallen.

If, after a heavy rainstorm, the gauge contains 1 inch of water, you know the area your farm is in received 1 inch of rain. Generally speaking, the wider the diameter of the rain gauge, the more accurate the results.

Read more: Catch that rain with an IBC tote instead of a barrel.

Why Does My Farm Need a Rain Gauge?

You might wonder why you need a rain gauge when online weather services can tell you how much rain falls during any given rainstorm.

The problem is, online services aren’t as area-specific as your own rain gauge. Precipitation amounts can vary widely across relatively small regions. So the amount of rainfall your town or city officially records might not match the amount your farm receives.

Measuring rainfall is important for a farm growing thirsty gardens, orchards, etc. So having your own rain gauge is a good way to measure super-localized precipitation and determine when (and how much) you need to water your plants.

And the most inexpensive rain gauges can be purchased for a few dollars. So there’s really no reason not to have one on hand.

Location, Location, Location

But using a rain gauge isn’t as simple as sticking it on the side of a building and waiting for rainfall to accumulate. Installing a rain gauge requires placing some careful thought into finding the right location. Otherwise, you risk receiving inaccurate results.

The main consideration is to find an open area far away from large objects. So, installing a rain gauge on the side of your barn is out.

Such objects can influence how much rain reaches your gauge. A widely used rule of thumb instructs that the distance between a rain gauge and a large object should be twice the height of the object. If your barn is 30 feet tall, the rain gauge should be installed at least 60 feet away.

On the other hand, rain gauges provide the most accurate measurements when they’re protected from heavy winds. Installing one in the middle of a 20-acre field isn’t the best choice either.

The most ideal location is a clearing protected on all sides by wind-breaking obstacles. If your barnyard is surrounded by windbreak trees, that might be the perfect choice. You just need to find a spot far enough away from each building and tree.

Read more: Planting trees? Check your soil drainage first.

Easy Installation

Once you’ve found the right location on your farm for a rain gauge, installing it is a breeze. While some simple rain gauges are designed to be inserted directly into the ground, you’ll get better results by installing a post in the ground to hold the rain gauge.

This will ensure the gauge stays level (important for accurate measurements) while also elevating the rain gauge above the ground. For best results, the top of the rain gauge should sit several feet above ground level.

For a hobby farmer hoping to gauge local rainfall, achieving accuracy to the 100th of an inch isn’t necessary. Don’t be too concerned if you can’t find an absolutely perfect location.

Just do your best, enjoy the results … and remember to empty the gauge after each rainfall!

Food Recipes

Recipe: Korean-Style Savory Scallion Pancake

Dense, tender and rich with egg, this savory scallion pancake with a sweet soy dipping sauce is a modified version of a traditional Korean-style pancake. Serve it as a snack or appetizer to be shared around the table.

The firm wedges are filled with softened pieces of scallion, and it pairs well with a slightly sweetened soy sauce for dipping. 

Servings: 6


Sweet soy dipping sauce
  • 1⁄2 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Scallion pancake
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 1⁄2 tablespoons cooking oil, such as peanut oil
  • 6 scallions, sliced lengthwise & cut into 1-inch pieces

Read more: Check out more delicious Hobby Farms recipes here!


Stir together all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a serving bowl to cool. 

Place the flour in a medium mixing bowl. Pour in the eggs and stir well. It will be thick and lumpy. Add the garlic, salt, and crushed pepper. Pour in the water about a 1/4 cup at a time, and stir well to create a thick batter. 

Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into an 11-inch skillet. Heat over medium-high for about 90 seconds. Drop a tiny bit of batter in the oil. If it sizzles, it’s ready. 

Pour in half of the batter. Sprinkle the top with half of the scallions, distributing them evenly on the surface. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the edges become browned. 

Carefully flip the pancake. Cook for 3 to 4 more minutes, until both sides are golden brown and the pancake is firm in the center. 

Transfer to a plate covered in a paper towel and pat the top with another paper towel to absorb any excess oil. 

Return the skillet to the heat. Add the remaining 1⁄2 tablespoon of oil and repeat the process with the rest of the batter. 

Cut each scallion pancake into 6 wedges. Serve warm with the dipping sauce on the side. 

Animals Large Animals

On A Small Farm Homestead, The Pig Can Be Invaluable

Let’s hear it for the small farm! Big farms and big equipment may enjoy certain advantages when it comes to mechanical efficiency. But for productivity, beauty, health and enjoyment, the family-scale farms have it. 

Even in the area of true efficiency, tiny farms excel in making every detail count. Like the old saying goes, ‘Waste not, want not’!

The Pig Is Essential

Which is why every small farm and homestead needs a pig! For thousands of years, pigs have been one of humanity’s traditional partners in turning soil and sunlight into a healthy, stable, resilient food system. 

As omnivores, they will eat almost anything and turn it into solid flesh and valuable compost. Pigs are four-legged food storage units, happy to eat whatever we have to give them, in whatever quantities. And they are ready for harvest in less than a year! 

The pig is truly necessary homestead livestock.

So why is it that so many of the instructional books, pamphlets, bulletins and videos on raising hogs tell us homesteaders to raise our hogs just like commercial hogs, only on a smaller scale? 

Confinement, commercially compounded hog pellets, farrowing crates, lots of pharmaceuticals—these may be best protocols in large-scale pig production. But the small farm can aspire to better things.  

Read more: Pigs will eat just about anything—but be careful what scraps you toss them.

They Eat What the Farm Produces

In our own journey, from city-dwellers to independent homesteaders, we’ve asked a lot of questions about traditional small-farm pig management, including: 

  • What was the traditional role of pigs on the farm? 
  • What did they eat? 
  • How were they managed? 

Finding answers hasn’t always been easy. This valuable knowledge has almost been lost in the last 70 years, with the commercialization of farming and loss of small family farms.

Traditionally, of course, pigs ate what the farm produced. Feed stores are a modern invention. 

It’s true that pigs can get along fine on a small ‘maintenance’ ration. But when there’s plenty of surplus to eat, they’ll just, well … pig out! 

On the diverse homestead this can mean:

  • garden surplus
  • canning and other food processing wastes
  • cull vegetables
  • dairy surplus
  • grass, weeds and hay

With good planning, at certain times of the year a homestead pig can harvest food for himself. In autumn he can be turned into the woodlot to forage wild edibles like acorns and nuts. Pigs used to be a common site in the homestead orchard, where they cleaned up windfall fruits, ate grubs and stirred soil for better aeration and percolation. 

And they can forage in the garden after the main harvest, rooting out perennial weeds and gleaning overlooked vegetables. On many homesteads it’s possible to feed your pig entirely from what your homestead has to offer.

Pigs as Farm Workers

Pigs are more than walking appetites. What about using pigs as earth-movers and compost builders? 

In the commercial farm setting, pigs are just bacon and sausage. But the homesteader can take advantage of the whole animal. Pigs’ stout noses and instinct for digging means they can plow up a new garden site. Or let them turn and aerate the compost pile.  

There’s a lot of muscle in that porker. And on the small farm or homestead, you can put it to work.

When it’s time to harvest our four-legged food storage, if we butcher at home we can use every part of the pig – like the old-timers used to say, ‘everything but the squeal’! 

Read more: Plan ahead so you can maximize your land for pasture-raised pigs.

Pigs Provide Farm-Raised Meat

You can butcher a pig without specialty tools, using simple, hand-powered grinders and slicers, and only the weather for refrigeration. And some ambitious homesteaders now build walk-in coolers their small farms, allowing butchering whenever it suits them, in any season. 

Taking responsibility for our own animal slaughter puts the power back with the small farmer and homesteader, where it belongs. No more wondering about the quality or availability of commercial meat. It’s time we brought our bacon-raising back to the farm.

We can take these valuable animals into partnership once again.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents raised pigs long before there were feed stores and confinement houses. And even if they didn’t leave us an instruction book, we can still figure out how they did it. 

On our farm, the Sow’s Ear, we’ve spent over a decade researching these and related questions in old farm manuals and diaries. Even more importantly, we have the pig himself, sus scrofa domesticus, to show us what are his likes and dislikes. 

Let’s put the pig back in his rightful place on the small family farm. Nature—and our animals—wait patiently to share their knowledge with us.

Equipment Farm & Garden

DIY Rain Barrel & Drip Line Irrigation System (Video)

The first step to building a small-scale irrigation system is choosing the right-sized rain barrel. The most common household rain barrel is made from a 50-gallon drum. These can be purchased, pre-made, from a number of places.

Connect with your local garden clubs, nature conservancies and other similar organizations to inquire about where to purchase a rain barrel in your area. 

You can also easily build you own from a repurposed 50-gallon barrel. But many situations may require a larger capacity catchment system for their water needs.

At Small House Farm, we use a 250-gallon IBC storage tote. Although this sized container will still fill with water rather quickly, it’s certainly more practical for our needs than a smaller, household-style rain barrel. 

Read more: Use an IBC to collect more rainwater than you can with barrels.

Location Matters (& the Higher, the Better)

Once you have chosen your receptacle, you’ll need to decide where to place the barrel and where to run your gutters. The water pressure of a rain barrel is provided by gravity. So the container will need to be placed up off the ground.

Build a support system with cinder blocks, which will be able to support the weight of a full container. Remember, a barrel full of water is very heavy!

With your gutter in place, and the downspout run into the top of your container, you’ll be all set to capture the rainwater to store for later use.

Read more: Check out this easy method of unwinding an irrigation line—without kinking the hose.

Setting up a Drip Line

Next, you’ll need to set up your drip line. You can certainly purchase soaker hose or drip line from a garden supply center.

But you may also consider making your own from old hoses. Simply lay the hose out along your garden row, then drill holes along the hose wherever the plants are located. 

If you’re using a hose bib attachment of a 50-gallon rain barrel, just connect the hose and you’re ready to go. A larger IBC tote will require an adapter piece in order to attach the hose to the drain valve. But these can easily be found at a hardware store or online. 

Once you have your system in place, you should mulch around your plants and over the drip line hose. This will help to reduce evaporation and retain soil moisture, which is very important during the hot summer weather. 

And it’s just that easy! With a little bit of old gutter, a rain barrel and some repurposed garden hose, you can build an awesome drip line irrigation system for your garden or hobby farm. Check out the video above for step-by-step instructions. 


Episode 10: Garth Kahl

What’s it like to go from knowing nothing about farming to traveling around the world as a consultant to farmers? In this episode, organic farmer and farm consultant Garth Kahl tells us how that path unfolded in his life, how he came to love working with livestock and why he still believes the USDA organic label is the best baseline standard for responsible farm production. Learn how to help get your organic inspection and other vital farm projects paid for with FSA and NRCS funds! Get Garth’s best advice for bringing cattle to your farm or homestead—hint: they’re easier than goats. And hear about why intensive rotational grazing is vital to the health of his Western Oregon farm, in ways that you may not have previously considered.

Garth and show host Lisa Munniksma also talk about water rights in the western US; Garth’s favorite farm meal, which involves growing hundreds of row feet of basil; and how to balance the demands of farming with an off-farm job that involves travel.

Independent Organic Services

Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden

How To Prepare Your Farm For Climate Change

Although climate change means hard days ahead for many industries, it can feel especially unfair to those trying to run a farm. Learning the ins and outs of your local weather patterns is already hard enough for farmers. A lifetime’s work, really. 

And now climate change is coming along to mess it all up. (Though, to be fair, agriculture also contributes substantially to climate change. But, that’s a topic for a different article.)

So, what does climate change mean for the average small-scale farmer or homesteader? And what can you do now to start preparing your farm? Here are some suggestions for how to think about what climate change might mean for you and your farm.

Plan Ahead

As with any problem, preparedness begins by knowing what you’re up against. The impacts of climate change will be different across the country, so research what future weather patterns will look like in your area. 

There are many climate change models out there, but the EPA’s Climate Resilience, Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) is one of the most intuitive. The tool allows you to look at different emissions scenarios and their impacts on things like extreme heat, precipitation and storms.

Once you have a sense of what the impacts are expected to be, start to plan for how you’ll adjust to them.

Is severe rainfall and flooding going to become more common? Maybe now’s the time to start thinking about how to improve drainage around your fields. 

Are droughts predicted to become more frequent? There’s no time like the present to start researching irrigation options. 

Read more: Keep these livestock considerations in mind when drought hits your area.

Work Collaboratively

Beyond developing your own ideas for how to adapt your farm, working collaboratively with other local growers can help to generate more ideas.

Maybe your local growers association is hosting a panel discussion or series of talks on the subject. If not, suggest that they put on one. Since the impacts of climate change are localized, the solutions will be as well.  

Check for Funding

In many cases, adapting to changing weather patterns will require new infrastructure. And infrastructure is never cheap. 

You might, for instance, need to run electricity to a high tunnel so that you can ventilate it during a heat wave. Or, maybe you’ll need to build hoophouses to protect more of your crops from severe weather events.

There are a variety of sources that will fund climate adaptation for farmers. Some states have programs to fund agricultural adaptations, and a variety of private foundations offer funding as well. Research what’s available in your area.

Read more: FSA loans aren’t just for big farms. Learn how funding can help you, too.

Begin to Experiment

With weather patterns already changing, one of the best ways to start adapting your farm is by experimenting with different ideas. Try to find crops or varieties that will be better adapted to your new growing conditions. Or, maybe you have some ideas about how to keep portions of your fields cool during the height of the heat (like planting hedgerows or installing overhead irrigation).

As you begin to experiment, take it slow and make sure not to overcommit. Grow modest amounts of new varieties to test their viability, and set aside small plots to experiment with new techniques. 

Remember, experimenting now allows you to lower the stakes.

Climate change is already posing challenges for growers across the country. And with more changes expected, now’s the time to take adaptation seriously on your farm.