Economics of Animal Husbandry for the Small Farm

Small farms can be profitable in today's economy.Cattle need a year between birth and slaughter, much more time than poultry and rabbits.  Cattle consume much more food.  Pigs, goats and sheep fall in the middle for cost of feeding them out.  Farm animals can be produced in such a way to make it worth the time and expense of raising them.

Poultry

Selling duck eggs for $5.00 each, three dozen eggs will pay for a fifty pound bag of feed, which will feed the small flock of about 20 birds for over two weeks. The remaining duck eggs are free food and any that you incubate and feed out to butcher are almost free food. Since some breeds of ducks lay more eggs than chickens, they are quite profitable to keep.

Chicken eggs sell from $2.50 to $3.00 per dozen.  Hatching chickens from your own flock provides the same results as the ducks in terms of nearly free meat and eggs.  With the lower price for chicken eggs, you will have to sell more dozens to pay for the feed.

Guinea birds get bigger than chickens but their eggs are only about the size of a golf balls.  They are great tasting eggs,  but it takes more of them to make a meal.  Most people in this region who keep them don’t keep them for meat purposes.  They keep just a few as guard birds.  But, for those who do eat guinea, they enjoy them.

Pork

If you breed pigs and butcher the piglets while still young they make a good supply of tender meat and at a very good price.  Each litter will have 10 to 12 piglets per litter, twice a year.  One half grown piglet will make many meals.  Twenty-four piglets will provide protein for your family and those you don’t need can be sold.  The parts of the animal you do not want to eat can be used for dog food.  Pig ears are a treat no dog can avoid.

Cost of Food

Pound for pound, animal food is cheaper than human food. The problem comes when trying to feed out feeder cattle or feeder hogs.  Since small farmers can’t buy the feed as cheaply as Tyson and Omaha Beef the cost per pound of large animals is higher than larger producers.  That is if you are buying feed.

Many people begin comparing the price of beef in the grocery store with the cost of small farm meat production.  The problem with making those comparisons is that the meat in the grocery store is only the best cuts of meat and burger.  Rarely do you find ox tail, tallow and beef brains.  The same is true for pork.  The only lard to buy is loaded with preservatives and sold in a box on the shelf rather than refrigerated.

Why would you want tallow and lard?  Rendering them provides a beautiful fat for cooking, using as fuel, and for soap making just to name a few.  The point is that when you butcher your own animals you are able to keep the parts that would normally be sold to packaged food producers.  The bones for making broth.  Brains, liver, heart and tongue for making sausages.  The list goes on and on.

Efficient Use of Livestock

Every product you gain from your animals drives down the price per pound of food.  Don’t forget, if you have a milk cow your cow will not only provide milk for its offspring, but also will provide you with milk, cream, butter, ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, and soft cheeses. If you are adventurous, you can learn to make your own hard cheeses too. The clabber, whey and excess milk from your cows (sheep and goats) will be good food for your other animals.

Further, you can add a few extra seeds to your garden to grow animal feed.  Consider growing beets, parsnips, peas, pumpkins, and corn for cattle.  Have an orchard?  Cows will enjoy eating the produce as much as you.  Do a little research to find out which produce you grow that will also serve to feed your livestock.  Be sure to avoid onions, rhubarb, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and night shade family produce and pine needles.  Not only will they eat almost any produce, they will provide plenty of manure for your gardens and can be sold for a profit.

When you consider that other livestock provides as much in terms of food and other products, it becomes clear that the efficient small farmer can reduce his grocery bill to nearly nothing while not spending large amounts of money to feed the livestock.

The success of your operation will depend on the available land, amount of time you invest in your operation, and your production choices. Think outside “conventional” farming feeds and methods.  Good planning and education about how to raise and butcher various farm animals will make them profitable to keep.

Dog on the Run

This dog has no collar and has dug a trench in this man's yard.  It costs him time, money and effort to fix it.  Irresponsible dog owners remove collars to prevent dogs from being identified.
This dog has a collar and has dug a trench in this man’s yard. It costs him time, money and effort to fix it. Many irresponsible dog owners remove collars to prevent them from being identified as the dog’s owner.

Farmers have an issue in common with small towns and large cities.  Stray dogs running lose without proper supervision by their owners.  In communities and countrysides all over the world people have come to blows with neighbors over stray dogs.  This has been a problem as long as dogs have been domesticated.

As you read this article, bear in mind that not only do we have livestock, we have three dogs and two cats.  We love our pets.  But they are required to remain on property at all times and under our supervision at all times.

Dog owners who allow them to run loose are responsible for the actions of their dogs just the same as they are responsible for their children and in the same way employers are responsible for their employees.  Unfortunately, many dog owners don’t care because they think the property damaged or the livestock and poultry killed will never be traced back to the dog owner.

Irresponsible dog owners also have a notion that “dogs should be dogs” and be allowed to run free.  That is absolutely not true, and they don’t believe it themselves.  How do we know this?  Because you can bet they have house broken their dogs and taught them how to live within the human environment with acceptable behaviors in the family home.  These owners simply don’t care about anyone else’s property or well being.

The overriding theme here is that these particular dog owners do not respect the property of others and believe they are immune to the law.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter where you live, you see this behavior in all places of the world.

For city dwellers, you have recourse of the law.  It is illegal to discharge a firearm within city limits in almost every city in the country, except in the dire need of self-defense.  Cities are slow to react to complaints about unsupervised dogs and do it in increments only after many steps by the property owner, or after serious injury or death of a person.  Farmers, who live outside city limits are allowed to protect their property, family and livestock in the same manner.  Farmers don’t have to wait for the dog to actually do anything to take preventative measures.

All too often we hear of a farmer trying to be “nice” and “agreeable” with their irresponsible dog owning neighbors when trying to settle the matter permanently.  This is usually ineffective in most cases and allows a bad situation to get worse.

Think of it like this, the neighbor is doing wrong by allowing his dog to run loose onto your property to tear things up, dig holes for people and livestock to turn an ankle in or to have lawn mowers fall in, and then wander off to your cattle lot or chicken pen to see what’s for fun or dinner.  Dogs will chase cattle until they die.  The owner doesn’t care, but also bets that you will never shoot his dog for fear of possible repercussions.  After all, he isn’t going to be the big mean person who shot a poor defenseless dog, as he tells this to every neighbor and the sheriff.  You can see it now can’t you?  Them all talking and shaking their heads to the shame of your senseless act?

Shooting an owner-less stray predatory dog is the absolute right thing to do because you can’t stop the dog yourself with out risking your own life or limb.  Choosing to use anything less than a lethal attempt is ineffective.  Using a B-B gun, pepper spray, rock salt, or paint balls only teaches the dog to check to see if the person who uses those things is on the property.

If the dog really wants what you have, he will watch and wait for you to leave and then go after it.  Also, many dogs will tear up your fence, barn, or chicken coop to get inside.  Don’t believe that?  Think about what a male dog will do to get into an enclosure of a female in heat.  A family member had a dog in heat, so while they were at work they put it in the closed garage. They came home to find their garage destroyed by male dogs trying to get to the female.  Which they did, and she was no where to be found since she got away because the double car sized door was destroyed.  How much more will it do to get a meal to survive or feed it’s puppies?

Next, you don’t know for sure if the dog on your property is a healthy neighbor’s dog or a wild dog that could be infected with any disease or parasite.  Actually, you don’t really know if the neighbor’s dog is healthy because irresponsible dog owners may not practice good veterinarian care either.  Using non-lethal force on a wild or sick dog might get you sick, injured or dead too.

Using pepper spray will cause the animal to salivate in great amounts.  I would not want a rabid or otherwise sick dog salivating all over my property to spread his infection to my pets or any animal that might encounter it and then spread it to my livestock or me.  Just because a dog doesn’t look sick does not mean it’s healthy.

Once a dog has found great entertainment or something yummy and exciting to eat, he will return, time and time again unless the dog owner takes action or the property owner does.

One way to prevent battles with neighbors over dogs is to send a certified letter to all neighbors notifying them that you have had trouble with a dog harassing or killing your livestock or poultry, or is menacing to your family, or damaging your property, and that you are going to use every legal means necessary to protect your investment, including killing the dog.  For some reason, using economic terms gets their attention and they pay attention.  Since they have signed for the certified mail they can not ever clam they did not know their dog was an issue.

This letter could also include a price list of your livestock should their dog damage or kill it.  Reasonable prices would include money spent, time, and future loss of the animal and future products from that animal.  So if the neighbor’s dogs run your prize milk cow to death, not only do they owe you for the vet bills and disposal of the animal, they also owe for the purchase price of the cow, and the loss of milk and calf production over the life of that cow.   Why?  Because now you have to start over investing time and money for a new milk cow and calves.

As you can see, the dollar amounts are now quite large.  When the dollar amount is presented to the irresponsible dog owners, they are suddenly motivated to keep their dogs home.  You can’t be where all of your livestock is all the time, but your security camera can.  Having images captured by your high definition security camera of the dog in the act will go a long way towards getting them to settle out of court and persuade law enforcement officers, county commissioners, or city council members to enforce the law.

From Compost to Potting Soil; part three

In part one and part two of this mini series we talked about where to get compost material and how to go about it.  Now lets talk about what to do with all that wonderful compost made with time, love and care.

First, you will need to screen the compost to remove anything too large.  Make a screen using a wood frame with 1/2 inch grid screen attached on all sides.  As you put the compost on the screen and shuffle it back and fourth, the smaller bits will fall through.  Pieces that remain on top go back into the composting bin.

Combine one part screened compost, one part garden dirt and one part sand.  Be sure to mix well.  That’s it!

No, really, that’s it.  You don’t need vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, or any other fancy ingredients.  If you have them, use them up, but why Compost makes a great garden better.use something you may not have access to later?   Not only are they costly, but they are also not good for our environment because their production is unsustainable due to land degradation.  Processing, packaging and shipping also add to costs both economic and ecological.

Time has passed and you start to think your home made dirt needs some sprucing up with fertilizers.  You have choices!!

  • Simply mix in more compost.
  • If you have ducks with a special duck “pond” plastic swimming pool, you have it made!  Insert a drain tube at the bottom.  Use the duck water to water your plants.
  • Cow patty soup.   Remember those cow patties you collected?  Put about a quarter of a large patty in a five gallon container of water.  When mostly dissolved strain out the big pieces and use the rest to water the plants.  Put the big pieces in to compost.  No cow patty?  Use the shovel again. Lightly water garden with cow patty soup.
  • Chicken and horse poop too!
  • Pet food.  Add it to water, let it make a soupy broth, water your plants with it.  You can also put it in the pot dry and let it decompose naturally.  It might attract animals this way.
  • Coffee grounds sprinkled around is a good fertilizer for roses.

Lets talk about the use of manure in fertilizer.  Manure from chickens, horses and cows create heat as they decompose. That is exactly what you want in the compost heap.  Not so much in the garden.  If you put too much manure in the garden the plants can burn and die or be extremely stunted.  That’s why only 1/4 of a large cow patty does so much.

There is a wide variety of other things that can be used to fertilize your garden.  Most of them have other uses, such as dandelions.  They are edible.  Why use the dandelion for fertilizer when you need to eat it?  Comfrey plant is another plant that can be used to make fertilizer.  It has a better use as a medicinal herb.  So, in case of a life changing event, don’t be in the habit of relying on commercial fertilizers but also don’t use products that could serve a better purpose as a food or herbal medicine.

From Compost to Potting Soil; part one

Finished compostThere’s quite a bit being said about composting.  It’s almost the first thing out of the mouths of garden enthusiasts when you ask for a list “must do” tasks.  There’s more to composing than letting something rot in a compost heap for a year and tilling it into your garden.  For the purposes of the prepared gardener, coming up with enough material to might be difficult.  Composted material is expensive if purchased.  Potting mix is more expensive than compost.

So, what exactly is compost?  Compost is needed to help combat soil problems.  Compost is rotting or rotted vegetation material.  Animal material may be composted, but that process is for another post.  For most gardeners, getting enough vegetation to compost is difficult.  Grass clippings, falling leaves, trimmed tree limbs and so on, but lets face it.  You can only mow the lawn, rake the leaves you have, and trim so many limbs before you run out of sources.  For the person who is making a small garden in their backyard, this could be enough material.

However, for the prepared, most likely it won’t be enough for the family farm.  Depending on your location, soil condition and the amount of conditioning your soil requires, finding enough matter could be a challenge, especially if you don’t want to spend large amounts of time tending to your neighbors’ lawns too.

Go to the dump.  Depending on where you live, your local landfill will have leaf, grass and tree trimmings.  Call them to find out if they sell mulch, double ground mulch, compost and other things you might want for your garden.  The price is minimal or free and usually sold by the pick up truck load.  In some cities they deliver.  If your landfill doesn’t have what you need, check with other counties.  One of them might have the product.

Go to the barn.  If you have animals that use hay or straw, or just make a mess on the barn floor, you are in gardener’s heaven!  Rake the muck and put it into bins for composting.  Regularly rake the chicken coop and put down fresh hay.  Not only will the birds appreciate it, but fresh chicken poop and hay is an excellent ingredient to add to the compost heap.

Go to the feed lot.  Pick up cow patties.  They’re just grass and water.  Adding a cow patty or two to a compost heap speeds up composting Cow Pattieswhile adding needed nutrients.  Don’t add too many or your compost pile could start fire.  Ask a neighbor if you can have some of his cow patties.  He’ll enjoy watching you get them.  Have cow muck instead of cow patties?  Take a bucket and a shovel instead.  You’ll know where to dig.

Start composting.  How you compost is up to you and depends on how much work you want to put into the job.  Small gardeners often spend $200 for a black barrel on stand that easily rolls to stir the compost easily.  Some people line a box with black plastic and fill it with compost material and cover with black plastic.  Every now and then they go out and stir it to keep it active.  But, the oldest way is to choose a place in the back yard and put the vegetation matter there.  Every week go out and turn the pile with a pitch fork and hose it down to keep it moist.

compost tumblerThe barrel method works fastest and is the easiest, but produces small amounts of compost at a time. This causes bags of material to sit around at least a month waiting for its turn in the barrel.  It might be necessary to buy multiple barrels or not have enough compost for all your purposes.  Using the barrel usually kills off any plant seeds and unwanted insects.  Instead of spending $200 for each barrel, some people make their own barrels from 55 gallon drums and wood.

The box with black plastic is limited only by the amount of black plastic and boxes you have.  It can be difficult to manage since poking holes in the plastic while turning the pile slows down the process.  If done properly, black plastic can get rid of any plant seeds and unwanted insects.

The back yard pile is slowest.  There is nothing to keep the moisture in so watering is important.  The pile must be turned well and often.  It can be difficult work if the pile is deep.  Making an unlimited number of piles makes keeping them sorted by age easy.  Having many piles going at once then becomes faster than the barrel method unless you have access to many barrels.

Tomorrow’s post will continue discussing composting, mulch, and making your own potting mix.

Campfires: Cooking on an Open Fire

Round CampfireCooking on a campfire is a skill every prepper should master.  Hopefully you will never be in a situation in which you will be forced to make a fire and cook your fresh kill.  Surprisingly, many people think it’s simple.  Build a fire and start cooking, right?  Not at all.

Skills to cook on a fire are important because you many not always have the items you need to make campfire cooking easier and safer.  Big ones, small ones, burning coals, you name it.  Each fire has a different purpose and requires skills for those purposes.  Fires are not just to boil water and heat canned goods.

Can you fry fish on an open fire?  Why is that important?  Because frying over an open flame can be dangerous at best and disastrous at worst.  If the flames lick up in the pan your frying fish may just become an exploding fire bomb that can cover anyone standing near enough with flaming hot oil.  It can also start a forest or range fire.  For this reason, children should never be near the fire!

Cooking over an open fire is not as easy as it might seem.  A skilled camp cook is a must.  Fortunately, almost everyone can gain those skills.  It just takes practice.  Start in a camp ground that allows camp fires, ask if there is water at each site, and bring your garden hose.  You must ask specifically if they allow camp fires.  Starting a camp fire in a location other than in designated areas could have serious consequences.

If you already have, or know how to use, a gas grill, you are a bit ahead of the rest of the class.  But, using the gas grill for this project won’t work.  Gas grills are pretty much just cooking on a gas stove top.  As a matter of fact, that pretty much goes for charcoal grills and smokers too.  Those are all well controlled systems for cooking.  If there’s a flare-up simply take the food off the grill, turn off the gas or put a lid on the pan.  With an open flame, your only options are to put a lid on it and taking the food out of the fire.

Okay, lets begin with choosing a location.  It needs to be:

  • away from buildings and structures
  • away from trees and brush
  • not in a “red flag” region (burn ban)
  • in an appropriate fire pit (dig a hole and place the dirt pile close to the fire)

When practicing, safety requires you have a garden hose handy in case your fire climbs out of the pit.  Remember, fire can double in size very quickly.  If your fire gets out of hand, go for help immediately.  Do not stay.

How you build your fire is as important as where you build it.  That’s why they say “build” a fire.  First, dig the pit six inches or more deep and twice the diameter of the intended fire.  It should be at least 12 inches deep on windy days.  Clear the area twice the size of the pit around the pit to stop any hot embers or flames from starting a fire outside the fire pit.  For us, a three foot square fire has an additional ten feet of cleared space around the fire.  The fire area is the size of a 12 x 12 room with the fire in the center.  No children and unskilled persons allowed!!  Kindling is placed first and the fire started.  This is a good place to put the bark if you choose to strip it from the wood.

Gradually adding larger and larger pieces until the fire is the the size you need for cooking.  Logs are skillfully placed in an arrangement that allows flames to form in a controlled pattern according to the purpose of the fire.  Logs must be placed flat so they support the pan well and so that when they burn through they fall into the fire pit instead of out of the pit.  

The fire in the picture above is a typical cone shaped fire.  To cook on a campfire without a grate, you need a flat fire, square or rectangle shaped fire.

The trick is to keep the flames small and shallow while providing enough wood to keep the fire going for the amount of time you will be cooking.  Too much wood on the fire causes larger flames.  Flames should never lick up the side of the pan.  This is unsafe as well as too hot and will burn your food even if you don’t have a flare up.  If your fire does flare into the pan, put the lid on it immediately.  If you are unable to put the lid on the pan, go to a safe distance until the fire subsides.  Your dinner will be ruined, but the fire should remain within the pit and cleared area.

How to practice?  NEVER camp cook alone!  You many need help for any reason or emergency!!  Get out your well seasoned cast iron dutch oven set (with stabilizing lid lifter) and use it on the fire to prepare all manner of foods not using a fat or oil for cooking.  When you can prepare foods without burning or scorching them, you are ready to to try frying.  Practice with small amounts of food, just enough chicken to make one small layer on the bottom, and just enough oil to make a 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer on the bottom of the pan.

To begin cooking, place the clean, dry pan in the heat just until it is hot enough to “bounce” droplets of water off the dry pan.  If the water bounces, remove it from the heat and set it somewhere safe and let go of the pan.  If the pan is too hot, the oil may catch fire immediately when you put it in the pan. If this happens, put the lid on and wait until the pan cools.  Poor off the oil into a safe disposal area.  You will need to clean the pan before you can begin again.  Once the oil is in the pan, add then the chicken legs and return to the fire and turn the chicken to brown both sides.  Remove the pan it when the chicken is as done as you like.

Now that the cooking is done, you will want to clean the cooled pan.  This is the best part about cooking over a fire.  Empty to cooled oil to a safe area.  Grab some leaves and sticks to remove most of the oil and any “crumbs” in the bottom of the pan.  turn the pan upside down and place in the fire.  Allow to cook just until it stops smoking, just a few seconds or minutes.  If you leave it too long you will damage the pan.  Remove from flame and check for cleanliness.  If it needs to be cleaned again, let it cool and start the process again.

Once you are finished with the fire, douse it with water if available, then cover with the dirt from the hold you dug to ensure the fire smothers and does not escape the pit.  The pit will remain hot for a long time if it is not completely doused with water, so be careful where you walk.

Before you start practicing, read more information about the topic before you start.  Find someone who practices campfire cooking skills and ask them teach you.  If your teacher does anything that goes against the safety practices in the articles you read, do not use them as a teacher.  Only learn from the very best camp cooks.  D.P.N. assumes no responsibility for anyone who is learning this skill.  

Getting Poultry: Choosing a Hatchery and other Important Decisions

Choosing chicks from a hatchery or to incubate your own?Choosing to keep poultry is a big decision.  Adding another responsibility to anyone’s life is life changing.  If you already have other livestock to tend, the change is mostly minor in that it will add to the amount of time it takes to do the morning chores.  But, if livestock is a new addition to your quest for self-reliance, then consider it seriously.

Having livestock will change the way you live.  No longer will you be able to take an impromptu trip overnight.  Every trip will require planning in advance to find someone who is reliable to feed, water, and check on the well being of your animals.  Making sure you have enough feed on hand and so on.  Sometimes it will seem easier to just stay home or take day trips.

Be sure you are ready to invest in the equipment, feed, and the proper structures for keeping your birds safe and healthy.  Most of the equipment is not expensive and some you can make yourself.  Just like human babies, chicks need equipment based on their aged and development.  Purchasing the equipment as you need it is one way to go about it.  Also, planning ahead and shopping to get the equipment you need as it fits into your budget is best.

Once the decision to raise poultry, it is important to choose what is right for you.  Chickens are considered easiest to raise by many people.  While that may or may not be true, perhaps more people raise chickens than other poultry.  The most important thing is to do your research before choosing which poultry to raise.

Consider your purpose.  Are you raising poultry for eggs only, for meat only, or for both?  For eggs only, choose a breed that will provide a large number of eggs.  Layer breeds tend to be small breeds and while you “can” eat them, they won’t have much meat on them.  Meat birds are larger, but don’t lay as well, and some don’t naturally reproduce.  There are the dual purpose birds as well.  These breeds typically lay an acceptable number of eggs, get a good weight, and are ready to cull at about 12 weeks of age.

Are you going to set eggs to hatch?  Will you be letting the chickens raise their own brood?  If so, make certain the breed you choose has a reputation for being good mothers and go broody often.  Not sure but think you might?  Perhaps choosing a breed that meets your other requirements and is also broody is the thing to do.  Later if you decide you want to let them go set their nest, you already have the breed you need.

How many birds do you need?  That depends.  Think about how many dozen eggs you use in a week.  Twelve chickens will not provide twelve eggs every day, but will average enough for a family of four.  The laying cycle is 25 hours on a perfect day.  The process is slowed by cold weather or even something that scares the chickens enough that they hold their eggs until they think it is safe to lay.  If they don’t get enough food or water, that slows them too.

Your climate is as important when choosing breeds too.  Many breeds stop laying eggs when it gets cold.  Others will lay longer into the cold season, and some will lay all year around.  Colder climates may require a heater in the chicken coop.  During the Mini Ice Age it was recorded that people brought their livestock into the house to keep them from freezing to death.  Even so, make certain your birds will have adequate heat for the cold months and adequate air-flow the rest of the year to prevent over heating.

Now that all those things are decided, choose the hatchery carefully.  Hatcheries are like any other business.  They need to make money to keep the doors open.  If they have diseases in their flocks, they will quickly go out of business if they don’t get it under control.  All the same,  if in doubt, check the C.D.C. website to see if the hatchery you are considering has been listed as having been the source of an outbreak like salmonella.  Most likely they have not.

Consider the distance from the hatchery of your choice to your location.  Most hatcheries can can ship healthy birds to your location if you are inside the 48 contiguous states.  With a 72 hour maximum between hatching and first feed and water, it is smarter to buy your birds as close to you as possible.  If the particular breed you want is not offered close enough to arrive withing the 72 hour window, there is the likelihood that many or all of the chicks will die.

When the distance is too great for live chicks, consider ordering fertilized eggs and incubating them yourself.  Some hatcheries won’t ship Incubating eggs from a hatchery can be rewarding.eggs because the success rate can not be promised.  Other hatcheries take every precaution to ensure the shipment arrives in good condition.  Even so, they may not arrive in good enough condition to incubate.  If the eggs get too cold or too hot, they won’t be suitable for incubating.  Not to mention what happens if the package gets dropped and the eggs break.  Incubating eggs produces “straight run” chicks, which means likely the birds will be about half male and half female chicks.  Unless you are a chick sexer, you won’t know which are which until they are old enough to develop their respective characteristics.  People who order eggs for incubating do well with the process and have favorable results.

After having chickens for a while, consider adding ducks and other poultry to the family homestead.  Heck, you might as well.  In for a penny in for a pound, right?

Keeping Predators Away from Your Chicken Flocks or Other Birds

No matter where you live, if you have livestock, there are predators.  Well, okay, there might be some places where predators don’t go, but even dogs and cats can be considered predators if you live inside city limits. The way to protect your flock is to fully understand each species your birds are likely to encounter and act on that knowledge.

Skunks like chicken or other bird eggs.Because humans have encroached so far into the habitat of wild species, many towns now have a showing of skunks, opossums, raccoon, snakes, predatory birds, coyotes, bob cats, foxes, alligators, and last but certainly not least, bears.  To this list of native North American species add the list of exotic species in Florida and other states where such things have escaped and made their home.

Many species of wildlife carry deadly rabies, lice, fleas, ticks, and other unwelcome parasites that can be spread to other living creatures such as your birds and you.  The less exposure they have to these things, the better.  Ever since the discovery that you don’t have to get bitten by, or even seen, a rabid animal to get rabies, it should cause everyone to stop and think about how they manage their animals.

Lets start with the smallest of creatures and work our way up to the biggest.  Snakes.  Make sure you know what species of snakes live in Snakes love chicks and eggs.your region and what they like to eat.  All parts of the U. S. has some form a rattlesnake and most of the country has cotton mouth snakes (also called water moccasin) .  Some non-venomous snakes are also predators and will enjoy your flock as much as you do.  Snake are interested in eggs and baby chicks.  Many move so slowly into the hen house that hens don’t notice them until the snake is in the nests waiting for his dinner.  When gathering eggs, make certain there isn’t a snake in the nest BEFORE you put your hand in there.

If a snake is in one of the nests the birds won’t have laid any eggs in nests near the snake.  Which means they will be fighting amongst themselves to use the other available nests.  You might even hear the commotion from a distance.  The snake is only interested in the food it can eat, eggs and chicks.  It usually won’t bother a hen if the hen does not act aggressive towards the snake.  The snakes wait until the nests are unattended and slither over to enjoy an egg.  He then slithers back to the other nest and lays down for a nap until next meal time.

To keep snakes out of the hen house make certain there are no holes a snake can fit through.  Cover openings with wire mesh with a small enough grid to prevent snakes from entering.  Check from floor to ceiling.  If you see daylight, cover it up!  The good news is that what will keep out snakes will also keep out skunks, raccoon, opossum, foxes and coyotes.

Is this raccoon just coming out of a hen house? Skunks, raccoon  and opossums bumble along and pretty much eat what ever they find.  But they do hunt for eggs, among other things.  However, if a skunk were to wander into a chicken yard during the daytime, the chickens will peck it and the rooster will spur it.  At night, chickens are almost helpless because that is when they are their most docile.  Raccoon and opossum will kill your birds as well as eat the eggs.  If you find any of these in your hen house, culling them is the best solution because they will return.  Since they already know where the good stuff is, the animals might work until they get a hole in the screen or even the wood.  For this reason, inspect the hen house every day as you feed and water the birds or collect eggs.  Which brings us to the issue of pen or no pen.

If you do not have a pen for your birds, since they are free to come and go from the coop as they wish, so can other animals.  The only way to keep out invaders is to have a pen enclosure.  Animals that can’t get into the pen will not be able to get into the coop.  If you are concerned about your hens having a large enough area to roam, just make the pen bigger.  It’s our opinion that it’s not worth letting them roam free if it means they will attract predators and get killed, or worse, a human tending them gets injured or sick from wild predators in the coop.

Alligators… yikes!  Just because you live in an area with alligators doesn’t mean you can’t have chickens. If someone tries to tell you Alligators won't go very far from water to find food.different, walk away.  We had a six foot alligator in our pond for almost two years.  He was happy there too.  He ate all my ducks and geese. Then he ate my cat and any dog or other creature that went to the pond.  Never once did he come out of the pond and wander around the property.  However, we never did know how he got there.  He could have been there a lot longer than two years and was just not noticed until he was big enough to see from a distance.  Just don’t put your chickens near the alligator habitat.  It’s their home and anything you put there should be considered food for them.

This hawk is eating a bird.Now that all the four legged and slithering creatures have been dealt with, it’s time to turn our attention to flying predators.  Hawks, eagles, owls, osprey and other predatory birds enjoy chicken, chicks, ducks, eggs and other prey they can find.  They even eat other birds of any species.  There are hawks and osprey who like to bring their meals to our back yard to eat them.  When they have killed a bird or squirrel and left the feathers or skin and bones on the ground below, it really upsets our dogs.  But, it serves as a reminder that even flighted birds can’t escape from the swiftness of their predator.

To protect your flock from predators, cover the pen with chicken wire or any other light weight fencing.  Depending on the size of the pen enclosure, it might be necessary to place posts under the fence in places to make sure it remains suspended.  It works and it’s easy.

Foxes are just like any other egg sucking dog.Which brings us to coyotes and foxes.  These critters will dig a hole under the fence to get to your flock.  The easiest way to make sure they don’t get to them is to close the hen house at night.  Simply shut the door.  Just remember to open it in the morning.  Chickens want to go outside at the crack of dawn and go to roost at sunset.  Coyotes and foxes like to show up when the birds are sleeping.  They will circle the coop to look for vulnerabilities.  Any thing they can dig or pull to make a way inside.  This is why you inspect the screen you put up to keep out snakes.

Our solution was to simply pour concrete in the areas of the barn floor where you could see daylight.  Since the barn does not have a floor, it’s fine.  We put chicken wire and wire mesh in areas prone to other critters.

Where we live, there are no bears.  However, in parts of Texas, small bears are reported.  Bears are Black bear scrounging in the dump.  Dumps are not far from human habitats.common in many areas of the country, so take them seriously.  Just because you have never seen one in your area does not mean that you won’t ever see one.  If you get a report that a bear has been sited within a reasonable distance from your property, take action.  Male black bears have been known to wander a 15 to 80 square mile territory.  Bears will tear down your chicken coop and fences.  They will eat your birds and eggs.  If you try to defend them, they might attack you too. Once they know there is food there, they will come back for more.  Momma bears will bring her cubs along on the second trip.  So far, the only effective deterrent seems to be an electric fence outside the perimeter of the coop and chicken pen.

There is another purpose for protecting your flock in a responsible manner.  Wild animals tend to be executed because they managed to find their way into human and livestock habitats.  By using barriers to protect your flock, you are also protecting wildlife from becoming endangered or extinct.

 

 

Ducks Don’t Know They’re Not Chickens

Did you ever go to dinner with someone who never once took a drink of beverage during the whole meal?  Did it seem weird to you?  Most people drink a beverage during the meal, but not everyone.  Chickens are like the person who doesn’t drink during the meal.  Ducks on the other hand, are like people who drink a beverage during their meal.

Ducks are good egg layers.Why are poultry drinking and eating habits important to preppers?  Because it will help determine how to house  ducks and chickens.  From the beginning, chicks and ducks raised together do great, from a social standpoint.  They don’t know about breeds.  But some important things to consider before making that decision come to mind.

  • While it’s a fair bet that most of you have eaten and like chicken and their eggs, it might not be true about ducks.  Before purchasing ducklings, closely examine why you want them.  If it is for their prized eggs, go for it.  Do the math about how many eggs you can use and sell per year.  If using the ducks as meat birds, be certain you like the flavor of duck.  Look on craigslist to find one to purchase for that purpose.  The duck may be expensive, but if you don’t like the flavor, at least there won’t be a whole flock in the barnyard waiting for you to eat them.
  • How many birds?  The more birds there are, the more feed, water, work and the more eggs and meat production.  It’s important to do the math before your buy your first flock of birds.  How many times last year did you serve chicken?  Or, how many pounds of chicken did you use?  What about ducks?  Did you prepare even one duck in the last 12 months?  Will you use duck in addition to chicken for meat or will you substitute one chicken for one duck?  Once you have done the math order the chickens and ducks to be delivered on the same day if they are to be housed together.  You can separate them later if you like.Chickens can lay almost as many eggs as ducks.
  • Are you going to sell the eggs?  Canvas the area to find out how many people will buy them.  You’ll be surprised how many people will say they want the eggs.  If you are going to have ducks, check local restaurants or bakeries too!  If a particular breed lays nearly 300 eggs a year, and you have ten birds, you will get close to 3,000 eggs per year.  That is nearly 20 dozen a month.
  • After you know how many birds, when?  Consider how often to butcher birds.  Some people do it once in the spring for the whole year.  Others in warmer climates do it two or three times a year. Birds ordered for butcher will be ready at the same time.  How old will they be when butchered?  This is important!  Breeds mature at different rates and max weight varies between breeds.  Do you want to be butchering chickens and ducks at the same time?
  • If you are going to use housing, what kind of housing should be used?  The more birds, the more space you need in order to maintain a healthy flock.  There are other things to consider such as which predatory wildlife needs to be abated.
  • Housing ducks with chickens will require a water system that provides constantly flowing clean water, or frequently cleaning the water container, since ducks leave floaters in the water as they enjoy beverages with their meal.  Water pans are not suitable for the water supply since ducks will get in and defecate in the water.  Chickens might get in the water, but they don’t like it and will get right out.
  • How much time do you have?  Babies take up a good amount of time, and chicks and ducklings are no different.  In a few weeks they will be old enough to be left alone all day as long as they have an uninterrupted supply of food and water.

While there is a great deal to consider before choosing to raise poultry of any kind, it is both satisfying and rewarding to know that you have a supply of eggs and meat as well as an income from selling your meat birds and eggs to customers.  Enjoy your birds!

Keep Your Flock Healthy

It is important to be sure your flock is well cared for, receive appropriate food and water and have ample space to remain healthy.  Clean the water and food containers daily to prevent disease.  If birds are housed in a building, it will be necessary to clean and disinfect the floors often or daily.  Housed animals of all kinds need adequate fresh air.  

Those who allow their animals in the barnyard to roam about and forage have healthier birds.  This is how most preppers raise their birds.  We know how important it is to treat the animals with regard to their health instead of only trying to get the biggest meat birds or most eggs.  There is a trade-off, but it is worth it to make sure the flock and humans are healthy.  The consequences of not providing proper care to the flock can be costly.

Which brings us to the concept of putting distance between the home and the flock.  It is important to keep the flock in a location as far away from the home as is possible.  If you have to take a little hike to look after them, good.  It is better for you and them.  If you want to see what they are doing and if they are safe, add one or two security cameras to the pen and barn.  Then you will know if there are foxes in the hen house day and night.  The distance from the coop and good hygiene and safety practices will help prevent the risk of salmonella or other livestock related diseases.

Let’s not let prepper flocks become a source of concern as the global poultry industry, including China’s recent H7N9 outbreak that caused many farmers to panic and destroy their flocks.

Last month’s news about H7N9 virus (avian flu) in Chinese flocks brings to light the differences between a family farm and a commercial operation, not only in China, but around the world.

Given that commercial farms often raise fowl in large buildings with little wiggle room, it is no surprise that diseases spread through a flock quickly.  The fear of H7N9 virus infecting humans who tend them and then spread through the human population caused Chinese farmers to decide to destroy their flocks of chickens, ducks, and all manner of fowl.

The possibility of finding H7N9 in the Chinese farmers’ flocks seem to bring panic to these farmers with good reason, as you will see in the following video.

  It seems they have good reason to act out of fear.  Make sure you read the subtitles clear to the end.  You may have to click pause to read all of them since they go by at the speed of the speaker.