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.

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?

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.