Have you been used to buying your groceries at the supermarkets? Never raised animals or had a garden? Are you trying to figure out how to get started on the path to providing for your family?
It can certainly feel overwhelming just to get started. So think about getting started, but doing it on a small level. Trying to do too much too quickly can be a recipe for burnout and frustration.
Here’s what we did when we first move here in 2006. Learn from our mistakes and keep an open mind. And have fun – never forget to have fun!
Starting small will not only get you on the path to providing for your family, but it will teach you a lot. As your confidence grows and time goes by, you can implement another activity on your homestead (or in your backyard). Let’s start with a garden,
What kind of vegetable seems to on your family’s plates the most often? That’s a good one to plant this year. For us it is potatoes. So, it’s important for us to be sure to grow lots of potatoes this year. The bonus with potatoes is you can feed them off to animals, once you are sure you have enough to store for winter eating for your family.
Other veggies we eat a lot of include green beans (so 2 double rows get planted), beets (3 or 4 rows) peas (so plant these up the fence that runs around the garden perimeter.
If you don’t have much experience with veggie gardening, it will take a few years before you can closely figure out how much to plant, in order to put enough by so there is food for your family over the winter. Just get a start this year, and this fall you can count up your jars of canned beans, then figure out if you need to grow more next year. Keep notes and start a garden journal to record this kind of information. Next year, when it comes to ordering seed, you’ll have a good idea of how much seed you will need.
Looking to add animals into the mix? As far as I am concerned, #1 are chickens. Wonderful, you just feed them and water them – every day (almost) they will pay you back. We started with 4 hens, the next year we were up to 15.
EVERY time you have an extra dozen, (after you have put a couple dozen away for your family) sell the eggs. Keep the egg money in a separate jar. Once you get an egg customer, call them each week and see if they are in need of another dozen. Pay for your chicken feed OUT of the jar. Find another customer (or as it often seems to happen, your one customer will find u the next one)….rinse and repeat.
Over time, you will have enough money in your jar to pay for their feed and still more money in the jar. Got an extra $15 in there? Next time you are at the feed store, pick up a couple of T-posts or pick up a roll of chicken wire.
I am a big fan of T-posts and chicken wire. Temporary fencing can be set up wherever you need it and for however long you need it. Put the chickens in there in the afternoon, and let them find their own food of bugs and grass. Don’t let them scratch right down to the ground. Before that happens, pull out the T-posts and set your fencing up somewhere else that needs a good grazing. Setting up fencing against exsisting buildings or fence posts reduces the number of T-posts you need.
Chickens like to work! Bored chickens get unhealthy and start picking on each other, just to give themselves something to do. Harness that energy and put it into something that will help you. Chickens allowed to free range and graze will lower the feed bill, and that’s what you want. Meanwhile, your family is enjoying the eggs, extras can be sold, and the money saved up for feed and the “next thing on the farm list”.
If you have access to fresh manure, set up temporary fencing around the manure pile, and let the girls in. Within days they will have eaten all the small seeds they find and any bits of leftover grain. They’ll also scratch and fluff up that manure pile for you. Let Them do the work! Then move the fencing. Once the manure has sat for a month or two, you can wheel it over to use on your veggie garden.
Meanwhile, you’re saving your egg money in the jar. Over time, say you end up with an extra $50 in there (after the feed, that you are now able to buy in either bulk or buy multiple bags so you have them on hand). An extra $50 will buy you some meat birds (in season of course) Here in BC, $50 will probably get you 20 birds, by the time you take shipping into consideration.
How many meat birds can your family eat? Averaging about say 5.5 lbs, 20 chickens will enable your family to have chicken every 2 1/2 weeks or so. It’s possible to get 4 meals off a chicken (including the soup at the end). See how all this is adding up over time?
Yes, the first year you will have to put out money for meat bird feed, however, time it right for your season. Raise the birds when you hardly have to supplement their heat after the first 2 weeks. During the spring, summer and fall, if you let your laying hens free range of graze in temporary coops, you won’t be spending as much money on their feed. Use the money instead to buy feed for the meat birds (20% protein). Keep selling eggs – rinse and repeat.
Another easy way to offset your laying hen’s feed bill (while collecting their eggs) is to feed them veggies and greens from the garden during the growing season. You can feed greens to meat birds too, but you’ll always have to buy them their special feed. Meat birds are bred to gain weight FAST, and they just won’t do it living off of garden greens. Read how we manage to raise 8 pound meat birds in just 8 weeks.
Eight weeks later, butcher your meat birds. Still have your one or two egg customers? Do yourself a favour (and them) and give them one bird, all dressed out. Thank them for buying your eggs and hand over a chicken. Let them know you’re going to do meat birds the following year. If they should want some, they can order some.
In addition, you’ve just been given a LOT of fantastic manure from those meat birds. Let it compost, then add it to your veggie gardens – rinse and repeat.
Meanwhile, you’re making sure you spend any egg money on feed. If you have leftover money, keep buying T-posts or wire or veggie seeds. Every time, put the money BACK into either your garden or your animal needs.
You will see, over time that you can add slowly to your homesteading – every little bit helps. Concentrate first on what your family needs are, sell any excess.
Does your family drink a lot of milk? Think about saving towards a goat. You can supply milk and cheese for your family. They like to eat brush and scrub, so if you have areas like this that you want to clear off for future pasture or gardens, put the goats in there. You’ll need stronger fencing tho than T-posts, you know what they say about goats!
If you have small trees that need to be spaced, you can cut the trees down and use them for fence rails. You can also take the branches off and use them for bean or pea supports in your veggie garden.
The idea is to spend as little as possible in the beginning. Over time, keep plowing your monies back into your barnyard and gardens.
Feed ANY weeds you pull to your laying hens. When you finish harvesting parts of your veggie garden, move the T-posts in to section off part of the garden, then put some hens in there. They’ll work your soil, eat the bugs, and add manure all at the same time. Better for you that They do the work.
When you cut the grass, give the clippings to both the laying hens and the meat birds. If you have excess, start putting it down between the veggie garden rows to keep the weeds down. It will also add to improving your garden soil.
One more thought – for goodness sake, don’t underprice your eggs! That is the Worst thing you can do – any customers that are wanting to buy farm fresh eggs or veggies are willing to pay at Least what the supermarket charges. It should be more, because of your attention to growing as naturally as possible. People are willing to pay a premium for this. Don’t overcharge, but jeez, don’t undercharge. That’s totally shooting yourself in the foot, plus you are messing up any other farmer’s plans to try to recoup their original costs.
Note I’m not incuding hay in the above, the way we work here, we do not overwinter any animals except for laying hens. We may get a beef cow in the future, once we start rejuvenating our pastures and putting aside our own hay to feed them over winter.
You’ll need to have some hay or straw or something on hand for on the floor of your chicken coop. No reason you can’t grow the grass long, then cut it down and use that. Or straw, leaves or anything else you can think of that is no cost. Your hens will not mind!
Begin to think of your farm or backyard as a cycle. Everything has a season and as much as possible needs to be returned to the land to increase soil fertility. Put things in (cover crops, green manure, composted manure) and take things out (the meat, eggs, vegetables). Focus on improving your soil and the health of your family as cheaply as possible. I’m willing to wager that in the next couple of years, you will be eating a LOT healthier for a lot less money.
Start small, but get started! You can do it! Your family will eat healthier, eat fresher, you’ll save money and hopefully in a year or two, all your animals will be self-sustaining. Think about how you can get started on the path to providing for your family.
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