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At the end of every year, I like to look at what we’ve accomplished in that year, and set goals for next. This is the best way to learn to celebrate your victories and find a way to make the next year better. After all, CRAZY is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. We like to do yearly reflections on our farm, so we can grow and make it better! If you’d like to read about how we set goals around here, check out this post.
I’ve said it before, but it needs saying again….I do NOT have it all figured out! We have had lots of failures over the years, and haven’t figured it all out yet. I really hope to make some money from my little homestead, however, that hasn’t really happened yet. We have made a little money here and there, but nothing to write home about!
Let’s go over some of our ventures, shall we?
We have worked hard this year to expand our chicken operation this year. Things are going in the right direction, however, there have been some issues. I had a few goals with the chickens. Here’s how they turned out.
Expanding our laying hens.
We bought 6 Buff Orpington pullets this spring, and still have all of them. With us being in the thick of winter right now, these are really the only chickens that are giving me any eggs (and slim pickings at that!). But the eggs are smaller than I had expected, more like medium-sized, light tan eggs. So that was a little disappointing.
We had an Orpington rooster, so we were hoping to hatch our own Orpington chicks in the spring. But then our rooster died unexpectedly. Another bummer.
I do have to say that the Orpingtons are the best looking chickens in my flock currently. They seem to be the healthiest and hardiest, and I haven’t lost an Orpington yet (besides my rooster).
I also bought a lot of Black Australorp and about 6 Jersey Giant chicks this spring. I sold lots of the Black Australorps, and made a bit of profit since I bought them really really cheap. I kept 6, thinking I kept the Jersey Giants, but now I’m thinking I may have mixed them up. Surprisingly, they look almost identical as chicks, and even full-grown (besides the size). The black birds I have now aren’t big like Jersey Giants, they are built more like the Black Australorps. Another disappointment!
Having colored eggs.
I want to do a kind of self-serve chicken egg stand on my property. We live on a fairly busy street, with quite a bit of traffic going by. I figured it would be perfect to have a little farmstand by the road. Colored eggs seem to be so popular these days, so I thought it would also be nice if we had some colored eggs to sell as well. No one makes a lot of money selling eggs for eating, but it at least offsets some of the feed bill!
We bought lots of Lavender Ameraucanas this spring, sold some (and made a little bit of profit!), and kept a cockerel and 6 pullets. None of these have started laying yet. I’m hoping that will change when the weather gets nicer!
We also purchased a dozen beautiful blue hatching eggs in hopes of getting some Blue Cream Crested Legbar pullets. These are a project chicken from a nearby breeder, The Big R Ranch. They are a spinoff of the popular Crested Cream Legbar. Beautiful blue eggs, and the birds have small combs (which is perfect for our cold winters). These chickens are also autosexing, which means you can tell from hatch if they are male or female.
Unfortunately, I had a very low hatch rate, and only had 2 hatch. I got one boy and one girl. My pullet did manage to give me a couple eggs before winter hit, but now either she isn’t laying, or she is hiding them somewhere. She won’t stay in the coop (very good flyer!) so it’s hard to say. I might find a pile of blue eggs somewhere during outdoor spring cleaning of the property!
Expanding into rare breeds.
I wanted to have at least one breed of chicken that was rare and more in-demand. This spring, I found a breeder that raised Deathlayer chickens. These babies go for $99 per chick from Greenfire Farms! I bought 8, 3-week old chicks for about $75.
I figured if I could sell their chicks next year for nearly the same amount, that would be a great investment! Since we bought them as straight run chicks, we had no idea how many girls and how many boys we would get. Well, we ended up with 5 cockerels and 3 pullets!
Unfortunately, the Deathlayers seemed to be very susceptible to coccidia. We ended up losing 2 before the Corid treatment worked. We integrated all of the chickens together into the big run before winter hit.
The Deathlayers were smaller than most of the other chickens, and seemed to be weaker too. The others ended up being basically trampled by the stronger chickens! So, now we have no more Deathlayers, and I don’t intend to replace them as they weren’t a good fit for our farm.
I do still have the Lavender Ameraucanas, and they are a more in-demand breed due to their egg coloring, so I’m hoping to at least breed them and sell chicks and hatching eggs in the spring.
Setting up different breeding coops.
I was planning on setting up 5 different coops this year, so I could keep my chickens separate for breeding purposes, and to reduce the amount of fighting among roosters. Well, this ended up being a bigger undertaking than I thought, and we didn’t get it done. We did have the different breeds set up in different smaller, temporary coops, but when winter came, I just ended up integrating all of them into my big coop and run. The temporary coops just weren’t going to be adequate for the cold weather.
As a result of combining all of the chickens together, we have had a few squabbles between roosters. Nothing too bad, but I am really looking forward to building at least a couple separate coops in the spring.
Meat rabbits has been one of my biggest struggles. What I thought would be easy turned out to be rather difficult! I mean, rabbits are supposed to breed like rabbits, right? Not so much around here. Let’s see what went wrong this
Not enough litters.
Most of our rabbits are on the young side, so they’re not breeding yet. And first-time moms do notoriously bad at raising their kits. With the combination of these two factors, we have had very few litters.
I have had most of the rabbits in a colony, but I’m rethinking that as well. It seems like in a colony, you have very little control over the breeding. And in ours, it seems like the bucks tend to lose interest when they are with the females all of the time. I think, for our farm, hutches are going to be the go-to.
Not keeping up on culling.
This one has been difficult for us as well. The Hubs is really the only one who butchers around here, and he spent a lot of time this year out of town. So we have spent lots of unnecessary money feeding rabbits that we don’t want to keep, but haven’t taken the time to butcher.
To be really efficient at keeping meat rabbits, you need to cull the grow-outs at a certain time, usually 12 weeks. This is when they are mature enough to provide enough meat. So a dedicated grow-out hutch or colony is advisable.
Don’t change their diet.
This is a big one, far bigger than I originally thought! I was warned not to make drastic changes in their diet, but I didn’t realize how imperative this is. In grow-outs especially, if you change their diet – even as far as the BRAND you buy, it can cause immediate and severe damage to their digestive system. And they will die.
We had run out of the rabbit food that we normally buy and couldn’t get to the store to buy more. In a pinch, we fed the rabbits alfalfa pellets one night. We bought more of their regular food the next day, but over the next 2 days, we lost a whole litter of nice grow-outs that were 6 weeks old.
If you have to change your rabbits’ food, do so VERY SLOWLY! And make sure you don’t run too low on food until you can get more.
Cows have been a bit of a challenge around here as well, but we’ve always managed to grow out a few to butcher. After a few months of struggling to keep them healthy and strong, nature just takes over and then it’s easy. Let’s look at what happened this year.
Try not to buy calves from the auction.
We have bought a few calves from the local livestock auction, with mostly bad results. You never know what kind of
conditions the calves were in before they went to the auction. Making sure they get colostrum right after birth is the biggest concern. Unfortunately, when you buy them at auction, you have no way of knowing if they got colostrum. You just don’t know anything about them.
We have ended up with 3 calves bought from the auction that did very well. They were already weaned when we got them, and they just thrived on the grass and hay.
Avoid drastic feed changes.
Again, if you buy calves from the auction, you have no way of knowing what they were being fed before you got them. We got a few good-sized calves from the auction that we thought for sure were weaned. After we got them home and started them on grass, hay, and grain, they went downhill quickly. Then we thought maybe they weren’t weaned yet, so we tried giving them bottles. This ended in scours so bad that even with treatment, we lost them.
Time your calf purchases right.
We have bought calves during 2 different seasons now, and we found what we believe works the best. We prefer Jersey steers, and we like young beef, not peak weight. They seem to be the tastiest at just over a year old. So here is what we’re going to do from now on.
Buy the calves in the fall. It is still nice enough to not mind going out to bottle feed twice a day. When they are old enough to wean, you can keep them in smallish pastures with access to fresh hay. That first winter, they won’t eat a lot of hay, so you’ll be saving money on feeding them. When spring rolls around, let them out into the main pasture to eat all the grass they need. Then butcher them at the end of fall, before you have to feed them hay again.
This system greatly reduces the money you spend to feed them. It ensures that you will have healthy, weaned calves when the first winter rolls around. And it gives you a healthy, 14-15 month old cow to butcher.
Don’t buy a milk cow.
Kind of joking on this one. You can absolutely buy a milk cow! We did, and we loved having all the milk, butter, and ice cream that we could consume. But a milk cow is a lot of work! You have to be very diligent on milking twice a day, unless you can calf share and do it once a day.
We bought a milk cow in March, but it was just too much for us and we ended up selling her in August. So, be warned, it’s a lot of work. Make sure you have the time, energy, and resources to make it worth it for you.
We bought a lot of ducks this spring, and sold some for a tidy little profit since we bought them for super cheap. My
daughter and I wanted to keep some for eggs and meat. So we kept 18 of them. Here are the issues we had this year.
Not having the right breeds.
We had a few different breeds, which in retrospect, was a mistake. You should really only have one focus for your ducks, and get the breeds that fit that focus. Khaki Campbells are best for eggs. Pekins are best for meat. Runners aren’t good for much. Decide what purpose you want for your ducks.
Not finding the right purpose for them.
Right now we’re not getting any benefit from our ducks. I’m thinking they’re not going to fit well into our homestead plan in the next year. We do enjoy roasted duck, so I believe that we will just raise a few Pekins in the spring for meat, and not deal with keeping them year-round.
We added 5 sheep this year, and this was one of our wins. They have done so well, I think we may have to expand on them in the coming years. Here’s what we have found with sheep.
They are very hardy.
We bought 4, 1 week-old lambs this spring. Of course we had to bottle feed them for 8 weeks, but since then they’ve been on grass and hay and have grown like crazy. We didn’t have to shear them this year, as their wool wasn’t too thick yet. None of them got sick, and we didn’t lose any.
We did have one lamb that got stepped on by our milk cow, and broke his leg. We splinted the leg and kept it wrapped for about 6 weeks. He healed beautifully!
The 5th sheep – if you were wondering – we bought at the auction. We have no idea how old he is, but we know he is a wether, and he is just sweet. Not sure what we are going to do with him yet.
Sheep aren’t escape artists like goats.
We have found that sheep are much easier to keep contained than goats. And if they do get out, they just stick together. Sheep have a definite “herd mentality”, so they need to be with others of their kind. Our sheep got into our neighbors yard once (I have no idea how!), but they were easy enough to lead back home.
When the small pasture that we kept the sheep in got too overgrazed, we actually put them in our front yard to help “mow” the grass for about a week. They did pretty good at keeping it mowed, and added some good fertilizer at the same time.
They can be butchered at 1 year old.
I’ll confess, I haven’t had a lot of sheep meat. So I’m not totally sure what to expect here. But we will be butchering these at right about a year old. I was told by our butcher that you typically wait until they weigh about 120 lbs, and you get about 75 lbs of meat from them. Not too bad of a return, but I’m not convinced that it will be a good meat animal for us yet. Maybe when we have a much larger acreage it will be more worthwhile.
We have had a few ups and downs with the goats this year. Right now, I am actually down to just one goat. I absolutely LOVE goats. But not sure if they fit into our farm plan, either. Here’s what happened.
They don’t give a lot of milk.
Goats don’t produce a whole lot of milk. Even dairy breeds will give well under a gallon a day. Our Nigerian Dwarf, Penny, gave us 2 beautiful babies to sell, but only gave us about a cup of milk. A CUP! Not enough for me to go through the hassle of milking twice a day.
Goats are escape artists.
Even though they are fun to have, goats tend to be escape artists. My goat, Penny, is constantly out of her pen. Goats are also herd animals, so they need company. Penny is with the sheep, they are her family, but she is still always out. She wanders around the yard, eating whatever grass and hay she can find. Luckily I don’t have any prize rose bushes!
We raised 4 pigs this year. We bought them as weaner pigs in the spring, and put them in our pallet pen. As expected, they were smelly. But we did have them far enough from the house that it didn’t really bother us. How did that go? Let’s chat about that.
They eat a lot of food.
This should be obvious, right? I mean, they are pigs! But we were going through a 50 pound bag in about 3 days. We found that we could get a ton of it in bulk pricing, and that would have saved us a lot of money. But it was very hard for us to find a way to store that much food. So we just bought it in bags from the feed store. At $17 per bag, though, it felt like they were eating us out of house and home!
Butcher at the right time.
We butchered 2 of the pigs a little early. They were only about 5 months old, so we didn’t get a whole lot of meat off of them. The butcher told us to wait a couple more months for the other 2, to get maximum weight on them. So we scheduled them to come to us (mobile is a lifesaver!!), two months later. What a difference that two months made! The second two pigs each weighed about 100 pounds more. Make sure you grow them to the right age, to get the most out of them.
Surprisingly, a front-runner emerged this year. Turkeys! We did very well on turkeys in 2019. We bought 12 hatchlings this spring. I was hoping to raise a few until right before Thanksgiving for a nice profit. A few were heritage breeds, but most were Broad Breasted Whites. Here’s what we found.
They do very well on pasture, or free-range.
Of course we started the turkeys in a brooder, but when they were old enough to go outside, we put them in a coop and enclosed run. It had poultry netting over the top, but that didn’t last long. They, and the wind, knocked down the netting. So then they just started free-ranging. Honestly, they started growing like crazy after they left their run!
I have enjoyed the turkeys free-ranging. With the exception of the poop everywhere! They take less food, as they are foraging all over the property. So it makes more financial sense to let them free-range, or live on pasture.
Out of the 12 turkeys, we only lost 1 to sickness. The others have done amazingly well. The Broad Breasted Whites are huge, as the heritage breeds take much longer to grow out. We butchered one for our Thanksgiving dinner, one for our friend’s, and one for our Christmas dinner. They were all about 20 lbs each. We still have 8 birds left, and plan to butcher the 3 other Broad Breasted turkeys within the next month. The heritage turkeys will take a few more months to be big enough to butcher.
They can be sold for a nice profit.
We ended up selling 2 turkeys for a nice little profit. We sold them live, as our state requires USDA processing for birds. But at $40 each, it ended up paying us back for buying the hatchlings, and most of their food. I didn’t keep good track of the costs, since we just feed them the same layer feed that the chickens get. But I believe that the $80 paid for the food that it took to raise the others to maturity.
I may try to raise more turkeys for profit. It seems that this bird has more potential to bring in some real income. Especially around the holidays. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy a pasture-raised, or free-range turkey for Thanksgiving?
The garden really struggled this year, mostly due to lack of attention from me. Let’s see what happened.
Lack of time for weeding.
We planted a huge new plot this year. Over a quarter acre! I told The Hubs that if we put in this big of a garden, I needed more help with weeding it. Of course he promised, but no one else helped much. I was working full-time, The Hubs was out of town for work a lot, we had all the farm animals, and the milk cow to boot. So the garden got a little neglected, and the plants didn’t grow like they should have.
Another issue with the bigger garden, is that we put it in a spot that had never been worked as a garden before. We live in the high desert, so most of our soil is sand with a little bit of clay. I didn’t take much time to amend the soil before planting, besides plowing in some old horse manure.
I did add some straw with cow manure as a mulch around the tomatoes and peppers. That didn’t help at all. It was apparently too nitrogen-rich and burned some of my plants. So I only had about half of my tomato plants actually produce something. Not a good harvest year for tomatoes for me!
Planting too late.
The Hubs ended up being out of town during our “prime” planting time. So we didn’t get it plowed and planted before it started getting hot. I planted peas and radishes anyway, hoping to at least get some to grow. But the heat took over too quickly and fried the peas and radishes. So that was a waste of seeds and space.
The yearly reflections for this year seem a little grim, but it’s what needs to be done in order to improve.
Although we have had issues with making things run smoothly and making money on the farm, we do eat pretty well. We usually have a freezer full of beef, pork, and chicken. Farming has its challenges, but you have to think of homesteading as a “whole picture”. The money we save in meat makes it worth it. So does the chemical-, steroid-, pesticide- and antibiotic-free, quality food that we grow ourselves.
It might be a while before we can actually turn a nice profit off of the farm. In the meantime, I will enjoy the gentle mooing of the cows, the squawking of the chickens, and gobbling of the turkeys.
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