Animals Gotta Pay for Themselves

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“I got livestock. I got livestock. I got cows. I got pigs. I got sheep. I got mules. I got all live stock.”

-Johnny Cash

When most people think of homesteading, they think of two things. First, a garden. Then, the animals come marching in 2 by 2, hurrah! While we are still trying to figure out the garden situation because the first year was honestly a disaster, we have turned to second on the list.

And honestly — the animals are a lot easier to take care of. Since moving onto our little quarter acre, we have housed rabbits of all sorts, pigeons, baby turkeys, chickens, and multiple duckling breeds.

These little buggers have taught us a lot. And sometimes, they can even be unmanagable. Even more so because we just want everything to be free range. However, we have to whisper to ourselves that we are still technically in the city and need to keep an eye on all those little feet thumping, waddling, and hopping around.

But the biggest thing we learned from experience and veteran animal husbandry wisdom. Animals take a lot of time and they can also be expensive.

So what is the old adage wisdom?

Animals need to pull their own weight on the homestead. 

FullSizeR (61)But what does that even mean? Are you outfitting little bunnies with carriages so they can carry a few seed packages around for you as you plant your garden? Or are the animals pulling each other around? While the whole rabbit and carriage thing would be adorable — I would be horrified to see a goat dragging another goat around while it flails it’s body around, kicking up dirt, and screaming that awful scream.

This is hard to explain without an example. But the main idea is that your animals — whatever they may be — need to serve at least two purposes on the farm. Shelter, water, feed, fencing, it all costs money.

And sometimes it costs a lot of money. Like when you try and take your goat to the animal emergency room and pay $90 for the walk-in special only to realize they don’t handle farm animals.

But animals are adorable and really can produce a nice income and healthy meal for your family.

So, animals need to provide enough for your family to justify their boarding costs. Whether it be protection of family, livestock, meat, milk, sold for pets, companionship, eggs, compost, etc. They need to provide at least two uses for your family on the farm.

And if you plan on butchering animals, the best way to do it is by using every last bit of that little one. If you don’t believe me, head over to The Elliott Homestead where she makes pig head cheese and uses chicken innards in her compost.

The more uses you find for an animal, the easier it is to pull out your wallet when they require better housing, more feed, and unfrozen, clean water when it’s -20 degree Fahrenheit with the windchill.

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So what do we do on our homestead? Well, all of our pigeons have been sold because we couldn’t find enough uses for them, along with our ducklings, baby chicks, and turkeys. However, we are so looking forward to purchasing some laying hens in the spring.

We have been drawing up coop ideas for weeks. And my Pinterest board is about to explode.

But the main animals we care for are rabbits. They have been so easy to take care of. These aren’t meat rabbits, however. We buy and sell pet rabbits. The two breeds we prefer to keep on the home front are Lionheads and Holland Lops.

Even these bunnies we have a hard time staying dettached when it comes to selling them. But, everyone has to pay their way and it’s a lot easier knowing these animals are going to a good home and will be loved. They aren’t getting sent to a slaughter house.

But secretly I’m plotting to start breeding Californians this coming spring (along with those little hens). I’m not sure if I could eat the meat yet but we have two really big, hungry dogs that need fed. And I hate running out of food and it’s one less dependency on the outside world.

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One small step towards tasty and healthy dog food. One giant leap towards self-sustainability.

The Beard says he might not be able to butcher the rabbits because of ‘those eyes.’ Man, I have to tell you those eyes can be beautiful. So, I might have to pony up and do the harvesting myself. And that’s okay because I really feel like we both should know how to butcher and harvest our animals on the farm.

So let’s bring it back to what our rabbits provide for us, specifically because each homestead will be different and have fluctuating emotional thresholds when it comes to animals.

Our rabbits provide a small amount of income for us. We buy them for very cheap from farmers that have no way of reaching customers. Most are over an hour away from a small town. We, however, have over 500,000 people near us. I know. I know. It sounds like a lot and it totally is. We are realizing we aren’t meant to be neighbors.

But let me digress. We buy our rabbits for really cheap and then sell them as pets to people. And this is why we migrate towards the Lionheads and Holland Lops. They are just too hard to resist. I mean those Lionheads with their little ferocious manes. And those Holland Lops with their droopy ears.

And then their best attribute comes from housing them.

You know how they say breast milk is like the golden liquid? And I’m sure it is but haven’t experienced it first hand yet. But rabbit manure (or poop) is like the golden liquid of the garden.

Their manure can be thrown in the compost or put directly on your plants. Composting tea can be made and sprayed on your plants or take it as it is.

FullSizeR (4)The Beard’s uncle has had an organic garden for 30+ years. And his garden is amazing. He uses rabbit and pigeon manure all in his garden. (However, the pigeon poop needs to age at least a year.) And he doesn’t even water his garden! It’s that good. If you haven’t seen his garden, check it out HERE.

And guess what? Rabbits need the least amount of space on your homestead. Making the perfect livestock for small acreages. And they can even eat strictly grass to cut the feed bill. However, there will be those out there who will knock you down and tell you that it will just kill your rabbits. Feeding grass to your rabbits is a touchy subject for rabbit breeders and keepers. Just do your own research before feeding grass to your little fluff balls.

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But the main idea is that your animals can’t be a one way relationship. They can’t just keep taking and taking and not giving anything in return. Otherwise, your homestead will quickly turn into a money pit.

Remember, the bigger the animal. The more expensive it will probably be to house them and keep them fed. So make sure you are getting the most out of your animals. Because in the end, it’s either the animals or your family. And 10 times out of 10, I’ll choose my family.

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What unusual ways do you get the most out of your livestock?

 

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