Monday, January 23, 2017

Livestock...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

With less than a week left in January, our Poor Farm Budget month, I thought I better hit a couple more key areas, livestock being one of them. It's an important area since we raise 100% of all our own beef, pork and chicken. We plan to expand it to include rabbit in 2018.

Our monthly budget is just $50/month or $600/year and our livestock includes: four beef steers, one milk cow, one pregnant heifer, one horse, two guard dogs, three barn cats, about 60 chickens and ducks and four feeder pigs.

So now you're shaking your head, how can we possibly feed all that livestock on just $50/month?!

By bartering.

It's an age old technique used by farmers/homesteaders/good neighbors for centuries. Rather than exchanging money for goods, we exchange labor or goods for other goods. For hay and grain specifically, Keith trades his labor for feed with another farmer friend of ours. So many hours of work equals so many bales of hay/straw or bushels of grain. In addition, if Keith if cleaning out a barn or other storage building of our friend he is often given the old hay/straw/corn cobs on the floor of that building, which we use for bedding or composting.

The fact that we do not feed grain to our steers, cows, or horse, also keeps costs down. Only the chickens and ducks get grain in the winter while in summer they forage for themselves: lots of bugs, ticks, small snakes, mice for them to dine upon. As we only raise hogs through the summer, our grain costs for them occur only April through August.

We own seven acres and about six of them are in pasture, this means we are not buying or bartering for hay from April through October. Soon, our pregnant heifer will calve (in April) and then we'll decide which of the two milk cows to keep, we don't need both so the other will be sold. Of the four steers, one goes to the locker in June, leaving three smaller ones to raise for beef over the next two years.

We'll be taking many of the extra ducks/roosters to the animal swap/sale in Kankakee in spring reducing our livestock numbers even more. As the numbers decrease we plan to grow our own hay for the winter which would limit Keith's time working off our farm for feed .

In April we'll bring home four 8 week old piglets and raise them on pasture, grain and milk until they are locker size at the end of August. We'll keep the meat from one and sell the other three. They will also get a good amount of extra garden produce, old eggs, apples that have fallen to the ground and the occasional duckling protein snack they grab when mama ducklings get distracted, on their Smartphones I suspect.

The dogs and cats get generic dog/cat food as well as table scraps/freezer meat/bones/older lard we've had stored. They are working farm animals and they eat like such. They are not above eating rabbits/ racoons/moles/mice/birds as well. But they never go after chicks or ducklings, they learned at a very early age, that was not acceptable.

Ashland though, the German Shepard, does like to chase the ducks just to make them fly. he is annoying that way.

Animal illness is rare and when it occurs we prevent and treat with diatomaceous earth (all of our animals) and powdered garlic (only for hogs and cattle). Having our animals out on pasture (muddy as it is right now) and not confined in building, makes for healthier stock. We do have a great vet who comes for emergencies, but it is a rare event.

The horse, you might have guessed, is pure luxury. I suggested to Keith we sell her, I don't ride her enough to validate the hay expense in my mind, but Keith knows I love her so we came up with this plan. If I do not ride here regularly this summer, (or teach her to pull heavy items about the farm) she goes away in the fall. A fair deal I think.

So, spill your guts. If you have pets/livestock, how do you keep your feed and vet costs at manageable levels? How do you validate their presence? Are they for pleasure or must they earn their keep either in the work they do or the food they produce for you to eat?


  1. Good question! Our feed bills are higher than I'd like because we don't have pasture. I forage a great deal of rabbit food from the back yard and I'm learning about fodder. We feed our garden scraps as well. All of our animals are multipurpose. Chickens are for eggs and then meat when they slow down on laying. Goats are for milk and kids are for meat or we sell them for feed money. Rabbits are for meat and the butchering scraps go to the barn cats. I'm trying to learn how to tan their hides also.
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    1. No apologies needed! Life is a cycle and no where is it more obvious than on a farm or homestead or in a garden. Multipurpose animals are key.

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  2. Hope you are keeping warm.
    It sounds like you have most of the year sorted, when you own a variety of animals you have to be organised and plan well ahead or it ends up costing money for unforseen situations, not something you want to deal with on a tight budget.
    When we raised pigs we found if the males were 'cut' at an early age the meat was sweet and lost that gamey strong flavour that hits you as soon as the chops hit the hot pan.
    Our pigs were just for personal use and were raised by their mother with access to pasture,grain and excess cows milk, the meat was outstanding.
    When we twice didn't get our own meat back from the small country town butcher (just for cutting up) we made a bandsaw and did it ourselves. So infuriating to spend months of care and special feeding then to get back stinky meat.Our carcass was well tatooed so we knew it was deliberate substitution.

    1. Yes it does suck, I've heard of other lockers in our area doing the same but its never happened to us from the two lockers we used over the years. Some folks might say "Pork is pork" but those of us who raise it know differently. A hog raised on concrete in confinement tastes horrible whereas on raised outdoors on pasture is pure pork chop joy.

      On the cutting side, we castrated our piglets at 3-7 days, but we did butcher a couple older boars over the years. Some of that meat we made into brats which Keith loved but I could not tolerate the strong smell. Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm does not castrate his and has had success in breeding the taint out of his boars over the generations. His blog is

  3. It's easy to supply food in the growing season, when the rain is falling. Much harder when nothing is growing. My husband collects the fresh food scraps from his work place, to help feed our chickens.

    At his work are some budding gardeners too. Yes, they even have those in the big smoke! They bring their excess to work, and what isn't edible to us, goes to our chickens. Our new hens started laying recently, which means we get a couple of dozen every few days. So we gave a carton to each person, who has provided excess from their garden to us.

    They were so chuffed. Each time a carton was gifted, they said, "are these REAL eggs?" It makes us giggle, although we completely know what they're saying. It's not that they're fake eggs, more than they're appreciating how real the chickens are. :)

    1. Good for you! bartering is so crucial for community spirit and for getting decent food you can't grow yourself. We need a fisherman to add to our friend list, I do so love salmon and good tuna.

  4. Sounds like a very good plan. I should look around and see if there is a livestock sale barn in our area. That might be easier for selling off extras than waiting on craigslist. We keep only what we can afford to feed.

    1. We have a great Facebook page in our area too, for small farm livestock sales. Works great.

  5. Donna thank you so much for this series. I am starting a budget for us, for the first time ever. That's kind of embarrassing but I guess no one is born knowing this stuff.

    1. You are so welcome. I've taken a little heat about it though. Folks wondering why on earth I would share such personal stuff, as if how much I spend on auto expenses is that "personal", but for me it added accountability to our budget. My billions of followers are counting on me to be authentic. And besides, I am learning SO MUCH from all of YOU!

  6. As we have never raised livestock even at our VA home, it sounds like you have a fine grip on what needs to be done for your own, Donna. The only food we raised were garden vegetables and there was no bartering because most other folks raised the same veggies in their own gardens!

    1. Still, raising your own veggies is something to be proud of. Less and less folks do it. Seems it requires work.

  7. Donna, we gave him the benifit of doubt the first time, he said he was sorry but parts of carcasses can get mixed up when they are being divided. We then put double the amount of tatoos ALL over the skin and he did it again.
    We then informed him we were not gullible and would never provide him with our first class pork for him to carelessly get mixed up.
    We would have been happy to barter some of our meat if he had been honest about wanting some outstanding meat.

    1. What a thief! He's quite lucky you didn't press charges. Bum.

  8. Over 32 years a lot of ways. But now with just the two humans it is in a way easier. One is our life is a bit different with Geoffrey's chronic leukemia and he doesn't eat like he did 6 years ago. So it works on less. Also with his illness a major herd reduction took place so now we only have 12 dairy goats 8 does and 3 bucks plus a wether for company for the younger buck. Need to trim back after 2018 but like to freshen the does at least once prior to selling so I can be honest about her and how she milks. We have a garden and I often barter with my soap and cheese. Yup along way from milking 35 and kidding out 50+ hitting fairs and shows. Kinda like this life <3

    1. I remember those days of goat breeding, showing, selling and they were great when we were in the middle of it bit so HAPPY now not to have that kind of stress. Now, cheese making, I'm still an amateur here. Any good books or websites to recommend?

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