How do you decide what animals to raise on your homestead or farm? Do you look at feed costs? Grow out time? Product yield vs investment? Space requirements? Cuddlability? Do you look at short and long term goals? Or do you simply jump in eyes wide shut?
These are all important questions and sometimes, they may come after you dive in.
Hi there, Christy, from Christy's Farm TN. I am a military spouse with three small kiddos. We began our homesteading journey almost two years ago with the hope of eventually lowering our cost of groceries (specifically our meat budget) for our family. We started with a meager 5 chicks from Rural King after toying with the idea for years. We quickly spiraled and fell in love with the homesteading lifestyle. We now raise chickens, turkeys, and most importantly for us, rabbits.
We live on 2 acres and go through a lot of protein. Many of the animals here came on a whim, but my husband is a researcher and knew as soon as we decided to try homesteading that he wanted to do meat rabbits. It was, admittedly, not an idea that I was keen on. Rabbits? Really!?
YES! Rabbits. There is no cleaner meat and their costs and investment requirements are minimal. The average gestation period for rabbits is 31 days and, when doing everything right, you are able to process litters at just 8-12 weeks, with a goal of 5 lbs live weight per rabbit. Many rabbit breeders start with a trio of a buck and two does. We have raised a multitude of breeds and mixes at this point, and we've also experimented with different feeds and shelters. We have raised in stacked wire cages, rabbit tractors (with and without ground contact), and are now in the process of moving our permanent herd to hanging wire with the intention of continuing to tractor our grow-outs. As long as the needs of the animals are being met, there really is no "right" or "wrong" way to raise rabbits, simply what works best for you and your available resources!
As with anything, we made many beginners mistakes. One of the most important lessons that we've learned is the importance of starting with quality stock! We started with unknown meat mutts and quickly learned that each rabbit is not created equally. We had litters taking 6+ months to grow out to the ideal processing weight. When that happens, your costs go up! Wasted feed, less yield for your investment, and a lot of frustration. We've since invested in several Silver Foxes and of all the breeds we have raised over the years, these are hands down our favorites! It is not unheard of for them to reach 5 lbs by 8 weeks and more often than not, they've reached weight by 10 weeks. They're growth is excellent and their even temperaments and mothering abilities are a definite bonus.
It's a constant learning process, and it doesn't come without its heartaches, but it has been incredibly rewarding. We look forward to continuing our rabbit raising journey and learning many more lessons along the way.
I sat down and cried today.
I hid in my daughters room. Under her bed, as I was cleaning what she refused to clean, I hid and cried.
Let's have a moment of realness. Let's get utterly raw.
Being a mommy is hard. Add to that - we have three that are not yet in school. I stay home, which is a love hate situation. Stay at home mom depression is a real thing, I believe I have been pretty open about my own battle with this. After our third child was born, I realized (with the gentle push from my husband) that I needed to talk to my doctor. I live such a beautiful life and I want for nothing. I am unbelievably happy in every since of the word, which makes something such as a mental illness seem so far fetched, but even I have demons to battle - mine are simply of the internal variety. I began taking medication to help me with this, but there are still dark days. Sometimes these days span into weeks.
Since we have started our farm, good days have far outlasted the bad, but recently I have struggled. Today, my morning started like many others. Fix my coffee. Get the kids breakfast. While they eat, tend to the animals. While checking on the chickens, I discovered our daughter's favorite chick not moving in the brooder. We have had a sneaking suspicion for a couple of weeks now that she might not survive, but we were hoping she would continue to fight and ultimately pull through. She was tiny. While the rest of our pullets continued to grow, she just....didn't. Today, we had to let her go. I had to let her go. This isn't the first brush with death on the farm. It certainly won't be the last. Such is farm life. Today, however, I had to experience it first hand. I had to end the suffering of my daughter's favorite chick. As if I did not feel awful enough, our rooster attacked me, not once, but twice as a result.
While I internalize my own hurt to break the news to my kids, I discover that our middle child has gotten into my recipe book and pulled everything out. Everything. Bookmarks, stickers, post its, all of it. He's three, he doesn't understand, but I yelled anyway. I yelled. I asked them why Mommy can't have anything. They have soooo many books and toys of their own that they won't play with. Won't pick up. Won't take care of. Yet I can't have anything. I was upset. More upset than I should have been, but did I mention how my morning began??
I sat down and cried.
To all the mommies out there, running a farm or not - you aren't alone. We all struggle. Tomorrow will be better.
Since the start of summer, our family's path has taken a dramatic turn. What started as just a few chickens became dreams and aspirations that we have since decided to chase full speed. The first dream that has come true? My farmhouse chicken coop!
We have had several requests for plans for the coop/run and I have promised a post regarding our process, so without further ado...
Once framed, we used treated panel siding. This stuff -->( www.homedepot.com/p/LP-SmartSide-SmartSide-48-in-x-96-in-Strand-Panel-Siding-27874/100055901) is supposed to resist termites and any sort of fungal decay, so hopefully it will hold up well to our chickens. When the siding was installed, the necessary holes were cut for the ventilation and the fun began.
The fun part for me was certainly the personalization. I had a difficult time choosing a color for the exterior, but I knew I wanted something classic. Is there anything more classic than black and white? I certainly didn't think so! The exterior is very modern farmhouse, but I wanted to contrast that by also adding very rustic touches. That's exactly what we did for the interior!
From day one, I had no intentions of building something to simply "house" chickens. Can you imagine how many chickens it would take to fill up an 8x12 shed? Far more than our modest two acres could accommodate. The interior includes the traditional roosting bars, of course, and it also houses a built in multipurpose brooder box. My plan is to house our younger pullets in here until they are able to join the rest of the flock. This allows all of the birds to see one another without having pecking access while the chicks are so much smaller. Later, I can also use the brooder as a broody breaker or a brood box for a hen that we want to sit on a clutch of eggs,
I also wanted to incorporate the nesting boxes inside of our coop. This will protect from any moisture, but more importantly, it will allow our young children to help gather eggs. Our previous coop had a traditional lidded exterior nesting box and our kids are too small to get the lid up, no matter how hard they tried or wanted to help.
I lined the interior with pallet board shiplap and pulled in the black to compliment the trim from the outside. Modern farmhouse meets rustic chic! The pallet shiplap may be one of my favorite details and it was so much fun to work on. Even taking apart the pallets was easier than I had expected thanks to a pallet buster!
The roosting bars are on a pedestal that will fold flat up against the wall when it comes time to clean the coop. There is a small door that can be secured by bungie chords to the adjoining wall so what I can simply sweep everything out onto a tarp to move to our compost pile. Is there anything better than a coop that's easy to clean?? Next to the sweep door is the chicken's door that lifts and lowers with the use of a pulley system from just outside. This means I don't even have to go into the coop or the run to let the chickens loose! I just pull the chord and they all run out.
We have a beautiful little property, but it is not without its flaws. The land is not flat, but we were able to work with rather than against this. Instead of the flat covered run that I originally envisioned, we chose to do a stair affect with our posts. We used hardware cloth all the way around, including for the "skirt" around the perimeter. The last thing we want is to have invested all of this time and money only for our flock to be taken by a predator, so we did our best to make the coop and the run as secure as possible. They still free range during the day, but at night, they are safely tucked away.
Anything that we could need for the chickens can be found in their enclosure. We are able to keep everything together because we chose to build our all inclusive "chicken shed" and it came out better than I could have ever imagined. There are still a few finishing touches that we will get to at some point, but for now, can you say #coopgoals?