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Making Do

To begin with, we apologize for this week's article being late. Farming is often a weather-driven business, and it's simply been too lovely to not spend the days getting gardening and yard work done!

Now on with the show...

We love when Mom weeds!

Last week I talked about lawns, and how they tend to not be very practical for small homesteaders. In a year where we are looking at potentially all our sheep-sale funds going right back into hay bales, wasting good grass seems like... well a waste. For us, we are living on one income while we work on developing a larger audience for our endangered livestock breeds and our educational classes, and like all businesses, that means things are really lean right now.

Grain costs what!?

But that fact is that things have been lean for small family farms and homesteaders for a long time. The recent increase in feed, fuel and other costs has increased this pressure for those small homesteads that remain. Where we once would have bought or rented a few acres of land to develop new pasture and grow our flocks, increased demand for housing means that land going for a few thousand dollars even three years ago now sells for more than ten thousand an acre. In addition, solar farms are being built on top of good farming land, rather than over parking lots like many countries have done, driving up prices further.

It has us counting our pennies and sweating a bit, I'll be honest.

So imagine my reaction when I saw a Facebook post the other day in which someone new to chickens and homesteading posted that she was looking for a coop that would hold about 40 chickens, and her budget was ten thousand dollars.

I am happy for people who have that kind of money to spend on their hobbies, but I did choke on my coffee a bit.

Last Summer Backyard Poultry published an article I wrote called "Lay a Little Egg." In it, I compared how modern-day, backyard chicken raising compares to that from the 30s and 40s. During the food shortages of World War 2, backyard chickens were considered a civic duty, not a hobby. You can read the article if you are interested, so I won't go into the specifics, but there were certainly a lot of differences in housing, feed, disease prevention/treatment and outlooks.

One of those major points though, was that there were no special "chicken things." No special housing, no purchased feeds, etc. The chickens thrived on casts off that the humans considered trash. As prices go higher, it seems natural to look back to the way our grandparents (or great grandparents, depending on your age group) made do with less. We've found ourselves looking through old copies of "The Farmer's Bulletin" for ideas we can adapt. We are thinking outside the box for new outbuildings and goat housing. Our gardens have gotten bigger and our splurges have gotten smaller.

We are adding in as well as subtracting. We usually buy, raise and process our own broilers annually. However, this year we went with buying local Buckeye chicks instead. Not only did this support a local business, it reduced our risk of infection from avian flu, and it gave us a breed that will be able to reproduce itself rather than buying in new every year. In addition, they shouldn't require the kind of care and attention broilers do, and are less prove to health issues. Our chicks, when grown, will be put out to pasture with the sheep which should not only provide them a healthy choice of foods, but will keep down the ticks and slugs that endanger our larger animals.

We are also asking our fellow breeders for other creative problem-solving ideas. We have our great friend at E.B. Ranch to thank for the idea that led to our newest goat house, an old camper gutted and hauled into the field. It cost us a few hundred dollars at a point where building or buying a traditional shed would have been over a thousand. We have discussed alternative feeding options with Skara Brae Homestead in Virginia to offset the rising cost of winter hay, and discovered Mangel beets, a crop once used commonly to feed cattle and other livestock.

One of the reasons we choose heritage breeds is their ability to thrive under rougher conditions than many modern breeds. Our goats are happier on weeds than hay, and most San Clemente Island goat breeders report not graining their goats (except when they need bribes!) and yet milk and meat quantities and qualities are as high or higher than those breeders who do use grain. Our Soay were fed on nothing but hay and beet pulp before coming to Maine. Our Muscovy, I swear, can pull food out of thin air and thrive on it!

What steps are you taking to deal with the rising prices? Are you culling more livestock this year, or doubling down? How are your gardens looking? What are your short and long term plans? Are you considering getting out of homesteading altogether, or maybe you are thinking about getting in.

We'd love to hear more about how others are reacting and how it's working for you.

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