Throughout my 10 years as a housewife and stay at home mom, my goal has always been to do things well and as cheaply as possible….even if doing things cheaply requires extra work on my part. From living in a 350 sq.ft. studio apartment (our first apartment) in Maryland and growing tomatoes, hot peppers and cilantro in order to make my own fresh salsa to now where I live far out in the backwoods mountains of West Virginia and milk goats twice a day, everything that I have ever taken on has always had two goals in mind: 1) Provide myself and my family with as nutritious as possible food sources, and 2) do so while spending as little money as possible.
The most common objection that I hear to my way of life goes something like this “well I just don’t have the experience, knowledge, know-how to do what you do, I didn’t grow up in the country…I can’t do that.” I don’t know why most people always assume that just because I live this way, it means that I must have always lived this way all of my life. NOT SO! I grew up in central Maryland in the far outlying suburbs of Baltimore, a member of a southern baptist church from age 4-14 when I quit, and I also attended a technical/trade school as a teen where I became certified as a nursing assistant before I graduated in 2001. When I was a child, my parents would have a small garden in the summer, but that stopped once I was a young teen…I didn’t grow up with chickens or goats or ducks on a farm…although I always envisioned myself eventually having one. My family did own a couple acres of land and my siblings and I did play in the woods A LOT, but that was before a big land developer bought up all the land surrounding my parent’s home and turned it into one of those poorly built matchstick box home developments where everyone is smashed in like sardines living practically on top of each other. It was a sad sad day in my universe when they knocked down ALL of my childhood woods….but I digress, the reason I say all of this is just to point out one small simple fact:
ANYONE can do what I do, all it takes is the willpower to WANT to do it and a bit of common sense…God gave you a brain, use it! 😉
I’ve been raising chickens since 2006 and they are still the “Cornerstone” of my homestead. Our chickens are 100% free range, they have complete access to every part of our little 9 acre homestead and BEYOND that, often going into the field next door that belongs to the Black Angus Cattle Farmer who lives behind us and even deep into the woods to scratch up leaves and eat big fat wriggling worms. Our flock usually ranges in size from 20-30 birds with 2 Roosters, a main one and a back-up, just in case. We raised and ate a couple of geese one year and two years ago we even raised our own Thanksgiving Turkey, just to discovered that turkeys are annoying and not really worth the extra trouble. We supplement their foraging with feed, but never beyond using one 50 pound bag of chicken feed every 2 weeks, 2 bags (100 pounds) a month of chicken feed. . . .which isn’t much, so technically they are providing most of their own food most of the time. But they are most excellent foragers. Since chickens are omnivores, we also feed them all of our food scraps, you can read more about that here “Waste Not, Want Not“.
A big 50 pound bag of chicken feed costs us $13.49…we get about a dozen eggs a day, sometimes as few as 8 and sometimes as many as 15, depending on the time of year (a few of those eggs are ducks eggs too!). So, for eggs we spend anywhere from $1.34 – 71 cents for every dozen eggs we produce, and this is for EXTRA nutritious eggs from free range hens eating green grass and bugs and acorns that fall from the trees in autumn (my kids love cracking them open and feeding them to the chickens!), which if you bought these from a farmer’s market would cost anywheres from $3-$5/dozen depending on where you live! This doesn’t even factor in that eventually every hen, after 2 years of egg-laying, will become dinner and provide practically free meat for us along with healthful delicious chicken broth made from the carcass..and every spring we use an incubator to hatch several batches of chicks and then raise up the roosters that hatch for meat, slaughtering them at 20 weeks of age, right at about the time they would reach sexual maturity …it’s impossible for me to figure out just how much that meat costs but I know that it isn’t much!
After the chickens and ducks comes the goats. Now the goats are not quite as cost effective as the chickens are because we do not have enough pasture for them to live off of exclusively. Someday we want to fence in a larger area for them, but the small exercise pen that we built will have to do for now. We feed them mostly hay and in the summer when the weeds are really high we stake them outside for a few hours a day to eat the weeds down, no mowing needed and they get a free meal…a win-win situation if you ask me! 😀
We buy their hay from a farm 5 miles down the road, we pay $3.75/bale, they eat through about 5 bales a week which I will round up to 23 bales a month, more or less. We also give them grain but ONLY to keep them occupied while they are being milked, this comes out to using one 50 pound bag of goat feed a week. We currently pay $16 for one 50 pound bag of goat feed. All of this comes out to roughly $160 a month. We’re currently getting 1.5 – 2 gallons of milk a day….which comes out to a cost of $3.55 – $2.66 for every gallon of RAW, high fat, delicious goat’s milk that we produce. Since RAW milk sales are illegal in my state (but consumption of RAW milk from your own animal is perfectly legal) having such a source of milk, in reality, is actually PRICELESS. Not to mention the super delicious goat cheese that I make which can cost an “arm and a leg” at one of those fancy dancy gourmet food stores…despite the fact that we have no real pasture to feed them, producing our own goat’s milk still costs WAY LESS than buying commercial milk from the store and it’s FAR HEALTHIER.
Next, comes our most basic food crops. Potatoes, onions, and garlic. Potatoes would be our basic starch and wheat/bread replacement. You can eat them baked, fried, boiled, steamed, mashed, roasted…and they taste far better than bread imho! If you had to, you could live off just eggs and chicken meat, milk and it’s various products including meat from butchering the goats when necessary (I usually butcher the bucklings and raise up and sell the doelings at 4 months of age) , and potatoes and you would live pretty well and pretty healthily…especially if you add in extra veggies like beans (green and dry), squash, corn, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuce and other dark leafy greens…which is most of what we grow in the summer, but we also garden year round. Not to mention the deer that Nathan sometimes gets in fall and the maple syrup that I produce from tapping our maple trees in early springtime. Yes, it’s good eatin’ when you grow your own! 😀