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Chickens. Worth it?

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When venturing into the world of chicken ownership, one of the most common questions people ask is if it’s worth it financially. In this article, let’s break down some of the costs to see just how much money one can save with even a few backyard chickens.

When my wife and I decided it was finally time to get some cluckers, we originally bought 6 chicks. Upon seeing that the feed store had more variety a few weeks later than when we’d originally gone, we felt it necessary to buy 4 more, bringing our total to 10. One egg bound chicken passed away later and we were gifted 4 more from our friends with a 10 acre farm. Our grand total had reached 13. Then, most recently, we found some Ameraucanas at the feed store. Who doesn’t want blue eggs? 3 more were added to the flock for a total of 16 hens.

Let’s break down the math. Initial investment was, on average, $2.50 per chick. Some were $4, some were on sale for $1. 16 chickens at $2.50 each is $40. Let’s throw another $200 for initial supplies (brooder, heat lamps and bulbs, start/grow feed, bedding, water/feed dishes, etc). And finally, the most expensive aspect by far of owning chickens, the coop. As a builder, I wanted to build a modular coop where I could easily remove the roof, take each wall down as a single piece, and be left with the floor. Giving a total of 6 pieces to move and quickly reassemble whenever we get onto acreage. I built my coop by hand, included 2 large vinyl sliding windows, nice hardware, a melamine floor. Entire cost of the coop build, during the peak lumber price bubble, was just over $700. This coop is large enough to easily fit our 16 hens, and we could fit another 6-8 if we wanted to. But you don’t need something this large or elaborate. Cost can easily be cut into 1/4 of what I paid, even with today’s prices, if you’re planning on having less chickens.

So, to date we’ve spent roughly $940 on our chicken setup, minus the monthly feed and treats. The 16% layer feed we buy runs about $200 for 3 months worth for our 16 hens. That’s $800 a year. Throw in a few bags of grubs and 50lb bags of cracked corn, and we’ll round it to a smooth $1,000 a year to feed them.

This all might seem like an entirely unnecessary expense and not worth it, but here’s where the math starts working in our favor.

We get, on average, 12 eggs a day from our 13 laying hens. In a few months, the 3 Ameraucanas will begin laying, bringing our average to somewhere around 16 eggs a day. 16 a day is 486 dozen eggs a year, or 40.5 dozen a month. Depending on where you live, organic free-range eggs can get expensive. Here in Portland, OR, your top of the line farm eggs will run you $8 a dozen at the grocery store. So, in order to buy the 486 dozen eggs we will get in a year, we would have to spend $3,888. Our initial investment of $940, plus an entire year’s cost of feed, runs us $1,940 for year 1, and $1,000 every year thereafter. We are getting $2,888 worth of free eggs every year once you subtract the cost of feed.

The savings don’t just stop there though. Chickens eat bugs. That’s literally all they do. They eat bugs, poop on everything, and eat more bugs. Those bugs can wreak havoc on your garden. But they don’t. Because they get eaten. You get a larger harvest each year. More money saved.

Chickens, as mentioned above, poop everywhere. Chicken manure is like gold to plants/gardens/lawns. It is loaded with nutrients, and it’s extremely soft. Every day I go outside in our small backyard and blast the lawn with the hose on “shower” setting and the chicken poop just melts away into the soil. Our grass has never been greener than it was last year. You can scoop this manure as well, throw it into your compost, and have the richest fertilizer imaginable. Now you don’t have to buy fertilizer from the store. More money saved.

If you have children, you’re in luck. Chicken watching is one of the most fun things in the world. We have 2 daughters and our oldest loves our chickens. Every day we come outside to play, and she laughs hysterically every time one of the hens flaps their wings, jumps up on a chair, flies down, etc. She loves helping throw handfuls of grubs and mealworms to them, and smiles and laughs when they all come running. It is quite literally free entertainment for children. More money saved simply by letting your children interact with and watch the chickens instead of constantly trying to buy them new and unnecessary things to keep them busy.

As you can see, the financial aspect of becoming a certified chicken bard is well worth the initial investment and upkeep. We eat a ton of eggs in our household (they’re our oldest daughter’s favorite), and we give many eggs to my Mother-in-law who lives a couple houses down from us. so we don’t currently sell any of the eggs we get. But if we wanted to, we could easily make money just from the 16 hens in our small backyard. If we doubled the amount of chickens we had, a cool $4-5k a year from fresh chicken eggs would be easily attainable. Not only are chickens worth it, there is very real money to be made by raising them for either eggs or meat. They are the lowest maintenance animal you can own (just give them food, water, throw some treats and produce scraps in the yard every day, and change their coop bedding regularly), they’re endless entertainment to watch, they provide you with more nutrients than you’ll ever find in store bought eggs, they help your garden. If you’re apprehensive about getting chickens, just do it. It’s worth it in every capacity.

-Woodshop Bear

Farming

Building a Beartarian Homestead

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow.

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By: Mohawk Farmer Bear

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

There’s something romantic about homesteading. Thinking about building a chicken coop, or milking your own cow. Making butter, cream, and cheese with that milk. Raising a few sheep and pigs that you slaughter yourself and put in the freezer. It all gives you a wonderful homey feeling as you daydream about all the possibilities of building your own homestead and growing your own food while reading homesteading books by a warm cozy fire with snow gently falling outside.

But then comes the daunting task of making it happen. Pounding that fence post into the ground or putting up dusty, scratchy, hay in 90 degree weather… all of a sudden it doesn’t seem as romantic as that homesteading book made it feel. Truth be told, it’s not romantic at all. But it is good, and it’s extremely rewarding.

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow. Raising animals requires building infrastructure and dealing with living animals, weather, and predators. There’s a huge learning curve that usually takes years. So don’t try to do everything at once. Start slow and work into it. Get good at raising chickens before getting a pig. Likewise get proficient at keeping a few pigs or goats before adding a milk cow. As you learn how farm animals behave and what is required to manage them, you will become more confident with keeping larger animals.

If you try to do everything at once… chickens, pigs, beef cows, milk cows… you’re going to be overwhelmed. So take it slow, start with some chickens, and work up from there.

As you build your homestead there are a few things you should strive for.

Functionality

Remember, you are growing food to feed your family. While we do want to properly care for our animals, we also want to keep our costs down as much as possible. The goal is to grow the best food we can at a very affordable price. Don’t let money be your go to solution for everything. When faced with a project or a problem, challenge yourself to think of solutions that don’t require spending money.

Animal housing and infrastructure should be primarily about function, not looks. The chicken coop needs to keep the chickens comfortably out of the elements, give them a clean place to lay eggs, and keep the predators away. You can have an attractive chicken coop, just figure out how to do it without spending a boat load of money. If your homegrown eggs are costing you $50 per dozen, you probably overbuilt your chicken coop.

Efficiency

If you just got into homesteading, You’re probably still working a full time job. That means everything you do needs to be efficient. Daily chores should be under an hour per day. Right now I have 11 cows, 1 milk cow, 5 pigs, 70 chickens, and 3 sheep. My daily chores usually take 45 minutes. Mostly this boils down to just a few things.

Sturdy reliable fencing, You don’t want to be chasing animals that escaped. Good fencing is a must and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Accessible water. Hauling water is a pain and very time consuming. Black plastic pipe is cheap. Run some over the ground to where you need and pump the water instead of carrying it. During the winter, keep the animals close to a central watering point so you don’t have to carry buckets very far. Automatic feeders and waterers are a must. There’s tons of options out there but the main thing is to always have clean fresh water available to your critters.

For Chickens I like the Poultry Bell waterers. They can be gravity fed from a 5 gallon bucket with a float valve filling up the bucket. All you have to do is check daily to make sure the water is flowing into the waterer. For pigs I like the Brower 85gallon field drinker. The weight of a full tank keeps the pigs from tipping it over and a float valve keeps it full. 

If all you have to do is collect eggs, add a little dry bedding here and there, do a walk by inspection to ensure feeders and waterers are working properly, then your daily chores won’t take hardly any time. Occasionally you’ll have to clean out the coop or load pigs to go to the butcher, but your daily chores will be minimal. 

Forgiveness

Don’t get discouraged when stuff happens. Things will go wrong from time to time. You’re dealing with living animals, nature, weather, and seasons. A Pine Marten will massacre your chickens, your sheep will get out and eat your garden, drought will dry up your pastures. Whether your toddler steps on a chick, or your goat gives birth to stillborn kids, don’t let the emotions overwhelm you. Life and death is all part of homesteading. Take a moment to ponder what happened, learn from it, and move on. After all, the other critters on the farm still need tending to. Just pray that God would give you the wisdom to learn, prosper, and crush despite the challenges. 

Homesteading is about continually building, refining, getting more efficient and more self-sufficient. It’s the journey that makes it so much fun. Enjoy the building process as you build your homestead. 

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Farming

The Subtle Power of Growing Food

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food.

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By Volgadeutsch Bear / Zachry Smith

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

I live in Evans, Colorado. It is a town with a population of around 25,000 people. It is a food desert. There are a smattering of excellent hole in the wall restaurants. There are a bunch of gas stations with crappy food. There are a couple of small Mexican grocery stores and that is it. Granted, Evans is a suburb of Greeley, which has all your normal food places and grocery stores and you can easily fulfill your needs by going to Greeley. Like most places in America, the people of Evans and Greeley are dependent upon an external system of supply chains for food. But I wonder; is it possible for the town of Evans to become food independent? What about Greeley and Evans, heck, I wonder if it is possible for all of Weld County to become food independent? What would happen if the people of these communities realized the vulnerability of the existing food system and decided to send significant resources and energy towards becoming food independent on a local level? Is it possible for any community, regardless of size, to make food independence a fundamental pillar of the communities existence?

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food. My property is basically divided into three sections. A one acre field with rich soil, the park section shaded with trees where my house sits, and another ¼ of an acre field with beautiful soil. A few of my neighbors and I joined forces and by the third year on the property we created ‘Empire Gardens’ and had an operation growing a little over an acre’s worth of vegetables and herbs. From July through October, Friday through Sunday we created a farmers market in the front yard. We did this for two years when unfortunately my neighbors inherited land in Tennessee and split. The energy explosion and the wisdom revealed in those two years was remarkable. We built real community connections as the farmers market became the place to be. Neighbors got to know each other. Powerful discussions about health, food supply chains, what is value, debt slavery and the trajectory of the education system are examples of the depth of topics discussed. People were learning about nutrition, saving seeds, and preserving food. Many people within the community suggested that I run for mayor. I would jokingly always ask, “is it possible to be mayor without running for mayor?”

My buddy Jayson is a seventh grade biology teacher at a middle school in Hastings, Nebraska. Like Evans, Hastings has a population of around 25,000 people. Jayson spent a few days at Empire Gardens one summer during the peak of its operation. That experience and our conversations planted a seed in his mind. He envisioned the power of growing food and providing the opportunity to do so for kids. He went back to Nebraska and spearheaded the creation of the largest school garden in the state of Nebraska. This is where it gets interesting. One year in the late winter I drove out to Hastings to tandem teach with Jayson for an entire week. We hijacked a week of school to work on one project with the kids.

We asked them; Is it possible for the town of Hastings to become food independent? The kids quickly came to realize that the majority of the food they consume does not come from the vicinity of Hastings even though Hastings is surrounded by farmland.

By the end of the week, kids were presenting solutions on how to create and make available more food on a local level. One kid began mapping underutilized open spaces where food could be grown. One kid searched properties for sale to build an interconnected network of food stores that could be conveniently accessed by foot from anywhere in town. Kids realized we need people who can do stuff. We need growers, processors, marketers, lawyers, leaders, programmers, communications, money and so on. The more we contemplated building food independence for Hastings the more gaps kids realized needed to be filled. That became the game, ‘Fill the Gap’, who is interested in filling the gap? What will it take to Fill the Gap?

Kids can be the catalyst to build more harmonious, cohesive and resilient communities through food independence. What if part of the curriculum of growing up was to be a part of building food independence? Imagine if a team of kids presented to a bunch of investors a plan to make the town of Evans food independent? What if a team of kids ran the math equation, found a few ranchers outside of town and developed a method to provide a quarter of a cow to everybody in town? What if a team of kids ran a media operation with the intent to show the current state of food independence within the town by describing what is currently being produced, what gaps exist, can those gaps be filled, what do people want to eat, what should people eat, we have this need/who wants to help? Empire Gardens is simply the process to create food independence on a local level. Food independence is fractal. It begins with the individual and has the power to radiate from family, to neighborhood , to town, to county, to state, to country, to the world. We all know high quality, nutritious and energetic food when we see it. We all know that that kind of food is a fundamental pillar to achieving our best selves. We all know that a direction through food is a way for harmony to restore. What if we as communities utilize the energy of generation next, the wisdom of elders, the infrastructure that already exists and the super lofty goal of food independence on a local level as a mechanism to create a new trajectory for the good, true and beautiful?

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Farming

The Butler Family

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying!

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This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

Hi! We are the Butlers party of seven. Our family is nestled on 80 acres in the hills of West Virginia. Our homesteading journey began in 2014 when we decided that we would build our current 750 sq ft cabin and sell our 2,500+ sq ft farmhouse. My husband Bobby’s job as a coal miner was undependable and made things difficult.  It took us three years to finish but all the costs were out of pocket. Finally in 2017 it was complete and our farm house sold! We were mortgage free! The first night we stayed in the cabin was surreal! The thoughts of our five homeschooled children getting to make memories on the farm where Bobby grew up made all of the long, hard days of work well worth it! We would get to see our children not just live but thrive on the land.

Our first spring on the farm we purchased our flock of feathered friends. They were and still are a mixed breed of both brown and white egg laying hens with one handsome Red Leghorn Roo. We collect around a dozen eggs a day that go unwashed into egg cartons then into our refrigerator. Eggs contain a coating that is called bloom. The bloom keeps the pores on the eggs covered and reduces the risk of bacteria from entering the eggs. We don’t leave the eggs out on the counter since our eggs are fertilized. You can though! We’ve read that chickens are the gateway animal. That may have some truth behind it!

We had constantly talked of becoming more self-sufficient on the farm. We’ve always had a large garden and canned, but 2021 felt and ended up much different. We experienced some food shortages in our area but God always came through! We were never without! We knew we needed to make changes if we were serious about becoming more self-sufficient. Spring of 2021 we set our goal to jump full in! Meat, dairy, garden, all of it!

A reliable meat source for our family was important.  We are a hunting family, so every fall our shelves and freezer are usually full of venison. That only lasts our family a time and hunting season on deer isn’t year-round. We wanted a meat that would quickly add to our food storage, be timely to manage and wouldn’t take from our pasture. Meat rabbits were our focus. Good friends of ours had already started the rabbit journey and supplied us with three New Zealand doe’s from their farm. To complete our warren of rabbits we purchased a Lilac Silver Fox Buck and a Blue Silver fox doe. Silver Fox rabbits are a dual-purpose breed, raised for their meat and fur. Their fur coloring trait is found in no other breed and resembles the pelts of the silver fox from the Arctic. They are also a heritage breed. We have had three successful litters so far. One of the litters we have already butchered for the freezer and sent their furs to a friend to tan for us. Be on the lookout for some fun fur items to come!

The next add on to our farm that spring was Honey Bees. I mean why not? Who doesn’t love raw honey?! We purchased a package of Italian honey bees from a local bee shop. A package of honey bees includes about 3 pounds of bees and one queen bee. Three pounds of honey bees is estimated to be 10,000 bees. They toss those three pounds of bees into a mesh box and add a boxed queen bee. She has to be left in her separate protective box for several days after placing the bees into their new hive. This gives the colony time to accept her as their new queen. If she was released into the hive without their acceptance the colony would kill her. Honey Bees are so cool! If you ever get the chance to be present during a hive inspection, do it! Those little creatures are so neat to watch!

The first year of beekeeping, honey usually isn’t collected. The goal is to get the colony strong enough to survive the winter with enough honey to feed them during the months when they can’t forage. A month later, after getting our package of bees set up, a friend called about a swarm of bees that had landed in a peach tree of theirs.

We were excited! What an awesome opportunity! We jumped on the chance to catch the swarm and bring them to the farm as our second hive. We closed up both of those hives for the winter a few weeks ago. If everything goes as it should they will be ready to produce honey for us in the spring.

In between getting our farm ready for our rabbits and bees we expanded our garden. It is roughly a quarter of an acre and was jam packed this growing season! Gardening is such a forgiving sustainable option, in my opinion. We not only use ours to grow our fruits and vegetables for the season but we also have several herb beds that we use for medicinal purposes. We started some from seed and purchased some from local nurseries. A small list of some that we have are: Comfrey, Feverfew, Jerusalem Artichoke, Motherwort, Elecampane, Marshmallow, Anise, Hyssop, Arnica, Lovage, Pearly Everlasting, Bee Balm, Catnip, Sweet Annie, Wild Licorice, Goldenseal, Solomon Seal, Wild Ginger and several different mint varieties. We dried a lot of herbs this year for teas. They are such an easy way to boost your immune system or add as treatment to a condition. 

While we have plans of adding a few other creatures to our farm, we feel that our Jersey Cow, Momma, is the staple to our homesteading life. We did a lot of research and searching before finding her. We knew with the size of our pasture that we wanted a medium sized cow but also one that produced a lot of cream to increase the number of food products that we would be able to make from her milk. A Jersey was the perfect fit for our farm. 

In preparation for her arrival all of the old fencing that enclosed her pasture had to be torn out and replaced with new. The old fence was in rough shape and would not keep in a cow. Along with the fencing provisions we didn’t have a barn to milk in. The same friend that gave us a jump start on our rabbits came to help square up and set the posts for our milking barn. We are so grateful for that help! The milking barn is currently under roof and about fifty percent covered with rough cut. That wood was cut from downed trees from our farm on our saw mill.

Momma requires to be milked & fed  twice a day now that her calf, Guapo, is weaned. She is currently giving us about 2 gallons of milk a day. That adds up quickly! We spend lots of time in our kitchen! We make mozzarella cheese, butter, chocolate milk, ricotta, and yogurt several times a week. Just this month we made our first hard cheddar cheese! Hard cheeses have to age from three to twelve months unlike soft cheeses that can be eaten right away. There is something so special about the bond you form with your animals. We spend hours with Momma every day and she has made such great improvements since coming to us. She is expecting and it’s  due to calf this coming June 2022! 

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying! There are so many ups and downs but this way of life is so rewarding! We tell our kids that there is such satisfaction in a hard day’s work! To be able to sit back and look at your accomplishments, how far you’ve come and the amount of priceless knowledge that you gain cannot be matched!

If you would like to read these articles when they are first printed, you can purchase the magazine here: https://magazine.beartariatimes.com/

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