We’ve always been of the mindset that animals cost money. I mean, let’s be real. You don’t raise your own animals to be frugal. It’s a luxury. You do it because you love it, you seek the lifestyle, or because you’re looking for a particular type of food to be on your plate. Unless you’re a commercial operation, the cost is real, in most areas of your resources (finances, time, space, etc).
For example, when I calculate our expenses, we aren’t saving a ton of money on our sheep milk*. I can justify it financially, but if we had to cut our budget, I sure couldn’t justify keeping ’em. And when I [try not to] judge others, it’s the first thing I think they should let go of when the purse strings need tightened. But this one family I know is making me change my perspective (and is certainly not following the norm), and reminding me not to judge a book by it’s cover.
Let me preface by saying: Steve & Robin’s number one goal is to supplement their groceries with free food. So sure, they may not be doing things how we would (or have) as far as grassfed, organic, etc. But honestly, it’s still leaps and bounds above CAFO mixed meats and picked-prematurely veggies from who knows where doused in who-knows-what. Even if it doesn’t meet our general philosophies a hundred percent of the time. It’s surprisingly not far away either.
Here’s what they have on their homestead: sheep (milk, fiber, meat), pigs (meat, pasture-managers, scrap-clean-up-ers), chickens and ducks (eggs, meat, fertilizer), cows (beef, hides & milk) and a couple of horses (training children responsibility and skill). Rabbits (meat, pelts, leatherwork). Bees (honey, pollination). Fruit trees and herbs (dinner plate and animal food). What they “bring in” to feed their animals:
- They hay their neighbors field once a year, paying $2.85 per bale; saving neighbors annual mowing costs. Win-win.
- They maintain a fodder system ($10/month for entire farm)
- The food bank they grocery shop with weekly gives them excess for livestock; providing 90% of what is fed to the pigs and chickens
- They water from a well (expense: minimal electric to run pump)
They do have to invest in minimal supplies from the feed store from time to time, as well as minerals and other odd items here and there. They usually butcher their own meat, slaughter to wrap. Butchered lamb skulls hang in their chicken coop where maggots clean them out, then drop to the floor where chickens get their protein. They then sell the cured skulls to folks with terrariums after proper cleaning. The property they rent came with fencing and small structures to contain their animals. They co-op the pigs with other owners – the other owners are responsible for cleaning barns and fields of manure, etc… keeping this portion of workload (and waste) minimal for their own family. They grow low-maintenance corn, melons & pumpkins (and weeds – ha!), feeding the harvest to the chickens, the stalks and vines to the pigs.
As for the horses, they’re a bit of a splurge. Or are they? They don’t provide food for the family, but provide a learning opportunity for the two children. They teach responsibility and disciplines one would never get elsewhere. And best of all? It’s all financially sponsored (feed is included in the family’s farm expenses; minimal and self-sustaining). Their five year old has sought – and secured – both businesses and private entities to 100% financially support her rodeo and training through selling farm goods and sponsorships. What could add up to hundreds a month is instead worked for, providing a great opportunity for this young entrepreneur to not only set a budget, seek out investors and sell farm goods, but also to work hard for good results to report back of progress. And heck, clean stalls and tie knots and lift her share of weight in the process.
Funny story: All but one in their family doesn’t like lamb or rabbit (but the kids’ll eat it if they have to). They raise both because it’s cheaper than buying any meat from the grocery. So they’re not going for gourmet. They’re going for saving money. Period. Their monthly food averages $250 for a family of [currently] 5 – soon 6! Some months it’s closer to $100, when the freezer and pantry are particularly generous. Insane.
I don’t even want to mention how much we spend on groceries per month, even growing a lot on our own. We believe this area a high priority, and budget accordingly. That said, Steve & Robin’s semi-permaculture-esque set up and goals have really inspired me to consider how we can enhance our strategy into providing continued high quality food, utilizing our resources to the best of our ability in a more economical fashion. A good challenge for sure.
First step: Setting up that dag-gum fodder system that I keep saying I’m going to. Literally adding 60 seconds a day to chores, decreasing feed costs a hundred fold. Yep. I need to just do it.
*actually, I have no idea where to buy sheep milk. But other raw milk of this caliper is $20/gallon minimum. In reality, we probably are saving money on dairy/meat from our lamb, but not a ton – we certainly aren’t eating cheap by growing it ourselves. Tho’ I could argue in favor because they help maintain our land, add fertilizer, share wool, and offer a wide variety of meats & dairy products that would add up significantly otherwise… Yeah, but still. Not cheap.