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Raising Livestock in SHTF Situation: What You Should Raise and Why

In the case of a SHTF event, we could live without internet, cars and gadgets. We could survive without electricity, air conditioning, heating systems and hot water. But we couldn’t make it without enough food supplies. Canned tuna, frozen beans and boiled potatoes can only last so far. All these supplies are bound to end sooner or later, leaving us exposed to starvation. So how can preppers improve on this aspect and ensure their food supply doesn’t run out after three days? The answer is raising livestock. Our ancestors didn’t have supermarkets, had never heard about take-away, fast-food, processed food or preservatives.

Their survival depended on livestock, fruits, vegetables, plants and seeds. Nowadays you can learn about all of these by getting an agriculture degree. But back then, knowledge was passed down from generation to generation and people had to learn from trial and error rather than from a YouTube tutorial. If you want to make sure you are truly ready for anything read all about the livestock you should raise and why. It’s never too late to start researching livestock and becoming an expert in the field.

Chickens

If we would have to advise you what livestock you should raise and why, based on rate of growth criteria, chicken would win by far. They manage to double their number with every year and they don’t require a complicated set up or high maintenance. They are great because they yield plentiful supplies of meat and eggs in relation to how much food they require. For example, a hen could supply you with 10 to 12 eggs for each five pounds of food. Another great benefit of raising chicken is that the birds are not picky about what they eat. They will happily peck on anything that they can find, from insects and weeds to leftovers from your dinner. The only drawback with this is that they can easily damage your garden, so you might want to fence them in to keep that from happening. Another pro for raising chicken is that they don’t need a lot of space or sturdy fences. However, you should keep in mind that these fowls will learn how to fly, so you might want to build a six-foot fence or add a top to their pen. You should also watch out for predators: foxes, owls, rats and opossums will all try to take a swing at your chicken if they’re not protected enough.

Pigs

Also dubbed the best garbage disposers, pigs will munch anything you put in front of them: kitchen leftovers, greens, roots and grains, just to name a few. In exchange for these, in return, they will give you bacon, ham and plenty of meat. Not only unpretentious eaters, pigs don’t need too much room either, despite their great size. The best time to buy a piglet is in the spring in order to give it time to grow and develop to more than 220 pounds over the summer. All the maintenance pigs require is feeding and watering two times a day as well as cleaning their pens every few days. Butchering a hog that weighs over 200 pounds is no easy task. But you’ll only be reaping the benefits. Almost every part of the pig is edible and ready to be turned into steaks, broths, aspic, bacon, ribs, sausages, pork loins and trotters. Even the skin is edible, although most people are reticent to eat it because pigs are not among the cleanest animals. Bear in mind that they might test your olfactory tolerance before you manage to fatten them up and transform them into pork chops.

Rabbits

Not only pretty faces, rabbits are clean, quiet and prolific. Ideal for small spaces, rabbits will thrive in modest sized cages and as long as their manure is cleaned out regularly, they will remain odor-free. These furry animals are extremely rewarding for the amount of care and food they require. Rabbits feed on hay, which should be cut in three-inch lengths and stacked into the hay-racks that must be kept full at all times. They will also eat dried bread or crusts and, as it may be expected, they enjoy nibbling on carrots and roots. A buck and two does will yield as much as 50 rabbits per year, which translates into roughly 170 pounds of meat. Not too shabby for the effort you have to put in every day. Rabbits can be consumed as soon as they are seven or eight months old, but you can wait and make a more consistent stew from a three-year old buck. While they can withstand harsh cold weather, they are not big fans of wet or hot conditions. Keep in mind that they will need a cool place in the summer that has plenty of ventilation and fresh water supplies.

Goats

Most people would prefer to have cows’ milk rather than goats’ milk. However, there are many reasons that goats make a better survival animal. They are much less expensive to purchase, they eat a lot less and will happily eat brush instead of pasture, and they take up a lot less space than a cow. A good doe will give birth to 2 or 3 kids and will go on to produce milk for up to two years. A dairy cow will give milk for up to a year and normally has one calf. Plus, keeping a bull around is not a fun prospect. A buck is much easier to handle. When your goat wears out, it will provide you with a more manageable amount of meat, whereas a butchered cow will take a lot of work to can or dehydrate. In addition, goats produce milk that can be used to feed orphaned foals, pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, and baby humans. Cow’s milk is not as easy to digest for these youngsters.

Keeping livestock is not a decision to be taken lightly. These animals will depend on you for their food, water, and shelter. During drought conditions it will be difficult, if not impossible, to care for your animals. In that case you will need to butcher or trade them. Do you have what it takes to chop off a chicken’s head, or slit the throat of a pig? You may be surprised what you can do when put to the test.

If you can handle the responsibility of caring for animals, they will make your life much easier when there’s an economic collapse or worldwide disaster. Any animals that you do not need for food can be used to barter for other supplies. There will be a huge demand for eggs, milk, and meat after the stores close. So consider keeping a few easy care animals now, for survival in the future.

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How to Raise Chickens Cheaply – Small Budget? No Problem.

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How to raise chickens cheaply?

That’s what I needed to figure out.  I got the idea to raise chickens while unemployed for several months. Times got a little tight (to say the least!) and I thought that if I had a coop and a garden at least my family and I would have just a little more in the pantry. So I set out to learn as much as I could before spending any little cash. Here are a few lessons learned…..

Build an Inexpensive Chicken Coop

Before dropping a lot of cash on one of those fancy chicken tractors you see in the back of poultry magazines, keep in mind you can spend your cash a little wiser. It depends on your living situation of course. If you are a city dweller, then you might have to put a lot more into your chicken operation than us country folks. City folks have zoning regulations and neighbors to deal with – problems I didn’t have to deal with. My thoughts contained here are more for those of us who have a little space between us and the neighbors.

Chickens need a place to get out of the wind and rain and a dry and safe space to roost at night and somewhere to lay eggs. Keep these very simple requirements in mind when building a coop.  I have seen coops built out of an old truck cap, pallets and plastic sheeting, old yard sheds, etc. You are only limited (out in the country) by your imagination.

As for my coop, I had a friend who had an old camping trailer. He wanted the frame for an ice shanty and was going to rip off the camper and junk it. I asked him for the camper body and helped him cut the bolts off… and I was on my way to raising chickens!

After cutting the bolts, we towed the camper into place and proceeded to “slide” it off the frame. It turned out to be an interesting time but we got it done.

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Choose Coop Placement Carefully

This brings me to my first lesson: Location, location, location! My Wife had a few “rules” that I had to follow to stay in her good graces.

Rule #1: she wanted it out of sight.

Rule #2” she didn’t want to smell it!

Very valid points! I wanted it close enough to the house so I could easily go out to tend to the birds. I have a detached garage situated across the yard from the house, out near the gardens. We agreed that that was the best place for a coop. Far enough for her and close enough for me! Once the coop was in place, it was time for the next decision.

Should You Let the Chickens Free Range or Keep Them in a Run?

Having chickens free ranging is great. It gives the place a “country” look and they will eat bugs out in the yard. Keep in mind, they will also eat your young plants in the garden, flower beds, get out on any roads nearby, wander over to the neighbors, etc.

I also took into consideration that I live very close to a highway in a heavily wooded area. My chance of losing birds to coyotes, hawks, coons and cars was very high. I chose to build a run for my flock and not spend money feeding the local wildlife or seeing my investment flattened on the road.

For my run, I looked around for anything that might work before spending any money on something fancy. I was lucky enough to have an old dog kennel set up behind my house sitting empty. I used the chain link panels to construct a run behind the coop. I even had enough panels to construct a top for my run to keep the hawks and coons out. (The “dog coop” would also make a perfect pig shelter, but that’s another story!)

Now that the coop was in place, the camper gutted, it was time for some work to make it easier on the birds and myself. First, I built nesting boxes out of existing shelves inside the coop. Then I used saplings to build a roost inside the coop.

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Then I built an interior wire wall and door into the laying area thus creating a space to store feed and supplies.

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The camper windows allow me to control ventilation and I added a passive roof vent (the Restore $3.00).

I buried wire around the coop and run to keep out tunneling varmints. Once all this was done, it was time to get birds!

What Breed of Chicken is Best?

What breed you get is your personal decision. Why are you keeping chickens? Meat? Eggs? Both? What climate?

I chose White Leghorns. Why? Because they are cold tolerant (it gets cold in Northern Wisconsin!) and they are EGG LAYING MACHINES!

This is where I made my first mistake. I ordered too many! I ordered 14 hens and one rooster. I got 14 hens and 2 roosters shipped to me. I was not ready for the sheer amount of eggs they could lay!

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Great, I can sell the extra eggs and make money!”. All I will say is, don’t even think about it. There are a TON of people trying to sell eggs. Competition is fierce! The thought of making money raising chickens is a pipe dream conjured up by writers at Mother Earth News or Backwoods Home magazines. On good months, you might break even. Most months you won’t!

I was lucky enough to have a local feed mill sell my eggs for me – but it’s hit-and-miss some months. During the winter, egg production drops like a rock but feed consumption goes up. During the summer, feed consumption goes down but egg production goes up. You will either have so many eggs that you just can’t get rid of them, or so few any steady customers you do have will not get eggs year round. It’s just part of raising chickens!

Now, when I ordered my flock, I ordered pullets (8weeks old). Due to some miscommunication at the feed mill, I got 1 week old chicks.

This leads me to my next point:

Be flexible!

The day comes, and I get the call that my birds are in. I was surprised to find baby chicks and not pullets! Now what??? I wasn’t set up for chicks! Well, I took them anyway. They are animals and you can’t send them back to the hatchery.

When I got home, I made an impromptu brooder out of a cardboard box and a heat lamp. I had to set it up in the living room for the first 2 weeks. Then the noise and smell prompted me to move them to the coop. It was getting warm enough outside and with the help of the heat lamp in one corner of the coop the chicks would be fine.

I was a few weeks behind schedule but I was raising chickens!

How Much Time and Effort Does it Take to Raise Chickens?

People ask me: “How much time out of your day do you spend taking care of your birds?” My answer: not a whole lot. I set aside about 10 minutes in the morning to feed them, check their water and adjust ventilation for the day. In the evening, I do the same. It’s not a lot of work keeping chickens. You will fall into a routine. I find that I have a summer and winter routine. It takes a little longer in the winter but it’s not a lot of trouble at all. In the summer, I spend a lot of time in the garden so I look in on them more, especially during hot spells. They are very easy to take care of!

Another point I want to make. If you are gathering eggs, please do so EVERY DAY! I hear of people buying “farm fresh eggs” only to crack them open to find a developing chick inside! GROSS! Who wants to see that when cooking breakfast? That tells me that some people are not gathering eggs every day and getting them in a refrigerator soon enough. It’s a sign of laziness on the part of the chicken farmer!

Winter Care for Chickens

During the winter, the waterers WILL freeze. It’s a fact of life here in the North. I got a second waterer and keep it in the house. I fill it with warm water and bring it out to the coop in the morning and swap out the waterer from last night. I do this every 12 hours. A heated waterer is nice and I will get some for next winter but it’s not necessary to get started.

I also create a draft shield to stop that blast of cold air from hitting the birds when I open the coop door. I staple up some feeds bags on the wire wall next to the door to protect the birds. Also, give the flock some scratch in the evening inside the coop, they will love it and it will help keep them warm on cold nights.

I also leave a red light on inside the coop 24/7 to help keep down incidents of picking.Chickens get “Cabin Fever” just like we do in the winter so give them something to do. Scratch blocks in the coop work well, as does enclosing the run in plastic sheeting so they can still get out side even on cold snowy days. Throw in a head of cabbage once a week or a bale of hay into the run so they can pick it apart during the winter.

It’s important to still have good ventilation during the winter as well. I close the windows on the north side of the coop but keep a window open for air intake between the coop and garage. I put down extra bedding on the coop floor and stuff the nest boxes thicker during the cold months as well.

Create a “dust bath” for your chickens. I did this by taking a cat litter box and filling with a mixture of 1 part play sand, 1 part sifted (cold!) ashes from the wood stove and 1 part food grade DE. It helps them clean themselves.

Summer Care for Chickens

During the summer, I keep all the windows open. During the day, I leave the outside door open. The camper has a screen door so I leave that closed allowing air flow but no varmint access. I keep a closer eye on the water, they will drink a lot more in the heat of summer and I like to keep the dust bath full as well. I take the plastic sheeting off the run and replace it with a tarp on top will help keep the sun off of the birds and give them a dry place to sit when its raining. I cut my grass and bag the clippings. Then I dump the clippings into the run. The chickens love it! As long as you don’t spray your lawn for weeds, it’s okay.

It’s been a year now and I will say that it’s been worth it! I have learned so much and continue to do so. You will get advice from EVERYONE! Keep in mind, there are a lot of so-called “experts” out there who will try to tell you that you are doing it wrong. All I can say is when you get some advice, research it yourself. The internet is a great tool for this or better yet, get to know the folks at your local feed mill. Go to “small animal swaps” and get out a meet others in the chicken business.

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Top 5 Best Egg Laying Chickens

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One of the great things about having your own flock of backyard chickens is fresh eggs. When it comes to egg laying not all chickens were made equal. In fact some breeds have been selectively bred for decades to be the egg laying Olympians of the chicken world.

For beginner backyard chicken keepers you need to balance the egg laying ability of the chicken breed with ease of raising the breed.

If you have decided that your main purpose for keeping backyard chickens is for eggs there are a number of great breeds suitable for beginners that we would recommend based on the advice of some of the leading experts (now not all of these chicken breeds are necessarily the most prolific layers but for beginners it is a balance between egg laying and ease of care).

The Backyard Chicken Zone top 5 egg laying chicken breed recommendations for beginners:

1. Rhode Island Red

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Coming in at number 1 on our top 5 egg laying chickens is the Rhode Island Red. This is our favourite layer with an above average laying rate of medium size Brown eggs. They are a versatile backyard chicken suitable for most climates and very easy to care for. They can be a little temperamental and aggressive to other breeds so be careful what other breeds to put with them. The Rhode Island Red is a good all rounder that is also suitable for meat production so if you are not sure what breed will be best for you the Rhode Island red is a good starter.

2. Leghorn

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Coming in a close second is the Leghorn. These chickens are egg laying machines, producing over 300 large white eggs a year. They can be a little flighty which makes them a little more difficult to manage but if it is eggs you are after this breed will certainly deliver. They are also a useful dual purpose chicken (although a little on the scrawny side) and can be used for organic meat once their egg production declines.

3. Buff Orpington

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This breed is one our favourite beginner chickens with an above average production of large brown eggs. Orpingtons are good brooders so an excellent choice if you plan to raise chicks. They are also an excellent choice for a pet chicken due to their docile nature and ease of care. If you live in a cooler climate the Orpington is a must have for your backyard chicken flock.

4. Black Star

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Coming in at number four in our top 5 egg laying chickens is the Black Star. Black stars are a hybrid breed (cross between Barred Rock hens and Rhode Island Red roosters) and lay an above average amount of large brown eggs. They are very easy to raise and also very hardy making them an excellent beginner breed. They have a calm nature also making them suitable for families and as a pet chicken.

5. Ameraucana

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Rounding out our top 5 egg laying chickens is the Ameraucana. This breed is known as the “Easter Eggers” because they produce eggs in a variety of colours including blue, blue-green, green, and cream (our kids love collecting the colourful eggs). They lay medium sized eggs with an above average laying rate. They have a calm temperament and make a excellent family or pet chicken.

For a family of four, a flock of three or four hens will usually produce sufficient eggs so try a few different breeds when you start out and work out which breeds work best for you.

Whilst our top 5 egg laying breeds will produce regular eggs for you, remember that the quality and nutritional value of those eggs will be controlled by the chickens diet including the health benefits, richness and colour of the yoke, as well as the chickens overall health. What you put in is what you get out so check out our tips on what to feed chickens to ensure a happy, healthy flock, and the most deliciousness and nutritious organic eggs for your family.

If you are looking for some more ideas check out our guide to selecting the best backyard chicken breed.

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