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If you just started gardening or raising chickens/rabbits, how has it gone?

It’s been on my prepper wish list for a long time, but I haven’t done it yet. I saw the news stories about how covid caused a lot of people to suddenly jump into growing or raising their own food. I’m guessing it’s not as easy as people might have thought when they rushed into it in a panic.

So I’m curious… if this was you, how is it going?

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  • Comments (19)

    • 3

      I thought about it like a lot of people, but I ended up backing out because the numbers didn’t work out for me. Chickens specifically and this was a few years ago. I would basically end up spending more on the eggs then I would at the grocery store. Now that meat shortages are more of a thing, I’m reconsidering. I wouldn’t mind paying little more if I can guarantee that I’ll have food if things go south this fall.

      • 2

        I learned this too. You will pretty much never make your money back if that’s your intent. Unless you only fed them leftovers and other scraps, and that’s probably not going to make the best tasting eggs. So if you look at it from a self sufficient standpoint, or if you have kids to teach them where their food comes from, it’s worth the investment.

    • 4

      I’m about 12 weeks into raising my first flock of chickens. They grow incredibly fast and eat hugely! We live in a suburban area and have about 3/4 of an acre to let them free range upon, which they’ve been doing for about 2 weeks.

      The first weeks were pretty simple, we got a soft sided octagonal kennel to keep the chicks in and lined it with hay. We needed a watering system, a feed trough, and a heat lamp. All were available at a local feed and seed store, although you could also get them online.

      My partner built them a run outside from plans he bought online and we also constructed the henhouse from a kit we bought from Amazon. The run was a lot of work for one person, and I think the supplies were about $1K (the chicks were $7 each, maybe?)

      We wanted 5, but on the advice of a neighbor we ordered 8 “just in case.” It turned out to be good advice, because one of them is certainly a rooster and the another might turn out cocky too.

      So far, it has been a lot of time and money and energy, and they haven’t started laying yet and now we have to figure out how to kill the rooster. Also, caring for them means we can’t just bug out until the unrest settles, so… so far mixed bag. They’re cute to watch run around the back yard, and my kid likes chasing them. Maybe I’ll feel like this has started paying off after my first homegrown omelette.

      • 2

        Are you not allowed to have roosters in your area? There are a lot of advantages to keeping a rooster with your flock:

        • they will protect the flock alerting them to danger, including fighting off predators. Even in suburbia there are predators (cats, raccoons, hawks, coyotes)
        • they will fertilize eggs. Eventually one of your hens will go broody (stopping laying and wanting to sit on eggs) — putting fertilized eggs underneath her and letting her hatch them out is the best way to deal with broody hens
        • a rooster shepherds his flock. This will minimizing problems between the hens, and includes guiding them as they explore the area (they’ll go a lot further from the coop with a rooster). I’ve heard that if you don’t have a rooster a hen will stop laying and attempt to take over this roll (though frequently inadequately).

        Hens will start laying between 4 – 5 months. And you are correct, it’s a fair amount of money, and you won’t make it back. I have friends that say “It must be nice to have free eggs”, I assure them they are “fresh, not free.”

    • 4

      There was a good post about this in the preppers Reddit a little while back. It’s not mine but it’s worth a read if you’re thinking about going with chickens.

      My 2 cents on people wanting to buy chickens right now. from preppers

      Basically he says chickens are not set it and forget it. And they live a long time, so it’s more of a commitment than you think.

    • 4

      I have contemplated chickens in the past but it’s not that realistic for us–we have a dog and not a lot of room.  And I’m vegan.  So even though the eggs could go for the rest of the family I’d be the one doing all the work for something I wouldn’t eat.  I am doing a tiny bit of gardening.  Our soil is not great so I got some grow bags—that way I can make sure to get a lot of sun for them.  Doing a few vegetables.  The ambitious part of me wants to tear up all the grass, rototill and plant a mini-farm.  But the realist knows that a few grow bags is what I’m up to at the present time. So far the plants are looking good.

    • 2

      I’ve got 5 ladies in the backyard as of a week ago. The coop is not our finest creation but it hasn’t fallen apart and is so far easy to clean. I’m not even the biggest egg fan. It’s partly to keep myself busy since there’s less to do in town but also because I wanted to see how hard it would be. So far it’s okay. Things will be different once they start laying.

    • 1

      I found this article from the Hustle that’s worth reading for a couple reasons. One, it’s titled “People are losing their clucking minds over backyard chickens.” That’s gold.

      Second, there are some fascinating charts that provide context for the rise in popularity. Like this one about costs:

    • 4

      I’m not new  to gardening (no experience with chickens), but the thing about gardening is that some parts of it are always new.  You’re always trying out new plants, new varieties, new strategies.  Lots of trial and error.  I have to remind myself to focus on the things that work and not just on the things that didn’t.

      Some of my new things this year were growing pole beans and building a giant bean trellis (long triangular shape) to support the pole beans on one side and the snow peas on the other.  I also am trying to grow North Georgia Candy Roasters using seeds I saved from one I bought at a farmer’s market while traveling.

      The bean trellis was a bit of a comedy of errors at first.  It was early in the quarantine and I was committed to just working with scrap I had in the garage – a few pieces of 8′ 2×2 and 1×2.  I didn’t have enough wood to brace it diagonally, so it kept skewing out of shape until I rigged some diagonal bracing with an old piece of climbing rope.  I then cut 8′-10′ long branches off of trees in our backyard to make the poles for the beans and peas to climb and tied them on with scraps of string.  Then for about 2 weeks, the whole thing would tip over whenever we had strong winds.  (I had made it a bit narrow to save space.)  Ultimately I had to pin down the corners with some logs…  But in the end it was worth it!  We had the best harvest of snow peas we’ve ever had – the kids loved it – and a massive amount of pole beans for the space.

      The Candy Roasters are an ongoing experiment.  The growers of the one I bought had warned me that they grew the roasters in a field with pumpkins and that the two might have cross pollinated.  They suggested I buy seeds from their supplier.  But I wanted to try growing something from my own saved seeds.  Well, the plants are forming fruit and they look… strange.  Not quite a pumpkin and not quite a candy roaster.  But I’m pretty confident they’ll taste good and they give me a laugh when I see them.  It’s all part of the experience.

    • 5

      We have raised rabbits for several years if anyone has questions. A few things worth mentioning:

      • They are a good source of predictable, reliable meat. They are induced ovulators, so you can breed them whenever you are ready.
      • They are pregnant for about 30 days. Each litter is about 8 kits. They are good mothers.
      • We slaughter ours at 14 weeks, hanging weight is typically 4lb. So 8 kits x 4lb = 32lbs of meat (potentially) every 3 1/2 months.
      • They don’t take much space, you could raise them in the suburbs (that’s where we started).
      • They are relatively easy to slaughter, I had never slaughtered anything before and a friend taught me then I YouTube’d it.
      • We don’t waste any part of the rabbit. We like and eat the meat (we haven’t bought chicken from the store in years). We use the bones for broth. We freeze the head for dog treats (they do love them). We dehydrate the skins, ears, and feet (in the oven at 170 degrees) for dog treats. The offal goes to the chickens and/or pigs. The blood is mixed with water and added to the gardens.

      There are some hassles too:

      • You can’t leave them for much more than 48 hours.
      • They are cute, and though stupid and without a lot of personality to endear themselves, the cuteness factor is a thing.
      • They don’t always “breed like rabbits”. We’ve had more struggles breeding them than we would have thought, though when they do it, it’s fast.
      • They don’t deal well with heat.
    • 5

      Experienced gardener here – don’t give up if things don’t seem to work right away, that’s just part of the process. We have good years and bad years, seeds don’t germinate, some things don’t thrive where you plant them, insects / infections kill plants . . .

      • 3

        Yep, failure is a big part of gardening, and the best gardeners have killed fields of plants. It took me years to internalize that.

    • 2

      I’m only growing a few things for fun. But it’s not going all that well frankly. Especially on the tomatoes. they have plenty of blossoms, but few fruits starting. Not enough pollinators, I suspect.

    • 3

      I have been gardening for about ten years but still don’t consider myself an expert as it was somewhat casually.  Lack of cooperation from hubby means he would go out and buy lettuce even when there was plenty in the garden, so that was kind of discouraging to me.  He couldn’t get in the mindset.  But the current situation finally converted him and we greatly expanded our small suburban garden to about 500 sq feet this year. I am thinking of building a small hoop house by the fall to try to harvest through the fall and into the winter. I have always prioritized growing things that are easy to grow, don’t need a lot of babying and will provide more calories.  That means we will probably harvest between 100-200 pounds of potatoes this year from our small garden, plus some sweet potatoes. Have to figure out how to store the potatoes and if in our mild climate I can overwinter them in the ground, as an experiment.  For the first time I am growing butternut squash and acorn squash.  I have learned to keep plants that are sensitive to pests like brassica and squash covered with floating row covers until they grow big and start to flower.  At that point they can resist pests better.  I am also covering out blueberry bushes with floating row covers now in an effort to thwart the birds.  We will see how it works.  It turns out 2 people can’t eat a million different heads/varieties of lettuce, so I really need to learn both how much to plant and how to stagger them so they don’t get ripe all at once.  I have recently begun canning and I was looking up canning green beans and the recipe called for ten pounds of green beans! There is no way my little garden will produce enough to can unless the squash go crazy.  It’s all a learning curve.

      • 2

        Sounds great!  I love winter squash and enjoy growing them.  I hope yours turn out well.

        FWIW, I’m also in a pretty mild climate (Zone 7), but sweet potatoes won’t overwinter in the ground here.  I know because I once neglected to lift them before a frost and they were all damaged.  However, this past year I overwintered carrots (in a raised bed, with a thick later of wheat straw mulch around them) with great success.  Kale also overwinters really well here.  I’ve also had good luck with green onions – they get a little soft with the frost, but then recover as the weather warms.

        I’m still learning about overwintering things, but it seems the key is to plant them early enough in the fall that they get good growth before the cold shuts it down, but not too early.  I’m aiming to direct sow my seeds for this year’s overwinter crops in late August/early September this year.

        If you’re into the permaculture, you can plant Jerusalem Artichokes (basically mini-sunflowers with edible tubers) and they will do fine left in the ground until needed.

      • 2

        That’s good info. I have had good luck with overwintering kale too.  Do you know if parsnips will overwinter?  I have a friend who overwinters her potatoes (regular potatoes, not sweet potatoes) as a kind of perennial.  She just harvests what she wants and then leaves the rest to sprout next year.  She has kept this potato bed for many years, which flies in the face of crop rotation principles.  I guess this is an Irish tradition of doing fall planting of potatoes.  Need to read more about it.  I will check out the Jerusalem artichokes.  Thanks!

      • 2

        What zone is your friend in?  The idea of a perennial potato bed is really interesting.  I’d love to give it a try if I could find the space in the yard!

        I haven’t tried growing parsnips, so no experience overwintering them.  It’s an interesting idea though; maybe I’ll try it this year!

    • 2

      I love it!  We only have 4 laying hens that my DIL bought off a farmer friend.  Buying laying hens rather than chicks was the way for us to go, as we wanted eggs immediately, so we missed the chick phase.  I find them delightful animals!  They greet me when I come out, love my table scraps, and are crazy about all the clover, dandelions, and other weeds we throw in.  What have I learned?  It’s not a cheap investment in money or time.  You have to buy or cobble together the coop, the runs, the food, the straw, the waterer and feeders, and you have a patch of ruined yard, poop you have to clean, and frustrating chases of the occasional escapees.  But, they are an ongoing source of protein, you can compost the poop, they teach our youngsters how our animals require consistent and conscientious care and attention, and they really are  fun to be around. I doubt we’ll be eating them (we named them, of course) but it makes me feel good to have that option should things get really bad.

    • 2

      I am on my second batch of four chickens & they are doing well & dependable layers. We bought a trap and no more losses to feral cats which are released a few miles away. Built awesome henhouse after watching Youtube.