Is Raising Your Own Meat Really Frugal?…the Daily Farm Adventures {73}

I read an article recently about how much it costs to run a small farm, and I have to admit, it hit me all wrong. I love homesteading and our small farm and would never want to discourage anyone from trying it–but I also think that it doesn’t help people to be successful by making it all sound easy-peasy, no big deal, throw some animals in your backyard and suddenly you have organic food for a quarter of the price of the grocery store.

Is raising your own meat really "frugal"? Not really, but it can at least be affordable. Some thoughts on REAL costs of raising livestock. {via Walking in High Cotton}

Because the ugly side of that is people tying goats to your front porch with a note saying “we thought it was a good idea, but it didn’t work out and we can see from driving by that this will be a good home for him.”

The ugly side of that is someone calling you for help because their goats have “foot problems” and it turns out they’ve never had their hooves trimmed and the family doesn’t even own a pair of hoof trimmers.

The ugly side of that is selling breeding stock to someone who calls you 6 months later and wants you to take them back because they’re moving. (Sheep and goats live as long as dogs and cats–horses 20 and 30 years!)

We’ve had folks off-load unwanted sheep, goats, chickens, and even a horse on us. When the economy turned a few years ago, I had horse-farmer friends telling me they would go to shows and come back from the ring and someone had tied a horse in their trailer while they were gone and took off.

There is a huge difference between having a garden and raising livestock. I would suggest that you never, ever, ever get into raising livestock because you think it’s going to be a frugal way to provide organic food for your family. There’s lots of good reasons to do it, but being frugal shouldn’t be one of them.

clun ewes

Here’s the problem with “costs”…the only numbers you ever see are hard operating costs. How much did feed, water, and medicine cost?

Everything else is lumped under “start-up costs” or not counted because it’s not consistent if you haven’t been doing it very long. Most things don’t have to be replaced every single year, but definitely every few years. So what about infrastructure? Pens, shelters, barns, fences, fencers (the electricity part of the electric fence), water troughs, hoses or water lines, feed pans, even feed scoops! (We just reuse coffee cans and plastic cups from the Dollar Store because the crew loses them constantly!) What about equipment? Collars, halter, lead ropes, milking stand and buckets, hoof trimmers, clippers and/or shearers, buckets (oh the buckets!), muck boots, tail bander and bands…the list goes on.

And these are just costs of day-to-day care! This doesn’t even touch on the cost of land and labor!

And here’s the thing about animal health–it cost almost nothing when the animals are healthy. It can cost a fortune when they are sick–and sometimes it has nothing to do with your management so there’s no way of avoiding it. Our ram Ozzie was pretty much never sick a day in his life, wasn’t vaccinated, and was only wormed twice a year. $8 a year in “medical” expenses for 5 years and then suddenly he breaks a horn out in the field one day and we’re hit with a $500 bill, or put him down.

Then there’s the issue of costs in your own heart-blood, because losing a bed of asparagus is not the same as losing a lamb.

Raising livestock is not a frugal endeavor in and of itself. The real dollars and cents of raising your own meat will never be less than buying from the grocery store unless you take out all the start-up costs, land and labor costs, and emotional costs.

red hen


And it’s a big BUT…

That’s no reason to give up! {smile}

The good reasons to raise animals? The real reasons?

Having animals is fun! They’re an amazing connection to the beauty of Creation. They force you into a mode of self-discipline far beyond anything you’ll ever feel for a vegetable garden. They provide food for your table and teach you sufficiency skills that can’t be valued. They make you laugh! They teach you about life and death in a visceral way that can not be replaced.

If you’re going down that path for any of these good reasons, there are ways to be more frugal about it. It can be affordable, if not frugal. 

gray cow annabelle

I mentioned last week that we’re looking forward to being more transparent about some of the nitty-gritty farm operations around here. Sharing our experiences in a bit more detail, in case they might be helpful or encouraging to others. Our post about serving Muslim customers has generated a lot of positive feedback. Readers are glad we shared it. And I hope this conversation will be the same.

Let’s talk about the real costs, and ways to reduce them. And the ones that can’t, or shouldn’t, be cut.

Let’s talk about the expensive mistakes we made so others can avoid them.

Let’s talk about our great ideas–the ones that worked and the ones that didn’t! (I know you’ve got some Pinterest fails to share too!)

you can farm

And again, just so you don’t think I’m trying to discourage anyone, here’s a great book if you’re just starting out. It’s full of encouragement and ideas and things to think over before you make the leap (any leap) into farming. It’s on our shelves and I go back to it often when I start to feel a little discouraged (business-wise). I don’t want to stop anyone–I’d love to see everyone raising their own food! But it needs to be done with realistic expectations to be sustainable and successful.


See where I’m sharing this week…

boots footer 2014

Organizing Direct-Market Lamb Sales…the Daily Farm Adventures {72}

Here's a break down of the simple system we use to track our direct-market Fall lamb sales. (via Walking in High Cotton)

All of our customers buy directly from us here at the farm. Customers give us money, we give them an animal–we sell live animals only from the farm–which avoids extensive liability and food safety issues. If they want it processed by someone, we sell them the animal and then arrange transport for them to an approved facility for butchering and they pay the butcher directly for the processing at that inspected, approved facility. Last week I explained that our Fall lamb harvest is mostly Muslim customers buying for Eid (the celebration of sacrifice). Supplies of fresh, whole lamb are limited in this … Continue Reading…

We Survived Our 1st Month of Public School…

We survived our 1st month of public school...but it was bumpy, my friends. Very bumpy.

It was bumpy, my friends. Very bumpy. It was touch-and-go. It was iffy. I think blatant evidence that Momma was flat out losing her mind might have finally snapped everyone into getting a grip. But here we are, heading through our second month of our family’s public school career, and I think it’s starting to even out. I think we’re getting the hang of it. We’re figuring out the lines of communication, making sense of the forms, and getting the hang of the acronyms. Our school experience actually started a few weeks before the first day of school when I didn’t have … Continue Reading…

Serving Muslim Customers at the Farm as Christians…the Daily Farm Adventures {71}

Serving Muslim customers at the farm, as Christians. Our experiences, and a few common mis-understandings. via Walking in High Cotton

We had our lamb harvest day on Saturday this year, so we’re wrapping up another sold-out lambing season here at The Lowe Farm. 90% of our customers are repeat customers, or a referral from a regular customer, and this is our 4th sold out year. Mr. Fix-It and I had a long talk the other day and we decided that being more transparent in our experiences might have a lot of value for our readers, and maybe some other small farmers out there. Based on some of the…um…unkind comments that we have heard over the years from other farmers and observers of … Continue Reading…

Wearing Many Hats…the Daily Farm Adventures {70}

The fields are starting to lose that summer lush green look. Fall is marching on...via Walking in High Cotton

Things are a little crazy around here right now. We’re in the middle of soccer season, so the kiddos have practice during the week, and then games on Saturday mornings. This Saturday is also lamb harvest this year, so we’ll have customers at the farm all day on Saturday. The Cowboy is very excited that he won’t have to miss it this year, like last year, for school. Plus Mr. Fix-It and I have started teaching Wednesday night bible club at our church. It’s a joy, but it takes up a lot of our time and energy working on class … Continue Reading…

Kids Need More Than Book-Learning

Kids Need More than Book Learning...I've become strongly opposed to homework. I need those hours back to teach them all the OTHER things they need to know! {via}

Ok, we’re not even a month into the school year and I’m already over the homework. Sheesh. I’m just the Momma, it’s not even my homework! And the more I read and think and pray, the more oppose to homework I am, except for two cases. The child is not being diligent and getting their classwork finished and has to bring it home to work on it. This would go hand-in-hand with a student with a specific learning challenge that needs extra work. (Um, we have one of those. Maybe two. I don’t say this lightly or flippantly.)  OR Special projects … Continue Reading…

Growing into Their Toolbelts…the Daily Farm Adventures {69}

tool belt 9

We’ve been taking care of some maintenance around here this weekend. Mr. Fix-It’s been working on the vehicles after work in the garage the last couple weeks and the Cowboy has been upset that he had to go to bed and miss out. So the boys worked in some tool-time Saturday and Sunday. We were watching one of those DIY shows the other day and a couple decided to be general contractor for their own “dream house” build. Neither one of them had ever so much as built a bookcase or changed the oil in their car. Their project was … Continue Reading…