Spring in Austin is a glorious thing! Blue skies, 75 degrees with a slight breeze is quite the enticing invitation to start exploring all of the amazing outdoor activites and sites around
The Path To Sustainable Living
In my last blog post I talked about where to begin when taking on a sustainable lifestyle and laid out a set of 4 steps that my family follows when taking on new projects. As I stated in my last post the first step that we start with is to make a list of all the things that we want to get out of our project and then we prioritize that list.
Beginning your Research
Once you have a prioritized your list of projects it is time to move onto step #2 and do some homework. This is an important step and researching things that you are interested in can be fun. Whether raising plants or animals look at the different breeds and varieties available. You want to understand their traits so that you can be sure that what you select is going to produce the end results that you desire.
Selecting Plants & Animals
I have found commercial breeds to be the hardiest and most productive whereas heritage breeds usually are more of a novelty and often don't have the production or the hardiness that the commercial breeds do. Sometimes the reason they are rare or hard to find is because they are not as useful as their commercial counterparts.
Be wary of "dual purpose" breeds as they tend not to excel at any one thing, leaving you disappointed all around. For example, we made this mistake with chickens when we first started. We picked out mostly heritage and dual purpose breeds, with a focus on how cute each breed was, lol! Dual purpose chickens, we quickly found out are not as meaty as their Cornish cousins, and will only lay half as many eggs as a commercial layer like a Black Star or a White Leghorn.
Dual purpose breed cows can often work out the same way. For example, a Dexter or a miniature Jersey cow may look like a good route, but often their feed to milk conversion rates are poor and milk production is low. You will also find that the meat rating on a Dexter isn’t as high as your typical Angus or other popular beef breeds. In my experience a specialty animal is the best way to maximize value.
There are exceptions of course and take into consideration your climate. In our Central Texas weather heat tolerance is a big factor. The same goes for vegetation. Commercial varieties of trees and plants will be the most efficient and have the highest yields. If you desire to raise heritage animals or plants you should understand that while they have their benefits they may not be as hardy or produce as high of a yield as a commercial variety would.
Getting information and Making Connections
After you have conducted your initial research take the time to meet people who already have established success raising or growing what you are interested in. When it comes to raising animals, people who show on a local and national scale are some of the best knowledge sources around. Farms who raise the same kind animals that you do are also amazing resources and are often happy to share their knowledge.
It is important to seek guidance from folks who are successful in what your venture is. It can save you time, money, and help you end up with a better quality product. If you are not sure where to begin Joining local Facebook groups that focus on those particular subjects is a great way to make connections (Two groups that I belong to are:"Austin Organic Gardeners" and "Texas Meat Rabbits").
Word of Warning
Be cautious of people who seem to have excuses for the condition of their animals or people who seem anxious to make a sale. You can’t forget that the buyer always needs to beware, but at the same time building relationships is a key to success. Most people are good and have the best of intentions, and meeting new people helps to keep things fun.
The next thing to research is costs, both upfront and ongoing. A big part of the reason why you want to start small and do your research is because the costs of raising your own meat & produce can add up and taking on too much too fast or making poor choices up front will often lead to wasted time and expense later on. When budgeting ongoing costs remember to include feed, water, vaccines, pest control, and fertilizer. Also, harvest and butchering costs are something to consider if you won't be doing it yourself. Much of this stuff you can do with some expert guidance and practice.
While there are some things that you shouldn’t skimp on don’t be afraid to look for used items. Gently used equipment can often be found on Craigslist, Facebook and in swip-swap groups. Placing want ads to find items cheap or free can also prove fruitful. Recently I needed ceramic tiles for my rabbits. I was able to get them for free as a result of a couple of want ads that I had placed. They came from contractors who had them left over from jobs. They would have otherwise been thrown out. I saved money and kept them out of the landfill!
When investing in animals quality will always maximize value. As an example let’s compare the annual cost of average meat rabbits versus pedigreed Rex rabbits. In our area you can commonly find average meat rabbits for sale at $20 each. You purchase a pair to breed with the plan of having rabbits to sell as well as some to put in your freezer. Your doe successfully raises 8 kits. For each litter you raise half for personal use and half to resell. That leaves you with 4 dinners and 4 to sell for $20 each, bringing in $80 from that first litter. If we assume 4 litters a year then that pair for one year will give you 16 dinners and bring in $320 in cash to help cover the costs.
Compare that to pedigreed Rex rabbits, which are a meat/fur/show breed. I sell these rabbits starting at $60 each. All things being equal you would wind up with the same number of dinners, but what you sold would have brought in $960 in cash. Both types of rabbits are going to cost the same amount to raise and yield the same amount of meat to eat, but the higher quality animals are going to provide you with greater income. Don't forget the old adage: work smarter, not harder.
Following these steps: Making lists, prioritizing, starting small, and doing research will give you the building blocks needed for the best chance at success. Cost saving measures like looking for deals online, learning new skills, and seeking out knowledge from experts for these projects will put sustainability well within your means and before you know it your will be feeding you family from your own harvests.
In my next post I will be talking about ways of trying before you buy and the importance of taking this step!
You can follow our small farm on Facebook. You will find my website here to search for exciting potential homesteading properties in the Austin Texas area. When looking remember that there are loan and grant programs provided through the USDA, FHA and others which provide financing options with little to no money down. There are affordable properties available, you just need an experienced realtor to help you find the right one.
I am located in the Austin area and work predominantly in residential real estate. I have been a realtor for over 10 years. I was inspired to get into real estate after buying my first home. It was a ....
Latest Blog Posts
The Secret of getting ahead is getting started ~ Mark TwainThis series of blog posts has been a very personal one for me and focused on a subject that I am very passionate about. I recently realized