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Wouldn’t it be nice if all the animals on your homestead could make you enough money to support themselves? Although most animals on the farm have a job to do, it’s especially nice if they can bring in enough cash to pay for their upkeep and maybe a little extra left over for the farmer, as well. That’s the way to true self-sufficiency!

A flock of backyard chickens can be found on almost any homestead, and for a good reason. They are truly one of the most versatile, easy to care for critters on the farm. Chickens can provide not only a sustainable source of meat and eggs but also pest control and garden fertilizer, too. But that’s not all. Here are some creative ways your homestead chickens can bring in a little cash, as well.

Sell Your Extra Eggs

This may seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but I’m surprised at how many folks don’t take advantage of this easy way to bring in a little extra income. At certain times of the year, our chickens lay more eggs than we can use, so why not sell the surplus to neighbors, co-workers, and friends? In some states, you can even sell your eggs at farmer’s markets. Better yet, keep an extra dozen or so hens and you’ll probably have enough eggs to sell year-round without increasing your workload too much.

Keep in mind that the amount of money you can charge for a dozen eggs will vary depending on the market in your area. Expect to get somewhere between $3-$5 per dozen in most areas. Eggs from birds raised on pasture and organic or non-GMO feed will bring in a higher dollar. A lot of folks will pay more for pretty brown, green, or blue eggs, so consider having a mixed flock of laying hens that will give lots of different colored eggs.

Sell Hatching Eggs

Get yourself a rooster, and you’ve got fertile hatching eggs! Many folks will buy eggs to hatch out in an incubator if they want to save a few bucks over buying chicks. You could expand your market even further by investing in breeding stock from a highly sought-after breed. In some cases, people will pay $4 or more for one hatching egg from a rare breed bird. Of course, you’ll have to keep your specialty breeders separate from your regular egg layers, so there’s no cross breeding.

Sell Day-Old Baby Chicks

You can make more money selling day-old chicks than you can hatching eggs, so consider investing in an incubator! Have your day-old chicks ready to go in early spring like the farm stores do, or better yet, tap into a different market by having chicks available when the farm stores stop selling them for the year.

Depending on the breed of chicks you have, you can sell them for anywhere from a couple dollars for common breeds to $6 or maybe even more for rare breeds. If you can learn how to sex your chicks, you can charge even more, but plenty of folks are willing to buy straight-run chicks, too. If a lot of people seem interested, you might consider raising a few flocks of different rare breeds.

Sell Grown Pullets

A lot of folks don’t want to deal with the extra time and work involved with raising up day old chicks. They would rather spend a little extra money to purchase hens that are almost ready to start laying eggs. If you have the space for your chickens to forage, this can be a great way to make a real profit from your chickens. Depending on the breed of chicken and your area, you can expect to sell your layers for anywhere from $10 to $25 per bird.

Sell Stewing Hens

Most hens slow way down in their egg production after they get to be a couple years old. Most farmers butcher the oldest hens each year and replace them with young pullets that are just ready to start laying. Another option is to sell the older hens as stewing hens for a few dollars each. Yes, they are probably going to end up in someone’s stew pot anyway, but it might be easier than butchering the onsite, especially if you or your kids have become attached.

Sell Broilers for the Freezer

Did you know that broilers can be ready to go in the freezer in as little as eight weeks? That’s a pretty fast turnaround! You will need to check into the laws in your area before you get started. In some states, you can butcher the chickens yourself and sell them ready to go in the freezer, which is the most profitable. In other states, you may have to sell the birds live for folks to butcher themselves, or you can deliver the birds to a meat processor for an additional fee. If you’ve ever looked at the prices for pasture raised, organic chicken at your grocery store, you know that people are willing to pay a pretty penny for meat that was raised right.

Sell Your Chicken Manure

If you’ve got a lot of chickens, you probably have more chicken poop than you know what to do with. Why not bag it up and sell it to gardeners in your area? You can make a few extra dollars per bag without much extra effort on your part.

Sell Your Feathers

Don’t forget to save your birds’ feathers during molting season or at butchering time. Crafters and fly fishermen will pay more than you’d think for pretty feathers, especially the flashier ones from your roosters and colorful breeds. Some hatcheries even sell a mixed flock of birds with exceptionally beautiful plumage. The best way to sell feathers is to bag them up and sell them at craft shows or on Etsy for use in craft projects like making jewelry, dream catchers, or even tying flies for fishing.

Even if you’re not interested in turning your backyard chickens into a business, many of these ideas can be done without too much extra effort on your part. And don’t forget, all of these methods will work for quail, ducks, and other poultry, also! Try experimenting with a couple different ideas to see what goes over the best in your area.

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Silvopasture: Grazing Livestock on Wooded Pasture

When you purchase rural land for a farm or homestead, there’s a good chance that at least part of that land will be wooded. The chances of finding affordable land with spacious, open pasture for grazing livestock are pretty slim. But, the good news is, livestock can indeed be grazed on wooded pasture. In fact, using wooded areas for grazing even offers some advantages that you may not have considered.

The term “silvopasture” is becoming more commonly recognized, and basically, it means that you are using wooded acreage with forage and trees as pasture for your livestock. The trees in the pasture provide much-needed shade and shelter for your animals, as well as forage. The trees can also be managed by thinning them out for use as firewood or even logs for building.

Dairy farmers in the northeast have grazed their cows on wooded pastures for generations. They used to call it “making milk from the woods.” Sadly, farmers were pushed to go big or get out of the business after World War II, and silvopasturing became almost obsolete. Many “experts,” especially foresters, began recommending against the practice, and cow nutritionists began urging farmers only to graze their cattle in open fields.

The Benefits of Establishing Silvopasture

Silvopasture has many benefits that are not provided by open pasture.

A More Comfortable, Cooler Environment for Animals

Animals love the shade on hot, summer days. Goats, cattle, pigs, and even bison are just a few types of livestock that can be raised on silvopasture. In fact, pigs must have shade because they cannot sweat, which means they can overheat very quickly. Putting a pig in a pasture without adequate shade would most likely cause death from heat stress.

But, other types of large livestock will enjoy grazing in the cooler environment, too. And, the trees provide shelter from strong winds and beating rains. You’ll still need to provide a sheltered place for them to go during extreme weather, but they will be much less exposed than livestock kept in an open pasture.

It Can Provide a Second Source of Income on the Same Area

Raising timber and grazing livestock on silvopasture go hand in hand. The timber will likely grow faster because it’s being fertilized by the animal manure. And, when you plant forage for your animals, you can plant nitrogen-fixing legumes that will benefit the trees even further. Raising timber and livestock in the same area is a great way to diversify your income.

Silvopasture is the Perfect Environment for Goats and Pigs

If you plan to raise goats or pigs on your farm, they will do very well on silvopasture because they are browsers by nature. The goats will go through and eat all the vines, shrubs, and undergrowth that competes with the trees for nutrients. And, pigs are right at home in the forest. They can help you renovate a wooded area and get it ready for planting forage by loosening up the soil with their rooting.

You Can Grow More Nutritious Forage for Your Animals

Cool season, shade tolerant plants can be planted under the trees in your silvopasture. These types of forages are usually more nutritious for animals than forages grown in full sun.

How to Establish a Silvopasture

When choosing an area for your silvopasture, location is essential. The area needs to have a gentle terrain. It doesn’t have to be completely flat, but steep hillsides should be avoided. You should also avoid boggy areas and wetlands. You want the area to have water available to sustain plant life, but it shouldn’t be muddy or soggy.

Once you’ve chosen the area you plan to use as your pasture, there are some things you’ll need to do to prepare it for animals to graze. Begin by getting rid of any low-quality saw logs, such as hemlock and pine. Carefully inspect the area for any poisonous plants that could be dangerous to your livestock and remove them. Then, cut out all the brush and undergrowth around the perimeter of the area and run your fencing.

Remember, no forage crop will grow under a full canopy of leaves. Large branches must be trimmed away to let sunlight in, and trees may need to be completely cut down to thin out very thick areas. In the coming years, as you continue thinning out the trees to use as firewood, you will open up the pasture for more grass and forage to grow.

Surprisingly, several forage options will grow in silvopastures. Orchard grass is an excellent choice because it’s right at home underneath the trees. Tall fescue could also do very well, but it has a lower forage value. Some other forage options could be annual brassicas, ryegrass, and clovers, depending on what grows well in your area and what types of livestock will be grazing on the land.

Advice for Managing Silvopastures

Here are some tips and advice for managing silvopasture on your small farm or homestead.

Be Careful Not to Overcrowd the Space

Avoiding overcrowding is especially crucial with silvopastures because if there are too many animals grazing in too small of an area, there will be damage to the bark and roots of your trees. If you plan to open the pasture up and thin out the trees, this probably isn’t a big deal. However, if you want to keep the trees healthy and growing, it’s best to keep the number of animals grazing in that area to a minimum.

Don’t Graze Silvopasture When it’s Muddy

If your wooded pasture is on a hillside, try not to graze it in the spring and fall when the ground is wet and muddy. Large animals like cows might damage the roots of your trees which could lead to erosion.

Establish a New Patch of Grass Each Year

Each year, thin out the trees in crowded areas to use as firewood. As you open up new areas, plant some grass seed in that spot. Eventually, you will have a gorgeous landscape of green grass shaded by healthy, beautiful trees.

Some Final Thoughts

If you’re interested in permaculture, silvopasture is an excellent choice for working with your land. By planting cool season perennials underneath the trees, you’re working in tandem with the natural growth cycles of the trees. Just be sure to monitor the area closely to make sure the animals aren’t being too destructive. Rotational grazing is always a good idea, whether your pasture is open or wooded.

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