In short, you don’t. Well, at least, I don’t. But I ant put my all into it. I have a full time job. Because I know I cannot make money on my animals. I don’t know how other people do things, but here’s what I do. I make sure my “farm animals” pay for themselves. Or at least, that’s the goal.
I started with rabbits. My pet rabbits. I spent money out of pocket to build a building with 4 pens. The building is 10x12, so I’ve got 4 pens up one wall that are 3x3. The other side of the building was supposed to be walled off for chickens. Then I added the outside runs for each rabbit pen. My building is super sturdy, and made with rough lumber, second hand windows and door and OSB. (The OSB was a bad idea) But before the chicken plan hatched, I decided I wanted to breed rabbits. So, out of my pocket, I bought material and had my father build me a stack of cages from wood and hardware cloth and plexiglass and litter boxes. It was heavy, but the hardware cloth was hard to clean. Then, I had to source rabbits. I found a breeder that bred Mini Rex and I requested black. Inside I got Cricket, a chocolate. When the next litter was born I got Apollo, a black. Then I had a litter. And I couldn’t sell them. Then I sourced a pair of Netherland Dwarfs. Chester and Mystery. And we had a litter. And I sold my them all but one. I took that money and bought 5 cages. Then I sold the heavy wooden cage. I took that money and bought another ND doe. Had another litter. Sold them. Sold Mystery. Bought more cages. Bought water bottles. Sold more rabbits. Bought more cages. And so on. So the building and initial start up cost me all out of pocket. But now, they pay for themselves. I sell rabbits, I get new stuff. New cages. New rabbits. New bottles. New dishes. Shavings. Food. And I may have some to spare incase vet care is needed. Sometimes things get tight, and if I have to, I’ll still buy food out of pocket. But I haven’t had to in a while. Will they ever make enough money I will need to claim the income? Never. Can I ever make a living off of these rabbits? Not even close. But I love them.
Well about 3 and a half years ago I decided I was ready for those chickens. Again, I spent out of pocket. I built a small 4x4 coop with an 8’ run. Then I bought 6 Barred Plymouth Rock chicks for $5 each. I had waterers and chick feeders given to me. And I built a larger feeder from a bucket. Then I had to give away 2 of the birds because I ended up with 3 roosters. Because people don’t normally pay for roosters. Then my rooster died. And I drove an hour to get a new one. And he attacked me. A lot. With only three hens I could only really get 3 eggs a day. And I live in a place that problem are more concerned with how much stuff costs and not how good it is for you. So I sell eggs for $3 per dozen. Because if they’re cheaper at the store, that’s where people will go. So these three hens are making just enough to cover the cost of their feed. A year and a half ago my father decided it would be nice to hatch some eggs. And it failed. The thermostat wafer was toast. So we bought a second hand incubator. We split the cost. I bought eggs. We hatched them, and kept them all but a few roosters. I got rid of my mean one and kept the son. Then I got rid of him. And all I jr other roosters except one. Then I had too many birds and had to build another coop. This one is 12x14 with a 12’ run. It costs a small fortune. Then, because these chicks weren’t laying and costing me a lot of money in feed, I bought 3 more hens and got 2 for free. They were laying eggs. And then the chicks started laying. And then I finally got my birds home. Then I bought a couple more hens. So now, I have hens laying eggs. So I’m selling eggs. And I’ve got more customers. And some of those customers will wait for my eggs, because they’ve learned that fresher is better. So at this point, the birds are paying for their own feed. But then winter rolls around and days are short and so is the egg supply. And I’ve had to start buying their feed out of pocket. What do I do? Sell chicks. Yup. So far this year I’ve only run about $2 short for feed. I’ve added supplemental lighting and now, at January 15th, I’ve got about 10 birds that are laying. I’ll sell 5 dozen eggs this week. But unfortunately I’ve also had to buy eggs from other people to sell, just to keep my customers. Thankfully we all charge about the same, so I’m not losing, but I’m not gaining, either. This week should help. I sold a decent amount of chicks last year, which helped. If we can get incubation down, we can do better this year. Also, most of our chicks are mixed breed. I use the little coop as a breeding pen, but that means I can only hatch one purebred breed at a time, as I’ll still have three other breeds of rooster in the big coop. Once the weather warms up a little more, we’ll start hatching again and hopefully can get more batches in this year. That will garner more money to hold us through the winter months.
And just to touch on cattle quickly. I don’t know a lot about them, but I know my uncle just had to butcher his bull. He was a beautiful bull that was quiet and kind and served his herd well. But something happened and he became infertile. So what do you do with an infertile bull? There’s really only one option, unfortunately. And he’s got to sell two cows, one is bred, because he doesn’t have room in the barn for them. And he doesn’t have the money to build the barn bigger. And no one is interested in the cows for what they’re worth. And the work is getting hard, because he can’t afford a tractor.
So what’s the moral of this seemingly downhearted story? Do it for love. I love my rabbits. But I had to spend money to get started. And now they support themselves. And if they don’t, I have to sell more rabbits. It’s a hobby. I’d love to make money. But I know, that it’s all going back to them any way. I love my chickens. If it becomes too expensive to keep up with the feed, I’ll have to cut back on chickens. But for now, they usually pay for their own feed, so it’s not so bad. And they’re highly entertaining. Especially in the summer. They’re therapeutic. So, if you want farm animals, do it for love. Do it because you enjoy it. Thankfully, farm animals will help you pay for their keep. Unlike your dog.