My last duck died earlier this year, so all I have left is chickens. Thanks to predators and old age, by October my flock was whittled down to 11 birds; 9 hens, 2 roosters. I bought three more pullets from a local 4Her. Those should begin laying in a couple of months.
I've got to say this: it's very nice not having ducks. As much as I loved to watch them swim and play in their pond, it was annoying having to empty and refill the kiddie pool of water every two or three days. The chicken water stays clean for much longer now. Unlike the ducks, they don't need an entire kiddie pool, so I can transport fresh water in a five-gallon bucket. Speaking of which:
I broke down and bought a heated water bucket this year. It was $30.00 on sale at a local farm store. The bucket is thermostatically controlled so it only runs when needed, plus it requires very little energy. Hubs was concerned that an additional heating element would not be worth the added electricity costs, but after reading the label on the bucket, he changed his mind. The heated bucket will reduce the amount of water I have to carry this winter, and also make chores easier for others when we are away.
I also splurged and bought the chickens some "real" bedding; a bale of pine shavings. I had been using sawdust from Hubs' shop, but since he got a sawdust-sucker (sorry, I don't know what it's actually called) it's more complicated to get the bedding when I need it. The bale of pine shavings was far easier to carry than wheelbarrows full of sawdust, plus less messy, and it looks so nice in the coop. For $5.00, I think it was a pretty good purchase.
I grew some oat grass fodder for the hens last week, for the first time. It was very easy and cheap. When we get back from our trip, I'm going to set up a system for doing the fodder. I know, I know... I say that every year. But really, I think I will do it.
I tried using the waterglass technique for preserving eggs, instead of selling the extra like I normally do. The waterglassing was a failure. A third of the eggs were well preserved, but the other two thirds developed "smells" over the months in storage. The good eggs were only good for baking, not scrambling. After starting this project, I read that waterglassing is not ideal for fertilized eggs, plus over time the solution weakens the shells and makes them more susceptible to breakage. One broken egg in the bucket, and all of the rest will develop smells. Somehow, flies got into my egg bucket and started laying their own eggs, which developed into maggots. Disgusting! I won't be doing this preservation method again, unless the eggs are unfertilized and there are only a few to preserve. Also, I wouldn't preserve spring eggs for winter; only fall eggs.
Unfortunately, my beehive this year was not a success. I did not harvest any honey, and yellow jackets invaded the hive without me realizing it, until it was too late. I made quite a few mistakes along the way, but I also got the hang of doing routine hive checks, using the smoker, etc. I'm slightly less terrified of bees than I was a year ago.
I would like to try the bee project again. I'll order another package of bees, and maybe build another small hive just in case my old one is bad. I would love this project to be a success, but it didn't happen this year.
The other new project for 2018 was selling strawberries. I planted my strawberry field in 2017, but this was our first year of harvesting and selling berries. It went okay. I really should have got a babysitter for our daughter during picking season. The deer ravaged my plants and they only produced half of what they should have. By the end of June I was about to go crazy, and the darn plants still needed weeding. I took July off of strawberry farming (a mistake) and made up for it tenfold by weeding the berries almost every day for the next two months.
Financially, the strawberry project more than paid for itself. I made $500.00 net profit, when all was said and done. Next year I will not have as many costs, and hopefully will harvest more berries and thus, earn more money like I had expected to do this year.
I didn't realize how much the strawberry patch would interfere with my gardening time. I also didn't realize how many BEES would be swarming around my raised beds and how much that would bother me. The bees actually scared me away from weeding and harvesting, which cut my garden yield. Next year I will plant the bee-friendly herbs and flowers farther away from the garden.
For spending almost no time in the garden, I got a decent yield. Chinese long beans were a smashing success. Beets were a success. The heirloom tomatoes I planted were beautiful, but not very good for canning and didn't produce much for all of the space they took up. Peppers were a fail (I think it was the hot weather?). All throughout the summer I had sprinkler and hose problems. I did actually grow some watermelon, which was a first for me!! Sweet corn patch was a fail. Pumpkin and acorn squash was a fail.
Re-evaluating Profit and Loss
Ultimately, I think the hobby farm balance was a loss. I sunk $600.00 or more into bee supplies, a couple hundred dollars into chicken feed. I think I spent about $100.00 on garden supplies (greenhouse panel, seeds, bulbs, landscape fabric). The strawberry profits probably covered chicken costs, but that's it.
I've spent the last several years trying to make my hobby farm earn an income, or at least pay for itself. I've had goats, chickens, ducks, a sheep, a farmers market stand, a farm stand, and and Etsy shop. Trying to make each project pay for itself was very difficult. Some projects just aren't very economical. Bees and chickens, for example, are definitely "hobby" projects. Milk goats and strawberries, on the other hand, can easily support themselves plus bring a profit.
The most efficient way to get your hobby farm to pay for itself is to have a cash crop (or "cow", if you will) and use that to pay for your other unprofitable projects. Even so, I've discovered my hobby farm is much less about earning money than it is about providing good quality food for my family, learning new things and getting outside. I also want to keep the hobby farm going so our daughter can reap the benefits of gardening and learning animal husbandry.
Next year, I'm going to make the hobby farm my "local food fund". Any profits from the strawberry patch will either be put back into the farm (paying for chicken feed, beekeeping supplies, etc.) or spent on food from other local farms. This will technically increase our food budget (hopefully, anyway). It will allow me to contribute to the local economy not just by consuming, but also by producing.
At this point, I don't have any new projects planned. My goals are to 1) double profits on the strawberries, 2) get some kind of honey harvest, 3) extend the garden growing season and 4) keep my chickens happy and healthy. I'm excited to see how much I can do with the farm in 2019!