The first topic I’m going to talk about is animal housing, and try to share some ways to save money on building housing, pens, cages, and fencing. For many people this will be one of the major expenses of setting up a homestead, and MUST be in place (at least in some form) before you get your livestock. Please don’t buy animals if you don’t have a place to properly house them, even temporarily. The animals lives and health can suffer, they can be exposed to predators, poison forages, theft, or even just wandering away, and you will create a lot more work and headaches for yourself. Instead, make sure you have an adequate way to keep the animals contained, safe, and protected before you bring them home.
I spent very little on my animal housing. I know how to build pens, coops, and cages, and I learned about fencing. I checked out books from the library and surfed the ‘net looking for more ideas, and in some cases changed what I had planned.
There was a good bit of material here when I moved in. Most of the perimeter fenceposts were already up, though someone had removed most of the fencing. Still, the posts are the hard part! There was also a standing barn and a couple of falling-down outbuildings. I took down the outbuildings and part of the barn so I could re-use the materials (wood, sheets of tin, and even nails). There were a few partial rolls of wire and fencing out in the barn, and some ramshackle rooster cages. All of these provided materials, and I kept some of the rooster cages as temporary holding cages.
Much material was available for free as well. I got some concrete block from tear-downs, and was given a load of free pallets and several loads of old privacy fence panels from craigslist. I even asked for a non-working refrigerator and was given one, and it awaits being turned into an incubator (though I may not need one, since I have so many broody hens). I cut some bamboo from vacant lots.
Some things I had to buy. My main expenses were some lumber for framing, several large boxes of screws, fencing wire, and caging wire. And one large panel gate, although I built all the rest of my own gates (and at last count, I had about ten). I couldn’t find a way to save much money on the lumber and screws, other than to buy the screws in large quantity. I did find there was a huge difference in the cost of fencing wire – a farm supply store about an hour away was in competition with a newly-opened farm store, and had cut their prices, so I was glad I could take advantage of the sale when it happened. Caging wire can be bought in 100 foot rolls at a good savings, if you can avoid shipping costs. Check with your local farm supply or feed store, and if they get regular deliveries from a supplier, you might be able to get a good deal on these. Make SURE of what you are getting before you buy though — if it turns out to be too flimsy for your needs, you will have to replace it soon and you’ve wasted your money and your time.
Planning is key to controlling costs as well.
I wanted to divide my pasture, so I took a look at the treeline. It was easy to follow the trees in dividing my buck pen from my grazing pasture, and separating my goats from my chicken and rabbit yard, and even for dividing my baby poultry pen from my front yard. By using the already-growing trees, I didn’t have to buy nearly as many fence posts. And in placing pens that worked adjacent to each other, one fence row did double-duty. Though in some cases I had to reinforce fencing with large openings with a smaller mesh to keep smaller animals in. For this I found a black plastic mesh fencing meant to keep deer out to be very economical, and it has held up for years, even where exposed to the sun, and isn’t very noticeable visually. It does break, but can be mended, and overall I’ve been very pleased with it.
The climate here is fairly mild, and waterfowl need minimal shelter here. My coops for them consist of a frame of 2 x 4 lumber, with a relatively inexpensive garden rabbit wire stapled to the outside, and a recycled tin roof. They are protected from north winds by placement of the coop – other buildings block the worst wind. They make enough noise that if a predator DID try to get them, I’d hear and come outside, so the light wire is sufficient to protect them.
Rabbits are also very hardy where cold is concerned. They are more endangered by heat, so I built their cages in the coolest, deepest shade where air circulation was still good. Instead of hutches, I built a lumber frame and added a tin roof, then stretched a “bed” of pasture fencing made from scraps, similar to the spring frame on a daybed. Their cages are made completely of wire, with nothing to block air flow, and placed on these frames. The roof is high enough not to trap heat, and they get maximum cooling this way. On very stormy nights in winter, I attach a tarp or heavy blanket to the frame where the wind blows in so they don’t end up cold, wet, and exposed to wind, and they are fine.
Choosing livestock (and crops) suited to your location as much as possible will do much to keep your expenses down. The less you have to build to keep them healthy, the lower your costs.
Predators are another major reason for animal housing and fencing. In some cases, electric fencing may be the most effective and cheapest way to keep your livestock safe. For others, a guard dog or other guard animal may be best. Locating the night pens closer to your home may be sufficient, or letting the dog have access outside may keep your animals safe. A floodlight, perhaps motion-activated, may be your best choice. Or you may have to rely on securely built housing. It depends on the local predators, what sort of animals you have, and what your setup is like. In my case, cats are the main predators for my smaller poultry, and the geese do a great job of watching for them and chasing them away. The llama watches for larger predators for the goats, and I keep them just outside the house at night. Hawks don’t get very many of my small animals, because they are usually under tree cover and hidden from the sky. So snakes are now my main problem, and there is no way to protect from them except to make secure coops for vulnerable animals and check each night to make sure no snakes got in during the day. So my coops had to be built to be perfectly sealed from snakes (or weasels). If predators really are no concern at all, you can get away with only a roof for poultry, and even chicken-wire walls, but in my chicken yard that would result in snakes eating small chicks and raccoons ripping up the wire to kill chickens at night.
That about covers how I’ve cut costs on housing and fencing, and a few ideas you might be able to use that I wasn’t able to do (such as electric fencing).
Until next time …