If we don’t know how to grow and raise our own food, with our own bare hands, can we truly call ourselves free? Or are we just dependents of a dying system that will one day fail?
Even if you feed your family from locally produced food, how sustainable is that food source without foreign oil to run your local farm’s equipment, or the trucks to get their food to you?
Does your local farm depend on irrigation or rain?
Can they irrigate their crops if something happened to our electric grid?
What about a drought?
Even if your local farms could still operate in an environment of skyrocketing oil prices and electric grid failures, their production would plummet. The work previously done by machines would be forced to once again rely on manual labor.
To this many a hunter friend of mine would boastfully say,
“That’s why it’s good to know how to hunt. A man who can hunt can keep his belly full!”
Is that true?
Have you read about how hard wild game is to find in past economic crisis in our country?
The great depression rendered so many people starving that not only did deer become rare, but squirrels too, as starving families shot and ate whatever they could to feed their themselves.
And we are not the same resourceful people of that generation.
We do not know how to preserve food without the aid of electricity.
Our parents and grandparents have not passed down the same strong hunting and food production skills of our once self reliant society.
In short, we’d be screwed.
Why Gardening Won’t Be Enough (for most)
The logical conclusion most people come to when looking at the coming challenges our country faces, and how they’ll feed themselves is through gardening.
But almost all of traditional gardening practices are based on running water, fertilizers and pesticides to keep them running.
I’m not interested in learning to garden like that.
I wanted to learn how to garden in a society where there are no outside inputs available for purchase.
I didn’t want to rely on running city water, electricity, fertilizers or seeds.
I wanted to know how to produce sustainable food in a crisis
Therein lies the problem.
Try finding a gardening book that shows you how to do that?
To be fair, there are some climates where it is possible.
I just don’t happen to live in one of them.
I live in the pacific northwest, which get’s NO rain in the growing season, and then rains so heavy throughout the rest of the year that all the good stuff that might have been in my soil get’s washed away… leaving me with an acidic soil that is only good for growing trees.
My only salvation, I’m told, can come from the regular adding of manure. There is so much rain where I live (60+ inches a year) I also need calcium based fertilizers.
The Problem With Manure
In good times manure is not a problem. Lots of people have extra laying around they can give you. They don’t really need it, because they just use fertilizers that are cheaper to buy.
The problem is that all of the manure in my area is mostly possible because of commercially available feed.
My local farmers do not personally grow all their livestock feed. It comes from thousands of miles away.
In a crisis, will my local farmers be able to still feed their cattle?
Maybe, but only by reducing the size of their herds; in which case they will most likely want to keep their manure on their own fields for fertility.
So no poo for me 🙁
This means I needed a way to make my own poo.
Poo increases your lands fertility, and without a way to increase your lands fertility, sustainable food production is very difficult. It is the first core constraint to sustainable food production that a prepper has to solve.
I wanted to solve this CORE constraint with a low hassle poo maker that took very little investment.
So I started raising chickens.
If I could figure out how to raise chickens on my land in a way where I grew all their own feed, I would have solved the core constraint of sustainable food production in my climate… the need to constantly feed nutrients back into the soil through poo.
Raising chickens accomplishes this through:
- Grazing chickens over ground right before planting
- Raising chickens on bedding of nearby tree leaves (like Maple or Oak) that they turn into compost
- Using chickens to till under cover crops.
Done right, chicken add more nutrients to the soil then they take away, while producing yummy protein in the form of eggs and meat.
If you can raise 30 chickens in this way, they can produce for you 1 million calories of eggs a year.
I like 1 million calories as a good first goal, because 1 million calories breaks down to 2,700+ calories a day. It’s not enough to feed a whole family, and your family would need much more diversity to stay healthy, but it sure builds a good starting foundation of sustainable protein production.
But it all starts with feeding them.
Raising A Self-Sufficient Chicken
Here’s where things really started to get fun for me.
In my quest for how to best feed chickens, I stumbled across a philosophy that uses rotational chicken paddocks to provide 100% of a chickens diet from the land they graze on.
The theory is that you set up 4 different grazing zones aka. paddocks, for your chickens. Then you leave the chickens on the paddocks until 30% of the vegetation has been eaten, and then you move them to the next paddock.
How BIG Should Your Chicken Paddocks Be?
Ideally you want a paddock big enough so that it takes your chickens 10 days to eat 30% of the vegetation. If your chickens take longer then that you can add more chickens. If they munch down all the greenery before 10 days you “might” have too many chickens.
But don’t start tossing your extra chickens into the stew pot just yet 😉
Let’s say you have a dozen chickens, and it took them 5 days to eat 30% of the greenery in their paddock.
Pull half of your chickens out to another location or just confine them for a while, and move the other 6 to paddock #2.
In theory, since you now have 1/2 the number of chickens it should take them twice as long to eat down their second paddock by 30%.
Keep pulling out chickens or enlarging their paddocks until you get the right mix of paddock size to flock size that eats 30% of the greenery in 10 days.
This Gives Each Pasture 30 Days Of Rest
What’s even better is that each pasture also got fertilized with the perfect amount of chicken manure.
What the experts say is that paddocks managed this way, with brief but intense grazing and 30 days of rest, results in a 400-500% boost in vegetative growth!
In theory, that means that on your chickens second run back through their paddocks you can start adding back in some of those chickens you took out the first time, because they’ll be more vegetation to support them!
Super Charging Your Chickens Paddocks
Most videos I see using this method on the internet are from farmers who are grazing their chickens off of almost exclusively grass pasture through electric chicken netting.
I wanted to take it up another level by introducing fruit trees & bushes to each of my chicken’s paddocks, to get more feed per square foot of paddock.
You can see what my chicken paddocks looked like after being planted just a few months in the video below, that shows my whole permaculture food forest system… but if you want to forward to just my chicken paddocks, I start showing them at 4:24 in the video.
The Problem With This Food Production System
If there is a problem with this rotational paddock system that I am implementing, it is it’s reliance on young fruit trees and bushes to become established.
When mature, a good fruit tree can drop 150 lbs of wonderful fruit for my chickens; and nut trees can make up 1/2 a chickens winter ration of feed.
But that is NOT going to happen for several years for me.
While this is a great long term food security strategy, in the short term it is not enough for 30 chickens.
How To Meet Your Chickens Short Term Food Needs
To meet my short term chicken feed needs I am going to rely on growing food outside of my chicken paddocks and bringing it to them.
But not just any crop will do.
As a prepper I want to pick resilient foods that either keep in the ground in my climate or that can be stored in a garage or root cellar without electricity. This gives me food security even in the case of an electrical grid failure through the winter.
Here’s a list of the crops that allow me to do that in my climate:
- Winter Squash
How Much Of These Crops Should You Grow?
Well that’s the $64,000 question isn’t it.
I can’t find a single sole on the internet who can tell me, because I find very few people who raise chickens with all homegrown feed.
So I’m going to make it my mission to discover that answer for you in the days, weeks and months ahead on my journey to self reliance.
Most farmers or gardeners seem to not want to be wrong when giving estimates. They want to tell you that it depends on your soil, climate etc.
They’re right of course, but to do some planning I’d rather have a bad number then no number at all, wouldn’t you?
So I have made some guesstimates and will update this article with my personal findings when I have them for you.
I have set a few goals for myself though, based off of the general guideline I can find on the internet that a chicken needs 1/4 of feed per day.
If that is true, then 30 chickens need 7.5 lbs of dry feed per day or 750 lbs every 100 days.
Since I’m a simple man, I’ve set 100 days of feed as my first goal.
The first crop for achieving this number you might want to consider is corn. The best numbers I can find are that you can get 100-200 lbs of “feed corn” per 100 ft row of corn. You can find bigger numbers then this online, but they only come from the use of commercial fertilizers. Since I like to plan for the worst, I’ll pick 100 lbs of corn as my number for every 100 feet of corn.
If I’d like corn to make up 1/3 of my feed, I need 250lbs of corn, which would take 250 foot rows of corn to pull off, roughly 2,500 square feet depending on which recommended planting guideline book I read.
The next items on my list is the Mangel fodder beet. According to WSU’s website fodder beets produce 25% less dry weight of crops per acre then corn. So I’d need to plan on having a second garden area 25% larger then my corn growing area to produce the next 1/3 of my chickens 100 day food supply. That means roughly 3,000 more square feet just for beets.
I plan on meeting the final third of my chickens diet with Jerusalem Artichokes, which I’m told can harvest 1lb per square foot of ground dedicated to them… with the bonus, that in my climate they store best if left IN the ground. So I’m dedicating 250 square feet of space to that plant as well.
All in all, with my ROUGH estimates (which I admit are often drastically different then reality) I will plan on dedicating 5,750 square feet of space for feeding my chickens for 100 days.
Whether I’m right or not about this experiment is not really the point. Just like everything we try to share with you on this site, it is from our MISTAKES, on our journey to becoming self-reliant that I think you can learn the most from, not our expertise. It’s the little things that get you in trouble, NOT the big picture stuff.
My point is that I got started. Thusly this experiment will yield some form of data that will allow me to keep adjusting my plan until I can meet my chickens needs.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my successes and failures.
How To Grow More PEOPLE Food Per Square Foot
With the livestock plan underway, the next most logical problem to tackle is long term food production for your family, possibly neighborhs depending on how much land you have.
In this map you see the second phase of what’s being done in my food forest since the above video was shot.
Just the trees alone that you see in that video will drop 2+ million calories of fruit p/year, and that doesn’t even include the calories that can be grown in-between and under the trees.
There’s not quite enough space in this article to cover the topic of why you should grow a food forest, but click here if you’d like to see my food forest plan.
The whole system has it’s own plants for increasing the soil fertility, plants for controlling insects, herbs for medicine and flavor, as well as lots and lots of calories to get my family through any long term crisis.
Let Me Ask You An Honest Question?
Do you see how this long term food production thing is not something you’re likely to get right on your first try?
If you ask a long time food grower, they will all tell you there is a learning curve.
I’m taking that advice at face value and starting my learning NOW, while there is still time.
I also think it would be risky to start your long term food production plan before you have completed your families emergency food storage plan.
I recommend storing 1 million calories of Freeze Dried Foods per member of your family as a good starting point. I like freeze dried foods because they last up to 20 years, so there’s none of that forgetting to rotate them out stuff to worry about.
If you can’t do that much, then at least get one months worth and build from there.
That way you at least have some insurance to feed you and your family if your long term sustainable food production plan runs into a few snags when the SHTF.