Sunday, January 27, 2013

Farm budgeting: whole chicken

So, as you might suspect, we are not exceptionally wealthy people. Shocking I know.

We spend an awful lot on feed. That's an expense I don't think many people consider when they think of getting some farm animals. Sure, you know you feed them, but will the cost of feed offset your eggs? Probably not. I get about 6 eggs a day right now. I buy three bags of feed a month at $17.99 a bag (plus treats and veggies which I've never bothered to calculated what I spend on them...) I sell my eggs for $3 a dozen. So I'd have to sell more than 18 dozen a month in order to break even. Since right not i can only possibly get 15 doz out of them a month, you'll see even if I sold every egg I had, I'd never make a profit on these chickens.

But what I do have is pretty priceless. Kids who know where their food comes from, happy chickens, great pets and eggs that I think taste much better than their grocery counterparts.

This is, of course. Without mentioning the food intake of the "useless" animals. Since the goat isn't pregnant and hasn't had a baby yet, we do not get milk from them. So they get probably two bags of feed a month ($40 combined) and a bale of hay a month ($15-$20 depending on the type and the market price). The bunny eats her fair share of hay and pellets, and the dogs eat like dogs. The only animals who don't have a monthly food expenditure are the fish and they are pretty much on the $3.99 a year budget...

So we make up for the loss elsewhere.

I'm not sharing this with you in the hopes that you'll give us money or pity us. We aren't wealthy but we are no where near poor either. I'm sharing this with you because a lot of our money saving techniques lend themselves well to a happier, healthier and more farmy life overall.

Obviously you know we use a clothes line. That helps out with our electric bill substantially, cutting a summer bill by $20 or more. It also helps the clothes stay nice longer. And with 2.85 kids pulling on your clothes constantly (or requiring you to buy a whole new maternity wardrobe every two years...) keeping your clothes nice is important.

But today I'd like to focus on one of my more ambitious money saving ventures: the grocery budget.

I made a decision to try to limit our weekly grocery budget to $40 a week with a $40 monthly allowance for meats purchased at Costco. If you are a meat eating family, a quick look at your budgets will make it very apparent that the largest food expense in most households is meat. The more meat you eat the higher your bills. And your cholesterol...and your blood pressure likely... So when I made this decision, our family cut back on its meat intake substantially. We are not vegetarians, no matter what Maggie tells you, but we probably eat meatless 4 nights a week.

When we do eat meat, we try to make sure we are using proper portions:

Plates in the world today are FAR too big. All of these portion sizes are reasonable. That's four oz of chicken, a fist sized portion of starch (in this case: potatoes mashed with cauliflower) and a large portion of veg. We eat a lot of salad since its growing in our back yard.

Eating smaller portions can help with your grocery bill more than you realize. I don't think most people realize what a portion of meat should be. Half a chicken breast half (a chicken breast quarter?) is about the right size. Since veg is the cheapest thing you can buy at the grocery, you can feel totally fine over eating it. The rest should really be scaled back. It saves you money and calories.

Next, we focus on starting with whole things. Now whole chicken breasts are great and we totally have a giant bag of them in the freezer, but our most successful weeks are the ones where we make a whole chicken on Sunday.

Keeping with our correct portion sizes, our family of four eats about half of that chicken, if we are lucky. The kids share a drumstick and thigh, the husband and I share a breast. That leaves the wings, other breast, thigh and drumstick laying around. It is my normal process to pull this thing apart with my hands and keep it in a box in the fridge. It adds really well to fried rice (also a fabulous way to get tonnnnnnnns of veg into your kids), salads for lunch during the week, and plates of nachos when you get particularly pregnant crave-y.

Then you have the lovely carcass left over. Now I know the word carcass doesn't really make anyone too terribly hungry, but if you have some celery, carrots and onion, you can boil that little skeleton into a nice stock. This is good to have on hand, especially if you are limiting your meat intake. Generally I make all of our rice in chicken stock, use it in risotto etc to add in some extra meaty goodness where it might not otherwise exist. I'm not sure that's as nutritionally sound as I think it is, but I can't imagine it hurts. This also allows you to limit the amount of salt in your stock. Grocery store stock is pretty salt heavy, so this method pretty much only leaves you with what you had on the chicken itself.

This is a stock pot with one chicken carcass, three stocks of celery, three garden carrots (about the size of one grocery store carrot), one onion and a handful of parsley. Don't feel like you have to put in that much veg, but if you have it, you might as well. Add 6 c. of water and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for an hour. Afterward you'll strain out your veggies and bones and bits of meat and have a nice fatty broth left over. You can skim the fat easily by putting the liquid into a ziplock bag and letting it rise to the top. Then cut a corner and pinch off the flow of stock when it gets to the fatty part.

Now, from one little chicken, you've got the makings of several meals. With mine, I plan to make a batch of fried rice, about four salads with chicken on top, and a pot of potato soup. This is all without mentioning that whole chickens are OFTEN buy one get one free at Fry's.

There is much more to our budget situation, but for now I'm running a bit long and the power of a whole chicken seems like enough for one blog post!

So just to recap: cut down on the meat. When you use meat, use correct portions and use it all!!

I hope this was helpful rather than preachy. You do whatever makes you happy, but if you are serious about cutting your budget, this is a great place to start. I think next budget topic will be about eating your cupboards bare. That's a fun one!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

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