Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cost/Benefit of Raising Food Animals in Alaska Winter

Animal husbandry in cold, dark winters is challenging and expensive.  From a cost/benefit assessment, it is unsurprising that autumn has historically been a time for butchering animals - they cost a lot more to feed and warm through winter than in the summer, and in the case of birds, they lay fewer eggs, too.

Insulated bee hives in winter
Below are some of the seasonal problems we have encountered raising honeybees, chickens, ducks, and rabbits, and the costs/benefits we estimate.  Perhaps this will help others considering raising food animals (and insects) during long cold seasons.

Problems, costs, and benefits:
HONEY BEES   Winter: Almost all of our honeybee colonies die in winter, despite insulated hives, so we have to buy nucs (nuclear colonies with one queen and a few hundred Buckfast or Italian bees) every spring, for about $250@.

Costs: So  (after buying the initial boxes and equipment), our annual cost to produce 17 gallons of honey from four hives is about $58/gallon, or $0.91/oz, which is in between the prices of store bought regular and organic honeys.  This volume may seem ridiculous to anyone who only uses honey on an occasional biscuit, but we use the honey in place of sugar in many recipes (can't grow sugar up here), including beer and mead, and for hair conditioner and facials.  We also use the beeswax in furniture and leather polish, lip balm, and skin moisturizing bars.  I don't know the weight/volume we accumulate,  because we store it in bits and pieces, but I read that a pound of beeswax sells on-line for $10 – 15/lb.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Alaska Homesteading Winter Anecdotes

Outsiders may envision Alaska's long winters as all very similar, but that is not so.  Each year's differences offer variety and alternating advantages and disadvantages at our remote home.  This year, our firewood stores have benefited from low snow and high winds, our beeyard has suffered from a moose, and our entertainment has increased by visits of a curious marten to our hot tub.

Martens are described, in one source, as “nature's most adorable assassin.”  Isn't that an evocative description!  Related to weasels/ermines/minks, martens are the size of slim dachsunds.   They have short legs, a long body wearing a glossy brown coat, a fluffy, fox-like tail, small, rounded ears, a short nose, and bright eyes in a restless, alert face. They are really cute.  It is entertaining to watch them dash lightly across the surface of the snow, jump up, and then dive deep to a subnivean nest of voles. They grab one for dinner, and then dash off to some quiet picnic spot.  One day, my husband was sitting in the soaking tub where his splash aroused the curiosity of a marten.  The little critter bravely bounded not only to the tub, but also up two stairs!  Cute they may be, but their sharp teeth and claws are not condusive to close acquaintance.  Bryan splashed at the creature, who decided to retreat in favor of smaller meat or perhaps less water.

For some reason, we have had more frequent moose visitors this winter.  We watched one with a damaged rear leg struggle through overflow on the lake, have viewed others nibbling birch branches in our yard, and sighed over the depredations to our apple trees.  The animals' heavy footfalls punch deep holes through the soft snow and even along our hardpacked snow paths.  Saturday night,  a moose banged through the 4.5 foot high wire fence that encircles the bee yard, totally ripping out some of the lines and then, stepped over the rest with his 5 foot long legs.  I don't know why; tracks indicate that he was walking, not running.  Maybe the appeal of a straight line?