This is an overview article on Food Production based on my current circumstances. It is based on the fact that I live in a high mountain desert. I receive 16.5″ of precipitation a year, have a 150 day growing season (days between average frost dates) and have a Zone 6B rating for plant hardiness (meaning it gets down to zero degrees in the Winter). I live in a residential neighborhood but have a bigger than normal backyard.

If you live on a 10 acre homestead in a temperate climate with a 250 day growing season, and 80″ of rainfall each year then you can product a lot more food than I can and can raise more and bigger livestock than I can. I’m approaching food production based on my situation’s limitations.


I make a differentiation between SHTF (Shit Hits The Fan) and TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). SHTF can be anything that puts you into emergency mode. Anything from a Winter Storm power outage to a hard Recession or a shallow Depression. I have a narrow definition of TEOTWAWKI. If life has any resemblance of normalcy or is likely to return to a somewhat normal existence, then I still call it a SHTF event. TEOTWAWKI is the aftermath of a nation-wide EMP or like event where we are instantly sent back 100 years and life is almost unrecognizable with little chance of returning to the old normal anytime soon.

Food Production is much easier in a SHTF event, even an extended one, than it is in a TEOTWAWKI life. A couple of for-instances are being able to go to a store and buy garden seed, turn on your hose for water or buy commercial feed for your animals. All possible sooner or later in an SHTF event but not even a remote possibility in a TEOTWAWKI life.


I want to talk Water first. Food Production uses water. In a TEOTWAWKI situation you can’t rely on anyone but yourself for collecting the water you need for yourself and your Food Production. In a desert this can be a challenge, so let’s talk about rain-water collection.

A one square foot surface (12″ x 12″) can collect .6 gallon of water for every inch of rain-fall. In my case, 16″ of precipitation a year means a little over 9 gallons of water a year from a 1 square foot surface. Taking into account evaporation and other factors, collecting and storing 60% of your rain-fall is reasonable. That means a little over 5 gallons of collected water per square foot of surface.

You can set up a system of gutters, downspouts, and storage containers for any surface you have. House roof, deck, storage shed roof, garden shed roof, etc. all can be used to collect water. I have about 4000 square feet of surface space from my house, sheds, tarps etc. Potentially, if properly set up, I could collect 20,000 gallons of water a year. Pretty significant, especially in a desert.


Store Two 12′ x 16′ Tarps
Everyone should include a two-pack of 12′ x 16′ tarps in their emergency preparedness storage. I get mine at Costco for around $20 for the pack. Add two 5 gallon buckets and you have a very simple rain-water collection system. Just stake the tarps out with one end higher than the other. You can use a natural slope or use one foot high stakes to create a high side. On the low side, place a 5 gallon bucket under the edge of the tarp to collect run-off. If the tarp is high enough, the bucket can be set on the ground. If the tarp is on ground level, you may need to dig a hole to place the bucket at tarp level to catch the run-off.

You don’t have to leave the tarps out all of the time. Just put them out when it is going to rain. How much water will these two tarps collect? Well in my desert location, 2000 gallons a year. Amazing! You’ll probably be able to collect a higher percentage of rain water with the tarps than with a roof/gutter system. You should be able to increase the collection rate with tarps to 75% or 80%, that will allow you to collect 2500 to 3000 gallons of water per year from the two tarps.


Vegetable Gardening
If water was not problem, I would grow as many varieties of vegetables as I could, concentrating on high calorie vegetables (see my blog article

Since water is limited for me, I concentrate on growing peas, corn, beans, winter squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes/yams. I add some cold weather crops that can be planted 6 weeks before the last frost date because they need very little extra water due to spring rain. I have just learned about lambsquarter-wild spinach and plan to cultivate some for greens (see my blog article I love fresh vine ripened tomatoes so I include a couple of tomato plants in my garden. That’s it as far as vegetables go.
Use Heirloom Seeds and try to save and store 2-3 years worth for planting. This Garden plan works for both SHTF and TEOTWAWKI scenarios.


Fruit, Berries and Grapes
Fruit, Berries and Grapes for the most part are not calorie powerhouses. They contain 25 – 50 calories per a 100g or 3 1/2 oz (little less than 1/2 cup) serving. The advantage they have over vegetables is that they don’t have to be planted every year and the food they produce is tastier (at least in my opinion).

I have an apple, pear and apricot tree as well as grape vines, raspberry bushes and strawberry plants. The trees and grapes are mature. The raspberry bushes are new. I need to start a few more bushes with cuttings. The strawberries need a major overhaul to new larger ever-bearing varieties.

At present they all get watered when the lawn is watered. In a SHTF situation I may have to hand water them to conserve water. In a TEOTWAWKI situation with very limited water, I may not have enough water for large mature trees, especially the apricot tree that is getting old.


If you are thinking about a backyard farm, a great book is “Barnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cattle” by Gail Damerow.

When I make the move to add livestock in my backyard, here is the mix I have decided on.


I suggest chickens for egg production, not for meat production.
During a SHTF event, I’d have six laying hens, all Leghorn breed. Leghorn chickens are bred to be egg laying machines. They are a smaller chicken so they don’t eat as much food as a larger laying hen. Each hen produces about 300 (white) eggs per year. They will not brood(try to hatch their eggs). They lay eggs and get up and go about their business. Because they are a smaller hen, their diet is important.

They need a proper diet that includes access to a calcium source like ground oyster shells. They are not great free-range chickens as they can fly quite a distance and will roost in tree if allowed which makes them great prey for predators. The best coop for them is a type that has an attached pen enclosure that can be moved so they get a chance to scratch and forage without being out of the pen.

Other good laying breeds include Rhode Island Reds and Sex Links. They are larger chickens and will eat more food but can also be used for meat if desired.
You don’t need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs. Hens prime laying time is up until they are 2 years old and then their egg production decreases. Healthy chickens usually live to about 5 years. My suggestion is that after 2 years, buy some new chicks. It will take 5-6 months to get your new chicks to the point that they will start laying. Once they do, watch the older hens output. When it falls off significantly, use them for stewers.

Six hens will give you 1800 eggs a year. You’ll have plenty of extra eggs to sell to help off-set the cost of feed.
During a TEOTWAWKI life, I would start with a mix of birds, probably 3 Leghorns and 3 Rhode Islands. After a TEOTWAWKI event, you won’t have access to commercial sold chicks. You’ll need to hatch them yourself. Add a Rhode Island rooster. Rhode Island Reds will brood. Leghorns won’t. Sex Links are Hybrid birds so you don’t know what you’ll get if they have off-spring which doesn’t make them a good TEOTWAWKI chicken. After a few years you’ll probably have an all Rhode Island Red coop.

Commercial feed will not be available during a TEOTWAWKI life. The chickens will have to forage on their own. Rhode Island Reds are a much friendlier and sociable chicken and will do better foraging out of the coop for a few hours each the day than Leghorns. Rhode Island Reds will run to you when you enter the back yard and will not give you a lot of trouble when it’s time to put them back in the coop.

With the change to a non-commercial diet, egg production will decrease. The chickens will only produce an egg when they have taken in enough nutrition to create an egg. Production may be only 150 eggs a year instead of 300 eggs a year.


Rabbits are the best protein producing livestock available. The New Zealand and Californian breeds are great for meat production. Rabbits are herbivores, grow quickly, can have six litters of 8-12 kits per year (they can actually have 12 or 13 litters a year but it is best to let them have a rest between litters). Full grown rabbits are usually 8-12 lbs. Off-spring usually grow to about 4-5 lbs in only 8 weeks which is when they are usually harvested.

I would start with one buck and three does. They could produce 150 off-spring a year and if harvested when they reach 5lbs. would equal 450 pounds of meat a year. This is more than enough protein for a family of four. You could also let some of your rabbits reach maturity and sell them for breeding.

Rabbits live 5-10 years. Every 4 years or so you’ll need to trade out your buck and does. If you have other rabbit breeders in your area trading them rabbits will help you both with new blood lines although breeding in families for meat production is okay.

As with chickens, using non-commercial feed in a TEOTWAWKI scenario could reduce the rabbits productivity. They do well with a mix of dried alfalfa, sprouted grains, and garden scraps which you can grow yourself or trade for with some of your extra meat.

If I could only have one type of livestock and had to pick between having chicken eggs and rabbit meat, I’d go with rabbit meat.


Just a quick mention of goats, I’d only get goats for milk. Rabbits are much better meat animals. Goats are not really like the cartoons where you can let them wander and they will eat anything and get all the nutrition they need. They have nutritional needs that can’t be met by eating lawn grass. Also they are very inquisitive. They need some room to roam and you better have your fence in order because they will find any hole available to escape.

Best milk breed is the Nubian Goat. Nubian goats are not small. Does weigh up to 135 lbs and can produce a gallon or more of milk per day.  The Kinder Goat is a mix between a Pygmy and a Nubian goat. The doe is a little smaller at 115 lbs and can produce up to one-half gallon of milk per day.  A Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat is a smaller goat. The doe is only 75 lbs and usually produces one quart of milk a day.  Goats life-span is about 10 years.


Honey Bees
I’ll quickly mention Honey Bees for Food Production. For honey production I’d suggest having two “Top Bar Hives” These are the easiest and most economical hives to have. With a minimum of carpentry skill you can build a “Top Bar Hive” for only $40 or $50.

Here is a link to some plans.


The downside to a Top Bar Hive is that they produce less honey that a Langstroth Hive. A Top Bar Hive will produce 3-5 gallons of honey a year. A Langstroth Hive will produce 5-10 gallons of honey a year.


A note on security. If it is truly TEOTWAWKI, any livestock left outside unprotected will be long gone come daylight. You’ll need to protect your resources. I would clear out part of my attached garage and bed my animals in the garage at night. Leaving the car in the driveway would not be a problem since there won’t be any gas to operate it anyway.



Ed Rogers
Copyright “Keep It Simple” 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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