Saturday, April 21, 2012

Raising Animals for Meat!

I've had several people ask why I didn't include Meat animals in the chapter on stretching your basic food storage.  I have reasons why I don't consider domestic meat animals to be a viable option for the poverty prepper.  But I failed to let my readers know!  So today I wrote in a few new paragraphs to the book, and it will be uploaded during the night tonight.  Starting tomorrow, new purchases will include the information, but for those who already bought the book, I'm copying & pasting the new section from the book file so you can read it too.

"RAISING YOUR OWN MEAT ANIMALS This is not a practical option for most people. It takes space to raise them, and a means to feed them. The cost of animal feed is likely to be more than it's worth to raise the animal, and on a low budget, it's something to consider. In addition, you may have other costs such as fencing, housing, and keeping the animal(s) healthy.

Will you be able to kill and butcher the animal when the time comes? How will you preserve the meat? Where will you dispose of the “guts”, bones, and hide of the animal(s)?

If you have never had meat animals before, you could start with something small and easy-to-feed like rabbits. Even on a small piece of land in a cold climate you can grow and gather enough to keep rabbits fed. They'll eat grains, vegetables, fruits, grasses, willow and other tender branches. You can make a portable cage and just move it around the yard periodically and let it forage. Rabbits need more than grass, though, so if your yard isn't covered with nutritious plants like dandelions and clover, you'll have to supplement with other foods. I used to take my pruners and snip off the occasional willow or aspen branch and toss it in to my rabbits.

There is much you'll need to learn about how many cages you'll need and how to manage your rabbits. The same is true of any meat animals you want to raise. Many people reading this book already have or have had domestic meat animals, but for those who haven't and don't, please do some research before you tackle this."

That's the end of the new part I added into the book.  Now, as a bonus, I'm going to include part of an article I wrote called "Self-sufficiency: Crunching the Numbers".  In this article I had been talking about gardening, and how often people will tell me "Oh, if times get hard, I'll plant a garden", and I was talking a bit about what it would take to start a garden and then preserve it.  I followed that with a discussion on animals, which is what you'll read here:

"The next thing people say after the bit about planting a garden is something along the line of “…and get a few chickens for eggs and maybe for meat”. Brace yourself, here comes the numbers! 

Family of four, 2 eggs apiece, 4 times a week. Simple math…32 eggs. To allow for the hens to miss a day here and there, you need at least 5 hens. In the winter, egg production will slow or stop.

The hens need to be replaced every 3 to 7 years, depending on your breed of chicken, climate, and feed. So if you’re truly self-sustaining, you need a rooster in order to replenish your flock, plus you need a hen or two who are willing to “sit” and hatch the eggs. If you’re self-sustaining you’re probably off-grid and may or may not have enough electricity from your solar or other power source to operate an electric incubator.

Now you’ve got your broody hens setting on some eggs, and lucky you! 26 of them hatched! After the normal loss of a few of the little fluff balls, you have 23 of them. They happily scratch around in the yard in the important manner of their full-grown counterparts, and you select the ones to keep as layers, and butchering day comes for the rest. But…wait a minute, that’s only 18 meat birds! And they’re not nice and big and fat like fryers! They’ve been free-ranging bugs and seeds in your yard all summer, and they’re full-grown, but under those feathers, there’s just not a lot of meat! Well, you decide you’ll just have more soups and stir-fry’s.

18 chickens butchered for meat…that’s a meal with meat about every 3 weeks. In order to eat chicken once a week you’ll need 52 chickens. That’s a lot of critters looking for free-range bugs and seeds. What do you eat with your fruits and veggies the other 6 days of the week? Some people can add to that with raising other livestock or hunting. Then you’re back to the question of how to preserve it. The logical way if you’re self-sufficient, is to can it, and then we’re back to the logistics of having and storing large amounts of jars.

One last subject: feeding your critters as a self-sufficient person. Our chickens free-range during the months things are growing here and the bugs are active. Unfortunately this far north, that’s from about the end of May until the middle of October. In order to keep the hens laying we also feed “layer feed” from the feed store. We’ve started growing our own grains in the last 3 years and I can tell you, it’s a big job planting, harvesting, and threshing wheat, oats, rye, and barley with hand tools. We’re no where close to growing enough to feed our chickens year round, let alone having enough to use for our own cooking.

We go through 50 lbs of feed a month to feed 7 hens, plus table scraps and seasonal foraging. We’re too far north to grow corn, but people who can, greatly ease the job of growing their own feed.

Meat, vegetables, and fruit are a wonderful diet, but when you’re doing the kind of work it takes to keep a self-sufficient homestead going, you really appreciate the breads, biscuits, and other things grains can make. In our home with two of us we use around 25 lbs of wheat a month. We’d need to get our homegrown production up to 300 lbs just for cooking, plus the 600 lbs for the chickens, per year.

Just imagine if we added rabbits, goats, and other animals to the demand for feed!

Someone told me the other day that 100 years ago people were able to keep chickens and other animals fed without having to buy feed from the store. Yes, they did. Can you tell me how? Do you have the tools, equipment, and land ? Are you physically able and mentally committed to the kind of work you’d be doing?"

If you're thinking about raising animals for meat, perhaps this information will be of help to you.  There are a lot of rewards to raising your own meat animals, but if you're on a budget, make sure you consider all the costs.  Then, make sure they don't turn into pets and drain your resources to feed them!  We like to give ours 'cute' names that remind us of why we have them, such as the two pigs we raised.  Their names were "Hamlet" and "Lord Bacon"!


  1. Excellent, straight-forward post.
    Grains are a very important part of the diet if you plan on getting work done and not just sitting around so you don't lose calories too fast!
    It's something I think about a lot - how to feed us, and the animals sustainably. It's hard on a budget, or NO BUDGET, I should say. We're working on it, though.

    I hope you keep posting all the time! I've just found your blog and love it. Do you vaccuum seal your dried goods? I'm thinking of doing that to a lot of the harvest this year.

  2. Thank you Susan! We recently moved to 1 acre out in the country (Wyoming) so there are few restrictions on what kind of animals and how many we keep. We were fortunate to live in a town before hand that allowed for a few small livestock animals on private property such as chickens and rabbits. We however did not keep any until we moved in May. We started with just 6 chickens and they are all great layers. Their coop is a converted shed that was already on the property. They are Red sex linked hens. We sell 1 dozen eggs per week and fortunately our hens are still laying. With the sale of the 1 dz per week for $3 we earn enough money to pay for their feed, and straw bedding $5 per bail, 1 every 6 months. Our intentions are to get 12 more chicks in the spring because we were under the impression that they are only good for laying for 2 years. We are hoping to cycle out the first year layers with the second year layers at the end of the 2nd year cycle, if that makes sense, leaving us with 6 fryers the first year, and the 12 new layers each year after that. We are only selling 1dz a week because that is all we can spare for our own consumption. We are a family of 7 and fortunately at this time not all great egg eaters. The plan is to sell more farm fresh eggs when our clutch increases in size and thankfully there is a local market. Any spare I will dehydrate thanks to your recent post! We are not sure yet about taking on a rooster because that would be a little more complicated in order to maintain the red sex link hen who can not be re-breed for the same offspring. Its to my understanding only first generational. A cross between a Red Hen and a Leghorn Cock.

    We have also decided to take on rabbits. We were given 3 junior rabbits this summer. 2 bucks and 1 doe. Ideally it would have been 2 does and 1 buck but none the less they were free. We were able to obtain hutches for free from people locally when I advertised on Facebook that we were in search for some. Free also meant that they were pretty dilapidated or not really suitable to house rabbits. So we improvised and parted them out to create new hutches. My husband also was able to salvage pallets from his work that he used to make us the nicest 4plex hutch! Being new at raising rabbits we were not sure the age and sexual maturity of our rabbits so the first litter was not expected and did not survive. The second litter however did and we were able to sell all 6 of them as pets for $160. That is enough to pay for their food for more than a year. We are going to buy 4 more rabbits this weekend 3 does and 1 buck so that we can increase our stock and generate our own line of breeders. Our doe is expecting in the next couple of days. I clearly understand the phrase "breed like rabbits". I intend to feed our dogs and cats the entrails and bones as a meal replacement at the time of butcher. I also intend to tan the hides and make things like fur lined mittens and booties for toddlers and babies.

    Our next venture is a goat. I have been offered several for free because they don't make as ideal a pet as many people have discovered. This is definitely to our advantage. I hope to acquire a young Nubian which can give 1 gallon per day. That is more than enough for our family. I also hope to make goat milk butter and goat cheese. We will breed her annually and males will be butchered for meat and females may either be kept to increase our heard, to replace an older doe or butchered as well depending on our needs. I think that people are too far removed from where their food comes from and our kids will learn to appreciate it. I know I will learn a lot from your blog and look forward to reading it every day. I only recently signed up to receive emails. A garden is in the works for this year as I ordered my first seed catalog a few months back with the intention of growing heirlooms whenever possible. I will learn to can this year too. There are so many people here locally who have great knowledge that they are willing to share. I am lucky to live where I do.

    1. You and your husband sound very resourceful! You're well on your way to providing most of your own food. In a way, even the eggs you sell are part of "providing your own" because whatever you do with that money (animal feed, whatever) goes back into the project.

      You'll be fine without a rooster. If the "SHTF" you can probably barter for one. We've decided to buy a couple hundred pounds of chicken food and rabbit food and seal it in 50-gallon barrels. It's purpose will be for trading to people who have things like a rooster or rabbits, to acquire those things. We don't have a rooster right now ourself. We butchered ours after our eggs hatched out this past spring. The new hens should be good for several years, and will replace some that are seven years old and will be butchered later this year. We'll wait a few years to hatch out more. If the world is no worse than it is today, we should be able to buy a rooster from someone when we need to. It'll help keep our flock genetically mixed, and since we have 'mutt' chickens anyway, we'll be fine with whatever we find out here.

      You're in a position like we are. Wyoming is an awesome place but it has an inhospitable climate for things like animals and gardening. I admire the efforts you're making in those departments. Congratulations on moving there! And thanks for writing.