Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, chances are meat and dairy make up a large portion of your diet. If you are looking to be more self sufficient, you may want to consider raising your own animals for meat.
Which animal to raise?
Deciding which animal is best for you will depend on a few things such as the size of your property as well as the amount of time you have available to care for the animals. Also, how many people you are feeding and meat storage/freezer space you have. Even if you are just feeding yourself or small family and have a little backyard you can still raise small animals like rabbits and possibly poultry (check your local zoning bylaws).
The Smaller Choices
Chickens are great as they don’t require much space, and are fairly inexpensive and easy to look after. Plus they not only provide meat, but eggs too. Meat chickens are ready for processing at approx 10 weeks of age. By this time they are in the 5-6 lb range with a dressed weight of 3-4 lbs. Dressed weight is the weight after the head, internal organs, legs, and feathers have been removed. Once egg laying hens get to the age when their egg production declines, they can also be used for meat. Even these mature chickens are as tasty as ones you buy in the supermarket.
Ducks are another bird to consider as they are also great for meat and eggs. Their meat is rich and their eggs are larger than a chicken’s, which makes them excellent for baking purposes. Pekin Ducks are the most popular breed for meat as they are large, weighing approx 7-8 lbs at 8 wks of age with a dressed weight of approx 5 lbs.
Rabbits are another suitable meat animal where space is limited, all that is required is a cage or hutch. Rabbits are inexpensive to feed, they will eat weeds, grass, hay and extra veggies from the garden. Their manure also makes great fertilizer. The best meat breeds are New Zealand and Californian as they are large and have at least 6-8 kits (babies) per litter. The gestation of a rabbit is only one month and the babies will be 5-6 lbs and ready for butchering by approx 8 weeks of age. In just 3 months you can be eating your own meat.
The Larger Choices
Sheep are a good choice for someone looking for a farm animal that is a reasonable size to handle and maintain. Sheep are multipurpose, with different breeds being suited for dairy, meat, and wool. Most of the sheep milk produced in the world is made into cheese, both feta and ricotta cheese are made from sheep’s milk. The milk is also commonly made into yogurt and ice cream. For meat, lamb is the highest quality, so they are usually butchered at 6-8 months of age and approx 100-120 lbs. That gives a dressed weight of approx 55-65 lbs with a yield of 30-35 lbs of boneless finished cuts (ready to eat).
Pigs are another excellent source of meat, providing your family with ham, porkchops, sausage and bacon. They don’t need a whole lot of space but do require alot of feed in the 8 months it takes to grow to butchering size. You can get alot meat from a single pig, a 250 lb pig will typically have a dressed weight of approx 180 lbs, with boneless finished cuts weighing approx 145 lbs.
Cattle are definitely the ultimate meat and dairy animal. However, they do require a large area, consume alot of grass/hay/feed, and aren’t the easiest to handle for inexperienced farmers. A 750 lb cow will have an approx dressed weight of 450 lbs and over 300 lbs of finished cuts. This amount of meat is too much for the average family so large freezers would be needed for storage or sharing/splitting with another family or two.
There are also alternatives to the standard chicken, beef, and pork. If you have a pond try stocking it with fish. No pond? Build an aquaponics system. Fish don’t require as much day to day work as farm animals and their meat is highly nutritious.
There are certainly benefits to raising your own animals for meat and knowing where your food is coming from. It’s just a matter of deciding which animal(s) will work best for you.