No matter how big your garden or bountiful your hunting opportunities, at some point you will probably consider raising livestock as your own sources of meat on your homestead. Whether you are raising chickens or you decide that raising goats is best for your homestead there are some pro's and con's you will need to know beforehand for any livestock option you use. And because raising any kind of animal is hard work, you will need to know some of the benefits of home farmed meats in comparison to commercially produced meats.
The quality of commercially produced meat has had question marks hanging over it for some time, and many people who are taking charge of their food are concerned about the presence of hormones and steroids in beef to promote growth and productivity, Ractopamine (a substance that is banned in several countries) in pork, beef and turkey, and arsenic in chicken, although some sources report that this has since been reduced or ceased. Some hatcheries and commercial chicken producers even use formaldehyde as a disinfectant, causing many to really put some thought into what happens to their meat before it reaches their table.
Livestock options for Meat on a Homestead
While organic, locally raised and purchased, farm raised meat is an ideal, it comes with a price tag. I know for us, it simply doesn’t fall into our budget many months so, when we moved to the larger farm, we decided to branch out from simply raising milk and fiber animals – along with the birds for eggs – in order to provide more of our own meat for our family.
There were several options available, and we considered each according to our personal circumstances and the suitability of our property. I am not in favor of animals having simply one purpose, so I always try to choose a breed that is dual purpose, for example, sheep that provide both meat and wool. In the case of some animals which serve basically one purpose, such as the rabbits, I like to select a breed that will also sell well, and provide a little liquid cash from the proceeds, with which to buy rabbit food.
Pros: Cows are a great option for providing large amounts of both meat and milk. With careful choosing of the right breed, and the right bull, just a couple of cows can provide you with all you need for meat and dairy.
Calves are sweet and easily tamed, and a halter broke cow is a joy to behold. Properly gentled and trained, a cow is the answer to your self-sufficient prayers.
In the event that you do not have enough grass to see them through winter, free choice hay, and grain while milking will generally suffice.
Cons: Cows laugh at your fencing. Whatever kind it is, it’s little more than a challenge to them. Well strung electric will keep them in (unless you have a power outage), but hogwire and barbed wire will eventually fail and they will find it and go romping through your garden. Even a mature cow can jump higher than you expect. They are also harder to handle for the small time farmer, making routine medical maintenance more work than it would be on, for example, a goat. A kick from a cow will often result in a trip to the ER. You’ll need a trailer to transport, and a truck to pull it, whereas a smaller animal can be put in a dog crate in the back of an SUV or pickup. Keeping a bull can be a whole lot of animal, and may pose a further challenge to your fences at breeding season.
Boers are the breed traditionally kept for meat, but any of the large breed goats will do a great job of being dual purpose for meat and milk.
Pros: Goats, in terms of production, do well pound for pound compared to cows. A full size, well-bred dairy doe, such as a Saanen or Nubian, will give a family over a gallon of milk a day. Wethers can be retained for meat, and can be butchered any time between 6-18 months.
Goats are easy to handle, can be overpowered if necessary (unlikely, as these animals love people and generally enjoy human contact) and can be transported when necessary in the back of a truck, no trailer required.
They prefer browse to grass, so having a partially wooded lot is no problem for them, and they can live in a relatively small area if fed a good amount of hay and grain.
They frequently have multiple births, and tend to be attentive mothers. If you have a doeling that you wish to retain, it’s worth pulling them and bottle raising them, so that they’re super tame and easy to handle.
Cons: They can be houdinis, but they can mostly be foiled in their escape attempts by well-strung hog wire or cattle panels.
Be prepared to keep on top of parasites, and buy good quality feed and minerals. The old adage that ‘goats eat anything’ couldn’t be more inaccurate, and an improperly fed goat will not be productive.
Sheep generally come in two types: wool and meat. However, some breeds are also suitable for milking, but they won’t be as productive in this aspect as a goat.
Pros: Sheep are less prone to escaping than goats, and will stay where you put them obligingly, providing food is plentiful. They like grass as opposed to browse, so if you have both, it’s worth having a mixed flock to keep areas under control.
For meat and wool from one animal, you’ll find no better. Read up on your breeds and choose the best one for you, and be prepared to consider a cross breed; they can be exceptionally hardy and productive.
They’re pretty ‘set ‘em and forget ‘em’, so don’t worry about too much hands-on maintenance. Just be sure to keep them safe from predators and check for injuries and illness regularly.
For selling lamb as a meat, it reaches a premium, so you could consider this as a way to make a small side income to pay for their expenses. You will need to have the meat professionally prepared and market it, however.
Cons: Sheep are flightier than goats and less likely to be hand-tame, so if you have a large area to turn them out in, you may need to put some thought into how you plan to capture them again. They can also be prone to parasite issues, so keep on top of worming, and offer free choice minerals at all times, or you may see a downturn in fertility.
Invest in a decent set of clippers for shearing time – it’ll be money well spent.
Geese / Ducks
Pros: If you have a pond or other water, geese or ducks are a good option. They usually hatch their own eggs, often a dozen at a time, and can have multiple clutches a year. They’re super low maintenance and give great meat. Given enough land, they can subsist alone with minimal feed given, making them low cost.
Choose a heritage duck or goose rather than a production variety as they are more likely to set and take care of their young. Heritage animals are also more likely to be able to fly (production animals have often been bred to be so heavy they are unable) and thus can get away from predators.
Cons: They extremely susceptible to predators, and care must be taken to provide them with a place to be safe from foxes, coyotes, stray dogs and other animals at night – and during the day in some areas!
If possible, keep them away from barn areas, as they are incredibly dirty animals and, before you know it, your yard and barn will be full of poop. They will also decimate any and all grass, and attack your garden if they have access.
Pros: A heritage breed of turkey will lay well and even hatch her own eggs, if you’re lucky! Otherwise they can be incubated fairly easily. They make a good size in a short amount of time, and produce meat. Heritage birds can fly, helping them stay safe from ground predators.
Cons: They can be hard to raise as poults, as they are not the smartest of birds, and often drown in their own water dish if not protected. The trick is to put them in with a couple of chicks around the same age, and they will teach them to eat and drink. The poults also seem a little more prone to coccidia than chicks, so it’s important to keep their areas clean.
There are breeds that you can buy from the hatcheries which are specifically for meat, but they are hybrids and, if you can get them to breed, will not breed true. They need to be kept safe from predators as the meat specific birds are far too heavy to fly.
Pros: Easy to raise and keep, and you can butcher them as young as 12 weeks as fryers. They do give good amounts of meat in a very short time. They’re simple to process and pretty cheap to raise.
Cons: It seems that, whether you raise them pastured, free range or in a barn, they’re stinky. They are also very susceptible to coccidia and must be kept scrupulously clean. There’s an argument that there is a now a coccidia vaccine available – but then you’re back to questioning the cleanliness of your meat.
Keep them safe from predators, and keep the ground they are on clean, or you will run into health issues. Rabbits don’t like to get cold or wet, so make sure their house is dry.
Pros: Rabbits breed prolifically and raise their young well. Those that do not should be culled out as this appears to be a genetic trait. Rabbits require little more than a safe run and a warm and dry place to sleep, and food and water. Pasture raised rabbits can be given access to grass and a daily ration of grain and they pretty much raise themselves. You can also use the skins of the processed rabbits. Start up costs are relatively low and you can have baby bunnies on the ground within 30 days.
Cons: They only give small amounts of meat at a time, and processing can be fiddly.
There’s no right or wrong answer regarding the type of meat animal to select. It will depend on your property, your time available, and your knowledge. But when considering it, consider it carefully, because for the majority of these options there are some costs involved and you have to be pretty committed to get into the endeavor. It’s not always instant returns, and you have to put plenty in before you get anything out. But the payoff is great: clean, sustainable meat, right from your own back yard to your table.
That’s all, fellow homesteaders! Did you enjoy our list of meat options? Let us know in the comments section what you chose that best suits your homestead. Do you have any other meat option you've selected and want to share the benefits of your flock or herd? Share it with us and we’ll give it a shot. We love doing DIY homesteading projects and becoming more self-reliant by learning more about how everything works around the homestead. That's why Homesteading was created. We want all folks looking to lead a self-sufficient life, either on a homestead or in an urban environment, to come together and learn from each other! Of course, we welcome your help in creating a community of homesteaders. Come and share your homesteading tips and ideas, recipes and expect the best advice on self-reliance and homesteading trials from our team of long-time homesteaders, self-reliant wilderness, and preparedness experts. Want to write for Homesteading? Shoot us an e mail and make sure to stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!
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