Are you considering growing meat animals on your homestead but you’re not sure you want to make that commitment? After all, animals grown up for to harvest for meat require us to make slaughtering schedules, acquire harvesting equipment and knives. Plus, there’s an emotional component to an animal grown to become dinner. Let’s talk about money savings, ethics, FAQs, and otherwise help you answer the question, “Do I want to raise meat animals?”
Do I Want to Raise Meat Animals?
Taking the leap into meat production may not seem like such a big deal to some, but for others it can be a daunting prospect.
When we grow an animal to become dinner we will be required to take the life of that animal at some point. This can be a deal breaker for some. (Do bear in mind that there are professionals called processors who can kill and butcher the animals for you, if you prefer not to do it yourself.)
There are a lot of other preparations and plans to consider, too—questions to ask and equipment to gather.
I’m not going to argue the ethics of eating meat animals but, if you are going to eat them and you would like to start growing your own to ensure their quality of life and the quality of your food, here are some ideas to kick around before you get started.
Will I Save Money If I Raise Meat Animals?
“You might be a homesteader if you raise a steer who drags you to within 2″ of your death instead of buying meat at your local butcher!”
– Diane Coe of Pasture Deficit Disorder
Yeah, you might be a homesteader if you find yourself working thirty times harder than you ever have for a good steak or a chicken dinner. People always ask, “Will I save money if I raise animals myself?” and the answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
- Do you want to raise them Organically? You might save money, depending on how fastidious you are about it.
- Do you want to replace all your eggs, dairy and meat or just a portion? You might save money, depending on how much meat you’re currently eating.
- Do you usually buy your meat from Walmart and that’s your price comparison? NO, you will not save money no matter what you do.
- Do you currently buy your meat from an Organic or sustainable, grass-fed farm? You might save money, depending on how you factor in your time.
See. Not straightforward.
The Realities of Doing it Yourself
When we started raising chickens for eggs, we consumed way more eggs. Why?
Because they taste wonderful, are an amazingly healthy whole food option when raised on backyard bugs and quality grains/sprouts and are abundant (at certain times of the year).
When we started raising our own chickens for meat, we consumed way less chicken. Why?
I don’t know. More work? Taking a chick to a dressed-out fryer requires an investment in time, feed and equipment. It’s a lot of work to deal with a steer that would out class you in a wrestling match, as Dianne says. It’s a lot of work to haul the animal to the butcher or to harvest it yourself.
Providing meat for your family from your own labor is just plain work.
FYI, dairy is equally strenuous—see The Dairy Animal Question section of the livestock chapter in our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead.
Our Homestead Goal for Raising Meat Animals
The goal for my family has become to:
meat ahead of time for each season.
That takes some planning, no matter how many animals we decide to raise. Raising animals for meat on your own land means that you can control what goes into the animal and how it’s raised, regardless of cost.
- You may not save when comparing costs to your typical grocery bill, but you might find that you’re saving on doctor’s visits and trips to the pharmacy.
- You may discover a whole new way of looking at food; a new way to prepare and consume meats and other products like nourishing fats and bone broths.
- Your animals may contribute to your health, home, pocketbook and land in ways you can’t even quantify yet.
Raise Meat Animals in a Cost Effective Way
I can’t tell you the best or most cost-effective way to raise your animals on your land and in your area. However, here are some things to consider:
Feeding Meat Animals
- Are you going to feed grain to your meat animals?
- If so, can you grow it yourself or will you need to buy/trade for it?
- Can you do that locally?
If you’re going to feed grain, have you thought about pre-soaking or fermenting it to increase its volume and nutrient density? Soaking partially breaks down grain rations so they’re easier on your animals’ gut balance.
(Pre-soaking grains for animals is about the same as pre-soaking them for you, just on a larger scale. See the Soaking, Sprouting and Microgreens section in The Homestead Kitchen chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead.)
If you’re thinking of pre-soaking your grain, have you thought about going the next step and sprouting it? This will help you get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck and save on the amount of grain needed overall.
Sprouting not only increases the volume of your grain but it also increases the nutritional content and availability of nutrients for your animals’ bodies to absorb. They eat less sprouted grain than they would dry grain but get more nutrition from it. I encourage you to research it and think about it.
Pasture Even in Small Spaces
- Can you pasture your animals for some or part of the year?
- If you don’t have enough land in pasture, can you create “pasture” in certain areas of your homestead?
When we lived on an acre, we broke up sections of our yard to create grazing areas for our goats and poultry. I’d plant a parcel with pasture grass and, after it had come up enough, let the animals in to graze. At the same time, I’d start another piece of land growing up feed for the animals. We’d rotate them around the areas if we could over our growing season.
We never had enough to graze them exclusively and ended up supplementing with hay and a little grain. However, it added variety and nutrients to their diet that translated into better health.
Our gardens benefited, too. The fodder areas the animals had gone through the previous year and left their rich dung in became garden beds. We’d move everything back and forth and all around until we had the animals and the soil fed.
Well, that’s when we were on our game. Some years everything was a mess and there was no order and stuff just grew around. Strangely, those years worked well, too.
Grow Fodder Crops for the Meat Animals
Do you have space to grow fodder crops for your animals? These are crops like:
- mangels and other root crops
- extra squash
- some clover or alfalfa
Do you know someone who has extra produce that you could relieve them of to feed to your animals? Any way you can offset your feed cost will be money in your pocket and happy protein in your tummy.
Raise These Meat Animals
So, maybe you’ve read through this, answered the questions, made feed plans and harvest schedules, and you’re ready to get started with raising meat animals. Which meat animals should you raise? Here are some ideas:
Small Meat Animals
Rabbits are comparatively easy to raise for meat because they:
- reproduce easily
- convert feed to protein at a very high rate
- can be processed quickly
- have useful pelts
- provide meat that is easy to adapt to favorite recipes
To learn how to raise rabbits for meat, please visit these 13 Tips to Raising Meat Rabbits.
Chickens are also commonly grown for meat, though we prefer turkey because of how much bigger they are when you’re done processing them. Here are some of the benefits of chicken as meat animals:
- They provide meat that is widely considered tasty.
- Some breeds are very good at foraging their own food (especially heritage breeds), which makes their feed bill smaller.
- There is a lot of training material for learning to raise and butcher chickens both online and in books.
To learn how to raise chickens for meat, please visit Meat Chickens – Best Breeds, Care, and Troubleshooting.
Fish can also be raised on the homestead either in ponds or as part of hydroponics systems. To learn more about that, please visit Aquaponics – How to Grow Fish with Food.
Large Meat Animals
Depending on the size of your land, you may be able to raise other animals like:
- Pigs – which are very good foragers and great homestead animals all around.
- Sheep & Goats – which are a pain to fence but who are great grazers and have meat that is prized around the world.
- Cows – which are a struggle to harvest with only one or two people because of their size, but who are quite tasty!
Preserving Homestead-Grown Meat
Deciding how preserve meat, as with any home-preserved item, is going to come down to what method you want to use and how you’re going to use the preserved meat.
I submit that a pressure canner will probably come in handy for you at some point, so you can preserve broths, stew meats and even whole meals that include meat.
A dehydrator will also work for various meats including beef, venison, chicken, turkey, ham and even broth. Learning to make jerky is a great meat preservation skill to master. As Shelle Wells reminds us in her Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook,
“Once you’ve learned the art of making jerky, you have the ability to raise your food storage plan to a higher level. Not only are you producing fruits and vegetables, but now you’re also making a protein that is all-natural and free of additives, food colorings, and preservatives.”
The real key to dehydrating raw meat is to remove all the fat you possibly can, because it will turn rancid as it’s exposed to oxygen over time. You may find that you have good luck dehydrating meats that have been previously canned, meaning they’ve been through the pressure canning process. Often, these meats will rehydrate better, having a much better texture and flavor.
Freeze dried meats will be the best as far as nutritional content and rehydrating success.