We have been experimenting with livestock in reference to our needs and what works best with our property and its resources.
1. Of ducks, chickens, rabbits, dairy goats, and sheep; ducks have waddled on and well, off again. Resources were poor for ducks like lack of slugs and water. We had other animals that did a better job of laying eggs etc. The idea of raising pigs again, like we did before moving here, won’t be entertained either. We had a great resource of free piglets and in our situation they have to be fed exclusively on commercial feed so the cost will become very high.
2. We aren’t raising dairy goats for meat as the ratio of input to output is really poor so milk is their purpose for existence on the place. When we moved, we switched back to Saanens as less is more in they produce far more milk than the Nubians so we could have fewer animals with less work. They are far more cold hardy, less needy personalities and they suite what we need emotionally and physically.
3. The size of land we have will not sustain beef. Besides, it is a long ways from the water hydrant and hay stack to the beef facilities. Not so bad in the summer but the other six months of the year requires hauling a sled over deep drifts to reach them. Their stays here in the future will be seldom and brief – a finishing project, not a calf to freezer one.
4. Meat rabbits were inherited and through trial and mostly error, we found they were a good fit. They can produce 6 pounds of meat on the same amount of food and water a beef can produce 1 pound.
5. Dorper sheep were gifted, a breed we’ve never raised before though I’ve raised sheep most of my life. They look like a good fit. They grow fast, are nonseasonal breeders, and the meat is mild tasting they say. Our soon to be eleven year old granddaughter wants a sheep she can milk. The sheep milk breeds produce 1/2 gallon a day on average. Not exactly high production if you figure our older goat in her prime produced 22 pounds a day, which is over 2 gallons. Not really worth the time. We learned that Dorper sheep are prized for their thick skins to tan. A thick skin makes them more cold hardy and we have a neighbor who is a taxidermist who tans hides. We see a learning experience coming.
What were the factors that led to these decisions?
- Availability is a big one since we need to change out animals, especially breeding males from time to time to keep from inbreeding too much.
- Our weather and landscape is a huge factor. Beef require copious amounts of hay with such small pastures that are buried in snow much of the year. That equates to more time, money, and gas required to sustain them, a larger shelter too. Cold weather breeds are needed for chickens, rabbits, sheep, and goats.
- The ease of processing the meat and frequent availability to process it means we will need less storage room. Less freezer room and less canning.
- Housing requirements need to be small to cut expenses.
Beef failed in all categories except we love the taste so except on rare occasion, I don’t see them returning.
With grain prices going to soar, time at a minimum, health better but slow to return, and family demands ever higher, we are looking hard at what we can sustain.
It led us to a new way of thinking about what kind of chickens would best fit our needs. The large ones we’ve been raising work well to deter losses from predators, provided meat and eggs but the input was just too high. These dual purpose animals do both decent but don’t lay as many eggs or produce as much meat as those breeds suited for one purpose only. Since chickens require quite a bit of grain despite being free-range, we’ve had to take a hard look. With two other meat sources available, we decided on switching to smaller chickens. They require less feed input and produce more eggs so we’d need fewer of them. We do need to thrown in a few that are good setters in order to keep our flock going.
Meat rabbits taste similar to chicken but a bit more like turkey to me. They therefor will be substituted for chicken in most recipes. As for predator problems, they say to raise chickens with one goose and so we shall try that. We also have ideas on how to use the chickens in the garden to till it and provide food from cover crops. We will also try the maggot bucket idea. Gross! but it might actually lower the amount of flies we have and with processing meat more often, the remains will be composted and used, not just disposed of. The bones will be buried into a hugelkulur, (a garden mound).
Dorper sheep look to be a win too. The meat is still untried but great reviews are heard. They have led our goats to pasture and can gained large amounts of fat if over fed which they say is easy to do. This fat would not be the aim, but if needed, and it is during hard times, could be produced to make soap and candles. I’ve made soap with sheep fat before. Is Dorper sheep fat cooking worthy though? Still a question needing answered. Three Dorper lamb crops can be produced in two years if managed well which is not normal for sheep. Don’t know if I will do that but I could do that which is what is important. Dorpers have a much lower feed input and being a smaller animal, their meat doesn’t require as much freezer room. With the added lambing and the ability to lamb all year which is also not typical, the meat availability is spread out. They mature early and can lamb their first year. Not all breeds mature so quickly.
With the new plans for solar drying and meat supplies spread out, we will retire one of our three freezers this coming year, saving money.
Meat rabbits of course are in. They will take the place of chicken in most of our recipes. They can breed 12 months a year. In cold areas the babies, before they gain their fur, can be brought into the house to stay and then fed twice a day by mom. This enables you to produce meat pretty much on demand since they kindle in 28 to 32 days and can be processed in 3 months. I prefer 4 since we feed natural and it takes longer. Ours live mostly off of a high quality orchard grass/ alfalfa hay right now. I can see they can be sustained pretty much off of our own land when things are fully set up. We rarely feed commercial pellets, rabbits haven’t for centuries lived off of them and so why do so now? Ours are doing far better without. This makes rabbits cheap to feed in comparison to chickens which require grain unless you have more resources than we do. I just need to greatly expand my knowledge of cooking with rabbit, not chicken. The meat can be processed quickly and on demand lowering freezer requirements. Three does and one buck is said to have the potential to produce as much meat as a beef in one year. Even if that isn’t quite true, it’s impressive. Besides, domestic rabbit is highly nutritious, far more so than beef.
Meat, eggs, and milk, of high quality while greatly lowering cost is the goal and now looking far more sustainable since we will have made all the changes by late spring.
It wasn’t until I looked at cold hard facts and what we had to work with that traditional ideas got thrown out the window. Major food shortages worldwide this last crop season have made me look hard at what we were doing. I’m past carrying what everyone else does. This is us. This suites our resources and needs. This is our sustainable project. Your situation is different than ours. But take a look at how we came about our answers and look at your own projects. Do they need overhauled to become more sustainable? The whole world is on a precipice of dramatic changes to come. I’d rather do so now while I have more resources to make them. When everyone is do so, things are high priced with few, if any choices.