We have been raising our own meat for a few years and I must say, it is one of the most rewarding aspects of striving for self-sufficiency.
We have raised our own beef a couple of times as well as chicken, pork and chevon(goat). If I had a pond(maybe in the future) I would add fish to that. From our own experiences, I thought I would share with you some of the lessons we learned and are still learning and a few pointers.
First and foremost, we are no experts here. But, this is all speaking from experience and we want to save you from making the same mistake(s) we did. And, if one of these pointers saves you some trouble, then I will sleep better at night! Some of these pointers might be old news for experienced people, but it might be very useful for those just starting out.
So, here are some pointers for you that worked for us and some things to avoid:
1. Raising your own meat might seem overwhelming, so I would suggest starting out with meat chickens. They are small, need less space and, let's be honest, the kids don't get too attached.
2. If you plan on butchering your own, get a video on how to do it or look it up on YouTube. Seeing it done is so much easier than reading about it and looking at pictures.
3. Build a chicken tractor for your meat chickens. This will keep you from dealing with the plethora of bird droppings all over the farm. Plus, you can put your chickens to work and move the tractor over a future garden spot.
4. If and when you build a tractor, do not use 2 x 4s. Remember, you will be moving it, so it's supposed to be lighter than a shed!
5. I personally like the Cornish Roasters as they are slower growing, have no leg problems and like to forage. I have heard good things about Rangers, but have not raised them.
6. Don't put off butchering. Sometimes you have to say no to other engagements so that you can get it done. Next thing you know, it's too cold to butcher. This was a hard lesson learned for us!
1. Once you have gotten used to the taste of your own homegrown chicken, you're not going to want to stop there. Feeder pigs are a good option for those with limited space as well. All you need is a pen(ours is movable) and shelter.
2. DO NOT NAME YOUR PIGS! Unless, of course, it's Ham and Beans.
3. Pigs can also be used to fertilize and plow up your garden. Put them to work! We have cattle panels with t-posts, but do not put the posts all the way into the ground. That way, we can lift them out and move the pen easily.
5. As far as loading, make sure you can back the trailer into their area or holding area. If not, create a makeshift chute to the trailer and again, be ready for a workout!
6. Pigs and chickens can co-exist as long as they have plenty of space to move about and plenty of food and water. We learned this unintentionally.
7. Plant turnips for your pigs. You can harvest them or put your pigs in that area to plow and fertilize.
We have a chicken tractor and a movable pig pen in the garden.
8. Make sure you call a few months ahead of time to set up an appointment to get your pig butchered if you do not plan on doing it yourself. You do not want to hold off and keep feeding it out for another month or two before you can finally get in.
1. Raising beef cows is pretty easy, but a little intimidating due to their size.
2. Make sure you have strong, adequate fencing. You do not want to be chasing cows all over the countryside, or worse, in a neighborhood. Yep, that's not fun. Been there and done that.
3. We did give ours a little bit of grain just so that they weren't as wild as a deer when loading time came around.
4. If you are raising grass fed or mostly grass fed beef, it is very important to have good pasture, or you will not be putting enough weight on them and they will get out no matter how well your fence is built. We have sandy soil, so we are working on improving our pasture before we get more cows.
5. DO NOT NAME YOUR COWS! Unless, of course, it's T-bone or Hamburger.
6. Rotational grazing is best even if you have a small pasture.
7. Once you have the meat in the freezer, please, please, make sure it is plugged in before you go out of town! Ahem, don't ask. Talk about the worst 'debate' my husband and I ever had! Thank the Lord He is gracious and forgiving!
This is by no means a finished list. I will be adding to it for as long as we continue to consume our own homegrown meat. Hopefully, I won't be adding anymore "What Not to Do" pointers! But as many of you realize, living this kind of life is one of constant learning and new challenges.
Please feel free to share any pointers you have in the comments section!