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When we first moved to our little farm 3 years ago, our big goal was to raise as much of our own food as possible. Raising a years supply of meat became high priority. Having a clean meat supply was important, as was a good source of near-organic vegetables. I have been concerned about chemicals and additives in our food for years, and it just made sense to grow our own to avoid those.
Within the first month of moving to our little 3.8 acre “homestead”, we got chickens. Then we got calves. Next was a couple dairy goats. It was a little overwhelming to say the least, but it was so important for us to have our own meat supply, that we felt it needed to be done.
We have since expanded our efforts to grow our own food. With the uncertainties of today’s food supply, I feel it is my calling to grow even more. I’ve even created a Facebook group, The Homegrown Food Movement, to help like-minded individuals receive support and information on raising more of our own food.
How do I start raising a years supply of meat?
So if you’re also wanting to raise a years supply of meat, you may be wondering how you start. That’s a great question!
1. Determine your meat consumption
First, you need to figure out roughly how many pounds of meat your family eats per week. Then multiply that by 52. This will give you an estimate on how much you will need to grow for the year.
A little disclaimer: I have a big family. Nine people live in my house! My 2 grown children, their spouses, and their kids live with us. Which is WONDERFUL! But it also takes a lot of food to feed us.
Each time we eat chicken, we need 2 whole chickens. This usually doesn’t even leave us with much as far as leftovers go. Unless of course, I make chicken broth with the carcasses (which I try to do pretty regularly), then make a soup the next day.
Our meat consumption is pretty high. I would say, on average, we eat 20 pounds of various meats every week. Which adds up to 1,040 pounds of meat in a year. That’s a lot of meat!
2. Decide what meat you want to raise
It’s important for you to have a family discussion on what meat you want to raise.What meat do you eat the most of? What meat do you eat some of? And if there’s a meat that you’d like to try raising, but have never had it, be sure to try some before you fully commit to raising it.
For my family, we eat a lot of beef, chicken, and pork. And of course turkey. We also love duck, though we don’t eat it too regularly. We occasionally like rabbit, depending on how it’s cooked. Most of us have never tried goat meat, so we would all want to try it before we decided to raise goats for meat.
You will also want to consider whether or not you’ll like to actually raise the animals you are considering for your years supply of meat. If you are afraid of cows, you might not want to raise them. Don’t like chickens? You might consider an alternative.
3. Determine if you have enough space
There are some meat animals that you can raise in a small space. But to really be able to raise a years supply of meat for your family, you will probably need at least 3 acres. Our 3.8 acres has become a little bit strained with too many animals. Part of this is because we just love our animals (and don’t know when to say when!), but it’s also because of the layout.
Rabbits can be raised on very little space if raised in hutches. If you would like them “pastured”, you can build a rabbit tractor and move them around your yard. Just keep in mind you’ll need to move them almost daily.
Quail is another animal that you can raise in a very small area, but it also takes a lot of them to give you much meat. They can comfortably be raised in a large bird cage, and they reach maturity at about 8 weeks. So whether you raise them for eggs or for meat, you can get a quick turnaround.
You can raise a lot of chickens in a fairly small amount of space. You can keep them in a coop/run, you can free range them, or you can build chicken tractors and move them to a new area frequently. I have about 30 chickens, and they free range mostly on about an acre of my land. Our 6 turkeys also free range with the chickens in this space.
Ducks need about the same amount of space as chickens, and really appreciate a constant water source like a pond. A pond is not totally necessary, though. We have 2 kiddie pools in our duck run, and the 8 of them are pretty comfortable in there.
Pigs can be kept in a moderate-sized pen, unless you want to raise them on pasture. If they are raised on pasture, with supplemented grain, you can raise 20-30 pigs in a 1-acre pasture. With each full-grown pig providing about 150 pounds of meat each, you can raise A LOT of pork on an acre.
Goats and sheep need a little more room, but you can still fit a few in about an acre. But don’t count on much more than 100 pounds of meat on each, even from a full-sized goat or sheep.
Cows obviously take up the most space. You’ll need about 1-2 acres per cow. But that cow can net you 400-600 pounds.
4. Figure out what will give you the most “bang for the buck”
Cows and pigs will give you the most meat per animal. That being said, since these are large animals, most people don’t have the ability to butcher these themselves. So that will cost you a fair amount at the end.
Cows and pigs are the only animals on our farm that we send off to the processor. We haven’t butchered any goats yet, but we may need to send those off to the butcher as well. I don’t know if I could handle butchering out one of my beloved goats!
Turkeys, chickens, quail, ducks, and rabbits are easy to process yourself. This saves on the cost of a butcher, so you only have to factor in the cost of feeding them until maturity.
How much meat can I expect from each animal?
- Quail – even the jumbo quail will only net you less than a pound each.
- Chicken – if you raise dual-purpose birds or meat birds, you can expect about 2 pounds of meat on each chicken.
- Rabbit – with designated meat rabbits, you can expect about 3-4 pounds of meat from each.
- Duck – a Pekin duck (one of the largest breeds) will net you approximately 4 pounds of meat per animal.
- Turkey – a female broad-breasted turkey can net you about 15 pounds, whereas a male will give you around 25 pounds.
- Goat – if you raise Boer goats (the most popular meat goat), you can expect 60-100 pounds of meat.
- Sheep – while sheep are ready to butcher within a year, you will probably only get about 50-70 pounds per animal.
- Cow – their bones are massive, so you end up with only about 40% of the live weight in meat. Plan on getting 350-550 pounds of meat from a properly aged cow.
Here’s how this pans out with our family:
We raise at least one cow per year. We normally get Jersey steers, and they give us close to 400 pounds each. Last year, we raised 4 pigs, netting us another 600 pounds. We also raised 50 meat chickens. At about 2 pounds each, that gave us another 100 pounds.
Just from those 3 sources, we were able to successfully raise a years supply of meat for our family, at a whopping 1,100 pounds!
We also raise turkeys every year. Last year we raised 9 to maturity, gave one to our friends for Thanksgiving, and butchered two. We still have 6 huge turkeys roaming our property with the chickens. Our females are even laying eggs for us.
Our turkeys dress out at about 20 pounds each. If we had needed to butcher them all, we could have gotten another 180 pounds. And for no more work than what we have to do for our laying chickens!
We have had issues with raising rabbits to maturity, so we haven’t butchered a lot of rabbit. And we ended up enjoying the ducks so much, that we keep them around for eggs more than meat. So we only butchered a few ducks last year.
If we were a little more disciplined on not keeping every animal that strikes our fancy….we would have plenty more meat than what we need, and could get away with raising less animals.
Can I really raise a years supply of meat for my family?
If this animal-loving homesteader can do it, you can too! It might take some ingenuity, and the use of some small-space animals, but you can do it. The biggest hurdle is usually mindset. If you keep in mind that you are raising these animals to feed your family, it will make it easier. You might not be able to do the butchering yourself, and that’s ok too! You can take them to a processor, or see if some friends can help you.
Do you want to be able to also grow a years supply of organic, or near-organic vegetables for your family? You should definitely check out The Family Garden Plan, a book by Melissa K. Norris. This book has helped me plan out my vegetable garden to enable me to grow a good majority of the vegetables my family consumes in a year.
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