Moving Toward Self Sufficiency: Using Livestock as a Food Source
Unless you have acres of grazing land, cattle and dairy cows are not a good option. They require large amounts of feed, which is expensive and would be cost prohibitive just to raise them for beef and milk for your own personal consumption. It is not practical unless you have enough acreage for the animals to graze and can receive a large portion of their daily food requirements this way.
Goats and chickens however can provide you with meat, eggs and milk from the goats. Chicken and goats can free range for food in many cases but expect to have to supplement their feed. Their feed cost and housing versus production output however is considerably more balanced than beef cattle and dairy cows.
According to studies, the average family of four consumes roughly 1,000 eggs per year. The average laying hen with all things being equal can produce on average one egg every 24 hours. For hens to average one a day or 6-7 per week they need 12-14 hours of daylight everyday, so production will decrease and increase according to the seasons and how often you collect the eggs.
Hens will lay eggs when the nest is empty, so collection everyday is important to keep production up. Hens will lay eggs whether there is a rooster present or not, in other words the eggs do not need to be fertilized, so you don’t need to purchase roosters for this purpose.
Have roosters for a meat supply, because you do not want to use good laying hens for the dinner table. Once the hen decreases production because of age or other factors then they are ready for the table.
You will need a coop for your hens, it must provide water and feed and it must be provided daily. You generally will need two square feet of coop floor per hen. Overcrowding reduces production because the hens will be stressed and this will increase the risk of disease.
Chickens are sociable so they need others around them to be content. Therefore, even if you do not need all the eggs yourself have at least five or six laying hens at one time in your coop. You can trade or sell the surplus eggs. Expect one laying hen to provide enough eggs for just one person weekly.
The coop must be shoveled out every day but the droppings make ideal fertilizer for crops after it has composted for at least 90 days.
Chickens need room to range but depending on where they roam they may be picked off by predators, so fencing in a chicken run may be necessary and this may include fencing in overhead so predatory birds cannot get at them. Predators can include your own dogs or cats and any that may be in the neighborhood.
If you plan to hatch and raise chicks then you will need a brooder and a heat source typically a brooder lamp. The chicks must have warmth, which typically is provided by the hen, but when raising them separate you must provide the heat artificially.
Picking Your Chickens
All chicken breeds produce eggs and most are suited for all climates with a few exceptions. Phoenix and Minorcas do not do well in cold climates, while Brahmas and Chanteclers love the cold.
Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks, for example typically produce at around 75 percent, in other words a dozen chickens will produce roughly nine eggs a day on average. Some chickens have been known to lay two eggs in a 24-hour period and then not lay again for 24 hours. The size and color of the egg will vary among the various breeds.
Many people who have experience raising chickens adhere to the rule; “it takes three hens to produce two eggs per day” on average. Age of the chicken, breed, and hours of daylight and overall health of the chicken will all affect the production.
As stated earlier, all hens will lay eggs and each breed has their own characteristics, sizes and needs but as a general rule look for hens that are not over sized because of space restraints and ones known to be docile.
Goats for Milk and Meat
Those looking to raise goats for dairy can expect the milk to be quite similar to cow’s milk. Dairy breeds are grouped into Swiss, tropical and miniature. Swiss breeds include Alpine, Oberhasli, Saanen, and Toggenburg and they are called this because of their tolerance of cold weather. Whereas tropical breeds such as the Nubian and LaMancha do well in hot climates. The Swiss and tropical breeds can produce up to 1,800 pounds of milk a year, which is about 900 quarts.
Essentially any goat can be raised for its meat, and Nubians, for example, are multi-purpose (dairy and meat). The meat is called chevron, and many compare it to venison or grass-fed beef.
Goats like to browse for their foods, they like to eat leafy bushes and trees and you should supplement their diet with hay, alfalfa or feed grains that are available at your local farm and garden store.
Goats are herd animals so they do better when they have companions. Corral them as you would horses or other herd animals. They do well in a relatively small area compared to cattle. It would be quiet easy to keep enough goats and chickens to supplement the food source a family of four.