Every day most of us in the U.S. have access to whatever we desire to eat whenever we want to eat it. We eat eggs for breakfast, chicken at any meal, and beef or pork as our dinner, nightly. There is no work or sacrifice in ordering a burger or chicken fingers. It would be very different after TEOTWAWKI.
One of the hardest things to do in a homesteading situation will be getting enough protein. We live in a meat eating society. Do the math on your daily intake of meat. We eat two eggs and bacon or ham for breakfast, a grilled chicken breast for lunch, hamburger steak for dinner. Now multiply that for six months (180 days). How are you going to get 360 eggs, 180 chicken breasts, and 180 beef patties? It is daunting to consider. The logistics of raising different livestock would be a full time job. How to process and preserve them? How to feed and protect them? Between this and the time needed to garden, every daylight hour would be spent working.
On my small homestead are a variety of livestock. I raise Dexter cattle, hair sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens, honey bees and catfish. Of the 29 acres I have about seven acres fenced. I have a small orchard of 63 apple and pear trees, and being in the Deep South, a pecan orchard. I have been working hard on my place for 10 years. It takes time to build a homestead and lots of work and money. Do not think otherwise, it is not easy.
I am trying to be self sufficient. I supply my own beef and eggs from home. I also butcher 2-3 sheep a year. I have had no luck with getting anyone to agree to eat rabbit or duck, but keep them around because of their reproductive prowess and quick growth. The catfish are not my favorite fish (I like tuna in a can). The fish are a last resort for me. I think it would take all of the above to come close to the level of protein we get from our modern diet.
The modern chicken is an amazing creature. A hen will produce 250 eggs a year if kept laying. This is an amazing feat and lot of food. Four to six hens laying will give you a thousand eggs a season. That is 1,000 eggs x 90 calories each. (90,000 calories) Every day will be an egg day. You will have to use these eggs quickly with no electricity for refrigeration WTSHTF. The only way I know to preserve eggs without refrigeration is to pickle them. Yuck! Salt and vinegar are going to be used a lot in preserving everything if the SHTF, so stock up now! Vinegar is easy to get now at any grocery store. I recently got an 80 lb bag of non-iodized salt from a restaurant supply for $11.50. These hens will also raise your replacement stock. You’ll need roosters for chicks. You don’t want all the hens to go broody and quit laying, so you may have to separate one and let her set on a clutch of eggs. All the incubators will be useless without electricity. The hens will last about two years laying, and then be eaten.
You could raise your own birds for meat. I have never raised commercial broilers that mature in six weeks and if TSHTF they won’t be available anyway. It will take a lot of effort to raise replacement hens and have birds to butcher. It’s would be hard to store enough layer mash for the chickens. One may have to get a few hundred pounds of feed corn and crack it in a grain mill. Even then, I would only use it sparingly. I think chickens will have to be allowed to fend for themselves WTSHTF. They are perfectly capable of feeding themselves. I have seen my birds eat everything under the sun. Maybe they could be let out in the morning and coaxed back in the evening with a little cracked corn. One person may have to be with the chickens when out to deter predators. I have lost chickens to owls hawks and dogs (domestic and wild).It’s the only plausible solution I can come up with. If you were to eat a chicken only once a week, think 52 birds, at least 24 weeks old including incubation time. That’s six months to grow one chicken dinner. I have figured and charted and drawn diagrams trying to figure what I would need to supply this one chicken a week if TSHTF. I am still skeptical of my ability to produce 52 chicken dinners a year without pre collapse resources available to me. (Resources such as grower crumbles, layer pellets, incubator, hatcheries that send chicks through the mail) I think the best use of my resources is to produce eggs in abundance and replacement birds. Maybe a few chicken dinners, but the eggs would give you the most bang for buck. This is not meant to be skeptical, but to be realistic. I am not giving up on raising them for meat, but my experience tells me it would be very difficult.
The Dexter cattle are one of the most pleasurable additions I have made to the homestead. They are a naturally small (750-1,000 pound) and a docile breed. They produce good beef and small amounts of milk. I keep 2 cows and 1 bull. With the bull (Justice) left in permanently with the cows, (Hannah and Hershey) they have calves about every 18 months. When calves are born one of the previous born 18 months ago is butchered. There’s always one growing out and two pregnant. I keep the number of cows down because I want to balance the grass and the animals. This is closer to sustainable. They eat grass eight months of the year and are easy keepers. A salt and mineral block is kept in with them. Besides that they just graze. During December, January, February and March I have to feed hay. This would be a hard problem to fix in a collapse. I think I would have to stockpile round bale hay to make it. Eight to 10 bales would get the cows and the sheep through a winter. These need to be kept at all times. We just don’t know when the SHTF. If there was no fuel available to power the tractor I would have to hand feed them several times a day. The problem with this is the distance and amount of hay that can be moved by hand. The rest of the next year I would have to scythe and haystack everything I could find outside the pasture. It would be very tough. I think they would be worth the trouble though.
I get a couple hundred pounds of meat from each cow butchered. In TEOWAWKI I would have to butcher the animal in winter myself. The meat would have to be preserved immediately. No electricity or refrigeration would mean the meat had to be cubed, cooked and canned. This is something that needs to be practiced ahead of time. The jars, lids, salt and spices need to be stockpiled. Two hundred plus pounds of cubed beef in quart jars would take at least 75 to 100 jars. That could be a good number of meals for a three person household. I would try to get at least a meal per pound, for my three person family group. A pound of lean beef has 1,000 calories. That’s 200,000 calories in meat.
The Dexter cows are a dual purpose breed that also can be milked. I originally planned to milk Hannah, but haven’t done so yet. She’s a good and friendly cow but I can’t seem to pull the trigger on milking. I don’t think she would give allot of milk. If she gave only a quart a day to us that would be close to 2 gallons a week. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Milk has around 150 calories and 8 grams of protein per cup. There’s 16 cups per gallon. That is 2400 calories and 128 grams of protein per gallons x 2 is 4800 calories a week. I think If TSHTF me and Hannah will have to come to terms on the milking. We will need the 650+ calories a day from her milk. Butter made by shaking a jar would be a luxury.
The sheep that I raise are hair sheep. There is no shearing of wool. They were developed to live in warmer climates but thrive anywhere. They are a meat breed. They are kept in the same pastures as the cows. Sometimes together, sometimes in rotation behind the cows. The thing about the sheep that would be beneficial in a collapse is there size and reproduction rate. The average size of an adult is 80 to 100 lbs for a ewe and 100 to 150 for a ram. Khatadhin sheep have the short gestation rate of five months. They produce twins most of the time and these lambs are 60 to 80 lbs in 5 months. They breed anytime of the year. Three ewes and a ram will produce a lot of meat. The best thing in a SHTF situation would be that you could butcher one at a time. They would be grazing till needed. Their size is more manageable, but still yields a lot of meat. I have 3 in the freezer now. You will get about 35 lbs of meat from a 70 lb sheep. At approximately 650 calories per pound that is another 22,750 calories per lamb. You could have 3 to 6 animals to butcher a year with 3 ewes and a ram. That’s a lot of meat. One problem with sheep is parasites. It would be wise to stock up on at least 2 kinds of wormer. I have fewer problems with worms at my place since adding the cows and geese to my rotational grazing. This must have changed the parasite-host dynamic. I still worm occasionally, but not as much. I advise that when you do have to worm, don’t skimp on the amount of wormer used. You need to kill the parasite not promote resistance. Use the full amount and then a little extra. I also like to worm three successive times at seven day intervals.
Since I haven’t eaten any of my rabbits or ducks I have no info on their ability to supply meat on your homestead. I do know that you can be overrun with rabbits pretty quickly. A rabbits gestation period is very short (31 Days!) and the litter size is from 4 to 9. You can scrounge up grass and greenery year round to feed them. Six litters a year is a lot of rabbits. The ducks I have had are Khaki Campbells. They are a medium sized bird that lays as well as a chicken. They can easily lay 200 eggs a year. They can be imprinted very easily and will think you’re the mother duck if you feed and handle them when small. This would be helpful in getting them in at night. The thing I liked about these ducks is that they mature faster than chicks. This could be a lot of meat and eggs if managed well. If things were really grim, I would eat the catfish.
One of the most important things in a collapse would be the safety and security of your livestock. I was awakened at 4 a.m. last week to the sound of my last goose raising an alarm. I ran out to the pasture and found 6 wild dogs in the paddocks with my sheep and cows. They had run all of the sheep until they had collapsed then killed two ewes that were due to lamb. All alive sheep were being bitten while down. The sheep were covered with blood and my prize ram had one ear nearly tore off. These sheep represent 10 years of breeding and culling and cannot be easily replaced. They killed my last goose (geese are wonderful alarms). They were harassing the cows and scattered when I shone the truck lights on them. Thankfully I don’t have any baby cows now or it could have been worse. I got one with the rifle and have been working to get the rest. If I had to rely on these animals as the only source of meat for me it would have been disastrous. Predators are a big problem. If TSHTF I will likely have to shelter my animals every night for protection. The thing that would be difficult about this is getting the animals to respond without sweet feed as an encouragement. I think to make it with the livestock I would have to stock up on feed corn. I would probably need 5 or 6-50 gallon drums full. I have stored it in drums by the pasture before for the animals. It could be fed cracked or un-cracked to the chickens, cows, and sheep. This is the one thing that all livestock respond to. It would simplify raising the chickens. It would allow me to coax the cows and sheep where I needed them. I have gotten it at the grain elevator many times and it is not expensive by the bushel. You would also need to have your winter hay stockpiled. If things go bad it would be ready. You don’t want to chance your cows going hungry. A hungry cow is hard to contain. They will walk right through a fence. I have started using a solar powered fence charger. It will contain them.
Putting meat on the table will be difficult in the future but I think it is doable. If you gain the experience now you will be well ahead of the game. There will have to be multiple sources to supply you with enough protein. I believe raising chickens for the eggs will be the most efficient use of feed and bird. The larger livestock will produce stockpiles of meat for you if you learn how to preserve it by canning, drying, pickling, curing or smoking. The stockpiled corn for the animals will give you the ability to move the animals as needed for their protection. The hay will be your insurance for winter. The resources we position in preparation will allow us the time to grow the corn, wheat, or oats that will make the livestock sustainable. This along with our food storage program will give us a chance if TSHTF.