Editor’s Introductory Note: Some details in this article were deleted or slightly altered, to protect the anonymity of the author.- JWR
A brief history of my background and education: My family has been farming since they came to this country in the 1840s. My Father was a farmer like all the previous generations, but also started working livestock auctions in 1961. Now I work auctions only on a part time basis, and attend about thirty auctions a year. My life took a change on my second marriage. Not only did I get a beautiful wife; she also came with the word of the Lord. So after much prayer my journey began. Like most people I’m bottom middle class. Fortunately I have a farm, rural location, unlimited water, and some good ground for gardens. My Grandmother told me many stores of the shortages of WWII and raising six boys on the farm. I took her life lesson to heart, and knew what needed to be done. That is where the journey began. We have 160 acres on a side road that’s thirty miles from a mid-size town, so we have chosen to be cautious and quiet and self-sustaining. The goal is no outside support for the animals, only what can be produced here. No heat, no lights for eggs, no meds, and only what my hands and land are capable of producing. Hence, you will see the reasons and order of the animals mentioned below. So where to begin? Like most men, for me meat is the primary meal everything else is just extra. After many trials and errors, we have succeeded. This article lists of animals comes from from a lifetime of experience in northeastern Kansas. We’ve raised livestock and exotic birds from Button Quail to Ostriches and everything in between, for only one objective: to make money. Raising animals to butcher went by the wayside in the 1980s, as it was cheaper to buy them wrapped in cellophane, and more so today. Raising animals for personal consumption is a losing endeavor. Time, land and feed, are worth more than the animals. Now, if you treat it like an insurance policy with added benefits that you get to eat the excess, then it’s still not profitable but serves a safety net for the future. When you drive down the back roads look around. Do you see any small livestock? They are almost all gone, since no one wants the work or expense. Now think: If I have no refrigeration what meat can I have for dinner on a hot July day? The answer is small stock.
My primary meat will be the lowly rabbit. Why you ask? It is a proven success, you can have unlimited meat in a small package to cook daily with the benefits of no noise, great fertilizer, useful hides, quick reproduction, cold weather tolerance, no grain needed, and the waste parts fed the dogs daily. Those saying rabbits need frozen water bottles and fans to live in hot weather are not true. I’ve lost no rabbits due to heat, Mine are in outside wire cages under deep shade. I use a hand scythe like your grandparents used. I cut two Garden Cart loads of weeds per night which feed around 75 rabbits (A push Garden Cart measures 3’x4’ with large wheels, They were popular in the early 1980s. You must get one or better yet, two). Plant your yard in yellow clover, alfalfa, or lespedeza, all of which are good for honey production, fixing nitrogen, and are high in protein. Back when I fed only weeds that came from the garden and around the Blackberry rows to my rabbits, I noticed a slight decrease in growth rates and the amount they ate was considerable. But now, feeding legumes the feed quaintly has been reduced by ½ and butcher times are shorter by several weeks. This has proven a rewarding, renewable and cost effective feeding system. The majority of rabbits are crosses, most being ¾ New Zealand and ¼ Blue American, with some Harlequins and Silver Fox. The mixed breeds are a tad smaller, but they tend to eat every weed from Button to Ragweed. I am running a warren system and individual cages. We’ve not had the problems of mothers taking over other nest boxes. The pens are a 5’x14’ cage 3’ in the air with wire bottom on skids that can be moved by two men. There has been no problems with the kits they just go everywhere and are ignored by the other does. My recommendation for nest boxes is a drop down box lower than the floor by 4” and built on the outside of the pen for easy access with wire bottoms of 1/4″ mesh hail screen or 1/2″ mesh wire, with at least 2” of hay bedding in them. The end of the cage is a full width feeder for weeds and grass of 2”x2” wire 6” off the bottom in a “J” shape. For the little rabbits you will have to feed the weeds on the floor of the cage. You will be surprised how soon they are eating. The best size wire for the floors is ½ x 1” (Galvanized After Welding aka GAW) and under the feeder. I run 1”x2” wire mesh. Grow out pens are also 5’x14’ which house all the young. from 6 weeks to butcher age. There have been no problems running the mixed ages together; with around 25 per rabbits cage. You can run more, but both ends of the cage will have to be feeders. If you plan on feeding a lot of people, then the warren system is easier. If you’re only planning on feeding a few people stay with individual pens. I will keep both systems as we are planning on feeding ten people. Best source for information on raising rabbits is a web site called Rise and Shine Rabbitry. The owner, Boyd Craven, Jr., also co-authored a couple of books on raising rabbits. One of those books is titled Off the Pellet. I’m giving credit where credit is due. Remember: Any rabbit that is trouble makes very fine jerky no matter how old. Remember this enterprise is life sustaining for you and your family. These are not pets.
My second favorite animal with the requirements of, feed, noise, housing, pen, reproductions and sustainable protein taken into consideration is the Guinea Hog. It is a small, rare breed of pig. There are many web sites on these hogs. Some of my favorite things about them is they come home every night from the pasture running with the goats, they are friendly and easy keepers, not tearing up the fence or pastures. I feed mine one pint of grain each in the winter which equals three ears of corn and a round bale of hay in the lot, this meets all their requirements. These are lard hogs so there are three things to think about on them first and most importance is the lard. (Try to cook without oils!) And next is the meat, oh yeah! It is marbled, like Kobe beef. Third is once again the lard, but to make soap. On a web site was a breakdown of a full grown sow being butchered if I remember right it was 5.5 galllon of lard. thirty pounds of grinder meat and forty pounds of larger meat/ cubed. The lard matches the average use of oils for a year in our diets, something to think about is: How do I cook without oils? And pressing your own sunflower seeds is not going to be enough, with the way birds love them.
Number 3 is goats. We run a heard of around a 100 with many different breeds. I’ve had a very expansive lesson learning how to keep these animals alive. Worms are your biggest threat, even more so in wetter climates. There are several types of worms with different medicines for each. My other problems with goats are that they roam over a lot of ground to graze. The young make noise quite often when they become separated from their mothers. No fence is good enough when the grass is greener on the other side. Our solution was we went with chain link bought from auctions and hedge post with barbed wire on top and bottom. And if there is one place to get out of the fence they will find it. For meat there is no other breeds with fewer problems than the Savana, Kiko, and Spanish. Mine are all crosses–just getting a little better every year. If you are thinking about Boer goats my advice is to stock up on wormer lots of it and plan to babysit when the kids drop as a lot of first-time mothers are not very good.
For milk production I’ve had about every type of goat there is. My goal is the least amount of outside meds or care needed. Alpines have proven the toughest, with not really a close second and generally the quieter of the milk goat breeds. Nubians are not bad but they tend to get worms, as they tend to eat the grass closer to the ground. They are also are really vocal. For first time mothers they are not as good nor are they as pasture smart as the Alpines. In a herd setting of mixed breeds, they tend to be bullied more easily. I also have LaManchas. They are not as resilient as most European breeds, and usually not very good first time mothers. They also tend to get worms more often. On the noise level I have one that is quiet and one that is just plain annoying. So it comes down to the individual animal. The saving grace about them is they are very friendly and usually easier to milk by hand than most other breeds. In the past, my favorite little milk goat breed was the Oberhasli, but with small udders they are hard to milk, and suffer quickly from worms. So they are now discontinued from the farm. For those who think the small breeds are the way to go, my question is have you is: Have you ever milked a goat, and how much milk did you get? With my big milk goats the production is a gallon or more a day per goat [combined, from morning and evening milkings]. The thing to remember with goats is you have to have space and pasture rotation. Also make sure you can feed them in a grid-down situation. I keep a three years supply of hay on hand in sheds, and a barrel of salt. So think about what you can keep up if things go haywire.
Number 4 is Honey bee. Their advantages: a small amount of wax, medical uses of honey, and low maintenance, and the best thing the reward of liquid gold–the honey itself. Think what life would be like without honey to sweeten and to cook with, as sugar cane doesn’t grow in most places. There are many sources for information to learn about these little insects. My recommendation is to find a good Bee Club and also use YouTube to learn. My favorite YouTube channel is operated by Don The Fat Bee Man. He offers many ideas for substantial bee raising. The cons to bee keeping are few if you have the dollars to buy the equipment and a little time available in the spring and summer.
Number 5 is Chickens. They are low on my list because you have to feed your chickens grain. I’m in northeastern Kansas where we have freezing weather and snow. So my dilemma is, I have to grow everything by hand, how much corn or milo does it take to keep them alive for a year? Can I raise them free ranging, or will they be in some coyote’s belly. Two other issues are how much noise the roosters make and hen house building requirements. So what are the pros of having chickens? You get eggs seven months of the year and a few roosters to eat. I’ve owned about every type of poultry knows in the USA. So with all the breeds out there, we raise Red Cochin Bantams. These little chickens have proved the best sitters, with the highest number of eggs out of the 12 breeds that we tried. These little broody machines will hatch two sets of eggs per year if given the chance. Granted, individual blood lines will be different, so start you’re testing today. Your best Cochin bantams might turn out to be buffs or some other color, so keep production records. My advice is Forget the Old English, Silkies, Games, Wyandottes or Japs. Lesson learned: Cute or pretty does not equal sitting or laying capability. Now these are not the primary laying chickens, my favorite for running loose during the day and least amount of feed for the egg is the plain old Leghorn. But the Leghorn will not sit on eggs. I suggest brown leghorns, so as not as easy for predators to see.
[JWR Adds: The advantage of raising separate flocks of a large non-broody breed and a smaller flock of bantams is that that the bantam hens can be used as foster moms to set on the eggs produced by the other non-broody flock.]
You might ask: What about the “dual purpose” breeds? Look at feed input and egg output; they make some very costly meat and eggs, now butcher a big dual purpose breed and look at the breast size this will be a very big disappointment. When whole fryers are on sale for 79 cents a pound and eggs are 85 cents a dozen. To start your chicken flock look to: exotic bird clubs or auctions, Craigslist, or swap meets. It is best to talk to the breeder and listen to what they have to say about their birds, because every bloodline will perform differently.
Ducks and Geese
Number 6 is Ducks. I’ve raised a lot of the exotic ducks, best just forget them. We now have Runners, Khaki Campbells and Welsh Harlequins. Building requirements are almost none. They are tough, Water, wind and snow are no problem. The big problem is raccoons. Now the cons: Lots of eggs early in the year and none later through the summer. These laying breeds will not sit reliable, because they are to flighty, they require a lot more grain to keep going then you will plan on feeding, and corn will not keep them laying into the summer. The laying breeds are not worth eating being so small. I have brought in Muscovy ducks and they look promising. Here is why I decided to add them. As For Geese, I’ve raised everything from Cracklers to Giant Canadians and everything in between. The plain old Canadians didn’t require much food but they also do not produce many goslings or butcher out very large. The domestic geese; what do you get beside the need for water and a lot of noise? Well, quite a bit of grain for the young and in the wintertime. My Ducks and Geese will be the first things eaten in a Schumer Hits The Fan (SHTF) situation unless its early spring and laying season. Grain will be too precious.
Number 7 is Cats. Try to have a farm without cats and you’ll have more mice and rats than you can imagine. The amount of damage that mice do to equipment and stored grain makes the cat the most valuable animal on the farm.
Number 8 is Sheep. My views of them are from the 1970s and 1980s.My father had over 300 head of ewes. I remember lambing season was a 24-hour a day job. Shearing was all done with electric clippers. I’ve seen the antique clippers so hand shearing is an option. The hair sheep seem like a better idea than dealing the work of shearing. I prefer eating lamb over goat by a large margin, and they make less noise, and are easier on the fences. They also graze on totally different grasses than goats. [Goats prefer brush and the leaves, needles, and bark on saplings.] But you will not be milking sheep, and the market value is 1/3 less than goats, for butcher animals.
In Part 2, I will discuss livestock that I discourage, and explain my reasons why.