Protein is an essential part of the human diet. It is one of the main building blocks for healthy muscle tissue as well as other organs, which are heavily called upon during times of crisis. The majority of North Americans rely on beef, supplemented by other animal meats. Purchasing dried and canned meat products is essential to any prepper’s well rounded food storage arsenal. It brings a sense of accomplishment to see those items stacked on the shelves. The big question, though, is “What happens when this runs out? What happens when we can’t buy and stock anymore?”
Not everyone can raise a cow in their backyard. Even if you could, a 1000-pound cow equals approximately 350 pounds of meat. If there is little to no electricity available to freeze, the practicality of preserving all of that raw protein in a timeframe that prevents spoiling is monumental. How many canning jars would it fill? How many trays of drying space would you need? How much jerky seasoning is required? While it is possible to preserve that much meat, is it practical? What would the costs be physically, emotionally, and financially when a SHTF scenario is already placing enormous demands on you? The solution is to start now to reduce the dependance on beef and learn to grow and enjoy smaller meat and protein sources that are available to pretty much anyone with a backyard.
My number one choice of sustainable protein is poultry. By sustainable, I mean that I can grow and harvest a meal’s worth of protein with only a small amount leftover needing preservation. Raising poultry is not a difficult skill to learn. It’s essential that it become a part of our current routine before the stress of need occurs.
A few years ago, I purchased some chickens as a type of therapy in response to a life crisis I had just gone through. It gave me something to focus my time and energy on as well as the lovely benefit of providing eggs for my family. I didn’t know at the time that I was purchasing “dual purpose” chickens, valuable for both their meat and their eggs. While this particular breed was not the absolute best egg layer nor the highest quality meat bird, they provide an adequate supply of both proteins. One egg is roughly the equivalent to one ounce of meat in terms of the amount of protein it contains. Once a hen ages and the egg laying dwindles, it can be consumed as a stew bird. If one chooses to breed their own chickens, which would be a necessity if stock is no longer available on demand, at least one rooster and several hens are required. In a batch of hatchlings, approximately half will be roosters. At sixteen weeks of age, a dual purpose rooster is old enough to butcher. You can see that just adding chickens alone to your sustainability plan will provide a steady source of protein.
Feeding the chickens is, of course, absolutely essential. Here’s the great thing about poultry: they really prefer natural food found on the ground– bugs, weeds, grass, tree berries, et cetera. If you’ve ever seen a couple of chickens fight over a prized grub, you know this to be true! When times are tough and feed store food is scarce, a chicken can forage for most of their nutritional needs. A fenced yard will protect your chickens from neighbor dogs and in turn the chickens will keep the yard almost bug free, while providing natural fertilizer through their excretion. In the search for insects, they scratch the soil, loosening it to easily receive water and nutrients. They may also dig up some of the grass in the process of debugging, fertilizing, and tilling, but let’s face it, you’re not going to care if the grass and yard are manicured when they are keeping you from starvation.
I was recently told by a well-meaning (but completely wrong) source that a chicken should have 80% of their diet composed of grains. This grain-heavy diet has come about within the last century because of the need of large poultry farmers to push their birds to the limit in egg production.That simply is not nature’s way. Grains are not natural to poultry.
There are other, less popular poultry available that provide eggs and meat as well as providing additional benefits. My flock is comprised of chickens as well as guinea hens and heritage turkeys.
Guinea hens require a lot of space, which would be a challenge for someone in the city. They are also incredibly noisy, which is actually one of their benefits. Guineas are highly suspicious of anything new, which makes them a fantastic early warning system if something is out of place. While they won’t bite or chase someone off, they will raise a ridiculous ruckus, letting you know you need to go check on things. Most of the time, it’s something as benign as a bunny getting too close for comfort, but you will have the assurance of an alarm when a true threat arises. Once they reach adulthood, guineas are excellent at foraging for their own food. They like all kinds of bugs, including ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, and snakes, as well as grass and weed seeds. Their immune systems are almost bullet proof, making an adult guinea practically maintenance free.
Although not originally in my plan, I added heritage turkeys to my flock as a solution to a problem I was seeing with my chicks. Chickens can get a gradual and ultimately fatal neurological disorder called Marek’s virus, which presents as tremors, falling over, and eventually the inability to walk. Many of my three-week-old chicks appeared to have these symptoms. Not wanting to lose my investment in these babies, I did some research and found that wild turkeys are carriers of a similar Marek-type virus, but they do not get ill from it. When raised together with turkeys, chickens receive a sort of immunity to Marek’s disease simply by being exposed to the turkey form of the virus. I promptly bought three Rio Grande Valley wild turkeys, and my babies recovered. Once the turkeys were old enough to lay eggs, we discovered that turkey eggs are delicious. Because the eggs are one and a half to two times larger than chicken eggs, they provide an excellent source of protein. Turkeys are also highly personable. I once had “mama turkey” follow me way out in the field just to see what I was up to. She then very graciously accepted a ride back home in the passenger seat of my truck.
Most preppers have heirloom vegetable seeds stored away as part of their food arsenal. While home grown veggies provide an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and roughage to one’s diet, they do take several months to grow and require significant water as well as nutrients to remain healthy until harvest time. Additionally, unless you are able to grow legumes in quantity (beans, lentils, et cetera), there is almost no protein content in vegetables. This isn’t to say, “Don’t grow vegetables,” because they are an essential part of a healthy diet. Instead, grow your vegetables in the smartest way possible.
In search of a way to produce a little more protein and also have the benefits of vegetable gardening, I have turned to aquaponics. Essentially, aquaponics is a container growing system with fish added to the equation. This is the simple explanation of how it works: there are two types of containers, a fish container and a plant container. The two container systems are connected by PVC pipe with an integrated pump for circulation. Water is pumped from the fish container to the vegetable container. The plants naturally clean the fish water of excretion, are fertilized at the same time, then send clean water back to the fish. Unlike conventional gardening, there is very little water evaporation and no water is lost to the soil substructures. The fish benefit. The plants benefit. The environment benefits, and you ultimately benefit from an ongoing source of fish and vegetables.
There are other benefits of aquaponics vs. traditional gardening besides requiring less water and nutrient supplementation. Because soil is not used as the medium in which the plants grow, weeds are almost non-existent. If you have ever gardened, you know that weeding is time consuming as well as back breaking work. One configuration of an aquaponic bed contains ¾-inch sized gravel or clay pebbles, which are not conducive to weed germination. The healthy plants grown in an aquaponic system are also better able to withstand the onslaught of most insects.
Another obvious benefit of aquaponics is the periodic fresh fish. These fish are not “farmed” and therefore do not absorb the chemicals that are associated with the industry’s standard. So what about fresh water sources? Many of our rivers and streams are contaminated by farm chemical runoff or city sewage as well as other unknown toxins. You cannot be guaranteed that the fish you get are free from these unsavory conditions.
Is aquaponics a perfect system? Absolutely not. It’s imperative that you monitor ph, levels of nitrites and nitrates as well as temperatures, and there’s the obvious need for electricity to run the pumps. Just a few hours with no aeration of the fish containers and elimination of waste in the vegetable containers and you can lose all your fish. Fortunately, in the last couple of years, solar electricity has become affordable and within the reach of most preppers. Additionally, solar electricity has become simpler to set up and run, thereby making it a viable option to support an aquaponics system. You can buy various sizes of pre-fabricated aquaponic systems. For those who have the skill to build a custom bed, comprehensive schematics are also available for purchase.
Another excellent source of protein is milk. Going back to the backyard cow scenario, there are few people who can honestly sustain a milk cow. In order to produce milk the cow has to be bred by a bull and Mrs. Cow has to produce a calf periodically to maintain her milk supply. This really is not practical for most of us. There is, however, another milk producing mammal that can fit the bill and your backyard. Goats come in a variety of sizes. Even a small yard can accommodate a dwarf goat, which is no larger than a medium-sized dog. Goat’s milk is the least allergenic to humans and is often prescribed for babies with cow milk allergies. It’s true that the goat needs to be bred and have a kid (baby goat) once a year to continue producing milk, so in that aspect it is like a cow. It does not, however, require two 1000 pound animals in your backyard to maintain the milk flow. Once weaned, young goats can be sold or eaten. If you continue to milk the goat, you have the assurance of a liquid protein source that will be available until approximately three months before she is due to have another baby.
Goat milk is also useful in many other applications. It can be used to make cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and other food staples we often relate to cow’s milk. Soap made from goat milk is gentle and soothing to the skin. Various beauty products can also be made by combining the milk and a few other ingredients. If it becomes necessary, goat milk can be fed to other animals as a sustainable protein source.
In order to remain healthy during a prolonged crisis, you need to include protein in your diet. At some point, your storage will run out. You must have a plan in place to address this problem head on. It is essential that you think through the plan and implement it before you actually NEED it. While you may not be able to utilize all of these suggestions, don’t panic. Having some strategies are better than having none. The more you practice your sustainability plan, the better off you will be. As a true poultry lover, I for one am happy not to have “all my eggs in one basket!”