Animal Advice

Using Animals in Your Sustainable Living Efforts

When you become interested in sustainable living, you may want to add animals to your practices. There are many ways you can use animals on your own property to help become self-reliant and sustainable.

You need to know some of the most common animals used for sustainable living practices and how you might be able to work with them.  Some animals are used for meat, while others are used for eggs, milk, and their pelts or skins.

Honoring the Animal

It’s important to note that using animals requires you to be considerate of the animal’s needs and provide a healthy and happy environment for it.  When you choose to butcher animals, you should make sure you get proper training so that you cause little fear or pain to them.

With sustainable living, you’ll also want to make use of as much of the animal as possible so that it doesn’t go to waste.  Honoring the animal’s sacrifice means using it well.

Chickens

If you’re new to working with animals, raising chickens is a great way to begin learning.  Chickens are relatively simple to take care of and require a small amount of space.

They can also provide regular eggs and even meat if you choose to butcher them and eat them.  You’ll need to make sure that you provide a coop for chickens where they can be safe from predators and roost at night.

Chickens need room to roam and can help cut down on bugs as they eat them along with feed that you supply.  It’s best to choose an organic feed that’s free from chemicals and additives.

You’ll want to do your homework to figure out how many chickens will fit into the coop you choose.  That will depend on the size of the coop and the breed of chickens.

You can buy chicks online and have them shipped to your home.  You’ll need to be prepared to take care of chicks for a few weeks after their arrival.  They need warm temperatures, clean water, and bedding.  As they grow, they’ll become easier to care for.

Many urban areas allow chickens, but make sure you check your local ordinances.  You may be allowed to have chickens, but not roosters in the city limits.  As you care for your chickens, it’s important to learn from experts such as agriculture extension agents, local farmers, or even getting online help.

Chickens can provide eggs, can be harvested for meat, and their feathers can be used for pillows or blankets.  Older chickens that don’t have tender meat can be used to make chicken stock for use later.

Rabbits

Rabbits are also easy to care for and can provide meat for your family.  They require a hutch where they can live comfortably and have room to move around.  You’ll also need to feed them and provide them with high quality food and fresh vegetables.

Rabbits also need a constant supply of alfalfa or timothy hay. You’ll want to research rabbit breeds so that you can choose the best breed for your area and the meat you’d like to produce.

If you begin with two female and one male rabbit, you can produce more than 40 rabbits a year for meat.  Rabbits are best eaten when they are 8-12 weeks old.  The younger they are, the more tender they are.

When the rabbits reach about six weeks old, you can separate them from their parents.  Then you can wait until it’s time to harvest the meat.  When the larger, adult rabbits reach two or three years of age, you can butcher them.

Older rabbits are better in stew because they aren’t as tender.  Rabbits can also be used for their fur.  Once they’re butchered and skinned for meat, you can tan the rabbit’s hides and use them for warm clothing.

Rabbits are a relatively inexpensive investment if you want to begin working to raise and harvest your own meat.  It helps to take a class to learn how to butcher them properly.

Goats

Goats are fairly easy animals to take care of and they can produce a great deal of food for you.  There are two kinds of goats – goats for meat and goats for milk.  Goat isn’t commonly eaten in the United States, but it’s very common in other countries.

You’ll want to choose a breed that’s specifically designed for your purposes.  Look for one that’s purebred.  You can raise approximately eight goats on the same feed it would take to raise one cow.

Goats need little in the way of food if they’re able to graze.  You may also need to provide hay, oats, and a vitamin supplement.  Housing for goats is also pretty simple – you’ll need an area where they can be dry and where they won’t get too cold.

Goats are very good at climbing, so you’ll need a fence that has barbed or electric wire to keep them in.  Goats are typically very friendly animals to have on your property.

Some good goat breeds for meat include Texmaster, Moneymaker, and Savanna.  Good goat breeds for milk include Saanen, Alpine, and Togenburgs.  You’ll want to learn more about specific breeds and what will work best in your area.

Goat milk can be used for drinking and for making cheese.  Many people who find cow’s milk problematic find that goat’s milk is a good substitute.  In order to produce milk, your goats will need to be bred once a year.

Your goat will need to feed her kids, but you can still milk her once a day.  The best method is to keep the kids separate from her at night and milk her once in the morning.  Then the rest of the day the kids can nurse when they choose.

If you continue to milk her, she can produce milk for approximately 10 months.  That’s a good supply of milk for a family.  You can have more goats if you’d like more milk for your use or to sell.

When it comes to meat goats, the best time for butchering is between five and nine months of age.  You can learn to do this yourself or take the goat to a meat processor.  After butchering a goat, you can keep the hide and tan it for use.

Pigs

Pigs can also be raised to use for meat.  Pigs will need at least a tenth of an acre for pasture.  You can also grow them in an enclosure that’s at least 100 square feet – such as a barn or a pen.

You’ll also need food for your pig.  Unlike what you see in movies, it’s best not to feed pigs just whatever is left over from your own meals.  They need a diet full of vitamins and minerals.  It’s best to give them organic foods and allow them to graze on grass.  They also need plenty of access to clean water.

You’ll want to choose a piglet that’s a good breed for meat.  You can buy them at farms or from auctions.  Some of the best breed choices include Berkshire, Yorkshire, and Hereford.  But there are many choices.

You’ll want to research what will live best in your area and grow to the preferred size.  In general, pigs usually are ready for slaughter when they reach approximately 225 pounds, though this can vary based on weight.

You can learn to butcher them yourself or take them to a meat processor.  Each pig will give you around 150 pounds of meat.  Again, this is an average and will depend on your pigs.

Once a pig is processed into different cuts, you can freeze them for long-term use.  Some people also choose to sell meat as a way to make money and profit from pig production.

Cows

Many people enjoy raising cows for either milk or meat.  Raising your own cows on a grass diet without antibiotics or added hormones make the meat and milk much better for your body.

The best breeds for dairy cows tend to be Jersey, Guernsey, and Holstein.  For beef cows, look for Angus or Hereford cows. There are other breeds that may be better for your needs, so do your homework before settling on one type.

Cows will need a source of grass and in winter months will need hay.  Each cow will need about a half a bale of hay per day.  Your cow will also need to be confined with a fence made from barbed wire.

You can also use an electric fence to keep your cow from leaving home.  Each cow will need about two acres of pasture in order to get enough nutrition.  If you live in a drier area, your cow may need even more space.

For milk cows, you’ll need to breed your cow in order for her to produce milk.  One cow can give you eight to ten gallons of milk each day.  This will allow you to have plenty of milk for drinking and making other dairy products or for selling.

For meat cows, you can learn to do the butchering yourself.  However, most people will take a cow to be processed and divided into different cuts of meat and ground beef.

One cow is usually more than enough meat for an average family.  You may even consider selling half of the cow so that you can make back some of the money you’ve invested in raising your cow and processing it.

Fish

When you think of farm animals, fish don’t usually make the top of the list.  But fish can be very good food that you can raise right on your property.  The best breeds of fish for farming include catfish, bass, bluegill, and carp.

In order to raise any of these fish, you’ll need a barrel that holds at least fifty gallons of water.  This will hold about 40 fish that you can harvest for food.  You’ll want to research the specifics for putting together an aquarium based on the breed you choose.

You’ll be able to feed your fish commercial food or you can feed them worms.  For 40 fish, you’ll need at least 50-100 worms each day when they are young and even more as they get older.

You can either clean and prepare fish all at once or stagger your use by taking a few adults out and replacing them with younger fish.  This gives you a regular supply of fish.  If you do it all at once, you’ll need to freeze them.

It takes about 2 months for fish to grow into adulthood and be ready for eating.  You can start over every 2 months with a new group so that you have a continuous supply of fish to eat.

Researching Your Best Options

If you’ve never raised your own animals for food, it’s a good idea to start small with chickens, rabbits, or even fish.  Don’t try to do too much at once and become overwhelmed by the process.

Once you’ve mastered one animal, you can add another.  It’s also important to do a lot of research before deciding on an animal and breed.  You need to do a lot of preparation and be prepared for feeding and even medical care if necessary.

A great place to start is with your local agriculture extension office.  This office helps local people figure out what to grow and you can even take educational classes to learn about animal management and harvesting.

This guide may have sparked your interest in a particular type of animal, but now you’ll need to get much more depth of information in order to carry out the process of growing and harvesting animals for food.

Growing your own animals can help you save on the cost of food.  It can also ensure that you have meat or milk that’s free from chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones.  You can also feel good that your animal has a good life and is treated with care and respect, unlike many animals raised on corporate farms.

To learn more about Pet Sustainability, check out the Pet Sustainability Coalition!

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