Small Livestock You Can Raise AnywhereJanuary 23, 2014 by Melanie Swick | 10 Comments
When I began prepping, I did what most people do—I stocked up on canned food. Don’t get me wrong; I still think that is a solid part of any self-reliance plan, but it’s not the final answer.
I quickly added additional food sources like freeze-dried food and a garden, and while this was great, it still wasn’t quite enough, so I started raising livestock to produce a sustainable supply of protein.
You might think you don’t have enough space but fortunately, you don’t have to live on a farm to raise livestock.
I live in the suburbs and raise livestock with no problems—the key is selecting the right livestock. As much as I’d love a few cows in the back yard and be able to carve off a fresh, juicy rib eye anytime I want, that just isn’t in the cards right now. So if you’re working with limited space like I am, here are a few types of small livestock you can raise anywhere:
Rabbits are small and quiet, which works out well when your neighbors can hear everything that goes on in your backyard.
I keep my breeders in individual 30″ x 30″ cages, and my fryers (the ones you plan on eating) live in the doe’s cage from birth to about 6–8 weeks old, then they live two to a cage. (You could probably put three in that space and do just fine, though.) They are typically butchered at about months old.
You can feed rabbits vegetable scraps, flowers, nuts, hay, and just about any plant that grows in your yard, but the bulk of their diet should be pelletized food, which I buy at Walmart for under $8/20 pounds.
Raising rabbits is pretty simple because they are resilient and they reproduce like, well, rabbits, but I do recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits to learn more about breed selection, care and feeding, safe housing, humane handling, and disease prevention and treatment.
Chickens are small but not always quiet; however, that trait seems to depend on the individual bird rather than a specific breed. Roosters are always much noisier than hens.
They don’t require a lot of space, but will need an enclosed coup to provide shelter from the elements and from predators.
One of the biggest advantages to chickens is that they produce a protein-rich egg every day or two, which means a steady source of food without having to continually slaughter and butcher your livestock. Another upside is that they can clear a patch of land for your garden; just place them in a pen where you plan to build your garden and they will pick and scratch it completely free of all vegetation and pests in a matter of days, leaving behind rich manure. (This will have to be composted first because its excessive nitrogen content will burn delicate roots.)
Chickens will happily gobble up vegetable scraps, bugs in the yard, weeds, stale bread—pretty much anything you throw at them. I suggest picking up Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens to really learn the ins and outs though. Another great resource is BackYardChickens.com, a very active forum of people with decades of chicken-raising experience.
Quail, like chickens, will produce a steady supply of fresh eggs. Though about half the size, you can raise twice as many in the same space, so the output is the same with the added advantage of being much quieter.
The only requirement for their living environment is shelter from the elements.
Quail eat the same diet as chickens, though in different ratios; depending on the species, the individual bird, and the time of year, about 90 percent of their diet comes from plant material. Roughly 80 percent comes from seeds and grains. Sometimes they’ll eat insects, fruits, or foods other than grains for the trace elements and other nutrients they need.
This is one area I will probably not explore anytime soon just because I don’t eat fish. Ever. But if you’re inclined, they can produce an abundant supply of protein.
You don’t need a lake to raise fish; I’ve seen it done in 55 gallon drums, hot tubs, and even kids pools—all you really need is to contain and filter enough water. A side benefit is that this makes a solid addition to an aquaponics system, or even just an irrigation system for your conventional garden.
The biggest consideration in raising fish is the temperature. There is usually enough water in a lake or large pond to keep temperatures stable, but a smaller volume of water like you would have in a water drum can get too hot or too cold and kill your fish. You can reduce this risk by using a larger volume of water and burying your container in the earth to provide additional insulation.
Ordinarily I would suggest just learning as you go, but raising fish is much more difficult than other livestock because they are fragile and require a precise balance of pH, nutrients, and temperature, so it pays to do your homework first. An excellent reference guide is Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together.
Bees are considered livestock? You bet, and I was just as surprised as you the first time I learned that.
The role they serve in your self-reliance plan is two-fold. First, they produce honey. Probably more than your family will ever use—and raw honey never expires. Second, they pollinate your garden, which helps to produce a plentiful harvest and ensure biodiversity.
Bees, unlike other livestock, are relatively easy to capture, and they require little more than a few square feet of space to do their thing, so getting started with them is very easy and inexpensive. The only downside is that many people avoid bees the same way I avoid boy bands, but there is little to fear unless you are allergic to their sting.
The most knowledgeable person I’ve found on the subject is Jason Bruns, of LetMBee.com. I first heard him in an interview on TSP talking about beekeeping, specifically trapping wild bees, but after a few minutes on his blog, I was sucked in by a the amount of information available; you can learn anything you’ll ever need to know about them on his blog.
Have you though about raising, or already raising your own livestock? Share your experiences or questions in the comments below.