Raising a year’s supply of meat.
You’ve bought your place out in the country, you’re ready to get “back to the land” and not be so dependent on outside forces, right?
And one of the things that we’re all dependent on is the grocery store!
So, it makes sense that a main goal for your new farm or homestead would be to produce all or most of your own food.
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While it’s a little tougher to produce our own salt or tea or coffee, one thing we can easily grow on our own is our own meat!
But how do you do that? Where do you start? How much will you need?
Here at our farm, we’ve been raising most of our own meat for about 10 years now. We used to raise ALL of it, but we got out of hogs and Jeff won’t let me raise anymore! So, I buy pork from other local producers instead. But I’ll elaborate on that more in a minute.
Whole books have been written on this, but I’m here to give you an overview of how we do it, so maybe it can help jumpstart you in your own food raising journey.
First things first:
Decide what kind of meat your family eats.
OK, this should be a fairly easy question to answer. In our family, we primarily ate chicken, beef, and pork with a little deer thrown in occasionally.
We got started on our personal meat raising journey when Reece was first diagnosed with autism and our bio med doc told us to switch to grass fed meats. Since they were hard to come by around here and pretty expensive when you did find them, I set out to raise our own!
I knew what meat we ate and that it was possible to raise those species here in southern Kansas.
Figure out approximately how much meat you eat in a year.
Now, this has evolved for us over time as the kids have gotten bigger, but in the beginning of your journey think about typical weekly meals for your family.
Do you eat chicken once a week? Twice a week? Almost every meal? Think about the same thing with your beef/pork/deer/fish consumption.
I knew that we ate chicken and pork once a week on average, with beef filling in most of the gaps elsewhere.
I also had a bit of an advantage in figuring this out, because I cook very similar to how my mom cooked when I was growing up and I knew we went through at least a 1/2 a beef every year back then. That gave me a starter point to figure out how much beef we might need.
Chickens are a bit easier to figure out because it’s in much smaller quantities.
Figuring out pork for us was harder because I only bought it occasionally at the store.
Don’t worry if you don’t have an exact idea- this is just a starting point!
Do your research on each species.
This step is a little more complicated and can definitely take longer.
We didn’t start out raising ALL of our own meat all in one fell swoop. We started with one species and added a species a year.
It helped it to be much less overwhelming with a shallower learning curve.
I read books, did internet research, etc. I also talked to my father-in-law about some of it because he used to raise hogs for a living and used to feed out steers for beef.
If you can find someone else who is raising animals for food, talk to them! I personally have helped many different people over the years with their meat raising journey because they know I have experience.
Keep in mind that there are often several ways to accomplish the same thing, so you don’t have to do it EXACTLY the way someone else is doing it. Everyone has different variables to factor in, whether that be labor, time, growing conditions, weather, location, etc.
A good starting point, though, is anything written by Joel Salatin! He’s been raising meat for a LONG time, knows his stuff, and has written books about all of it! Plus, he’s a great writer and fun to read 🙂
I read Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin to get started with meat chickens. I highly recommend buying the paperback copy because you will be referring back to it time and time again! Some of the info is outdated (pricing and such), but it was an amazing reference for us!
I also loved his Salad Bar Beef to help us grow out grass fed beef!
Decide which kind of animal you want to try first and jump in!
After all that research, the only thing left to do is just try it for yourself!
Trust me, you’ll make mistakes and learn a TON along the way, but the only way to grow your own food, is to just do it!
Even though we’ve been at it for quite a few years now, we’re always tweaking, learning, and changing how we do things.
The first species we raised were hogs.
Hogs are pretty easy to get in to. They don’t require a lot of space (unless you pasture raise them, which I wasn’t able to do because of a variety of outside factors). Feeder pigs aren’t very expensive to purchase. They are generally pretty hardy animals and you can raise them from start to finish in about 5 months. And, unless you decide to tackle home butchering, the processing doesn’t require any special equipment since you can take them to a locker.
We started out with 4 feeder pigs. We kept two for ourselves and sold the other two. It worked pretty well. It was a nice project for the kids and I to get our feet wet, so to speak.
There are some drawbacks to hogs. The number one thing is loading them and taking them to the locker! They are a pain in the backside to get in a trailer if you don’t have a good facility set up. (We have had some hilarious and not-so-hilarious adventures and stories from loading hogs!!)
Jeff hated loading them so much that after about 6 years of raising hogs (we eventually acquired our own sows and boar so we could have our own feeder pigs!), we decided to sell out and just buy locker pork from other local small farmers.
We did discover that we easily eat two whole hogs a year, though 🙂
The next species we started raising ourselves were chickens.
Initially, they seemed easier to raise than a bigger species, like hogs. But, here in Kansas we do not have any processing facilities, so we had to learn how to butcher own our chickens, too.
Word of advice- do not plan on raising 100 broilers your first year in! Try 25 and learn from them.
We started out with 17 our first year, and then doubled that each year until we were growing, butchering, and selling 800 each summer! Don’t worry- we didn’t eat 800 chickens a year! We sold 700 to customers 😉
I wrote a whole post on how we raise our broilers.
We also learned that ideally, our family needs 100 chickens in the freezer to last us all year. With having 3 teenagers, we easily go through two chickens a week.
The final species that we added to our meat growing rotation was beef.
Now, Jeff’s family used to feed out steers and always ate their own beef, but we wanted to raise grass-fed beef.
Beef in general, but grass fed beef in particular, requires a lot more land than raising a few hogs and chickens and may not be possible for everyone.
We are lucky, in that, we already had a cow/calf herd with Jeff’s dad, so we were able to just pick out a couple weaned calves (calves that are about 6 months old) and bring them to our 6 acre pasture by our house to raise.
If you do not have a cow/calf herd of your own, then you will have to either buy a bottle calf (which is a whole other ball game!) or you will need to buy a weaned calf from a local farmer or sale barn.
It also takes 18 months to raise grass fed beef. You will need plenty of grass available for them, good fencing, and a way to acquire and feed hay in the winter.
Again, we are blessed because our farm grows its own hay and we have all the equipment to run cows already in place. Hay can get expensive, depending on conditions in your area, and it can be hard to handle without a tractor (unless you can find small squares to buy).
Our beef needs have grown as the kids have gotten bigger, and we now go through at least 1 whole cow every year.
As for our deer- we have relatives who hunt more than they like to consume, so we get what they don’t want! It’s a very nice arrangement since neither Jeff nor I has the time or interest to hunt deer 🙂
Other meat options- There are several other options that I don’t have much experience with that you may love or want to try! For instance, lamb and rabbits are both good options. We have eaten both and enjoy the meat, but have never raised them ourselves.
So, in summary, what to do you need to do to provide enough meat for your family for a year?
- Figure out what kind of meat you eat
- Decide how much you go through in a typical week then multiply that by 52 to give you a starting number for how many animals of each specie you may need
- Do your research
- Jump in and have fun learning as you go!
As a summary of what this looks like for our family:
There are five of us- 3 teenagers (or close to! My youngest is 12 1/2) and two adults.
We eat at home 99% of the time, plus we homeschool, so the kids and I eat dinner (lunch) at home everyday.
We eat meat at almost every meal.
To get through a year, we need
- 100 whole chickens
- 1 whole cow
- 2 whole hogs
- 1 whole deer
Your needs will probably look different depending on your family life, but hopefully this gives you an idea of where to begin!
Do you raise any of your own meat? Any tips for those who are just starting this venture??