What’s for Dinner?
A short series on micro livestock as part of a survival strategy.
Canned goods, vegetable and meat should be part of any survival pantry. Its the basis for riding out something like Sandy and other regional events. But canned goods do have a shelf life and must be replenished. For a longer term view part of one’s food supply should be ‘on the hoof’ and reproducible. In view of the fact that most people live in a suburban environment with certain zoning restrictions selection has to bear that fact in mind. That for example would leave having 4 Herefords grazing on the front lawn off the table. Unless of course your front lawn happens to be 30 acres in size. 🙂
General characteristics to keep in mind —
- Small in size. Just as Herefords might not be acceptable, neither would 400# sows tearing up the backyard. Size matters. For example even if you could house the sow when it got down to rendering the beast what do you do with the 200# of meat left over from BBQ? Especially important if reliable electricity makes freezers questionable for meat storage. Offing 8 quail for a meal is an entirely different matter and no leftovers.
- High reproductive rate.Survival strategies of animals on this planet have a fairly predictive feature — the bigger the animal the fewer breeding cycles. The bigger the animal the fewer predators that can make it lunch which lessens the need for high rates in reproduction. For us we want to select stock that has a high production rate.Consider. One could buy a calf house and feed it and 14 months later yield a 1000# of meat. Or I could buy a trio of rabbits and in the same period yield an equivalent amount of meat. The rabbit is a high breeding rate creature which can be leveraged by the breeder.
- Low Housing Requirements. It is preferable that the survivalist not have to expend a great deal of money for housing the stock. Cattle, pigs, goats merely require penning. Quail on the other hand require complete housing as they cannot be free ranged. Its just a matter of return on your efforts for the dollars expended.
- Self tending. Part of the reason to have one’s own stock is to at least comparatively speaking match costs with what is in the supermarket. You will never reach that goal with stock that require constant veterinary care and human intervention to survive. Certain breeds are better equipped for a ad hoc lifestyle than others even in the same genera of animal.
- Noise. For the suburban survivalist being able to be on good behavior with the neighbors is essential. Better maybe to have ducks rather than chickens with a living 4am alarm clock. Or goats known to be people friendly.
- Earn their keep.Essentially is the stock capable of providing an output capable of offsetting the feed bill? Chickens for example provide eggs that are saleable. Fresh/organic are at a premium if you can meet the labeling requirements. That output can be used to offset the feed cost and still provide the family with eggs and meat for their table.Of vital importance, whatever is to be offered does not end up in bureaucratic red tape. Egg sales are easy even according USDA rules for small producers. But selling the processed bird is a different matter entirely and must be done so at a federally inspected facility.
- Not aggressive. Self evident for the most part. But one should be keen to keep in mind that you the owner are responsible for the critter. It would do no good to keep stock that injure yourself or visitors.
Keeping these factors in mind, lets leap into our first dish. —
- High reproductive rate.
- Provides meat, fur, wool (angora).
- Meat is high protein low fat.
- Can be pastured in movable pens. Many house the herd in garages.
- Can be fed a natural diet if one has access to the proper plant matter.
- Manure is garden ready requiring no ageing to prevent root burn.
- High housing requirements. Need cages to house the stock and grow out. Cost is moderate for cages but must be factored in.
- High predation rate if not housed properly.
- Disease though not a big factor can wipe out an entire herd if left unchecked.
- Reproduction though high, is brought to a standstill as bucks become sterile at high temperatures. (>85F)
- Meat product is not widely consumed as compared to chicken. Offering stock for sale would require connections to an approved processor. (Though it should be noted that rabbit goes for about $5/# and up in the stores that do offer it.)
- Odor control can be a factor if housing in say the garage. Can be mitigated.
Its of interest that during WWII rabbit husbandry was encouraged as a means to extend family food reserves. Rabbit was also the substitute for high end fur during the 30’s. There is even a breed that is raised for that purpose still.
A family of 4 could provide most of their dietary requirements with just 5 animals (1 male, 4 females) under the right environmental conditions. The meat is extremely lean. Fact it is so low in fat that a sole diet of rabbit is not advised but be part of a varied meat regimen.
The most popular breeds are White New Zealand and California. These two breeds are the most popular of processors as the hair is easily detected during the processing. Preferred market weight is between 4.5-5.5# (eg a fryer) though breeding stock in either specie can reach 8-10# (eg a stewer). Live weight pricing varies with regional demand.
Feeding requirements are average. Approximately 3-4% of body weight per animal. Goes without saying that rabbits are herbivores. Most rabbit growers feed stock a prepared pellet feed. Rabbits will eat natural foods if trained to it. Hay with at least a 12% protein component can be used.
Disease of rabbit are few. The most serious being Pasteurella a bacterial infection. Untended it can infect the entire herd. Affected animals should be isolated and if treatment is contrary, culled. Most of the other problems are related to injuries — sore hocks, teeth etc.
Overall, after chickens the suburban survivalist should consider rabbit a top choice as a food source.