by Sherry Willis
America has long been the land of “bigger is better”. We love wide open spaces, “Super-Size” meals, big SUV’s, and King sized beds. It is easy to think that this philosophy applies to everything, but it really only works when there are plenty of resources available, which is generally not the case in any crisis situation. Here are some reasons that I think keeping small livestock makes a lot of sense…. In good times as well as bad.
- The smaller the livestock the better feed conversion, which is the amount of feed it takes to make one pound of animal. This gives us a good comparison to determine efficiency. For instance, the feed conversion for a chicken or rabbit is two pounds of feed for every one pound of animal while the feed conversion of cattle is 6 pounds of feed for one pound of animal. This means small livestock simply eats less… a huge advantage if you are hand harvesting feed.
- They are less expensive to purchase and produce much more per pound of animal. A proven, pedigreed meat rabbit doe can cost as much as $60, but your run of the mill breeding stock is going to run you about $20. That 10 pound doe can produce over 100 pounds of meat in a year. A proven beef cow is going to cost at least $1800 and you won’t see any steak from her for almost two years. If you compare pound for pound production, a 1000 pounds of rabbit can produce 10,000 pounds of live animal weight a year, while that cow will produce at most 1800 pounds of animal….and she ate three times as much feed to produce it.
- You can keep more of them in the same space. Three quality milking goats can produce as much as a milk cow while eating less feed. But the real advantage here is you don’t have all your “eggs in one basket”. If something should happen to you milk cow, you have to start all over again. If something should happen to one of your goats… you still have two more.
- The smaller the livestock, the more babies they have and the faster they reach reproduction age. Rabbits can have a litter of 6 to 10 kits every three months. These kits can be bred to produce their own offspring in 6-8 months. Goats generally have at least twins, but 3 or 4 is not rare, with a gestation period of 5 months. You can breed your goats at 9-12 months old. A cow usually has a single calf and it takes her 9 months to make it. Heifers are generally bred at 16-18 months old.
- Small livestock provides less at a time, but more overall. This allows you to preserve your meat “on the hoof”. You can harvest animals as you need them rather than ending up with 6-700 pounds of meat all at once. This is a MAJOR consideration when you are in a situation with no electricity.
- You can contain and protect your small livestock much more easily. The smallest livestock can live in cages in your home if need be. Even goats could be kept in the spare bedroom at night. While I doubt that there will ever be a very long period of rampant lawlessness, having animals you can easily hide and protect is a definite boon during any kind of crisis.
- Killing and processing small livestock is much, much easier. I lived on a ranch growing up, and we butchered our own beef. It was a huge undertaking, requiring a gun to shoot the animal and a tractor to move it afterwards. Even after the animal was skinned, gutted, and cut into quarters, it was hard to handle. A large saw and grinder were necessary for final processing and a huge freezer for preservation. In contrast, a rabbit just takes minutes to process and you can eat it in one meal so it requires no preservation. Even a goat can be done in an hour or so with no heavy equipment required.
As Americans, we have so far been fortunate and thus are accustomed to having lots of readily accessible resources available to us. While there have been localized disasters, none of us living today have dealt with a major universal crisis. Yet we live in precarious times, with a fragile industrial food system, a shaky financial landscape, a highly inefficient infrastructure dependent on the use of fuel, and dwindling resources. Our choices need to reflect our awareness of this. There is a reason that people in third world countries do not keep large livestock for their own use. They simply can’t afford anything that isn’t efficient.