Spring is here! Hooray! In the animal kingdom, that means it is time to start having babies! The wild birds are busy building nests. Our hens are starting to go broody and they want to sit on eggs. Our goat is about to give birth to her kids any day! Spring is a very exciting time. Over the spring and summer on our homestead, we ramp up raising animals to replenish our freezers and our canning shelves. Raising our own meat is one of the most important aspects of our homesteading goals. But these days, raising your own animals to eat has become something of the past.
America's meat comes from the special room in the back of the grocery store, am I right? We pretend that it didn't have a face. It didn't have feelings. It was never living and breathing. We've become separated from the process and most of us feel better about eating meat because of it.
However, there is a new movement of people who want to take control of their lives and the food they eat. They garden. They have chickens for eggs and goats for milk. They can their tomatoes and make homemade meals. But, raising animals to kill them and eat them? Wait a minute....that's kinda weird.
The Self-Sufficient Homestead
These days, there are various degrees of homesteading. If you are growing a garden to provide food for your family, you are homesteading. If you are in a big city and have chickens, goats, and grow some of your food, you are an urban homesteader. Regardless of property size, garden size, or number of animals, you can call yourself a homesteader. We started very small and over the course of 8 or 9 years have moved to larger homesteads and have done more and more for ourselves.
What we are talking about, specifically, in this article is the “self-sufficient” homestead where the end goal is to grow, raise, and provide the very most you possible can for your family from your homestead. Does this require 300+ acres? Absolutely not. You can produce all the food you need on a quarter acre.
But what is required to be self-sufficient? A big part of it is raising and processing your own meat. That's what we are talking about today.
Can you be a Self-Sufficient Homesteader without Butchering your Animals?
In our opinion, no. Our goal of becoming self-sufficient (or self-reliant, or self-sustaining) is so that our family and our land can provide what our family needs without relying on the grocery store or other people to survive. We are meat eaters and feel that animal protein is nutritious and necessary to live a healthy life. In order to be self-reliant, we must raise and process our own meat.
Speaking from Experience
While we may be new to the Missouri Ozarks, and new to YouTube, and social media, we are not new to homesteading and we are not new to providing meat for our family. Prior to moving to the Missouri Ozarks, we had a successful urban homestead in the Phoenix area for 6 years where we raised 100% of our family's meat. We raised chickens, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, goats, and pigs for meat. We did buy grass-fed beef from a local rancher in Arizona, but replaced the beef in our diet to our own goat meat. We butchered all of our own animals, with the exception of pigs.
“We would love to, but....”
Throughout our journey toward self-reliance, we've spoken with many people who admire our lifestyle and would love to be self-sufficient but had one reason or another why they couldn't provide meat for their family. Some people said they couldn't butcher an animal that they raised, cared for and developed a relationship with. And, they are so cute! We completely understand the bond between humans and animals, and we agree that it is the hardest thing to overcome when raising meat for your family. But, in our opinion, we would much rather know with absolute certainty that the animals who sacrifice their lives for our family have been treated well, fed well, and their lives are ended very carefully, respectfully and humanely. This is far different from the food industry.
If you are not aware of how animals are treated and inhumanely butchered to become grocery store meat, there are many videos online that can show you. A few documentaries that were game changers for us were American Meat, Food, Inc. and Farmageddon. We highly recommend that you check them out. Also, Joel Salatin's book Pastured Poultry Profit$ describes the gruesome and dirty poultry processing industry and the cruel treatment chickens receive in those slaughterhouses.
Several other people we have spoken to who admire our lifestyle have shared that their neighborhood or city has specific rules that govern what animals can be raised on their property. Therefore, they cannot provide meat for their family. We've been there! In the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Arizona, most neighborhoods are governed by a Home Owners Association (HOA) that says no chickens, no ducks, no this, no that. Most HOAs are even more strict that the cities themselves! Our response to that is....follow the rules. We are a bunch of rule followers in our family. I worked in Human Resources for 17 years before homesteading full-time...of course we are rule followers! However, look for the loop holes.
Most HOAs do not prohibit raising rabbits on your property because they are considered common household pets. Quail are another small animal that are generally not prohibited by HOAs and that many people raise in their backyards. Rabbits were the very first animal we raised for meat and we started in a small residential property with an HOA. Those of you who have a small yard or who live with the restrictions of an HOA, we encourage you to raise rabbit meat for your family. Start taking control of your family's meals. Learn some amazing facts about raising rabbits for meat in our Rabbits for Meat article.
Learning and Trying
So, you are interested in providing meat for your family but you don't know if you are capable of butchering a live animal and you have no idea what you are doing. What should you do?
Before you sell everything to buy a homestead in the country with the intention of living off the land and providing for yourself, we encourage you to learn about your limitations and learn the skills you will need to be successful.
Introduce yourself to the butchering process by watching online videos. There is a great video on chicken processing by Joel Salatin video: Joel Salatin Processing Chickens- Mother Earth News Fair. Read books such as Pastured Poultry Profit$ and Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering) or online articles from reputable sources like Mother Earth News. Look for classes in your area or a mentor. Some local Community Colleges offer courses to the community about butchering. Search for homesteaders or backyard farmers in your area and reach out to those who process their own meat and ask to help. If you are uneasy with the process but really want to learn, start helping with the parts that aren't so difficult at first. Gradually start doing the steps that are more and more emotionally difficult. When you are ready to raise your own meat animals, start with a few small animals like rabbits or quail. As you become more confident, increase the number of animals or try a larger animal.
A New Appreciation for Meat
One of the things we have discovered over time is that as we raise our own meat and we process it, our view about meat in general changes. When I serve a meal at home using a chicken we have raised, we know the living conditions, we know what food it has eaten, we know the kind of processing it has gone through and that it is a humane processing. By raising the animals, we develop a relationship with them which makes us appreciate their sacrifice. It has changed our entire view of meat. When we go out to a restaurant, we end up with an uneasy feeling not knowing where the meat came from. Even buying meat from the grocery store, which we do very rarely (maybe some sandwich meat or turkey hot dogs) gives us an uneasy feeling. When I see the package I wonder..."Um, is this going to be safe to eat? I know nothing about this animal!"
Taking control over that part of your life is eye-opening and very rewarding. You gain a unique appreciation for animals, for the food on your plate, and you gain the ability to provide for your family without relying on a grocery store. You gain independence and freedom in that area of your life. And, unlike most Americans, you know that the animal who sacrificed its life for you and your family...it did have a face. It did have feelings. It lived and breathed and probably had a name. And also unlike most Americans, you feel better about eating meat because of it.
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