You are gardening, learning to preserve food, learning to cook from scratch and make your own delicious food but you want to take it up a level. The problem is you live in a neighborhood, or maybe you rent your home. In many cases you still may be able to raise animals on a small scale.
Of course, you will need to start with step one which is making sure you can legally raise homestead type animals on the property. The rules and laws vary by area, neighborhood, town and county, so be sure to check with your city manager’s office before starting. If you get the green light to go ahead, there are three animals that are fairly easy to raise in a neighborhood setting. Raising your own protein definitely ups your self reliance rating! Where to begin? Let me tell you about my top three animals to raise for self reliant homes.
Rabbits, chickens and honeybees are my top three animals to raise. Honeybees being the ones that do not really provide protein, but do provide healthy, healing honey. Rabbits and chickens grow quickly, provide your family with meat in only a few months time. In the case of chickens, primarily meat breeds, the time is even shorter.
Even a small backyard can accommodate a small batch of meat chickens. These breeds include Freedom Rangers, Red Rangers, Cornish Cross, among other breeds. These broiler breeds grow very quickly and put on meat fast. While they still require the same care as egg laying breeds, they normally reach market weight around 8 to 10 weeks of age. Chickens are often raised in a tractor style coop, that they can be easily moved around the yard. This allows the chickens to eat grass and bugs, while keeping your yard somewhat safe from over grazing.
There are some breeds of chicken that can be kept for egg production and later butchered for the table. Some of these dual purpose birds are Brahmas, Cochins, White Rock, Wyandottes, Australorps, and Orpingtons. Many people raise the dual purpose breeds, use them for egg production for a year or two, and then butcher for the family dinner. Some may wonder how this could be done, but the reality is, this is how our recent ancestors lived for a long time. Large, fully stocked grocery stores are a modern convenience. Only a couple of generations ago, families raised their own chickens for eggs and meat
No matter what you plan to do with your chickens, eggs and meat are available from the birds. In addition, the shavings from the coop can be saved on the compost heap and used in the future as a powerful fertilizer for the gardens. Using the proper ratios for composting and letting the chicken manure rest for about a year will give you a dark rich compost for the gardens.
Rabbits are an excellent source of protein. Meat rabbits can also become a source of income for the small landowner. Young rabbits are ready for butchering in only a few months. Similar to meat chickens in many ways, rabbits are an efficient animal to raise. They literally turn grass into meat!
You can house rabbits in tractors similar to those used for chickens, as long as measures are taken to keep both rabbits and chickens safe from predators. Some people choose to use metal cages or pens for their rabbits. When using a wire floor, be sure to give the rabbits some flat surface to rest on. Rabbits kept on wire flooring with nowhere to rest often develop foot injuries.
The healthiest options, in my opinion, are those habitats most like what rabbits would choose in the wild. Allowing some space to dig and burrow, shade, soft bedding and plenty of fresh green grass and hay, pellet ration and clean water will allow your rabbits to thrive. Giving the rabbits a secure shelter to stay in overnight will keep them safe from predators.
The litter and manure from rabbit hutches does not need to cool down before being used on the garden. It is considered a cool manure and can be placed directly in garden beds.
Cooking rabbit meat is much like cooking chicken. It can be roasted, fried or boiled. Many people dress out the rabbit as a roast and cook it with vegetables and herbs. Even if you don’t want to raise meat rabbits all the time, keeping a breeding pair, separated when you don’t want kits, means you are only a few months away from raising your own source of protein. And rabbits eat a lot less than a cow! Raising a beef cow takes at least a year and a half and lots of grass or hay. Rabbits might be the better choice for a self reliant homestead.
The last few years have seen a surge of interest in honey bees. While the end result is different, because we don’t end up eating the bees themselves, honey bees do provide an excellent source of nutrition. Honey never goes bad either. Sweetening your food with honey is a healthier alternative than refined sugar and many people who cannot eat sugar can tolerate honey.
In an emergency situation where you may need to be self reliant for much of your dietary needs, having your own source of honey in the backyard will keep your food tasty and add valuable nutrition as well. Fat free and cholesterol free, honey also contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. And honey contains some amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins
The first decision to make before ordering your bees is which type of hive do you want in your yard. The two main types are Top Bar and Langstroth. The Langstroth hives are boxes called supers, and can be stacked a few high, with the appropriate spacers between the supers. The Top Bar hive looks more like a long basin on legs. It is fairly expensive to start a hive in your yard, but the supplies and equipment can be purchased ahead of time and kept until all is ready to bring the bees home. Since there is an investment involved, it is even more important to research beforehand.
In many parts of the country there are optimal times for starting a hive. Connecting with a local beekeeping group is a great way to get information and assistance right there in your community. Out of the three suggestions listed here, honey bees take the least amount of day to day work or upkeep. We check our hive every day, looking for potential problems but this is done from afar.
Feeding sugar water, at the end of the growing season, ensures that the bees will make plenty of honey for the colony to survive the winter. During our first year as beekeepers we opted to not harvest any honey, but leave it so that the hive would have plenty to survive the coming winter. We will be able to harvest early in the spring, if everything goes well.
Adding small livestock and honeybees to your home will greatly improve your self reliant status. There is so much information available to help you get a good start. Whenever possible take a class, adopt a mentor and be ready before you bring home the first inhabitants for your self reliant homestead.