Updated: Feb 7, 2020
We are able to be sustainable on our farm with meat. Because we concentrate on larger animals for our meat, sustainability is possible. Because we can not let the chickens free range, we need feed from off the farm. Technically, our cows and sheep are not sustainable as well in that we order minerals from https://www.reedyforkfarm.com. We love dealing with this farm! But if we had to we could do without the minerals.
Storing these animals is best done on the hoof instead of in the freezer, but because our pasture will not always handle that many animals here is what we do.
We butcher pigs in the winter. Yes, we do it ourself. Any that we sell, however, the customer must pick up from the professional butcher. We process our own pork. We can our sausage from our ground pork. We make the hams, bacon, and middling shelf stable by salting and smoking like our ancestors did years ago. Because there are 17 in our family, we need a lot of pigs. We need more than you think we would. We have eaten almost five pigs this past year. We do still have 4 large salted country hams hanging in our outdoor kitchen, but we have consumed most of the bacon and sausage. It is not that we are huge eaters, but it takes more than you think it does to feed 17. For us, it takes at least 34 pieces of bacon for breakfast. We can our sausage rather than freezing it to save room in our freezer.
Cows. You get a lot of meat, but when you need at least 3 pounds of ground beef per meal, you need a lot more than you think. Beef is what goes in our freezer. We really do not like canned ground beef except in the form of chili and taco meat. We have two large freezers and one of them is solar. The solar solar one runs on DC from our solar panels so is virtually free to run and will keep for days in the event it rains a lot or we lose power for some other reason. We do can the roasts, beef stew, dog food, broth, etc. Steaks are a treat and we have some in our freezer but we get more bang for the buck with ground beef for flavoring with casseroles and soups. How many cows for us in a year? It depends on the size of the cow, of course, but usually it takes two.
Lamb. We raise Khatadan hair sheep. Unlike wool sheep, it makes the most delicious meat! It obviously takes more sheep than cows to feed our family. The sheep is much smaller. We love ground lamb and lamb chops. We make gyro meat and lamb burgers and more. To live off lamb for a year, however, you need a lot of animals for our size family. They are easier to butcher, than the larger animals and can more easily be stored on the hoof. How many? We have never had enough to last for a year. Combined with other meats, two will last us for about two months. Lambs cost us almost nothing to raise except minerals. They eat grass and occasional hay.
Chicken. This is where it becomes more difficult to be sustainable. If there were only four of us, chickens would be fantastic. However, with so many of us, we need more than one chicken for a meal. We raise meat birds almost every year, but 200 birds will not feed us for the year. We have raised turkeys in the past, but they eat a LOT of feed. Meat birds need off site feed. This is an expense for us that we question regularly. We do have them in tractors on pasture and that saves some on feed. Chicken we can and do not freeze unless it is for holding purposes until we can get them canned. Again, it is freezer space and the ability to be sustainable for a year that makes us question chickens. The chicken issue is that you need meat birds to have enough meat. We have eaten our laying hens, but there is not near as much meat on them. Heritage breed birds are smaller and you need even more to have enough meat.
What do we do about having enough poultry to eat? Before and after thanksgiving sales on whole turkey are amazingly cheap. I cannot possibly raise turkey or chickens that cheaply. I would rather raise my own, but cost wise it does not make sense. This past year we bought 70 plus turkeys around Thanksgiving. We smoked them in our smoke house and canned them. The turkeys, plus the Cornish X chickens we raised, should feed us for a year. It is two weeks of intense work with all hands on deck, but we are finished for the year. Have we actually raised enough poultry on the farm for our family without buying turkeys? Yes, we have, but there were fewer of us and we got our chicks for free those two years.
Bottom line for our family of 17, we would need at least six large pigs, two cows, 20 sheep, and 75 turkeys to be sustainable for a year. If we rationed the meat and only ate meat, say twice a week, the count would be lower.
But you would be surprised at how much you still consume.
Is this really what we do every year? Except the lamb, yes. We are working on raising enough lamb. In the meantime, we are raising more pigs and buying more turkey.