How to decide which meat animal is best for your farm
Raising a meat animal as part of your farming experience just plain makes sense, but where do you begin? There are many meat animals from which one can choose, each of which has their own set of pros and cons. Depending on your commitment level when it comes to time and money invested as well as feeding needs and upkeep, you may find that some meat animals are more suited to you than others. Here’s a look at some meat animals and what they have to offer as well as the drawbacks associated with them.
The cow is the animal we probably see most commonly associated with farming. They are able to offer both milk and meat depending on your breed selection and when acclimated to people, can be fairly easy to handle. That’s not to say you won’t have a few bad apples in your bunch, but a good cattle dog or ranch horse can go a long way towards keeping them in line. That same dog may be useful in terms of deterring predators, but most cows are large enough to deter the average farm predator. When it comes to administering medical care, some additional human hands may be required due to their size and ability to kick powerfully. Cows can survive quite easily on grass with hay supplementation as needed but they will not hesitate to wander out of your fences, or through them, if their appetites are not sated. If you opt to include bulls in your operation, they can be quite dangerous and more difficult to contain.
Sheep are animals that can also serve multiple purposes in that they provide meat, wool, and sometimes even milk depending on breed selection although sheep milk is not quite as plentiful as that from other farm animals. It is pretty easy to maintain a sheep herd provided grass is plentiful and fences are secure, but beyond that they actually require little maintenance barring inspection for illness or injury. If you choose a hair breed, however, be prepared to shear as part of their upkeep. Protection from predation is necessary with sheep, so a livestock guardian dog or sheep dog is a valuable asset not just for protection but also herd management in terms of moving sheep and capturing them when needed.
Gaining in popularity on farms large and small is the goat. Many goat breeds are versatile enough to serve both meat and dairy purposes in smaller, easier to handle packages. Goats thrive on grass and hay, requiring very little grain supplementation, and can be kept on a small acreage. It can be tough to contain goats, however, as they’ve proven to be escape artists, so good fencing is a must. Predation can be a problem as well, so having a secure shelter for overnight is useful. They also require a good bit of parasite management and other special cares in order to keep them in optimal health, producing as you wish.
Rabbits are another meat animal that is becoming more sought after on the farm. Though they are easy prey for predators, they breed quickly and easily and make decent mothers. They do need to be housed in a clean area where they will not get wet or cold and fed a diet of grass, hay, and/or grain. Rabbits that are handled routinely tend to remain pretty tame, but those that are not used to human contact can be tough to acclimate to being handled. Each rabbit you harvest will give you some nice, lean meat, but not much of it at a time due to their small size.
The bottom line when choosing what meat animal is best for your farm is that you have to select one that works for you. This means something that can thrive on the space you have to offer as well as that you are comfortable dealing with on a daily basis. Although traditional farming embraces the cow, maybe a smaller, more manageable animal is the way to go for you. If so, take a look at animals such as sheep, goats, and even rabbits. You may find that they are just what you need, or it could be that the cow is the one. Regardless of your meat animal choice, being able to farm raise your own meat is a worthwhile endeavor that it’s hard not to embrace.