Whether you are prepping for the inevitable SHTF event, or simply looking for a way to become more self sufficient, having a reliable source of meat animals in your backyard is an achievable goal.
You may think you need a lot of land to raise your own meat animals, but I am here to tell you that simply is not true.
How Much Land Do I Need to Raise Backyard Meat Animals?
Actually, depending on your choice of animal, you can start raising your own meat with no yard at all! I know of several people that raise fish, rabbits and or quail in their basement.
A small backyard can house all sorts of small meat animals. If your yard is larger (1/4 acre or more) you can look at the bigger options including goats and pigs.
Why Would You Keep Backyard Meat Animals?
Backyard Meat Animals are More Ethical
Most meat that we eat from the store is grown in tight, crowded conditions. Chickens never see sunlight and they are processed between 6 and 10 weeks of age.
The commercial treatment of other meat animals isn’t much better.
Backyard Meat Tastes Better
Happy home raised meat with low stress processing days is the kindest choice!
Adrenaline and testosterone levels rise during stressful times. This hangs around in the meat, which affects the taste and the texture. Therefore no long, cramped, scary trips in a truck to the processing plant makes the meat taste better, and makes it more tender.
Backyard Meat Animals are Cheaper
Even when you factor in buying in hay and grain, for the quality of meat you are getting, it is a great price. If you can breed your own meat animals, all the better!
The top 5 backyard meat animals listed in this article can all be bred at home. You can sell some of the young to cover the feed costs of the others.
…or better yet, grow or forage your own feed!
(I have listed the options in order of their ability to convert their feed to meat.)
Backyard Meat is Healthier
Modern farming is ALL about the bottom line. If they can’t make money, they can’t live — so of course they are going to take the cheapest and easiest route possible because time is money.
Usually this means chemicals — strong chemicals — and not just when there is a problem!
It is easier to prevent a problem from occurring than to detect and treat the individual cases. This is how we get animals fed constant streams of antibiotics and pesticides.
I get it, I really do. They are just trying to make ends meet like the rest of us. But it is not how meat needs to be raised!
Backyard Meat is YOURS
In the event that you cannot rely on your local grocery store anymore, you have your own protein source at home. It doesn’t have to be a war, or a crazy zombie apocalypse.
We live in little old New Zealand that has been hit by some devastating earthquakes in the last few years, things like that you cannot see coming.
But you can be prepared!
Having a breeding trio of one or more of these meat animals may be literally life saving for you and your family one day. Back in the times of the great depression, people didn’t struggle as much as we would today. They all already knew how to garden and all raised hens and rabbits already.
They were ready for anything!
Top 5 Meat Animals for your Backyard:
#1 – Fish
As backyard meat producers, fish have the best feed to meat conversion ratio (1.7lb of feed per 1lb of fish).
You can raise tilapia, trout or several other types of fish in a large tank, or a water barrel.
Ease of Care
Fish can be used to run an aquaponics system which improves their feed to your food conversion rate significantly! You will need some quite large tanks, or old bathtubs — for every 1 pound of fish you need 1-2 gallons of water, or 1 adult tilapia for each 4-5 gallons of water.
The bonus to an aquaponics system is that you also get the output of organic vegetables as well, all within a self sustaining system!
The fish breed without input and you simply harvest them when they are the size that you would like. This usually takes around 12 months to get from eggs to harvesting size.
Most information I have read suggests you feed an aquaculture pellet feed, but you can also look at growing your own alternate feeds like worms (another good reason to get into vermicomposting), maggots, or black soldier fly larvae.
Some breeds of fish will reproduce happily in your tanks — like tilapia. Others you will need to source from a fish supplier.
One year from setup you should be regularly harvesting your adult fish, and from one month from set up you will be getting vegetables.
A head of lettuce takes 8 weeks in a garden to mature but only 4 weeks in an aquaponics system.
#2 – Chickens
Chickens are the gateway drug to owning homesteading animals. You have been warned!
Their little personalities, their soft ‘brrrrawk’ as they watch you weeding the garden. They lay us delicious eggs and make ferocious but caring mothers.
As the most consumed meat in most western countries, they are also very easy and economical to raise at home. Commercial chickens have the second best feed to meat conversion ratio (2.4lb of feed per 1lb of Chicken).
You can buy one day old chicks of the commercial meat breeds, and they’ll grow faster than you’d think! In fact, they’re usually ready for harvest at 8-12 weeks!
I wouldn’t let them grow any longer than that — they outgrow the strength of their own legs and they fracture them just by walking on them.
Commercial Breed Alternatives
My recommended alternative is to get your hands on a few heritage multipurpose breeds. The commercial meaties will never lay you an egg but these ladies will.
Try a breed like the Light Sussex or Orpington. They’re great layers, giving around 300 eggs per year. If you can keep or borrow a rooster intermittently, or get yourself some fertile eggs when you have a chicken go broody, they also make great mamas!
You can keep some pullets (girls) to replace your layers and keep the young males and spare pullets for the pot.
Process them at around 4-6 months of age for best size and tenderness.
Ease of Care
Chickens need a coop and a run of some shape or form. You need to allow about 4 square feet per bird of inside space, with 1 foot each of perch space for sleeping. Give them 1-2 nesting boxes per 6 birds just before 20 weeks of age.
Chickens cannot fly as such, but they can manage to get over fences, so a 6 ft fence would be a good idea to keep them in and predators out. The other option is to put a roof over the whole run. If you do add a roof, the run only needs to be about 2 ft high.
Chickens eat around 4oz of mash/grain each, twice per day. You can extend how much you get out of a bag of feed by fermenting their grain, growing fodder from it or sprouting it. You can also feed chickens solely on compost, or supplement them with greens, grass, and bugs.
From a good line of Light Sussex or Orpingtons you can expect at least 300 eggs per year. If they are allowed to breed they will naturally raise 2 clutches of 8-14 chicks. At 4-6 months of age you should get a 4-5 lb dressed bird.
My math says that makes up to 64-140 lb of meat per mama bird per year!
#3 – Rabbits
Rabbits are my favorite option for backyard meat production!
They breed like… well… rabbits! A breeding trio (one buck and two does) can produce enough rabbit meat to feed a family of 4 quite easily!
With a very similar feed to meat conversion to chickens (3lb of feed per 1lb of rabbit), I would choose rabbits — they are quiet, are classed as pets (not livestock), and they are WAY easier to process — NO plucking!
I prefer to grow my rabbits in a colony in a shed outside, but you can cage raise them if you prefer. Some folks have even been known to cage raise rabbits in apartments!
Ease of Care
You can use a pellet feed for your rabbits for predictable growth and simplicity. However, if you’re all about self-reliance (and why wouldn’t you be?), you can slowly introduce them to whole grains and fresh foods.
Fodder makes a great high protein feed. Free access to timothy hay is also a good idea as they need the long-strand fibers to avoid bloat.
Rabbits are low maintenance and low cost to feed.
A good line of rabbits will reach slaughter weight (5lb) at 10-12 weeks. After 12 weeks their feed to meat conversion starts to drop and slowly their met will become tougher. A doe will comfortably put out 4-7 litters per year with an average of 7-8 kits per doe.
Cost to meat output on pellet food runs at about $2/lb of meat. Less if you have free or cheap feed.
#4 – Quail
Quail meat is a sweet, white game meat. Their eggs are similar in taste to free-range chicken eggs, but smaller.
While they are smaller than chickens in both size and egg size, they are very quick to breed and make good mothers. The Coturnix quail is the breed I would recommend for this situation.
Ease of Care
Small birds eat very little. 10 Coturnix eat about 1/2 a quart per day. They can live happily in a small rabbit hutch or repurposed chicken coop. You can even keep them inside.
Coturnix quail lay an egg a day once they reach 8 weeks. You can hatch a hundred, keep the 25 hens and 8 males, and eat the rest. Then you will be able to continually keep hatching 175 from a weeks worth of eggs, or you can eat them. From the first batch, you will have around 70 quail for the freezer. Because it does take about 2-3 quail to feed an adult, these are further down the list of options.
#5 – Pigs
When it comes to eating, pigs are real hogs! They eat A LOT. But they will eat almost anything that is food scraps out of the kitchen and vegetable garden.
Some breeds, like the Kunekune, are even bred to be raised on pasture.
Pigs are very efficient food to meat converters. You may be able to find free feed sources — try local cafes and schools.
Different areas have different zoning rules, so as a result you will have to check in your specific area. Pigs only need around 60 square feet each up to 6 months old. A breeding sow will need 100 square feet minimum.
Commercial white pigs are the fastest to grow to weight, but their meat is fairly bland. Heritage breeds are slower to grow, but have a lot more flavor to them.
Ease of Care
Their housing requirements are simple — a wooden pen and somewhere they can hide from the sun, wind and rain. A concrete floor or a very deep deep-litter system is ideal for a small space. They need fed twice a day.
A domestic pig averages around 10-12 piglets per litter and can be bred 2-3 times per year. A piglet should reach slaughter weight at 4-6 months for porkers (120lb) and 8-10 months for baconers (160-200lb). If you breed and raise your own piglets, selling the rest of the litter, I expect you could get pork for little to no cost.
Did I miss any meat animals for the backyard?
So there you go, the 5 top meat animals that you can raise in your backyard. I am a firm believer in being prepared for anything. Nothing says “I am prepared” more than having a self sufficient meat supply in your own yard.