I have strived for the last 10 years to become more and more self sufficient. This was not the result of any event or premonition. I had no inkling there was a prepper movement or survival community. It was just something in my DNA. I wanted the security and peace of knowing I was prepared. I wanted to take care of my family if something were to happen that would interrupt our modern existence. I was very interested in how people existed on small homesteads in the 30’s and 40’s. This led to my interest in raising and eating livestock on my small piece of property.
If our modern infrastructure were to become disrupted for 1-2 weeks our supply of animal protein would disappear. This means all canned tuna, ham, salmon, spam, beef stew, chili, roast beef w/ gravy, chicken, and turkey would be used up very quickly. The fish, chicken, and beef in our freezers would go first, then the canned meat products, and finally our long term stores. Our menus would change immediately. The ability to raise your own meat supply would be vital. The time to learn how to raise your own food is before you have to. The learning curve is steep and unforgiving.
The gestation period of the animal considered would be important. The number of births and days to maturity also. I would want an animal that can produce the most offspring reliably. It would help if it could accomplish this with little assistance. Can the animal feed itself? Does it compete for resources with you? What type of work load does it generate for you?
Ideally, I would look for the highest gain with the least input. Can it be butchered easily at home? Is the amount of meat at butchering a quantity that can be preserved in one day? Preserving meat without refrigeration would mean a race against time on butchering day. How much land and fence is needed. Are you going to be able to manage its health yourself? These are all questions that I hope to answer below.
The animal I would promote for consideration is the modern sheep. Sheep are the oldest domesticated animal used for food. They have been raised by man for 7-9000 years. I have raised the Katadhin/Dorper breed for many years. I know that a lot of people don’t think they like sheep\lamb. Usually this is from a bad experience eating badly prepared lamb. Some can’t reconcile the image of eating a small adorable baby lamb. Some think it is to gamey. Let me explain.
The Lamb you buy at the grocer is by no means a benchmark for lamb palatability. They are usually from wool breeds of sheep which have a stronger taste. The katadhin\dorpers that I raise are hair sheep; they do not grow the thick wool coat that is so strongly associated with sheep. They in general are much milder tasting than wool breeds. Also the idea that you are eating a baby lamb is false. The sheep that you eat are butchered at 6-12 months. This is the age which they would begin to breed and weigh from 50 to 80 lbs.
One of the attributes I find desirable in the hair sheep I raise is of course the lack of wool. This means the sheep devote their nutritional intake to growing meat and making more sheep. No large woolen coat to trim. Their hair coat gets thicker in the winter and is shed in the spring. This means less work for you, less parasites making a home out of the wool, and more heat resistance.
These sheep will mature to around 125 lbs for a ewe and up to 200 lbs for a ram. The gestation period for sheep is an average of 150 days (5-months). This means you can have 3 lamb crops every 24 months. These sheep have the ability to breed and lamb year round. While not all ewes in a flock will breed back as quickly as others I consistently have ewes that do with zero breeding management from me. This means a mature ewe can put a lot of meat walking around in 2 years.
I can count on mostly twins out of 1 year old ewes, younger ewes will throw out single lambs, and I have triplets every year. This means lambs of all ages in your pasture year round. My small flock of 20 ewes lambed in January. I culled and sold off all but the best 14 ewes in august. Three rams went to the butcher and in the freezer. Last week (8\20) I had a ewe drop a single lamb. It looks like a few more will lamb soon. These few lambs will mature in six months and either be retained for breeding, sold or butchered.
Now the great thing about having a flock of sheep is the MEAT. Walking, baa-ing Meat. If we enter into a SHTF situation these animals are going to be life-savers. A self-renewing resource of hi-protein and hi-energy food. A flock of 1 ram and 3 mature ewes could generate between 0-6 lambs every 8- 12 months. (I include 0 because nothing is for sure, animals die, predators succeed, or you have a bad set of lambs or mother ewes) Let’s say we have a lambing success of 150%.
That means you add 4.5 more animals to your flock each year. You may save the best ewe to raise. This still leaves you with 3 or more sheep that can be added to your food supply. They will be happily grazing (gaining valuable size) until you need them. These animals will be easier to manage at butchering time weighing between 50 to 100 lbs and yielding 20 to 50 lbs of high quality meat. They could be staggered every 3 or four months to stretch out your food supply.
If you were in a teowawki situation you could smoke, can, salt cure, or jerky the meat. (You have been stockpiling non-iodized salt haven’t you?) In a grid down event meat will disappear quickly. These animals will become very valuable. They may have to be locked up at night and only grazed under supervision or guard. As a self-perpetuating food supply these animals can be a very important part of your long-term food plan.
A flock of 1 ram and 3 ewes could be raised on an acre and a half with good grass. It would work best to divide it into 3 equal 1\2 acre parcels and move the sheep every 2-3 weeks as the grass gets low. In the heart of winter you may have to bring in some hay. These sheep are parasite resistant. Keep the sheep moving from paddock to paddock to beat the parasite load that builds up when they stay to long in one place. Stockpile Wormer, preferably 2 different kinds.
Worm them before they show signs of sickness. Be proactive. Sheep have a bad rap as looking for somewhere to die. This is far from the truth. They often don’t show signs of sickness until it is too far progressed to be successfully treated, and then you waste your time and wormer treating a dead sheep walking. Make a schedule for checking your flock and stick to it. Be a smart shepherd and cull aggressively. Only the best sheep should be retained. The Ram is 1\2 the herds genetics. Breed for parasite tolerance and good mothering. Don’t reward bad mother ewes or sickly sheep by keeping them in your flock.
Each winter I cut brambles and privet hedge and throw over the fence to supplement their food. They go insane for anything green in winter. These hair sheep are browsers as well as grazers and will clean up brambles like goats do. Start small and remember to balance your number of animals to your amount of grass. They will multiply like credit card debt when you keep them healthy.
If sheep is not a fit for your situation, try rabbits, chickens, goats or ducks. All have short reproductive cycles and can be intensively managed. I like sheep because they eat grass and turn it into meat without a lot of labor from me. —good luck