A home-grown food system should include protein. There’s an emotional component to raising your own meat. It’s hard not to become attached and if you are doing your own butchering, you’ll have to learn to make your peace with taking the life of another sentient creature. Yes, you could go the vegetarian route with animal products such as eggs, milk and cheese plus beans for protein. You could go vegan. I prefer meat. There are a number of reasons for my preference.
Raising Your Own Meat
Meat tastes good. There’s a big difference between chicken and beef or beef and pork or pork and venison or venison and goose. I must admit I’m not big on rabbit, which does taste pretty much like chicken. This is one of those cases where the cuteness factor outweighs the potential food value, especially for kids. The other thing is that you can’t get eggs from rabbits like you can from chickens. My hubby refuses to have goats on the place. Many cultures, however, use goats for milk, meat and hides. But we have all the other usual suspects: cows, pigs, sheep, chickens.
Technically, hunting is not raising your own meat. However, a lot of the wild animals we eat share the hay and grain we feed our ranch animals. Hubby and OGD (oldest granddaughter) are hunters, and generally keep us supplied with venison, goose, duck, wild turkey and pheasant. Although we have lots of quail, we don’t usually bother to hunt them, as it’s more effort than it’s worth for the amount of meat. In our younger days, we did all our own butchering. I once bathed – yes, in the bathtub – several quarters of an elk that hubby had dropped getting it up the hill from the kill site, so we could butcher it on the kitchen table. These days we’re more likely to do the preliminary work of kill, gut and skin, and let the professionals finish the job.
Meat and Iron
Contrary to what the vegans tell you, meat does offer better quality protein, especially if it’s grass-fed. One reason is meat’s iron content. Iron comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Meat contains both, while vegetables contain only non-heme iron. Heme iron has more bioavailability, which means it’s easier for our bodies to use it than non-heme iron. Those plants that do contain non-heme iron also tend to contain other substances that inhibit the iron’s absorption.
Meat Has Healthy Fats
Meat comes with built-in high-quality fat (again, if it’s grass fed). Grass fed meat contains more antioxidants (which help you deal with those aging free radical molecules) like vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C. It also has more omega-3 fatty acids, which provide lots of heart health benefits and probably help protect you from mental health problems like depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. Conjugated linoleic acid helps protect us from cancer; it’s high in meat from grass-fed animals. Chickens that eat lots of greens or range on fresh grass also produce eggs with these beneficial substances.
Meat is endlessly versatile. Roast, pan fry, make stew or meat loaf. Any meat can be turned into fresh or smoked sausage or dried for jerky. Pork can be cured with salt or cured and smoked (bacon – yum!), but so can other meats. Not to mention that tallow and lard are very useful for cooking all kinds of things as well as making soaps and hand cream. Whenever I process tallow, the skin on my hands stays soft and supple for several days. Chicken schmaltz, goose and duck fat were once considered delicacies and hoarded for special dishes.
Other Animal Products
Raw dairy products from grass fed cows are so much better and healthier than the commercial stuff there’s just no comparison. Make your own cottage cheese, butter, cream cheese, fresh ricotta (which is made from whey), yogurt, ice cream and buttermilk. It’s also easy to make the softer fresh cheeses like mozzarella. Making hard cheese like cheddar takes a bit more effort and the right conditions, but it’s also doable on the homestead.
The Synergistic Effect
Animals can help feed each other as well as you. The milk cow can provide extra protein and fat for chickens and pigs. Make chicken cheese for the birds (clabber some milk, heat to boiling and dump in some vinegar). When you butcher, the pigs relish the offal. Ground meat scraps can be fed to chickens. Dogs love meaty bones and raw eggs. This feeding cycle includes predators and pests, by the way. We kill the !$*%&!# ground squirrels, as otherwise they’d take over the place. (On the other hand, maybe they’d either duke it out with the blackberries or come up with a negotiated peace settlement that would not take the human interests into consideration.) We give the remains to the pigs or chickens for extra protein.
Enjoy Your Animals
Animals are fun. Can’t say that about beans and tofu! Babies of any species provide us with many enjoyable antics, and even the older animals engage in games like Bowling for Wild Turkeys. Chickens love to play Chicken Keepaway. Each animal has his or her own personality. It’s always interesting to watch them mesh with the rest of the herd, flock or clowder (which is what you call a group of adult cats).
Animals and the Land
Animals benefit the land. Grazing animals help keep the microbial populations in the soil healthy, provide nutrients with their manure and urine, and stir up the soil a bit to help seeds germinate. If you mix species, they’ll keep the pasture grasses from becoming uneven. Cows are constructed to graze the top portion of taller grasses, while sheep and horses can nip closer to the ground. Sheep are also browsers and will eat things the cattle and horses won’t, so it helps to keep your pasture plants in balance.
Aside from all the nutritional aspects of raising your own meat, exposure to farm animals is beneficial to the kids on the place. Kids raised in “sterile” environments without animals tend to have a much higher incidence of problems like allergies and asthma. They also learn the basics of sex and the responsibility of daily chores, get plenty of healthy exercise , fresh air and exposure to sunlight. So go ahead – raise your own.