A few weeks ago, we had a raising rabbits post here at by Ted R here at The Prepper Project.
At the same point he was writing that article, I was acquiring some rabbits of my own. Call it Providence, or serendipity, or Fate… but it was good timing. I appreciated hearing Ted’s thoughts on tasty bunnies.
One point Ted made in his article was the need to get started on meat production RIGHT NOW:
“If / when there’s some disastrous event, I don’t want to learn just then how to survive on my garden produce, nor have to suddenly learn how to switch all my recipes from beef to rabbit. I don’t suddenly want to find out how hard it is to hunt critters, or how difficult it is to have to care for, dispatch, and dress rabbits at a time when my life could very well depend on it.
This is where rabbits come into their own. Society accepts pet rabbits far better than they do a flock of chickens with a noisy rooster, or a couple of rambunctious goats. Rabbits don’t make a lot of noise aside from thumping, most of the mundane world are okay with you having cute little fluffy bunnies, and in general you can keep this sort of operation low key enough that no-one will complain here and now, or even think of you after a SHTF event.”
Over the last few years I’ve experimented with a variety of different meat sources. Here are some of my experiments and their results:
2010: Meat Chickens
Chickens are by far one of the best sources of meat for the homesteader… but meat birds are freaky. “Cornish cross” is the common meat bird. It grows so fast that its feathers come in patchy. The birds are lazy, smell bad and eat a lot of feed. The benefit to them is that they can be slaughtered in 8 weeks. That’s pretty amazing – and it’s less than half the time a chicken would normally take to get to a good eating size. The meat is quite tender, though I don’t like it as much as I like the full flavor of an older free-ranging bird like a Barred Rock.
We raised 25 birds for the freezer. It worked out fine but the freakiness of the birds put my wife off the project. I also spent a lot on feed.
Ducks are a bit too cute to kill easily (a feature they share with rabbits). They’re also a bloody pain to pluck. Additionally, ducks make a lot of noise. On the upside, they’re loaded with fat that can be used for cooking. We kept ours for a few years, then finally ate them. They tasted okay; they’re much better when young.
If I try ducks again I’ll be going with Muscovy ducks. They’re quiet, raise their own eggs, plus the meat is a good red meat. Look them up. Amazing bird.
The milk was good – the fencing, feed and time involved were not. Goats are generally nice animals and have their own personalities; however, I don’t really like animals all that much and am not interested in listening to their constant bleating, not to mention fighting with crazy bucks. My wife did enjoy the goats, particularly when she got to play goat midwife:
And speaking of bucks, we culled and ate one of them the first year. He was delicious but the meat (and the milk) totals were not worth the investment. Because of our limited space on the homestead (1/4 acre was fenced off for goats), we had to bring in feed.
When one of the goats escaped and tore out a young orange tree, I told my wife that we either needed to get rid of the herd or I’d shoot them all.
2011: Guinea Fowl
Guinea fowl have to be the stupidest animals on the planet. They flew up on the roof of my barn, they’d randomly start shrieking, plus they’d cut ruts along the fence running back and forth because they couldn’t see the gate. They were right next to it. Stupid.
I got sick of guinea fowl very quickly after being given some chicks by a friend. When they were full-sized, we ate them for Thanksgiving. The meat was good but not worth the hassle. Note: If you have ticks in your yard and don’t mind ugly asinine screaming fowl, guineas are for you.
2011-13: Dual-purpose Chickens
After deciding that the meat birds were rather nasty, my wife and I hatched (snicker) the idea of just raising our dual-purpose birds up from eggs and eating those. We knew it would take longer, but both of us like the flavor better.
We bought an incubator and hatched out a few rounds of. Incubation wasn’t without its challenges: a couple of times chicks got glued into their eggs during hatching or emerged with malformed limbs. Culling them was heartbreaking… but seeing how my children loved the other, healthy chicks made up for it, in part.
Raising the birds up from chicks takes time, effort, and lots of cleaning. Baby birds are a mess.
After they were big enough to put out on their own, we dealt with another problem: raccoons, possums and dogs. After multiple kills, despite our best efforts, we gave up on our chicken meat-raising for a while.
2013: Wild Game
Revenge time! An acquaintance of mine eats raccoons all the time. He sets traps on people’s property for them, then disposes of the caught vermin via barbecue.
He told me multiple times, “You have to try that meat, David… man… that meat is soooo sweet! You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten a raccoon!”
Finally, I decided to try it myself. A friend had trapped a pair of raccoons in his vineyard so I took them home and butchered them, then cooked one in the crock pot for a day.
It was bad. Perhaps it was my cooking… but I simply couldn’t stomach it. I tried again with a different set of seasonings on the other raccoon. No dice.
Beyond raccoons, I hunted some squirrel and we ate those. Not terrible but nothing to write home about. My bet is that during TEOTWAWKI, the squirrels will disappear quickly… the raccoons… not so much.
Unlike raccoon meat, I find many insects to be rather palatable. I’ve toyed with the idea of micro-farming mealworms as a food source but haven’t undertaken it yet. The insects I’ve eaten have been wild-caught, free range, sustainable, free-trade bugs from local fields and our own yard.
Locusts are pretty good, though the shells are hard. Catch them, pop them in the freezer, wait a while, take them out, rip off the legs and toss them in a pan with butter and garlic. Not bad at all. (Just don’t eat “lubbers!” Those are one of the few poisonous grasshoppers.)
Stinkbugs are decent but required being swished around in water for a while to take the “stink” out. Rinse them a few times, then fry. Shells are hard but they’re good for adding crunch to salads.
Hornworms don’t give you much to eat, but they’re decent. The problem is, they pop open when fried and spray out all their green guts. What’s left is a hollow, crispy tube that’s kind of like a Cheeto. Heh.
Unfortunately, there aren’t giant termite mounds here in Florida or I’d be all over those. I’ve been meaning to try white grubs but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
And now, finally, we’re trying rabbits. A friend traded me four rabbits for a pecan tree I had in my nursery. I built a big cage from mostly reclaimed material, then popped them inside.
Unlike most animals, rabbits are quiet. They also take up a lot less space than fowl or goats and they’re easy to butcher. I’m also taking great advantage of their manure by feeding it to my fall garden beds.
We’ll see what happens as the rabbits breed and grow. As homesteaders, experimentation is how we learn… and if we don’t learn now… as Ted said, we may not have a chance in the future. Raising meat is a big part of being prepared.
What are YOU experimenting with?