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There has been a lot in the news here lately about the food supply situation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are very worried and I have to say that a lot of the concerns are well founded. I do think the situation needs to be addressed a little from different angles so that one doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that the problem is that there is not enough food in the country to provide adequate calores for every man, woman, and child.
People cannot work when they are sick and the meat industry is a particularly hard indistry to work in. Workers also don’t get paid as much as you might think. Sure there are some good paying positions if you have the education or if you have spent years working very hard.
Meat is not like some food products that can just be thrown together from easy available ingredients. It takes 18 months minimum from the time a calf is concieved to the mimimum time to get a markatble size of cow to send to the butcher. Now consider that I am just talking about butchering a cow at 9 months old. If you wait until 15 months old, that measns 2 years.
Chickens are a bit different. The industrial Heavy Cornish Crosses that make up basically all the chicken found at the grcoery stores can go from a hatched chick to butcher at about 6-8 weeks with some exceptions such as the tiny cornish game hens that are butchered at around 4 weeks. It is an incrediibly intensive operation to raise broiler birds. They require 20-24% protein food or they do not grow fast enough.
In fact, they can actually be so unhealthy that they die if you feed them too low of a protein of starter when you first get them. I know that this is true because my husband and I used to raise up to 50 birds at a time. The feed costs were incredibly high. Even farmers that get subsidized feeds and government assistance of some form struggle to make enough with such thin profit margins.
Protein At Home: Rabbits, Quail, Chickens, Bean Sprouts, Mushrooms and Beyond
The Pork Industry
Some of the least expensive meat besides chicken is pork. Pig operations require a lot of inputs. In fact industrial pork farming takes heroic amounts of feed. The pig houses are designed for efficiency and pigs really don’t have much room to move around. The waste generated requires a lot space and sanitary systems to reduce at least a few of the environmental consequences. Anyone that has spent much time in the piedmont of North Carolina has probably seen these large operations.
Processing facilities like the Smithfield Sioux Falls plant are designed to process thousands of pigs per day. It is not a job where someone that is tired and symptomatic in any way can safely work.
This post is going to cover some options for getting protein from meat and from plants and mushrooms.
The protein you raise yourself can be healthier in many ways.
I have butchered a lot of livestock with my husband over the years. Raising our own meat helped our budget and allowed us to have healthier eating habits. We lost a combined 50 lbs by eating better and farming over the years. Raising your home protein can be good for your health. You have control over how your food is produced and that means a lot.
How much protein does a person need each day?
According to Healthline, the average sedentary man should consume 56 grams of protein per day. A woman needs 46 grams. This is just what is needed to not get a deficiency. To really thrive you need more than that. Your baseline protein needs to prevent deficiency can be calculated by using the guidelines of 0.36 grams per lb. So a 100 lb adult would need 36 grams of protein.
A few backyard chickens can be a big help. 5 laying hens will produce a lot of eggs that are rich in good fats and protein. If you can get away with having a rooster or have access to some fertilized eggs, you can hatch out replacement hens and possibly even raise a few birds for the freezer. Laying hens don’t produce eggs as well after a few years so you will need to replace them over time with younger hens.
Remember that you can pickle eggs too! Here is how we do it on the farm and a few other recipes.
We have an extensive article on raising quail that is worth taking a look at if you want to learn a lot about the different types and how to get started. The advantages of quail are that they are very quiet compared to a chicken. This makes them a great choice for those that are in town and are concerned about noise. Quail have to be raised in confinement on some level or they will fly away. Many people just raise them in cages but if you have more room you could make a more substantial and tall enclosure for them. Quail need grain. They are not like a goose that can just live on mostly grass a lot fo the year. You need a good gamebird feed.
Quail eggs are good to eat and command a good price too but of course they are small so it takes a lot of them to replace a few laying hens. Quail can be butchered at 6-8 weeks. Butchering takes time but it is not at all like all the prep required when dealing with a large animal. You can grow a lot of quail in a small space so a lot of hatcheries have minimums for orders that may sound like a lot. Remember you can always split an order with a friend or family member.
Chicken egg compared to a quail egg.
The alternative is to buy some eggs and an incubator and hatch some quail yourself or just buy some chicks locally to get started if you just want a few.
The rabbit is famous for its rapid rate of reproduction and growth which is one of the reasons they are such a good choice for those with limited space. Rabbits are also very quiet unless very distressed or in pain. The fur and hides can be made into many useful items as well.
I recommend getting just a good standard white giant rabbit if you can. There are some cute or fancy breeds out there but they are not worth the money and don’t necessarily yield the meat that you will get from a big standard meat rabbit.
A few rabbit hutches can provide many meals for your family and they don’t take up a lot of space. You could even raise rabbits in a basement with windows or in your garage. I would not advise putting any animal in a dank basement with no windows but I see a lot of houses that have nice concrete basements with plenty of windows. That space could be utilized for raising rabbits and root cellaring and plenty of other things even if some things are stored there now.
Yes, animals smell some but you need to be keeping your animals clean and healthy anyway so just don’t let cages and bedding go too long without getting changed out. You can compost old bedding made from hay, chips, or straw that has been soiled too. Composted manure makes an excellent organic fertilizer.
Blue Tilapia are the most cold-hardy Tilapia I could find. You can purchase them at Tilapia Depot.
There are different species of Tilapia. Some species of Tilapia can handle different temperatures. Matt and I are a little bit interested in growing some Blue Tilapia because they can survive water temperatures as low as 50F so as long as a pond is a reasonable depth and below ground, they should be able to survive a winter in western North Carolina. They can also withstand water temps up to an outstanding 86F.
The other tilapia that I have looked at are brightly colored. While they may be nice to look at, one should always consider how delicious fish in a pond look to birds. Blue Herons like to stop over at our place sometimes because our pond is a rare site this high up on a mountain. Their is also a small stream nearby. The few times we have put goldfish in there to control mosquitoes, they have got eaten at some point. They are just so eye catching, especially in the sun. The Blue Tilapia are a better choice for those that plan on raising some fish outside.
An inside fish tank could provide more food than you realize and it is something that could be achieved in some basements or an extra room. Just remember that water is heavy and if something leaks it is best that it go onto a waterproof surface and not all over a nice hardwood floor or carpet.
This video shows a homemade aquaponics set up in a garage. There are a ton of other videos on Youtube that show how to raise Tilapia too.
There are plenty of fish that you can raise but climate, capacity, and the ability to manipulate conditions all come into play. This is important to remember. We would love to have a trout pond beside the creek down at my Dad’s but you have to be really careful about temperatures with trout and you need a lot of oxygen. Lake trout can survive less oxygen and warmer temperatures than Rainbow trout.
For more than a decade, Matt and I have raised Shiitake mushrooms. We also grow a few Oyster mushrooms and Nameko. For detailed instructions on how to get started growing mushrooms, check out my previous article.
The Shiitake and the Nameko are the winners for massive production, length of growing season, and the amount of protein and essential nutrients provided.
Mushrooms are grown on a substrate. Logs or pieces of wood work well but you can also grow them on blocks of various substrates such as sawdust, rice, etc.
We had a lot of small and stunted Chestnut oaks on our property when we first moved up here and things were so overgrown. Of course there were plenty of limbs from other oaks as well. We definitely utilized some trees for firewood and some for Shiitakes. Really big Shiitake logs can be cumbersome to move. Matt would often cut up the larger pieces of wood for firewood and then we would use the limbs for Shiitake logs.
You can get mushrooms fast. Sometimes places that sell spawn will say that it takes a year to get mushrooms but we have found that we got mushrooms as fast as 4 months after inoculation. The first flush or two won’t be a ton of mushrooms but after that you are going to be impressed with what you get per log as long as you take care of them by not letting them get bone dry. Partially burying logs or covering with leaves can help preserve moisture. You want to avoid direct sun. Mushrooms are very easy to dry.
You can even dry them in the oven but we prefer to use our Nesco dehydrator. It works very well to get all the moisture out that can lead to mold and ruin. We vacuum seal mushrooms in bags with a moisture absorber to make sure they store as good as possible. This has allowed us to put back a lot of mushrooms each year. I am just now getting through the stock of dry mushrooms we dried last year.
Some types of bean sprouts have considerable amounts of protein. A sprouting tray or stackable sprouting container can yield a lot of sprouts if you keep up with the care. After using glass jars for sprouting for a bit of time, we have switched to a plastic sprouting tray due to the hazard of broken glass. Our sink is cast iron coated in ceramic so just a minor slip of a jar can result in a big waste of sprouts, broken glass, and cuts. The last thing we need right now is severe injuries. After a big jar broke and cut one of us we made the switch.
Sprouts With High Protein
- Kidney Bean 8 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
- Lentils 7 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
- Pea 11 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
- Chickpea 36 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
- Soy 9 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
- Adzuki 31 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
- Mung 3 grams of protein per cup of sprouts
Note: Sprouting seeds like all seeds at the moment can be difficult to find at times so you may need to shop around or be prepared to wait longer for your order. Buying in large quantities can help reduce costs and ensure a good supply. 8 oz-16 oz bags are usually reasonably priced and will grow a lot of good sprouts. Check out our in-depth post on sprouting by clicking here.
Consider the availability of animal feed in your area.
A lot of the protein choices that I have talked about require food inputs in the form of grain and some of those foods are specific such as fish food. You need to have a little bit of extra feed on hand and not just let it get down to where you just have a single bag. Times are weird and you need to plan ahead for animal feed. If you can afford to do it, you may want to buy a larger quantity at once through your local feed store or perhaps order an extra bag each time you put an online order in for feed just so you can stay ahead. It would be a shame to have to butcher animals too soon due to lack of feed. A lot of weight is put on the last few weeks before a traditional butcher date is reached. So if you have a breed of chicken that usually butchers out at 5 lbs at 8 weeks old then you might get only 3 lbs if you have to cut 2 weeks off their growth. It would vary of course but the difference would really add up regardless.
Many Americans, especially the younger generations have an extreme disconnect when it comes to meat. They don’t associate the packages at the grocery store with a living and breathing organism. More people are going to have to learn to get past that.
Raising and butchering your own meat takes some getting used to if you were not raised in an environment where it was part of life even if you didn’t participate. Those that grew up around hunters but never butchered themselves still have an easier time with the prospect of butchering than those that have not been around it at all.
I have an article that goes into detail on how to approach butchering and squeamishness that you should take a look at if you or someone in your family has a hard time with that type of thing. Some feelings are perfectly natural to have. You can get over it. If you cannot then the consequences may be always relying on someone else to do the work or eating a vegetarian diet at times.
Do you have any other suggestions for growing some protein at home? Have you started figuring out what you can do at your place?