Our goal at this point in time is self sufficiency and to encourage others to do the same, regardless of whether they live within the city limits or without. Many of the animals we raise take up little space and can be kept in small yards as well as in apartments that allow pets.
By breeding your own food, you know that what you have on your plate has been humanely raised without use of chemicals or hormones. It also makes you more appreciative of your meal: the barrier that the average person puts up that keeps them from identifying the meat on their plate with the chicken it came from is gone.
In essence, raising your own food makes you more honest and open with yourself without feeling the need to mask things to keep from being guilty.
What's more, you know, without a shadow of doubt, that the animal you are raising lived a happy, healthy life. Unlike the slab of meat on your table, which was raised under questionable conditions in crowded pens - possibly without ever seeing the sun - and then killed in even more questionable conditions in a factory that treats death as nothing more than a series of motions down an assembly line. You know that you have upheld the five freedoms that all animals deserve:
1. The freedom to express normal behavior.
2. Freedom from discomfort.
3. Freedom from fear and distress.
4. Freedom from hunger and thirst.
5. Freedom from pain, injury, and discomfort.
Before diving into raising meat animals, or before condemning it as not for you, there are a few things you need to know.
First off, everyone is initially squeamish about raising animals for meat. Especially when it is time for them to be processed. While difficult to do at first, it becomes much easier over time, both in how long it takes to do and how you feel about the job. Don't think that just because you weren't able to do it once you don't have it in you: all you have to do is work through it.
This ease doesn't make you a killer, or remove the value associated with life. Instead it is a good way to come to terms with the entire cycle of life while making eating meat more of a special occasion rather than something you pull out of your freezer and toss in the oven. You finally become a part of your surroundings rather than someone who plucks faceless, formless meat out of plastic bags in the grocery store. It is a way to finally be at peace with any internal moral conflicts you may have about ending a life to feed yourself.
If you truly can't bring yourself to do the deed for whatever reason, you don't have to (and you shouldn't feel bad about not being able to). There are other people whose help you can enlist, be it a friend or relative, or a local butcher.
Breeders can be pets, too. While it is a good idea to never, ever name anything you plan on putting in the freezer, that rule doesn't apply to the parents. Geese don't reach their peak maturity until 3-5 years of age, and can continue laying and raising young for 20+ years. Chickens and ducks that no longer pay their way in laying eggs are fantastic mothers in their old age and will happily brood eggs and adopt babies for another 5-10 years.
This is a common question and the simple answer is that you don't. There is a fine distinction between an animal you are keeping and one you have decided to get rid of. Many people are able to keep laying hens or hatch out baby chicks while still enjoying omelettes and fried chicken. The animals you have grown attached to have nothing to do with what you are eating. When raising an animal for food, treat it with respect and kindness without naming them. Yes, this includes cutesy meat-related names. Once you have given them any sort of name it will make your job more difficult.
Finally, don't feel constrained by time or space. There are a number of small animals that can be raised for meat indoors, without a license and within the city limits such as quail, rabbits, and pigeons. In some areas, miniature pigs are not considered livestock and can be raised in large backyards for pork on a very small scale.
A common misconception is that people who raise for meat are detatched from their animals, treating them like tomatoes in a garden: feeding, watering, and butchering them without thinking twice. Or that killing desensitizes you, making life less precious, when nothing could be further from the truth. In The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, there is a discussion in which John Salatin (an innovative farmer who wrote You Can Farm and Salad Bar Beef which teach you how to use holistic methods of animal husbandry) explains his take on the mindset a person or society finds themselves in when they process their own meat:
“Nobody should (kill everyday), that’s why in the bible the priests drew lots to determine who would conduct the ritual slaughter, and they rotated the job every month. Slaughter is dehumanizing work if your have to do it every day. Processing but a few days a month means we can actually think about what we’re doing and be as careful and humane as possible.”
In this I agree. I'm loathe to see what mental state factory farm slaughterhouse workers are in when they decide how best to get through each day: whether they become indifferent to what is going on around them, or find ways to take pride in what they see all around them each time they are at work. To me, our meat industry, with its habit of raising thousands of animals in cramped conditions, isn't good for the animals and isn't emotionally or mentally healthy for the people involved. Likewise, the conditions in our slaughterhouses aren't only shocking for the animals that go through the doors, but for the thousands of employees who stand in place day in and day out, covered in blood, smelling blood, and seeing blood.
By divorcing yourself from commercial meat you are taking a step back and seeing your food as a sacrifice made for you rather than a tasty snack. The chicken on your plate will be more rewarding - more satisfying - because you were the one who put in the time to raise it and keep it safe. Because this isn't just something you threw in your cart then tossed in the oven: it was something you were able to do. Something woefully few Americans can or will do. Dinner can then, finally, become the personal ritual it used to be.
One of the drawbacks mass-production farming has created is the removal of once common pieces of meat from the table. Few grocery stores gizzards, ox-tail, ham hocks, ears, or other more unusual cuts. Social stigma has made these cuts repulsive to people who have never tried it in the first place. What were once considered delicacies have been reduced to sausage meat at best - but is more often cast off.
Part of raising your own meat animals is realizing how much work goes into the process. The more you can use from the animal that is giving up its life to feed you the more respectful you are being. That's not to say that you need to develop a taste for liver or brains, but it does mean being more open to experimenting with pieces that you otherwise wouldn't have bothered with.
Unlike wildlife, which generally becomes endangered because of habitat loss or over hunting, most rare breeds of livestock have lost their numbers because many people have lost focus with locally raised meat, leaving giant industries to focus on one or two breeds (usually mixed hybrids) to supply grocery stores nation wide.
Breeds that grow faster, dress out clean, and produce more are favored by commercial farms over breeds that may grow slower but have a better flavor, or ones that don't grow as large as the average consummer wants, but are perfect for a hobby farm. In short, livestock become endangered because they no longer appear useful, at which point they become obscure, resulting in new people overlooking them in favor of more common breeds.
In addition to having a purpose, eating the animals that don't meet breed specifications also helps improve the breed. Instead of foisting off lack luster males and runty females onto others as breeding stock, you can cull them out, allowing only the best of the best to continue breeding, either for you or for others.
Now that there is a hobby farm revival, where people are becoming concerned about the ill-treatment of meat animals in addition to the chemicals and hormones fed to them, there is a growing interest in raising our own livestock for meat, milk, eggs, and even fur. This revival has helped bring back many breeds that were teetering on the brink of extinction, but there is still more that needs to be done.
When you decide what you want to raise, look at all of the options available. Don't feel forced to take on a rare breed, especially if you are brand new to raising that type of animal, but still understand that there are more options out there than the meat industry would lead you to believe. Feel free to experiment with different breeds until you find one that best suits you, or until you feel comfortable enough to work with more expensive and rare varieties.