Free Range Meat

It’s been well over 10 years since we bought any meat. During that time, any meat I’ve eaten has come from this farm.

When we first began homesteading we got 3 heifers, and I intended to put a steer in the freezer every year. I soon realized that would be way more than I could expect to eat (my wife is a vegetarian), so we eventually got rid of the cows.

When we first got pigs, I got two of them because I know they don’t like to live alone. When we processed them later that year I had 570 pounds of pork. Even though I gave away the hams and lots of the sausage, it took me over two years to finish eating it all.

Eventually we began to sell pork. That required us to use a USDA-approved processor, which was a real pain and required compromises to our principles. But by raising four hogs and selling two I could make my pork “free.” The last time we raised pigs we raised seven. With two chest freezers we could barely hold all the meat. We weren’t comfortable continuing to sell the pork after it had been in the freezer a year, so now it’s up to me to finish off all that is left. Because we still have so much on hand, we aren’t raising any pigs this year.

We’ve never raised meat chickens, but every now and then we have an extra rooster or a hen that needs to be culled. When that happens, I have chicken.

Most of the meat I eat is venison. Every year I take a few deer from the multitudinous herd that roams our farm, and they keep me well-provisioned.

I also eat fish, which I catch in our pond.

At this point I’m very seriously considering not raising any more pigs. As much as I enjoy my breakfast sausage and barbecue, I could live without it. I could very easily have all the meat I want by relying only on deer and fish. And if I ever wanted to, I could easily add wild turkey, squirrel and rabbit.

It seems to me there are lots of advantages to relying on game rather than domesticated animals. The animals live entirely natural lives, unrestrained and with a natural diet. I’ve also come to believe that we humans are upsetting the ecosystem as we abandon our natural role as predators. As for domesticated livestock, getting rid of them would reduce workload and expense, and would also eliminate those uncomfortable days when we betray their trust and kill them.

I’m not sure what to do about the goats. They’re in a whole separate category. I enjoy raising them, but have no need for their meat. They do produce some revenue for the farm, but it’s not essential. For now I plan to keep raising them, but down the road I might think of phasing them out too.

Relying entirely on game animals for meat seems sensible on a homestead like ours. So I’m thinking of going in that direction, even as I am preparing sausage and gravy for breakfast.