What is animal husbandry? Simply put, animal husbandry is the practice of humans raising, caring for and selectively breeding animals for the purposes of producing animal products. Such products include meat, milk, eggs, wool, hides and more. Popular animals for rearing include cattle, swine (pigs), chickens, honeybees, goats, and sheep; all of which are commonly raised for both food production and breeding purposes. Animal husbandry has existed for thousands of years, dating back to the very start of the domestication of animals. Over the last century food production has more or less been dominated by a few large, industrial agricultural companies. But recent scrutiny of the industry has led to a sizeable shift towards rearing animals in sustainable, localized, humane, and environmentally responsible manners. Because of the wide range of choices in animals available for rearing, animal husbandry can be an excellent method for food production in a variety of off-grid living situations.
Before beginning your off-grid animal husbandry endeavour, it is strongly advisable to first consider any applicable rules and regulations regarding animal husbandry in your country, state or municipality. Of course, the exact laws differ from country to country and region to region, so it is wise to check with your local lawmakers and officials. In many cases regulations may affect the number of animals allowed on a single property, necessary licenses or permits, and even the types of animals permitted.
Most livestock or poultry can be purchased at an auction or private sale. Listings for such sales are usually easy to find online or in local newspapers. Before making a purchase, it is important to consider the purpose for which you will use the animal. For example, different breeds of cattle may be better for slaughter, while others may have been bred for milk or continued breeding. All animals should be inspected by a veterinarian for characteristics such as weight, health, and suitability for their intended use. It is also important to note that cattle and other large livestock, unlike chickens and pigs, require much larger plots of land for grazing and may also require heavy-duty or barbed-wire fencing to contain them.
Responsible animal husbandry involves rearing and caring for animals in ways that promote their welfare and minimize impact on the environment. In other words, treat your animals humanely, supply them with the proper feed and water, and make sure they live in clean, healthy conditions with plenty of space. Clear out waste and manure regularly; this is doubly effective since it can be used as a very nutrient-rich fertilizer for crops or gardens. In the interests of promoting the production of healthy, organic food, it is also strongly advisable not to feed animals genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or any sort of growth hormone.
Chickens have become a popular first choice among budding animal husbandry practitioners and off-grid living enthusiasts, primarily because they are extremely efficient food-production animals. Whether you raise them for meat or for eggs, chickens provide a good ratio of food produced (i.e. meat and eggs) to the amount of feed necessary to sustain them. As much as half a kilogram of meat can be yielded per kilogram of feed and as many as 12 eggs can be laid per 2.5 kilograms of feed. Additionally, when it comes to feeding them, chickens are not difficult to manage as they are content to forage and eat just about anything (so keep them away from your flowers, or your crops!). Chickens also do not require a substantial amount of space – it is often possible, regulations permitting, to raise chickens in the middle of a city. Plus, building a backyard hen house or chicken coop can not only be a fun project, but is relatively simple and will make for happy, productive chickens.