Grow Your Own Protein


August 29, 2014

Can you do that in an indoor garden? Only if it’s big enough to produce a sizable harvest of legumes, seeds, and nuts. Since most people have no space large enough for almond or pecan trees, soybean or sunflower fields inside their home the answer is definitely no. It’s also not likely that you have room outdoors to have a milk cow or some feeder beef just beyond the balcony or patio.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no way to produce protein at home. There are plenty of people who figure out how to grow a good share of the protein their family needs with aquaponics – even in the inner city, but can you live on fish alone? Perhaps, but who would want to if they don’t have to? For many the quest of sustainability demands more than a few fillets a month.

There are goats, which can provide a household with milk and ultimately a range of dairy foods – cheeses and yogurt. You can easily keep goats in the small yard or urban farm, and they’re becoming quite popular with city dwellers who seek to be self-sustainable, or have total control over where their food comes from. You can eat goat meat, but many ethnic cultures would not find that remotely appetizing. In an urban environment, you might also entertain meat rabbits. They are small, fast-growing, multiply rapidly and in abundance, and were once considered great eating – before food became industrialized. Rabbit is still appreciated on the dinner menu in many places in North America – both when dining out and eating at home.

Yes, eggs give you protein, but for meat-eaters there is a quest for something more substantial than a couple of laying hens can provide. While you can certainly eat those chickens when they no longer produce enough eggs to  make it equitable to buy them feed, don’t expect them to be tender and juicy. If they sold chicken breast in the store that had all that muscle, you’d want your money back. Then there is the issue of dining on your friends’ bodies, because that’s what happens with laying flocks – you develop a relationship with your girls, just as you would a dog or cat. You’d probably feel better about turning them into home-made dog food or cat food, or feeding them to your aquaponics fish. At least they would enjoy the meal.

You can also grow your own meat birds – fryers, broilers, or roasters. Chicken dinners are not that difficult to produce, and don’t take up tons of room if you choose the right breed to start with. Tender, juicy multi-cooking-method chicken with flavor that far surpasses anything you can buy at the store can be ready to harvest in as little as 6-7 weeks. Bigger birds too. When was the last time you found a 4-5 pound roaster in the meat counter at your local grocers? Any more you’re doing good to find one that bypasses 3.25 pounds, because commercial farms are in a hurry to get their chickens to market.

Don’t try exceeding the recommended finishing time for the meat bird you select. Fatality happens on a daily basis from this mistake. Don’t try growing chickens and turkeys together either, they have different environmental needs. Also, make sure the meat breed you choose can deal with your climate. Cornish Rocks or Cornish X cannot deal with heat, and while you can grow them without issue in the cooler part of the year in a warm climate – you will suffer loses putting them in the wrong situation.

White-feathered meat birds are all a Cornish cross. They are not free-range chickens. For that you want the black or red ranger breeds. Chickens can’t be free-ranged until they are old enough to deal with the elements beyond their coop – growth rate has nothing to do with it. Cornish crosses grow so fast that they finish out only two weeks before you’d want to let them run.

You can easily keep up to 2-dozen Cornish cross chickens in a growing house the size of a small bedroom with an outdoor run of the same proportions. They need warmth and protection from predators – including wild birds, along with lots of food on a schedule. It’s a lot like growing fish. They aren’t pets. They are dinner, but this ‘crop’ is ready for the frying pan, oven, or freezer in less than 2 months.

Once you try growing your own chicken, you’ll probably increase the number of chick you order the next time around. In many places, you don’t even have to process them at home. Research poultry processing in your area – you drop them off alive, and pick them up ready for the freezer. Of course, to maintain total control over your food, you will want to process them yourself.

Like your garden, getting chicks is a spring-early summer thing unless you live in a climate that remains warm enough for a fall meat grow. Just make sure you have their new home ready and waiting before they arrive. They’ll be hungry, thirsty, and in need of a warm sanctuary when you open the box. Protect them from predators at all times, and know before you get started that you might lose one or two to natural causes.

For best results choose a hatchery located in a climate like your own from the list below, BUT do take a little time to visit all of them. There’s a ton of knowledge about raising chickens for meat and eggs tucked away on all of them. I’ve always ordered from Murray McMurray with great results.

Of course, if you’ve never raised chickens before you will need to purchase equipment. Everything you need will be easy to acquire at the closest Tractor Supply or farm supply store. Investigate the right way to go about this. Here’s a few good articles to check out.



Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.

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