Let's begin with the assumption that you have been around a few farmers and or Ranchers and have seen what they do to bring that Steak or Chop to your Plate.
It looks pretty easy right? Wrong! Ask any 4-H or FFA kid how easy it was to get an animal to market and they will tell you, It's a lot of hard work! But the rewards can be and are worth it. The things that a beginning Stockman (or Woman) learns from that first experience mold the direction that they will take in future endeavors.
I recommend that any beginner start with a market animal. No matter the species, a critter that is weaned and ready to fit out for the freezer is the easiest place to start. Most farmers and ranchers are more than willing to help someone new to the industry make good choices and guide them through that first experience. What we like to do is ask that prospective client to write down just what it is they want to achieve. Have a Plan! ( We have a worksheet that folks can use to make the decisions easier.)
What type of animal do you want to raise? Are they Large or small representations of their species? A miniature or dwarf breed takes much less space than a larger one, and you need to decide what will work best for you. Each species has vastly different needs that must be met. For example: Pigs need a place to wallow in the mud in order to cool off in the heat, a warm place to sleep and room to move around, Sheep and cows need shelter from inclement weather and shade in the heat, they also need an area that they can run and play in, a nice place to graze, and a way to handle them safely. Poultry need protection from the weather, a place to roost, an area secure from predators to scratch and move around in etc. Milk cows and or goats and sheep have different requirements still.(In the interest of time I am going to focus on meat animals here)
Now lets look at the space needed, feed requirements, water requirements, time required to get that animal ready for the butcher, health care, etc. Are you feeding that animal or grazing it?(if you are raising ruminants) How much pasture space or pen space per animal is needed? What kind of fencing and housing will that animal need? How much exercise will that animal need to get on a daily basis? Is there a good vet in my area to treat the type of animal you are raising? Who is going to butcher and process the animal when it is time? What is it going to COST to get that animal ready for the freezer? What is the expected rate of gain per day? How do I want to finish that animal? (grass, grain, haylage, concentrates, or a combination.)
All of these questions and more need to be addressed before you bring that animal home.
Now, You've got your fences in, turn outs planted, and you're ready to bring home your chosen critter.
Where are you going to get it? My recommendation is a reputable breeder that can provide you with guidance. We as producers want you to succeed and continue to enjoy raising your own animals for years to come and will happily give you the tools to do it. Most of us suggest feeds, and or feed systems that we have found work well.(Be careful of places that either a. won't help you, or b. suggest you buy your feeds through them rather than give you reputable sources.) Your Local feed store will also have great suggestions for you, If organic or Corn/Soy free is important to you, Your feed store can and will find the type of feed you need.
(Our Local Feed Store, Round Up Feed, owns several locations throughout Southern California and is our preferred source, they also own the Hay Connection in Norco, Desert Feed in Phelan, and Roundup Feed and Udder Feed in Bonsall. The staff is very Knowledgeable and more than willing to help you make decisions about how and what to feed at different times of the year and during different Phases of production.) That's right! Animals don't eat the same feed all the time. There are different nutritional requirements for each phase of life, growing, finishing for meat, and specific needs when and if you decide to start breeding, as well as shifts in nutritional needs with the seasons.
Clean fresh water needs to be available at all times. If you are confining animals to pens or coops automatic cup waterers and nipple drinkers work well, Water tanks are a good choice for larger animals in their turn out areas as you can tell how much they are drinking and be vigilant for changes that could be a sign of illness.
Your pens need to be carefully thought out, you can raise a steer in a 24'X 24' corral if it is on feed, but I wouldn't recommend it(Unless you plan on walking that steer around on a halter a couple of times a day to give it exercise.) Most cattle do best if they have a minimum of 1 acre per head, you can cut that by half on the miniature breeds. Sheep need about an acre per every 3-5 adults, or 5-7 market lambs, you can adjust this down for the miniature or "light" breeds like Barbado's or Southdowns. Ruminants especially need ROOM to express their natural behaviors. You also need an area to secure that animal should it require attention. (this is where a 12' X12' pen comes in real handy!) Your perimeter fences need to be strong and secure, Wire is fine but it needs to be inspected daily for breaks. Hogs need fencing that they can't move! pipe corrals with close rails work really well and for turn outs electric fences work great!
Make sure that there is a vet in the area that works on the type of livestock you have. If there is ever a major problem you NEED an expert within driving distance.
Make sure that there are Good mobile butchers in your area! I NEVER recommend hauling livestock intended for Custom Slaughter. It puts needless stress on the animal and can expose it to disease and filth that you would not encounter if the butcher came to you. In our Area Cliff Kwok is my go to guy! He is the only place near us that handles the entire process without sending any portion of our animals out for further processing. The only other Butcher that I know of within 2 hours that still does the entire Process is Eddie in Barstow, and he does a great job too! If you are in Northen California Chico Locker And Sausage Co. is my recommendation. The Dewey's do things so well that I seriously considered moving my operation North to be close enough for them to do my custom work. If you haul post kill, PFL is by far my favorite local processor. They have been in business over 40 years and are true artisans. There are other good places around but these are my personal favorites close by.
Cost is another factor to be considered, It's going to take about 6-10lb of hay or mixed feed per pound of gain per animal or more to get it to finish, depending on time, age, and the type of finish you want. Lambs are ready to butcher at about 10 months of age, pigs about 7 months and cattle 24-30 months. So you need to figure out how long and what you are going to be feeding that animal and plan accordingly. I know this seems a bit daunting, and I've just scratched the surface here, but raising your own meat can be a very rewarding experience, you just need to know what you are getting into before making the leap.
Next time~ Breed specifics and yields, or How To Choose What breed fits MY plate.