This writing was originally a work for hire project I did for Survival Dispatch's Insider Magazine. I would like to thank Angery American for generously allowing me to share this information on my website. Survival Dispatch is a comprehensive resource for survival and preparedness; please do check them out.
When it comes so living a preparedness or homesteading lifestyle, the image most people conjure up is a family or group of families on a large plot of land, growing their own food, and raising their own livestock. City dwellers may think that such a lifestyle can never be for them, but it can be, provided you use some imagination and do some research. The focus when I first wrote this article was for those attempting long-term survival in an apartment or similar setting, but raising these animals is also a practice well-suited for those who live in suburban settings with small yards.
"Homesteading" can be practiced in a high-rise apartment, as it is dependent on a mindset, and not just having copious amounts of land. As far as raising animals is concerned, your landlord or home owners association might take exception to converting your balcony or patio into a chicken coop or pen for goats or a pig, but there is a way to keep and raise smaller animals in a manner which will allow you to remain beneath the radar of the watchful eyes of the community rule enforcers – we've all had to deal with them!
The primary reason to raise small animals is to guarantee a replenishible supply of protein. Smaller animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs or even rats are ideal for several reasons. They require little space; rabbits will require the most, with a cage that is about 3' x 3' x 2', each often requiring its own cage. Start with a buck (male) and two does (females); they will provide hundreds of pounds of meat annually. Guinea pigs and rats can be kept in smaller cages. You can start your rat colony in a ten gallon aquarium or a cage approximately the same size. Rats are social and can be kept together, so this is a great way to get the most out of a limited amount of space.
Stealth is key for those who live where pets are prohibited. If your landlord or nosy neighbor is likely to stop by unannounced, keep the cages in an area they will not likely be seen, and/or be able to disguise their living quarters by covering them with a table cloth, or by having a place to hide them quickly. Keep the cages clean so there is no smell. Because these animals tend to be quiet, they are not likely to be heard, particularly if they are in a room not frequented by visitors.
Gestation times vary, but the animals I am discussing here are rapid breeders, as they are near the bottom of the food chain. Guinea pigs have the longest gestation period, about two months, and have smaller litters than do rabbits and rats. Rabbits have a gestation period of approximately 31 days, rats, the shortest, at 21 days. Each of these species is capable of breeding at an early age and are able to become pregnant soon after delivering a litter - rabbits can become impregnated the same day! Rats come into estrus every 5 days, so, well, you get the point.
OK, so when do we eat? Rabbits can be slaughtered between 8 weeks for fryers and up to 6 months for roasters, depending on the breeds, which may vary in size significantly. Count on less time for the guineas and rats. Here's the hard part: if you are planning to raise these animals for meat, it is important that you are up and running BEFORE you are struggling from a long-term challenging situation. If it helps, use the meat for feeding other animals, like cats, dogs, snakes, or even chickens, if you have friends who raise them.
Don't be afraid to try out a few recipes ahead of time, anything you can do with a squirrel, for example, you can do with guineas or rats. There are tons of recipes for rabbit and squirrel, so start with those. You will want to become familiar with the process of humanely slaughtering and processing your apartment livestock before you are faced with a disaster. Don't add learning a new set of skills to your survival to-do list when you are trying to survive; be comfortable and competent ahead of time. The meat from these animals is very lean, and you will need to supplement your diet with fat to avoid “rabbit starvation,” also known as “protein poisoning,” which is the result of near or total subsistence on lean meat. Plan on a steady supply of carbohydrates and fats to avoid this life-threatening condition.
Eggs are a good source of fat and protein, but chickens tend to be noisy and smell when confined. Quail are small birds and can be raised for both meat and eggs. If you prefer to keep them just for the eggs, they will require food high in calcium. A small cage will suffice for a few birds and nesting boxes are not needed, as they lay their eggs anywhere, unlike chickens who prefer to use the boxes. As a bonus, you can use the birds for meat once they stop laying eggs. If you wish to add them as a source of meat, keep them confined and in a darker space so they will be more tender; otherwise plan to use an Instapot for cooking them – assuming you have a source of power.
There are some downsides to sharing your living space with your food. While it may be easy to keep stocked up on shavings and food during normal times, you will have to plan on having plenty of food for them in times of trouble, because you won't be able to send them off to forage in an apartment.
Do not let your food become your pets especially if you have children in the home, who may understandably become quite attached to them. Even if you set aside a breeding pair, eventually they will be too old to provide young for food, and then what? Even a small animal has the potential to become a liability if it is dead weight.
Practice good hygiene and make sure anyone who handles the animals washes their hands after handling them, and keep them out of areas where you will be preparing food, unless, they ARE the food!
Apartment “livestock” can help keep your family fed during a long-term collapse if you have taken the time to plan ahead and learn about the animals you have chosen to bring into your home. The biggest struggle will be overcoming the mental challenge of raising and eating animals traditionally considered pets, but as times change, so do our definitions of what is a “pet” and what is “livestock.” Difficult times require difficult decisions, so it is best to have this discussion with your family while there is still time to come up with an alternative plan; if you go the apartment livestock route, start early and have supplies to keep them fed, and most importantly, treat them with kindness and compassion until the day comes to humanely harvest them.
I hope you find this information useful. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to share your results. For more on preparedness please check out our podcast and book. If you would like to support our work, please consider making a donation; you can do so on the homepage of this website, or on the link to Red Hot Chilly Prepper podcast.