©2019 C. Henry Martens
Planning on surviving the slow-motion Apocalypse? Ya know, just because we are surviving (so far) the slow-motion Apocalypse happening today doesn’t mean a more fast-acting Apocalypse can’t come out of the blue.
The big question?
What are the best strategies that will be applicable to any Apocalypse that happens?
One of the most likely scenarios is that humans disappear relatively quickly, leaving an abundance of resources behind. If resources dry up and humans are competing, then we still need options that will help us survive.
One of the resources that will be part of an Apocalyptic world… is domesticated animals.
What are they good for? Let’s break it down…
Rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits: If you have a male and a female, you may be in better shape than a lot of other people. If the particular Apocalypse you are surviving is one involving competition for food, you have small animals you can keep hidden… and can feed and breed in the basement. They also produce high quality fertilizer for your very important garden. With a little planning and some diligence, you can turn small animals into a trading empire.
Sheep, alpacas, llamas, goats: All of these animals are edible. So short term, they can feed you and the family. A breeding group of animals is relatively easy to care for as long as you have good fences. Not just fences to keep the animals in, but also to keep predators out. Otherwise, you can shepherd your animals constantly. Llamas will protect the herd from canids, but without a Llama they are vulnerable without constant shepherding. There are breeds of dogs that will fix on a herd of sheep, goats, or alpacas and protect them, and donkeys have been used as well. Nothing except a gun will stop a human predator.
Sheep, alpacas, llamas, and goats also give milk. Goats will produce the most, but they also have a high degree of self-destructiveness built into them. They will tangle themselves in fences, strangle themselves if tied, and they get worms that will kill them. Leather and fibers from these animals could be valuable as trade goods, but more likely meat and milk and immature animals are your best bet for barter. Llamas and goats have been used throughout history as pack animals or to pull carts. If there is a lot of snow you will need to stock up some kind of forage for winter, but these animals are hardy in terms of feed. They will usually fend for themselves pretty well. Oh… and billy goats stink… BAD. If you keep a billy goat plan on that.
Chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys: Poultry is great because it stays close to home. Once birds are acclimated to an area by containing them for a week and feeding them, they remain loyal to the area. It helps to feed them once a day, and it doesn’t take much to keep them happy. All poultry will forage effectively as long as they can scratch the ground. Chickens in particular will eat anything. All of these birds lay eggs, and they are all good to eat. Chickens will outperform the rest, but some domesticated ducks are close in terms of egg production. Geese and turkeys are better used for meat, so if they lay a clutch and will set them, let them hatch their eggs out. All poultry is highly susceptible to predation. A good dog that is acclimated to poultry and won’t eat your flock is a great asset. At night it is best to coop your birds. Skunks and raccoons will dig into a coop or even reach through the wire to eat birds piece by piece. Be sure your coop is tight and big enough to keep birds away from the wire. Chickens have been bred to be less broody. Whatever you do, don’t eat a hen that will sit on eggs. They will be worth their weight in gold. It is best to keep a mixed flock and I always keep a few broody hens and a rooster from a breed that is known for producing broody hens.
Pigs: Pigs can be raised outside of fences if you have something that will keep them interested in sticking around. Otherwise proper fences are essential. Pigs will eat anything. In an Apocalypse, this may become a valued trait. Pork cures easily and keeps well as long as it is kept cool.
Beef and dairy cattle: All cows that produce a calf give milk. Beef cows give milk, and dairy cows give milk. A small, single family group can get enough milk from a good beef cow to fill their needs. The trick is to find and gentle the right cow. Docile animals are easy to spot and worth the time to tame. Some good grain and a healthy scratch in the right place, and getting an animal used to standing in a headgate/stanchion, will result in an animal you can depend on to provide a calf every year and enough milk to drink and make butter.
Castrating a male calf is easy if done very young, and will produce an animal that can be used for years as a drought animal, pulling a plow or a cart, and in the end be used as high quality meat. A draft animal has a lot of uses after the fossil fuels run out. Dairy cows give so much milk that the calf would most likely have to be separated from the cow. Most dairy cows will give far more milk today than a family can use. Unless you have a market for milk and want to drain a giant udder every day twice a day, stick to a docile beef cow. Cattle subsist well on grass and can be worked hard. The mother cow will usually keep predators at bay pretty well, but best keep an eye on young calves for a few weeks. Beef can be salted, smoked, and dried to preserve it.
Horses, ponies, mules, donkeys: All equines are edible. Sometimes people seem to forget these kinds of things because they aren’t used to thinking in survival terms. Miniature animals in an Apocalypse are best used to grace a plate. They are a liability if they are kept as pets. Horses from fourteen hands (a hand is four inches) to seventeen hands will provide a comfortable riding horse for the average person. The larger the animal, the more it can usually carry. Animals between ten and thirteen hands make great pack animals. Mules forage easier than horses and can be worked harder without losing condition. Mules are the product of a male donkey and a female horse so are sterile. Don’t expect any offspring. Donkeys are usually docile and small enough to be managed easily, but they can be frustratingly stubborn. The more you handle a horse or mule at a young age, usually the easier they are to train. Just don’t spoil them by allowing bad behaviors that are difficult to untrain. All of the equines can be ridden, used to pull carts or plows or a travois, or to power a mill or other machinery to make flour or electricity. Equines survive well on almost any kind of vegetation, but they will also destroy pasture. If you have limited grass, it is best to keep them off of it and harvest hay or anything else to feed your horse. Horse, mule, and donkey can be made into jerky, salted, or smoked.
Cats: Cats can be eaten. They produce large litters and you don’t need a lot of them unless you are harvesting grain and storing it. A female cat will attract male cats that will breed her and can be trapped to go into the stew pot. Apocalypse eating at its best. Cats are obligate carnivores, so if you have extra offal from butchering anything you can dry it to be used as cat food in lean months.
Dogs: Probably the most useful, versatile animal you can have is a dog. But mainly in protecting yourself, your property, or other animals. Dogs can be used to hunt, to kill vermin, to keep yourself warm on cold nights, and in a pinch, to fill your belly. A trainable dog is an asset if you can train it. An untrained dog is practically worthless and can even be a liability. Dogs can subsist pretty well on table scraps and the offal from butchering animals. A good dog will listen to you in the dark times.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Surely, I haven’t covered the subject in depth, but even people who have never had an animal seem to have some intuitive capability to figure animals out. Just remember the priority in any Apocalyptic scenario… an animal is a tool to assure your own survival. The entire reason animals were domesticated originally in prehistoric times, and since, was to aid human beings in the game of survival. They are not your children, or even your friends, when it is time to eat.