Pets and livestock need to be considered during any long term survival or SHTF situation. If you don’t consider them now, then it is likely you will not have the ability to keep some of them around. This brings up a few points that should be considered during a SHTF situation or long emergency.
There will be a lot of people turning animals loose when they cannot provide for them any longer.
While livestock is worth something because you can eat it, most people are not going to be willing to eat their pets and will turn them loose before that. When I say pets, I am talking about dogs and cats for the most part. Unfortunately, many other pets have particular requirements that are not realistic to maintain during even a moderate emergency in some cases. Animals with special dietary, heat, or water requirements will not fare well. While turning a pet loose seems like the most humane thing to do, there is a good chance a domestic pet will fall victim to a predator of some description.
Before you acquire too many pets, think about if you can put back enough to care for them during an emergency or a long term SHTF scenario.
I have a soft spot for dogs and cats, and I even have one sheep I keep as a pet because I raised her on a bottle, but I know that I actually have too many dogs to support in longterm SHTF. This has led me to reconsider my future pets. I love my dogs dearly, but I have 4 of them, and 3 of the 4 are the Great Pyrenees that weight over 100 lbs. Our Lab and Mountain Feist cross weighs 60 lbs. In the future, we will keep just two dogs. There is also the fact that with more dogs, it is harder to give them the attention they deserve.
How much do you need?
For pets and livestock, it is good to have at least a 3-month plan to start with and six months is even better. I have a hard time keeping track of the exact amount of dog food we use, so we use sometimes. If you order your feed or have receipts from your feed store for the month, then you may be able to get a rough estimate of what you go through in an average month.
Feed consumption can vary based on circumstances such as temperature and other potential stressors.
Just like people, animals that are exposed to cold conditions or have more physical pressures applied to them will need to consume more calories to maintain body weight and function well. A lot of us tend to spoil pets, so there are a lot of dogs and cats out there in the USA that are packing quite a bit of extra weight. While some people joke about this being an asset it times get tough, pets suffer in the health department if they are overweight. On the other hand, pets may get grumpy about it, but during an emergency, they can utilize the extra bulk to some degree.
Remember that pets kept inside at a nice room temperature will definitely want to eat more if they are suddenly put in a situation where they have to deal with temperatures that are much lower regularly. Plan on 10-20% more food consumption during hard times just to be safe.
Some pets will be better off than others because they are more suited for the climate they live in.
Lovely modern times have allowed us to have what we want in terms of pets. I live in a rural area in the Southeast, but it is a far cry from the desert regions camels call home. Well, the folks up the road have a camel, and it is kind of a cool attraction, especially during the fall harvest time. Well, it has to have some heat during the winter. During a long term situation that would be hard to do.
If you live in a warmer climate and have long haired dogs then they may be a bit uncomfortable but those that have Chihuahuas and live in Minnesota best consider how they would deal with a pet in the winter without the comfort of the heat they are used to having.
If you are a prepper or homesteader just starting out without any livestock and few or no pets, I strongly encourage you to consider what breeds and mixes you invest your time, money, and love into during the uncertain times we are living in. Hey, I have been there! When Matt and I started out, we experimented with different livestock and breeds too, but I hope that you can learn from our experience and be a step ahead of the game!
We live close to a place that sells plastic and metal barrels that are used or new for a very reasonable cost. If you have a drum or barrel place near you, then check them out.
A 35-gallon barrel holds about 160 lbs and doesn’t take up as big a footprint as a 55-gallon barrel.
The particle size of your feed influences how much a container will hold and the overall weight of the container size you choose.
Smaller sized kibble or grains mean you will be able to fit more in the given space, but you will have a much heavier container to deal with, so you may want to make sure it is in place when you fill it!
Totes or feed bins
Any tote that is heavy duty and made to take weight will work. They have special bins for pet feed. Some of the nicer ones hold 50 lbs or more and have an airtight screw down lid. They are angled so you can scoop out feed easily too, and will fit in the bottom of some cabinets even. Good storage containers that are not barrels are not as inexpensive as you might like, but they will last a very long time if you take care of them.
The Vittles Vault shown below is not cheap but it is built very tough and has an excellent seal for freshness and protection. This version is stackable.
Moving barrels around is a lot easier with a hand truck. We have one that you can also lay down, so it is a flatbed. I love the versatility of this style of hand truck. We use as a mobile firewood carrier so we can bring a lot of wood into my Dad’s all at once. It turns a bunch of trips into a single one with less strain. A 35-gallon barrel of dog food weighs 150 lbs or more depending on the type of food being stored. A 55-gallon barrel will weigh 250-300 lbs when filled with dog or livestock feeds.
As with any food, moisture is the enemy. Luckily, moisture absorber packs are very inexpensive. Just be sure you don’t accidentally put one in animal feed that you are portioning out. Silica gel packs are safe, but they should never be consumed. My mother in law, Sally, saved some larger packs for us, so we used them. When it comes to guidelines as to how many to use, I will say it is better to use too many than too few, especially considering how cheap they are. On the other hand, putting in too many of the smaller packs means you have a lot to pick out as you feed. For large stockpiles of animal feeds, I recommend buying the large packs and using at least 4.
If you are using moisture absorber packs that have been used previously, it is a good idea to put them in a food dehydrator for a few hours on the lowest setting or in an oven that is set to 150 F. This ensures they are the most effective at keeping your feed dry.
The link above will take you to my article on diatomaceous earth. Adding a few cups to a barrel of feed will help prevent parasites in your pets and livestock when they eat it and it has the added benefit of keeping insects from ruining food if they happen to get in or if there are some on the feed when you pour it in a barrel. I say a few cups as a baseline measurement. You don’t want to coat all the food so that animals find it distasteful so just sprinkle a little in and mix as you pour food in. A little goes a long way. When you reach the top of your container, dust a little heavier and then seal.
Factors to consider
Grain free foods may have a much shorter shelf life than foods that have some grain. While the fancier foods may be better for your dog, for SHTF food stashes, you might want to consider a dog food that has some grain in it. We stockpile dog food that has rice as the main grain rather than corn. I am not comfortable feeding my dogs food that has GMO and Roundup Ready corn in it. Choosing meat and rice based dog food is a decent compromise.
Freeze dried meats for toppers for treats or nutritional enhancement can help improve the ration
There are a ton of freeze-dried dog foods and treats out there. They are not inexpensive but if you want something to treat your dog with that has a long shelf life, they are worth considering, and they take up very little space.
Buying dog food on sale
Sourcing bulk livestock feeds
Bulk livestock feed is often available at the following places:
Local Feed Stores and farmer coops
Sometimes if you ask about buying a lot of feed at once, they will cut you a deal. You will probably need to buy a pallet of 24 bags at 50 lbs each to get any discount. Local feed stores can have thin margins so don’t expect too much of a price break.
Farmer’s co-ops sometimes grain hoppers with inexpensive commodity feeds for cattle and bulk corn. This is usually sold by the ton, and you have to bring your own container or giant bags. Sometimes you can buy just 1,000 lbs. You can also get the giant bags at the store for a small deposit and return them or reuse on your next visit.
Local farms sometimes have bulk grains for sale, but the availability could be very seasonal. Check with farmers that grow lots of grains such as corn, wheat, barley, or soy. You can get excellent deals if you buy 2,000 lbs at once. That is a lot of weight to haul, but I am willing to bet that some farmers would be more than glad to allow you to pick it up in multiple loads the same day.
In my area, there are a few bread outlets. These distribution outlets serve a big area, and as a result, they get a lot of bread that is just expired. It is very cheap to buy. For $30-$40 we can fill the entire 6-foot truck bed and the backseat of the access cab with bread. Matt dried a bunch in our Nesco Food Dehydrator. We now have a 35-gallon barrel full of dried bread put back for the dogs, geese, chickens, and sheep. It is really for the dogs, but bread is so versatile that we can feed anything with it. Store bought bread has some preservatives in it. If you dry bread and it doesn’t get wet, it will last a very long time, especially with moisture absorbers.
Buy bulk with friends and other preppers you trust
Split a bulk pet or livestock feed purchase with a friend so you can both enjoy the savings but not be overwhelmed with too much at once. 2,000 lbs of feed might be a bit more manageable if 2-4 families are splitting the cost and the feed. I want 1,000 lbs and have two friends that each want 500 lbs, then all of a sudden the purchase is more manageable. You can do this with the same people several times a year so you can stretch out the cost too but still put back some extra food!
I made the distinction of saying buy in bulk with other preppers you trust because some people would say you were exposing your preps by letting anyone besides who you buy from, know what you are putting back. The level of privacy you prefer is of course up to you, but it is worth considering who you share any info with at all.
Dog and cat food deals are harder to find, and there is no bulk option that I have been able to find. If you know of one, please share with the rest of us in the comments section.
Online stores with good deals include:
You can sign up for auto delivery and get 40% the first order up to $50 discount, and they have great deals. If you don’t want to forget to add to your pet food stockpile, you can set up an auto-deliver schedule that fits your budget and ensures that you have some extra to put back each month or two.
There are plenty of good name brand dog and cat foods at our local Tractor Supply. They have their own store brand too, but it gets pretty low reviews. For other brands, they have some deals, and they send out 10% coupons in the mail regularly.
Farmers cooperatives have pet foods. In my area, we have Southern States and the Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. If you have much agriculture at all in your area, there is probably something like this nearby.
Ordering pet foods online can save heavy lifting and allow the elderly and those with disabilities to save on pet foods by purchasing larger bags.
I know some older people that always buy the smaller bags of pet foods because it is hard on them to lift 40-50 lbs and they have no one at home to help out. The smaller bags are not nearly as cost effective as the big bags. Ordering pet foods online means they are delivered to your door so you can open the bag and scoop it out into more manageable sized containers. This allows everyone to enjoy the savings of buying in bulk without straining themselves.
Some livestock feeds can be fed to people too in an emergency
Although I would prefer the inspected people version. Wheat, oats, and barley can all be cooked and used in a starvation situation. The reason I am cautious about this is that grains now days are sprayed with a lot of stuff and they are medicated sometimes. If you are buying organic grains for animals, then that is safer.
During SHTF people will eat what they have, but it is good to be aware of the possible consequences.
What is your pet and livestock food plan? Do you plan on growing some grains to help support livestock?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.