Most meat eaten in the medieval ages came from animals which had more than one use. Sheep were kept for their wool and meat, cows for their milk, sinews and hides. The horn was used for fastenings, drinking vessels and had many other uses. The hide of a bull was as valuable for its leather as the meat. Even the bone was used for belt ends, needles, knife handles, pins for hair and clothing and even for ice skates! Goats were kept for their milk and meat. Only pigs seem to have been raised purely for their meat. It is not clear whether horses were killed for meat or kept purely as riding animals and beasts of burden. The act of eating horse meat became very much frowned upon, and was regarded as a pagan thing to do, so much so that laws were passed to prevent the habit. Although during times of famine, as occurs today, almost anything is game.
Pigs were important for food because they produce large litters, which would quickly mature and be ready for slaughter. However, the numbers of pigs kept gradually decreases throughout the Saxon period. Remains of pigs of all sizes have been found suggesting they were killed as and when they were needed, rather than at set times of the year.
Cows produce ten times more meat than sheep or goats and beef production grew increasingly important as pig numbers decreased. Most adult cattle were female, suggesting dairying was also important.
Sheep and goats always accounted for about 50% of the livestock and are ideal animals, as they can be grazed on land that is unsuitable for cattle and pigs, and they are a multipurpose animal. The sheep were generally similar to the Soay breed, but were larger although a sheep similar to a small Romney Marsh sheep was also kept. A high proportion were killed when young and a large number of these were female. Most adult sheep were wethers (castrated rams) raised mainly for wool. The goats were probably similar to feral goats. The exact proportion of sheep to goats is unknown since it is not easy to distinguish between sheep and goats from skeletal evidence.
Hens, of course, provided eggs as well as meat for the pot, as did ducks and geese. Their hollow bones were used for musical pipes. Various wild birds were eaten too, such as ducks, plover, grouse, herons and geese. Hares were also caught (there were no rabbits until after the Norman Conquest). Deer were hunted for meat, skins and antler. Wild boar would also be hunted for their meat, with their tusks being an important prize for the hunter.