Are you thinking about raising animals on your homestead? The idea is an exciting one and can be a great next step in becoming more self-sufficient. It can also be a daunting task, especially if you are new to animal husbandry.
Which animal should you start with? How do you know what they need? If you are thinking about adding animals to your homestead or farm, keep reading to discover which animals are the best to start with and why.
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Many homesteads and hobby farms have a handful of chickens running around. They are the most popular homestead animal by far because they are easy to raise and easy to harvest.
- Small size. Chickens are one of the smaller sized homestead animals, meaning they won’t take up a lot of space or feed.
- Easy to care for. Chickens are pretty easy to care for – they have some basic food, water, and shelter requirements but they aren’t picky or fussy about their accommodations or food.
- Free-range and confinement. Many breeds of chicken will do well free-ranging or living in confinement. You can choose a breed that is specifically suited to your needs.
- Easy to feed. Chickens can eat food scraps, bugs, plants, or commercial feed.
- Easy to shelter. Chickens don’t need a lot of space or extensive housing, just some basic protection and draft-free shelter from the elements and predators.
- Multi-purpose. Chickens can be used for meat, eggs, and manure.
- Inexpensive and easy to find. Chickens are very easy and inexpensive to purchase. You can find them for sale on Craigslist and at local farms, Tractor Supply, and other farm stores, or even shipped from hatcheries
- Breeding. Chickens are fun to breed and show.
- Easy prey. Foxes, raccoons, hawks, owls, and many other predators will happily take a chicken.
- Odors. Chicken coops, poop, and feed can cause odors if they aren’t taken care of properly.
- Rodents. Chicken feed may attract unwanted rodents.
- Zoning issues. Chickens may not be permitted where you live, depending on your zoning and the size of your land.
- Death. Chickens can die easily for any number of reasons such as broken necks, random drowning, becoming egg bound, diseases, or even unknown causes.
- Aggression and noise. Roosters can be aggressive or loud.
Many homesteaders and prepsteaders on YouTube will proudly show off their rabbits, which they use for showing, selling as pets, meat, and even their pelts. Some homesteaders claim that rabbits are worth having solely for their manure.
- Easy to care for. Daily rabbit care is pretty simple; they just need food, water, and a safe, protected cage to live in.
- Easy to feed. Rabbits can be fed hay, a variety of weeds, vegetables and vegetable scraps, and/or commercial feed.
- Multipurpose. Rabbits can be raised for meat, pelts, and manure, to be shown and as pets.
- Easy reproduction. Rabbits generally reproduce easily and quickly, without assistance. This rapid reproduction is great if you are raising them for meat.
- Small space needs. Rabbits live quite happily in a relatively small cage as long as they have shelter from the elements and protection from predators.
- Can be sweet and cuddly. Rabbits are adorable, especially as babies.
- Death. Rabbits can die of fright, flystrike, childbirth, respiratory issues, and other surprising reasons.
- Cannot free-range. You cannot allow rabbits to free-range or they will get lost or eaten.
- Easy prey. Rabbits are easy prey, especially for animals like dogs that can break through cages.
- Spraying. Rabbits will sometimes spray to make their territory and can spray walls, floors, and furniture if kept inside.
- Biting and scratching. An upset rabbit can inflict a serious wound if handled improperly.
- Can multiply too quickly. If you breed your rabbit, they may multiply too quickly, leaving you with too many animals and not enough cages.
- Cannot house males and females together.
- Cages can become expensive.
Homesteaders just love ducks, for their antics and for their eggs. But should you start with ducks? Here are the pros and cons of duck ownership.
- Dual-purpose. Ducks are great for both meat and eggs.
- Free-range and confinement.
- Hilarity. Ducks are hilarious and provide hours of entertainment with their antics.
- Easy to feed. Ducks will eat weeds, bugs, and commercial feed.
- Hardy. Ducks can handle colder weather.
- Most varieties don’t need large ponds, just clean water to dunk their head in while eating.
- Easy prey. Ducks are subject to foxes and raccoons, as well as other common predators.
- Messy. Ducks are very messy, splashing water, feed, shavings, and making mud.
- Aggression. Males can be aggressive to females and other fowl, especially chickens.
Quail are not as commonly found as chickens, but due to their small size and quieter nature, they may be a nice choice for suburban and urban homesteads that are not permitted to have chickens.
- Great for small spaces. Quail are small and quiet enough that can be raised inside a small apartment if needed. They do not need a lot of space.
- Dual-purpose. Quail can easily be raised for both meat and eggs.
- Fewer regulations. Quail generally are not regulated like chickens, so if you are not permitted to have chickens on your land, you may still be able to raise quail.
- Great feed to egg conversion. Quail do not need to eat a lot of feed.
- Can be cannibalistic. Quail can turn on each other when stressed or cramped.
- Not broody. Quail generally do not go broody, so in order to hatch more quail, you will probably need an incubator or a broody chicken.
- Odors. Quail cages can smell and need to be cleaned often.
- Are not domesticated.
- Cannot free-range. Quail will not return to roost, so they cannot be free-ranged without getting lost.
- Noise and aggression. Males can be loud and aggressive towards females, even killing them while mating.
Milk and meat goats are a homesteading dream, at least for some.
- Hardy and easy to care for. Goats do well in warm and cold climates.
- Easy to feed. Goats can eat weeds, brush, poison ivy, and some food scraps as well as commercial feed, hay, or browse.
- Dual-purpose. Many breeds of goat can be raised for milk and meat.
- Small space requirements. Smaller breeds do not need much space.
- Trainable. Some goats can be trained to walk on a leash or come when called.
- Usually self-sufficient in childbirth.
- Easy to shelter. Goats can live in a basic shed with protection from the elements.
- Fun. Goat antics are fun to watch and they are enjoyable to feed.
- Will test fences. Goats are notorious for escaping fences and getting into trouble.
- Illness. Goats can get foot diseases and mastitis, and even listeriosis.
- Can be stubborn.
- Need hooves trimmed regularly.
- Parasites. Goat can become overloaded with parasites and need to be dewormed regularly.
- Waste hay. Goats will not eat hay that is wet, trampled on, or that has been sat on.
- Need to be milked twice a day, every day. A milk goat needs lots of milking, and you cannot skip a day.
Alpacas are becoming increasingly popular with homesteaders. But are they right for beginners?
- Great for fiber and manure. Alpacas produce lovely fiber that can be turned into yard and rich manure for your garden or compost.
- Reproduce easily.
- Do not eat a lot.
- Do not need a large pasture.
- Do not need extensive housing. Alpacas are pretty happy with just a shed with protection from the elements.
- Easy cleanup. Alapacas will leave their excrement in a communal place, making cleanup easier.
- Adorable. Alpacas are cute and fluffy and fun to watch.
- Do not test fences. Alpacas do not attempt to test fences like goats do, and will happily remain in their pasture.
- Are docile and not aggressive.
- Hardy and do well in all kinds of weather.
- Gentle. Alpacas are very gentle animals, making them good with children.
- Do not have horns or hooves.
- Need to be sheared yearly.
- They are expensive and may be difficult to find.
- Alpaca veterinary care may be difficult to find.
- Herd animals. Alpacas are herd animals and need to be kept together.
- Protection. Alpacas need to be protected from predators.
- Are susceptible to parasites.
Once you’ve raised chickens for meat, you may want to expand your fowl to something bigger and meatier. Turkeys make a great choice.
- Meat birds. Turkeys are raised for their delicious meat.
- Intelligent and docile. Turkeys form family bonds and are very intelligent.
- Not messy. Turkeys do not scratch, so they are less messy than chickens.
- Easy to house. Turkeys have similar housing requirements as chickens and are easy to please so long as they are protected.
- They need a lot of space. The large size of this bird means it needs extra space.
- Big appetites. Due to their large size, turkeys eat a lot more than chickens.
- Delicate. Turkey poults are not as hardy as chickens.
Guinea hens are becoming more prominent on the homestead, but they still have a bad reputation for being noisy and flighty. Are they right for your beginner homestead? Here are the pros and cons.
- They are a natural alarm system. Guineas are easily startled and will let you know if something is in the barnyard.
- They eat bugs, snakes and rodents. Guinea fowl will gladly take care of your outdoor pests.
- Dual-purpose. Guineas can be raised for eggs and meat. They are prolific layers of smallish eggs.
- Easy to house and feed. They have very simple housing and feed requirements, mostly taking care of their own food needs because they are great foragers.
- Funny. Their antics are funny as they line up and march across the field.
- They have a long life span. If they don’t get eaten or lost, guinea fowl can live up to 15 years.
- They do not like confinement and won’t stay where you want them.
- They tend to nest in trees where they are easy prey.
- They are noisy and may bother your neighbors.
Larger homesteads often feature a family milk cow or two. But are they right for your beginning homestead?
- Milk and meat. Cows can provide large amounts of milk and meat.
- Domesticated. Cows are domesticated and typically are docile.
- Basic shelter needs. Cows don’t need fancy accommodations, but they do need a way to get out of the weather.
- Simple to feed. Cows can be pasture-fed most of the year if you have enough pasture but will need hay in winter.
- Need to be bred yearly. To keep a cow in milk, she will need to be bred regularly, either by a bull or artificial insemination.
- You need to milk twice a day. You have to milk and you just can’t skip if you are sick or lazy.
- They are expensive to purchase. Larger animals cost more to buy upfront.
- Space. Cows need large amounts of space, including more pasture and barn room.
- They eat and drink a lot.
- They make a lot of manure.
- Must be watched. No matter the temperament, cows are large and small children must be watched very carefully.
There are many choices for homesteading animals. If you are thinking about raising animals for the first time, go slow! Caring for farm animals can be quite overwhelming to new owners. If you try raising animals and decide it isn’t for you, remember that you will have to find new homes for those animals. It is much easier to rehome a couple of chickens then it is a herd of goats or a family cow.
However, raising animals is rewarding, both for the sustainability and food production, but also for providing care and love to another species. When I wanted to add animals to my little homestead, I started with a few chickens, then later added two goats to see if I enjoyed raising them. And I found that I did! Over time, I added ducks, rabbits, and quail, just not all at once.
I believe the best animals to raise as a beginner homesteader are chickens. Chickens are the easiest to care for, the most inexpensive to find, and won’t take up a lot of your precious time. If you aren’t allowed to have chickens where you live, then try quail or rabbits. After you feel confident raising a small animal, you can more easily add a larger one such as goats.
While alpacas and cows are great to consider for a homestead, they do need more extensive space and feed. So if you want to start raising animals, I recommend finding a small chicken coop and bringing home a couple of chickens. They are fun, rewarding, easy to care for, and a delicious addition to your homestead whether you are a seasoned pro or a brand new homesteader.
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