The Best Animals for a Homestead and Why You Need Them
As you start to grow your homestead, you’ll start to wonder about adding animals. Animals serve many purposes, but most importantly, they’re a source of food for our families. If you’re like most homesteaders, you don’t have a ton of land to spare. You may have 5 to 10 acres available, which is plenty to have animals. If you have even more acres, adding animals isn’t an issue.
For those of us with limited space, we want to make sure we pick the right homesteading animals. They need to serve a purpose and serve it well. Each animal has to earn its place because land and space is a premium we can’t spare.
So, let’s take a look at the options and why they might work for you.
The Best Animals for a Homestead
Without a doubt, chickens are the gateway animal for homesteaders. Nowadays, you can find chickens even in urban settings. Backyard chicken ownership is a thing that’s popular right now.
Chickens can be raised for eggs, meat or both. Some breeds, called dual breeds, can accomplish both. If you’re looking to become a self-sufficient homesteader, those are the breeds you’ll want. Some people purchase breeds that are raised solely for meat, but those animals aren’t sustainable.
Why? Because you have to purchase them from a supplier and raise on your own. They get larger faster and HAVE to be culled. You can’t decide that little Roxie is so cute she needs to be your child’s pet. No, she has to be butchered.
Here are some reasons you might want to raise chickens on your homestead.
- Require little space
- Scavengers – they can forage for food.
- Keep away ticks.
- Eat up your kitchen scraps.
- Great with kids (generally).
- Require little maintenance.
- You can sell fertilized eggs or chicks for profit.
Yes, rabbits are cute and make great pets. Did you know that you can train rabbits to go in a litter box? They’re quite intelligent. Rabbits are often raised by homesteaders as a source of meat. They reproduce easily. The term “breeding like rabbits” is said for a reason. You can always have some on hand if you space out the culling correctly.
A rabbit’s gestation period is around one month. Each litter can have six or more babies. You typically cull the babies around eight weeks. So, the cycle is about three months long.
Reasons to raise rabbits include:
- Require little space
- Breeding is easy.
- Great tasting meat
- Good for suburban homesteaders.
Just like chickens, you can raise ducks for meat and eggs. Duck eggs are quite tasty! They’re one of the most entertaining homesteading animals to watch. You do need to have some sort of water source for them. Ducks need either a pond, a stream, or even a baby pool of water. Be prepared to fill up their water source often if it’s not natural.
A few reasons to raise ducks include:
- Very quiet – great if you have neighbors.
- Lay big, rich eggs
- Can be processed for meat
- Typically friendly around kids.
- Easy to manage
Do you want some real entertainment? Goats are characters! You can find goats of all sizes, so if you have little space, a pygmy goat could be a good choice! They are crafty, so they might escape your pens easily.
You might want to raise goats for a few reasons, including:
- Goat milk
- Goat cheese
- Selling goat kids as a source of income
- Can be raised for meat
- Love to clear overgrown land
Cows – Dairy and Meat
So, raising cows may not be an option for you if you don’t have the space available. Some people start off with a goat or two and realize that they love producing their own milk. Then, that starts the journey to look for a dairy cow.
Then you realize that the dairy cow needs to have a calf in order to make milk. So, you end up with a steer. Before you know it, you have your own cow herd. That’s how these things happen on a homestead. It’s like water running downstream; it just picks up steam.
Raising cows, whether for meat or dairy, have an obvious benefit:
- High-quality beef. Grass-fed cows produce some of the BEST meat you can find. You’ll pay $6 to $12 per pound at the grocery store for grass-fed beef.
- High-quality dairy products. Of course, raising your own dairy cow means that typically you will be drinking raw milk. While some people are apprehensive, when done properly, raw milk is quite nutritious and yummy. That means you can also make your own cheeses – hard and soft -, yogurt, and other dairy products.
Pigs may not be the best choice for a first homesteading animal. Believe it or not, pigs are one of the most intelligent animals on a homestead. They’re masters at escaping, and they eat EVERYTHING. That’s not an exaggeration. They can eat bones and all, which is kind of scary when you think about it. You will need some strong fencing as well. Pigs weigh hundreds of pounds. Try catching a runaway pig! That’s not so fun or easy.
If you’re ready for a bit of a homesteading challenge and want homegrown pork, pigs are for you! You might like some other benefits, such as:
- They’re adorable – seriously!
- Pigs will eat everything, from the unused whey after making cheese to the scraps from dinner. That’s handy.
- Each litter contains around 11 piglets. Piglets sell for high prices are the market or fair!
Pigs have an unfortunate reputation for being smell and messy. While they do have a smell – you get that with feces – pigs are clean animals. They keep their bathroom and living areas separate. If you can let the pigs free-range, your feed costs will be lower. Plus, the more they can move around, the less they smell.
Picking the Right Homestead Animal
You should start with one animal and then add more. It might seem like a brilliant idea to try three at one time, but you really don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Start with something easy – such as ducks, chickens, or rabbits – before you move onto harder animals like cows and pigs. Animals are the crux of a successful homestead.
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