Written by Daleen Cowgar
As you begin your homesteading journey, you will probably want to add animals at some point. But what animals are the best to have on a homestead? What should you start with? How should you start?
These are very good questions. It again goes back to your goals for your homestead and what space options you have. Do you have a city backyard? Do you have several acres? Do you have fencing or are you willing to build fencing? How much time do you want to put into this? These questions will help you decide where to start.
To help you as you think through these questions, here is some information about the most popular homesteading animals.
Chickens and ducks
Chickens are the easiest animal to begin homesteading with. They require very little work or food, they can take care of themselves (for the most part, until the predators try to make a meal out of them at night), and they produce daily eggs and give you the opportunity for meat. You only need about four or five of them to supply your family and your neighbors, and they can easily live in a small city plot.
Ducks are a little bit more difficult than chickens, but not by much. They cause a bigger mess since they love mud, water, and tracking that mud and water into their coop. If the ducks and chickens are raised together, they will be just fine living together. Duck eggs are quite delicious and they also have great meat.
Rabbits are another great small-space animal to have. They have great meat, or if you are looking for a source of income, you can raise and sell rabbits as pets. They can easily live in hutches if you don’t have much room or larger runs if you have several acres (or more). As you decide what rabbits you will choose, you need to factor in the temperature where you live, as rabbits can be very sensitive to heat or cold.
Goats are excellent animals to invest in when you have a little bit more space. They need some room to graze and do well on grass. With goats, you do need to be careful of your fences. They love to push the boundaries and, of course, the grass is always greener on the other side. They make up for their ornery attitude toward fences with delicious meat, rich milk, and a love for eating that pesky undergrowth that you want to clear out. They require a little bit more work since they need milked if you have milk goats, but they are not hard to care for.
Cows do well on larger plots of land, and they are perfect homesteading animals. They have the ability to produce large amounts of milk (freshly strained milk tastes amazing) and can provide you with enough meat to make it through the entire winter. The question is, do you want to go with beef or milk cows?
My personal opinion is to do with a stout mix between the two, one who doesn’t produce so much milk that you’re overwhelmed and who also is stout and thick for meat and hardiness. However, if you want to get into making cheese, butter, or more, you may need more milk. Look at your needs and research the different breeds to find the best cow for you. It’s also important to consider your environment. A fluffy Scottish Highland looks amazing, but will not handle Southern heat well. A Brangelina won’t tolerate the cold of the North well either.
Bees may not be for everyone, but they are a great resource to have. Even if you don’t want to harvest the honey, they will work to keep your garden pollinated. Some people might be scared about the prospect of having a hive on their property, but a gentle European honey bee won’t bother you! Since they die if they sting you, they do everything they can to not sting you and will only do so if they feel like their life is in danger. When my sisters and I were younger, we would go to the hives and let the bees crawl on our hands--that’s how gentle they are.
Because who doesn’t love bacon? Pigs are huge sources of meat for farmers and homesteaders. The size enclosure you’ll need will depend on the size of the pig. The biggest they are, the more meat they will produce, but the more space and food they will need. Pigs also have a lot of piglets, which can be sold for a good price, and they can help root up and plow your garden.
What? Using pigs to plow a garden? Yes! As animals who love to root and dig, they can tear up the plot of land that you would like to use as a garden. If it’s an old garden, they will happily eat up all those old plants, roots, and leftover veggies. Better yet, when they eat it, they also poop it out, fertilizing your garden too.
While these may not be animals that you “keep” on your homestead, they are important to address as you plot out how to feed your family. If you hunt, fish, or trap, you will not have the same guarantee of meat as you would if you raised a cow. However, if you are planning on supplementing your meat with wild meat, you may not need to butcher a cow as that may give you too much meat for your family.
Homesteading is not just about being self-sufficient, but also about sustainability. You don’t want to have so much meat or crops that it goes to waste. That’s why it’s important to plan out what you think you’ll eat and what you need to do to get exactly that and not much more.
Homesteading animals can make you feel like a full-blown homesteader. You will undoubtedly learn a lot as you tend to them, but you will be grateful for it. Even if you don’t want to butcher animals or are a vegetarian, animals can add much to your homestead in the means of eggs, milk, bug control, grass mower, undergrowth clearer, fence tester, fertilizer, and a natural, happy plow. No matter what size space you have or what animals you care you, they will be a great addition to your homestead.