Whether your goal is to get off the grid and away from it all or to try your hand at living a more self-sufficient life, animals are an important part of any homesteading plan. Raising animals for food will provide a well-rounded diet and give you more choices of items to sell or trade to make your living independently.
Homestead animals are a big responsibility, though. When you take on animals, you can’t skip a feeding or go on vacation without a backup plan. You also need to budget for their food and shelter, just as you do for your own. It’s best to smart small and work your way up to more challenging livestock as you become more experienced.
Here’s my advice about the best homesteading animals to try. I’ve even put them in order for you:
Raising chickens has become popular with city folk and homesteaders alike in the past decade, and that means finding a ready-made chicken coop and other supplies is pretty easy nowadays. If you only want eggs, you can special-order sex-link chicks to be sure you’re getting a flock full of hens. If you’re planning to raise the birds for meat as well, you can purchase a straight-run flock, or a mix of male and female. Be sure you have a plan in place for butchering the birds, though, because your flock won’t be able to handle more than a couple roosters as they grow up.
Chickens are a great choice for beginning homesteaders because they don’t take up much room, and you can get a lot of eggs for just a little investment in feed, especially if you let them free range. You can have as few as just three as a test-run to be sure you like raising animals before making a bigger investment, so I recommend everyone give poultry a try.
Raising ducks is very similar to raising chickens — the only thing that raises the difficulty level is the need for a water source. You don’t have to have a pond, but you at least need a kiddie pool full of water to allow the ducks to bathe and keep their feathers well-oiled. They’ll likely drink the water and hunt for bugs on it, so it’s important to change the water often for healthy ducks.
Otherwise, ducks can live in a small coop just like chickens, as long as the door is big enough for them. They should also have a safe pen to go to at night to keep them safe from predators. Like chickens, ducks can be raised for both eggs and meat.
If you’re interested in raising mammals, rabbits are a great place to start. They are small and are happy in a hutch, so you can keep them contained without worrying about your garden coming under attack. Because rabbits breed like, well, rabbits, they’re an excellent, quick-growing source of meat that is pretty easily butchered. If you plan to do that yourself, find a knowledgeable mentor to walk you through it the first time.
Rabbits also make an excellent first fiber animal. If you’re interested in spinning and knitting, you can start small by simply brushing your furry bunnies and harvesting the hair from the brush before you work up to shearing. This is also a great project for children who may be sensitive about harvesting animals, because rabbits can be treated like a pet.
Making the leap from small animals to ones that need to graze is a big step. You will need a barn, stable or other outbuilding for starters. You will also need a fenced pasture or to invest in truckloads of appropriate feed. If you have the space, goats are a great place to start.
While you can raise goats for meat, most people use them for milk. Dairying is a big step: You need to mate your girls, because the milk comes only after they give birth. Then you have to decide how many kids you can keep and what you will do with the ones you can’t. You also need to commit to daily milking, which means you are now a full-time farmer.
Once you’ve tried your hand at animal husbandry with some of the smaller animals, you’re finally ready for the big time. Adding a cow to your homestead is a big deal, but it’s definitely one of the most exciting things you can do.
If you have room in your barn for a cow or too, raising them will be similar to raising goats — just bigger, with more feed. Once you get beyond a single milk cow, though, adding cattle to the homestead is a big investment. I had to buy a bunch of specialized equipment when I made the leap into raising cattle, but the investment pays off when you make those big milk or meat sales.
Enjoy Your New Animals
No matter how big your homestead is or what your goals are, there’s an animal that’s just right for you. Start small, read all you can about your new animal, and give it a try. Your level of self-sufficiency and your index of homesteading skills will increase exponentially when you make the leap to raising animals on your own.