Raising Small Livestock – Great Animals for Smaller Homesteads (or those just starting)

Raising Small Livestock – Great Animals for Smaller Homesteads (or those just starting)

Great Animals for Smaller Homesteads

When you first get started raising animals, smaller is probably better.  You could start with a cow, but you’d need pasture, fencing, shelter, drinkers, feeders, de-icers, and the list goes on.  It can be a bit overwhelming to consider the amount of work that must be done before bringing home a cow.

Thankfully, there are some animals you can add to your homestead today that won’t break the budget, require a homestead renovation or require 5 acres of land.

People think we have a large homestead because we live on 23 acres.  The truth is that most of our land is woods.  We raise all our gardens and animals (rabbits, cows- beef & dairy, sheep, pigs, calves, chickens, and the occasional duck) on about 5 acres.  It’s true.

Many of these animals are easy to bring home, make accommodations for and can be kept on very little space.

There are actually several livestock options for small farms and even urban homesteaders. Not everyone wants to or has the ability to live on acreage.

Good news!  If you have a backyard and a cooperative HOA (Home Owners Association) you can keep some animals.  You may want to keep them for meat, eggs, milk, fleece, income potential or other reason.  Whatever your motivation – here are some great animals to consider:

Layer Chickens

It seems like this is a given, but chickens are a great place to start when getting livestock for your homestead.  Laying hens can be kept in a small coop with an attached tractor.  They need food and water and a place to scratch and peck.

Most commercial tractors (and DIY versions) are mobile which really is nice.  It won’t take long for the chickens to turn the land into a barren waste.  Moving your girl’s backyard is a great way to ensure they can always get bugs and grass to eat (making their eggs more nutritious).

Laying hens are fantastic to have on the farm.  They will give you fresh eggs and yard art too.

Broiler Chickens

Raising chickens for meat is a surprisingly simple and short activity.

When I got my first batch of laying hens I thought they’d never grow up and make me eggs.  It can take a laying hen 5-6 months to become mature enough to lay eggs.  Broiler chickens do not share this ‘slow to start’ characteristic.

A broiler chick goes from a tiny peeper to a ball the size of a basketball in 8 short weeks.

It’s amazing.  You can see them grow before your eyes.

It only takes a couple of months to grow a crop of chicken dinners from start to finish, and it can be done in surprisingly small quarters.

I know many folks who raise broiler chicks in their yards.  A simple chicken tractor can be erected to keep everyone safe for their short lives.  Food and water can be provided in addition to all the grass & bugs they’ll find on the ground.  Just move the tractor around in the yard so the chickens have fresh land to scratch and peck as they grow.

You’ll be frying fresh chicken in no time.

Ducks

Pekin ducks are fantastic for meat and eggs.  Ducks grow at a remarkable rate.  They beat the rabbits and the meat chickens.  A duckling will be ready for slaughter in about 5-6 weeks.  That is remarkable!

Ducks are friendly and sweet to have on the farm.  Give them a little duck house and a kiddie pool and they will love you forever.  They can even be allowed to forage around the garden.  Ducks won’t poke holes in all your tomatoes or scratch up your plants like chickens will.  They will leave your fruit alone and eat the bugs for you.

The biggest problem with ducks is the mess.  Ducks poop a lot.  This can be managed with some free-ranging.

Meat Rabbits

Meat rabbits don’t ask for much.  They need a safe place to live, food and water.

The reproduction potential of a rabbit is astounding.  A rabbit can have a litter every 30 days.  Rabbits can even become pregnant before they give birth (more on that here). It only takes 3 months to raise a newborn rabbit to slaughter weight (many folks cull rabbits at 10 weeks old).

Another key feature of keeping meat rabbits is the low cost of food.  A rabbits diet is mostly grass.  With some wire-bottomed cages, rabbits can be placed in the yard to graze.  Using some free-ranging in cages can greatly reduce the cost of raising rabbits. Dried grass (hay) can be fed to rabbits during seasons when grass is scarce.  Pellets should be offered, especially to young rabbits, to supplement their diet of grass and hay.

Fiber Rabbits

There are other reasons to raise livestock than for eggs or meat.  Many animals are raised for milk, fiber, profit and other qualities (like companionship).

There are several breeds of rabbits that can be raised for wool.  The angora rabbit is probably the most desirable.  Their wool is softer and more valuable than sheep.  Angora rabbit wool is also 4 times warmer than sheep fleece.

Keeping rabbits for fiber is a great option for folks who don’t want to raise terminal livestock.  You’ll never need to cull one.

Pigs

I know, I know, pigs are huge and they smell.  If you live in a neighborhood, you probably don’t want to have a pig in your backyard.  But if you have a little slice of land outside of suburbia, a pig should definitely be considered.

If you get a pig in spring, you can have it slaughtered before Thanksgiving.  It will grow from a 50-pound feeder piglet to a 300-pound hog as long as it has plenty of good things to eat.

Another great feature of the pig is how much of it is edible.  Unlike most livestock, who have a 30-50% usable meat, the pig is 70%.  This means if you have a 500-pound cow you will only get 250 pounds of meat.  If you have a 500-pound pig you will get 350 pounds of meat.  That’s a lot of pork.

Pigs also provide a mind-spinning variety of food:  bacon, pork chops, pork loins, pork steaks, ribs, ham, tenderloins, sausage, ham steaks, pork cutlets, ground pork, pork shoulders, pork butts, roasts, breakfast chops, soup and neck bones, lard, etc.

To raise pigs, you do not need much space at all.  They need a clean pen, space to roll in the dirt and a shelter.  Pigs are very smart, so they can be kept in with simple electric fencing.  We have used flimsy construction, plastic fencing to hold pigs.  There is no need to put in a permanent fence.

What about the smell? you ask.

Pigs are actually very clean animals.  They will choose a spot in their pen to use as a bathroom.  They will keep their home clean.  They only roll in the mud to cool off and avoid sunburn.   As long as there is only a pig or two in a large enough space, the smell is usually not an issue.

We have been keeping pigs outdoors in roomy pens for years.  We make sure they have room to get exercise, root, relax and live.  And, it doesn’t take much.

A pig will give you plenty of good food to eat and probably make your homestead a happier place.

If you are on the fence about adding some animals to your operation or hobby farm – go ahead and give it a whirl!  The animals are my favorite part of homesteading.  They give us healthy food, give us companionship and make this little homestead a better place to live.

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