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6 Best Farm Animals to Raise (and 1 Not to) When You’re Just Starting out

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If you are new to the idea of homesteading, you might be wondering what you should consider raising on your land.

Some choose the basic farm animals to raise while others take a more exotic approach. Researching the needs of each animal is always the best place to start.

Raising livestock always has a learning curve but the more knowledgeable you are the better that curve will be to you and your animals.

1. Pekin Ducks

Pekin Ducks are the easiest animals to raise. They are a great source for meat and large eggs.

They also require very little space.

They have a bigger appetite than chickens but are great foragers as well. You can get by with building them a small house and giving them a kiddie pool to swim in, and they will be extremely happy.

Pekins are great helpers around the garden. They do not scratch the ground like chickens so they are kind to your plants. They will eat your weak rooted plants and keep the bugs off of your healthy ones.

They are friendly animals and are a great addition to a larger farm or your backyard.

The only caution with ducks is they are larger, slower birds so they are weak to predators. Hawks and dogs are their biggest threat but with proper fencing they should be well protected.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Consideration

Prone to predators

Overall

Read this guide if you're interested in raising ducks:

2. Rabbits

Rabbits are great additions to any homestead. They are a great meat source, cost very little to feed, and take up very little space.

Rabbits’ gestation period is about one month. They often have 6+ in a litter, and their babies can be culled at 8 weeks so it is a fast meat supply.

They can be fed store bought feed, fodder, extra veggies from the garden, weeds and grass clippings, and hay. Rabbits are also great for your garden because they produce some of the most amazing fertilizer.

Rabbits do usually require hutches. They can be built for very little cost or purchased. Some choose to let their rabbits free range in a bunny tractor for protection. You may also choose to raise your rabbits in a colony setting. Their housing obviously has many options that can cost as little or as much as you choose.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Consideration

Prone to predators

Too cute​ to eat

Overall

3. Chickens

Chickens are a commonly raised farm animal because they are multipurpose animals. They are a great source of eggs, meat, and fertilizer.

Chickens require about 4 square feet of space per hen in the coop. Chickens require a covered area to stay dry, fresh water, and a place to nest and lay their eggs.

Chickens will eat almost anything. You can feed them compost, weeds, leftovers from the garden, or store bought feed.

Breed will depend upon how many eggs you will get a day and will also determine their temperament. They are susceptible to predators such as hawks as well but having good fencing around their coop and a good rooster will help in protecting your hens.

Chickens are also susceptible to illness.

Cleanliness in their coop must be a priority in order to keep healthy chickens. Where chickens roost in such tight quarters and have weak respiratory systems, if one falls ill usually they all will. You must also be aware of using proper bedding in order to deter lice and mites.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Consideration

Illness

Cleanliness

Overall

If you want to raise chickens in your backyard, read and bookmark this ultimate guide from the "chicken experts":

 

4. Goats

Goats are a magnificent animal to keep on your homestead.

They are great at clearing brush, a meat source, and also great for dairy. If you are looking for a dairy source but don’t have a lot of acreages a goat is the way to go.

Nigerian Dwarf goats can produce anywhere from a ½-1 gallon of milk per day. Goat milk is actually easier to digest than cow’s milk and a Nigerian Dwarf normally only weighs about 75 pounds so they are much more feasible in a smaller space.

Goats will feed on shrubbery and wood. They love hay, vegetables, and also store bought feed.

Some choose to leave their goats out to pasture. If your goats are in a smaller space it is good to give them a covered place to stay dry when it rains. They will appreciate it.

Goats are very susceptible to illness. When a goat has a stomach issue it can be a matter of life or death in only a few hours.

It is important to worm them a few times a year. You can choose to use store-bought medication or feed them pumpkin or pine trees. If you notice they have a stomach problem start treating them immediately.

Goats are also escape artists. The only true way to keep them fenced in is to keep them happy.

They are social animals so it is important to have more than one. If you keep them well fed and give them a buddy, they should stay happy and want to stay right where they are.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Consideration

Unpredictable

Overall

5. Pigs

Pigs have a bad reputation for smell and messiness. In reality, pigs are clean animals. If you have the land available to allow them to free range then your feeding expense will be a lot lower.

The smell factor will also not be an issue because the more you move them the less they smell.

When pigs have babies their litters can often consist of as many as 11 piglets. They are obviously a great meat source, but you must raise the babies for a year to get an adequate amount of meat from them.

They eat compost, corn, other grains, milk, bread, fodder, and practically anything else you feed them. However, being such large animals they do require a lot of food which can get expensive if they are not free ranged.

They require a pin with strong fencing. They are very strong animals and can escape if they put their mind to it.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Cell content

They eat a lot

Overall

6. Cows

The reason cow is included in this list is actually to explain why it might not be a good choice for you. Read on...

Cows are a large animal and, therefore, require a large amount of space. One cow needs around an acre to graze. You must technically have at least 2 acres for it so you can rotate pastures.

They are a great source for milk and meat. However, because of the amount of space they take up, it is fair to say that a cow is not right for everyone.

There is also a lot of danger to owning a cow.

They are a large animal and can seriously injure you if you are not accustomed to handling them.

They need a large water source, a barn for winter with a large supply of hay to keep them fed, and shade for hot summer days while they are out in the pasture.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Consideration

Not for beginners

Overall

7. Honeybees

While most people somehow do not consider raising honeybees on their homestead. They're actually magnificent creatures and require very little maintenance.

You need hive boxes to get started and a small water source where they can rest and drink. Their water source can be a bird bath with little rocks in it to keep them from drowning or something as large as a pond.

The best thing about bees is you can get them for free!

They swarm a lot in the spring and are very gentle when they do. You will need a bee suit, gloves, and some sugar water to catch them but once you do, you have a free hive.

Hive boxes do have feeders on top that you fill with a mixture of 5 pounds of sugar watered down. However, bees travel up to a 5-10 mile radius to collect food so they usually do not depend on the feeder.

Bees are not vicious animals to keep.

If you place their hives off of the beaten path you won’t even realize you are keeping them.

The obvious perk of keeping bees is the honey. You always have to leave them a little in the event that they need it as a food source, but the majority of it is all yours and it is delicious!

Bees do have upfront costs like hive boxes, bee suits, etc. but the initial investment is worth the experience of raising bees and having honey on tap in your backyard.

Space needed

Produce

Cost to raise

Consideration

Some people allergic to bee stings

Overall

Raising animals on a homestead is always exciting. It is an opportunity to learn and to harvest your own food right in your backyard.

Now it is your turn…what is your favorite animal to raise on your homestead?

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Comments:

  1. Tried to join,but keep getting a 404 error message,love your site hope I can find a way to keep you in my loop. Great info.

    • Hi Jasmine,

      I personally have yet to raise donkeys but after viewing your question I’ve asked some friends of mine that do. It all depends on your experience with raising and training animals. You can purchase donkeys that have already been trained.

      The most important thing to know about them is that they are very social animals. They’ll need a companion that will not be separated from them for the duration of their life. A lot of people keep them with their goats (as they are great protectors.) I’ve heard that combination works well because goats are very social animals as well.

      It is also my understanding that Jenny’s are the best options because of their temperament.

      I hope that helps you. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Dexter cows only need a half acre to an acre per animal, provide milk and meat in quantities easier to use by a family. maybe cows can be included after all! and pigs are a pain…..eat as much as a cow, don’t provide milk, are harder to manage. Ducks tear up your garden and yard just as quick as chicken will, and poop a-lot more. goats…just don’t like goats, so I never had those. Bees are great use the K-bar hive so much easier and cost effective, have a friend who has rabbits….the kids wont eat them however unless I am sneaky with the meat. all in all animals are animals you have to find the ones that work for you, your land and your lifestyle….they are all ALOT of work though even the easy maintainers require some work. but hey I know where my food comes from, not off a Kelloggs Conveyor!

    • Donkeys are wonderful loyal creatures and are quite hardy. They make great natural protectors for more vulnerable livestock like sheep and goats and require almost no training for job. It seems to come naturally to them.

      For the homestead-ette beginner though, they do require some maintenance, primarily hoof care. A lame animal is something you never want to have, so you have to be sure to take good care of their feet and hooves.

      Farriers are harder and harder to find, so failing to have a good local farrier, the donkey owner would need to learn hoof maintenance skills. If donkeys have any downsides outside of hoof maintenance, I don’t know what it could be.

      We had them for many years and found them to good friends, easy to deal with, nearly problem free.

      I recommend them.

  3. Regarding cows and their size. A miniature heritage breed such as Dexter might be the answer if one really wants a cow. Their smaller size, less than a 1000 lbs and 36-42 inches at the shoulder, means less space and food requirements. They handle heat and cold and pasture well outside year round needing only a windbreak, shelter and water. Milk production is from 1-3 gallons a day. The milk generally has a 4-5% butterfat contents making it an excellent source for butter and cheese. Average dress out rate is 50-60% with the meat being lean and of high quality. Then there is the cuteness factor. They are just plain adorable bovine. There are other miniature breeds also. Something to think about.

  4. Technically the Dexter is not a miniature. It is the smallest of the full sized breeds. They have a gene that some breed for and some breed out that causes the short stature. If you breed that gene out they end up being more like the Kerry which are another great small sized breed….but Dexters are great…we love ours….

  5. The only note I want to say is for goats many vets are now saying only worm based on fecal test (which you can learn to do at home). Over working and not using proper wormer for the right parasite is leading to resistant parasites. Great Article 🙂

  6. How about sheep!!, they taste great on the grill, if you get the hairless type
    you won’t have to worry about shearing them, easy to keep, helps keep the pastures down so you don’t have to mow.
    Just have to worm them once a year and keep their feet trimmed unless you have a lot of rocky places they can run and jump.
    You may have to feed them some grain in the winter with hay/field grass, but you have to do the same with goats, but if you like to spin wool, well then get the other kind.

  7. Great article. Another thing to note is that pigs(like goats) are herd animals and should not be kept alone or they could get depressed and possibly sick. Also pigs should not be kept with other small animals like goats or poultry for most breeds can injure them.
    Thanks!!!!

  8. I enjoyed reading the articles. As of now I have 18 chickens and 2 ducks. I am interested in purchasing goats. You have helped me to make my decision. Goats it is!

    • Hi Mimi! I’m so glad to hear that you have decided to get goats!

      I love my goats. They make me so happy. Ours just had babies not too long ago, and they have brought so much joy to our homestead.

      Good luck with them and share pics if you get the chance. We’d love to see your new additions.

  9. I have a smallholding in Dorset, UK, my order of getting animals was chickens and ducks, followed by Guinea Fowl (which I love and wouldn’t be without!), pilgrim and west of england geese and then progressed to shetland sheep, 2 pigs to fatten, 2 llamas allegedly to protect from foxes (hhmmm) and last but not least just hatched grey legged partridge.
    For those starting out, decide what and then why you want something, if you need to make a full or part living from it, look at rare or heritage breeds, in the UK lots of people are interested in these and you have a good chance of selling stock, hatching eggs, meat etc apart from the satisfaction of helping them, they are usually no harder to look after and in some cases more robust.
    Starting again I would have chosen a rare brend chicken, but love all my girls and guys and wouldn’t get rid of them.
    Good luck to all!

    • Hi 5 from a fellow Guinea fowl lover in Australia 🙂 They are the best and I can’t imagine farm life without my noisy little confusion following me around everywhere 😀

  10. Alpacas are so easy to care for and, done right, you can make some money raising them as well. On a daily basis, alpacas just need to be fed and given clean water.Monthly, they need a dewormer and possibly nail trimming. Annually, they need to be sheared. Alpacas are gentle and do not challenge fencing. And, you can raise 6-8 of them on an acre. Plus, they arr darned cute!

  11. I got a goat to keep my horse company. My horse loves the goat. My goat seems comfortable with my horse. It’s only been a week so I hope they bond:)

  12. I am so excited to have found this blog. I was raised on a small farm about the same size as I now own. My grandparents were amazing at making that 8 acres produce everything. I didn’t have any experience with goats until someone gave me two pygmies they no longer wanted. I kept them for a couple of years just as pets then lucked onto a billy and after those first kids were born I was HOOKED. LOVE LOVE my goats. I keep all the females & put the boys in the freezer when I need meat. Pygmies are meat goats. If you cross them with Nigerian Dwarfs your female offspring will produce awesome milk. As for pigs, they are fun to raise also. We butcher all our own meat so the pigs don’t stay on our feed bill long because by the time they are 60 lbs they are in the freezer. The meat is amazingly tender and I grind a lot of the pork & goat meat together to make ground meat dishes. I’ve had people over that never knew they were eating goat & pig in burgers or Mexican food and they just couldn’t understand what made the meat so good. LOL We also eat chickens, ducks, & geese. I tried the rabbit production and just could not overcome their sensitivity to our hot Texas weather 6 months of the year. Most people in Texas raising rabbits have an air conditioned barn. To me rabbits are more trouble to raise than anything. On small acreage cattle aren’t even a consideration to me. They take too long to mature & need too much space. Goats & pigs are my primary meat sources. This year I’m starting cross breeding LaMancha buck with boer crosses. Once I get 3 or 4 LaMancha/boer cross nannies I will start with milk products. LOVE homesteading. Thanks so much for your info. I’ve been considering bees but just cannot bring myself to start a hive.

  13. A consideration regarding goats and pigs….they are escape artists. Very secure pens are required as they can both destroy gardens in no time flat!

  14. I love goats and have owned them for a while. You can worm a goat with a chip off a plug of tobacco. They are herd animals but will bond with a dog or any other livestock you have if you only have one. They do require regular foot care, but you can do it yourself if your farrier or vet will teach you or ask the seller. Also watch for the horns! Goats that have horns can also be used as predator guards for your chickens, ducks, and small livestock. Billies (males) do stink during breeding season as they tend to urinate all over themselves to impress the does (females)!

  15. We raise pigs, ducks, goats, chickens, and turkeys. Getting rabbits soon.
    I just want to say that raising pigs isn’t hard. The hardest part is making sure they’re contained properly, because they are STRONG. We use hot wire. Also, we slaughter at 6 months, not a year.

  16. Hey 🙂 I know this isn’t what the blog post was exactly about ( I really love the article. Very well done) but I’d love anyone’s constructive opinion that may help me with my decision to get goats (or cows) for milk. I am a vegetarian and we raise chickens and ducks I find it easy to keep them for their eggs without using them for meat as well. My question is directed to anyone who has raised goats (or cows) and any tips for keeping goats (or cows) for milk without using them for meat as well? Please keep the question positive : ) Thanks in advance for any help!

  17. I have a question about miniture cattle. Would they be as useful as a regular size such as milking and meat?

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