You as a homesteader may be looking into which animals are best to have on your homestead. This list will go in order of difficulty from the easiest animal to raise, to the most difficult.
There are 2 main reasons for raising animals for food. One is for self sufficiency. The second is to earn an income. Depending on your reason this can impact your choice of animal.
Let’s say you’re interested in raising animals for food and self-sufficiency. The first thing if you haven’t done so already is to make sure you have your vegetable garden in the ground. Raising animals is a step up from raising plants and vegetables and fruits so this will give you the experience (and food of course!). Not to mention the vegetable scraps that you can feed to your animals.
For self sufficiency, you’ll choose animals based on what you want to eat. Chickens for eggs and meat, cows for milk, and so on. If income is your goal (or income plus self sufficiency), then raising the most profitable animals like beef, lamb, and quail, might be your focus.
So, keep these things in mind to consider while you read. Here are the best farm animals to raise, starting with the most beginner-friendly.
Chickens are the best animal to start with for most people. The balance between difficulty to raise, cost to raise and what they produce (eggs and meat) is unrivaled by other animals.
The number one reason for picking chickens, especially for self-sufficiency, is food. We eat eggs almost every day or two, and we eat chicken more often than beef, pork or lamb. Having a flock of chickens is thus a must-have for a non-vegetarian homesteader.
Chickens are easy to raise compared to bigger and trickier animals like sheep and cows. They don’t need much space, about 10 square feet per chicken, which means a backyard is big enough. All they need is some shelter and protection from predators and are generally docile.
They also don’t cost a lot to start. You can buy chicks from hatcheries online for about $5, while egg-laying hens are about $20 up to $50. Chicken coops cost from a few hundred dollars. They eat just about anything – you can feed them vegetable and food scraps, and they eat bugs and weeds. And if you were wondering what not to feed chickens, we wrote a list.
It takes about 58 days for a hatched chick to grow into a chicken ready to be eaten. You could run a test project for 2 months and find out if rearing chickens is for you. In case it isn’t, you will be able to find them a new home through platforms like Craigslist.
Rabbits are another easy beginner animal. If for some reason you can’t or don’t want to keep chickens, rabbits are a great option.
Rabbit meat is lean and high in protein and is an excellent animal for self-sufficiency. You can start off with one buck and two does, and if you manage to breed them right, you’ll have an unending supply of rabbit meat.
It takes about a month for rabbits to give birth. Which means each month you could have a new litter of baby rabbits which could be anywhere from 1 to 12 rabbits. The reproductive cycle is very quick which means you’ll get to eat a lot of rabbit, and even sell the excess.
Generally, rearing rabbits doesn’t need too much work. They are social animals that you can also keep as pets, don’t need much space, and you can use their manure to fertilize your gardens.
The only considerations are whether you are comfortable slaughtering them and the idea of eating rabbit. You could find someone to process them for you, but this is rarer than chickens.
Quail are smaller than chickens and you’ll need about two quail to feed one person per meal. They also provide eggs which are small but delicious. You can have both quail and chicken or quail as a replacement to chicken. Chickens have more regulations than quail. If you are not allowed to raise chickens in your area, consider quail.
Because of their size, quail don’t need as much space as chickens. They are also very quiet, which means you can raise them almost anywhere. But, quail can fly – so you’ll need a cage for them and they can’t be free-ranged. They don’t cost much to raise.
Another animal that is good for beginners are ducks. You can have them instead of chickens, or even in addition to them. Ducks and chickens can be raised together.
As with chickens, ducks will provide meat and eggs. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs and are great for baking. Ducks also produce more eggs than chickens and duck eggs have a higher amount of protein.
The difference is that ducks need a place to play in water. You’ll need to have a pond or water source – a paddling pool will do just fine. They are also messier than chickens. They tend to lay their eggs all over the place, so make sure they come home for the night and only let them out after they have laid their eggs in the morning.
One of the advantages of ducks is their intelligence. They can be trained, enjoy engaging in activities and are able to form bonds with humans. This makes ducks great as pets.
For costs and housing, ducks also need protection from predators. And like chickens, they don’t cost much to raise and don’t need much space. Although they can be noisy, they won’t damage the garden as much as chickens which have the tendency to scratch at the ground.
Duck meat is also tasty but like rabbits, you’ll have to deal with the butchering. Or you could just keep them for their eggs or as pets. Ducks can be a lot of fun to play with!
The first thing you think of when considering the best farm animals to raise might not be fish, but it’s a no-brainer providing you have a body of water.
Fish are even easier than chickens – they are so hands-off and a fantastic protein source. If there is a pond or lake on your property, definitely try this out. You can also create an artificial lake or pond or set up a tank. This is possible in a backyard, or even an apartment.
In a smaller space, you wouldn’t be able to raise as many fish though. Consider an aquaponics system which will allow you to grow vegetables alongside fish in a symbiotic way.
The type of fish you raise depends on the climate you live in. Warmer climates allow you to grow fish such as tilapia, murray cod and catfish. For colder climates: trout, carp varieties and salmon. For the warmer-climate fish, you will need a heater if the water is still not warm enough.
The main pro of raising fish is that you don’t need to do much to look after them and they are very beginner-friendly. The cons are that setting up an aquaponics system can be expensive if you go that route. Also, fish like tilapia can take half a year to grow to a good size for harvesting. Other fish can take 1 to 2 years.
Still, fish is very healthy and the butchering part may be easier compared to other animals.
Although not technically an animal, we felt that it should be on this list because of how easy and useful worms are.
Worms are useful for 3 reasons. One, you can feed them to your chickens. Two, you can use them as bait to catch fish if you have a pond. Three, they produce worm castings rich in nutrients that you can use to fertilize your garden.
Worm castings are one of the best natural fertilizers out there. According to the article, they can increase garden yields by up to 25%. Since they are so easy to raise (just put them in some worm bins and feed them your food scraps), they’re extremely beneficial to you as a homesteader. Oh, and they’re silent, too.
Mini Jersey Cows
Now we move onto animals that are more difficult to raise. You don’t want to start with these unless you have some experience raising animals (the previous ones on this list excluding worms and fish). These animals require a lot more attention and are larger in size.
Let’s look at Mini Jersey cows first. These are different from your regular beef and dairy cows so we’ve put it in its own category. Whereas dairy and beef cows are some of the most difficult animals, the Mini Jersey would be somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty.
If you want a source of milk for your family homestead, this is your cow. They are smaller in size than other cows and are considered miniature cattle. But since it’s still a cow and has to be milked, make sure you can meet this requirement. This is the reason beginners should never start with dairy – you have to make sure you’re committed enough to turn up every day (twice a day for regular cows) to milk it!
It is possible to not milk as often, which involves adjusting the timing of when you milk with the needs of the calf.
Mini Jersey cows are docile if you respect them and they will stay within their fence. You don’t need a bull around (which would pose a danger on your homestead) – they can be artificially inseminated. They eat grass and will give you milk in return. This is a great mid-level animal to have around.
Another animal that is best left for homesteaders with a bit of experience are pigs. Larger in size, they may be harder to handle.
The obvious benefit is that you’ll get pork to eat. Pork can also be turned into bacon, ham and sausages. Raising just a few pigs should be enough to feed your family for a year. Later on, you can turn to breeding piglets for sale. Pigs can produce 25 piglets per litter in a relatively short amount of time.
Keeping pigs isn’t as messy as it’s made out to be. They don’t need much space, about 8 square feet per pig. But if you don’t want them to smell as much then allow them to free-range on grass. You’ll need to have strong fences though as they are large and can break through a fence.
Pigs eat almost anything, but they eat a lot. They consume about 5 to 7 pounds of feed per day. Also, make sure to keep at least two pigs at a time since they are social creatures.
Bees are an excellent ‘animal’ to keep. They are generally not for the beginner though, as there are some challenges involved. Challenges like harvesting the honey, keeping the bees safe from diseases, predators and pests like mites is not easy.
Besides this, they are generally low maintenance. You can leave them for weeks and they’ll still survive.
The main reason you’d consider raising bees is for their honey. Honey is a natural sweetener that is healthier than sugar. You can make a good income from selling honey and other products derived from bees. Beeswax, beeswax candles, soap and so on.
The second reason is that bees are extremely important to the environment and ecosystem. They are pollinators, so they carry seeds to other locations and ensure the survival of plants. Animals rely on plants for food, and we rely on both animals and plants. Bees are important to our survival as humans.
Keeping bees involves a bit of knowledge, so learn to keep them properly. You’ll need to get a suit and some equipment. Generally, the cost to start up isn’t too high.
Turkeys and Other Fowl
Other fowl are harder to raise compared to chickens as they are wild and less domesticated. Turkeys aren’t too bad though, and although they may not be the smartest of creatures, they are easier to take care of after they’ve grown from being poults.
You can sell turkeys for Thanksgiving and other seasonal events.
Goats are tougher to raise due to their size and ability to jump fences. They can be your intro to larger animals besides pigs. If you don’t have space for a regular sized cow (i.e. not the Mini Jersey), goats can be a good substitute.
Goats can provide you with milk and meat. Their other benefits include their exceptional ability to clear land – you can even rent them out for clearing pastures, vegetation and brush. As long as they have some space to forage (a backyard can be enough space), they’ll be happy.
Like other dairy animals, goats must be milked daily. You can turn that milk into a variety of products for your family to consume or sell. Goat milk, butter, cheese, soap and lotions are some value-added products you get from raising goats.
Sheep have similar issues to goats. They can have problems with worms, are about the same size and need just as much care to survive. They also require strong fences.
One thing that is different is that they chew grass right down to the bottom – which means you’ll need more pasture and land area so they can be rotated around.
Whereas goats have unpredictable behavior, sheep are docile.
Sheep will give you milk, wool, or meat, but it depends on what breed you choose. There are different sizes of sheep just like cows and goats, so pick one depending on your needs.
Wool must be sheared in the spring, which is another skill you will have to learn. If you need to milk them, this raises the commitment and time level to the same as any other dairy animal.
You can raise lamb to eat or sell, or you can eat sheep meat. You can turn their wool into products like yarn. As sheep need more land than goats – goats prefer to browse and just pick up things to eat rather than chewing all the way down grass like sheep, this makes sheep a tad more difficult than goats.
Cows require even more land than sheep. They are also a dairy animal which makes them one of the most difficult animals to raise on this list.
As a large livestock, cows are best left to the experienced homesteader who knows how to raise animals. They can cause serious injury due to their size so it’s important you know how to handle them.
If you’re raising cows for beef, you’ll need a bull, and bulls can be dangerous. And, you’ll be managing a herd as well. Raising beef is a three-year time commitment from birth to processing. If you raise dairy cows you’ll need to milk them twice a day.
In terms of land, cows require more space than sheep – you need an acre per cow. And because you have to rotate them, that becomes two acres per cow. If you don’t want grass fed beef you can feed them on hay, which means you don’t need as much land.
The milk you get from cows can be made into all sorts of dairy products, and beef brings in a lot of money. Consider cows if you have the land and experience!
Other animals you can consider having on your farm are horses, alpacas, llamas or donkeys. These are also large animals and require a lot of time and care. They might need more visits to the vet, and because of their size, you’ll need more space for them.
We hope you found this list helpful! Whatever animal you choose, make sure to choose ones that fit your experience and skill level.
Raising animals can be very lucrative. If you want to earn an income on your farm, we have an article covering the most profitable small farm income ideas.