Welcome to the homestead family! It doesn’t matter if you are on less than an acre or have 200+, you are welcome here. At some point, you will want to get some animals for your homestead, whether that is a couple chickens, a cow or two, or maybe just a good farm dog, it doesn’t matter. I wanted to give you my picks for animals for new homesteaders and why.
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Setting Yourself Up For Success
Before we can get too far down the rabbit hole of what animals you should get, I think we need to first start with what your goals are for your homestead. If you go through my posts on this website, you will find that I am extremely goal oriented and tend to be pretty obsessive about it. I have good reason for it.
If you don’t know what a successful homestead looks like to you, you are going to spend years chasing your tail before you ever hit the first goal. When we start adding animals to our homestead, we are adding more financial strain to the budget. While a bag of feed here and there may not seem like a lot, it adds up really quick. Especially in winter. So be aware that what seems like not a big deal now, could end up being a big financial and emotional deal later.
Which Animals For New Homesteaders?
Now that we have cleared up the fact that you should WAIT before adding animals to your homestead, even though we all know you’re not going to. Let’s start looking at some different animals to bring to the homestead and their uses/ purposes. PS, this list is going to include some things that are not livestock, but bear with me you will see what I’m talking about in a minute.
I want to add a disclaimer here. You and your homestead are YOURS. I practice the your kitchen, your house, your land, your rules. These are my thoughts and feelings. You may not agree with what I am saying and that is absolutely ok. I am not saying you HAVE to get these animals or feel/think/do what I say. So please keep that in mind as you read through this blog post.
To be clear and transparent, on a homestead, a small dog is usually a vulnerability because of predators, risk of injury from livestock, and costs associated with caring for a pet vs a working dog. It’s the reality. I’m not saying you can’t have a small dog, but you do need to be prepared for predation.
There is a difference when dealing with dogs on a homestead. You’ve got your farm dog, your working dog, and your livestock guardian dog (LGD). These are 3 completely different dogs and should be used accordingly.
All 4 of my dogs are farm dogs. Their job is to raise the alarm if a predator is close, keep the pigs off the porch, and to hang out with the family. Bear’s only job is to make me happy, which he does perfectly because he’s the best boy.
I believe that with enough training, any dog can be a farm dog. Yes, that is a blanket statement, but it is something I truly believe. Bear is a typical pound special that we rescued 9 years ago from the animal shelter in Texas. He was never, ever raised around livestock or allowed to roam off leash/out of a fence. But he has taken to farm life like he’s been living it forever. A lot of his patience and lack of drive to chase could be because he’s an old man but a lot of it is the work I have done with him over the last 9 years.
A working dog is going to be your active dogs that have a job, think heelers, shepherds, etc. These are dogs that you need to be aware of their breeding and genetics before bringing them onto your farm. If you have a heeler, there is a very good chance that they could hurt or kill your goats or chickens. This is were training is going to be the most important thing you could do for this dog. I would not recommend these dogs unless you have training on lock.
An LGD is a great addition to any farm that has smaller livestock. BUT, and it’s a big one, make sure you are getting an LGD from a working line, that is being trained with livestock, before bringing one to the homestead. While in search for an LGD for the farm, we found a TON of LGD’s that were not bred to or actively protecting animals. That is going to cause a problem for you. An LGD is going to be a whole post on it’s own because their training is so important that it won’t fit into a couple paragraphs.
If you are going to have livestock, you are going to have issues with rodents. Period. When you start bringing hay, feed, or installing pasture, you are going to start having a rodent problem. While I’m NOT saying get one despite being allergic to cats, I am saying that you need to weigh your allergy against having mouse droppings in your house.
There is a lot of opinions on how cats should work on a homestead. Some people say not to feed the cats because it will make them lazy. Others feed their cats. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer as long as the cat is fed (either by hunting or you) and healthy. I’m going to leave the rest of that alone.
While I have a pet snake, I am not talking about that. I am talking about having several king or racer snakes that live on your property. I live in the south and a walk in the woods or through the garden can easily lead to an ER visit from a snake bite. A king snake will eat rattlers, moccasins, and copperheads while also keeping your rodent population down.
I totally understand that you may not want snakes on your property, but I would highly recommend having a few. We have several king snakes on the property and Frank is my favorite. He hangs out in the hay barn and keeps the rodents out of my hay. Frank lives here rent free until he doesn’t want to because he does such a good job keeping unwanted creatures out of my hay barn. But he will scare the crap out of you if you’re not expecting him.
If you don’t have a king snake on your property or you’re not sure, a good option is to contact your local exterminator or pest control person and see if they will bring one that they catch. Yes, this is a thing and most of the time it’s free.
Chickens And Ducks
Now for the livestock! Chickens are a great way to enter into the farm scene without having a TON of expense, depending on how you set them up. You can absolutely break the bank bringing these animals to the property, but you don’t have to. You can free range your chickens with a small coop and be done. You can throw a kiddie pool down for your ducks.
But be warned of 2 things: 1) chickens are the gateway animal and 2) they are easy targets for predators.
Before you know it, you will have 60 chickens and not really sure how it happened. You will also lose some to predators or sickness. Or in my case, they just wonder off. The ducks stick around better and don’t cause as much issues in the garden but they are messy creatures.
After having chickens and ducks for several years, I am only buying/ breeding ducks from here on out. We will raise meat chickens every year for the freezer, but I am not interested in chickens. The reason is that while ducks are messy, they don’t get in my garden unless it’s not secured. They don’t get on my decks and poop everywhere. They don’t get attacked by predators as often if ever. They produce eggs year round. They are freaking adorable with their quacks and cheese feet. Yea, those chickens got to go.
Other Fowl/ Poultry
I would highly recommend staying away from other feathered creatures until you have a lock on chickens or ducks. Quail would be the exception. Turkey’s are hard to raise. Emu’s are huge. Peacocks are weird. That being said, I would also have a plan for what exactly you are going to use other feathered beasts for. If you like the way they look, ok but if you are trying to set up a working farm? Try not to get a bunch of unprofitable creatures.
While we were researching, planning and learning, the plans were to use rabbits as a meat source…. That never happened. Not because they are cute and cuddly and would be hard to send to freezer camp but because we just don’t have a good place to put them. It gets HOT here in the south and most of the time rabbits don’t do amazing if they are not kept shaded with good air flow. Our options for their space was limited and we just couldn’t do it.
But rabbits can yield a LOT of meat very quickly and pretty cheap. A batch of meat chickens can run you about $1500+ in 8-16 weeks, after everything is all said and done. A trio of rabbits can crank out the same amount of meat for less money. Plus they are much quieter.
Despite Bacon eating one of my brand new doeling from our favorite milk goat, pigs have to be one of my favorite animals on the homestead. They eliminate food waste, break up the soil, and taste delicious. They are truly one of the few multi-purpose animals, just by existing. But they have some draw backs.
Pigs are incredibly smart. Bacon and Delilah learned how to sit for their feed within a few days. They also learned how to break out of the electric fencing. So now we have porch pigs until they are big enough for butchering.
The work they do on the homestead has been invaluable for us. We got them after going to the HOA conference and listening to multiple speakers talk about using pigs to help break up the soil and heal the land. When we got home, we bough 2 American Guinea Hogs. Since then they have helped us reclaim a lot of areas that the goats cleared but left us with hard rocky soil. They have tilled the soil and we have the starts of some amazing pasture.
I added these two small ruminants together because they are pretty similar but also vastly different. Sheep are grazers and need to have mostly grasses to eat. Goats are browsers and need mostly woody plants to eat. If you have a ton of brush, get goats. If you have a ton of grass but not space, get sheep. Goats will do okay on pasture but they really prefer brush.
Goats are incredibly smart and require waterproof fencing unless you plan to free range them.
Sheep are not incredibly smart but will stay put for the most part. But beyond that, I can’t really talk about sheep because I don’t have any. But I can tell you all about goats.
Before we get too far into this, I have a great course on the basics of goat care. I call it Goat Crash Course: Goat 101. In this course, I explain things like types of shelter, types of feeds and hays, basic assessments and so much more! Check it out!
If you are looking to increase self sufficiency I would suggest getting full size dairy does and a meat buck. The reason for this is because you can have high production, high butter fat milk produced by the dairy doe and the meaty body of a meat goat. While the babies will be mixed, you can easily fill your freezer with quality meat and milk with just a few goats.
I would LOVE to have a milk cow! I want one so badly but it just not in the cards for us right now. We have the land but not the grass. The pigs are working on it for us but it takes time to build established pastures. But cows are the ultimate machine when it comes to filling a freezer and you don’t need to worry about having a bull on stand by!
Your homestead cow operation would look something like this: milk breed cow + AI meat breed bull semen= meat in the freezer and 1-3 gallons of milk or more per day.
That extra milk can feed your chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, etc. It also freezes well once the cream has been skimmed off. That cream can make heavy whipping cream, butter, creamers, and so much more. Let’s not mention the cheeses, ice creams, sour creams, etc.
Yall, I want a cow!!!!
What Are Your Favorite Homestead Animals?
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