Have you ever wondered what some of the best animals to raise on your homestead might be? Homesteads come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing at the heart of every homestead is someone’s desire to be more self-sustaining and less reliant on society. Most people start homesteading by learning to grow their own fruits and vegetables. But eventually, many homesteaders begin to think about raising animals, too.
If you’re considering adding animals to your homestead but wondering where you might like to start, this list of the 7 best animals to raise on your homestead will get you started in the right direction. Whether you are an apartment dweller with only enough balcony space for a container garden and a rabbit hutch – or a rural homesteader sitting on five acres, this information will help you decide which animals might be right for you and your family!
7 Best Animals to Raise on Your Homestead
Chickens are one of the most popular animals people like to keep on a homestead. In fact, chickens have become so popular that people are even keeping them in their city backyards.
The advantages to keeping chickens are plentiful. For one thing – you get all those fresh eggs. Not only is the taste vastly superior to factory farmed eggs, but since you can control what your chickens eat, you have more control of the nutritional quality of those eggs, as well.
Another advantage to chickens is that they help you with yard work. Turn them loose in your yard as much as possible (either free range or in a chicken tractor or other enclosure) and they will eat grass and annoying bugs, making life just a little nicer for you. Their waste also makes an excellent fertilizer, whether scattered naturally as they wander about, or gathered up and added to your compost pile.
And when your chickens get old enough that they stop laying eggs, you can either keep them around as pets, or you can butcher them for their meat. (Just please don’t send them off to live elsewhere. Too many people are doing that with older chickens and it is becoming a pretty significant problem.)
Chickens are wonderful, funny, and entertaining. And if you have enough of them that you ever feel overrun in eggs, they can even be a great source of a little extra income. That’s something we can all enjoy!
Beef and/or Dairy Cows
Many people find the thought of keeping a cow to be rather intimidating, but if you have the room on your homestead, a dairy cow is a wonderful animal to have. And if you live in an area with adequate rainfall, you don’t even need a lot of room to enjoy the health benefits of grass-fed dairy and meat. Two acres of grass is enough to keep a cow and her calf healthy and happy. And if you have some woods on your property, they can graze there too, which not only gives them shade from the sun, but helps to control the overgrowth of vegetation.
In order to keep your dairy cow in milk, you need to breed her once every year or two. If you do, you can either sell the calves when they are weaned or raise them for food. A calf born in the springtime can grow to over 600 pounds by late fall. By butchering them then, you not only have plenty of meat to feed your family, but you also save yourself the cost of taking care of the calf through the winter.
Cows are pretty amazing animals and your dairy cow is likely to become a beloved family pet. Cow manure also makes a great fertilizer in your compost pile and garden. All that, and you get delicious milk, butter, and cream, as well? What could be better?
If you are looking for an inexpensive source of meat for your homestead (or your backyard in the city), rabbits are definitely a great animal to consider. Young rabbits raised for meat weigh 3 to 5 pounds at 12 weeks, the age they are usually slaughtered. With an average litter size of 6 to 10 rabbits, this means that one litter of rabbits can bring you up to fifty pounds of meat in 12 weeks!
Rabbits are very low maintenance and low cost animals, too. They are quiet, so even if you live in the city, you can keep a decent number of them without bothering the neighbors. And they take up little space. To be happy and healthy, a rabbit needs approximately 10 square feet of space. And feeding them is easy and inexpensive – some high fiber rabbit pellets supplemented with fresh greens, grass, alfalfa, and other mixed vegetables.
Like the other animals discussed here, rabbits are also a great source of manure. And if you build up your compost pile underneath your rabbit hutches, their waste can just fall right down where it will do the most good, reducing even more work for you.
Goats are smart, fun, and friendly animals that are a great addition to almost any homestead. Goat milk has the same nutritional benefits as cow milk, but it is often easier for people to digest. And depending on the type of goats you invest in, it can also have a higher fat content than cow milk, making it wonderful for making butter, ice cream, and cheese.
If you are crafty and looking for a good source of material for making clothing, Angora and Cashmere goats are renowned for their wool, which can be spun into luxurious yarns. And some people like to raise goats as another meat source, as well.
Keeping goats takes less space than keeping cows. And in many ways, goats can cut some of your yard chores in half since they will happily eat grass, weeds, and the leaves from bushes and trees. Just keep a close eye on them, because goats will also attempt to eat many things you’d rather they didn’t – like flowers, tools, and outdoor furniture.
Goats come in many types and sizes, making it easy to find the perfect goats for the size of your property. They may be a handful at times, but goats are so helpful and fun, they are well worth the effort.
Although it is easy to understand why people find them to be intimidating, honey bees are, hands down, one of the best animals to consider including on your homestead.
Raw honey is a valuable food source, as well as an important medicine. And if your hives produce enough honey, you can sell it for a great source of income, as well.
If you have a garden, as most homesteaders do, your honey bees will pollinate the fruits and vegetables you grow, and can vastly increase the amount of produce you are able to grow.
And perhaps one of the best reasons of all is that we need more honey bees. They are one of our most important pollinators and their numbers have been in decline in recent years. The more hives we have, managed by responsible and ethical beekeepers, the better!
If you are raising chickens, you already have just about all you need to add turkeys to your homestead. These beautiful birds require most of the same equipment, time, and skills that chickens do, which means that you can add another valuable food source without much additional effort.
And turkeys really are an amazing source of food. Their eggs are similar to chicken eggs, although larger and a bit richer in flavor. And if you grow turkeys to be ready for slaughter around Thanksgiving, they can not only provide food for your family but become a great source of extra income, as well.
There are several great breeds of turkeys to choose from, depending on the size of your homestead and what you are looking for. So if you are looking for another animal for your homestead, you may find that turkeys are a perfect fit!
Most homesteaders raise at least a few animals and having animals around means that you also have their food around. Unfortunately, stored food is a big enticement to rodents and bugs. And one of the best ways to deal with rodents and bugs is by adding some barn cats to your homestead.
Barn cats are usually feral, or at least semi-feral, and they aren’t the same as the sweet housecats we often keep as pampered pets. Barn cats tend to be much more in touch with their wild nature, which is one reason why they are such great hunters. And the more they can keep the bug and rodent populations in check around your homestead, the less you will need to rely on things like traps and poisons – things that you certainly don’t want around your children.
And barn cats are often great companions. Even if they aren’t necessarily tame enough for you to pet, they are nice to have around, and they often make friends with the other animals around the homestead. They are pretty low maintenance, too. Make sure they are spayed or neutered (so you don’t end up overrun in cats), keep up with their shots so you don’t have to worry about diseases, and make sure they have shelter in bad weather. You may have to supplement their diet, especially in the winter, but these tiny hunters can make a large difference in the quality of life on your homestead!
These seven animals can each add great value to your family’s homestead. If you are already raising some of these animals, we’d love to hear about your experiences. And if you decide to try your hand at raising something new, we’d love to hear about that, too!