One of the best things about living on a homestead is all of the backyard farm animals that I get to play with. Being able to sip my coffee while Tiger Lilly, our most friendly alpaca, tries to sneak a sip is like nothing else in the world. It just wouldn’t be a homestead if we didn’t have all the smells, sounds, and enjoyment that animals bring!
Why You Should Have Animals on Your Homestead
Livestock is one of the most important assets to any homestead. We rely on our animals for food, fertilizer, company, labor, income, among other great benefits. In fact, our alpacas are the largest provider of income for our homestead.
If you aren’t currently keeping any livestock on your land, I suggest that you start by picking up some chickens at the very least. Between the amount of time they take to care for and the cost to feed, it is still cheaper than buying eggs at the store. Not to mention that the eggs will be much healthier for you and your family because you know what they are eating. Watch this video on how egg laying chickens’ are treated in large facilities and you will purchase chickens before the video finishes!
I know that some people, like myself, have trouble with slaughtering animals for meat, but its just part of a homesteaders way of life.
When we started, we brought all our meat animals to a local butcher shop where they would do the dirty work and give us the butchered meats when complete. After a few years of doing that, we made the move to slaughtering the animals ourselves because we felt it was more humane than bringing them to a plant to be slaughtered. Helpful Hint: It makes it much easier if you don’t give your meat animals a name.
Which Backyard Farm Animals To Consider
Its important to put some thought into which backyard farm animals you want to bring on to your homestead. Don’t just go to a livestock auction and buy whatever you find cute, trust me (I’ve done it). Do some research on what you’re allowed to have and what is feasible to keep on your land. You obviously don’t want to go out and buy 10 head of cattle if your homestead is less than an acre!
As I mentioned above, chickens are a staple on just about every homestead across the globe. They are a cheap and effective way of producing healthy food for your family. They don’t take much effort at all to take care of, but a little extra effort can make a huge dent in your feed bill. We keep our kitchen scraps for the day in a bucket and the kids empty the bucket into the chicken coop every night after dinner.
Eggs are the most valuable byproduct of the chickens, and the most plentiful. This is also what makes a female chickens, or hen, much more valuable than a male chicken, or rooster.
Another benefit is that a chicken egg collected from a backyard coop can be kept on the counter without spoiling, making them easier to keep than store-bought eggs. You only need to keep them cold if you clean the natural coating off the egg.
The other obvious food that chickens can provide is the meat you get as a result of slaughtering them. Whether you slaughter your laying hens at a certain age or raise meat chickens on their own, they are a great source of food. Some chicken breeds can even grow to full size in less than four months, limiting the amount of food and care required until harvest.
Ducks are a lot like chickens in that they produce both eggs and meat, but they require different care than a chicken does.
These great animals need much less space, but have a larger appetite. If given enough room to forage, they will compensate the larger appetite by eating all the bugs and week rooted plants they can find.
Another benefit to ducks is that they are great for your garden. Unlike chickens, ducks will leave well established plants alone. They will just removing the insects and weaker weeds from around the plants. They aren’t going to scratch up the ground like a chicken will and can really help take your garden.
As I mentioned, ducks do not require as much space as chickens, but they still require a coop and fencing to keep predators out. They are heavier and slower than chickens, so keeping them safe from predators on the ground and in the air is extremely important.
Another unique requirement of ducks is that you need to provide them with a small pool for them to swim and cool off in.
With a gestation period of a month and a litter size averaging 6 babies, rabbits are an amazing sustainable meat source for a homestead. In fact, it is harder to keep the number in control once you get started than it is to get your rabbit production started in the first place. Have you ever heard the phrase “breeding like rabbits”?
My short experiment with rabbits brought that meaning into a whole new light for me. We haven’t had a rabbit on my homestead in two years and I still have plenty of rabbit meat in my freezer!
Rabbits are very easy to care for and feed is very cheap. To help decrease the cost of food, you can give them food scraps and hay mixed in with their feed. Other than food, give them a little hutch and they will be happy. They don’t need much space at all, and many have even been successful making decent money selling them.
Goats are backyard farm animals that I would recommend to everyone. There is no wonder they are becoming one of the most popular backyard farm animals once again. Everyone that knows I am a homesteader has questions about goats these days!
Goats are great providers of both meat and dairy on a homestead. If you are looking to produce dairy products but don’t have enough room for dairy cows, goats are the way to go. I promise that you won’t be able to tell the difference in taste between goat and cow milk after about a week.
Another bonus to raising goats is that they are great at clearing brush. They will eat anything and everything they can get their mouths on, which can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. Many homesteaders have even turned that into a business and rent goats out to clear land cheaper and in a more environmentally friendly manner.
Pigs are another animal that you see in homesteads across the world because they are great providers of food. The only downfall is that they can be a little smelly and dirty if they don’t have space to free range. They are actually pretty clean animals if they have enough room to live.
With an average litter size of 11, they are a very sustainable meat source for a homestead. It takes about a year for a pig to grow to a size where it can be harvested, but it is well worth the wait.
The only negative about pigs is that they require A TON of food. One the plus side they will also eat anything you give them, which helps keep that cost down some. On the other hand, you want to keep an eye on what they are eating because you will eventually be consuming it second hand!
You know I had to include my favorite backyard farm animals to this list! Alpacas are an amazing animal that is much more useful and easy to care for than most people realize. Not to mention the fact that they are cute and especially love playing with kids.
These great animals are extremely easy to care for, trust me. We keep the hay stocked up so that they can eat as needed and provide them with a bit of grain after dinner to ensure they have a well balanced diet. Other than that, we clean up a communal dung pile twice a week and they are perfectly happy. We even let them out of their pen, into the full backyard that is still completely fenced in, so they can snack on the lawn so my husband doesn’t have to mow!
Alpacas are also a great source of income if you have the time to do a little marketing. We make a profit selling products made from their wool, the babies we produce, and the fertilizer they produce. My husband fills the empty grain bags with poop and put it in front of the house for $10. People want it so bad that they have started knocking when we are all out.