As I transitioned from a suburban homesteader to a rural one, animals were one of the first things I wanted to add to our property. I was positively enamored with the idea of raising my own flocks and herds to help feed my family! Several years later, I am still constantly adding animals to our homestead, and I’m here to warn you that livestock can be addictive! Here is my list of top animals for the homestead, based on copious amounts of research and my own trial and error.
Chickens (for eggs)
Chickens were the first animals we added to our little homestead. The reward of hearing a laying hen sing her egg song for the first time, and running to the coop to collect a warm egg, is a memory I will treasure forever. I never tire of watching my chickens peck the ground for food, or fight over the prime nesting box. They are complex and entertaining animals and I just love having laying hens and their rich, golden-yolked eggs in my backyard. My only regret is that I didn’t have the courage to go ahead and get some while I still lived in town!
Chickens (for meat)
Once you fully embrace the homesteading lifestyle, you might really want to consider raising your own meat chickens. Raising our own meat from chick to table has given our family such a unique respect and understanding of where our food comes from. I find that we don’t waste food when we grow it ourselves. To honor the life of the chicken, I use every bit of meat on the carcass, then I boil the carcass to make broth for soup. I even boil the feet and necks and use a pressure canner to preserve the luscious 24 hour bone broth I make with them.
Chicken processing day is a family affair for us, with everyone pitching in to make light work. After plucking several batches of chickens by hand, we broke down and purchased a mechanical “tub-style” chicken plucker to make the job much easier. I highly recommend buying or making one if you become serious about raising meat chickens. Read more about how we raise meat birds here, here and here.
Rabbits (for meat)
Rabbits are another small animal that are frequently raised in backyards for meat. After a bad rabbit experience in college, I personally don’t raise them, but I have friends who are very successful with them. The meat is delicious and the processing is even easier than chickens, because no special equipment is required.
Ducks (for eggs and meat)
Ducks are one of my favorite homestead animals! I find them endlessly entertaining. Although mine love the pond, they can be perfectly happy with a baby pool to splash in, although you will need to be prepared to dump and refill it at least twice a day! Ducks do not typically make much noise, with muscovy ducks being the quietest. They lay big, rich eggs that are nutritious and wonderful for baking. They can also be processed for meat, much like a chicken.
Goats and Sheep
We raise goats on our homestead, and although they have their moments, they are largely delightfully friendly creatures. Keeping them inside the fence can be a challenge, but producing your own goat milk and cheese make them well worth the headaches. They can also be raised for meat and are excellent at clearing overgrown land. Some breeds of goats are also used as fiber animals. Here are my top reasons to keep a dairy goat.
Unlike goats, sheep prefer to graze on pasture, rather than on “browse,” but are also sweet animals that can be used on a homestead for milk, meat or fiber.
At our house, goats proved to be a gateway livestock. About a year after we began raising goats, we brought home Beulah Belle, the Jersey cow. We were expecting more milk, and an abundance of fresh cream from her. What we weren’t expecting, was how quickly she became a treasured member of the family! Dairy cows are as full of personality as they are of milk. Here are my top reasons to keep a Jersey cow.
If you have the space, raising a steer or two for beef is a great way to fill your freezer with grass-fed beef. If your heart can take it, you could even raise a Jersey bull-calf until it is big enough to slaughter for meat. In the end, your family will have abundant, high-quality beef that you can feel good about serving. Just like chicken, you won’t take the meat for granted if it came from your own backyard and you will most likely strive to use every ounce.
While pigs probably aren’t a great first animal for your homestead, once you are comfortable around livestock, they can be a great addition. Not only will they happily devour all the scraps and leftovers from your kitchen, along with excess milk and whey from your dairy animals, they will convert it into the most delicious pork you have ever tasted.
Pigs are, however, a little more difficult to control and a bit more intimidating than your typical livestock. With their combination of brains and brawn, they rival goats in terms of escaping from fences. Loading them into a trailer for processing is no easy feat either! However, if you have a keen sense of adventure and want delicious pork for your table, pigs are an awesome addition to your homestead.
So there you have it, my top animals for the homestead. Of course, there are many more to consider, especially if you are in a rural setting. Without neighbors who are annoyed by noise, guineas and geese are options. If you like to spin your own yarn, you might consider an alpaca. Keep in mind that if you try and animal and it doesn’t work out for you, you could sell it on Craigslist and try something different.
So, do you have animals on your homestead? What kind is your favorite?