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?
We just bought our first house in town. Luckily, we can have up to 6 hens and 1 rooster in city limits. We even have the perfect spot for our coop! But, when should we start our egg-laying family? I was thinking about March, but a neighbor said it may still be too cold in southern Indiana. Any thoughts?
First of all, hooray for your decision to start keeping chickens! That is a good question about timing. If you find a source and start out by buying laying hens, you can really start any time. They are pretty hearty and tolerant to cold. Most people choose to start with chicks, however, and then the cold would certainly be a factor. You will need to keep them in a brooder for about 6 weeks until they are fully feathered, so I suppose the question is, are your temperatures consistently above freezing by mid to late April.
If so, March would be a fine time to start. If not, it might be better to wait a month. We have, on occasion had to move a heat lamp into our coop if we had a bad cold snap after moving the birds out of the brooder, so that might be an option too!
Best of luck with your chicken keeping! Cheers!
I spent many years at my grandmother’s farm in north-central Indiana. Depending upon how winter goes this year, march or april are good. The big issue is when the ground is clear. You want the chickens to be able to forage. A late frost (or three) isn’t going to deter them, you just don’t want a ground covering snow. Keep a light bulb (incandescent) or small electric heater going in the coop and you should be fine.
Are you planning on ordering chicks or are you going to hatch them from eggs ?
I live in N.W. PA and it cold and snowy ! I order day old chicks and schedule them to be delivered the first part of March. But if you order them like this when it’s still too cold outside for them you’ll have to make up an area in the house,garage,basement.. where you are able to keep them warm. At first they need about 90* F to stay warm. The older they get the temp can be lowered. Once you get them to around 7 to 8 wks old they should have enough feathering to be able to go outside. They will still need a protected place (chicken coop) to cuddle and stay warm at night. Hope this helps. You can learn a lot by joining one of the several blogs there are . Just don’t believe EVERY word you see on a blog. You’ll soon learn which ones of the chicken folk seem to have good info. Good luck !
I was a country girl, raised in the city for 40 years, until I finally purchased my dream of 5 acres. I got a hereford, because they are plentiful around here. I bred her to a black angus and got a beautiful black baldy. (cross between the two) named her Miracle due to her birth ( I actually ‘birthed’ her as her mother never recovered from an accident in mid-birth, hence the name). I bred her several times, and she gave birth each year to bull calves and heifers alternately. She thought she was “people”. Maybe because I bottle fed her twice a day for 7 months, left the radio playing in the barn when she was young, read books on blankets in the summer in the pasture, where she would lay on the blanket, and as she grew, chew her cud on ’top’ of me, drooling onto the books and blanket and me. Curry combed her and loved her.
Cows are NOT stupid, and can actually be pretty quick if they want to. They are stubborn and observant (once tried to spray homemade non-toxic fly spray on her face, and she was cautious each time I went out for weeks after). I miss her every day.
Trying to raise beef cattle on 5 acres, and also thinking about chickens, maybe goats and/or sheep, but afraid of them, as I am now familiar with cows, but they are SO big, and take up so much room. goats would be better, but goat meat is not so popular and I’m not certain I could easily sell the meat.
Maybe once I retire…( I actually have to die first, though in order to retire, lol!) Then I’ll have time to do all the things I want.
LIvestock are wonderful to have and raise for fun/profit, but beware! You WILL become attached to them, and they WILL become pets to a point if you allow them to. They are so much fun to watch, and they have personalities and are always MUCH smarter than anyone thinks.
Great info Heather! I would argue pigs over goats any day though for the adverage homesteader, as I have seen with the proper infrastructure in place, pigs are not too hard to keep fenced, require less time daily than a milk animal or enterprise, give a very FAST return on time and money spent! (I love my goats too… But they seem to cost me more than they ever give back 🙂
I agree very much with you Austin! Many people find goats less intimidating than pigs, but goats can really be a pain in the butt sometimes, where pigs do require less maintenance! Thanks for reading!
Ducks don’t make much noise?!? That is the understatement of the year!! While Muscovy’s are a quack-less breed, you can bet most ducks are pretty loud. My females can be heard all hours of the day (even from inside of my home) and while the drakes have a raspy (quieter) call, it is still quite loud.
Hi, great read! I’ve loved adding chickens to our homestead, they’re just the best animals to have around. Gentle as pets, so the kids love them, and super egg-producers. We raised our newest 8 girls from 1 week old, such a great experience. They lived inside the house with us for the first few weeks and we so enjoyed watching them on their first day outside, a whole new world for a tiny chick. We have since added cows and horses, and, if I can convince the husband, many more will follow. Elle
Another point to rabbits, they produce plenty of manure that requires 0 processing before use as fertilizer