Maybe you just bought a homestead or maybe you want to add animals to the ones you have already. Either way the question is, which animal should you start with? Chickens, ducks, geese, goats, cows, pigs…? There are many suggestions out there. I don’t want tell you what you need to buy and do. You need to make that decision yourself. Let me instead give you three points that you need to take into consideration when you think about this subject, and then at the end… maaaaybe I will let you know which one is my personal favorite animal to start with.
1. Understand why you want animals
I am sure you know why you want animals since you are planning on getting some, but understanding the pros and cons of different domestic livestock really helps you to understand if those animals will meet your specific needs. Some folks want to keep animals for companionship and while livestock is fun to be around and they have fun personalities to say the least, they will eventually become food on your plate. I think that a farm or homestead without animals feels dead and unnatural since animals are part of all eco systems, but a dog or cat might be better if the motivation is purely for companionship. The main reason for you desiring to get animals might be because you want to grow your own food. Historically, animals have always played a fundamental role in food security in pretty much all cultures. These animals can turn seemingly nothing into amazing food products. Some animals however, like chicken or pigs, are dependent upon an outside food source. Exceptions to this would be that you grow your own grain or are able to feed them entirely on kitchen scraps. Other animals will provide milk, cheese, cream and meat from only grass, leaves and other forage. Another reason to have animals is to heal your land and produce compost for your garden. Animals play a vital role in healing soil and land. Understanding their different roles will help you in deciding what animal to begin with in your setting and situation. Make sure you look into regenerative farming and the different benefits of different types of livestock.
2. What are your resources?
Let’s say you love beef and you want to raise cattle but you don’t have any hay fields and only a limited amount of pasture. Maybe you have a lot of overgrown old farmland and forested area. Well, in that case, starting with a small cattle breed that is known for being good browsers (like the Scottish Highland Cattle) might be worth looking into. Maybe goats, sheep or pigs would be a much better option. There are a couple of reasons why it is important to see what resources you have available to you. One reason is that your livestock operation will only be sustainable longterm if you have enough room and feed for them. The second is that you will waste your land’s potential if you don’t take advantage of the resources you have right where you are. But there is more than just land to take into consideration. If you produce a lot of kitchen waste or have a supply of free feed, keeping chickens or pigs might be an amazing option. You should think about and plan a budget for the animals you want to keep. Have a battle plan ready for how you want to keep them and feed them.
3. Cost of investment
There are many businesses that began simply as a hobby. Do you want to get animals for meeting only your own needs or would you like to potentially start an enterprise where you will produce food for others? Knowing the answer to this will affect your decision. Smaller animals, like chicken, generally require less investment. On the other hand, raising cattle will take longer and it might be wise to get that started considering the longterm investment of time. A cow might need more infrastructure but will have less feed costs than pigs. Think about these things.
To wrap this up, here are a few more points about different livestock that might help you make the right decision:
- Sheep are great browsers.Herbivores will provide amazing food on forage alone.
- It is a sustainabl chicken operation if you are able to feed them entirely on kitchen waste that you produce, maybe 10-20 chickens?
- Pigs love to forage and browse, they are forest animals.
- Importing feed will be an extra expense but it can help to heal your land by adding an external source of nutrient input and lay the foundation for better fertility and another type of livestock
My personal favorite animals are sheep.They require less infrastructure than cattle and can survive on just grass. You don’t have to keep the lambs over the winter which will save you feed.
If you want to get inspired and learn more about how to make money with livestock on your homestead click here to check out my e-book.