January 6, 2011

Which Animals to Raise?

As my husband and I started our homestead we had big plans to add as much as possible, and try to do everything.  We knew it would take time, but eventually we hoped to have a cow, sheep, ducks, rabbits?, and goats?, to go along with our chickens.  Through our research we have discovered there are many considerations to be made before deciding to raise any particular animal. 

Raising Chickens

Advantages:  Great to have around, very therapeutic!  You can get eggs and meat for very little work.
Disadvantages:  There are hardly any!  They can get smelly if you keep them in the same spot for too long.
Special Needs:  A coop that has a place for them to roost.  This also provides protection from foxes and other varmints, as well as shelter from extreme weather.
Labor Required:  Egg collections, closing their coop at night, and cleaning it about once per week.  You will also need to feed them daily unless allowing them to free range (in this case, you can put a buffet of corn, soybean, and oats - the birds will eat what they need).
Farming Skills Required:  Butchering chickens (if being used for food), clipping wings to discourage flying or put up high fencing if you do not clip wings.
Possible Diseases:  Worms can be a problem if the chickens remain in the same place for a long period of time.  Lice and mites should be controlled.  Also, chickens can get colds - their combs will change color, and there eyes puff up, along with wheezing sounds.
Making Money:  Eggs can be sold from your home.  Free-Range Chickens are especially in demand; if you can raise enough for yourself and have extra to sell go for it!

Raising Ducks/Geese

Advantages:  They have less of a chance to get infections than chickens.  A duck has a longer laying period than a chicken.  Geese are good for removing weeds from pastures as they graze.
Disadvantages:  You must have a pond or some other area of water.  Both geese and ducks can be noisy.
Special Needs:  Shelter at night for protection from extreme weather (hot and cold), and varmints.
Labor Required:  Confining at night, collecting eggs, cleaning shelter.
Farming Skills Required:  Much the same as for chickens.
Possible Diseases:  Few problem here.  Ducks and Geese are much hardier than chickens.
Making Money:  Both can provide meat and eggs.  Goose eggs are large and difficult to sell, but the meat from a goose is very valuable.

Raising Rabbits

Photo Credit:  jpockele @ stockxchng.com
 Advantages:  Inexpensive, quiet, easy to handle.
Disadvantages:  Seems to be difficult to make much money off of them.  Their meat is not considered kosher.
Special Needs:  Dry, draft-free location where they will be protected from weather and varmints.
Labor Required:  Feeding, regular inspection.
Farming Skills Required:  Be able to recognize the health of your rabbits, trimming their claws, and possibly butchering your own.
Diseases:  Generally healthy animals, but you will need to check their ears regularly for mites.  Also, rabbits can get colds.

Raising Sheep

 Advantages:  Wonderful grazers!  Will provide lambs, wool, and possibly milk.  Some breads fatten well on small amounts of food.
Disadvantages:  They require regular attention, they are prone to many diseases, and they are known for escaping.
Special Needs:  A good shepherd, and good fencing.
Labor Required:  Careful, continual watching, especially for attacks.  Very careful observation during lambing season.
Farming Skills Required:  Shearing, foot trimming, and lambing.  Also be able to understand the subtle ways.
Possible Diseases:  Blowfly strike, foot rot, and many other diseases that often end in death.
Making Money:  Depends on the market in your area.  Could make cheese from sheep's milk.

Raising Goats

 Advantages:  This animal is suited for most climates.  They provide meat and milk, and some even have a valuable fleece.
Disadvantages:  It not well confined they can easily destroy many things . . . including your vegetable garden.
Special Needs:  Goats prefer weeds to good grass, so nice pasture is not necessary.  Protection will be needed from extreme weather.
Labor Required:  Milking twice per day.  Much like keeping sheep.
Farming Skills Required:  Milking, shearing, foot trimming, and kidding.
Possible Diseases:  Goats needs a high level of minerals, otherwise they can acquire deficiencies that can cause major problems.  Internal parasites must be controlled.
Making Money:  Milk, cheese, and yogurt can be valuable if made well.

Raising Pigs

Photo Credit:  gloriaheid @ stockxchng.com
 Advantages:  Inexpensive to feed.  Will eat and get fat on what other animals waste.  Provides pork, ham, sausages, and bacon.
Disadvantages:  Can wreck good grass, and they are not considered kosher.
Special Needs:  Shelter at farrowing, but other than that they can withstand much.
Labor Required:  Daily feeding, if kept in the sty it must be cleaned regularly.
Farming Skills Required:  You must be quick if you even hope to catch a stubborn pig.
Possible Diseases:  If well fed, pigs are relatively healthy.  May want to watch for mastitis after farrowing.
Making Money:  Home-cured hams and bacon so good, and well sough after! 

Raising Cows

 Advantages:  Very gentle animals,and can feed on the grass for most of the year.  They provide calves, and milk for you to drink or turn into butter, cheese, yogurt, or ice cream.
Disadvantages: Large animals, and a certain amount of strength is required when they have to be caught and handled.
Special Needs:  Good grass during the nice weather months, and shelter during the cold weather months.
Labor Required:  Milking twice per day (if milking).  Careful watching when planning to put cows to the bull.  You may want to rotate you cows daily to guarantee fresh grass.
Farming Skills Required:  Milking, being able to handle cattle, helping with calving.
Possible Diseases:  Mastitis when milking, mineral deficiencies when feeding calves, and foot problems if too heavy.
Making Money:  Great returns from dairy products!  A person can also profit from selling calves, or processing and selling beef.

Obviously there are many other animals you could raise:  turkeys, llamas/alpacas, bees, etc.  Those listed above are simply some common ones I've noticed.  Also, keep in mind that a big concern with raising animals is what to do with them when you are gone.  My husband and I stay pretty busy, and my family lives about 3 hours away.  When we visit them, or travel for vacation we must find someone to take care of our animals.  Having friendly neighbors who also homestead is great!  They are usually willing to take care of your animals when you are away.  Make sure to offer the favor in return! :)

I hope this helps!  My husband and I have done quite a bit of research, but most of this information comes from the book The Practical Homestead by Paul Heiney.  It is a great read!  You should check it out!

If you have experience with any or all of these animals, we would love to hear your insight!  Please leave your comment below!


  1. I highly recommend dairy goats! We added them to our homestead last year and having the fresh, raw milk has been worth it!
    It takes a little bit of time to educate yourself on the care, keeping, and milking of goats, but once you have it figured out, they are pretty easy.

    Though, as you mentioned above, they can be destructive, so good fencing can be an issue. We ended up tethering ours this year, that way they could still graze, but couldn't eat my trees!

  2. I second what Jill said about dairy goats being so worth it! Good fencing is important, though my small herd is really good about staying in our yard. I let them free range every afternoon. They remind me of chickens in that they like to stay close to their home, and even go back inside often. It's like they're checking in. I was strongly tempted to tether mine as well, but their windpipes are very soft and collapse easily, so strangulation is a real danger. Plus, a tethered goat has virtually no chance of escaping a predator. I would only tether my animals if I were outside working and could keep a close eye on them.

    The only thing I would add for chickens is that weekly cleaning isn't always necessary. It depends on your setup. I prefer the deep litter method. You give them plenty of bedding on the floor, which they scratch around in. You only need to clean it out once every four to six months. Just use bedding that doesn't compact readily and add to it as necessary. What you clean out goes into the garden and it breaks down into black gold.

    You didn't mention horses, so I will share about them:
    Advantages: Very therapeutic! Useful for traversing property quickly without causing damage in the way ATV's do. Great for working up the garden without causing significant soil compaction. I am always dismayed at how walking behind the tiller packs the soil right back down. That doesn't happen with horses.
    Disadvantages: Require significant skills and knowledge to handle. Equipment for using them can be pricey.
    Special Needs: Shelter, hoof trimming and possibly shoes, grooming to keep parasites of the skin at bay. Deworming is also frequently necessary.
    Labor Required: Daily feeding and inspection. Frequent cleaning of stall or shelter area.
    Farming Skills Required: Knowledge of riding/working horses as well as basic animal husbandry.
    Possible Diseases: Coggins disease, parasites, wounds become easily infected if not properly attended to.
    Making Money: Selling colts, breaking up other's gardens for a fee.

  3. When I was about 9 our family rented a farm house from a distant cousin. I think part of the rent must have been labor, in the form of my older brother and me rounding up anything that managed to escape it's pasture or pen. The one thing we could count on getting out the most, going the farthest, and irritating the neighbor (who lived almost a mile down the road)with the greatest frequency were the pigs. But you can't discount the occasional, obstinate calf (insert image of two kids spending an hour and a half chasing a calf around the pasture he shouldn't have been in).
    Good times!

  4. This is great information. I only know a bit about chickens and ducks and children :).

    FYI. Not all ducks have to have a pond. We had ducks for a little over a year. Runner ducks and Silver Appleyards. They did fine with just a large size trough. We moved them to my in-laws homestead where they have many ponds and still they have no interest in the water they like to be on land.

    I'd really love to have cows but maybe goats would be easier.

    I am going to see if my library has that book you mentioned.

  5. Great post! Very informative! You have done all the homework for lots of folks! There is much to consider before jumping into taking on another animal. I would love to have a milk cow. But I am just not available every 12 hours to milk her! :( Someday though.

  6. monicaelaine1, If you keep the calf on the cow, you can milk just once daily instead of twice. What you do is seperate the calf from her at night, milk first thing in the morning, and then let them be together all day. It's a system that works great for lots of folks.I can't WAIT to do that with my goats. When I bought mine, I couldn't afford to buy the kids, too, so I had to milk twice daily. This time I will have the kids and will do as I described above.

  7. We have a small 5 acre organic farm...I am a Jersey girl planted into Kentucky so all this farming was new to me 8 years ago...Here is what I have learned...Chickens are very easy to keep (when making your coop put a scrap of linoleum on the floor for easier cleaning sometimes I just love to sit and watch them chase bugs and scratch the ground they are very calming...they are also good for cleaning your garden in early spring...I put my girl in there late February early March and let them have at it...scratching the weeds loose helps a lot...Dairy goats! They are not all the same! If you decide to get dairy goats find a homesteader or farmer willing to let you taste the milk from the line of goat you want to buy...it is important not just for what you want to use them for but each has it's own unique makeup an everyone has their own taste...I like my Nubian milk but my husband likes the Saanan milk. The homesteaders we purchased ours from let us taste the milk from each doe before we chose. (we did not keep a buck until this past year we brought our does back to be bred. If you only have 2 does it really doesn't pay to feed a buck all year just for 2 days of service (also depending on how many does you have and the amount of milk you require, you don't have to milk twice a day after the first month if you do not keep the kids on the doe just like us they work on supply and demand)...Turkeys...they are not as dumb as everyone says they are but they are not too bright either. Heritage breeds are the only choice do not get into the heavy genetically altered ones. They are much calmer than I had once imagined and very social. Ducks are fun to watch in the pond...relaxing but noisy at times...they are messy and they have an odor...not them but the muck they make around the pond...they are destructive to any foliage you have around your pond or water area as well. The eggs are great for cooking and they are a good seller to folks that have allergies to chicken eggs we raise pekins which are good for meat as well...I think most of the animals we chose were dual purpose for meat. Pigs oh my we love our pigs but they are naughty! They can and will outsmart the most diligent farmer. Ours learned to open the lift up barn doors on their own letting themselves in and out. They learned that they could pile straw on the electric fence to climb over it then root under the fence...and you have to spend a good amount of time with them if you expect to keep them for breeding they are pushy and bossy and you will have to get in their pen with them and will EXPECT food when you do. We tried to totally free range them but they got out of every paddock we put them in they were greedy and no matter how much fresh alfalfa, onions and horseradish was in the field had to offer they wanted what was in the next paddock. Our first one will go to the market this week. I am not sure we will continue to raise pigs. We have a friend of ours raise a calf for us each year to put in the freezer. We have a small farm and a cow would leave little for everything else. I also don't have to encounter a cute face to go with the burger on my plate. (a real problem for a NJ vegetarian gone homesteader) We don't have many homesteaders near us so we did a lot of research and learned so much from believe it or not youtube...that is how I learned to process our chickens and turkeys (we chose the Kosher way of doing it which we feel is the best most peaceful way), fillet a catfish, and trim our goats feet...Hope some of this helps I have enjoyed reading your blog...I am new to these blogs and am finding them so much better than tv...like turning the channel to everything you are interested in.


Thanks so much for your comments!

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. ~ Col. 4:6 :)