Are you urban, suburban or rural? How big is your property? What is the weather? What predators are in the area? What rules, regulations and laws apply? What skills and knowledge do you possess? What are you willing to do to care for the livestock? What are your finances? The list of variables goes on and on.
For instance I have lived on a farm and know how to milk cows and goats, raise and slaughter chickens and I’ve hunted and dressed the kill. Yet I have no desire to do this on a day to day basis. This doesn’t mean I won’t have livestock, it just means I will attempt to barter and trade for products or services that I just don’t want to have to do if I don’t have to. If and when the time ever comes that I have to do these things myself, I know I can do them.
Eugene F. Ware
There is a ton of stuff out there on small scale livestock and over the years I have found much of this to be rather overwhelming, so I will attempt to list animals that I think would work in as many environments and skill sets as possible. You can take it from there and determine which will work best for you in your situation.
A Few General Rules to Consider Before You Start
- What do you know how to do and or are willing to do on a daily basis to raise and care for your livestock 365 days a year? Just like the family pet, these animals require daily work to keep them healthy and provide you with what you need. Current FDA, USDA, etc regulations will minimally require some kind of inoculation regiment. Like all animals, livestock will also need veterinarian care from time to time and routine; daily, seasonal and annual “maintenance”. Look at livestock chores from cradle to grave, as they will change over the age of the animal.
- Location and finances will also limit the choices of what livestock and how much you can raise. Some animals do better is hot areas, other cold; some forage well, others do not; some can be raised urban or rural and some cannot. Some livestock require more space than others. Monies will limit the choice of breed and animal family.
- Stick to heritage breeds that are best suited to the climate you will have them in. Heritage breeds tend to have a “history” of survival of the fittest and will generally require less “maintenance”.
- Think multi-functional with any livestock you decide to raise. Being a small scale homesteader if a breed or family of livestock, give you two or more of your needs, then that is what you should select. Keep in mind the animal may not be the best of the best at each of the items it provides you, but it won’t be the worst of the worst either. For example: Chickens can be egg layers or for meat or both. Sheep and goats can provide meat as well as wool and milk. Cattle and cows can provide meat, milk and leather. Dairy cattle are not the best meat sources, but they are not worst either. Just about any animal provides some kind of “gardening” help, either by eating bugs and or generating manure for fertilizing the soil.
- Any livestock that provides you with a product reliant on reproduction will also require you to have both sexes in your “herd”, “clutch”, pasture or barn; or at the least have the services of the opposite sex readily available.
- Think about the feed required for the animal of choice. Can you provide or grow enough on your homestead so you don’t have to purchase much if any of the feed? How many animals will your and support? Many newbies forget these important aspects. The more feed you have to purchase, the less monies you have for other self-reliance aspects and the more expensive the animal becomes. The more animals you have on the land, the better you need to rotate and rest the land to preserve it.
- Never underestimate the “Gag Factor”. All animals produce poo and poop sticks. Even small pets like hamsters produce smelly poop. So before you decide on an animal go visit someone who is raising the critter for food and not a pet and determine if the “gag factor” is within your and your neighbor’s tolerance range. Let’s face it, if you are going to gag every time you go to take care of the animal, then it isn’t for you.
- Always check for your area’s regulations on livestock. Even if you are rural, some animals and or breeds may be prohibited.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Livestock VS Land Resource Considerations
How much an animal weighs directly relates to the amount of feed it requires and the amount of manure it generates. It is the basis for determining the amount of land that can support a certain number of animals. This is often referred to as a stocking rate.
Livestock weight varies depending on the type, breed, gender, age, and what you are raising them for such as: food, fiber, working, breeding, pleasure, etc.
For instance one average 1,000 pound horse generates 8-10 tons of manure each year. This contains the same amount of nutrients generated by 13 people or four households, annually.
It takes one to two acres of land to support:
- One 1,000 pound horse or cow
- Or 5 to 10 sheep or goats
- Or 2 to 5 pigs
- ** Or ¼ acre for 6 laying hens
Some Average Livestock Weights
- Horse, 1,000 to 1,250 lbs.
- Pony 500 to 650 lbs.
- Dairy Cow, Holstein – 1,400 lbs.
- Dairy Cow, Jersey – 1,000 lbs.
- Breeding age dairy heifer (15 months) – 750 lbs.
- Dairy young stock 150 to 500 lbs.
- Beef cow – 1,000 lbs.
- Beef steer finished – 1,250 lbs.
- Beef young stock – 450 to 750 lbs.
- Sheep or goats 100 to 125 lbs.
- Ewe with lamb – 200 lbs.
- Growing pig – 65 lbs.
- Finishing pig – 150 to 275 lbs.
- Sow – 275 to 500 lbs.
- Sow with litter – 375 to 600 lbs.
- Boar – 350 to 800 lbs
General Livestock VS Land Rules of Thumb
- One animal unit = 1,000 pounds of live animal weight.
- One to two acres of land is needed to support one animal unit.
- Even if land is ample, improperly managed manure storage areas, livestock yards, pastures and direct animal access to water resources can result in pollution and health risks.
- One average horse usually weighs about 1,000 pounds and equals one animal unit. This horse will generate 45 to 50 pounds of manure (0.75 to 0.8 cubic feet) per day, not including bedding or feed waste.
- Properly managed manure storage areas, livestock yards, pastures and eliminating direct animal access to surface waters protects nearby water resources, including your own drinking water well. It also protects the health of your family and animals. Proper management is the key to minimizing risks and adverse impacts.
- A properly managed pasture provides feed through the months of April to October. It needs to have rest periods during that time to allow for vegetative re-growth.
Last but not least, be sure to check local restrictions and laws regarding the types and number of animals that may be kept before you build any pens, butches, coops, or sties. In many well-populated areas such regulations are very specific, limiting the number of animals per household and requiring that shelters be placed a specified distance from adjacent property lines. So save yourself annoyance and extra work by checking the rules before you build or buy.
Of course, even if there are no detailed livestock laws where you live, you should strive to keep noise, odors, and flies from becoming nuisances to your neighbors. Indeed, if you live in an area where back yards tend to be small, you'll pretty much have to make your prospective project's effects on others a prime consideration when choosing your homestead critters.
Best Livestock Options
Animals that need very little space are goats, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, turkeys and rabbits. All of these can be kept in an enclosure with some type of housing that keeps them dry during the rains and out of the wind during the colder months.
Many people in the colder regions buy chicks and baby animals in the spring and sell or butcher them in the fall.
The livestock listed below are in no particular order other than chickens. Chickens were rated the #1 animal to start with by every source I contacted and read.
For the details on the "why" and additional informational links go to: http://www.scribd.com/doc/30054125/Best-Livestock-to-Start-a-Homestead-With
The best all around site for looking into any Heritage Animal is: American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) http://www.albc-usa.org/
From a 50 Something, soon to be rural homesteading, Prepper ;-}