Like many, the thought of braining in farm animals to the homestead both excited me and scared me a little. While we want to get started as quickly as possible, buying too many too soon is a recipe for disaster. So, which animal is best for your homestead? Here are the most beneficial and productive homestead animals, and how to choose the right one for you.
Chickens — Most Popular Homestead Animals for the Beginner
Chickens are very popular as a starting animal for new homesteaders or even people living in the city who want to start moving toward self sufficiency.
Benefits of Chickens Include
- Provide eggs or meat
- Allowed in most places
- Low noise and low smell (if properly cared for)
- Don’t require much space
- Low investment
- Short lifespan
- Provide bug and pest control
- Eat kitchen and garden scraps
- Manure is beneficial for the garden
Usually, chickens breeds are meant either as laying hens or meat birds. While some dual purpose breeds exist, they are not necessarily as productive as dedicated varieties. Dual purpose heirloom breeds like Rhode Island Reds are generally more self-reliant in terms of food and resilient to disease than common industrial bird varieties — white Leghorn and Cornish.
Meat chickens typically mature in 8–12 weeks, and are a very short commitment compared to larger animals on this list.
Egg laying chickens usually begin to start laying in 6 months from hatching, and will lay for about two years — for high production egg layers — maybe 5 years or longer for less productive heritage breeds. Of course, you always have the option of harvesting egg laying birds early for meat, if you don’t want to keep them.
Meat from laying hens is very different than chicken meat you have purchased from supermarkets, being very flavorful although not a tender. Rooster and laying hen meat is outstanding in broths, or when cooked long and wet. Traditional recipes are best for this type of cooking, only really available to people who raise their on chickens.
More info on raising and keeping chickens —
- Are Chickens Allowed in Your City? | How To Find Out What’s Allowed
- 10 Easy Chicken Tractor Ideas for Raising Permaculture Chickens
- Pastured Poultry: How Much Land You Really Need
Bees — Easiest Homestead Animal
Bees are an awesome addition to the homestead. While a beehive might seem a little scary at first, domestic bees are quite docile, and experienced bee keepers often don’t even wear productive equipment when handling them.
Benefits of Bee Keeping Include
- Very low maintenance (no daily chores)
- Free to keep, once you have the equipment
- Great source of sugar for self sufficient homesteads
- Increase productivity of your other crops through pollination
I think that bees are something that every homesteader should get in to at some point. Organic honey from your own hive is a very nice thing to have produced on
And, they are so little work that it’s almost foolish not to considering bringing in a hive. They are almost the only animal on this list that doesn’t add a daily chore and require you buy in or make your own feed stock for at least port of the year.
Bees also help flowering plants in your garden and trees in your orchard produce large healthy fruits. With wild bee populations dwindling in the United States, having some of your own is a good way to improve the productivity of your whole operation.
Goats — Best All Around Homestead Animal
When you are ready to graduate to a larger animal, consider goats. My pick for the best all around homestead animal.
Benefits of Goats Include
- Very resilient animals
- Smaller and more manageable than cows
- Easier to care for than sheep
- Clear brush and unwanted plants
- Provide meat and milk
- Survive in a wide range of climates
While known for their superb ability as escape artists, goats fill the same niche as cows and sheep. Proving milk and meat, goats are the easiest of the three to get started with.
Goats are very useful on the homestead for clearing thick brush land. Many new homesteaders have areas of their land that are steep, and or thickly covered. Rather than clearing it yourself, let the goats do it for you, and get meat as a reward. In my area, goats are great for clearing nuisance invasive blackberry bushes.
Goat milk is tasty and not at all “goaty” if fresh and cooled quickly after harvesting.
Because of their size, goats are much more manageable than 2,000 pound cows which can be dangerous if to less experienced farmers. Goats are also more personable than sheep, and will let you know if something is going wrong, rather than just stand there stoically until they drop dead, a sheep are known to do.
Pigs — Most Efficient Meet Producer on the Homestead
Pigs are excellent sources of meat and particularly fat, which is in low supply on a self sufficient homestead. They are highly efficient, turning kitchen and garden waste in to meat and fat
Benefits of Pigs Include
- Eat almost anything
- Root and clear land
- Don’t require much space
- Excellent quality meat and fat
- Eat kitchen and garden scaps
While pigs are not suitable for most city or suburbans location, for the more serious homesteader they are a must.
Pigs are the most efficient animals for converting waste food products in to useful meat. Animals are the best way to take care of food and garden scraps, since they more directly convert waste calories back to edible calories than compost piles do. They also provide manure, which composts faster than raw food scraps and makes a very potent garden additive.
Additionally, pigs products are well known and beloved by anyone that partakes of them. Producing your own homegrown sausage, bacon, and ham will not only impress your friends and family when you bring it out on the holidays, but serves as a powerful reward for all your hard work. Homesteads with pigs eat more luxuriously than those without.
Cows — The King of Milk and Meat
While there are a lot of fine options for animals on the homestead, beef and cows milk are hard to beat. Everyone just love cow products, which drives many homesteaders to take the plunk in to a larger and more difficult to manage livestock.
Benefits of Cows Include
- Can be pastured on grass much of the year
- Very high quality milk and meat
- Manure is very beneficial to pastures and gardens
If you have lots of good pasture land, then cows can be very cost effective and productive. However, this land is not always available and tends to come at a higher price. So, not every homesteader has the right conditions to make cows worthwhile.
Resorting to buying in feed for your cows, and keeping them in a smaller paddock can make the enterprise quite expensive for homestead scale producers.
Additionally, you will need larger fences, milking equipment, barn, etc to handle the scale of milk cows.
Sheep — Meat, Milk, and Wool in Northern Homesteads
Sheep are another great animal to consider for meat, milk, and wool. Especially when you live in a colder climate where sheep naturally thrive.
Benefits of Sheep Include
- Wool can be a source of income
- Smaller and very docile
- Survives in very cold climates
- Can live on pasture
For homesteaders with the right conditions, sheep are a great all around animal. While they provide milk, meat, and wool for the homestead, they also are potentially profitable animals to make an income off the farm.
Sheep meat and cheese products are a bit of the rarity in many areas of the world, and locally produced organic varieties can be sold at farmers markets or restaurants for a premium.
Knitters are also willing to spend big on one of a kind yarn varieties, so if you have any interest in learning the skills and knowledge required by the ancient crafts of wool spinning and dying, then you may be able to make a sizable income from your little flock. Potentially even mixed with other fiber animals like angora rabbits, mohair goats, lama, or alpaca.
The downside to sheep is that they are more difficult to care for. Sheep are a favorite snack of many wild hunters, and since they are generally pastured it makes them harder to care for without a full time Shepard or guard god. Additionally, sheep are not the type of animals to ask for what they need, and can occasionally suddenly die off for no obvious reason in the hands of a novice sheep herder.
Horse — The Original Renewable Energy for the Homestead
Horse are wonderful animals, although most commonly kept as animals for leisure or sport in the modern era. On a homestead that seeks to be entirely energy independent, you may just need one.
Benefits of Horses Include
- Useful for labor tasks
- Manure is very valuable in the garden
- Highly attractive to other people
While I don’t particularly recommend that you go back to horse driven farm equipment, that is certainly a possibility for homesteaders that are looking for a more traditional lifestyle. For those just getting started, I recommend you study how the Amish use their horses as part of their motor free self sufficient agriculture.
Another, often overlooked benefit, is the romantic and ascetic quality of having horses on the homestead. Many people love having them around, and if you are trying to make a good impression on your friends, family, or even paying guests (a potentially lucrative way of supporting your homestead) then horses might be the right idea.
Should you bring in horses on your homestead? In most cases, I would say it isn’t worth the effort and expensive. But, for some people they are irreplaceable.
Geese — Homestead Guards, Eggs, and Meat
Geese are incredibly valuable and often overlooked additions to your homestead flock.
Benefits of Geese Include
- Scare away predators and “sound the alarm” on intruders
- Provide rich, large eggs
- Are a very nice alternative to turkey for holiday feasts
- Potentially a unique product to sell
Having a goose or two around a flock of chickens or other birds works great as a means of protecting the flock from predators. Geese are aggressive, mean, and loud, punching well above their weight in the animal world. According to historians, the elite Roman army carried geese with them to guard their camps rather than dogs and to raise the alarm when rival soldiers would attempt a midnight raid.
Goose eggs and meat provide a very welcome variation in the homestead food supply. Geese are a traditional holiday centerpiece that compares favorably with turkey and other large birds.
Additionally, due to how uncommon they are in most markets, geese and goose eggs make an interesting product for sale to local restaurants and weekend markets, while being suitable for smaller scale production.
Ducks — Slug Protection for the Homestead
Ducks are very handy to have on the homestead overrun with slugs, and provide tasty eggs and meat prized in fine dining.
Benefits of Geese Include
- The best slug protection available
- Provide rich, large eggs
- Flavorful and rich meat
- Potentially a unique product to sell
Ducks are a less common fowl that make a great addition to the homestead ecosystem.
In particular, ducks are masters of slug prevention, and should be incorporated in to any homestead where slugs might be a problem in the garden.
Like goose, ducks are a relatively exotic meat and egg, which might make them suitable for selling to local fine dinning restaurants or as a premium item at local farmers markets.
Ducks are also an essential part of the permaculture duck pond, which dovetails nicely with the next animal on our list
Fish — Homestead Hydroponics, Permaculture Ponds | Cheap, Easy Meat
While not an animal most people think of, fish are a powerful addition to self-sustaining homesteads, and have centuries of history in traditional agriculture.
Benefits of Fish Include
- Healthy source of protein
- Easy to keep
- Produce rich fertilizer
- Essential part of hydroponic systems
- Nice addition to a permaculture duck pond
- Dead quiet
- Allowed almost everywhere
Fish like trout and talapia can be farmed quickly and easily on small scale farms or homesteads. Fish meat is healthy and a nice addition to the menu.
One of the nice things about keeping fish, compared to other livestock, is they make no mess, no fuss, and are not prone to escaping.
Fish also produce great fertilizer, and are an essential port of hydroponic systems due to this fact.
In southeast asia, row crops are planted in rows interspersed with moats for irrigation. These channels are dug deep enough to support fish populations, which —
- Reduce mosquito and bug populations
- Fertilize the crops directly
- Are caught for meat
For the adventurous farmer, this might be an interesting and potentially highly productive method to try.
A very permaculture fixture — the permaculture duck pond — also makes use of fish to increase the quality of the homestead ecosystem, in addition to providing meat —
Rabbits — Quit Manageable Meat and Fiber for the Urban Homestead
Rabbits are a very manageable livestock that can be grown in any conditions, event the city.
Benefits of Rabbits Include
- Produce meat or fiber
- No noise or fuss
- Allowed in most areas
- Suitable for children
- Very little equipment required
While rabbits are not the best sole meat source, they provide a flavorful and lean meat, that helps vary the kind of meals you can have on the homestead. Angora rabbits also provide a very expensive which can be sold as a raw product, or woven in to fine yarn for use in knitting and other textiles.
Rabbits require almost no build up of your farm infrastructure, when compared to larger animals like cows, goats, or even chickens. Generally, rabbits are kept in cages, which can be built quickly and cheaply.
Domestic rabbits are also extremely docile, making them a good way to introduce young children to the responsibilities of keep livestock. Rabbits can be “their own” animal, of which they are entirely responsible — teaching work ethic and responsibility without much repercussion if they make a mistake.
Quail — Exotic Eggs and Meat for the Farmstead
Quail are small birds that produce meat and eggs.
Benefits of Quail Include
- Exotic, commanding higher prices
- Requires little space
If you are looking to make your homestead in to a business, I have seen the best results from small scale farmers who concentrate on usual products.
Getting in to the chicken game or the beef game, even if you use pasture poultry techniques, is only really profitable if you have a large enough piece of property and are able to install industrial scale infrastructure. Popular commodity crops like these just have too small of margins for a small farm to compete and earn a fair reward.
However, specialty items like quail and snails, destined for high paying fine dining restaurants, give the independent farmstead hope. By playing in a market that is too small to warrant investment in high efficiency machines, and relies or freshness to sell, you have the opportunity to earn a good living from animals you raise on your homestead.
Bonus Homestead Animal: Worms
Lastly, don’t forget the tiny creatures in your soil that make the rest of the farm more productive. And, may make a lucrative business opportunity.
Benefits of Worms Include
- Valuable as a soil additive or bait
- Produce “vermicompost,” a soil additive
- Self contained
- Easy to get started
Worms are valuable not only on your own farm, but as a product in themselves. Worms also produce valuable compost material, called vemicompost, which can be sold as a premium garden additive.
Manure and plant waste common to a homestead or farm are perfect feed stocks in which you raise worms. Making them a nice addition to other animals you already have.
Learn how to raise worms here —
What is the easiest animal to raise?
Most homesteaders consider chickens to be easiest animal to get started with. Although rabbits, bees, and fish are all easy in their own way, rabbits being very docile and suitable for tight conditions, bees required no daily care, and fish being easy to control.
What animals are self sufficient?
Bees and fish require little or no external feed. Pastured animals like chickens, cows, goats, and sheep can survive without much supplemental feed on appropriate land, although they well need fodder or feed during winter months.