At this point in your homesteading plan, you may be ready to start planning for and thinking about animals. (I probably start here rather than with plants, since animals are my profession and plants are my hobby). You will ultimately assess your own needs, wants, desires and capabilities. I will go through a few types common farm animals and give what I see as the pros and cons. I will take this moment to push for heritage breed animals (see where the farm name is derived from?). By using heritage breeds, you are able to preserve the past and also capitalize on some of their better traits, such as having dual purpose animals. Heritage breed animals may benefit you as well by being more likely to mother their young better than some of the more popular breeds on large farms nowadays. For instance, a heritage chicken is much more likely to “go broody” than a factory leghorn would.
CHICKENS: I have already written a post about why you should start with chickens, but I will lay out my thoughts again here. First of all, Chickens are rather inexpensive to obtain. We purchased our first six pullets (who were 17 weeks old and about to start laying) for $5 per bird. So we were out about $30. The second reason is that I feel chickens are very adaptable. You can make a small chicken tractor or use an old outbuilding (like we did) and the chickens will do just fine. Third, chickens are small. This means that they don’t need a lot of space. Fourth, chickens are easy to feed. We feed our table scraps to the girls. We are also fortunate to be able to purchase organic all mash at a local elevator fairly easily. Fifth, Chickens provide a very nutritious product…..eggs. Wait until you crack open your first farm fresh egg, especially if the chickens have access to grass and fields. The yolk is almost orange, it is so dark.
The nutritional components of free range chicken eggs is incredible, nearly unbelievable in scope. Sixth, chicken are fun to watch. Seventh, you are unlikely to get hurt very badly by a chicken. Eighth, a chicken that is no longer laying is still good for something……the pot. You can make your own chicken stock, chicken foot broth, and many other stews and soups with the “retired” old girls. (A side note: we utilize Delaware Chickens as they are docile, go broody, produce eggs well, are dual purpose, and we think they are pretty) (Other heritage breeds to consider are Buff Orrpingtons, Barred Plymouth Rock, Buckeyes, and many others)
Goats. perhaps second on my list would be a dairy goat. Though goats can be very frustrating because they do try to eat everything, goats are still rather small and readily available.
Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat, show clip, in milk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)e
A decent dairy goat will probably cost you between $75 and $200 depending on age, breed, and time of year. A nice thing about dairy goats is that they can produce a decent amount of milk. When allowed to go out on pasture, they are good at cleaning up brush and unwanted plants, since they are more of a foraging animal and less of a grazer. A downside to this is that various weeds can change the flavor of the milk. Another good reason to consider a dairy goat is that the milk tends to be easier for some people to digest. I believe that this is because the fat droplets are smaller than that of a dairy cow (or is it the protein droplets, I can’t remember at the moment) We do not currently have a goat, so I am uncertain of a specific breed recommendation. (we like the San Clemente Island Goat, but simply because they are very rare and are very cute)
Pigs: Again unchartered water for us at the moment. We are considering pigs for their versatility. We are looking into pastured pork, so out focus is on breeds that do well in a foraging and pasture based management system. Once again, pigs are reasonably priced. Another good argument for pigs is their varied diet. These are yet another animal that you can feed table scraps. My understanding is that fencing pigs is not to difficult. They apparently train to electric fencing very easily. I have read that pigs will train uickly to two hot wires. One at about 9 inches off the ground and another at about 30 inches off the ground. They will train so well in fact, that it is hard to get them to cross an area that previously had a fence across it. Most articles I have found simply use polywire or another form of electrified temporary fencing like those used in rotational grazing systems. (We like Tamworth and Gloucestershire Old Spots for pig breeds. Red Wattles get an honorary mention)
Sheep: I suppose sheep are in the fold here too. Sheep are again easy to obtain and not too expensive.
High sheeps (Photo credit: Bertoz)
Uses for the sheep would be meat and wool. We do not have sheep at the moment, as we do not see spinning our own wool. Sheep are grazers, so now we are starting to look at more infrastructure. They will likely need a barn, a yard and fencing. This adds to the cost of them of course. (We have yet to select a breed, though I am intrigued by the Romeldale breed.
Cattle: I would recommend a good dual purpose breed, but you could have a dairy cow and beef cows. Most true homesteads likely have a good old dairy cow on hand. A dairy cow will likely cost about $1500 or so, depending on age, breed and quality. Some decent cow can be purchase through sale barns for less money, but beware that the farmer is likely selling her through the sale barn for a reason. Cattle require feed and infrastructure as well. You will need a tie stall or other location for milking. You will need fencing for the pasture, or else be ready to push a lot of hay and grain around. (We think the the Red Poll cow is the perfect breed for this, as they are good foragers. grazers and they are dual purpose) (Other breeds to consider would be Milking Devon, Shorthorn, Kerry, and Dexter)
I also recommend a good old farm dog. They are great companions, good for security and even can help with some of the round up of the critters if trained to do so. They can also be helpful with pests, such as the infamous “whistle pig” ( A.K.A. Groundhog.)
Hopefully I have touched on the main animals for homesteading. If I have left any pertinent ones out, please let me know. I am sure that some are fond of Llamas for guard animals protecting their flock of sheep. Some may like Alpacas for the hair production. I suppose that I left turkeys out as well. They have their place too, just not at the top of my list. Their place, to me, is on the thanksgiving table.
- Red Poll Cattle (The perfect breed) (heritagebreedfarms.wordpress.com)