This being the first Mother Earth Monday, I thought I would start with something relating to all of those who dream of a small homestead of their own or who have begun to actively consider raising their own food.
I should first clarify how I determined what made the best choice. First, productivity was important. If it isn’t going to be productive, it is a pet more than livestock. Second is that the animal in question has to be able to exist in a limited acreage. Lastly, it has to be something relatively easy to care for. Number five is a relative choice considering it does require more care than anything else on the list, but for the size, little else fills the same set of functions.
Top 5 Suggested Livestock
Rabbits are the go to animal for any small operation. A good meat rabbit such as a New Zealand White gains a pound for every three it eats. The final dress weight can easily be ten or more pounds and can be up to five pounds at ten weeks of age. Some breeds can get as high as 16 pounds.
They take almost no space, require little attention, produce heavily and create the only waste that doesn’t need a wait time before it is added to the soil of your garden. Three does and a buck can keep a family fed with fine grained and delicious meat. Add to this the fact that some breeds can be used for your fiber needs if you don’t have space for larger animals and they become an incredibly helpful animal for a starter farm or homestead.
Many people would place chickens above ducks. Depending on your feelings, you might as well. I place them higher for several reasons. Above all, I enjoy their eggs far better. While they produce less eggs on average, they do well enough to supply the needs of my family readily and since we prefer the flavor, it is a no-brainer.
Despite what you may believe, a pond is not required. As long as a small wading pool can be provided, they will be happy enough. Many breeds forage a good portion of their food on their own, so don’t need as much feed as most chickens.
My personal favorite choice are the Muscovy ducks. They do not quack, instead making a soft hissing noise, not that most ducks are particularly loud. They are well built for protecting themselves from predation and the meat is reminiscent of roast beef.
Cooking duck properly means a little understanding of how it differs from chickens, but once you understand how, it is not the greasy mess many people would lead you to believe. It isn’t the same as chicken, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having.
Chickens are the go-to fowl for many people. Free range birds need greater space, but their housing is generally modest and the egg production can be massive even among a small flock. Meat birds tend to grow quickly and are bred for slaughter while still young and tender.
The biggest detractor for chickens is the amount of damage they can do with their scratching when kept in a limited space. This can be turned into an advantage for the smart owner. By nature, they will till the ground and turn compost seeking out larval insects. If allowed to follow cattle or other animals, roughly three days after they have left a pasture, the chickens will feast on fly larva. The chickens get fattened and the fly population is seriously cut into while they spread the waste out to decompose more readily.
Geese are not suited to areas with very closely packed neighbors, but the noise they make can be a serious boon for announcing predators that would otherwise sneak up on the rest of your livestock. They produce meat, eggs and down, as do the other fowl above, but are also interesting weeders. A good example is to let them loose in a strawberry patch. No weed will go uneaten, but the strawberries will be utterly ignored.
Geese are readily taken care of and there is something pleasing about a Christmas Goose in the arcane tradition.
This is where the size of your land does matter and where the level of care goes up a bit. Goats and sheep can be grazed together, since they compliment one another in their favored eating habits. Goats especially are good for milk production, while sheep offer up a fair bit of fiber.
Both produce meat and both can be kept in a very small flock without needing huge tracts. There are two main disadvantages to consider when keeping them. First is that they do require a bit more regular attention than the other animals listed above. Second is that not everyone cares for the taste of goat milk or meat. Try the milk from different varieties before deciding if you will go buy one yourself.
Below are a few livestock that might have made it on to some top five lists, but not this one along with why they didn’t make the cut.
Pigs – Pigs are not particularly hard to care for, but do require more work in the sense of preparing their space and will eat a fair bit more than any of the animals above. While they can subsist well on a diet supplemented with kitchen scraps, so can chickens without all of the space or size.
Some breeds of pig can get absolutely huge and if not of a breed with a gentle disposition and raised well, they can be absolutely vicious. Add to this how readily they can go feral if they escape and I think that pigs should be a project for someone with a little more experience under their belts.
Cows – Cows are the go-to animal for milk. That is because of just how much they produce. Even a small Jersey can produce more milk in a day than some families use in a week. And know that you will be milking her 2 times a day, every day, no matter what. You will probably need around an acre per cow of grazing land and will have to set up the proper structures along with paying for various needs of the animal.
I have absolutely nothing against keeping a cow. They are no harder in terms of time than a goat really, but until you have a little experience under your belt, hold off. If you figure out a lot of ways to use the goat milk and enjoy the regular daily milkings, by all means build and buy what you need for cows. Get one knowing what you are getting into.
Turkey – Ah Turkey, the wonderful white meat we all know and love. If you insist on raising turkeys, do so with a heritage breed. You won’t get as much breast meat, but you will get a lot more flavor and the bird will not be so dumb it has to be taught how to drink water.
Start by raising the fowl listed above and decide once you know the basics of raising those if you really want to have a turkey. They are well worth it if you go into it with your eyes open. Just starting out, they might frustrate a few newbies.
Guinea Fowl – Touted as the wonderful little bird that is tasty and warns of eminent danger. They might indeed if anyone paid attention. Unfortunately they tend to startle easily and many find that they are so endlessly calling warnings that when a real threat appears, they go ignored.
They don’t like to stay in their coops, they often disappear into the woods never to appear again (semi-feral animals that they are) and if even one of them ever sees you take one of their number away for the chopping block, all of them will avoid you thereafter as you are now marked for one of their ‘warning calls’ of danger. If you have some experience and want to try your hand. Feel free. If you are just starting out, save yourself the frustration.