Adding animals to your homestead can be a great way to increase your self-reliance and resilience. Keeping different kinds of livestock can be a fun and interesting thing to do. More than this, it can provide you with a range of useful yields. But choosing which animals to raise is not always easy.
One important consideration when choosing animals for your homestead, hobby farm, or smallholding is which are the easiest animals to raise. This is especially important if you are a beginner and have never reared animals before.
Another important consideration, of course, is how much space you have available. Some animals, of course, require far more space than others. In this article, we will discuss 14 of the animals to consider, ranked from the easiest to most difficult.
(1-5, 1 is easiest)
(1-5, 1 is the least space required)
|Worms||1||1 (very, very little)|
|Alpaca/ Llama||3||3 to 4|
|Pigs||4||3 to 4|
14 Easiest Animals To Raise
If you are new to keeping livestock of any kind, then, aside from worms for composting, chickens can be an excellent place to start. A small backyard flock will keep you entertained. They do not take up a lot of space, and you can keep a few birds even if you have a standard backyard area. Though you do need to learn some basics to make sure you keep your chickens happy and healthy, they really do not require that much work. Even kids can be taught to care for them correctly.
The easiest way to get started is with three to five birds, a coop, and a run area for confinement when necessary. It is best to let your chickens free-range as much as possible, fencing off garden growing areas to keep them safe rather than fencing chickens in.
Consider adopting some rescue, ex-battery hens to keep them from being killed by factory farms, and give them a retirement laying eggs and providing you will chicken manure that you can rot then use as fertilizer in an organic garden.
Raising your own chicks is somewhat more complex but is still relatively easy once you have the information you require. If you wish, you could consider making forays into keeping chickens for meat as well as rearing them for eggs, feathers, manure, and the scratching and pest control services they provide.
Raising other poultry such as ducks can also be relatively easy for the beginner. As with chickens, it is, of course, essential to think about whether you want to raise them for eggs, for meat, or for both. Ducks require many of the same inputs and provide similar outputs to chickens. However, one benefit of ducks is that they are less likely than chickens to completely destroy plants around them.
Ducks, like chickens, are an excellent choice not only for their obvious yields but also for their pest control services. They can be great for eating slugs and other garden pests, and like chickens, can work well when allowed to free range to a degree.
Ducks, however, can be messier than chickens and make a muddy mess. They will need water not only for drinking but also to wash their beaks and bathe in. If you have space for a pond, this is easy. However, providing water will take a little more work if you have to refill pools for your ducks.
Another bird that is not quite as common, but which can also make a lot of sense, even on smaller homesteads, is the quail. Quail, like other poultry, are relatively easy to care for. They are another bird that can work very well when integrated into, for example, a forest garden or agroforestry scheme.
Quail provide much smaller eggs, of course, but they are considered a delicacy. And the quail will eat bugs and pest species when kept around fruit trees and fruiting bushes. As small birds, not a lot of space is required to keep them. And in certain environments, they can thrive without huge amounts of care and attention.
If you have very little time to tend animals on your homestead, you could consider the potential of wild sources of protein and manure. One interesting solution for a homestead might be to create a dovecote and rear pigeons/ doves as a source of manure and potentially also to eat ‘squabs.’
Unlike the other birds mentioned above, pigeons or doves will not necessarily require additional feed from you. They will forage and scavenge around the area, returning to your dovecot at night to roost. The dovecot was a familiar element on smallholdings of the past, providing the householder with an additional yield at little to no additional cost to themselves.
There will be a little work required in setting up your dovecot and establishing a self-sustaining flock. But once your birds are in place, this could be a very cheap and low-input solution to increase the yield from your property. You will, of course, have to consider retrieving and using the manure that gathers and dealing with the squabs if you wish to eat them. But this could be an interesting sideline if you are considering animals for your homestead.
Just be warned – the difficulty in having a flock of pigeons on your property does increase slightly when you consider the work that will be required to protect arable crops/garden beds (especially brassicas) from the hungry flock.
Even those who are not really considering raising animals on their homestead may find it extremely beneficial to consider the benefits of keeping worms. They may not be the most obvious animals to the farm, but they are living creatures that could bring a lot of benefits to your property.
Worms are farmed in a composting system known as vermicomposting. Special worms are installed in a compost bin, where they will, if given the right conditions and fed with compostable materials, breed and enrich the compost with their ‘worm castings’ or worm manure.
As long as you remember that worms need air and water, the right temperatures, and food to eat, it is usually very simple, easy, and straightforward to rear them to help you in compost creation in this way. This is an animal anyone can raise – even those with very limited space.
When thinking about keeping animals on your homestead, fish are not likely to be the first thing that springs to mind. But raising fish on your property might be a very sensible thing to do and is something that can potentially be done even in the smallest of spaces.
The complexity involved in aquaculture can vary considerably depending on the type and size of the system that you plan to implement. At its simplest, raising fish involves stocking a large pond on your property with trout, carp, or other suitable freshwater species and, if necessary, supplementing their natural diet with some additional feed.
Another very interesting avenue to explore is the idea of aquaponics. Aquaponics involves keeping fish in tanks and integrating them into a hydroponic system where plants can be grown. Aquaponics systems can vary significantly in size and complexity, but the easier and smaller systems can be great options for beginners.
Of all the mammals that you could raise on your property, rabbits are arguably the easiest and require the least amount of space and resources. You can keep rabbits just for the manure they provide, which is an excellent resource for your garden. But they can also be reared for fiber and/or meat, depending on your preferences and requirements.
Rabbits are typically housed in hutches or cages, though they can also be housed in a dedicated building or shed – AKA a rabbit house, perhaps even with a well-secured outside run. You can also consider implementing a tractor system to move rabbits around to graze in different areas, to keep the grass short, and avoid the need for mowing.
To keep rabbits, you will, of course, need somewhere to house them and food to feed them (perhaps in addition to pasture for them to forage – depending on your set up). You will also need waterers and something to contain your rabbit’s food. Generally speaking, however, once you learn the basics, you will find that they are moderately easy to raise, even for beginners.
Guinea pigs are very similar to rabbits in their inputs and the yields they provide, and in terms of space requirements and ease of care. Like rabbits, they can breed prodigiously and provide manure and grazing services to avoid having to mow grassland areas or lawns. Though this is not as familiar to most as rabbit meat, they can also be eaten, so are another useful protein source for meat eaters with smaller homesteads to consider.
Like rabbits, they can be pretty easy to care for. Of course, like rabbits, many people simply keep them as pets. But like rabbits, guinea pigs can also be useful in integrated systems on a homestead or on a small farm.
Other animals that you should definitely consider keeping on your homestead or farm are bees. Beekeeping, especially natural beekeeping, can be moderately straightforward once you have the requisite information. And it can be a very useful way of ensuring that there are always pollinators around on your property to provide their services and make sure you get a good fruit set.
A well set up natural beekeeping operation can also, providing you do not take more than the bees can spare, a source of a number of very useful yields – honey, beeswax (and perhaps royal jelly). A minimal intervention natural beekeeping set up will require very little care, while the levels of work required will increase if you will be managing the system to obtain substantial yields.
Of all the larger livestock that you could keep on your property, goats are often considered to be one of the easiest options. They are also the option that can be carried out with less space than the remaining options on this list.
The level of complexity involved in keeping goats will vary depending on what exactly you are keeping the goats for. Keeping smaller goats for fiber is generally easier than keeping them for milking or meat production.
In the appropriate environment, for example, angora goats can be kept for their mohair fleece, and this could potentially be an interesting choice for a smallholder or homesteader who does not have the time for milking, etc. But remember, shearing will have to be undertaken if you are harvesting the fleece.
It is important to carefully consider whether the climate where you live is suitable for the goat breed you are considering.
Keep no more than five goats to the acre, and make sure that they always have suitable accommodation and that all their basic needs are met, and you should generally find that they are moderately easy livestock to care for.
Goats are selective grazers and can be great for careful integration into an established agroforestry scheme. They are also very intelligent animals that can be a lot of fun.
Alpacas are hardy creatures and are another moderately easy animal to raise for beginners. They tend to be pretty disease resistant as long as you make sure to take care of their general health and wellbeing and provide for their basic needs. Before deciding to keep alpacas, of course, as with any other animal, it is important to familiarise yourself with the basics and make sure you understand the animal and its husbandry requirements.
One interesting thing about alpaca is that they have very efficient digestive systems. This means that they convert food into energy very efficiently and so need less feed than most other livestock. So they cost less to feed than most traditional domestic animals.
They can also be very friendly and communicative creatures and so can be a great choice for those with kids or for those who want to create a bond with their animals.
As a rule of thumb, again, you should plan to have around five alpaca on an acre of land. As pack animals, these should not be kept in isolation, so you will need to have a few if you plan to keep them. Their manure is great for your garden.
The care requirements for sheep are often rather similar to those for goats or alpaca, but it is generally considered that raising them does take a little more work. And you will typically need more space in order to do so, as sheep will do best in larger flocks. While sheep are usually grazed on open pasture, it is well worthwhile considering the potential to rear them as part of a silvo-pasture system.
Sheep can be problematic for ecology and detrimental to sustainable land management if reared in a typical way. But there is potential to create much more diverse and ecologically sound systems, including sheep with careful planning, preparation, and care. Like other grazers, it is very important with sheep to avoid overstocking. An integrated farm management plan will work wonders. It is important to rotate stock to avoid issues.
Sheep are less selecting grazers and can be useful for keeping the grass down and maintaining sward. Again, 5 per acre is considered to be a very rough rule of thumb.
Keeping a few pigs is another way to diversify yield on your homestead. Pigs have a reputation for being dirty and smelly, but actually, they are very clean animals. As with the other livestock on this list, you need to be aware of their needs. Pigs do not actually require a huge amount of space, but one thing to keep in mind is that the more space you can give them for foraging, mud-bathing, etc., the less work they will typically take.
One thing that makes pigs a good choice is that they are very unfussy when it comes to their diet. So you can use them as ‘bins’ to recycle food scraps and other organic waste from your property and turn it into nutrient-rich manure.
If pigs are managed for meat, however, this can be more complex. With pigs, as with other animals reared predominantly for meat, it is important to have a good plan and management system in place.
Cattle are the most difficult livestock to care for on this list. But that does not necessarily mean that they are completely out of reach for beginners. Even novices can succeed in rearing cattle as long as they implement a good system of rotational grazing, do not overstock and have sufficient space. As with pigs, the more space you have available for them, the easier their care can be.
Of course, these are not the only animals to raise. But they can often be good options to start with when considering which options are right for you. Just remember to take into account where you live and your own needs as well as the needs of the various animals involved when making your decisions.
Choosing Animals to Raise
When choosing your animals, it is important to bear a number of things in mind. It is important to note that this ranking is merely a rough guideline and may differ depending on where you live and the conditions that are to be found there.
For example, while chickens and other poultry can be very easy to raise in many temperate climate situations, they can be more challenging in hotter climates. Chickens can cope with cold to a surprising degree but are not very good with heat.
Another example is that beekeeping can be moderately easy in many climates, but you may struggle to keep their colonies alive over winter if you live in a particularly cold climate area.
Keeping larger livestock can be less challenging. More land is available and can be far more challenging on restricted sites. So this is another thing to bear in mind.
The quality of the land and the existing vegetation on the site will also have a bearing on how easy it is to keep the different animals you have in mind.
Water availability in your area is another key consideration and may have an important bearing on how easy it is to rear livestock in your area at all.
Making a Plan for Raising Animals
Keeping all of the above in mind, it is important to make a plan for your animals before you make any decisions about which one or ones might be right for you. Remember, how easy animals are to care for is just one of the things you need to think about to make the right decision.
Be sure to also think about:
- Your budget – not just to purchase the animals themselves, but also for housing, bedding, equipment, food, veterinary assistance when required, etc.
- How much land you have and whether that land is suitable for the livestock you are considering.
- Whether you wish to be self-sufficient in feed for your animals. And whether you have sufficient land for this and have the requisite fodder crops etc., in place. Or plan to buy in feed for your animals. If so, consider the cost.
- How much time you are willing/able to spend tending to livestock.
- The yields each animal can provide (eggs, milk, meat, fibers, manure, etc.)
- Which of these yields you and your family would actually enjoy.
- Ethical considerations – for example, whether or not you and your family will eat meat or run a vegetarian enterprise.
- Whether you plan to use these yields domestically or set up a commercial enterprise.
- If animals are to be raised for meat, whether you yourself will dispatch the animals and be able to do so humanely. If not, check abattoir facilities in your area and work out your plan in this regard to minimize harm or distress to the animals.
- What post-processing/butchering work will be required, and what skills you might need to learn in this regard.
- How your animals will be integrated with other systems/growing plans on your property.
Creating Integrated and Holistic Systems
It is important to set your expectations upfront. This can help you think through the whole process of keeping your animals and harvesting your yields. When it comes to homesteading or farming, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. It is important to come up with a holistic plan for your animals and your land that works for you.
Don’t think about raising animals as a separate thing. Think about it as an integrated part of your farm or homestead. For example, animals might help you in growing arable crops/ improving the soil and boosting fertility/ pest control/ and more. Think about setting up integrated systems like silvo-pastural agroforestry plans, for example.
It can be helpful when considering the different animals on this list to think about them in terms of inputs, outputs, and characteristics. This can help you to understand a little better what each animal requires, the yields it can deliver, and how your animals will fit into your overall plan.
The characteristics of each animal are numerous and something you can research and discover fully on your own as you raise your animals. But here is a rough, basic idea when it comes to input and output to get you started:
|Chickens||Water, feed, housing, forage||Manure, eggs, potentially meat, feathers, pest control services,|
|Ducks||Water, feed, housing, forage||Manure, eggs, potentially meat, feathers, pest control services|
|Quail||Water, feed, housing, forage||Manure, eggs, potentially meat, feathers, pest control services|
|Worms||Water, compostable materials||Compost, worm castings, worms (for feed or fishing, for example)|
|Pigeons/ Doves||Water, housing, forage||Manure, potentially meat, feathers.|
|Fish||Pond or tank, feed||Manure (to fertilise an aquaponic system), potentially edible fish.|
|Rabbits||Water, feed, housing, forage||Manure, potentially meat, fibre, grazing services|
|Guinea Pigs||Water, feed, housing, forage||Manure, potentially meat, grazing services|
|Honey Bees||Nectar, hive||Honey, beeswax, royal jelly, pollination services|
|Goats||Water, feed, housing, pasture||Manure, milk, potentially meat, grazing services|
|Alpaca/ Llama||Water, feed, housing, pasture||Manure, fibre, potentially meat, grazing services|
|Sheep||Water, feed, housing, pasture||Manure, wool, potentially meat, grazing services|
|Pigs||Water, feed, housing, pasture||Manure, potentially meat, lard, land ’tilling’ services.|
|Cattle||Water, feed, housing, pasture||Manure, milk, potentially meat, tallow, leather, grazing services.|
If you integrate your animals into a holistic plan for your homestead or farm, then whichever animals you choose to keep, you should find it easier to do so.