Best animals for a new homesteader
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Folks who are interested in homesteading often ask me what animal(s) they should start with on their homestead. Should they get chickens? Ducks? Goats? Quail? Rabbits? A milk cow? What are the best animals for a new homesteader? Help me, Amy! I don’t know what to choose!
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
Things to consider when choosing the best animals for a new homesteader:
Your particular homestead:
space/acreage: Are you urban or rural? Do you have a quarter acre? 40 acres? 400?
neighbors: Are they close? Will they report your noisy rooster or goat, or are they the kind to take care of the homestead if you go on vacation?
buildings/fencing available: We moved to an established, working farm where many things were already in place. Our home before the farm required building chickens coops and runs. Do you have fencing already available? Or will you need to fence a pasture?
predators: Is the biggest threat going to be the neighbor’s half deaf dog? Or will you be on the look out for fox, coyote,and eagles? And if so, do you have the skill, materials, and knowledge to keep your animals safe?
your job/commitments: Many homesteaders work a “regular 9-5 job”, but it’s important to realize your homestead option may be different (or more complicated) than someone who is home more often. How much time do you spend running kids to events? How often are you gone on the weekend?
help available: Are you single? Are you married with 8 kids? How much man, woman, and child power do you have at your disposal to assist with animal “stuff”?
money available: Do you have the money to invest in an animal and what they need? Keep in mind, a large animal has bigger potential problems than a smaller animal—and bigger problems often require deeper pockets.
What the purpose is for getting an animal?
Eggs/Meat/Fiber: Thinking of selling chicken eggs? Do you want to raise and butcher your own hog? Do you understand the process that comes with keeping an animal that provides for you in an eggs/meat/fiber way?
Other reasons you may consider an animal for your homestead are companionship, protection, or entertainment. There is nothing better than Chicken Television. Just sayin’.
However, one reason you should not get animals on your homestead is because you feel like homesteaders are “supposed to have animals”. Getting animals for this reason will cause you headaches that are completely unnecessary.
We started here with chickens and quickly added goats, pigs, and horses. Within a few years, we realized that goats and horses weren’t our thing, and we started trying things like pheasants and turkeys. Currently, we raise chickens (layers and meat birds), ducks, turkeys, and pigs. Might we add something in the next couple years? Absolutely.
The advice we all give but don’t follow? Here’s the truth…
When experienced homesteaders are asked about the best animals for a new homesteader, most will be cautioned to not fill up too fast. In other words, don’t try all the animals you’ve ever wanted to have all at one time. We’ve all said it, myself included.
And it’s decent advice. It’s super easy to get overwhelmed. Since animals are exciting and chicken math is a thing, almost every single homesteader I know has filled their farm up too fast.
While it’s good, sound advice to go slow, the only way to figure out which animals work on your homestead is by having those animals on your homestead. There are some things you’re just not going to know about certain animals (or your homestead’s ability to support them, or if you will enjoy them as much as you thought you would) until you actually bring those animals to your homestead.
But what are the best animals for a new homesteader? And which one should you get first?
Here’s what I think: just pick one.
Chickens are often a first choice for new homesteaders—partially because they’re an easy animal, but also because of all the animals you could choose, chickens are the ones allowed in the most places. You can’t have a cow, llama, or pig everywhere, but chickens are small enough that they are allowed in many urban areas.
Another animal that is often cited as a starter animal is a rabbit. They don’t take up a lot of space, they aren’t noisy, and if you’re looking for a source of meat, they reproduce like…well, rabbits.
But there are lots of options for what animals to choose if you’re a new homesteader. It all depends on a whole lot of things! You’ll find some similarities and differences when you ask people’s opinions about what’s worked and not worked for them as they’ve filled up their homesteads. Here are some suggestions for the best animals for new homesteaders from my fellow farmish folk.
While I don’t think you should just haphazardly add livestock to your homestead with absolutely no research at all, it is possible to research things to death. At some point you just need to choose an animal and go with it.
Jump in! It’s scary and exciting and stressful and amazing all at the same time. And you will screw things up—more than once. And you will learn from it and try to do better next time.
Even if you pick from the best animals for a new homesteader…not all animals will work at your homestead. And that’s okay.
You may discover that the animal you add to your homestead is every amazing thing you thought it would be. But you may also discover it’s… um, not. There are many things you may realize after adding an animal to your farm:
You may discover you don’t care for that animal.
You may find out that animal is more work than you thought.
You might find out that species 1, 2, and 3 are great separately—but you can’t handle them having them all at the same time.
You may also discover that issues you run into have nothing to do with the animal, and everything to do with your specific homestead, or the phase of life you’re currently in.
It took ten years for me to try ducks for a second time after having an absolute disaster of a time with them our first time around. Now I think they’re great!
Conversely, I thought goats would be the most awesome thing ever. After a few years we discovered they really weren’t our cup of tea and that I’m totally okay living vicariously through other homesteaders’ cute baby goat pictures.
Realizing a certain animal isn’t going to work at your farm doesn’t mean you failed. It means that particular animal doesn’t work at your farm. The joy of modern homesteading is that you have a lot of options, including the ability to pick and choose what works best for your property and family. The best animals for a new homesteader are actually any animal that serves a purpose on your homestead and that you enjoy raising.
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