Best Animals for the Small Homestead
by Peggy Deland
If one of your goals is self-sufficiency (or close to it) and you're not a
vegan, you'll need a source of milk, eggs, and possibly meat. Even if you are a
vegan, keeping animals on your homestead can provide you with natural fiber or
wool to sell. Raising your own animals also gives you peace of mind -- you know
that your animals were raised humanely and treated with care.
Think your homestead is too small to raise animals? Think again. Even the
smallest plots can support a few carefully chosen animals. While a herd of
cattle isn't an option on a small homestead, you can certainly keep poultry,
goats, and even sheep, and if space is truly in short supply, rabbits and quail
can be kept in backyard cages.
Goats are among the most practical and versatile animals you can raise. They
also have the advantage of being small and easy to handle. A single goat can
produce two to four quarts of milk each day, which can be drunk or used to make
goat milk cheese, butter, and soap. Angora goats and other long-haired breeds
can be raised for their prized mohair, which you can sell or use to make
handcrafted products. Goats can also be raised for meat, though it may sound odd
if you've never tried "cabrito". Goat meat is as healthy as chicken breast, and
tastes similar to veal.
One thing to keep in mind if you choose to have goats on your homestead is that
different breeds are suited to different purposes. It's unlikely you'll be able
to get mohair, milk, and meat from a single goat. Instead, decide which breed or
breeds of goats to buy based on what you want to get from them. For milk,
Nubian, Saanen, or LaMancha goats are among the best choices, and for mohair,
you'll need Angora goats. Any goat can produce meat, but Boer and Myotonic
("fainting") goats are the best suited for this purpose.
Chickens are an obvious choice for a small homestead because they don't require
much space and will provide your family with eggs and fresh meat. Once a hen's
egg production has declined, she can be a great addition to the stew pot.
Believe it or not, mature chickens are far more flavorful than the
rapidly-fattened youngsters sold in supermarkets. Chicken feathers are also
useful; once cleaned and dried, they can be used to stuff pillows or even
old-fashioned feather mattresses. Chickens aren't hard to care for, and young
chicks or fertilized eggs are very inexpensive to buy.
Other poultry are also worth considering. Guineas, ducks, and geese are also
great sources of eggs, meat, and feathers. Although they cost more than
chickens, the meat is richer and many people love fresh duck and goose eggs.
Guineas have the added advantage of being an effective pest control measure;
they will happily snap up wasps, hornets, ticks, ants, and even mice.
Hogs are another good choice for the small homesteader. A single hog doesn't
need much space and can provide an amazing amount of pork. Pork is perhaps the
most versatile meat there is, and it's not hard to make your own sausage, ham,
and bacon. Hogs have the added advantage of doing well while eating almost
anything (as long as the protein content isn't too high), and in less than a
year can reach 200 - 300 pounds. Hog manure is also a great natural fertilizer,
but it has a strong odor so you may not want to keep your hog pen close to your
Hogs tend to be kept as single-purpose animals, but there's no reason you can't
tan your own pigskin. Although hog milk is said to be delicious and creamy (it's
about 8.5% butterfat), it's not usually practical to milk a hog. Most won't hold
still for it, and if you do manage to get the job done, the yield will be quite
Sheep don't take up a lot of space, and a large yard with a well-ventilated
shed, barn, or carport can comfortably hold several. Obviously, if you want
sheep in your yard, you'll need more than a picket fence to hold them. Farm
supply stores carry appropriate fencing, which is fairly inexpensive. Sheep are
best known for producing wool, but both young and adult sheep can be used for
meat, and sheep's milk is used to make some of the world's most prized cheeses.
Unlike goats, most breeds of sheep are dual-purpose and will provide plenty of
wool and meat. Dairy breeds can be hard to find in the United States, but Dorset
and Polypay sheep are generally available and will produce a reasonable amount
Most people don't think of fish when they consider raising animals on their
homestead, but catfish are a perfect choice for limited space. Fingerling
catfish are very inexpensive and grow rapidly. If you have a pond, you can stock
it with catfish and a few grass carp to keep away the algae. It's not necessary
to feed catfish in a pond unless you stock a large number or you want them to
grow rapidly. If you're in a hurry or want a large supply of fish, you will need
to feed them daily during the summer and less often in winter. If you don't want
to use commercial feed, you can toss in a few scoops of earthworms each day.
Don't have a pond? You can still raise catfish in a barrel! They will eat
insects that land on the water's surface, but you will need to provide most of
the food yourself. Once or twice-daily feedings should be sufficient.
Barrel-raised catfish are easily caught with a net, which could be an advantage
or disadvantage depending on how much you enjoy fishing!
Another option for homesteaders who have very little room to spare is small
animals. Rabbits can be raised in hutches in your backyard, and true to their
reputation, reproduce frequently. As with many other animals, you'll need to
decide what you want to use the rabbits for before you choose a breed. Angora
rabbits are a great source of natural fiber. New Zealand, Florida White, and
Californian rabbits are good choices for meat. Don't forget to preserve the
skins of your meat rabbits; rabbit fur is incredibly soft and can be used to
line boots, gloves, or make your own fur coat.
Quail are another great choice when space is limited. Coturnix (Japanese),
bobwhite, or even button quail can be raised for meat, eggs, and feathers. Quail
are small enough to be kept in cages and breed readily. Quail meat is very lean
and has a delightful flavor when roasted; whole, dressed quail are also
delicious breaded and fried. Tiny quail eggs are a gourmet treat when
soft-boiled, brushed with dark sesame oil and sprinkled with sea salt.