- We raise animals for food, fiber, companionship, and as helpers.
- Goats and sheep are relatively easy livestock to raise.
- Chickens have become very popular as pets and backyard egg layers.
When you’re creating a farm, you need to know about the most useful animals for that environment and what you intend to do with the animals. Are you looking for pets or will this be a working farm? How much land do you have and where is it located? Are you going to put all your efforts into a single species or do you want to diversify?
Whether you’re looking for livestock or companion animals, there are many possibilities: for beginners, low maintenance, self-sufficiency, pets, to raise for profit, or miniature animals for a backyard. Here are the 10 most common, best farm animals.
One of the best farm animals to raise for self-sufficiency and for profit is goats. They are useful for meat, dairy, fiber, and clearing brush. Some people prefer goat dairy to cow dairy and it has its own unique health benefits, such as being easier to digest, especially for lactose-intolerant people. They need to eat feed, hay, shrubbery, and vegetables but are also happy to get rid of kitchen scraps. You need to provide them shelter, and goat fencing, and have at least one other goat for companionship and to deter them from escaping.
They are not very low maintenance, however, as they are vulnerable to illness, stomach problems, and worms. If you have a small backyard or only a few acres of land, look into miniature breeds such as pygmy goats, useful for both meat and milk or Nigerian dwarf goats, which are useful for milk and also most common for pets. Nigerian dwarf goats can produce 0.5-1 gallon of milk a day. There are goat breeds that are naturally hornless if you don’t want to dehorn them.
The most low-maintenance farm animals to raise are ducks, which don’t need much space compared to others. They are excellent to raise for self-sufficiency or for profit, even for beginners. Not only are they useful for meat if you enjoy duck, but the hens lay an average of 200-300 extra-large eggs a year starting at five to six months of age. Many people prefer duck eggs over chicken eggs for baking.
These foragers only need a house, a kiddie pool, and proper fencing. They even serve to help around in the garden by eating pests and weak-rooted plants. They also eat snails, worms, aquatic plants, and bugs, fish and fish eggs, grains, and seeds. They can make great pets as well. One caveat is that they are more territorial than chickens and each needs four to six feet of space in their house and 10-15 feet to roam in a duck run. The Pekin breed is an all-white duck that is valued for both eggs and meat, and it produces 90% of all duck meat.
When it comes to raising livestock for profit or for self-sufficiency, cows are an obvious choice. Just make sure you know what you are getting into. Cattle are generally easy to raise, but they are large, powerful animals that can be very dangerous if you do not know how to handle them.
There are many different breeds of cows so you should know what your goal is before deciding on the right breed for your farm. If you want a dairy cow, you should not choose a breed designed for beef. If you want to raise cattle for others, you can sell calves once they’re weaned, or wait until they’re grown and sell them for meat or dairy cows depending on the breed.
For a small subsistence farm you may want to produce milk and other dairy products, such as butter and cheese. Miniature cattle breeds are a good choice for small farms as they don’t need as much space. All cattle need good quality pasture and hay. The Dexter cow is a smaller breed but still needs half-an-acre of good quality pasture to graze on and good hay during the winter. All cows need a water source, a barn for winter, and shade for summer while out on pasture. Owners must be careful when handling cows, whether they are bulls or cows protecting their calves.
The most common farm animals are chickens, and it’s no secret why: Most people eat chicken meat and eggs, and farmers and gardeners use chicken droppings as fertilizer, making them staple livestock to raise whether for self-sufficiency or for profit. Their temperament and the number of eggs the hens can lay a day depends on the breed.
Chickens have become very popular as pets in recent years and are a great choice for suburban areas. They eat chicken feed, kitchen scraps, garden leftovers, bugs, and weeds, including chickweed. They can help to reduce ticks and other harmful insects. You’ll need to provide them with fresh water, a covered shelter in case of rain, fencing, and a coop to nest and lay eggs. The coop should have at least 4 square feet of space per hen and be secure from predators. It should be kept clean and the birds should be monitored for health and well-being on a daily basis.
It is most common to have hens, although the occasional rooster or two for crowing as well as to help protect hens from predators. Some examples of popular breeds for egg laying are Barred Rock, Australorp, and Speckled Sussex. Bantam chickens are much smaller and may be ideal for people with small chicken coops in suburban backyards. Welsummer chickens are petite, dual-purpose birds for meat and eggs. Orpingtons are also dual-purpose as well as great for pets.
Rabbits are low-maintenance farm animals, even for beginners, and can thrive in a backyard where you can raise them for meat and pelts and use their droppings as fertilizer. They are excellent to raise for profit, for self-sufficiency, or for pets because they breed quickly. Females birth six or more in a litter and you can cull babies for meat at eight weeks. Two does and one buck can produce 180 pounds of meat in a year. The meat is lean but tasty. Rabbits are social animals and need companionship with at least one other rabbit or to live in a colony. You need a hutch for them and if they are free-range, a bunny tractor to protect them outside.
One of the most common farm animals for self-sufficiency and profit is pigs. They are a great meat source and are very good at turning over soil. Sows can birth as many as 11 piglets in a litter which is usually weaned at 8-10 weeks old. The pigs are sent to the butcher when they weigh approximately 250 pounds, which takes about six months. It is also popular to raise miniature breeds for pets though it should be noted that pet pigs actually need more care. Pet pigs need a very low-calorie diet to avoid becoming dangerously obese. They also need routine hoof and dental care.
Pigs are omnivorous and can eat kitchen scraps, corn, grains, bread, grass, and milk. If you are raising pigs for meat, it is important to feed them high-quality feed or the meat will not taste right. While they have a large appetite and food costs can be expensive, you can cut down on the cost by allowing them free-range grazing. Doing so also lets them move around to maintain cleanliness. Pigs should have access to a large pasture area, just be warned that most breeds will root up the entire area. Pigs are wonderful rototillers.
A pen with strong fencing is necessary so your pigs can’t escape. For a pasture area, electric fencing also works very well. Although they can do well in a backyard, pigs do need a pigsty to protect them from intense sun or cold. If you have a small farm, a Berkshire pig is an ideal breed. The Tamworth breed is prized for its bacon and all other cuts of pork as well as the sows’ large litters and being excellent mothers. Pigs are vulnerable to worms and other parasites if not raised in appropriate conditions. They also need careful handling to avoid being charged or bitten. Pigs can be extremely dangerous, especially breeding animals, so make sure you get some knowledgeable help before going whole hog.
Similar to goats in terms of being relatively low maintenance, sheep can suit different sizes of farms. They are also great for beginners. This livestock is appealing to raise for self-sufficiency and for-profit in terms of providing meat, milk, and wool. Sheep milk is superior to both cow and goat milk for making cheese. Keeping two to three sheep in the same pasture means not needing much space. The Suffolk breed is equally useful for meat and wool, while the Blackberry is a hairless meat breed. The Miniature Cheviot is one of the U.K.’s hardiest breeds and is valued for its wool, and the East Friesian is the best dairy sheep. Sheep do not do well alone, so plan on having at least two.
Compared to guinea fowl, quail are more low maintenance because they are less noisy and need very little space. If you want to allow quail to free range, you will need very good, tall fencing to prevent them from escaping. They are great to raise for profit and self-sufficiency for both their eggs and meat. For shelter, they need a covered enclosure, roosting areas, and brush. Their space needs to allow for 1 square foot per bird.
For their food, you’ll need to give them protein supplements so they don’t become cannibalistic. You’ll want to keep them away from other birds, such as chickens or geese, to avoid injury and death. These birds are smaller than chickens but hens start laying eggs at eight weeks and lay about one egg per day, with three to four eggs being equal to one chicken egg. The Coturnix breed is popular with backyard farmers.
Honeybees are low-maintenance farm animals that can thrive in a backyard to raise for profit. Most people have them for making honey but they produce other popular products such as bee pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee bread. You need only hive boxes and a water source. However, they are not for beginners, as they need watching during the winter, are sensitive to pesticides and other chemicals, and may need special handling. Jobs such as changing the queen or culling an aggressive hive need an experienced hand. Honeybees are also vulnerable to bears, skunks, raccoons, and other predators, both for their honey or they themselves become food. Beekeepers are generally a friendly lot and are often happy to act as mentors. Reach out to your local apiary club for help getting started with bees.
10. Livestock Guardian/Herding Dogs
Man’s best friend is there to help with herding any size of livestock as well as guarding and protecting them from predators. A livestock guardian dog can be a huge asset, especially on large parcels of land or a rural farm. They can also be great pets. However, working dogs are not well suited to the backyard or suburban farms. Livestock guardian dogs need proper fencing, handling, and training. Herding dogs need extensive training to herd properly so are not for beginners. A beginner might want to start with an adult dog who is already trained. You can take lessons to learn how to work with your canine partner.
While some dogs are only good for herding and others for guarding and protecting, there are some breeds that can do it all. Some of the best herding and guard dogs for farms include the Great Pyrenees, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Maremma Sheepdog, Tibetan Mastiff, and Komondor.
Farm animals serve a variety of purposes. Whether you want to raise them for profit, for pets, or for self-sufficiency. There are farm animals for beginners that are low maintenance and even some that can comfortably fit in a backyard. Farm animals are most commonly as livestock for food, fiber, companion animals, or helpers to keep the farm running smoothly or pest-free.
If you want to get involved with farming but aren’t sure how to reach out to your local agricultural extension office. They can point you in the right direction.
Exotic Farm Animals
When starting a farm, the aforementioned “traditional” breeds are a great place to start, but there are many alternative, more “exotic” creatures to choose from. While not as popular as your typical farm animals, these animals can prove to be just as valuable with the right amount of attention and care.
Some examples of exotic farm animals that can bring exciting diversity to any homestead include ostriches, emus, yak, alpacas, llamas, and buffalo. For fans of eggs, ostriches may be particularly appealing, as ostrich eggs are the largest of all species of bird: weighing about 3 pounds on average!
Summary of the 10 Best Farm Animals
There are many types of animals found on farms and they are raised for a variety of purposes. These are the most common:
|Meat, fiber, dairy, pets
|Meat, eggs, weed control
|Meat, eggs, pets
|Meat, fiber, pets
|Meat, dairy, fiber, pets
|Honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly
|Livestock Guardian/Herding Dogs
|Herding and/or livestock protection
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/jeannehatch
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