Animals and humans have a long standing relationship. Mankind has raised animals for thousands of years. But how do you choose the best animals for a homestead?
The best animals to raise on your homestead are those that provide the highest return on investment. That could be measured in quantitative terms (best financial return) or qualitative terms (which bring the most joy). But before I share my thoughts on which animals those are, I want to make a few general remarks.
Humans have been living side-by-side with animals for a very long time. We feed and protect them. We make sure all their needs are taken care of. In exchange, we harvest their produce and eventually the animal itself.
How to Choose the Best Homestead Animals
Raising animals is a bittersweet arrangement. But, if done right, establishes a relationship that is ethical and in line with the way nature herself has structured the cycle of life. All life ends. The end might as well serve the purpose of nourishing other living beings.
Focus on Productivity
Raising animals on a homestead is -generally – done to secure food, produce some other byproduct (wool, milk, etc.) and guarantee food quality. It should be a sustainable and productive undertaking. But, raising animals can turn into a nightmare. Sometimes the investment in time, feed, enclosures, and veterinary costs can lay waste to your efforts and your savings.
If personal preparedness is your things, animals that are ideal for post-SHTF scenarios are species that require minimal veterinary care, are easy to handle, and don’t pose a high risk or the danger of injuries. They must also be able to live free-range. You could run out of animal feed over time, and animals that can easily fend for themselves are the best.
Two Great Choices
Looking at it from a cost versus benefit point of view, not all animals are equal. Some require more care and attention, while others can be free ranged fairly easily. But no matter what animals you keep, it will not be without effort.
In years past, all farms had a variety of animals. Certain species of animals were kept as a source of food, while others were kept for commercial purposes. I will mention two cost-effective but non-obvious options.
And while there is an overlap between the species, we will look at how to structure an animal population that can ensure dietary variety, while producing nourishment all year round.
Khaki Campbell Ducks
First of all, ducks don’t require open water for swimming. Although I would recommend a pond or dam, it’s for reasons other than to provide your ducks with a place to swim. Secondly is that ducks eat slugs and many other pests that might infest your vegetable garden. They are also not as destructive to plant life as chickens.
Not all yard fowl are equally diligent parents, but Khakis are known to be good mothers and will protect their brood. Khakis lay a whopping 300 eggs per year, which is more than most chicken species. On average, the eggs are also larger than chicken eggs. They can fly, but won’t fly away or migrate.
I recommend creating a large pond for your Khakis. Raise an island in the middle on which you build their coup. You can also keep fish in it. Fish will eat duck poop, and can also be fed the chopped intestines of slaughtered fowl.
The duck poop will raise the nutrient and micro-organism levels in the water, making it better for irrigation than “clean” water. The enclosure on the island will help protect the ducks against predators and other egg thieving vermin.
You can keep harvesting eggs until you want a female to brood. I would recommend harvesting male ducks year-round and leaving as many females as your homestead can support.
Duck down can be used to stuff pillows and duvets. Duck liver is quite a delicacy. Duck breast, though dry, can be smoked or grilled with garden herbs or citrus for delicious meals. Duck fat can be used for cooking.
Boer and Saanen Goats
Goats typically get divided into three types: general goats, meat goats, and dairy or milk goats. It is recommended that you cross-breed pure strains for slaughter animals, as they will be more resilient than purebred goats. To this end, I would recommend Boer goats for breeding. They are a well-known meat species, who also give a fair amount of milk.
For developing your female stock, I would recommend Saanen goats. You can have the populations live together, but keep the male offspring from the Boer male x female separate, to draw your next generation of Boer breeding males. You will need to keep a few Saanen males to propagate a line of pure Saanen. The bulk of your goats will then be a Boer goat male and Saanen females.
Goats are great for milk, and a Saanen female will produce up to 3 gallons of milk with 3% butterfat. This can be used for making butter, or cheese. Goats have a gestation period of around 150 days and will produce offspring twice in 18 months. Goats mainly have twins or triplets.
Another great aspect about goats is that they prefer weeds and leaves over grass. You don’t need pasture to keep them, although they will eat grass if needs be.
Goats are easy to free-range but are hard to keep confined, so you will need good fences to keep them in your property, and out of areas where they should not be.
Fish are a good option since they can be kept in the same dams used for irrigation and ducks. Fish provide dietary variety and are rich in nutrients that other animals have in limited amounts. Ponds can also house fish in conjunction with water plants.
I also recommend keeping some rabbits. Rabbits are content to be kept in small enclosures. They can be fed garden refuse and certain species of meat rabbits are effective meat producers. Their pelts can be valuable.
Pigeons make a great stew. Once you establish a safe roost, pigeons can be opened up and will return to their nests. Sailors kept pigeons on boats for food, so your ancestors knew their dietary worth. Of course, don’t forget chickens. Bust the chicken myths, they’re perfect starter animals for a homestead.
Male versus Female
You want to have a minimal number of “high genetic quality” male animals, and as many females as possible. Try to maintain a level of genetic diversity by having unrelated males and swapping them between clusters. But young male’s should be harvested as soon as they are ready, or neutered so they don’t get destructive or violent.
Females will produce eggs or milk, whereas males only produce meat. Keep this in mind when managing populations. Males will fight for dominance, so keep separate populations or herds, or trips, tribes, gaggle’s, clucks, (or whatever creative collective noun you prefer).
Basic Animal Husbandry
Start small and increase the size of your animal populations at a pace that you find sustainable. Maintain genetic diversity. Try to ensure that your practices are regenerative and adhere to the principles of permaculture. All of this can be a lot of work, however, so make sure you know how to save time on homesteading chores. Small changes can yield big savings.
You can create enough diversity with a multitude of ponds, small scale food forests or food guilds, and free-roaming animals to keep yourself well-fed with minimal input. The establishment of these relationships and cycles takes some time, so it’s best to get started now.
Further Reading on Best Animals for a Homestead
Diversity = Resilience. Manmade ponds with water plants, fish, frogs, ducks, etc. are more robust at sustaining life in the long run. The same is true of any habitat.
I once read an article where the author claimed that one of the most distinctive features of intelligence was that it always seeks to maximize options. I recommend that you follow the same approach when thinking about sustainability. Long-term sustainability could mean years, decades, or even for the rest of your life. Trusting your life and future to a few food sources could be potentially catastrophic. Pigeons, fish, rabbits, your stomach doesn’t care.
Here are some recommended books to keep you going on this subject:
- Hobby Farm Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Chickens, Ducks, Goats, Pigs, Rabbits, and Sheep by Sue Weaver
- Prepper’s Livestock Handbook: Lifesaving Strategies and Sustainable Methods for Keeping Chickens, Rabbits, Goats, Cows and other Farm Animals by Leigh Tate
- The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow
- The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Raising Small Animals by Carlotta Cooper
Life is a cycle, and if you strike the correct balance, it’s possible to live symbiotically with animals for an indefinite number of years.