Today we’re going to be talking about the five best easiest animals I think you should start with on your homestead. If you are like me, you have limited experience with animals, but looking to start your homestead.
The biggest consideration when selecting animals is your land size and location. Most larger animals like cows really need an acre or more per head, whereas sheep and goats can have 6 or more per acre.
Don’t have an acre? There are many good animals like chickens and rabbits that can be raised in townhomes and apartments. Take the time to figure out what works best for your location, resources, time, and skill. Next research breeds. Repeat – Research breeds because not all are the same. Here is our list of the 5 easiest animals for new homesteaders:
The first animal that I reckon every homestead should have is chickens. Chickens have been said to be the gateway animal to homesteading, and they were definitely the case for us. We got our first chickens and then eventually we ended up with this place, so definitely the gateway animal for us. For chickens, you can keep them in town. You can keep them in a relatively small area. They say chickens only need 10 square feet or one square meter each to be relatively happy. Obviously, if you can let them out in free-range, that’s even better, but you can keep them in quite a small coop and give them a decent size run.
They need about a foot or 30 centimeters, about this much, perch space each inside. They need somewhere to get out of the bad weather obviously. They’re fantastic consumers of all things vegetable, so all our rubbish and stuff goes to them. Vegetable rubbish goes to them and they turn it into chicken poo, which I then add to the garden as a great symbiotic relationship. I really enjoy having the chickens here. You can get a huge variety of different types of chickens.
You can go with your hybrids that will lay really, really well for you, or you could go for some of the more pretty breeds. Some of them are better layers. Some of them are better meat chickens. Or even some of the more dual-purpose sorts of breeds, like Sussex and Orpingtons, would be the two probably most popular backyard, dual-purpose chickens that you can use for both meat and eggs. You usually find those bigger chickens are a lot more laid back. They tend to be a bit more friendly. Barred Rock is another really popular backyard chicken.
The second animal I think would be really great for beginners is rabbits. We ran meat rabbits here for quite a few years. We don’t have them at the moment just for all sorts of reasons. We’ll probably get back to them. Our colony raised them. We had three girls and a boy all in together in a big shed, they would have litters naturally. Once they’d weaned them, we’d pop them into a separate pen to keep them away from mum and dad and let them grow out there. Rabbits are incredibly easy to process. They have decent size litter. They grow really fast.
We can’t grow them out on grass here because we have so many wild rabbits and we have the rabbit calicivirus here. If you don’t have those things and you don’t have sky hawks coming after them, you can grow them outside on the grass for very, very little money. They’re really helpful to help eat the greens and stuff out of the garden. We did give ours some pellets, especially the young grow outs that we were trying to get that high protein food into them so they grow really quickly. They largely ate hay and grass and water, obviously. They’re really easy.
Having processed rabbits and chickens, I would do rabbits hands down. They are much easier, so much less messy, very quick. I’ve actually put together a book on colony-raising meat rabbits, which I’ll put a link to down below. It’s got everything we know about looking after rabbits, troubleshooting them, there’s a disease reference area in the back, how to pick good breeders, what to do when you have baby kits, the whole shebang is all in there. I’ll put the link to that book down below so you can have a look for yourself.
The third probably easiest animal I would say would be goats. Now in New Zealand, we can’t get the cute little goats, those Nigerian Dwarf goats that you can get in the States. They’re fantastic. A lot of people raise them even if they only have a quarter acre. We’ve got goats. We love our goats. A hot wire, like an electric fence system, is probably quite necessary, otherwise, goats are renowned for jumping fences escaping, so either some deer fencing or some hot wire. We’ve never had any problem with them getting out just with a hot wire around the top. Then we just have sheep netting, just that mesh paneling stuff around the rest of our fences and that keeps the goats in quite nicely.
I really adore goats versus sheep. I find them a lot more friendly. They come when you call them. For us, it’s a lot less maintenance because we can call them up as opposed to sheep, we would have to… I don’t know how we would catch them to be honest. Our place is so steep and we don’t have many internal fences yet, but the goats come home every night. They’re really easy to get into that routine. We’ve got a milking goat, so we get dairy from her. The rest of them, meat goats.
The other reason we really like goats is that they like to eat scrub as well as eating grass. For us, we’ve got a lot of gorse and the goats will eat it. I don’t understand why the goats will eat it, it’s so prickly, but they do. They really enjoy it, especially the flowers. They like flowers.
The fourth animal I reckon would be great for beginners is ducks. They are a lot messier if you try and keep them in a small pen, but if you have enough room for them to let them wander around, they’re better in your garden because they’re not so destructive as chickens are. They don’t scratch and dig. As long as your seedlings are that little bit bigger, they’ll get in there. They eat the slugs, they eat the bugs, they eat tiny little weeds.
You can get different breeds of ducks. Some of them are better for egg-laying. Some of them are better for meat and the same with chickens that you can get the dual purpose ones as well. We have got Appleyards here. They do need somewhere to have a bit of a splash. Ducks tend to only, well, they tend to prefer to poop in the water, which is kind of gross, but it’s duck life, I guess. You can just get some of those little paddling pools and have it set up.
I’ve even seen one where they had a bath set up in the edge of their garden that they would fill up. They had a tap for it. They’d fill it up and then a ramp up to it, so the ducks could walk up the ramp, swim in the thing, make their mess, and then they would simply stir it with a stick once a week and open the tap at the bottom and it would go down and water into their garden. I love that concept of permaculture where the problem is often the solution. In this case, that’s a perfect, perfect solution to that problem. Ducks are pretty low maintenance.
If you want to collect the eggs of them, you will need a pen to corral them in at night. Again, they get used to that habit of coming home the same as what chickens and goats do. If you feed them each night in their house, they’ll come running in. You shut the gate behind them, keep them locked up until sort of late morning when they’ve finished laying their eggs, let them out, let them go off, and do their job. You can gather up the eggs. They’re not very good at laying in nests, they tend to lay all over the place so you just have to go and gather them up.
Ducks’ eggs are higher in protein than chicken eggs. They are that little bit bigger. They’re brilliant for baking with. They’re really popular with some communities around the place that you may well be able to sell your duck eggs for a lot more than you can sell your chicken eggs for.
The fifth animal I’ve got there that is perfect for beginners is actually pigs. Now, maybe not breeding pigs. Breeding pigs is a whole nother thing all onto its own. If you want to just raise wieners up to butcher weight, then all you need is a pen that they can live in. I would recommend a concrete floor pen with some decent fences around it, use hog panels or something to make some solid fences. Big pigs can get quite pushy and they’ll need a good shelter to keep them out of the sun and out of the rain, out of the wind, and somewhere obviously where you can water and feed them.
Always, always at least keep two pigs at the same time because they’re really social animals and they prefer the company. If you are raising pigs from a wiener, which is usually about six weeks, up to butcher weight, which for most pigs is about six months, what you’ll need to be doing is feeding them twice a day and ensuring they have a constant supply of water.
They’re pretty low maintenance. They’re pretty easy to keep. Generally speaking, they don’t have too many issues with diseases. If you want to start looking into maybe breeding pigs, that’s a whole separate thing. You’ll need a boar and a sow, or preferably two sows so they can keep each other company and you need somewhere separate for the boar. We personally have taken on
I hope that’s been really helpful for you. If it has, subscribe to our newsletter and feel free to share it with anyone that you think might benefit from it. We are always putting out articles on growing and preserving your own food and other homesteading things.