You may have dreamed of raising animals on your homestead all your life, but the reality of it is often very different than how you imagine it to be. In fact, if you are to do an excellent job of raising small farm animals and make a profit on your homestead, there are some essential things you need to know.
The other day I was raking up goat, chicken, and duck poo and thinking about my inspiration for my homesteading endeavor. I may be dating myself, but her name is Fern Arable.
Fern Arable is a little girl in a book called Charlotte’s Web. When Mrs. Warner, my 4th grade teacher, read it to us, I knew that I wanted to be just like Fern, raising small farm animals, entering them into fairs, and just basically living the farm life.
You can start yours too, but there are a few considerations you want nailed down, so to speak, before you bring any critters home.
Things to Know When You Are Getting Into Raising Small Farm Animals
There are tons of things to learn when you are starting out your journey to raising small livestock on your homestead, but these three things that I’ll be mentioning below are probably the first three you’ll want to consider — or they are at least in the top 10!
1. What to feed them
The first thing that you need to have a firm grasp of when it comes to raising livestock on your farm is what they will eat. There are many different options to consider here, but it is essential that you get the right one for the type, gender, and even use of animal.
For example, I raise Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk, and to breed and sell for show. This means that I need to breed only full-bred Nigerian Dwarf goats that are registered with ADGA, so they will qualify for the show ring.
Since we use our goats to take care of weeds and overgrowth, we feed them half alfalfa (or orchard hay for male goats) and the other half is forage. Also, the mamas feed them proper feed so that the mamas can make milk enough to support babies for the first few months, and then fill our needs, all the while staying nourished and healthy for herself.
Our chickens and ducks need layer feed because their job on our farm is to lay eggs. They also get to eat lots of healthy veggie and fruit scraps, as well as plenty of bugs and anything else they can find to forage as free range birds. This kind of diet makes for fantastically gold yokes full of omega-6s, not to mention nice, healthy girls.
If you are fortunate enough to have plenty of pasture to support herd and flock, make sure to do some research into what grows on your property. You’ll need to know if it’s safe for your animals to eat, whether or not (and how often) they need to be wormed if they will be sustained on pasture, and whether you need to supplement with other food to provide the best nutrition for your small farm animals.
What if there is no pasture to forage?
This is actually no problem. What this means is that store bought hay and feed will be your best choice. There are plenty of feed choices at local feed stores that are available for meat or dairy goats, meat chickens or egg layers, ducks, and much more. Learn how to make your own non-GMO chicken layer feed.
2. How to keep them healthy & safe
Next, when it comes to raising livestock, you won’t just be tasked with keeping them watered and fed, but also with ensuring they have a healthy and safe life as well.
Of course, this means that you will need to provide the right type of environment for them to live in. Something that will differ depending on the animals you will raise, and the predators in your area.
Chickens love to roam around and forage, and for the most part it’s fine if predators don’t have access to them. This isn’t always the case. If your property is not properly fenced (and even if it is), you will want to ensure they are protected from predators and other hazards.
Goats and cows will need more square footage, as well as space for milking and calving. Since they are larger animals, they are less vulnerable to predators because of their size. Still, doing some research on what others in your area are doing to protect their livestock will go miles in helping you know what to plan for.
Additionally, you will also need to understand how to keep your animals healthy regarding avoiding and treating illness. It’s worth noting here that many farmers use antibiotics in a preventive way for this, but there are also natural preventives that some use.
A couple of things that you will want to think about:
- mineral deficiency (usually regional)
- hoof trimming or wing clipping
This is not an exhaustive list, but they are things that are important to the health of your livestock.
3. How you hope to use them
What is it that you want to produce on your farm? Here are a few things you might consider:
- fiber (for yarn)
On our farm, we produce eggs and milk in addition to the vegetables and fruit we grow. With the eggs, we can make breakfast, plus baked goods and everything else you can use eggs for. With the milk, we can produce ice cream, cheese and yogurt, or just use it in our morning coffee or in our cereal.
We used to raise rabbits for show, and I also had a Jersey Wooly rabbit named Alice. Alice was a fiber rabbit, which meant that I could spin her fur into yarn, which was really neat.
We use the goat manure (and rabbit when we had it) for side dressing the gardens, or as compost, which works beautifully and saves us money on buying compost from the local garden center.
Some larger homesteads have also diversified and created family accessible farms or petting type zoos with their animals. Something that allows them to keep a small number all year round, while still remaining profitable, if you want that.
Whatever it is you want to do with the small livestock you get, make sure you understand these few things first, and you’ll be on your way to fulfilling your family’s needs right there on your land!