Keeping backyard farm animals is an important part of the process of producing your own food. This goes hand-in-hand with gardening, hunting and fishing. By incorporating all three methods of food production, you can achieve a significant level of self sufficiency.
A surprising number of municipalities allow small backyard farm animals within city limits. More and more municipalities are starting to relax their regulations. If you live in an urban area it is important to check your local ordinances. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out what you are allowed to have. Be sure to ask if there are any limitations. For example, you may be allowed to have chickens but not a rooster.
Be sure to choose backyard farm animals that are tolerant to your local climate. And just as importantly, choose animals according to the purpose you have in mind, such as meat versus milk production.
As with most animals, good husbandry is key. This means providing shelter against adverse weather, a clean environment, a nutritious diet, plenty of fresh water, and protection against predators. Good husbandry will prevent many, many problems. Go out of your way to learn as much as possible before you begin. Raising any kind of backyard farm animal can be very enjoyable but there is a learning curve. The more knowledgeable you are at the outset the greater your odds of early success.
If you have never done this before, there are several backyard farm animals that are easy to start.
Chickens are one of the most common backyard farm animals to have and are one of the easiest to raise. The start up cost is relatively low. There is of course the initial investment in housing, feeders, waterers, and food. Like anything else, you can invest a lot of money in a fancy chicken coup or you can DIY and spend very little.
Chickens are a great source of eggs, meat, fertilizer, and natural pest control. They will eat almost anything. Characteristics vary greatly from one breed to another. For example, temperament, size, finished weight, egg production, brooding behavior, and tolerance to weather conditions. Choose according to your personal plans, goals, and your local climate. For example, if you want to produce meat, choose a breed that rapidly gains muscle mass and weight. If you want eggs, choose a breed that lays eggs consistently. If you want a sustainable flock, choose chickens that are good brooders (will actually sit on the eggs until they hatch and will care for the chicks).
You can order chickens online through any major hatchery. Any well established business will have a website with tons of information and can point you toward the breed of your choice. i.e, best meat producers, best egg layers, best brooders, etc.
Most hatcheries have a minimum number of chicks you can order. This is because they are shipping day-old chicks and they keep each other warm. New born chicks are still thriving off of nutrition provided from the egg yolk and can actually go several days without food. However, you need to promptly pick them up from the post office and feed them immediately. Most hatcheries have high nutritional supplements that you can purchase with your order to feed to the chicks immediately on arrival.
Another option is to purchase your chicks locally. This is a great way to get the exact number you want instead of minimum order requirements imposed by hatcheries.
Ranch and feed supply stores will have them seasonally. I have also had great success with buying from local breeders. They are typically very knowledgable about their breeds and can help you to pick birds appropriate for your situation. Be aware that if you visit a local breeder or chichen farmer, they may not allow you to go into the hatchery or even in the pens with their chickens. This is strictly for disease prevention.
If you are interested in both egg and meat production, I can suggest keeping these two types of chickens separated. This is not absolutely necessary. I’ve raised them together in the same pen with no major issues. However, keeping them separate will help avoid some husbandry issues.
Consider the fact that you are going to keep egg layers around on a long term basis. They generally mature much slower relative to meat birds. They eat a lot less and consequently produce less feces. This makes it is easier to keep their environment clean.
Meat birds by the nature of their genetics gain muscle mass very rapidly. They eat constantly and produce a lot of fecal material. This equates to more clean up work. They will out rank your egg layers in body weight in a very short period of time. They crowd the feeder and make it a bit more difficult for the egg layers to eat. I’ve seen some of my egg layers stand on top of the meat birds in order to get to the feeder. So, in the interest of general husbandry and to cut down on competition, keep them separate. The meat birds are not going to be around that long anyway. Generally they are butchered at 12 to 16 weeks.
Rabbits are another good choice for your first backyard farm animal and have several distinct advantages. Domestic rabbits reproduce vigorously. You do not have to worry about incubating fertile eggs or raising small chicks. There is no waiting for a heat cycle. The doe can get pregnant any day of the year. You do not have to worry about artificial insemination as is common in the cattle industry. Similar to chickens, the start up cost is low.
Rabbits do not require a great deal of space and cost very little to feed. Their diet can be supplemented with vegetable scraps, left over bread, and most anything from the table except for meat or anything spicy. You can also pick up vegetable “waste” from supermarkets and restaurants. They typically trim certain parts of vegetables and toss it in the trash. This is perfectly good rabbit food. They can be housed in hutches, can “free range” in a protected hut, or can be raised in a colony setting. There are numerous housing options depending on your budget.
For the sake of meat production, consider this. Rabbits have a gestation period of about a month. You can generally get 5 to 6 litters per year from a single doe. There are generally 6 to 8 kits per litter. That equals 30 to 48 off spring per year. Rabbits are culled at about 8 weeks and usually at 6 plus pounds of body weight. That means you can produce a minimum of 180 lbs of meat per year from a single doe. There is the added benefit that rabbit meat is very lean. In fact it is so lean that when cooking it you have to make sure it does not get too dry.
If you are interested in raising rabbits, try it before you buy it. Find someone that raises rabbits and sells the meat. Purchase a small amount of meat and give it a try. This way you will know if you enjoy the meat prior to making the investment in an operation.
Goats are likely the most versatile homestead animal you can own. They can provide meat, cheese, milk, and brush control. They can also be used for pack animals. If goats are raised correctly, you will end up with a charming, personable, loyal family friend. They even have more uses than the family dog. Although there are many breeds of goat, in general they are best described by their three main commercial uses.
Dairy goats are probably the most common farm goat. These include the Nubian, Saanen, La Mancha, Toggenberg, Oberhasli, and Alpine. They can be used for either milk or meat. A good doe can produces as much as 2 to 3 quarts a day. However, this can be misleading because production can vary considerably. Most goats will produce considerably more milk after kidding. Production declines after that, sometimes very quickly. A good milk goat can produce milk for 9 to 10 months per year.
The most predominate meat goats are the Boer and the Spanish goat. Kids are usually weaned at 4 to 5 months. After about 6 months their growth rate slows and it is likely not cost effective to keep feeding them. They are generally slaughtered from 5 to 9 months of age.
Fiber or Hair
The hair goats produce mohair and cashmere. Goats raised specifically for their fiber are the Angora and Pygora. The Angoras come from a Turkish background and have a thick fleece known as mohair. The Pygora is a cross between an Angora and Pygmy. Fleece quality varies but can be either mohair or cashmere.
Goats are very social animals and will be much happier if they have a friend. They can free range or be housed in a small barn or pen. They will eat a variety of things and even do well solely on a commercial diet.
Ducks should also be considered for homestead food production. Lots of folks think that ducks are just a different type of chicken. Both can of course be used for egg and meat production. However, there are some important differences.
Pekins are the most commonly recommended backyard duck. They are one of the larger breeds and due to their size, they are great as a source of meat. They can reach 10+ pounds in 3 to 4 months. There is the added benefit that their size assures they will not fly away. They are also great layers of large white eggs.
Housing ducks is very easy and can be fairly minimal. Since they are waterproof, they need no protection from the rain. The housing should be sufficient to protect them from predators. This also means protection from the family dog.
Ducks lay much larger eggs than chickens. Unlike chickens, they stop laying eggs in the winter.
Other than for drinking purposes, ducks do not actually require a body of water to live well. They will do well even with a 5 gallon bucket of water.
Ducks are great foragers and can be great at keeping your garden free from pests.
Turkeys are also a great choice for meat and egg production. The start up cost is low. They are typically purchased as day old chicks and can be orderd online through any major hatchery. The Broad Breasted Bronze and Giants Whites are usually ready for butcher at 16 to 22 weeks. The Heritage breeds are generally butchered at 25 to 30 weeks.
Like other backyard farm animals, prior to starting out on your turkey adventure, it is important to identify your goals. Do you want to raise turkeys for your own consumption or to sell them commercially? What you want to achieve will help to identify the best breed as well as your management system.
The most common breed raised commercially is the Giant White. Another very common breed is the Broad Breasted Bronze. Hens usually reach a weight of 15 lbs at 14 weeks. Toms reach an approximate weight of 28 to 30 lbs at 18 weeks. The Broad Breasted Bronze and Giants Whites are usually ready for butcher at 16 to 22 weeks. The Heritage breeds are generally butchered at 25 to 30 weeks.
If raising turkeys from day old chicks, they are more difficult to start relative to chickens. Turkeys are unable to regulate their body temperature for the first 10 days of life. The brooder area should have a starting temperature at 95 to 100 ℉ for the first week. Then decrease the temperature by 5℉ each week until they are fully feathered, which is about 6 to 8 weeks.
Protein requirements for turkeys are also different from chickens. Young turkeys need a 28% protein starter for the first 6 to 8 weeks. Then you can change them over to an 18% protein. If they are not supplied with the appropriate amount of protein, they may not develop appropriately. Never feed them layer pellets because the Calcium levels are too high. At about 3 weeks, start adding grit to their food. Scratch can be added at about 8 weeks. Always keep water available at all times.
Keep in mind that the broad breasted breeds that are raised for meat are not intended to be raised beyond 16 to 20 weeks. The heritage breeds will reach eating age at about 6 to 8 months.
Pigs are a great addition to homestead meat production. However, they require more maintenance relative to other backyard farm animals. Carefully consider several important factors prior to making the decision to raise your own pork.
Piglets are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks. If properly fed, they should put on about a pound a day. They are generally slaughtered at 250 to 300 pounds. It is possible to get them to slaughter weight in as little as 6 months. A 250 pound pig will yield about 180 pounds of hanging meat. A 280 pound pig will yield about 230 pounds of dressed out meat. What this means is that for a family of 3 or 4, this will be a considerable amount of meat.
If they are fed a diet solely of grain, they can consume as much as a ton of grain during that time. If they are fed surplus produce such as corn stalks, vegetables, acorns, fruit, and table scraps, you could get by on as little as 200 pounds of grain. From this you can see that the most economical way to raise your own pork is to feed then from surplus garden products. If you have the room, allowing them to free range will reduce the cost of feeding.
All of this being said, if you purchase a 10 week old piglet that has been properly weaned, fed, and given good care, you should have no trouble raising it. Unlike goats, pigs can be raised as a solitary animal.
I raise a combination of chickens, turkeys, and rabbits. I also go hunting periodically. By doing so, I manage to produce a substantial amount of my own organic meat that has a superior taste to any supermarket product.
Additional Posts of Interest
Go off grid and live well,
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. We always respect your privacy. Your information will never be shared.