When I was first learning about homesteading, I wished that I had a clear explanation of the best and worst livestock for homesteading.
Several years later, I put together everything I learned over into this guide to give you a head start on homesteading.
My hope is to save you time, money, and work by providing you with the best livestock for you and your homesteading site.
Let’s jump in.
The 5 Best Livestock for Beginners
Chickens are the best and most common livestock for homesteaders, and for good reason. They’re easy to care for, provide eggs and meat, and are extremely affordable.
- Benefits: Food (eggs and meat), feathers (fertilizer), scratching (tilling), manure (fertilizer), weeding, pest control, and more.
- Cost: Between $2 to $20 per chicken, depending on the size, breed, and location.
- How Many Do You Need: Start with a small flock of 3-6 birds as a single hen can get lonely.
- Land Required: Joel Salatin recommended to have up to 500 chickens per acre (and this is pastured chickens)! The most common dual-purpose breed (providing both eggs and meat) are Cornish Cross. They take 8 weeks to raise. With an average size of 3-4 lbs per bird, you can have 1,500-2,000 lbs of food every 2 months!
- Tools Required: Chickens have few needs. Really, it’s just water, food, and shelter. A waterer costs about $5, feed about 20¢ per day per chicken, and a chicken coop costs between $200-$650, one-time. A temporary electric fence is optional and costs about $100-$200, one-time. Chickens are also super easy to scale if you need more eggs or meat.
- How to Start: To get started, decide on the breed and the number of birds you want. Next, build or buy a chicken coop and run, which should provide enough space for your birds to move around and lay eggs. You’ll also need to provide them with food and water, as well as bedding for their coop.
- Tip: Even if you have an HOA, you can have chickens.
- Benefits: Sheep can be a source of meat and milk, which can be consumed or sold for profit. They can also provide wool, which can be used to make warm clothing and other textile products. Sheep manure can be used as a natural fertilizer to improve soil quality and promote healthy plant growth.
- Cost: Ranges from $100 to $500.
- How Many Do You Need: You can start with as few as 2 sheep. However, to replicate their natural flocking instinct, it takes 5 sheep.
- Land Required: 2-5 sheep per acre, depending on the amount of grass
- Tools Required: Secure fencing to protect these guys from predators, shearing equipment (such as electric shears, combs, and blades) if you plan to obtain wool, feeding equipment, (such as troughs and hay racks) and watering equipment (such as buckets or automatic waterers). It’s important to have handling equipment (like a halter, lead rope, and head gate) for handling and restraining the sheep during medical treatments and shearing. Hoof trimming equipment is also important (such as hoof trimmers and a foot bath for regular hoof trimming to prevent foot problems).
- How to Start: Begin by researching different breeds and their requirements, then plan for appropriate housing and fencing. Next, purchase or acquire a small flock of sheep, and establish a feeding and watering plan that provides proper nutrition and hydration. Finally, learn basic sheep husbandry practices.
- Benefits: Increased pollination and higher yields in gardens and fresh, raw honey and beeswax. Beekeeping can be a profitable enterprise, particularly if honey and other bee products are sold at local farmers’ markets or specialty stores.
- Cost: The cost of a bee colony can range from $100 to $300.
- How Many Do You Need: On average, 1 healthy beehive can produce between 30 and 60 pounds of honey per year, although some hives can produce significantly more.
- Tools Required: Protective clothing such as a beekeeping suit or jacket, gloves, a smoker, hive tool, honey extractor, uncapping knife, bee brush, feeder, and wax foundation.
- How to Start: Begin by researching the necessary equipment and local regulations. Purchase or build a beehive and protective clothing for yourself, and then acquire a colony of bees from a reputable supplier. Establish a feeding and watering plan, and check on the hive regularly for signs of disease or other issues. Attend beekeeping workshops or connect with other beekeepers in your area to learn about best practices and tips.
- Benefits: Meat, manure, fiber (clothing), space efficiency, low maintenance, and companionship.
- Cost: Cost per rabbit ranges from $20 to $50, but reproduce extremely quickly with just 1 buck and 2 does.
- How Many Do You Need: In general, a small homestead could start with a small breeding trio of one buck and two does, which can produce up to 60-80 offspring per year, which is about 150 lbs of meat. If you are looking at rabbits for companionship, 2 rabbits is just fine.
- Tools Required: Hutch or a cage, food and water bowls, bedding (hay), hay feed, litter box, nail clippers, a brush, and a carrier.
- How to Start: Research different rabbit breeds and choose ones that will thrive in your climate and fit your homestead’s needs. Build or purchase a suitable hutch or cage for your rabbits, with enough space for them to move around and exercise. Provide them with clean water, fresh hay, and a balanced diet of rabbit food pellets and vegetables. They can also survive solely off of fodder. Regularly clean their living area and litter box to keep them healthy and comfortable.
- Benefits: Meat, manure, waste disposal, plowing, land clearing, and an income generator.
- Cost: The cost of a pig can range from $100 to $500. This may seem like a lot, but like I said before, pigs can seriously be income generators as they sell for a lot (often over $1000 each). With minimal work, you could raise 50 pigs at a time and have an extra salary.
- How Many Do You Need: For those looking to produce meat for their family or sell at local markets, one or two pigs can provide enough meat for a year. However, if you are planning to sell pork commercially, you may need more pigs to meet demand.
- Land Required: 8-10 pastured pigs per acre
- Tools Required: Pig housing, fences, feeding and watering equipment, cleaning equipment, and handling equipment.
- How to Start: You’ll need to have a fenced area that provides enough space for them to move around and wallow, as well as a shelter that protects them from the elements. You’ll also need to provide them with food such as grains or vegetable scraps and water. If breeding, hay is good bedding material.
Tip: Pasture-Raised Pigs are a great homesteading niche to get into as there’s a huge demand and little supply! You can also collect the old produce from grocery stores to use as free pig feed.
The 5 Worst Livestock for Beginners
Now we’ll get into the livestock that some homesteaders regret.
Either they’re too loud, too expensive, or just plain difficult. Let’s take a look.
Horses aren’t a good option for homesteaders who are just starting. They are expensive to buy and maintain, and they require a lot of space and care.
- High maintenance: Horses require a lot of attention and care, including feeding, watering, grooming, and exercise. They sometimes need regular veterinary care, which can be costly and time-consuming.
- Expensive: Horses are expensive to buy and maintain. The cost of feed, veterinary care, and other expenses can add up quickly. The cost of a horse can range from $1,000 to $10,000.
- Limited market: Unlike other livestock, such as cows or pigs, horses have a limited market. There are only so many people interested in buying horses for transportation or recreational purposes, which can make it challenging to sell them.
- Specialized knowledge: Horses require specialized knowledge to manage properly. Farmers or ranchers who are not experienced with horses may struggle to care for them correctly, leading to health problems or other issues.
Goats can also be a challenge for homesteaders who are just starting. Goats require a lot of attention, and they can be escape artists. The cost of a goat can range from $100 to $500, depending on the breed and age.
- Escape artists: Goats are known for their ability to escape from enclosures, and they can be challenging to contain. They can jump high and climb over fences, so it’s essential to have sturdy fencing and other containment measures in place.
- Selective feeders: They are picky eaters and will eat only the plants they like, which can make it difficult to maintain a balanced diet. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies if their diet is not carefully managed.
- Health issues: Goats are susceptible to a range of health issues, such as parasites and infections, which can be costly and time-consuming to treat. They sometimes require regular treatments such as deworming.
- Need for space: Goats need a lot of space to roam and graze, and they can quickly overgraze an area if not managed carefully. This means that they may not be suitable for smaller homesteads or properties.
- Strong odor: Male goats, or bucks, have a strong odor that can be unpleasant, especially during breeding season. This may not be a problem for everyone, but it’s something to consider when deciding whether to keep goats on your homestead.
To raise goats, you’ll need a fenced area that provides enough space for them to graze and move around is needed, as well as a shelter that protects them from the elements. Goats require a balanced diet of hay, grains, and fresh vegetables.
Cows are another expensive option for homesteaders. They require two acres of green grass for every one cow. The cost of a cow can range from $500 to $2,500.
- High maintenance: Cows require a lot of attention and care, requiring frequent pasture rotation (usually daily). They also need adequate shelter and protection from extreme weather conditions.
- Expensive: Cows can be expensive to buy and maintain. The cost of feed, veterinary care, and other expenses can add up quickly.
- Large space requirements: Cows need a significant amount of space to graze and roam. They also require a secure fencing system to keep them contained, which can be expensive and time-consuming to install and maintain.
- Time-consuming: Cows require a significant time commitment, including daily feeding and monitoring, regular milking (if raising dairy cows), and management of their waste.
- Environmental impact: Cows can have a significant environmental impact if they’re grain-fed and not managed sustainably. They produce large amounts of manure, which can contribute to water and air pollution if not properly managed.
However, don’t dismiss cows from the gate. They really tie together the homestead and are one of the best livestock to convert grass to food (both meat and milk).
You can also use the skim milk (leftover after making butter) to feed chickens, pigs, and other omnivores on the homestead. It’s said that one dairy cow can provide enough food (from milk) for one pig.
Ducks can be great livestock for some farmers or homesteaders, but they may not be the best choice for everyone. Here are a few reasons why:
- Water requirements: Ducks need access to water to thrive. They require a shallow pool or pond to swim in, which can be challenging to provide in areas with limited water resources.
- Messy: Ducks are messy animals that can create a lot of waste. They also tend to splash water and make a mess around their water source, which can require frequent cleaning.
- Predation: Ducks are prey animals and are susceptible to predation by a range of predators, including raccoons, foxes, and birds of prey. It’s essential to have secure housing and fencing to protect them from predators.
- Limited market: Unlike chickens, which have a broad market, ducks have a more limited market for their eggs and meat. This can make it challenging to sell their products if there is not a significant demand in your area.
- Noise: Some duck breeds can be noisy, especially during breeding season. This can be disruptive to neighbors or other animals in the area.
Overall, while ducks can be a valuable source of eggs and meat, they may not be the best choice for everyone due to their water requirements, messiness, predation risks, limited market, and potential noise issues.
From personal experience, ducks are also more difficult to harvest as their feathers are tougher to remove than chickens. This requires quite a bit of hand plucking.
Geese can be aggressive, and they require a lot of water. The cost of a goose can range from $20 to $50.
- Aggressive behavior: Some goose breeds can be aggressive, especially during breeding season or when they feel threatened. This can make them challenging to handle and potentially dangerous for children or other animals in the area.
- Noise: Geese are known for their loud honking, which can be disruptive to neighbors or other animals in the area.
- Messy: Like ducks, geese are messy animals that can create a lot of waste. They also tend to splash water and make a mess around their water source, which can require frequent cleaning.
- Limited market: Geese have a more limited market for their meat and eggs compared to other poultry species, which can make it challenging to sell their products if there is not a significant demand in your area.
- Space requirements: Geese need a significant amount of space to graze and roam. They also require a secure fencing system to keep them contained, which can be expensive and time-consuming to install and maintain.
Also similar to ducks, I found geese are more difficult to harvest. While their feathers (down) are extremely soft, they were difficult to remove and required a fair bit of plucking by hand.
Geese benefit from pond or a pool that provides enough water for them to swim in is needed, as well as a shelter that protects them from the elements.
They require a diet that includes grains, pellets, and fresh vegetables, and they can also be trained to serve as guards for your homestead (helping defend your chickens against hawks).
While this list may help you decide which livestock to get, does this mean that you should stay away from the 5 “worst”? Not at all! Sometimes these companions will be the best option for your site and you’ll find a great benefit.
For example, if you have an orchard, geese are a great option as they’ll eat the weeds growing between your fruit trees. They’ll also eat insects and pests such as snails and slugs.
So, choose the best livestock for you, your goals, and your site, and reap the rewards of working with these amazing animals.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.