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If you have a homestead, or are building one, you probably think about if and when you should be adding livestock to your land. There are a lot of things to take into consideration, but I have some tips and tricks on how to make adding livestock a little easier.
I have always been an animal lover. In fact, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was a kid. But then I found out that sometimes vets have to put animals down. That absolutely appalled this soft-hearted kid, and turned me off from wanting to be a veterinarian.
Although I am nowhere near a veterinarian now, I do have a huge variety of animals on our little farm. They require lots of care, lots of love, and sometimes lots of sacrifice. I have lots of tips to someone who wants to add livestock to their homestead, even if you’re soft-hearted like me!
Evaluate the land
To begin thinking about adding livestock, you need to assess how much land you have. If you have a small lot, you will be very limited. If you have an acre or two, you’ll have more options. And if you have 5 acres or more, there aren’t many limitations besides how many animals you can stock.
For small lots
You can still raise some livestock on a small lot, as long as local regulations allow it. Rabbits take up very little space, and can be a great “stealth” animal to provide lots of lean meat. Hutches take up a pretty small amount of room, and cages can even be hung along the wall of a shed or garage.
Chickens are also very doable on a small lot. You could even check into quail. They can lay eggs when they are about 8 weeks old and can provide you with a steady source of eggs and meat.
For an acre or two
It is very feasible to raise a couple of cows on an acre or two, to feed your family. You may have to provide more hay than if they had more land, but it still gives them plenty of room. Sheep and goats are also a very viable option. You can raise 6 to 10 sheep or goats in an acre, and more if you provide hay.
If you don’t want to raise large livestock, there are still lots of other options to feed your family. Turkeys are a wonderful option if you have a small acreage. They can be pastured very effectively.
Of course, an acre or two necessitates chickens (in my opinion of course!). If raising chickens interests you, you can check into raising chickens for profit. This amount of space, with the right infrastructure, would give you enough room to run lots of chickens. You could even set up separate breeding pens and breed specialty chickens.
With this size space, you can even have a pretty decent-sized rabbit colony. Rabbits are prolific breeders, and just a buck and a few does can typically raise enough kits to feed a family. So if you have a larger area, this could even be another source of homestead income.
You could also raise a few pigs for your family’s consumption, and ducks are another good option.
For five acres or more
If you are fortunate enough to have at least five acres, you have a ton of possibilities! I can almost guarantee you that with this much land, you can feed your family and even have some homestead income by adding livestock. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of being self reliant?
With five acres or more, you could do any of the above listed animals, but on a much larger scale. Of course, for feeding your family, variety is a little more important. If you are interested in making an income from your property, it is usually best to pick one or two animals to focus on.
Research the livestock you want
It is so very important before you purchase livestock, that you do as much research as possible. You need to make sure you can provide adequate food, shelter, vet care, and basic maintenance.
Hooved livestock will need their hooves trimmed regularly. Sheep need to be sheared at least once a year. Chickens need worming, and preventative care to prevent lice and mites. Many animals need vaccines and immunizations.
Can you afford an occasional vet bill? Will it break the bank for you to buy food for the year for the animals? If you will be breeding your animals, do you know how to assist births? Do you know how to incubate chicken eggs? These are just some of the things you will need to learn about before purchasing your animals.
Check your pastures
Sometimes pastures have undesirable or even poisonous plants in them. Download a plant identification app so you can properly identify all of the plants that may be growing in your pasture. Make sure you do your research as to what your desired livestock can and can’t eat.
Buttercup grows prolifically here in our area, and it’s toxic to cattle and other animals. Tall fescue is toxic to most livestock, especially pregnant goats. People think that goats can eat just about anything, but milkweed is also bad for them. Alfalfa pastures frequently cause bloat and death in cattle. There are several plants, like Lambsquarters, that can cause buildup of nitrates in your animals’ bodies. This can cause death.
If your pasture is poor, consider burning or dragging the pasture. Please don’t use Roundup! It’s a poison that lives in the ground for years. Digging the bad weeds out is better, or if you just need to spot treat, check into dousing the weeds with vinegar, or boiling water. Then plant good pasture seed. Just make sure that the grasses you plant will be suitable for the animals you want to put there.
Decide on your budget
Before adding livestock to the homestead, you definitely need to consider your budget. Almost all livestock will need fencing, and shelters. Barbed wire is fairly inexpensive, and will work for cows. Goats and sheep will need a fence with smaller holes, like field fence. Field fencing is a little more expensive, but necessary because goats are escape artists!
If you have some basic building skills, you can do a lot on the homestead yourself. If not, even a small chicken coop will cost at least $200. While you are building your homestead, you can do it in steps as your budget allows.
Know yourself, and your limitations
Raising livestock can be difficult at times. It is a long-term commitment. It may be difficult to take vacations. You will experience deaths.
If you frequently leave town, and plan on continuing that, adding livestock may be extremely difficult. It can be very hard to find someone to care for your animals when you are away. Even worse if you have dairy animals that need milking twice a day!
If you are soft-hearted and very adverse to death, adding livestock also may not be the best choice for you. Sometimes animals get too sick or injured to care for, and they may need to be put down. Some animals are born not being able to live a good life, and the only humane thing to do is end it. If you know yourself enough, and you know that you won’t be able to do that, or even deal with the deaths of animals, you probably shouldn’t buy livestock.
If you are
old, or ahem, at an “advanced age”, you need to take that into consideration as well. Sometimes our aging bodies don’t agree with the work that livestock require. Same with any physical limitations you may have. Coops need cleaning, stalls need mucking. Even moving a bail of hay can present challenges if you are not fit enough.
Don’t get me wrong, lots of people are perfectly capable of raising livestock far past normal retirement age. But you need to know yourself, and your own limitations. And there’s nothing at all wrong with deciding that you don’t want – or can no longer handle – raising livestock.
On the same token, if a certain animal scares or intimidates you, you probably shouldn’t buy that animal! Animals are smarter than we think, and if you are scared of them, they usually know it. If you’d like to know more about the harsh realities of homesteading, you should definitely check out my post about dark homestead secrets.
Build your structures
Please, whatever you do, make sure that you have the fences, coops, structures, etc. that your desired animal needs before adding it to the homestead. Doing this will result in less work overall from having to do something temporary, just to have to replace it with your permanent option later.
Building the structures before adding livestock also results in less stress to your animals. If they are immediately comfortable and secure when you bring them home, they will be less likely to get sick from stress. They will feel more at home and grow and do what they were meant to do. Did you know that when you move chickens to a new home, they can stop laying for up to a month, just due to stress?
Just add one type of animal at a time
When you add livestock, it is a great idea to just add one species at a time. And don’t go overboard with the one species. Oh, if only I had known this when we started our homestead! We got chickens, then got a bunch of calves, then goats. All within the first 3 months of being on our little farm.
Raising each different type of animal is a bit of a learning curve. It really is best if you figure out how to do one properly before you add another. If you try to add too much too quickly, you will be overwhelmed and burn out quickly. I have a post on how to keep your sanity when starting your homestead that is very helpful for beginners.
Purchase your animals
Once you have done the preliminary work, it is time to purchase your animals. It is always good practice to get the best quality stock you can afford. Try not to get animals from the auction, as you never know any history on them, and many of them are sick.
If you are considering dairy animals, you should ask the sellers to see the parents of the animal you want. Or at least a picture of their udders. Milk production is highly genetic. Usually if the dam (mother) has good udders and high milk production, chances are this one will, too.
If you already have some livestock and are adding more, you should quarantine any newcomers for at least 30 days. You need to make sure the newcomers are healthy, so they don’t get the rest of your herd or flock sick. A 30 day quarantine period is imperative due to the incubation period of some diseases.
Start a livestock management binder
When you are adding livestock to your homestead, it is a really good idea to start keeping records. Livestock management binders are pretty important to keep track of everything. You might think you can keep it in your head, but you probably won’t!
I would suggest printing off a picture of each animal on a page in your binder. Then you can include their name (or number if you don’t name them), birthdate if known, and registration information. Including a picture of you with the animal is good practice, to show proof of ownership.
You should also include immunization and medication information. Mark the date they got dewormed, hooves trimmed, wool sheared, and such. Then mark your calendar for when it will be due again. This will make livestock keeping so much easier on the mind!
For goats, I highly recommend The Busy Homesteader’s Goat Management Binder. It’s a wonderful goat management system that has herd record sheets, breeding planners, illness symptom checklists, and medication and poisonous plant information.
I would even go as far as to suggest keeping track of income and expenses. This will let you know if your homestead income is actually an income, or if your expenses need to be reduced. My friend Julie over at The Farm Wife has a wonderful Income and Expense Spreadsheet that is available for pretty cheap. I highly recommend it!
Adding livestock to the homestead is not for everyone. But if you do it right, you can reap so many benefits! My love for animals has morphed into giving my livestock a great life, then allowing them to feed my family when it’s their time. It has been such a rewarding experience for me and my family.
Do you have more tips to share? Please leave them in the comments so we can learn together!
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