If you are looking to start a homestead, or you are new to owning farm animals, there are some animals that are best for beginners to raise. Not all animals are easy to manage, and some animals are notoriously difficult!
Many farm animals need large amounts of space and infrastructure to manage them well. These animals that I have listed below are appropriate to raise on small holdings, or in some cases, even just in your backyard.
You do need to look in to the zoning regulations in your specific area, as the rules to vary from place to place about the types and numbers of specific animals that you can raise.
The 5 Best Farm Animals for Beginners to Raise
I have chosen these animals as good beginner animals as they have few set-up or running costs, are generally considered easy to care for.
Raising livestock always has a learning curve but the more knowledgeable you are the better that curve will be to you and your animals.
Most chicken owners will agree that raising chickens is the gateway animal to all things homesteading. Keeping chickens is fairly easy. Chickens love to forage and free range, but if you cannot keep them out of your garden you will get frustrated fast!
Chickens need a contained area that they can stretch their legs and be kept safe from predators as well as a house to hide and perch in at night. Usually this house also has the chicken’s nesting boxes to encourage them to lay their eggs somewhere easy to access.
Chickens need 4 square feet of space per chicken as a minimum, they need fresh, clean water and appropriate chicken food.
The type of chicken you raise is up to you. You can raise dual purpose chickens, these lay well, breed well and you can raise the roosters for meat.
Or you may choose to raise strictly laying chickens. These girls lay an egg almost every day, they are very efficient at converting feed to eggs and they seldom go broody. There are heritage laying breeds, that if you keep a rooster with them, they will give you fertile eggs that you can place under a broody hen or in an incubator to raise your own chicks.
Commercial hybrid hens are by far the most efficient, but you cannot breed them true to type at home.
At the end of their laying career, these girls are really only useful for the soup pot.
CHICKEN RAISING ESSENTIALS
Rabbits are one of the best farm animals for beginners to raise. They are quiet, and super productive. The saying “breeding like rabbits” isn’t a lie.
You can choose to raise rabbits for meat, fibre or the pet market. Meat rabbits is an effective way of raising your own meat, even when space is limited.
There are two main ways of raising rabbits – cages or a colony. We chose to raise our rabbits in a colony setting. They are free to socialise and interact as they would in nature.
If you are choosing to raise your rabbits for meat, you need to choose your foundation stock well. It is worth investing in solid breeders that are from reputable breeders.
Common meat rabbit choices are NZ white (the best), Californians, Florida Whites, and Standard (not mini) Rex.
RABBIT RAISING ESSENTIALS
If you have a little more land, raising goats is a great choice for beginners. Goat breeds vary significantly, but some breeds like the nigerian dwarf, can be kept easily on smaller sections.
Dairy goats are an effective way of getting your own raw milk to make yogurt and cheese for your family.
Goats need plenty of roughage, so if you are feeding them on a small section, they will need grass, grain and plenty of hay.
Goats are notorious climbers, but a simple and affordable hot wire fence is all you need to keep them contained.
Goats do need shelter, and somewhere safe from predators. If you are milking your goat, you might find a milking stand a worthwhile invention. This raises the goat up off the ground to make milking easier.
If you plan on milking your goats, choose a dairy breed, Nigerian dwarf, Sanaan, and Toggenburg are common choices. . If you want them just for meat, try a meat breed like the Boer.
GOAT RAISING ESSENTIALS
Raising ducks is a great choice for beginners. Like chickens, ducks come in a range of breeds. You can get egg laying ducks, meat making ducks and dual purpose ducks.
Duck eggs are larger and more rich than chicken eggs, and there is often a demand for them amongst the local Asian community for them.
Ducks do tend to just lay where they stand, which makes egg collection a bit of an adventure if you have long grass.
Not all duck breeds can fly, but some can, so be aware of what breed you are choosing.
Ducks need access to water to dabble their beak in at all times, and of course they prefer to have a ‘pond’ even if it is just a kiddie paddling pool.
There is nothing quite like the soft quacking of ducks out in the garden, and they do tend to eat the bugs more than the greens. Also, once your plants are established, they do a lot less damage to plants then chickens do as they don’t dig up the ground.
Ducks need a safe place away from predators, some shelter from bad weather, and plenty of water.
Pekin ducks are the most common meat breed, Indian runners are amazing egg layers and the Appleyard is somewhere in between for both meat and eggs.
DUCK RAISING ESSENTIALS
Pig are actually very easy to raise, especially if you are raising them from weaning to slaughter size. Pigs are commonly known for their smell and mess, but pigs are actually very clean animals when given the chance.
If you have the space, free ranging pigs is the easiest, and cleanest option. A hot wire 1 foot off the ground will keep most pigs contained with ease.
If you have to keep them in a pen, you will need very strong fences as they like to rub up against them as scratching posts.
Pig need shelter from both hot sun and bad weather, and they love to dig and wallow when given the chance. If you are just raising weaners to slaughter weight, it is common to buy piglets (always more than one! as they are social animals) in mid to late Spring and process them in Fall/Autumn as the weather starts cooling and food is more scarce.
Heritage breeds generally are slightly slower to grow, but they are better foragers, and best for small operations. The commercial large white are designed to grow in a shed, and they get terribly sun burnt.
Common breeds are the Large Black, Hampshire, Berkshire, Kune Kune and the Pot Belly. The last two are smaller, but make great bacon.
PIG RAISING ESSENTIALS
The 5 Best Farm Animals for Beginners to Raise
Pigs, goats, rabbits, ducks and chickens – these are the 5 easiest animals for a small holder on a farm, or even in your backyard to start off with. Once you have worked out how to care for and raise these animals, you may look at expanding your operation to include more profitable animals like beef.