There are many reasons you may want to consider adding backyard farm animals to your homestead. Many animals that are considered farm animals are well adapted to smaller scale backyard farming and can provide food, pollination, compost materials, bug suppression, enjoyment, and more. Many people choose to start with raising backyard chickens, but there are many other backyard farm animals well adapted to a small backyard space.
It’s important to consider how animals will fit into your lifestyle and what the pros and cons are of bringing backyard farm animals onto your homestead. This article provides an overview of raising backyard farm animals and the farm animals that are best adapted to small scale farming.
If you haven’t already explored your overall goals for backyard farming, start here: How to Get Started Backyard Farming.
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Why You Should Add Backyard Farm Animals to your Homestead
There are many reasons people choose to raise backyard farm animals, and it’s important to recognize your goals so you can be as prepared as possible before you introduce animals to your backyard. Some of the benefits of raising backyard farm animals include:
- A better connection to where your food is coming from
- Creating a sustainable backyard farming system often benefits from raising backyard farm animals: some animals can help build compost and soil or with weeding and pollination
- The enjoyment of having animals in your backyard
- Decreased reliance on large scale commercial farming
- Backyard farm animals can provide a more humane source of meat, but you can also benefit from backyard animals if you are a vegetarian
What to Consider Before you add Backyard Farm Animals
Adding backyard farm animals to your homestead is a commitment in time and resources. You are 100% responsible for the well being of the animals, so you should carefully consider how animals will fit into your lifestyle and your overall backyard farming goals. Before you go out and buy those first chickens here are some questions you should consider:
Do you have enough space?
While many of the best homesteading animals require less space than you may think, you will need set aside room for animals. If you are tight on space, this may be a consideration. For small spaces, consider bees, chickens, or rabbits.
What will you do when you are out of town?
In addition to backyard farming, our family loves to travel, coming up with a safe plan for your animals BEFORE you go away insures that everyone is safe!
How will these backyard farm animals help with your overall goals?
It might be tempting to get a backyard farming animal before you consider everything. Make sure backyard animals fit with your overall goals.
What are the benefits to you?
The benefits of keeping backyard farm animals differ for each person. Decide what you are hoping to get from keeping animals.
What if they get sick?
Do you have access to a vet and can you afford to pay if they get sick?
Can you afford food, bedding, etc?
What are the costs keeping animals. Know this before you go out and get your first animal. A chicken may only be a few dollars but you will need a lot of supplies to keep them healthy and safe.
What predators are in the area?
Another consideration is what predators are active in the area.
Are there local town or neighborhood rules?
Finally – before you get excited about the best farm animals, consider what rules are in place in your community. Many towns and cities limit chickens or roosters.
What are the Best Backyard Farm Animals?
Many people start their backyard farm with a few chickens and eventually expand to other animals, but it is important to know that there are a lot of choices for the best homesteading animals depending on your own set up and backyard farm. The next section outlines some of the most common backyard farm animals for the small hobby farm.
Backyard chickens are a natural addition to a homestead, especially one with limited space. They can be housed in compact homes, and can reward you with healthy fresh eggs, humanely raised meat, and fertilizer for your garden. The dark orange egg yolks are truly delicious and if allowed a little time to free range, chickens can also help with bug control. Chickens have been a favorite and first step into keeping farm animals for me as well as for many others out there. While they still require consistent care, they are generally easy to raise.
- Lay better tasting and healthier eggs
- Provide humanely raised meat
- Make manure for the garden
- Eat food and garden scraps – therefore aiding in composting
- Provide bug control when allowed to free range
- Can be noisy (especially when you have a rooster – although hens will make noise mostly after laying an egg)
- May possibly expose you to potential health concerns (avian flu)
- Will scratch up seedlings and eat produce from the garden when allowed to free range • Can smell if living conditions are cramped or not cleaned
- Must be protected from predators
- Can attract rodents or other pests (although we have not had a problem with this)
Chickens are an ideal animal for a small homestead, but they do require a basic shelter, protection from predators, food (store bought crumbles and scraps), and a constant source of fresh water. Chickens are social and prefer to live in groups of 3 or more. For happy animals, the shelter should allow at least 4 square feet per bird if they have access to an outdoor run, and more if they spend all their time in the coop. You can order chicks online for delivery to your post office, or pick up chicks at farm and garden stores in the spring. If you buy chicks, keep in mind that they need to be kept warm and well protected.
Resources for Raising Backyard Chickens
- Everything You Need to Know About Raising Backyard Chickens
- Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: Ashley English
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens: Gail Damerow
Turkeys, like chickens, are a fun addition to a homestead. They are usually raised for meat and are friendly, social birds that enjoy human interaction. Unlike the turkeys in the grocery store that are pumped full of saline (and have also been selected for size so much that they can no longer breed naturally), home raised turkeys are delicious and you can choose from a variety of breeds not available in the commercial turkey market. If you choose to raise heritage birds, be aware that they are smaller than their commercial counterparts.
- Provide humanely raised meat
- Pest control
- Create manure for compost or as a fuel source
- Can be aggressive
- Can be noisy
- May attract rodents or other pests
- Can smell if space is not kept clean.
Turkeys require constant access to food and water. They can be kept enclosed in a run or permitted to free range, but should be kept in a shelter at night to avoid predators. Since they are large, turkeys need more space than chickens, but because their weight makes it difficult for them to fly, they are less likely to ‘fly the coop.’ Turkeys are slaughtered young but should be at least 18 weeks old.
Geese and Ducks
With the increased interest in raising backyard chickens, more people are also raising geese and ducks. Ducks are generally easier to care for since geese are large and can be aggressive (at least some of the geese I know), but they both provide meat and eggs for the small homestead. While geese and ducks do not require a large water source (pond or lake), they will be much happier with a place to swim.
- Can both be raised for eggs
- Can provide meat
- Can be kept for ornamental reasons
- Eat bugs and do not scratch up the garden as much as chickens
- Provide lots of poop that can be composted and used in the garden
- Are often noisy, although some breeds are quieter than others (look for Muscovy ducks) • Can smell or attract pests
- Can be aggressive (especially geese)
- Have many predators and must be protected
- Lots of poop (which means they are messier than chickens)
Ducks should be raised in groups of two or more since they form strong pair-bonds. Although they do not require water to swim, they will be much happier with a water source and need a place to get their heads wet, however small water areas will become quickly dirty even with only a few ducks or geese. You can keep ducks and geese in a coop similar to chickens, however geese will need significantly more space than chickens or ducks. Unlike chickens, most ducks prefer to sleep on the ground instead of roosting.
Quail, Peacocks and Guinea Fowl
In addition to some of the more common birds, there are several other types that can be raised on a homestead, including peafowl, quail and guinea fowl. Quail can be kept for eggs and meat. Peafowl are generally raised for their beautiful feathers and majestic presence. Guinea hens are tremendous for eating bugs and getting rid of ticks, as well as for producing eggs.
Benefits of Quail
- Can be raised for eggs and meat
- Require less space than other backyard birds
- May be raised strictly for ornamental reasons
Benefits of Peafowl
- Are generally considered ornamental
- Can provide feathers for selling
- Can serve as a good watch animal
Benefits of Guinea Hens
- Provide excellent bug and tick control
- Produce eggs
- Won’t scratch up the plants as much as other birds
- Can serve as a good watch animal
- Both guinea hens and peafowl are noisy
- Guinea hens can be very timid with humans and aggressive with other birds such as chickens
- If you are raising quail for meat, they are much smaller than other birds and take more birds to get the same meat as a larger fowl
- Peafowl may be difficult to confine since they fly out of many enclosures
Quail: Quail can be kept in relatively small cages such as a rabbit hutch and fed chicken or turkey feed or special quail food.
Peafowl: Pens for peafowl must be tall and include a place for the birds to escape wet and snowy weather. Peafowl can be kept in a run or be allowed to free range. Although peafowl are larger and less likely to fall prey to predators they still need a safe place to sleep.
Guinea Fowl: These birds require an indoor space similar to a chicken that keeps them out of the elements, but they need more run space than chickens. Guinea hens are a great bird to allow to free range since they scratch less than chickens and are noisy enough to keep some predators away.
Rabbits can be raised for meat, kept as pets, and some can even be raised for their soft fiber. Since they are small, they are a perfect choice for someone with limited space.
- Produce a higher yield of feed to meat ratio than other animals
- Angora bunnies produce fiber
- Can be kept in small spaces
- Don’t do well in hot weather
- Since rabbits are widely considered pets it may be difficult to raise them for meat
Rabbits can be kept in hutches, cages, or pastured; they need a place to escape the elements and be protected from predators. They should to be fed hay and feed, plus have constant access to clean water.
Goats were the first domesticated animal and are a wonderful addition to a homestead. While you can’t keep goats in a city apartment, they don’t require as much space as larger livestock. They can also provide you with milk, meat, manure, fiber, and hours of entertainment. While some people are concerned that they won’t like the taste of goat’s milk, many people find it easier to digest and very similar in taste to cow’s milk. By using the milk to make cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, you can take a major step towards producing much of your own food.
Learn more about: Raising Goat for Beginners
- Produce milk
- Lots of manure
- Certain goats can be sheared for fiber
- Can be raised for meat
- Are excellent at clearing brush
- Can be used as pack animals
- Can be smelly (especially bucks)
- Can attract flies
- Hard to contain and prone to destroying things if they are able
- Noisy (some breeds are quieter than others)
- Require consistent cleaning inside their shed or barn.
Since goats are social animals, you need at least two to keep them happy. Goats need a dry shelter and will run for cover at the first sign of rain. When allowed to free range, goats consume many weeds and bushes that other livestock won’t touch, making them great at brush control. If you are confining the goats, it is very important to offer free choice hay and water, goat feed, and supplements. You can
also offer your goats table scraps or other treats. There are many breeds of goats, and it is important to think carefully of your reasons for getting goats before deciding on a breed. If you decide to milk your goats, you will need to determine a milking schedule and stick with it. You can’t skip a day or the goats will dry up, not to mention be very uncomfortable.
Unlike goats that prefer bushes, sheep prefer to eat low grasses. Sheep are also much easier to fence than goats although you will need a sizable fence especially if you keep separate ewes and rams. Sheep generally require a pasture area and may not be a good choice if you have limited space in your yard (figure 10 sheep as a maximum on a good acre of pasture).
- Produce wool for spinning and crafting
- Provide meat
- Can be used to mow the lawn
- Make milk
- May Smell (although less than goats)
- Some can be noisy
- Can attract flies
Like goats, there are many breeds of sheep. When you are selecting a breed, consider the sheep size, whether they have horns, and what type of wool they produce. Sheep are herd animals and should
be kept with at least one other sheep (more is preferred). While sheep can get most of their diet from grass, they will need hay in the winter and possibly root vegetables, or sheep feed. Sheep should also require some sort of housing for colder months.
Pigs can be great additions to a small homestead. In addition to providing humanely raised meat, pigs can clear and fertilize your land. Pigs are intelligent, and contrary to belief prefer to be kept clean.
- Provide meat
- Will clear and fertilize land
- Will eat table scraps
- Smelly if not given the required space
- If you choose to breed and keep a boar these animals can be dangerous
- Pasture area will quickly become muddy
- Feed costs can be quite high
- Can tear up trees or do serious damage if they escape into your vegetable garden • Some pigs get really big and can be difficult to handle.
Strong fencing is required to keep pigs contained (electric fencing is recommended). You need to commit to feeding your pig (more than just scraps) twice a day. Pigs need some sort of housing to keep
out of the elements. Figure 4 – 12 square feet of indoor housing per pig, depending on the size and age of the pig. Pigs are typically slaughtered at 200-250 pounds.
Keeping a single cow will easily provide enough daily milk for most families (upwards of 3 gallons). In addition, cows can supply you with a significant source of meat. While you need at least 2 acres to keep a cow on pasture, many small homesteads are making a cow a priority.
- Can produce milk for cheese, yogurt and drinking
- Provide meat
- Make manure for gardens
- Calves can be kept for meat or sold
- Require more space than other animals
- Need to have stall or barn regularly cleaned
- Need to be milked regularly
You need at least 2 fenced acres to keep a cow on pasture and may also need housing for winter months. You can choose to milk your cow once or twice a day, but you need to keep this time consistent or your cow may dry up (not to mention, be very unhappy). During winter months, cows should be fed hay and at times additional feed.
- The Family Cow by Dirk van Loon; includes instructions and step-by-step illustrations for hand milking a cow.
When you first start thinking about animals for your homestead, fish are not usually the first animals to come to mind. But fish can be a good source of nutrition especially when you have a pre existing pond, or can be used as part of a hydroponics (growing plants without soil) set up.
- Produce fish for eating
- Can contribute nutrients as part of a hydroponics set up
- Can be raised in a small space such as a barrel or tub
- If you are looking for a large production this can have significant up-front costs, especially if you are going to dig a pond.
Fish need water, and depending on the type of fish and your climate, this may mean a large acre pond, or a series of smaller tanks or barrels. You will also need to purchase stock to start your fish and potentially feed for your fish. Depending on your climate, you may need to make extra provisions if you will have fish during the winter.
- Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together, Sylvia, Bernstein
For many small homesteaders, bees are an easy, natural addition to their space. Bees provide the double benefit of producing honey and working to pollinate your plants. Due to a reduction in the natural bee population, propagating bees is of increasing importance. While some people are wary of putting bees near their home, honey bees are generally calm and are mostly concerned with getting their work done unlike yellow jackets and other wasps.
- Produce honey
- Will increased pollination of your flowers
- Bees are relatively easy to care for and don’t require daily attention
- Many people are afraid of bees and some are allergic
- If you live in a populated area be especially careful of your neighbor’s sensitivities involving bees.
- While bees are relatively easy to care for they are also wild and can swarm or die out quickly and suddenly
Bees need a hive to live in that allows you to access the interior to check on them and to harvest honey without injuring the bees. Many people also purchase accessories including bee suits, smokers, and other gear. By keeping several hives, you are increasing your odds for success, can harvest more honey and maybe even pay back some of the cost of buying the hives in the first place.
Llamas and Alpacas
If you have a little extra space, llamas and alpacas can be a wonderful addition to a homestead. They can provide fiber for spinning, meat, manure, and even act as guard animals for smaller animals. They also can survive on relatively poor pasture and will graze in marginal areas. Alpacas are much smaller than llamas and were bred for their fiber, while llamas were bred for their strength.
- Produce fiber
- Can be used to provide meat
- Make manure
- Are often used as guard animals
- Will survive on poor pasture
- Use a communal dung pile and thus minimize clean up
- Can carry packs
- They are herd animals and you need at least two
- Require daily care and cleaning of their housing
- Require space and aren’t the best choice if you have a small homestead.
Llamas and alpacas can forage, but need additional hay during the winter. Both can be kept in a shed or barn but need dry ground during rain if kept outside. Since they stick close together, they don’t need a huge space, but need easy access to the outside. Because they need to be kept cool in the warmer weather, you may want access to a fan and a water source. A basic fence should be adequate for llamas and alpacas since they are relatively easy on fences compared to goats and pigs.
The Camelid Companion: Handling and Training Your Alpacas and Llamas, Marty McGee Bennett
Getting Started Raising Backyard Farm Animals
Once you have an idea of what animals you will add to your backyard farm, it’s time to start preparing. Make sure you have everything ready before you bring home your first animals. You will want to spend time researching the animals’ needs, building shelter and fencing, purchasing food and getting additional supplies.
Common Questions About Raising Backyard Farm Animals
What essential supplies do I need to prepare for raising backyard farm animals? You’ll need basic supplies like a suitable shelter or coop, feeding and watering equipment, proper fencing, and bedding material. Ensure you have these essentials in place before bringing home your animals.
How should I plan for the animals’ nutrition? Research the specific dietary requirements of the animals you plan to raise, whether it’s chickens, goats, or rabbits. Invest in quality feed and consider any necessary supplements to meet their nutritional needs.
What veterinary care should I arrange for my backyard farm animals? Find a local veterinarian with experience in treating farm animals and establish a relationship. Schedule regular check-ups and vaccinations, and have a plan in case of emergencies.
What safety measures should I take to protect my animals from predators? Implement predator-proof fencing and housing, and consider using motion-activated lights or alarms to deter nocturnal threats. Learn about common local predators and adapt your precautions accordingly.
How can I manage waste and maintain a clean environment for my animals? Set up a waste management system that suits your animals, such as composting manure or using it for gardening. Regularly clean and maintain their living quarters to prevent the spread of disease and maintain their well-being.
Remember that building a successful backyard farm for you means that you are meeting your personal goals. You can find lots of other resources on the Backyard Farming Connection to help you plan and build that homestead of your dreams. Make sure to check out: