If you're just starting out in farming or homesteading, you might know you want to raise animals of some kind, but you're not sure where to begin. This is a collection of the most relevant information on raising different animal breeds - what they need as far as housing, food, fencing and attention.
Keep checking back, as I'll be adding information for additional animals, like rabbits, ducks, gamebirds, cows, and more.
Keeping a flock of laying hens is a great place to begin when starting your small farm. Chickens are relatively easy to leave for a few days with full waterers and feeders and are also uncomplicated enough to entrust to a neighbor for longer vacations. If you keep them for eggs, you don't have to face slaughter day, but you might have to euthanize old or sick hens.
Chickens require a coop with ventilation and roosting poles and nest boxes. They can free range, but you'll have to deal with chicken poop on your lawn. They can't be trained to poop in certain areas. With enough acreage and the right setup, you might not be bothered by them free ranging, but most people will want to enclose the hens in a fenced-in area.
Chickens for Meat
Although you can cull older laying hens from your flock to use for chicken stock or long-cooked stews, there are special breeds of chickens developed just to raise for the purpose of eating them. Raising poultry for meat means either slaughtering the birds on-farm or taking them to a slaughterhouse to be processed. Selling whole chickens direct from the farm or at the farmers market or other venues can be a good start for a small farm business.
Turkeys are another popular type of small farm poultry. They have a few obvious differences from raising chickens: first, they're raised primarily for meat or breeding, not eggs, and turkeys are bigger, messier and eat more than chickens. They also need a little extra handling that chicks don't require. But they can be a rewarding and fruitful addition to the small farm.
Honey bees work well on small farms, providing yields of honey for the farm family and lots of potential value-added products for the small farm business. Honey bees require a significant investment of specialized equipment up front. And although they don't need to be tended to daily, they do require periodic tasks that you can't neglect, much like growing a garden. You'll need to work with the bees regularly and fairly often as a beginner, and be prepared to replace hives and queens as you learn.
Farmers raise sheep for milk, meat, and/or wool. You can choose one purpose or try to raise sheep that provide all three. Milking sheep is a specialty that is difficult because they yield less milk for the same amount of feed as cows, but sheep's milk cheese is a value-added product whose niche demand may make up for the inefficiency. Lamb and wool are more common reasons for keeping sheep.
If you are considering sheep, they don't require anything elaborate in the way of housing or fencing. But you will need to be fairly hands-on and learn how to move them around from pasture to pasture, and to tend to the fairly common health problems that can spring up.
Goats are fun, energetic animals on the farm. So energetic and so omnivorous that you will need to give them a strongly fenced area for their pasture. Goats are great at browsing shrubs and small trees and are well-suited to clearing land of brush. They don’t require a whole lot of substantial housing, but they’ll need fencing.
Goats produce copious amounts of milk and are kept for milk, meat or both. Keep their fencing tight and secure and you’ll be happier for it.