Raising Livestock for Self-Reliance

Sheep, goats, chickens and pigs  - "Raising Livestock for Self-Reliance"

Animals such as goats, pigs and chickens are beneficial to a homestead even if you don't raise them for meat. Learn about the benefits small livestock can bring to your homestead, no matter how much land you have - or don't have. This overview of small livestock shows how they can support the self-sufficiency of your homestead.

Raising small livestock for self-reliance

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Many families who live a homesteading lifestyle raise some kind of livestock, even if it's just chickens, rabbits or a couple of goats.

It's not surprising, really.

Small livestock don't require a lot of space, are less expensive than larger animals, and are relatively easy to manage. And the benefits of raising livestock - even small animals - are huge.

You don't have to raise livestock for meat purposes. Small livestock can also provide eggs, milk and fiber, as well as clearing land, keeping the grass mowed, providing fertilizer for the garden, and more.

Raising chickens for eggs

This by far is my favorite purpose for my poultry. I enjoy watching my hens going about their daily chicken-business.

A flock of mostly-black chickens free ranging in the backyard of a home.

Laying chickens not only give us eggs, they also provide manure to compost for the garden, pretty feathers for craft projects, and they eat bugs and table scraps. In fact, I call them my garbage disposals.

Some folks put their chickens to work by letting them scratch up and turn garden beds over the winter, turn the compost pile, and even clear out grass and weeds from a future garden plot.

Here are six ways to preserve all those excess eggs and what to do with an abundance of eggs in the spring.

Raising chickens for the freezer

While we've raised a steer, hogs and sheep for the freezer, raising meat chickens is by far the easiest and fastest way to put meat on our table. 

Chicken is so versatile in the kitchen. There are at least 1,001 ways to prepare it for dinner

Requiring a time investment of just  6-9 weeks or so, Cornish cross chicks will grow from tiny chicks that weigh just a couple of ounces to butchering weight right before your very eyes.

Several white Cornish Cross meat chickens, eating from a feeder.

Some homesteaders would rather raise a slower-growing breed than the Cornish cross. We've done that too. 

We've taken our extra black Australorps and Rhode Island reds to the processor. This post compares meat birds to heritage breeds and might help you decide which to raise.

The main drawback with raising Cornish cross birds is that you have to buy the chicks. With heritage breeds you can breed and hatch your own.

It will depend on your definition of self-reliance as to which works best for you. That definition will vary from person to person, and I'm not comparing or judging.

Here's what you need to consider before you decide whether or not you should raise Cornish cross chickens.

You'll find all of my articles on raising chicks and chickens as well as my chicken FAQs here.

Other poultry

I love ducks and geese. They are clumsily beautiful and have enormous personalities. 

Some homesteaders raise geese and ducks for their eggs which are great in baked goods. 

Ducks are great bug control in the garden; they are less likely to eat the plants as well as the bugs.

Geese double as a homestead alarm system. 

Muscovy ducks are famous for their mosquito-catching abilities. 

Some homesteaders raise these ducks for meat, saying that it tastes like sirloin. I can't dispute that since I haven't tasted it. 

My Muscovies lay large clutches of eggs three times a year. I sell the ducklings after they hatch. 

Guinea fowl are also popular homestead poultry. They are excellent flea and tick eradicators. 

Our guineas slowly disappeared as predators caught them; the following year we were guinea-less and we definitely noticed the increase in ticks. 

Our guineas also warned us when snakes were near the house, which was a nice side benefit of having them.

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Raising feeder pigs

We haven't raised pigs in the sense that we have a female that farrows (has piglets). Instead we've purchased piglets from friends and raised the feeder pigs for our freezer. 

Feeder pigs require an investment of about nine months to reach butcher size.

Two young black and white pigs in their pen.

My main "con" about pigs is that they like to escape. Often

I taught our first little piggies to "come" by calling them when I fed them in their pen. They quickly associated the sound with food and would come running from wherever they'd gotten to when they escaped.

Finally an older farmer told hubby how he kept his pigs inside the fence. 

He dug down a bit along the fenceline and laid wire fencing on the ground inside the pen, wiring the long edge of the fencing on the ground to the bottom of the standing fence. 

Does that make sense? In other words, he formed an "L" with two lengths of fencing. By wiring the two edges together and then burying the horizontal fencing inside their pen, the pigs were unable to dig out or lift up the bottom of their fence to escape. 

It's twice the investment in fencing but it's worth it and it really works!

Pigs can also be used to clear a future garden; they till up the ground very efficiently. They turn table scraps, extra milk and eggs into meat for your freezer.  

And if you have both a boar and a sow, you can have a steady source of meat on your homestead. 

Hog manure is not recommended for the compost pile.

Goats, the ultimate homestead animal

And then there are the goats. Funny, personable, always in trouble. A great source of so many good things too: milk and all the resulting dairy products you can make from milk, plus meat and manure.

A tri-color Nubian dairy goat eating hay from a feeder. Goats for homestead self-sufficiency

Goat milk can feed your pigs, chickens, farm dogs and barn cats as well as your human family. 

You can make soap with goat milk. You can also make yogurt, cheese, butter and more. 

Goat manure is excellent garden fertilizer, and they can clear land like nobody's business. They'll even eat poison ivy and wild blackberry canes. They can also eat your rosebushes, but we'll just concentrate on the good stuff today, ok?

Like so many other species, goats come in both dairy and meat breeds. You can milk a meat goat and eat a dairy goat, but the meat and dairy breeds are best at their specific purpose.

Here are my top reasons why you should have goats on your homestead.

You'll find everything you need to know about goats in one place right here.

Sheep for fiber, meat and pasture maintenance

For a couple of years we had half a dozen Dorper sheep. 

Dorpers aren't a wool breed. They are known as "hair" sheep and will shed their hair naturally rather than having to have it sheared. In our hot climate that's a good thing: one less thing we had to do to maintain our flock.

Hair sheep are generally raised for meat instead of fiber. We ended up not caring for the taste of lamb, but the sheep were awesome at clearing and especially maintaining land. 

While goats browse, sheep graze. Goats prefer to eat shrubbery, vines and trees; sheep eat grass and weeds.

Half a dozen Dorper hair sheep in a pasture of tall grass and wildflowers. Sheep can provide meat, wool and pasture maintenance.

This photo was taken the day we moved the lambs into their newly-fenced field. They ate all that growth down and kept it maintained and manageable. 

Then I opened the fence between their field and the round pen so they could "mow" that too. I was able to spend more time riding my horse in the round pen instead of mowing the grass in it.

Sheep are much easier to contain than goats, so if the land you need cleared is mostly grass, weeds and maybe a bit of shrubbery, you might want sheep instead. 

You can milk sheep too, if you buy the right breed. The East Friesian is the most popular dairy sheep breed in the USA. Icelandic sheep and Katahdin sheep can also be milked, although they don't produce as much milk.

Wool breeds produce wool fiber. If you love the fiber arts, raising a fiber breed might be for you.

Other livestock

There are other types of homestead livestock too, of course. I have no experience with rabbits (at least, rabbits that don't die soon after we buy them) so I haven't discussed them here. 

Cattle require more land than many modern homesteaders own. One milk cow requires at least 1.5 acres. [Source]

We raised a steer for the freezer, but have no experience with dairy cows. 

A collage with sheep, goats, and chickens. An overview of small livestock on a homestead.

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