Raising Livestock for Self-Sufficiency

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 your 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.

However, Cornish cross chickens aren't very active and aren't good foragers, so they don't contribute much other than meat and manure to your homestead. 

Poultry manure is very "hot" and must be composted before applying to your garden

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. 

Big Red Broilers, Ginger Broilers or Red Rangers are good alternatives to Cornish Cross chickens. It takes a few more weeks for them to reach butcher size, but they are touted to be good foragers and to have fewer leg problems.

We've also taken our extra black Australorps and Rhode Island reds to the processor. This post compares meat birds to dual-purpose 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 dual-purpose breeds you can breed and hatch your own chicks.

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

Ducks and geese 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 and orchard. They are less likely to eat your plants than chickens.
  • 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. 

My Muscovy ducks 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 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 baby pigs). Instead we've purchased young 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.

The biggest drawback to pigs is that they like to escape. Often

I taught our first young pigs 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. 

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 a bigger investment in fencing but it really works!

Other benefits of raising pigs on your homestead:

  • Pigs can also be used to clear a future garden. They till up the ground very efficiently. 
  • They will dispose of your table scraps.
  • Pigs will turn food scraps, extra milk and eggs into meat that will feed your family.  

If you have both a boar and a sow (male and female pig), 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. 

Goats are a great source of 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 own family. 
  • You can make soap with goat milk
  • You can also make yogurt, cheese, butter and more from goat milk. You'll find 15 uses for goat milk in this post.
  • Composted goat manure is an excellent garden fertilizer.
  • Goats will clear overgrown land for you. They'll even eat poison ivy and wild blackberry canes. They can also eat your rosebushes, so good fences are a must.

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.

Dorpers and Katahdin are the most common hair sheep breeds, but there are other breeds of hair sheep too.

Hair sheep are generally raised for meat instead of wool or fiber.

While goats browse, sheep graze. Goats prefer to eat shrubbery, vines and trees; sheep eat grass and weeds. Our little flock was awesome at maintaining their pasture.

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 yearling lambs into their newly-fenced field. They ate all that growth down and kept it maintained and manageable. 

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. They aren't nearly as hard on fences as goats are.

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 such as Merino, Shetland or Romney might be a good choice for you. You can learn more about raising wool sheep at Mitten State Sheep and Wool.


Rabbits are easy to raise, are inexpensive to keep, and don't require much space. 

They are quiet, and if you live in town they won't draw much attention. Many towns that ban chickens will allow rabbits which they consider pets.

Rabbit manure can be used as fertilizer on your garden without having to compost it first.

Rabbits are easy to process.


Cows require more land than many modern homesteaders own. One milk cow requires at least an acre. If you plan to breed your cow, she and her baby will need at least two acres.

Your cow may need significantly more land, depending on the amount of rainfall your area receives. Lush, well-watered land can support more cattle.

You can sometimes buy bottle-fed calves (especially bull calves, or males) from dairies for a relatively inexpensive price. 

A grass-fed steer is ready to butcher at about 2 1/2 years (30 months). A grain-fed steer, which is fed grass or hay plus grain, is ready at about 18 months.

A cow can provide your homestead with milk, cheese, butter, cream and more.

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


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