When it comes to farm animals for self-sufficiency, there are a lot of options to choose from. But not all animals are created equal. Some animals are better suited for small properties, while others do well on larger homesteads. And some farm animals can even be kept in urban and suburban settings. So how do you know which ones are best for you? We will outline the best farm animals for self-sufficiency based on the size of the property, climate, and other factors.
Why You Need Farm Animals for Self Sufficiency
Even if you’re not a farmer, there are many benefits to raising livestock. Farm animals can provide you with food, fiber, and even income. They can also help you become more self-sufficient by providing natural fertilizer for your garden and helping to keep pests under control. Not to mention, they’re just fun to have around!
If you eat meat, eggs, or dairy, having farm animals is a great way to get these products without relying on the grocery store. And if you don’t eat meat, there are still plenty of reasons to have them. Farm animals can provide you with wool for fiber arts or even milk for making soap and cheese. If you are planning on a self-sufficient homestead, you will need to produce meat.
No matter your reason for wanting farm animals, there’s sure to be one that’s perfect for you. Here are some of the best options for farm animals based on different factors.
Best Farm Animals for Self-Sufficiency
Now that you’re thinking about farm animals, it’s time to think about what animals would be best for self-sufficiency. This will vary based on a few different factors, including the size of your property, climate, and what you hope to get out of your animals.
Chickens are perhaps the most versatile of all farm animals. They can provide you with meat, eggs, and even feathers for crafts. Best of all, raising chickens requires less space than other livestock and can be kept in urban and suburban areas with relative ease.
If you’re just starting out with farm animals, chickens are a great place to start. They’re relatively low-maintenance, and there’s a good market for chicken eggs and meat. Plus, they’re just really fun to have around!
Chickens begin to lay eggs around 18 weeks and provide eggs throughout their life, although they slow down when they molt and after two years. Meat birds are usually ready to be butchered by eight weeks if you are going with meat chickens such as the Cornish cross.
Even if you’re planning on having your birds free-range, they will need a chicken coop for protection at night from predators.
Excellent breeds for the homestead include:
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rocks
These are just a few of the best chicken breeds for self-sufficiency. Many homesteaders prefer heritage breeds over the common crosses, which are bred to produce the biggest birds or the most eggs. No matter which breed you choose, chickens are a great addition to any homestead.
Ducks can provide you with meat, eggs, and feathers. But ducks also have the added benefit of being great pest control. They love to eat slugs, snails, and other pests that can damage your crops.
Ducks are a bit more high-maintenance than chickens, so they may not be the best choice for beginners. Like chickens, ducks need a coop at night to protect them from predators.
They are also seasonal layers, meaning they produce duck eggs seasonally. They produce larger eggs and are considered somewhat of a delicacy. Even though you don’t get as many eggs as a chicken, you still get delicious eggs.
Some, like the Pekin duck, are better for meat. Others, like the Khaki Campbell, are better for egg production. And then, there are dual-purpose breeds that are good for both meat and eggs.
Some of the best duck breeds for self-sufficiency include:
- Khaki Campbell
Goats can provide you with goat milk, meat, and even fiber for clothing and other goods. Goats are great at foraging, so they don’t require a lot of supplemental feed. Best of all, they’re relatively low-maintenance and can be kept in a small space.
If you’re looking for a versatile farm animal, goats are a great option. A dairy goat can provide you with milk and cheese. Some will provide lean goat meat. Fiber goats will provide fiber or “wool” for fabrics.
Goats need shelter and good fences because they are escape artists. They are quite clever, but they take up a lot less room than other farm animals.
There are different breeds of goats, and some are better for milk production; others are better for delicious meat. Still, others are good for fiber. There are also dual-purpose breeds that are a good compromise between milk and meat production.
Some of the best goat breeds for self-sufficiency include:
Good fiber goats include:
Pigs can provide you with meat, fat, and even leather. Pigs are also great at foraging, so they don’t require a lot of supplemental feed. Best of all, they’re relatively low-maintenance and don’t require a lot of space.
There are different breeds of pigs, and some are better for meat production; others are better for bacon and pork. Still, others are good for lard. There are also dual-purpose breeds that are a good compromise between meat and fat production.
Some of the best pig breeds for self-sufficiency include:
Cows can provide you with milk, meat, and even leather. Cows are also great at foraging, so they don’t require a lot of supplemental feed, but they do require a large amount of space.
Some of the best cow breeds for self-sufficiency include:
- Brown Swiss
Sheep can provide you with meat, wool, milk, and even leather. Sheep can provide milk for drinking and also for making cheese. Sheep are also great at foraging, so they don’t require a lot of supplemental feed.
There are different breeds of sheep, and some are better for wool production; others are better for meat. There are also dual-purpose breeds that are a good compromise between wool and sheep meat production.
Some of the best sheep breeds for self-sufficiency include:
Quail can provide you with meat and eggs. Best of all, they’re relatively low-maintenance and don’t require a lot of space. They are quiet, so they can live in suburban and urban environments.
Quails need special housing that will protect them from other animals. Quail eggs are small but very delicious and are considered a delicacy.
Some of the best quail breeds for self-sufficiency include:
- California Valley
Bees can provide you with honey, wax, and pollination services. Best of all, they’re relatively low-maintenance and don’t require a lot of space.
There are different types of bees, some better for honey production. Some are calmer and easier to handle than others.
Some of the best bee types for self-sufficiency include:
Rabbits can provide you with meat and fur. They’re relatively low-maintenance and don’t require a lot of space. They are quiet, so they can live in suburban and urban environments.
Some of the best rabbit breeds for self-sufficiency include:
- New Zealand white rabbits
Fish can provide you with food and fertilizer. Most people who raise fish do so for meat, which requires an elaborate setup, including tanks to hold them. Many people raise fish indoors to ensure that they don’t lose their investment to predators.
The best fish for raising in such an environment are:
Farm Animals for Smaller Properties
How much land you have is a big component of what animals you should have. Not everyone has the space for cows, pigs, and goats.
If you have a smaller property, you might want to consider these animals:
You may consider raising miniature versions of larger livestock if you have a smaller property.
- Miniature pigs
- Nigerian Dwarf goats
- Pygmy goats
- Dwarf rabbits
- Bantam chickens
Farm Animals for Larger Homesteads
If you have a larger homestead, you can consider having any of the animals above.
If you have a larger property, you may want to consider raising multiple types of animals. This will provide you with a greater diversity of resources.
Farm Animals for Urban/Suburban Lands
Not everyone has the space to raise pigs, cows, and goats. If you live in an urban or suburban area, you’ll have to consider what are the best animals for that type of area.
If you live in an urban or suburban area, you may consider raising miniature versions of larger livestock. Of course, this depends on zoning and other laws within your municipality. The good news is that many cities do allow chickens or other smaller livestock, such as dwarf goats.
No matter what size your homestead is, there are farm animals that can be a great addition to your self-sufficient lifestyle. Choose the animals that best fit your needs, and you’ll be well on your way to being more self-sufficient.
22 thoughts on “The Best Animals for Self Sufficiency”
as usual , another very good article howard. i would add rabbits to your list; i’ve had mine in hutches (3) for over 2 years now they provide meat and their pelts (fur) can be made into any number of kinds of clothing – very soft and warm. thanx for all your info.
Forget the pigs. The amount of feed it takes to raise a pig to butcher size is not feasible to store for a year or more. Rabbits and chickens are your best bet. The chickens can be free roaming most of the year and are easier to take care of.
That depends on the breed your raising. We raise our own pasture pigs. The eat grass from the pasture and hay in the winter months. A large round bale costs anywhere from $40 to $50, and depending on the side of your herd it will last more than one winter.
Why not something like quail? saw an article in backwoods magazine sometime ago that these were pretty easy to raise and if I remember my history, didn’t Tennessee and Kentucky hill people raise Guinea fowl as both food and they couldn’t be sneaked upon.
Quail HAVE to be caged or they will fly away, therefore are totally dependant on you for their food. Chickens and Guinea fowl can free range and provide some of their own food part of the year.
You do raise a good point about Guinea fowl; they are wonderful watch dogs, alarming at the slightest breeze. (Not recommended if you are in a “secret” location) They also think ticks are the best snack food in the world. If you want to minimize tick born infection, Guineas are just the ticket.
However, Guinea fowl do not take well to being caged (and would defeat the tick eating feature of the species) so they lay their eggs in secret nests. Predators are not fooled by their hidden location of the nest, so you lose a lot of hens when they sit. They also lay their eggs in those secret locations, so gathering eggs isn’t as easy as a chicken, who can learn to lay in a nest box in the coop, then go back out to forage for their next meal.
Because Guineas lay and nest in secret locations (which you can find by following them, but can’t sucessfully relocate) their chicks hatch outdoors. Then the little chicks get wet in the dewy grass and get ill. And most die. If you choose to have Guineas for their good qualities, have some chickens too, and have the chicken hens hatch the guniea eggs, raise the chicks and let them out with the older birds when they are fully feathered (about 4 weeks of age).
Trying to store animal feed for a year or more isn’t always feasible for the most part and can be risky because it can be destroyed or consumed by varmints. Instead of throwing out creatures that many have no experience in raising look to the ways of the past. Those in covered wagons didn’t haul in years worth of food, they raised it which is what you will have to do. They free ranged it by turning out the animals like pigs when times were hard which is always a gamble that critters might get them or that they might migrate to a better area. Seems many are looking for the easy way out which doesn’t exist otherwise it would already be done. Every edible creature has ups and downs and just like the others things in preparations you need layers. Don’t JUST have chickens or just pigs or just goats have some of each because 1 skunk can wipe out all your chickens and if there is no re-supply post SHTF then you are in bad shape if you have nothing else. The same with disease, what effects the pigs wont hurt the fish or if the heat kills the caged rabbit but the goat survives because it found shade.
Geographical area has a lot to do with it as well.
Farming/Ranching on any size scale is risky at best with weather, disease, varmints, and other things that happen beyond our control so be versatile and be ready to WORK.
As a hobby farmer, I’ve had all three types of animals that you mention. Chickens are by far the easiest. Eggs are great, and then pressure-cook the older hens and any unwanted roosters. My dairy goats are more like family now, so I could never butcher one! Their milk is awesome and makes wonderful yogurt and cheese. I could barter the babies away in a SHTF situation. The pigs provide PLENTY of delicious meat. I just haven’t brought myself to the point of wanting a boar and a sow on the farm long-term. The SMELL and the flies are terrible. And YES, it takes lots of food to get one up to butchering weight. I kept track of the cost, start to finish, this past year. The meat ended up costing me $3.53/pound.
Stick with chickens…….!
In S.E. Asia, Viet Nam and Laos particularly, chickens are the 4-H steer for those folks. People on the bottom end of the economic chain cannot afford to buy a pig. But they can buy a chicken. They have been raising and eating this ever-present bird for hundreds of years, with great results. I would suggest learning from history and following a well worn precedent.
Your qualifiers were a good start, but I think you are focusing INSIDE the traditional American “box” of farm species.
Rabbits would be a first choice. They can be in-bred fairly aggressively, without issues. A couple of females/does and one buck can provide a small family with enough delicious meet/protein indefinitely. Plus their manure is considered to be a “cold manure” — which means it can be directly placed into your garden without the need to compost it prior.
Rabbits can also be kept indoors, which makes for easy concealment. Heck, they can even be trained to use a litter box like a cat.
If you opt to keep them outdoors, you can cohabitate them within your chicken coop. e.g. place rabbit hutches high along the wall/s. Thus, you don’t need a separate coop/building for them. Just kinda “vertical farm” them = chickens mostly down below, and rabbits up higher.
Another critter worthy of consideration would be guinea pigs. These are very popular in South American countries. Again, they take up minimal space, and CAN be raised via an indoor cage (in the basement or whatever.)
Chickens indeed make the top-3 list. They are pretty easy to raise, require limited space, and they have multiple benefits (e.g. eggs, meat, manure, etc.)
Goats are indeed a top-10 choice (as are sheep.) Up there with them, would be the new “miniature” species of dairy cattle. Most full-size cattle can be a “job” of themselves, and a properly-sized herd to maintain reproduction and such can require ACRES of land. By the time you do all this, you are sometimes producing more by product than a small family can deal with? Whereas, their mini-me cousins (e.g. miniature Jerseys) require much less real estate, and still provide milk, beef and hide by products. Personally, I’ve taken a liking to the miniature Highlands Cattle, because they are much heartier, and just kinda look kewl.
I would also have to put some sort of fish product into the top 10 list, too. (e.g. Talapia.) These little guys can be grown indoors via tanks/aquariums, or in swimming pools or holding ponds. e.g. if your climate doesn’t support growing them in outdoor ponds, try leveraging a tank in the corner of your greenhouse, instead?
Many Midwesterners and southerners also raise catfish in outdoor ponds, instead.
Personally, I like a little diversity “on the farm.” Sometimes, your flock or herd will catch some sort of disease that will wipe-out an entire species. Or, a predator like a raccoon will break into your chicken coop, and kill EVERYTHING that moves! That’s when you are thankful that you still have your goats/sheep/fish/cattle/pigs/whatever. You can also leverage/swap a few of your goats or whatever with a neighbor for some breeding chickens/roosters or rabbits to restart your flocks/hutches.
But, you don’t have to feel like you NEED to have it ALL, either! e.g. pigs are an acquired farming skill that not everyone enjoys. Some farmers LOVE them, others HATE them. Their strength and rooting abilities make keeping them a bit of a challenge. But, you can usually trade some of your products, for some of their pork-based products. (No man is an island.) Just because you don’t raise pigs yourself, doesn’t mean that you live a pork-free lifestyle.
Sure, farmers have focused on specific breeds and such for decades (even centuries) because these species enjoy high yields at low expenses — maximizing “profits” for farmers. But, preppers and homesteaders aren’t as concerned with “high yields.” One butchered steer calf can feed a small family for six months or more! So, it doesn’t really matter to us whether it’s a milk Jersey, or an Angus beef steer, or whatever. For homesteaders and such, we’d rather have a critter that’s cute and easy on the eyes, and has a temperament like a pet. Ideally, something that requires little/minimal effort on our behalf. Animals that birth well (without our assistance,) and birth in multiples. Animals with multiple byproduct benefits, that are also somewhat “compact” on their impacts to our limited lands/resources.
Lastly, in addition to chickens, my father always kept honeybees, as well as a couple of turkeys, and a half-dozen ducks on his farms. The bees helped his gardens and orchards, and he enjoyed nearly unlimited honey for himself, and would also barter the honey with fellow farmers, and even sell it at the neighborhood market. Whereas, the turkeys were for Thanksgiving dinners.
Ducks lay eggs pretty often (like chickens.) I think the ducks he had laid eggs every other day — instead of daily like chickens? But, the duck eggs were larger, and some say they taste better, too? Duck meat was a periodic/welcomed change of taste to our meals as well.
Oh, and don’t forget to leverage local, semi-wild game. A couple of bird feeders in the backyard will bring in plenty of birds and squirrels. A salt block (salt lick) will bring in the deer. Sure, technically, these are “wild” animals. But, once you have been feeding them for awhile, they kinda become semi-domesticated. And, if you are bringing them to your backyard, you can literally hunt from your bedroom window or whatever. Ethically questionable?… No more questionable than hand-raising your own farm “pets” and killing/butchering them.
I agree with you Matt! Putting all your eggs in one basket is a dangerous idea when prepping. Personally, we do goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks and turkeys, most of which are free ranged over the summer, then all but the breeders are butchered in the fall and canned or dried for preservation. We’ve had raccoons take out an entire flock of chickens in a night and would have been pretty bad off if not for a second flock housed in a separate area. Backups to backups, right?
Guinea pigs. Good for hot environments, easy to raise, provide fertilizer and cuddle pets and breed like all rodents do. Have more body fat than rabbits. Can feed themselves in a cage in the grass. Just move it every now and then.
Try making a chicken tractor and put part of your flock in it. I have hawks around my house that love free range chicken. If I don’t protect my flock I won’t have them long. I like the suggestion about rabbits. I’ll be adding them to my plans.
potbelly pigs, take less room, less food, easy to manage and the meat as good as the big one version
I want to start with “There is no “right” answer for everyone. We all have different situations, so my answers won’t necessarily work for you.
I live in town on a 1/4 acre. Zoning laws are mostly in my favor, and I have good relationships with my neighbors. SO I have loaded up with about as much livestock as my little patch of land can handle.
I have New Zealand and AlTex rabbits, Coturnix quail, Muscovy ducks, tilapia in a barrel-ponics system, and a small flock of chickens.
The ducks free range 100%, and rarely require food inputs from me. They are excellent mothers, and the eggs are mighty tasty. The downfall is that they don’t lay eggs all the time, but when they do, you usually get about a month of solid egg laying before they stop to brood what they’ve laid. I call the Muscovies my “free-food birds”, since they require so little from me. Produce meat and eggs. Feathers are a byproduct.
The quail do require food and water inputs, and are raised in cages, but provide eggs daily, as well as providing meat faster than anything else I have. Quail take 17 days to hatch, and can start laying in as little as 5 weeks. They are full grown and harvestable for meat at 7-8 weeks. So I can set eggs to incubate, and 65 days later, have a bird on the table weighing about half a pound each that provided eggs for two weeks before I harvested it. The downside is they require hard-to-forage feed (gotta buy it, mostly), and they rarely hatch their own eggs so require a surrogate, be it an incubator, or a small broody bantam chicken (I’ve used both). Produce meat and eggs. Feathers are a byproduct.
Rabbits are my go-to for meat production, and mine have been bred to deal with a variety of foods, so are ready for lean times if the pellet feed is no longer available.
(I actually wrote about this today https://floridahillbilly.com/?p=5005). They can also be free-ranged, though would require a very watchful eye. Produce meat and fur. Rabbit manure is a byproduct and is used in my garden beds.
Chickens are quickly losing favor with me, they require more labor than the ducks, and while they produce larger eggs than the quail, the quail convert food to eggs better. Good for meat and eggs. Feathers are a byproduct.
If I had to choose 1, it would be rabbits.
My other choices in order would be Muscovies, then quail, and finally chickens.
Luckily, I don’t have to choose, so have all four.
Goats are something I’ve thought about, but require GOOD fencing and more feed than my small yard can provide.
Another option along the pork idea is the Vietnamese potbellied pigs. They are smaller, take less space and less food…and taste like pig.
I’ve rambled enough, thanks for the post…
Thoughts on sheep?
Through the BLM or many people who just want to place them- a few burros will keep the Coyotes away and are very capable of killing big cats. Very hardy. Animals. Using groundwire attached to wire fencing helps keep your chickens safe. Tie it off or use hog rings. Twisted wire vs welded has much more integregity. Marking areas with dog slat & get the men to literally mark urinating on specific areas helps. Just a share…
SKAT not slat! Sheesh
Rabbits, game breed hens and roosters, pasture pigs, and Pygmy goats. All self sustained if raised correctly and all produce great amounts of product. Homing pigeons are another great addition. Downside, most aren’t good urban choices. Of course if you’re in the city you’re likley doomed from the start so get out and find an acre or two away from possible thieves. Remember during a real meltdown people are going to get hungry and will find whatever you have. On top of the critters you need to grow ky. Wonder pole beans for drying, flat Dutch cabbage for storage and kraut and any kind of potato. Don’t forget the firearms
You mentioned that there are no by-products with pigs. There is one unbelievable 5 star by-product: pork fat. Render the fat and produce lard. If you have enough of it, fry with it. Use it for making pie crusts etc. I’m off the boat and when we 1st came to the states, 60 years ago, self sufficiency (not welfare) was the rule. Pork lard spread on homemade bread with some onion or bell pepper was a meal more than once. As Chef Emeril Lagasse says: “Pork Fat Rules!”
Hmmm, Nobody mentioned the bugs, … Oops! I mean the mealy worms! …
Had my first big fat BBQed coconut grub down in south America, .. and it hasn’t killed me yet.
I know I’ve looked into the bugs before, mostly worms as a by product of rabbit poop and used for fish and chicken food and the worm poop is fantastic garden manure. The cages were set up right over the worm tanks and just needed a little ripped up newspaper and some cardboard layered over time.
Now I must go look up those mealy worms, … and see how easy they are to raise. I think pound for pound they have more protein than meat, … pretty sure, .. now have to go check, …
And one of the top products most livestock provide … fertilizer.