The Best Animals for Self Sufficiency.

Yesterday I was involved in a discussion of what would be the easiest and most practical animal to raise in a long term disaster situation for food.  We basically came up with three choices, but never did decide which would be best.  The three choices were pigs, chickens and goats.

The factors that we took in consideration were.

  • The length of the animal’s gestation period.
  • Does the animal produce multiple births and how long to maturity.
  • Can the animal live off the land?
  • Does it compete for resources with you?
  • What type of workload does it create for you?
  • Can it be butchered easily at home?
  • Do you have the resources to preserve the quantity of meat?  Remember you are preserving the meat without refrigeration.
  • How much land and fence is needed.

Chickens are one possible choice.  A member of our family currently raises them and we always have more eggs than we need.  Chickens provide eggs and meat.  The eggs take only around 21 days to hatch and they are ready to butcher at 3 months.  They can also provide pest control. Chickens are easy to care for and don’t take up much space.  The down side to chickens is that everything wants to eat them.  They are also quite messy and you frequently have to clean their water troughs since they like to mess in them.

Goats have helped sustain mankind for thousands of years.  Goats provide milk, meat, fur and manure.  If you have a bit of land, they can feed themselves.  Goats need more care than chickens.  A good fence is needed to keep track of them.  In the old days, they used goat herders. They are prey to coyotes, wild dogs and other predators.  Both chickens and pigs can be raised in a much smaller area.

Now we come to pigs (my choice, I love pork).  Pigs are omnivores and will eat just about anything.  Piglets (baby pigs) can be butchered and eaten at just about any age.  You can preserve the meat as hams, bacon, and salt pork or canned.  The different tastes that the meat from pigs can produce would lend variety to your diet.

A drawback to pigs is that they do not produce a byproduct, chickens produce eggs and goats milk.  If the pens are not kept clean, they will be a major attraction for flies.  Mankind has been raising pigs for thousands of years.  My wife who has raised pigs in the past says that they are fairly easy to raise.

We would be very interested in feedback from the experiences that some of you have had.  The answer may be more than one type of animal.  Give us your feedback.


21 thoughts on “The Best Animals for Self Sufficiency.”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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).

  4. 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.

  5. 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…….!

    1. 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.

  6. 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.


  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 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…


  11. 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…

  12. 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

  13. 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!”

  14. 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, …

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