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At some point in your homesteading journey, you may get a desire to bring animals into your homestead. Homestead animals aren’t around to look cute, however – they all have a job and purpose.
Not all homesteads have animals, but you can raise some of your own livestock to make your homestead more self-sufficient. Animals like cows, chickens, ducks, and bees can be used to produce food products and goods.
What animals are ideal for homestead living? What do you need to know about adding animals to your homestead? Let’s find out!
A homestead is an owner-occupied residence that provides homeowners with financial and legal protections. It’s defined as a house and land where the owner resides. Typically, the owner of the homestead also works there, which is different from the setups of many farms.
Legally, properties that qualify as homesteads may benefit from homestead exemptions. These are exemptions that homeowners can claim on their primary residence to minimize property taxes. According to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, homestead exemptions and credits are the most common type of property tax relief.
Homestead exemptions may be set at state or local levels, and they can vary in different locations. For example, businesses, rental properties, and second homes are typically not eligible for homestead tax relief.
In addition, homestead exemptions can provide legal protections like protecting the owner from creditors looking to collect a debt, which protects the surviving spouse and children. That doesn’t apply to a mortgage, however, which is secured.
Self-sufficient living involves growing your own food, making your own goods, selling your own goods, and baking your own goods for homesteading. While it may not be realistic to be completely self-sufficient, you can become mostly self-sufficient with little help from external sources.
Being self-sufficient takes a lot of time and planning, however. Nothing is consumed that wasn’t produced on the farm, waste is repurposed or reused, and renewable energy or permaculture are mandatory for a self-sufficient homestead.
A small-scale farm differs from a homestead. According to the USDA, a small-scale farm is a farm with gross cash income under $250,000 – including both commercial and noncommercial farms. Most of these farms fall well under that number, with most of them bringing in $1,000 in sales. If they have land or livestock to generate that $1,000, whether or not they actually sell at that level, they are classified as farms.
The concept of sustainable living means using resources in a way that doesn’t deplete or damage them, which includes cutting down on the pollution and depletion of resources for the transportation of food or goods.
Sustainable living is not a new concept. Older generations raised and grew their own food, and if they couldn’t produce it themselves, they traded with others in the community. Now, that falls under a sustainable-living homestead.
This lifestyle seeks to reduce the carbon footprint by producing food that’s free of chemicals and pollution or raising animals that produce food like fish, bees, chickens, and goats. These homesteads also embrace renewable energy, such as biomass, ethanol, biodiesel, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar.
For people who live in the city and want to work their own land, urban homesteading is an option. Though it may not be as vast as a rural property, urban homesteaders grow and harvest crops from containers, keep backyard chickens, and trade goods and tools with the local community.
The basic foundation of homesteading is still present with urban homesteading, it’s just adapted to the environment. Urban homesteaders tend to bees, ducks, quail, chickens, and rabbits, forage and produce food, compost and mulch urban organic waste, plant trees, and create greywater and rainwater catchment systems.
Urban homesteaders also learn more traditional skills, such as fermenting, canning, sewing and knitting, beekeeping, candle-making, and water and energy management. They make small changes inside to conserve energy, such as installing thermal window shades, adjusting the thermostat, and switching to efficient light bulbs.
How to Prepare Your Land for Homesteading
Preparing for homesteading is a big job. Here’s what you need to do:
Different animals require different fencing, which can make it challenging to prepare. For example, chickens can be housed in a coop with ventilation and the appropriate accessories, while pigs need shelter and fencing that deters them from trying to escape. Consider the species you intend to keep in order to plan your fencing and housing needs.
Watering animals is a big job on any homestead or farm. Large livestock, such as cows and horses, can drink several gallons of water a day. If you find property with a natural water source, that’s ideal for many of your animals.
In winter, watering animals is more difficult with frozen water tanks and constant icing in buckets and water troughs. Electric-heated water bowls and buckets can keep water thawed during the day, and a floating heater or deicer can be used in large troughs.
Furthermore, if you have a well, you may lose access to water during a power outage or storm. You have to plan to stock up on water prior to the storm hitting to ensure you can keep all the animals hydrated.
Manure is a big benefit to your homestead. With multiple animals, you’ll produce a lot of manure, which can be used as a fertilizer for your garden. Manure is also ideal for breaking up clay or sandy soil.
Manure management varies by the animal. For example, rabbit manure can be used to fertilize your garden, while chicken manure is more suitable for composting to avoid burning your plants. Horse and cow manure must be composted or aged well before it can be used.
Before you bring any animals home, do some research and develop a plan for how you’ll handle the manure,
Predators are a big issue for homesteaders. Hawks, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, wolves, mountain lions, and even local dogs can present a threat to your livestock. Make sure you have the appropriate fencing and shelter to keep predators out and ensure your animals are safe.
Chickens are the most common homestead animal. For many, backyard chickens in an urban environment are what comes to mind when they think of homesteading – for good reason.
Chickens provide a lot of valuable goods, including meat, eggs, and manure for composting. They will need a coop or run-in area to keep them safe from predators, as well as an area to lay eggs.
Depending on the breed, ducks are easy animals to raise on a homestead. They provide meat and eggs, require little space, and get along with other animals.
Ducks are slow birds that are susceptible to predation, however. Neighborhood dogs, hawks, coyotes, and other predators can easily get a duck, so you need proper precautions and secure fencing to protect them.
Quail are cute, small birds that can be raised for meat or eggs. These birds are inexpensive and easy to keep, they’re a wild source of eggs, and they don’t need much space. If you have a smaller homestead, they may be the right bird for you.
Conversely, quail produce little meat and eggs compared to chickens and ducks, and their laying is extremely temperamental. They’re not particularly broody, either, so you’ll need to provide more hands-on care. They also fly well, so they’re not suitable for a free-range homestead situation.
Pheasants are larger birds that produce desirable meat and eggs. Though they don’t yield much, the quality of the meat is more desirable than their other bird counterparts. They’re also less tame than chickens, and flighty, so they can be challenging to handle.
Because pheasants don’t lay regularly, they’re not suitable as a dual-purpose bird. They’re a good choice for a diverse homestead, but they shouldn’t be the sole source of meat or eggs.
Rabbits are common pets, but on a homestead, they’re raised for meat. Typically, homesteaders keep one buck and several does to rotate the flock.
While all rabbits can be raised for meat, New Zealand Whites and California breeds are ideal for meat. Their carcasses yield more than other breeds.
Rabbits don’t require a lot of space, just a simple hutch will suffice. They do need daily care, however, such as food, water, and cleanup.
Honey bees are among the more challenging homestead animals, but they are worth the effort. Note that beekeeping has some of the highest startup costs among homestead animals, however. If possible, build your own hive or purchase a used hive.
Once the hive is set up, bees mostly care for themselves during the summer months. You should check on them, but not much else. In winter, bees will need supplemental food to survive, especially if it gets cold where you live.
Another added benefit of bees is that they pollinate your garden.
Goats are another good option for beginner homesteaders. Different breeds are more suitable for meat or dairy products, however, so it’s important to do your research.
They’re cheaper and easier to manage than cattle or other large livestock, which is good for a beginner homesteader. Keep in mind that goats can be destructive and mischievous, however, and require secure shelter.
Goats also need food and water multiple times each day. They’re escape artists, so you’ll need special goat-proof fencing to keep them contained.
Pigs are great farm animals for beginner homesteaders. They have a short production cycle, so you can acquire a piglet in spring and have it butchered in the fall. If you have cold winters, this can relieve the burden of caring for an animal during the cold months.
Pigs are also easy to care for. They’re not picky about food, and as long as they have space, water, food, and shelter, they’ll be satisfied.
Cows are not suitable for many homesteads because of space. If you have a larger homestead with pasture, secure fences, and natural water sources, cows can be a good addition that requires little maintenance.
Like other animals, cows need more care in the winter, especially if the breed isn’t suited to your climate. That said, responsible management of one cow and calf can provide you with food for your whole family each year.
Horses are not as common on homesteads as other animals, but they have a lot of value. They can plow fields, provide compost, and more. That said, horses are expensive and require more care and space than other homestead animals.
Along with food and water, a horse needs a stall or shelter, plenty of space to run, bedding, and daily care like grooming. Horses are large, strong animals as well, so you’ll need solid fencing that they can’t break through easily.
Exotic animals refer to species that are not native or indigenous to the locale. This differs from a wild animal, which is an indigenous, non-domesticated animal that lives freely in the wild, such as white-tailed deer, raccoons, and skunks in the US.
Non-traditional animals, which are often kept as pets rather than production animals, include tropical fish, parakeets, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, and hedgehogs. These animals have been bred for decades, but they’re not truly domesticated like a dog, cat, or horse.
If legal, many exotic or non-traditional animals can be useful for a homestead.
These are just a few of the possible homestead animals that could provide goods like meat or fur, but they’re not common or legal everywhere.
Animals may be cute, but they come with a lot of work, responsibility, and expense. Do you want animals just for show, or as pets? Or do you want them to be productive?
If so, are you comfortable raising an animal, caring for it, and then butchering it for food? Are you familiar with the work involved in their care or is it your first time?
Questions like these are important for choosing the type and breeds of animals you include in your homestead, as well as how you intend to shelter and feed them.
Here are some questions to consider:
If you live in a city or the suburbs, you may have rules about which animals you can legally own on your property. Some localities have rules against farm animals, such as chickens and goats. This is especially true of HOAs.
Before you bring any animals home, make sure you’re complying with the local laws. If you can’t have farm animals, you have options like bees or rabbits.
Some animals require more space than others, not just for shelter, but to roam. You want your animals to be able to feed and grow properly.
If you’re working with a small plot of land, such as an acre, chickens, rabbits, and bees are small, manageable animals that can still be used for production. If you have more space, goats, pigs, cattle, or a cow may be an option, depending on the local ordinances.
Homestead animals may be more independent than your family dog, but if you travel a lot, you must prepare to get a farm sitter to watch after them. Even with automated systems, animals need to be monitored and protected from predators.
Chickens and rabbits will be fine for a few days with automated food dispensers and waterers. Honeybees are self-sufficient overall and require less interference, especially in the summer months.
Cattle will graze and drink from natural water sources, but they need more care in the winter. Dairy cows are more challenging, since they need to be milked twice a day during the season. If you plan to get a dairy cow, you will need a sitter who knows how to handle the cow and milk her when you’re away.
As much as you may want cute animals for your homestead, self-sufficiency is the name of the game. You should seek animals that offer something of value, such as meat, eggs, fur, or other byproducts.
All farm animals have a job, including dogs that are used for herding or guardian duties. You provide shelter, food, water, and care, and in exchange, you get something from the animal.
For some, the idea of butchering animals for food is too much. Your homestead doesn’t have to raise animals for meat, however. You can stick to animals that produce other goods, such as eggs or milk.
But a functional homestead usually includes animals you can butcher for meat. If you don’t have the skills yourself, you can learn – and this includes cattle, chickens, rabbits, and pigs.
If the idea of killing your own animals is too much, understand that you may provide care for them long past their typical age for production. For example, a hen won’t lay eggs once she reaches five years. That’s fine, but it’s important to know that going into it and in choosing the animals you keep.
Animals can be adaptable, but not all animals are suitable for all environments. Some breeds are adapted to cold, heat, or humidity, and it’s best to choose the suitable animals for your climate.
Legal Considerations for Farm Animals and Homesteading
If your homestead is just a hobby, you are fine with just general liability insurance that covers your activities. You should also get an EIN, which is a legal requirement for anyone who’s selling goods or services.
If you are selling any goods, including eggs, honey, or vegetables, you are now a commercial enterprise and you need to incorporate your business, get a legal website, and the correct homesteading contracts.
Having farm animals on your homestead means more legal requirements. You are responsible for anything that happens if your animals get out. For example, a goat that escapes can injure a person or cause a traffic accident. Homesteaders are responsible for keeping their animals fenced in to prevent them from causing harm.
Homesteaders are also responsible for protecting people – and children – from being harmed by their animals. A good fence with a child-proof lock is a must to keep your animals secure.
Homesteading is allowed in all states. However, not every area is applicable. In New York, for example, there are specific boroughs that allow homesteading. In addition, some states have benefits of homesteading in one area over another.
One acre may not seem like much, but you can build a self-sufficient homestead on one acre. It just takes some work, education, and dedication. If you have an oversized lot or small acreage and want to be sustainable, you just have to get creative with your priorities and choice of animals. It’s also important to pay attention to zoning in the area.
The land you need to homestead varies with the terrain you want and the type of homesteader you want to be. Small acreage, around two to four acres, can be enough to sustain a small family if you manage it appropriately. Larger homesteads ranging 10 to 40 acres, offer excellent self-sufficiency.
The number can vary, but in general, $10,000 can be enough to start a homestead. There are numerous variables that can impact the cost, however, such as whether you already have land or you need to purchase, if you already have structures, and what animal supplies and equipment you need.
Pekin ducks are the easiest farm animals to raise. They’re not only an excellent source of meat and eggs, but they require little space. They eat a lot, but some of their sustenance comes from foraging. Pekin ducks are also a good choice for your garden, as they don’t ruin the ground or plants.
Generally, homesteads are small plots of land, typically less than 100 acres, that grow or raise food to support a single-family unit. Farms are usually larger – over 400 acres in the US – and are designed to make a profit off of crops or livestock. Homesteaders typically live on the land and work it themselves, whereas farmers don’t. There are other differences, but these are the general differences.
Expand Your Homestead with Livestock
Whether you have a small one-acre homestead or enough acreage to accommodate cows and horses, bringing animals into your homestead widens your options for food and products. Whether you want to raise animals for your own food or you’re looking to expand into a commercial enterprise, this guide should help you choose the right animals and know what to expect.
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