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5 Easy Animals to Raise for Beginners | Almanac.com

5 Easiest Animals to Raise if You're Starting Out

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Low-maintenance livestock for a small farm or big backyard

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Are you looking to increase self-sufficiency and raise livestock? Here are five of the easiest livestock animals for first-timers to keep on their property to maximize the benefits of fresh food and animal companionship without taking up too much space or causing loads of stress. 

Raising any animal has a lot of attractions, and for livestock, this is often doubly true. However, everyone knows that animals often require a lot more work in real life than they did in your imagination. Yes, chicken keepers eat a lot of eggs, but we also shovel a lot of chicken poop.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to five different types of livestock and why they’re appropriate who might have limited time, space, or experience.

Raising Chickens

There are many reasons chickens have become so popular with smallholders and even suburbanites as backyard livestock. Still, one of the big ones is how easy they are to raise and maintain. They need very little equipment and even less space.

Small bantam breeds are catching on in urban environments because of how well they thrive in small spaces. Chickens also provide a great return on investment, as they produce eggs, and they have the potential to be excellent, loving companions.

The only major investment in starting a chicken flock is buying or building a coop. Still, even that expense can be almost completely eliminated if you choose to build one yourself from second-hand materials – discarded pallets, scrap wood, and even old furniture can all be the start of a high-quality chicken coop.

Chickens are also relatively easy to feed; most birds can eat the same layer of feed from the time they reach maturity until the end of their lives. The only supplements they need are calcium carbonate for strong eggshells and insoluble grit to help with their digestion, and both of these can be left out in their coop or run for the birds to partake of as they choose. Even easier, those with enough space can allow their birds to free range, which means they’ll take care of a lot of their nutritional needs themselves – though they’ll still need layer feed to fill in the gaps.

Best of all, chickens are great fun! They have strong, lively personalities and can become very attached to their humans, especially if they’re raised from a chick. And if you get a rooster, they can even help grow your flock all on their own! See our Raising Chickens 101 Guide on how to get started.

Raising Bees

Bees are not what most people think of when they think of livestock, but they’re actually one of the oldest forms of livestock in the world – humans have been cultivating bees for around 10,000 years! Although livestock may not be the right word, keeping a beehive is more like developing a symbiotic relationship than caring for an animal.

For one thing, beekeepers typically don’t buy their bees; they catch them. The best time for this is in the spring when bees tend to swarm, looking for a place to build their hives. All you have to do is make your bee box the most enticing place to do this, usually by keeping it well-stocked with sugar water.

Once you have your bees, though, the feeder in the hive box likely won’t get much use; instead, the bees will find their own food from the plants and flowers in your garden, pollinating them in the process. This is great for you because it will help your plants grow more and healthier. It is also great for the environment in general. (If any of your neighbors object to your keeping bees, feel free to point out how much it will benefit their gardens as well.)

Of course, the main reason to keep bees is the honey, and that’s a sweet perk indeed. Just remember not ever to take all of the honey from the hive at once – the bees need some left to feed on, or they will leave your hives for greener pastures. See our Beekeeping 101 Guide on how to get started.

Goats

Goats are a lot of fun, in addition to being an excellent source of milk and meat. They’re smaller than you may think – some miniature breeds tip the scales at only 75 pounds, less than a large dog – but with outsize personalities. As an added bonus, they’ll graze on just about anything, not just grass; they’re one of my favorite animals to have on a homestead because of their determined taste for poison ivy.

Goat’s milk is very flavorful and highly nutritious, though it may take a little while for folks who have only ever enjoyed store-bought cow’s milk to develop a taste for the richer, earthier flavor. Production can vary significantly by breed, but a small goat will likely produce about a gallon of milk daily.

Goats are highly intelligent and have lively personalities, which makes them great fun, but some people dislike them because they’ll try to escape from any pen you put them in. Your neighbors probably won’t appreciate having a goat in their yard, and you won’t appreciate having to pick them up out of the road, so strong fencing and well-locked gates are a must. See more about how to raise goats.

Traditional homemade rabbit meat stew with red wine sauce and aromatic herbs. Credit: E. Lopez

Rabbits

Westerners, especially Americans, may not be conditioned to think of rabbits as a source of meat. Still, they are simple and economical, with a relatively small amount of space and effort required to raise them. Each individual rabbit may not have a lot of meat on their bones, but they’ll make a good family dinner, especially in a stew or pie. 

One of the great things about keeping rabbits is that they do, as the saying goes, breed like rabbits; if you have a doe and buck, every three months, there are 6 to 8 new rabbits. This rapid rate of replacement is due to their high susceptibility to predators of many stripes, including foxes, dogs, cats, and coyotes. A sturdy hutch is a must for rabbits.

Two does and a buck produces about 180 pounds of meat a year. They do not need an extra freezer or special equipment to process, and they cook like chicken. They won’t even destroy your lawn (like many chickens do). 

Rabbits are also very easy to feed, and even meat rabbits don’t eat much. They are vegetarians and eat any discarded plant material you have lying around, from grass clippings to garden extras. And as an added bonus, rabbits turn all of that greenery into rocket fuel for more; their poop makes an excellent fertilizer.

Ducks

For folks who already have chickens, ducks are probably the most obvious follow-up as another dual-purpose poultry with a big personality. However, there are some key differences between the two that make them a great complement to one another, even on a small farm.

For one thing, duck eggs taste different from chickens; they are larger and richer than chicken eggs.

Another key difference is in their living arrangements. Ducks need a little more space, but their house can be less complex than a chicken coop. They also don’t have chickens’ susceptibility to respiratory infections.

What they do have, though, is a love of water, which means that all duck flocks must absolutely have a pond. The necessary size will vary depending on the breed and size of the flock, but the pond is non-negotiable for anyone who wants to raise happy, healthy ducks. See our article on raising ducks for eggs.

Chickens may get all the attention these days, but hopefully, this article has introduced you and your homestead to some exciting new ideas for livestock!

About The Author

Chris Lesley

Chris Lesley has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth-generation poultry keeper. Read More from Chris Lesley

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