What Are The Easiest Animals to Raise For the Self-Sufficient Small Farmer?

Do you want to add livestock to your small farm to increase profitability and self-reliance? We explore 7 of the easier animals that will add to the bottom line and your belly.

Today the demand for locally grown, organic meat and dairy products is growing rapidly. With this strong market in mind, more small-scale farmers are adding farm animals to their high-value crop production as a natural extension to their business plan.

Raising livestock on a small farm not only helps diversify your stream of income, but farm animals also provide other benefits. Their manure fertilizes gardens, they eat the fruit and vegetables you might otherwise throw out, and they eat weeds from pastures.

Raising animals also helps local communities by providing commodities like organic meat, poultry, milk, and eggs. Also, by inviting people to visit your farm, kids can learn about animals they don’t normally see in urban neighborhoods.

family of farmers with goats and a red barn in the background

If you’re a hobby farmer just getting started with your venture, you should look for the easiest livestock to raise for beginners, and this article can help you decide what animals to raise.

Poultry

Raising poultry is a big bonus for small-scale farms. The birds produce eggs and meat that can be sold at local markets for profit, and they eat bugs and weeds from gardens. All you need is a small investment for your initial birds, proper housing, and feed.

Chickens – A Small Farm Favorite

four chickens and a rooster foraging for a meal

Chickens are easy to care for and cost-efficient. They don’t eat a lot and they produce one egg every 24 hours in their first year of laying. To keep production at the maximum, cull your flock every two years. The culled laying hens are great for making soups and stews.

Chickens need shelter when it’s really cold, and a bit of shade in hot weather. You should allow two to three square feet of space per chicken inside the coop and eight to ten square feet outside for grazing. They also need a place to lay eggs and somewhere to roost during the night.

Turkeys – An Excellent Meat Source

Turkey meat is delicious and in demand all year round, but especially during the holidays. If you’re raising turkeys for meat production, choose a breed for that purpose. Hens can reach 15 pounds by 14 weeks old, and toms can get to 30 pounds by 18 weeks.

You can easily raise turkeys together with chickens, but they need more space – about six square feet per bird. Some toms can get protective of the females and might start picking on smaller birds, so separate them if that happens.

Quail – Pint Sized Game Birds

dozen of multi-colored quail eggs

If you find a local market for quail eggs and meat, raising quail can be a lucrative venture. The birds are small, don’t eat much, begin laying eggs when they’re between six and eight weeks old, and can produce up to 300 eggs during their spring laying season. Because they can fly, they need to be kept in an enclosed area.

The key to making money with poultry is to match the demands of the farm to the poultry species raised and to have one enterprise be profitable before adopting another.

National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service

Goats – Prized For Milk

Goats are small and don’t eat a lot. They love to graze and will destroy your vegetable garden if they get the chance, so protect them with fencing if you have goats around.

Goats produce milk after they’ve given birth. Their gestation period is 150 days, and they usually have two kids per birth. Depending on the breed, a goat can produce between three and six quarts of milk per day, and they can keep that up for around 300 days.

herd of goats in a field with yellow flowers

Goat meat is very lean and isn’t as popular as lamb meat in the U.S., but there is a growing market. If meat production is your goal, get a breed that is suitable.

Sheep – Wool, Meat and Milking

Raising sheep is similar to goats, but they tend to be more docile. Sheep produce milk after giving birth. Their gestation period is 152 days and they generally have two lambs per birth. An average ewe produces about one-half gallon of milk per day, but the lactation period only lasts 180 days.

You can probably find a local market for lamb meat and sheep’s wool which makes raising sheep even more profitable.

Both goats and sheep need shelter from the elements, a feeding trough, and a supply of fresh water. If you’re raising them for milk, you might invest in a milking platform, which makes the job a lot easier. You also need dedicated containers, buckets, and refrigeration for milking and storing the milk.

Rabbits – Minimal Space Required

Raised for meat and recycling vegetable waste

Rabbits take up little space, don’t eat much, eat vegetables and fruit that you can’t sell, and reproduce prolifically.

four rabbits looking out of their hutch

Before you commit to raising rabbits for meat, research possible markets in your area. While it’s not one of the most popular types of meat, dressed rabbits can get retail prices between $7.00 and $18.00 per pound.

If you think there’s a market, choose a breed that gives you a high meat-to-bone ratio like the Palomino, New Zealand white, or the Californian. These breeds can produce rabbits between 12 and 20 pounds.

Rabbits live in enclosed hutches with outside runs. If you plan on breeding your does and bucks, they’ll need a special spot in the hutch for nursing babies.

Cattle – Profitable on 10+ Acres

The most profitable animals to raise on small farms are beef cattle if you have space. It’s best to have 10 acres of land, or more, for a barn and grazing. You can start out by buying a calf or two from a local dairy farm that’s culling males. A male can go from 500 pounds to 1000 pounds in about one year, depending on its feed.

Cattle need a barn or solid shelter to protect them during terrible weather. They also need plenty of good pasturelands and fresh water. You should supplement their diet with hay and feed during months when grazing isn’t possible or if they aren’t getting enough grass.

Do some market research in your area before you choose to raise cattle on your hobby farm. In most cases, organic, grass-fed, source-verified meat is a niche market that can boost your profit margin, just make sure you can get in on that market before you go all in.

What Are The Benefits Of Raising Crops And Animals Together?

Running a farm is a huge commitment and a lot of work, but it’s rewarding in many ways. If you raise crops and animals together, you’re creating a diverse and integrated agricultural system that not only benefits you and your family but the community and environment as well.

Raising animals and crops at the same time develops a stronger nutrient cycle for your farm. The animals eat nutritious food produced from your gardens or pastures. In turn, they produce manure that fertilizes the plants, grass, grains, or whatever you’re growing.

Taking advantage of this natural cycle reduces feed and fertilizer costs and prevents the need to use chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers can damage your soil and keep you from marketing your products as organic.

Final Thoughts

If you raise a diversity of products you have more opportunities for income. By restricting yourself to one cash crop, you risk losing your money if there’s a weather event or another disaster. Also, having a good variety of products means you have things to sell in your local community markets.

Deciding whether to add farm animals to your small-scale farm isn’t as difficult a decision as deciding which animals to buy first, there are so many to choose from. For beginners, it’s best to start out with some of the easiest livestock, and when you get more experienced, add some more!