Homesteading has moved from a mandatory way of life in the west to an optional way to step back from the hurried career and family activities that are increasingly prevalent in mainstream society. Homesteading is a lifestyle that embraces home-grown food, working the land, and making products for yourself and your home. Animals are an essential part of the homesteading process, providing strength for hauling, companionship, and a source of food. Here are the best animals to consider investing in when you dive into your homesteading experience.
When it comes to gnawing through acres of blackberries and weeds, nobody can handle the job like goats. Depending on where you live, you may not ever need to feed them, which makes them an inexpensive pet to have on the homestead. Consider the breed of goat that is most beneficial to you or get a variety of them to meet your needs.
In addition to clearing overgrowth, dairy goats can be used for milk, butter, and cheese. Be aware that you will need to invest in fencing in an attempt to keep goats where you want them, or they will clear every crop, not just the invasive ones.
Chickens are likely the first animal homesteaders steer towards because they are easy to care for and provide food in a short turnaround of time. Chickens can be raised exclusively for egg production or eaten as meat. If you find yourself with an excess of eggs, you can even sell them to neighbors or residents in town.
Most farms have cows for good reason—dairy cows provide milk and other dairy products for the family. This helps keep trips to the grocery store at a minimum. It does mean regular milking, however, and dairy cows get cranky and even sick if this isn’t done so consider your other responsibilities and be realistic about the obligations of owning dairy animals.
You can also own cows as a meat source, either buying young cows to raise for butcher or breeding your own. One large cow can easily provide for a family over winter and by growing your own, you know what it has eaten and can control the quality of the meat.
Pigs are another common meat source on the homestead. It’s hard to have morning bacon and sausage without them. Plus, pigs eat a variety of food, helping make efficient use of your food scraps and those piles of acorns around the property.
A word of warning—if you have little to no experience with livestock, pigs might not be your first choice. They're smart, spunky animals with a strong will and a bit of escape artist magic that allows them to bust out of nearly any pen. On the other hand, besides providing regular feedings, pigs don’t require a ton of your time.
Sheep wool has many of the same benefits as angora, plus sheep graze freely and also provide meat and milk.
Few people think of rabbits when considering food sources, but they make an excellent meal. In addition, angora rabbits provide fluffy fur that is used as yarn. The wool yarn, in turn, can be made into many useful products such as dryer wool balls and the wool can also be sold at market. Angora rabbits are soft, friendly, and easy to care for.
Running a homestead means growing or raising your own food products, so keeping bees is a great way to have honey available for cooking and to readily drizzle on cornbread. Beekeeping also creates a useful pollination cycle for your plants and provides wax you can use to make other products like beeswax candles.
Your plants will likely grow larger and be more productive with bees around. Plus, you’re doing the planet a favor considering the heavy bee losses due to widespread colony collapse.
8 and 9. Dog or Cat
Even though you’ll spend your days surrounded by a variety of animals, having a cat or dog (or both, or several) offers companionship like no other creature. Dogs in particular are intuitive about other animals on the homestead, often alerting you if there is trouble. Cats earn their keep by hunting down or chasing off mice, which can be a huge problem, especially in food storage areas.
Horses are a big investment, but if the budget, space, and needs are a match, they are an endlessly useful animal around the homestead. With exceptional strength, horses can help move logs and other heavy objects. Plus, they make the perfect eco friendly transportation for a trip to town or out to the fence line on the back 40 acres.