A noteworthy trend among foodies right now is the quest to find the freshest ingredients possible. Whether that goal is achieved by perusing a local farmer’s market or shopping at specialty stores, there is no replacing the satisfaction of preparing and eating healthy, natural ingredients. But what if you were able to raise those fresh ingredients at home?
Living in a rural area opens up new possibilities to grow and maintain your own food sources, from fruits and vegetables in a garden to various small and large livestock. When producing your own food, you know for certain that what is going into your body is all natural, with no added hormones or unnatural additives. You can take comfort that your food has been carefully and humanely sourced from your own backyard.
If you are interested in raising farm animals to enjoy farm-fresh meals around the table with your family, read on for basic information to get you started. If you’d like to raise animals to sell a product, be sure to research local and state regulations and guidelines for farming animals for business before moving forward.
Chickens, while one of the most common small farm animals, tend to require some costs up front, but their regular feed is inexpensive and their homes are easy to maintain. These birds are social creatures, so it’s recommended to begin with three to five hens for laying. The number, size and color of the eggs produced depends on the breed, so be sure to do your research before buying.
Building a starter chicken coop can be costly in both money and time, but the return in eggs, meat and fertilizer is worth the effort. At minimum, the coop should have room for food and water containers, a roosting area and a nesting box. The recommended size includes at least 3 square feet inside the coop and about 8-10 square feet of roaming area, but this could change given the breed. Be sure to fence the area with wire and protection from snow, heat, wind and predators such as dogs and hawks.
Plan ahead for the work it takes to tend to chickens. They can be messy and even cantankerous at times. You’ll need to shovel the manure regularly (though it makes excellent compost!) to keep the coop clean and the chickens happy. Any overcrowded or sloppy areas can lead to cranky and mischievous birds, which is no fun for anyone.
Similar to chickens, ducks can provide an excellent source of eggs and meat. While raising chickens and ducks is similar in many ways, some unique differences make ducks a hardier species.
For one, they are usually less prone to illness and require less maintenance. A Pekin duck can grow to around 10 pounds and produce large, white eggs that are a bit stronger than chicken eggs. Ducks do not require a coop, but rather prefer a simple structure where they can nestle in some hay and air dry after frolicking in the water. Because they are heavier and slower than chickens, ducks can be an easier target for predators, so keeping them in a fenced-in space can act as a deterrent.
Ducks are typically friendly creatures and will be your best gardening buddy. They eat more than the average chicken, but mostly by foraging. They are excellent bug pickers in your vegetable garden and will clear out any weeds that choose to sprout.
An alternative to traditional farm animals, honeybees produce fresh honey as well as beeswax that can be turned into different products, such as candles.
Bees can occasionally get a bad rap for their tiny stingers, but they are surprisingly easy to maintain. Their only drawback is the initial expense in supplies. You’ll need to have bee suits, hive boxes and protective gear ready to go before you have the bees. It’s also recommended to leave the produced honeycomb in the hive for the first year to supply the bees with an adequate food source, so you won’t be gaining any return right away.
Beekeeping really only requires a weekly check-up but otherwise very little maintenance. Keep the hive boxes hidden a good distance off the beaten path and you’ll hardly notice that they are there, all while enjoying your own stock of fresh honey anytime.
Goat’s milk is very popular for both drinking and for producing other products such as soap, cream, cheese and other dairy items.
Known for their mischievous nature, goats like to graze and require quite a bit of space to roam, but they also require strong fencing to keep them penned. Anything that seems less sturdy will be knocked over, pushed through or trampled across by these escape artists.
Goats chew just about everything, including trash, plastic and wire. They’re social and intelligent and can undo latches with their mouths, so plan accordingly if you are considering bringing a couple of these carefree kids home with you.
Sheep, of course, produce immense amounts of wool, but they also can be used for meat and milk. While not as common, sheep’s milk is a viable resource and some people prefer it to the taste to cow’s milk. Sheep’s milk is also used in many cheeses and homemade soaps, which could be a fun and creative way to use up a batch of milk if you choose to raise these gentle creatures.
Sheep, like goats, are grazers, often eating grass and clearing out field areas. The two species can be raised together and can even be great pasture buddies as their habits complement one another.
Raising cows comes with obvious benefits but several challenges. These are large animals, and therefore require a lot of space, food and care. If you are interested in raising a cow for fresh milk, this is an excellent way to ensure that your dairy products are free of added hormones and come from an animal that has been humanely treated and cared for.
To keep just one cow, you’ll need at least an acre of land for roaming and potentially more if you plan to rotate pastures. While pasture time is important for cows to graze, they also require a barn, a large amount of hay and a clean water source. Cows are often fairly docile creatures but should be treated with care to avoid potential injury when handling.
When part of a well-thought-out plan for raising, grazing and maintaining a personal food supply, any of these animals can become a special part of your home. These animals will do best with owners who love not just the resources provided, but also enjoy the labor of love in working with these animals in their day-to-day routine.
Consider the time and the money that you’re willing to invest, the amount of space that you have and the benefits of raising these animals in your backyard space. If you are able to balance the workload and have the available resources, these animals are a great place to begin your own sustainable food source to deliver the freshest homegrown ingredients to your table.
Melanie Theriault is a writer, counselor, and lifelong learner. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Southwestern University, where she discovered her passion for fostering human connection through storytelling.