Choosing the First Homestead Animal

How do I even begin choosing the first homestead animal? This question gets asked all the time by new homesteaders because it’s all so easy to want to do it all. For us, it was a natural flow from one thing to the next but we didn’t initially attempt to have everything we have now. The real answer is “it depends,” which is never a helpful answer. Let’s explore some of the variables that you should evaluate before making your decision.

1. Evaluate Your Needs

The first thing everyone should do when choosing the first homestead animal is evaluate their needs. What do you use/eat regularly? When we began the first discussion was to have cows because we had a pasture large enough to handle them, but the cost of the cows and the feed was prohibitive. We chose pigs because they have a 6 month grow time, fill a large part of your freezer, and the initial start-up cost was fairly small.

So think about and discuss what you use the most. Do you eat chicken every day? How often do you eat pork or beef? Or do you eat mostly vegetables? Sitting down and really evaluating what you use and need will help guide you on this path. I do the same in my garden when choosing what to grow. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the cute or fun and forget that these animals have a purpose. Determining what that purpose is and how it fulfills a need will help you enjoy the process so much more.

2. Is there a market?

The next question I always ask is there a market? Also, do I need a market? We raised 6 pigs in our first year, because we raised one to become our breeder, and 1 for our family, the other 4 were sold to help offset the cost of raising the other 2. We did not have a lot of extra cash, so we knew we had to market the hogs before we could commit to raising them. Many homesteaders do not sell their products though and use all production to feed their own family. That’s ok. You do not have to sell anything, but you do have to be able to provide feed and shelter to whatever animal you choose. We have found that marketing even in small amounts helps us grow without having a huge financial burden.

3. The Homestead Flow

Homesteads have a definite flow which means some animals can provide for other animals. Therefore you need one before the other for it to work. While this is true, it’s not always the best choice. For instance one of the biggest “flows” is a milk cow that can provide milk for your family and any excess can be fed to pigs which helps them grow faster. This is a great relationship that is done on many farms, but if you don’t have any experience with livestock handling then managing a dairy cow can be pretty overwhelming. When choosing you first homestead animal sometimes it makes sense to choose one that can have a symbiotic relationship with another that you plan to attain later.

4. Prepare for Processing

Before finally settling on what animal you want to raise discuss, plan, and prepare for how you are going to process either the animal or its produce. In many areas of the country butcher companies are overbooked and need to be scheduled 1-2 years in advance! If you plan to process on your own farm look into what you need to make that happen.

Also look into regulations your state, county, or city has on marketing those products. For instance, with our current permit, we can only sell whole chickens within 48 hours of processing. Which means we cannot cut them up or freeze them. This is probably the biggest key to determining what animals you will raise first on your homestead. Really take the time to research and make a plan before purchasing the animals. There’s nothing worse than the story of perfecting a hog but not being able to get it processed for 6 months past their prime.

Beginning a homestead is a very exciting adventure. Planning ahead and researching each step of the way can make it much more enjoyable. Many of the disasters that new homesteaders face could easily be avoided with a little prior planning. If you already started your homestead and you are feeling a little overwhelmed do not blame your self, we all have been there. Everyone gets a little overzealous in the beginning.



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