by Amy S.
Many off-grid homesteaders choose to raise livestock somewhere along the path to self-sufficiency.
Raising your own livestock allows you to avoid the additives and potential diseases found in supermarket meat and dairy products and can also improve the way you operate your homestead by providing much more than food.
Before you decide to raise livestock on your homestead, there are a few things to consider.
Choosing the right type of livestock for your level of experience and available land can have a significant impact on the success of your off-grid living adventure.
For people with little to no experience raising animals or limited available space on their farm, low maintenance animals are the best option. Start small with one or two animals and grow your herds as you acquire animal husbandry knowledge and land.
Some of the different types of livestock you may consider for your off-grid homestead can include:
Chickens are an excellent entry-level animal for absolute beginners. They are relatively low maintenance, require only a moderate amount of space and feed and can provide both eggs and meat.
For urban homesteaders who are concerned about the legality of raising bigger livestock on their property, chickens are a great compromise. Most state laws allow for birds to be raised in urban areas, although roosters are generally forbidden.
Chickens can also help with pest control around your garden, though you will need to fence off new growth areas, as they can scratch a garden to shreds in a matter of one hour.
On top of pest control, they also fertilize as they scavenge. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and great for replenishing the soil.
If you are looking for low-maintenance livestock that can provide both milk and meat, goats are the ideal option for your homestead.
Goats are sturdy animals that require very little in terms of shelter. However, you will need some clever fencing, as goats are excellent escape artists.
Feeding costs for goats are particularly low, as they will happily eat anything, from grassy pasture to brush and even thorny bushes. This also makes them a great alternative to mechanical clearing equipment.
Different goat breeds are better suited to different areas. One way to determine which breed is right for you is to consider what primary purpose you want the goats to serve. Goats can be raised for milk, meat and even fibers, making them an excellent animal for earning some cash back on your livestock investment.
Some breeds that fare well in small herds include Nubians, Oberhaslis, Alpines and LaManchas. For the best milk producing goats, Anglo-Nubians are your best option, but for meat, try the Boer or Spanish goat breeds.
Sheep are another good grazing animal for a self-sufficient off-grid homestead. A sheep herd can also fulfill various purposes, including milk, meat and fibers.
Though not as low maintenance as goats, they are happy to graze on grass and place minimal demand on your feed stores. To ensure you always have enough grass available to your sheep and lower their reliance on supplemental food, try rotational grazing, a method of alternating grazing fields that allows each pasture time to replenish itself.
Depending on the number of sheep you plan to keep, space can become an issue for smaller farms. The recommended pasture capacity is around three ewes and their lambs per acre for lush pastures.
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In addition to the large quantities of meat that a herd of pigs provides, one benefit of raising pigs is that they require less space than other large livestock animals.
In fact, traditional literature on the subject suggests that a mere 20 square feet per pig should suffice. However, to minimize the smell, it is best to raise pigs in a larger, fenced-off pasture. Pasture-raised pigs also tend to be healthier and have more muscle, which translates to more meat and a better payout.
Investing in a heavy-duty fence to maintain your herd is a must, as pigs are very strong creatures, and they also eat a substantial diet. However, raising them in a pasture can reduce their feed demands.
Cows are best suited to more experienced homesteaders, as they require a lot of time and attention, including milking twice a day and high feed demands.
However, the rewards for raising cows are also more substantial, including enough meat to feed a family for a year from one good beef cow; daily milk which you can churn into butter, yogurt and other dairy products; and high-quality manure for your garden and compost heap.
Over the long term, a cow is going to save you more money than any other type of livestock.
Many animals are happy to graze on the land you have; however, their diet should also be supplemented with grain or feed for optimal milk and egg production. Feed and hay are also essential for colder winter months when there is little wild grazing available.
While most large-scale farms use a silo or barn to house feed stores, many homesteaders find these storage solutions take up too much space on their property and are cost-prohibitive to their lifestyle.
One budget-friendly, space-saving solution is to use IBC totes to store your feed. These are industrial strength, food-grade bins that have a large capacity and are highly durable. Most feature a small tap at the bottom for easy access to feed, and they can fit neatly inside a small shed or garage—ideal for a small homestead.
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Before adding animals to your homestead, ensure they have adequate shelter to protect them from both predators and the elements.
Different types of livestock require different kinds of housing and fences, so consider the space you have available before you purchase livestock. Animals kept on too little space will be unhappy and unhealthy, affecting your payout in the end.
Chickens, geese and other poultry don’t necessarily require fencing. However, they do need enough space to scratch and a secure coop that has ventilation and a nesting area to roost during the evening.
Pigs require a large, fenced-off area to roam, but do not need an enclosed space to sleep. An open shed or an overturned rainwater tank with some soft straw will suffice.
For grazing animals such as sheep, goats and cows, ensure the grazing pastures have enough shade to protect your animals from the sun. You should also have a fenced-off area that contains a ventilated run-in shed for the animals to sleep in at night.
Livestock is a valuable addition to an off-grid lifestyle. Though the idea of raising animals can be daunting, the key to a successful livestock operation is to start small and use the experience you gain each year to improve your rearing practices for a more enjoyable and productive homesteading experience..