Raising Livestock on Small Acreage
More and more of us are raising our own fruits and vegetables to save money, and to come one step closer to being self sufficient. Raising our own food also gives us peace of mind, as we know that the food from our own yard was raised with care, and not exposed to unknown chemicals. For those of us with enough land for a garden, the next logical step would be to incorporate some livestock into our homestead plan. It may surprise you how much land you don't need to keep livestock for the dinner table.
One of the easiest and arguably the most adorable form of livestock would be the rabbit. Rabbits require very little space, and very little maintenance. The meat they provide is quite lean and very high in protein. A few square feet is literally all that is required for keeping rabbits. Breeds specifically tailored for meat production, such as the New Zealand are ready for the table in about ten weeks. Perhaps the biggest benefit for a homestead setting is how prolific rabbits are. Typically one doe will produce seven litters a year, each with seven kits (bunnies). This is an average of forty-nine fuzzy bunnies per year from one male and one female rabbit. With just a few rabbits you could quite literally end up with enough meat to feed you and all your neighbors in just a few months time. Whether or not you could bring yourself to butcher a rabbit is something else entirely.
Another good choice for small acreage would be chickens. Chickens can be raised for meat, eggs, or a combination of both. Commercial meat birds such as the Cornish Cross, or White Broiler are ready for the table in about ten weeks. It is not advisable to allow the meat breeds to live much longer, as their quality of life will begin to suffer substantially. If eggs are desired more than meat, consider an egg breed such as the Leghorn. Leghorns can really crank out eggs, and any excess roosters or older less productive hens can be prepared for roasting. If you'd like a chicken that produces a steady stream of eggs and matures fairly quickly for meat production consider the Rhode Island Red. Rhode Islands are reliable layers that can be used for meat at about twenty weeks. One thing that may also factor into your selection for homestead purposes, is the ability of the chicken to reproduce naturally. For one reason or another not all chickens show an interest in reproducing themselves. While roosters rarely (if ever) fail to do their part, some hens just aren't interested in being mothers. You can either choose a breed that has a propensity to go broody, or choose to hatch the eggs yourself. Be aware that hatching the eggs yourself will require some specialized equipment. Once you've tried non-commercially raised poultry you'll never be the same. Commercial chicken is mushy and has lower levels of protein when compared to a real free range bird.
Turkeys are another good choice for small acreage livestock. Although primarily raised for meat, turkeys do produce eggs, however don't expect production levels anywhere near a Leghorn chicken. Broad Breasted White turkeys are your standard commercial fare and are ready for the kitchen in about 16 weeks. For those who prefer the more flavorful and moist dark meat, a heritage breed such as the Narragansett would be a better choice. Be aware that just like chickens, the heritage turkey breeds, mature slower, and thus will consume more food versus a commercial meat bird of comparable size. Due to the possibility of spreading disease, chickens and turkeys should not be raised together.
Ducks could be considered if you have ample water available. Ducks do not necessarily need a lake or pond, but are much happier if they have one available. Much like other poultry, duck breeds are available that are suited more for meat, more for eggs, or a balance of both.
Water brings up another possibility, fish. If you have a lake or pond available, stocking it with fish could be considered. Fish are more climate specific than other types of livestock, and will require the most research on your part. Your local county extension will be able to help you with any questions pertaining to types of fish you may be interested in.
Miniature goats are yet another possibility for small acreage livestock. Goat meat, also called chevon, is the most popular and most consumed meat in the world. In addition to the meat provided, a doe could also provide milk. While goats can work on a relatively small piece of land, you would have some additional challenges. I believe these challenges could be overcome and miniature goats could be effectively raised on a small piece of land.
The preceding suggestions for livestock on small acreage assume a piece of land about a quarter acre in size (approximately 65 feet x 167 feet). Be aware that there are folks out there with chickens, ducks, goats and fish (in a large tank) on just one tenth of an acre, in addition to a very productive garden area. While these folks have proved you can literally farm, with success, on a postage stamp, the management involved would be beyond what most of us are looking to deal with. Although at the same time, it is less area to manage. Perhaps that would be a fair trade. The best place for livestock in a small yard with a garden would be in any "extra" space. The reasoning behind this suggestion is during the growing season a vegetable plant is far more productive per square foot than a chicken in terms of feeding you and your family. That said, almost everyone has room for a few rabbits and a couple hens.
Meat, eggs and milk are not the only advantages of keeping livestock. Consider also the rich manure that will be available to you from the livestock. If properly managed, the livestock could handle your tilling duties in the early spring. Feathers, pelts and leather can also be gleaned from the carcasses of your livestock. Some of these will depend on the agreement you have with your butcher, but obviously if you do all the processing yourself it will all be yours for the taking.
You owe it to yourself to try non-commercial meat. The texture is superior, and the nutrition levels are higher than the commercial version. Once you try non-commercial meat, you'll never go back. Now all you need to do is find the space for all that meat.
- Cooperative Extension System Offices
For help locating your local Department of Agriculture extension office.
- The Livestock Conservancy
The Livestock Conservancy works to protect livestock and poultry from extinction including asses, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys.