Once you have decided to take the livestock plunge, it is time to get down to the serious business of choosing what type or types of stock you will raise. Some of this decision making will be dictated to you by circumstances.
For instance, if you are stuck in the burbs, an Angus bull is probably not a practical choice. In this situation, rabbits, chickens, or a pond with tilapia would probably be wiser choices.
In an urban setting you will be more limited, but even a pair of rabbits on a porch can provide a significant source of protein in a prolonged crisis. If you are fortunate enough to have some land in a rural area, that Angus bull might actually work for you.
Homesteading Livestock and Foragers
On our homestead, we have two classes of livestock. We have our normal times stock and our SHTF stock. There is quite a bit of crossover, but certain livestock won’t be around for long in a crisis situation. Normal times only stock are very feed dependent.
Chickens and Turkeys as Homesteading Livestock
For example, we maintain several chicken-tractors full of Cornish Cross chickens through 75% of the year. They are fast growers and we raise a couple thousand a year. They are practically worthless as foragers and we throw large quantities of very expensive GMO-free feed at them non-stop.
If (when) feed becomes an issue we will rapidly transition from the Cornish Cross chickens to heritage breeds of turkeys.
Although the turkeys are slower growers, they are phenomenal foragers, and therefore require much less feed to produce the same quantity of meat. Our laying hens are also awesome foragers, there are months of the year when we feed them little or nothing and the eggs keep right on coming.
Laying hens are one of the easiest forms of homesteading livestock to keep, although they do require feed, determined by the foraging environment you provide them with. Chickens can be legally raised in many municipalities these days, and small backyard coops are readily available on the commercial market. There are also an abundance of coop plans out there for the DIY types.
Goats for Homesteading Livestock
If you have the land available, goats and sheep are by far the best producers for the money. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and are cheap or free to feed. Either can provide you with milk and dairy products as well as meat.
They are as low maintenance as it gets in the world of homesteading livestock. They require only fresh water and a source of vegetation of almost any quality, and they will thrive and feed your family through any times.
Ducks are another source of meat and eggs, particularly if you have a pond available. They also require very little feed much of the year and very little care in general.
Miniature, Dwarf, and Heritage Breeds
There are some out there who will tell you that dwarf or miniature breeds are a good solution for limited spaces. I will not dismiss this out of hand; however my own experience with pygmy goats has soured me to the notion. We found the pygmies hard to milk and the yields disappointing.
In that we feed our goats very little, we found no advantages to the pygmies that offset their shortfalls. Despite a smaller size, a herd of pygmy goats is still impractical in an urban or suburban environment. Rabbits and chickens are small enough already, getting smaller varieties would only cost you in terms of production.
While I am not fond of miniatures for homesteading livestock (except as pets, some miniature breeds make awesome pets!), I am rather fond of some of the smaller heritage breeds of cattle. Two of my top picks are the Highland Cattle and the Irish Dexters.
These are both smaller breeds of dual purpose cattle which can provide a family with both meat and dairy products. They also thrive on grass, are great foragers, and don’t need to be finished on grain. They can be kept on smaller acreages than modern breeds.
Pigs for Homesteading Livestock
I am also fond of heritage pigs. We raise Red Wattle Pigs on our place. Most heritage pigs are great foragers, lend themselves well to pastured pork production, and require far less grain and feed than their modern counterparts. They are also hardier than modern breeds and weather winters outdoors with comparative ease.
In a long term crisis, livestock that is able to forage efficiently will be invaluable. Even during our current “normal times”, foraging livestock can save a fortune on feed. As I said earlier, our goats cost almost nothing to feed but provide us with abundance, likewise our turkeys and laying hens.
Selecting breeds that are more self-sufficient is one of the keys to thriving in a long term crisis situation, and this generally means heritage breeds. Almost any goat, Red Wattle Pigs, Highland or Dexter cattle, and Narragansett Turkeys are all great choices for the landed prepper.
Stockpiling Feed for Homesteading Livestock
Even with foraging animals, some feed should be stockpiled in the event of a crisis. For most forms of homesteading livestock, this means grains. A supply of grain can supplement your goats, cattle, and sheep in a harsh winter, and will keep your poultry laying.
Grains for livestock are stored the same as the grains in your family’s storage food larder, in airtight, food grade buckets or barrels with an oxygen absorber.
Properly stored grains will last for several years. It is a good idea to keep on hand a supply equal to two years’ worth of the minimum feed required to keep your stock healthy and productive. You can supplement your feed by plantings which enhance foraging. Millet, buckwheat, sunflowers and other grain or seed producing plants will help your chickens and cut your feed bill.
Planting orchard grass or alfalfa can feed your rabbits (even in a suburban backyard) and provide rich forage for your grazers and browsers. Duckweed in your pond can feed your ducks as well as your tilapia. Treat your yard or homestead as an ecosystem, make the habitat suit your needs and your livestock’s needs as much as possible.
Final Tips for Raising Homesteading Livestock
Raising homesteading livestock in the best of times presents challenges. Preparing to keep them through a long-term crisis, for the purpose of sustaining your family, can be downright intimidating. As with all elements of survival, now is the time to gather your resources and learn your skills.
The rewards of raising homesteading livestock are well worth the challenges, and when the time comes your stock will be an invaluable part of your family’s ability to thrive rather than just survive.