I have a a daydream that goes like this: I own a sprawling property that covers acres of rolling hills and lightly wooded areas. Sheep and goats mill about through the pastures and chickens dot the landscape. There’s a family of ducks quacking about on our quiet pond, and we have several sources of peacefully raised and processed meat. Of course, the loyal family dog is also there, and he greets you noisily but merrily.
Reality: I got chickens, rabbits, and a goat. I love them dearly, but they’re also a big responsibility.
It’s easy to become enamored with (and addicted to) homestead animals. Each new addition is enthralling and delightful. We keep thinking of excuses to get more chickens. (Just one more, honey, I promise.) We tend to say yes to friends who need homes for their animals. We wonder, what difference would one more goat make? When we hear of free guinea hens, we think, why the heck not?
Maybe you’re an experienced farmstead extraordinaire. Perhaps you’re just at the stage where you think chickens are cute but you’ve never smelled inside a dirty coop. Regardless, you should know that you must consider each animal carefully before you add it to your homestead.
Here are some factors for consideration:
Every animal needs a home, and many animals have particular needs. Chickens need a coop with nesting boxes and a roosting pole. Rabbits like to have a hide-away place. Goats need super-awesome fencing and a shelter for the night. Plan your animals’ housing carefully to make sure that they are warm, comfortable, and safe from potential predators.
I hate to say it, but animals eat too. Depending on the animal and your purposes for it, you’ll need to provide pasture, kitchen scraps, grain, hay, and/or other food and supplements. You can try to do as much of it as you can inexpensively, but all animal feed options either take time or money.
3) Health Care
Do you know how to trim a goat’s hooves? Figure out whether or not your birds have parasites? Separate a sick animal from its companions? Deal with a litter of baby bunnies found dead in the early morning?
I don’t want to be intimidating– we didn’t know how to do any of this when we first started acquiring animals. However, you must be prepared to do a little research and jump in with both feet when your animal has a health need.
All of these animal needs cost money. We got into raising animals ultimately to save money, and sometimes that has worked out really well. However, there have been lots of times when they’ve cost us more than they’re worth, and that can be disheartening and frustrating.
We are still trying to work out how to raise animals as frugally as possible. The best advice I can give you is to research inexpensive methods, try to be resourceful whenever possible, and be prepared to adjust if you find something is costing you more than you would like. Now, to go take my own advice!
Dairy animals need to be milked twice a day. TWICE A DAY. And finding willing
victims helpers who are able to milk while you go on vacation can be difficult. Bear this in mind before you buy your goat or cow.
All animals, however, require daily chores. Food, water, cleaning, moving, and tending to as necessary are all part of keeping farm animals. It can be a big commitment at times. Not to mention it requires some level of physical strength to complete the tasks– I can do a lot of it, but I often need my husband to help with some of the heavier lifting.
We are SO blessed with awesome neighbors who either have animals themselves or who are very forgiving of our rogue chickens and the occasional escapee goat. Let’s see if they still like us when our noisy guinea fowl are full-grown.
However, not all neighbors enjoy a runaway rooster dust bathing in their flower beds, or horses perusing their backyards. (Yes, that happened to us. Multiple times.) Consider an animal’s noise level, smell, ranging limits, and safeness before adding one to your property. Be considerate of neighbors and be sure that your animal choices will bring peace to your community, not war and increased legislation. Always be sure to check your local regulations too!
7) Animal Interaction
Will your animals live with each other? Will your cat kill your chicks? Can a pig and a goat get along? Does one animal present any bio-security hazards to another? Consider how well your animals will interact with one another, and ensure that you have adequate space and housing if certain animals need to be kept away from one another.
This might seem harsh to some, but I am at a point in my life where if an animal isn’t useful to me, I won’t keep it. I love dogs, but I can’t afford to feed one just for companionship. If an animal doesn’t feed my family or take care of predators for me, I’m not going to spend my time and money on it.
You, however, may have the resources necessary to raise an animal purely for your own enjoyment. It can be a wonderful experience– even therapeutic– to care for other creatures. If it brings joy to your heart and you are ready for the responsibility, then by all means, don’t let me discourage you from having an animal simply as a pet!
Don’t let all of these considerations scare you. Animals can be a lot of work, but they can also be a lot of fun. I admit– sometimes I’d like to ship our animals off to another house for a while– but most of the time, I’m really glad we have them and I’m grateful for their provisions.
Have any other advice? What animals do you own?