An overview of the different types of livestock you should consider for becoming self sufficient. We talk about goats, chickens, pigs and many more… Which animals are going to be best for your needs and how to keep your feed costs close to or even at zero!
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Now, we've got a nice big garden where we live. So we're able to raise pigs, goats, geese,
chickens, and sheep. We're very very lucky here. And today, I'm just going to run through all the
benefits of keeping livestock, which ones you should get started out with, how you can reduce
your feed costs, and all the benefits and products that they give us.
So to start with: pigs. We're very lucky. We've got a piece of woodland on the edge of our
property that we've got fenced in. So we keep pigs in there. Now the main product that we get
from pigs is obviously meat (pork), and we find that somewhere between two and three pigs a
year is just about right for our family's needs (a family of five). Up to and including this year,
what we've done is we've bought in weaners, which are piglets that are old enough to be
separated from mum quite happily. And we've basically bread them on, fattened them up, and
slaughtered them for meat.
So two things to say about that. Firstly, ethically. Now every animal including pigs on our
homestead are given the very best life that they can have. I've got no ethical conundrum in my
head about whether or not these pigs had a nice life. They absolutely had a net positive life. And
they are free to range over an acre and a half of woodland, just a few of them foraging around,
having acorns that fall in the autumn and just having an absolute perfect existence while they're
with us. Everything we do is as humane as possible, and that includes the transportation and
what have you. So ethically I've got a clear conscience there.
Another thing just to think about with pigs is that they're very easy to fence off, if you use
electric. They're very respectful of an electric fence. They also don't jump, so one or two strands
of electric fence quite low down, they'll learn where it is very quickly and they'll never test it. So
that's a great thing with pigs.
Another thing with our pigs is that we're able to keep our food costs down to pretty much zero.
We do that in a number of ways. I'm going to go into food costs later on in this post and go
through all the ways that we keep our food bill very very low.
The second animal is sheep. Now, we have one sheep, which is a pet. So strictly speaking, she
doesn't fit into the self-sufficient model very well. She's a bit of an outlier. There's a whole story
behind how we got her, but ultimately, she's my daughter's pet.
Now raising lambs for meat, there are two ways to go about it. The first is the same way as we
have done up until recently with the pigs, and that is to buy in lambs. Now the advantage of
doing this is that most lamb production farms have quite a number of orphaned lambs every
spring. These are lambs whose mothers have died during childbirth or whose mothers have
rejected them. And they just don't have the capacity and the manpower to deal with them all.
So, we bought our lamb as an orphaned lamb two days old or one-day old for just £10. So
they're very very economic to get hold of if you do it that way.
The other way obviously is to have your own breeding flock. Now, the only reason I personally
would warn against this and why we haven't looked into it, is just because of the high mortality
rate with sheep breeding. Or at least this has been my understanding from what I've learned.
And the high level of care and maintenance and man hours required around lambing time to
mitigate that. So personally we’re not planning on breeding our lamb but what we do do is save
the wool. My wife processes the world and uses it use it to knit with. So she's not completely
useless insofar as providing something, but she doesn't really pay her way. Like I said, she's
more of a pet on our homestead.
But in the future, having orphaned lambs and keeping them for a season is something we would
certainly consider. It really depends on how we manage the ground here and what capacity we
have on our grass.
Which brings me nicely on goats. Now goats are an amazing animal because, not only do they
produce food in goat meat, but they also provide us with milk. Now if you're considering getting
goat, so I strongly suggest that you have at least one milking goat.
Now different breeds are good for different things. We have milking goats. That is the entirety of
our heard here. We've got three adult females as I speak now, and we've got four kids. Of the
kids, we have one male and three females. So the male kid will be castrated very soon. And he
will be living with us for almost a year, and then he will go to slaughter and be meat. And the
females will either go with him or they may go into our milking herd. But I've got to be honest,
three is plenty. Just one of our goats Fern, our top producer, she produces comfortably 12 pints
of milk a day when she's milking. So we don't really need any more than three.
The beauty of milk obviously though is that it also produces butter, cream, ice cream, cheese,
and all of the dairy products. So that's great. They are a really vital part of our self-sufficient plan
The next item I want to talk about is cows. Now people that I know who raise cows, they tend to
do it the same way. I’ve spoke about with the pigs and the sheep, which is just a buy in calfs at
a cheap cost and keep them for a season.
Personally, that's the only way we would do it. We don’t have the space here to be breeding
cows. But also in terms of a dairy cow, you need about four times the amount of ground to keep
a cow as you do a goat. And to us that's just not practical. So we're quite happy with our goats
for our dairy product, and we are generating plenty of meat already. So we don't have the need
for a cow.
We do sometimes trade some of our pork or goat meat for beef with other people living locally
that are doing similar things to us but do keep cows, but I don't have a lot of experience with
cows. So I don't really have a lot to add here.
All I would say is that if you're considering getting a cow, and you don't have goats, certainly
think very hard, do a comparison, and you may find it's much easier and simpler for you to keep
goats or a goat than a cow.
The next animal for meat is rabbit. Now we don't have rabbits here, but it's something I'm very
keen to experiment with in the coming months and years. So I will certainly keep you up-to-date
with that. Rabbits are, from what I can tell, a fantastic source of meat, easy to process, and easy
to breed. We all know they breed like rabbits, so there's that!
And the final animal I want to talk to you about is chickens. Now chickens are an absolute
essential part of any homestead, in my opinion. You get different breeds for meat than you do
for eggs, but everybody's first step when they're considering animals is (or should) be egg
The reason for that is because every family I know eats eggs, so you've got that straight off the
bat. But also, it's very easy to over produce eggs, and then they are also the easiest thing to
sell. So, when you're starting to try and produce an income from your homestead, and you're
maybe thinking about putting an advert in the paper or building a little stall at the side of the
road, eggs are by far the easiest thing to monetize. I certainly think that egg chickens should be
everybody's first step to animals.
Now we are lucky insofar as we've got about a hundred egg-laying chickens here and the sales
of those eggs actually pay for every piece of animal feed we have to buy here. Everything else
is effectively generated for free apart from obviously the time commitment that it takes.
A brief mention for ducks and geese. Now goose eggs are very very easy to sell. We sell them
for £2 per egg fertilized – or advertised as fertilized to people who want to put them in incubators
or have a broody animal to sit them. But we also sell them at one pound fifty at the side of the
road for just general sales, and they sell very well. So, our geese pay for themselves. I'm not
sure they do more than that. But a byproduct of geese is obviously meat. What we do is, when
one of our geese goes Broody, we just allow her to do her own thing. And any of the goslings
that come on, they can be for the table. So that's the profit there if you like.
And Ducks very much the same. The only thing is you need to be a bit more careful keeping
Now, I want to leave you with a few other points for you to do before you go and get yourself an
animal particularly a large animal.
The first thing is: do your own research. Spend a lot of time digging into exactly what you're
getting, why are you getting it? What do they need? Are you ready? and everything else. It’s
certainly what we did before we got any animal, and I'm glad I did.
I cannot tell you how important it is to get the infrastructure in place before you have the animal.
Now, this is a golden rule that I have frequently broken in the past, and I'm really quite strict with
myself now not to do so because I've paid the price.
If you need fencing of a certain type, get the fencing before you get the animal. If you need
housing or whatever else you need to have in place, get that in place. It really is super important
because trying to do it when you've got the animal makes it 5x harder because you've already
added to your workload because now you're looking after the animal. But chances are you're
actually having more workload than you otherwise would because the animal isn't being housed
as perfectly as you might like.
Next thing I want to say, if it's at all possible, find yourself a mentor. And it doesn't have to be a
formal arrangement, but find yourself someone, hopefully locally – but if not online in a forum or
somewhere – someone who's done what you want to do. And just talk to them. Talk to them
before and during the process. It really is quite helpful just to know that there's someone there
the other end of a keyboard or a phone, if you need it – even if you never do.
Next thing is that, if you're getting big animals – less important with the smaller animals if you're
a little bit more experience – but if you're getting anything bigger than a chicken or a goose, I
think it's really quite important to meet your local farm vet. Have them come to your property as
soon as you get your animals. If nothing else, in my experience what that did is it opened up a
line of communication. I now have our local vets’ mobile number, and nine times out of ten, I can resolve any issue with a quick phone call. I was actually on the phone yesterday to the vet
about an issue with our sheep and just being able to call her on her mobile (which she is quite
happy to take) saved me a visit and potentially 70-200 pounds for a vet to come out, which
wasn't needed after the phone call.
That's almost everything. I've got to say for our overview of raising livestock and animals. A few
last points are, just make sure you consider if you're raising animals for meat, make sure you
consider the legislation in your area. Do you need to register the movement of your cattle? Do
you need to register that you're holding certain types of animal? Do you need a certain vehicle
to take them to the butchery? Where are you going to take them to be butchered? Things like
that. Have you got the transport you need to move them? If not, what are your arrangements?
These are all just things to think about before you jump in.
And finally, I just want to have a quick chat about feed, and feed costs. Now, we get our feed
costs down to pretty close to zero and we do that with four different ways I would suggest. The
first is we are able to generate most of our feed here on site, and we do that by way of grazing.
So having grass available for the goats and the geese but also our hedging and trees that we
trim back. That is all feed for the goats and obviously waste food from the kitchen, small in
amount as it may be, that obviously doesn't go in the compost. It goes to the animals, and the
animal that gets it will depend on the type of food waste. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is we have a bakery within a hundred yards of our house. So, we save them
refuse costs that they would have to pay to have someone come and take away all the leftover
bread at the end of the day. And generally, what happens when they finished baking certain
type of bread, there's a pile of dough left over. They bang that in the oven because it's easier for
them to get rid of that way. So effectively we get all the leftover cooked dough by way of bread.
Thirdly fruit and veg grocers. We have an organic fruit and veg greengrocer locally. And we do
the same, we take away all their produce that they haven't sold that has just gone past the point
where they are willing to display and sell it to their customers. We bring that back here, and that
makes up a large portion of particularly the pigs’ food.
And finally, microbreweries. There's a microbrewery not too far from our house and we are able
to take some of their spent grain.
So, between those four methods there really is a very little feed that we need to go out and
For me, that is the crux of self-sufficiency. It's a combination of balancing your outgoings with
your in goings. Making sure that you can be generating as much as you can to supplement
whatever it is you're bringing in, and making that cycle work.