As more people prioritise the quality of the food put into their bodies, cultivating our own food sources is becoming an increasingly popular choice. Self-sufficiency in food production allows a valuable insight into the care of livestock, their feed quality and the resulting quality of the produce. Depending on the size of land available, there are several livestock species which make keeping your own livestock an achievable goal.
When venturing into raising your own livestock, be clear as to your purposes as this can help prevent financially or emotionally costly mistakes. Successful smallholders often have strict rules on the types of animals they keep based on their cost effectiveness; this can mean the regular yield of dairy or wool produce or expected output at slaughter.
Likewise, overstocking your backyard with grazing animals such as sheep, goats and cattle can have catastrophic effects on your land. Too many of these animals can seriously damage the soil structure and affect future grass growth.
Other common mistakes include taking on animals that will grow bigger than you can handle or that your space will allow. Bear in mind that those piglets you can hold in your arms will grow into burly 100kg pigs.
This is an important consideration when housing your livestock; a good quality, spacious living environment is crucial when raising your own animals. Also beware of becoming too attached to the animals or letting any children do the same. Most people find it difficult to send an animal with a name to the abattoir.
Even a relatively small backyard can comfortably house a chicken coop and chickens are a great entry level livestock when embarking on raising your own animals. It is generally accepted that free range birds produce better quality meat and eggs; the ability to graze within a more natural environment makes for happier, healthier chickens and plump, juicier meat.
If your farming skills do not extend to butchery, female chickens (hens) can be happily kept together without a male (rooster) for their eggs.
Along with other poultry such as geese and ducks, chickens can be fun to keep and a welcome addition to any garden, particularly one where there are children in the family. These birds often have a lot of personality and can be quite affectionate when used to handling.
Unfortunately, poultry are notoriously destructive and will happily rummage through newly planted vegetables and liberally spread their messy droppings. They need a sturdy house to keep them contained and safe from foxes and other predators; their coop should allow 4 feet of space per bird as well as perch and nesting space.
Other traditional farm animals can also make fantastic livestock choices for the beginner. Like chickens, children love goats as they can be cute and affectionate; this is why they are such popular petting zoo animals.
Goats are easy to milk and their milk can be made into delicious cheeses. Anyone fancying a more artisan approach to profiting from their livestock might consider turning their goats’ milk into beauty products such as soaps or lotions.
Despite their bad reputation, pigs can also be interesting and entertaining to keep. They are clean animals, requiring only a dry shed and a pen for exercise. However, most pigs do live up to their reputation when it comes to food; they will eat anything and make great garbage disposals when it comes to household scraps. Unlike pigs, sheep can be kept with little to no shelter and will gladly graze all year round in mild climates. There are many different breeds of sheep and when choosing the right breed for your backyard, consider if the sheep will be kept primarily for their wool, milk or meat.
For an outside the box livestock option, fish offer the best feed to meat output rate. A large tank or old bathtub can provide adequate housing for trout, tilapia and other breeds. A pound of live fish need between 1 and 2 gallons of water and some types of fish will happily reproduce in tanks which further increases cost effectiveness and output.
It can be immensely rewarding to raise your own livestock with enormous benefits for the animals. Meat which has experienced low levels of stress has a better taste and more tender texture. Raising livestock in your backyard ensures they live happy lives and you can be contented by knowing it is the cheapest and healthiest way to feed yourself