Small animals are part of my regimen when it comes to frugal living and being more self-sufficient. They can be a source of fun and good fresh food. Butchering your own meat or harvesting your own eggs may put you off a bit if you haven't done it before, but there really isn't much to it.
All you need for success is a little room, a bit of courage, a little spirit of adventure, and a desire for fresh food.
If you're at all concerned about
having control over your own supply of food, then raising your own ought
to be high on your list of priorities, at least high on your list of
things you might want to try.
There are any number of animals that can be raised with ease on a relatively small piece of land. We'll discuss animal farming on a small scale here to show you what can be done - even in the city.
Raising animals in your backyard in the city is a possibility. Even in New York City, chickens are allowed inside city limits as long as there are no roosters in the flock. They are considered pets.
Now, if New York City allows chickens, it seems that we might be able to find others places that allow chickens too.
Here in Cheyenne, chickens aren't allowed in town, but I know people who have them. I think the idea is don't be a nuisance to other city dwellers and the city won't be a nuisance to you either. That seems fair.
Why raise your own meat and eggs? Well, with all the concern about treatment of animals, you can be sure that your small animals are treated properly and well cared for. You can also be sure that they are indeed fed organic food and free ranged. It's always nice to know what's on and in the food you are eating.
Another reason to raise small animals is because this can be coordinated with growing and processing your own food. We often feed excess vegetables from the garden and scraps from the kitchen to our chickens and turkeys. It is a good way to supplement free range and commercial feed. Our scraps are turned into meat and eggs.
We regularly have a couple of containers in the kitchen to reprocess our scraps...one for the chickens and one for the compost pile (which the chickens have access to).
Raising your own small animals for meat is an example of creating marketplace alternatives when the marketplace doesn't provide what you want, how you want it, when you want it, or at a price you choose to afford.
So what is the range of possibilities for small animals if we only have a little space to work with? It is quite an impressive variety. Consider that the following common small animals can be raised for meat and eggs on a small piece of land without much trouble:
And, let's not forget about predators. If you're raising small animals for meat and eggs, the neighborhood predators will enjoy them as well. It's free food, right? That's their perspective. So, you need to understand how to deal with predators that are common in your area.
In my neck of the woods I have to deal with rodents, fox, coyote, raccoon, weasel, ferret, skunk, hawks and cougars. I like wild animals, so strong animal fencing is an important tool in my toolbox. My approach to keeping small animals includes predator deterrence; prevention; relocation; and lastly, elimination.
Remember that domestic dog and cat can become predators of your critters - whether they belong to you or your neighbors. Dogs and cats can be a persistent problem if these animals have been released by others and allowed to become feral.
With that as an introduction, let's dive into the details of small animals for meat and eggs. Each type of animal has its pros and cons, but there is certain to be one or more that satisfies your interests.
A friendly and productive animal that can provide meat and fur, rabbits don't require much room at all. Keep them in pens or let them roam about. They are absolutely quiet and easy to maintain, and they'll reproduce faster than most any other animal you can think of.
We're probably all very familiar with rabbit hutches. They can be small pens, often elevated so their droppings can be collect beneath. It's quite possible to raise rabbits in the garage if that suits you, but from my perspective, I'd rather have them able to run around a bit on the natural grass. After all, they'll eat grass, and anything that cuts down on the food bill is another plus when it comes to having small animals around the homestead.
Besides predators, the biggest problem for rabbits is heat. If your summertime temperatures regularly get over 100 F and stay there, then you'll need to provide a means of cooling them, perhaps evaporative cooling.
My homestead rabbits are the wild variety, but I still consider them to be mine. It's not so much that I own them as it is they've decided this is their home. It's not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning and see 10 or more rabbits from my bedroom window. If I drive down the driveway at night, at least six or eight rabbits will dart out of the way and hide under the wood piles. If I don't fence out my gardens and close up my greenhouses, the rabbits will help themselves to my vegetables.
I think they're my rabbits, whether I like it or not. And, I like it just fine. If I would like to have a rabbit for dinner, they're right there for the taking. My dog likes them too...they're great for chasing, even though he rarely catches one.
And, rabbits are silent...that's a very good thing.
Expect a little more noise from these animals when compared with chickens, and quite a bit different behavior
than chickens. One notable point about ducks is they're messy with their water. They like to sift through their water with their beaks, and this splashes it everywhere. This isn't so much of a problem as adults as they can get their water out of a pool or pond, but when they're ducklings, and you're trying to keep them in clean water, this behavior fouls the water and wastes it.
Duck are a good source of both meat and eggs, and a good bunch of bug catchers too. Duck eggs are slightly larger than those of chickens, a bit more flavorful, and a bit tougher in texture.
The photo right is of baby Muscovy ducks, shortly after their 800 mile trip from Minnesota to Wyoming. They were my first adventure with ducks, and I thought they were nice animals to keep. Muscovy ducks are a great meat bird, providing a dark, rich meat with limited fat.
And, they're nearly tame around people.
Ducks like to get in the water, so having a $10 kiddie pool dug into the ground is a good idea, just keep it away from anything you don't want to get splashed. This animal likes to duck its head underwater and sift through the water with its bill looking for food. They also like to paddle around in it, and it doesn't matter whether it's 90 degrees F outside of only 22 degrees, they're eager to get into the water and have a ball.
Many varieties of ducks have a nearly constant chatter going on. They
sound a little like the character on the 1960s Batman TV series known
as The Penguin. I believe this character was played by Burgess Meredith.
Anyway, both The Penguin and homestead ducks tend to mutter to
themselves as they go about their daily routine. You can almost imagine
their utterances are meant to keep time with their waddle.
Ducks are also great at playing follow the leader, and will get along very well with other ducks as well as geese and chickens. My management plan for small animals around the homestead has ducks living within the same protected yards as my chickens, but having their own duck house and small pond.
I've raised Pekin ducks, Indian Runner ducks, Muscovy ducks and the well known Mallard duck. My preference is the Muscovy because of their appetite for bugs, the quality of their meat, and their nearly tame demeanor. They are a joy to have around the homestead.
One of the more tame and curious of small animals that you might raise
for meat and eggs is a turkey. They are also closely related to chickens in terms
of limited intelligence, but far more curious about what it is you're doing, and not very sensible at all in terms of investigating things that are potentially harmful to them. Consider them to be children...you have to watch out for them.
Unlike the chicken, turkeys tend to peck around to find food, but they don't scratch and tear up the ground nearly as much. I find this characteristic of turkeys to be very appealing. They can wander around your homestead without tearing the place to pieces. That's not to say they won't take a bite out of your flowers, but they certainly won't act like miniature roto-tillers in your flower beds.
The photo right shows young Bronze turkeys and a couple Giant Whites on the far right. They are healthy eaters, and the males make the "gobble" sound whenever they hear strange noises or hear another "gobble" sound. They are gentle and fascinating birds that everyone should try their hand at raising, at least once.
A curious behavior of turkeys is their attraction to shiny, colorful and unusual objects. They'll peck at buttons, jewelry, pins, snaps and even eyeglasses. The trick is to keep your distance from turkeys, otherwise they'll snatch off of your person whatever catches their eye. Once a friend of mine was over at the house and I warned her about not wearing her bracelet around the turkeys. She didn't believe me when I told her how fast they were. Before she knew it, one of my female birds had swiped her bracelet off of her wrist and was standing there looking at her as if to say, "He told you I'd do this."
Another behavior of turkeys is their tendency to wander in a small flock for good distances. My small flock of six birds would wander in a circle around my place and venture off about a quarter of a mile or so. Surprisingly, they never were hit by fox or coyote, but they did give the neighbors something to look as a handful of my small animals wandered by.
The Bronze turkeys I had were some of the most spectacular in terms of display. The males would fan out their tail feathers and wiggle them rapidly to create a humming sound that takes a while before you realize where it's coming from. The Giant White turkeys I had were great for meals around the holidays. They could grow to nearly 50 pounds in live weight.
For me, the biggest drawback of turkeys is they're not a good feed-to-meat converter. They eat a lot of food for the amount of meat they provide in return. Therefore, if you're going to raise turkeys, you need to provide them with natural food, especially if you can free range them or raise the food in your garden.
Turkey eggs are larger than duck eggs, more flavorful and more firm in texture. They don't lay eggs frequently like chickens do, but their eggs tend to be much more attractive as they're decorated with speckles.
A larger animal that you might raise is a goose. Noisy and a bit
aggressive, but still a meat and egg animal that you can handle and be
satisfied with. They make a mess with their water just like ducks, and
are known as weeders in a mature garden.
As shown on the left, my geese were leaders among the other web-footed animals that strutted around the homestead. These are Embden geese. They have beautiful blue eyes, and a very long neck graced with soft and delicate feathers.
Geese are known as a good natural alarm system to alert you to changing situations around the homestead, be it predators or two-legged visitors. They also do a bit of honking just for the heck of it. I thought they added to the variety of my homestead flock, and I enjoyed them for years.
The biggest hassle about geese can be their large droppings and aggressive behavior from the males. Both aspects of this animal are like the old saying, "The fleas come with the dog." If you want geese, you'll have to put up with goose shit, hissing, extended wings and charging at you on occasion.
I find that showing them who is boss can often reduce the aggressive behavior, and it's fun to see the look on their face when they realize that you won't be bullied.
I've eaten goose eggs, they're considerably larger than turkey eggs, have good flavor, but are more firm in texture than turkey eggs.
One of many underwater small animals that aren't raised too often around the home for food is fish, but they can be kept in a relatively small pond or large tanks. Some fish can be self-sufficient given adequate surface area and variation of water depth. Different varieties are adapted to survive well in warm, cold, deep, shallow, still or moving water. Also, some are bug and fish eaters, while others feed on plants.
A friend of mine has a small pond about the size of a three car garage, and you'd be surprised at the number and size of catfish in that pond. She does not feed the fish, but harvests whatever and whenever she cares to.
We set a trot line one day and easily caught seven catfish.
One of the very nice things about having a large pond is the ability to combine your ducks and geese and fish into something that might very well become self-sustaining for a range of small animals. Plant matter growing in the pond could feed the fish and water fowl, and bird dropping could support both plant and fish life. For a healthy environment, flowing water and some means of aeration would be great, but often that's not even necessary.
I'm a (very small) part owner of a private lake where I enjoy fishing a couple times a year. The lake is only about 100 acres, so it's easily navigable via a rowboat or a fishing boat with a trolling motor. Having a motor on a boat is overkill. Despite the small size, there is no end to the fish that can be pulled out of this lake.
As an example, the daily per person limit on catfish is 15, regardless of size. It's easy to catch 10 to 15 catfish every day for as many days as I care to spend fishing at the lake. To me, that's an unlimited supply of fresh food, and that's only one of many species of fish in the lake.
Now, suppose your pond was about a quarter acre in size. I'd suggest that such a pond might very well provide all the fish that you and your family might care to eat. If you stock the pond with bottom feeders, game fish and pan fish, you'll likely have a source of fish all year long, and a swimming hole as well.
On American homesteads and small farms, there are other small animals that we could talk about, but often aren't all that popular with homesteaders because they're either unusual, uncommon, require too much attention, or are more like something one would expect to find on a ranch. Nevertheless, some of these small animals should be considered just to make certain we haven't left a stone unturned in our search for that ideal animal for meat and eggs (and milk).
Without going off the deep end, one might consider raising the following small animals as a supplement to the more common ones I've discussed above.
Bees - an insect that many of us wouldn't normally include in a discussion of small animals. Bees are primarily raised for the honey that they store, but beeswax can also be a valuable item around the homestead for making candle and fireplace starter. I'm allergic to bee stings, so these critters won't be deliberately kept on my homestead, but I recognize their value in terms of a pollinator.
Quail - a small bird that can be raised for both meat and eggs. I have no direct experience with these, but I understand they are popular in Asia. They can't be free ranged because they won't return to the safety of their pen, and they require more protein than chickens. I like the idea that they're a game bird and have a meat with a stronger flavor than chicken. I also like that they are good producers of eggs, although smaller than chicken eggs. From my perspective, if you have chickens, I don't see that Quail offer added value sufficient to supplement nor supplant my chicken flock. Nevertheless, to each his own.
Pigeons - different from doves, but similar, they're a source of meat. They're also known for producing Squab, a young pigeon that hasn't flown yet. They're sought after as a delicacy. I've eaten meat from Doves, and the breast meat is rich and dark and tasty, but I have no experience with their cousins the pigeon.
If you live somewhere your
neighbors wouldn't mind a flock of pigeons circling overhead, you might
try your hand at raising these birds. They'll free range with success,
and they'll come home to roost with a little training, so they would
appear to me to be relatively low maintenance.
a favorite among the people of Ecuador, and a popular pet in America.
It's not really a pig, it's a type of rodent. I know this sounds a bit
like eating a hamster or a rat, but you need to remember that squirrels
are a source of food in this country and they're simply rats in better
outfits. We don't eat roof rats, sewer rats or wharf rats, but we eat
tree rats. Go figure.
Guinea Fowl - a native of Africa, this bird is very much like a chicken, and can take good care of itself. I've raised them before and eaten them. I prefer chicken, but Guinea Fowl can be a good homestead animal, especially if they're free ranged. They're known to be good alarm systems much like geese, and they're known to keep an eye on the sky for winged predators like hawks and eagles. Therefore, they could make a good companion to smaller birds like young chicks or quail.
Bull Frogs - one of our favorite meals when at the lake as children was when we sat down to enjoy the Bull Frogs we had caught the night before.
Most people think
of frog legs when they think of eating frogs, but you have to be aware
that there is as much meat on the arms, shoulders and back of a Bull
Frog as there is on the legs. If you're only eating the legs, you're
throwing away half of the meat. Anytime an animal gives up its life for you, don't waste it.
It makes sense to me if you're
going to have a fish pond, you ought to try to set it up so it supports
other life forms like the Bull Frog, indeed one of the very small
Miniature Cattle - another of the small
animals that one might raise as a homestead animal. I have no experience
with these animals, but I believe their scarcity would make them a bit
pricey for the average homesteader. The one aspect of these animals that
appeals to me is they're small enough to be able to be handled without
needing heavy equipment for processing, and one might learn to butcher
them with some proficiency. If not, take them to a local processor.
Pigs - one of the most popular meats, and one of the small animals that can be raised in a pen. I recall reading a book titled How to Cook Meat,
and the authors both agreed if they could only have one meat, they'd
pick pork. I agree too. Who doesn't love ham, bacon, barbecued ribs,
pulled pork, and just about anything smoked when it comes off of a hog! I
can imagine a small family of pigs at my place, and we'd harvest the
young ones as they grew older. Pigs can be pasture raised too, they
don't necessarily need to be relegated to confined feeding.
- another possibility in the area of small animals to provide you and
your family milk and meat. Goats are known to be good climbers and
jumpers, and they're rather
vocal too. You'll need good fencing for this animal, and if you're
looking to get milk, you'll need to be prepared to spend time with these
animals every day. I know goat meat to be popular among Mexicans, so if
you're interested in trying it, you'll likely be successful looking in
grocery stores in neighborhoods having a good number of Hispanic
residents. When I lived in California, I'd see goat meat at Albertson's
every now and then.
Sheep - another of the small animals that I envision grazing on wide open pastures, yet I've seen sheep raised in relatively small pens. Again, my preference would be to pasture raise such an animal because I could grow most of their food simply by watering the pasture. I've heard from others that sheep are a good homestead animal because they don't need to be wintered over, they can be raised from spring to fall, thus making good use of natural pasture and eliminating the expense of commercial feed.
I love the flavor of lamb, so this would be on my list of small animals for my homestead, but for protection against coyotes, I'd likely need a guard dog for their protection.
As an alternative to raising miniature cattle, hogs and sheep, one could always seek out a local producer and have the meat processing plant set you up with some fine meat at a reasonable price. That's what we do with hog, sheep and cattle, then we can focus on much smaller and more manageable animals for our homestead.
So there you have it, many different types of small animals that one might raise on the homestead for delicious fresh food, primarily meat and eggs. Many provide meat, some provide eggs, some provide milk, and one provides honey and wax.
No matter what your intentions, when you make use of your small animals for food, you know what your animals have been fed, you know how they've been treated, and that means a lot to so many of us.
It's also possible to have animals support one another and your vegetable gardening interests. Chickens can compost manure from larger animals, and water fowl can promote growth of water plants which in turn feeds your fish. Honey bees pollinate your vegetable garden and provide you with honey and beeswax. Pastures can provide much of what many animals need, and in return, many of your animals can provide you with excellent manure for both the garden and the pasture.
In addition, if you have greenhouses, you can set up an aquaculture system to use pond water to feed your plants, which in turn will clean up the water and send it back to the pond.
The best way to raise small animals is to know their needs for food, water and shelter, and understand their tolerances to weather conditions. You'll also need to know a thing or two about predators that will find the meat and eggs you're raising just as tempting as you do.