Small Livestock You Can Raise Anywhere

January 23, 2014 by | 10 Comments

When I began prepping, I did what most people do—I stocked up on canned food. Don’t get me wrong; I still think that is a solid part of any self-reliance plan, but it’s not the final answer.

I quickly added additional food sources like freeze-dried food and a garden, and while this was great, it still wasn’t quite enough, so I started raising livestock to produce a sustainable supply of protein.

You might think you don’t have enough space but fortunately, you don’t have to live on a farm to raise livestock.

I live in the suburbs and raise livestock with no problems—the key is selecting the right livestock. As much as I’d love a few cows in the back yard and be able to carve off a fresh, juicy rib eye anytime I want, that just isn’t in the cards right now. So if you’re working with limited space like I am, here are a few types of small livestock you can raise anywhere:

Rabbits

Rabbits are small and quiet, which works out well when your neighbors can hear everything that goes on in your backyard.

I keep my breeders in individual 30″ x 30″ cages, and my fryers (the ones you plan on eating) live in the doe’s cage from birth to about 6–8 weeks old, then they live two to a cage. (You could probably put three in that space and do just fine, though.) They are typically butchered at about months old.

You can feed rabbits vegetable scraps, flowers, nuts, hay, and just about any plant that grows in your yard, but the bulk of their diet should be pelletized food, which I buy at Walmart for under $8/20 pounds.

Raising rabbits is pretty simple because they are resilient and they reproduce like, well, rabbits, but I do recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits to learn more about breed selection, care and feeding, safe housing, humane handling, and disease prevention and treatment.

Chickens

Chickens are small but not always quiet; however, that trait seems to depend on the individual bird rather than a specific breed. Roosters are always much noisier than hens.

They don’t require a lot of space, but will need an enclosed coup to provide shelter from the elements and from predators.

One of the biggest advantages to chickens is that they produce a protein-rich egg every day or two, which means a steady source of food without having to continually slaughter and butcher your livestock. Another upside is that they can clear a patch of land for your garden; just place them in a pen where you plan to build your garden and they will pick and scratch it completely free of all vegetation and pests in a matter of days, leaving behind rich manure. (This will have to be composted first because its excessive nitrogen content will burn delicate roots.)

Chickens will happily gobble up vegetable scraps, bugs in the yard, weeds, stale bread—pretty much anything you throw at them. I suggest picking up Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens to really learn the ins and outs though. Another great resource is BackYardChickens.com, a very active forum of people with decades of chicken-raising experience.

Quail

Quail, like chickens, will produce a steady supply of fresh eggs. Though about half the size, you can raise twice as many in the same space, so the output is the same with the added advantage of being much quieter.

The only requirement for their living environment is shelter from the elements.

Quail eat the same diet as chickens, though in different ratios; depending on the species, the individual bird, and the time of year, about 90 percent of their diet comes from plant material. Roughly 80 percent comes from seeds and grains. Sometimes they’ll eat insects, fruits, or foods other than grains for the trace elements and other nutrients they need.

Fish

This is one area I will probably not explore anytime soon just because I don’t eat fish. Ever. But if you’re inclined, they can produce an abundant supply of protein.

You don’t need a lake to raise fish; I’ve seen it done in 55 gallon drums, hot tubs, and even kids pools—all you really need is to contain and filter enough water. A side benefit is that this makes a solid addition to an aquaponics system, or even just an irrigation system for your conventional garden.

The biggest consideration in raising fish is the temperature. There is usually enough water in a lake or large pond to keep temperatures stable, but a smaller volume of water like you would have in a water drum can get too hot or too cold and kill your fish. You can reduce this risk by using a larger volume of water and burying your container in the earth to provide additional insulation.

Ordinarily I would suggest just learning as you go, but raising fish is much more difficult than other livestock because they are fragile and require a precise balance of pH, nutrients, and temperature, so it pays to do your homework first. An excellent reference guide is Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together.

Bees

Bees are considered livestock? You bet, and I was just as surprised as you the first time I learned that.

The role they serve in your self-reliance plan is two-fold. First, they produce honey. Probably more than your family will ever use—and raw honey never expires. Second, they pollinate your garden, which helps to produce a plentiful harvest and ensure biodiversity.

Bees, unlike other livestock, are relatively easy to capture, and they require little more than a few square feet of space to do their thing, so getting started with them is very easy and inexpensive. The only downside is that many people avoid bees the same way I avoid boy bands, but there is little to fear unless you are allergic to their sting.

The most knowledgeable person I’ve found on the subject is Jason Bruns, of LetMBee.com. I first heard him in an interview on TSP talking about beekeeping, specifically trapping wild bees, but after a few minutes on his blog, I was sucked in by a the amount of information available; you can learn anything you’ll ever need to know about them on his blog.

Thoughts?

Have you though about raising, or already raising your own livestock? Share your experiences or questions in the comments below.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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10 Comments

  • Sam Jackson says:

    Awesome ideas! I’d love to start breeding rabbits; how many babies do they usually have? How quickly are they ready to be butchered?

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      It depends on the breed. I raise New Zealand Whites. They typically have about 9 bunnies per kit and I butcher them at around three months. You can wait longer and get a little more meat, but it becomes tougher the older they get.

  • Julia says:

    The most important thing you forgot…. the LAW. Sure you might have a yard with enough space for rabbit hutches, chicken pens or some kiddie pools… but that doesn’t mean the city thinks it’s a good idea. Where I live, we’ve had many town meetings and votings the last couple years about this issue. Most people who live in the suburbs are not zoned for livestock/farm animals/breeding. I’ve even read articles about cities demanding people NOT do gardens in their yard and can only do lawns and ornamental plants or get huge fines. Then there’s the issue of if the city lets you, maybe individual Home Owner Associations won’t. So, check regulations first, before you get too carried away with a mini farm.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Nope, I didn’t forget anything. These animals are technically classified as “pets” nearly everywhere. I’ve already researched it, and have been raising livestock on my property for years. As far as the gardens, that only applies to the front yard.

      I typically don’t worry about crap like that anyway. I share excess food with neighbors so I know they aren’t going to cry about me to zoning inspectors. 😉

    • Jody says:

      I agree with your comments. I would like start keeping chickens, but the city I’m moving to definitely does not consider chickens to be ‘pets’ unfortunately. Also, there are a lot of stories in the news lately about people who have vegetable gardens having to fight for their right to do so in court. It’s pretty ridiculous. But, I have a feeling things will be changing in the future.

      • Jeremy Knauff says:

        Hi Jody, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

        Re: the gardens, that typically happens when people plant them in the front yard. I still think that’s absolutely stupid to prevent someone from growing food on their own land, but if it’s in your back yard, you’re nearly always free of issues, and most people won’t even know it’s there anyway.

        Re: the chickens, you may want to double check your local ordinances if you haven’t already. You might be pleasantly surprised. Great source of info here: http://www.backyardchickens.com/atype/3/Laws/sort/viewed) And you can always beforehand your neighbors and get chickens anyway. I’m sure they wouldn’t be upset when they get free eggs from time to time. 😉

  • Jon McCord says:

    I remember reading an article (I can’t remember where), that stated that ducks are a good alternative to chickens, because they are generally quieter, more resilient to the elements, and provide slightly larger eggs. Just thought I’d share…

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Yes, you are correct, Jon, and they tear the ground up a lot less. Both have their place…personally, I would prefer chickens because I prefer the meat over duck, but both have a lot of advantages. Thanks for your input!

  • KM Logan says:

    Butcher fuzzy wittle wabbits? I grew up with a pet bunny and don’t think I could handle it. Plus I don’t like the taste of rabbit, probably because of said pet bunny. Quail though is something I’ve never considered. Good ideas for a small spaces.

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