Before getting homestead animals, it’s most important to take time to research what this step will bring to your family. Too many animals are brought home with little planning or forethought about what they need or how they will be housed and cared for.
Excuse me while I stand on this soapbox for a few minutes. Ahem. As we are now in the winter season and spring is approaching, (really, it is), I want to go over some things I feel very strongly about. Spring seems to trigger the urge to bring new animals to the homestead or household. Whether we are talking about house pets or livestock, the situation is the same. Don’t buy a Great Dane puppy if you don’t like large dogs. Don’t buy a cow if you are intimidated by the size of the animal.
Are you in it for the long haul?
Once we bring an animal into our life, for companionship or farm use, the animal is depending on us for certain needs. We are obligated to provide these needed items until the animal is taken to slaughter, re-homed, or dies a natural death. Taking home a couple of cute chicks or ducklings may seem like a great idea. It may make you mom or dad of the year with the little ones. But those little chicks, ducklings, bunnies, goats, and lambs grow up. They require years of care.
Casually turning an animal into the local shelter should not be an option that is routinely used. And even worse, turning livestock, chickens, dogs or cats out to fend for themselves or dumping them in the front yard of a nearby farm, is not acceptable. Be prepared ahead of time, do some research and head into the situation with some knowledge of what the animal will require.
Before Getting Homestead Animals , Be Prepared
Okay, let me climb down off this box, hold on, ok, lets continue. So what kind of things do you need to do to prepare and be prepared to take on a a new life on your homestead? I wrote the following list of 9 things to consider before getting homestead animals to help you in your process. There are many exhaustive books written on these individual subjects too. The internet and numerous blogs help us to be informed before we buy or adopt. Talking to others who are raising the animal you are interested is invaluable.
9 Things to Consider Before Getting Homestead Animals
1. Appropriate Housing- Over the years we have constructed many different types of animal housing on our farm. There are different considerations for each animal’s housing. For our ponies and trail horses, we went with a fenced paddock and a run in shed for shelter. None of our equine family ever wanted to stay in a barn, although we did construct a barn with stalls just in case. During a few ice storms we did have to insist that they stay in the barn for their own safety! The cows have a large run in shed in all the paddocks they use. I rarely see them standing under the shelter but they have it anyway. The goats and sheep have a combined situation where they can get into stalls in the barn but have large runs off the barn where they can munch on hay and ruminate.
The rabbit house was built recently to house our three rabbits. We thought we might breed the rabbits someday, so the house has the ability to be divided into different sections with a play yard off each door. The chicken and duck houses have a similar construction plan, that enables us to house new arrivals and gradually introduce them to the flock. This is how it is now. But lots of trial and error and redesigning went into the plan.
Some will need to share your home for a short while…
The point is that each species has a need for some sort of shelter and it should be ready before you bring the animals home. The one exception might be for chickens. The little hatchlings will need to be kept inside with a heat lamp for the first six weeks usually, so you would have some time to finish the coop during that time. Just know that you will need a coop of some sort. A house chicken is only cute for awhile and you may not want to change chicken diapers to keep the droppings off of your furniture.
Don’t Skimp on this Factor
2. Fencing – The correct type of fencing will keep your animals where they are supposed to be and not roaming your neighbor’s flower beds. For cattle and pigs an electric fence is probably necessary. I am sure there are some who have raised pigs without a line of electric wire around the fence line near the bottom, but, for the most part, an electric fence reminds the pigs that they have rooted too far. We have one pig, currently, who does not respect any fence line, including the shocking kind. The last escape found her running down the road, to the surprise of our non-farming neighbors. Squishy Pig is now residing in the barn. That was the third, or was it fifth time she escaped. Don’t worry, she is very spoiled.
Cattle will most likely not be trying to escape, but they will keep pushing on the fence line as they reach for the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Eventually the fence will give way and now your cow is roaming the area.
Goats are another species that may like to escape. Our first two goats kept jumping out of the paddock, from the first night we brought them home! That fence was redesigned and rebuilt three times in the first day! If you choose to go with a solar electric fence, keep in mind that a few days of no sun may compromise your fence line. Be sure you have a back up plan in place. An alternative to high priced fence boards may lie in used pallets, if you can find them. They can make a nice fenced pen for some species. You still need to purchase the posts used to hold the pallets up.
Can You Care for the Animal?
3. Animal Temperament – Even though they start off sweet and gentle, the larger animals may eventually try to use their size and strength against you. Some rams will go from a gentle lamb that sat on your lap to a charging animal when fully grown. The males of any species can be aggressive when grown. Roosters may not be that large but they can be scary when they come at you with their spurs. This is just the way the males of the animal species protect their herds and flocks and remain in control. Another factor to consider before taking in a shelter animal, why was it turned in? Was it found wandering? You may be getting an escape artist. Is it fear aggressive? You may be bringing home a danger to your family. Take the extra time to investigate the situation.
4. Animal Strength – Are you prepared to handle an animal that is much larger than you? There are ways to handle large animals that do not require having more strength than the animal and its always better to learn these tactics and tips before you get knocked down. Whenever possible, and especially with large animals, spend some time around the breed or species you are thinking about buying before you make a purchase.
Are You Strong Enough?
5. Animal’s Needs – Can you physically carry the food, water, or any equipment needed to care for the animal. When our daughter wanted her own horse, I told her that would be fine once she could tack up by herself. I had younger children to care for also, and I didn’t know that I would always be able to put the youngest one down to tack up the pony, even though I was standing right there. She needed to know that this was her responsibility. If she couldn’t physically take care of the pony, it wasn’t a good idea to buy one. Can you lift a fifty pound sack of feed or do you have someone always available to do it for you? How about carrying a five gallon bucket full of water?
Time Cost and Dollar Costs
6. Animal’s Cost of Care – While running small local feed store, I was shocked at the amount of people who could not afford to feed their animals. Believe me, that feed bill runs up quickly. During the last recession our country experienced, people were actually leaving livestock tied to trailers at the auctions. They just couldn’t afford to keep a horse or goat or anything. Consider the costs involved including yearly vaccinations and the possibility of emergency care at some point. Look for more on the estimated cost of keeping chickens in this post, How Much Food Does a Chicken Need.? Before getting homestead animals, make sure you are financially able to care for them.
7. Time Requirement – Chickens may not require much daily time but they do require a minimum of daily care to refresh water and feeders and collect eggs. Each species will require different daily care items but all will require something. In addition, you will have weekly and monthly cleanup chores to be tended to also.
Should You Get a Few or Many?
8. Herd Numbers – Did you know that most farm type animals don’t do well when raised alone. Chickens, ducks, and other fowl are happier in a flock. Goats, horses, and sheep are herd animals. It is possible to make a mixed herd. Try keeping a donkey or a goat with your horse for company.
9. Manure Management – Having a couple of chickens for fresh eggs probably won’t put you in the neighborhood of having to consider what to do with all the manure and compost but having a herd of goats surely will. Make sure you have a plan on where to collect the manure and stall waste. Learn the local rules and laws about how to store, spread, or dispose of the waste from your farm animals. This is a very important point to consider before getting homestead animals.
I hope that this list of 9 things to consider before getting homestead animals will bring some clarity to what is necessary, besides love. Doing your research, asking for information, visiting a working farm, and try to get some hands on experience before getting homestead animals. Let me know what other thoughts you have about what to do before getting homestead animals.
For more on this subject you may enjoy reading Developing an Annual Homestead Project Plan from Homestead Chronicles
Counting Goat or Livestock Blessings
From Better Hens and Gardens