As we move from Odom's Idle Acres in Barnesville, Georgia to Pink Hill, North Carolina and our own little plot of dirt, the one thing that we intend on intensifying (even while downsizing) is our goal of self-sufficiency. We're not vegans or even vegetarians so we have to think about our source for milk, eggs, and meat. Even if we were vegan though, keeping animals on our homestead would allow us natural fibers or wool to sell. Basic animal husbandry would also allow us the peace of knowing our animals were raised humanely and treated with care and and every day.
From what I gather goats are among the most practical and versatile animals we could raise. They are small and relatively easy to handle. In fact, a single goat can produce two to four quarts of milk each day, which can simply be drunk or used to make cheese, butter, and soap. Angora goats and other long-hairs can be bred for mohair and fiber which can easily be sold or used for crafts. Did I mention goats can be raised for meat? It may sound odd if you've never tried "cabrito" or goat meat but it really is as healthy as a chicken breast with a taste like that of veal.
One thing we have to read up on is what breed is best for what use. I am not aware of a breed that produces fiber, milk, and meat. For milk we will probably look to Nubian, Saanen, or LaMancha goats while if we decided to cultivate fiber we will want to look in the Angora direction. And while any goat can produce meat, Boer and Myotonic ("fainting") goats are the best suited for this purpose.
We're pretty versed in poultry since we currently raise 4 layers of chickens; hatchlings/broilers/layers/meat. And like for many neo-homesteaders, chickens are an obvious choice for us because they don't require much space and provide us with eggs and fresh meat. Once a hen's egg production has declined, she can be a great addition to the stew pot. Believe it or not (which I am sure you will if you are reading this blog), mature chickens are far more flavorful than the rapidly-fattened youngsters sold in supermarkets. Chickens aren't hard to care for, and young chicks or fertilized eggs are very inexpensive to buy.
Other poultry are also worth considering. Guineas, ducks, and geese are also great sources of eggs, meat, and feathers. Although they cost more than chickens, the meat is richer and many people love fresh duck and goose eggs. Guineas have the added advantage of being an effective pest control measure; they will happily snap up wasps, hornets, ticks, ants, and even mice.
Another option for homesteaders who have very little room to spare is small animals. And the reason for this post really is because lately Pan and I have been talking about raising rabbits; the pros and cons. They can be raised in hutches in your backyard, and true to their reputation, reproduce frequently. As with many other animals, you'll need to decide what you want to use the rabbits for before you choose a breed. Angora rabbits are a great source of natural fiber. New Zealand, Florida White, and Californian rabbits are good choices for meat. And I am supposing that if we preserve the fur we can use it for insulation on a number of things. And let we forget rabbit poop. It makes great fertilizer - higher in nitrogen than some poultry manures and it also contains a large amount of phosphorus--important for flower and fruit formation.
Did I forget anything? What do you think is important for us to consider in terms of raising animals on our small homestead? What do you raise? Was it a good choice for you? Why? Why not?