I know you are excited to get started with your first animals and want to choose a successful first project or two!
Let’s take a look at some beginner level animals and how consider how much time and money is involved for each.
Chickens (both layers and/or broilers), ducks, feeder pigs, sheep or bottle calves are easy, beginner friendly livestock to start with.
|Animal||cost to |
|daily care||kid friendly||length of|
|$3-5 per |
|6″ sq. ft.|
2 sq, ft.
|same as |
|1 sq. ft.|
3 sq. ft.
|yes, with |
|Sheep||$300+||based on |
|Bottle calf||$150 for|
|8′ by 8′|
1 or 2
Getting started with livestock can be a bit overwhelming with all of the different breeds, kinds of animals and places to get your animals.
I love all of the choices of different animals and breeds.
This gives you the ability and opportunity for you to tailor your livestock purchases to fit you and your situation.
Just like anything else in life there is no one best thing for everyone in every situation, but there are some universal guidelines that you should be following when you consider the next addition to your farm or backyard.
How much will it cost to raise your animals? Read my article Cheapest Meat Animal To Raise for details.
Get livestock that fit your situation
So where to start? Start with the basics. What resources do you have for the livestock you want to get?
Here are some things to consider:
- How much space do you have that you are willing to let the animals use compared to what they need?
- What grows easily at your place? The best thing to start off with is the animals that will do well in the situation you already have.
- Consider your climate
- Your dedication to chores
- How much daily time you want to spend on animal care
If it gets smoking hot for days on end in the summer in your area, certain animals will need much more tending from you in order to be comfortable in such heat.
Other animals won’t like the heat either, but they will handle the hear stress with more grace.
Heat is just one example of harsh conditions that the animals will have to deal with, it can be anything.
Challenging conditions could also be a lack of things, like a sparse pasture area or no economical way to feed them grain.
Grain is not needed for all animals but it is an easy and generally economical way to boost the calories a high need animal can eat in a day.
Small Acreage Or Backyard Sheep goes over how to figure up how many sheep you can keep so you don’t have to mow your lawn!
Consider the cost to buy the animal
Regarding the price of the animals, this is highly dependent upon where you live and what is available in your area.
How are the livestock markets near you?
Check the auction reports (easily found online) for your nearest livestock auction. This will give you an idea of what to expect.
If it is easy to sell animals in your area and get them processed, then it will also be easier for you to get them.
This is the situation in our area of Ohio, but that means per head animals are worth more so you will pay more.
If lots of animals are raised in your area but they are all shipped out of the area to sell, animal prices will be lower.
This would be the case for range animals, like the range sheep and cattle in the western U.S.
If no one in your area raises animals, then you will have to pay more to get them.
This is the case for a large number of used to be rural areas that are now housing developments.
Is It Hard To Raise Pigs? goes over the things you need to know about pigs, if you are past this point and ready to get pigs read Where To Buy Feeder Pigs shows you the things you need to know so the pigs you get will work out well.
Chickens are beginner friendly
Money to get started: $3.00-5.00 per chick, rare breeds will be higher, full grown chickens will be more like $10.00-20.00 per bird, rare breeds, show birds and especially beautiful individuals will be more
Space needed: chicks need 6 square inches of brooder space each, adults need 2 square feet per bird in a coop and 10 square feet per bird in the outside pen, will need shelter
Equipment needed: waterer and feeder
Easy to find: very easy to find, many options online
Daily care: minimal
Learning Curve: not much
Kid Friendly: depending upon breed, but generally yes
Overall positives: easy to get, need a small space, cheap to feed, low risk of personal injury
Overall negatives: predator prone
Chickens can be layers or broilers
Chickens are an easy get into farming and be more self sufficient option.
The choices available to the small flock enthusiast have exploded over the past decade or so with the popularity of backyard and pet chickens.
I have an article titled 20 Of The Calmest Chicken Breeds if you are looking for family friendly chicken breed suggestions including descriptions and breed specifics.
You can raise chicks or buy adults (layers only)
Chicks will only need heat for a month or so and will reach maturity at five to six months of age depending upon the breed.
Most chickens can also be purchased as adults in trios (one male with two females) or in a small starter flock.
Many hatcheries are offering ready to lay pullets. These are four to five month old females that will start to lay right away.
This will get you eggs the quickest but the birds are high priced and shipping is crazy on these gals!
Ready to lay is definitely a more expensive option than raising your own from chicks.
Is Raising Chickens For Eggs Worth It? gives you an idea of your budget when raising and keeping your own hens.
The best egg layers are hybrid hens
If you are thinking of selling eggs then get a breed or hybrid specifically bred for egg production.
These gals will provide you with the most eggs for your feed and time.
Be aware a hybrid is a cross meaning if you hatch the eggs (assuming you have a rooster of course) you will not get babies exactly like the parents. Instead, they will be a mix.
Nothing wrong with mix breed chickens, I’m just mentioning this so you will be informed. If you want to raise purebred chicks, get purebred parent stock.
Chicken Breed Selection is an Ohioline article with a general chicken overview and a nice breed comparison chart when you scroll down the page.
Dual purpose breeds are hardy
Dual purpose chickens are a popular idea right now, and rightfully so.
Dual purpose chickens will be a bit bigger bodied, hardier and able to reliably reproduce for you.
They will not lay as well as a breed selected only for egg production, but that does not matter for the household egg supply.
A few nice dual purpose hens and you will have plenty of eggs for your family.
Broilers are the best meat chicken
Meat chickens, specifically broilers, are easy and fast!
Six weeks from getting them as day old chicks to them being ready to butcher.
Broilers you raise will have much more flavor than the confinement farm chickens you are used to eating, but can still be prepared using your normal recipes.
Read Best Chicken To Raise For Meat for more information.
Traditional breeds of chickens for meat
You can of course raise a dual purpose/heavy breed chicken for meat. It will take five to six months to get them to butchering size.
They can not be prepared like a broiler, or they will be tough.
Heavy breeds are great for long, slow cooking like stew and broth.
Ducks are a beginner friendly
Money to get started: $7.00-10.00 per duckling, rare breeds will be more, adult ducks will be from $15.00 each up
Space needed: ducklings up to 3 weeks old need 1 square foot of brooder space each (minimum of 5 square feet per group), for 4-8 week old ducklings 3 square feet per bird, adults need 15 square feet each
Equipment needed: waterer and feeder
Easy to find: very available, many online hatcheries have ducks
Daily care: minimal
Learning Curve: not much
Kid friendly: yes
Overall positives: easy to get, kid friendly, easy to fence, small area needed
Overall negatives: messy with water, some breeds can be loud
Is Raising Ducks For Meat Worth It? shows you the things you need to take into account if you are planning on raising your own ducks.
Duck are family friendly birds
Ducks are enjoyable to have around the yard as they are friendly and much easier to fence in than chickens, since most breeds can’t fly.
They are also great egg layers, we use duck eggs for our cooking any where we would use chicken eggs.
Another advantage to ducks is that ducklings seem to be a bit hardier than chicks.
Again, there are many breed choices, but for the most part you will see meat, egg or ornamental duck breeds.
All ducks lay eggs and all ducks can be used for meat, these distinctions are just based on which breed tends to do a more economical job.
Click here for my article on duck breeds, which gives specifics on 16 breeds.
Ducks are a wonderful egg layer
Ducks for eggs are becoming more popular. They lay early in the morning so you can collect the eggs all in one shot. Certain breeds are known for their laying ability but overall most domestic ducks are decent layers.
Backyard Eggs goes over a variety of poultry options, if you want eggs but are open to more than chickens.
Meat breed ducks are commonly Pekin
Meat breed ducks are dominated by the Pekin since they are fast growing and easy to find.
Pekins finish out in just seven to eight weeks! Any duck with a larger frame would make a good eating bird, they will just be slower to reach butchering size.
Wondering about the economics of raising your own meat ducks? Here’s a look into it, Is Raising Ducks For Meat Worth It?
You can raise ornamental ducks
Ornamental ducks are the super small or really fancy ducks raised for looks.
Usually these are expensive to purchase, so would not be the breeds to learn with.
Start with a less expensive type of duck and work your way up to these, a mess up or predator loss here will be very costly.
Ducklings need a brooder
Ducklings start in a brooder just like chicks and can eat chick starter just make sure it is not medicated.
Brooding Ducklings shows you how to set up your brooder to keep your new ducklings happy.
You can get duckling deals in the spring
Actually I just bought 28 ducklings at a local farm store for $2.50 each, normal price is $6.99 each.
What was wrong with these? Nothing!
They were too big compared to the new batch of young, cute ducklings, so I got already started ducklings for a great price.
They don’t even need a heat lamp anymore!
If you run across this situation, buy them! Less money spent for a duck that is 25% of adult size. That’s a steal!
Ducks do not need a pond
Once ducks are full size they can roam around your property eating bugs and foraging.
They will make a big mess of any area that is wet.
Ducks do not need a pond to swim in (if you do have a pond they will love it) but they do need to be able to dunk their whole bill in water.
Processing your meat ducks costs $9.50 each
If you plan on raising the ducks for meat be aware that not all poultry processors will take ducks.
Ducks will be much more expensive to process than chickens because it is much more work.
For example, around here chicken processing is $3.50 each and duck is $9.50 each.
You can butcher your ducks at home with the same set up as you would use for a chicken.
Ducks just have scads more feathers so plucking will take quite a bit longer. It is definitely doable and exactly how we do ours when we have roast duck.
Feeder Pigs are the easiest red meat
Money to get started: $50.00-200.00 per feeder pig, this will depend greatly upon demand, location and breed
Space needed: each feeder pig will need 10 square feet of pen space each
Equipment needed: feeder and waterer
Easy to find: depends upon the area
Daily care: minimal
Learning Curve: middle
Kid friendly: need supervised, pigs are not generally mean, but they are fast, strong and able to knock down a person
Overall positives: quickly reach butchering age, great way to raise low cost meat for family, minimal shelter needs
Overall negatives: eat a lot of feed to reach finished weight, can be escape artists, will need a trailer to haul anywhere
Feeder pigs will “up” your meat game
Feeder pigs are an easy and relatively fast meat animal to start your livestock adventures.
Pigs grow so quickly you will have a few pigs ready for the freezer in about four months after you get the feeder pigs.
Feeder pigs can be raised seasonally
Another bonus to feeder is you can keep them anytime of the year or just occasionally.
If you like your summer completely free no problem, raise your pigs in the winter.
When To Get A Feeder Pig is an article I wrote to give you more details about feeder pigs.
Here is a link to the Kidron Auction market reports page.
Kidron is a great place to get feeder pigs and their reports will give you an idea of what you can expect to pay for feeder pigs.
Feeder pigs need 700-800 pounds of feed each
The main concerns for a new feeder pig raiser are feed and the pen.
The feed since each pig will take about 800 pounds of feed to get to a finished weight of 250 pounds.
That’s a lot of feed to cart around in the family sedan. (It can be done, I have put bags of feed in my car numerous times.)
A purchased or home constructed bulk feeder would be great to reduce your chores and will limit the ability of the pigs to waste feed, but it is not mandatory.
You can use a home built trough or feed pans for just a few pigs.
Your pig will have around 144 pounds of meat
For that 800 pounds of feed you will get about 144 pounds of meat for your freezer.
Do the math, not a bad deal, even after you add on processing costs.
What will the final costs be for all of your pig raising efforts? Read Is Raising Pigs For Meat Worth It? for the stats.
Rooting is needed for happy pigs
The second concern is the pen.
Pigs are capable and like to be busy for a few hours during the day, especially if the weather is mild.
Nice weather and a bored pig will equal rooting and a lot of it.
The area where you had the outdoor pen will need to regrow, usually after some reseeding.
Since you know the pigs are going to root, take advantage of this.
Put them in a brushy area you want knocked back, or in last year’s garden spot to root around.
Use pig rooting power to help you
We put ours in the barn pens where other animals were kept so the pigs will dig up the bedding and get it composting.
At the very least, they loosen up the manure pack so it is easier to get out of the pen.
Do chores from outside the pig pen
Kids should be supervised around pigs. Pigs are fast and powerful, not mean.
Your pigs can bump into you when they are in a hurry to get to the feed you just poured, or even if they are just messing around.
The easy way to handle this is to set up your pen so you don’t have to go inside it for normal chores.
You can home butcher your pigs
You can butcher your own pigs at home. If you can dress out a deer, you’ve got the skills.
The main difference between a pig and a deer, or other small home butchered animals, is the weight.
With a pig you need more than a rope and a backyard tree, they are too heavy to muscle up to the branch.
We use a loader bucket to hang up the carcass for skinning.
Make the pig processing appointment first
Many people just use a local butcher shop to process the pig. So did we for quite a while.
You will need to call ahead to make an appointment, by this I mean get the appointment before you get the pig.
Processing will cost you about $1.30 per pound of meat, depending upon the butcher shop prices.
Sheep are backyard friendly
Money to get started: lambs $100-200 each, mature ewes $300 each and up, bred ewes cost more as do purebreds
Space needed: depends upon location, around here it is 5 sheep per acre of pasture
Equipment needed: water trough and fencing
Easy to find: depends upon area
Daily care: minimal, with more needed at lambing and shearing
Learning Curve: can be steep or not much, depending upon your stock
Kid friendly: need supervised, sheep are generally friendly, but are fast so they could knock you down
Overall positives: normally easy care, peaceful animals, high demand meat to sell or eat yourself for a fraction of store price
Overall negatives: some breeds/individuals need more care, sheep are prone to stress and predators
Sheep are friendly and easy to manage
Sheep are often overlooked as a beginners choice of animal to raise, at least in our area.
Odd, since sheep are friendly and easier to manage than goats, which seems to be the common beginner suggestion.
I will grant that sheep do seem more susceptible to stress than goats.
Sheep are great lawn mowers
Sheep are great grazers, fence in that lawn instead of continually paying to have it mowed.
As long as there is plenty of grass all the sheep will need is water, shade and a salt block.
Shearing sheep needs done yearly
I think many people are unnecessarily turned off of sheep because of the wool needing shorn every year.
Ask around, if there are sheep in your area or sheep are shown at the local fair, someone is shearing sheep near you.
Or you could learn to shear your own and then shear for other small flock owners.
Hair sheep do not need shearing
Maybe you just don’t want to deal with the wool at all. No problem, get hair sheep.
Tons of people are deciding to raise hair sheep around here.
Feeder lambs are a fun project
If you are wanting to do more of a seasonal project with sheep, consider a few feeder lambs.
Lambs that are weaned (don’t need mom any more) but still need to grow bigger can be purchased.
Depending upon breed, these lambs should be ready to butcher in four to six months from when you got them.
Read Raising A Lamb For Meat Worth It? for costs breakdowns including what you should expect to pay for your butchering costs.
Feeder lambs give you plenty of grass eating in the summer but no chores to do in the winter.
This will also give you a hands on sheep experience to see if you like them well enough to raise again next summer.
Or maybe even consider getting some breeding stock of your own!
Bottle calves are fun to raise
Money to get started: right now $150.00 for a 100 pound Holstein bull calf, colored breeds (smaller calves) will be less
Space needed: minimal, starting at 30 square feet or so and growing as the calf gets bigger, they will need shelter
Equipment needed: bottle and water trough
Easy to find: yes, if you are in a dairy area, no, if you are not
Daily care: a bottle twice a day for the first six weeks and refills of feed, water and hay
Learning Curve: medium
Kid Friendly: very, bottle calves love everyone
Overall positives: great way to test out raising cattle, low entry price for beef, very friendly animal, super economical way to have your own beef
Overall negatives: most cattle not ready for freezer until 1.5-2 years old, milk replacer is pricey per bag, some dairy calves are fragile (health wise)-especially ones that are from the sale barn
Bottle calves are super friendly
Bottle babies are known for being super friendly, they think anyone who walks by might have a snack for them.
Kids can easily feed the bottle, it doesn’t take all that long and the calf will only need the bottle for six weeks or so.
You can keep the calf on the bottle longer but most people don’t since milk replacer is expensive.
Feed the calf one bottle, twice a day
How much and when to feed the calf will all be listed in a chart on the back of the bag.
Follow the directions for amount of powder, temperature of water and volume to feed.
We all want fast growth out of our animals, but in the case of bottle babies resist the temptation to overfeed.
You will make the calf sick not make it grow better.
Your calf needs grain, hay and water
Keep grain, hay and water in the pen with the calf so as it gets closer to weaning age it will already be eating more than just the bottle.
Once weaned your calf can be put with other young calves.
Your bottle calf needs a friend
The calf will need a buddy, preferably another young calf but definitely another animal like a goat or sheep.
Keep an eye on the introduction, the calf is just a baby despite his size and he can get harassed by another animal, even one smaller than him.
Bottle calves can live pasture, with shelter
Your bottle calf can go out on pasture as well. Don’t worry he’ll come running for the bottle.
If he stops coming to you for the bottle and he is over six weeks, just wean him.
Make sure your bottle calves have an easy entry shelter, for the heat or on windy or rainy days.
Bottle calves are always friendly
The best part about bottle calves is that they remain friendly even as they get bigger.
This is great when he gets out of his pen, just lead him back in with a bucket of grain.
True he’ll buck around a little first but just give him a few minutes then offer the feed, or bottle if he’s not yet weaned.
Bottle calves are normally kept for a year and a half to two years. You could have them butchered at any time you feel they are big enough.
The bigger animal will get you much more meat for your processing fees, since there is a base charge (the same no matter the size of the steer) then packaging per pound charges.
You must castrate bull calves!
Last, but certainly not least, make sure your calf is castrated.
Any one with animals is likely to have the small castration bands, or you can have a vet do it for you.
Your sweet little bottle baby will be a big problem as he grows if he is not castrated.
A bottle feed bull does not respect people as a cow raised bull would.
An uncastrated adult male is not safe to have around. The bigger he gets the harder it will be on him and you.
Get him castrated when he is small, it’s super fast and easy,
Not all livestock are beginner friendly
Adult cattle are not for rank beginners
I love cattle and enjoy having them here, but I am also used to being around them and have fencing, gates, etc. built with them in mind.
Cattle are pushers. Since they have a good amount of weight they can really beat on equipment, feeders and fencing. They are also fast when they want to be.
If you are completely new to animals start with something smaller to get used to daily care and getting feed, then move up to cattle once you get some experience, or try a bottle calf as listed above.
Guineas are flighty and loud
Guineas are actually easy to take care of once they get to adult size since they mostly take care of themselves.
They are loud. all of the time. They hate to be caged (unless they were raised in one) and are good flyers, easily capable of roosting in trees.
Finally, at least in our area, I see guineas hit on the road frequently. They seem to love going across the road. Eventually, they don’t make it.
Game birds are challenging to raise
Game birds like pheasants are pretty high strung and excitable. They seem to get out of control fast when things start to go wrong.
What animals can live with chickens?
Just about any animal can live with chickens. Larger livestock like cattle will give the chickens manure to scratch through, a favorite chicken treat.
Can rabbits and chickens live together?
Yes, but be aware the chickens will eat the rabbit food and the rabbit will eat the chicken food, if they can get to each other’s feeders. They could share a turn out yard. The first few times they are together might cause some scuffles and should be monitored, but most likely they will get used to each other.