Although most of us have chosen to homestead to get away from the rat race, we still want to earn money. Keeping your homestead profitable can be difficult and depends on many factors.
Raising animals can be a rewarding and time-consuming addition to your homestead. It’s worthwhile to pick a farm animal that will bring an income to your family farm.
Chickens have been proven to be the most profitable animal on the homestead. You can raise them for meat or milk, they take little land, food or maintenance, they leave behind manure and will even break down your compost.
But before you go out and purchase a new flock, there are some factors that would not make chickens the most profitable animal on YOUR homestead. Below, we compare 8 farm animals, their needs, and how much they could possibly generate in income for your off grid homestead.
Related: Want to make your farm animals even more profitable, raise them on a rotational grazing system. To do that, you need good fencing. Moveable electric fencing is a cost effective way to move your animals on your homestead. Iʻve used this fencing for years and it works great.
5 Factors to Determine Profit
Several things define profit. If you have access to a lot of land, the most profitable animal for you might be different from someone with less than an acre. Similarly, if you don’t have a lot of time to take care of a farm animal, a needy animal will not be profitable for you.
1. Land availability
Let’s first look at arguably the most important factor when picking a farm animal for profit (or otherwise). Land is expensive and most of us don’t have the funds to expand just to raise a farm animal.
Here is how much land you need for some popular farm animals. Keep in mind that most of these animals are social and will need companions.
- Chickens: 10-12 square feet each.
- Ducks: 15 square feet each.
- Rabbits: 12 square feet each.
- Pigs: At least 130 square feet but more if you don’t want to pay a lot for food.
- Sheep: 50 square feet each more if you don’t want to pay a lot for food.
- Goats: 50 square feet each more if you don’t want to pay a lot for food.
- Cows: 1 to 2 acres each.
If you only have a small homestead, you might not have space for larger farm animals like cows and pigs, which would mean they aren’t profitable for your family.
You’ll also need to consider the quality of land your animals are using. Goats and sheep can glean food in rugged terrain. Cows are going to need quality pasture.
2. Cost of Feed/Space needed to grow feed
A second consideration is the cost of growing the feed yourself. Growing your animal food can save you money, but it also requires space. You want to include costs of feed in your calculations.
For ruminants, you could theoretically feed them 100% off of pasture. Rugged goats and sheep can live off of less than ideal pasture conditions and still find substance. Cows need better quality pasture.
Pigs can eat excess milk and food, but they’ll need supplemental food as well.
Chickens, rabbits, and ducks can live off foraging, but you’ll also want to supplement with feed.
Check the local costs of feed, hay, and other items before deciding on a profitable farm animal.
3. Cost of the animal
How expensive is it to buy your farm animals? Farm animals can get quite expensive, with purebred heifer cows costing well over a grand to chickens that cost a couple of dollars each as chicks.
If you breed the animals, you can bring that initial cost way down to the point that you would never have to pay for another animal again!
There are also hidden costs to raising animals that you might not have included in your calculations.
Housing, bedding, fencing, and farm animal equipment can quickly add up. You can lower these costs by buying used and building your own.
Farm animals also get sick, need vaccinations and medications occasionally. You might want to test your animals for diseases, and these costs can add up.
Your best defense is to choose animals suited to your climate from reputable breeders and sources.
4. How much work is it to raise a farm animal?
Some animals are time intensive. A milk cow or goat needs to be milked and cleaned twice a day, for example.
Every farm animal must be fed and watered daily, and their shelters need to be cleaned regularly (some more than others).
If you have the space for meat cows (or goats or sheep), you can get self-watering systems with plenty of pasture, making them less time-intensive.
If you don’t have time to do this yourself, you’re going to lose all your profit to labor costs.
It’s also worth considering how long it takes for your animals to reach maturity and become profitable. For example, it takes chickens 6-8 months to start producing eggs. It only takes meat chickens 8-10 weeks to reach maturity. But it takes well over a year for a beef cow to become profitable.
5. Possible Revenue Sources
You should consider how versatile a farm animal is.
A good goat doe can produce babies to sell and butcher as well as plenty of milk. Chickens can live long egg-producing lives and then be turned to stew (the offspring of egg chickens tend to not grow fast enough to be a profitable meat choice).
Keep the multi-purpose revenue streams in mind when choosing which animal to raise and what breed to choose.
The most profitable farm animal for small homesteaders
We’re going to list the most popular farm animals to decide which one is the most profitable. Remember, every homestead is different, and just because it’s the most profitable for us doesn’t mean it will be for you.
Small homesteaders love chickens because they’re cheap to purchase and raise and require minimum maintenance.
Chickens produce eggs (a highly profitable crop), chicks (to sell to others or make more eggs for you), and meat (at a very fast rate if you buy specifically meat chickens).
How many eggs do chickens produce per week? Learn all about it in this post where we uncover how many chickens you need to get a dozen eggs per week.
Ducks require slightly more space than chickens but their meat and eggs go for more. If you raise a meat/egg duck like a Pekin, you’ll get huge eggs regularly and dark tender meat from the males.
Rabbits are easy to raise and can be kept with chickens to save space. They breed, well, like rabbits making them a good choice to sell babies or meat. Rabbits can be butchered after only 6-8 weeks, and one pair of breeding rabbits can produce 6-8 bunnies a month.
If there is a market for rabbit meat in your area, you can make a lot of money, but make sure there is a demand before committing.
- Honey Bees
Honey bees are a low-maintenance animal to keep that doesn’t require much, if any, space on your part. You can raise bees in the city or rent hives to farmers. In turn, you can sell honey and beeswax for a premium.
The downside to bees is that it takes over a year to start producing enough honey, and start-up costs can be high. To learn more about keeping bees, dive into this post here.
Pigs can be a highly lucrative farm animal to raise if you have the space and know-how. Pigs will turn basically any type of food into high-quality meat, and if you get into breeding, sows can produce 8-10 piglets every six months that can go for $100 each.
Keep in mind breeding pigs costs money, and not all sows are good mothers. All this can add up.
Although we often think of cows before we think of goats for milk and meat, most of the world drinks and eats goats. Goats are cheap to feed (they can forage for lots of their food) and can be used for milk, meat, and baby production.
Like rabbits, make sure there is a market for goat meat in your area before settling on meat goats for profit.
Sheep are quiet, low maintenance grazing animals that can live off the land, producing meat, wool, and even milk. If you have a market for lamb around Easter and Ramadan, you can make a lot of money.
Sheep are also a good choice if you have otherwise unusable land, like hills and rocky terrain, but they thrive in a food forest, which I documented in this post here.
Beef cows are one of the most profitable farm animals to raise if you have space. They’re low maintenance, and the return on investment is high.
If raw milk is legal in your state, you could also make a good profit from selling your dairy cow’s milk at a premium (and a dairy cow can produce anywhere from 5-10 gallons a day).
Unfortunately, unless you have plenty of land at your disposal, beef (and dairy) cows are too expensive to get into for many family homesteads.
The most profitable animal for you
Chickens are the winner for us as the most profitable animal for homesteaders.
They’re not expensive to get into, small, require little space, are not time-intensive, and produce something that almost every household needs: eggs.
All of the farm animals, whether you choose chickens, ducks, rabbits, bees, pigs, goats, sheep, or cows can be profitable. Pick the animal that works best for your homestead. Or pick a few to diversify.
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