There’s something truly amazing about animal husbandry. Rearing animals from infancy to adulthood, connecting with them on a personal level, giving them the best life and death possible — it’s easy to see why so many people are swearing off commercially produced milk, eggs, and meat and simply producing and raising their own.
However, when you’re just getting started in the animal husbandry game, it can be hard to know what breeds will work best for your particular situation. If you’re looking to get in on the chicken, pig, or dairy cow keeping game, here are a handful of user-friendly breeds for beginners.
When looking for your first chickens, you’ll want to find a breed that is easy to keep, has high egg production, and is relatively docile. Dual-purpose breeds are often recommended for beginners as they’re good for both eggs and meat.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are easily the most popular dual-purpose breed around. These tough, easy to care for birds are as comfortable confined as they are free-range. They produce far more eggs than most breeds — 250-300 yearly — and do so year round. The roosters usually weigh in at about 8.5 pounds, while the hens come in at 6.5 pounds.
Rhode Island Reds are an active breed, but still fairly calm and docile. Unfortunately, males often become aggressive and are not suited to be around small pets and children.
Image ©Thomas Kriese
The Plymouth Rock, also known as a barred rock, is another popular dual-purpose breed. They are robust and cold hardy. Hens typically lay 200 eggs per year (year round) and weigh 7.5 pounds on average. Male Rocks can average up to 10 pounds in weight — making them great for meat production.
The Plymouth Rock is friendly, docile, and easy to handle. They’re a great addition to any flock.
Image ©Elias Gayles
Orpingtons are a large, sturdy dual-purpose breed that tolerates cold weather very well. Orpingtons hens lay about 175 to 200 eggs a year, and weigh around 8 pounds. Orpington roosters weigh up to 10 pounds.
Orpingtons have a great personality and make fantastic pets. They’re easy going and extremely friendly. However, the hens do get broody during the summer months.
Pigs are often raised on the homestead for one reason, and one reason alone — meat. When choosing pigs, it’s important to remember that you’ll need more than one, as they’re highly social.
Image ©Scott Davis
Berkshires are a popular niche breed for small farmers and are known for their flavorful, darker than average meat. They are hardy, active foragers who perform very well outdoors — especially when grazing on pasture. Berkshires reach around 600 pounds at maturity. Personality-wise, they are curious, friendly, have an excellent disposition, and are good mothers.
Image ©Marji Beach
Hampshires are noted for being well-muscled and rapid growers. They are efficient foragers and produce high quality meat. Sows have a reputation as good mothers with long breeding lives. Sows reach 350-500 pounds at maturity, while boars are 400-600 pounds. These good tempered pigs are often touted as being great for beginners.
Image ©Roger Babbs
Herefords are a lean meat hog, excellent at rooting and tilling. They are incredibly adaptable and thrive both in outdoor operations and under confinement systems, as well as to a wide variety of climates. Sows are closely attentive mothers and produce large litters. Mature sows weigh about 600 pounds and boars about 800 pounds. Herefords are known for their quiet and docile disposition.
Before you choose a dairy cow, you’ll need to know whether you plan on sharing or selling milk (if it’s legal in your state) and whether or not you plan to produce butter and cheese. This will help you determined how much milk and cream production you’ll need daily.
Image ©Just Chaos
Dexters are a smaller breed of cow — perfect for the small farm or homestead. Weighing in at 600 – 700 pounds, Dexters do not produce as much milk as most other traditional dairy breeds, coming in at an average of two gallons per day. They are capable of birthing without assistance, are excellent mothers, and will continue to calve and milk for up to 15 years.
Image ©Storye Book
Weighing 900-1,000 pounds, these cows are best known for their gentle disposition. Jerseys average four to six gallons of rich creamy milk per day. They mature early, are highly fertile, calve easily, and have great maternal instincts.
Image ©Malcolm Morley
Our biggest contender is the Brown Swiss at 1,300-1,400 pounds. These sturdy, quiet tempered cows produce up to nine gallons of milk per day, with a butterfat content of four percent. The high output and protein content of the milk makes it perfect for cheese making.
No matter what animals you choose to raise on your homestead, take the time to do as much research as possible before purchase. Know what and how much feed you’ll use, what housing type to provide, how to exclude predators, as well as what to do in emergencies. Once you’re fully educated, you’ll be able to make the right purchase for your family and farm.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.