Having pets or livestock is an amazing way to improve not only your backyard homestead but also your family’s overall life. That is, of course, as long as you’ve got things under control and set up to make them as easy as possible. So let’s go over some of the best animal resources that you need.
Animals have simple needs: food, water, shelter, bedding, occasional health care (usually as needed), and daily interaction. Having a system will make things easier, smoother, and simpler – all of which are necessary on a backyard homestead to prevent burnout and fatigue.
Ready to see the best animal resources – and where to get them? Keep reading – and I’ll show you what we’ve learned, found, and love.
Food is a daily requirement for all living things – animals included. How you feed them, however, will depend on a few important factors:
- The type and quantity of animals
- How much land or pasture space is available
- Your feelings on commercial feed
- How much time you have to invest in feeding your animals
- The feed system involved
For example, if you’re fine with giving your chickens commercial feed, then your setup for feeding them will look different than if you’re feeding them fresh, organic foods every day. Furthermore, the amount of free-ranging they’ll be able to do is directly related to how much space you have for them in your backyard homestead – and how tall your fences are!
Even so, here’s what’s worked for us in real life, as well as some of our plans for our not-yet-acquired livestock. Keep in mind that our dedicated pasture is 0.1 acre (our garden is another 0.1 acre).
|Animal||Main Feed Source||Secondary Feed Source|
|Alpacas||Compressed hay pellets||Pasture foraging and hay|
|Chickens||Fresh foods, foraging||Commercial feed pellets|
|Goats||Compressed hay pellets||Pasture foraging and hay|
|Sheep||Compressed hay pellets||Pasture foraging and hay|
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We buy our hay pellets and chicken feed at a local feed store. Of all of the feed stores, our favorites are as follows:
- IFA Country Stores (click here to see their website in a new window).
- Dallas Green Farm and Home – a local feed and animal supply store that we visit.
- Tractor Supply (click here to see their website in a new window)
We like IFA best due to:
- The quality of feed. Our animals do best on IFA’s feeds. Not only that, but I’ve tried some taste-tests between several brands. Okay, the animals did the tasting. They preferred the IFA feed every time.
- Their commitment to sustainability. All of their store-brand feeds are produced locally in their own feed mills from locally and sustainably sourced ingredients. That makes me feel better about when I do have to use feed for our animals.
- The price. IFA’s prices tend to not only be competitive but also better. It’s become our go-to feed store.
- The employees. IFA’s employees are hands down the most helpful and happy. Over multiple visits, they’ve proven far more helpful and knowledgeable as resources than most of the other stores combined.
- The overall selection. Not only can we get our animal feed here, but we can also get everything else we need for our entire backyard homestead here. We’re talking food storage supplies, garden tools, tack, everything.
The only downside to IFA is distance – it’s further than our second and third choices of stores. However, as long as I do some planning, it’s well worth the extra drive. It’s usually only when we have a surprise feed outage that we go to the other stores.
For more information on feeding specific animals, make sure you check out our published articles. Use the menu to select which animal you want to know more about, and then feel free to binge-read.
Animals can go a few days without feed (though it’s definitely not recommended). They can’t go without water. So having a reliable, functioning water system is an absolute must.
The type of watering system you use will depend on your pipe setup, your existing watering system, whether your area has a hard freeze (as that affects the pipes), primary versus secondary irrigation, bugs like mosquitoes, and other important factors.
We have irrigation water that only flows during April to October. As such, we can’t rely on that for our animals. Utah also has hard freezes. And we live next to some natural wetlands that means we get lots of mosquitoes.
Taking our local needs into mind, we use closed, covered tanks and watering nipples for watering our animals.
- In the spring, summer, and fall: we can refill their water with either our primary (culinary) water or our irrigation water as long as we treat it. We have hoses and buckets – we use whichever is most convenient and appropriate, depending on which tank we’re filling.
- In the winter, we still use the tanks. However, we do use a tank stock de-icer to keep the water (and the watering nipples) from freezing. We use a de-icer that simply slips right into the tank so we can still leave it closed.
For your reference, here’s what we use for the chickens.
- Tank: a food-grade, 5-gallon bucket (bought from IFA for under $5). For comparison, here’s what one looks like on Amazon.
- Horizontal watering nipples, like these on Amazon. These we did buy from Amazon.
- A gamma lid for the bucket. They’re much easier to use and install than the generic 5-gallon bucket lids. This is what they look like on Amazon, although we buy our gamma lids at IFA for about $7 each.
- Utility de-icer (like this on Amazon). I don’t recall if we bought this at IFA or on Amazon, but don’t feel bad shopping around for the best price possible.
Here’s what we use for the goats and larger livestock.
- Tank: a 35-gallon, horizontal-output livestock water tank like this one on Amazon. This we actually bought at Tractor Supply, as it had the best price and supply of watering tanks at the time.
- Watering nipples: okay, technically, we used a stainless steel hog watering nipple system (along with a few extra plumbing bits to connect it to the watering tank). We bought all of these from Tractor Supply, but here’s what they look like on Amazon. You’ll want one per tank. The animals do need some training to figure it out, but ours got it pretty quickly.
- Utility de-icer (like this on Amazon). You’ll need one of these per watering tanks, too.
Again, the system that you pick may look different than ours. That’s okay – and totally normal. I love ours because it helps our animals have constant access to clean water – and it helps us control the mosquitoes and other bugs that would otherwise become frequent pests if they had water, too.
Shelter or Housing
Animals need some type of safe shelter for sleeping, taking refuge during bad weather, and as a place to hide when they feel threatened. The exact type of shelter will depend on the animal.
Chickens need a coop.
- Our first coop was a pre-fabricated, we-just-had-to-build it kind of thing. This isn’t the exact model, but this looks like a good alternative on Amazon.
- Our current coop is one we built ourselves. It’s much sturdier and roomier. Our chickens are loving it. Here is the free chicken coop plan we used, courtesy of Home Depot’s blog.
We’ve found that our chickens do better if they have a covered run so that they can still get outside even if it’s rainy (or snowy). We repurposed an old dog kennel made out of chain link fencing. It’s a bit larger than this welded wire dog kennel (on Amazon), but it’s a good alternative if your house didn’t come with its own dog kennel. If you need something smaller, something like this (on Amazon) would also work.
We try not to use any heaters for our chickens, as it’s a huge fire risk. Also, chickens that are accustomed to a heater are in for a big shock (that’s life-threatening) if the power goes out! But for huge changes in the weather, we do put the safest chicken coop heater available (available on Amazon) in their coop for a night or two.
Goats and Sheep
Goats and sheep have pretty basic housing needs. Minimally, all they need is a 3-sided shelter that protects them from any wind and inclement weather. Our Nigerian Dwarf goats don’t like rain, so we made sure that their shack (built from pallets) was waterproof enough that it stayed dry inside.
If you’re going to be raising or milking goats, then their shelter will need to be big enough to accommodate several extra things, too.
- A milking stall
- Kidding areas
- Areas to separate the kids into at night
- Food storage
Finally, while you can make their shelter just tall enough for the goats and sheep, I don’t recommend you do that. It makes cleaning out their shelter a huge pain in the head. Make it tall enough for people to stand up comfortably – trust me and my headache.
For a goat and sheep shelter, I highly recommend that you build one yourself or you buy a wood shed kit as a starting point. Some of the three-sided metal shelters may be an option, too.
Alpacas only need a 3-sided shelter, too. In fact, they like having a bit of a breeze! After all, they are from the high mountain areas of Peru. So they’re used to some wind. However, they don’t always like rain – especially if it’s cold. So they will need a rainproof shelter to escape.
Alpacas also have unusually large personal bubbles. They like their own space. So you’ll need a large enough shelter that each alpaca can have its own area. Sure, they’ll pack in if there’s cold or bad weather. But when it’s warm? Those alpacas want their own space.
Again, make sure that you build their shelter to accommodate human height. Not only are alpacas significantly taller than goats and sheep, but you’ll also want to get into the shelter to be able to clean it.
For an alpaca shelter, I recommend that you build one yourself. Buying a premade shelter gets expensive! However, if you want some sort of a wooden shed kit or a 3-sided metal shelter, that may be a good starting point to get you going.
Bedding and Litter
Animals will need bedding and litter. Not only will this be where they sleep, but it’s also going to be where they answer nature’s call. So it’s going to need to be something that can be changed on a regular basis. How often it needs to be changed will depend on your bedding goals, how many animals you have, and other factors.
Straw, pine shavings, and compressed pine shaving pellets are three of the most common and best options for bedding and litter.
Personally, I generally prefer pine shavings – they seem to do best for our animals. Plus, they’re a whole lot easier to clean up and compost.
However, straw is an amazing insulator, so we add that when it’s cold or to the unusually soggy ground. It does seem to take longer to compost, though. However, it’s a great additive to our clay soil, so I don’t mind it too much.
Compressed pine shaving pellets are also great for adding to soggy areas – or to help build up an area that needs some extra oomph. They turn to sawdust when wet, though, so they’re next to impossible to clean up from a dirt floor. In my experience, these don’t work in coops, though. They do okay in a wet chicken run, though, especially to help dry up an area or build it up so it stops collecting water.
For our chickens, I generally stick to pine shavings. I did use some straw and compressed pine shaving pellets to build up their run floor so that it wouldn’t flood.
For our goats and larger livestock, we use a combination of pine shavings, straw, and pine pellets for the optimal dryness of bedding and litter.
I recommend that you buy bedding and litter in bulk from the equine section of your local feed store – they’re a whole lot cheaper that way than if you’re buying it from the small animal aisle of a pet store.
You may also want to use some PDZ or diatomaceous earth if your coops and shelters get wet frequently. They’ll help control the wetness and smell. Both are available on Amazon (this is a great DE starter kit) or at your local feed store.
We buy our bedding and litter at IFA. I recommend that you do so, too. It’ll save you a huge amount of money.
Daily Interaction and Inspection
Animals also need daily interaction and inspection. There aren’t as many tools needed for this, except in the way of first aid items that you may want to have on hand. The exact items you’ll need will depend on what animals you keep on your homestead.
The daily inspection will be to give your animals a look to see how their health and wellness appears. This way, you’ll know how they’re doing – and if they need any veterinarian care. The exact inspection will vary by species. However, I recommend giving each of your animals a visual inspection daily.
Next, each animal will have different daily interaction needs.
- Our chickens like getting some organic feed (food, scratch, or seeds) every day. They also like being petted.
- We collect chicken eggs every day.
- Our goats need to be milked daily – or twice a day.
- The goats liked to see us checking their feed and water daily – and refilling them as needed.
- Our goats also liked to be petted and played with – although they didn’t care for being chased by the children!
- Our cat likes to play with our children. She also likes to troll the dog.
- Our fish don’t need much, but we like to watch them swim. It’s calming for us, though it stresses the fish out when they see the cat watching, too.
- The dog requires daily playtime. The chickens and goats prefer not to be involved.
For this, you’ll want to get some animal treats or toys. The exact types will depend on you, your family, your animals, and your goals for keeping your animals.
Different animals will need different amounts of health care from a vet. I recommend that you consider veterinary care before you buy your animals, pets, and livestock. Consider how much care you’re willing to get them from a professional – and make sure that you’ve got money budgeted for vet visits.
- Our pets (the cat and dog) have their own vet.
- Our chickens don’t have a vet – I’m their total healthcare provider. One of the conditions for getting chickens was that I learn how to do it myself, as taking chickens to the vet usually ends up in the same outcome as if you took care of it at home (but with a big bill to pay).
- Our goats have a mobile livestock veterinarian who comes to our home. We didn’t want to transport them anywhere if we didn’t have to!
Next, make sure that you’ve got the right kinds of veterinarians for the right kinds of animals. Our regular vet specializes in dogs and cats, so we wouldn’t take our goats to see them. Instead, we asked them for a few referrals to livestock vets for the goats – and they were able to give us a few names.
I’d also ask your local IFA (or helpful feed store employee) for a few veterinarians’ names, too. Most feed store employees are helpful – and they’ve got livestock, too. They can tell you which vets to use, which mobile vets are best, and when to use a vet tech instead. They can also help you with ideas if you’d rather administer appropriate medicines at home.
Some health care needs for livestock can be administered and done yourself, including vaccinations. Those vaccinations can be bought at your local feed and animal supply stores. This is another time that I recommend IFA – their employees are hugely helpful at helping point you in the right direction.