Rearing animals on your homestead can be an enriching experience in more ways than one.
With the right know-how and dedication, the following 12 farm animals can raise your income in return for raising them! Here are the 12 most profitable choices…
1. Beef Cattle
As long as you have the acreage, beef cattle can be one of the most profitable livestock on your homestead as there’s a huge market for beef in the US and Canada. They’re also relatively low in maintenance.
- At least 1 acre is required per cow for space and grazing, and you’ll need to select the right breed for your climate.
- Cows will need access to fresh water, good-quality pasture, supplemental hay, a barn, a shaded area on the pasture to reduce heat stress, and veterinarian care.
- High-tensile string fencing will also be needed to secure your pasture’s outer fence boundaries.
You’ll need a herd of about 150 cows to generate a steady income, and profits are estimated between $100-125 per cow. However, as instructor Kyle Olson at the North Dakota Farm Management illustrates, drought and unforeseen crises like COVID-19 have seen profits per head drop between $33 and $75.
Note that state laws prohibit you from selling beef (organic or otherwise) unless the animal has been processed in a USDA-inspected facility.
Pigs aren’t fussy feeders and will put on weight easily, but they have the potential to be aggressive and dangerous to unfamiliar handlers, so space to roam is essential for their stimulation and well-being.
- Piglets will need to be raised for at least a year before you get a decent amount of meat from them (view laws on backyard slaughtering here).
- Pigs will require two separate spaces for cleanliness and comfort: a designated bedding area and a bathroom area.
- Each pig requires a minimum of 36 square feet (but larger is better).
- They’ll feed on grains, bread, milk, vegetable scraps, pasture, compost, and weeds, but know that pigs eat more as they roam, so the roomier their pen, the lower your feeding expenses can be!
You can raise hogs for pork or breed and sell heritage pigs. According to Homesteading Where You Are, certain breeds can sell for over $100 per piglet, and when breeding pigs, you can typically expect 8-10 piglets every 5 months – so you’re looking at $1,500-$2,000 per year if you sell a full litter.
State laws on selling pork vary, but most prohibit you from selling meat in general (retail) by the pound without a food license.
You’ll also need to be inspected by the USDA and ensure you comply with the Food Safety Inspection Service. Always check with your local government laws for clarification.
According to the US Dept. of Agriculture, goat meat ranks fourth in the most consumed meat in the world, so these can be highly profitable livestock to have on your homestead!
- Each adult goat needs approximately 10-15 square feet of space.
- Goats favor a hot and dry climate as opposed to wet and cool regions (they can’t put on external fat, and wetter/cool climates can spell greater parasite and hoof issues), so they’ll require shelter for weather protection.
- Goats will eat mostly grain and roughage (grasses, hay, bark, and weeds), and will require high-tensile fencing as they’re keen climbers.
You can sell goats for meat and milk and/or focus on dairy by-products, such as cheese, yogurt, and even goat milk soap!
You can also rent out your goat herd to areas in need of foliage control, which can see you make around $250 a day for 30-100 goats.
An entire herd isn’t necessary to make a profit – two goats alone can see you earn between $1,000 and $2,000 per year, and if you breed goats, each kid may be sold for around $200.
Urban homesteaders raising goats will need to consult their cities’ unique zoning laws and regulations, which may only permit miniature and dehorned goats, require specific goat housing designs, etc.
Sheep will survive and stay healthy on fairly low-quality forage, so they’re fairly low-cost and low-maintenance livestock. You’ll need a fair amount of acreage to raise enough for profit though.
- You’ll need to select certain breeds suited to your agro-climatic condition (rainfall, soil types, water availability, etc.) as this will affect vegetation.
- If raised for meat, sheep will need to be slaughtered at 5-6 months for the most tender meat.
- You can typically keep four sheep per acre, and protective, secure fencing (ideally electrical) is a must as sheep aren’t great at defending themselves from predators.
- Sheep tend to only eat grass, but they eat lots of it, so they’ll make great lawnmowers!
Sheep are great money-makers as you can breed and sell lambs to local farmers in addition to selling their meat, milk, and fiber.
You can typically make $100 per lamb sold, and ewes produce an average litter of two to four, so a minimum of 50 sheep will be necessary to see healthy profits.
Selling fiber can be particularly lucrative if you opt for certain breeds, as sheep farmer Bonnie Sutten shares on I Am Countryside:
“With our Romeldale sheep, which produce unique and beautiful wool, we were flooded with requests to buy raw fleece — raw fleece now stands at about 50% of my total wool sales.”
To buy and sell sheep, you’ll need a Domestic Animal Health permit, and some states will require that sheep milk adheres to certain sanitation requirements. You can get an idea of the regulations here.
Alpaca wool is highly desirable compared to sheep’s wool (softer plus three times as strong), so these animals can be a challenging but worthwhile investment.
- You’ll need to keep at least two alpacas to prevent loneliness.
- A lean-to shelter is required for bad weather, but these hardy animals won’t require a full-sized barn.
- 1 acre of pasture will be sufficient to keep five to six alpacas, and they’ll require oats and vitamin supplements in the winter.
While initial purchase costs are high ($1,00-$2,000 for female alpacas), alpacas make about 10 pounds worth of raw fleece, which when sold at $3 an ounce, can generate $500 in income from just selling the raw fiber alone.
While you can’t sell them for meat, offspring can be sold for around $1,500, and healthy adult females with all the right characteristics may sell for between $10,000 and $20,000.
You’ll need to register newborn alpacas and consult local zoning regulations in regard to opening a farm store to sell wool/fiber products.
6. Dairy Cows
A small-scale dairy farm won’t be profitable, so you’ll need to have the acreage to see a healthy return on your investment.
- Approximately 2-5 acres are generally needed per dairy cow.
- Each cow needs around 30-40 pounds of good-quality hay per day.
- Cows need to breed first to produce milk and can produce milk for several years on one lactation cycle, but for quality, most owners will breed their cow annually to generate a fresh lactation cycle.
You’ll need a herd of at least 60-80 dairy cows to begin seeing a profit, though you’ll need a much larger herd to generate a healthy long-term profit.
According to Dairy Herd Management, farms with less than 250 cows made a max of $170 per cow in 2020, while those with over 1,000 made 3-5 times that amount.
Dairy cows have many avenues of income including milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt, and you can increase your income considerably with each product if you raise your herd on organic farming methods.
Note that the laws on selling raw milk vary from state to state.
Chickens are a great low-cost animal to raise and are a good way for small-scale hobby homesteaders to dip their toes in the production and selling aspects of farming.
- Approximately 4 square feet per hen is required in the chicken coop, and a nesting box is needed for every 3-4 hens.
- You’ll need a wire mesh fence with an electrified line to deter predators.
- Chickens will need fresh water and will eat store-bought feed, leftovers, weeds, and compost.
You can, of course, sell chickens for eggs and meat, but you can also venture into selling day-old chicks, fertilizer, and even their feathers (for craft purposes and fisherman flies — potentially an extra $80 a year).
Keeping at least 15-16 chickens is recommended as this could give you 8 dozen (96) eggs a week or around $800-$900 per year per breed.
It’s important to select breeds touted as top egg layers or quality meat producers, depending on your goals.
Many owners raise “dual-purpose” chickens, but these can cost you more in the long run since these sometimes lay half the amount as breeds bred specifically for egg production.
Most states allow chicken owners to sell direct at farmer’s markets, but there can be regulations in place when selling to a reseller in some regions, so be sure to check local laws.
Ducks require little space to be happy and are great producers of meat and large eggs, but their slow nature makes them vulnerable to predators, so secure fencing is a must.
- Each duck requires at least 2-3 square feet of floor area and 6-12 hours a day outdoors.
- Note that ducks need a body of water to mate and for fertilized eggs to hatch, so a sizeable pond will be required if you plan to raise them for eggs (a child’s plastic sandpit is sometimes adequate).
- Welded wire or chain-link fencing is required in addition to electric fencing on the boundaries of their pen/run to deter predators.
You can sell duck eggs and meat, but you can also make money from selling hatching eggs (ducklings can sell for $3 to $7 depending on breed, age, and your local area), adult laying ducks, their feathers, and manure.
Duck meat generally offers a higher profit margin at $10-$15 per duck while eggs can go for $6-$12 per dozen.
Between 12 and 15 ducks is a good number for a start-up homestead, and you’ll need to house ducks of various ages in different sheds if you’re raising them for meat.
Certain states require that ducks are kept on a lot of less than 40,000 square feet, which may affect your plans for coop/run expansions.
In many states, breeders are also prohibited from selling a single duck to a customer, requiring a minimum purchase of three or four at a time.
Rabbits are versatile animals to have on the homestead and are very easy to care for in terms of space/feeding costs.
- Rabbits are easily fed on store-bought feed, hay/grass clippings, and veggie leftovers and require only 1.5 square feet per rabbit.
- If raising for meat, cages should be 3 square feet and 2 feet high.
- Rabbits give birth a month after breeding to a litter of 6+ on average, and babies can be culled as early as 8 weeks for a quick meat supply, though you’ll likely want to let them get bigger before processing.
You can start a profitable rabbit colony with just three or four females and one or two males.
Rabbits can be sold as pets, but money can also be made from their meat ($40-50 per rabbit), manure, and pelts — the latter can be very popular in the clothing industry for coast and hats as well as the craft market with individual pelts fetching up to $30 depending on the breed and quality.
Rabbits are not considered agricultural “livestock” in many US counties, so the laws on selling pelts are relaxed and there are no permits required to slaughter them on your property, but check local state laws for procedures regarding preparing/selling the meat.
Raising birds such as quail, turkey, geese, and pheasants can be a popular choice if you live in an area with high demand. They can also be raised for their specialty eggs.
- You’ll need to consider the size of your target market to determine the size of your gamebird numbers and housing (approximately 10 hens per square meter can be sufficient for pheasants and geese, for example).
- Depending on the bird, you’ll need to construct barns, hutches, or runs to house them and research their unique feeding and equipment needs.
Quail eggs and meat are popular menu items at fancy restaurants, so depending on your area you may be able to sell a dozen eggs for up to $10 and around $15+ for each processed bird.
You can also breed birds to be released and charge hunters to hunt them on your property.
As an example, a game farm in Tennessee charges $175 per hunter for four pheasants or eight quail and $35 for each additional pheasant.
Be sure to get permission from your local council as there may be laws/regulations regarding releasing non-indigenous species into the wild.
11. Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock guardian dogs (LGD) are an essential investment on large-scale farms as they can alert owners to danger, deter predators, and protect your farm animals and property.
- LGDs are large breeds (Great Pyrenees, Anatalonian Shepherd Dog, etc.) weighing over 100 pounds with thick coats, so warm climates are not ideal.
- They need to be trained early as pups to acclimatize/gain trust from family members and socialize early with other pet dogs so they’re not viewed as threats.
- They’re bred to live outside (among your livestock, not with you).
As well as saving you unspoken amounts of time and investment in terms of protecting the egg layers and meat providers on your homestead, LGDs can also be bred to sell their puppies to loving local families (a full litter of 8-10 fluffy Great Pyrenees pups can sell for $8,000-$10,000!).
You’ll need at least one guardian dog for every 50 livestock animals. You should check if your county has a noise ordinance law regarding the legality of barking dogs in the area as you may need to seek help under a “Right to Farm” case.
Honeybees practically take care of themselves, require very little space, pollinate your garden crops, and produce tons of honey, making them ideal for any homestead size!
- You’ll need to wear specialized protective clothing and build/purchase a beehive.
- The welfare and numbers of your bees will need to be monitored regularly.
- Honeybees will require a small water source (a bird bath with small rocks is ideal).
- Electric fencing will be required to deter opportunist wildlife from stealing honey (racoons, skunks, etc.).
The start-up costs for their housing and handling equipment/clothing can be high, but honeybees reward you immeasurably with honey on tap on your property and beeswax (sell in pure block form and/or beeswax products such as candles and soap bars).
You can typically charge $10-12 per pound of honey, and the beeswax candle market is thriving ($20 or more per candle isn’t unheard of).
All in all, the average beekeeper’s salary in the US, according to the Economic Research Institute, ranges from $40,000 to nearly $60,000 depending on experience and location.
Note that some states will require you to register your beehive, and local zoning laws could prohibit beekeeping in your area.
There are so many avenues for making money on your homestead with the above animals.
The popularity of eggs and milk will always make chicken, goats, and cows big money-makers on the farm, but the most lucrative choice for you will ultimately depend on the scale/purpose of your business, the local laws, and the demand in your area.