If you are curious about where to start with raising animals on your small farm, hobby farm or homestead, here are a few suggestions, complete with information to help you decide which ones are the right fit for you.
Note: Selling meat and dairy products usually require that a farm is licensed and meet the requirements of its locale. If you are planning to farm for income, find out the requirements before buying the animals.
Chickens are a terrific way to start raising animals on a small farm. They're hardy, easy to take care of and don't cost much in terms of setup. A small flock can easily produce enough eggs to meet all a family's egg requirements, and a flock of a few dozen can generate a nice little egg business.
Hens eat food scraps and provide great compost for the garden. On the downside, they're a free chicken dinner for every predator out there, so you'll need to keep them safe and secure to prevent losses.
Honey bees are another great choice, especially if keeping bees appeals to you. Honey crops can be abundant, and you can harvest beeswax for lip balm, candles, and other products.
Bees help pollinate your crops (and your neighbor's). They cost a good bit to start up, and while they don't require a lot of hands-on care in terms of sheer hours, they do require timely care and attention, and the process takes a while to get the hang of.
Goats are hardy, useful animals that can browse stands of small trees and shrubs, clearing land for you. They're adaptable to poor pastures, and they produce one to three quarts of milk per day. If your family can't drink that much, you can make and sell cheese or feed the milk to other farm animals.
On the downside, goats require strong fencing.
Sheep deliver meat, milk or wool, depending on your needs and the breed of sheep. They require good pasture and protection from predators so they should be kept near the house. The milk of sheep is superior to goat's milk for making cheese. There are several breeds of sheep suitable for small farms. The one that is right for depends on your plans for the sheep.
Like chickens, turkeys are pretty easy keeping. They can be a bit difficult to raise from poults, but once they are established, they do well. The market for Thanksgiving turkeys is a big one, making them a great value-added product for a small farmer.
Rabbits require a small barn with a dirt floor, pens, and feeders, but they pay off in meat and (with some breeds, like Angora) fur. Rabbits are relatively easy-to-handle animals, but they require regular care, and their specific needs must be met. The U.S. market for rabbit meat is small compared to the European market, where the rabbit is considered a delicacy in many areas. Of course, to get the meat or fur, you have to kill the animals, which may be a big turn-off for you.