Livestock, Urban Homesteading and Self-Reliance

7 Reasons to Choose Small Livestock

by Sherry Willis


Urban Rabbit - Silver FoxAmerica has long been the land of “bigger is better”.  We love wide open spaces, “Super-Size” meals, big SUV’s, and King sized beds.  It is easy to think that this philosophy applies to everything, but it really only works when there are plenty of resources available, which is generally not the case in any crisis situation.  Here are some reasons that I think keeping small livestock makes a lot of sense…. In good times as well as bad.

  1. The smaller the livestock the better feed conversion, which is the amount of feed it takes to make one pound of animal. This gives us a good comparison to determine efficiency.  For instance, the feed conversion for a chicken or rabbit is two pounds of feed for every one pound of animal while the feed conversion of cattle is 6 pounds of feed for one pound of animal.  This means small livestock simply eats less… a huge advantage if you are hand harvesting feed.
  2. They are less expensive to purchase and produce much more per pound of animal. A proven, pedigreed meat rabbit doe can cost as much as $60, but your run of the mill breeding stock is going to run you about $20.  That 10 pound doe can produce over 100 pounds of meat in a year.  A proven beef cow is going to cost at least $1800 and you won’t see any steak from her for almost two years.  If you compare pound for pound production, a 1000 pounds of rabbit can produce 10,000 pounds of live animal weight a year, while that cow will produce at most 1800 pounds of animal….and she ate three times as much feed to produce it.
  3. You can keep more of them in the same space. Three quality milking goats can produce as much as a milk cow while eating less feed.  But the real advantage here is you don’t have all your “eggs in one basket”.  If something should happen to you milk cow, you have to start all over again.  If something should happen to one of your goats… you still have two more.
  4. The smaller the livestock, the more babies they have and the faster they reach reproduction age. Rabbits can have a litter of 6 to 10 kits every three months.  These kits can be bred to produce their own offspring in 6-8 months. Goats generally have at least twins, but 3 or 4 is not rare, with a gestation period of 5 months.  You can breed your goats at 9-12 months old. A cow usually has a single calf and it takes her 9 months to make it.  Heifers are generally bred at 16-18 months old.
  5. Small livestock provides less at a time, but more overall. This allows you to preserve your meat “on the hoof”.  You can harvest animals as you need them rather than ending up with 6-700 pounds of meat all at once.  This is a MAJOR consideration when you are in a situation with no electricity.
  6. You can contain and protect your small livestock much more easily. The smallest livestock can live in cages in your home if need be.  Even goats could be kept in the spare bedroom at night.  While I doubt that there will ever be a very long period of rampant lawlessness, having animals you can easily hide and protect is a definite boon during any kind of crisis.
  7. Killing and processing small livestock is much, much easier. I lived on a ranch growing up, and we butchered our own beef.  It was a huge undertaking, requiring a gun to shoot the animal and a tractor to move it afterwards.  Even after the animal was skinned, gutted, and cut into quarters, it was hard to handle.  A large saw and grinder were necessary for final processing and a huge freezer for preservation.  In contrast, a rabbit just takes minutes to process and you can eat it in one meal so it requires no preservation.  Even a goat can be done in an hour or so with no heavy equipment required.

As Americans, we have so far been fortunate and thus are accustomed to having lots of readily accessible resources available to us.  While there have been localized disasters, none of us living today have dealt with a major universal crisis.  Yet we live in precarious times, with a fragile industrial food system, a shaky financial landscape, a highly inefficient infrastructure dependent on the use of fuel, and dwindling resources.  Our choices need to reflect our awareness of this.  There is a reason that people in third world countries do not keep large livestock for their own use.  They simply can’t afford anything that isn’t efficient.

Can we?


  1. Wren Owens

    Excellent article, Sherry, and good advice! I left Los Angeles in 1998 and moved across the country to a 120 acre farm in rural western NY. I have raised chickens, fiber rabbits (ended up too much trouble for the limited market for the fine angora fiber), had pygmy goats (6 at most) and raised alpacas until the bust due to the economy and the marketplace not understanding their value. I’m now downsizing and regrouping the animal choices and going to have LAYING HENS that can also double as meat birds for awhile, and am considering meat rabbits and a mix of goats (2 meat type does, 2 milking does like Nubians, and a buck of each type). I have considered mini-cows but have not gotten serious about them yet. With a senior friend I’m full time caregiver for here in my home, my time is now much more limited, as well. Nevertheless, I have several smaller barns and at least a dozen fenced grazing yards I used to have for up to 50 alpacas and they will be revived for the goats, chickens and eventually a small number of geese and ducks. So, I just wanted to let you know this woman GETS IT and was thrilled to find your blog addressing this issue. Large animals also require larger amounts of medications and treatments and make a greater impact on the earth in many ways. Hay is not cheap, either, so I’m finding that what I have or acquire is going a lot further now. LESS STRESS ALL AROUND (LOL!) 🙂

    1. sherry Author

      Thanks so much! I loved my milk cow, but she ate tons and gave way too much milk for my little family. I am really enjoying the challenge of seeing what I can fit in this little space.

  2. Erika Joy

    I loved this! Such great info and encouragement. Now if I could just convince my husband, lol. We’re in the middle of the city, have a little house, but just a big enough, little backyard. Thank you!


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