Farm Progress

So you want to farm?

Know the amount of space it takes to raise animals in the backyard or on small acreage.

March 3, 2017

4 Min Read
FARMING SMALL SPACES: While we are not considered backyard farmers, on occasion our sheep do find their way into our backyard on spring days. However, our sheep actually have plenty of space to graze in nearby pastures. It is important that individuals who want to embark on raising livestock on their own small acreage or in their backyards assess the space needs of their animals — whether they are chickens, cattle or sheep.

Just this year, my hometown joined many other small and large cities in allowing homeowners to raise chickens within the city limits. Backyard farming is a growing trend in the U.S. Individuals not only want to know where their food is coming from, but also want a part in raising their own meat and vegetables. However, there are a few things homeowners should be aware of when starting their own farm.

Perhaps it is the fact that our family raises sheep, a type of livestock not considered to be mainstream — but my friends who live in town and those on small acreages, often ask me what type of livestock would work best for their situation, and more importantly, how much space the animals would need. But recently, an article from Milk Products appeared in my inbox and did a great job of giving answers to these questions.

No matter which species you select, make sure your local laws, subdivision rules and county ordinances allow for raising livestock on your property.

Your choice of species can depend on your space. Julian Olson, a veterinarian and technical services manager for Milk Products, says that many individuals start with a small flock of chickens. Still, he notes that individuals also branch out into goats or cattle.

So how much space does raising animals require? Olson offers a few facts and suggestions on chickens, goats, sheep and cattle.

Checking out chickens
"If you plan to purchase chicks, be sure that you can offer them a controlled environment from the start — preferably in a dedicated enclosed space called a brooder," Olson says. "The brooder should have adequate temperature control, ventilation and light."

Here are some general space guidelines:

• Newly hatched chicks will need half a square foot of space each.
• At 6 weeks, provide 1 to 2 square feet of free space per bird.
• Adult birds will require at least 4 square feet of indoor space and 5 to 10 square feet of outdoor space each.
• Account for additional space, in case you add more birds to your flock later.

Stress can take its toll on new chicks and adult birds. Nutrition is important. Offer a complete feed that matches your birds' age. Supplement their diet with probiotics and electrolytes to provide them with needed energy and immunity support.


Source: Milk Products

Gauging goat production
Backyard farmers and homesteaders often raise goats as an efficient source of meat or milk. Still, some of my friends tell me it is all about the goat's behavior.

"Goats are very curious animals — make sure to have a strong fence around your outdoor area to keep goats in and predators away," Olson says. "If you decide to breed or milk your goats, you should dedicate an enclosed area for milking or kidding." House goats of all ages in a shed or barn with access to an outdoor area.

Here is the space guidelines for goats:

• Ideally, each goat should have at least 20 to 25 square feet of indoor space.
• Each goat should have 0.2 to 0.3 acres of pasture, with an exercise area of 50 square feet.

Studying sheep needs
Just like goats, you can raise sheep in a shed or barn with access to an outdoor area. A south-facing, three-sided shed is often enough to protect them from the elements.

Here are space guidelines for sheep:

• They should each have 15 to 20 square feet in a shed.
• Access to pasture. "Sheep are grazers," Olson says. "If you plan to raise a flock, adequate pasture is essential. Pastures can include a mixture of grasses, legumes, brush and trees."
• A general rule is four sheep per acre.

Caring for cattle
Raising calves requires the most space and is recommended for people who have experience raising small livestock.

Here is what Olson recommends for space when raising cattle:

• A calf housed in a barn or shed will need 30 to 40 square feet of space.
• As calves are weaned and continue to grow, their space requirements will increase. Depending on how long you plan to raise them, they could need as much as 40 to 80 square feet each.

Most backyard farmers and homesteaders purchase calves born on another farm. If this is the case for you, Olson says to be sure to have a high-quality milk replacer on hand to support optimal calf growth and health. He recommends a milk replacer containing 20% protein and 20% fat, which should provide ample nutrition if fed according to the label on the bag or tag.

Whatever your choice of animal, I recommend visiting with your local county Extension agent, feed store or family friend before diving into backyard farming. Consider making on-farm visits with other farmers in your area. Because raising an animal takes more than just space — it involves nutrition and animal health.

However, raising an animal can be a great opportunity to learn how dedicated farmers and ranchers are to producing safe, affordable food for our world.

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