The most fundamental question when it comes to farming livestock is what kind of animal you are going to raise.
Cows, chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs: all have advantages and disadvantages, requiring differing amounts of room, care, food, and room.
In return, they can offer you equally diverse products in the form of meat, milk, wool, eggs, and so on…
But you should know that you aren’t just limited to the most common livestock species if you have your heart set on raising animals on your farm.
There are all sorts of exotic animals that are commercially viable at a large scale, or just capable of producing products and income for you and your family on a small scale.
Below is a list of 12 exotic farm animals for you to consider, along with their attributes, products, and other need to know information.
Ostriches are the largest living bird in the world. Ostriches are flightless, and native to Africa and the Middle East.
It is difficult to overstate just how big these birds really are: adults range from 6 to an astounding 9 feet in height, meaning that they tower over most people.
Weighing anywhere between 140 to 320 pounds depending on the subspecies, ostriches are nonetheless incredibly fast, reaching speeds in excess of 40mph during a full spring.
With their imposing size, powerful legs, and long necks ostriches have been a source of fascination for humans for centuries.
Though intimidating, ostriches have been farmed historically and are continually farmed as livestock today, even in America.
Also like emus, ostriches are farmed for many of the same reasons: they are raised for their eggs, which are massive, bred as meat animals, or for their feathers or hides.
Ostriches are also bred for sale to other farmers and prospective farmers. Ostrich hide in particular is sought after by artisans for clothing, footwear, belts, holsters, and various other decorations.
The hides can fetch great prices due to the fact that they make excellent quality leather goods that usually last much longer than most other leather, even after years of wear.
Apart from its valuable products, there are several other advantages associated with raising ostriches on your farm.
These include relatively simple feed requirements compared to other livestock species- grass, seeds, some fruit, other plant matter, and the occasional insect is all that they require- and the fact that in hot, dry climates ostriches do well and have few health issues.
However, it isn’t all good news, because ostriches are expensive and need plenty of room. These are also powerful, dangerous animals.
Though they typically shy away from confrontation, even captive-bred ostriches can show signs of aggression toward people, particularly when stressed, and their tremendous speed makes them hard to avoid. People have been killed by ostrich attacks!
The second mega bird on our list, emus are enormous ground-dwelling birds that are native to Australia, and the second tallest and largest bird after the ostrich.
Long hunted by the native Aborigines for their meat, fat, bones, and feathers, emus certainly don’t seem like ideal farm animals at first.
With their imposing height of nearly 6 feet and intimidating speed- capable of topping 30 miles an hour- emus can indeed be quite the handful!
That being said they have been farmed in various parts of the world for some time and are an animal that produces many useful products.
Emu oil is a component in various lubricants, cosmetics, and medicinal creams and salves. If you meet is highly nutritious and lean.
Their feathers have decorative purposes and are still commonly employed as feather dusters and other products.
Emu skin is even used as leather in clothing and gear and has a highly distinctive “spotted” appearance.
Emu eggs are another edible commodity, being enormous and emerald green with a rich taste.
More than many animals you might consider farming, emus can produce all sorts of novel and valuable products.
However, there are some downsides, namely the fact that the birds are very expensive and obviously quite large and strong.
Emu attacks on humans are not unheard of, and mating season can produce significant aggression in both males and females.
You’ll also need plenty of land to contain these large and athletic avians, as they don’t do well when cooped up!
But if all of that isn’t enough to scare you off you will find that emus are overall quite healthy and generally resistant to pests and parasites, and they can form bonds with their humans.
You also won’t have to worry about hawks and coyotes like you would with chickens. Only the largest and most dangerous predators in North America stand much of a chance of taking one down.
In what is sure to be a frightening thought for some readers, snakes are actually viable farm animals if you have the skills. And snake farmer has a ring to it, eh? Or is it snake rancher? Anyway, you get the idea.
Snakes can be bred for a few common reasons and one very specialized and important one.
Snake meat and skins are their most well-known commodity, with the skins being used for jewelry, footwear, clothing, and accessories.
Compared to other animal skins, those of reptiles seem to be in more or less steady demand since snakes are not considered “charismatic” animals by most people.
On the other hand, snake meat is increasingly popular in some markets, particularly the South and Southwest: it is flavorful, low in fat and cholesterol, and very high in protein, making it an excellent source of nutrition.
Also, a great many people keep snakes as pets and it is possible to raise and breed them specifically for sale to the pet market.
But, the most important product snakes produce is their venom, a resource with enormous medicinal value since it is used to make antivenin.
In fact, some captive-bred specimens are selected for their venom production to make commercially-viable quantities more reliable.
Now, this kind of work is not something that should be taken lightly, as the “milking” of venomous snakes requires specialist knowledge and equipment, along with nerves of steel.
Mistakes can cost you a limb, literally, or kill you. But it can be very financially rewarding, especially if you are supplying labs or universities.
If you are raising snakes for skin, meat, or the pet trade, it is unlikely to be particularly difficult or harrowing work since species typically used for these purposes are non-venomous, often docile, and easy enough to handle with some care.
You also won’t need nearly as much room as you would for most mammals or poultry since they live in terrariums or enclosures.
But if you are planning to breed or milk venomous snakes, you must ensure that you have the right licenses, training, facilities, and expertise before embarking on such a venture.
In either case, farming snakes is sure to be a rewarding endeavor.
Although they are invariably thought of as game animals, there are still plenty of people in the US and around the world that raise and farm various deer species, including whitetails, elk, and caribou.
The most common reasons to raise any are for their meat, antlers, and hides. The appeal of their meat, from any species, needs no explanation as venison is delicious and increasingly popular around the country.
Additionally, the antlers (usually from elk or whitetail) are valuable for decorations, crafts, and lures, and are even sold for their medicinal value in traditional Chinese medicine and other healthcare traditions.
The antlers are also a valuable source of gelatin for food and cosmetics. The hides of just about any species can be used for making clothing, furniture, and other items from “buckskin” as well.
Deer farming requires a large amount of land, appropriate permitting, and some serious expense upfront, although the payoff can be worthwhile for those willing to invest in it.
If you decide to go down this route, you will need to build adequate fencing or enclosure systems that meet all applicable regulations as most species are very capable jumpers.
Deer farming also carries some ecological risks if not managed properly: hybridization could have negative consequences for native populations.
Furthermore, diseases like chronic wasting disease (CWD) can spread from captive deer to wild ones or vice versa, so extreme vigilance and testing are necessary.
Still, if you have the land and the resources, deer farming can be profitable and satisfying.
Bison, popularly but inaccurately known as the American Buffalo, is an inspired choice for farmers who don’t want to go the route of traditional cattle when raising animals for meat.
Bison are huge and shaggy, massively built and tall compared to cows, though they have much in common.
Often considered a national symbol of the US, this majestic animal is surprisingly well suited to low-input farms since they require no antibiotics or artificial hormones, and very little supplemental feed. They also benefit from rotational grazing, just like cattle do.
Bison meat is one of the most nutritious sources of protein available, as it has a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than beef. It is also leaner, so it’s more heart-healthy.
Increasingly popular throughout the US, this is a market sector that is primed for continued and rapid growth.
Aside from their obvious use for meat, their hides can be used in all kinds of leather goods, as you’d expect.
When farming bison, the perks and flaws alike are as big as they are. Like cows, they require a lot of space and must be enclosed with sturdy fencing to prevent escape.
Also like cows these animals are truly huge, with all the attendant challenges that entails.
Also, be aware that there simply is not as much specialized veterinary care available for them as there is for cattle.
But once you have a sufficient area for them, bison can thrive in most climates as long as there is adequate forage available; their historic range covered almost the entirety of North America!
If you are up to the challenge and have the space, bison farming can be a profitable venture.
Domestic yaks, sometimes called “hairy cattle” or grunting oxen, are a unique species of the cow family, and their potential as agricultural animals has been largely untapped in western countries until recently.
With their long fur and horns (the males’ horns are especially impressive) they look almost like mythical beasts, but make no mistake; yaks, in addition to being surprisingly beautiful, can be quite productive for small- or large-scale farming.
Traditionally yaks are kept both as beasts of burden and for various products, including meat, milk, hides, and fabric made from their long, fine hair.
They are highly adapted to cold mountain environments and can thrive in alpine conditions that other animals would struggle with.
This makes them ideal for farmers who live on the high elevations of certain parts of the US and Canada, and there are indeed a few farming operations that have been established already in North America to that purpose.
Compared to most other kinds of bovine, yaks are incredibly hardy but their diet and environmental requirements are likewise highly limiting compared to cows.
They should not eat most grains and they suffer from heat easily since they are so cold-adapted, especially at lower altitudes. Once the temperature rises above 55°F, they will be in trouble.
Altogether, this can make yaks a wonderful or terrible choice depending mostly on where you live.
Alpacas are a species of the camelid family from South America, and are closely related to the llama.
But unlike their close cousins, these fuzzy and funny-looking animals were not bred for work or as draft animals.
Instead, they are raised almost entirely for their prized, luxurious hair, which is softer than cashmere and can be made into fine apparel. Alpaca fiber is often rated favorably with mohair, angora, and cashmere.
Though alpacas have been bred in South America for thousands of years, they are relatively new to North America but the demand has grown quickly in recent years as more people become aware of them.
Shearing an alpaca is very much like shearing a sheep, and the collected hair or wool is treated much the same.
Alpaca products are rapidly increasing in popularity, and as such enterprising farmers are quickly learning about the pros and cons of these animals.
Alpacas are highly social herd animals, like sheep, and a group consists of a single male and multiple females along with their young.
Also like sheep, they generally need quite a bit of room to roam and forage in order to thrive.
These animals are intelligent and surprisingly tidy, using a communal dung pile for defecation and urination that can make it easy to clean up after them and prevent contamination.
Alpacas are also known for being easy to breed, calm, and gentle (when not alarmed or provoked), and they generally interact well with people, especially when raised by them.
As long as you don’t antagonize them and avoid alarming the male, you won’t have too many issues.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Alpacas are also employed as trained guard animals for sheep and other livestock.
Though they look almost dumb at times, these animals are extremely observant and have a natural hatred of dogs, foxes, coyotes, and the like.
They can easily alert other animals to the presence of predators and, if necessary, defend them by spitting, trampling, and kicking.
If you live in a temperate environment, especially one at a higher altitude, alpacas might be perfect for you.
8. Mangalicas, aka Sheep Pigs
Most homesteaders are no strangers to the prospect of owning and keeping pigs, but I’ll bet you never seen pigs quite like these.
Mangalicas, commonly referred to as sheep pigs, are highly distinctive for the reason their nickname suggests: they grow a thick, all-over coat of curly hair that looks very much like a sheep’s wool.
That makes them uniquely suited to colder climates, but that isn’t the only thing that makes them distinctive.
Originally developed as a breed in Hungary during the mid 19th century, the pigs were noted to be easy to keep and produce meat of excellent quality.
Some still assert today that these pigs were originally raised to produce meat for royalty!
Although they nearly died out in several places, today they are seeing something of a renaissance around the world, including throughout Spain, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Romania, Switzerland, and the United States.
Although not nearly as productive as other modern domestic breeds, Mangalica pigs are still raised for the superbly marbled meat.
Known for having a strong, juicy, and succulent taste since these pigs tend towards being quite fat compared to other domestic breeds.
Ideal for sausages, smoking, drying, and other methods of preservation, the pork produced by these unique pigs occupy a special market sector all its own, and is in increasingly high demand in gourmet restaurants around the world.
These are unique pigs that produce unique meat and combined with the cold hardiness and overall good health the experience of keeping them is somewhat different from other pigs as well.
If you prefer to raise pigs for more discerning clients or just want to keep a heritage breed alive then the famous sheep pig might be right for you.
Another livestock option that many readers will probably consider truly gross, worm farming has a surprisingly important role to play in our modern world.
Worms, specifically common earthworms, are a vital part of our ecosystem, enriching and tilling the soil wherever they are found.
Unfortunately, these most meager of creatures are increasingly under stress and dying off due to the proliferation of chemicals in the soil.
Therefore, worm farmers need to pick up the slack. Worm farmers have several avenues for capitalizing on these tiny, wriggling creatures.
Worms help produce high-quality compost by breaking down organic matter and excreting waste that helps to enrich the soil.
They also serve as food for birds, reptiles, and other animals and, of course, our routinely used as bait for fish by fishermen.
Worm farming is pretty simple with the right equipment. The worms need dirt to live in inside containers that can keep them from escaping into the earth, and that is pretty much it.
So long as conditions are kept correct for them they will live, eat and wriggle through the dirt happily enough.
After a time, the worms can be sold off as they are or at a certain size, and the soil they lived in is collected to be used as or added to existing compost.
The best part about worm farming is that you need precious little space and attention to set up a successful operation, and it is highly scalable depending on your initial success.
If you have a little bit of extra time and just a little money, you can set up a worm farm in addition to all the other operations you have going on your homestead and see how it does.
Pretty soon you might associate these wriggling creepy crawlies with cold, hard cash.
You probably don’t give too much thought to the common cricket. Aside from creating a comforting (or annoying) buzz in the evening when you’re trying to sleep, they don’t really seem to have many purposes.
Well, aside from giving you the occasional jump scare when one is hanging out in your bathroom at night!
But certain types of crickets are turning into big business these days. You’ve probably heard of that already.
With people being seduced by the notion that traditional livestock raised for meat are somehow killing the planet, some “experts” are calling on humanity to start eating bugs.
Better protein “returns” for a given carbon investment make bugs the best protein option according to these folks, and the king of the bugs in this category is the humble cricket.
And the market has seemingly responded! Take a look for yourself: cricket flour, cricket burgers, and cricket-based workout powder.
These bugs are big business when it comes to human consumption, and the trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing.
Accordingly, a new generation of farmers will be needed to raise countless billions of crickets according to developing industry standards. That means there is money to be made.
Crickets are actually quite easy to farm. They don’t require pasturage or special equipment, and they breed quickly and easily.
Some holding “pens”, removable trays for them to lay eggs in, and some cricket food, and you are all set, though you might need lamps or heaters for incubating the egg trays depending on where you live.
Now, you will have to scale up your operation quite a bit if you want to make serious money raising crickets alone, but this is far easier to do yourself than if you were raising more traditional and larger livestock.
Plus, crickets can’t hurt you, and if one gets away it isn’t a major problem.
Aside from raising them destined for human consumption, older, traditional reasons for farming them remain viable.
Crickets are excellent bait for fishing, and pet owners often use them as a food source for their reptiles or amphibians.
So if you’re looking to diversify your portfolio of livestock cricket farming might be an interesting option for you.
It’s definitely not the most traditional form of farming but insects will be an increasingly big business, depending on that.
Mealworms are not worms at all, in the strict sense: instead, they are the larval form of mealworm beetle species.
Mealworms are commonly used as food for various reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and even some mammals, but are also an important major ingredient in several kinds of chicken feed, meaning there is always a market for mealworms.
They also have niche but regular markets as biological research specimens and are, you guessed it, increasingly sold for human consumption.
It should be noted that they have been a fixture in some regional cuisines around the world for ages, both as a snack and ingredient in other dishes, so this is not as far-fetched as you might think.
Raising mealworms is much like farming other insects, though they do have some special care requirements.
For example, mealworms must be kept in dark and moist conditions in order to keep them from pupating.
They also tend to like slightly warm temperatures and have a diet of grains such as wheat bran or oats, along with some fruit and veggie slices.
Other than that, get some containers with mesh tops to keep them from crawling away and covered shelves or filing cabinets for storing them and you are all set.
Keep in mind that timing is everything with these critters: they’ll eventually pupate into adult beetles, and either fly away or start mating again, so be prepared!
Speaking of reproduction, it is a cinch to grow your mealworm farm exponentially with very little effort so long as you understand how to handle the mealworm lifecycle, so for those who want to start small and get bigger organically, mealworms can be a great choice and a sure investment.
Mealworm farming is a good choice for people who want to try it indoors or who have limited space, and they are an insect that has enjoyed constant demand with no signs of slowing. Mealworm market prospects are looking bright going forward!
Silkworms are another exotic option for farming, one that has been around for a very, very long time, and is also one that can be quite profitable.
They may not be as famous and productive as bees, but caterpillars produce one product that has been highly valued since ancient times: silk.
Silk is a strong, durable, and lightweight natural fabric used in clothing and other applications that can be quite expensive due to the slow and labor-intensive process of producing it.
A single silkworm can spin a cocoon from a single strand of silk that is over a mile long, and multiple cocoons can be collected, unwound, and spun into a thread of silk ready for use. Pretty amazing!
Rearing caterpillars for this silk can be done indoors or outdoors with the relatively little setup but it takes a lot of knowledge, attention to detail, and patience as there are many things that can go wrong.
First, you will need some supplies:
- food (such as mulberry leaves)
- cages made of mesh to keep the caterpillars from crawling away
- temperature and humidity control equipment
- feeding trays
- cleaning supplies.
Also helpful is an understanding of the lifecycle of different types of moths which produce the desired silk fibers.
To get the best results you must be able to ensure the right conditions at each stage so that the caterpillars can spin their cocoons.
Now, there is a downside to this process. To harvest the silk of the highest quality, the silkworms inside their cocoons must be dispatched.
Yes, it is a bum deal for the little things, but that is the way it is. You can repurpose fresh silkworm carcasses or sell them as animal feed.
If that does not sound like your cup of tea, silkworms are also raised for other purposes, usually as food for reptiles and some birds and often as subjects in university labs.
It sounds like exacting work, and it is, but caterpillars do have a few advantages when considered as livestock, especially compared to other insects.
For one thing, they don’t require any truly special equipment like hive boxes or suits to protect you from stings as with bees, and the space needed to keep them is minimal even compared to other kinds of insects.
Silkworms also don’t eat very much compared to other critters and, though delicate, are easy to handle and work with.
If you want to try insect farming with its roots firmly in ancient trade, silkworms are the ticket.
Exotic Animal Farming Might Be an Option for You
Farming exotic animals may seem a bit crazy to some, but to others it makes for more profits and something different from the ordinary.
No matter what kind of property you have, or where, there is an animal on the list above that might make a wonderful addition to your farm. Just do your homework before you take the plunge!
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Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.