New year, new goals: Backyard farming

Wisconsin State Farmer

CHILTON You’ve always wanted to raise animals or add a new species to your farm. What’s stopping you? Make 2017 the year you accomplish your backyard farming goals.


“With some research and preparation, you can begin raising animals in your backyard,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products. “Whether you’re planning on starting with a small flock of chickens or raising larger livestock — such as goats, sheep or cattle — it is important to consider space requirements and nutritional needs of each animal.”

No matter which species you select, it’s a good idea to make sure your local laws allow you to raise livestock on your property. Letting your neighbors know about your new adventure is also a nice gesture.

Here are some quick facts to consider as you choose the species that’s the best fit for you.


Chickens are a common entry animal to backyard farming or homesteading because they require a small amount of space and can be easier to care for. 

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,” says Olson. “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 six weeks, provide 1-2 square feet of free space per bird
  • Adult birds will require at least 4 square feet of indoor space and 5-10 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 alike. 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. 


Goats are another common animal for backyard farmers and homesteaders because of their fun personalities and efficient source of meat or milk.

“Goats are very curious animals – make sure to have a strong fence around your outdoor area to keep goats in and predators away,” says Olson. “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. Ideally, each goat should have at least 20-25 square feet of indoor space, 0.2-0.3 acres of pasture with an exercise area of 50 square feet.

“If kidding is in your future, be sure to have a quality colostrum replacer on hand to support your kids’ immune system within the first 12-18 hours of life,” says Olson. “If you raise kids without the doe or if the doe does not produce enough milk to feed her kids, feed a quality kid milk replacer, ideally containing 25-26 percent protein and 20-25 percent fat.”


Just like goats, you can raise sheep in a shed or barn with access to an outdoor area. A simple, south-facing, three-sided shed is often enough to protect them from the elements. They should each have 15 to 20 square feet.

“Sheep are grazers,” says Olson. “If you plan to raise a flock, adequate pasture is essential. A general rule is four sheep per acre. Pastures can include a mixture of grasses, legumes, brush and trees.”

If you are welcoming new lambs into the world, help ensure a strong start with a quality colostrum replacer to support immunity within the first 6-12 hours of life. If feeding a milk replacer, look for a replacer with around 23 percent protein and 30 percent fat.


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

“Although cattle are social animals, it is best to house newborn calves in individual housing until they are weaned,” says Olson. “Calf hutches made of sturdy plastic or fiberglass are a popular choice for housing calves outdoors. A calf housed in a barn or shed will need 30-40 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 40-80 square feet each.

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

“If you are looking for a medicated milk replacer — no matter the species — and it is no longer available due to the Veterinary Feed Directive that went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, ask your feed store for alternative options,” says Olson. “Nutritional supplements are available to add to non-medicated milk replacers and can help support calf health and performance.

For more information about adding cattle, goats, sheep or chickens to your backyard and how to properly care for and feed them, visit or like My Farm Journey on Facebook.

The Sav-A-Caf® brand is manufactured and marketed by Milk Products, based in Chilton. Milk Products manufacturers high-quality animal milk replacers and young animal health products.