Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. That tune might be the closest you’ve ever been to a farm, but visiting one should be on your bucket list. Successful working farms perform like a well-oiled machine, while those that fall short can be dangerous.
Farm animals are raised for food, fiber, companionship, and labor. Some owners specialize in raising one species, like llamas or goats, and then there are those who have a little bit of everything.
We want to educate you about these precious farm animals, which means sharing the phenomenal things they give us as well as the bad and the ugly things a man can do to them.
Come along to learn about the smartest animals on the farm and see if your guess was right. The only thing we won’t be discussing is what exactly the farmer in the dell is doing.
Overview of Farm Animals
I remember the rolling hills of my grandparent’s farm in technicolor memories. When my grandfather fed his cows, they would trot alongside his pickup until he came to a full stop.
He’d get out and use the tailgate to hop up as he wiped the sweat from his face with the back of his sleeve. He’d laugh at them lovingly when they swarmed the truck like bees.
They’d wait patiently as he grabbed the 60-lb. hay bales to sling them over the side like they were paper.
There was a familiarity there. A bond. Trust. Pa knew their names. They knew his voice and stature. Their time together was a daily ritual for them and one I cherished every time I was present.
Farm animals aren’t just there for us to eat. They’re sentient creatures with family structures and amazing instincts.
Studies have shown calves will respond to their own mothers when called and less to others in the herd, and mothers can identify calls from their calves. Horses can recognize their owner’s face, voice, and smell. Pigs organize duties between them to build their nests and live in matriarchal groups called “sounders.”
So what do chickens eat? Do farm animals mind the predictability and touch of humans at petting zoos? What are their five strongest senses? We will cover this and more and want to bring you along as we talk about the wonder of farm animals.
List of Farm Animals
Here are lists of the most popular farm animals on regular and specialty farms. Notice that some species are on both lists.
Mammals on an Average Farm:
Mammals on a Specialty Farm:
Birds on an Average Farm:
Birds on a Specialty Farm:
- Guinea fowl
Insects on an Average Farm:
- Praying Mantis
Insects (Mini Livestock or Microstock) on a Specialty Farm:
- Black soldier flies
- Honey Bees
- House fly larvae
- Mealworm beetle larvae
Fish on a Specialty Farm:
Farm Animals for Kids
Children and farm animals go together like peanut butter and jelly. All you need to do is look at social media for proof. And where’s the place every child wants to visit? The petting zoo!
Taste, sight, smell, hearing, and balance are strong senses in almost every species on a farm and at the petting zoo. And the children’s senses are equally powerful. The sights, the smells, the sounds…It’s a wonderland to them.
But there’s one glaring difference between a farm animal’s senses and a human being’s. It’s the one thing they get the most of at a petting zoo, yet don’t require it as we do, and that is…Touch.
It’s not like they don’t like being touched. I had a horse once and would frequently bury my face in his mane, and he returned the love with warm nuzzles.
Here’s the rub – It’s one thing for a pet pig and his owner to cuddle up in the barn from time to time; it’s quite another to have hundreds of hands on him all day, every day.
According to National Geographic, animal domestication has three forms:
- Domestication for companionship (cats and dogs)
- Animals farmed for diet (sheep, pigs, cows, turkeys, etc.)
- Working or draft animals (donkeys, camels, horses)
Farm animals may not be wild animals, but they aren’t puppies or kittens either. They need time alone to be, well…animals.
So the next time you think of going to a petting zoo with your child, you might consider visiting your local animal shelter instead.
Pet Farm Animals
Home sweet home…Ducks have ponds, goats have pine shavings and straw areas, and cows have fields, but there are owners who raise farm animals inside their homes. This is similar to trapping a firefly in a jar.
Although they’re sometimes raised to be pets, there’s a proper and an improper way of doing so.
Here are two farm animals and their basic needs:
If you have enough land and enough time, a horse is a perfect pet. Forget about the neigh-sayers.
- Grass and high-quality hay
- Fresh water
- Stable (cleaned regularly) and outdoor shelter such as groups of trees or a lean-to (a run-in shed with overhang)
- Proper fencing
- Specialty veterinarian
- Companionship (as in another horse)
- Farrier (horseshoes)
- Don’t forget the treats! (Mostly fruits and vegetables)
- YOUR TIME. (An hour per day – Minimum)
These always-entertaining pets need room to roost (coop) and room to roam. They could live in a small area but thrive in a large one.
Grubbly Farms says…
“Standard Breed Chickens: 4 square feet of coop space per bird; 8 square feet of run space per bird
Standard Heavy Breed Chickens: 8 square feet of coop space per bird; 15 square feet of run space per bird”
Other basic needs include:
- A steady diet of commercial layer feed to get the right nutrients. They can also eat what we consider leftovers as long as you’ve researched what’s dangerous and what’s not. Also:
“Good choices include leafy greens, cooked beans, corn, non-sugary cereals and grains, berries, apples, and most other fruits and vegetables.” – Home & Gardens TV.
- Fresh water
- Store-bought coop or if self-built, know what you’re doing
- Clean environment – Coop and run (The bigger the area, the better)
- Predator-proof door (ideally automatic)
- Straw for nesting (Some use wood shavings and sawdust, but it’s best to keep the environment as natural as possible)
- Web fencing/Welded wire – Minimum 4 feet high. Higher if you have smaller, lightweight flyers
There are always exceptions to the rules of having farm animals inside as pets. If a baby pig is born and isn’t allowed to suckle, having it close by may save its life. Additionally, smaller farm animals can share your home if they’re injured and need rehabilitation.
It’s also preferable to have a temperature-controlled makeshift shelter available, like a garage, for when the weather becomes extreme.
Just remember, farm animals (other than dogs and cats) weren’t born to be indoors, so prepare your farming area before you acquire one.
Healthy Farm Animals
Besides the possibility of having poor immune systems because of their genes, having healthy farm animals largely depends on the quality of care you give them. And it doesn’t only involve the prevention of emergencies, which is necessary but also thinking of ways to enrich their lives.
Placing hay and carrots into low-hanging tree branches can keep a horse’s mind active and help its mental health, which every farm animal has. Stress can affect an animal’s health just as much as pain and disease can.
An idea for cows is to train them to come when a bell is rung. Herding dogs can be taken for a swim to change their routine or can be trained to run with you when you go for a bike ride.
Note: It’s important to train them for this activity. I once had a collision with a dog running beside me. Don’t worry, though. He was fine. Me? Not so much. (Can you say “knee surgery?”)
Pigs need areas to root in. This behavior is displayed for several reasons:
- To search for foods
- To provide comfort
- To communicate
- To cool off
Basic cleaning of a farm animal’s environment is a necessity not only for them but also for you. Just as prevention is the best way for humans to stay healthy, so it is with animals on the farm.
Always wash your hands before and after handling animals or anything they interact with in their special areas.
If you’re careful, have taken precautions, and done the work, you have a better chance of having active, happy, and healthy animals.
The first animals you think of when you hear the word “livestock” might be cattle, but you can add many more species to the list.
“Livestock means cattle, elk, reindeer, bison, horses, deer, sheep, goats, swine, poultry (including egg-producing poultry), llamas, alpacas, live fish, crawfish, and other animals that are part of a foundation herd (including dairy producing cattle) or offspring…” – FMCSA
Here are the main illnesses/diseases that are transmittable from animals to humans (zoonotic). They can be spread from direct contact or from the animal’s environment:
Diseases in Livestock
- Anthrax – Animals rarely show signs/symptoms and can die quickly. Spread by ingesting spores from contaminated soil, plants, or water
- Brucellosis – Sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs are the most susceptible. Mostly spread from eating or drinking raw dairy products.
- E. coli – Newborn farm animals might have diarrhea from a particular strain that doesn’t affect humans, although other strains do. Calves, cows, sheep, and goats are most at risk
- Q fever – Infected animals might lose weight or have reproductive issues. Affects goats and sheep but also cattle. The wind can carry it for miles if contaminated. People can also be infected by eating raw dairy products.
- Ringworm – A fungal infection that can affect the skin, hair, and nails of people and animals
- Campylobacteriosis – Infected farm animals don’t show signs/symptoms but may have diarrhea.
- Orf virus – Causes infections in sheep and goats. Symptoms can include getting sores on the lips, lower legs, and udders.
- Cryptosporidiosis – A parasitic disease that is spread mainly through young calves by swallowing contaminated poop, food, or water
- Leptospirosis – A bacterial disease most common in tropical and subtropical areas. Usually infects cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses.
- Influenza – Birds and pigs can have flu viruses without showing symptoms, but both are capable. If they do, poultry flocks can have decreased egg production and high death rates. Pigs can have a number of symptoms, including depression and lack of appetite.
- Listeriosis – Spread through contaminated food, soil, or water. At risk are sheep, cattle, goats, and occasionally pigs
- MRSA (Staphylococcus aureus) – A bacteria found on the skin of animals or people that can be spread through direct contact. Can cause skin infections, among others, and pneumonia
- Rabies – A deadly neurologic disease caused by a virus. Normally transmitted by a bite from an infected animal. The good news is that rabies in most farm animals is rare.
Life of Farm Animals
Farmers breed animals to replace those sent to slaughter or just to have them on the farm.
For production purposes, animals are bred to produce bigger and better ones for the highest quality possible. They want them to produce well, whether it be for milk (large, well-attached udders), meat (heavily muscled), fiber, or for labor (strength).
Farm animals can be raised to be happy and healthy to reproduce other animal companions or raised for slaughtering purposes. For the latter, farm animals are kept confined since excrement needs to be scrutinized and to increase processing speed.
“Most animals, including animals used for research or exhibition and livestock, will be transported by truck, trailer, air, or boat at some point in their life.” – USDA
The AWA (Animal Welfare Act) is supposed to protect farm animals and ensure their safety as they travel.
“…to assure the humane treatment of animals during transportation in commerce….”
But for meat slaughter, there is largely no thought given to an animal’s comfort or stress level before or during transport.
If more people visited a slaughterhouse, there would be a lot more vegans and vegetarians among us.
“In the United States alone, roughly 25 million animals are slaughtered every single day. An average slaughterhouse kills up to 1,100 pigs every single hour.” – The Humane League
To reach these outrageous numbers, animals are horribly abused at the hands of workers…To save time and for entertainment.
As a previous animal sanctuary director, I’ve seen videos of men throwing and stomping on live chickens and laughing before the animal’s throat is slit. Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, and the like – are hung upside down to be shot with stun guns when a bolt is driven into the animal’s brain.
“In the U.S. today, 99% of animals used for food live on massive industrial factory farms. Most won’t even feel the warmth of the sun on their back or breathe fresh air until the day they’re loaded onto trucks headed for slaughterhouses.” – PETA
Many chickens are alive before being thrown into scalding-hot water for defeathering or even while being skinned and chopped apart. (These facts might be difficult for you to stomach, but this is the cold, unvarnished truth.)
So take a day a week, or one a month, to not eat meat. You’ll be giving back to the animals who have given us so much.
High Welfare Alternatives for Farm Animals
Americans are increasingly concerned about the welfare of farm animals raised to feed them. From what you’ve read so far, you can understand why.
“In a high welfare system, farmers focus on promoting health rather than simply treating disease.” – Animal Welfare Institute
They strive to build an animal’s natural health defenses instead of always relying on a vet to help the animal heal.
In 2022, there were 250,000 factory farms in the US. More farmers are leaning towards raising farm animals humanely before they’re slaughtered, allowing them plenty of space to live in and can be free to use their natural, innate behaviors.
Hopefully, one day, farmers will go a step further and raise all animals this way just so they can grow old gracefully after living a wonderful life.
Which Is the Most Common Farm Animal?
Chickens are by far the most common farm animal. There are about three chickens for every human on the planet, making their number around 22.8 billion.
Note: Cattle are the second most common animal on farms, with a hearty 1.5 billion of them.
What Is the Name of the Most Intelligent Farm Animal?
Pigs are as smart as dogs, if not smarter, and are at the top of the list of smartest animals in the barn.
“…distinguishing individuals out of a group; communicating with each other through touch, smell, sound, and sight; and learning to pick up on the verbal and nonverbal cues of humans.” – The Humane League.
Are Dogs Raised on Farms?
They certainly can be and are often raised on farms. My grandparents had farm (herder) dogs who lived outside. They’d eat the “slop,” which was a whole lot of leftovers from my grandmother’s kitchen, and loved them dearly. Every dog they ever had lived to be almost 20 years old. Lucky dogs.
How Could the Spread of Diseases Be Prevented for Farm Animals?
Staying on top of having clean animals, stalls, bedding, and anything farm creatures come in contact with can stop the disease in its tracks. Bacterial diseases thrive in dirty surroundings.
Also, having the vet regularly performing wellness visits can sniff out a health problem before it even begins creating symptoms. And don’t forget about making their diet top-notch and specifically related to their species.
Finally, creating the optimum living environment can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, which can ward off disease.
So, hopefully, you now see why Old McDonald had that farm. Being around and interacting with animals can be as good for our health as it is for theirs. And don’t be surprised if they become like family members.
With lots of work, illness and predator prevention, and the right preparation, farming with animals on board can be one of the most rewarding experiences there is. You may even take it as a compliment when someone says, “What, were you raised in a barn?”