Mooo, oink, cluck cluck. We all know that cows, pigs, and chickens belong on farms. What kid wasn’t singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm in school?
However, you may not know that there are many more farm animals out there that you wouldn’t expect. I don’t know about you but I don’t recall good old Mr. MacDonald having zebras, emus, or miniature pigs on his farm. But I guess that’s just a nursery rhyme, huh.
Naturally, I was interested to find out what other animals out there are raised on farms. That’s why I did some digging to bring you the most accurate information out there. It turns out, there are many different animals and species of regular farm animals being farmed for various things, ranging from meat to dairy, fur to oil.
Here are eleven of the most exotic farm animals you probably never heard about.
Remember all those times you watched zebras gracefully tottering around at the park or zoo? I always loved the zebras. So elegant, so graceful, so … exotic!
It turns out, zebras aren’t only found in zoos, animal conservation parks, and of course, the wild. They’re also kept as pets on private farms and farmed for their meat in certain states. Yep, I was just as shocked as you!
Only recently, five zebras escaped from a private Maryland farm. According to state laws, zebras are allowed in the state and county under permits from the U.S. Agriculture Department. Sources say the farm has 39 zebras on its land, as well as the proper permit — so the owners are keeping them legally. Residents of the area are asked to call county officials if they see the zebras and warned not to approach them.
This just goes to show that farm animals go far beyond cows and pigs. Even zebras are being farmed! While it’s definitely a cool farm animal, it’s also pretty sad that these beautiful creatures are being penned up in farms.
American Water Buffalo
Another unusual farm animal to make the list: American Water Buffalo. These animals have three functions on a farm: training draft animals, dairy production, and meat production. Thanks to their highly adaptable digestion systems, American Water Buffalo are even more efficient than beef cattle. They’re resistant to parasites, thrive on any level of quality with regards to forage, and have a lifespan of up to 25 years. Female buffalo have few complications or difficulties with calving. And the best part: these animals can be halter-trained from infancy.
As intriguing as they are, this farm animal doesn’t come without huge expense. For starters, a water buffalo costs A LOT — thousands in fact. And because of their size and weight, they need special farm equipment such as heavy duty water containers, feeders, and corral panels.
Experts say American buffalos are extremely intelligent. Some say they spend their days cooking up ideas about how they can outwit their human owners. Sounds like fun!
Aren’t alpacas just the sweetest? I’m not the only one who thinks so. Alpacas are widely regarded as one of the cutest, most well-loved of the Camelidae family, which also includes camels, Llamas, and guanacos. With their floppy tufts, coy grins, and adorable eyes, I can’t get enough of these animals. Beyond their looks, these animals claim their fame for bearing some of the silkiest fiber in nature.
That’s the reason they’ve been domesticated far longer than sheep and cattle. Alpacas originated in South America where they were farmed for their fiber. The animal gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1980s.
Both breeds of alpaca — Huacaya and Suri — are raised for the purpose of clothing. Huacayas are favored for their fluffy, fleecy appearance, while suris are known for growing silky fleece. Each animal produces around six to eight pounds of usable fiber a day, making them extremely profitable animals for fiber farming.
Alpacas can live up to 20 years. They are calm, docile animals that are generally not known to show aggression.
Emus are the second largest flightless bird. While they may not be able to soar, they’re extremely quick, agile, and more than capable of kicking with their huge three-toed feet. The emu’s strong, powerful legs enable it to run up to 30 miles per hour. Experts say they grow to be around five feet tall and weigh approximately 100 pounds.
These birds are found primarily in Australia, but also in Indonesia, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. They beat the heat thanks to their grayish, brownish body feathers that provide almost total protection from solar radiation.
Did you know that emus are also farm animals? Emus are raised for two primary reasons: meat production and oil production. Emu meat comes with a pretty steep price tag, so it’s now wonder farmers are raising emus to turn a profit. With that said, the American Heart Association lists emu meat as a heart-healthy meat shown to lower cholesterol.
Emus are also commonly farmed for their oil. You’ll find emu oil in many beauty products such as lotions, serums, face creams, and shampoos. The oil is also pretty pricey.
Also known as wapiti, elk are one of the largest species in the deer family. To give you an example of how much bigger, a male elk’s antler can reach four feet above its head so that it stands approximately nine feet tall. Once naturally occurring in the Northern Hemisphere, elk are now commonly domestically or commercially raised in North America — a trend that began in the 1960s.
Today, elk stock usually comes from private breeders. And it’s not uncommon to find them living on farms rather than in the wild. Compared with cattle, elk are relatively easy to raise. They’ll eat pretty much anything they can forage, from tree bark to shrubs. They’re not picky! You’ll notice they eat a little more when preparing for winter to build up their fat reserves for the upcoming cold weather.
With regards to farming, North American elk are bred mainly for their antlers, velvet, and meat. For centuries, antler velvet has been used in the production of Chinese medicines. Some say velvet supports health, boosts the immune system, and improves overall energy levels. Bull elk start producing as much as nine pounds of velvet starting at the age of two. And that number only increases with age. The velvet is harvested by surgical procedure.
Elk meat is said to be a healthy alternative to red meat. More and more restaurants are offering it on their menus. These animals are also used as game for hunting ranches.
They are one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world. Zebus are fascinating animals surprisingly yet commonly found on farms. There are 75 different species of zebu, all of which differ in size, color, and habits. Unlike cows and other cattle, zebus live in tropical rainforests. They can also be found in open plains.
Originating from South Asia, zebus are easily able to survive in hot and humid environments, which is why they’ve also been introduced to the tropical parts of Africa and South America. Nowadays, you’ll find many domesticated zebus living on farms throughout the world. These animals are endangered by habitat loss, but are not yet listed as an endangered species.
Farmers say zebus are multipurpose animals that provide meat, dairy, and can raise calves from cows of other breeds. Best of all, these strong, exotic creatures live very long lives.
Unlike many types of cattle, zebus are highly resistant to viruses and parasites. This is one of the reasons why farmers favor them over other cattle. Interestingly, zebus can also crossbreed with other species of cattle. In fact, the majority of zebus are created as a result of mixing zebus with yaks, gaurs, and bantengs. You will know if a zebu is genetically pure because he’ll have a hump on his back.
Another unique and exotic farm animal you’ve probably never heard of: sheep pigs. This is the first time I’m hearing about them too!
They’re scientifically known as mangalitsas, and directly descended from the wild boar. This rare breed of pig originates in Austria and Hungary. They’re allegedly worth around five times the value of a regular pig. Today, you’ll occasionally find these unique creatures hanging out on farms, in which they are raised for their wool and meat.
It’s not hard to understand why they’re nicknamed sheep pigs. With their hair fleece, it’s easy to see comparisons between the mangalitsa and sheep. And it is thanks to their wooly coats that mangalitsas can live outdoors all year long. They survive off of a diet consisting of potatoes and pumpkins.
There are three main varieties of the sheep pig, with the only difference being their color. Most of the world’s population live in Hungary. However, there are populations that exist in the UK and the U.S. It’s not the most popular pig breed in the world, but many people enjoy keeping these furry pigs on farms.
I don’t know about you, but I love caterpillars. I think they’re fascinating animals. That’s why I was surprised to hear that they’re sometimes raised on farms. When I did some digging, I discovered that caterpillars are farmed for their silk.
Silk, in case you didn’t know, is made from the cocoons of mulberry silkworms. When caterpillars emerge, they’ll chomp on leaves for around two months and then spin their silk into a cocoon. Normally, a moth would emerge from the cocoon. This doesn’t happen with farmer caterpillars because farmers typically heat the cocoons which causes the creatures inside to die. After this, they boil and treat the strands, and weave them into the luxury material you’ll know as silk. So that’s why caterpillars are technically now a farm animal.
So maybe they’re not the coolest farm animal to make the list, but who knew worms were farmed? Unbelievable!
Apparently, worms are great at breaking down compost and adding nutrients to soil, making them an excellent investment for farmers. They also just happen to be a favorite food of birds and fish. So some people are purchasing them simply as food for their pets.
So that’s why worm farms exist.
For most people, snakes are interesting yet slightly scary creatures. Personally, I adore snakes and feel like they get a bad rap overall. Most snakes aren’t even venomous!
Snakes are another exotic farm animal raised for commercial purposes. They’re typically milked for venom that’s used in medical research. While there aren’t many official snake farms, many private facilities keep snakes for the purpose of extracting venom for personal research — and to sell to researchers. And they’re making a lot of money doing it!
According to scientists, snake venom is studied primarily to find antidotes for snake bites. Other reports state that snake venom can be effective in treating various cancers.
Miniature pigs, also referred to in the media as mini pegs, teacup pigs, and micro pigs, are specially bred on farms to be small, cute, and friendly. Remember when everyone wanted one? I guess you can see why. Though I’m not sure it’s the most practical pet out there, but that’s just me.
These adorable piglets can set you back a lot of money. While they weigh only a few pounds as youngsters, once these pigs mature, they can grow to an average 65 pounds. Some can weigh up to 200 pounds once they reach adulthood. That’s been a huge issue for many mini pet pig owners, as they were originally told it would remain small and light. What a surprise it was when the little teacup pig grew — and kept on growing!
Thankfully, reputable breeders and rescuers are working hard to raise awareness and regulate the trade in the U.S. and Canada. In recent years, an increasing number of sanctuaries have opened up to take in and care for neglected pigs.
Regardless of the animal itself, it’s always important to do your research before getting a pet. This isn’t something temporary that’ll quietly go away when it gets bigger and the novelty wears off. You need to think of them as a member of your family. Are you really ready for an additional family member? And if so, are you prepared to care for them even when they reach an unexpected 200 pounds? That’s a pretty big commitment.