Let's say I have a Supernatural Creature (SC). My SC is effectively immortal and obviously non-human, and thus really values her privacy. She also lives in a sort of "pocket dimension" (think: parallel Earth) wherein she enjoys a level of reality-warping powers (details later). She can access Earth via one or more doorways.

Now... let's say she wants to keep a bunch of animals; sort of a farm/zoo hybrid. In particular, she would like:

  • 6-12 horses
  • 8-20 cattle (mostly cows, sometimes a few calves)
  • 4-20 sheep and/or goats
  • 8-30 pigs
    • 6-8 adult sows
    • 2-4 adult boars
    • 0-20 juveniles (this is probably time-varying)
  • 4-20 canids (mix of domestic dogs, wild dogs, wolves, foxes, etc.)
  • 2-4 large domestic cats (e.g. Savannas)
  • 2-6 medium-sized wild cats (e.g. lynx, ocelots, servals)
  • 2-8 larger wild cats (e.g. cougars, lions, tigers)
  • 2-6 hyenas
  • 4-12 wargs (think "wolves, but the size/mass of horses")

These populations are variable (especially some of the cattle and pigs are bred and slaughtered), but estimate about 15 pigs, 0-5 calves, 10 cows1, and 60-70 others at any time (see below for explanation of this break-up). More or fewer critters will imply that their caretakers are more or less harried. The helpers should be willing, so the load from a "typical" population should be something they can handle "comfortably".

Note that this means that the population will rarely or never have animals, aside from piglets, that are less than 30-50kg. That is, the SC is not (routinely) keeping small mammals or non-mammals. (Such animals will of course be "around", but totally loose and left to look after themselves.)

Ignoring stuff like cost, laws, and ability to provide food and shelter, what is the minimum number of people that would be required to care for this menagerie? (The fewer people the SC has to "bring into the masquerade", the better. Also, I don't want to say "ignore ethics", but the SC is going to tend to favor minimizing labor over animal welfare, albeit within limits and not without a certain amount of anachronism and/or schizophrenia. Please try to keep the ethical objections to a minimum: remember, this is fictional and should not be taken as an endorsement of such methods of husbandry.)

Additional Notes

The SC has the ability to "reshape her reality as she wishes". This is mostly going to be hand-waved, but it requires conscious direction; she can't, for instance, set up a food bowl that is always full (unless it works via mundane means). She can produce just about any building or machine that exists in the modern world, or do things like walk up to a refrigerator, grain bin, etc. and have it be full when she opens it. She can also provide reasonable amounts of power (say, up to 1MW) and ensure that natural sources of water (i.e. a river) are available and can be used without treatment. (Disease is also a non-issue, and the SC can generally take care of injuries.)

This all means that the infrastructure provisioning and repair can essentially be hand-waved. What is left is preparing and bringing food to the animals, providing exercise2 and enrichment, waste removal3, training4, and whatever breeding-related intervention5 is needed.

As further clarification, I am notionally breaking up the animals into four groups (feel free to explain to me why these groupings are wrong):

  • Group 1 (pigs) is more or less "hands off"; feeding is mechanized, cleaning is partly3 mechanized, and need shifting at most once a day. (Some are given access to pens and may need to be brought back in at night. Less frequently they may be moved to different pens.)
  • Group 2 (calves, 0-5) needs food and water delivered to individual animals, multiple times a day. They are never moved daily, but may be moved once every few days or weeks.
  • Group 3 (cows1) has partly3 mechanized cleaning and can be fed as a single group with mechanized assistance. They need to be milked several times a day and are shifted between stalls and pastures at least twice a day (in and out is two shifts). Assume they'll wander into the milking stalls on their own, but a human needs to connect and disconnect the milking machines.
  • Group 4 (everyone else) has mechanized water delivery, but need food and cleaning for each individual or small group and need to be shifted at least twice a day. Many will also need enrichment items provided at least every few days. (Grazers will of course graze, but will still get supplemental food that needs to be delivered.) As many of these are social animals that can be handled on a group basis, their "effective" head-count is likely between one half and one quarter of the actual number of individual animals. (This is somewhat less relevant for shifting, but assume they are generally cooperative.)


1 Use of cows, rather than cattle, is intended. In these instances, the calves and bulls are in different groups.

2 The SC prefers for this to be "hands off" most of the time... e.g. "turning out" animals into larger enclosures is preferred to "walking" animals on a leash or tether or use of exercise machines. Socialization is also a non-issue.

3 Waste in night pens needs to be cleaned. Waste in large enclosures, I'm not sure about. Probably for the grazers, it can just be left; assume also that this pasturage will always have grass. For the others, if the SC can "enhance" the rate at which insects take care of it, is that sufficient, or do people still need to collect it?

4 I'm going to somewhat, but not completely, hand-wave this. Let's just say that, due to the SC's abilities, I need the equivalent of one full-time person doing nothing but training and can otherwise ignore this, unless that would give a larger answer compared to factoring in training with everything else.

5 Assume no intervention is needed to prevent breeding, but that "assisted breeding" will happen on occasion, i.e. 1-3 people will be busy with this for up to a few hours, perhaps once a week on average. (Probably the actual days will tend to clump.)

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    $\begingroup$ What is the quality of the land, poor land means moving the animals a lot more, which requires more people. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ How socialized do you need these animals to be? Are the horses getting trained for riding or use in a horse and cart or other such things? Do the dogs and cats need to be accustomed to interacting with humans? Do the dogs need training at any specific activities? If you don't spend time with these animals, some of them on a daily basis, they will go feral and stop accepting attention from the boss. I should think that three to five dogs could reasonably be trained by one human, for example, depending on the level of training. I don't know how much personal time a warg requires. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ For land quality, lean toward "ideal"; the SC has a lot of ability to do raw environment manipulation: "assume also that this pasturage will always have grass." Anyway, besides the few calves (moved every few days at most), the grazers are turned out daily, so can use different pastures every day. Animals going feral is similarly a non-issue (and people can safely interact with even the "wild" animals), but I'm assuming they still need to be trained (especially the dogs and horses that are expected to be able to "perform"). $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ With such a small genetic population, she will need to constantly import new stock from someplace external that is big enough to have such stock (perhaps about the size of, say, Vancouver Island, but better climate). So why bother with the separate farm at all? She can warp reality to bring her wild petting-zoo subjects to her at will, and subdue them with her will, right? In which case, NO farmhand-slaves nor machines are needed - the animals forage and breed on their own. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, getting new animals is "easy", but time consuming. Also, story-wise, having the farm/sanctuary/zoo is sort of its own objective. To the extent genetics is an issue (only the pigs and, to a lesser extent, cattle, engage in any breeding beyond subsistence level, if that), the SC can... make it not an issue. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 16:25

4 Answers 4


It depends on your technology level.

Assuming we're talking present day or better, for that many animals, and assuming a high level of automation, you just about get away with just 1 person looking after them all, assuming the SC doesn't care about working conditions!!

More realistically, you're talking about a small to medium sized farm, so a team of 5-6 people would probably be enough so you're not working your staff into the ground!

For this I'm using that on average, 1 person can manage a herd of 60 cattle (https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/dairy/dairy-advice/how-many-cows-can-one-person-sustainably-manage-36780866.html). There are also robotic milking parlors that self clean (eg https://www.gea.com/en/productgroups/milking-systems/automatic-milking-systems/index.jsp).

If you want to go more zoo like, Chester Zoo has about 21000 animals (https://www.chesterzoo.org/our-zoo/animals/) and as of 2015 had 574 people working in the zoo per week (https://www.zoochat.com/community/threads/how-many-employees-do-your-zoo-have.405133/). That probably doesn't mean keepers but lets assume it does. That equates to about 1 keeper per 36 animals, which for your animal list is about 4 people. So again, 5-6 to allow for some time off.

This also assumes that you have at least 1 person who's vet trained, or you're going to be popping back to "real" Earth reasonably often!

  • $\begingroup$ "It depends on your technology level." Yes, sorry I wasn't very clear on that. Assume generally modern technology. Stuff that won't work without massive industry behind it and/or huge influx of outside supplies will be problematic, but one-time acquisitions of modern equipment are possible. I'm generally trying to keep it to "modern", though; no food replicators for example. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ So, it so happens my son is studying zoo management for his degree! I've checked my answer with him and his comment was "that's fine until something goes wrong... At that point you'll want 10-20 at least" . That way, when the Wargs escape, you've got 2-3 to capture each one... $\endgroup$
    – Riddles
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 18:51

Your biggest problem is peak load times.

Generally animals are quite low maintenance, caged, indoor and fully domesticated animals will need feeding, cleaning out etc. Outdoor animals might not need much attention at all outside breeding seasons.

Peak load times are things like sheep shearing and lambing, and calving. There aren't so many cows that this could be a real problem but a difficult calving is a two person job. Lambing for a big farm is an all hands, all hours, and anyone available in the village job.

The big cats can be risky, you don't want to be working with them alone. Pigs are possibly even more dangerous to be alone with.

I'd consider it reasonable to call it a family farm though, 2-3 adults and a couple of children could run the place without too much trouble. The biggest issue is that you have a lot of carnivores that would normally require specialist attention.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks., you make good points. I can and will hand-wave most of your concerns; given that, I take it you are saying that 3-6 people is reasonable? That is pretty consistent with @Riddles' answer also... $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew, I'm already handwaving quite a lot, in reality 12 horses would be 3 people by themselves, but yes under the circumstances 3-6 will do nicely. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ If the 12 horses are mainly turned out, but penned up twice a day for about an hour (inspection and measured feeding of grain and supplements), one hard working person could look after them. It used to take me about 10 minutes to pen up a dozen horses who all knew which pen they belonged in. Knowing breakfast or dinner will be served when every horse is in its proper pen is a strong equine motivator. About an hour twice a day, plus some pen cleaning, grooming, and feed measuring during the day. Training, if required, would be extra. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 3:58

I finally went and crunched some numbers... and, in short, came up with a guess that I need 25 to 70 person-hours per day to take care of this menagerie (variance is due to plugging in minimum and maximum head counts). This works out to around 3 to 9 people (depending on how many hours they work), which is about in line with other answers (especially assuming the other answers listened to me assuming an in-the-middle headcount, since my upper end is for a maximum headcount).

Here's how I came up with that answer:

  • First, I assume it takes between 5 and 15 minutes per animal to feed them. (Putting out a bowl of kibble for a dog is pretty quick. Cutting up meat for big cats takes a little longer. Generally, we're talking about just tossing food at them and walking away — I'll cover training separately. Some animals can be fed in groups or using automated feeders, which can cut down the time, though I didn't plug in "zero" anywhere on the assumption that the feeders might still need to be refilled.) This winds up being a fairly minor portion of the total time.

  • Next, I assume that I want to spend at least some daily training time with the "wild" animals and the dogs. Basically, I went with 10 minutes per day, per individual, with a little more for the dogs, and a little extra for "group training" time.

  • Next, some of these critters need to be moved around. I'm assuming they'll do most of the work themselves, but might be a little stubborn. I allocated about 5 minutes per day, per animal, or up to 10 minutes for animals that can be moved as a group. (Keep in mind that, even if the handler is just opening a gate and waiting on the animal to move, that still takes a minute or so, and I'm generally assuming at least two shifts per day for each animal.)

  • While I did say I want these animals to be mostly self-sufficient, the occasional bath and/or brushing might not be out of order, and some of the hoof-stock needs additional care. Here I am figuring around 15 minutes per week for most of the animals. (I did assume that the cats can take care of themselves.)

  • Of course, all these stalls, pens, cages, enclosures and whatnot need to be cleaned. Per the original question, I assume that I don't need to worry about the ruminants "fertilizing" the pastures, but the stalls will need mucking, and I probably want to clean all of the carnivore spaces. I guessed this at about 5 minutes to clean a single-occupancy, or 10 minutes to clean a group housing area.

  • Lastly, some of these are dairy animals (the cows, obviously, but also potentially the goats). Connecting and disconnecting milking machines is fairly quick, but adds up when you consider cows need to be milked several times a day. I figured about 10 minutes per day, per cow, a little more for the goats which I'm figuring to be a little more fussy, and maybe an hour for "handling/processing" of the collected milk. (And maybe cleaning/maintenance, but the SC probably deals with that using her abilities.)

So, I think my "final" answer is:

  • The cattle could be handled by one person, but some help would be nice. Same with the horses. All told, the "farm" load at full population seems like a good for 3-4 people.
  • I'm thinking the wargs are rather high-maintenance, comparatively, comparable to the horses. So, one overworked person, but preferably one with help. With the dogs, cats, and other wild animals, again we're talking about 3-4 people.

So, I think my "final" answer is that I would like 8 "regular" keepers. This should be enough that my SC doesn't need to scramble in an emergency, or if the population suddenly increases (assuming the "nominal" population is somewhere in the middle of my numbers), and so that the keepers aren't working 12 hour days all the time and can take the occasional day off. I'd probably add to that a veterinarian; while the SC can handle major stuff, this would be for consultation (if needed) and general monitoring, as well as dealing with minor stuff that isn't worth the SC's time.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why are you trimming the horses hooves so often? Maybe you happen to get one with fast growing hooves that needs trimming every four weeks. Six weeks would be more usual. One of my friends is a horse shoer who could make a lot more money if his clients needed his services every week. In general, your horses are more work than the herd of twelve horses that includes my favorite horse. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ I think part of the extra work is because you are assuming the horses have to be moved individually, rather than moving themselves. For example, I've helped send the herd out to graze after breakfast. It is just a matter of opening the gates on their pens. Give a horse a choice between standing in a boring pen with no more food expected until dinner time, or hanging out with its herd mates in a pasture area with a lake and lots of tasty weeds, and it is not going to hang around. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ That (to both of your comments) may be. Lacking much personal experience, I'm trying to over-estimate rather than under-estimate. That said, I haven't tried to factor in how much time the caretakers spend just walking from place to place, which will probably tend to compensate. My SC would prefer too many people over too few; more "flex" in case of unexpected situations, more time for additional one-on-one care, more free time for caretakers which I'm sure they'll appreciate... $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @PatriciaShanahan, also, I'm assuming that the stalls and pastures (for the domestic animals, anyway) are not directly connected. Actually, based on your previous comment, I feel fairly good about 2-3 FTE's for the horses. That's assuming a) a bit more work than your other comment indicated, by b) people that I prefer to have a lighter work load (so, 2 FTE's), plus about 1 FTE of dedicated training. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ That sounds as though the SC is designing to make the farm labor intensive, which is the opposite the opposite of footnote 2 on the question. Why not design in routes the horses can use to get themselves around their daily routine? Also, give them a nice lake where they can take a bath any time they like. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 16:00

After more thought, I have concluded that the answer to your question is that the SC can use as few or as many people as she likes. I'll take the horses as an example, but similar considerations apply to the other animals.

At one extreme, consider the feral horses living on Bureau of Land Management ranges in the western US. They get zero human attention. Your SC could set up a range with everything a herd of horses could possibly want. That includes an ecology that has a variety of grasses and other vegetation, at least one salt lick, lakes and streams for drinking and bathing, trees for shade and shelter from rain, and enough need to move around to access all the amenities to keep their hooves from overgrowing.

At the other extreme, some very expensive, very talented competition horses live in stalls, going out only for training and supervised exercise such as riding and longing. Each horse has a groom, possibly shared with one other horse, who keeps the stall clean, grooms the horse every day, pets it, talks to it, and delivers measured amounts of good quality food. The horse may share a trainer and rider with other horses, or may have its own rider. It gets regular hoof care, as well as sharing with the other horses the services of an equine nutritionist and a large animal veterinarian.

If the SC picks some number of people to care for the horses, it will be possible to set up a care plan that uses that number of people. The more people, the more human attention each horse gets.

For flexibility, pick cattle and goats that are bred for meat production, not dairy. They only produce enough milk for their offspring.


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