This post was originally shared on my short lived homesteading blog in August of 2013 before I decided to move everything to this one blog— which is more than enough for me to keep up with! Growing all or part of our own animal/livestock feed is important to us and something we will be focusing on even more as time goes on.
Early in the summer I shared how we are working on growing some of the feed for our animals (see this post for part 1). We planted a few things in the garden just for the chickens, ducks and the goats. Mangle beets, pumpkins, dent corn, sunflowers, carrots, turnips, cow peas, alfalfa and millet we all planted essentially as test crops this year to see what worked best for future years for livestock feed.
The results were not great. The alfalfa, millet and cow peas did not even come up. The sunflowers are still less than a foot high. The corn was looking really good and then we had a hail storm. The beets, pumpkins and carrots were also affected by the hail but might still produce. The turnips are delicious and we’re eating them. The animals do get the turnip greens.
The chickens, ducks and goats did get lots of weeds that our garden produced since those grew extremely well. It actually turns out that a couple of things that I thought were weeds my friend tells me are edible for humans. One I can’t remember the name of (and we haven’t eaten any of it) but the other is lamb’s quarter. I’ve sneaked a little lamb’s quarter into our salads but the bulk of it is going to our poultry and goats. It grows amazingly well here. We’re so happy with it that we’re actually going to save seeds from the plants here to take up to our new property hoping it will be as prolific there as here.
I’ve been looking around our yard at other ‘weeds’ that are not too invasive, grow well and the animals like. So far, the only other thing the goats really like are some kind of weed that when it gets older is prickly. I think we’ll pass on encouraging that one to grow. I have no idea what it is but when they find it in the yard they run to over to it like it is candy.
We’re still letting the chickens and ducks out in the late afternoon to forage. In the mornings they are fed grains in their chicken yard. it is a large yard so they have plenty of room to roam. There is grassy areas, a few patches of sage brush (great for laying eggs under) and the ducks have a small swimming pool. In the heavier traveled areas we add the old hay from the goat pens. The chickens and ducks enjoy working the hay and seeing what all they can find in it. Goats tend to leave a lot of edible stuff behind! We also encourage bugs and worms in the poultry yard by putting down boards and cement blocks. The bugs, grubs, worms, etc go under there. Every few days I’ll move a couple of the boards or blocks around and the chickens and ducks get a treat. A super treat is when a grasshopper happens to wind up in the yard! Now that is some entertainment as everyone chases it hoping to be the one who catches the thing before he hops on out.
We used to give the poultry grain as soon as we let them out in the evenings. Now we are delaying that feeding for an hour or so to give them time to forage the entire yard. I call it making them work for their food. I’ve noticed they are wanting a lot less grain after they have time to forage.
They also get our kitchen scraps and occasionally extra treats like yogurt or clabber milk if we have extra milk that week. We also pull weeds from the garden and take to the chicken yard for them. They enjoy working the weeds almost as much as they enjoy working the hay. The ducks especially like the weeds with dirt still attached to the roots.
We are still also sprouting wheat and whole peas for them. When we first started doing that they really seemed to love it. Then one day they pretty much refused to eat the sprouts. We switched to a different kind of wheat and I suspect that was the issue. But since I bought 200 pounds of it we were kind of stuck. They seem to like it better when we sprout it longer so Joe took over the sprouted and started letting it sprout for several days. They’ll eat the sprouted stuff now but they don’t seem to like it much. I find that putting in the yard area where the hay is seems to work good, then they kind of scratch around for it and enjoy it more.
Hopecentric is doing a series on how she feeds her chickens a grain-free diet. This post is the second installment and I found some good ideas in it when thinking about feeding our birds.
We are new to goats this year. We have seven Dwarf Nigerians. We’re pretty basic with our goat feeding right now. We are not milking so everyone is on hay that is a weed/alfalfa mix plus on weeds. When we first got the goats we would take a couple of them out for for an hour or so in the evening. Two of the girls were super friendly and wanted to be with us so it worked good. Our buck and one of the girls don’t want much to do with us. The others it depended on their mood as to how they act. At the end of July we put together a simple portable pen (aka Goat Tractor) that has been wonderful for getting everyone out to browse. You can read the details of this simple pen here. We are super happy with it and might make a second pen that we can run in a different part of the yard. We only use this pen for short times and only when we are home. We have a sunscreen we put over it to provide shade and if the weather turns to rain we take any goats in the pen back to their permanent pen. It does take a few minutes to move the pen and/or move the goats around but ti is not much of a chore. We’ve been getting some nice rains this year which has kept our grass/weeds looking good for the goats.
We are thinking we might cut down some of our taller weeds/grasses and make our own hay type stuff. We’ve been talking about doing this for awhile but haven’t moved forward on this.
Live Ready Now has a series on growing food for animals that has some great ideas. The comments are also wonderful. (Post one, post two, & post three). One thing mentioned in that series is the idea of silage. This is something that I’ve read about previously and seems quite interesting. When I lived on a dairy as a child we had a silo pile. That was corn and other grains, not items good for a dairy cow or goat, but I think the concept would also work for food that is goat suitable. I plan to research it more.
We went up to our new place the first weekend in August. We were super impressed with how nice the grass looked. They too have been getting rain and everything has been growing well. We’re excited to think that we might be able to grow more food up there than we originally thought. Of course, a drought year might be a different story.
Something else we are considering is a living fence. Our property is a triangle shape. Two of the sides are fenced in four strand barbed wire. The third side, the road side, is not fenced. Of course, that is also the longest side which means high cost for fencing. Living fences are fences made out of some ground of shrub or hedge. We could choose a living fence that would also work as food for goats, cattle and sheep and combining that with rotational grazing near the fence (so we can make sure it is over eaten) it might work well not only as fence but also as food.
In addition to the living fence thought we’re really wanting to use permaculture concepts to promote perennials on our property (both this property and our new property). By encouraging grasses, shrubs and other things that keep coming back we’ll have less work in the long run and more forage for the animals and us.
Growing our own animal feed is a whole new world for us. In fact, pretty much all of this stuff is new to us! If you have suggestions or ideas on feeding livestock we’d love to hear them. We currently have ducks, chickens and goats. Eventually we hope to add turkeys, rabbits, a milk cow, sheep and pigs plus maybe other things that we’ve not yet considered so suggestions for feeding any livestock is welcome.