Animal gardening. (Feeds & feeding).
You're a homesteader, and you want to be more self-sufficient. So you garden ... and raise animals. But you soon discover that the feed bill for the animals is as much as your own grocery bill used to be! And growing livestock feed conjures images of real farming, with all its machinery and equipment. You couldn't turn a combine around on your land, even if it were economically feasible to own one, which of course it isn't.
But don't despair. Almost anyone can grow at least a little supplemental feed for a few animals, even with just a garden.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
The ideal homestead is a self-contained unit, which includes growing feed for animals. Even though the ideal may be unattainable (and is impossible anyway--even simpler peoples had to trade for goods such as salt and pipestone pipestone, hard, dull red or mottled pink-and-white clay stone, carved by Native Americans into pipes. Called calumets (see calumet) the pipes were used extensively in ceremonials. ) the expense of store-bought feed often exceeds the value of the animal products harvested. Then there are considerations of security, availability, chemical residues, price fluctuations, and more.
No wonder so many homesteaders ponder growing feed for their livestock!
For most, conventional field crop production is out of the question. While many homesteaders do make their own hay, the line of machinery required for grains is counter-productive for most homesteads. But there are alternatives.
Before we discuss those two other considerations should be mentioned. Homesteaders with feed bills they consider to be too high frequently make one or both of these mistakes: they have too many animals, or they have animals that don't produce as well as they should. If you're serious about reducing your feed bills and you're unwilling to write off hay and grain as "pet food," the first step is to improve your management. This might include health management (including parasite control), nutrition, breed improvement and culling culling
removal of inferior animals from a group of breeding stock. The removal is premature, i.e. before completion of its life span, disposal of an animal from a herd or other group. . In some cases it might be necessary to clear the barn or shed and start over with decent, productive stock.
That's basic. When you have the proper numbers of productive stock, then you can think about livestock gardening.
Yes, gardening. As a homesteader, you don't depend on the acres and acres of lettuce and tomatoes grown by agribusiness to feed yourself. Why should your animals have to depend on agribusiness, or its methods?
There are several good examples of how we went astray when the Industrial Revolution caught up with the Agricultural Revolution Agricultural Revolution
Gradual transformation of the traditional agricultural system that began in Britain in the 18th century. Aspects of this complex transformation, which was not completed until the 19th century, included the reallocation of land ownership to make farms ... and how homesteaders can go back to pick up the lost thread.
One concerns root crops. A hundred years ago these were common animal feeds, and in some parts of the world they still are. It's been said that in France, carrots were once considered fit only for horses: humans didn't eat them at all. Sheep ate turnips. Even today it's possible to find old beet beet, biennial or annual root vegetable of the family Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot family). The beet (Beta vulgaris) has been cultivated since pre-Christian times. cutters at farm auctions: mangle mangle - Used similarly to mung or scribble, but more violent in its connotations; something that is mangled has been irreversibly and totally trashed. beets were common fodder for dairy cattle right into this century.
What happened? Mechanization mechanization
Use of machines, either wholly or in part, to replace human or animal labour. Unlike automation, which may not depend at all on a human operator, mechanization requires human participation to provide information or instruction. . Root crops are labor-intensive. Grains are much easier and cheaper to harvest, handle, transport and store--with machinery. Silage silage (sī`lĭj) or ensilage (ĕn`səlĭj), succulent, moist feed made by storing a green crop in a silo. The crop most used for silage is corn; others are sorghum, sunflowers, legumes, and grass. is even cheaper and easier. As Industrial Age thinking led to more, bigger, better, and faster machines, and larger farms, root crops fell by the wayside much the way steam power did and for some of the same reasons: all the innovation, experimentation and improvement went off in a different direction and the older ways were neglected.
For homesteaders, the worm has turned. For most of us the old, labor-intensive and land-intensive ways are more desirable, and often more economical as well!
Another example of how mechanized mech·a·nize
tr.v. mech·a·nized, mech·a·niz·ing, mech·a·niz·es
1. To equip with machinery: mechanize a factory.
2. agriculture changed farming, and perhaps not for the better, is land-intensive growing itself.
Many modern gardeners think intensive or wide-row planting is new. It isn't. Neither is planting under mulch mulch, any material, usually organic, that is spread on the ground to protect the soil and the roots of plants from the effects of soil crusting, erosion, or freezing; it is also used to retard the growth of weeds. . They fell out of favor when horses were used to cultivate gardens as well as fields: single rows of vegetables were planted far enough apart to accommodate a horse-drawn cultivator cultivator, agricultural implement for stirring and pulverizing the soil, either before planting or to remove weeds and to aerate and loosen the soil after the crop has begun to grow. The cultivator usually stirs the soil to a greater depth than does the harrow. . Naturally, with the Industrial Age mentality, the next improvement involved the machinery, not the basic problem or concept. So we got rototillers ... which required the same wide rows that had appeared only because of the use of horses. It wasn't until homestead thinking analyzed the situation that we went back to wide rows and raised beds ... which had been used by some American Indians American Indians: see Americas, antiquity and prehistory of the; Natives, Middle American; Natives, North American; Natives, South American. centuries before.
Put all of this together and what do you get? Animal gardens! Suddenly growing feed for animals becomes an extension of something every homesteader is familiar and comfortable with--gardening. It's no longer a huge, somewhat mysterious, distressingly expensive chore.
Start at the beginning
If you have a garden and animals, you have almost certainly made a start on animal gardening, perhaps without even thinking about it.
When you pull young, tender weeds, or when you thin vegetables, you toss them to the chickens.
When you're canning or freezing the harvest, the "waste" goes to the chickens or pigs. After you've stripped the ears from the sweet corn plants, the stalks go to the cattle, sheep or goats. Then, after the harvest, maybe you let the chickens or even a pig into the garden to finish cleaning it up.
And of course you have also taken the next step: what animal-raising gardener hasn't pulled a carrot or picked some lettuce or an apple as a treat for a rabbit or goat?
No doubt there's a bright light bulb over your head even as you read this. You can see how easy it would be to plant extra carrots or corn as livestock feed. Perhaps you have already planted a little extra Swiss chard Swiss chard: see beet. for the chickens, or a few comfrey comfrey
Any herb of the Eurasian genus Symphytum (borage family). Best known is the medicinal common comfrey (S. officinale), used to treat wounds and as a source of a gum used to treat wool. Traditionally it was also taken internally for various complaints. plants for almost any animal.
That's one way to start: just plant more of what you already grow. If space is a problem and you haven't already gone to wide-row planting, this is a good time to make that move.
The garden seeder seed·er
1. A machine or an implement used for planting seeds.
2. A machine or implement used to remove the seeds from fruit.
3. One that seeds clouds.
It's also a good excuse to invest in a seeder. Put seed in the hopper, and as you push it through the garden it digs the furrow furrow /fur·row/ (fur´o) a groove or sulcus.
atrioventricular furrow the transverse groove marking off the atria of the heart from the ventricles. , drops the seed at the proper depth and spacing, covers it, and marks the next row ... just like its big-farm cousin. (These too are old-time machines that were considered too small for large operations and too large for backyard gardens. They made a revival about 20 years ago, during the back-to-the-land movement Today, the phrase "back-to-the-land movement" usually refers to a North American social phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s. This particular back-to-the-land movement was a migration from cities to rural areas that took place in the United States, its greatest vigor being of he '70s. Now they're made out of plastic, mostly, but they're ideal for homesteaders.)
Our seeder paid for itself many years ago, just on carrots. Any given amount of seed goes much more than twice as far as planting by hand, there is much less thinning, no stooping, the rows are straighter, and planting is much faster because you're walking.
Change the seed plate for different sizes and spacings, and plant corn, peas, beans, radishes ... almost anything.
The machine works on the same principle as the four or eight or twelve row corn and soybean soybean, soya bean, or soy pea, leguminous plant (Glycine max, G. soja, or Soja max) of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), native to tropical and warm temperate regions of Asia, where it has been planters your farmer-neighbors might use (unless they have up-to-date plateless planters), but of course those probably wouldn't even fit in your garden. Naturally, there's no comparison in cost! You can hang your planter on the wall in the garage, instead of building an expensive shed for it.
And you can probably plant your entire garden in the time it takes the farmer just to grease and hitch up hitch up
to harness a horse to a vehicle or implement. his machine.
That's animal gardening.
Oh yes: you can space the rows as closely as you want to. We plant carrots in rows three-to-four inches apart. Why space the rows far enough to drive a horse through, waste ground and water and compost, and then just have to weed the empty area anyway? If you've been stuck in industrial era gardening, this one change will let you produce five or even 10 times as much in the same space.
You know how easy it is to grow sweet corn. If you have enough land you can grow field corn for livestock just as easily, especially with a walking seeder. (Be sure to plant the sweet far enough away from the field corn to avoid cross-pollination.)
Again, there's no need to leave enough room between rows to drive a horse or tractor--or even a tiller through. If corn grows well with 8-10 inches between plants in the row, why would it need three feet between rows ... except for that horse? For cultivating use a narrow tiller, or a narrow walking cultivator. (Several types are available from Lehman's Hardware.)
Leave the ears on the stalks until they dry, then pick them just like you pick sweet corn.
The ears will have to be husked husk
1. The outer membranous or green envelope of some fruits or seeds, as that of a walnut or an ear of corn.
2. A shell or outer covering, especially when considered worthless.
3. . If you have a lot of corn, this is the perfect time to show your friends just how much fun old-time small farming is: have a husking bee! (Don't forget, whoever finds an ear with red kernels gets a kiss.) Husking pegs and gloves are available from Lehman's Hardware.
Even today some older farmers insist that corn stored on the cob is of better quality than the grain that is combined ... where kernels are taken off the cob by machine, in the field at the time of harvesting, and then usually dried, using LP gas. Again, you're ahead of the money rat-race. And your animal garden corn is probably organic, and could be open-pollinated as well.
Be sure to store the ears in a dry and well-ventilated place. For small amounts, rodent-proofing might also be a consideration.
For some animals, especially for occasional use, it might not even be necessary to shell the corn. Rabbits, pigs, sheep and goats seem to be able to do that for themselves, and it offers a winter diversion.
Small amounts of dry corn are easily shelled by hand. Although this can result in a sore thumb after awhile, for those with the time and inclination there is nothing more satisfying than sitting in the henhouse or chicken yard creating poultry excitement by shelling corn. Done little-by-little on a daily basis, it's not an overwhelming task.
However, two forms of hand-operated shellers are also available. One is a simple hollow cylinder. An ear of corn is stuck into the tool and twisted against the ridges there. It's not much faster than hand shelling, but it saves a lot of wear on your thumb. The other is a larger, heavier, hand-cranked, much faster and more expensive machine ($110 from Lehman's).
Soybeans are grown just like the garden beans you're already familiar with. Again, you can plant a lot of them in a hurry with the seeder ... and narrow rows will reduce weeding and increase the bushels per acre (or perhaps in the animal garden we should speak in terms of quarts per square yard).
Soybean plants can be cut and fed green, or cut and dried cut and dried cut adj (also: cut-and-dry) (answer) → eindeutig: (solution) → einfach (cured) to use as hay during the winter. Or the beans can be allowed to grow and mature, being harvested and handled like any garden dry beans.
Peas are very similar. For larger areas, check out field peas, as opposed to the more expensive garden varieties. (Note also that seeds are much cheaper in bulk, or even just in larger quantities.)
You're already familiar with another garden crop that is grown for appearance as well as food ... and even some city gardeners grow it as animal food.
That's the sunflower, which many people grow to feed wild birds. Your domestic animals will savor them as much as the blue jays and cardinals do.
Other common feed grains--oats, barley, wheat and rye in most areas--can also be grown in small, garden-size plots. For these, merely work up the ground well, as for a regular garden, scatter the seed by hand, and cover or rake it in as you would such garden seeds as radishes. Weeding is a hand job, but a well-prepared plot that has been in garden before and has been kept weed-free should present few problems.
Very small plots can be harvested with a scythe scythe
carried by the personification of death, used to cut life short. [Art.: Hall, 276]
See : Death , or a sickle or even a knife, but for any sizable area a scythe with a cradle (which catches the grain stalks after they're cut) is a technological improvement even Luddite homesteaders will appreciate. Generally such grains are cut before they're completely ripe and placed in shocks to complete drying. (Shocking is an art worthy of another article, but for the purposes of this one it's sufficient to tie bundles of stalks together with string or baler twine twine: see cordage. .)
Threshing threshing or thrashing, separation of grain from the stalk on which it grows and from the chaff or pod that covers it. The first known method was by striking the reaped ears of grain with a flail. could also be another article. This is knocking the kernels of grain off the stalks. One method would be to scatter the stalks on a clean, hard surface--a barn floor or a concrete garage floor or driveway--and having the kids dance on them. Beating the grain with a flail is more conventional of course.
Fork off the straw, scoop up Verb 1. scoop up - take out or up with or as if with a scoop; "scoop the sugar out of the container"
lift out, scoop, scoop out, take up
remove, take away, withdraw, take - remove something concrete, as by lifting, pushing, or taking off, or remove something the grain, and winnow See chaff and winnow. it (separate the grain from the chaff chaff
1. chaffed hay; called also chop.
2. the winnowings from a threshing, consisting of awns, husks, glumes and other relatively indigestible materials. ) by pouring it from one container to another when the wind is blowing. You don't have to be as meticulous winnowing winnowing: see threshing. grain for animals as you'd want to be when preparing it for human consumption.
Be sure the grain is dry, and store it in rodent-proof containers.
While growing small amounts of grains will be fun and instructive, you'll soon see why farm folk welcomed mechanization. But what about those crops that got left behind in the process?
The leader is probably the mangel, or mangold, or mangle-wurzle or stock beet. These are fun to grow: they'll amaze your friends and neighbors.
The roots reach fantastic proportions ... two feet long and more. Don't worry: they grow mostly above ground You won't need a backhoe to dig them.
At one time mangels mangels
Beta vulgaris; called also mangel-wurzel. were a staple feed for dairy cattle, even in the U.S. They were displaced because the growing of other feeds was more easily mechanized ... and because of the research into and improvements in silage. (Some writers maintain that if as much work had gone into root crops as was invested in silage, root crops would be the more common today.)
After harvesting, cut off the tops and store the roots in clamps--rudimentary root cellars. Dig a pit, put the mangels in, and cover with enough straw and soil to keep them from freezing.
We once had a Jersey cow that ate mangles Mangles is the name of several people and things: People
Mangles is the name of a wealthy English family whose members had amongst other things, interests in the Swan River Colony. Prominent members and interests include:
Other root crops include the aforementioned turnips and carrots. Turnips have made a recent comeback among some shepherds. Planted in pastures, the sheep can harvest them themselves. (Turnips are said to produce off-flavor milk if fed to cows or goats.)
Carrots require more work to harvest, but if you have good, sandy carrot soil they're certainly worth considering. Store these in clamps, like mangels.
Jerusalem artichokes have also been highly touted as livestock feed by modern homesteaders. This member of the sunflower family produces stalks and leaves that are relished by cows, sheep and goats. Any animal (including humans) will eat the potato-like tubers, but that involves a lot of digging labor for little reward. We have found, however, that pigs enjoy both the labor and the rewards.
And what about potatoes? At first blush Adv. 1. at first blush - as a first impression; "at first blush the offer seemed attractive"
when first seen it might seem like some kind of a crime of waste to grow potatoes for livestock feed, but why is that any different than growing corn for them? Potatoes were once a common stock food, and culls culls
the animals extracted from a herd or flock by culling. are still used in potato-growing regions.
Earlier, we mentioned comfrey. Most homesteaders are familiar with this plant today, but for those who aren't, it's a broad-leaved hardy perennial grown from crowns or root cuttings: it has purple flowers but seldom or never sets seed. It's good feed for almost every homestead animal: chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses and cattle.
It's also well-known to herbalists. The tender young leaves are used as salads (they get hairy as they grow), tea, and a healing poultice poultice /poul·tice/ (pol´tis) a soft, moist mass about the consistency of cooked cereal, spread between layers of muslin, linen, gauze, or towels and applied hot to a given area in order to create moist local heat or counterirritation. . (One of its names is "boneset boneset (bōn`sĕt) or thoroughwort (thûr`əwûrt', –wôrt'), perennial North American herb (Eupatorium perfoliatum ," and I'm among those who will vouch for vouch for
verb 1. guarantee, back, certify, answer for, swear to, stick up for (informal) stand witness, give assurance of, asseverate, go bail for
verb 2. its efficacy in that department.)
On the downside On the Downside is an EP by the San Diego, California band Counterfit, released by Alphabet Records in 2000. It was the band's first EP, recorded shortly after the members had relocated to San Diego from Fairfield County, Connecticut. : Comfrey can easily become a weed, almost impossible to eradicate. And worse--at the peak of its modern popularity some researchers claimed it caused liver problems when fed to livestock over long periods. (Human consumption of comfrey is under even more serious attack.)
After years of experience with comfrey, I still like it as an animal feed. It's not an exclusive diet, of course, but even in limited amounts it has produced wonderful results, particularly in young pigs and in horses. Feeding large amounts when it's growing prolifically hasn't caused us any problems.
The advantages are apparent. It's a perennial. It's winter-hardy. Cut it and it grows back. It's high in protein and other nutrients. It's ideal for an animal garden.
I have cut it by the pick-up load, by hand, but others have told of using flail choppers on larger fields. More commonly, I would cut an armload or a wheelbarrowful on my way to the barn from the house. Grasping a bundle of the stems and cutting them off at ground level with a pocket knife, I barely broke stride on my way to chores ... and each armload saved a bit of other feed.
Comfrey can be dried to store as hay, but it's difficult. The stems are particularly thick and juicy, and dry best on raised racks, under shelter. Obviously, this is best done on a small scale ... but what are homesteaders if not small scale? I always try to dry a little at least, if only to use as a tonic or for medicinal purposes Medicinal Purposes is a Big Finish Productions audio drama based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Plot
Edinburgh, 1827. .
Finally, there is hay, aside from comfrey and soybeans which have been mentioned.
If you have a few acres of land and only a few animals, maybe you don't even have to plant hay, or have a hayfield.
You probably have a lawn. You probably mow it. Being a homesteader, you don't overfertilize it or spray it with herbicides or other chemicals. Cows, goats, sheep and rabbits eat grass.
Don't overfeed o·ver·feed
To feed or eat too often or too much. lawn clippings, and be particularly careful if the animals aren't accustomed to succulent succulent (sŭk`yələnt), any fleshy plant that belongs to one of many diverse families, among them species of cactus, aloe, stonecrop, houseleek, agave, and yucca. feed. Also be extremely cautious about heating. Fresh lush lawn clippings will heat up rapidly Don't let a pile of them stand in a manger; feed only what the animals will clean up in a reasonable amount of time. Cutting the grass without a catcher, then picking it up after it has dried a bit, will help.
With more drying, the clippings will become hay.
And grass can be made into silage, in drums or plastic bags.
Homestead grass isn't confined to lawns. If you use a sickle-bar mower mower, farm machine used for cutting grasses and other hay crops. Mowers, drawn by or attached to tractors, or self-propelled, have superseded scythes. The mower is essentially an adaptation of the much earlier reaper. The first commercial mower was patented in 1847. to mow the orchard, fencerows, or other open spaces, there's your hay. Even if you don't Even If You Don't is a single released by the band Ween in 2000 on Mushroom Records. Formats
Enhanced CD single
Includes the quicktime video of "Even If You Don't" directed by Matt Stone & Trey Parker of "South Park". have a tractor and mower, you can cut an amazing amount of forage with a weed-eater. Lacking that, there's always the old scythe ... and we know of one lady who cut forage for her rabbits with a scissors scissors
Cutting instrument or tool consisting of a pair of opposed metal blades that meet and cut when the handles at their ends are brought together. Modern scissors are of two types: the more usual pivoted blades have a rivet or screw connection between the cutting ends !
In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , think. Get out of the agribusiness rut, look around, experiment and see what works.
This article hardly begins to cover the topic. It doesn't cover "foraging" behind grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, etc. It doesn't go into detail on threshing. It doesn't talk about pumpkins, another standard old-time stock feed, or fallen fruit or mast such as acorns. And it doesn't even begin to mention animal nutrition ... which must be our final caveat.
Introduce any new feed gradually and carefully. Use restraint and common sense: an animal isn't going to live, much less thrive, on a diet of lawn clippings, or even just corn. Learn something about animal nutrition before you leap Before You Leap is the autobiography and self-help guide written by Muppet Kermit the Frog. It was released in September 2006. External links
And as always, watch your animals. The eye of the master fatteneth the cattle. Be aware of any changes in condition, or even attitude.
This article was first published in 1994.