Growing and Storing Feed for Livestock

Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)November 22, 2005

We have reached the point where the cost of animal feed and bedding is becoming significant, and we are beginning to look for ways to economize while still giving our critters the best of care. Through the warmer months we have let our chickens free-range, our geese graze and have gathered greens for our rabbits. Feed costs in summer are much lower for this reason. Winter is the difficult time.

We have 19 chickens (will be culling about 6 or 8 of them soon), three geese and the rabbits - 3 adults and 18 seven-week-old youngsters. Most of the youngsters will become dinner in a few weeks, but I would like to keep a few of the most promising as future breeders. Which means feeding them for another four months until they mature.

I buy organic feed for the chickens and the geese and that is very expensive. The rabbits are getting the standard pellets supplemented with greens and a bit of alfalfa-timothy hay. I'm not thrilled with the pellets, but do not yet have the experience to justify changing their diet entirely. We gradually introduced the greens - dandelions, plantain, clover, chickory and alfalfa - and they thrived on them. But it is getting harder and harder to gather enough for them since the frosts. The geese still forage but it must be harder for them to find enough too. They will eat the chicken feed but they don't seem to enjoy it much and some mornings it looks as though they barely touched it.

Other homesteaders must face the same issues. Here we are now with a whole long winter ahead to learn, share ideas, and plan for the year to come.

I'll get the ball rolling with something I read about in an old copy of Harrowsmith - the "real" Harrowsmith. There was an excellent article on sprouting grains for livestock. I intend to try this to supply greens for my critters over the winter. Anyone else done this? Did it work for you? I have about fifteen pounds of untreated rye seed and will be trying to find oats and wheat and maybe barley as well. I tried sprouting scratch but found that the cracked corn in it tended to make everything ferment or go mouldy.

I hope there will be sufficient interest in this topic to keep an ongoing discussion going this winter. Please contribute your thoughts and ideas.

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Maggie I'm in the same boat and also very interested in what you are asking. Also buying organic feed.
I am not taking on any more animals until I've solved this issue.
My only idea is... and this is just a goal it isn't actually happening- I want my egg layer hens to support ALL other poultry from egg money. So far it is nowhere even close. I don't need to make money but I don't want to waste it either.
And yes Harrowsmith is crap these days. I have a subscription and it's all about decorating, garden ponds, fancy cheeses to serve for the holidays.
The old ones are packed with info, and if your library has them look into "The Harrowsmith Country Life Reader". Lots of info.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2005 at 9:58PM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

Thanks for the quick reply, Mountain Man. This forum moves so slowly sometimes that I get frustrated with it, but many of my concerns are more geared to homesteading than farming.

What is your livestock tally at the moment? You have chickens and ducks, don't you? And what else? It would certainly be great to have the layers pay the way for other poultry, but I think this is difficult unless you can tap into the upscale urban niche marketing.

What we are aiming at for the moment is being able to produce most of our meat, eggs, vegetables and perhaps dairy products more economically than we can buy them. If we can sell some surplus, great! There is some interest in meat rabbits around here and if I manage to raise some Pilgrim geese they should sell well to enthusiasts; they are hard to come by in Ontario. Geese are cheap to raise if you only keep breeding stock over the winter.

I bought eight plastic dishpans at the dollar store and I will start a pan a day with grain. If I keep up with it, that should supply several pounds of green feed every day. I may need two pans a day or even three... hard to say how much they will need.

The rabbits look like being a big success. They are just mutt rabbits but both the does raised terrific litters and even at a moderate four litters a year we should have all the rabbit meat we can eat. It is delicious and versatile, so we will enjoy it often. I plan to breed some of the doelings when they reach the six month mark - early April - and by then the early greenstuff should be available and I can grow out the summer fryers mainly on greens. Joel Salatin has been doing this for years at Polyface. All the books say that you mustn't feed greens except as a treat or minor supplement, but obviously if the rabbits are accustomed to them they do not have problems. Mine were a sorry looking trio when we acquired them, but with green feed added and gradually increased they perked up amazingly.

I am fortunate that I found a treasure trove of old Harrowsmiths at a yard sale seven or eight years ago. I think I paid five dollars for them - perhaps 80% of all the old ones ever issued. I was living in a Toronto apartment, but I hauled them home anyway, knowing I would need them "someday". One of my smarter moves!

What steps are you planning to cut costs or boost sales?

    Bookmark   November 24, 2005 at 1:56PM
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Hey Maggie, you're right about this forum being slow. I do try to read but I find it a bit too right wing or something, everything comes back to guns, trespassing and guns, hunting/poaching and the lord. But there's some interesting things through skimming.
I have 35+ layers, 8 runner ducks, 3 pekins, and 7 muscovies. The layers are being replaced next spring with both pullets and a few exotic chicks, and all drakes but 1 runner will need to be butchered and all the other ducks are for breeding.
You're right about geese! I just gave away a bunch, too old- they were pets and eating more than I could handle.
I plan to grow nursery crops- mainly trees, and'll use geese to weed during summer and sell them in fall. I sure hope someon'll buy them! I figure keep a gander and 2-3 geese for breeding for the next season.
The goal is to get sheep for next spring. I want dairy an looking for a source. Someone's trying to give me two mixed breeds ewe lambs 'for pet only' but to me they are pretty much useless. I also want dairy goats, maybe just one, as part of the 'flock'. All of them are basically for milk/cheese, I'm not into lamb. So basically they need to live off FREE food from this farm or it won't work.
My plan for cutting costs is just trying to wean the animals further from the processed feed. There is enough land here for enough hay, and enough to sell too I just have nowhere to store it and no machinery. Still trying to figure out a deal for getting in someone to help- don't know what to charge, don't want to get ripped off.
I want to sell some form of crop- squashes/pumpkins- something easy. I have a lot of poultry manure as fertilizer. It may sound dumb and more like an excue to keep livestock but I figure sheep/goat manure could save a certain amount of cash on conventional ferts.
In my current living arrangement I can't store apples/fruit, or anything in that matter. But when I do build a place there will be a cellar.
At my old place I froze heaps of windfall apples and that saved bigtime on the feed bill during fall and then throughout winter.
I've planted an orchard but it will be years before there are windfalls.
I'm having the land certified organic. Haven't decided if it will be beneficial moneywise yet. Feed costs significantly more, though you can sell products for more. At the end of the year I'll know more.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 1:04AM
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huisjen(z5 ME)

The last two years we've had a neighbor hay for us. He lives a half mile down the road so it's not too far out of the way for us. I think he did about 200 bales this year at $1.75 per. We originally did this for cheap (relatively) garden mulch, but then aquired a couple sheep. Now we're up to three sheep, and that may turn into five within a month, plus a dairy goat kid.

Paul, our hay man, is no spring chicken. He's 72 or 73, and he lost his wife and a brother this last year. He's on some sort of respiratory therapy himself, and keeps saying he's going to quit haying sometime soon. So this summer I did a bit of an experiment to see if, push come to shove, I could get by without him. I mowed with a scythe, and raked up with a fork. (I've got a hand hay rake too, but never hauled it out there.) I found that if I mowed a little every day, I could keep the sheep and goat from running out of fodder in their paddock, and could have stockpiled enough for winter. It's not the "easy" way to do it, but it's cheaper than maintaining a rake, tedder, and baler. The scythe takes very little storage room. I think I need to adjust the ergonomics of mine a little, but I think it would work. Or maybe I'll try to buy Paul's old baler when he quits.

On the other hand, I don't think there's a way to reasonably grow enough grain for our laying flock of 20 ducks. There's just got to be another way to feed them, or they're not going to be part of the system.


    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 5:49PM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

We're getting some goog ideas here! Let's keep this going.

Mountain Man, you mentioned freezing windfalls. Exactly what did you do to prepare them for freezing? And which animals did you feed them to? We have a couple of old apple trees and most of the apples get wasted. We don't spray so they are often wormy but the local rabbits and the chickens like them. I fed a few to the geese this year but they did not seem overly impressed. Though I bet they'd eat them now!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2005 at 2:18PM
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Maggie I just froze them in the deep freeze whole, in shopping bags.
About once a week I'd drop a frozen lump of apples in to the chickens/ducks/geese.
It really turns into apple sauce when it thaws. Near this time the birds were SO SICK of apples, so I would remove their other food until they got into them.
I bet rabbits would like them too, I bet everything would like them.
I had about 5 mature apple trees at my previous house and had way more apples than I could use. Some would store well, others were frozen...
My new place has 5-6 but I just planted them so it'll be awhile.
Winter squash was good for storage too. I sure wasn't eating them! I found though that pumpkins weren't liked by the poultry. They'd pick the seeds out and some guts, but not eat the main part.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 1:39AM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

Thanks, Mountain Man, for the suggestions. Next year I won't let those windfalls rot. Our rabbits ate some of them and the chickens peck at them... I tried feeding them to the geese but they didn't seem to get the idea and preferred foraging for greens. Now it is winter they would likely eat them though, so it would be worth trying.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2005 at 1:11PM
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We get hay from our field for the horses n cows and rabbits when I have some. Rabbits can live on good timothy hay. you dont need pellets.

We also get food from the food pantries. At the local pantry here they have truck fulls of breads.Its amazing how much food big stores like wegmans throws out. Most of it is organic stuff. I think it dont sell fast as the price for that type of bread is $5 for a tiny loaf. And convienent enough we can store it in a cold part of the barn in the winter and it dont rot. all the animals eat it. even the horses get some as a treat. We get the types that are whole grains like the 12 grain or sunflower honey. Different pantries get foods from different stores. Find a pantry that recieve their food from a store that sells lots of organic stuff. We get other food from them too. Just tell them its for your animals. I bring extra eggs and squash to donate.
I save our apples in wooden crates in a cool barn and they last till about january as long as you dont let them freeze completely. and even if they do they eat em like apple sauce.

We also feed the animals lots of winter squash and pumpkins. almost all the animals eat it. We dont even need to take care of the garden they grow on. they just regrow there every year on their own as long as you leave a few to seed. I use a machety knife to chop em up and add them to the chickens feed and some horses like em too. Cows love em. Sometimes I'll cook up some in our wood burner for a warm treat in really cold weather. Your animals may need to get used to eating this type of food if they are used to grains. The chickens hatched here love this food. chickens that came from another farm take a few weeks to learn to like it but befor too long I see preferences among them. One beautiful black pencil rooter loves tomatoes. he will devour all the tomatoes befor touching anything else. Some of the chickens wont even touch the tomatoes. I noticed they really love spaggetti squash the best and I plan on growing a ton for them this summer.

We also grow a patch of heirloom cattle corn. It fairs well some years. We store that in old animal cages and a small corn crib we made from old fencing. I noticed mice seem to get at it that way. Wish I had a better way to store it away from mice.
another favorite is sunflowers. They grow in abundance. You place the heads face down in the sun on a piece of cloth up off the ground and as the backs dry the seeds fall right out. We also just scatter the seeds and they regrow with no effort the next year. Dont forget to leave some out for wild animals like turkey and other winter birds.

Dont forget about natural forage too. Here, in New York, we have wild burdock which has lots of seeds and sumack. I realized that after watching the wild turkey foraging in deep snow. The sumack is tall and the berries are at the top. Its amazing how nature provides. The snow gets 4-5 foot deep and the turkeys can reach the berries. same with the burdock. the plants can get 3 foot high.
We grow a patch of comfree too. the leaves are huge. you can dry them and store them for winter vitamins for all the animals. Rabbits especially. If they get disintary one portion will heal em quick. I also had some geese they were eating too much for winter. Then I realized they like to eat the grass around the nieghboring creek. They moved there and I havent fed them in 5 years!! The grass along the creek bed stays green and edible all winter.

Get some books out of your local library and read about how they did it 300+ years ago. And its amazing what our livestock lived on. Squash and pumpkins was a major food for them. When people restuffed their beds with grass they fed the old grass to their animals...weird

Hope this wasnt too long.
Merry christmas!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2005 at 2:07PM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

No, Marie, your post wasn't too long and there are some good suggestions there. Thanks - and Merry Christmas to you!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2005 at 10:47AM
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most subjects have been cover by my predicessors .
check out Eric Sloans (or Sloane) book on "BARNS" for ideas on the corn crib . Also check out for poultry tips and advice on corn crib ! I would go for dwarf stem sunflowers they have a quicker growing season and the eggs willl have less colesterol on this feed . good luck .

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 3:08PM
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If the winters are not too wet and warm some methods that worked for our ancesters is to harvest your crops into shooks. During the less active winter weeks thrash and winnow, or in the case of many critters such as poultry or hogs let them thrash the goody out of the whole plants. I have had good sucess with alfalfa sprouts for my own use and a T of seed yealds about a qt jar of sprouts. winter grains wheat barley rye etc may even remain usefull all winter as a pasture in many areas.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 8:46PM
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