|Chickens & goats, just hangin' out|
With goats, there seems to be a lot of controversy regarding feeding grains, particularly amongst homesteaders and small holders. As ruminants, goats' digestive systems are best suited for grass, hay, and forage. The problem with feeding grain to goats, even cracked grain, is acidosis. Acidosis occurs when something slow to digest, like grain, ferments before it's moved through the gut. This creates an acidic condition called acidosis. Acidosis can be fatal to goats, which is why care must be taken when changing their diets or increasing grain. It's also why many goat owners offer baking soda free choice on the side.
In particular, grain discussions always seem to mention corn. Corn appears to not be digestible to goats, and whole corn can cause diarrhea in addition to acidosis. Unfortunately, corn and corn gluten are common ingredients in commercial pelleted feeds.
|Surprise & Jasmine love our weedy homegrown hay|
The key to feeding less grain, is good quality hay and forage. For us that means pasture improvement, which is another goal we're working on. The breed of the goat seems to matter too. We currently have Nubians and a Pygmy. The Nubians are not what's considered "easy keepers," i.e. not easy to keep weight on them. While Pygmies can keep their rumens big and bulging on just hay, the Nubians can't. Kinders fortunately, inherit the feed to flesh conversion ability from their Pygmy genetics. (They inherit their copious rich milk production from their Nubian side).
Another feed controversy is soy. Not only because of non-digestibility (especially in raw soybeans), but because if contains so many phytohormones, which can cause thyroid and other hormone related problems. (This makes soy a problem for human consumption as well.) Soy, like corn gluten, is for protein. At 45 to 48% crude protein however, soy is hard to match in a feed mix.
|De-seeding black oil sunflower heads. Just rub the heads over the screen.|
Not only are corn and soy common ingredients in commercial feeds (both for livestock and for pets), but both are likely genetically modified products. These are strong motivators for growing and mixing my own feed. However, doing so without soy presents a protein challenge. Milking does are said to need 16% protein, laying hens 16 to 20%, though how they came up with those figures, I don't know. Since this is higher than what most grains, hay, and forage contain, it becomes a puzzle as to how to achieve at least a 16% protein content in a natural diet without soy.
Protein puzzles me on several levels. Animal scientists speak of "crude protein," which is actually the nitrogen content of a feed. This seems a useless concept, but it is how the protein in animal feeds is measured. They also speak of "digestible protein," which is what the animal can utilize. Human nutritionists on the other hand, speak in terms of "complete proteins" and "essential amino acids." I find myself wondering why these concepts can't apply to animal feeds as well.
Things I consider growing for protein include alfalfa or other legume hays (clover , vetch, lespedeza), though I'm not certain yet what varieties grow well in my part of the country. One good protein alternative for me, would seem to be comfrey. At 22 to 33% protein, it can be fed fresh (the goats love it) or dried like hay. Comfrey, like alfalfa, also provides calcium. Grain amaranth is another possibility, with crude protein levels of 12 to 17%. Some folks say though, that since it's in the pigweed family (reportedly poisonous to goats), it shouldn't be fed to them. Many other goat owners however, report no problems. Something I haven't tried yet but plan to experiment with this summer, is flax seed. At 20 to 25% crude protein, it seems worth a try.
Protein for the chickens is easier to manage. For one thing, they love raw goat milk! And whey, and meat scraps, and grubs from the garden. Protein for chickens is another reason a worm bed is on this year's homestead goal list. The milk also provides much needed calcium for egg shell production, as do those egg shells themselves. Dried and finely crushed, the chickens love them, and between these two things, their shells are strong and hard without supplementing with oyster shells (something I can't produce for myself).
homegrown whole corn and a big head of amaranth in the morning, and a little more corn at night. They actually seem to prefer this to the commercial feed, along with whatever bugs, seeds, and greens they can forage for themselves. They don't eat a lot of layer ration anymore. Every couple of days I give them a quart of milk, plus the finely crushed dried egg shells. Last summer I grew a seed crop of Ozark Razorback field peas, all of which I hope to plant this year for feed. Then I read that the trypsin in raw beans is toxic to chickens. sigh
This is where my own research almost becomes a problem. Animal diets, like human diets, seem to be shrouded in controversy; one person claims X is dangerous while another swears by it. Pulses in particular, are said to be indigestible unless processed. So now I'm supposed to cook for my chickens and goats too? I begin to ponder, and wonder how people fed their animals properly before industrially manufactured feeds became available. Some might say all livestock until that time was undernourished, though I realize that soil nutrients have been depleted over the decades. It seems to me that the more scientific the process gets, the more complicated things become. Not that science hasn't benefited us greatly, but when it walked in the door, the simple life seems to have gone out the window. On the other hand, perhaps our pursuit of high production purebreds has forced us to rely on high production feeds as well?
For the goats, I've experimented with my own grain mix of 2 parts oats, 2 parts whole wheat, and 1 part black oil sunflower seeds, all locally available. Whether I have that on hand or am feeding commercial pellets, I also supplement with alfalfa pellets for protein and calcium, since our homegrown hay is not the best quality yet. To my last batch of grain mix, I was able to add the BOSS I harvested from the garden, plus most of the seed I collected from my harvest of broom corn.
|Broom corn: "whisks" for me, dried leaves and seed grain for the goats|
Broom corn is actually a sorghum. The sorghums can be grown for grain, syrup, or broom making in my case. It did very well for me and I discovered that the goats also relish the leaves, either fresh or dried. Actually I've learned that quite a few things (herbs, greens, & leaves) can be dried and tossed into the hay as a treat. This year I plan to plant a variety called Mennonite. It reportedly can be used for syrup making and grain.
I've also been experimenting with gardening for them, seeing what else we can grow and forage that they'll eat. For goats, it's all relative. Something they'll turn their noses up at during summer when there's more choice, is the very thing they'll fight over when winter pickins are slim. I planted a few items just for them in the winter garden, mangels for example, and collards, which we can eat too. They get greens from the turnips, beets, and kale, plus mangel thinnings, turnip roots and some of my stored sweet potatoes too. They like rose hips, cabbage, and broccoli leaves as well. I'd hoped to have pumpkins and winter squash for them as well, but mine didn't do well this year. Next summer I'll plant sugar beets for them, and Jerusalem Artichokes for them and us too. A good article about goats and garden vegetables can be found here, "Planting a Goat Garden".
Well, this has been a long post, and I know some of it is redundant; very similar to what I wrote in my first post on this subject. Though we've made some progress on this, my questions obviously remain the same. If you don't have critters or aren't interested in growing your own feeds, I've probably lost you long since. Unfortunately it would appear that I still have more questions than answers. Does everything in life have to be this complicated?
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