January 29, 2012

More Thoughts on Growing Animal Feeds

Chickens & goats, just hangin' out
On the heels of ordering spring garden seeds, I'm thinking not only what to plant for us, but what to plant for our critters as well. I first wrote about growing our own animal feeds last July (Food Self-Sufficiency & Animals). This is one of our self-sufficiency goals, and no small one as we're learning. We've made some initial steps in that direction, but I have to confess; the more I research this topic, the more questions I have.

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).

Ozark Razorback cowpeas

I'm still buying packaged layer ration which is offered free choice, but have stopped buying scratch (a mixture of cracked corn and whole wheat). I give them 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?

UPDATE: Well, I finally pulled together my research and experience with feeding goats and put it into a little eBook entitled How To Garden For Goats: gardening, foraging, small-scale grain and hay, & more. Click here for a list of chapters and where to buy.

39 comments:

  1. Good thoughts to ponder. If you look at old photos .... 100 years ago ... horses did not look like today's horses, so commercial feeds have definitely changed things a bit, of course now horses are bathed and clipped also which also alters appearances. But if you look at necks and back topline on horses years ago, there is a big difference.

    Either I haven't been looking or Broom Corn seed is not common in California. There is a grass here that is called "Johnson Grass" which I am told is a type of Sorghum.

    Goats prefer more of a woody brush type habitat than sheep. My goats will eat roses, thistles, poison oak, fruit trees, pine trees, tree trees, BTW did I mention they like to eat trees?

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  2. Making and/or producing your own animal feed is indeed a complicated subject. I have always wanted to mix my own chicken feed, but finding the right mix and then sources for the ingredients seems so overwhelming. It sounds like you are making your way slowly but surely, which is admirable. When you say, black oil sunflower seeds, is that the variety? If so, where do you get yours. If not, what variety do you plant?

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  3. The only critters we have are eight laying hens and a cat which has adopted us. You are more ambitious than we are, but I admire that quality in you and love to read all about what you're doing. We do buy oyster shell and am curious about crushing up egg shells to supplement. Being basically a city girl, I've always thought we should stay away from feeding them egg shells because they would get into cracking the eggs themselves. But when I think of that, it's probably a far stretch for a chicken brain to figure out they are one in the same!

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    1. We rinse our eggshells and put them in a ziploc in the freezer until we have enough to bring out the blender (we use a small, cheap one because it gets pretty beat up by the shells). I've put them in a bowl solo and also combined with fruits, oatmeal, meat or whatever scraps I'm bringing them that day-it doesn't last long cuz they love it!

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  4. I see that a lot of research has been done to keep your animals in good condition :o) I'd give those goats a run for the Brocolli leaves :o) I just found out this year that they are as delicious as the tops when cooked with them :o)

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  5. I find that things get so convoluted and complicated that it no longer makes any sense. Always bring things back to their simplest. If diet was such an ordeal many things would have died long ago including us. The human protein fiasco is overhyped. There isn't a 'complete protein' worry. Every plant you consume has all the aminoes you need. If you get enough calories, you get what you need. It is interesting that according to your sources goats require much more than we do. Anyhoot, back to the simplistics, if goats being ruminants eat well grasses and whatever else they can find to munch on, it would make perfect sense to grow just that. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a blend/varied diet for them of various grasses they already enjoy and enough of them to meet what a goat needs calorie wise, specifically your own. Humans with their belief in being such grey mattered creatures really do over think and muck up generally...well darn near everything. Good luck! Look forward to reading about it. :) *chants OM.... jk*


    Disclaimer : Not a livestock or poultry raiser | Healthy vegan for 7 plus years and not dead yet

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  6. Have you taken to the idea of remineralizing your soils to gradually bring them back to 'virgin' land status through rock dusts? On the simplistic approach, it occurs to me that previous ages of healthy people did not take vitamin supplements (I do only one, B12 though I personally believe we previously got it by eating non sanitized produce). We are best to ingest food with nutrition/minerals to allow them to be available to us rather than whatever modern pill forms would give you. :)

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  7. Brian and I had a very similar conversation today (as a train rolled by loaded down with tons of coal) about how science has ruined the "simple life".

    On a side note, that idea about how to pull out sunflower seeds is BRILLIANT!! We're totally stealing that idea ;]

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  8. I was going to suggest mangels, but you have that one. Comfrey is a permaculture plant that pulls minerals deep out of the ground and makes them more available for other plants- I would guess comfrey to be great for goats.

    On the subject of jerusalem artichokes or 'sunchokes'- they're a member of the helianthus family, which is the same family that sunflowers are in- they took will spout new plants from broken pieces of root, so put them out away from your garden, just in case.

    Nita, over at Throwback from Trapper Creek blog has a lot of good information about pasture rotation and haymaking, among other things. She's raising grass-fed cattle, but some of the needs are the same and she's incredibly knowledgable, as well as free with her advice. You might check her out. There's link on my blog if you don't find her via a google search. She calls herself Matron of Husbandry, but her name is Nita...

    Good luck!

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  9. Leigh,

    We currently don't have animals but plan on keeping chickens and goats as soon as we have land space. I believe that to truly be self sufficient we must grow our animals food. I'm so glad you posted this information and will be anxious to see any further research that you do in the future. I wonder too how "malnourished" animals were years ago before the manufacturing of feed. Sometimes I think research studies can be tweeked to get the results that the study sponsor hopes to get.

    I'm rambling but just wanted to let you know that I found your posting helpful.

    Have a great night!

    RaShell

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  10. Well, livestock really is man's first manipulated gene pool Leigh, so I'm not surprised that feeding is getting a lot more complicated. Their historic natural forage is likely long gone today, the goat/cow/sheep/horse has been bred and genetically modified if you will from survival genetics to give more meat/milk/power etc. I think pigs go back to their closest feral state the quickest, maybe a generation or two...Anyway, my best advice, for what it is worth is simply add a good multivitamin/mineral supplement

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  11. Oh, I hear you, Leigh! I've been researching chicken feed for months and am still pretty baffled. One book I read said to not even bother thinking of growing your own feed, as the ratios are so complicated (not sure I buy that, though). I still think the best thing to do is have good pasture (for both the goats and chickens) and let them forage as much as possible. Nature is much wiser than we are!

    We only feed our goats grass hay when the snow makes it impossible for them to forage, and we rotate them between 2 pastures once or twice each year. They're pygmies, and do wonderfully without any grain. None of them are in milk, however, so they don't seem to need anything "extra" from us.

    We feed our dogs raw food (another animal feeding controversy!) and this philosophy has at its heart the "balance over time" concept, meaning they don't need a complete balanced diet every single day, so long as they get what they need over time.

    I think one major issue is that most of these animals foraged over many miles prior to our domestication of them. Hence the question of what we need to supplement their diets with to compensate for smaller living environments.

    I find this all very fascinating and a bit daunting, too! Thanks for the discussion.
    -Jaime

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  12. Tombstone Livestock, I got my broom corn seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have a good selection of sorghum seed including broom corn. I've heard of Johnson grass, but don't know much about it. It is listed in the feed charts under hay, in Raising Goats The Modern Way. My goats love all the forage you mention!

    Candace, I've not found black oil sunflowers in any seed catalog, but it's the same stuff sold as wild bird seed in any garden department. It's a softer shelled seed, so it doesn't need to be threshed, just fed shell and all. Chickens and goats love them! They are rich in good oils as well. I just planted the seeds I bought for bird feed.

    Janice, there's different opinions about feeding those egg shells and egg eating chickens. The reason for drying and crushing finely, is so that they don't look like eggs anymore! My chickens really go for them.

    Ginny, I've been experimenting with broccoli leaves for us to eat too! Actually, I had a frugal friend who saved all her broccoli stems, creamed them in the blender, and used them as a base for broccoli soup.

    Stay @ Home-Gardener, I'm beginning to think everything is over-hyped, LOL. I read Diet For A Small Planet eons ago, and have followed those principals for meatless meals ever since. My DH and I were talking tonight, about just what you're saying in your comment. Mostly I judge my animals health by how they look, how they act, their coat, feathers, weight, etc. I think knowing one's animals and paying attention is key to keeping them healthy.

    I did price rock dust when we first got our big garden going. Not cheap! Not around here anyway. That would be an excellent way to go however. And I agree, our nutrient should come from our food, through healthy soils.

    Meg, I can't take credit for the sunflower seed extraction idea. I read it at Ask Jackie. :)

    Paula, the first time I planted Jerusalem artichokes, the plants disappeared. Not even a hole was there to tell the tale. The second try we built a raised bed in the garden. They were all over the place! LOL

    Yes, comfrey is excellent for goats for the very reason you mention. I've ordered 25 more crowns, in hopes of eventually having enough for a winter's supply.

    I follow Nita's blog and have learned a lot from her. I agree her experience is invaluable.

    RaShell, I agree that this is truly part of being self sufficient. I think part of the problem with research, is that it is usually done by, or funded by, those who have the most to gain by commercially favorable outcomes. Another problem I think, is that there is a basic human arrogance that thinks it can do better than nature!

    Theresa, you're hitting the nail on the head. I think too, that's why the heritage breeds are so valuable. I agree about a good mineral supplement. That's one thing I always plan to buy, unless I can ever somehow add these things to my soil in useful quantities.

    Jaime, that's exactly how I started! With a poultry book that convinced me it's impossible to do. One thing I realized though, is that they were addressing commercial chicken concerns, where chickens spend their entire lives in cages. Free range chickens are able to forage a lot for themselves! There's a difference. I find I'm mostly supplementing their natural diet, except in winter, when there's not as much for them to find on their own.

    Interesting you mention the "balance over time" concept. Really, that's what seasonal eating is all about. I think too, that in breeding animals for specific production qualities like egg, meat, milk, we have caused them to need more nutrient dense diets. Seems getting back to more natural breeds (heritage) as well as a more natural diet is important for success.

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  13. We're exploring a parallel issue in our aquaponics ventures right now. What to feed fish that we plan on eating when the commercially available feed is full of GMO soy and corn and ocean derived fish meal. Studies have shown that what goes in equals what comes out - you can't feed a diet full of corn and soy and expect a heart healthy fish. In order to get the right omega 3 fatty acids in fish you have to feed them a diet rich in omega 3 from either fish meal (problematic because overfishing is such an issue) or from plant sources, mainly algae or other aquatic plant species.

    So keep up with the discussion - so much of it crosses over to other areas of study and I think it definitely corresponds well to our human diets as well! If only everyone planned their diets so carefully we would have so many less diet related diseases.

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  14. I truly enjoy visiting!
    http://theredeemedgardener.blogspot.com/

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  15. I had no idea. I wonder if your goats realize how lucky they are that you put so much effort into their feed?

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  16. Molly, interesting comment. Fishmeal is a common element in chicken feed and cat food. I'm wondering now, if the fish aren't genetically modified too. Is there any way you can incorporate flax seed into their diets as a source of omega 3?

    Clint, thanks!

    Benita, neither did I until I started researching this stuff. I doubt the goats care though, as long as their full!

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  17. You are welcome! I will stop back. I feed your blog into mine!

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  18. I've had feed issues with my rabbits and dog too. But I've found with the rabbits that a lot of the controversy is in that the majority of feed producers are looking at the 4H rabbit raisers (same issue with finding a good rabbit vet) as their main client so they go with a high protein diet...well too much protein is hard on the kidneys and these poor rabbits die young from kidney trouble. Alfalfa is good for kits because they need to grow fast, but once they reach a year of age it is time to switch to timothy hay so that their kidneys don't get overloaded.
    With the dog, most commercial diets include a lot of corn meal. Cheap and easy to produce but dogs can't digest corn! So it's like feeding infants rice and wheat cereal...you're just putting something in their tummies that has no nutritional value at all. My mother gets after me for feeding my dog "human food" because she reads all the reports about how it's bad for dogs. I've done a bit more research and I'm going off what a wolf would eat in the wild. True in the wild a wolf wouldn't have access to cooked food with salt added, but they sure wouldn't be eating corn & bone meal covered in chicken fat.
    Course my mother has some really skewed ideas on a lot of subjects (you've read about that ;o) )

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  19. How wonderfully helpful! I only have chickens. I've been trying to grow more and more for them but have only succeeded in growing sunflowers and various greens. They love the borage and nasturtium which I like because they reseed themselves and grow here (in California) overwinter.

    Thanks for the tip on deseeding sunflowers!

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  20. Fascinating topic and blog! I don't have "critters" except for 2 dogs and I'd like to get them off commercial dog food also. But right now I need to get my seeds ordered/started! I'm a follower now! I' trying to sell my house so I can get my little farm before I'm too old to farm it! LOL!
    BTW...I love wool! I do rugs, felting, applique, knitting and crocheting. I haven't started spinning but I've rubbed elbows with some! Ha! Ha! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and information. And the wonderful comments also.

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  21. Clint, thank you! I'm on my way to your blog to follow you back. :)

    Renee, interesting about the rabbits. I recall trying to avoid alfalfa when I had mine too. It's true about pet foods, though I'm beginning to see some here and there without corn or soy. But are they ever expensive! Cheaper to by cheap cuts of meat for pets.

    Green Bean, you're welcome! And thanks for the tip about the borage. It's on my list of things to try this year. Nasturtiums don't seem to like our long annual hot dry spell. :)

    Sam I Am, thank you so much for your kind compliment. Good luck in selling your house! Sounds like you have a good plan ahead of you. A warning about spinning however, it's addictive!

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  22. We are finally at a point where about 50%, closer to 60% during the warm months, of what we feed our chickens comes from our own property. Every couple days I steam and then grind potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash, apples (raw), and any extra greens (raw) I can come up with for our chickens. This is doled out to our hens every evening. I also provide them with alfalfa hay...that we still have to purchase. Our eventual goal is to be 100% self sufficient in this area but it is going to be a while before I get there.

    I love that you are thinking about comfrey the same way as we are. I grew it for the first time last year and fed it to the chickens off and on all summer. Eventually I hope to grow enough to dry it and other greens (like clover) to replace the hay that we buy for them.

    I'm not sure that chickens really need to eat grain at all??? But until I am able to grow enough veggies and/or my own grains we will still be at the mercy of feed companies. One other thing that I have been contemplating is that of growing small seeded sunflowers for the birds to eat...maybe. Smaller hens too, our leghorns each less than the other birds while laying just as many if not more eggs.

    So glad you are experimenting with this so I can learn what is working for you.

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  23. Very good post. I'm looking at trying to plant something that works as #1 forage for the chicken range lots and #2 I can harvest as you have with a scythe. Yep, I'm still trying to sort out the protein problem. Going by things I've seen online, practically every grain is deficient in protein for chickens except for soy, but then there is lysozine or something that soy doesn't have so the mixes get it from something else. I'm not really interested in growing soy. So, since January really REALLY feels like March I tilled up a part of a hay field and sowed wheat. I guess this would be considered spring wheat and if it sprouts and the deer to totally wipe it out I'll have a couple pounds next fall to show for the few that I put in this spring. But it isn't enough. Each chicken seems to take about a pound of scratch a month, and maybe two pounds of the laying feed. So for my thirty chickens I'm looking at the rather boggling idea of growing and harvesting a couple hundred pounds of corn and wheat (in scratch alone).

    I haven't heard before that corn was not digestible by goats. Simply, that is not my experience. When I was in third grade mom got two goats, a nubian and a spanish brush goat. They each had two kids. Then we sold the nubian momma at one point. One of the kids died from corn cobs, which, when moldy, the mold can enter the bloodstream of the animal through any cuts in the mouth and cause death within a short period of time. So, please don't give the goats old corn stalks! The remaining four animals all lived over 14 years and the original brush goat and one of her kids lived to 18. They all got scoops of sweet goat feed (southern states) daily along with a slice each of bread we'd get from the day-old bakery and a handful or corn as a treat. During the winter we gave them hay I cut with a walk-behind sickle bar the previous summer. I would put up the equivalent of four square bales of hay that way. During the summer they just grazed the meadow. They frequently would not entirely finish the sweet goat feed but they would clean out any cracked corn. During the winter they would get more corn, a little less than a hundred pounds a month(so about 20 lbs per goat per month). Being on pretty familiar terms with goat pellets, I can say that I never did notice a pellet with visible remains of cracked corn in it. The goats were all fat and happy the entire 14-18 years until their teeth wore out. Now, that did lead to weight loss and we eventually had to put them down. I never did feed them whole corn though, and maybe that's what you're referring to. We were concerned more about it being a choking hazard. But maybe once the endosperm is penetrated it allows the stomach enzymes to finish the job. Now, that being said, I agree, corn is not very nutritious compared to other things. Kind of like eating twinkies. But in the winter when there is a lot of calorie burn off due to sub 20F temperatures I think corn is a perfectly acceptable feed additive. And well, considering my own setup, they had enough summer forage that we didn't have to feed much at all in the summer. They would much prefer locust saplings. They'll debark a fresh cut locust sapling in an hour. Something about that tree species really gets the goats excited. I miss the old girls.

    The 30 chickens are now in place where the goats had been. That crowd appears to want more range that the goats ever did. Hence my large acquisitions of welded wire and metal t-posts lately. ha ha ha.

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  24. Ellen from GeorgiaJanuary 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    I really enjoyed the article on animal feed. I have two goats, they are meat goats, read about the Mennonite and want to try and grow it. Where can I find it? I'm going to try Golden mengels this spring along with kale and collards for the goats. Thank you, Ellen from Georgia

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  25. I don't think the issue is that we have new breeds of animals, but that we are trying to keep animals on an area that cannot naturally support the number of animals we want to keep. I think I've mentioned before that I grew up on a farm in Africa? My parents still live on the farm and we have sheep and used to have goats. They are all free range and for the most part don't get any supplements. The exception is if we have a drought, or lambs that need to be fattened for market. But all the flock ewes just roam. We used to have boer goats and they like brush and just roamed around. We do grow a little bit of alfalfa pasture for the sheep, but this is not a significant amount. But the thing is that we have a 5,000+ acre farm, so they can get enough food just from roaming.
    For our chickens we grow oats, which we then mix with some corn. The chickens also get to roam, but not everyday and need to stay in the at night because of wild animals. They also get kitchen scraps.
    I think if your animals get to roam and can get a significant amount of their food from that, you don't have to worry so much about what you supplement it with. Where it gets really complicated is if you want to "artificially" supply all their food. In you situation you can probably keep it pretty simple.

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  26. Your comment re growing alfalfa caught my eye. It can take a lot of water to grow, although I don't know if there are drought resistant varieties available. Will also have to be rotated out after so many plantings. Sue in MA

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  27. Mr H, very interesting about feeding your chickens. Sad we're all in the same boat regarding having to rely on the feed companies until we get our feed regime figured out and producing a year's worth. I'll have to try offering comfrey to my chickens again. Last summer, no one was interested. This year's chicks though, are different in what they'll eat, which is a good thing! I hope you blog about your progress in this area.

    Andrew, trying to figure out protein is a challenge! I really like your plan though.

    Regarding corn, a lot of folks feed corn to their goats with no problems. One of my does does get loose dropping on corn, though I didn't realize it was the corn at the time. Poor thing loves corn, much like your mom's goats. It's true though that it's not exceptionally nutritious. And you are absolutely correct about moldy feed. It can cause listeriosis which can be fatal. I had to discard (compost actually) a large amount of our homegrown hay our first year because of mold. :(

    Ellen, thanks. I ordered my Mennonite sorghum seed from Baker Creek Heritage Seeds. They have a good selection.

    Cecilia, that would be so ideal and I agree would solve a lot of the feed questions and problems I have. Our place had been neglected for so many years, that the grazing and forage here aren't all that great. I'm hoping that as we improve the soil and improve what we grow, I'll have to rely less on something like a grain mix, except during lactation, when goats are most commonly fed grains. I'll have to see what my chickens think about oats. I've got a small plot picked out to try and grow some oats this year.

    Sue, that's probably why no one grows it around here. It's too expensive to buy in bales, which is why I'm hoping to increase my comfrey garden this year. I do buy the alfalfa pellets, because they eat those down without waste, unlike hay!

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  28. please remember that Johnson grass is extremely toxic to horses (if you or your neighbors keep or plan to get horses)

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  29. Anonymous, rest assured we have neither Johnson grass, nor horses.

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  30. I know this is a late comment, but the question about feed always goes back to "what did they have in their natural state"? Have you thought about sprouted grains? I noticed no one mentioned it, but it is a very viable option. Google sprouted grains for livestock and you'll be amazed. 6-7 days to grow high protein, 80% digest able feed. Cheap and easy. Just my two cents. Good luck.

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  31. Unknown, good comments are never late and always welcome. At the time I wrote this post, I didn't know about sprouting grains but since then it has come up on several goat lists I subscribe too. The best information I've found is from Land of Havilah Farm. I plan to experiment when the weather is warmer. :)

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  32. I was doing some research about growing food to feed my goats and other livestock when I came upon your blog. I too am in the same situation. In my case this last fall and winter I have been feeding my animal on my own instead of relying on the feed store. This is important if one is to be self sufficient. The feed store is no different then the grocery store, what are you going to do if there is no grain to buy at the store? Also the grain that they are selling for animals is GMO. If a person doesn't what to eat that from grocery store food why would you allow that in your animal feed when you depend on your animals as your food source.

    I don't want GMO on my farm in my food supply, it is one of the reason I raise my own food.

    Anyway I have found this year my animals are healthier then they have ever been. I have been feeding my goat cuttings from the hedge growth around our property, honey suckle vines, rose leaves from cuttings, etc. I give them Diatomaceous earth, organic apple cider vinegar mixed with organic black strap molasses. We also cut our own hay. Sunflower plants and seeds - my goodness they love eating sunflowers stalks and all! Yes, they love sprouts, wheatgrass and other grain sprouts. I doing alot of sprouting this winter. For us and the livestock.

    This has been the best year for my ducks and chickens. My birds are full feathered and viberant.

    The commercial feed is no different then feeding your pet dog commercial dog food. The quality is poor no matter how slick the advertising. I will not put my trust and health into the hands of commercial growers. I allow myself some inconvenience in order to ensure premium health for all on our homestead.

    Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition - they provide lots of calcium, proteins other nutrients. They are supper easy to grow and grow very fast. If there were a drought or if you cannot afford feed, you could keep your animals alive and in good health with sprouts. Also, the very land we are standing on is full of good things for our animals to eat. When I let my goats out they find all sorts of tasty shrubs and such to eat. They like oak leaves almost as much as sunflowers! Our lands are fill with natural food resources. We have just been conditioned to buying everything. We have Madison Avenue to thank for the brain washing.

    Be well, Shaolin

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  33. Shaolin, thank you for your interesting comment. I love reading the ideas and experiences of those with similar goals. I'm especially glad to hear you've done well with the sprouts. Sprouts are on my list of things to do when the weather gets warmer. I'm going to try the method from Land of Havilah Farm. Soon we'll have year round pasture/forage for our goats and chickens too (one of the blessings of living in a climate with fairly mild winters.) It's a goal that takes study, work, and a routine, but like you, the health I see in my animals makes it all worth it.

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  34. What about raising your own mealworms as a source of protein for your chickens? You have to have a lot (tens of thousands, from what I've read) to have enough to raise as well as enough to be a good percentage of protein for your birds. They need to be raised indoors but can be fed on carrots and bread crusts. It takes 4 months for them to get to adulthood and start reproducing. You do need to start them out in the beginning with oat or wheat bran. Since they're indoors they don't take up space in a garden.

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  35. Prudent Homemaker, welcome and thank you for the idea. I've heard of this before but didn't realize how much work it entailed! Probably the biggest disadvantage for us is that our house is smaller than our garden, LOL. I did start compost worms with the idea I'd feed extra to the chickens, but our set-up for that needed to be different. The bed was taken over by ants, pill bugs, roaches, and rats. :(

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  36. I was wondering what your chicken breed is of the chicken in the photo up top with the second chicken and goats in the background. I have one that looks the same and can't figure out what breed she is. Hoping you might know!!!!!?!!!!

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    1. Hi Previs, the chicken in the foreground in that photo is a Welsummer. The other chicken is a Barred Holland. The Welsummers lay dark brown and/or spotted eggs. Lots of fun. :)

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