May 15, 2015

Wheat Hay for Goats

Sometimes I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Dan's and my goal is to grow as much of our our food as we can, for both us and our animals. All too often I feel no closer to obtaining that goal than I did five years ago. Oh, we've made huge progress in many areas, but one remains elusive - growing grain.

I have a post in my drafts folder entitled, "Growing Grain: What I've Learned So Far." It's a post I really should finish and share, even though I can't say we've got it all figured out. The biggest challenge has been the grass grains, i.e wheat, oats, and barley. They have been easy to grow, but not easy to process.

April - this year's winter wheat heading up.

By process I mean threshing and winnowing, also grinding some for flour. We've experimented a lot and come to the conclusion that for a two person homestead with one person having to work full time, the only thing for it is some sort of mechanized piece of equipment. Yes, it can be done by hand, but it's a lot of time and work. We don't mind the work, but time is what we're always short of.

Small scale farming equipment is not readily available in the US. Europe and especially Asia seem to be the places to get such equipment. When we do find something, it's always used and priced out of our range.

May - cut in the milk stage as hay for the goats

What we have found locally is usually relegated to the category of "antique", meaning, it is assumed the buyer will be willing to pay a lot of money for something to simply look at as a decorative item. That puts most of it out of our price range. Add the cost of correcting disrepair, and it isn't worth it. On top of that, I think it likely that both fuel and electricity will be in shorter supply in the future, and therefore more expensive. Consequently, I question the wisdom of purchasing equipment that may ultimately be useless. For some things, like grain and hay, Dan has his scythe, while I have my sickle mower. The sickle mower is gasoline powered, but as a work-smarter-not-harder tool it is a useful choice for now. The scythe is our low-tech backup.

Walk behind sickle mower

Fortunately, I have learned that we don't need as much grain as I originally thought we did. My original assumption was that we'd have to grow a lot in order to feed the goats, but I now know that grain isn't all that good for goats so we don't need bushels and bushels of it. Instead, we need high quality hay.

We had a hard time getting good hay this past winter. We cut and stored quite a bit of our own, but had to buy it as well. Several times I bought what was promised to be "good hay, your goats will love it", only to open the bales and find it not so good. Some of it the goats refused to eat, so it ended up being an extreme waste. Not only is it a waste of hay, but also a waste of the money to buy it and the time and fuel to go get it. Some of you may recall the triticale hay I bought and was offered for future trade for goat cheese. Well, only two of my eight goats would eat the entire thing including the stem. The rest only wanted to eat the grain heads off and refused to eat the stalks, meaning most of it was wasted. That plus driving distance put an end to my hopes in that.

As with most things on the homestead, it's a little here and a little there; it's small steps rather than big ones. And it's learning how to be content with those small steps. All I can say is, I'm in route.

34 comments:

  1. Equipment always seems to be a headache, after just 10 months our collection is growing at a fast rate, I know Martin has just purchased another attachment fo his Kubuto tractor,
    Being in a similar position to you I have to deal with most jobs on my own I am not an equipment person and find some of it two heavy and awkward to use on my own.
    Interesting about the grain, its something I keep giving thought to. :-)

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    1. Dawn, it's the catch-22! We need the equipment but maintaining it is a full time job. Turns out the simple life ain't so simple. :)

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  2. I learned hay techniques from my Father and he used horse drawn equipment when I was a child...he felt modern equipment was faster but did more damage to the hay and if time had allowed probably never would have moved to modern balers and mowers.. He also put up our feed at a much younger stage than most people, a finer stalk and sweeter flavor is what he said....not as much bulk but better quality. His favorite feed was oat greenfeed,,,,young oats cut just as a few grains were showiing. He also cut along ditches and on any fallow land people would let him cut. Is cutting an unused field for a neighbor an option for you?

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    1. Fiona, thank you for that! What a blessing to have your own father as mentor and educator.

      It's funny you should mention neighbor's fields. I was just watching my neighbor bush hog his yesterday, wishing so badly we could get it for hay. Or even lease it for our goats because it's loaded with blackberry brambles and kudzu. It's actually a great deal bigger than anything we have and even with the sickle mower it would basically be all by hand (no baler). Something to think about anyway.

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    2. Do your animals respect electric fence? If so maybe your neighbor would let you paddock shift his field...it would be good for him as you would clean up the brush with your critters and save him mowing time. There is just so much land not being used! We are enjoying your blog!

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  3. I would be interested in seeing how you gather and store your wheat hay to keep the varmints out. Interesting article, Leigh, thank you.

    Fern

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    1. We've always stored it in whatever semblance of a hay mow we can manage. Right now that means a hoop house. For rodent control, we have to rely on our cats, one of which loves to sleep in the hay. :)

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  4. The idea of growing our own hay is always in the back of my mind, but just not possible with the layout of our property. Growing grains is another thing on my wish list that is probably more doable. I love Cindy Connor's info on working without large machinery. Her post on harvesting grains is one of my favorites. Good luck! https://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/grains-in-your-garden/

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    1. Erika, i have that page bookmarked and have actually tried her method, LOL. It worked okay and was time consuming. At that time I was still thinking grain for goats, however. Grain for both goats and chickens doesn't need to be threshed, so it would only be what we'd need for flour.

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  5. We have a 20 acre field that we finally had planted in hay. The cost of equipment for hay making is pricey. We ended up doing shares. We get the hay we need but do not have to buy/maintain any equipment.

    My husband has always wanted to try to grow grains. Interesting post :)

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    1. Sandra, that was an excellent idea, to do it on shares. Yes, the equipment is outrageously expensive!

      You don't actually need a lot of acreage for grains if it's just for family use. Michael Bunker in Texas tells of growing 7 acres of grain, harvesting all their family needed, and then inviting family, friends, and neighbors to come help themselves. After everyone got what they wanted there were still five acres left. :)

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  6. We ran into a lack of knowledge when it came to finding the right food for our rabbits. Most folks around here raise 4H rabbits so they're looking for fast growth and building muscle for freezer camp. This is actually hard on the rabbit kidneys as there is too much protein in the hay...not a problem for a short term bun but a big problem for a pet. We also had problems finding a vet for the girls due to the same lack of knowledge. This lead to a lot of thinking outside of the box.
    I know that you'll keep searching for the solution that works best for you and take notes all along the way. One day you'll find it.

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    1. Renee, you bring up a good point, i.e. that the most commonly perceived methods don't match what's best for the animals and the land. I haven't given up on growing grain, but hay is the priority for the moment. One of these days I'll have the whole thing figured out. :)

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  7. My advice would be to plug into the Amish circuit. They forego electricity for religious reasons and often have mechanical "antique" equipment for doing various jobs. I don't know how hard it would be to obtain some of it but it is probably harder than I think.

    For threshing specifically though, the Amish use large threshers that travel through the community and wouldn't be practical for you size and cost wise. I've seen small portable threshers for hobby people growing grain but I'm guessing they are around $700 new.

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    1. Ed, even $700 for a small scale thresher sounds better than what I've found ($12,000). YouTube is a great resource for ideas as well, although it still takes materials and time to implement. Wish we lived closer to some Amish, that would be fantastic.

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    2. Here is a link to a thresher similar to what I was thinking about though it lists here for $900 new.

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    3. Ha! Michael Bunker! Looks pretty nifty and better priced than the others I've seen (mechanized) but still out of our price range, especially with s/h tacked on. Have to consider how long it would take to pay for itself, LOL. Thank you for the link, though, Ed! I'm going to show Dan.

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  8. I have been wrestling with growing my own grain for the Sheep for a while now. I think we are coming to the same conclusion that we can get away from feeding so much or that growing the grain that can be cut and fed without cracking/processing etc. may be the best idea. Millet is one like that but wheat as well. I know of a couple of nearby sheep raisers that have managed to get away from grain almost completely but it requires the perfect field rotation. In turn that requires equipment just like baling hay does. I have also read that there are still hand crank corn crackers available and I know of one farm that feeds dried corn on the cob as feed all Winter too.

    There are some small time hay and planting equipment/implements out there from Japan and Europe that cost almost as much as my 25 acres costs. It's just stupid expensive.

    I once thought kinda like you do about trying to do everything without fuel inputs but then I started watching how much fuel I actually used when I needed to get things done on the tractor. Truth is I could run my tractors for a year or more on a few gallons as long as I cut out brush hogging. It's the mowing processes that drink the gas and diesel.

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    1. PP, you bring up several good points. I know sheep and goats aren't identical, but they are both ruminants, and ruminants simply aren't designed to eat grain. It takes research to figure that out, however. And time to experiment, All in all it's a slow process.

      I have to agree about mowing. I think it's the biggest waste of time, resources, equipment and energy! And all for looks, sheesh. Equipment is expensive no matter how one looks at it. I think one of the reasons real farm equipment is prices so high is because they don't really want us buying it. So much better for the businessman if we are dependent on the system.

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  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. We are hoping to grow food for our animals and I am in the process of figuring out just how doable it is. I hope you do publish your post on your experiences with grain growing - I would be VERY interested. I learn more from others "trial and error" experiences in posts like these than I do in a "how to" book.
    BTW - I read your posts all of the time and have really been enjoying the ones on bees - another item on my "to do" list.

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    1. And thank you for taking the time to comment! I so agree about trial and error learning. Like you, I learn more from reading about the experiences of others than from anything else. Of course, I make enough of my own mistakes to learn from as well. :) I will definitely finish up that grain post and get it out in the next several weeks.

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  10. Even Wheat Straw, the cheapest except for pine straw, is $5.00 a bale plus 7 percent tax here.

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    1. Harry, thank you for that! I know my goats will eat the wheat plant with heads attached, so they would eat the plant (straw) without the head attached. Nutrition is important but so is roughage. That's what keeps their rumens healthy.

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  11. I totally understand about your goats not eating the hay you bought or bartered for. Our sheep must be the pickiest sheep anywhere. We finally decided to use Chaffehaye. It has several advantages over baled and rolled hay. Plus it really isn't expensive when you factor in the high nutritional value it has, stores easily and keeps for quite a while if unopened, plus it's non-GMO. https://www.facebook.com/drycreekellijay/photos/pcb.874373712646872/874368362647407/?type=1&theater.

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    1. Dry Creek Farm, thank you for taking the time to comment! Most appreciated. Yes, I love Chaffhaye too, although I mostly feed it on the milking stand to cut down on grain. I pay about $15 a bag (plus have to drive a bit of a distance), so I haven't considered it as a total hay substitute.

      I'm actually working toward trying to grow all our own goat feed in addition hay on the homestead. The goal is to not have to buy anything, or at least very little. It's a slow process, however, with lots of trial & error and ups & downs. We're in route. :)

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  12. Grains are one of those things I would only bother with easily threshed grains, such as millet and amaranth. I think you have amaranth, don't you? When I discovered I was sensitive to gluten, I gave up a lot of foods based on grains. When you find you have to give it up, just as good (in not better) solutions are always found.

    On five acres, perhaps your food solutions for goats should be of the vertical variety? Tall trees such as poplars, and the trees you already have, grow vines up them, which are edible for goats - grape vines perhaps? You would already possess the pruning equipment, and they have no engines to maintain - except what's needed for your own muscle power.

    Speaking of engines, Dan should start a small-engines business in the area. Not only could he learn to fix his own equipment, but he could fix others and start networking for equipment that is cheaper to buy, because he's the dude everyone goes to when fixing equipment. That's if someone else hasn't already cornered the market. ;)

    Re the goats again, perhaps you can do some research on how goats have been traditionally fed by peasants. There may be some suggestions of food supplies you haven't considered yet?

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    1. Chris, yes i do grow amaranth, and I do feed it to both chickens and goats. It's easier to process than grass grains except for winnowing because it's so teeny. I've not tried to grow millet, but grain sorghum is pretty easy. The easiest grain to grow and process for us is corn, which can also be fed to chickens, goats, and pigs, although I'm trying not to feed much grain to the goats. From my research I've learned that the foundation of a good goat diet is forage and hay, hence the pasture improvement and hedgerow.The other thing I'm working on is garden produce that I can feed for extra vitamins and minerals. The challenge has been to grow and store a year's worth!

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  13. It sounds like most of you don't live in Suburbia like I do. I have a mixed herd of 4 sheep and 2 goats. We are currently on the Weed Whacking Circuit. Every day (as we have had no rain for six weeks) I take a plastic container of grain (the leash) and walk the girls along the edges of our neighbors' properties (with permission) to eat all the weeds they grow. The number one favorite is ragweed followed by dandelions and wild violets. Poison ivy is finally turning green and is being sought out by the Finnsheep. We go out in the morning and the evening. I judge when we are done by the size of the belly.
    The guy http://www.onescytherevolution.com/index.html shows detailed information about how to harvest and store hay without facilities or machines. I have been making sunshine to allow me to grow grasses long enough to supply us during the winter.
    Sadly, we waste a lot of hay. I don't look at it as a waste, though, because I don't buy bedding. I also am able to spread out the bedding/manure mix over my gardens in the Spring, so I look at it as an input purchase. My soil is evolving a little at a time. My herd exists on hay with grain as a treat. They are healthy and happy and possibly a little chunky. We are working off the winter fat by walking three miles a day. I am not asking much of them, either, so it makes it easier. No boys, no babies. They were hired for what they can eat, not what they grow.
    I find that we have all dedicated ourselves to finding the best diet for our critters. Every area is different and presents different challenges. This is my first herd, so I am bound to make mistakes. I am lucky to have a vet who respects my trying to bring animals back into the loop. Lawn mowers are really just mechanical sheep and goats...

    My newest adventure is bamboo. Here, it is the only green leaf around in the winter. My girls adore it and it is an aggressive grower. It will give me fresh forage in the winter. Leigh, your hedge could have a little bamboo along it. It grows everywhere. See if you can find some to offer a taste test. If they eat it, the leaves are great roughage. When I have it, fights break out to get to me first. My first corms have been planted and I am just waiting. Your mild winters might be perfect for it.

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    1. Barb, that's the guy Dan bought his Austrian scythe from. :) I'm like you in regards to considering waste hay as bedding. Those barn cleanings go into our chicken compost piles and become our compost.

      I considered bamboo when I first started planning my hedgerow. I would love it both as fodder and for the canes. I was concerned about it's invasiveness, however, so decided no for the time. Goats are supposed to love the stuff, which in turn, is supposed to be very healthy for them. They would certainly keep it under control in our yard, but I wonder about the neighbors.

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    2. We have a state law here that requires any un-contained planting (underground containers) must be 100 feet from a property line. I can do that. Some people cannot.

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    3. I suppose the 100 feet gives a generous border for spreading, and that makes sense. I'll have to look into bamboo for a fall planting.

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  14. Our farm was a cattle farm before we purchased it. We are not raising cattle on it. However, we do have 13 donkeys(long, long story). We have 15 acres that are hay fields. This past winter I found a fella that cuts and sells 300 acres of hay to horse farms in our area. We ended up having 2, 1000 lb. bales per month delivered for $120.00. We did this November through March. My husband and I decided that we were crazy to pay someone to grow, cut, bale, and then deliver hay when we had it growing on our land. So we decided we would look into purchasing the tractor implements that we needed to do it ourselves. We already own a Kubota tractor and Bush Hog. But after one trip to the local Kubota dealer we have decided that we will just continue to buy the hay! Our tractor isn't large enough to pull/handle the baler so we would have to purchase a larger tractor. And the baler we would need is $43,000.00!!! Just the baler! I'm still looking at farm sales and auctions. I'm hopeful we will find something but just in case we don't I've already put in a call to our hay dealer for this winter.

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    1. Ann, gosh, I can so empathize. We would be wanting to do exactly as you and with the same challenges as you. I bought a goat from someone once who used his brush hog to cut his field for hay. I'm not sure how they collected it, but they stored it loosely instead of in bales. Old fashioned hay stacks are actually compressed quite a bit. A used square baler would certainly be less expensive than a round baler. On the other hand, could you get someone to cut and bale your hay for you? Maybe on shares? I'd at least price it. Might as well use your own hay! You sound determined so I know you'll find a solution!

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  15. You mentioned that you've been researching on youtube, so you've probably already seen these designs, but a few that look pretty slick to me are here, here, and here. If you can't buy one, maybe you can build one!

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