July 15, 2011

Food Self-Sufficiency & Animals

I received a lot of excellent comments on my "The Economics of Food Self-Sufficiency" post. Most of you, like me, see a definite benefit to growing your own food, but don't see a significant savings monetarily. I going to hazard a guess that this is because most of us are in what Dan and I call the establishment phase of homesteading. Most of us are starting from scratch. We do not have the benefit of inheriting the family farm and the knowledge and skills to go with it. Nor do we have the benefit of a local, like-minded community, where social gatherings center around work days: barn raisings, canning bees, harvest days, corn huskings, butchering, sugaring off. Most of us know what our goal is, but aren't always certain of the best way to achieve it.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Crude protein 16.8%
Digestible protein 13.9%
Feed for: goats, chickens

When it comes to food self-sufficiency, I figure we have two choices. We must either learn to grow everything we want to eat, or we must learn to eat what we can grow. A vegetable garden is the most basic, and a fruit orchard often follows that. Animals take it to another level. The benefits of eggs and milk alone, appeal. In addition, there is meat for those who eat it, manure for fields and garden, increases of flock and herd for selling or bartering, and the simple pleasures and entertainment that animals provide. The trade-off is, now, instead of buying our own food, we buy food for our animals. No relief for the pocketbook there.

Dan and I decided at the beginning, that we wanted to become self-sufficient in regards to our animals. Each animal must contribute to our needs, and we in turn must not keep more animals than our land can properly provide for. That means we have to learn how to grow our own animal feed.

Field corn
Crude protein 8.7%
Digestible protein 6.7%
Feed for: chickens, humans

I've spent a lot of hours researching this, and have run in to the same problem I did when it came to eggs and chickens; much of the information out there is based on the scientific approach, which is aimed at production and profit. Recipes for feed for example, are so complicated as to be discouraging. I don't even have a local source for some of the ingredients. And the cost? Prohibitive.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to oversimplify the whole thing and think, well, back in the day they didn't feed them anything extra. We have to keep in mind that back in the day, topsoils hadn't eroded much and the nutrients hadn't been leached out. Thanks to decades of modern agricultural practices, our soils are often little more than a medium to hold the plants up. Because of that, our foods are no longer nutritionally adequate for humans or animals. Unless one happens to find a piece of virgin land to homestead on, this is a problem.

Crude protein 13.2%
Digestible protein 11.1%
Feed for: goats, chickens, humans

So. We've set a goal to grow our own animal feeds. We look at this as a long term goal, which we can only accomplish one step at a time. We've begun with some experimental patches of wheat, corn, cowpeas, and black oil sunflower seeds.

One priority, is to make sure they get enough protein. A milking doe is said to need a diet of about 16% protein. Laying hens, 16 to 18%. As I've researched protein, I've learned there is a difference between crude protein and digestible protein. Crude protein is basically the sum total of the nitrogen in the plant. Crude protein figures include both digestible and indigestible protein. Whether or not protein is digestible, depends on the protein source. My copy of Raising Milk Goats the Modern Way (an older version of Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats) has a great chart in it showing the average composition of selected goat feeds. It gives both crude and digestible proteins, which I find very useful. Obviously this can apply to other animal feeds as well.

Crude protein 23.4%
Digestible protein 20.1%
feed for: chickens, goats

There are other things to consider: calcium, roughage, vitamins, trace minerals, etc. We'll have to experiment to figure out what grows best in our part of the country, which will also meet these needs. Our wheat grew well and our corn is so far. I plan to experiment with things like oats, barley, millet, as well.

Something we grew last year was amaranth.

Amaranth, Golden Giant
Crude protein 12.5 - 17.6%
Toxic raw???

The chickens didn't seem to care for it, but the goats ate it. I later read it is toxic unless cooked, so I stopped giving it to the goats and didn't plant a patch this year. I know there are numerous articles about sprouting and cooking feeds for animals, but to be honest, I don't have the time to mess with that. I need a regime that meets my animals needs, but is simple. I still read mixed reports on amaranth, and I have enough volunteer plants to harvest quite a bit anyway. For the time being, it's not on our list of feeds to grow.

In addition to grains, there is pasture, browse, and hay of course, Pasture improvement / hay is one of the next projects on our list. Plus, there are a lot of things we can grow in the garden for feed: turnips, beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, mangles, collards, pumpkins, winter squashes, etc.

Crude protein: 22 - 33%
Feed for: goats

Obviously this is not a goal we will reach in just a year or even two. It will take experimenting in regards to the amount of seed we need to plant and the expected harvest. It will take trial and error as we explore the best possibilities, but at least we've begun.

Those of us pursuing a goal of self-sufficiency understand that it is a difficult goal to achieve. Not only in terms of skills, knowledge, and resources, but because our culture is not set up for us to succeed. One of the biggest obstacles is having a mortgage. In addition, the tools and resources we need are expensive; ever price an off-grid energy system for your home? However, I'm a firm believer that something is better than nothing. A tomato plant on the patio is better than none. Growing at least some of our own food is better than none. Some relief on our feed bill is better than none. It's a journey, a process. When I get discouraged I consider the alternatives. Is there any other life I'd rather be living than this?


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Susan said...

Leigh, thank you for such a well-researched and informative post! Growing feed for at least part of my livestock is also on my future list. This has been very helpful. And thanks, too, for including your research sources.

Mama Pea said...

Another excellent post, Leigh. You've done so much research and studying I'm sure you'll succeed at whatever you attempt.

The more any of us can do toward growing/producing our own and/or our livestock food is a step in the right direction. I think it's the only way we are going to be able to surive; we need to learn to take care of ourselves in so many ways that have been lost . . . possibly most importantly, our food production.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

You are so right, we are not set up for success. And it's so sad that it has to be so difficult. But anything worth doing is very hard work. I wish it were otherwise. More people would be willing to learn their food sources if it weren't so dang EASY to go to the store at the drop of the hat. And of course if the land weren't so scarce...the good land that is.

Leigh said...

Susan, you're welcome. I wrote it just as much for me, to remember my research, as for sharing. :)

Mama Pea, I agree. It's a shame so much of the knowledge to be self-reliant is all but gone. Hopefully there are enough of us out there to keep it alive.

APG, I wish it were otherwise too. One thing that seems curious to Dan and me, is that while house prices have dropped significantly, land prices have not. Does it seem that way to you?

dr momi said...

Keep the info coming Leigh....it's one of my goals too, to feed the animals from off my land.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

YES! We were just talking about it this week! Why is that? If land would drop too, we'd buy more. We need more. NEED. Or is it want? ;)

Anonymous said...

Leigh, not sure if you can get them there, but if you can, have you ever thought about growing Tagasate trees for fodder?

Wonderful protein content, can be used for shade or windbreaks, look stunning when in flower and grow in even the worst soil.

They put nitrogen back into your soil and can feed any stock you can think of, my chooks (chickens) love the stuff.

Link is here: http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/PC_93745.html?s=758219006

Leigh said...

Dr. Momi, I'm glad to hear that. It is an important goal I think and we can support one another as we work toward it.

APG, that's a good question. When we bought this place, we were looking at waiting for land prices to drop because we would have preferred to buy land and build. It was puzzling then why they stayed as high as ever. I know the mortgage companies want to get all the foreclosures off their hands. Maybe they have a say-so?

Molly, I've never heard of Tagasate trees. I will definitely have to look into it. Thanks for the info and thanks for the link!

Jody said...

Wow, you've done your homework. We're working with only 1 acre. We could never grow our own feed. Thankfully we're connected with a guy who mixes local whole grain feed for our animals. We're working toward self-sufficiency and profit in the small space we have. We've found Markham's book, "Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on a quarter-acre to be profoundly helpful. He's not talking specifically to someone with as many acres as you have, but I bet you'd really enjoy him. He's very readable and quite useful.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

EXCELLENT post ! Obviously much work went into it. Soon we hope to follow along as we sell our money sucking farm , pay off debt and raise all we need. We know how to riase all types of livestock but will be new to growing all their feed, CAN"T wait to get started !

Thank you for all you do

Leigh said...

Jody, thanks for the book recommendation! I'm always interested in books on this topic that folks find helpful. We're all pretty much starting from scratch in one area or another, so homework is a must. We still have a long way to making it a reality though.

Donna, thanks! My blog is one way I can organize my notes and remember where they are! ;) I'll be surprised if you don't sell your place quickly. And you are so fortunate to have the experiential knowledge or raising animals that you do. I'm starting from scratch in that arena as well.

trump said...

Thank you again for coming by my blog Leigh, i think your blog is great and i love your images. Richard from Amish Stories.

Renee Nefe said...

Dreams take a lot of work and I think you're on the right tack for trying to get there. I love reading your adventures.

My dream is for a nice cabin in the woods near water. So we started researching that and found a really good start for it. But then we hear that housing prices are expected to drop 20% here soon, so we want to wait to buy low...hopefully the funds will still be there then.

* Crystal * said...

Good post!! I wish I could grow my own feed, but sadly I don't have the space to. I do however trade services like hoof trimming & disbudding for hay, whole oats & alfalfa pellets :-) I hope your experimental feed crops work out well for you!

I have been tinkering with feed a bit to see how I could limit the sheer number of feed sacks though. (Chicken food, variety of goat feeds, alfalfa pellets, mineral bags, kitty food bags... never ending supply of feed sacks here! lol)

A friend of mine raises her laying hens on her milk stand grain soaked in goat's milk. I've separated my chickens into two groups & will see if group #1 on layer mash does any better that group #2 on milkstand grain. The chickens LOVE the milk soaked grain (mix has oats, barely, cracked corn, beet pulp shreds & rice bran) so we shall see....

I am going to try and grow some sunflowers though....they grow well in my area despite the horrible conditions... Black oil sunflower seed was part of my feed mix, but my latest batch won't have it...price jumped from $15.99 to $29.99! So now I'm feeding rice bran for fat & vit e (rice bran is much higher in both than BOSS).

Oh anther goat yummy forage is bicolor lespedeza. Haven't met a goat yet who doesn't enjoy it.... have some seeds I'm hoping to plant when temps aren't so bad... I know its a plague in some states, but I think its pretty and wish we had kudzu here....

Leigh said...

Richard thanks! I enjoy your blog too. You bridge an unusual culture gap.

Renee, I would love a cabin in the woods near a lake or river! When I was a kid, every summer we would go visit a family friend's cabin by a small lake in Wisconsin. Very rustic including a water pump in the kitchen and an outhouse. I hope you are able to make that dream come true!

Crystal, thanks! I'm learning that it's not only going to be space to grow the stuff, it's going to be space to store it!!! Excellent idea to trade like that; it's absolutely the next best thing to doing it self.

Thanks for mentioning the lespedeza. I'm working on a pasture/hay mix for our back field. We need to get that prepared and seeded this fall, and I'm trying to find out what will grow well here. Apparently alfalfa and orchard grass won't (gets too hot). Kudzu you can have! :)

My chickens love milk. Any time a goat foot ends up in or on the milking bucket, the chickens get the milk. When I have more goats/milk, I plan to give it to them routinely as a protein and calcium source. Whey they aren't so crazy about, though one of my does will drink it! Milk, whey, and failed cheese would also be good feed for a pig. :)

Woolly Bits said...

I don't know much about animal feed, but something did occur to me: would the toxicity of amaranth still be a problem, if you used it as "silage"? I read somewhere that some plants only become edible to animals when broken down in that process? just a thought - though it might be too much work to process it?

Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking said...

Wow this is such an awesome post!! I so agree that one plant is better than none and that the important thing is that we start! Sounds like you all are doing an amazing job!!

Mr. H. said...

I love hearing about your endeavors to slowly move away from store bought feeds as we are also working towards this but are fortunate to only have chickens to deal with. I am very much looking forward to reading more posts regarding this.

One of our goals again this year is in the growing of extra beets, carrots, potatoes and such in order to continue to supplement the birds and dogs diet with at least 50% or more foods that we have grown. Eventually we also want to get much more involved in the growing of grains as well in order to become totally self-sufficient in animal fodder.

Thanks for another most interesting and informative post.:)

bspinner said...

Wonderful post!!! I so admire you and Dan for all your work you're doing to provide for yourself and your animals. In the long run I'm sure it will all work out and pay for itself.

JeffJustJeff said...

Well said. It's so easy to get discouraged when it doesn't happen overnight. You just have to keep chugging ahead and keep your eye on the prize.

Grace said...

Leigh, as always your post is well thought out, informative, and inspirational. We've set our goal of moving into our country house for two years from this month. I'm going to be relying heavily on your posts when I finally get up and running. Keep them coming.

Leigh said...

Bettina, wow, I seem to have lost track of answering comments on this post! I had been thinking about your comment about silage though, and have looked in to it a bit. Some folks recommend it, but others have had goats die from it and warn others off. I'm not sure why that is, but figure I won't experiment. Dan says we'll harvest the volunteer amaranth heads and try them for grain ourselves. They seem a bit fussy to me, but I'm willing to give it a try. If they grow by themselves, it might be free food in a pinch!

Alicia, thanks! Yes, half the battle is beginning!

Mr. H, I'm interested that you use potatoes for pet feed. I've been growing beets and carrots for the goats, but not our cats. That's a concern though, but they're kind of fussy. Wonder if I could mix some mashed potatoes in with their raw fish?!?!? I hope you post about this!

Barb, it's the long run we're counting on, LOL

JeffJustJeff, you've got that right. Some days I have to remind myself that this is why they call it the slow life. :)

Grace, thanks! Seems a lot of us are in the same boat. I just feel compelled to share what we're learning, what we're experimenting with, and what's working or not working. So glad to be an encouragement to others.

Anonymous said...

Cool blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog shine.
Please let me know where you got your theme. With thanks
My page: Cooking Online

Leigh said...

Anonymous, thank you. The theme is one of Blogger's templates, called Simple template. I simply added my own photographs.

Terri said...

I just found your blog! Love your posts and information. Are you growing your own comfrey? I haven’t been able to source any and was wondering if you have an idea where I could get a few rootigs.

Leigh said...

Terri, thank you and welcome! I have a few comfrey plants that I've tried to nurse along, but they really have a hard time during our long hot, dry spells. I'm going to try again next spring! My longest lasting plants came from Coe's Comfrey (http://www.coescomfrey.com/comfrey.html). Check out his website!