September 30, 2014

The Fine Art of Dining Alone

When it comes to feeding time on the homestead, I often feel like I'm caught in the middle of a three-ring circus. This is especially true any time I need to make changes in our routine. Routine is a critter keeper's best friend, but sometimes changes are necessary, such as, when new animals join the team or we do a pasture switch-up.

I've visited a few places where the person feeding their animals simply dumps quantities of feed on the ground. Every critter comes running and it's a mad free-for-all while each one tries to gobble down as much as they can. I can't tell you how much this horrifies me, especially for goats. This is the very best way for them to pick up parasites, because the parasite eggs come out in their droppings. Eating close to the ground pretty much assures that they'll pick up more and the problem will remain ongoing. This is why goats browsing wooded or shrubby areas have less problem with parasites.

When it comes to eating, animals don't have good manners and don't share. They follow only two rules. The first is in their definition of edible. Chickens and pigs are omnivores, goats are herbivores. That means the chickens and pigs will readily help themselves to the goat feed. The goats, on the other hand, may want the chicken scratch or pellets, but they won't go for other pig and chicken delicacies such as whey, moldy cheese, or that two week old tuna casserole I forgot about in the fridge.

Amongst their own species, the pecking order is very much the way things are. This is rule #2. Those on top get all they want while those of lower status have to wait and hope. The irony of this is that those animals which need the most, i.e. the young, growing, and producing, get the least. The oldest and least productive get the most. Roosters and mothers are the exception. A rooster will cluck to the hens and step back when he finds something good to eat. A mama hen will do the same for her chicks, A mother goat never minds if her kids nibble from her feed pan.

When my new Kinder girls arrived, I decided it was time to do a pasture rotation, which meant changing housing too. Daphne and Helen had the front pasture all to themselves for awhile, until I could sell the last of this year's kids. I figured they'd have a chance to become familiar with their new surroundings before I introduced them to my Nubians - Surprise and Lily. By moving my long resident does in with the newcomers (rather than the other way around) I hoped to minimize the territoriality disputes. It pretty much worked too, and adjustments were made smoothly.

Feeding time is when it gets crazy because we have to establish a new routine. First I lure the chickens into their yard with scratch and close the yard gate to keep them there. Then I have to remove Surprise and Lily for milking, but Daphne, Helen, and Bunny all want to be fed at that instant too. Trying to get particular goats out and keep remaining goats in, is a juggling act! Milking does get fed one at a time, while they are on the stanchion. The others get their own pan, and the juggling act continues as I try to set down the three pans far enough apart to make sure each goat gets her own share. They all rush the first pan and then run to then next, to make sure there isn't something there the first pan didn't contain.

Then there's the pigs. For now they pretty much roam wherever the billy boys do. Ordinarily feeding wouldn't be a problem because the bucks are on hay and browse. This time of year, however, I give my bucks a little feed with chopped veggies and fruits for a extra nutrition, because they're in rut and tend to think more about girls than eating. To keep the pigs from gobbling down the bucks' food, I find myself sneaking around to spy out who's where. I make sure the pigs are where they can't see what's going on, and carefully try to open and close gates without making a sound because they all know the sound of those gates and come running!

The pigs each get their own pan because sharing doesn't work, at least not with a big round pan. A pecking order exists here too, but with two pans they have to run back and forth. Pigs are pretty smart, however, so at least they each stick with one pan and try to outrace the other. At least they both get some. Dan said he'll make me a more traditional trough, which I think would be better. Still, I now have personal insight into the phrase, "eats like a pig." Since American Guinea Hogs are excellent grazers and foragers, I don't feed them huge meals. Their dinner is mostly cheese whey or milk, along with trimmings from cooking, canning, or cleaning out the refrigerator.

All of this is temporary. If we ever get our new barn built, things will go exceedingly smoother. Molly at Fias Co Farm has a pretty good goat feeding arrangement, so I'm definitely going to plan on that. Since my plan is based mostly on my personal experience and problems, changing things up like I have recently, gives me more things to consider. Experience truly is the best teacher!


Dawn said...

I try to keep feeding to a good routine, in the morning the Alpacas get theres first, with the bowls some distance apart, then its the chooks let out and feed, then the pigs get there breakfast they are trough fed and behind electric fencing so they cannot get to any one elses feed, then the ducks get let out and fed, and now of course Kiara is added and she gets hers last, I feed in the order that they arrived here, in the afternoon its the same order although the chooks and ducks now get corn together. I get fed whenever there is time. :-)

Frank and Fern said...

We were wondering how you fed the hogs and bucks and if there was any competition. Thank you for the explanation.


Mama Pea said...

You brought a big grin to my face thinking about you trying to open and close the gate without making any noise. (Reminded me of teenagers quietly sneaking in the door and through the house to their room when coming in past curfew.) I think we've all done similar things when dealing with animals . . . 'cause you know what bedlam will break loose if you don't remain in control of the situation!

Mom at home said...

While I don't have outside animals to feed, mornings can be a challenge when everyone is staring at me at once! The cat always beats everyone to the dish and isn't quiet about it either. The youngest child can feed herself but seems to be in my way in fixing something for her dad before he leaves for work. The dog comes next, then the birds, and finally the fish. The fish are always last because they can't complain:) I'm usually last to get breakfast but by then I've had at least 3 cups of coffee.

I really see how much you care and plan for each of your animals.

Harry Flashman said...

Wow. What a logistical nightmare! My own problems pale by comparison. I have one cat I have to feed in the shop. So first I open the door and give her the food. Then I feed the chickens. Then I let the cat out of the barn. After that, I wait til dark, when the chickens have roosted, and feed the dogs in their separate bowls on the porch. Once they start eating I dish out the barn cats food in six separate plates at the far end of the porch. If the dogs finish before the cats I have to go out and give them dog biscuits until the cats finish.

Woolly Bits said...

we had a lot of trouble with feeding three dogs at the same time, but after a while it was only Dobby, so the greed vanished. now that we have been adopted by a little jack russell - the whole sheebang starts again! two bowls in two rooms - and only, when both seem to be finished can I open the door again:) and of course they dash to the other bowl to see if there's any leftovers:) if not - they still have to lick it clean - just in case:) I think we leave it at two dogs - too much effort to feed more:)

Quinn said...

I tie my goats for their buckets. Every time. It sounds like one more chore, but I'll tell you what: it is well worth the extra couple of minutes of my time per day, to have NO squabbling, NO question of who is getting what, and ALL goats who associate putting on a "collar and tie" with something GOOD. Makes loads of other things - hoof trimming, administering meds, etc. - much much simpler.

tpals said...

Great description of your hunger games. :)

Leigh said...

Dawn, ah yes, when do the humans get fed!

Fern, it's funny how each critter assumes a privileged right to the food!

Mama Pea, bedlam is exactly it, LOL

Mom at home, poor fish. But I do recall that when I had tropical fish, the angel fish were quite the beggars. Good thing they couldn't talk. :)

Harry, logistics is key! That's one of the reasons I'm so anxious to get the new barn built! Most of my set-up revolves around a better feeding routine!

Bettina, they are so possessive about their food! You'd need a bigger house for more dogs. :)

Quinn, that's exactly how Molly does it and it seems such a good way. I haven't been able to figure out how to do that with our small, make-do goat quarters. But it's going to be a must in the new barn!

tpals, LOL. I definitely is a game.

Farmer Barb said...

Don't we all have funny routines? There are three food bowls in our pen. I put a handful in the first bowl and the mob of sheep knock each other around for that. Then I go to the second bowl and put a little more in that one. The goats get some out of that. Then I put a handful in the third bowl. The goats get more of that before the mob descends on them. Then I go back to the first to give the goats their ACTUAL portion. The sheep aren't smart enough to go back there after they have finished the first portion. That is why the goats are healthy!

Renee Nefe said...

when we had more than one animal we had separate feeding areas. It is so much easier with just one now, but still she gets fussy about her dinner time, especially if she thinks her dinner is late (time change).
I just watched a video of a puppy litter feeding time. They had "stalls" for the feeding, but of course one would wolf down it's food and go snooping into another to see if they could eat that too. The humans were on constant patrol to keep the pups out of each other's food.
Glad that the new girls are fitting in.

Bill said...

I put out three large feed bowls for our 5 pigs and separate them by a little distance. I put feed in all of them so they'll all have space to eat. But they insist of all diving into a single bowl, then when one peels off to go to another bowl the rest go with her. And even after they settle down, they'll only eat a few bites in one place before running over to the other place to make sure they're not missing out on something. It's kind of funny to watch them constantly swapping bowls rather than just eating in one place all the time. The goats are even worse about doing it that way.

I do have a regular trough that isn't being used and don't know why I hadn't thought of taking it to the pigs paddock. Thanks to the reminder, I'm going to do that. :)