Today's Quote

“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How much to feed the livestock?

I have posted before that I try to grow as much feed or learn to forage for as much feed for my livestock as possible. So knowing how much to grow and what to grow can be important for the self-sufficient homesteader. I know that there are calculation methods out there and probably most of the agricultural schools have guides on how much of what yields what per acre. I have taken a much less scientific approach I guess to my learning to grow for my animals. The bunnies are relatively easy in that there is either something growing that they can eat or something that can be foraged. In our area there is always green stuff growing. The simple thing for them is knowing what is growing when and what they can eat. The chickens are also pretty easy because like I said there is always something green and much of it they will eat also as they free range during the day. I also supplement with mangle beets, a small amount of grain and whatever kitchen scraps and such that I have. This year I grew sunflowers and corn for the chickens in the winter. The chicken patch of corn was relatively small about 20 ft. x 30 ft. however, we don't feed them much corn, about 2 to 3 cobs a week. They have more than enough to forage for and kitchen scraps. They are also the cleaner uppers when the horses or goats spill some of their feed. Each year I plant a bigger patch of whatever and see what it yields. I don't think I will plant a bigger patch of corn for the chickens. We have more than enough from the patch that I planted to get through the rest of winter. The mangle beets last quite a while as they are quite large. I have 3 hens that peck a little each day before they go outside and their beet lasts them about a week. I planted 4 30 foot long rows and that is plenty for the chickens. The bunnies get the beet greens and so they are dual purpose animal feed. I will plant more though because I will try using them to supplement the horse feed next year. Mangle beets are easy to store, just throw them in a corner of the feed room or leave them in the ground and pull when needed. In barns in Europe then simply pile them up in the aisleway and use as needed. They keep very well in the cold. Storing corn can be an issue and feed corn is taking up a good portion of my freezer space. I simply am not comfortable with trying to dry it, especially with the wet year we have had. Mycotoxins from improperly dried corn can kill your livestock so I simply froze the corn and pull from the freezer as I need to. I have a plot of oats planted for spring harvest that is about a quarter acre in size. I am not sure how much I will get from that plot but it will give me an idea of how much I need to get the amount of feed that I need. Oats can be grown in two seasons around here, plant in the fall for spring and plant in the spring for fall. My goal with growing feed is learning what feedstuffs yield the most on the smallest amount of land. I grew millet and it grows very well and yields a good amount of grain on a small acreage. Same thing for black oil sunflowers. Each 10x20 plot yielded about 25 pounds of seed. Certainly not enough to get through the whole year, but by planting more I can get through the summer when sunflower seed is the most costly. Homestead is all about planning and looking to the next season. Wheat is cheap in the fall and winter so it makes a good grain to add to the mix and easy to stock up on then. So it is beneficial for me to plant spring wheat to be harvested and used in the summer until the fall wheat starts coming in. The key in knowing how much to plant is to know how much you use. I know when I was buying pre-made horse feed I went through about 800 lbs a month. I started mixing my own feed (oats, wheat, black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, alfalfa pellets) and my horses are healthier on 400 lbs. of feed a month. I also look at things like pasture maintenance as part of my feed program. The longer I can keep forage growing then the less grain I have to grow or purchase. One thing that I have found is there simply is no exact set amount of feed for each species or even each animal. I guess that is one of the things that I love about homesteading/farming. You wear many hats and one of those hats happens to be animal nutritionist. Usually, in determining what I am going to grow and how much I am going to grow for my livestock I use several things. When do I need it the most (winter), what grows easily (mangle beets), is there something I can use for more than one animal, and how much room does it take to grow a decent amount. hay I will never grow as it takes too much room and is too labor intensive. I will harvest and have harvested hay from my mother's place with a lawnmower and a rake. It means that I don't have to dip into my winter hay stores for an extra month or two. But growing enough for 6 months of hay needs is simply not feasible on my 10 acres. However, I could plant a half acre of sunflower seeds and get enough of those to get through to the next year. That is worth my time. Small grains yield more per acre than large grains or grasses. Corn needs more room than oats. I would like to be totally self sufficient in my feed needs, but as long as I have horses I am not sure that will happen. There need is greater than my capacity. However, we are working on this and each year we learn a little more. I will try to come up with some better numbers for a future posts, but this should get you folks started. God bless.


Marmee's Pantry said...

Really interesting. Thanks for posting. I enjoy your methods, sounds alot like the farms my husbnand & parents grew up on.

Blessings from Ohio...Kim<><

Kelly said...

It's interesting to read your posts knowing we live in different, yet sometimes similar climates, thousands of miles apart. We get colder than you in the winter and we definately don't have the humidity you get. I'm sure that affects what/how much/when to grow things, but it still helps to know what you're doing. Thanks!

Kat said...

Thanks for your comments ladies. Yes, Kelly, one thing I have begun learning more about in the last few years is understanding micro-climates. Even throughout the same "zones" there are smaller micro-climates that do affect what you grow and how you grow. Soil conditions are also much that way, also. I have friends that live an hour away and their soil is very different from what is in my area. We have more sand in ours and theirs is all red clay with no sand. So sometimes this can mean trial and error figuring what will do best for your little micro-climate. Farming never stops being a research project!

Janice said...

I really enjoyed this post since the topic has been on my mind recently. We just closed on our homestead last week and are planning to purchase chickens in the spring. Everyone's telling me which mixes I'm going to have to buy to feed the chickens and it's very discouraging. DH and I would prefer to produce our own feed for chickens and (one of these days) cattle. Your post was very reassuring to me in a time when everyone else is telling me what I DON'T want to hear!

Kat said...

Janice, feeding a home flock of chickens is definitely doable. If you allow them to free range for have chickens tractors then for much of the year they will feed themselves. Then you can grow and plant plenty to get them through the winter. Also don't forget that chickens will be your best friend for kitchen scraps. Feeding livestock from the homestead means taking a look back in time to feed stuffs that were used. Things like mangle beets and other root vegetables were commonly used. The best thing is to understand the nutritional needs of the animal and then choosing what to grow to meat those needs. God bless.