About a year ago we made the decision to feed as many of our animals from the farm as much as we could. If we just had small animals that might be more easily done, but we have the goat herd that is in production (need more calories) and we have the horses(lean mean eating machines). How were we to go about this big change and all the extra work? Well, like everything else we made a plan that was feasible to do and then started working on it slowly. So here is our plan and how we implemented that plan. Warning...some things described are not for the faint of stomach.
We started with the cats. The cats hunt for a good portion of their food and I will have to say we don't have near the problem of mice that we used to have. So giving them cat food was basically just a supplement to their diet of mice and other rodents. It was relatively easy to change that supplement to table scraps with a few extra eggs and some milk thrown in for the proteins that they need. The cats have been eating this way for a year now and they are healthy and happy. They don't get fat and lazy and they keep up their hunting skills. When we butcher they get some of the scraps which also help with their protein and organ meat needs although they get that when they hunt. They eat their kills vs. bringing them to us or bringing them on the porch to "play" with them. By feeding them table scraps they get a wide portion of food and my cats will eat the vegetables that are mixed in with everything else most of the time.
Next we moved to the dogs full time. We were feeding the dogs kibble, I won't say which one but it was a high quality grain free kibble. Feeding the dogs this kibble was costing up approximately 60.00 a month. So we made up our minds that we were going to feed the dogs like the predators that they were with meat, bones and organ meats. When we butcher all the things that we don't use now feed the dogs. We use to have to bury the heads and now we don't. We simply split the skull and give it to the dogs. They clean up everything on it that they can and then the chickens pick the bones clean, literally. All pieces of bone that aren't eaten are gathered up and buried in the garden to enrich the soil. The dogs clean the cowl off of the guts and then we bury what they don't eat or what the chickens don't clean up behind them. The whole purpose of the second rabbit colony is to feed the dogs and give the cats some extras. They also get extra eggs, some milk and any whey from making cheese or cheese mistakes that are made. All of the dogs are happy and healthy. The biggest plus has been that Valentine skin allergies seem to be better, not cured but better. She now has hair where she has not had hair for years because of the itching.
The next move that we are working on now is the rabbits. We have plenty of weeds during the spring and summer along with some garden produce, but we planted more this year for them. We have planted tons of peas so that we have a source of protein and are growing more sunflowers for calories and vitamins. We are also planting a grain patch to grow for them. The grain patch will also be a good source of long stem fiber for them so that we can cut some of their outside hay cost. The hay that we feed them is mainly for the long stem fiber that they need to keep their digestive tract working properly. Spanish moss is also a good source of this and we have plenty of that. The key for the rabbits is being able to have enough variety for them and keeping that variety throughout the whole year. We probably supply close to half of what they need now during the growing season, but we have a ways to go still to be able to completely get away from purchasing their feed.
The chickens we have never purchased food for. They eat the horse and goat leftovers (what they waste). Two of our horses even let the chickens peck out of their feed pans while they eat. The chickens are also instrumental in helping to clean up butchering waste and it is amazing at how well they can clean up a gut pile leaving nothing but the interior contents. They hunt for their own bugs and forage for their own greens. We have much fewer bugs with the chickens roaming the pastures and the house. They are extremely healthy and lay well. I am sure we could push them to lay more in the winter when there isn't that much to forage on, but they need the break. Laying eggs is hard work.
With the goats we are not anywhere near being able to feed them year round without store bought grains. We do well to be able to cut back on things during the summer when so much of their food intake comes from foraging. Our plan this year is to overseed the pastures with cool season grasses and such that will provide them with more forage during the late fall and winter so that they don't require as much hay. However, when they are in production they simply need the concentrated calories that they get from grain. They also need the alfalfa for calcium and protein. We are hoping that we can supplement some of the protein with peas and some of the calcium with more clover so that we don't have to purchase as much. However, we are a long way away from being able to completely feed them from the farm. If we only had two or three goats it might be feasible, but not with 9. We are growing more root crops this year to help supplement their calorie needs this winter. That might decrease their outside grain needs, but it won't eliminate it.
The horses are pretty much like the goats. I am not sure that we could completely eliminate their outside feed needs. We have a very old stallion that simply needs the high calorie content of a senior feed. Our pastures are still in need of work and frankly I don't think we have enough land to be able to pasture them year round with no additional needs. They would be a goal that is a long way down the road.
So as you can see it is a slow work in progress. We start with one group and work from there. If we tried to take care of everyone all at once it would be too overwhelming to even imagine. Blessings from the farm, Kat