Fodder, Livestock, Urban Homesteading and Self-Reliance

Feeding Livestock on the Urban Homestead

Green Bamboo after a very cold January

One of the biggest considerations when keeping livestock in an urban setting is feeding them.  There just isn’t enough land for grazing so the only option is basically a dry lot.  There are some advantages to this: internal parasites are generally less problematic because they require grass as part of their life-cycle, you know exactly how much your animals are eating, and you never get the unpleasant shock of taking a drink of milk produced by a goat who had dined on wild onions the day before.  Of course the disadvantage is you have to provide every bite of feed your livestock eats.

Altogether the livestock at Half-Pint Homestead uses about six bales of grass hay every two weeks.  That comes to 156 bales a year at $5.45 a bale for a total hay cost of about $850.  There is some waste, but that goes into the compost pile and later into the garden beds.  The goat feeder and the rabbit cages with their built-in feeders result in minimal hay wastage.  The pony wastes more and I am in the process of designing a feeder with a floating screen so he can’t pull big chunks out and spread them around.  This will also require him to spend more time eating which is healthier for equines anyway.

I also grow wheat Fodder for them as a nutritional supplement.  I use 1 1/2 bags a month in my 30# a day system which costs me $12.75 monthly for an additional $153 a year.   Total feed costs for 3 goats, 1 500# pony, and 20 or so rabbits is $1003.  It’s a good thing we don’t plan on saving money on raising our food!

While these costs aren’t astronomical, they aren’t chicken feed either (pun intended).  I also have to go pick up hay every couple of weeks as we haven’t set the storage area up to keep more than six bales or so dry.  This requires time, gas, and muscle power to move the 50 – 60# bales from the truck to the shed.  Fortunately it’s downhill.

I do feed some cuttings and weeds during the summer and I am working on doing more of this.  As the mulberry hedge develops, I should have a lot of cuttings to feed.  Dandelions, chicory, burdock, clover, and Queen Ann’s lace all make great feed supplements when I have time to harvest them.  The problem with these feeds is they are either not available or not very abundant in winter.  I would really like to cut down on the amount of foodstuffs I need to import in winter, grain included.

I have  been doing some research and I think I have a couple of solutions.  While I doubt I will ever be able to do without any hay, I may be able to cut it in half and get rid of the grain completely.  I’m planning on planting a stand of bamboo in the north hedgerow for winter fodder harvest.  Bamboo stays green year round and my neighbor has a good sized stand of it I can get starts from.  The bamboo stand will not only allow me to harvest greens in winter, but will provide a year-round screen between WeeHavyn and the house next door.  This isn’t an instant solution, it will take several years for the stand to provide much in the way of feed, but it is one that can help me manage feed costs in the long run.

The other plant I’m looking into is mangel beets. These have been used as high quality livestock feed for a very, very long time.  They are high in sugar and animals love them.  They store through the winter and can be chopped up and fed to any of our animals in place of wheat Fodder.  Of course, I have to grow them to begin with, but I have plenty of compost.  They can be stored in our crawlspace, which doesn’t freeze and is handy for chores.  The good thing about these is they are ready to harvest in just one season.

As we work toward self-reliance it’s important to pay attention to where the things we need come from.  If the wheat harvest is bad, or the trucks stop running for some reason, we won’t have access to grain.  In this situation, we probably wouldn’t be feeding wheat to livestock, we’d be making our own bread from it.  It’s so easy to take everything we have at our fingertips for granted.  We really are fortunate.

At least for now…..

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