Things have been moving right along here on the off-grid homestead. Between building and planting an herb garden, building raised garden rows for fall planting (we’re in Central FL), planting edible shrubs and trees, laying sod, building fence, installing gutter for rainwater collection, and the learning curve from doing many new things, I’ve been so swamped I can hardly think about blog posts.
In April we were diligently focusing on back paddock fencing when we started getting nasty bites from yellow flies on our deck (our main living area during the day). I react badly to yellow fly bites, and was miserably laid up with infected swollen feet and ankles. One day we killed 15 of the wretched blood-sucking creatures on our deck. The end framing and screening suddenly became priority and paddock fencing halted. Our deck is now screened and I’ve gotten no bites since! I feel at home again. Silver Oak did a wonderful job at something completely new. It’s beautiful!
Meanwhile, in our ever-present quest to become more sustainable and less dependent on store-bought goods, we have been working slowly toward growing our own animal feed. This is not only preparation for an interruption in animal feed availability, but will also eventually greatly lower our feed bill and give healthier alternatives to the genetically modified and chemically laden grains and undesirable fillers present in purchased feeds.
For several years we have not purchased GMO feeds for our livestock, but have found store-bought alternatives expensive or incomplete. For our goats, cow, horses, chickens, and rabbits we’ve used a combination of simple ingredients, including hay, alfalfa cubes and soaked or sprouted oats, but we really need something more sustainable long-term.
We are far from having a complete plan yet, but we’re taking steps. We hope to make our back eight acres into four separate paddocks for rotating the animals, keeping parasites at bay and allowing forage and pasture to grow. Currently our animals freely roam over this area, largely wooded or covered with palmettos. The center fence row is cleared, fence posts laid out, and birdseed purchased to broadcast in open areas for forage. That project was temporarily abandoned when the yellow flies struck.
Meanwhile we’re planting perennials good for livestock forage. To save money we started small with seeds or single plants we can multiply with cuttings. Our property is almost pure sugar sand, so we’ve hauled in loads of decomposed wood chips from tree trimmers. By adding aged manure and old hay scooped from our barnyard and Evenstar’s rabbitry we’ve been building lots of raised rows and beds on top of the sand. We are encountering earthworms in loamy soil where there was only sand less than a year ago. It can be done!
Some perennials we have started for fodder include sugarcane, moringa, chaya, mulberry, leucaena, pigeon pea, cassava, sweet potato vines, and morning glory. The leaves and stems make great fodder, especially if a variety is used. The tricky part is learning the level of protein and other nutrients in plants so the livestock’s needs are met.
As I’ve previously mentioned, planting perennials rather than just seasonal crops greatly simplifies things. Perennials live longer than two years, and are usually easily reproduced with cuttings or by dividing rather than just seeds. They are often more nutritious, grow and reproduce many years, and take minimal care just as any landscaping shrub.
Many perennials for our animals can also be eaten by our family, raw in salads or as cooked greens. They can be incorporated into landscaping and most folks have no clue they are edible. Soon we hope to add perennial peanut, comfrey, serecea lespedeza (a legume that kills parasites), and other perennials for animal feed, as well as velvet bean and various grasses in the paddocks that will hopefully continue to grow and reproduce on their own once established.
Since we live in a subtropical climate we have more options for growing fodder year-round. But some of these plants can be grown in pots and brought indoors in colder climates, using a small sunroom or greenhouse, or by replanting every year as an annual from cuttings or divisions. Most of the plants we’re starting are fast growing.
Making silage to store fodder for nonproductive times is another option which may actually increase nutritional value with probiotics. On our recent trip to ECHO and learning about many DIY projects, we saw a small homemade silo made from galvanized flat iron sheets. There is much to learn about making silage. I would love to hear your imput about this, as well as any other ideas for sustainable feed for livestock.
In Evenstar’s rabbitry she has learned to utilize many wild edibles growing on our property in addition to store-bought rabbit feed, black sunflower seeds, hay, and oat grass which she sprouts for them. She’s planted some of the rabbits’ favorite weeds near their hutches to make it easy to grab some every day. She considers this to be a very important part of their diet based on research she has done. Our chickens are free roaming on eight acres so they get lots of insects, grubs and vegetation. We also are raising black soldier fly larvae for them, but that is for another post.
In Part Two I will share how we have been able to start some of the fodder crops I mentioned very inexpensively.
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