In Part One of this series I reviewed reasons for growing our own fodder for our dairy goats, cow, horses, chickens and rabbits, and some beneficial plants for the job. Now I’ll share how we’ve started some of these crops quite inexpensively. Of course I must mention that I am not responsible for anything you feed your animals. Please verify that all feed or plants are safe for livestock consumption.
We have been very blessed to start several fodder crops with little or no expense. Last December at a Sugarcane Festival we asked a sugarcane grower lots of questions. This was the second time we had met him and his wife and inquired about the process. As we sampled syrup made from his cane, he appeared to enjoy explaining about planting, growing, and harvesting sugarcane. He was selling potted canes for planting but we weren’t ready for that project yet. The Lord must have known we needed a nudge because the kind grower told us at the end of the day he didn’t want the remaining potted plants and wondered if we could take them off his hands lest they go to waste. With an opportunity like that we decided it was time to start after all.
We took home ten potted sugarcane plants, divided them, and made cuttings as instructed. Using our composted soil we ended up with around 25 pots, each holding several canes. With sugarcane you simply cut the canes into two-foot sections, each with two “knuckles,” stick them in the ground, and each segment grows a new plant! They thrive in sandy soil, and the grassy stalks make excellent animal fodder. It is fast growing and once planted will come back every year with little care even if it freezes. Eventually we can learn to make our own cane syrup or raw sugar granules and molasses. How cool is that?
Farmer Boy watered the potted canes during the dry winter as they got established. We watched new green shoots poking out of the “knuckles,” but pretty much forgot about them in our busyness. Some froze and died off. Finally a few weeks ago we scheduled a big transplanting day to plant out or move blueberry bushes, a pomegranate tree, magnolia tree, hydrangea bush, chaya bush, acerola cherry tree, mulberry bush, moringa trees, bamboo, areca palms, a lemon tree, and a jasmine vine.
By late afternoon we were finally ready to tackle planting the sugarcane when it started raining. Knowing it was now or never, Silver Oak and I worked through the drizzle until around 7:30pm. The rain cooled us but made us a drenched and dirty sight to behold! Evenstar appeared with the camera for a good laugh, saying we looked like field hands in a third world country. I put a plastic bag over my hat to keep rain off my glasses so I could see, adding to the comical look. We wore our rattiest clothing which went into the trash when we were done. It was quite a memory-maker, and our sugarcane patch is planted, complete with a trench between two long rows for irrigating. Now we are watching it grow!
The other big crop we just landed on was chaya. At ECHO last month we purchased one small bush hoping to multiply it with cuttings when it matured. Last week Silver Oak did landscaping for a Puerto Rican family, and guess what was in their back yard? A huge chaya bush! They wanted it trimmed way back so he brought home lots of mature cuttings! Chaya also grows well in sandy soil and roots easily with a woody branch stuck in moist soil. We filled thirty big pots with composted soil and cuttings and are attempting to grow them.
Chaya, also known as spinach tree, is one of those true survival plants as it is extremely productive, drought resistant, fast growing, requires little care, and is highly nutritious. The leaves are more nutrient-dense than spinach, but they MUST be cooked or fried several minutes before consuming to remove toxins (cyanide). Some cook it 20 minutes, but those associated with ECHO say five minutes is sufficient. It is used as a cooked green, but NOT EATEN RAW. Livestock tolerates it raw if it is not more than 10% of total food intake.
Another free crop was the many wild morning glory seedlings (weeds) we found growing all over our garden area, so we transplanted nearly 30 of them along the edge of the raised forage bed so they will reach through the fence and into the pasture for the goats to nibble on. They’re planted three feet from the fence so should be well established by the time they grow through the fence. It’s an experiment, so we’ll see what happens, but we expect the goats will not allow them to ever get very large, and it will comprise only a tiny part of their total diet. (Note: Some morning glory varieties reportedly have adverse effects on goats, especially pregnant ones, if eaten in too large a quantity. Check on the species before feeding.)
In part three of this series I will present some alternatives to GMO alfalfa for dairy animals, as well as laying mash or pellets and chick start for egg layers and fryers. I will include some tips from Evenstar’s rabbitry for raising rabbits naturally and sustainably as well. I greatly welcome your input for additional ideas or cautions regarding raising our own livestock feeds.
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