One of the most intriguing possibilities of backyard micro-farming and gardening is to attain a certain degree of independence when it comes to livestock feed.
With the cost of store-bought animal food constantly rising, and the overall nutritive value diminishing, it literally pays to add this feature to your garden.
Grow Food for Your Animals
If you keep any chickens, goats, pigs, etc., all will delight in the freshly pulled weeds and thinned vegetable sprouts direct from your garden. This is actually an excellent way to start your “animal garden” – by simply planting more of everything.
If you feel your garden space is too limited to achieve this, switching to more narrow-row planting will help. This should result in lots of extra produce, with an added bonus of eliminating the wasted space between rows that need constant weeding or mulching.
Growing Root Crops for Animals
For an example of how far modern agriculture has strayed from reality, it wasn’t that long ago that root crops, instead of hay and grains, were the primary source of food for over-wintering livestock.
However, mechanized farming rapidly evolved to the point where cultivating these types of labor-intensive plants was considered a waste of time and money to the newly emerging profit-driven farming operations.
These humble root crops were once an essential part of subsistence farming, a practice most in big-agra dismissed as too antiquated and obsolete to meet the dietary needs of an exploding world population.
The fact is, people all over the world are returning to this basic form of agriculture as a reaction against the conventional promotion of unnatural chemicals and poor soil conservation that leads directly to barren land.
Root crops such as turnips, carrots, and radishes will do fine in even marginal soil, and provide a more nutrient-rich animal feed in a much smaller space than any hay or grain crops. Your larger animals will really enjoy chopped-up mangles (fodder beets or mangle wurzel), which are a type of beet that was once a staple crop for cows.
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The main drawback to planting any of these vegetables is the seeds tend to be quite tiny, and sowing them by hand can be very slow and tedious.
The best way to avoid this hassle is to invest in a good push-type garden seeder. These handy devices come with seed plates that can be adjusted to any size and spacing desired, and their slim profile makes it much easier to plant straight rows.
Garden Seeders Archives
from: Hoss Tools
The Fodder System
One of the best ways to provide fresh greens (even in winter!) for your animals is by using the fodder system. The right mix of common grain plants like wheat, barley, and rye, will ensure the animals are getting a diverse assortment of nutrients that mimics what they would eat on the open pasture.
Although technically not an outdoor garden activity, it is a perfect complement to your vegetable patch. Sprouting grains for fodder involves a simple system of rotating grow trays filled with presoaked seeds that are kept moist every day. After 7-10 days, you can harvest!
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Growing Other Crops for Animals
In addition to the aforementioned root crops, sunflowers, nettle, and comfrey are all packed with vital nutrients and are quite easy to grow.
Comfrey, in particular, can become so prolific it can quickly overtake a garden space if left unattended. There shouldn’t be any significant waste from whatever you decide to grow, as what one species of animal can’t or won’t eat will serve as fodder for another species.
Once you establish your garden as a reliable source for livestock feed, you can try out some of nature’s bounty on your animals, in the form of nuts, berries, seeds, etc.
Even if they are not allowed to forage these things for themselves, they’ll still appreciate the additional variety. With a little research, you can determine what types of natural food works best for any given animal.
Growing and foraging food for livestock is an age-old practice that’s been around since the first animals were domesticated. The difference between long ago and today is mainly due to our having access to labor-saving devices and techniques that the ancients couldn’t dream of.
Whether your goal is total self-sufficiency, or just to save a buck or two, the time-honored tradition of producing your own animal food is definitely doable!
Last update on 2020-10-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API