Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

The front and back of our deck is now screened…it makes a big improvement in the look of the front of our house, although the carpentry work is still not done…

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.

Our first fledgling mulberry bush for future livestock fodder, started from a cutting from our former landlord’s tree

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 Evensong’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.

We purchased this chaya bush, also known as spinach tree, on our recent trip to ECHO. It can be up to 10% of the total diet of livestock, and if cooked is a nutrient dense green for human consumption.

A moringa tree planted last fall (about 12-18 inches) flourishes in our front yard…now about five ft tall, and that is with heavy regular pruning or it would be much taller. Moringa is a green super food, extremely fast growing. We’ve started more from seeds for livestock fodder.

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.

The beginnings of a fodder bed with young mulberry, chaya, moringa trees, and morning glory vines, with room for starting more of the same as we can

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.

The homemade silo at ECHO

Sprouted oats Evensong grows for her rabbits

In Evensong’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.


DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

DIY Technologies Using Local and Recycled Materials

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25 thoughts on “Grow Your Own Animal Feed, Part I

  1. I live in southern Idaho which has quite a variation in seasons and at the moment have goats and rabbits. On our property we have about 2 acres in pasture right now for the goats and with good irrigation in the summer months the pasture alone contains enough forage for the goats to eat down all winter long. And we also do stake out 1-2 of our goats during the day during the early spring/late fall/winter months in other places on the property to eat down the weeds which provides them food in the winter months. For the rabbits, we feed them a natural diet during the summer. When they are in cages we cut various weeds, alfalfa, salad greens, shrub branches that are around the property as well as have I guess what you could call rabbit tractors. Which are old ferret cages I had that I modified to be moved around. The wire paneling that goes along the ground has 1″x2″ spacing on it, so the grass/weeds will be easily accessible for the rabbits to eat, but they can’t get out of the cage and are also protected from the many predators in the area. For winter forage for them we do what my dad’s family used to do in the 1930s/1940s in northern Minnesota for their rabbits, which is let the grasses and weeds grow taller in various places in the property and then cut them down, let them dry a while in that spot, then rake them up and pile it in a covered area. Same works for cows/goats/etc. Kind of like what you read in the Little House on the Prairie books where they used to go down by the rivers/swamps where the grass grew tall and cut it down for winter forage. I find a lot of the native grasses in my area are more nutritious than alfalfa, but due to farmers in my area growing alfalfa we have a fair number of random alfalfa plants popping up on the property as well that we also cut down. And just an FYI on the alfalfa if you are avoiding GMO. At least in the western US almost no farmers are growing regular alfalfa anymore, the only seed they are able to get is GMO alfalfa seed, the non-GMO seed isn’t available anymore at a reasonable price, so as farmers are replanting alfalfa its all GMO and the fields that aren’t are all getting cross-pollinated with it. And sadly its the same with corn, soybeans, sugar beets, etc. Even starting with wheats and other grains now. Hard to avoid if you don’t grow your own. Love your screened deck area, I’d love to do that to my deck because of our massive mosquito issues in the summer months.


    • Thank you for sharing all this great info! I love the idea of letting appropriate weed patches grow and then cutting them to dry for winter forage. And your rabbit tractors are a great idea! Evenstar’s rabbits are caged but during the day she puts them out in the grass in moveable pet fences, but she has to keep her eye on them so they don’t dig out.

      We are so sad about alfalfa now being contaminated with GMO. Our only hope is that the alfalfa we are currently buying was harvested last year in already established fields before the new GMO seed was wide-spread (correct me if I’m wrong). We’re assuming any alfalfa harvested this year will probably be GMO.

      This is another urgent reason to find alternatives for our livestock, especially dairy animals. We’re looking at other plants that help increase milk production, which I will share a bit more about in the next post.


      • With the alfalfa its hard to say what is GMO and what isn’t anymore. Farmers don’t have to say if it is or not. Many farmers in my area started planting the GMO seed the last couple years as soon as it was available. In my area most people replant alfalfa every 4-6 years depending on how well it is doing, so theoretically as long as the farmers you get alfalfa from haven’t replanted within the last year or two you should be safe from that, although it is all cross-pollinating. The alfalfa pellets though are mass produced and combine alfalfa from many different fields, so they probably are a mix of both GMO and non-GMO. Another good alternative to alfalfa for livestock and rabbits is grass hay, not sure how readily available it is in your area, but a lot of people in my area that have a couple dairy goats or a milk cow opt to feed that because its not GMO. And I forgot to mention this in my first comment, but seen another commenter posted about it, which is dandelions. They grow rampant in my area and in most areas in the country, not sure about Florida though, but its really easy to grow giant patches of those and rabbits love them. I know a lot of the shrub species in my area wouldn’t be appropriate for your area, but if you research native rabbit species in your area and see what shrubs they are eating, that could also give you some more options on plants to grow on your property where you could prune off branches and give them to the rabbits to munch on throughout the year. I’m trying to incorporate native species into my landscaping that I can give the clippings to the rabbits. It certainly is an interesting learning experience trying to figure out how to grow everything yourself. Look forward to future blog posts!


      • I’m afraid (reluctantly) you’re right about alfalfa. We don’t use the pellets anymore, but are temporarily using Chaffhaye which is bagged fermented alfalfa till our own forage is growing. We do have access to grass hay here in FL and we have used it during the winter, but it not the same as northern hay.

        I agree about rabbits loving weeds like dandelions (I answered in more detail to Natalie’s comment). Our daughter is growing various weeds for her rabbits which they love. I’ll share more in the third part of this series. Thanks for your input!


  2. Very interesting post. We are still a few years away from getting animals but I love to read about homegrown animal feed as that is something I really want to incorporate when we finally are ready have livestock. I think it is so wise, even if it is just to supplement what you still have to buy. I don’t know if you have tried them, but our rabbits used to LOVE dandelion leaves…something that can easily grow in abundance.
    Thanks for sharing.


    • Dandelion is a great idea for rabbits, except that here in central FL (believe it or not!) we don’t have regular dandelion. There is a relative called false dandelion which has tiny yellow flowers and they do like that. The third part of this series covers a lot of the weeds that we use for rabbits, including false dandelion. But you are right…dandelion grows in abundance most places and it is very nutritious for livestock and humans. No one ever needs to die of starvation if there is dandelion around! 🙂


  3. Hi! I love reading your blog especially since I live in central Fl also, (Lakeland). I have a question. We live in an old mobile home that we are fixing up. We live on a little over an acre. We cleared the whole lot and after 4 yrs its looking pretty good. However, I am trying to plant fruit trees, flowers, bushes and a veggie garden (raised bed). But, I am having such a hard time keeping out all the weeds and grass. Yikes, I am older & retired but I just wear myself out. I noticed in your pics your plots look pretty weed free! What are you doing to prevent/help weeds without using weedkillers? I came from Ohio previously and gardening wasn’t this hard! My husband is disabled and can’t help and we also have to live very very frugally sooooo, any suggestions you could give me would help! We resorted to planting the tomatoes in buckets this year! Thanks (amishwoman49) Paula


    • So sorry about your weed problems! Here in FL in the summer they can grow incredibly fast! There are two things we do to prevent weeds. First, we do no-till gardening using raised beds, which you evidently do as well. This prevents new weed seeds from emerging in upturned soil. Before we make a new bed we first pull or hoe the weeds or we cover them with cardboard or lots of newspaper, then build beds over that. Here in palmetto country that still doesn’t keep those stubborn pamlettos from coming up if we haven’t completely dug them out, but once they’re out they’re gone.

      The second thing we do is mulch heavily over everything, walkways and beds. We bring in loads from tree-trimming services, or used leftover hay from the barnyard, or pine needles found under our pine trees. Leaves or straw would work as well. Adding four to six inches of mulch makes weeding so easy. A few weeds do still poke up but they’re easily plucked up in the loose mulch if you get them early. The areas out back between our citrus trees still don’t have mulch and there has been a major huge weed problem out there. We just hoed a lot of them up last week, and hope to get another load of tree mulch this week to cover that area as well. Another thing we just got yesterday is a ground cover legume called perennial peanut which will grow profusely and cover the ground and keep weeds choked out between the trees. It is nitrogen fixing so will feed the citrus trees as well as be an another option for livestock fodder.

      If you haven’t already done so, try to watch the video called “Back to Eden” ( It demonstrates the benefits of using mulch for weed control, moisture retention, and feeding the soil as it breaks down. God makes that occur naturally in nature, and we benefit from using it in our gardens as well. Hope this helps!


  4. Great website! You all have really accomplished a great deal! Congratulations. You may want to check out the Fodder growing system that Sarah over at Frühlingskabine Micro-Farm ( After much research, I am in the process of setting up a similar system for our dairy cow, chickens and goat. I did set up this process at a farm where I volunteered — they were in financial straights and we needed food for the animals. I am amazed about how well it works! Just an idea you may want to explore….Good luck! Keep your wonderful blogs coming!


    • Thanks for mentioning that Maryanne. We do use a system like that somewhat, and it does multiply and stretch the feed you get from a bag of grain, as well as it converts the grain into a vegetable which is much better for them, so it is by far better than regular feed. But it still doesn’t eliminate purchasing feed altogether which means it will only last as long as the grains we have stored. To be truly sustainable we need to have systems in place that will continue to produce without being dependent on a feed store, which is our long-term goal.


  5. I’m stopping by from Little House in the Suburbs DIY Link party.

    You may already be familiar with this blog but if not it’s a great resource for sustainable living. The blog is called Throwback at Trapper Creek. She writes about how she does her rotational grazing. She also writes about the vegetables she grows for food for her family as well as her livestock. She has been farming for many years and has loads of experience to share.


  6. Rose Petal–
    Great posts! I love seeing how far your family has come in the last couple of years-amazing! I just wanted to offer a quick word of caution about one of your fodder options: as a long-time horse lover and showing enthusiast, I have seen several horses choke on morning glory. They get excited and don’t chew the vine properly, swallowing it before it is in pieces. Be sure to chop up the vine well, and don’t ever let them graze directly on the growing vine! Thankfully, I’ve never seen the choking be fatal, but I’ve heard that it can be. Also, I’ve read some discussions that an abundance of morning glory in the diet could be harmful, and they will definitely cause the horse to test positive on a drug test for a show. (This thread discusses a list of problematic plants, especially the post by “Gypsy Rose” a few posts down: God bless you all!


    • Thank you so much for that good information. I will notify the rest of the family about that. Our horses will be placed up in the front field as soon as it is ready, and that is far away from the fodder beds with morning glory. It will take a while for the vines to even reach far enough so the animals can get to them inside their fence. If the horses are still back in that area we can block that part of the fence row so they can’t reach the vines. Blessings to you too!


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