This is the first time in central Florida I’ve experienced so much vibrant edible plant growth and color in my own yard in the intense heat of summer (and I’ve lived here 40 years…wow, that makes me feel kinda old!). I hope to share more soon about what we have done differently to make this possible, even before our greenhouse (shadehouse) is built. We moved here 20 months ago and the first year rarely saw butterflies or many songbirds. That has totally changed, and gradually our sugarsand scrubland is being transformed. We feel very blessed by the Lord and rejoice in His provision. I will soon share more about our summer gardening ventures.
I’ve enjoyed your feedback about growing various kinds of animal fodder and forage. While we are glad to share what we’ve learned and what is working so far, we greatly appreciate your input. Homegrown or local feed was historically the only option, but for us who grew up buying bagged feed from a store, it is a learning curve.
In Part One we discussed reasons for growing our own livestock feed and various fodder and forage possibilities. In Part Two I shared some fodder crops we’ve been blessed to start at little or no cost. Next we’ll explore alternatives to GMO alfalfa for dairy animals, commercial chicken feeds, and rabbit feed.
Dairy animals: To replace alfalfa, tragically nearly completely contaminated with GMOs in this country, we want alternatives to support milk production in our dairy goats and Jersey cow. This may require an adjustment in thinking. With the modern emphasis on quantity, the nutritional quality of milk has greatly suffered. With our own dairy animals we avoid hormone-laden, pasturized and homogenized milk with all its health issues. But what about feeding them grain and milking frequently for high production? Until a few years ago I had no idea there were health issues for both grain-fed livestock and humans consuming milk or meat from grain-fed animals. Consider Jo Robinson’s thought-provoking article.
Our family has come to prefer high-fat (omega-3), nutrient-dense milk and healthy long-living livestock over high milk production using GMO feeds and unnatural grains. If that rules out alfalfa, soy, corn and other grains, we must find alternatives. It’s ok if our goats or cow don’t give the maximum amount of milk possible, especially if that means they will be healthier in the process. Now to figure out how to make that happen.
Take note that cows are grazers and goats are foragers. I won’t pretend to have this nearly all figured out, but in Part Two of this series I mentioned various grazing, forage and fodder options. What plants are specifically good for dairy producers? Black raspberry grows wild here and we’ve already started lemongrass and mulberry, all of which promote milk production. What about other milk-stimulating herbs like dill, fenugreek, nettle, marshmallow root, or blessed thistle? We’re still learning what grows easily here. Fias Co Farm has a great list of what may or may not be edible for goats. Another list by Kathy Voth suggests edible weeds and plants for cows.
Chickens: Next let’s consider our chickens’ egg production. Choosing a natural diet of bugs and forage may mean fewer eggs than a diet of laying mash or pellets, but we prefer the healthier option. Chickens have different digestive systems than cows and goats (ruminants) so grains are naturally a part of their diet. We feed ours oats to avoid GMOs, but need a sustainable option we can grow in our subtropical climate.
We have plenty of room for our chickens to roam, so we are increasing the size of our flock for more eggs, since it costs less to feed 30 without laying mash than 10 with. We still need to find an alternative grain that we can grow at home (any ideas?). We made a black soldier fly composter which produces great high-protein grubs for our chickens. As we perfect it I hope to share more.
Most garden herbs and many weeds are nutrient-dense and excellent for chickens. We give them our fruit and veggie rinds instead of composting them, as well as scraps from a produce market. The chickens’ digestive systems quickly “compost” it and we simply add their aged nitrogen-rich droppings to the garden.
One super food for chickens (and humans) is pumpkins. Last fall after Thanksgiving we got leftover pumpkins and winter squash from a produce market in town, and broke them open as needed for the chickens. Talk about orange-yolked eggs tasting far superior to organic “free-range” eggs from the store! We raised a batch of meat chickens on those free pumpkins and a little soaked oats, avoiding store-bought chick start. They grew slower, but the end result was GMO-free healthy chicken in the freezer we feel great about. Now we have pumpkins growing at various places on our property. You can’t grow too many pumpkins! If you’re in the south try an heirloom variety called seminole pumpkins. They are prolific and pest resistant even in our hot summers and will keep up to a year in storage.
What are your thoughts on increasing egg production using feed grown at home?
Rabbits: I love the free nutrient-dense rabbit food Evensong raises for her rabbitry. She finds good rabbit weeds that thrive well in our climate with little effort, and grows them in pots and grow beds. These weeds include spanish needle, dollarweed, lambs quarters, redroot pigweed (amaranth), wood sorrel, clover, wild violets, false dandelion (Florida variety of dandelion), various grasses, young smilax, Florida betony, thistle, wild grape, and others we have yet to identify.
Well-fed rabbits generally won’t eat something harmful for them, so Evensong finds weeds that grow easily on our property and gives them a little to see if they like it. Her rabbits also like moringa, pigeon pea leaves, hibiscus leaves, mulberry leaves, mints, and many other herbs in the herb garden, as well as black sunflower seeds. She places her rabbits out in portable pet fences during the day to forage on grass in the yard. One day she hopes they will be completely free of purchased rabbit feeds. What “rabbit weeds” do you have in your area?
One key to successfully providing home-grown alternatives for our livestock: variety is better. Many plants contain traces of toxins or have medicinal properties beneficial in small amounts, but harmful in excess. The 10% rule is good: no more than 10% daily of any kind of plant. Evensong gathers a variety for her rabbits every day, and we hope soon to have enough things growing to do the same for our goats and cow in addition to what grows in their paddocks.
I already mentioned one free source of food we utilize: thrown-out produce from a local produce market. Many times it is simply past its prime and not saleable for human consumption. Once or twice weekly Silver Oak brings home a large bin filled with pineapple and watermelon rinds, partially wilted lettuce, soft bananas, or other goodies the animals go crazy over. Even the dogs come begging for an over-ripe avocado or juicy grapes. When Silver Oak backs the pick-up to the gate the whole barnyard comes alive with anticipation for the upcoming feast.
Some day maybe we’ll have a precise formula for feeding our livestock sustainably, keeping them happy, healthy, productive, and parasite-free. More realistically, we will probably continue adapting to availability as seasons change and needs arise. We are still learning what works best in our climate for our particular animals’ needs. Again, I would love hearing your thoughts and ideas.
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