At what point does raising your own livestock start to pay off? In most cases it can be more expensive to raise your own animals than simply buying from the supermarket. Take chickens for instance: By the time you buy grain, house them, fence them, buy them as chicks and get all the supplies it may be cheaper and easier to just to buy store eggs. I can tell you that farm fresh eggs are hands down better than store bought any day of the week, not to mention the nutritional advantages.
Feeding our 25 chickens can be a costly monthly bill so we do all we can to limit our financial inputs and increase the outputs. We supplement our chickens by giving them waste from our kitchen. Chickens will eat anything and everything, from dairy to meats to greens. Our compost area is their feeding area. In one effort to cut costs I attempted one spring to grow my own grains: I went to my local seed store and planted various species all around the yard, but had no growth. I tried once more in the fall, again no growth. I saw some sprouts but nothing ever took off to the point of getting established. It wasn’t until I was watching the chickens in the yard one evening that I saw them going after the sprouts from all of my seed plantings. It was then I remembered reading about fodder systems to cut expenses and increase yields and nutrition.
Fodder is your friend
Fodder is essentially sprouts from grains, legumes, or beans. With fodder you can take 1 lb of feed and turn it into 4 lbs of fodder. In a recent article on Brink of Freedom, Jack Spirko explains how to make a “Dead Simple Fodder System”. In Jack’s system he uses six 5 gallon buckets for his fodder containers. I have read and personally tried using guttering systems. If space is a problem you can grow 1000 lbs of fodder in about a 4’ by 8’ by 8’ section of your garage using plastic guttering. Producing your own fodder can be a huge savings in your feed bills while eliminating GMO grains at the same time. Fodder is easier to digest for many species of animals and allows the nutrients to be more readily available for the them. Chickens have a gizzard to help break down grains but fodder can be broken down without the need of a gizzard. This allows you to feed it to horses, cows, goats, sheep, geese, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, and chickens. As a homesteader you could have one food source for virtually all of the livestock you are raising. There are actually some homesteaders who feed 90% fodder to their livestock exclusively. This could be a great option for homesteaders or people increasing production from homesteading but not quite to a full blown commercial scale.
Azolla and duckweed
I have 4 aquaponic systems on our urban homestead and with those I feed my chickens azolla and duckweed. Both are pond floating plants and are higher in protein than soy based feeds. Azolla and duckweed both are around 24% protein each. They rapidly reproduce, nearly doubling every 24 hours with good conditions. They are both nitrogen fixers meaning they will take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into usable nitrogen in the plant. Not only can you feed azolla and duckweed to animals but it is also great for compost. But be aware that you can’t grow these in stagnant water. You will need a way to oxygenate or move the water to have positive results, not to mention that if you have standing water you will attract mosquitos. Some easy ways to combat this is to simply add a small fountain to generate oxygen, and a few feeder goldfish at $0.12 a piece makes it easily affordable. 2-3 fish for a small plastic kiddy pool will easily eat any mosquito larvae, you will have a “koi” pond, and feed for other animals. Both azolla and duckweed can be fed to all sorts of animals. Our chickens will actually wade out in the pond and eat the floating plants during the summer.
Growing grains or pasture
Why not just grow your own grains? Space. It takes quite a bit of space to get 100 lbs of grain. Do you want to dedicate that much land to only growing grains? Do you have the equipment to process and harvest grains? Why not put in an orchard instead and allow the animals to eat falling fruit and minimize insects. You can eat the fruits; the animals can eat the fallen fruits. You can grow some crops under the trees and rotationally graze other animals in the orchard as well. If you section off various areas and move livestock around, you can allow the paddocks to rest between placing the animals back in, practicing what is known as paddock shift or rotational grazing. Chickens, turkeys, goats and pigs all love the fruit off the ground. However if left in an area too long they will begin to eat the trees.
For the average homesteader using a fodder system is the most economical way to feed your livestock safe, nutritious, non-gmo grains. You can use recycled plastic containers to further save some cash. You can grow it in a shed, garage, or even in your house. Using permaculture you try to maximize all your outputs, limit inputs, and reuse or repurpose what would otherwise be wastes so that you can optimize your food production ability. Many pond owners view duckweed as an invasive species, but now you can view it as a great feed source for your animals.
For every problem there is at least one alternative solution. Fodder was just one way to solve a high gmo-free feed cost for the chickens on our homestead.
Photo Credit: LakeLawnandPond.com