I am loving the discussion fueled by my previous post analyzing the actual costs and yields from our homestead in 2011!
So many of your worries and concerns are the same ones I’ve been battling with this past year!
You’re right, food prices are on the rise and I’m not just talking about at the grocery store! A stop at your local feed store is costing anywhere from $3.00-$6.00 more per 100 pounds since the beginning of 2011 if your prices are anything like ours.
What is most troublesome to you and to me is what is actually in those sacks! While there may be a variety of fillers depending on what you’re feeding, chances are the bulk of feed mix is either GMO corn or hormone-producing GMO soy. Neither product I prefer to feed my animals knowing that it is simply being recycled right back into our food supply and bodies.
Coincidentally, my husband had to stop at the feed store today and they offered him an alternative to the grain we feed our dairy cow at milking time. (Yes, we give our cow a bit of grain. We measured it actually to try to estimate how often we’ll need to buy it and it amounts to 4 pounds of grain per day. We really tried last year to go the all grass-fed route but as a pregnant, lactating cow with no fresh grass in the dead of winter her body condition was visibly deteriorating and this little treat daily showed marked improvement in just a couple of weeks. Our steer that we raise for beef won’t receive any supplementation to his hay because the demands on his body aren’t the same as his mother’s and he’ll have plenty of time to bounce back in the spring before butchering.) The benefit to the proposed dairy grain mix was higher protein levels… no doubt achieved through additional soy. I couldn’t help but think of all the dairy farms in the area housing their Holsteins feeding them solely this dairy mix and polluting the milk supply.
Similar grievances could be listed for feeding all of our stock. Chickens, pigs…. The basic components are all the same and the cost is painful to our pocketbooks. I searched high and low last year for a company where I could find organic, soy-free chicken feed and it was simply out of the question we couldn’t afford it. I went so far as to compile a list of ingredients to build my own feed, eliminating GMO’s even if the mix still wasn’t organic and the feed store couldn’t get most of the ingredients for me. Certainly not enough for me to put together a protein-packed egg-producing mix. How discouraging!!
It begs the question, “Is it worth it then to raise your own meat?” if you are in a situation such as I am, and many of you are, where you have serious ethical objections and concerns about the the effects from the feed you’re forced to give your livestock because there are simply no alternatives available to you and you haven’t enough land to make it possible to grow your own feed.
I would suggest that the answer is, “Yes.”
Even if your cost analysis proves a wash (or worse- and if you are new or newer to homesteading and are dealing with the initial investment that is often involved when beginning your endeavors, it might be worse) and you can feed your animals not much better than they do at the factory farm up the road, I believe the benefits of raising your own meat (and produce) are worth the time and effort.
Of the utmost value and importance to me as a Christian family, I find that living an agrarian lifestyle makes it easier for me to impart spiritual wisdom to my children. The Bible is full of agrarian language throughout that is used to communicate spiritual truths parabolically. Since they are living it out and understanding the concepts, they can easily make some of those connections.
Secondly, we live in a day where our children know so little about where their food comes from that I’ve heard tell of television shows and government programs being made to teach them about food. I believe that is important for our children to learn where their food comes from and appreciate what goes into the process of raising their own food. I may have mentioned this previously, but this summer, my husband had taken my then 2 year old to the grocery store and made an executive decision to stray from the list and picked up a pack of hot dogs which prompted my boy to ask his father if “he shot them?” How rewarding that he already realized that the “meat” came from a once live animal!
More than that, I believe that satisfying, meaningful work is found in productive labor and caring for your livestock. Many would agree with me I’m sure. Isn’t that what you do when you want to teach your child responsibility? You buy them a gerbil or a dog and they have to feed, water, and walk it? How much more rewarding is a pet with similar responsibilities with returns on the care in the form of nourishing food?
It is highly gratifying to sit down to eggs at breakfast laid by hens scavenging your own backyard, a salad grown in your own soil at lunch, and to a dinner of meat once fed by your own hand! The direct relationship to your food and the workload that was involved in it seems to me to have so much more value and substance than to toil for what amounts to the yo-yo-ing numbers in a bank account as the money goes in one day and is spent the next. It’s tangible produce and the whole family can reap the benefits! Besides, it is good that a man should bear the yoke in his youth. (Lamentations 3:27)
And if that care was of the nature that improved the happiness of the livestock during it’s short life you will be rewarded with a quality of meat that will be superior to that where the animal was raised in dark, cramped quarters and not at all like it was intended to live. Think of how invigorating it is to get a little fresh air, sunshine, and exercise after having been cooped up for a few days on end during a bad patch of weather. It’s simply exhilarating!! I’ll be honest, I’m not interested in the happiness of my livestock for the sake of animal rights or any such thing. While I believe that a “wise man regards the life of his beast” (Proverbs 12:10), I can’t help but selfishly realize that a happier animal with a stress-free death yields better meat.
Besides, there are small things we can do to potentially reduce your feed costs as well as dependency on GMO soy and corn. For all of your livestock there are root crops and greens that you can grow in order to help lighten your reliance on the feed store. It all adds up.
For instance we exclusively free-range (or rather pasture-range) our chickens at least half of the year. Between finding bits of greens, insects, berries, and grain in the manure. (Another good reason to give a bit of grain to your cow as a small-scale landowner- there is much less manure management because the birds will pick through scattering the piles looking for undigested grain and in days it’s gone. This process also allows for the smaller pieces of manure to decompose and improve the pasture more quickly than a whole pile.)
For those like us who butcher our own meat, carcasses can be first thrown out for the chickens to pick any scraps of meat left from the bones. We have deer carcass out there right now that is picked cleaned and waiting for me to nag someone to go pick up.
With better management, it could be possible for me to grow many greens throughout most of the colder season to supplement, but for now I’m sending my botched cheese recipes and the whey drained from my attempts- both successful or otherwise- out to the barn for the hens to drink. Whey is full of protein and they love it! I love knowing they are filling up on the whey instead of feed and I’m satisfied doing what little I can to improve the situation.
I also recall seeing that Sustainable Seed Company even sells a Poultry Package to get you started complete with dent corn, chard, pumpkins, millet, peas, oats, flax, sorghum, and even tobacco (for insect control). They claim this package will support 10 chickens on 1/14th of an acre assuming you free-range part of the year!! I will certainly be bearing this in mind when planning any additions we’ll be needing to till up for 2013!
One of course is to give them kitchen scraps. We compost very little of our vegetable material while raising hogs and the compost bucket becomes the slop bucket. They also love to drink high protein whey.
We discovered by chance a particular weed, I wish I knew what it was, and would pull a handful or two for them every time we ventured back for a visit.
Another thing we do is to allocate as big of a pasture space to them as we can afford to and then rotate them through it in small sections. This allows them a bit of opportunity to eat the green grass and other goodies they might find. We will be switching over to raising them later in the summer this year instead of in the spring because the ground will be drier for less trampling and the grass will be more established and less tender hopefully giving them greater opportunity for grazing. I also like this system because there will be more opportunity for scrap feeding as that is canning season and there is tons of waste then.
The difficulty with raising cattle, whether for beef or dairy, especially on a small scale is the availability of enough pasture land to sustain them. Obviously, if you have no pasture available to you, that will entail much higher food costs. This is one of the reasons why I love Dexter cattle and am an advocate of the breed for small homesteads. They are known for their efficient feed conversion requiring much less pasture (and less hay supplementation in winter) than conventional dairy and beef breeds. It’s just a bonus that they can function in either capacity serving all of our needs as a homesteader. Also being an Irish heritage breed, they are quite adaptable in the winter and need little in the way of shelter- a protective run-in would certainly suffice if necessary.
If you do have pasture land, but it’s junk, such as is the case here, it will take some work to improve it and I think that the rotational grazing we will implement this year will go a long way to achieving that end. However, depending on where you live though, you still have to deal with some supplemental feeding throughout the cold winter months when grass isn’t growing. I imagine that for those living in the northeast the trouble is more than for those living in plains states where there is an abundance of grassland and that growing season is longer in the south than in the north. For us as northerners living in a relatively wooded area, we depend on hay to feed our cattle for half of year. That means increased feed costs throughout those months and we’re learning the hard way that requires a bit of planning.
It is much less expensive to purchase your hay in the summer months when it is being harvested especially if you will have a cow lactating over the winter and desire to improve the quality of her milk (and cream line) with alfalfa. We can’t find alfalfa anywhere at any price and are forced to resort to expensive, processed alfalfa pellets in order to sweeten and fatten up her milk. She goes through the pellets mixed in her grain ration much faster than were she chewing on a flake of alfalfa hay making it all the more expensive.
We’re also looking into ways to make the most efficient use of our pasture through the addition of comfrey or chicory which reportedly lasts longer into the fall, is highly nutritious, and does well under rotational grazing.
In summary, I truly believe that with research and ingenuity, the knowledge, experience, and reward of homesteading are well worth the satisfying labor and offset the cost deficits despite that we can’t always do it just as we hoped we could without contemporary non-organic feed.
How do you creatively supplement your livestock’s feed? We’d all love to hear your clever ideas and suggestions!!