The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Growing grains for homemade livestock feed

Pig in a cornfieldIf the process of threshing, winnowing, and dehulling your grains for human consumption seems a bit daunting, you might choose to start growing grains for your livestock instead.  Your animals are likely to be less picky than you are, so you won't have to go to quite so much trouble when adding homegrown grains to the menu.  I'm hopeful that as we start growing our own chicken feed, we'll begin saving money and end up with healthier chickens due to a more well-rounded diet.

Currently, we're starting a new series over on our chicken blog with all of the nitty gritty info on formulating your own chicken feeds.  If you're interested, you might want to subscribe to that blog to read all about recipes, protein content of grains, and non-grain alternatives over the next few weeks.  Meanwhile, here's a brief summary of the tips in Gene Logsdon's book about growing grains specifically for livestock.

Tips for the lazy farmer

Grazing sheep on wheatIf you're a lazy farmer, like me, you're probably interested in ways that you can feed your animals with the least work possible.  One option is to plant winter wheat (or barley or rye) at the end of the summer, around September 15.  About a month after the grains go in the ground, they will be established enough that you can graze your animals on them during the winter and spring.  With careful rotation so that the plants aren't overgrazed, you will be able to harvest nearly as much grain from these plants as you would have without grazing them.

Pigs are a great tool for the lazy farmer.  Logsdon notes that you can turn pigs into a cornfield in the fall and they'll harvest the grain themselves, fattening up just when they should.  I envision planting a small corn paddock as part of my forest garden grazing rotation and moving the pigs in at just the right time of year.

What grains should I grow for my animals?

Chicken feedIf you're going to go the traditional route of harvesting grain for your livestock, you will probably want to grow some combination of corn, oats, barley, grain, sorghum, and soybeans.  The bulk of commerical feeds are made up of two components --- corn and soybeans --- but your animals will probably be healthier if you give them a bit more variety.

Although we tend to think of grain as being aseasonal, you can in fact plan your garden so that your animals (and you) eat nearly fresh grains throughout the year.  Rye and barley are the first grains to ripen in early summer, then wheat, oats, buckwheat, and sorghum are ripe in the fall.  In the winter and spring, you can feed the easily stored corn and soybeans.

How much grain should I grow for my animals?

Logdson estimates that a single chicken needs about a bushel of grain per year.  A hog needs 12 bushels of corn to be fattened to butchering weight and a cow needs five to six bushels.  A ewe and lamb need just one bushel of grain per year between them if they are on pasture, and goats may not need much at all except when they're being milked.

How do I prepare grain for my livestock?

Sprouting beans for chickensSome grains can be fed whole, but nearly all grains are more digestible if they are ground.  If you're grinding grain into flour for yourself, you can use the same hand-cranked mill to grind a bit of grain for your chickens.  On the other hand, if we really get into growing our own feed we'll probably find a way to make or buy a better mill.

Old timey farmers knew that sprouting was even better than grinding.  If you're willing to put in a little extra time, you can sprout all of the grains you feed your animals, a process that makes them even more nutritious.

We're in the very early stages of our homegrown grain experimentation, but we'll be sure to update you as we test all of these methods of growing grain for both ourselves and our animals.  Stay tuned!

This post is part of our Backyard Grain Growing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi, Thanks very much for sharing the information you have on grains. I'm very interested in growing more grains myself, and in reclaiming grains for the local food economy in general. If you're interested, I started a yahoo discussion list for asking questions and sharing information about small scale grain. I'd love for as many people as possible to contribute. If you're intereseted:
Comment by Eric Brown Thu Feb 11 14:01:51 2010
Thanks for commenting, Eric! I'll have to check the group out. I've got plenty to learn about growing grain!
Comment by anna Thu Feb 11 16:34:30 2010

I think this is an awesome article I'm getting into grains because I just started helping onon a cattle farm and they uave always had good meat. But come to find out their grain is expensive and its processed. Really funny that everyone thinks they're. All natural yet They are feeding with processed food. . The grain company list...grain product (lol) plant protein,processed grain by products,roughag e product,salt,cane molasses,calcium sulfate,zinc methiozine complex,zinc sulfate,maganous oxide,copper sulfate,vitamin e supplement (caugh caugh),cobalt carbonate,calcium iodate,ethylene. Diantin,dihydriodide and sodium selentine. Ya just don'tts. feel good about these ingredients. Thanks again young farmer J

Comment by j king Sun Feb 12 11:36:17 2012
j king --- We're still buying a lot of processed chicken feed, but we're slowly weaning ourselves off of it. It does take a lot of doing once you get used to the easy bags of feed.
Comment by anna Sun Feb 12 18:09:24 2012

For several years, I have been feeding weed seed's screened from cleaning oats and wheat. The number of different types of seeds is off the chart. I obtain this from a man who raises seed oat and wheat, this generates quite a supply. The cost is .10 cents a pound. I raise chickens for eggs, the nice large brown eggs, with a dark golden yoke. Customer satisfaction is very good, resulting in a under supply of eggs. I add about a 15 percent laying mash, which keeps the girls on the job. Bird health is as good or better the commercial feeds. Chicken hawks and eagles look healthy also. (wink)

Comment by Ken Ulrich Sat Sep 20 05:54:11 2014

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