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

Feeding roots to animals

The last chapter of $10 Root Cellar is full of tips for growing and using root vegetables.  During research for the book, I was fascinated to learn that the popularization of turnips spurred a culinary revolution during the Middle Ages because the roots provided enough supplemental feed to carry cows, pigs, and other animals through the cold months.  Previously, farmers had to dry off dairy animals and slaughter all but the breeding stock among meat breeds as soon as cold weather hit since there wasn't enough grass to bring their animals through the winter.  After the turnip revolution, though, farmers added fodder beets, rutabagas, mangels, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes to their livestock gardens, and meat and dairy became a larger part of the year-round diet.

Although cheap grain has made roots fall out of favor as modern livestock food, one of my favorite bloggers grows roots to feed her dairy cow over the winter.  Nita and her family grow most of their own food on 180 acres in the Pacific Northwest, depending on rotational grazing to feed their beef cows over the winter.  However, as Nita notes, "A dairy cow is a horse of a different color nutrition- and production-wise."  Dairy cows need supplemental nutrition during the winter, and that supplement usually comes in the form of grain.

Roots for livestock
"I only had to look back in history a little ways to get away from grain," Nita explained.  "We [started] looking for roots that would suit multiple species, namely us, the family cow, and the laying hens.  All of the root crops we chose would work well for sheep, goats, and rabbits too.  The roots that we settled on were carrots, beets, parsnips, and rutabagas.  We had grown mangels (fodder beets) before, but found that they were large and because a large portion of the root grows above ground, they did not meet our criteria for easy storage.  The only references I have seen concerning problems is for feeding beets and mangels to rams and wethers.  Some believe mangels and sugar beets can cause calculi in the kidneys and bladder."

Dairy cow
Every farmer tends to develop favorite root crops to match their specific growing conditions and their livestock's needs.  In Feeding Poultry, Gustave Heuser recommends giving 0.04 to 0.05 pounds of mangels, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, or potatoes to each chicken per day as a supplement to their regular diet.  John Seymour prefers feeding rutabagas and fodder beets to his livestock, while Nita usually provides her milk cow a mixture of carrots, parsnips, and beets.  She grows Red-cored Chantenay carrots, Harris Model or Andover parsnips, Lutz/Winterkeeper beets, Laurentian or Joan rutabagas, and Golden Eckendorf or Colossal Long Red mangels for animals and humans, along with Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, and daikon or salad turnips for the table.  "Brassicas are a no-no during lactation unless you want cole-flavored milk," she warns.

Dog eating a root vegetable
"In our zone 7 garden, we are able to hill soil over our root crops and leave them in situ," Nita said.  "We harvest weekly as needed from fall to spring.  After washing, we sort, and any damaged or small roots go to the barn, and the rest are stored in plastic buckets on our north-facing porch, where they stay cool."  Her whole family enjoys the unblemished roots, which are also used as dog treats.

Chopping roots
$10 Root CellarNita uses a mechanical chopper to cut up the five pounds of mixed roots she provides for her dairy cow each winter day.  She notes that the chopper processes the day's roots in one minute, versus five minutes with a knife.  Alternative methods for processing roots for livestock include cooking (essential when feeding potatoes to non-ruminants like pigs and chickens), grating, or feeding whole and raw.

"While the roots won't replace all the grain for your stock, they can play a bigger part of their winter diet, giving variety and giving you more control in what you are feeding your animals," Nita concluded.  "Growing and harvesting roots has made us feel closer to our goal of self-reliance.  And we find as we eat more of these types of in-season vegetables ourselves, we rely less on labor- and energy-intensive food-preservation methods.  While I'm not giving up my canning and freezing, I find that I'm storing less food that way, and actually providing more variety in our meals."

$10 Root Cellar is free today on Amazon, so download your copy now!  If you can't figure out the apps allowing you to read kindle ebooks on your computer or other device, you can also email me today for a free pdf copy.  Thanks for reading!

This post is part of our $10 Root Cellar 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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Very interesting bit of history about turnips & livestock. Thanks for the info.

Shredded beet pulp costs about $15 for a 50 lb bag at the feed store. A dairy cow can be given up to 10lb/d. Gotta wonder if all the work & expense involved in growing and processing your own is worth it vs buying it?

Comment by doc Fri Aug 2 18:46:56 2013

Great post Anna! Thanks for the link!

Doc, the only reason to stay away from the convenience of shredded beet pulp for feed is that the product is from GMO beets. If you don't care about the GMO issue in feed, or the heavy pesticide use in conventional crops and strictly look at this as a labor equation, then yes for sure the bagged beet pulp by-product is much easier, only requiring cash and some forethought to soak before feeding.

We grow our own food so we can control some of these issues in our personal food supply. From a labor standpoint with the milk cow, it's much, much easier to pickup a gallon of milk at the store or a pound of butter too, but this all works with our landscape and suits our situation, but it definitely is not for every homesteader or farmer.

Comment by Nita Fri Aug 2 21:04:24 2013

Nita: I completely understand and sympathize with your POV (We won't get into the GMO/chemical thing. I never like to argue religion ;-)

Let's face it: any city dwelling welfare recipient has a higher standard of living than any homesteader when evaluated strictly on the time/money/labor scale. It's the intangibles associated with growing your own & living liberated that are priceless.

And when the SHTF, as the preppers say, we'll still have our food security.

Comment by doc Sat Aug 3 16:44:39 2013
Great blog! We started with two yearling heifers in the spring 

and I stumbled on your blog while researching feeding swede and carrot to cows. You say use have a mechanical chopper. I don't suppose they are still being made. On the hunt! Cheers, Dave

Comment by Dave Wed Oct 29 12:31:26 2014

Craigslist score! Thompsons banner root chopper. Close to home, working condition, cheap.

Comment by dave Thu Nov 20 09:46:45 2014
Hi! I’m planning to grow roots for my livestock next year. I did this year and had enough to make it thru 1/2 the winter. Next year hoping for all winter! I was wondering what kind of chopper you have? I’ve been knife cutting but did order a manual chopper off Amazon for next year. It’s the only one I could find that wasn’t electric (no electricity by the animals feed storage) thank you!
Comment by Cindy Wed Feb 15 03:50:24 2023

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